Posts Tagged ‘books for boys’

Boys don’t read books about girls…

We are delighted to host Jo Cotterill, author of the stunning middle grade book, Looking At The Stars.

looking at the starsAmina’s homeland has been ravaged by war for many months, but so far she and her family are safe, together. When a so-called liberating force arrives in the country, the family think their prayers for peace will soon be answered, but they are horribly wrong . . . The country is thrown into yet further turmoil and Amina’s family is devastated . . .
Through it all, Amina has her imagination to fall back on – of a better place and time. But can her stories get her through this?

Some time in 2013 there was an online argument among authors and readers about writing ‘strong’ female characters. Why should girls be ‘strong’? asked some people. Why were they supposed to be emotionally strong and assertive above all else? Surely a good three-dimensional character can be strong, weak, confused, angry, wrong, passionate and frightened. When authors write male characters, are they referred to as ‘strong’?

Our society persists in dividing the sexes with a line so thick you can’t see through it. As a mum of two young girls, I see an insidious creep towards the Disney Princess. Many toys are now aimed at boys or girls, as though children should be placed carefully into categories because of their gender. Well-meaning people buy pink purses for my daughters instead of toolkits or Meccano. My five-year-old already has firm ideas about what ‘girls’ like and what she should prioritise. Yet the female of the species is worth more than that! Possibilities should not be limited by gender, and that’s why fiction is important, because it can show a world of options.

There is also a persuasive idea going around that boys don’t read books that feature a central female character. I don’t think this is true for all boys, but I do think society teaches boys that girls are still less important than they are. Why else would boys avoid ‘girly stuff’ and lump female characters in with it? And yet many books written about girls are hugely useful. They teach us about relating to people; about finding inner strength in realistic situations; about kindness and cruelty; about discovering your own talents. All of these are vital skills for real life. Not to mention that girls make up half the population: shouldn’t boys want to read about them?

In Looking at the Stars, Amina and her sister Jenna are the two central characters. They have been living under a very repressive regime that prevents them going to school and forces them to wear headscarves that identify their age. This is not a ‘female issue’; it’s a human issue. And to test out a boy’s reaction to my book, I sent it to a friend of mine. Her twelve-year-old son, an avid reader, sent me this review:

Even after reading the Hunger Games, which had some really sad moments, this is the first book that ever made me cry. Because it was so life-like. I almost felt I was with the characters, on their journey. It is now one of my favourite books. I think it is like…nothing else I have read.

THAT is why boys should read books about girls, and why we should stop assuming they won’t be interested in them. And it’s why I hope lots of boys and girls will read my book.

Written by Jo Cotterill

Jo headshotJo’s first story at the age of five was a festive one entitled ‘Chismas’. After writing a lot of stories about unicorns, she decided at the age of thirteen to become an actress. Her professional acting career was enjoyable but frustrating, so she became a teacher instead, writing stories on the side. Her first book was published in 2004, and she gave up teaching in 2009. Jo now lives in Oxfordshire and fits writing around her young family. She enjoys music and card-making, and is an avid fan of Strictly Come Dancing.

Looking At The Stars was published today by Bodley Head.

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House Of Secrets

Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

house of secretsWhen Brendan, Cordelia and Nell move to Kristoff House they have no idea that they are about to unleash the dark magic locked within.
Now the Walker kids must battle against deadly pirates, bloodthirsty warriors and a bone-crunching giant. If they fail they will never see their parents again and a crazed witch will take over the world.
No pressure then…
House of Secrets is the first book in a major new series.
It’s going to be epic.

After an incident at work leaves their father jobless and the Walker family homeless, the discounted purchase of Kristoff House, the unusual but elegant creation of an eccentric novelist, is too good an opportunity to miss. While the monetary cost is nominal, it all too quickly becomes evident that someone intends for the family to pay a much higher price.

At over five hundred pages, the House of Secrets is a large book by most standards. For the middle grade category it is undoubtedly a beast of a book. But as it moves seamlessly from atmospherically creepy tension, to humor, via heart racing action, breath catching peril and wide-eyed surprise, I found that I was absorbed, entertained and delighted by every single page.

