The Boy Who Made the World Disappear by Ben Miller

Oh my goodness me. I LOVED this story! It is a child-friendly romp through space but with an all important message for children everywhere…

Ben Miller’s own children are the stars of the show – how cool is that? The main star is Harrison who absolutely loves anything to do with space. Like most 8 year olds though, he finds it hard to control his temper, even though he realises that actually, his anger tends to show itself when he is anxious or worried about something.

At the start of this story, Harrison is going to Hector Broom’s birthday party. He is not looking forward to it. Hector is a bully who takes great delight in pinging Harrison with his ever-present elastic band. But like 8 year olds everywhere, the thought of missing out is even greater because his whole class is going to be there. Poor Harrison does NOT have a good time. Despite learning about constellations and black holes in Hector Broom’s living room, he and the party entertainer, Shelley, do not hit it off and things go from bad to worse. He does get a special balloon to take home however. A VERY special balloon indeed…

Harrison finds out very quickly that his balloon has very strange powers. I’m not going to spoil it by saying exactly in what way, but what initially seems fabulous and incredibly helpful to Harrison, soon takes an ominous turn and things quickly get out of control. To sort things out, Harrison knows that Shelley is the only one who can help him. But Shelley isn’t home. How can 8 year old Harrison get to Chile to meet her at the The Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert? Nothing is impossible when you have an enterprising older brother…

A wonderfully engaging, timeless story that is sure to engage children everywhere. I loved it!

‘…anger can be good, important even… But it’s about what you do with your anger…’

Page count: 272

Age group: 8 years +

Links:

Amazon.

Goodreads.

Waterstones.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Duncan Versus the Googleys by Kate Milner

‘Bad people in chaotic situations are not always very fair’.

Oh my goodness, what a gorgeously topsy turvy and brilliant story from Kate Milner! There is absolutely nothing ordinary or boring about this book – kids will love it.

Meet Ursula who from the very beginning, we realise is not living an ‘ordinary’ life. We learn that she sleeps in a cardboard bed with newspaper blankets and shares only one room with her father, Mr Meager who is the caretaker for the most amazingly named retirement complex ever: Arthritis Hall. Whilst he works, Ursula explores. On the face of it, you’d think Ursula would be rather down in the dumps but there is nothing sad about this story. Ursula, like every other child in this world, covets the latest toy craze – robotic pets called Poo-Chi Pets…

Ursula’s story runs alongside that of Duncan who owns a Poo-Chi pet called Gizzmo. He also has the Poo-Chi Pet app on his phone – Poo-Chi Planet – and he plays it ALL THE TIME along with various other children from around the world: Zhang from Shanghai, coding expert Kobe from Kenya and Ratboy Ryan from Australia. At the start of the story, he is travelling to Arthritis Hall to stay with his Great Aunt Harriet. Harriet is no gentle old lady leading a quiet life. Far from it. She is a rather mad inventor whose previous successes include a mechanical armadillo and a robot postman!

As you may already have worked out, Arthritis Hall (with its executive helipad on the roof) is no ordinary retirement complex. It is managed by the tiny but terrifying Linoleum Grunt (yes, really!) who makes it abundantly clear that children are not welcome. ‘You will be required to stay in one place at all times and make no noise whatsoever’… As well as Linoleum and Harriet, it is also home to Mrs Pettigrew who turns out to be a world class computer game player and Pork Pie the cat.

But things at Arthritis Hall are not destined to just chug along peacefully. A new robotic toy is hitting the shelves. Will Googleys prove more popular than Poo-Chi Pets? There are people out there that will make damn certain of it…

‘Duncan could not help feeling that the whole world was a bit more mad than he could cope with’.

I loved the craziness of this story and read it in one sitting. Stylistically, it is different to any other kid’s book I’ve read and there is so much within it that children today will identify with that they are sure to be sucked in. Highly recommended.

Page count: 224

Age group: 8 – 10 years

Links:

Amazon.

Goodreads.

Waterstones.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Pushkin Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nevertell by Katharine Orton

‘Don’t trust your eyes…’

Oh my. That cover…!

Welcome to the freezing, harsh landscape of Siberia. Here we find a forced labour camp filled with prisoners arrested in the purges of the ‘Great Leader’, Joseph Stalin, and home to 12 year old Lina and her mother, Katya.

There are thousands in the camp – whole families – many arrested on minor charges. The vast majority are required to work in the mine. Lina however, who was born in the camp and has known no other way of life, has inherited her grandfather’s talent for gardening and as such, is allowed to work in the greenhouse under the strict gaze of Commandant Zima. Zima is preparing for the Officer’s Banquet in a week’s time and is hoping that the vegetables Lina grows will win him prestige amongst the officers. The word around the camp is that Zima is Lina’s father, which is why he gives her preferential treatment. Lina isn’t so sure…

At the very beginning of the book, we learn about an escape plan involving Lina, her mother, Vadim – a 16 year old prisoner who ‘already has the tattoos of the criminal underworld’, Alexei – described as ‘Vadim’s muscle – twice (his) age and double his size’ and old Gleb. An unlikely group to be working together but all selected for the individual skills they can bring to the attempt. At the last minute, Lina’s best friend – Bogdan Buyan – the only other person of her age in the camp – tags along. His parents are political prisoners in another camp. His father is a map maker and Bogdan brings along draft maps of Leningrad and Moscow; as such, he is allowed to stay.

