Saturday, April 17, 2010

Alis by Naomi Rich

Faced with the prospect of being forced by her parents to marry a forty year old priest whom she does not love, young Alis chooses instead to escape the strict surroundings of her village and brave the outside world. In order to do this though, she must also leave behind Luke – a boy of her own age, with whom she is falling in love.

Life outside her own community may be less oppressively judgmental and controlling, but Alis faces other trials in the mercenary city, where one must toughen up to survive. Despite being reunited with her long-lost runaway brother, life is hard and eventually she is forced to return home and accept her fate. Thinking Luke dead, she submits and marries the priest - but their union is short-lived.

An enthralling love story in the Romeo and Juliet tradition, with some unexpected twists and turns – and a definite resonance with contemporary religious extremism issues - Alis is an impressively memorable debut.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sally Gets a Job by Stephen Huneck

When her family goes off to work in the morning, leaving her home alone, Sally the dog starts daydreaming about what jobs she might like to do. Teaching, zookeeping, archaeology, paleontology and farming all cross her mind; until her people arrive home and she realises that she already has a brilliant job – looking after her family.

Huneck's coloured woodcut illustrations give the book a distinctly retro feel, that brought back memories of psychedelic 70s children’s cartoon Crystal Tipps and Alistair. Whilst the story itself has a sweet sentiment, and the woodcuts are clearly accomplished, Sally's static expressions (inevitable by the nature of this medium) are sometimes mildly disturbing.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Unusually for a picture flat, The Magic Rabbit is illustrated almost entirely in black and white, with only occasional details being accented in yellow. But far from feeling drab, the use of monochrome actually adds to the magic of this atmospheric tale. There is more than a touch of the Sally Gardner about LeBlanc Cate's style, particularly in the boggle-eyed facial expressions and elaborately detailed spreads.

The opening spread pictures the two main characters - the magician Ray and his assistant, Bunny – in their urban apartment, which is brimming with books, trinkets and magical accessories. You could easily spend several minutes just contemplating this one scene, but for the promise of an intriguing story ahead.

As well as being business partners, Ray and Bunny are the best of friends, and go everywhere together, until one day Bunny gets scared by a dog during their act, and runs off into the busy street. As Bunny finds himself lost in the city crowds, he misses Ray terribly, and it's only when he starts nibbling on some discarded popcorn, that he spots a some magic stars and follows their trail all the way back to his own magic hat, and a delighted Ray. A charming little story about the everyday magic of friendship, brought beautifully to life by its skilfully evocative illustrations, The Magic Rabbit is an impressive début.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Mousehunter by Alex Milway

Pirates, sea monsters, submarines and winged mice – all the ingredients are here for a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure – and Alex Milway's debut novel certainly delivers. In his imagined fantasy world, mice in all their weird and wonderful incarnations are highly collectible commodities that grown men will go to extreme lengths to acquire. Young Emiline is a professional mousekeeper in the employ of a wealthy collector, Isiah Lovelock. But seeking more intrepid exploits, she joins the crew of a ship in pursuit of the notorious and fearsome pirate, Mousebeard - so called because of the mice who live inside his unkempt facial hair. Leaping head first into a dangerous world of pirate politics and maritime menaces, Emiline soon finds she has bitten off more than she can chew, and has to keep her wits about her to survive.

The story is interspersed with amusingly illustrated entries from the 'Mousekeeper's Almanac', which provides collectors with intricate details and care instructions for every kind of mouse known to man - from the semi-mythical Methuselah Mouse to the highly coveted Golden Mouse. The colourful cast of human characters are equally well painted during a series of nail-biting capers, which include some surprising twists and revelations. As with all the best adventure stories, things are not always as black and white as they first appear, and Milway does a good job of keeping you guessing up until the very last pages.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Day that Everything Changed by Ben Myers

Written in collaboration with a primary school as an Arts Council funded project, the remit in creating this novel was to provide stories that children would want to read. Told from the individual points of view of six children, all of different ages, as well as third-person sections called 'Everyone's Story', it can be read either straight through or by choosing one or more characters to follow. Presumably this structure is designed to make the book accessible to different levels of reader, but it could potentially become confusing.

The story itself has a distinctly environmental, somewhat preachy message, as each of the children has to complete a task - invariably a test on their personal weaknesses - in order to save humanity. This all takes place in what was their school, but is fast disappearing, as 'nature' rises up to reclaim the world in protest at man's mistreatment of it. Very much reminiscent of the meandering stories that filled endless exercise books in my own childhood, I can see how children might well identify on some level with the naïvely constructed characters and far-flung adventures, although more advanced readers may find it all rather patronising.

Buy The Day That Everything Changed

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunshine for the Sunless by Gareth Thompson

Much of Andy's childhood has been haunted by the memory of a terrible event he once witnessed in which a father and son drowned in quicksand on the beach near his home. Blaming himself for not being able to help them, the shadow of this harrowing experience hangs over him as he struggles to move on. His only escape is in daffodils, a passion he has inherited from his grandfather - also the most reliable male role model in his life. Then the beautiful Angie comes into his life, taking an unexpected interest in Andy's unusual horticultural hobby, she also becomes the object of his desire, as the rumblings of first love begin to stir.

Set in a rough industrial town in the Lake District, the title refers to a line of poetry from one of the area's most notable exports, William Wordsworth. And very much in the spirit of Wordsworth, the landscape is passionately and intricately evoked, setting an atmospheric backdrop to what turns out to be a compelling and moving rites of passage. The unusual slant of daffodil obsession gives a familiar story a refreshing twist, and provides some genuinely interesting facts along the way.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Chocolate Cat by Sue Stainton, illustrated by Anne Mortimer

Following on from Santa’s Snow Cat and The Lighthouse Cat, this established author/illustrator team return with another fantastical feline story, this time featuring that winning ingredient, chocolate.

Mortimer’s lavish illustrations bring to mouthwatering life the exotic creations of the chocolate shop owner, whose cat acquires a taste for chocolate mice and takes it upon himself to deposit them all around the town. Soon business is booming and everyone is smiling, including the previously downcast chocolatier.

There’s no doubt that chocolate can lift the spirits, but it should be pointed out that it can actually be poisonous to cats, so please don’t try this at home!

More Children's Books Recommended by Amazon...