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A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month February 2020 | February 2020 Book of the Month | With a new baby on the way Amelia’s mother is too busy to do much. So it is up to Amelia and her friends Florence and Grimaldy to look after the sweet little caticorns. What can be hard about taking care of the cute looking Gerrard, Butler and Mo? Amelia is keen to impress all with what a great big sister she will be but looking after the very naughty carticorns turns out to be very hard indeed!
Taking inspiration from an inscription on a stone in Written Stone Lane, Lancashire (“RAUFFE RADCLIFFE LAID THIS STONE TO LYE FOREVER: AD 1655”), this sophisticated ghost story – the sequel to Carnegie-nominated Cold Bath Street - sees 15-year-old Preston embroiled in a classic quest to save the world from destruction at the hands of ancient spectres. Preston currently lives in the North of England in 1978, where he and a girl called Tracey bond over “Hong Kong Garden” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Tracey doesn’t remember the past they’ve shared, “the ghost dogs and the Roman legionaries, the spectre which had emerged from the painting at the Harris Library”, while Preston “could see it all, bright and certain and real as brick and pain and darkness”. When an ancient stone is shifted, lethal ghosts are released and it falls to Preston to fix this desperately dangerous situation, with a prickling sense of suspense and shrewd interweaving of local folkloric beings.The atmosphere is enhanced by Janet Pickering’s haunting illustrations, and the language is always elegant, steady and smooth, belying the perilous situations Preston finds himself up against. Perfect for fans of Joseph Delaney and Jonathan Stroud.
Island of Shadows | Set in post-war Britain, this gripping novel is steeped in atmosphere and adventure - think Enid Blyton for older readers with lashings of creepiness in place of cream buns and ginger beer. Noah and his adoptive mother Millicent, a bestselling children’s author, are finding life hard after losing their beloved Captain in battle. Struggling to write a new novel, Millicent insists they head to the remote Scottish island of Inchtinn to find inspiration. Inchtinn means “Island of the Sick”, on account of it being home to a ramshackle 400-year-old leper hospital and not much else, apart from rumours of ghosts and unpleasant deaths, and a colony of aggressively protective guillemots. When Noah encounters an otherworldly cave-dwelling girl, a sinister real-life mystery unfolds as Millicent struggles with her fictional Adventurers story. To Noah’s huge exasperation and anger, she won’t heed his insistence that they’re in danger. Indeed, tensions between mother and son run high throughout, and are powerfully addressed in the thrilling final sequences when Noah must face his greatest fears. The novel’s rugged natural-world backdrop and classic ghost story motifs set it apart from many books for younger teens. Miranda Harris’s haunting line drawings make it unusual too - it’s a rare joy for novels aimed at this age to be illustrated. With its spirit of adventure and theme of facing deep-rooted fears in a grown-up way, this will satisfy readers on the cusp of their teenage years who don’t yet want to leave behind the mystery and magic of Middle Grade novels.
Interest Age 8+ Reading age 8 | Chris Priestley is a superb teller of ghost stories and knows just how to bring the uncanny into the ordinary, or turn the homely suddenly horrifying. A tour for talented young writers round a haunted house is the backdrop for this collection of linked stories. Each of the seven ghosts we meet is a child, each of their stories is different and each is guaranteed to send shivers up the spine or have you nervously checking over your shoulder in the dark. Written for dyslexia-specialists Barrington Stoke, this will enthrall even the most reluctant or struggling reader and concludes with a fantastically chilling twist. It’s the season for ghost stories, and this is required reading for fans of the genre.
Paul’s life changes in totally unexpected ways when he discovers a little ghost living in the keyhole of his front door. The two quickly become friends and no wonder, Zippel the ghost is irresistible – funny, mischievous and thoroughly well-meaning, if totally baffled by modern life (he’s particularly fascinated by the flush on the toilet). Together they have some excellent adventures, Zippel getting up to all sorts of tricks in an old castle and taking ingenious revenge on a couple of bullies who’ve been tormenting Paul. Full colour illustrations by Axel Scheffler perfectly capture the droll humour of the stories and this is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. Buy a copy and don’t be surprised if you find readers checking out keyholes in the hope of finding their own Zippel.
If, like actor Reece Shearsmith and author David Nicholls, you were growing up in the late 70s or early 80s, you may well remember this book. All About Ghosts was a huge favourite with young readers then, a thrilling examination of the world of the supernatural, full of terrifying stories of ghosts and ghost hunting. Due to genuine popular demand, publisher Usborne has brought it back, exactly as it appeared in 1977. Will it thrill and engage today’s kids as it did their parents? You betcha! There’s page after illustrated page of spooky myths, legends and true stories as well as theories and debate on the possible existence of ghosts. As spine-tingling today as it ever was, and just as certain to set the imagination racing.
With its tongue firmly in its cheek, this is a book to delight parent and child alike. The opening pages remind us of the credentials of the Goodnight Laboratory whose staff have designed this guide: follow their advice and you’re guaranteed to see off all monsters. This advice includes things parents will thoroughly endorse like keep a clean room because no mess equals nowhere for monsters to hide, as well as things to make children giggle, such as telling silly jokes will send monsters rolling away laughing. And everyone will approve of the final bit of advice which says that closing the book will create a monster-free zone. Monsters have never seemed so silly and this will send everyone to bed happy and laughing.
