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Book Reviews

Dancing the Charleston by Jacqueline Wilson

Mona is a bright girl who lives with her aunt. She never knew her mother but she goes to her grave to talk to her almost every day. Aunty is a very talented dressmaker who makes gowns for grand Lady Somerset and for the rich people who shop at Harrod's in London. Aunty looks after Mona well, but she is a very serious sort of lady who works hard and doesn't really have the time to have fun and enjoy life. Mona and her Aunty live in the gatehouse of Lady Somerset's grand estate and, when old Lady Somerset dies, they worry that they will have to leave their home. Fortunately, the estate is inherited by Benjamin Somerset, a young man with a very 'avant garde' attitude towards life. He likes modern art, fashion and parties and welcomes Mona and her Aunt with open arms. Mona finds that she is torn between getting to know the Somerset children and her friends at the village school. She loves Benjamin and his way of life and is drawn into his world of fairy stories, fancy breakfasts and spontaneous frivolity. Mona begins to make important decisions about her school, her friends and her future, but is she making the right choices?


The ever-reliable Jacqueline Wilson never lets her readers down. When I first saw how thick the book was, I thought it would take me ages to read. But, because I was so gripped by Mona and her adventures, it took only a matter of days. Mona is a very likeable character. She isn't perfect but her honesty makes her all the more admirable. She really does develop as the story progresses and you'll be completely hooked after a few chapters. The setting of the 1920s, an era often missed out in children's stories, is very interesting. The charleston is a dance that was very popular at the time but this isn't actually a book about dancing. The charleston is a dance of freedom and this reflects how the characters come to find their freedom in different ways. There's a timely appearance from another Jacqueline Wilson character towards the end and there's a great twist to the tale to round it all off. I highly recommend this book.

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll

This is a three-stories-in-one-book set during the Second World War. Whilst they are all separate stories, they are connected by one character: Eddie Johnson, an American GI. The first story is called ‘The Night Visitors’ and centres upon a boy called Stan and his sisters. After their house is destroyed by a bomb, they are evacuated to Frost Hollow Hall, an enormous country estate. While unearthing a family secret they also find themselves in terrible danger. In the next story ‘Olive’s Army’, Olive’s sister, Suki, is getting married to Ephraim Pengilly. However, events take a puzzling turn when a body is washed up onto the beach and in the pockets of the dead man are papers that suggest he’s a German named… Ephraim Pengilly! So why does he have the same name as Suki’s fiancée? Is Suki’s fiancée who he says he is? Olive tries to solve the mystery and fight off an invasion! ‘Operation Greyhound’ is the final story and this tells us about Velvet. She is an animal-lover and when the new air raid warden decides that animals are no longer allowed in the air raid shelter, she sets out to try and ensure the safety of the local pets when the German planes arrive on a bombing mission.


These are good stories that hold your interest – my personal favourite was Olive’s Army. I would perhaps like to have seen fewer characters: sometimes, characters are introduced but we don’t really find out that much about them. A lot happens in each story and just when you think there can’t be any more twists…there’s another one. The fact that Eddie appears in all three stories gives the book a sense of continuity and all three stories are brought together at the end. Although these are children’s stories, some of the themes such as spies, the threat of invasion, death and separation from parents sometimes makes the plot rather dark. However, the determination of the characters and the presence of several dogs keeps it light-hearted. Why not give these stories a try?

Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician: A Life Story by Leila Rasheed

Katherine Johnson, who died at the age of 102, was a trailblazing mathematician. Until recently, few people had ever heard of her or the complex work she did in the space programme. Her proficiency with numbers, calculations, reasoning, problem solving and trigonometry took men to the moon and, more importantly, brought them back again. She trusted in the rules of mathematics and they did not let her down. Mostly she did it in her head. Katherine grew up in an America still largely segregated, where black people, and particularly black women, were afforded limited educational opportunities. She thought being a nurse or maybe a teacher would be the limit of her ambition. Tenaciously, she pursued her goals to be a research mathematician, something no black woman had ever done before. In so doing, she found herself at the forefront of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the space race.


