We can start the year with a smile thanks to two new books from Barrington Stoke this month. For many years I have been a fan of this particular publisher, their books are accessible and perfect for those who may struggle with longer texts or the mechanics of reading yet they are top quality stories, engaging, well written and often the key that opens the door to reading for pleasure.
Jenny Pearson is an author who has quickly developed a reputation for balancing laugh out loud hilarity with a thoughtful look at life and Bertie and the Alien Chicken is another lovely example of her skill. Bertie is reluctant to spend the summer holidays with his Uncle Brian on Long Bottom Farm. Bertie is not a fan of the countryside which is, in his opinion, smelly and lacking in entertainment. Things take an unexpected turn when he meets a chicken name Nugget, an alien visitor from Nurgle 7 on a mission to find Earth’s most important resource. Cue misunderstandings, mishaps and giggles before Bertie and Nuggle start to think about the intangible things that may matter most such as friendship, loneliness and kindness.
Some important discussion about feelings and acknowledging them is wrapped up in the silliness and there is understanding and kindness conveyed in the writing. The humorous illustrations by Aleksei Bitsoff add to the enjoyment, particularly the depiction of Nugget. I, along with young readers I expect, am hoping this is the first in a series of adventures starring Bertie.
Ross Montgomery’s series of Shakespeare linked stories continue with Fortune’s Fools: A Romeo Roller Coaster, a school story inspired by Romeo and Juliet. He has transferred the tragedy between two warring families to a sporting competition which gradually degenerates into a battle mirroring the conflict of the famous play. Best friends, Dom and Blake, have been chums forever, sharing a love and talent for sport. This year however the annual sports day has taken on a different atmosphere. Mr Fortune has named the school houses after the characters from Romeo and Juliet and the two friends, representing Capulet House and Montague House, are drawn into a battle that neither of them expected or wanted.
This is another story full of humour but told with an acknowledgment of the importance of friendship and an understanding of school life. The depiction of the warring drama and PE teachers made me smile too! Young readers will relate to the experiences in Fortune’s Fools and the engaging writing style and illustrations by Mark Beech ensure this introductions to one of literature’s most well known plays is appealing.
Both Bertie and the Alien Chicken and Fortune’s Fools: A Romeo Roller Coaster are published on 5th January by Barrington Stoke.
Abi Elphinstone was an inspired choice to write, Saving Neverland, a reimagining of the classic story of Peter Pan for a contemporary audience. In her capable hands the sexist and racist elements of the original are discarded yet the mercurial and intriguing aspect of Peter’s character are retained along with the excitement and danger of wild adventure. Abi Elphinstone’s previous books have combined enthralling escapades with kindness and humanity and in Saving Neverland she has done it again.
Ten year old Martha Pennydrop lives in a perfectly ordinary looking townhouse with her younger brother, Scruff. Their father is overworked and exhausted and their mother is absent so Martha takes upon herself the responsibility of looking after Scruff. In her efforts to care for him properly, especially after the events of the Terrible Day which she prefers not to think of, Martha has decided she is too old for make believe games, toys and childhood imagination. She is desperate to grow up and her life is now a lengthy to do list.
However their house has a history, having once belonged to the Darling family. Soon mysterious gold dust, an open window and night time visitors launch Martha into an incredible adventure in a far off land. Neverland and Peter Pan are in need of help as the country is in the grip of a curse put upon it by Peter’s old foe, Captain Hook. Martha is extremely reluctant but when Scruff is kidnapped she must rediscover her sense of adventure and belief in magic to save her brother and Neverland itself.
Abi Elphinstone has created a world of snow tigers and frost bears, ice sharks and snowy mountains making this a perfect winter read. It is refreshing to see Peter Pan partnered with a female character such as Martha. No darning of his socks this time! Her gradual development into a brave and determined adventurer is believable and is central to the plot. The Lost Kids add an extra dimension to the story and the inclusion of childhood toys, in particular Armageddon the woolly mammoth, will delight young readers.
A story about the transition from childhood yet with the importance of retaining a sense of adventure and fun running through its pages this is a joyful adventure capturing the best of the original and giving it a fresh relevance. Beautifully illustrated throughout and on the cover by Geraldine Rodrigues and published by Puffin in hardback on 5th January.
If mystery and whodunnits appeal to the young readers in your life then The Detention Detectives a debut by school librarian Lis Jardine may be just what you need. Following a house move Jonno Archer reluctantly finds himself joining Year 7 at Hanbridge High and is determined to persuade his parents that the move was a mistake. Finding a dead body on the school premises is the last thing Jonno needs but he decides to use it to his advantage and if he’s in deep trouble surely his mum and dad will take him back to his old school and his friends. Meanwhile he definitely does not want to make new friends, however he finds himself drawn into an investigation alongside fellow pupils, Daniel and Lydia and matters develop in dangerous and unexpected ways.
The clues, red herrings and plot twists mount up in this pacy adventure and junior sleuths will enjoy trying to solve the crime alongside the characters. The trio of children make an interesting and somewhat unlikely team. School reporter Lydia, bossy and businesslike, young carer Daniel desperate to protect his Mum from the effects of the crime and slightly prickly Jonno with his secret agenda may have been thrown together by circumstances yet the development of their relationship is entertaining. The first in a new series, this would be great for fans of the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens. Cover illustration by Glenn Thomas and published in paperback by Puffin on 5th January.
I should like to thank Barrington Stoke, Kirstin Lamb, Puffin Books, Michelle Nathan and Phoebe Williams for providing my review copies.