Check Mates

All the Things that Could Go Wrong

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‘Check Mates’ - shortlisted for this year’s Moving On Category- is a fabulous read so we thought it was about time we looked at another of Stewart Foster’s books, ‘All the Things that Could Go Wrong’.

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Alex has OCD. His worries control his life and he worries what will happen if he tells his mum just how bad his worries have become, particularly about the bullying at school. Dan is one of the bullies. He’s angry and misses his brother, Ben, and Alex makes an easy target. When the boys’ mothers arrange for them to spend time together finishing the raft Dan started with Ben, each is horrified at the prospect. But as time passes, things change between them. Could they possibly become friends?

Deeply moving and compelling, ‘All the Things that Could Go Wrong’ is a fascinating read. Stewart Foster has very cleverly created well developed characters in both bully and bullied, allowing the reader to both despise Dan for his treatment of Alex (and others) and yet feel sympathy for his loneliness and anger at the absence of his brother. This is not a story about simply taking sides.

Alex’s OCD is really well handled; the condition does not define him as a person, although, sadly, it controls much of what he can do. He has many interests, has a great sense of humour and is a kind, caring boy. His relationships with family members are beautifully drawn- his father’s thinly veiled frustration and lack of understanding, his mother’s endless patience and concern and his little sister’s vividly contrasting ‘normality’ all help the reader to understand how Alex’s OCD affects every moment of his life.

Dan is also many layered. The bully is there for all to see and there is nothing in the narration which tries to excuse him for his behaviour towards his victims. Yet, the story allows us to see how unhappy and lost he feels without his brother, the shocked realisation of the severity of his brother’s situation and gives a sense of his feeling trapped within his ‘gang’. In the end, he manages to redeem himself, although in his case, you feel it’s more a case of the real Dan returning!

Stewart Foster creates fantastic characters, constantly challenges his readers and tackles ‘difficult’ subjects with ease. ‘All the Things that Could Go Wrong’ is an amazing book which, although painful to read in places, is ultimately uplifting and satisfying.

All the Things that Could Go Wrong Stewart Foster

Simon and Schuster ISBN: 978- 1471145421

NSTBA MOVING ON CATEGORY LONG LIST 2019 part 2

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The second part of our Moving On Category…

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When their art club teacher is found murdered, sisters Nik and Norva are determined to use their detective skills to solve the crime. There are plenty of suspects- including their father- so the girls have to work quickly to uncover the truth, using their knowledge of the Tri- the estate where they live- and the people who live these.

This is an excellent mystery story with plenty of interest and action. The sibling relationship between Nik and Norva is perfectly captured and each of their personalities is fully rounded. Nik is particularly endearing! The book conveys a wonderful sense of community on the Tri- named for its three tower blocks in a triangular formation- and the reader is able to navigate the estate through the eyes of the girls, giving a sense of involvement to the reader as they solve the crime.

Each character’s voice is distinct and the use of plenty of dialogue helps the story move along at a great pace. Nik’s case notes are helpful as the girls unravel this satisfying mystery. An excellent read!

High Rise Mystery Sharna Jackson

Knights Of ISBN: 978-1999642518

You can read another review of this here.

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When starting at her new school, Effie soon realises that changes need to be made. A girl of action, she decides to run for Junior Student President, presenting a surprise challenge to the current one. With the support of her next door neighbour and a wonderful campaign team, Effie launches herself into making the school a better place of everyone with her policies and ideas. But will these be enough to challenge the status quo?

Effie is a wonderful character- full of vim and vigour and a strong sense of justice. Starting a new school and being friendless is really hard and the story follows Efiie as she navigates a new setting and finds those friends. She learns much about herself during the story, about having to compromise sometimes and that first impressions are not always right, Opinionated and sparky, Effie doe not always get things right, but she cares and her determination and resilience have the reader cheering her on every step of the way.

A must read!

Vote for Effie Laura Wood

Scholastic ISBN: 978-1407187723

You can read another review of this here.

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Set in 1922, ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ is a fascinating historical story which cleverly uses the world’s fascination with Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb as its backdrop. The Great War is over, leaving the country relieved, but counting the heavy cost of the conflict. Social traditions and gender roles are being challenged and life will never be the same.

Thirteen year old Lilian, like much of the nation, avidly follows Carter’s search for the Boy King’s tomb, inspired by the fact that her Grandfather used to be an archaeologist. When her grandfather falls ill, Lil intercepts a mysterious parcel addressed to him, sent by a famous Egyptologist, Professor Hanawati - who has been found dead. Lil decides she must fulfil the Professor’s plea and return the contents of the parcel to its tomb on her grandfather’s behalf. A chance encounter at the British Museum leads to the opportunity for a trip to Egypt with Tulip and Oz Mendoza, and their journalist mother and Lil is off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Emma Carroll writes excellent historical fiction, carefully researched and richly written. The discovery of the boy king’s tomb had the world gripped, but there was far more going on than the image presented to the press. The sense of entitlement and ownership felt by the archaeologists plundering Egypt’s tombs is cleverly questioned throughout the story whilst personal scars left by the war are still raw as society and everyone’s place in it changes. Tutankhamun’s own story- that of the child behind the Pharaoh- is also explored through a scroll the children find, questioning how the young king died and the life he led.

