Saturday, 23 December 2017


Hi everyone – I thought it would be a nice idea at this time of the year to suggest some Christmas reading for children as well as my usual recommendations for parents.  Our beautiful library has an excellent selection of famous and favourite authors guaranteed to absorb all enthusiastic young readers, from those just starting chapter books to the devoted followers of Heroes such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, the Harry Potter series (of course!), and Tom Gates, cool artist dude and aspiring member of a band with his mate – as soon as they learn to play.
            As we know, it usually rains on Christmas Day – hard to believe after eight weeks of relentless sunshine, but any of the titles below will certainly make the time fly by for kids whether the rain falls or stays away.
            Have a most happy Christmas everyone, and a safe and healthy New Year.  My Top Twenty list will be in the next post.  CHEERS!  


The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, by Liz Pichon

This is the first book in this great series written by Liz Pichon disguised as twelve year-old Tom Gates .  He’s really good at some things, like Art and English (sometimes) – and thinking up very clever excuses to give to his teacher as to why he hasn’t done his homework.  He can’t say the dog ate it because they haven’t got a dog, so he blames his older sister Delia (‘she spilt her coffee on it!);  in fact he blames Delia for a lot of things (I’m late because Delia hogged the bathroom!’ when in fact it’s Tom who locked himself in there to spite her), and does his level best to get her into trouble with his parents – ‘Mum, Delia’s got a boyfriend.  She had him here in the house!’ –He also hides Delia’s sunglasses regularly.  Yep, Tom is a bit of a stirrer, but he is not all bad.
            He’s best mates with his neighbour Derek;  they are both practising to be in a band when they grow up – they’re a bit rubbish yet but hey, they’re only twelve.  When they get more ‘professional’ they will call themselves the DogZombies.  Is that a cool name or what?  And he has a Megacrush on Amy Porter, who now sits next to him at the start of the new term (WOW!  Could he be any luckier??)  Yes, because Mr Fullerman has put him in the front row ‘to keep an eye on him’ (NO, NO, send me to the back again where you can’t see me!) and on the other side is none other than Measly Marcus  Meldrew, the most irritating kid in the school.  He’s totally sneaky and uncool and should be sitting somewhere far, far away.  Like Australia.
            Tom and Derek are huge fans of DUDE3, the best band on the planet, and they can hardly believe that these mighty stars will be performing in their town soon. Book One deals with their attempts to get to the concert – that turn out to be touch and go, because Derek’s new dog (called Rooster) eats the tickets!  (Truly.)
  Coupled with her great illustrations and Tom’s truly imaginative solutions to all of his everyday problems, Liz Pichon has created a great character that all kids can identify with – and all parents, too!  FIVE STARS

Brilliant, by Roddy Doyle

        When the great Roddy Doyle wrote this story for children poor old Ireland was in the middle of a very low time in its economy – and its spirits;  so many people were losing their jobs – and their houses – because they had no money to pay off their bank loans;  thousands of people were in such a bad way financially that they started to lose hope:  the old Black Dog of Depression descended on Ireland, and Dublin in particular where the story opens, like an angry, evil cloud.
            Raymond and Gloria’s Uncle Ben has had to shut his business down;  at one stage he was so busy he didn’t have time to answer his phone.  Now the phone doesn’t ring at all, and he has had to surrender his house to the bank because he can no longer pay the mortgage.  He is living with Raymond  and Gloria’s Mam and Dad and is very sad indeed.  Their Granny (who has her own little flat by the side of their house but never seems to stay there) says the Black Dog has him;  in fact the Black Dog has Dublin’s funny bone, she says, and no-one will be feeling better until Dublin’s funny bone is given back.
            Raymond and Gloria hear about this because they are hiding under the kitchen table listening to the adults talk about these adult things because they think the kids are in bed;  it has been a game they both enjoy, sneaking under the table without being seen.  They are horrified to learn of the Black Dog of Depression but because they love their Uncle Ben and want him to be happy again, they decide to search for the Black Dog and wrench back the funny bone – by force if need be!
            And what adventures they have while they pursue that evil animal, and what a surprise to find that other children, hundreds of them, are searching for him too, because they want their Mams and Dads, sisters and brothers to smile again.    Animals they meet on the search suddenly start talking, directing them where to go, until finally after a frightening showdown the horrid Black Dog is vanquished and forced to give up Dublin’s funny bone, for children are immune to his power, especially if they chant one word – ‘BRILLIANT’, and believe in it every time they say it.  ‘BRILLIANT’.
            This is a lovely story and sure proof that Ireland’s funny bone is working perfectly.  Roddy Doyle is just BRILLIANT.  FIVE STARS


