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Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman
A review by Morgan and Rhoda
Cameron is a young boy with a heart disease. Because of this, he doesn’t have the ability to do what other boys his age can do, like swimming, running and playing football. After visiting the swimming pool with his friends, Cameron (or Cam as his parents call him) comes home to hear his parents having yet another row. He hears them arguing about how a doctor recommended a pig’s heart transplant but he said it has never been tried before and could easily go wrong...
This is a good book if you like drama, suspense and emotion. We enjoyed this book because Cameron makes good choices and bad choices so we never knew which way the book was going. Heart transplants with animal organs aren’t able to be successfully executed at the moment but scientists are trying to find out more about it. This book made us feel that transplants like that were real. If you like this book, there are more novels by Malorie Blackman such as: Hacker, Robot Girl, Noughts and Crosses, Thief and many more.
What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford
The story starts with a problem: Ethel is invisible. She then gives us the backstory to explain the weeks leading up to this moment. Ethel lives with her grandmother, who she refers to as ‘Gram’, as her mother died when she was very young. Now twelve years old, Ethel has become the target of cruel comments at school because she has a lot of spots on her face. She has tried all sorts of soaps, creams, medical advice and garlic and honey to get rid of them, but they just won’t go. She has resorted to trying alternative methods, including Dr Chang His Skin So Clear and obtaining a sunbed that she lies on in the hope that the UV tubes will help to clear the spots. After one Sunday morning on the sunbed, Ethel finishes her session only to discover that she is invisible. She asks for help from Gram who doesn’t take her seriously. Eventually, the only person she can find to help her is Elliot Boyd, a boy in her class who has an obsession with lighthouses and who everyone says smells funny. Will she ever become visible? Could being invisible prove useful? What else will she discover about herself along the way?
This is an easy book to read. The chapters are short and the contemporary, first-person style means that Ethel tells the story to the reader. This hooks you in and helps you to understand how she is feeling. There are humorous parts and parts tinged with sadness. At 400 pages it is a little overlong, but it remains entertaining, nonetheless, and the final part of the story is rather moving. Why not give it a try?
A Soldier’s Friend by Megan Rix
A review by Gemma and Leah
Friends at home, heroes at war. As the First World War rages across Europe, Londoners are sending brave animals to help the soldiers. The names of the allies who are fighting in the war are: Belgium, Japan, Montenegro, Serbia, France and Russia. The main characters are an adventurous football-crazy rescue puppy called Sammy and a fearless grey tabby cat called Mouser. They end up in no-man’s-land during the First World War. There is also the Jenson family, the Battersea Beasts, Ivor and Thumbs, and many more fun characters.
This is a very interesting book if you like learning about the First World War, 1914-18. It is a great story to read if you enjoy adventurous books. We hope that you enjoy reading this book. We loved this book because it has mixed emotions, e.g. happy, sad, nerve-racking and more. There are many more adventurous books by Megan Rix.
The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold
The Afterwards of the title refers to the ‘inbetween world’ that everything goes to upon its death. December and Happiness (known as Ember and Ness) are best friends: they live next door to each other and sit beside each other in class. They believe they will be friends forever. However, tragedy strikes and Ness dies in an accident. Coincidentally, Ember’s uncle’s dog, Betty, is run over and killed. But where have Betty and Ness gone? This is what the story goes on to explore – where do we go to when we die? For reasons you’ll have to discover for yourself, Ember finds herself in a world of grey among the dead. She finds Ness and believes that she can bring her back to the world of the living. But it is not as straight forward as she first thinks.
Death is never an easy subject to read about and this story has the theme of dying running through it from beginning to end. Be warned: some parts are quite sad. But, ultimately, it is a book about the living and how the living cope with the idea of death. If you have read The Song From Somewhere Else, also by A.F. Harrold, then you will recognise the style. It can be a bit odd and ‘parallel world’ at times, so you’ll need to concentrate! This is a really challenging, mature book - why not give it a try?
Operation Gadgetman! by Malorie Blackman
‘Operation Gadgetman’ refers to the mission that Beans (whose real name is Beatrice) sets herself when her father is kidnapped. Beans’ dad is an inventor. Some of his ideas are pretty unusual, including his animal crunchie biscuits that actually cook (or explode) as they are propelled through the air! Beans admires her father but sometimes grows weary of his wacky ways. However, she gets the shock of her life when she returns home from school one day to find her dad has disappeared and has left her a coded note – he’s been kidnapped! With the help of her two best friends, Ann and Louise, and a spy kit that her dad invented, Beans is determined to find her father before it’s too late.
This is a great book. Beans and her friends are likeable characters and, as a reader, I was really impressed with their detective skills. It’s not a particularly challenging book, but it’s good fun and really gets your brain working to try to spot the clues and solve the mystery. Enjoy!
