Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Children's Books I read this summer

I am a lover of children's fiction anyway, but my six year old son has become a very competent reader over the last six months or so which has definitely reawakened my fondness of the genre.  Here are the children's books I've read this summer (I already blogged the YA fiction I read over the summer here ).

Ballet Shoes- Noel Streatfeild

The Blurb
Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are sisters - with a difference. Pauline was saved from a shipwreck as a baby. Petrova was found in a Russian hospital and Posy was from a family so poor that they couldn't look after her. All three were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew, an eccentric and rich explorer . . . who then disappeared, leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia.

The girls grow up in comfort and wealth until their money begins to run out and nobody can track Great Uncle Matthew down. At first Sylvia takes in lodgers but soon even that's not enough. Things look bleak until they hit on an inspired idea: Pauline, Petrova and Posy will take to the stage.

But it's not long before the Fossils learn that being a star isn't as easy as they first thought . .

The Review
As a girl I LOVED this book.  Although I was never likely to be a nimble little ballerina, I shared the dreams of being the next Margot Fonteyn with every other tutu-wearing girl in my dance class, and Ballet Shoes is the classic fiction book about the dance world for every wannabe prima ballerina. 

Coming back to it as an adult, I did approach it in a different way.  I suppose I found it harder to relate to the girls, and each of the Fossil sisters had character traits I found irritating- petulance, arrogance, selfishness- which I don't remember noticing as much as a child.  Perhaps it is only with a bit more life experience behind me that I truly realised just how hard people were working to give them the best opportunities they could, and I wanted them to see how blooming lucky they were given their starts in life. 

Although this story (written in 1936) is undoubtedly dated, there's enough of a plot to appeal to a younger reader, and the relationship between the sisters and the differences in their personalities ensures there is something for everyone.  It's a bit of a Little Women for younger children. 

Did I love it as much as I remembered?  I must be honest and say no.  But Noel Streatfeild writes in the most beautiful, eloquent way, vividly painting images in her readers minds, and that is why Ballet Shoes has remained so popular and will continue to be so for generations to come.  I plan to read some more of her books- there is a whole series of 'shoes' books, plus a plethora of books for adults too.  If her style is as fluid and evocative in those, then I know I am in for a treat.

Frankie and the World Cup Carnival- Frank Lampard

The Blurb
Publishing as a Special, Frankie's biggest adventure ever sees him magic-ed to Brazil to help take the England team to World Cup victory. Can he save the tournament?

The Review
My son bought this one with a book token he was given by his Godparents, and he was absolutely thrilled.  He's a football addict, and these books are at just the right level for him- chapter books of around 100 pages with plenty of illustrations to break up the bulk of text.

We've read a few of the other 'Frankie' books, and they are certainly formulaic.  As an adult, I found that a bit irritating, but Zachary liked the familiarity and it gave him opportunities to predict where the plot might go. 

This one is all about the World Cup in Brazil and Frankie and his friends are thrown into the lively, colourful scene, building up to a climactic finale.

These aren't the most gripping stories out there, nor are they the most well-written, but there is a definite market for them with younger football fanatics.  The added bonus of Top Trump style cards at the back of the book only added to the appeal in my six year olds eyes.

Secret Seven Short Stories- Enid Blyton
The Blurb
A secret store of stolen silver, a surprising view through a telescope, a shrill scream on a night out, a disappearing cash box and a dangerous accident and a trap for the Secret Seven!

This collection includes the following short stories: The Secret of Old Mill; The Humbug Adventure; Adventure On The Way Home; An Afternoon with The Secret Seven; Where are The Secret Seven?; Hurry, Secret Seven, Hurry!

The Review
A few months back, my son and I made a rare visit to McDonalds for tea.  He ordered the obligatory Happy Meal and was chuffed to bits with a mini Enid Blyton book, which happened to be The Secret of the Old Mill, one of the stories in this collection.  He finished it in one sitting and asked he could have more Secret Seven books.  I found this book on Amazon and it sounded perfect for him to read alone and follow the plot, something he sometimes struggles with in longer books.

I read the stories first, then Zachary read them himself at bedtime.  I'd then ask him to recap the story and ask him some questions to see how much he'd understood/taken in.  This worked really well as he enjoyed telling the story in his own words (and I enjoyed finding hearing how he interpreted the book!).

They are 'of their time', but there is a reason Enid Blyton books have continued to remain popular with generations of younger readers.  The sense of adventure and the clubhouse, passwords and secrecy only adds to the appeal of these stories.

These are definitely a perfect introduction to the series for younger children or newly independent readers.

Viva Alice! - Judi Curtin

The Blurb
Alice and Megan are back together again! When they are together, they can handle anything!

Grace invites Alice and Megan to spend Easter in her house in Lanzarote. The girls are accidentally left home-alone for two days in the house. It’s fun at first, until they become trapped on an upstairs balcony and spend a long cold night and day waiting to be rescued!

Meanwhile Melissa is still unhappy at boarding school. Alice wants to help her to get back to their school, but Megan sees this as a betrayal. Tension mounts between the two girls, until Megan gives in and agrees to help. In the end, Melissa comes back, and Megan realises that she is confident enough to stand up to her.

The Review
I was sent this book for review and was immediately drawn to the attractive cover-it was bright, cheery and age appropriate, and gave me a taste of what to expect.

Judi Curtin is not an author I have heard of before, although by all accounts she is fairly prolific- this is the 8th book in the series and she's also written other books for younger readers.  The back cover quote from the Irish Independent claimed her as 'Ireland's answer to Jacqueline Wilson'- high praise indeed!  This book also reminded me of Beverley Cleary and a book I read at school back in the 1980s My Best Fiend.

Viva Alice! was a fabulous story of friendship, loyalty and family, and most of all it was funny.  I laughed a lot at the madcap escapades of the girls and the quirky, larger-than-life extended cast.  The holiday setting gave scope for plenty of drama which was fulfilled through both mishaps and mischief.

Looking beyond the plot, this is actually a really well written book with a quick pace and well developed characters.

Overall, I imagine this will be a popular book with girls 10-12 (and also with me-I want to read the rest now!)

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Viva Alice! is out now, published by O'Brien. 

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