This book tells the story of the inspirational woman from Sulphur Springs, Virginia, who helped put John Glenn into orbit and Neil Armstrong on the moon. It chronicles her struggles with discrimination and her love of numbers. In many ways, she was an ordinary woman, with an extraordinary talent, living in extraordinary times. The book also tells us about the people who guided and influenced her, the history of the period and about the conquest of space. Her fascinating life story was made into an Oscar winning film called ‘Hidden Figures’ in 2016. If you enjoy mathematics then this book is for you.  If mathematics isn’t really your thing, then this book is for you. As Katherine herself said, “There will always be mathematics.” Enjoy.

Unexpected Twist: An Oliver Twisted Tale by Michael Rosen

Now this is a really good idea: you read two stories at once! Shona has just moved to a new school. She is an unhappy girl who finds it hard to make friends. Her dad has had his benefits stopped so they’ve had to move into a one-bedroomed flat. She doesn’t have anything fashionable or new. But at the heart of her sadness is that fact that her mother died and she thinks that it is her fault. When she joins her new class, they are studying Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Each chapter of Shona’s story is followed by a chapter of Oliver’s story and there are remarkable comparisons that can be drawn. Shona is then offered a free phone by a boy she meets in detention. She can’t believe her luck! A free phone! But, Shona begins to learn the hard way that nothing in life comes without a price…


This is a very good book. Shona is a character that you can really get behind and want to help when she starts making all the wrong choices. It also helps us to appreciate that we shouldn’t judge people on what we see from the outside. We don’t really get to know the other characters so much, but Shona and her situation holds the interest. It’s a really good way of introducing yourself to a classic of English literature, too. Oliver Twist is a wonderful story in its own right and this book will give you an insight into the world of Charles Dickens. Enjoy!

Listen Up: Rule the Airwaves. Rule the School by Roman Kemp and Vick Hope in collaboration with Chloe Seager

It is the day of the Victory Road School Chess tournament and the two school radio stations are competing to provide the coverage for their listeners. There's Best of the Best which is run by Grace Best. She is always very prepared for her interview dreams of getting an exclusive scoop that will make her the queen of radio. She is up against Arthur and Kieran of Radio Royalty. They prefer to be spontaneous about their interviews which Grace believed makes them unprepared. It's fair to say that there is plenty of rivalry. When the trophy is stolen during the tournament, both Grace and Arthur are determined to track down the thief and grab the headlines for themselves. There are many suspects and many clues but the rivals are struggling to piece the evidence together. Maybe if they work as a team, they can track down the thief together...


I really enjoyed this book. The main characters are all likeable (if annoying at times) and I wanted them to be successful in their mission. There is plenty of humour as the radio stars carry out their interviews. There are lots of hints and clues to keep you guessing who the thief - it is a real mystery. I didn't guess who it was and the reveal is both believable and heart-warming. I can see this book developing into a series. Have a look at it: it's a good read.

The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll

This is a story set in the English county of Somerset. It centres upon Fortune Sharpe who is living in the 1600s, a time of suspicion and fear of witchcraft. Fortune lives in the hamlet of Fair Maidens Lane with her brother, sister and mother. We see that Fortune has a bit of a rebellious streak when, in secret, she and her brother Jem start to make a boat from a fallen tree which they intend to launch on the sea. Everyone in the hamlet goes about their business milking cows and making cheese but there is a sense of unease in the air. Men have started arriving in the village to observe from a distance and then, suddenly, Old Margaret is taken away, accused of witchcraft. Then, everything changes. The hamlet becomes a place of fear so Fortune's mother disguises her as a boy and takes her away to sell at a market. She ends up being taken to a large country estate and becomes involved with a new family who need help. Along the way, she becomes embroiled in things she doesn't understand, such a needle that seems to sew by itself and a sea that behaves in a most unexpected way. Will Fortune's true identity be revealed? Will she discover any real witchcraft?


