From the anarchic fun of Andy Griffiths' and Terry Denton's 13 Storey Treehouse to the steampunk adventures of a group of pirates with a sprinkling of Disney magic, a dead bishop in Oxford and a prime minister by accident, the selection of Junior fiction we present to you here is not only widely varied but also an example of the wonderful imaginations of our authors.  

Children cannot fail to be entertained by one or more of these cleverly imagined and expertly written books, and we certainly hope that they will provide you with hours of reading fun for the next few months.


Editor's Choice : The 13-Storey Treehouse


Written by: Andy Griffiths
Illustrated by: Terry Denton
Published by: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 9781447279785
Reviewed by: Imogen Russell Williams

The 13-Storey Treehouse is the first book by wildly successful Aussie pairing Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton to be published in the UK. A vivid account of how this crack writer-illustrator team create their latest book against all the odds, it's riotous, silly and engaging. Its unintimidating balance of image to text, and the titular treehouse full of amenities (such as swimming pool, shark tank and marshmallow-firing machine), make it a hilarious and joyful bit of wish-fulfilment for those of about seven and up.

Mr Big Nose, the publisher, is on the video-phone, demanding the book Andy and Terry promised to get to him last Friday. But they've have been having too good a time to settle down to work ... Not to mention that they've lost their neighbour's cat by turning it into a catnary – a bird-feline hybrid with the power of flight – and are about to face a whole series of adventures, keeping them away from their desks. Mischievous sea monkeys, an amorous mermaid, and a giant gorilla in search of bananas all conspire against the team's getting any writing and drawing done at all. Until Andy and Terry realise they just have to get that day's crazy experience down on paper – and their job will be done!

The 13-Storey Treehouse doesn't have the depth and heart of, say, McIntyre and Reeve's Oliver and the Seawigs, and it leans towards the gross-out side of surreal humour (Terry, at one point, becomes trapped in a bubble filled with burp-gas, and drifts away, almost to be lost for ever). But I can imagine it going down a storm with young readers who want something crazy, comic and brain-meltingly 'meta' to liven up a big, substantial chapter-book.




Mortimer Keene: Dino Danger

Written by: Tim Healey
Illustrated by: Chris Mould
Published by: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 978144919691
Reviewed by: Jayne Gould

When the school is sent back in time to the dinosaur age, it’s up to Mortimer Keene to save the day!

Mortimer Keene is a small scientist with big ideas, the latest of which is building a time machine in the lab at St Barnabas School. Knowing the dangers, he promises to keep it switched off, but a stray marble through the lab window hits the wrong button. The whole school is whirled back through time to the age of the dinosaurs where another of Mortimer’s inventions saves the day.

This bright and breezy rhyming story, illustrated throughout in black and white highlighted with yellow, is ideal for newly independent readers. With short chapters, the story whizzes along and the whole book looks very appealing. There is a diagram of Mortimer’s Time Machine, as well as a glossary of dinosaur names and a fun facts page. Mortimer is obviously a small boy with a taste for scientific  adventure as there are further titles to come in a series which I can see being very popular with readers of 7+.


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Waterfire Saga: Deep Blue

Written by:Jennifer Donnelly
Published by: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 9781444921205
Reviewed by: Jackie Spink

This is Book One in the Waterfire Saga; Rogue Wave and Dark Tide come next.

A dark prologue set ‘deep in the Romanian night’, featuring sea witches in the tradition of a watery Macbeth, prepares the reader to meet Serafina, mermaid daughter of La Serenissima Regina Isabella, ruler of Miromara, a vast underwater empire. They foreshadow Serafina leaving her childhood behind, of nightmares to come and a dangerous quest.

This underwater world is fully formed, brought to life in glorious detail, using Miromaran language and references that require a glossary. It is impossible to continue reviewing this book without mentioning that it comes from Disney Publishing Worldwide, who apparently presented Jennifer Donnelly with a 200 page ‘bible’ of the world they had created for her to write about. You just have to think of the visually stunning and inventive Disney movies, where the viewer is constantly surprised by the quirky detail, to recognise the same intention here. This is just one of the characteristics that will divide the novel’s reception: there will be readers who adore its lush, ‘visual’ description and others who will find it a drag.  

