Book review: Turning over a new leaf with Scholastic Children’s Books

A new month, a new school term and a new selection of entertaining and exciting books beckons as summer gives way to autumn at Scholastic Children’s Books.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 2nd September 2013, 10:00 am
Turning over a new leaf with Scholastic Childrens Books
Turning over a new leaf with Scholastic Childrens Books

Leading a magical mixed bag of titles is Mark Lowery, a born-and-bred Prestonian who now lives and teaches in Cambridge and is fast becoming the talk of children’s publishing with his funny, anarchic books.

Holly Webb, another popular writer, returns with two enchanting books, debut author Rachel Carter makes her mark with a tender, uplifting story and CBeebies’ much-loved presenter Cerrie Burnell reveals her writing skills.

Age 11 plus:

Pants are Everything by Mark Lowery

Hold onto your pants as Lowery’s accident prone, madcap schoolboy Michael Swarbrick returns to bring chaos, catastrophe and corny one-liners.

In the follow-up to his debut novel Socks Are Not Enough, which has been shortlisted for the 2012 Roald Dahl Funny Prize and the Southern Schools Book Award, Lowery reprises all the zany antics of the unluckiest 14-year-old alive.

Michael Swarbrick is actually a normal boy but he can’t stop being swept up in a sequence of uncontrollable events that could just ruin his life! In Pants are Everything his pathetic existence seemed to be getting better. He was on a date with the girl of his dreams… a romantic donkey ride on the beach, followed by some daring skinny dipping in the sea. Delightful! Only things never really get better for Michael, and one small moment of bliss ends with him a) getting arrested b) becoming a local celebrity and c) becoming an internet sensation because they think he’s a nudist, which he isn’t of course!

With its quick-fire one-liners, quirky diary format, changes of font and its association and wonderfully witty ‘naughty schoolboy’ attitude and irreverent humour, there is no chance of boredom setting in here.

The highs, lows, misery and marvels of being a 14-year-old boy are so pitch perfect that readers will find it hard to believe that Lowery is actually a grown up! And there is plenty of sound common sense hidden between those laughter lines…

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Snowflakes by Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson

CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell has received much well-deserved praise for tackling her disability head on and here she gives us a beautiful and inspirational picture story about a little girl learning to value herself and her differences.

Mia has come to live with her Grandma in a land of forests and snow. It isn’t at all like her old life in the city and at first she feels very different from the new children she sees. But when she watches the snow falling around her one night, Mia realises that she is just like one of the snowflakes… unique and perfect in her own way.

Snowflakes, so lovingly and thoughtfully written, has important messages about new beginnings, friendship, family love and shared experience, all offset by Anderson’s charming and characterful illustrations. A warm and reassuring story to read and enjoy before that last, bedtime hug…

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

George’s Dragon Goes to School by Claire Freedman and Russell Julian

For the fun factor, look no further than gregarious George and his pet dragon Sparky who are back and breathing fire into a dull day at school.

This hilarious sequel to George’s Dragon sees Sparky tagging along with George for a disaster-filled day in the classroom and comes from the pen of the ever-popular Claire Freedman, bestselling author of Aliens Love Underpants.

It’s almost time for ‘Bring Your Pet to School’ week and George is bursting with excitement. He can’t wait to show off Sparky, his pet dragon, but Mum is not so keen. After all, Sparky is huge, clumsy and, well, a dragon. Even worse, he’s a fire risk! And it seems that Mum knows best when Sparky starts creating all kinds of chaos at school and sets off the school fire alarm. Everyone is evacuated to the swimming block where the heating is off and the water is freezing cold. If only there was a dragon with impressive fire-breathing skills to hand to help save the day…

Freedman’s warm story filled with fun and adventure comes with the brilliantly vivid and colourful illustrations of Russell Julian and a wise lesson that everyone, even a dragon, has a role to play and their very own way of helping other people.

Every picture, every page tells a hilarious story…

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Eliot, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer and Alex T. Smith

And how about a superhero for the youngest generation? Meet Eliot… by day, he is a quiet boy who likes to read and play with his toys. But when the clock strikes midnight, Eliot is transformed into an action superhero!

When he’s not showing off his incredible swimming skills or wowing the crowds with his expert lion-taming, you can find him assisting the Queen. One day Eliot receives an urgent message from the world’s Most Important Scientists that a giant meteor is hurtling towards Earth. Will Eliot be able to rise to the challenge and save the world from destruction in the nick of time?

Anne Cottringer’s fast-paced and inventive story, animated by Alex T. Smith’s lively, all-action illustrations, is guaranteed to appeal to inventive little boys with a sense of adventure and an innate sense of fun.

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Looking for Bear by Holly Webb

Talented writer Holly Webb, author of a staggering 70 or more books, has never been short of imagination and not content with her recent Magic Molly, Animal Magic and Emily Feather series as well as A Cat Called Penguin and The Chocolate Dog, returns here with a charming, standalone story.

Webb was a World Book Day 2012 author and in Looking for Bear she tackles contemporary issues as well as delivering a rich, fantasy-filled story.

Ben and Cassie have just moved into a new home but there is chaos everywhere. The builders are still doing it up and Dad is busy rushing around. The garden is exciting with its shed and greenhouse full of stuff left by the previous owners and there are lots of trees which are great for climbing.

Dad has got a lot on his plate now that Mum doesn’t live with them any more and he seems to spend most of his time working from his office at home. Meanwhile, Ben and Cassie get a big shock when they realise they have to share a bedroom, particularly as Cassie leaves her large collection of teddy bears all round the room. But they soon realise that two can be more fun than one. Are the builders really pirates, particularly Les with his long grey hair, grey bear and gold earring? Maybe they are working on the house whilst waiting for the tides to change, and is there really a bear living in the garden? Maybe they could catch him... in these unlikely times, anything seems possible.