A lot happens in this story and Fortune really does go through several ordeals. She's a likeable, feisty character who shows a great deal of determination. If you like historical stories, then this is a real snapshot of life in the 17th century and some of the beliefs that people held which seem odd to us, now. It is quite a long read so you have to stick with it but it's an adventure that's worth investing the time in.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

This is a quirky tale. It tells the story of a girl with the unusual name of Property Jones. She was left in a bookshop as a five-year-old and found by Michael Jones. He didn’t know what to do with her, so he put her with the lost property. She ended up staying with the Jones family who refer to her as Property. Now eleven years old, Property is still living in the bookshop with the Joneses but she has a secret…she can’t read! She has managed to keep this a secret from them by pretending to read a book to herself. Netty, Property’s Mum, and her brother, Michael, love books and are always reading them but Property doesn’t know how to join in. The Joneses bookshop is in trouble as hardly anyone buys a book, so Netty enters a competition to win the Montgomery Book Emporium, which is supposed to be the mot amazing bookshop in the world. To their great surprise, the family wins the raffle and think all their troubles are over. But, of course, it never works out quite like that…


This is an entertaining story with likeable main characters. Although Property is unable to read, it doesn’t mean that she can’t use her skills and know-how to try to save the family from a disastrous situation. It goes to show that everyone can make a contribution and no-one should be underestimated. There is also a message of being wary of what is being offered to you until you are entirely sure of all the facts. It’s a quick story to read – give it a try.

Scarlet and Ivy – The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly

Ivy Grey lives with her eccentric aunt. The weight of her twin sister’s recent death lies heavily upon her shoulders. Ivy doesn’t know how her twin, Scarlet, died. She knows that it was at her boarding school, Rookwood, but she doesn’t know any details. Scarlet had passed an exam to gain a place at Rookwood but Ivy hadn’t scored highly enough so the twins had been separated. Then, one morning, out of the blue, Ivy is offered a place at Rookwood – the place of her sister. It’s all rather sudden but Ivy is bundled off to school where she meets the terrifying Miss Fox, the lady in charge of the school. Things then start to take a sinister turn. Ivy is told that she doesn’t merely have her sister’s place…she must be her sister and not tell anyone her real identity. Ivy is shaken by this but, as the plot develops, she sees that all is not as it should be at Rookwood. Hope is provided by Scarlet. She was suspicious of incidents at the school before her death and has left Ivy a series of clues in her diary which Ivy must solve if she is to unravel the mystery of Rookwood…


This is a genuine page-turner of a book. It starts off like many other boarding school style books but once Ivy arrives at Rookwood, the pace really picks up. As Ivy takes up the search for clues, there are some real surprises and the other characters are not as they seem. This means that the story will hold your interest from beginning to end. There is a great twist towards the end that you will not see coming! It’s not an easy read so you’ll have to stick with it, but it’s worth the effort. If you enjoy this one, there are others in the series.

The Queen’s Nose by Dick King-Smith

Harmony is a solitary child who sees people as animals. Her mother is a fussy Pouter Pigeon, her father a gruff Sea Lion and her sister Melody, a sleek, vain Siamese cat.  Harmony’s best friend is her old stuffed dog Rex Ruff Monty with whom she spends all her time and has insightful one-way conversations. Mostly, Harmony wants a pet, an animal of her very own, but Harmony’s parents are not animal lovers. Enter Uncle Ginger (a silver tip grizzly) with a little bit of magic about him. Ginger notices that Harmony spends a lot of time wishing. He sends her on a treasure hunt, which disappointingly ends in finding a 50p piece. As you can imagine, this is no ordinary coin. It has the power to grant wishes. If only she can figure out how it works and, more importantly, what to wish for.


Dick King-Smith is recognised as the master of animal adventures; however, this is not a story about animals. In fact, Anita the rabbit is the only creature to feature before the final chapter. Harmony’s penchant for seeing people as animals is an endearing quality as is her fierce, independent single-mindedness. She knows what she wants and she knows what to do to get it. However, as the story progresses, the message changes from ‘wishes do come true’ to ‘be careful what you wish for.’ Ultimately, this is a story about growing up and learning that there may be more to people than meets the eye.  This tale will please fans of Dick King-Smith and the uninitiated (like this reader) alike.

Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story by Bali Rai

Fazal Khan, a mere fifteen years old, runs away from his safe and steady family life in Rawalpindi, India, and enlists in the British army. He wants to be like his grandfather (his Baba) who fought in the Great War. Young Fazal dreams of honour and glory but France in 1940 is no place for a young Indian soldier. Fazal and his best friend Mushtaq are muleteers (in charge of pack animals) in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. Their adventures take them from Marseille in 1939, through the coldest winter for 100 years to the chaos of the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat to Dunkirk. Along the way, he encounters stupidity, racism, kindness and curiosity in equal measure, before eventual sickening betrayal. Reluctantly, he comes to appreciate his place in the pecking order of the British Empire but never loses sight of what he considers his duty: Hukum Hai - his faith in God. 


This is a terrific book, based on a true story, which rattles along at a frenetic pace. Something significant happens in each short chapter, giving the reader an idea of the chaos and horror of war seen through the eyes of an innocent. It is a gripping adventure that reflects the authentic unsung heroes of our past.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Buck is a St Bernard/Alsatian cross, stolen from his comfortable California home and sold into slavery as a sled dog in the Klondike gold rush at the end of the 19th century. He is brutalised and bullied but never broken by humans and other dogs. Over time, he comes to accept his work and position according to ‘the law of club and fang’. After a particularly bloody battle, he becomes the pack leader and a chance encounter with a timber wolf awakens his wild side. When Buck teams up with John Thornton, the book changes course focusing on the love that can grow between dog and man as they experience the savage Alaskan wilderness together. 


This is a killer dog story. By which I mean it is a great story about a dog who is a killer. Before you commit to this book, consider three things: it was first published in 1903 when society was somewhat different; some of the language and dialogue is quite challenging; and it requires the reader to accept that in ‘the wild’ survival of the fittest and kill or be killed are very real, violent concepts. In addition, one has to endure the first two chapters much as our hero Buck has to. This is a great adventure story and is rightly recognised as a classic. It considers the qualities needed to be a leader and the idea that, for a dog at least, the instincts of the wolf are only just below the surface.  

Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver by Michael Morpurgo

“So tell me,” she said, “tell me everything.” Thus begins the story of Omar, a boy forced to flee war torn Afghanistan with his mother and venture across the sea to Europe. When the over-crowded rubber boat they are travelling in finally sinks, Omar clings onto the wreckage for as long as possible before slipping into unconsciousness; surely only death awaits? Or not, as the case may be, for when Omar comes around he finds himself in Lilliput, whose inhabitants are only 15cm tall, just as Gulliver had all those years ago.  Omar, known as Owzat because of his love of cricket, reprises Gulliver’s most famous adventures amongst the Lilliputians, learning perfect, old-fashioned English along the way. Every night, he tells his mother, although he doesn’t know if she’s even alive at this point, how much he misses her and how one day he will leave Lilliput and travel to Fore Street, Mevagissey in Cornwall to be reunited with her and his Uncle Said. Eventually he sets out for home, always heading east towards his uncertain future, his adventure far from over.


Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift was first published in 1726 and has never been out of print. The book tells of Lemuel Gulliver’s adventures in four very different fantastical lands, the best known being Lilliput.  The original book remains a children’s classic and a critical commentary on life in 18th century England. Michael Morpurgo has put a modern twist on the tale, making it accessible to 21st century readers, without losing any of the magic, and, in so doing, may have written a classic of his own.

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?

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!

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?

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.

The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold

Frank (short for Francesca) is not a happy girl. Her cat has gone missing and she is persistently being bullied by Neil Noble and his gang of followers. He targets Frank and makes her life a misery. One day, after a nasty encounter, she is rescued by Nick Underbridge. However, Frank is not as grateful as you'd expect because Nick doesn't have any friends. He smells, he's big and everyone thinks he's weird. Frank, for reasons you'll discover, ends up at Nick's house and she is completely mesmerised by some music that she hears. She can't rest until she finds out what the music is and where it's coming from. The story then takes a twist and a turn and reveals a surprise that takes this contemporary story into the realms of fantasy and science fiction.