This is Disney on paper. It deals with familiar Disney tropes: private dreams v. public responsibilities; self-discovery; self-belief; and girl power. There is cultural diversity and mythology.  The language is very beautiful – but the plot, the characterisation and the dialogue fail to surprise, because in next to no time, the reader is looking through the familiar, formulaic Disney lens.  

If you are planning to read this book because you think Jennifer Donnelly’s A Gathering Light was one of the best books you have ever read (I do) and because her Revolution was pretty amazing too, then you could be heading for bitter disappointment.    

On the other hand, I know plenty of older Disney addicts who will relish the development of their childhood fantasy into a more mature, teenage landscape. Sophisticated it isn’t, but it will undoubtedly have a huge fan base – there’s a gorgeous promotional video and there must surely be a film waiting in the wings!


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The Book of Storms

Written by: Ruth Hatfield
Published by: Hot Key Books
ISBN: 9781471402982
Reviewed by: Laura Brill

After a night disturbed by a raging storm, Danny wakes up in the morning to find his parents gone and the old sycamore tree in the garden destroyed by lightning, except for a small stick which, by magic, enables Danny to communicate with plants and animals and to understand the warning exhaled by the scorched tree.

Convinced by those words and by a notebook found in the house that their obsession with storms has placed his parents in great danger, Danny sets out on the quest to find them. His only hope rests in the 'Book of Storms', whose pages hold the key to this mystery.

However Sammael, storm-conjuror and soul-purveyor author of the book, has other plans, and he will use all his dark powers to make sure that Danny's mission does not succeed.

The Book of Storms is a fantasy book which grows in strength as the plot develops. The prose is immediately captivating and rich enough to satisfy advanced readers who will find in this unrelenting quest an absorbing read. The characters are well observed and subtly depicted, allowing them to show a varied range of feelings and emotions. Even the sinister Sammael displays glimpses of unexpected humanity in the interplay with his faithful dog. In fact, the animals in this story – Kalia the lurcher, Mitz the cat and Shimny the piebald pony – add a touching depth to the narrative.

The ending is well written as, while tying the strands of this story, it leaves open the possibility to an interesting sequel.

The publisher recommends this story to the 9+ readers. The younger ones may find it complex at times but overall it is rewarding.





Big Game

Written by: Dan Smith
Published by: Chicken House
ISBN: 9781909489943

Reviewed by: Margaret Pemberton


Thirteen-year-old Oskari is about to undergo the most important event of his life so far. He is about to go through his community’s initiation ceremony, which will see him accepted as a man. However, this is not the Iron Age or earlier, Oskari lives in modern day Finland, and his challenge is to go into the snowy wilderness and kill an animal, which he will then bring back as proof of his skill and bravery. Unfortunately, Oskari is not a good hunter and even his father fears that he will fail. Everything changes when Oskari sees a man being killed, and then rescues someone else from an escape pod he finds in the forest; this someone just happens to be the President of the United States, and the killers are after him.

This is a really great adventure that does not hold back in providing an adrenalin-fuelled storyline.  It has already been made in to a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, and this would appear to be the novelization. Thankfully, it has been turned into a really satisfying read that will not depend on the film for any continuing popularity.

The story mixes the adventure with the relationship of this young boy with others in his community and the expectation of what being a man means. Oskari shows extreme courage despite being poor at hunting and shooting and earns his position in the village through saving a life rather than taking one.

A great read for the 8–12 age group.


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The Door That Led to Where

Written by: Sally Gardner
Published by: Hot Key Books
ISBN: 9781471401084
Reviewed by: Simon Barrett

The door that led to where, led to a when.

AJ’s life was a mess. He gained one GCSE in English, A*.  AJ hadn’t really enjoyed school and spent most of his time in a world of books.  His mother was furious, and somehow arranges an interview with a top London law firm.  As AJ tidies up the firm’s archives he finds an old key.  It has his name and date of birth on it. The mystery deepens. The door that the key fits appears out of nowhere in a car park.  It opens into Dickensian London.

