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Louisa May Alcott: Little Women

Published by Alma Children's Classics, paperback, 26th May 2016

 

The four March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy live in financial hardship in New England with their mother, while their father has been drafted to fight in the Civil War. The girls embark on a series of adventures and endure a number of unexpected misfortunes experiences that allow their personalities to emerge: Meg sensible and outgoing, Jo literary and boyish, Beth musical and shy, and Amy artistic and selfish but the bonds holding together the March family remain unbroken. Initially written as a novel for girls, Little Women is now regarded as an all-time American classic for all readers, inspiring generations of women writers and giving rise to many adaptations.

 

These wonderful new editions are described as children's classics, but as the publisher points out, LITTLE WOMEN has become recognised as a work of classic literature to be enjoyed by people of all ages. As a boy, I read anything and everything that came my way, including books my sister received or bought for herself. That way I got used to reading books such as What Katy Did, What Katy Did At School, Heidi, etc., etc., and enjoyed them just as much as I enjoyed my own Enid Blytons, Malcolm Savilles, Angus MacVicars, Capt. W E Johns, Anthony Buckeridges etc., etc. But I never read Little Women, possibly because my sister didn't have a copy. Ever since I received advance notification that this title was going to be one of Alma Books' Summer titles, I have been looking forward to receiving it - it arrived last Saturday and it is, quite simply, a joy to look at and hold. I've started reading it, and it is just as good as I knew it would be - a work of fiction that might have inspired E Nesbit to write The Railway Children - a wonderful story, wonderful characters, and this is a superb edition of a timeless classic of English Literature.

 

 

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden

Published by Alma Children's Classics, paperback, 21st April 2016

 

After her parents die of cholera in India, Mary Lennox is sent to live with her uncle in his gloomy house in Yorkshire, where she leads a lonely and neglected life, with nothing to do apart from exploring her surroundings. One day she discovers a walled garden which has been locked up, and becomes determined to enter it and find out its secret and the source of the mysterious crying sound that can be heard nearby. A powerful tale of regeneration and personal transformation, The Secret Garden has become one of the most popular children's classics, and has continued to delight generations of young readers.

 

A superb new version of this most popular children's classic from Alma Books. I'd only ever seen the film before reading this, and the film doesn't really do it justice... Mary is a decidedly spoilt child who can be quite nasty at times, something that's not covered at all well in the films. Alma Books series of classics is probably the best way to collect them right now - beautifully crafted books, and they look lovely on my bookshelves!

 

Tim Hopgood (illus. David Tazzyman): The Truth According to Arthur

Published by Bloomsbury 30th June 2016

 

Arthur and The Truth are not the best of friends right now. Why? Because today Arthur did something he shouldn't have done - he rode on his big brother's bike (when his mum told him not to) and then he accidentally bumped it into Mum's car. Arthur knows he's done wrong but will he tell the truth OR will he bend it, stretch it, cover it up, hide it ... ? What would YOU do? What will Arthur do? Find out in this fresh and funny take on a common childhood predicament - to tell the truth or to tell a little fib. From an exciting new picture book pairing - Booktrust award-winning Tim Hopgood, and internationally bestselling David Tazzyman (illustrator of the Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton).

 

A beautiful book - a story with a clear message - stories in children's annuals of the 1950s often used to get their point across by means of a simple plot like this. Superbly illustrated and great fun.

 

 

 

 

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Lewis Carroll: The Hunting of the Snark (illus. Chris Riddell)

Published by Macmillan Children's Books March 2016

 

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap. Lewis Carroll's magnificent nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark features an unlikely cast of characters drawn from the Jabberwocky in Through the Looking Glass. This irresistible new version is illustrated, and has an introduction by, Chris Riddell. This will be luxury edition with both black and white and colour artwork, ribbon marker and metallic blue sprayed edges. It was first published by Macmillan in 1876.

