Book review: Scholastic Children’s Books summer selection

Summer has arrived and a new selection of Scholastic children’s books is guaranteed to bring an extra ray of sunshine.

Thursday, 31st May 2012, 7:00 am

From tots to teens, there are books to banish boredom, entertain, excite and generally get the grey matter moving. Picture books, funny books, adventure, mystery, romance and thrills galore are the keywords to the new reading season.

Here are some of the best, many of them hot off the presses:

Preston-born author Ruth Eastham’s original and thoughtful debut novel, The Memory Cage, made an instant impact in the world of children’s books. And now she’s back with The Messenger Bird (paperback, £5.99), a clever and compelling espionage story which packs in as many themes as there are twists and turns in this thrilling adventure for young teens.

Eastham’s own experiences in the war-torn Balkans have given her a worldly wise insight into the corrupting effects of bitter conflicts on both the present and our reading of the past.

Here she places a firm and yet fun and intriguing focus on the importance of friendship, family, loyalty, compromise and our innate desire to protect loved ones from the pain, horrors and tragedies of war.

Using a subtle sleight of hand, she wraps important life lessons in a 13-year-old boy’s gripping race against time to save his father who has been falsely accused of betraying state secrets and faces life in prison.

Nathan Vane, his parents and older sister have inherited Foxglove Cottage, his father’s childhood home and more recently the museum-like residence of his now departed Auntie Hilda who packed the place with relics of wartime.

As the family celebrates bonfire night in the garden at the cottage, two strange men appear out of the darkness and bundle dad into a waiting car. He just has time to give Nathan a message which the boy quickly realises must be some kind of code.

His shocked mother is told that dad, who works for the Ministry of Defence, has been arrested and is accused of leaking top secret information.

Following the clues, Nathan uncovers a book full of riddles, but they are not the work of his father. They were written by a woman called Lily Kenley who worked at the famous Bletchley Park code-cracking centre during the Second World War.

Nathan begins to follow the clues left behind by Lily but how can this wartime story have any connection to his father’s fate? Meanwhile, hope for dad’s appeal is fading fast. Nathan must solve the puzzle fast because time is running out.

Like the stuffed wartime carrier pigeon that sits under a glass dome at Foxglove Cottage, Nathan has become a messenger bird between the past and the present...

Suspense, drama, history and atmosphere are the keys to the success of this brilliant and breathless book which has a story to tell for every generation.

Families also loom large in Roddy Doyle’s fresh, funny and tender story about four generations of strong Irish women. A Greyhound of a Girl (paperback, £6.99), suitable for readers aged nine and over, oozes a delightful brand of Irish warmth and charm as well as displaying a remarkable empathy for children’s thoughts and feelings.

Mary O’Hara from Dublin is the youngest female in her family. She’s twelve, sharp-witted and cheeky. Her mother Scarlett is more than a match for her though, and her grandmother Emer would be, if she were not dying in the local hospital.

Her great-grandmother Tansey is the feistiest of them all ... but she died many years ago and never lived to see her children grow up. However, Tansey is not truly at rest and her ghost has returned on a mission to help her dying daughter Emer say goodbye.

Mary is struggling to cope with the imminent death of her granny as well as the loss of a friend who has moved to another part of the city but Tansey has a job for her. She needs Mary’s help to give Emer one last glorious adventure...

Doyle’s straightforward writing style perfectly captures the bewilderment of a child facing up to life’s slings and arrows. He deals with big themes like love, loss and death with humour, wisdom and subtle insights.

Bold and forthright in his evocation of Irish life and language, yet his story remains full of humanity and compassion.

And who can resist a sassy, classy teen detective like Clarity Fern whose extra sensory perception launches her on a thrilling and chilling murder mystery?

Clarity (paperback, £6.99) is US author Kim Harrington’s debut novel and introduces a fearsome, fiery heroine with fully-fledged 21st century credentials that will appeal to readers aged 12 and over.

Known to her friends as Clare, our young super sleuth has a dry wit and sharp tongue, and is more than a match for the villains who cross her path in the sleepy seaside town of Eastport.

She comes from an extraordinary family – mum can hear people’s thoughts, her brother can communicate with the dead and Clare only has to touch an object to witness the owner’s secrets.

They trade on these ‘talents,’ amusing and entertaining the tourists who flock to Eastport over the summer. Some see their powers as a gift but, as events prove, they can also be a curse. When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare’s ex-boyfriend asks her to use her gift to find the killer.

