Girl 38 by Ewa Jozefkowicz

Girl 38 is three stories in one. Kat finds herself, as a teenager, feeling lonely and realising her best friend since nursery is actually very controlling, bullying her into things she does not want to do.

As an escape from this, Kat creates comic strip stories set in the future about Girl 38, a strong, brave character. People in her life provide her with inspiration for the qualities, both good and bad, of the comic strip characters.

At the same time as a new boy joins her school, annoying her best friend, Kat finally meets and begins a friendship with the elderly Polish lady, Ania, who lives next door.

Ania begins to tell Kat about her search for a friend in World War II, a story that includes jumping from a train, sewers and grim determination. Kat, without telling Ania what is happening in her own life at the time, reflects on Ania’s experiences and makes links to her own situation.

As the tale unfolds, will Kat find inspiration and courage from Ania’s experiences to finally stand up for herself? Will she find the right ending for Girl 38?

This is one of those books that has been on my tbr pile for too long. I cannot believe I did not read it before now.

The author deals with the difficult subjects of control, bullying and the occupation of Poland in WWII with aplomb. There are themes of moral courage, bravery, friendship, hope and finding light in the dark, which Ewa Jozefkowicz tackles with a sure touch, enabling the readers to enjoy the story whilst also contemplating the impact people in your life have.

The stylish cover illustration, by Anna Hymas, beautifully depicts the three stories told in the book.

Beyond the Setting Sun by Sarah J. Dodd, illustrated by Cee Biscoe

Beyond the Setting Sun is due to be published in July 2021. I received a digital preview copy via NetGalley.

In the African Savannah, beautifully portrayed by Biscoe’s illustrations, very hot and tired Ekundayo and his mum, along with their herd, search for water to drink. Mum keeps Ekundayo distracted by singing to him. The rains finally arrive, but too late for mum.

Ekundayo at first refuses to believe she has died and tries singing to her. As his loss sinks in, Ekundayo refuses help from his aunt and he becomes very sad, angry and frustrated, wandering off on his own.

With the support and understanding of his aunt and father, Ekundayo learns to remember his mum through the happy memories and the songs she sang to him, realising her love and influence will always be with him.

The end papers are glorious silhouettes of elephants travelling, against the backdrop of a stunning evening sky.

This is an excellent, sensitive picture book to help support discussions about death, and the emotions surrounding it, with children.

There is useful information about grief at the back, as well as some links to support.

The House of One Hundred Clocks by A.M. Howell

It is 1905. After the death of her mother Helena finds herself moving to Cambridge with her father, a clock maker, and her precious parrot Orbit. Her father has accepted a job in the house of Mr Westcott. The job is a strange one, to keep all the clocks in the house ticking, never letting them stop and to never discuss any strange goings on. Helena finds this bizarre but then discovers other things that deepen her resolve to get to the bottom of the mystery. Just as she works out one puzzle, another one appears.

She befriends Florence, Mr Westcott’s daughter, and Stanley, the only servant left in the house. Together they try to work out why the clocks can never be allowed to stop, why Mr Westcott and his sister, Katherine, do daily clock inspections, what happened to Helena’s father’s predecessor, what is behind Katherine’s mysterious behaviour and why the clock keys disappear.

This is a well paced story with plenty of twists and turns. It also provides plenty of discussion points along the way, including the historical backdrop of the development of flight by the Wright Brothers.

The story has many themes, including loss, grief, superstitions, attitudes to females in engineering/academia at the time and that doing the wrong thing for whatever reason is not going to end well.

It is unusual to find end papers in paperback novels so I was excited to discover this book has them. Saara Söderlund has beautifully illustrated clues to different aspects of the story…clocks, books, hats and feathers.

Space Oddity by Christopher Edge

Do you want Cosmic capers? UFOs? Alien Abductions? Killer Robots? Smelly aliens? Embarrassing dads? Zorbs?

Then this is the book for you.

It also has numerous references to Star Wars, Doctor Who and a certain David Bowie Song…”and there is nothing I can do”.