The co-writers film and TV backgrounds shine through. Reading the House Of Secrets was an almost cinematic experience full of wondrous Technicolor images and larger than life characters. This was enhanced by the multiple third person, past tense perspective.
I had no idea what was going to happen next or which fantastical being was about to be introduced to our cast and I felt like I was watching an epic adventure movie from my 80’s childhood.

Although very much a driven by the fast paced plot, I was delighted by the realistically flawed but likeable Walkers. As the eldest of four siblings, the squabbling, antagonistic, yet warm and protective relationship felt spot on and I could, all to easily, identify with the bossy, slightly condescending, mother hen, Cordelia.
While on the one hand the cinematic like nature of the plot, pacing and style kept me completely enthralled, I couldn’t help feeling slightly detached from the action, I definitely felt like an observer rather than a part of the action.

Even though the ending was a little too “Hollywood” for my tastes; ignoring the aftermath of the Walkers experiences on their character development and setting up a little too neatly for the sequel, it totally worked. I am caught hook, line and sinker. I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters develop following on from their fantastical experiences and just what (and who) else Vizzini and Columbus pull out of their collective imagination.

Verdict: Fast paced, action packed fantasy for middle grade to middle age.

Reviewed by Caroline

Read Ned’s guest post “A Day In The Life Of Ned Vizzini” (here).

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Publication Date: May 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 550
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: None
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Wild Boy

wild boy coverLondon, 1841
A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show.
A boy with extraordinary powers of observation and detection.
A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth.
Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin.

Wild Boy is an extremely likeable character, and I found myself rooting for him from the off. Abandoned, psychologically abused, beaten, socially isolated and enslaved to a travelling freak show, my heart broke for him. But, despite what life has repeatedly taught him, he maintains his optimism and hopes for a better life. His sense of fairness, of right and wrong and his humour shines through the grime and sordidness of his environment.

An undelivered letter, the wrong place, the wrong time and our diamond in the rough finds himself falsely accused of murder and running for his life. With only his amazing skills of observation and deduction, and a reluctant partnership with his “arch enemy” Clarissa, a flamed haired, lock picking acrobat, Wild Boy must find the real culprit and clear his name.

The feisty characters and non-stop action, the Holmes like deduction and macabre Victorian backdrop, the secret passages and mad scientists – I loved every minute of this middle grade mystery and I really hope that this first of many adventures with Wild boy and “circus fiend” Clarissa.

Verdict: Fantastic middle grade mystery

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: April 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 301
Genre: Mystery, Historical fiction
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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Hidden Among Us

Katy Moran

hidden among usWhen Lissy meets a mysterious and strangely beautiful boy on her way to Hopesay Edge, she is deeply unsettled by their encounter.
She discovers that they boy, Larkspur, is a member of the Hidden, an ancient group of elven people, whose secrets lie buried at Hopesay Reach. Before long, Lissy and her brother Rafe find themselves caught by a powerful magic and fighting to escape a bargain that can never be broken.

Cloistered and wrapped in cotton wool by Miriam, her over protective mother, Lissy embarks on her first act of rebellion. Rather than wait for her mother to collect her she decides to take the train alone to Hopesay Reach, the home of her eccentric uncle and the place she was born.

Lissy experiences warm feelings of triumph at the success of her step towards independence, until she is forced to get off at an unfamiliar station. Dark and deserted in the middle of nowhere, the station boasts just one other patron; a stunningly beautiful, boy. A stranger, who sparks feelings of recognition within her and disappears moments after whispering her name.

The next time she meets the gorgeous but mysterious Larkspur she feels compelled to take his hand, following him into the nearby woods to a gathering of beautiful revelers. He takes hold of her and they begin to dance…

I might have misled you into thinking that Hidden Among Us is Lissy’s story. In fact Lissy shares the first person narration with three other characters. Her protective but emotionally distant older brother Rafe is attempting to unravel the secrets, which have confused and frustrated him his entire life. Joe begrudgingly gets caught up in the drama at Hopesay Reach by virtue of his fathers developing relationship with Miriam and his innate sense of honour.

Although a much smaller contribution, I really loved Miriam’s input in to the story. Simultaneously providing us with the background and history of her family’s interactions with the Hidden, while also keeping us ever aware of the current, time sensitive situation. It was refreshing to read a paranormal book where the parents were fully aware of the developing situation and not conveniently absent or lied to throughout.

