It definitely is the season for getting our house in order, gathering all the books that have been read, and then creating a lovely book stack blog post for you all. All the books in this post were given to us by Penguin Random Kids South Africa for Review Purposes.

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Let’s Start With A Little Usborne

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Firstly I am going to highlight all the Usborne Books in this stack. In days gone by, you could rely on Usborne Books for fantastic non-fiction books for children of all ages… and over the last few years they have been adding fantastic books to their children’s fiction catalogue… I cannot express how we have enjoyed these particular books… the illustrations and clever design are always on point. In a world where screens rule, publishers have to work so much harder to pull their young readers in, Usborne books have definitely done the work. They are packed with little design features that make them intriguing for curious kids, tweens and teens.

Harklights

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written and illustrated by Tim Tilley

This is a middle grade adventure with a green theme… and it is a fantastic read. It is a little dark and scary, no scarier than a fairytale, so I would make a younger more advanced reader wait a little while. That being said… this is a FANTASTIC story. Wick is a little boy who works, packing matchboxes, in a match family. He is one of a group of several children who are under the cruel management of a terrible, grizzly, hag of a woman, called Old Ma Bogey. She personifies wickedness and greed. The children have no beds or blankets, they eat a thin gruel, with tablets providing them with the sustenance they need to work… they work long and dreadful hours, no time for play… and all under the grim cloud of fear.
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One night some little people, called Hobs, enter the factory and Wick manages to escape to what look likes a magical forest. Everything is perfect, there is food, clothing, warmth and most of all love and friendship. Wick very quickly learns the ways of the forest and becomes a forest keeper. Forest life is delightful and the complete antitheses of factory life… and yet there seems to be a sinister and dark cloud just at the edge of all the perfection.

Spoiler alert… but in order to make matches you need trees and lots of them, Old Ma Bogey is tearing the forest down as fast as she can… and as she does this so the settlements of little Hob people are disappearing too. Can Wick save the day… of course he can. Lots of lovely green ideas in this book, and it is all about caring for the environment and looking for solutions. The baddy is terribly bad, the hero has to overcome his personal fears and anxiety to save the day. Fantastic reading, fantastic illustrations… it is a great book.
You can find printables for this book on the Usborne Books website.

The Haunting of Aveline Jones


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written by Phil Hickes

illustrated by Keith Robinson

This is a fabulous read for kids who like scary stories, because it gets really scary, not terrifying, there could be a reasonable explanation. Luckily our heroine, Aveline Jones, is not scared of anything and quite prepared to head out into the deepest, darkest night to find the truth. Aveline has to go and stay with her elderly aunt, Lilian, in an isolated seaside town over the school holidays. It appears to be a quiet and strange little community, that really doesn’t want a passing visitor to be too curious. But Aveline is curious, very curious. Why, for instance do the locals have genuinely creepy scarecrows “protecting” their properties… Aveline has a lot of questions and goes looking for answers but finds towns folk are not that helpful. Aveline is an avid reader and loves ghost stories, she heads to the local book store and discovers a book stack of note… including one particular book that appears to be more local history than ghost story… or is it?
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The illustrations, by Keith Robinson, are lovely, the mystery is gripping… and we are thrilled to discover that there is more Aveline Jones, more mysterious and ghostly stories in the future. This is a fantastic mystery… creepy and perfect in every nuance.
You can find printables and a great activity pack, for this book on the Usborne Books website.

The Supreme Lie


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written by Geraldine McCaughrean

illustrated by Keith Robinson

Geraldine McCaughrean is a very popular children’s author, most famous for her Greek Myths. And she has produced a whole world, right here… a dystopian novel for older middle graders and teens, set in a futuristic world. This is really, really good reading. The illustrations in this book are top notch, with newspaper snippets winding their way through out the book. It is a mystery that has to be solved and there are snippets and clues all along the way.
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The story is really about Gloria, a maid servant to Madame Suprema, the supreme power over the city of Praesto Port. It has been raining solidly for weeks and the question is, “Should they shut the city gates, or press on. If they shut the city gates no one from the surrounding country side will be able to get the help they need and what sort of a leader would she be, if she doesn’t shut the city gates the city will be flooded and destroyed. In the final panic before everything collapses around her, Madame Suprema escapes the city and fifteen year old Gloria, who is disguised as Madame Suprema is left in charge.

