Book Review

MG Monday: The Grunts in Trouble by Philip Ardagh.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, The Grunts in Trouble by Philip Ardagh gets the focus.

GruntsMeet Mr and Mrs Grunt. Oh, go on. They’re not that bad. No, actually, they ARE. Maybe worse, even. But Sunny, their sort-of son, is okay. They stole him from a washing line as a baby. He was hanging by his ears, which probably explains why they’re so wonky (but not why he has sticky-up hair that NEVER lies flat, even if you pour glue into it or try taping it in place). Sticky around and you’ll also meet Lord Bigg of Bigg Manor, Bigg-hater Larry Smalls, Mimi the Bigg Manor boot boy (yup, she’s a girl) and…Well, you’ll have to READ the book to find that out. But I should mention the bees. Did I warn you about the bees?!

There are a number of middle grade series that I have written on a list to try, ones that I hear about from my Beaver Scouts or from parents who have children of the appropriate age. When I do read the first book in the series sometimes it’s a case of love at first page and I find myself wondering when on earth I’m going to find the time to read all of the other books in the series. Then there are books that are an interesting enough read but I don’t feel any drive to read more – this is how I felt about The Grunts.

I can definitely see the appeal of this book to younger readers. It’s funny and engaging with larger than life characters who move from one amusing moment of trouble to the next, with each problem proving larger (and potentially funnier) than the last. I personally found that whilst the story was amusing it didn’t really make me laugh out loud, I think I had started reading expecting it to be more funny than it actually was.

This book is illustrated by Axel Scheffler who is probably most familiar for his work on The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, written by Julia Donaldson. I reviewed one of his self-penned Pip and Posy books a little while ago, you can see that here. I really like his style and it works well in this book, seeing The Grunts and the other characters brought to life in the pages – I think I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite character.

One thing I wasn’t quite sure about with this book was the somewhat rambling nature of the narrative. The book has a storyteller style narrator who often goes off on tangents that are only partially related to the story itself. These are sometimes quite funny and entertaining, but at times I found myself wishing that the narrator would just get on with the story. I am very sure that this aspect of the book will work very differently for different readers and that some will absolutely love it.

I’m very glad that I’ve read this, the first book to feature The Grunts, and that I’ve now met the characters. I won’t be rushing to read any more of their stories, but I’ll certainly try some of Philip Ardagh’s other series in the future.

The Grunts in Trouble is published by Nosy Crow in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

PoPB: Captain Beastlie’s Pirate Party by Lucy Coats & Chris Mould and Emmy’s Eczema by Jack Hughes.

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Pair of Picture Books Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Captain Beastlie’s Pirate Party by Lucy Coats & Chris Mould (illustrator). Nosy Crow.
CBPPWho’s the grubbiest pirate on the high seas? Why, it’s Captain Beastlie, me hearties! He is a horror and embarrassment to his ship-shape crew. Captain Beastlie is eagerly counting down the days till his birthday – but what he doesn’t know is his crew has got a special secret lined up for the Big Event. His days of being the smelliest, dirtiest pirate ever are numbered, and when Captain Beastlie’s birthday finally comes, he’s in for a big surprise…

This book is gross! Captain Beastlie has no concept of personal hygiene, has the worst habits going and is just generally unpleasant. So of course this book is brilliant!!

The book follow’s Captain Beastlie’s countdown to his birthday – each day brings a new discovery of how disgusting he is. This is so well written, the language used is full of description to really get across how yucky Captain Beastlie is. This brings with it a natural humour, I spent much of the book cringing and laughing at the same bits! I did get a little concerned as the book drew towards its close and I realised that the ship’s crew might be about to pull of some sort of transformation – the conclusion to this was entirely satisfying.

I really liked Chris Mould’s illustrations for this book. Every little bit of detail mentioned in the text is clearly transferred into the illustrations. When I took my second read through the book I spotted lots of little things in the pictures that I knew were going to come into play in the last few pages of the book – sharing this with a young reader would be a lot of fun.

This is a book crying out to be read aloud to a group. It’s fun and appealing in its own special, revolting way.

Emmy’s Eczema by Jack Hughes. Wayland.
EmmysEczemaEmmy has eczema, which makes her skin really itchy. She knows she shouldn’t scratch, but sometimes she just can’t help it.