The Lightning Thief, and Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Junior Fiction                                   ages 10 upwards

                Twelve year-old Percy (short for Perseus) Jackson attends a private school in New York.  He has almost lost count of the schools from which he has been expelled or ‘asked to leave’;  he has ADHD and Dyslexia and the private academy in which he is now enrolled feels as temporary as all the rest for, sure enough, on a field trip to an exhibition of Greco-Roman art at a big museum, he pushes the class bully into a fountain for picking on his only friend Grover.
            Grover himself is a square peg in a round hole;  his legs are strangely curved and he walks with difficulty – he’s EASY to pick on, until Percy defends him, only to be taken away by teacher Mrs Dodds to be punished, which is pretty much what Percy expects – until he realises that all is not well with Mrs Dodds:  she has transformed into one of the Three Furies of Greek myth and is there to kill him!  At the last moment, wheelchair-bound Mr Brunner, the other teacher with the party, throws him a ballpoint pen which miraculously transforms into a lethal sword, and the wild blows Percy swings at Mrs ‘Fury’ Dodds send her into a pile of dust.
            It goes without saying that it’s hard for Percy to get his head round all this life and death stuff, especially as the others in the class seem unaware of what is going on;  in fact none of them remember a teacher called Mrs Dodds.  There also seems to be a strange complicity between Mr Brunner and Grover;  for someone in a wheelchair, and another who doesn’t walk very well and ALWAYS wears a cap even though he has plenty of tight curly hair, they seem to always have his back – a fact that Percy finds comforting but mystifying.
            Needless to say, all is eventually revealed in Rick Riordan’s fabulous series, this book being the first, and published in 2005 – which means that I must be the last one on the planet to become acquainted with Percy Jackson – but better late than never, I say!
            It transpires that Percy is a ‘Half-Blood’, a demi-god, the child of a Greek god and a human, the human being his mother Sally, who has spent her life trying to keep him safe, to the extent that she has made a marriage with a cruel, crude and barbaric man who doesn’t care for either of them, but she feels that it is protection – of a kind, against the forces sent to kill Percy, for he is the child of Poseidon, the God of the Sea, one of the Big Three, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, who all swore an oath never to have any more children with mortals after the end of World War Two, for they felt that the conflict that nearly destroyed Western civilisation was their fault for consorting with humans. 
            Mr Riordan has created a winning formula with Percy and his adventures:  Grover turns out to be a young satyr;  his funny walk is because he has goat’s legs – those sneakers with the false feet just about kill him!  And he wears a hat all the time because of the tiny goat horns protruding from his forehead.
            Mr Brunner who travels everywhere in his wheelchair, does so because it is his disguise;  he is Chiron the centaur – he could hardly tool through the streets of New York with the torso of a man and the body of a horse.  Oh, this is a great series – especially when Percy discovers that he has been accused by Zeus and Hades of stealing Zeus’s Lightning Bolt, and The Helm of Invisibility, precious to Hades:  it is not easy to accept the fact of being the son of a god, then to find that he is on a hit list is just plain insulting.  He will have to fight back!
            So begins Percy’s  quests and death-defying adventures with other half-bloods who become his friends – and one who betrays them all.  And an extra pleasure for me was to find that the ancient myths that fascinated me as a child are alive and well and accurately portrayed in a modern setting.  Mr Riordan is scrupulously correct – and very funny - in his portrayal of all the gods and monsters he introduces to his stories – you should see what Medusa does to Percy’s stepfather!  Great stuff, especially when he introduces a young Cyclops and Jason’s Golden Fleece in ‘The Sea of Monsters’.    SIX STARS

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