Gloria is left with a people in crisis, she has no idea who to trust, since the government officials are all corrupt, the news is all fake news and she has to rely on her conscience, she has to make decisions on the fly… she makes mistakes, she trusts the wrong people again and again… but she has a heart of gold and is as tenacious as they come. She will not give up on her people and you realise that while Madame Suprema failed them all, Gloria has their best interests at heart. In this season of lockdown and where conspiracy theories abound, this is a great read.
You can find discussion questions for this book on the Usborne Books website.

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


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written by A.M. Howell

illustrated by Saara Katariina Söderlund

This is the story of Helena, and her beautiful parrot, who finds herself transported right into a mystery. Her father has taken on the job of official clock winder in the Westcott Residence, a house full of clocks, and where the clocks may never stop ticking for any reason. It is the year 1905, Helena’s mum has died from a terrible illness a while before and in the spirit of “getting away from it all” her sweet and doting father takes a job in Cambridge, the job comes with board and lodging, and turns out rather quickly that it was ALL to good to be true. Any fault, any stopped clock and all their world possessions will be given over to the Wescotts. Immediately, Helena realises that everything that was once her dear Mama’s could be lost forever and her natural curiosity sends her on a quest to find out why.
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This is a great historical novel for middle grade readers, in the Edwardian Times, when servants ran a house, when women’s rights were just an idea, and life in the city of Cambridge was fascinating. Not to mention very interesting information about every possible type of clock!!! This book is a great read for curious kids, there is loads of easy learning, while conquering a mystery… just fabulous.
You can find printables and loads of excellent Quicklinks for this book on the Usborne Books website.

Delivery to the Lost City


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written by P.G. Bell

illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino

This is the third and final book in the series… and our heroine, Suzy, is on an adventure to return a library book to The Lost City, before it is too late. Unfortunately this is no ordinary book it is filled with magic. Not to mention Suzy’s parents have had enough of her trips to “magical places… and all the associated magical creatures.” They want Suzy to stay home and stay safe… of course, that is NEVER EVER going to happen. From the very first chapter, when a steam train comes crashing in for dinner, you know this book is going to be a genuine roller coaster of an adventure.
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What a great series this has been and what a great finale. For kids who love and adore solving puzzles, getting caught up in fantastical intrigue, then this series will transport them to magical places…
You can find printables and letter writing tips for this book on the Usborne Books website.

And More Winning Books…


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Dinosaur Disaster


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written by Stephen Butler and James Patterson

illustrated by Richard Watson

In a previous post on great series of books, Dog Diaries was a a definite feature. These are great reads for emerging readers. Picture rich and fast stories… written from the perspective of the dogs. These books are full of Im-PAW-TANT details, and a PAWSOME person-pack: Mom-Lady, Jawjaw, Grandma and owner, Ruff. In this story, our hero and his troop of friends, discover to their joy a truck full of Bronte-Paw-Rus bones. The pups plan an “Operation Feast-A-Saurus Rex!” at the local museum.
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This is a fun read and will definitely appeal to young dog-loving readers and their “young at heart” parents that read to them. This book has a couple of pages of puzzles at the end of it… and if your child is a dinosaur lover, then an excellent tie-in with last week’s blogpost: Se7en Study Really Ancient Times with Mary Anning and Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan.
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You can find the whole series on the Puffin Website, and our previous reviews here.

