Paws by Kate Foster

Making friends as an adult is so hard. I look at my daughter and the kids at school and see how easily they make friends, sometimes by just asking to play together. I wish it was that easy as an adult. For some kids though, it isn’t easy to make friends, especially if they are neurodivergent. Alex, the main character in Kate Foster’s new middle grade novel, Paws, is autistic. He is desperate to make a friend before he goes to high school, and he’s got a plan to make sure he gets one.

Alex needs to make a friend, and fast. High school is just a few months away and he knows that if he makes a friend, high school will be a lot easier. For Alex though, making friends is really tricky. As an autistic person, he has trouble understanding people, especially when they use a facial expression he’s not familiar with or use a phrase that doesn’t make sense. Dogs are so much easier to understand, especially his cockapoo, Kevin. He always seems to know when Alex needs doggy kisses. Alex wants Jared, one of the popular kids, to be his friend. The Paws dog show is coming to town in five days, and Alex knows that if he can win a trophy with Kevin, Jared will want to be his friend. As the show draws closer, and the unexpected happens at school, Alex trains harder with Kevin. Will Alex win a trophy and make a friend or are friends closer than he thinks?

I absolutely adore Paws! It is a story filled with joy and doggy kisses galore. If I was a dog, I would be wagging my whole body with excitement right now because I love this book so much. It is one of my favourite stories about friendship, because Kate Foster shows us friendship in all its different forms. We see Alex trying to impress someone to try and be their friend, Alex making friends without even realising it, and the best friend relationship that exists between humans and dogs. Kate Foster gives us a glimpse of everyday life, through the eyes of her autistic character. Alex’s confusion about the phrases and facial expressions that neurotypical people in the story use, made me aware that there will be expressions that I use at school that neurodivergent students won’t understand. Reading Paws (and other recent books featuring neurodivergent characters) has made me think about how I can make my library a more friendly space for neurodivergent students.

I love Alex and his quest to make a friend. Alex has trouble understanding people sometimes, especially when they use a facial expression he’s not familiar with (like his teacher wiggling her eyebrows). Him and his dog Kevin though, understand each other perfectly. Alex knows what Kevin needs because he can read his body language, and Kevin knows what Alex needs, especially if he is upset or overstimulated. Dog kisses can solve just about anything! There is a strong bond between Alex and Kevin and it made my heart melt. One of the things that Alex is sensitive to is texture, and one of his favourite textures is the softness of Kevin’s fur and ears. Nuzzling with Kevin brings Alex comfort and calms him down. Kate’s descriptions of Alex rubbing his face in Kevin’s fur made me want my own dog to snuggle with. Alex desperately wants to make a friend, and he tries to make friends with Jared, a boy on his relay team who also loves the same game as him. Jared gives clues, that Alex doesn’t pick up, that he doesn’t want to be friends. The new kid, Derek, also likes the same game as Alex and has a cute dog called Vinnie. Alex becomes so focused on trying to win a trophy at the Paws dog show (to impress Jared so that he’ll be his friend) that he doesn’t realise he is already making friends around him.

The supporting cast of doggy characters in the book are super cute and they made me smile so many times. As well as Alex’s dog, Kevin the cockapoo, there is also Ned’s dog, Dennis the bulldog, and Derek’s dog, Vinnie the Jack Russell. I especially enjoyed the last part of the story with Alex and Derek at the Paws dog show with their dogs. The ending of the story is so perfect and left me grinning from ear to ear. Sarah Davis’ adorable illustration of Kevin on the front cover made me want to see illustrations of the other dogs in the story.

I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Paws like I did. It will make a wonderful read aloud for Years 5-8. The team at Walker Books Classroom have created some great Book Club Notes to go along with the book too, which includes a Q & A with Kate Foster.

Cricket Crazy by Vivienne Bailey

There is a serious lack of sports fiction for kids, especially books published in New Zealand. We seem to be good at publishing sports memoirs and celebrations of sports teams aimed at adults, but there is not much around for kids. Many of the sports-mad kids aren’t huge readers, but stories about sport are the perfect way to hook them in to books. Vivienne Bailey’s Cricket Crazy, published under the Ahoy! imprint from local publishers Cuba Press, is a wonderful and much-needed novel for kids, focusing on cricket.

Tom Willard is a cricket-crazy eleven-year-old, who dreams of making it big, like his cricket idols. For a while now, it’s just been him, his dad and his dog, Archie. Now his dad has a new girlfriend, called Tanya, who is spending more and more time with him and his dad. Things that used to be just for him and his dad, like cricket, now include Tanya. Tom doesn’t want someone new being part of their life, because he knows that things will change. Things go from bad to worse when Tom’s best friend, Fletcher, gets sick, Tom’s new cricket bat goes missing, and then he is dropped from his team. Tom knows he will have to train hard if he is to make it back on his team and help them get to the finals. Luckily, Tom finds a new friend in Izzy, an all-rounder who helps him improve his skills and get one step closer to his dreams.

Cricket Crazy is a great mix of sports action on and off the pitch and family dynamics. It is engaging for sports-mad kids, especially those who love cricket, and at just 110 pages, it is the perfect length for struggling or reluctant readers. The parts of the story that take place during matches are exciting and quite tense. Tom is a character that sporty kids will be able to relate to, with his focus on improving his skills, getting to the finals, and his rivalry with Menace Mitchell. There will be many readers who will be able to relate to Tom’s family life too, with someone new coming in to the family. From the start, Tom doesn’t like Tanya, and when Tanya starts trying to change things at home, Tom becomes more frustrated. Vivienne Bailey understands her audience well, especially the way that they speak. Tom and his friends feel authentic. Vivienne’s previous experience, working in school and public libraries, has obviously helped in writing this story.

