Book review: Autumn with Random House Children’s Books

The inimitable and much-loved Terry Pratchett is leading the charge as Random House Children’s Books set out on their autumn mission to give youngsters the very best books around.

From Pratchett’s new thriller set in the murky streets of Victorian London to Preston author Joseph Delaney’s new Spook adventure and a laugh-out-loud picture book featuring Cinderella’s bottom, there is plenty to keep youngsters amused.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is on his very best form in this atmospheric tale of dastardly deeds and scary skulduggery in deepest, darkest Victorian London.

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It’s a tribute to Charles Dickens, one of Pratchett’s heroes and another socially aware author, with the star role going to an ‘artful’ character called Dodger, a teenage sewer scavenger with a heart of gold.

Best supporting roles are taken by ‘Mr Charlie’ (Mr Dickens to you and I) and his fellow journalist and philanthropist friend Henry Mayhew whose reports on ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ shocked the nation in the mid 19th century.

Here the unlikely trio set out to find the murderous ruffians who beat up a young girl and left her for dead in a gutter. Hero of the hour is ‘tosher’ Dodger, so named on account of the fact that ‘he’s never there.’ He rescues the damsel in distress and sets out to become her ‘minder.’

Dodger lives on the edge of society. He stays alive because he is smart and fast, because he stays on his toes every moment and because he knows everybody, and everybody knows him.

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But his defences fall when he rescues the beautiful, golden-haired girl called Simplicity. She has been thrown, beaten and bruised, from a coach and Dodger helps to take her to the home of Mr Mayhew to recover.

Mayhew and Mr Charlie, a ‘tricky cove’ whom Dodger is sure he will have to watch like a hawk, want the boy to help them find out more about the mysterious Simplicity without involving the police.

It will be a dangerous mission, even for a boy used to the infamy and filth of London. Along the way, he will meet the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the founder of the police force Sir Robert Peel, the heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts and even the great Queen herself, Victoria.

But not everyone’s intentions are good, and some would like to get their hands on Dodger for all the wrong reasons...

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A master magician and storyteller extraordinaire, Pratchett manages to combine social realism with his special brand of humour, a rollocking adventure story and an eccentric and colourful cast of characters.

Funny, poignant and exciting, Dodger looks set to become another Pratchett classic.

(Doubleday, hardback, 18.99)

Spook’s: I Am Grimalkin by Joseph Delaney

Lancashire author Joseph Delaney has hit a rich new seam of storytelling in the ninth chapter of his thrilling Wardstone Chronicles series which was inspired by the folk history and landscape of the county’s hauntingly beautiful Ribble Valley and its fells.

This is a spine-chilling, blood-curdling tale told by the terrifying witch assassin Grimalkin who stalks Boggart territory and is currently engaged in a battle to stop the Fiend’s devilish associates from reuniting his head with his body.

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Retired schoolteacher Delaney has become something of a celebrity in the world of children’s fiction since he published his first book starring master magician John Gregory and his apprentice Tom Ward who battle supernatural forces in a landscape based on rural Lancashire.

Most of the places featured in his blood-soaked tales of witches, grave-wreckers, hall-knockers, rippers and all kinds of other nasty creatures are instantly recognisable to locals.

In his latest book, Delaney uses Grimalkin as the narrator, giving a new thrust and vision to the long-running series and allowing us a fresh perspective on the Spook’s war on the Dark.

Grimalkin has made it her lifetime ambition to destroy the Fiend, avenging the brutal murder of her son. She has grudgingly joined forces with the Spook and his apprentice Tom, and assisted them in the binding of the Fiend.

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But in order to bind the Fiend’s spirit forever, Grimalkin must keep his severed head in her possession no matter who, or what, comes after it. Her mission is a deadly one and now she’s on the run.

As always, Delaney captures the terror of witch country with his haunting plotlines and pulsating prose. The Dark just got even darker...

Suitable for children aged ten and over.

(Red Fox, paperback, £5.99)

Big Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

Stuart Horten loves solving puzzles, but there’s definitely nothing puzzling about why his cerebral word adventures are proving such a big hit with kids.

Because sometimes reading is about more than sitting back and going with the flow; sometimes it’s good to be challenged – to stop, think and test those little grey brain cells.

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This is Lissa Evans’ second outing with the super sleuth hero of Small Change for Stuart which was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Carnegie Medal, and his latest magical mission carries the same wonderful mix of excitement, intrigue and humour.

Stuart Horten (ten, but looks younger because he is rather small in stature) is now the owner of a magician’s workshop – except that without his great-uncle’s Last Will and Testament, he can’t actually prove it.

And that is a real problem since someone else wants it as well and that mysterious someone has a lot of money.

The workshop contains seven magnificent stage illusions but, when Stuart starts to investigate them, he discovers that each is the gateway to a magical adventure, with a puzzle to solve and a clue to extract.

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Fortunately for Stuart, his dad is a crossword compiler so the boy has been brought up on puzzles. With the help of his neighbours, identical triplets April, May and June, Stuart undergoes a series of trials but as the clues mount up, the adventures become riskier.

Friendships are strained, danger looms and Stuart has to decide what sort of prize he really wants...

Short chapters, fast-paced action and some knockabout laughs with the terrible triplets and Stuart’s amazingly long-winded dad add to the fun of this compelling and intelligent book for youngsters aged nine and over.

(Doubleday, hardback, £10.99)

Cinderella’s Bum by Nicholas Allan

Big or small, bottoms are an endless source of fun for children big and small! So what better than a book that puts the focus firmly on the ‘rear end’? Cinderella’s Bum, a refreshingly irreverent and funny picture book from the talented Nicholas Allan, is full to the brim with his ‘cheeky’ sense of humour.

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A big sister is horrified when she can’t fit into her swimming costume. Her bottom is so big! But her little sister has some very good advice as she takes a romp through history and fairyland to show exactly why a big bottom can be useful. Father Christmas needs one for when he has to make unexpected crash landings in his sleigh, and Queen Victoria would have been lost without hers because she was on the throne for so long. And as for big-bottomed Cinderella, it was just a blessing that she lost her shoe and not her knickers!

Allan’s hilarious story, brought to life by quirky watercolour illustrations, carries an important message about accepting your body whatever its size or shape.

Suitable for ages five upwards, Cinderella’s Bum looks certain to be a winner with every generation of reader so the bottom line is... don’t miss it!

(Red Fox, paperback, £5.99)