29 June 2010

Book(s) of the Week (67): "Bob and Barry's Lunar Adventures" by Simon Bartram

I first met Bob, the man on the moon, and Barry, his strange one-eyed canine companion, in Simon Bartram’s lovingly drawn picture books. Now two new chapter books allow young readers to experience their adventures in an exciting new series.

In The Disappearing Moon, the Mysterious Alacazamo, earth’s most powerful magician, makes the moon disappear, and Bob’s job is on the line. Under orders from his tough, cake-loving boss Tarantula Von Trumpet, Bob has to race against the clock to solve the mystery of its disappearance. Is there a clue in the magician's autobiography, The Hocus Pocus Hombre? Wonderfully witty illustration and hilarious characters like Hyacinth Trombone and Cornelius Trolley will have you rooting for Bob on his madcap adventure.

A Right Royal Disaster plunges Bob into terror when he discovers he has to host the birthday party for frighteningly bad-tempered Queen Battleaxe on his beloved moon. He has to make sure the party goes with a bang or he’ll lose his head! He enlists the help of celebrated royal artist Sir Lucien to create the largest ever sculpture of the Queen – on the moon. All seems to be going well until Bob decides to help out, with hilarious and terrifying results. Only Bob’s detective work about the Queen’s mysterious past can avert certain disaster. This story is tender, tense and has a very unexpected ending.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

[NB A third in the 'Bob & Barry' series, The Heartless Robot, is due out in September.]

21 June 2010

Book of the Week (66): "Paper Towns" by John Green

Three facts are true about Quentin Jacobson: 1. He is a living breathing boy living and breathing in Jefferson Park, Florida. 2. He is going to Duke next year after he graduates high school. 3. He is incontestably in LOVE with his next-door neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman.

So when the mysterious Margo appears at his bedroom window to enlist his help in a campaign of revenge, Quentin is powerless to refuse. What follows is an adventure more thrilling than he could ever imagine. And as the greatest night of his life finally draws to a close, Q dares to hope his life has changed forever, and maybe, just maybe he and Margo can be something more than neighbours.

But in the morning, Margo has disappeared, missing, and no one knows why. Plagued by worry Q starts to investigate his enigmatic neighbour, discovering the secrets she kept hidden from everyone, along with a strange trail of clues she has left that only he can follow. But who is the real Margo? And does she really want to be found?

With characters so vivid that you’ll forget they’re made of paper, John Green presents a rare gem of a book that tells us of the struggles of growing up trying to find the courage to stand up for yourself, of the pains of high school while trying to forge your own identity; all the while exploring just how deeply being in love for the first time can change you.

Few are the books that can claim to change your life, but Paper Towns certainly did for me; with its expertly crafted combination of mystery, humour, poignant sentiment, and the uniquely thought provoking philosophy of the incandescent Margo Roth Spiegelman. I hope that you find it as impossible as I did not to view yourself through the mirror that John Green flawlessly constructs, and I challenge you not to change from what you see.

Too much praise? I don’t think so. Paper Towns possesses insight, wit, and genuine human emotion captured in a relentless narrative of intrigue suitable for both old and young readers alike. Even should this book not change the way you view the world, it’s certainly a read you will not soon forget and never regret.

Recommended by Matthew Humpage

14 June 2010

Book of the Week (65): "Laghu, the Clever Crow", by Bhavit Mehta, illustrated by Carol Liddiment

The newly established Saadhak Books has the tagline ‘Bringing timeless Indian wisdom to children of all cultures’. This book, Laghu the Clever Crow, is the first of their Granny Geeta series and is their first publication.

The story of Laghu is taken from a collection of animal fables, written in Sanskrit in the 3rd century BCE (so it is estimated), though it is believed the stories originated long before this and were passed on by storytellers. The tale of Laghu and the doves is also found in fables from other cultures.

Traditionally in the Indian Subcontinent the grandmother is the chief storyteller and Granny Geeta is the fictional embodiement of a good storytelling grandmother. She retells old tales and fables using her insight and humour to breathe life into them and deliver their message.

Here Granny Geeta tells her Grandson the story of Laghu the clever crow and how he rescues the doves. It is a simple tale highlighting that things should not be judged on how they appear. Straight-forwardly written and easy to read aloud I can imagine parents (or grandparents) reading it to children by the fireplace. The illustrations are bright and colourful – they certainly reminded me of Southern India and made me smile.

Saadhak Books look set to put Indian picture books on our shelves (where they have been previously lacking), repackaging traditional fables and tales in an accessible familiar picture book format, to introduce children to different cultures through simple stories. I wonder what tale Granny Geeta will share next…

Recommended by Tessa Brechin

07 June 2010

Book of the Week (64): "The Moonstone Legacy" by Diana de Gunzburg and Tony Wild

Shalimar is a place of beauty. A princely Indian mansion high in the Yorkshire moors. It has been home to the Abercrombie family for over a century, and for sixteen-year-old Lizzy it is an exotic wonder; but what dark secrets do its majestic towers and sumptuous murals hide?

After a tragic accident steals Lizzy’s mother away from her on the full moon, she begins to question Shalimar’s beauty. Was her mother’s death more than an accident? Was she the latest of her ancestors to fall victim to the mysterious family curse?

Lizzy sets out on a quest to discover the truth about her family, its deadly curse, and her strange Uncle George who seems to be at the heart of it all. Her journey takes her from the windswept Yorkshire moors, to the rocky peaks of India and back again. But can she solve the mystery in time and save her family? For the full moon is rising again, and a deadly new enemy draws closer.

By turns a meditation on the pains of growing up torn between two social classes, and the vivid cultural exchange between Britain and the Old Empire, Diana de Gunzburg and Tony Wild present a subtle thrilling tale of secrets and death, and broken families and curses that leads us from the austere beauty of the Yorkshire moors to the mystic opulence of Northern India.

The Moonstone Legacy explores the enduring relationship between Britain and India. A tale of intrigue and betrayal that will leave you questioning the strange power the moon holds over all our lives, the complex nature of families, and hoping against hope that curses are nothing but superstitious nonsense.

Recommended by Matthew Humpage