If you are expecting a tale of glitter and of wishes bestowed by be-winged godmothers you will be horrified (but definitely not disappointed)to discover the true nature of the “good folk”… This immortal elfin race, might be stunningly beautiful, but their beauty is very much skin deep. These truth twisting, iron avoiding, bargain making, kidnappers of babies have their own agenda and are definitely advocates of the bigger picture.

While the book’s cover hints at the atmospheric story within, I was definitely not expecting fast paced action, evasive driving techniques, daring roof top escapes and the unwelcomed attentions of a sinister, underground organisation.

The Hidden have be described in the blurb as a group of Elven people. At first I couldn’t understand why, when all other clues point to it, they weren’t simply described as Fey or Faeries. Having read the book I now understand that to label the book as such (a paranormal book with faeries) could potentially put off a large number of readers who, if they gave themselves the opportunity to, would absolutely adore this action filled fantasy.

Verdict: The twists and turns of Hidden Among Us, indicates that author, Katy Moran may have spent a little time with the elven herself! I will definitely be picking up a copy of the sequel.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: March 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 304
Genre: Paranormal
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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I’m Dougal Trump and It’s Not my Fault

Jackie Marchant

Ok, I’m not actually dead, but if I’m not very careful, I soon will be.
In this first book, football-loving Dougal Trump finds himself at risk from the mysterious creature living in the garden shed. Nobody believes him but as a precaution, he sets upon writing his will – rewarding those who help him, disinheriting those who get on his bad side, and fielding constant pleas from friends and associates [Cool will, Dougie! Can I have your playstation? – George]. Meanwhile, as limbs and windows alike are broken by rogue footballs and unhinged canines, Dougal finds himself in all sorts of trouble. . .

I really love this book because it is so funny. About half way through the story we hear about Douglas’ next door neighbour’s bra being taken and this is how Jackie (the author) puts it:

“Its Mrs Witzel’s fault she really ought to know better then to lean over the fence to stroke the dog whilst she is hanging up her washing especially when she is holding a bra. The bra dangled over the fence just when the dog jumped up (long story short) unluckily the dog thought we were having a game of tug of war. After a lot of pulling and tugging we ended up by the shed (long story short again) the bra ripped in two. Later on…the dog goes to the vets to have half a bra surgically removed.

Above was only one funny thing of many, and I loved this book but it’s definately for an older reader!!!

Verdict: As you can see I have really enjoyed this and think it is the best I’ve EVER READ.

Reviewed by Izzy (9)

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date:July 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 205
Genre: Memoir
Age:Middle grade
Reviewer: Izzy
Source: Provided by author
Challenge:British book
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Can We Save The Tiger?

Martin Jenkins and Vicky White (illustrator)

Tigers are big, beautiful and fierce. But, like many other animals, they are in danger of becoming extinct. With breathtaking illustrations this large-format picture book tells us about the threats to the many endangered species on our planet and the need to prevent their extinction.

This is a bit different to all the other reviews I’ve done as this isn’t a fiction book, but a non-fiction book. It’s a book that gives you facts and information rather than telling a story. But then that doesn’t quite sum it up either. The style of writing in this book does make it sound like the author is telling a story; it’s just in this case it’s true. I struggled to work out what age group this book is aimed at. There is quite a lot of writing and some of the words are quite complex, it’s not an early reader. The style however does seem to be aiming towards educating quite young children. I know if I read it to my pre schooler he would ask masses of questions (we are really going through the ‘why?’ stage at the moment), but then that could well be what the author intended.

That all being said this is a lovely book and I do think the style of writing makes it. It takes a difficult subject for little ones to understand and makes it interesting and fun. There are masses of facts held within the book and I know that I did learn at lot from it. The illustrations really complimented the words. Largely line drawn, they had fantastic detail whilst at the same time appeared very simple. Perfect for little ones and a great starting point for conversations about animals nearing extinction, it certainly made me want to go out and learn more, and as a librarian anything that may make children want to learn more about a subject definitely has the thumbs up from me. I found this a rare book, an information book that I actually enjoyed reading, one that I would turn to read for enjoyment rather than research.