This riveting read-in-one-sitting nail-biter tells the tale of 18-year-old New Yorker Magda, who’s been sent to live with her wealthy grandparents in their summer home on the edge of a forest. Though feeling “frozen on the inside” by the cocktail of medication she must take following a tragic scandal at her elite school, Magda falls head over heels in love (and lust) with “wild boy” Bo, who “has all the self-assurance of an alpha, but none of the swagger” and lives in the woods in which a few young women have been found dead. As Magda gets to know Bo’s wild-living family (even confessing all about her dangerously duplicitous past to his Earth Mother mom), more bodies are found, with some pinning the murders on a man called Dr Goodnight. When Magda turns detective to discover his identity (or, indeed, if he even exists), it becomes impossible for her to know who she can trust ahead of the high-octane climax that will have readers perched on the very edge of their seats.
Norman is not your typical middle grade protagonist. He’s a twenty-three -year-old man who lives suburbia with his cat Morph. Oh, and he’s dead. After accidently blowing the roof off his house, Norman and Morph find themselves in the company of Abathar, The Weigher of Souls who more commonly goes by the name of Sir Poop (short for The Purveyor of Opportunistic Power). Sir Poop gustily informs Norman that he’s “been specially chosen to become a Ghosteleer whose “mission is to protect human beings who are destined to become great inventors or make discoveries that will improve the living world”. Both Norman and Morph undergo schooling in the art of Ghosteleering, which sees Morph excel in the art of telekinesis while Norman’s skills are somewhat less pronounced. Indeed, “Norman’s cat was proving himself more intelligent than him!” It’s not long before their true quest begins and along the way there’s much silliness and humour, such as when Sir Poop likens post-death paradise to Brighton, and through Norman’s general haplessness (despite his age, Norman certainly doesn’t behave like a fully-grown adult!). Short and pacey, this could be a good one to read aloud using amusing in-character voices.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | March 2019 YA Debut of the Month | Written by the founder of Everyday Sexism, and based on real-life experiences, double-standard “slut shaming” and sexual degradation are here exposed with vital urgency, and interwoven with the gripping story of a medieval woman whose abuse at the hands of a misogynistic society has present-day parallels. Fifteen-year-old Anna and her mum have moved hundreds of miles so she can escape the sexist bullying she was subjected to at her last school. But as Anna tries to make a fresh start, her past rears its head and continues to haunt her. While suffering torrents of abuse from her peers, Anna immerses herself in a history project that draws her into the tragic life of Maggie, an unmarried young woman from the 17th century. In juxtaposing Maggie and Anna’s experiences, the author lays bare an unbroken thread of misogyny from the Middle Ages to today’s culture of “revenge porn” and sexual shaming. Centuries on from scold’s bridles and burnings at the stake, women are still blamed and punished for the brutal behaviour of men. But Anna finds strength in her friendships with Alisha, Cat and Robin, and her connection with Maggie makes this a potent page-turner that will speak to a generation. As the author states in her afterword, “You are not alone, you are not to blame, and you deserve to feel better”. Or, in Anna’s words, “We are the granddaughters of the witches you burned. And we’re not putting up with it any more.”
October 2019 Debut of the Month | Sinister secrets and ghoulish goings-on are afoot in the sleepy town of Suds, and this devilishly dark debut reveals Suds’s murky mysteries with notable wit and invention. Suds is a peculiar place beset by unsettling stories of children turning grey and vanishing. When Poppy and Erasmus determine to discover the truth of their town for themselves, their quest takes them to the distinctly disturbing Riddling Woods, where dark, twisting paths mirror the twists and turns of the plot. The writing is rich and lively, with details memorably conjured within a creepily-contained story universe. With something of the elemental scary absurdity of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, this novel similarly serves as an allegory about finding strength to face fears, and fans of unusual adventures (e.g. Beetle Boy, A Place Called Perfect) will most definitely identify with Poppy as she courageously tackles her most terrifying worries.
January 2019 Debut of the Month | A group of Bristolian sixth-formers experience a whole lot more than the thrills and chills of the ski-slopes they’re expecting when one of their party discovers a trail of blood in their lodge. For outcast Charlie this trip was supposed to be a break from his troubled homelife, but he and his peers are now up to their necks in a gruesome, gory nightmare. Matters take a monstrous, mythical turn after ski instructor Hanna tells the students a tale “about things that lived in the woods. Things that only came out at night”… The action is jumpy, the writing sparse and direct, with plenty of unexpected twists to keep readers on the edge of their seats alongside the characters’ varied backstories. An accomplished debut for fans of atmospheric horror.
Elika’s story spans countries and legends. Trying so hard to be normal she finds herself diving headlong into a fantastical adventure you only read about in stories. The developing relationship with her Aunt Caroline really shows how kids have a very narrow view of the adults around them, and it is almost touching to see as she embraces the ‘weird’ parts of her aunt, finding she has more in common with her than she thinks as her strange dreams become more and more reality. The harder she tries to push them away the more she cannot escape. I think children would enjoy reading this book, although I found it leapt about a bit, and there was much more of the story that could be explored. Sometimes the chapter ended on a cliff-hanger, then carried on as if nothing had happened in the next. When she finally reaches Iceland the story went too fast for me, it all fell into place far too easily. Elika is very much a teenage girl, moody, resistant, and so sure of herself she dismisses anyone and anything that doesn’t interest her. Her persistence in trying to remain ‘normal’ grated at times as she was so rude and dismissive of those around her, so it was nice when she finally embraced the weird as being part of her own normal. Louse Woods, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador