Sunday, November 26, 2023

Totally Deceased by Sue H. Cunningham


Jess wakes up to find she has had a heart transplant … and the ghost of Tilly, whose heart she has received, is haunting her.

Tilly needs to find out why she was murdered and to put a few things about her inheritance straight.  Jess, who is still recovering from major surgery, has to help her and puts her own life at risk in other ways as well.

The girls are totally different. Jess is ordinary and lives in Manchester. Tilly is very rich and has an expensive flat in London – and is also into Swiss bank accounts, posh shoes and boarding school.  

There are many surprises however. Tilly is very involved with a charity that supports disadvantaged children. Cousin Georgie is not the good friend she thought she was - and the rather boring headteacher of her school is much more of a friend than she imagined.     

Only Jess and Tilly’s granddad can see Tilly – so there are many hilarious scenes where Jess appears to be talking to herself. Ear buds are the answer; they make her look as if she is on her mobile.

More humour comes out in the contrast between the two girls. They gradually get to understand each other better.  

They manage to get Tilly’s money back to where is should be and Tilly makes sure that Jess will be all right.  Tilly is then able to move on. And Jess finally has her heart to herself and can complete her recovery.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston


Leila and her mother are refugees from Syria.  Leila lives with her aunt and cousin in England.  Her mother works away from home. Leila doesn’t realise that her mother does this in order to support them all and thinks it’s because she does not want to spend time with Leila. Their big adventure shows Leila that her mother is really the loving parent she wished for.  

Leila joins her mother for the summer. Her mother is tracking the journey of a blue fox, Miso that has trekked over 2000 miles across the Arctic. This part of the story is based on a true event. A fox that the scientists called Anna covered over 2000 miles in seventy-six days.

Miso  gets into trouble and becomes trapped on a thin ice-floe. Leila, being the smallest in the team, rescues her. There is a moral dilemma here: should humans who are observing nature interfere in nature? They do anyway but this only leads them into further trouble: they stray into a territory for which Leila’s mum does not have a visa and where Leila isn’t even registered as being on the ship.  

Leila, Matty and Britta have created a Twitter account for Miso. Support for Leila and her mum from Miso’s Twitter followers and the help of a good lawyer get them out of trouble. However, it is traumatic for them; it brings back memories of their former escape from Syria.  

Leila and her mum are eventually returned unharmed. Miso finds a mate.      

Leila’s story and Miso’s story are intertwined.  We have both points of view.

There are some blue monochrome illustrations throughout and even some transparent overlays. This a beautiful and very tactile book.

The text is quite dense, blocked and in a serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. There is a note about Anna the fox at the end of the book and a short bibliography of Millwood and de Freston.  

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Full Metal Alchemist: The Valley of the White Petals by Makoto Inque and Hiromu Arakawa



teen, lower secondary, Key Stage 3, ages10 -13, adventure, manga-related, fantasy, Inque Makoto, Arakakwa Hirmou, society,  

The white petals referred to in the title are from the flowers that Leaf grows. He offers them as a gift to Ruby who comes from the same village as him. Leaf is one of the weaker inhabitants of Wisteria, a town that is hidden at the bottom of a steep cliff.   Colonel   Mustang has ordered brothers Edward and Alphonse to go and investigate.

The Colonel’s methods are a little unorthodox: he has emptied their bank account of cash as a way of making them get in contact.

Edward and Alphonse Elric are Alchemists and have bodies made of metal. Their overall mission is to regain their own true bodes.

At Wisteria they meet Ruby who is convinced of the goodness of Mr Raygen who rescued her and who rules over all life in Wisteria. It seems idyllic in many ways but there are those who live on the cusp, such as Leaf.  There is a system of “equivalent exchange” which ultimately means that those who can’t work starve.

The brothers eventually show Raygen as he really is. He doesn’t really care about the people and he likes to control them.  They must obey. Once he has gone the people of Wisteria are freed to think for themselves.  Ruby and Leaf are reconciled.

This is a fast-paced adventure with pleasing character development and plenty of tension. It is based on the manga stories of Hirmou Arakakwa and indeed features a few manga-style illustrations.

It is 221 pages long, with blocked text in a serif font that includes difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. It has a friendly afterword from the author.                   

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The House of Serendipity: Sequins and Secrets by Lucy Ivison and Catharine Collingridge



Myrtle Mathers is a very skilled seamstress. She is the daughter of a tailor.  But when her father dies her mother has to sell the shop and goes to live with a relative who owns a farm.  Myrtle goes into service.