Life is worse for AJ’s friends, Leon and Slim. Leon’s addict mother has died and he is put into care.  He tries to pay his own rent, earning money by dealing drugs. Slim commits suicide when he starts dating Sicknote, the local gang leader’s girl. AJ’s door to the past offers a good solution where two enterprising young men could make their fortune. The author Sally Gardiner evocatively captures the alternating contexts of sink estate life and London society in the 1830s.

Whenever you are, however, people remain the same. There are always those who will always exploit opportunity to get rich, and there are those who will stop at nothing to get it. This includes murder. AJ and his friends have to become time sleuths to find a murderer, before they are the next victims. AJ will risk everything to stay loyal to his friends and rescue a girl, out of time.

The Door that Led to Where is a thrilling detective story. It slowly draws together the events and people in the present and the past, as the time travelling connections are revealed. Hapless AJ seems to stumble into a subterfuge beyond his ability to solve, and resorts to taking direct action beyond the law. It is a great read for teenagers with its mix of intrigue, adventure and crime.

Sally Gardner is a worthy winner of the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal for her previous book, Maggot Moon.




Romans on the Rampage!

Written by: Jeremy Strong
Published by: Puffin
ISBN: 9780141357713
Reviewed by: Yvonne Coppard

Croakbag the raven, our storyteller, loves gossip and meddling in the affairs of his human family almost as much as he loves biscuits. Perilus, the fearless and wayward son of the house, is desperate to make his way as a chariot racer. But his father is an important man in Roman society, and only slaves and lowly undesirables consider such a career. So for the moment, Perilus has to take lessons in secret from his friend and neighbour Scorcha, who is himself a talented young charioteer.

With no access to chariots or horses, they practise with goats and carts, dreaming of the day they will become famous. Then Scorcha gets his big chance to stand in for the mighty Jellus – only to find himself arrested and thrown into jail just before the big race. Can Perilus save the day for his friend? You bet.

In a fast-moving, snappy tale told with Jeremy Strong’s engaging mix of running gags, witty one-liners and the chance to learn some snippets of Latin along the way, the resolution of Scorcha’s plight might not be entirely a surprise – but the story does end on a cliff hanger, pointing the way to another story for which you’ll have to wait until 2016!

Yvonne Coppard is the co-author, along with Linda Newbery, of Writing Children's Fiction (Bloomsbury)




The Honest Truth

Written by: Dan Gemeinhart    
Published by: Chicken House
ISBN: 9781910002131    
Reviewed by: Stephanie Barrett

Mark is 12. Mark has cancer. Mark’s grandfather died with unfulfilled ambitions of climbing Mt Rainer. Fed up with his disease-ridden life, Mark runs away. He embarks on what he intends to be a one-way journey, with his camera, steadfast canine companion Beau and haiku notebook, to climb the mountain. The narrative tracks his literal and emotional journey, and that of his family and best friend Jessie back home, desperately attempting to find Mark before it’s too late.

The split-person narrative, shared between Mark and Jessie, works well, and it is Jessie’s predicament that for me added an extra layer of emotional complexity that really sets this book apart from other contemporary ‘sick lit’ novels in the children and YA genre. Jessie realises where Mark has gone, and why, and must decide what to do: honour her friend’s decision and keep his secret, or speak up and save his life. But would saving his life actually be letting him die? What would truly be saving him? This boggy landscape, in which Jessie battles with her secret knowledge, tests the boundaries of what is ‘right’, and asserts the powerful ties of human relationships, love and loyalty. It takes the focus beyond Mark, his struggles and changing perspectives on life, and stretches his moral dilemmas in the extreme circumstance of life and death into the realm of friendship, allegiance, trust and responsibility.

This book is extremely poignant and affecting – not least the scene in which Beau falls into the ravine, with resounding hopelessness. I challenge anyone who reads it not to be utterly moved by all the strength, resilience, bleakness and moral conflict it contains. I challenge anyone who reads it not to be moved.