Characterisation is strong throughout the story. Lil, the scholarship girl who struggles to fit in, bold and daring Tulip who hides secrets, the sun king himself- each is carefully drawn and filled with life. All the threads are skilfully pulled together, creating a satisfying story to be enjoyed.

An excellent book for those children at the moving on stage, ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ could encourage budding Egyptologists to discover more about Tutankhamun’s life- and death- and the world he lived in.

Secrets of a Sun King Emma Carroll

Faber and Faber ISBN: 978-0571328499

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On a stormy night, a hundred year's ago, a baby gorilla was born deep in the African rain forest. The gorilla elders prophesied that this baby would meet with many misfortunes. So begins the story of Sally Jones.

Kidnapped and smuggled to Istanbul, trained as a thief, abandoned, locked in a small and dirty cage, beaten and treated with great cruelty- these are a few of the misfortunes which poor Sally is subjected to in the course of her life before she finds peace and companionship at last.

Written as the prequel to 'The Murderer's Ape', 'The Legend of Sally Jones' is the story of Sally Jones' life before she met her friend, the Chief, and found a home on board the Hudson Queen. It is a sad story of man's callous attitude to animals and how casually they abuse them for their own ends. Rich white Europeans are shown exploiting the land and its animals. Belgian hunters, a Turkish ivory merchant, a rich widow from Hamburg, zoo keepers- each play their part in Sally's sad life. Only Koskela, a Finnish seaman,shows her the kindness and respect she deserves, nursing her back to health and valuing her.

Each page is beautifully illustrated with one panel, often framed in interesting and unusual ways,
reminiscent of old fashioned travel posters. So much emotion and additional detail is conveyed to the reader through these pictures. Sally's deep despair and dejection are plain for all to see through her eyes and her body language.

'The Legend of Sally Jones' is a stunning graphic novel which allows readers of 'The Murderer's Ape' to discover the early history of Sally Jones, a compelling heroine like no other. It is a book which the reader will return to again and again.

The Legend of Sally Jones Jakob Wegelius

Pushkin Children’s ISBN: 978-1782692331

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Having ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate, but Felix does his best to focus. His slipping grades are a worry and everyone keeps telling him to try harder. His parents are under great pressure from work and his Granddad hasn't been the same since Grandma died. When mum suggests they spend more time together, Felix is horrified, particularly as Granddad seems determined to teach him to play chess. However, chess seems to be the key to unlocking their relationship and helping Felix discover strengths and talents he never knew he had.

This is a truly remarkable story. Felix's relationship with his grandfather is beautifully portrayed as it blossoms through the understanding and respect that comes from spending time together. In helping his grandson, Granddad comes to terms with his grief at the loss of his wife and also the impact of his past. As Felix gains in confidence, his concentration improves and his school work benefits.

The first person narrative allows the reader to see the thoughts of someone with ADHD and sympathise with how his actions are easily misunderstood, resulting in his frequently being in trouble. It also creates great tension during the chess matches where Felix's nerves and anxiety are brilliantly expressed.

Full of strong characters, 'Check Mates' is an excellent read.

Check Mates Stewart Foster

Simon and Schuster ISBN: 978-1471172236

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Orphan, Matthew Henson, runs away from his violent step-mother to find a new life in New York. Hard working and determined, young Matthew manages to find work in a cafe. Listening to the sea going stories of characters like Baltimore Jack, Matthew embarks on a life at sea as a cabin boy and ends up accompanying Captain Peary on his adventure to ‘discover’ the North Pole. In spite of being the first of the party to reach their goal, Matthew was given no recognition on return to America.

This is a fabulous account of one of the unsung heroes of history. Having battled against the odds, his achievements were unacknowledged during his lifetime and are little known today so this very readable book is an essential addition to libraries and classrooms. The significant contribution made by the Inuit who gave their expertise and support to the exhibition and Matthew’s positive relationship with them are also highlighted in this stunning book.

This book could have taken a place in either our Quality Fiction or our Information categories as it is perfect for use in class; however, this is an extremely satisfying read about a fascinating character with plenty of challenge in terms of content and vocabulary, perfect for moving on those who don’t find reading easy.

Race to the Frozen North Catherine Johnson, illustrated by Katie Hickey

Barrington Stoke ISBN: 978-1-78112-840-4