Helen Stephens’ illustrations catch the mood of this clever, compelling little story which is ideal for reading together or alone.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Pip Street: A Crumpety Calamity by Jo Simmons

Jo Simmons’s laugh-out-loud series has got youngsters purring with delight as they take a trip down Pip Street where cats rule OK. Perfect for fans of Mr Gum, the books feature anarchic, easy-to-read stories with simple, eye-catching illustrations and a sense of silliness that will appeal to children with a stubborn streak of naughtiness.

Here we embark on a wickedly funny tale of crumpets, rivalry and revolution. When Bobby’s dad takes over a local crumpet factory, Bobby breathes a sigh of relief. No more moving! He likes it here on Pip Street, especially with his fizzy new friend, Imelda, next door.

There’s only one problem. Crumpets are boring! No one wants to buy them. That means Bobby’s dad will lose his job, and in turn that means moving again! Someone – Bobby, of course – needs to dream up a fantabulous master plan to make crumpets exciting. Meanwhile, another new boy across the street is trying to cosy up to Imelda. Can Bobby put this new rival in his place and start a crumpety revolution?

Pip Street books come in a square, chunky format and strike a perfect balance between text and illustrations, provided by Steve Wells who uses cartoons collaged with found objects and photos. With an anarchic and irreverent sense of fun, Pip Street adventures will appeal to youngsters who find it hard to be well behaved all the time!

(Scholastic, paperback, £4.99)

Age 8 plus:

Shrinking Violet is Totally Famous by Lou Kuenzler

Who can resist the amazing Shrinking Violet Potts, brainchild of the talented Lou Kuenzler and a fresh and quirky character whose madcap adventures are jam packed with thrills, spills and laughter?

The third book in this popular series follows Shrinking Violet, the amazing girl who can shrink to pocket size, as she mixes with the famous to save her favourite milkshake café.

Violet Potts has fallen in love with the awesome shakes at Udderly Perfect, the coolest cafe around. But then the cafe is threatened with closure, all because of a mistake Violet made. She must find a way to keep it open so perhaps she can persuade her favourite celebrity stuntwoman, Stella Lightfoot, to join the campaign. But when Violet shrinks and ends up in Stella’s luggage, she learns that her idol is not who she thinks she is. Now Violet might be the only one who can save Stella’s reputation. Can she save Udderly Perfect too?

An eye-catching text and warm, witty illustrations by Kirsten Collier add to the entertainment while a special foiled cover and chunky, square shaped design ensure these books are becoming collectible classics.

(Scholastic, paperback, 5.99)

Emily Feather and the Secret Mirror by Holly Webb

Step into a world of fairies and fantasy in the second book of a magical series from Holly Webb which handles important family themes with subtlety and ethereal charm.

Emily Feather’s adventures are proving a flyaway success, taking young readers beyond the realms of possibility and into a magical kingdom.

Emily’s house is enchanted. Behind its many doors are strange and wonderful worlds, full of the kind of magic that most people never even dream of. Emily’s family are the gatekeepers of those doors – guardian fairies living in a world of mystery. Emily can only wish she had fairy powers too. Maybe they would help her to deal with the bullies at school. Can Emily find a way to take some of her house’s magic with her? Dare she dream beyond the realms of possibility?

Holly Webb is now the queen of young fantasy fiction and this beautifully written, imagined and presented book with its foiled cover and spellbinding story encourages children to harness their inner power to fight bad things and help others. A magical series but with its feet firmly in the sometimes harsh realities of life.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

Ethan’s Voice by Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter has been an aspiring writer since the age of 12 and her debut novel, a moving and sensitively crafted story featuring a boy trying to tell his story when he can’t find his voice, is full of talent and promise.

Ethan is mute. He lives on the canal with his mum and enjoys his books more than anything. He also likes the canal and going to the pond to catch newts and minnows. The best thing is that when he’s there, no one laughs at him because he doesn’t talk.

Ethan can’t remember when he stopped talking or why. He can barely even remember the sound of his own voice. This is just the way things are and he likes them that way. But then he meets Polly and she turns his world upside down. Polly’s friendship makes him begin to wish that things could be different. She is fun and exciting and helps him to see how vivid and colourful the world is, but can she help him find his voice again?

Ethan’s Voice is an uplifting, tender tale which tackles serious subjects with insight and sympathy, and is perfect for fans of Mark Haddon and David Almond.

(Scholastic, paperback, £5.99)


A Kiss, a Dare and a Boat Called Promise by Fiona Foden

Top journalist and former editor of J17 and Bliss, Fiona Foden captures all the angst of youth in this touching tale of life change and first love.

Thirteen-year-old Josie is a ‘boater’… she has lived on the water her entire life. Her home is an old wooden boat called Promise, moored on a sleepy stretch of river, and she shares it with her Mum, a ‘magical baker’ who works at a nearby country hotel, her ‘hairy’ big brother Ryan who has just turned 16 and their wiry terrier dog Murphy.

All the boats round about them are people’s homes too. In fact, the ‘boaters’ are all friends and just like one big family, including Josie’s best pal Bella.

Josie finds it easier to walk on deck than on dry land but now she is all at sea. Promise has been taken in for some routine repairs and the devastating news is that she has been condemned. The hull is rotting and the boat is a write-off.

Suddenly earthbound and stuck in a grotty flat miles away from anyone she knows, Josie is forced to start again. Life seems bleak, until she meets Leon. Bold and daring, he shows Josie a new world of possibilities. He even knows how she can live on a boat again. But can Josie sail off into the sunset without him just when they are getting close?

Young love, adversity and learning to accept change all come under Foden’s searching spotlight in a beautifully observed story which presses all the right buttons for teen readers.

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)