One day, she scratches so much she makes her skin really sore. Can her friends help her?

I read and reviewed Steggie’s Stammer, another book in this series back in July so I was pleased to spot this in the library. Of the whole series (the other two books are Dachy’s Deaf and Rex’s Specs) this was the one I was most curious about – surely having eczema would be a little tricky to convey through a picture book?

The author does manage to convey having eczema well, it’s clear in the illustrations and Emmy’s desire to scratch her eczema even though she knows it’ll only make it worse feels very genuine (and familiar). So too do Emmy’s friends attempts to stop her scratching – if you’re suffering with itchy eczema no amount of people telling you not to scratch is going to stop you! The plot itself is very simple, but it works for the book.

I talked before about loving the Jack Hughes’ illustration style. This book is no different, the pages where the dinosaurs reach the Jurassic meadow to collect the flowers used in Emmy’s eczema treatment are particularly colourful and attractive.

Reading this book has reinforced my feeling that this set would be an excellent inclusion in any childcare setting’s collection. They deal with issues that may make children feel different in a calm, careful and reassuring manner.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

PoP: Bug and Bear by Ann Bonwill & Lynn Marlow and Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster by Axel Scheffler.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Bug and Bear by Ann Bonwill & Lynn Marlow (illustrator). Oxford University Press.
BugAndBearThis is the story of Bug who wakes up happy,
Bear who wakes up grumpy,
and the day when their friendship is lost and found.

This is a really cute story about two friends who wake up with very different plans for how to spend the day. Bug is desperate to play but to his disappointment Bear is sleepy and wants to nap instead. Bear tries everything she can to get the message through to Bug that she doesn’t want to play, but instead Bug sees the potential for a game in everything that Bear does. Naturally both animals come Pthat will satisfy the reader. This book has great discussion potential, neither Bug or Bear are a particularly good friend at times.

I really liked Lynn Marlow’s art style. The illustrations use strong colours in slightly muted tones which makes for a very attractive end result. The text is arranged throughout the book in different ways that suits the art for the page really well. I was really interested by the one double page spread that required the book to be turned through 90 degrees. This is a lovely idea and with a quick practice would be easy enough if you were reading the book aloud to a group, it might be a little trickier to juggle if you were reading the book to a squirming toddler sat on your lap.

Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster by Axel Scheffler. Nosy Crow.
PipAndPosyPosy is happily baking cakes when a scary monster appears!

Poor Posy! She feels quite frightened – until she sees that it’s not a real monster after all, but Pip dressed in a costume.

A funny story for the very young, with gentle lessons about being brave and taking turns.

There is a whole set of Pip and Posy stories, this is the first one I’ve read. It’s a lovely, simple story that young children will really enjoy. It begins with Posy making a cake to alleviate the boredom brought by bad weather – I loved the way she started by washing her hands and putting on an apron! I had begun by reading the blurb so there was no monster reveal to come for me, I knew it was Pip, but I think young readers would like discovering it was him in a costume.

Axel Scheffler’s art is very recognisable and familiar, his work on hugely popular titles such as The Gruffalo has led to his art appearing on all manner of objects for sale widely in the UK. I liked getting to see some non- Gruffalo work, it’s just as enjoyable. His pictures are very vibrant, he manages to convey a lot of life and movement within them. I loved all of the little details in the pictures – I have a feeling many of them are nods to other books that Scheffler has illustrated but sadly I’m not currently familiar enough with his work to recognise them.

I’m really pleased to see that there are board book versions of the Pip and Posy stories, I think they will go down very well with friends to share with their young toddlers.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [7].

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.


Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton. Nosy Crow.
This is the story of two not very good thieves, who try to pull off a robbery but end up learning a lesson. It’s written in rhyme and is most enjoyable to read aloud. The story does have a moral but it’s nicely subtle, this is a fun book about two rubbish robbers first and foremost. The illustrations are colourful and detailed, I liked them very much – the double spread where Shifty and Sam are drawing their plans up was a particular favourite.

Small Knight and George and the Royal Chocolate Cake by Ronda Armitage and Arthur Robins. Orchard Books.
This is one of a series of picture books featuring Small Knight and George. When King Wilfred the Wonderful announces that he and the Queen are coming to visit everyone gets busy preparing for the big party. Small Knight and George have to go and rescue the very special chocolate cake from a band of brigands who have stolen it. The story is quite simple, and for me felt like it was lacking something. I’m sure however that young readers will enjoy it regardless. I loved the illustrations, there are very few straight lines, they’re all at least a little wobbly which seems to add a warmth to them. I enjoyed lots of the little details in them, and think children would appreciate these too.

Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere. Puffin.

I absolutely loved this! It’s fun and clever, and has a nice sense of peril that young readers will love. We follow the monster as he gets closer and closer to the reader, and hungrier and hungrier. The peril grows and is then resolved in a surprisingly delightful manner. The descriptions are playful and inventive with lots of wonderful phrases – I grinned all the way through. The illustrations are similarly playful and have a childish charm to them. This is the first of Ed Vere’s books that I’ve read, I shall definitely be hunting out the rest now.

Book Review

Recent Reads.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

TwelveMinutesTwelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge. Nosy Crow.
Penelope Tredwell is the feisty thirteen-year-old heiress of the best selling magazine, The Penny Dreadful. Her masterly tales of the macabre are gripping Victorian Britain, even if no one knows she’s the real author. One day a letter she receives from the governor of the notorious Bedlam madhouse plunges her into an adventure more terrifying than anything she ever imagined…

This is a really good, atmospheric thriller aimed at the 10+ market. I found that I was drawn into the story really quickly, it’s written in such a way that you find yourself completely swept up by it. The Victorian setting, complete with gaslights and a public taste for ghost stories, works so well and really adds to the reading experience.

I really loved Penny, the lead character. She’s brilliant and plucky, and really smart. I found myself really rooting for her. The villains are well thought out, they could easily have felt like tired, pantomime characters but they’re written carefully to avoid this.

The book whips along really well, there’s no filler – everything contributes to the plot. I was a little unsure when it looked like everything was getting resolved partway through the book but delighted in the way the plot continued to develop. A really enjoyable read.

BeautifulLieA Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master. Bloomsbury UK.
An extraordinarily rich debut novel, set in India in 1947 at the time of Partition.

The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition – news that he knows will break his father’s heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. But that means Bilal has a very complicated relationship with the truth…

Whilst on the surface this is a historical novel about the time of Partition, it’s really about friendship and family, and about love. The historical aspect of the book is done well, the descriptions used really bring this unfamiliar place and time to life for the reader, but it is the characters and their relationships that are the truly wonderful aspect of this book.

The central friendship between Bilal and his three friends is warm and lovely, you get a real sense of the love between them. The reader sees the act of Partition through their eyes, and you can feel the growing helplessness they feel – their lives are irrevocably changed by this fight between grown ups, however much they wish they weren’t.

Similarly you really feel for Bilal and his mission to keep the news of Partition from his father. It is so thought provoking, I found myself wondering whether his actions were right and whether I would have done the same in his situation – I think this book would be an excellent choice for a reading group, there is so much to think about and discuss.

LilysShimmeringSpellLily’s Shimmering Spell (Stargirl Academy #1) by Vivian French. Walker Books.
Welcome to Stargirl Academy, the magical school in the clouds! Previously a rather old-fashioned establishment, it has been reopened by its head teacher to train children to be modern day fairy godmothers. The girls learn lots of spells – shimmering, starry, shining, sparkling, glittering and twinkling ones – which they use to fix problems and help people in trouble. For every successful mission they gain a star, and once they have six stars they will be fully qualified Stargirls!

I must begin by saying I have never read a book like this before. I usually avoid books that appear to be overtly pink and princessy, but lovely Hannah at Walker made such a great pitch for this book that I knew I had to give it a chance rather than pre-judging it. And I’m really glad I did.

This is a lovely book, I adored Lily, the character this first book focuses on, from the very beginning and really cared about what happened to her. She lives with her great aunt, a dreadful woman who treats her so badly, I spent the whole book wishing for her to get her comeuppance!

The Stargirl Academy itself seems like a really lovely place, I really liked the staff members that we meet in the first book – especially Fairy Mary McBee. The ethos I love too – the focus is on using the spells they learn to help other people, I think this adds a lot to the overall warmth of the book.

I think this series of books will be really popular, I know I’m a complete convert and will most definitely be reading the other five in the series – I need to know how the girls earn the rest of their stars!

My copy of Lily’s Shimmering Spell was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.