Ali Cross


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written by James Patterson

This is a great series for tween readers, an exciting crime series by James Patterson, the master of gripping tales and crime writing. Fast paced and action packed and exactly what you would expect from this author. Ali is the son of a famous detective…
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At the time of the first book, Ali’s father is somewhat infamous, he is in the middle of a case where his job and reputation is on the line. Meanwhile, Ali’s best friend has gone missing… vanished into thin air, and the police don’t seem to be in any rush to find him. Ali decided to take on the role of chief detective and the nearer and nearer he gets to finding the truth, the more scrapes and dramas he finds himself in. The story is written from Ali’s perspective… it is a fast action packed read with a little mystery thrown in. Has his best friend really gone missing or is he somehow involved in a spate of local robberies? The only place that Ali seems able to find him is in an online game, but even there they are not safe.
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In the second book, the action begins immediately… before you have decided if this is going to be a good read or not… you are hooked. Ali is supposed to be finishing an assignment at friends, only they have gone to a music festival instead… His gran is onto him… and in the moment of saying, “You needn’t come looking for me, I am almost home…” a friend gets shot. Boom you are in Chapter 2, and it never slows down again. When Zoe gets shot, Ali knows he has seen something important, but Zoe asks him not to dig deeper… well, never tell a cop’s kid not to dig a little deeper… you know he isn’t going to settle until he has some answers. These are such great reads, stand alone or in a series… grab them for your teens that would rather do anything other than read, challenge them to read the first two chapters… They are fast and feisty and they won’t put them down.

Orphans of the Tide


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written by Struan Murray

illustrated by Manuel Sumberac

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This is a great read, it is touted as a middle grade read, but I would recommend it for your older tween, teen audience because it is a little creepy in places and I know my younger middle grade reader would be slightly nervous. That being said, he would love it in a year or two… so I am saving it for then. It is a gothic and dark novel, about a marvellously curious and inventive gal, called Ellie, that no one in the last City on earth quite trusts. The City is surrounded by mystery and water, and the people live in mortal fear of the Enemy, who could come arrive in any shape or form at any time.

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When the body of a whale is beached on a roof in town, and a young boy steps out of it… everyone is convinced that he is THE Enemy, but not Ellie. She is not convinced and goes the extra mile to figure out who this mysterious book is. the characters are intense, the story is dark and packed with incredible twists and turns, and a kind of murky mythology that I am sure will be revealed in the books that follow on in the series. If you or your kids enjoy a dark and mysterious story… then this is the one for you.
Thrilled to discover that there are more in this series, and you can listen to extracts from the author, over here.

The Last Time I Died


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written by Fanie Viljoen

illustrated by Daniël Hugo

Can we hear a woohoo for a South African Author, whose short story has been “translated” into a graphic novel. It is the story of Master Sam, whose father was killed by Black Crow, the wicked and evil ruler of the dark city. Sam finds himself at the mercy of Black Crow, but he has seven lives… he has one more chance to return to life and save the oppressed people of the town. He is helped by a gravedigger, who happens to be a feisty and resourceful young gal, called Claire.
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It is a fast read, the action on every page has you turning for me. Hopefully we will see more of Sam in the future… My kids loved this story, the only problem with the book is that there was not nearly enough of it… please, please may there be more.

The Unadoptables


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written by Hana Tooke

illustrated by Ayesha L.Rubio

This book is dark and gothic, and a really good read… one by one five children are abandoned on an orphanage doorstep, where a hideous matron declares them unadoptable… but the tenacious resilience of these exceptional kids means that form a neat a crisp little gang, each with their own incredible skill. The story is set in the late 1800s in Amsterdam and twelve years after their abandonment, this little gang is closer than the closest family. Until, a sinister visitor threatens them… at which stage they find themselves fleeing and an exciting adventure through the streets and canals of Amsterdam unfolds around them.
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Absolutley loved the Dutch setting of this whimsical story, safely pop this book on the “Definitley Choose a Book by it’s Cover” pile.

You can meet the author, over here… and the illustrator over here. Otherwise, you can read an extract and meet the author on the Penguin UK website.

Amazon Affiliate Links used in this post.




These books were given to us for review purposes by Penguin Random House South Africa. This is not a sponsored post and opinions expressed are entirely our own.

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