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Sophie has an unfortunate start in life. As a baby, she is found floating on the ocean in a cello case after the ship she was on sank. There is no sign of her mother and it believed that Sophie is now an orphan. Her rescuer, Charles Maxim (who is a bit of an eccentric), is taken by her ‘hair the colour of lightning’ and decides to raise Sophie himself. Sophie and Charles get on like a house on fire and have a very unusual lifestyle. However, the authorities become concerned that Sophie is not being looked after properly and they intend to remove Sophie from Charles’ care. Distraught at the prospect of not being together any more, they flee to Paris. Whilst they are there, Sophie becomes keen to find out more about her mother. Using the address of the cello manufacturer found in the case in which she was discovered, they set off to investigate. Sophie is sure that her mother is still alive and she wants to find her. That’s when she meets Matteo, a ruffian who lives on the rooftops of Paris. All of a sudden, anything and everything seems possible.
This is a lovely story (although Matteo is a bit gruesome at times). Sophie is a likeable character: determined, passionate but with a streak of stubbornness. Her relationship with Charles is very endearing. The setting is described so well that I could really imagine the two children scurrying over the rooftops in the moonlight. The book is perhaps a little long, but, because I was enjoying it, I didn’t really mind. If you want a story where determination and optimism are top-of-the-list, then this is the book for you.
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
When Mrs Halfpenny told me that nobody had ever taken this book out of the library, I was shocked. However, when I thought about it, I wasn’t actually that surprised. This is a big book. Not just in length (well over 300 pages) but also in its scope and unflinching depiction of love, loss and the conviction that hope springs eternal.
It’s the early days of World War Two and young Willie Beech is evacuated to the countryside. This lonely, deprived child is sent to live with gruff widower, Tom Oakley. It’s an unlikely alliance and it seems doomed from the start. However, after a period of adjustment, they form a strong bond with each providing that which is missing in the other’s life. Willie makes friends, learns to read and single-handedly builds an Anderson shelter. The shadow of war and melancholy echoes of the past are evident throughout the novel and when the boy is summoned back to London by his abusive, though disturbed, mother, a happy reunion is not on the cards. After several weeks with no word, Tom sets out for London to find the boy and bring him back home.
This book is rightly recognised as a classic. It was Michelle Magorian’s first novel and she has never bettered it – not yet anyway. The story has been filmed and adapted for the stage, but these adaptations leave out large chunks of the story. Reading the book is the only way to fully appreciate this truly brilliant tale. Enjoy it, but keep a tissue handy. I’ve read this book three times and there is never a dry eye in the house.
The Blitz by Henry Brook (In association with the Imperial War Museum)
Why do we love history? Isn’t it just a bunch of dead kings and queens? Not in this collection of thrilling true stories it isn’t! The Blitz is a selection of tales telling how ordinary people survived their country’s finest and darkest hour. From Ray Holmes – a fighter pilot – battling the Luftwaffe’s “Flying Pencil” to Barbara Nixon, the would be actress who just wanted to do her bit, and spent the winter of 1940 volunteering as an air raid precaution warden, these stories are full of humanity and a marvellous humility. My particular favourite is the story of the four men who battled in vain to stop Coventry’s majestic cathedral being destroyed by incendiary firebombs.
The most amazing thing about the German air war against Britain was that it failed. Even after months of nightly raids, London remained a working city. The ‘spirit of the blitz’ is captured in this book but it never lets the reader forget that the relentless bombing of civilians, by both sides, during the Second World War was a vicious and pitiless chapter in 20th century history.
Robot Girl by Malorie Blackman
Claire is not happy. Her dad is a famous scientist whom she rarely sees because he’s so wrapped up in his work. She doesn’t have many friends except for an online friend, Maisie. She confides her unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life to Maisie through a series of messages. When Claire is invited to her father’s laboratory to see his latest invention, she becomes angry and vows to makes changes.
Do not be fooled into thinking, because this book is slim, that it is an easy read. It is a brilliant short story with a twist and then another twist that truly surprises. It is a mature read and has complex themes about what it is to be human and part of a family. Read it carefully – you don’t want to miss anything!
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
This is a story which takes the traditional tales of the Brothers Grimm and gives them a gruesome twist. The central characters are Hansel and Gretel, characters with whom we are familiar, but they are put into other stories as well as the one of the gingerbread house and the witch. After their father tries to kill them, following a fearful prophecy, Hansel and Gretel embark upon an adventure though dark woods to the Crystal Mountain and beyond, meeting talking trees, a child-eating moon and the devil himself. Disaster befalls them and they are separated. Will they ever find each other? Will they live happily ever after?
This story is good fun. It retains the style and darkness of the original stories but adds a layer of blood and gore. It is a bit disgusting in places but the tone is one of black humour so it can still make you laugh. The narrator pops up from time-to-time to poke gentle fun at the stories and tease the reader. All in all, it’s worth a look.