 

Macmillan celebrated Alice in Wonderland in some style last year, and continued their anniversary celebrations with their fantastic set of Rudyard Kipling books this year - now they have issued this fantastic, beautifully illustrated edition of The Hunting of the Snark, first published by them 150 years ago. In the intervening years, book illustration has come into its own - I was reading about Lord of the Rings this week, how Tolkien and his publishers were arguing about the need for maps (which counted as illustrations) and the publishers felt, in the years following the end of the 2nd World War, that more than one map would cost too much! We now have the richest talents illustrating our books, especially when it comes to children's titles, and Chris Riddell is an extraordinary talent - this is a wonderful book, an edition of the Snark to be treasured, and Macmillan are to be congratulated for marking the 150th anniversary of this fabulous book with such an exquisite edition!

 

Alan Oberman: Prince Hal and his Friend Jack Falstaff

Published by Cambria Books 28th May 2016

 

A compelling story, excellently narrated with vivacious and accessible language, splendid illustrations and brilliant music.

The multi-media children's storybook retells Shakespeare's story, taking enjoyment in the comic banter between Prince Hal (later to become King Henry V) and Falstaff, Shakespeare's greatest comic character. Prince Hal spends his youth in the pub in the company of elderly knight, Sir Jack Falstaff. Falstaff mounts a robbery that Hal frustrates. Later in the pub, Hal exposes to all, Falstaff's boastful lies. Hal is summoned to appear in court where his father, King Henry, castigates him for his dissipation. Hal promises to reform. Powerful lords, Hotspur and Owain Glyndwr, have assembled an army in Wales to unseat King Henry. Hal and Falstaff are in the king's army to confront the rebels. Hal fights and kills Hotspur, thus proving himself to be a worthy son of his father. Falstaff, having dishonourably pretended to be dead, makes the false claim that he himself fought and killed Hotspur.

Both entertaining and educational, it provides a pathway to Shakespeare's wonderful play, Henry IV Part One. It is also beautifully illustrated with 24 full-colour photos and accompanied by two CDs one provides spoken narrative of the text, interwoven with music, whilst the second is an extended, twenty minutes of incidental music telling the story in music, which is scored for piano, violin, saxophone, electric bass, guitar, drums, flugelhorn and vocals.

 

Having recently seen the streamed performances of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 from the RSC at Stratford (in which my daughter Samantha played the violin and the Welsh harp), I knew the story well. This superb book from Alan Oberman translates the sometimes difficult Shakespeare and makes it thoroughly approachable. His illustrations are beautiful, richly coloured, and capture the scenes to perfection. This is a brilliant idea, and should be applied to many more of Shakespeare's plays. The addition of the incidenta music on one CD and the whole book read out on another is a marvellous idea - this is possibly the finest children's book I have seen this year, and would have got book of the month had it not been for the Hunting of the Snark (above).

 

Rebecca Stevens: Rose In The Blitz

Published by Chicken House August 2016

 

It's the night before Rose's mum re-marries. Rose can't sleep for worrying and nor can her muddled Great-Aunt Cosy, her namesake. Rose sees the old lady leaving the house and runs after her to the London underground. Their empty train stops in 1940, in a war-torn London broken by the Blitz. Here, Rose witnesses great romance and impending sacrifice. Tragedy will surely follow - unless she can change what happens next ...

 

You'll have to wait a couple of months for this one, but it's worth the wait - a superb story, atmospheric and chilling, told with verve and passion.

 

James Nicol: The Apprentice Witch

Published by Chicken House July 2016

 

Arianwyn fluffs her witch's assessment. Awarded the dull bronze disc of an apprentice - to the glee of her arch-rival, Gimma - she's sent to protect the remote, dreary town of Lull. But her new life is far from boring. Turns out Gimma is the pompous mayor's favourite niece - and worse, she opens a magical rift in the nearby forest. As Arianwyn struggles with her spells, it's soon clear there's much more than her pride at stake ...

 

This is the kind of delightful, wacky story you would have found in a 1970s Bunty or Judy annual - terrific to see these brilliant stories have not died out!