Slyvie Catrwright is one of the daughters in the big house and has a talent for drawing haute couture clothes.

Myrtle and Sylvie become a team. First of all they design and make a superb dress for Sylvie’s sister Delphine.  Then they become involved with Agapantha Portland-Prince who wants to wear trousers for her coming-out ball and also wants to disguise herself as a man so that she can go on an exotic adventure.

It almost all works but a misunderstanding about a tiara leads to Myrtle getting the sack. However, the girls’ designs are taken up by Hollywood, leaving the story open for another adventure.

The story is 267 pages long in blocked text with a classic serif font though it is double-spaced.

There ae several beautiful dress designs in the text and there is a pair of scissors underneath each page number.

At the end of the book we are treated to the opening pages of the next story.  There is also a note from the author. There are instructions for how to make glamorous headbands there are recipes for afternoon tea and Shirley Temple mocktails. Usborne provides some  “quick links” where you can access more dress designs, photos, videos and more activities.  

Monday, August 28, 2023

Mermaid Academy, Cora and Sparkle, by Julie Sykes and Linda Chapman



The Mermaid Academy is in many ways like any other school. Students learn and friendships are important. There are challenges. Cora and Issy are twins but are forced to attend different classes.  Issy is the older twin and Cora is worried when her magic appears before Issy’s. Cora’s closest companion is Sparkle, her dolphin.

There is also adventure and mystery.  Cora and Sparkle seek to join Cora’s friends who are trying to work out what has damaged the coral reefs. This brings them into danger as well. They discover the terrible secret about what has been happening.

All is well in the end. Issy and Cora are reconciled.   When dolphins and mermaids bond their tail fins match.  This happens for Cora and Sparkle at the end of the story.  Cora is also reconciled with her twin sister and at peace with her friends. Then she decides to do what she had always really wanted to to do:  she joins the music group. Her friends, her twin and Sparkle are all happy about this.

The book is 107 pages long. It has a blocked text and uses a serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. It is, however, double- spaced. Monochrome illustrative pictures are integrated into the text from time to time.  Each chapter heading has a decorative border.  

This is part of The Mermaid Academy Series

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business:


2021 (first published 1991)               

Someone had pooed on Mole’s head.  He makes it his mission to find out who. So, we are introduced to a series of animals and are shown what their poo looks like.

This is a conventional picture book in that more story is put into the pictures, though in this case not so much as in other picture books.   It uses the familiar “mask” to show facial expressions . This is something the young child needs to learn how to “read”.  Further body language conveys emotions and opinions.   

Throughout the text more information is given in brackets about the mole

A turn comes in the story as he accuses the flies. They explain though that their business is business and they know that this has come from the butcher’s dog.

This is an anthropomorphic text: Mole wears shoes and Horse wears glasses.    

The text is printed in a serif font which has difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s.  This is reasonable as the text will most likely be read by an adult.  The font size is large so reading glasses may not be needed.  

Aaron Slater and the Sneaky Snake by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts


This is part of the Questioneers series. This is a good name for the group of friends; the books pose questions about how society works. In this story a mum is disturbed because at the zoo, a small snake falls on the head of one of her sons.  The incident gets blown out of all proportion, and even the mother recognises this.  There are calls for the zoo to be closed. The Questioneers see this as a mistake; the zoo is an important educational resource. Opinion is divided. However, the young people can see that the zoo should stay open but it must be made safe; they perceive that there is a possible win-win situation.  They combat the ignorance about snakes by giving away copies of Uncle Fred’s book about them.  The council initially votes to close the zoo but relents after the efforts of the Questioneers.         

There is quite a lot of text but also many pictures which to some extent tell more story but also illustrate what is happening. Sometimes these are presented as a separate page.  Sometimes they are integrated into the text. They are in an unusual type of monochrome: orange, brown, white and beige.   

The text is blocked and uses a simple font, though it still has a difficult ‘g’. It has 155 pages.  

There are short bios at the end of both the writer and the illustrator.  There are also some pages of extra information about snakes, frogs, hearing aids and American Sign Language. This is all written in the same style as the story and is aimed at the younger fluent reader.  

Totally Deceased by Sue H. Cunningham

  2023   Jess wakes up to find she has had a heart transplant … and the ghost of Tilly, whose heart she has received, is haunting he...