The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

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Helllllo readers, not the greatest start to my reading year but I’m in a bookish slump. This isn’t where I wanted to be, but the last month or so I’ve been in a bit of a rut. A couple of badly written books, a lack of time to reply to comments, a slight obsession with Prison Break and a really nasty lung infection I just haven’t had the time to read. I’ve therefore done what I do best, go back and read something easy, light, and comfortable – this time it’s a book for a younger reader and one I really enjoy. Eva Ibbotson was one of my favourite authors as a child and I thought there really wouldn’t be a better book to get me back on track with reading – apologies it’s a little old but this book is a lovely read.

Under Platform 13 at Kings Cross Station is hidden a quite remarkable secret. Every nine years a doorway opens to an amazing, fantastical island. Nine years ago, the island’s baby prince was stolen on the streets of London. Now a rescue party, led by a wizard and an ogre, must find him and bring him back. But the kind prince has become a spoilt rich boy, who doesn’t believe in magic and doesn’t want to go home. Can they rescue him before time runs out – and the doorway disappears for ever?

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As the blurb suggests the book follows The Secret of Platform 13, this secret being that, on a mystical Island, (we’re never quite given the details where) where humans and magical creatures live harmoniously there is a portal that only opens every nine years, that leads to the London Underground. One day, two nurses are taking the infant Prince out for a walk and are tempted into the portal; letting the Prince out of their sight for a minute the terrible Mrs Trottle snatches the baby for her own. A rescue mission is arranged for nine years later to try to find the lost Prince and bring him back to his home; but is it too late?

So what’s good about this book? I loved the fantastical feel of the writing – this book was actual written before the Harry Potter series and I really feel that this was the book that set me up for my utter adoration for Rowling and her magical books. I loved the inclusion of the feys, witches, trolls, hags, mermaids and wizards; there really is a mismatch of different mystical beings each with their own personalities, special characteristics and additions to the plot-line.

The plot follows the rescue mission lead by a hag named Odge, a giant, a fey and a wizard. For the nine days where the portal is open they try their best to find and bring home the prince but to no avail as there seems to be a confusion as to who is the real prince? Odge here begins to take center stage and she really comes into her own as she struggles to find out who the real prince is. Is it  the spoiled son Trottles or the sweet kind-hearted Grandson. Here we see the group of misfits struggle to decide and with time racing they must make a decision.

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In terms of the writing style it’s got enough description to be interesting and exciting but not so much to bog the reading speed down too much. The book is marketed at children between the ages of 9-12 and that allows for the book to take a slightly darker tone but it’s an enjoyable and funny tale – think a little like Lemony Snicket but a little lighter. Yes the plot is a bit predictable and looking at the reviews many have panned this book for that, but for a younger reader it doesn’t need to be constantly held a secret, as this could cause the reader to become confused and disengaged, so for me it’s right on the mark.

Overall this is a fun book with an intriguing tale – with strong characters, lots of magic and mystery it is the perfect fantasy book for younger readers to get their teeth into. A little predictable but funny, light and exciting with the use of time – a lovely little fantasy read.

Linnnnks

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The Holey’s in the wall by Helen Ryan

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Hellllllllo readers, hope you’re well. I’m thinking of starting a monthly wrap up but because I review every book  I read I wonder whether it’s a bit repetitive. Saying that, I read and reviewed thirteen books in June, honestly how is that possible? Was I not sleeping? But it’s fair to say it’s been a good month in terms of reading and I intend mightily to keep it up. Today’s book is from the wonderful Helen Ryan who wrote the brilliant McSorely’s evil tea, which I adored. So here is my review of her second book and another great little read.

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Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! KABOOM!

Bo had never heard anything like it before. Red and white dust was everywhere and big bits of the Wall crumbled away.

‘Holey terror!’ shouted Mr Buzz in Bo’s left ear. ‘Take cover!’

What would you do if your world was falling apart? Run, hide or try and save the day? The Holeys all live in a gigantic stone wall that is beginning to crumble and fall. They are frightened if the Wall falls what will become of their home?

Bo is the youngest Holey. He is asked to go where no Holey has gone before, beyond the Wall. He must seek the mysterious Builder who the Holeys believe will save them. Bo discovers there is more to life than the Wall that houses them all.

But what happens if Holeys don’t follow the rules?

Well everyone follows the rules. Don’t they?

So the book follows the Holey’s who you may have guessed are covered in holes; four holes to be precise. One hole in the top of the head which houses the little people and one in the chest which holds acres of crops and orchard. The third hole is full of many animals roaming around it (this one is in the Holey’s belly button) and the final hole houses the weather and it’s in the back of the Holey. Got that? The Holey’s are giants if you were wondering and their job is to hold up the wall. One day it begins to crumble, and terrified for their future they send Bo to go and discover what is past the wall.

So, I really enjoyed the ‘oddness’ of this story. The Holey’s I thought are really interesting characters, and the idea that they are covered in holes that house different parts that make up the world is something quite fantastical and original. The book is a lot shorter than the first but I think it works because the age range is slightly younger I think for this book. I thought the idea of Bo discovering the sun and the moon was intriguing and trying to picture how the wall was constructed and the giants will get younger readers really intrigued into the life of the Holeys. I also thought the little people especially Sonny who has a terribly large appetite will raise a few giggles, with the writing being a little disgusting but children adore that kind of thing so it’s a thumbs up from me.

