“It’s finally here!”, I hear you all cry! Yes, after some crazy PGCE times I have finally managed to get this review out! Hope you enjoy!
Book 1: Out of the Silent Planet – C. S. Lewis (Fiction)
Well it’s been a good long while since I’ve read any Lewis so here we go!
More famous for his children’s fantasy novels (which happen to be my absolute all-time faves…) and his works of Christian apologetics (which have to rank a fairly close second…), C. S. Lewis also gained plaudits for this H. G. Wells-inspired Sci-fi trilogy which I have finally got around to starting reading. On an innocuous cross-country hiking trip, Dr Ransom finds himself caught up in a far greater trip – to another planet. After the horrible men who coerce him to travel with them, he can only imagine what the terrifying life-forms may be like on the planet they eventually reach. Using his skills as a Professor of Linguistics, Ransom attempts to survive, then thrive, in this brand new world of myth and mystery. I always strive to be fair and honest when reviewing books. With that in mind, this book will not be for everyone. It is certainly not the book I would recommend to a first-time reader of Lewis. The narrative may be a little wordy for some tastes, as you might expect for someone of Lewis’ high academic standing! HOWEVER, it is a novel full of wonders. I had to constantly remind myself that it was written not only before satellites and the space race, but before the second world war. Whilst the myth of travelling to a planet via conventional means and finding life has now been dispelled, Out of the Silent Planet is in many ways actually fairly plausible for the era in which it was written! Whilst it does not contain the overt allusions to Christianity that his later Narnia books do, it would not be a Lewis work if there was no kind of moralistic undertone, or indeed references to his other great love: mythology. Indeed, in amongst the world-creation he is now renowned for, Lewis has here spun a tantalising tale which draws together a theme of realism that humans are not as virtuous as we may like to present, tinged with the hope that hope is not yet lost. An excellent book for the Lewis fan, but do start with Narnia if you’re meeting him for the first time!
Book 2: Oliver and the Seawigs – Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (KidLit, Lower KS2)
When Oliver’s adventurous explorer parents decide to settle down to the quiet life, he cannot wait. A childhood spent in uninhabitable environments and facing threats at every turn has led him to be really rather excited about the prospect of a nice, quiet family life. These plans quickly come undone, however, when his parents go missing after exploring the local hotspots and Oliver must begrudgingly leap to the rescue! With allies ranging from mythical sea creatures to large, not-so-inanimate objects, he not only has to save his parents but also save the reputation of a creature the likes of which he could not have imagined. Filled with excellent illustrations throughout and a host of characters who are perfect for a class read-aloud, you will find yourself swept along (slight pun intended) on this wave of wackiness and adventure! Perfect for a confident Lower KS2 reader and brilliant enough even without the countless opportunities for curriculum tie-ins, this is a great book brought to you by one of the brightest story-telling teams out there!
Book 3: The Goldfish Boy – Lisa Thompson (KidLit, Upper KS2)
I recently reviewed a book which was not my usual kind of read, but which captivated me from page one. And this book is yet another example of that! I admit I was somewhat nervous about starting a book of this length, some 400 pages long, and of this genre, very much set in a real world. My fears were soon allayed. Matthew Corbin has become something of an unofficial, and somewhat secret, Neighbourhood Watch rep. since he began to be afflicted with obsessive-compulsive symptoms. It would be far too easy to fall into the trap of either making sufferers a laughing stock (Big Bang Theory anyone?) or a helpless victim, and although Matthew is certainly troubled in some respects (the reasons for which are tantalisingly hinted at throughout), he shines out as a hero of the piece. When a toddler goes missing, Matthew must, along with a new and unlikely pal, battle through some of his greatest fears and anxieties and turn detective. With a cast of believable characters and a story which though small in scope is huge in heart, I sped through The Goldfish Boy, enjoying every one of its 400 pages!