Space Oddity is a fast paced adventure. Jake thinks his dad is embarrassing (is that not the role of parents though?) and when asked at a dad and son space adventure weekend if he would rather have a boring dad or an out of this world dad, he really wants to say the first option. But then, when his dad is abducted, he will do anything to get him back.

This is a story about relationships, perception of others and how you feel others see you. It is also about songs and music but I won’t spoil that part.

There are, in my opinion, not enough sci-fi novels for children. This is an excellent entry to that category for 8+ to read on their own or, even better, to enjoy as a bedtime shared read.

Christopher Edge has also created an out of this world book soundtrack to go along with the book. You can find it here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0gcbXz0uHZePqLDMermKyJ

Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi

Eight Detectives is cleverly structured. It is seven short stories within an overarching eighth story. It brought to mind Christie and Conan Doyle style set ups.

Julia Hart is a publisher who travels to a secluded island to meet an author who self published seven short, in some places gruesome, stories 30 years previously. She wants to republish the book of stories and delve deeper into his “mathematical rules for murder mystery” research paper, the basis for his short stories.

As she delves into his past the author, Grant McAllister, becomes increasingly less forthcoming. Why? This leads to her becoming the eighth detective.

Each short story is interspersed throughout, as the author and publisher go through each one. Julia points out what she feels are discrepancies in each story, trying to elicit information from Grant as to why he put them into his stories.

I do not want to give spoilers, however I will say I was left feeling short changed when information that had previously been hidden from me as reader was revealed towards the end. This went against the rules as set out by Grant in his theories of murder mystery by numbers. It would not have spoiled enjoyment of the book, or given anything major away, had readers been given a hint of what Julia was actually up to.

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny

Nothing is as it seems in Rookhaven. No one is as they seem in Rookhaven.

Mirabelle and her family are suddenly exposed to the outside world when two orphan siblings, Tom and Jem, accidentally find their way through the invisible shield that protects them from the outside world…or is it the other way round? Who wouldn’t want to be protected by carnivorous plants?

The family are a bit of a mismatched group, all with their own past experiences and special skills. Especially the enigmatic Piglet, the being locked in the cellar. Is everything as it seems? Would it make things better or worse if Piglet is released?

Pádraig Kenny has written a classic gothic tale for children. There are echoes of other fictional worlds but the author has created a unique world with unique characters. Every one of them finds out more about themselves and we as readers are led to think one thing then forced to re-evaluate what we already thought we knew.

Themes of family, friendship, trust, fear, community, grief, morality and mortality are tackled deftly.

Edward Bettison’s illustrations are used to superb effect throughout the book, like light shining through the dark.

Endpapers…I love them and these by Edward Bettison are stunning. They are an added extra that echo the illustrations throughout the book that complement the story telling.

Elsetime by Eve McDonnell

Elsetime is a time travelling story that will suck you in. It is set in both 1864 and 1928, with a backdrop of the danger and loss of life possibilities of the Great Flood of London on 6th January 1928.

Needle is a creative mudlark who finds treasure and makes items from them for his mother to sell. He can “see” the history of the items, and their owners, when he holds them. His father has also mysteriously disappeared.

Glory is a 12 year old orphan, with only one hand, who pretends to be older to get work making fine items for the mean Mrs Quick, in Frippery & Fandangle Emporium, to help her sister pay the rent and buy food. Unfortunately they lack finesse and fall apart.

Neither know of the other’s existence (although they both know a helpful crow called Magpie/Dust) until Needle finds treasure that, being from the future, makes his hand burn. This leads him to discover a hag stone through which he finds he travels through time to a London that is both familiar but different.

Needle and Glory end up working together, thanks to the crow engineering their meeting, to try to save the people who they think will perish in the flood. This is difficult as no one seems ready or willing to listen to their wondrous tale.

We are taken on a journey with Needle and Glory through time as well as the development of their friendship, which is not without its misunderstandings, to a high octane conclusion on the night of the flood. A twist in the tail left me with lots to ponder once the reading was done.

I love endpapers in picture books and hardbacks. They are rarely found in paperbacks so it was a lovely surprise to find the crow illustrations by Holly Ovendon inside the cover. Holly’s cover and illustrations throughout the book are a joy.