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The writing style is terribly quirky in much more pronounced way which I think works better here because it is a shorter piece of writing as I think it could get over-the-top but Helen manages it well and I can see the similarities between the two books. As the Holey’s have never been past the wall before there are many different things they have never experiences and I liked the repetition of this with the wording ‘You won’t believe this but Holeys don’t know what a keyhole is!’ Children often need something as like this to tie it all together and repetition is always a bonus so I thought that was a clever way to tie everything in. I also really liked, what I think is the interweaving almost of the creation story, (I hope I’ve got this right,) but as the story continues and Bo learns more and more about the world we experience almost the seven days of creation especially which is then all collated at the end. I thought it was clever and an original story-line that toyed with this.

My only complaint would be a little more description on the whole. I really think although the writing moved with pace to get so much in although only a short novel more could have been pushed in about the holey’s physical appearance and the description of the wall because at times I found it difficult to picture it all in my head but it’s a minor quibble. Overall this is a tale of discovery, fantasy and another great book from Helen Ryan, I may have enjoyed McSorely’s a little more but this is still a really wonderful tale.

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Naughty Norman by Leora Lazarus

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Afternoon readers, today I have another children’s book for you to be reviewed. I have recently really found a love for reviewing children’s books because they are so important for kick-starting that love of reading that will then span into the future. I cannot thank my parents enough for investing so much time taking me to the library, dragging me away from the library and reading to me every night. I know, having a friend who now works in the education system that many children don’t get the same privilege. I’m not sure where I would be if I wasn’t reading and didn’t have this adoration of literature that is impossible to quash. A children’s book needs to ignite that passion of reading, so let’s see if this one hits the mark.

Naughty Norman is a beloved character in Teacher Lee’s preschool classroom. He has helped educate thousands of children and he never fails to make circle time fun. Now Naughty Norman can teach counting skills and time concepts to pre-schoolers and early readers in your home

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So the blurb gives next to nothing away which isn’t an issue although it does give you an idea of what’s to come. The basic premise of the book is that Naughty Norman is hiding. Not in the most intelligent places as you discover later on but for now, yes, he is hiding. Norman thinks that he can hide for one whole day and that everyone will miss him. The book counts the minutes as Norman goes through a range of possibilities as the time clicks on, missing breakfast, maybe the house will be sold? Maybe everyone will forget about him? Will Norman be found? It’s something your little ones will find out at the end of the book.

So, what did I think? I actually really enjoyed this book. As my mother will lovingly recall, telling the time was a terribly difficult skill to learn for me. Reading I seemed to pick up with no problem at all, missing phonics and just reading. However, the time, that was a toughie for this little blogger. I thought the illustrations were really lovely. They have the feel that they’ve been drawn by a child and although I’m sure they’re not because they’re a little too brilliant I think they match the tone of the book wonderfully. Although the story doesn’t tell a particular moral or tell a complex story the idea of the minutes counting up and different thoughts appearing in the mind of our main character the book feels as though it has substance as a tale.

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I did also really like the plot of the book. I am sure many of us as children can remember running away to hide, thinking we’ve been away hours to find only a couple of minutes have past. I think this would make a great read-aloud book for both parents and children. My only criticism is based on the age of the book and the illustrations I think the text could have been a little longer. Although the images are quite big it felt as though there was a larger capacity to teach more to the children reading it because it felt like it was a little easy in terms of the length of the text actually in the book. However I think the words used were the perfect age range and that they sat well together.

Overall this is a sweet book with some really nice ideas and one I think readers would really enjoy. I thought the plot line was a lovely thought and the writing style was brilliant for children. With a little more text I thought this could have been more educational however a book I would definitely read to a little one.

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How to Keep a Pet Squirrel by Axel Scheffler

Hi readers, something a little more childish today but also pretty brilliant. What  I love most about book blogging is that I get the chance to read so many books from so many different genres and I know that someone out there will gain something from me posting my thoughts on it. I’ve felt a little bogged down in reviews the last few days so it’s a little bit of a sigh of relief to relax and get a book a little simpler reviewed for you today.

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‘Such an animal is difficult to tame and always likely, when suddenly alarmed, to give our finger a nasty nip with its teeth.’ While dipping into The Children’s Encyclopaedia of 1910, Axel Scheffler came across a small but indispensible guide to procuring and caring for your pet squirrel. Intrigued by the unlikely notion of a child attempting to keep so wild an animal, Axel created a series of delightful, beautifully finished illustrations to accompany the text.

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I immediately adored this book, not  only are the illustrations utterly wonderful but they are intelligent, charming, clever and a little silly. Although this book is really aimed at adults I think because it is a little tongue-in-cheek a younger Lizzy would have absolutely loved this little book. At the back of the book you see that the inspiration was taken from a children’s encyclopedia written around the early twentieth century when it was perfectly acceptable to keep red squirrels as pets, not the case now I must add. Having said that I think this book would be loved by both audiences because despite it’s slightly mocking nature there is certainly nothing unsuitable for a younger reader.

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The language is simple to read, and the writing moves quickly and I liked that it isn’t patronising which some children’s books can be at times. Having a headteacher of a primary school for a parent means I’ve read a fair few and they can be tedious. I liked the way that each page conveys something one must do to care for a pet squirrel, complete with Axel Scheffler’s idea on how this might look – with a couple of little twists too. Despite being a very short book it manages to get a lot in and be a really enjoyable read. The illustrations are beautiful as to be expected from the illustrator of the much adored The Gruffalo.

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If you need any more persuasion Axel and the publishers, Faber & Faber, are donating money from each copy to red squirrel conservation in the UK which is a lovely added touch. I think this book is perfect as a stocking filler, or as a birthday present for a little one, or treat yourself. It’s a lovely tale and one I’m glad to have read.