The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm are the crème de la crème of their genre and, because of Disney, they are often not remembered correctly. Once you have read A Tale Dark and Grimm, you may wish return to the classic fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm just to remind yourself how brilliant they are.
A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E. by Malorie Blackman
A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E. are a group who campaign against animal testing. They are investigating a chemicals company whom they believe are testing in secret on rare, exotic animals. Elliot is a boy who finds his mum a bit boring and she tells him he’s ‘cute’ which he hates! However, she has got a really impressive computer which he uses to play games on. Elliot’s world is suddenly turned upside-down when his mum is caught on CCTV breaking into the chemical factory as part of A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E.’s campaign. She then goes on the run, stating she is innocent, and he is left to try to clear her name. Can he do it? Is all as it seems?
I picked up this book after a member of Year 6 wrote about how Malorie Blackman inspires her. It’s been many years since I’ve read one of Blackman’s books and I’d forgotten just how good she is. The chapters are short and something happens in each one that alters the course of the plot. There are a few surprises and the fact that Elliot is often in real danger makes it an exciting read. You will have to bear in mind that the book is over 10 years old so the references (or lack of) to technology may seem unusual at times: Elliot does not have a mobile phone at his fingertips to automatically find the answers! This is a very entertaining book and I highly recommend it.
Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan
A review by Isaac and Mae
The book is set in a forest, in Araluen, that is dark and dangerous. There is a character called Will and he is a teenager who loves being outside with his bow and arrow, practising his shooting. One day, he goes to the forest with his friends and he is a candidate to become the Ranger’s Apprentice. He helps the Ranger by going on missions with his leader, who is a mysterious shadow. Throughout the series, the Ranger does not show his face. Will is chosen to go to the forest as silent as a shadow. He goes alone. He also becomes the ears and the eyes of the kingdom. The Ranger, the Apprentice and the king try to prevent the assassination of the king. Will he survive the mysterious dangers of the forest?
We like these books because they are full of adventure and mystery and give you the excitement when you read them. If you like adventure and mystery, this is a good series of books for you. If you enjoy this story, there are 10 more books in the series, including The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge. All eleven books together are like a jigsaw piece that is waiting to be put together.
The Shooting Star by Rose Impey
Angelina Jackson is known as ‘Jelly’ because she loves to eat jelly cubes. She is outspoken and not particularly good at school work. However, she has found what she is good at - netball. She’s not only good at it, she absolutely loves it! Jelly is known as the ‘shooting star’ because of all the goals she scores. She plays for her school team who, under the guidance of their teacher, Miss Summers, have been tipped to win the county finals. There is bad news, however…the council are going to ban competitive sports so that schools work with each other rather than against. This does not go down well with Jelly or her team-mates so they begin a campaign to reinstate the netball competition.
This is an enjoyable book, if a little predictable. The character of Jelly is certainly fiery and her love of netball sometimes makes her behaviour very rash. The characters work well and there are moments of humour. Ultimately, it is a story about how passion, determination and team work can lead to success. If you want a relaxing read that will make you smile, then this is for you.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
This brilliant story is all about escape, journeys and the promise of tomorrow. The book tells the story of three different children from three different times. Josef is a German Jew whose family has to escape from the Nazis in the 1930s. His family board a refugee ship heading for Cuba in the hope that they can start a new life. Isabel is from Cuba and, in 1994, a time of great unrest in the country, she and her family flee to the USA in a homemade boat. Finally, there is Mahmoud, a Syrian living in 2015, whose family are trying to escape their war-torn homeland to Germany. Will they all arrive safely and have the chance of a life in a safer environment?
My goodness! What an exhausting read! There are some life or death cliff hangers at the end of chapters which really had me holding my breath! What makes this book so exciting is that the characters are in so much danger. All three children have to make split-second decisions which will affect the future of themselves as well as their family. It is not an easy read: the characters go through so much turmoil and people don’t always survive. The ending has a little twist which gave me a sense of optimism.
The Glass Angels by Susan Hill
Tilly is looking forward to Christmas in her attic flat. Times are hard for her and her mother, who is a dressmaker. The story is set shortly after the Second World War, a conflict from which Tilly’s father never returned. It has a rich melancholy atmosphere and a sense of foreboding dominates from the start. Tilly is often underfoot when her mother is working and not popular at school because she is poor. Her only real friend is old Mrs McBride who lives downstairs. Mrs McBride has many treasures rescued from the grand house that she used to live in before it was destroyed by German bombs. Each visit reveals new and wonderous things, simple by today’s standards but wonderful none the less. An awful event threatens to ruin Christmas completely. Only a miracle can save the day. Will the glass angels of the title weave their magic, or will clever, resourceful Tilly prove that she’s made of sterner stuff?
This good old-fashioned Christmas story left me emotionally drained but ultimately hopeful. It’s beautifully written and has a magical quality. This is an ideal short story for children of all ages, from 10 to 110. Enjoy.