This is a really good book because of the twist in the middle of the tale. It's interesting because Frank is a bit of an enigma. As the reader, it is difficult to understand why she sometimes thinks the way that she does. She also has conversations with her stomach (literally her gut feeling). The illustrations and the way the text is presented enhance the reading experience. You do have to concentrate as it's a bit unusual towards the end. Ultimately, this is a book about not judging a book by its cover and the characters definitely change as a result of learning this lesson.

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.

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!

When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Brahmachari 

This story starts with Imtiaz – known as Immy – who is not looking forward to the future. As a baby, she was found in a piece of newspaper and has been in the care system ever since. She has grown close to Delyse (her social worker), but Delyse is going to return to the Caribbean, the place her parents used to live before they arrived in Britain on the Windrush. An adoption has therefore been arranged and Immy is to live with Usha and her parents. Usha is a quiet girl who is devastated at the recent loss of her beloved grandmother, Kali Ma, and is very anxious at the prospect of a new sister. Immy’s new home is very unusual. The top floor, Usha and Immy’s bedroom, is designed like a ship and even has a porthole! The bottom floor is used as a refuge, a place for people in need, but is under threat of closure unless the family can prove they own it and have the right to use it in the way they do. However, there is a problem - the documents they need are missing! At Kali Ma’s funeral service, events take an unusual turn when her spirit appears - but only to Usha. Immy then begins to see a spirit also! It seems that the two spirits, along with an old book of secrets, are trying to tell the girls about the past. Can they work together to discover the secrets of the past and save their home?


I really enjoyed this story. It is an historical novel (with fantasy thrown in for good measure) about a part of history you may not be familiar with. In uncovering the secrets of their home, Immy and Usha discover that it used to be a place for Ayahs - Indian nannies who travelled to Britain to care for children whose families had lived in Asia at the time of the Raj - but were not able to return to their homeland. We are also introduced to characters of Roma descent so the tale is a good introduction as to how people from other cultures came to live and settle in Britain. I recommend this story for its get-up-and-go characters and interesting historical plot.

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.

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.

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.

The Royal Rebel by Bali Rai

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh lives on an enormous estate in Suffolk. Her father has tuned it into an Indian palace with ornaments, exotic plants and animals including a bad-tempered baboon. Her grandfather had been a maharajah and ruler of the Sikh Indians and had fought off British invasion. However, things have started to go wrong for the family. Father is having to sell items from the house as he is in danger of being declared bankrupt and Mother won’t come out of her room. So Father decides to take the family to India. When they discover that they are not welcome there, they have to return home without Father but, with their beloved estate now sold to pay off debts, they have a turn to a rich relative for help – Queen Victoria. Despite her help, Sophia’s life goes from bad to worse. The once privileged young princess grows up to see the injustice that exists in the world and wants to do something about it - she becomes a suffragette.


I thoroughly enjoyed this story which is based on a real-life person. It was easy to read and moved seamlessly through the different periods of Sophia’s life to give an oversight of the hardships she had to endure despite her background. She is a really brave and strong character to have coped with all she had thrown at her as well as fight for causes she felt were right. She stood up for those people without a voice and left me feeling full of admiration for her.

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 Tunnels Below by Nadine Wild-Palmer

When Cecilia is given a large vintage marble for her birthday, she is mildly impressed. However, her sister, Hester, who bought her the present from the bric-a-brac shop, is absolutely thrilled with the gift because it looks to her like the universe. Hester wants to give Cecilia the chance to wear the marble as a piece of jewellery so she makes a holder from string. Cecilia, not wanting to hurt her sister’s feelings agrees to wear it on her birthday outing. However, this proves to be a decision that will change everything. The marble is dropped, it rolls into a train carriage, then is a bright flash and then Cecilia finds herself in a fantasy world of tunnels and unusual creatures and where nothing is what she expects…


The opening scene sets the story up well. We come to realise very early on that Cecilia is a character who can take things in her stride - which is just as well because she has to deal with some very dangerous situations. Ultimately, it is a story about teamwork and the importance of friendship and family. I recommend this book if you are looking for an imaginative escape to another world!