Katya is known throughout the camp as playing ‘a ruthless game of poker’ and she sets up a game with the officers to serve as a distraction on the night of the escape. Before she leaves, Katya gives Lina a beaded necklace of her grandfather’s and tells Lina to make her way to her grandmother in Moscow – she was away when her husband, Katya and her son were arrested and is therefore still free. We learn that she has great power…

It isn’t long before they run into problems on the outside and Lina and Bogdan end up on their own. This is only the start of their problems as they are captured again – this time by the Sorceress, Svetlana, also known as ‘Man Hunter’ and her invisible wolves – humans who have been captured and wolfbound to serve her forever. How will they escape this time…?

’NEVER TELL CHILDREN ABOUT THINGS THEY CANNOT SEE…’

I devoured this book. I loved it from the beginning, but when the magical elements were introduced I couldn’t put it down. Children (and adults) will love accompanying Lina and Bogdan on their adventure!

Page count: 384

Age group: 9-12+

Links:

Amazon.

Goodreads.

Waterstones.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

War is Over by David Almond and illustrated by David Litchfield

From the author of Skellig.

‘Outside the dream, the war went on…’

Wow! What a gorgeous, uplifting, sad and poignant book all rolled into one. David Almond wrote this book to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the First World War and he has done an absolutely masterful job. War is Over is aimed at 9-11 year olds but I would extend this to 8-12 at least. It is accessible and engaging – children will love it.

When the story begins, John’s father is away fighting in France and his mum works at the nearby munitions factory – ‘the biggest munitions factory in the world’ – where warships, guns, bombs and shells are made. John can barely remember life before the war and hears about the devastation on a daily basis when fathers of his friends are killed. He realises that he can barely remember what his own father looks like. This first part of the book is quiet and sad. The illustrations are grey, black and cold.

Mr McTavish, John’s Headteacher tells him and the other pupils that they are all at war with Germany – even John – and describes a local man, Gordon, as a coward and a traitor as he refuses to fight. When Gordon is hurt, for refusing to hurt others, and the children hear his screams of pain, the reader gets a glimpse through John’s eyes of just how confusing and barbaric the situation is. John’s questioning, peaceful character is contrasted vividly with that of Alec, who plays at killing Germans and finds the trip to the munitions factory the height of excitement.

There follows an incredible moment. In the nearby woods, John comes face to face with Jan, a German boy from Dusseldorf. He later re-visits Jan in his dreams and finally, writes to him, to explain that he doesn’t feel as though he is at war with him. His letter is found and he is branded a traitor which leads him to ask some very difficult questions of his mum.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so will just say that it is a very satisfying one. The mood entirely changes and I was left hopeful, perhaps with a little tear in my eye…

‘When the end came, it happened fast.’

Please don’t buy this on kindle – I urge you to go for the hardback or paperback versions, in order to fully appreciate David Litchfield’s stunning illustrations and to allow you to share them with the little people in your life.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Cat Ninja: and a Cabal of Shadows (A Fantastic Tails Adventure Book 2) by Erik DeLeo

Blurb: A missing puppy. An evil gang. And a hidden enemy lurking in the shadows.

She’s a cat. She’s a ninja. She’s a cat ninja. When Miko’s friend Sukoshi the field mouse comes calling with a new job, she agrees to investigate. But when it turns out the job entails helping the family an old enemy, little does Miko know that she’ll need to face her past in order to solve the case before it’s too late.

If you like talking animals, stealthy ninjas, and beating up bad guys, then you’ll love The Cat Ninja. This chapter book deals with many themes including anger, loss, abandonment, and fear. It is perfect for fans of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Redwall by Brian Jacques and The Green Ember by S.D. Smith, along with other fantasy series including The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

Length: 186 pages

Age Level: 8 – 12

My thoughts: Wow. If you were expecting a cutesy animal story, think again! Miko is one kick-ass cat with a kick-ass reputation, complete with a kobachi sword called Amai Fukushu (Sweet Revenge) and a mouse sidekick (because why wouldn’t she?). As a kitten, she witnessed the death of her mother and brother and as a stray living on the streets she was taken in by a Ninja Master – Kobayashi (‘a rare male tortoiseshell’) who taught her all his skills.

Before leaving her safe, Miko’s mum left her with an heirloom – an omamori – which she wears round her neck as a reminder of what she has lost. Since then, Miko has been out for revenge and whilst completing this new job, she comes up against the dog that she believes was responsible for killing her family. With Sukoshi and Kobayashi at her side, she is sure to succeed. But not everything is as it seems…

“Battling yourself is tougher than any fight with a sword”.

Only £2.99 on kindle at the moment.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Erik DeLeo for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.