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
The original story of the bear from Darkest Peru. Paddington Bear, named after the railway station where he was discovered, is now a major movie star. However, the story was first published in 1958 and originally animated and televised in the 1970s. Paddington had travelled all the way from Peru, stowed away in a lifeboat and living on marmalade, when the Brown family first met him and named him at the station. Since then, their lives have never been quite the same. The most ordinary things (eating sticky buns, having a bath or a day at the seaside) become extraordinary when accident prone but lovable Paddington is involved. Paddington is so earnestly nice and always has the best of intentions, that one cannot help but like him. Even the fierce housekeeper, Mrs Bird, and the irascible neighbour Mr Curry (my particular favourite) can’t stay angry with him for long.
The novel, which is the first in a series of 11, is entirely readable and retains its universal appeal despite the passing of time. Old-fashioned maybe, but never out of fashion, this book deserves its place in amongst the classics.
Looking Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy
A review by Maya and Mia
“Get ready to fall through the rabbit hole all over again” with our favourite book stars Alice, Luke, Savannah and Yazz. Alice doesn’t really have any friends at her new school. Her old friends have dropped her and she has lost touch with the boy she really likes. Therefore, she is pleased to finally be invited to a sleepover and things start to look up. However, she is involved in an accident and ends up being stuck in a coma in hospital. A mystery unfolds – was Alice pushed? Will she ever get out of hospital and see her true love again?
This book is fabulous to read and has jam-packed chapters to make you feel like you’re actually there in the story. Read this book to find out more – you won’t regret it.
The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill
Philip Wright is 12 years old and loves the comedian Harry Hill. He’s in love (unrequited) with a ‘goddess’ named Lucy, has a Spanish best friend called Ang and a problem with the school bully – The Yeti. Philip wants to be an entertainer like his hero and tries out material old and new on his long suffering mum. His happy-go-lucky life is disrupted when his mum discovers she has breast cancer. Bad enough that she’s seriously ill – but could she not have developed a less embarrassing kind of cancer – toe cancer, maybe or ear cancer? Philip’s attempts to cope with the confusing and bewildering situation are both funny and touching. Throughout the book Philip writes letters to Harry Hill asking for advice on matters of love and life but receives no response.
I didn’t like this book to begin with as it seemed very derivative of Adrian Mole (ask your parents) but I’m so glad I persevered. The story is loosely based on the author’s own experiences of breast cancer and its treatment. It has to be said, it is a very funny book. I felt a lump in my throat and a tear in my glass eye on several occasions too. I’m not going to spoil the ending, other than say that this book lives up to its title and proves that laughter really is ‘the best medicine.’
Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens
Rose is struggling. Her Dad has recently died and she is finding it difficult to come to terms with. It makes her feel distant from her friends and family. When the story starts, Rose is with her Grandad on a train to Belgium. He wants to find the grave of his uncle who was killed at Ypres during the First World War. When Rose and her Grandad visit the cemetery, she is fascinated by a grave that has had lots tributes placed upon it. It turns out to be the grave of Valentine Joe Strudwick who, at only 15 years old, was one of the youngest soldiers to be killed in the Great War. When she returns to her hotel, she starts to hear unusual sounds outside her window. Rose looks out to find that there are soldiers marching across the square. One of them looks up to the window and their eyes meet. She decides to go out to investigate. When she gets outside, the atmosphere seems to change; the ground vibrates and she can hear loud noises. Then she meets a young boy called Joe…
I really enjoyed this book as well as finding it very poignant. We hear so much about First World War soldiers, but to focus on one soldier in particular makes the story seem far more personal. Because this is a relatively short book, the plot gets going straight away and does a really good job of allowing us, as the reader, to understand Rose and how she is feeling. The relationship she has with her grandfather is also very touching. If you like books about history or stories that are about getting to the heart of a character, then give it a go – you won’t be disappointed.
Itch by Simon Mayo
A review by Amy and Rhoda
Itch is set in Cornwall where a teen (called Itchingham Lofte or Itch) attends Cornwall Academy in the present day with his sister, Chloe, and Cousin Jack (who is also a Lofte). Itch is an element hunter and occasionally meets up with an element dealer named Cake. He is often blowing things up and burning his eyebrows off in experiments! He has a mad Head of Science who would clearly rather be anywhere but Cornwall Academy. His favourite teacher is Mr Watkins, a man who knows quite a bit about rocks and has worked at many other schools. Mr Watkins also ends up being tangled up in the adventure of the Loftes. Itch ends up with a mysterious rock from Cake which he thinks is uranium but it turns out to be something completely different and totally more dangerous!