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.

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.  

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.’

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.

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.

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.

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.

I was there…Step back into the Battle of Hastings 1066 by Jim Eldridge

It's 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.

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.

The White Horse of Zennor and other stories by Michael Morpurgo

Short stories are often considered 'easy reads'. That is simply not the case, especially in this book of five short stories all set in Cornwall. The stories have the feel of a traditional tale but the characters are much more modern. Each story has an element of Cornish myth, such as ghosts or 'knockers' (you'll have to read the book to find out what they are). In each tale, there is something for the characters to learn, often by doing things the hard way.


This is very enjoyable book. The references to traditional myths makes it seem like a familiar read but all of the stories are original. Some of the themes are quite challenging, especially 'Gone to Sea' which is about a boy who feels rejected by his family. The standout story is 'The Giant's Necklace', an absolutely superb tale with a brilliant twist, although the White Horse of Zennor, for its themes of love and the blessing of a second chance, is a close runner-up. If you enjoy traditional tales with a few surprises, then this is a book that you should read.

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.

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!   

A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

Michael, known as Poodle, lives with his mum, Christine, who is enigmatically beautiful. They live in London not long after the end of the Second World War. Michael encounters casual racism on account of his dark skin and the fact that he is half-French, but he rises above it and manages to turn the tables on ‘Les Rostbifs’. Michael has never known his father and when word gets out that his dad was a war hero, shot down in his spitfire, the boy becomes a focus for pride, sympathy and even envy. Michael has two aunties - Pish and Snowdrop - who live in Folkestone with their dog, Jasper. On interminable weekly visits to the aunties for tea and rock cakes, the dog fascinates Michael, as does the photo of his father wearing his uniform kept in a silver frame. It is not until that silver frame and that photograph come into Michael’s possession that the story really sparks into life. Learning about his family changes Michael’s life completely.    


You have probably never heard of Walter Tull. He died in March 1918 and, like so many other soldiers killed in the First World War, his body was never recovered.  He was the first black footballer to play for Spurs and the third ever black professional footballer in the U.K. He was also, despite the racial bias of the authorities at the time, the first black combat officer in the British Army. Walter was, it seems, gallant, resourceful and cool in a crisis. He was recommended for the military cross. However, the medal was never awarded and no official record of the recommendation remains. Walter Tull is not Michael’s missing father. However, the spirit of Walter Tull, the wastefulness of war and the racism of a bygone age permeate this book. At a time when the struggle against inequality has never been more relevant, this book is a timely reminder that black lives do indeed matter.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.   


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.

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 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!

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 ‘He's 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.

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.

Return to Groosham Grange by Anthony Horowitz    

A review by Morgan

Return to Groosham Grange is a brilliant book written by the talented Anthony Horowitz. It is about a boy called David Eliot who goes to Groosham Grange School and has a big rivalry with another schoolboy named Vincent King. In his school, there is a league table and points can be awarded for doing good things and can be deducted for bad behaviour. The person who is at the top of it by the end of the year will be awarded the Unholy Grail, which is a silver cup. But there are secrets about the Unholy Grail that David doesn’t know…


Some of the characters in the book include David’s best friend Jill, Mr and Mrs Eliot, Mrs Windergast, Aunt Mildred, Captain Bloodbath, Linda Jones, Gregor and Mr Heliwell.


I think you will enjoy this grotesque book because of the way the author builds up the tension and how he likes to mention things at the very last minute. It is a very exciting story with a twisting plot and I would recommend it to children who love mystery stories.

Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson

A review by Alicia and Nicole

Lola Rose is a book about a girl called Jayni who has to run away in the night, from home, because of her abusive father. The story starts off when Nikki (her mum) wins £10,000 in the lottery. Whilst family life is troubling Jayni, she still finds time to embrace herself with her scrapbook as she leaves reality behind when she is using it. When she leaves her home with her brother (Kenny) and mum, she knows that life may be harder although her mother assures her that things will go the way they want it to. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan.