At first Clare is reluctant but when her brother becomes the main suspect, she has no choice but to get involved. However, even when you are a clairvoyant, things are not as predictable as you might think...

Tingling with suspense, smouldering romance and the added bonus of a terrifying twist, Clarity is on the case and her adventures look set to run and run with the sequel, Perception, due to be published next spring.

Meanwhile, what do boys really want? Why do they spend more time focusing on what they are eating than the pretty girl who is sitting across the table? And why do they have a need to recklessly endanger themselves while trying to impress others?

For girls who want some answers (and boys who have a few questions of their own about the unfathomable ways of girls), look no further than Pete Hautman’s brilliantly witty What Boys Really Want (paperback, £6.99).

Lita is the writer. Adam is the entrepreneur. They are just friends (honestly!) So Adam would never sell copies of a self-help book before he’d even written it. And Lita would never try to break up Adam’s relationship with Blair, the skankiest girl at school.

They’d never sabotage their friends Emily and Dennis. Lita would never date a guy related to a girl she can’t stand. They’d never steal each other’s blog posts. And Adam would never end up in a fist fight with Lita’s boyfriend. No, never.

Adam and Lita might not agree on what really happened but, in this hilarious story aimed at young teens, they manage to give the world a little more insight into what boys and girls are really looking for...

Fun, accessible, contemporary and fresh, Adam and Lita’s story is full of laugh-out-loud banter and has all the right ingredients to be a big hit with the blogging generation.

Dark, droll and deliciously disgusting ... what child could resist the smelly adventures of young Barnaby Figg whose repulsive grandmother likes nothing better than to cause a stink?

There are groans, moans and miles of smiles for children aged eight and over in Siobhan Rowden’s side-splitting book The Curse of the Bogle’s Beard (paperback, £5.99) which is brought to life by Mark Beech’s superb illustrations.

Things are not going well for Barnaby. The proud ruler of a vast pickling empire, Granny Hogsflesh hides some strange-smelling secrets. Everything in her mansion stinks of vinegar and is a hideous shade of purple, including Granny herself.

When Barnaby is forced to go and live with Granny after his father’s mysterious disappearance, he quickly realises there’s more to her pickling kingdom than meets the eye.

Is she behind what happened to his dad who, burping and slurping, vanished into the night? Or are some wicked bog-monsters to blame? Soon Barnaby must infiltrate the disgusting world of pickles and monsters to save his family from a sticky ending…

There’s fun for all the family in Rowden’s wickedly funny tale, particularly those who can’t stop laughing at bottoms, burping and nose-picking!

Scottish-born author Karen McCombie has sold over one million of her engaging children’s books in the UK alone and her latest stand-alone novel packs in all the warmth and wisdom we have come to expect from her.

Life According to Alice B.Lovely (paperback, £6.99) features a mysterious children’s nanny called Alice Lovely, a sort of 21st century take on the beguiling and mysterious Mary Poppins.

Edie Evans and her younger brother Stan have perfected the art of driving away babysitters. There is the classic worm in the handbag trick, which always works a treat, or there was the time they put couscous on one nanny’s hairbrush and convinced her she had nits.

No one has managed to outwit them and in Edie’s opinion, at 13 years old, she doesn’t need a nanny anyway. But then their mother employs Alice Lovely. With glittering eyelashes that change colour every day, an array of mismatched clothes and golden shoes, she is unlike any nanny they have ever met.

At first Edie resents her but all her usual tricks don’t work on this strange, doll-like girl. Alice is very wise. She offers fantastic advice and understands how Edie feels about her parents’ impending divorce... something that no one else does.

But Alice has a secret and Edie is about to discover that sometimes you really can’t judge a book by its cover...

Alice is a fantastic larger-than-life figure whose mission is to dish out advice with the same insouciance that Mary Poppins dispensed a spoonful of medicine.

Through Edie’s witty narrative and under Alice’s guidance, we see how the young girl begins to come to terms with, and ultimately accept, her parents’ separation and to understand the importance of being true to herself.

A clever, funny and heart-warming story for youngsters aged ten and over.

And Happy Days are here again for Henry Winkler, better known as the Fonz, as he turns author for a sparkling story about the unlikely friendship between a young boy and his super cool ghostly buddy.

Ghost Buddy: Zero to Hero (paperback, £5.99) is another joint collaboration with Lin Oliver and follows the runaway success of their Hank Zipzer books.

