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Harry Hill’s new children’s book is funny (no surprise), features great characters, particularly would-be comic Matt and his terrifyingly ambitious manager Kitty (age 11), but also offers a mini-masterclass in stand-up comedy. Matt’s dream is to make it on the comedy circuit and he’s prepared to work his way up from the school talent show, via the local WI, and TV talent show. Along the way, he is helped and/or hindered by best mate Rob, step-dad Ian and the style-vacuum that is his headmaster Mr Pavey. It’s great fun and some of the best scenes are interspersed with real advice on everything from working on your timing to dealing with hecklers. By the end readers will hope that Matt gets to follow his heroes onto the Apollo stage, but will also understand just why that’s such a uniquely exhilarating thing to do. Readers looking for something similar should look out for Christine Hamill’s Lollies shortlisted The Best Medicine, in which Harry Hill has a starring role.
In a nutshell: ever fresh and funny, the adventures of an inveterate scamp It’s hard to believe this is the 30th Dirty Bertie story, it’s so fresh and full of energy. Bertie just can’t avoid trouble, and gets up to all sorts of mischief in the three self-contained stories in this collection, often intentionally. He proves the best worst mascot in the world for his local football club, inadvertently scoring a goal for them when he wanders onto the pitch in the Larry Lion costume (that he shouldn’t be wearing). Stuck on a summer camp that he describes as ‘school for swots’ he tries his hardest to be sent home in disgrace, while a surprise triumph in the inter-schools Robot Wars lands him in trouble with Miss Boot, the inspiration for the fierce ‘Bootosaurus’. There’s an indomitable enthusiasm and confidence about Bertie that children love and through him they can be thoroughly and thrillingly naughty. David Roberts’ quirky, stylish and distinctive illustrations are an absolute joy too. Children who admire Dirty Bertie will also like the Number 1 Boy Detective books by Barbara Mitchelhill. ~ Andrea Reece
March 2018 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Young carers learn to live for today Tender in both name and tone, this involving debut tackles tough themes with heart-wrenching honesty. Marty’s mum struggles to get out of bed, while for Marty it’s the going to bed that’s the problem, “because that’s when the thinking starts… Give me the mornings anytime. Give me the light”. Marty’s life was on track until his dad died, but he’s now all but dropped out of school and is terrified of what might happen if the social workers knew how ill his mum has become. But it’s the social workers who give him a leaflet about a young carers group, which is where he meets Daisy… Daisy has problems of her own. Her beloved brother Harry has debilitating muscular dystrophy. During one young carers meeting, Daisy is passionate about wanting to see the world, which seems impossible to Marty. His world is poorer and smaller. It’s confined to his estate and revolves around his mum. But, while they come from different worlds, they’re united by that fact that they both feel powerless when it comes to what matters most. Daisy can’t make Harry well, and Marty can’t bring back his dad or fix his mum. Consequently, they find solace - and more - in each other. Honest on the realities of mental illness, grief and how it feels to be a teen carer, this truly touching read shines a bright light of love and hope through Daisy and Marty’s darkest days. ~ Joanne Owen
When Alice's family home has to be sold, she and her father Barney will do whatever it takes to buy it back - even if whatever it takes isn't strictly legal. Both hilarious and heartfelt, this is the classic adventure story brought bang up to date, and told in Natasha's inimitable voice.
In a Nutshell: True friendship tested Fresh-voiced and thought-provoking contemporary YA exploring friendship, trust, messing up and trying to do the right thing in the aftermath of a teen girl going on the run with a teacher. Fabulously forthright Eden has always been the kind of student teachers “call ‘spirited’ when they're trying to be nice and 'disruptive' when they're not”. The last thing anyone expected was for her level-headed, flute-playing, star student bestie Bonnie to run off with the school music teacher, but that's exactly what happens, right before they're due to sit their GCSES, and Eden is the only one who knows where Bonnie is. She knows this is wrong, that Bonnie should come home, but she’s promised not to tell, and she can’t betray her friend. Bonnie was the one who made Eden feel at home in a new school when she was placed with a new foster family. Until Bonnie, Eden hadn't had a proper friend. And exploring friendship - how it feels, what it means, the joys, the obligations, the codes of loyalty - is at the heart of this involving novel. No one believes Eden when she says Bonnie hasn't been in touch, but how long can she keep lying? And what price will be paid for her loyalty, when she knows Bonnie is making a massive mistake? Alongside Eden’s struggle, understanding why Bonnie left is also thoughtfully explored - the pressures she put on herself to perform at school, the weight of expectation, the fears and doubts that made her more susceptible to grooming, the desire to feel understood. This novel tackles serious issues head-on, and with tremendous empathy, never shirking from the complexities of both Eden and Bonnie’s predicaments. Eden’s adoptive parents are a delight, as is her relationship with super-sweet boyfriend, Connor. They’re true friends, and the very model of a healthy relationship: loving, supportive and respectful of each other. Sara Bernard has done it again. ~ Joanne Owen
February 2018 Book of the Month | In a nutshell: Rafe Khatchadorian heads down under In this special episode of the hugely popular Middle School series, Rafe Khatchadorian, surely everyone’s favourite reformed troublemaker, has won a special art competition, first prize an all-expenses paid trip to Australia. Rafe isn’t sure he wants to go – he’s worried about snakes, sharks and all those other deadly indigenous creatures – but Australia isn’t ready for Rafe either: by the end of the book he and his mum, who accompanies him, are facing down an angry mob waving pitchforks. Finding out just what leads up to this is very funny indeed and readers will be pleased to hear that Rafe still returns home something of a hero. Kids everywhere will identify with Rafe, and especially those who just can’t help attracting trouble; he’s a very special hero, and Patterson’s narrative technique means the pages turn almost by themselves. ~ Andrea Reece
Izzy and her friends are shocked when they find their lollipop man has disappeared! Maisie thinks he's gone to Rome but if that's true, why do they keep seeing a weird white wispy cloud around the school? And why do Izzy's legs feel cold even though she's got tights on? Could it be that the lollipop man is a phantom and he's come to spook them all?! Laugh-out-loud fun from Blue Peter Award winners Pamela Butchart and Thomas Flintham. Read more of Izzy's adventures!
