Meandering through Middle Grade: Spy Toys

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As a kid, did you have a teddy bear whose ears were slightly nibbled at the edges?  Or a doll whose hair would never quite sit flat?  Then today’s book is for you, and all the kids out there who appreciate toys that aren’t exactly how they are depicted on the box. Today I bring you Spy Toys by Mark Powers, which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The world’s leading toy manufacturer makes playthings for the rich and famous, and every toy they create contains a tiny computerised brain and a unique personality. These toys are seriously awesome! But every so often there’s a faulty toy …

Dan is a Snugliffic Cuddlestar bear – he should be perfect for hugging. But because of a faulty chip, Dan is so strong he could crush a car. Thrown on to the rejects pile, he meets Arabella, a Loadsasmiles Sunshine Doll, who has a very short temper and is absolutely NOT good with children. Soon Dan, Arabella and Flax (a custom-made police robot rabbit gone AWOL) are recruited by Auntie Roz, the ‘M’ of the toy world, and together they make up THE SPY TOYS.

Their first mission: to protect the prime minister’s eight-year-old son from being kidnapped ..

 

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Spy Toys by Mark Powers.  Published by Bloomsbury Australia, 12th January, 2017.  RRP: $12.99

 

We on the shelf, being a little bit not-quite-right ourselves, thoroughly enjoyed this original, fun, fast-paced, funny early middle grade offering.  Dan is a teddy bear designed for hugging but could crush a child with his malfunctioning strength chip.  Arabella is meant to bring sunshine into a little child’s life, but has a snappy comeback that could burn your ears off.  And Flax…well, he’s a bunny with a problem with authority.  These three toys, after managing to save themselves from the reject pile, are charged with the job of protecting the Prime Minister’s son – what better way to hide bodyguards in plain sight, than to disguise them as toys? – and so the intrepid trio become…Spy Toys!  While it’s a steep learning curve for our sharp-clawed, sharp-tongued and sharp-eyed friends, they must do all they can to protect the Prime Minister’s son from a criminal gang run by an elephant-human hybrid ex-circus clown, or perish in the attempt.

This early chapter book is pure, unadulterated fun from beginning to end, with oodles of line drawings throughout to add zest to the action.  There’s no mucking around with boring filler either: from the moment Dan is singled out as a defective toy it’s non-stop action, escapes and chases until the thrilling (and quite dangerous!) finale.  Clearly the author isn’t afraid to throw in a bit of silliness – the human-animal hybrid gang being a case in point – but there are also some nicely touching scenes in which the Prime Minister learns a bit about being an attentive parent – awwww!  The Snaztacular Ultrafun toy factory also had something of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory about it – I can imagine kids desperate for a golden ticket to visit such an exciting place!

The three heroes are loveable, in a defective sort of way and I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.  As an early chapter book, it’s the perfect length for newly independent readers who love action, adventure and comedy all rolled into one.

For the device-happy reader, the book also has an accompanying app, in which the user must help Dan the bear leap over barrels and boxes on a conveyor belt to avoid being dumped down the reject toy chute at the Snaztacular Ultrafun factory.  The game is almost embarrassingly simple, but the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (at six years old) proclaimed it the “best game ever” and got far more mileage out of playing it than I would have expected.  It’s also a satisfyingly small download so you don’t have to worry about it taking up too much space on your phone or device.

Spy Toys is definitely an intriguing opener to the series and I can’t wait to join Dan, Arabella and Flax on their next spy-tastic adventure!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Royal Rabbits of London…

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It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club.  The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.

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Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves.  So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures.  Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit.  It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things.  Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There are no dragons in this book.  There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them.  There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits.  I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit.  Maybe. But not Shylo.

I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too.  And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them.  I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother.  He’s a meanie.  Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.

That would teach him.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

 

Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?

A red-pawed rabbit I can see!

Do you think he’ll play with me?

He looks as if he’s too busy!

Where’s he gone so hurriedly?

To save the Queen for you and me!

Bruce

maniacal book club brucePlease excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done.  The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape.  Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact.  Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.

When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot.  The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city.  After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.

Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up.  The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life.  Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces.  There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.

The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows.  The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.

The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017.  Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Great Yarns for Tweens…

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It’s time to round up some reads for the young ones featuring outrageous babysitters, spies-in-training and a whole world of magic right under our noses.  Saddle up, let’s get after ’em!