We have enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to adventure and science lovers. If you like to read books in a series then this is also the book for you as it is the first book of three. The second book is called “Itch Rocks” and the third book is called “Itch Craft”. Itch has no illustrations but each character is described in so much detail you will be able to create the clearest image in your head and it is the same with the action. It is quite long but each chapter is filled with action and adventure. You won’t regret reading this book.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Mr and Mrs Banks of Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane are looking to employ a nanny to look after their four children. This makes Mrs Banks very worried Mr Banks very cross because the prospective nannies will line up outside the front gate and cause problems for the traffic. Therefore, when Mary Poppins turns up unexpectedly stating that she will take the job, Mrs Banks doesn’t take much persuading to give it to her. Mary Poppins is full of surprises right from the start. Her curious carpet bag seems to be able to hold all manner of items that shouldn’t be able to fit inside, she can understand what dogs are saying and a shop selling gingerbread mysteriously appears when she is around. Whilst always maintaining her dignity and her no-nonsense approach, Mary takes the children on several adventures including shopping with a star, a midnight party at the zoo and travelling all the way around the world using a magic compass. Life for the Banks children will never be the same.
If you have seen the film of Mary Poppins and think you know the story, then think again. Although the magical nanny is the same in principle, she is a lot more distant from the children in the book and she certainly doesn’t sing. She is actually quite vain and stops to admire herself in shop windows. Every chapter contains a different adventure for the Banks children, so it never becomes dull. I am very familiar with the film – it’s one of my favourites – so it was good to return to the original text to remind myself that Disney’s version of Mary is not quite the same as that of P.L. Travers. I recommend this book if you like a touch of magic and mystery.
Wave Me Goodbye by Jacqueline Wilson
This book is set at the outbreak of the Second World War. Shirley, who lives in London, is told by her mother to pack a case as she is going on a ‘holiday’. She is asked to keep the suitcase light but she doesn’t: she loves reading and so she takes several books (her favourite is Ballet Shoes and you’ll hear lots about the characters in that throughout the story) which make her case very heavy. Upon arrival at the train station, it becomes evident to Shirley, that is going to be evacuated along with the children in her school and other schools in the area. Whilst she doesn’t really want to go, she does take it in her stride and makes a friend, Jessica, on the train. When she arrives in her new town, no-one seems to want her to be billeted with them and Shirley, along with Kevin and Archie, are the last to be chosen. They end up living with the mysterious Mrs Waverley and her brash housekeeper ‘Chubby’. Shirley finds it hard to adapt, at first, but she begins to realise that all is not as it seems, especially when she discovers a key to a locked room.
I read this book after it was recommended to me by a member of Year 6 and I’m so glad I did! It’s full of historical detail that makes it very interesting. I also liked Shirley because she isn’t a perfect girl: she’s flawed and she makes mistakes, but she matures throughout the story for lots of different reasons. Something important happens in every chapter, hinted at by the illustrations that precede each one. If you like books with history or strong characters, then give it a go. It’s long, but well worth the effort.
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Meet Mary, a cheeky 12-year-old Dubliner. She’s annoyed that her best friend Ava has moved away. She’s annoyed that her brothers Dommo and Killer laugh at nothing and mostly she’s annoyed that her mother, Scarlett, speaks in exclamation marks! Mary is also deeply annoyed and very sad that her grandmother, Emer, is dying in hospital. However, Mary’s outlook changes dramatically when she meets Tansey – the ghost of her great grandmother. Tansey needs Mary’s help to give a dying woman one last, glorious adventure.
Although it deals with the very serious subject of saying goodbye to life, this book manages to be whimsical funny and warm-hearted whilst bringing a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye at the same time. Roddy Doyle, rightly regarded as one of the great writers of our time, has written a small miracle of a book.
Freedom by Catherine Johnson
This is an eye-opener of a book. Set in 1783, the tale follows Nathaniel who is a black slave to a rich family, the Barratts, in Jamaica. He works hard on the Barratt’s plantation but he lives in fear of being whipped or having part of his foot cut off so that he can’t run away. He has been separated from his mother and sister and only has Thomas, an old man who he helps to look after the gardens, to talk to. Then, one day, Nathaniel’s life changes when he is told by the family that he is to accompany them on a trip to London. They wish to give pineapples as a gift (there wouldn’t have been many at all in London at this time) and, because of his knowledge of gardening, he is chosen to look after the plants on the long voyage. Whilst on the ship, Nathaniel finds out more about slavery and its consequences and, when he arrives in London, he has only one thing on his mind – freedom.
If you aren’t aware that people used to be kept as slaves, you will be surprised and shocked at the treatment that Nathaniel receives and the nastiness that one human can project onto another. This is only a short story, so the action keeps moving and holds the reader’s interest. As well as being a good read, there is also a history lesson to give cause for reflection.