Verdict: A lovely fact book on animals for young children that should really start the questions going.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: February 2011
Format: Hardback
Pages: 56
Genre: Non Fiction
Age: Early Reader, Middle Grade
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Theodore Boone: Half The Man, Twice The Lawyer

John Grisham

A perfect murder
A faceless witness
A lone courtroom champion knows the whole truth . . . and he’s only thirteen years old
Meet Theodore Boone
In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk—and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.
But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than expected. Because he knows so much—maybe too much—he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.
The stakes are high, but Theo won’t stop until justice is served…

I have enjoyed many of John Grisham’s books and was interested to see how his writing would translate into a children’s book. I wasn’t disappointed.

As the blurb indicates Theo is a 13 year old who loves the law. His parents are both lawyers and he has learnt loads about the American judicial system and law. At school other students come to him for advice when they, or someone they know, are in trouble. Theo always seems to have the answer!

Theo is a likeable character, and despite his unusual amount of knowledge he has a normal life. He knows where he fits in the scheme of things (not in the popular league) and has ups and downs that all children do; homework, parents and so on. Then he finds himself in a situation where he does not have the answer and he’s promised not to tell! This can be a huge dilemma for any child, let alone when the information can prove ‘whodunit’ in a murder trial and that trial has already started.

This is still very recognisably Grisham. The writing is pacey and keeps you hooked as gradually more and more is revealed. Even though you know from about half way through the book who committed the crime there is still a bit of tension (not as much as the adult books, but I don’t think that you would expect that). It is interesting watching Theo deal with his moral dilemma about what to do, he can’t break his word, but he can’t let a criminal walk free. Also Grisham manages to explain how the court works and the ins and outs of the laws that cause part of the problem without being boring or patronising. There is much in there that a young reader might not know and they will be hugely educated about how the courts work (or at least the American ones) by the end of the story.

Verdict: A great starter for getting children into court room drama!

Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Publication Date: March 2011(2nd ed.)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Genre: Crime Fiction
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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Dark Inside

Jeyn Roberts

Moments after several huge earthquakes shake every continent on Earth, something strange starts happening to some people. Michael can only watch in horror as an incidence of road rage so extreme it ends in two deaths unfolds before his eyes; Clementine finds herself being hunted through the small town she has lived in all her life, by people she has known all her life; and Mason is attacked with a baseball bat by a random stranger. An inner rage has been released and some people cannot fight it. For those who can, life becomes an ongoing battle to survive – at any cost! Since mankind began, civilizations have always fallen – now it’s our turn!

It started like any other day, but then the earthquakes came and people began to change. Four teens watch those around them transformed into ‘Baggers’. Humans who hunt down other humans and kill them. Humans who hunt down the weak and enjoy it, who drag families from their homes. The world has changed beyond recognition and it takes everything you have just to survive.

This book was really scary. It’s not often I find a book really chilling, but at one point I actually had to stop reading as I was in the house on my own and it was scaring me too much. It’s a book that examines the darker side of human nature. The idea that everybody has a dark side, just in the ‘Dark Inside’ this dark side is amplified to a greater extreme. It’s the books and films that do this that I do tend to find scary.

I loved that this was set during the ‘Apocalypse’, so many books are set afterwards this days. Though this is great for showing governmental control, setting the book during really adds to the tension, creating that feeling of chaos and panic, a feeling you find very real whilst reading this book. It makes the reader examine what they would do in the same situation as the characters.

The story is told from multiple points of view. Four teenagers who come from different parts of the United States and Canada. This works really well, it shows how different areas, farm villages to big cities, cope with the disaster. It also shows how different people cope, how some band together and how some isolate themselves. It also gives the reader access to a greater range of supporting characters. I also loved that they didn’t meet up until the end of the book, this means that as a reader we already have a sense of who they are as characters in their own right, leaving any group dynamic to ‘The Rage Within’. Which incidentally I can’t wait to read.

I’ve had a lot of teenagers coming in to my library and asking for ‘scary books’ lately. I think that I may have to buy some more copies of this as it will definitely be my new go to book for those after books in the horror genre.

Verdict: Tense, chilling and genuinely scary. A book that examines the darker side of nature that you won’t want to put down.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: MacMillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Hardback
Pages: 368
Genre: Apocalyptic, Horror, Dystopian
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Small Change For Stuart

Lissa Evans

Stuart Horten – ten years old and small for his age – moves to the dreary town of Beeton, far away from all his friends. And then he meets his new next-door neighbours, the unbearable Kingley triplets, and things get even worse.
But in Beeton begins the strangest adventure of Stuart’s life as he is swept up in quest to find his great-uncle’s lost workshop – a workshop stuffed with trickery and magic. There are clues to follow and puzzles to solve, but what starts as fun ends up as danger, and Stuart begins to realize that he can’t finish the task by himself . . .