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If You Find This

Written by: Matthew Baker
Published by: Hot Key Books
ISBN: 9781471404528
Reviewed by: Edd Bankes

Nicholas, a boy who likes maths and playing the violin, discovers that his long-lost grandfather is out of prison, with a map leading to a chest of heirlooms worth enough to stop his mother having to sell the house (he says). But now he’s in the nursing home, with the doctors saying he’s losing his mind. Nicholas will have to untangle what’s true from what’s just a story, make some extremely unlikely friends, and engineer a daring nursing home rescue mission if he’s got any chance of finding the treasures that might save his family’s house.

If You Find This is an absolute delight that offers the reader both a fantastic adventure story and a much more grounded one about Nicholas building a relationship with his grandpa that he thought was dead, and his attempts to save his house and the last link to his brother as his mother struggles to afford to say there. While it draws on familiar tropes – the misfits banding together, treasure hunts, mysterious – its real strength is the way in which the adventure is told in terms of the characters’ everyday worries and concerns, and is done so with a great deal of sensitivity. Grandpa Rose’s desire to escape from the retirement home drives the adventure when Nicholas breaks him out, but is also shown to be a story in its own right. What really marks out the story is the complexity of the characters, which builds up both for Nicholas and the reader as more characters get to tell their stories.

A lot of issues pertinent to the classroom are touched upon, such as bullying, crime, illness, death and coming out, but their appearances aren’t in any way contrived, but rather attest to the way in which Baker has created these very realistic, complex characters. I think the book could lend itself to numerous activities in the classroom, including looking at the social issues raised by the book or for the literacy and writing lessons, looking at the different ways in which stories are told in the book.


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Young Houdini: The Magicians Fire

Written by: Simon Nicholson
Published by: Oxford University Press Children's Books
ISBN: 9780192734747
Reviewed by: Jayne Gould

Harry Houdini. World-famous magician. Death defying escape artist. Fearless stunt performer. That was the man. But where did his legend begin?

In the bustling and expanding New York City of 1886, Harry is a 12-year-old shoeshine boy, recently arrived from Hungary. He supplements his meagre earnings by performing amazing tricks and staging dangerous stunts. The story opens with him chaining himself to railway tracks as a train approaches. The crowd, drummed up by his friends Billie, an equally poor young factory worker living on her wits, and Arthur, a rich boy with a father who ignores his existence, are astounded at his miraculous escape but unaware of the careful planning and sleight of hand which underpins it all. The three friends make regular visits to a local theatre, where their favourite act is a magician called Herbie Lemster. Herbie willingly gives Harry tips to help his performances and perfect his skills. But when Herbie goes missing in mysterious circumstances, they find themselves drawn into their most dangerous adventure yet.

Children today may not be aware of Houdini in the same way that they know about Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, whose teenage adventures also form the basis of successful series, but they will enjoy a fast moving mixture of excitement and danger. Harry’s journey to become the world’s greatest escapologist has only just begun ...




Guardians of the Wild: A Whisper of Wolves

Written by: Kris Humphrey
Published by: Stripes
ISBN: 9781847155962
Reviewed by: Damian Harvey

A Whisper of Wolves is the first in a four part fantasy series, Guardians of the Wild, which mixes magic and the power of nature. 'When a raven drops a white feather at the doorstep on the day of your birth, it is a symbol of your destiny. You are a Whisperer – a guardian of the wild.'

This book follows the paths of two whisperers, Alice and Dawn. Twelve-year-old Alice is a feisty and independent forest dwelling trainee Whisperer who has a lifelong bond with her wolf, Storm. Dawn, with her raven companion, Ebony, is the palace Whisperer and feels responsible for the protection of the whole kingdom of Meridina.

The kingdom has been peaceful for many years now and it is so long since the demonic Narlaw armies were banished to the Darklands that people think of them only as ancient stories used to frighten children, but Alice knows better. There are changes taking place in the forest, the hunters from the village have gone missing. A dark shadow is settling over the land and Alice is sure that the dreaded Narlaw are returning, and it will be up to the Whispers to protect the kingdom.