I was there…Step back into the Battle of Hastings 1066 by Jim Eldridge
Its 1066 and Edwin, a 12 year old knight in training, longs to join his father in battle. The story begins at the battle of Stamford Bridge and the defeat of the Viking hoards led by Harald Hardrada. What follows is a lively history of the period told from a young man’s point of view. Edwin’s friend Osric longs to be a monk, to read, learn, and find out about the world beyond England. Edwin’s father has a decision to make – does he let Edwin fight? King Harold thinks Edwin would make a great spy. England faces an uncertain future. Will anyone actually survive the battle?
The author claims you will be able able to imagine you were actually there. This may be an extravagant claim. However, the book is a vivid first person account of a turbulent time in England’s history and well worth a read.
Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird
Omar is a twelve-year-old boy who lives in Syria. He doesn’t particularly enjoy school. Instead, he dreams of earning lots of money when he’s older by becoming a successful businessman. However, his hopes for the future are shattered when an incident at the local school leads to his home city of Bosra becoming a danger zone. In Syria, the people are oppressed and are not allowed to speak out against the government. But a group of students do, so the tanks roll into town, meaning Omar and his family have to flee to safety. It emerges that Omar’s brother, Musa, has been involved in causing trouble with the government. Musa has cerebral palsy and, as a result, he is often underestimated. But Omar knows that his clever brother is in trouble and, although he fears for him, he does support and help in order to protect him. The story follows Omar’s family and their need to escape from war torn place to war torn place, relying on family members to help them until there’s no-one left to turn to. Then, they are forced to become refugees and live in a refugee camp.
This is a very modern story which reflects real life. The terror under which Omar’s family live is described really well, especially the fear felt by his parents. The issues raised can sometimes be difficult to read as it involves families being separated, children being shot and characters being in distress. However, it is well worth a read to appreciate just what refugees have to go through.
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old boy but he is a criminal mastermind. His family have been involved in criminal activity for generations and Artemis, after the disappearance of his father, has become the head of the organisation. This book gets off to a fast-start. Artemis, accompanied by his servant / friend, Butler, has the job of obtaining The Book of the People. This is a book of fairies, written in a secret code that no-one has ever been able to translate. Once Artemis has the book, he creates a computer program to crack the code and find out about fairies. He then makes it his mission to use the fairies to procure as much gold as possible.
This book is a real mix of text types. It is predominantly sci-fi with a mixture of fantasy and adventure thrown in for good measure. There are familiar fantasy / traditional characters, such as fairies, trolls and dwarfs, but the introduction of technology brings them up-to-date. This is an interesting story because the lines between good v evil are blurred. It’s unusual for the main character in a book to be a ‘baddie’. However, is Artemis Fowl all bad? That’s for you to decide.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
August Pullman seems like your average 10 year old boy. He likes playing X-Box, riding his bike and eating lots and lots of ice cream, except there's something different about him. August was born with a facial disfigurement. He knows that people are always going to stare and his face, he knows there are going to be double takes in the street and he knows that people are going to want to ask questions. But the most important thing about August is he doesn't let that affect him. After all, isn't it good to be different when everybody else is the same?
One of the main things I loved about the book was August's attitude towards life: his ability to cope, to be genuinely happy and make a comedy out of his situation is amazing for anyone to read. August faced many mixed reactions when starting secondary school; there were lots of supportive people and an equal number of not so supportive people but he never let that stop him. Like anybody, August had good days and not so good days. I also love how the story was told from different perspectives of the different children in August's class; you could see how the other children perceived his disfigurement, and some never mentioned the issue and others have burning questions which they are not sure how to ask.
I would highly recommend this book to both children and adults. It is called Wonder because it makes you wonder – if you were him, or them how would you behave?
Clockwork by Philip Pullman
Set in the northern European town of ‘Glockenheim’ in the ‘old days’, this is a spine-chilling story with a strong moral message. Fritz, the writer, tells a tale to cheer up Karl, the apprentice clockmaker. However, before he can think of an ending the story begins to come true. When Sir Ironsoul, the relentless clockwork devil, is unleashed by the evil Dr. Kalmenius, only Gretl, the innkeeper’s fearless daughter, can save the prince with the mechanical heart and maybe the soul of the reckless storyteller.
In the author’s signature style, the characters all get their just desserts leaving the reader uneasy and disturbed. This is one of my very favourite books; I love its sinister undertones and its restless energy. Pick it up, but be warned, you will struggle to put it down.
Sherlock Holmes – Baker Street Boys: The Case of the Disappearing Detective by Anthony Read
This book is what used to be called ‘a right rollicking yarn’. It features, Wiggins, Shiner, Beaver, Sparrow, Queenie and Gertie – The Baker Street Boys of the title - although they’re not all boys - a group of street children employed by Sherlock Holmes as irregulars. They are his eyes and ears in the murky underworld of Victorian London and are often one step ahead of the great detective. In this story, It’s Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the boys are engaged to keep watch on a sinister American. Holmes’s arch enemy, Professor Moriarty, returns with a fiendish plot to blow up the Queen at Windsor Station. The great detective goes missing and it’s up to Wiggins and the ‘boys’ to save the day.