Stuart Horten is a very short boy with very tall parents who has just moved far away to the place where his father grew up. There he finds that his family have a long history. His great-uncle, the fabulous magician Teeny Tiny Tony Horton and his glamorous assistant Lily disappeared years ago and Stuart is convinced there was something mysterious about their vanishing. He becomes convinced that finding his great-uncles long lost workshop holds the key and starts on adventure, joined by his ten year old neighbour and a blind elderly woman, to find it.

This is a truly lovely book. It’s perfect for children of Junior School age, but there is also an innocence to it that should charm adults. Lissa Evans has done a fantastic job at getting into the head of a ten year old boy who feels slightly outside of the world of ‘normal’ ten year olds because he is small and has slightly odd parents. Stuart has a naiveté that should appeal to both adults and children. The story enters the realm of magic and fantasy based in the normal human world, but is never totally unbelievable. More you get swept along with the story and want to believe when you reach the only part of the story that delves into the fantastical.

This is a fairly short book at 288 pages, unsurprising given who it is aimed at. It’s written in such a way that makes it an incredibly easy read and I finished it in less than two hours. It is very definitely a children’s book, but it’s the kind of book that you want to be able to read to your children, just so you are able to share in the magic too. Still not my favourite Carnegie shortlisted book so far, that remains ‘Between Shades of Grey’, ‘Small Change for Stuart’ currently comes in as a very close second.

Verdict: Innocent and charming, a book that will take both children and adults on a magical adventure.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Publication Date: April 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Genre: Magic, Fantasy
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: Debut Author
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Anthony Horowitz

They told him his uncle died in a car accident. Fourteen-year-old Alex knows that’s a lie, and the bullet holes in his uncle’s windshield confirm his suspicions. But nothing prepares him for the news that the uncle he always thought he knew was really a spy for MI6–Britain’s top secret intelligence agency. Recruited to find his uncle’s killers and complete his final mission, Alex suddenly finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Having heard lots of good things about Anthony Horowitz I thought I’d check out his work. Stormbreaker seemed a good place to start; and it was!

The story gets going quickly and maintains a fast pace throughout. It is easy to read and well written. The chapters are about the right length, especially for the target audience (pre-teens and early teenagers). I also think that although this is probably more aimed at boys, a lot of girls would enjoy the adventurers of Alex Rider.

So to the story! This is a gripping yarn, a spy story after the heart of James Bond. As Alex is recruited into MI6 and trained in an army style for his mission he has to learn to survive in a tough adult environment where he is certainly not liked by everyone. He is then presented with his very own set of teenage boy spy gadgets, including metal melting zit cream (I love it) and sent off to spy on Herod Sayle who has made the country an offer that seems too good to be true. Alex has a few days to find out what is going on, and he does get to use his gadgets too!

Alex is a great character, he manages to seem like a normal teenage boy in the way he looks at many things, girls for example! And yet he is so obviously extraordinary as he begins to question what has happened to his Uncle and grow into a whole new role that he is more or less forced into. He proves to be quick thinking, quick on his feet and courageous. His escape from the Breakers Yard is truly remarkable, and this is only the first of many excitements and tight situations. It also seems that his Uncle has been preparing him for his future as Alex has learned many languages, can drive a car and do Karate, among many other things.

In addition to all this there is a fantastic tongue in cheek humour running through the book, Horowitz does send up the spy genre and plays on the villains in particular. Mr Grin is a brilliant example of this with his scar for a smile and inability to speak properly.

In case you are wondering if this is suitable for your child I will add that there is some violence, none of it graphic, but guns are used and Alex does shoot someone (even though he is specifically not trained to do this). If you, or your child haven’t read this kind of book before you might want to read it first, but unless your child is particularly sensitive or younger than the target audience then I think you are likely to find they love it and want the next one.

Verdict: It does seem to be the perfect book for any kid that dreams of being a spy and having amazing adventures!

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication Date: August 2006
Format: Paperback
Pages: 264
Genre: Action, Adventure
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British Book, Oldest Book
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