Marge in Charge (Isla Fisher)

*We received a copy of Marge in Charge from Allen & Unwin for review*

marge in charge

Marge in Charge by Isla Fisher Published by Allen & Unwin, 27th July 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

Jemima thinks that being looked after by a babysitter will be boring, but she reckoned without rainbow-haired firecracker Marge!  Now Jemima has to work hard to make sure Marge doesn’t turn the house upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is actually three stories, not one, featuring an old granny with more than a bit of life left in her yet.  In fact, the mini-fleshlings might find it hard to keep up with her spontaneity and sense of fun.  In these three introductory tales, Jemima and her little brother Jake are left in the care of diminutive Marge after their parents go out leaving strict instructions to follow the rules.  Marge, who is a blend of Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee and Fran Drescher, manages to stick to the spirit of the rules, if not the letter, causing chaos and excitement, as well keeping a few tricks up her sleeve in order to save the day.  The first story is our introduction to Marge on a regular night in, the second features a right royal knees-up at a friend’s birthday party, while the third story demonstrates why school visitors need to sign in to the office before attending class.  These stories are perfectly pitched at the 6 to 9 year old age range, being short, action-packed and illustrated throughout.  As a serial read-aloud before bed, or a quick dose of comedy for confident young readers, Fisher has managed to hit the nail on the head with a lovable and quirky old Marge.

Brand it with:

While the cat’s away; age is just a number; serial offender

Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse (D.D. Everest)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

archie greene

Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse by D. D. Everest. Published by Allen & Unwin, 27th July 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Archie returns to his apprenticeship at the Museum of Magical Miscellany before unexpectedly receiving a second, unforeseen firemark. After discovering that his destiny may require an important choice, Archie and his friends must work together to unearth the secrets of the past, before history repeats itself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a richly imagined tale set in a thoroughly detailed magical world.  Let’s just get out of the way straight of the bat that there are marked similarities between this story and the Harry Potter series which will be obvious to anyone who has read the latter.  This didn’t put me off particularly though, because Archie is a different sort of a boy to Harry and there are different social and historical aspects at play in Archie’s world.  Within the first few chapters Archie receives a completely unexpected (and quite possibly dangerous) new apprenticeship mark, as well as being told in a highly public (and quite possibly ruinous) fashion that his destiny is cloudy at best.  I had high hopes that I would get sucked into this story in the same way that I did with the Potter series, but this one fell short just a bit – possibly because it is the second in the series and I haven’t read the first.  The author takes great pains to point out the salient bits of information that readers new to the series might need to know, and while this is helpful, it does slow the story significantly in the early stages.  If you can get past the informational asides however, there is a detailed world awaiting you with plenty of spirit and flair, as well as a historical mystery that appears to be replaying itself in the present.  I would be interested to go back to book one and start this series where it is supposed to begin because the writing is quite absorbing, the characters varied and the world thoroughly magical.

Brand it with:

Alternative Potter; Workplace Health & Safety; Destined for Weirdness

The Double Cross: And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy (Jackson Pearce)

*We received a copy of The Double Cross from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

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The Double Cross by Jackson Pearce. Published by Bloomsbury Australia, August 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

Hale is the most unfit spy at spy school and it doesn’t help that his parents are legendary field agents.  When his parents go missing in action however, Hale must use all his skills to track them down – and avoid the other spies while he’s doing it.

Muster up the motivation because…

…apart from being  a lovely change from the magic/fantasy genre, this is a book that deftly mixes action and humour to create a highly absorbing adventure.  Hale is an immediately likable narrator and we are introduced to him as he uses his brains to outwit his fellow spy-students and avoid the most heinous of punishments: extra push-ups.  There’s a certain unaffected confidence in Hale, despite his obvious physical failings in the fitness department, and when coupled with his sister Kennedy’s boundless energy and advanced spy-sills, the pair ensure that the story moves on apace.  There are layers of mystery to solve here and because everyone involved is a spy or spy-in-training, it’s not immediately apparent who the good guys are.  I’d definitely recommend this to young readers who love action that is blended with characters that don’t take themselves too seriously, in a setting that doesn’t need magic or fantasy to make it seem unreal.

Brand it with:

Saving the parents; constant vigilance; agents in disguise

That’s all I’ve got for you today, so let’s split up and meet back here once you’ve tamed one of these wild reads!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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