This is a fast-paced story full of typically Victorian characters. If you’ve never heard of Sherlock Holmes it won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book and it’s one of a series so there are plenty more adventures to get your teeth into. The game is afoot. Enjoy it!
The Boy at the Back of The Class by Onjali Q Rauf
This book is up to date and relevant. It tells the story of a Syrian refugee who comes to school in London. Through the eyes of the other pupils we learn his life story. His class mates learn how to communicate and understand his life and how different it is to theirs in so many different ways. We see how bullying is dealt with and listen to different adult viewpoints about refugees. It will make you think and consider life from a different perspective. As his friends work out how to help they find themselves in a bit of trouble. The more you read, the more you’ll find out, and the more it will make you understand what it happening in the world today. I would highly recommend this book as a good read but also an insight into the lives of millions of refugee children across the world.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to meet a man who wants to buy a house in England. Jonathan is a solicitor and is dealing with the sale and legal documents involved in buying the house. The man he is meeting is Count Dracula. When Jonathan tells people he is staying at Castle Dracula, they seem frightened. One of them gives him a crucifix to wear. Whilst he stays at Dracula’s house, Jonathan often feels uncomfortable, as though things are happening which make him unsafe. The stay almost costs him his life. The narrative then switches to Whitby, where Lucy, the recently engaged friend of Jonathan’s wife Mina, starts to become ill very quickly. She is losing blood, which can’t be explained, until Professor Van Helsing notices two small marks on her neck. The rest of the story describes the hunt for Dracula in a bid to destroy him once and for all.
Dracula is a classic horror story. This version is a simplified story for children, but it still retains its creepiness. As the reader, it is often the case that you know more than the characters and I found myself wanting to shout to them ‘She a v…” Well, you’ll just have to wait and see! The book is a good read and a real page-turner. The characters are characters you can root for, especially Mina, who is incredibly brave. There are scenes involving graveyards, coffins, large red-eyed beasts and blood, so it can be a bit gruesome. If you are someone who likes a safe-scare, this is the book for you.
Tales of King Arthur retold by Felicity Brooks
King Arthur is a legendary English hero. This story introduces the reader to some of his more famous exploits. We learn how Arthur comes to be king and how he finds Excalibur. The main focus is Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There are tales of heroism, out-smarting the enemy, loyalty and betrayal. All of the classic characters are here: Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Mordred, Lancelot and Merlin. My favourite chapter is ‘The Enchanted Ship’ as it’s about how Arthur is tricked into doing something terrible to his friend.
The story is simply told but is fast-paced as each chapter is a different adventure. The King Arthur story has many different versions and I think that this book does a good job of highlighting the key events associated with Arthur. Sometimes, I would have liked a little more detail during some of the battles, but, overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read and a good introduction to the legend.
The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson
Andrea, who is known as Andy in the story, is a tall, awkward ten-year-old whose parents have recently divorced. Her dad wants Andy to live with him. Her mum wants Andy to live with her! She’s torn between the two of them and longs to return to their old life at Mulberry Cottage. She ends up living one week with mum followed by one with dad – hence the suitcase as she is constantly packing. Her mother remarries Bill (the baboon) who has three children of his own. She despises the youngest “little ratbag” Katie, a girl her own age – well, five days older. Her father remarries Carrie who has twins Zen and Crystal and is expecting dad's new baby. Andy doesn't mind Carrie and her children but she still wishes she could have her dad to herself. Andy becomes disinterested at school. Her results dip and she loses touch with her best friend, Aileen. Her only friend is her spotted Sylvanian Families rabbit, Radish. By the end of the book, via a secret garden, a mishap with Radish, running away from home and some surrogate grandparents, Andy has a new best friend and has come to terms with her new life.
This is a bittersweet book in Jacqueline Wilson’s familiar contemporary style. It fairly races along and the characters are well developed. The suitcase is a metaphor for the baggage of life and only once Andie has dealt with this can she move on. I enjoyed this book and would heartily recommend it to all.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter hasn’t had the happiest childhood. He was orphaned as a baby and raised by his aunt and uncle who don’t really like him. His bedroom is a cupboard under the stairs. However, Harry’s life changes forever on his eleventh birthday when he finds out that he is really a wizard. To his delight, he is sent to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to use magic. He makes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, learns how to play quidditch and gets into all sorts of mischief. There are broomsticks, spells, feasts, a baby dragon and a giant game of chess! As he becomes more integrated into the world of magic, Harry also learns that not everyone is good. When events take a dark turn, it is up to Harry and his friends to save the day. A key message of this story is how love and friendship are important and can almost provide a magic of their own. It also tells us that we all have it within us to be brave.