We think that Lola Rose is a challenging book because many different things take place within the book at the same time which is complicated for the reader. We both think that the book is enjoyable and suitable for (in our opinion) Year 6 – Year 9. Also, we recommend this book to people who are interested in books about real life situations.

The Creakers by Tom Fletcher

A review by Remi

The Creakers is about a girl called Lucy who wants to help as much as she can to find her mum - her dad went missing a few months before - and every adult who lives in Wiffington: they have disappeared! As every adult goes missing, the more the children love their lives, making mischief and a mess (which is where the Creakers come in). While the rest of the town is running wild, Lucy comes up with a plan to find out what’s going on. Lucy cares very much that there are no adults to cook, clean and be there for her. Then, late one night, Lucy spots four mysterious creatures creeping around her bedroom - GRUNT, GUFF, SCRATCH and SNIFF. These creatures love rubbish - lots and lots of rubbish – and there is a lot in Wiffington now that the adults have vanished! One night, Lucy goes under her bed and accidentally falls into the world of the Creakers. She discovers their world, how they live and what they eat. However, she has to hurry and make an escape plan as the Creakers are close and she does not want to be caught.


I recommend this book if you like drama, adventure and mystery. Does Lucy find the adults or will she be stuck with the wild packs? Is there a happy conclusion? There is only one way to find out…by reading the book!

Fing by David Walliams

A review by Hayden and Mae

This book is about a really, really spoilt girl who wants everything in the world, even things she doesn’t need. She is called Myrtle Meek and her parents do everything she wants them to do and when she wants it. This is because, if they don’t, she will get extremely mad and start destroying everything that is in her path. When she goes to school, she has to be carried even though the school is not far away.


She wants everything including: an ant farm which is home to 100,001 ants, a boomerang which doesn’t come back, a cow bell which she puts round her mother’s neck to keep location of her, a dog grooming set - even though doesn’t have a dog, an elf, finger puppets of every king and queen from 1066, a gravel collection that is the biggest in Europe, a ham slicer - even though she hates ham, ice skates made for an elephant - 4 of them, a jar containing one of scientist Albert Einstein’s burps, knee warmers, lucky sausages - which aren’t even lucky, a map of Belgium, Nelson’s Column made out of sultanas ( life – size), owl fudge - this is fudge made out of melted- down owls, a painting of air - it is not much to look at, a box of quicksand and a remote control bush (which could reach up to one mile per hour).


We think that people who like funny and interesting books would love this book. We like this book because it is interesting to read and funny in lots of different ways. It also has diagrams to explain what the writing is about if you do not understand it. There is a moral to this story and the moral is “I want never gets.”

Ruby Redfort: Look Into My Eyes by Lauren Child

A review by Amy and Avani

Ruby has been an ace code cracker since she was seven, when she won the Junior Code-Cracker. Her life is ordinary and boring at her house with the exception of the marvellous Mrs Digby, the housekeeper! However, that all changes when Ruby receives multiple blank phone calls.  A couple of weeks later, her house is ransacked and cleared of all belongings (including Mrs Digby) except for Ruby’s array of retro telephones. Ruby carries on noting down anything suspicious in her 622nd yellow notebook. Suddenly, their suspicious new butler, Hitch, reveals to Ruby that he is, in fact, a secret agent working for Spectrum and that they want to recruit her. But their no.1 rule is “KEEP IT ZIPPED”. Therefore, that is what she does. She restrains from telling her best friend, Clancy Crew, but she cannot completely pull the wool over his eyes and he ends up discovering Ruby’s big secret…

Her mission in this book is to prevent an evil mastermind from claiming the Jade Buddha as his or her own. This proves more difficult than it seems. With a little help and perseverance, will she solve the case?


This book is great if you love adventure, mystery and danger! This book is also in a series with even more mysteries and adventures: Take you Last Breath (2nd), Catch your Death (3rd), Feel the Fear (4th), Pick your Poison (5th) and Blink and You die (6th). You will definitely not be wasting your time if you choose to read this book.

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.

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.

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.

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.