 

JuliaDonaldson & Sara Ogilvie: The Detective Dog

Published by Macmillan's Children's, 2nd June 2016

 

There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.
She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell. Peter's dog Nell has an amazing sense of smell. Whether it's finding a lost shoe or discovering who did a poo on the new gravel path, her ever-sniffing nose is always hard at work. But Nell has other talents too. Every Monday she goes to school with Peter and listens to children read. So who better to have on hand when they arrive one morning to discover that the school's books have all disappeared! Who could have taken them? And why? There's only one dog for the job ... and Detective Dog Nell is ready to sniff out the culprit! Written by the brilliant Julia Donaldson and stunningly illustrated by the multi-talented illustrator and printmaker Sara Ogilvie, Detective Dog is a fast-paced celebration of books, reading, libraries, and the relationship between a little boy and his rather special dog.

 

Julia Donaldson is a legend in modern children's literature - here she presents her latest character, Nell, a dog who turns detective in a beautifully illustrated adventure which will delight children and adults alike.

Avril McDonald: The Wolf Is Not Invited

Published by Crown House Publishing 28th April 2016

 

Wolfgang is left heartbroken when his best friend Catreen runs off without him to play with Clarissa. Spider shows Wolfgang how to make his own fun and in doing so, he realises that there are many great friends just waiting to be met.

 

Avril McDonald's new series featuring her character Wolf (there are five books, see below) are more than simply children's stories - they each carry an important message, and this is surely the most powerful and enjoyable way to get the messages across. The illustrations are superb, the messages simple but effective, and the series should seriously find a way into your home if you have young children. Each of the five books covers a different topic, e.g. bullying, that children might face during their young lives - each book explains through the eyes and the attitude of Wolfgang, how he deals with what's happening. This kind of storytelling is the modern equivalent of fables, and is a must-read for parents who want to help their children through the difficult stages of their lives. Absolutely terrific.

 

Avril McDonald: The Wolf's Colourful Coat

Published by Crown House Publishing 28th April 2016

 

Wolfgang can't wait for it to get cold enough for him to wear his brand new colourful coat but when the time finally arrives, some nasty creatures make fun of it. Wolfgang feels upset and is afraid that they will hurt him again, so he hides away in the tree house. Spider encourages Wolfgang to tell someone he trusts about how he is feeling and he learns that things aren't always as they seem. Sometimes we get hurt by others and we have to be brave enough to continue to be ourselves and to keep our hearts open. There can be some lovely surprises for us when we do! Suitable for 4- to 7-year-olds.

 

Avril McDonald: The Wolf and the Shadow Monster

Published by Crown House Publishing 28th April 2016

 

Wolfgang is excited to be allowed to have his friends over to stay for the whole night. They all have such fun until the lights go out and Wolfgang's secret fear of the dark is revealed. His friends laugh at him until they hear his story and see the Shadow Monster for themselves! Spider shows Wolfgang a special magic trick to make it go away. The magic trick is so good all of his friends want to try it on other things that scare them too.

 

Avril McDonald: The Grand Wolf

Published by Crown House Publishing 28th April 2016

 

Wolfgang and his friends all love to go and play at the Grand Wolf's house, but one day they arrive to find that the Grand Wolf has gone and everything has changed which makes them very sad. Spider shows Wolfgang that just by seeing things a little differently, he can feel happy again knowing that true love lives forever.

 

Avril McDonald: The Wolf and the Baby Dragon

Published by Crown House Publishing 28th April 2016

 

When Wolfgang and his friends learn about a secret cave where a baby dragon is growing they quickly run off to find it but, sadly, Wolfgang gets left behind. His bag is full of heavy worries that are making him slow and he just can't let go of them. When he trips on a rock and falls, Spider shows him how to rest his busy mind and tells them that worries aren't so bad if you share them. Nobody likes worries, so it's good to know how to give a worried mind a rest! Suitable for 4- to 7-year-olds.

 

Simon Philip and Kate Hindley: You Must Bring A Hat

Published by Simon and Schuster 30th June 2016

 

The only rule for attending this party is . . . you MUST bring a hat. But what if you don’t own a hat? Will bringing a monkey wearing a hat be enough? Find out in this tale that builds to a gloriously surreal and hilarious ending.

 

ACharming, delightful, hilarious, captivating, brilliant fun from Simon and Kate - this is a must-read!