In The Whisper of Wolves Kris Humphrey has written an exciting and compelling fantasy story filled with well-realized characters, and he effectively conjures up the atmosphere of the Kingdom of Meridina. Although the story focuses on Alice and Dawn, there is a good mix of both male and female characters and enough adventure, suspense and scares to attract and hold the attention of boys and girls alike. I would certainly recommend it to any girls or boys that that enjoy a good fantasy adventure as I’m sure it will leave them wanting more.   




The Accidental Prime Minster



Written by: Tom McLaughlin
Published by: Oxford University Press Children's Books
ISBN: 9780192737748
Reviewed by: Andrea Rayner

Joe Perkins lives with his mum who is the park warden at the local park. Then there is Joe’s best friend, Ajay. They have known each other since nursery, and often go to the park to play.

Life is pretty ordinary, but then one day a sign appears on the park gates saying that it is going to be closed so that the land can be sold off for development. This means that Joe’s mum will be out of a job and the boys will have nowhere to go to play.

Joe is desperate to save the park and his mum’s job, but does not know what to do. Then the Prime Minister comes to visit his school and Joe questions him about the park. Joe’s protest is recorded by all the reporters and also goes viral.

At that moment, Joe’s life is changed forever. The Prime Minister signs power over to him, and Joe becomes the world’s first child Prime Minister. However, he has made a serious enemy of Violetta Crump, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Joe starts to make changes – the park is to stay open and everyone is to have fun. Everything seems to be going well, but Joe has not bargained for Violetta’s desire for revenge.

The day of the park reopening is a disaster, and thanks to Violetta’s scheming, Joe finds himself out of favour with the public and vilified by the Anti-Silliness League. It looks as if Joe might lose his job. Can Joe defeat Violetta and keep the country having fun?

This is a hilarious book about role reversal. It shows with great humour what happens when a boy is made Prime Minister. The story is slap-stick and fun, and designed to appeal to any reader who has wondered what it would be like if children rather than grown-ups were in charge.




Anyone but Ivy Pocket


Written by: Caleb Krisp
Published by: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408858639
Reviewed by: Louise Ellis-Barrett


Ivy Pocket is a lady's maid and is indispensable. At least that is what Ivy likes to think, it seems her employers have other opinions, ones that are not quite so favourable as young Ivy's!


When Ivy finds herself maid to a lady in Paris she is not expecting that she is about to get caught up in a life of crime, mystery and intrigue, but she is certainly happy to take on the challenge, nothing will daunt our young heroine after all!  And so it is that Ivy is given the charge of a very precious item which must travel from Paris to London in time for the birthday of a very special child. As you can probably imagine there are going to be mishaps galore along the way, and as this is Ivy Pocket's story they are not without a certain level of drama too!


Ivy is a wonderful narrator, a character for whom modesty is not a known word, and who takes us on a very jolly and happy journey with her on her many adventures as she tries to fulfil the desires of her latest mistress and make herself once again indispensable!


When the proof of this book arrived in my post it was a glorious hardback, when the finished version arrived it was still a glorious hardback with a delightful cover.  This book has had much effort invested in it for all the right reasons – it is a delight to read and will be enjoyed by many young readers.



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The Milkshake Detectives


Written by: Heather Butler
Published by: Little Brown
ISBN: 9780349124100
Reviewed by: Linda Lawlor

Detective stories are always popular, with both adults and children, because they offer adventure, thrills, and a chance for the reader to compete with the hero in spotting and unravelling clues. It is true that in recent, more cautious times, young people are less free to go about alone and put themselves in risky situations, despite the ever-present mobile phone, but in this charming tale all the events take place within the confines of a small and friendly village. Indeed, the only real risk comes from a pair of seriously ferocious ducks! Charlie and Julia, aged nine and ten respectively, decide to form a detective agency in the style of their favourite TV series Mystery: Solved when mysterious messages about a bear hunt begin to appear, promising a unique reward for whoever solves the puzzle first.