Billy Broccoli is a boy full of questions – about his new school, his new step-family… his whole life, in fact. Meanwhile, Hoover ‘the Hoove’ Porterhouse is a funny teenage ghost with a whole lot of attitude and all the answers Billy needs.

And when a trick of fate makes them roommates, Billy discovers that being haunted isn’t so bad after all. The Hoove is a great baseball player and a real people-person (even if Billy is the only one who can see him).

When an obnoxious school bully sets out to get Billy, the Hoove comes up with a plan for revenge which involves staying cool no matter what. With Hoover by his side, Billy might just have a chance to conquer the school!

With a friendship that is hilarious and yet wise and moving, Billy and the Hoove are an ideal pair of heroes for children aged eight and over.

For children aged six-plus, who are beginning to develop confidence reading alone, author Tracey Corderoy and illustrator Hannah Whitty have collaborated on a charming new series of books set in a very special place called Willow Valley.

First in the series is Willow Valley: Birthday Fun (paperback, £4.99), a warm and gentle story with beautiful illustrations featuring an adorable bunch of animal friends including Riley the Mouse, his sister Mimi-Rose and Horatio the Hedgehog.

Nestled in a hidden valley, trees of all shapes and sizes grew on the rolling green hills and pretty flowers dance in the meadows. Only the animals who live there know their way in and out, but they hardly ever want to leave because they’re having too much fun.

They enjoy lots of adventures like camping, bike racing and playing in the woods. As Riley’s birthday dawns, his animal friends can’t wait for his party. What will his present be?

With echoes of Brambly Hedge, these lovable furry friends and their escapades based on fun and friendship look set to become a new children’s classic.

And what youngster can resist collectables? Little Sparkles: Party at the Zoo by Emily Moon (paperback, £4.99) is just one of five entrancing new books all featuring twinkly, foiled covers and filled with animated illustrations.

Enemy number one are the Party Poopers, grumpy little creatures who show up at the birthday parties of children with the intention of ruining everything. However, the children need not fear because the Little Sparkles will be there to save the day!

Little Sparkles are tiny animals who use their magical glitter to fix everything. If a Little Sparkle can make a Party Pooper have fun, they might end up being transformed into a Little Sparkle too!

With lively drawings, hilarious plots and a splash of colourful magic, the Little Sparkles books are ideal for children aged six and over.

When it comes to magic, no young child will be able to resist the spell cast by Scottish author Chae Strathie’s colourful and fun-filled new picture book Ping! (paperback, £6.99). With the emphasis firmly on friendship, this is a big, beautiful book for children getting ready for their school years.

Marion Lindsay’s bold and enchanting illustrations put extra life into the tale of a funny purple little ‘thing’ that just says ping!

When a strange little creature called Ping arrives one day at Evie’s house, the two quickly become friends. Ping loves going to the playground and to Evie’s school, and Evie loves having a best friend that she can share everything with.

One day Ping returns to his own home and Evie has to say goodbye but there’s no need to be sad because a true friend is never far away and friendship is the best adventure of all.

Full of sounds, rhymes, brilliant characters, vibrant colour and heart-warming messages and with familiar settings like school, dancing classes and visits to the park, this extraordinary purple creature will brighten up everybody’s day.

And for little boys who haven’t yet learned to love big sisters, broccoli and cabbage, My Adventure Island, an action-packed picture book from Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton (paperback, £6.99), could be a dream come true.

It’s an island for boys only where they can do as they please – splash in the puddles, climb trees, swing through the branches, fly through the sky and end up face down in a massive mud pie! The adventure island is also a magical place where anything can happen...with a bit of imagination.

Knapman and Warburton capture all the joy, energy and mischief of boys in this creative, witty and superbly illustrated book which features a dream world of scruffy clothes, saying what you like, sticking your tongue out and even picking your nose!

Or why not spend A Day with the Animal Firefighters, a bright and busy new picture book by the talented Sharon Rentta (paperback, £6.99)?

There’s a winning mix of action, animals and adventure and no little boy will be able to resist turning the pages and sharing in the dramas of new firefighter Moose and his lovable chums.

Moose is desperate to drive the fire engine but he’s not allowed to take the wheel until he’s got some ‘experience’ first. He must learn to climb ladders, grapple with fire extinguishers and go on a number of daring missions.

His finest moment comes when he rescues 27 guinea pigs from a top-floor flat. He wins an award for his bravery and initiative and at last he’s allowed to drive the fire engine too.

A Day with the Animal Firefighters is the follow-up to the equally funny and much-loved A Day with the Animal Doctor.