– Star Read – Book 4: Moonlocket – Peter Bunzl (KidLit, Upper KS2) – Star Read –
Could I really have chosen anything else?? After Bunzl’s first Victorian steampunk-inspired masterpiece, ‘Cogheart’, became my first ‘Star Read’ back in January, I was as impatient as…well, as impatient as #readingteachers waiting for their next book delivery! The first thing that struck me as I began to read up about the imminent arrival of this second offering was its utter beauty! The team behind the Cogheart adventures have produced a stunning start to the series. Beyond the pure aesthetics, and let’s be honest, we all know I could go on for ages just on the décor, Moonlocket is at the very least a worthy successor to the first story! For those of you who have somehow missed the hype around Cogheart, it centres around Lily, the daughter of a missing inventor who must solve the mystery of both his disappearance and of a family mystery, and is set against a backdrop of steamships and clockwork mechanical servants. Without giving too much away, I actually loved Moonlocket even more than the first! With the wonderful world already in place, the story really came into its own with crafty villains and yet more mystery, this time involving those Lily cares about the most. With favourite characters back from last time, Moonlocket has cemented Bunzl’s place at the very fore of the recent revolution in children’s fiction!
Book 5: Pugs of the Frozen North – Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (KidLit, Lower KS2)
Another madcap adventure from the dream team of Reeve and McIntyre here! Whereas in ‘Oliver and the Seawigs’ we found ourselves adventuring across the ocean, here our journeys take a slightly cooler twist! After a shipwreck leaves Shen trekking through the arctic with 66 pugs, the only thing he wants is some shelter and some food for his beautiful friends (by the way, I LOVE pugs!). What he absolutely does NOT envisage is heading back out shortly thereafter in a race to the top of the world! Yet when he meets Sika and learns about the prize waiting at the end, that is precisely what he ends up doing. Reeve and McIntyre are the masters of wacky, quirky journeys and they have once again created a great cast of supporting characters including, but not limited to, a Viking-esque wonder-woman and a mythical mammal like you’ve never seen it before… For readers of a certain vintage, you will enjoy the similarities with the most wonderful cartoon of my childhood, Wacky Races, and for everyone else I’m certain you will enjoy this fun little read!
Book 6: Varjak Paw – S. F. Said (KidLit, KS2)
Varjak Paw is part of a sleek and pampered family of Mesopotamian Blue house-cats. Whilst his family are happy enough with their easy lifestyle, Varjak is enthralled by his Grandfather’s stories of heroism and adventure in the family’s past, particularly the stories of his ancestor Jalal. When their peaceful life is disturbed by a shady character known only as ‘The Gentlemen’, and as he manages to charm the rest of his family, Varjak must venture into a place he has both dreamed of, and feared: Outside. It soon transpires that there is far more danger than he realised. Will Varjak be able to live up to his ancestor’s example or is he simply another house-cat. I have to make a confession at this point: I am very much a dog person! However, I loved the way that Said managed to create the cat’s persona (if that makes sense!) through the first-person narrative. The main story-line is inter-weaved with an enjoyable side-plot which adds to the mystical nature of the novel. I have heard several teachers promote this book for use in Lower Key Stage Two and I can only agree heartily with their opinion! The language is manageable without being in any way ‘dumbed down’, and I can see readers being enthralled by this unlikely but determined hero!
Book 7: Inkheart – Cornelia Funke (KidLit, Upper KS2/3)
My first reading request as Mr B Reads! If only there was money in it eh? Anywho, this is a book that had been on my radar even before the request, though the length of it did put me off as I aimed for 52 books this year! In many ways Inkheart is a book after my own heart, being as it is a book about books! Meggie is a girl with an unquenchable love for books, and enjoys her life with her father, a bookbinder. When a stranger with an unusual name and even more unusual habits disturbs their peace, Meggie and her father must travel across the continent and face terrible dangers while uncovering unbelievable secrets. Meggie will soon learn that everything she thought she knew about books may need to change, and those characters she knows as heroes must now become her inspiration. At a meaty 500 pages long, Inkheart is certainly not going to be a book you can share with your class, and it would undoubtedly challenge even your most able Key Stage 2 readers, but it has an unmistakeable charm. Each chapter begins with an extract from another book which have all been carefully selected for the plot, and they all add to the flow of this timeless tale. The loving language used about books resonated frighteningly clearly with me and will with any other bibliophile out there, which if you’re the kind of person to read online book reviews of an evening, I imagine you are! It is a commitment to read, but a worthwhile one, and it says a great deal about the quality of the story that it reads as clearly and beautifully as if it had not been translated from its original German!
I hope this review supports your reading journey this year and gives you some ideas for yourself or your class (or children, or nephews and nieces…you get the idea!). It took a long time to write as I am deep into my PGCE, but I loved this selection last month! Let me know below or on Twitter how your #52books2017 is going!