In a nutshell: first class crime writing for children This is the latest book in Robin Stevens’ best-selling boarding school crime series, number six, and I do hope it’s not the last: very few books deliver such a delicious spoonful of character, crime, setting and pace. This adventure takes place in Hazel’s home, Hong Kong, and the dreadful crimes that take place are horribly close to her own family. The mystery will keep readers eagerly turning the pages, while 1930s Hong Kong is more than just a fascinating backdrop. The relationship between Daisy and Hazel still holds surprises, while there are new characters too to almost steal the limelight. It would be a crime to miss a book this good. ~ Andrea Reece ****Are you a budding super-sleuth? Well then, you're in luck, young detective. The Honourable Daisy Wells, President of the Wells & Wong Detective Society, has written a fantastic (if we must say so) guide to detecting, which will help you get ready to solve your first case... Find out more here!
February 2018 Debut of the Month In a Nutshell: Brave British Muslim keeps her head after losing her heart An important, engaging debut in which a bright British Muslim is drawn down a dark path. Tingling with heart and urgency, and astute on the complexities of radicalisation, this rivetingly authentic read shows that representation really does matter. Fifteen-year-old Muzna has a passionate ambition to become a novelist, but her parents have other plans. Boys, make-up and hair removal are strictly forbidden, and they want her to become a doctor – “#BrownGirlProblems”, as Muzna describes her predicament. When labeled a terrorist by a classmate in her new school, “Guy Candy” Arif sticks up for her, and it’s not long before they strike up a friendship, and more. She starts attending meetings with Arif and his older brother Jameel, and her eyes are opened to the media’s anti-Muslim bias, and to Western demonisation of Islam. The brothers encourage her to pray, and she’s gifted a hijab, which she hides from her parents, since her father insists “it was only the 'ignorant’ who clung to Islamic teachings”. Being sharp-minded and questioning, Muzna is keen to understand different facets of Islam, but she’s conflicted when Jameel says her parents aren’t “real Muslims”, and he can’t be right when he declares “writers of fiction are among the worst of people”, can he? Muzna’s conflicts are sharply evoked, and there are moments that will have you begging her to listen to her friends when they reach out to her. But the truth only fully hits Muzna as time is running out, and she must summon the strength to remain true to the talented, intelligent young woman she is. Inspired by author’s shock at hearing that three British schoolgirls had flown to Syria to join the ‘Islamic State’ in 2015, this is a timely, thought-provoking debut that also packs in powerful universalisms about growing up, falling in love and discovering who you are. ~ Joanne Owen
In a nutshell: laugh-out loud adventures with the boy who can’t lie Poor Beaky Malone’s life was thrown into chaos when an encounter with the mysterious Madame Shirley robbed him of his ability to tell a lie, making school and home life a minefield. In this latest adventure he has some particular challenges to meet: first, in pre-unable-to-lie days, he’d entered his dog into TV’s Most Talented Pets, claiming Destructo could ride a bike; plus he’s got the starring role in the school play – Romeo and Juliet with Aliens – playing opposite his crush Evie. In Barry Hutchison’s capable hands everything that can go wrong does, and a whole lot of other things too. It makes for first-rate, top-speed situation comedy, the laughs coming not just because of the silly set-up but because we actually care for and sympathise with Beaky too. An honest-to-goodness treat for readers! Readers who laugh at Beaky will also enjoy Frank Cottrell Boyce’s The Astounding Broccoli Boy, My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons or The Person Controller by David Baddiel. ~ Andrea Reece
In a nutshell: thoughtful story of a little girl and her family, touched with magic The day her mum goes off to hospital to have her new baby brother is the day Ginny finds a very unusual egg in the hen house. It’s not a hen’s egg, it’s a dragon’s egg, and soon Ginny is step-mum to a baby dragon. The dragon might not be like the hens, or like Ginny either, but she loves it and wants to do her best to look after it. When her mum finds it difficult to bond with the new baby, who has Down’s syndrome, Ginny understands, and the little dragon can help. It’s a story full of warmth and insight, and readers will love the idea of adopting a dragon and understand how protective Ginny feels towards her little brother too. ~ Andrea Reece
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