Book reviews

JK Rowling's latest and a Billy Bryson science text book star in our round-up of the best new books for kids

Book reviews
Heroes Of The Valley

By Jonathan Stroud
Ages 9-13

Set a petulant teen in a world rich with folklore, fear and uneasy peace, and you’ve got the makings of a dangerous adventure on your hands. This Tolkein-esque fantasy tells the tale of Halli Sveinsson, a 14 year old who is consumed with intrigue about the warring antics of his ancestors and determined to create a few legends of his own. His wish is soon realised: along with his gutsy female friend Aud, he gets himself into some genuinely scary scrapes with the Trows, terrifying creatures who live in the dark land surrounding his city. While it could hardly be described as a comedy, deft splashes of humour prevent Heroes Of The Valley being too serious. With modern-day classics like this, who needs Lord Of The Rings?
Grade: A+


By Fiona Dunbar
Ages 8-11

Despite the Spanish name given to him by his Picasso-worshipping parents, 12-year-old Pablo is ‘as English as a wet weekend’, and would much rather be out playing footy than doing boring arty stuff. At least, that’s what he thinks – but then he discovers a passion for drawing cartoons, and soon he realises that, through them, he has the ability to predict the future. Before long, he gets a spooky, self-drawn preview of his own kidnapping, which is executed by an evil bookie who has discovered Pablo’s gift. What follows is a fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat adventure, which the occasional illustrations do little to slow down. In fact it may be the kids’ vernacular Dunbar employs (a lot of the sentences end in rhetorical ‘right?’s), but the first few chapters are almost exhausting to read, particularly if you’re doing so aloud. All in all, though, this is a great book.
Grade: A

Accidentally On Purpose

By Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt
Ages 3-6

This one’s guaranteed to tickle mischievous young tots who relish the thought of putting a worm on their unsuspecting mum’s back, and other such misdemeanours. The book’s pages are all horizontally cut in half, with the top of each showing what Daisy, the culprit, is putting in whatever it is that’s on the bottom half of the page. There’s a ‘good’ option for every item (like grated cheese on a baked potato) but in total there are 90 possibilities and, believe us, you wouldn’t want many of those to happen in your house. If the illustrations look familiar, that’s because they’re done by Nick Sharratt, the man behind the artwork for Jacqueline Wilson’s books. His simple line drawings still haven’t lost their charm, managing to convey spite, mirth or naughtiness in a single stroke. The only tiny gripe we have is that kids might tire of the book after a while.
Grade: A-

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

By Bill Bryson
Ages 9-14

It’s not often that an author attempts to rewrite a complex science book for a younger audience, but that is exactly what Bryson has done here, and he handles the task with considerable aplomb. Subjects that are beyond the comprehension of your average adult (things like how the earth was formed, the size of infinity, and the methods used to measure the distance from here to the moon) are explained in a simple, yet fascinating, way, and while Time Out Kids was reading the tome we found ourselves interrupting colleagues’ working days with ‘Did you know’s more times than they probably appreciated. However, while word limits may not allow Bryson to explain every term he uses, talking about concepts such as ‘light years’ to a child does assume knowledge that they may not have yet gained. On the plus side, though, the occasional tongue-in-cheek comment and fun illustrations on every page prevent it becoming dry. All in all, this book is the perfect answer to that most annoying of children’s questions: ‘But why?’
Grade: A

Dish: Into the mix

By Diane Muldrow
Ages 9-12

The Dish series follows a group of New York-based pre-teen girls who run their own catering company (yes, we did say pre-teen) – when they’re not too busy talking about boys and trying to take on the mammoth world of extracurricular activities their new school presents to them. Though it’s empathetically told and youngsters will appreciate how accurately the highs and lows of middle school are described, there’s so much abbreviation and ‘txt’ lingo in this book that even the coolest mum or dad would struggle to decipher it (although there is a handy dictionary at the back after the recipe section if you’re keen to learn). Even aside from the frequent emails, which are illustrated as they would appear on a computer screen, the font is strangely irritating too – so unless you enjoy being made to feel ridiculously out of touch with the modern world, we’d advise leaving your daughter alone with this one.
Grade: B

Laura-Bella: Kingdom Of The Frosty Mountains

By Emerald Everhart
Ages 6-9

With a glittery cover and pink pages, this book ain’t for the boys. Set in a girls’ ballet boarding school in a magical kingdom, the story centres around a group of friends who are desperately trying to raise money to save Laura-Bella’s family farm. Along with their talking pets, which range from tigers to goats and are prettily drawn in pencil sketches, the pals decide to sneak out of school and put on a dance show for the locals – with disastrous consequences. It’s very nicey-nicey, which is no bad thing for a little girls’ book, and the print is big enough for children who are just starting to read independently. If your daughter could do with a reminder of her Ps and Qs, refer her to the amusing section at the back, Mr Melchior’s Guide to Manners, and she’ll be as polite as Pollyanna in no time.
Grade: A-

The Tales Of Beedle The Bard

By JK Rowling
Ages 9-13

For those of us who were more addicted to the adventures of Harry Potter than our kids, the return of JK Rowling should be welcome news. This short book, which is illustrated by the author, is supposed to be Hermione Granger’s translation of the tales of Beedle the Bard, which are the wizarding world’s equivalent to fairy tales. Rowling’s trademark mischievous humour peppers the moralistic tales and each fable is followed by an academic analysis by Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore. But, once you’ve overcome the initial sentimental excitement at being reintroduced to the Potter world, the book doesn’t quite work. The concept is certainly original, but does anyone really want to read a fictitious character’s ramblings about what a made-up story could mean?
Grade: C

All books are available from Magrudy’s, Deira City Centre (04 295 7744)

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