Underneath all the fun of the hunt, however, lie more serious questions. Charlie has never known her father and a chance discovery leads her on a quest to find him. Her search is all the more urgent because she and her mother have just moved into a new house with Max and his young sons, and while she likes her mum's new husband very much, the two boys are obnoxious, rude and spiteful. Worse still, their birth mother encourages them to challenge and disobey Charlie's mum, and the whole family is a hair's breadth from splitting up. Of course there can be no fairy-tale ending for this contemporary tale, but many of the issues raised do find a satisfactory resolution. Young readers will thoroughly enjoy spending time in Peddle-Worth village, and many will identify with the problems Charlie faces as her new family takes shape. Let's hope this is just the first of several stories about our good-natured and determined young heroines.


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The Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: The Leaky Battery Sets Sail


Written by: Gareth P. Jones
Published by: Stripes
ISBN: 9781847155931
Reviewed by: Anita Loughrey

If you like pirates and you like robots this is the book for you.

Captain Clockheart and his crew are renegade robot servants who have been liberated by the Admiral’s daughter. In this first book of a prospective series, they take to the high seas and have to evade being captured by the evil Iron Duke, who is human and not made of Iron at all. The Duke has his beady eyes on the king’s reward for the steampunk pirates’ capture.

This fast-paced read is littered with author asides. Gareth P. Jones takes you on a roller-coaster ride through waves of pirates’ escapades, fuelled by their desire to be goldified. The story is enhanced by the brilliant sea shanties at the beginning and end of the book and the amusing illustrations.

I enjoyed reading this book. It was fun!


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Beasts of Olympus: Beast Keeper & Hound of Hades


Written by: Lucy Coats
Published by: Piccadilly Press
ISBN: 9781848124394
Reviewed by: Abby Mellor

Pandemonium, or Demon as he is known to his friends, is just an ordinary boy living in Ancient Greece. Well, ordinary apart from the fact that he can talk to animals, a gift which is probably down to his famous father. Yep, that’s right; Demon’s dad is the Greek god Pan.

Demon’s simple yet happy world is turned upside down when his father turns up out of the blue and leaves him with no choice but to leave his home and take up a job as Mount Olympus’ resident Beast Keeper.

At the Stables of the Gods, Demon finds an array of mythical beasts with an alarming amount of attitude. Can Demon win them over and solve the challenge that the formidable Hera sets him in order to save himself from being sent down the ‘poo chute’ to Tartarus?

In the Hound of Hades, life for Demon gets even trickier when he is summoned by the Lord of the Underworld himself. Tasked with healing Hades’ three-headed pet dog Cerberus, Demon is facing his trickiest challenge yet, as he has to explore the Underworld to find a cure for Hades’ heinous hound. Needless to say, he meets plenty of colourful characters on his travels and plenty of nail-biting escapades ensue.

These novels are absolutely brilliant for children who are interested in mythology. The characters have been beautifully depicted and the humorous descriptions would definitely appeal to a young audience. The pictures are wonderful too and capture the characters, especially the beasts, to absolute perfection. Young readers can learn all about the gods and their mythical beasts while enjoying simple yet exciting plotlines. Think ‘Percy Jackson’ but for a much younger audience.


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Little Black Fish


Written by: Samad Behrangi
Published by: Read Publicity
ISBN: 9781910328002
Reviewed by: Anne Harding

This is a beautiful and compelling book with strong and important allegorical messages. Written in the 60s by noted Iranian social critic, teacher and author Samad Behrangi, it was banned in pre-revolutionary Iran for its political thrust.