 

Morag Hood: Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea

Published by Macmillan Children's Books 196th June 2016

 

Lee is a pea. All of his friends are peas; except Colin. Colin isn't a pea. And so begins the deliciously funny story of two very different friends: a small green pea and a tall orange carrot stick. Colin the carrot can't do everything the peas can, but he has some special carrot-y qualities that make him a very good friend to have. All about the beauty of making friends with people (or vegetables) who are different from you, boys and girls alike will love Colin and Lee's clear shapes, bright colours and the playful approach to everyday objects that make this book an instant favourite. Made using just a collage of supermarket plastic bags and painted facial expressions, Morag Hood has created a timeless picture book with unique and engaging artwork that is brimming with warmth and humour. With the bold simplicity of Herve Tullet or Dick Bruna's Miffy, and a dry wit and charm all of Morag's own, it is a fantastically funny story that appeals to the very youngest child - and makes adults laugh out loud. Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea is a brilliant debut from Morag Hood, runner-up in The Macmillan Prize for Illustration.

 

I'm afraid the minimalist illustrations simply don't work for me - I don't think I'm alone in finding this very disappointing - it would have been far better not to illustrate it at all...

 

Gerry Rose: The Mole Man Part 2

Published by The Book Guild 26th May 2016

 

The Honourable Lancelot Stevenson OBE, mayor of the proud and happy village of Umbridge, is a worried man. Even as the people of Umbridge celebrate their success as Best Village in Bloom, a dark mystery remains unsolved. One boy missing and never seen again. Another boy lost and found again. An unsettling story of giant creatures living underground just outside the village. And who - or what - is the 'Mole Man'? The Honourable Lancelot Stevenson OBE is determined to solve the puzzle. Young Benjamin Crew and his clever friend Paula Gladstone are also on the case. Billy Giles and Dave Durley are up to no good in the woods at night. What will they find? More page-turning mayhem in this second part of the Mole Man story.

 

I don't recall being sent a copy of The Mole Man Part 1 to review, although my memory at the age of nearly 70 might not be that good when it comes to matters such as this. This is one for young teens and maybe pre-teens, I think. Very well written.

 

Jay K Price: Starganzia

Published by Matador 28th May 2016

 

When Marco, Suzy and Jo arrive at the Schloss Montrosa, a castle full of magic, mystery and microchips, to stay with their secret scientist uncle Professor Egbert Able for their summer holidays, they very quickly get more than they bargained for! They don't realise that the strange riddle they find in the Schloss library will lure them on a quest with a mission to save the Universe. There are many problems to be solved, not least to find their uncle who has been abducted by an evil Marzipan, and to find the last clue of the riddle - a silver horse. But have they both been hidden far from sight within a black hole? Eventually, the quest commences with a hair-raising journey full of shocking surprises. It leads them to a crazy world of aliens and monsters that almost brings about their undoing. Worse still, when they finally reach their goal in the city of Spondoola, they are imprisoned by its king, the vicious, greedy Spondoolix. The race is on to bring their uncle home in one piece, but have they underestimated who they're up against..?

 

Strange, wacky, massive - three youngsters charged with saving the universe from an evil Marzipan - what's not to like?

 

Chris D'Lacey: A Crown of Dragons

Published by Chicken House 2nd June 2016

 

Michael has completed two missions for UNICORNE, but still hasn't found his missing father. When asked to investigate a scale of a dragon - the very same artefact his father was researching before he disappeared - Michael realizes he's closer than ever to unlocking the truth. Soon, he learns that his father is lost in an alternative reality, and Michael is the only one with the power to save him ...

 

Chris's teen fantasy has all the elements of adult fantasy and bridges the gap between young adult and adult perfectly - I wish there had been more books like this when I was discovering fantasy back in the 1960s!

 

Lemony Snicket: Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Published by Egmont 2nd June 2016

 

Before he wrote 'A Series of Unfortunate Events', Lemony Snicket asked all the wrong questions. Four to be exact. This is the account of the fourth question. There was a town, and there was a train, and there was a murder. Apprentice investigator Lemony Snicket was on the train, and he thought that if he solved the murder he could save the town. In the tradition of great storytellers, from Dickens to Dahl, comes an exquisitely dark comedy that is both literary and irreverent. You’ll laugh only if you find humour in gothic and mysterious things involving detectives and crime solving. Lemony’s other literary outings in, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ have sold 60 million copies worldwide and been made into a Hollywood film starring Jim Carrey. And in the future things are poised to get much worse, thanks to the forthcoming Netflix series directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. You have been warned.

