Here are a few more children’s books I’ve read recently. Things are still pretty odd out there in real life so escaping into the many worlds of fiction and fantasy, especially one aimed at youngsters, seemed like a good idea. Given the quality of writing for children around at the moment I’d say there are no downsides at all to this…
Castle of Tangled Magic – Sophie Anderson (illustrated by Saara Soderlund)
Having read Sophie Anderson’s two previous books I was looking forward to another foray into a world of Slavic myth and folklore – and I got just what I was looking for.
Olia lives in a castle, with her parents, her beloved Babusya (grandmother) and her new-born baby sister. The family has lived in Castle Mila for generations, since the days when they would have been Lords of all they surveyed, but now they are just a fairly ordinary family living in a very (very) large home full of history – with grand halls, secret passageways and vast domes. But this life is threatened by magical forces and it seems that Olia is the only one who can fight back and save her home, her family and much, much more. This is a tale bursting with adventure, magic and lessons in learning how to work out what is really important. It never shies away from the truth that some things are more important than power, riches or even history.
The Beast and the Bethany – Jack Meggit-Phillips
Ebenezer Tweezer is 511, but looks centuries younger, and lives a life of luxury and riches. All this is thanks to a terrible monster who lives in the 15th floor attic of his palatial home – a beast who manages to vomit up all the wonderful gadgets he requires, endless cash to buy fabulous art and, most importantly, a potion which gives him both long life and youth. Of course, all this comes at a cost as the Beast demands bigger and more unusual items to eat as a payment. Which means that, before his 512th birthday, Ebenezer must provide the Beast with a child to eat or he will age rapidly and die.
Enter Bethany. A prickly, unpleasant orphan who the woman in charge of the orphanage (the distinctly nasty Miss Fizzlewick) is only too pleased to release into Ebenezer’s care. Always playing tricks, bullying the other orphans and causing general mayhem, Bethany is a very naughty child who, it seems, no-one would miss. But, when Ebenezer finds he has to spend some time with Bethany before she becomes the Beast’s next meal, he discovers that, perhaps, some things are more important than money, possessions or eternal youth…
A fun and often silly adventure story featuring two main characters who, despite having no real redeeming features at the beginning, we warm to as we find out more about what made them the people they are. There are also at least a couple of thoroughly evil villains whose comeuppance I spent most of the book anticipating with childlike glee.
The Night Bus Hero – Onjali Q Raúf
Raúf’s previous books have looked at serious issues (the plight of refugees and domestic abuse) but in ways that make them approachable and manageable for young readers. Sad, funny and heart-warming – these are great stories for children of all ages above about seven. And this newest tale is no different.
Hector is not a nice boy. He is lazy, greedy, rude and, worst of all, a bully. He and his two friends take pleasure in mocking, tripping and hurting the other children at school and especially enjoy threatening them with reprisals if they don’t hand over their cash, lunch or treats. They prey especially on the weaker and more nervous pupils but they particularly hate the ones they refer to as ‘teacher’s pets’. However, when Hector decides to play a mean prank on a homeless man in their local park things start to change for him. He ends up joining with Thomas, the homeless man, and Mei-Li, the biggest teacher’s pet of all, to find out who has been stealing iconic London landmark statues.
What I loved about this book was that the characters had real depth. Hector is unpleasant but he is never seen as a joke (unlike, say, the Golden Ticket winners in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and we do see a lot of the reasons why he act the way he does. His parents are often absent and the adults in his life have found it easier to write him off as a trouble-maker. He isn’t a totally lost cause either – he seems genuinely fond of his little brother, Hercules, and soon starts to see the error of his ways when he learns more about the troubles Thomas and Mei-Li have experienced. The real villains, the statue thieves, provide a more comedic angle and there are plenty of other lighter moments too.
Tilly and the Map of Stories (Pages & Co book 3) – Anna James
The final book in this round-up is another one in a series which I have been following with interest. It features adventure, a strong heroine and a bookshop – what’s not for me to love?
This is the third adventure for Tilly and her best friend, Oskar, as they continue in their fight against the Underwoods – sinister siblings who have taken control of the Underlibrary and the source books which allow people like Tilly to travel into books by ‘bookwandering’. In the previous books Tilly has been given items which she is sure form a map of some sort, leading to a legendary group known as the Archivists, who will be able to help her overthrow the Underwood’s regime. Her grandparents, ex-Underlibrarians themselves, are cautious after the dangers she has already faced but her mother helps her sneak away and sends Tilly and Oskar to the United States to follow the first clue – a code used in the Library of Congress.
The two children are thrown into a series of adventures and make a great team – each bringing different skills to the party. They fall deeper and deeper into books, fiction and stories – braving more peril and meeting some remarkable characters. They will need all their wits, bravery and imagination to avoid destruction on a huge scale…
As ever, I have hugely enjoyed working through this selection of books for our younger readers. While there are authors out there who are writing books of this quality (and, even better, series of books…) I think the future of literature is in good hands.