This first book in the series sets the scene and introduces us to the wizarding world and its various characters. So much happens in every chapter. The descriptions written by J.K. Rowling are fantastic and really help you to view the story in your mind’s eye. I cannot speak highly enough of this book. The Harry Potter series are, in my opinion, the best children’s books ever written. They can make you laugh out loud and cry your eyes out! You might have seen the films: they are great, but are nowhere near as good as the books. If you’re up for a challenge – because they are a tricky read – then give the book a go. You're in for a real treat!
Please note: It is important to read the series in the right order.
Young Sherlock: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane
This is one of the best children’s books I have read for a long time. It is fast-paced, there’s a mystery to solve and it is quite exciting at times. Sherlock Holmes attends a boarding school but, one summer, he is unable to return home for the holidays so he is sent to stay with his uncle and aunt whom he’s never met. They live on a large country estate which gives Sherlock plenty of opportunity for investigation. He meets a boy called Matty and, together, they become involved in solving a mystery. Two bodies are found covered in boils and sores, leading people to think there may be a plague. However, a mysterious cloud is seen leaving the bodies shortly after their death. Who or what is causing it? Sherlock sets out to find out.
This is a great story. The Victorian setting makes it very atmospheric. Something happens in every chapter that moves the plot forward and there are plenty of ‘red herrings’ to lead the reader astray. We see how Sherlock Holmes goes from being a clever, curious boy into the beginnings of the great detective he will become. This book is a challenging read as such a lot happens but it’s well worth the time spent on it. Death Cloud is the first in the Young Sherlock series.
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
When the story starts, Maia has been living in a school in London for two years since the death of her parents. One day, she receives news that a distant relative has been traced and that she is to live with them – in Brazil! Maia starts by researching the River Amazon, which she discovers is known as ‘The River Sea’ and realises that where she going is very different from what she has known. The story follows her journey to another part of the world and her feelings as she tries to settle with the Carter family. In Brazil, she meets new friends who will need her help and will lead her on new adventures.
This is a really interesting book as it challenges the viewpoint that family, or ‘blood’ are always the right thing for us. Maia, and the friends she meets, haven’t always had a happy time with family and we, the reader learn that it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, family can still influence our lives in many ways. It’s not the sort of exciting book where something happens in every chapter, rather it is a plot that develops over several chapters and really hooks you in.
Midnight Library: Voices by Nick Shadow
This is a collection of three shortish stories. They all have an element of horror and mystery. Each story is different, but there is a common theme running through them all – voices. In the first story, a girl called Kate hears voices whilst in a graveyard that seem to be telling her about future events. In the second, Justin seems to be plagued by a pair of trainers that can think for themselves. The third story is about a boy who experiences something very unusual after an argument with a neighbour about an orchard.
The three-books-in-one format works really well in this book. The stories are long enough to provide a detailed plot but are short enough to be able to read them fairly quickly. This book is a good read, although it is a little creepy at times. Probably best not to read it just before you go to bed! If you enjoy reading it, it is the first of several Midnight Library books to choose from. The books do not have to be read in any kind of order.
The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence
This is the first book in The Roman Mysteries series. The story follows Flavia Gemina, a girl who lives in Roman times. She likes to solve mysteries. Each chapter contains a mini-adventure that all lead to Flavia solving a problem of who is killing dogs and for what reason.
If you like history or mystery, then then this is a great book for you. There is a glossary of Roman terms in the back to help you to understand the story. There is also one of our favourite things at the front…a map! This means you can follow the story through the different locations and it might help you to solve the mystery before Flavia!
If you are a dog-lover or you don’t like blood and gore, this probably isn’t the book for you as it can be a bit gruesome at times!
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
This is the first book in the Alex Rider series. Alex’s life is turned upside-down after the death of his adoptive uncle, who has been like a father to him. He is suddenly thrown into a world of spies, mysteries, secret identities and adventure. Alex is recruited my MI6 to investigate a man, Herod Sayle, who has created a computer called Stormbreaker. Sayle wants to give a computer to every secondary school in the country but is this act of generosity everything it seems?
This is a fast-moving book. Something exciting happens in every chapter and, as the reader, you really root for Alex and want him to succeed in the environment in which he has reluctantly found himself. The book is very much in the James Bond genre, so if you like mystery and adventure, then this book is for you.
Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
This is the first book in The Famous Five series. Julian, Dick and Anne travel to the coast to meet their cousin Georgina. However, Georgina – who likes to be known as George – certainly does not want to meet them! George is unfriendly and only wants to spend time with her dog, Timmy, and visit ‘her’ island – Kirrin Island. However, a storm reveals a secret that leads the Five on a hunt for treasure – will they find it?
The Famous Five series is a stalwart of children’s literature. This book was written 75 years ago and reflects a time when children had a lot more freedom and certainly no electronic devices to help them. The Famous Five have to rely on teamwork, intelligence and courage to meet their challenges. If you like adventure stories, then this is a great book for you – and there are also twenty more books! The story is well-paced and the setting of an island on a rugged coastline make it interesting.