 

You either like him or you don't, a little like Dr Seuss... Netflix is not something with which I am familiar, thankfully! The book will suffice, and to be quite honest, I like it very much indeed!

Alex Shearer: A Message To The Sea

Published by Picadilly Press 2nd June 2016

 

There's no telling who might write back . . . It's been a year since Tom Pellow's dad was lost at sea. He was a sailor and Tom also finds himself drawn to the vast ocean; it holds so many possibilities, dangers and secrets. After hearing a song on the radio, Tom decides to write a message in a bottle, and throw it out into the sea. To 'cast his bread upon the waters'. He doesn't really expect to hear back, but Tom keeps writing anyway, sending messages out on the tide and searching the waves for a reply. One day he finds one. It's a letter that seems to be from a ghost, deep down in Davy Jones's Locker - and the writer has a shocking answer to Tom's question. But if Tom's dad didn't perish at sea, where is he? A charming and beautifully written story about grief, hope and miracles.

 

Really excellent teen mystery that will have you gripped from the start...

 

Basabi Banerjee: Libby At The Botanic Gardens

Published by The Book Guild 26th May 2016

 

Libby at the Botanics is a gorgeous picture book – full of lovely illustrations plus adorable doggy end papers! A must-have for children aged 5-7, especially dog lovers! Libby the Labrador is happiest outdoors and loves going out with Mum, Dad, Tipper and Ricky. One day, a magic Palm gives her a special gift which leads to a thrilling adventure in the Botanic Gardens. In the course of an eventful morning, Libby learns how to dance, makes friends with some magnificent heritage trees and foils a nasty bully. She can’t wait to tell her friend the Palm all about her exciting experiences.

 

Charming fantasy for primary school-age children.

 

Eileen Cook: With Malice

Published by Hot Key Books 9th June 2016

 

Wish you weren't here . . . When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident . . . wasn't just an accident. With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn't the one to blame?

 

Another great teen mystery that will have you scratching your head and asking all manner of questions that seemignly have no easy answers... superb!

 

Angela Fish: Ben and the Spider Prince

Published by The Book Guild 30th June 2016

 

Lox, the gate-keeper of the spider kingdom under the hedge in Ben's garden, asks Ben for help again. The Spider Wizard needs three special ingredients before the next full moon to make a magic potion to cure the Spider Prince, but can Ben find them in time? He meets some unusual creatures on his quest who are not all as scary as they first seem. Ben wants to tell his best friend Jess but she'd rather spend time with the new girl in school, so he asks his gran instead. They look for clues on the computer and in the library, but how much does Gran really know, and will she tell Ben a secret that will keep him safe from Spindra, the evil sister of the Spider Queen?

 

An amazing mix of fantasy and fairly normal schoollife makes this a must read for pre-secondary school youngsters. Brilliant!

 

Joe O'Brien: Legends' Lair

Published by The O'Brien Press 20th June 2016

 

Charlie Stubbs has one passion in life – playing football. When his family moved from Dublin to Manchester it was hard, but at least he was close to his favourite team. Manchester United. Now twelve, Charlie’s been in top form all season for the Salford Devils and a scout from Manchester United has been keeping a close eye on him! With his beloved grandfather coming to visit, everything is looking great ... But then tragedy strikes and Charlie’s life turns upside down. A hurried move back to Dublin, his family dealing with a deep loss – and his football career stalled. Then Charlie discovers that his grandfather was a great soccer player. He hears about The Legends' Lair and he soon sets his sights on organising one more tournament on the legendary football ground. But what old rivalries and buried tensions will he open? It’s all to play for in LEGENDS’ LAIR………

 

What a shame the book is about Manchester United! This could have been set anywhere in the country but Joe chose Manchester because of Man. U. The story is a fine piece of children's writing, though, the kind of story you would have found in a Lion or Tiger annual back in the 1960s... Great stuff!

 


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its eighteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.