The story of the little black fish is told by an old fish to her twelve thousand grandchildren. The fish of the title is curious and impatient. He cannot understand why he should follow what all the other fishes do, just going round and round one small pool, hour after hour, day after day. Despite the warnings of his mother and their neighbours, he ventures over the waterfall that marks the end of their known world. He journeys down the length of the stream until it becomes a river and then joins the sea. He sees sights beyond his wildest imaginings, meets creatures with ideas quite different from any he has encountered before, experiences both beauty and terrifying dangers, and learns lessons about living life fully. His tale highlights the value of bravery, of having the courage of one’s convictions and defying convention. It demonstrates that collaboration and generosity are far more effective than selfishness. Little Black Fish saves lives through his dauntlessness and his quick thinking. The story is certainly a very moral one, but it never feels sanctimonious.

The book has stunning, atmospheric illustrations by award-winning illustrator Farshid Mesghali. The translation from Persian by Azita Rassi is excellent, and reads aloud delightfully. A lovely picture book for children of six or seven and older.


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Gifted


Written by: Donald Houman
Published by: Corgi Children's Books
ISBN: 9780552571876
Reviewed by: Simon Barrett

The Bishop is dead in an alternative, dystopia Oxford.  Fifteen-year-old Frank Sampson a forensic sorcerer and, Dectective Constable Marvell, a tattie whose premonitions see more than most people, are unhappily assigned to the case.

Frank is a maverick.  He never does anything he is supposed to do and seems to deliberately grate against authority, facing the unfortunate prospect of being burnt at the stake, convicted by his own Order. Frank is however a brilliant sorcerer, possibly the best there has ever been.  Sadly he lacks social skills. Marvell is the opposite, trying to follow instructions and keep to the rules. The antagonism between the main characters and Frank’s constant bickering makes him an unsavory character. Frank’s good intentions and Marvell’s love for him, slowly begins to redeem him.

The crime and its solution seems to centre on the Bishop of Oxford’s missing head. While there are clues in the book, it is perhaps the nature of magical sleuthing that the author will inevitably have to reveal who dunnit. Consequently the story seems disproportionally balanced between Frank and Marvel racing around Oxford following seemingly disparate threads, before finally solving it in the last part of the book. The motive for the crime is distasteful and not wholly tenable. Frank’s final betrayal is however surprising, but lacks a satisfying explanation.

Gifted’s universe is an unsettling concoction of magic, medievalism and modernity. It might encourage teenager readers who usually enjoy magic or mystery to try something different.  

Moreover this universe offers a rich resource of possible stories within Oxford and beyond. It will be interesting how the author Donald Houman taps into these potentials in his forthcoming new novel.




The Deadly 7


Written by: Garth Jennings
Published by: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 978144751712
Reviewed by: Andrea Rayner

Eleven-year-old Nelson is a bit of a loner, but the one person he adores is his big sister, Celeste. Then one day, something terrible happens – Celeste goes missing on a school trip. Nelson’s parents rush off to help look for her, leaving Nelson behind with his Uncle Pogo. Uncle Pogo is an extremely eccentric one-legged plumber, who is trying to find out the cause of the leaks in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Pogo and Nelson look for leaks in the cathedral together. They find one in a secret room, and Pogo sends Nelson in to try and stop it. However, whilst there, Nelson falls on top of a strange-looking table. This is an ancient machine, designed by Christopher Wren, to extract the seven deadly sins. These sins, once extracted, take on a life of their own. They are transformed into little monsters – known as the Deadly 7 – and they are coming for Nelson!

Grumpy, belligerent, smelly and embarrassing, but with a strong sense of purpose, the monsters set off with Nelson to find his sister. It is a dangerous and exciting adventure, which involves driving Pogo’s van, dressing up as a Hollywood producer, and flying to Brazil. During the chaotic and often odd journey, Nelson starts to realise that friendship comes in many different shapes and forms.

This is an amazingly funny book, as well as a page-turner. Throughout, it has the reader laughing out loud but also wanting to know more. Garth Jennings, is definitely a magician who has performed that great writing trick of making the unreal and improbable seem completely feasible. The brilliant writing in this fantasy story enables the reader to easily suspend disbelief. 

Nelson is a very empathetic protagonist and the Deadly 7 are a strange but lovable bunch. This is such a fun and enjoyable book that has a great deal of appeal for both boys and girls. All I can say is that it is one of my ‘must reads’ for this year.