Cricket Crazy is a great addition to primary and intermediate school libraries. I know it will fly off the shelves at my school! The wonderful cover, by Theo Macdonald, will certainly grab kids’ attention.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by L.D. Lapinski

I absolutely loved the first book in L.D. Lapinski’s The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series. A story about travelling to different worlds through suitcases is my kind of story (you can read my review here). After Flick and Jonathan’s first adventure, I was desperate to go back to Strangeworlds and see where they went next. The second book in the series, The Edge of the Ocean, has just been released and it was everything I hoped for, and more.

After arriving back home quite late from her adventure in the City of Five Lights, Flick is in a whole heap of trouble with her parents. She is grounded for the whole of the summer holidays. After bumping in to Jonathan in the supermarket Flick comes up with a plan to get back to Strangeworlds. Jonathan receives an urgent summons from Pirate Queen Nyfe, so Jonathan and Flick travel to the world of The Break. This is a world of ocean and islands, pirates and mer-people, but it is shrinking by the day. Magic is being taken from their world and bits of it are breaking off and disappearing. Queen Nyfe has summoned Jonathan in the hope that he can help the inhabitants of The Break escape before it is too late. When the suitcase is stolen from Flick they know that they need to retrieve it, otherwise no one will escape this world. Flick, Jonathan, and Avery must figure out how to save everyone, from the inhabitants to their ships, using just a small suitcase.

The Edge of the Ocean is a brilliant sequel, that adds depth to the story arc, while being a rip-roaring, page-turner of a story in its own right. It’s a story of a rescue mission, filled with adventure, mystery and magic. Like any rescue mission there are risks but Jonathan, Flick and Avery do anything they can to alleviate these. One of the things I loved most about the first book was Jonathan and Flick hopping through suitcases to show Flick new worlds. I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of this in this book, but I wasn’t disappointed. They still visit plenty of worlds while trying to find a new home for the inhabitants of The Break.

L.D. Lapinski ensures that her cast of characters is diverse and I really like that. Her characters are unique and interesting, and I love how you learn something new about them with each book. Jonathan is transgender, which was hinted at in the first book. I don’t think it is explicitly stated that he is transgender, but L.D. Lapinski has talked about this in interviews. It is also hinted, in this book, that Jonathan is gay (he has a slightly embarrassing interaction in the supermarket with a guy he knows from college). Flick develops feelings for Jonathan’s cousin Avery in this book (Avery feels the same) and it’s possible that their relationship could develop in the next book. I love the way that these details about the characters are just part of who they are, rather than it being explicit that they’re transgender or gay. There will be readers that hugely identify with Jonathan or Flick because of their identity and those who just love the characters because they’re brave, adventurous and funny.

Families are an important part of this book too. Flick’s family were scared and worried when she when she returned late from the City of Five Lights in the first book, and they ground her to keep her at home. Flick is then conscious that she can’t do the same thing again and let them down. Jonathan has been looking for his missing father for months, with no sign of him. The Pirate Queen gives him some information that leaves him distressed. Flick and Jonathan are themselves a little family, as they are part of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, and Jonathan’s cousin, Avery, joins them on this adventure. Without giving spoilers, there are also some intriguing family connections revealed in this book.

The ending of The Edge of the Ocean was incredibly exciting and made me desperate for the third book. I can’t wait to see where L.D. Lapinski takes us next!

Vi Spy: Licence to Chill by Maz Evans

I have to admit that I’ve never really enjoyed spy stories. I have plenty of kids at my school who love Alex Rider and a few who are really keen on the Cherub series, but I’ve never really been able to get in to them. Maz Evans’ Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is a completely different kind of spy story though, and one that is a whole lot of fun.

Valentine Day (or Vi for short) lives with her mum and her Nan, both of whom are famous secret agents who are now retired. When Vi was born, her mum (Easter) gave up her life of espionage in order to keep her daughter out of harm’s way. Easter, who now calls herself Susan, is about to marry Vi’s teacher, Mr Sprout. However, Vi’s dad has other plans. Her dad, Robert, also known as the supervillain Sir Charge, hasn’t been around for most of her life, but now he suddenly wants to be a part of it. Her dad tells her that he is turning over a new leaf and becoming a good guy and Vi wants to get to know him. Her mother is furious and wants Vi to have nothing to do with him. Vi knows what she wants – to go to the prestigious spy school, Rimmington Hall. Villains and heroes alike are after a dangerous piece of technology called Neurotrol and Vi knows that if she finds it, that will be her ticket to Rimmington Hall. With her parents distracted with their own problems, Vi must get her hands on the Neurotrol to prove she is worthy of becoming a spy.

Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is an entertaining thrill-ride of a book, with plenty of laughs along the way. This is a spy story unlike any I’ve read before, as it pokes fun at spies and villains. There is something in this book for all readers, from flatulent supervillains with stinky feet and super-spy grannies with gadgets galore, to dance-fighting parents and secret agent waiters. Maz Evans has clearly had a lot of fun writing this book!

I was laughing almost the whole way through this book. There are just so many funny moments, such hilarious characters and great dialogue. My favourite part of the book is Chapter 5, where Vi’s dad takes her to the cafe. While they enjoy their gelato and catch up, assassins are trying to take out Robert. The waiter is in the background, knocking out ninjas and diffusing dynamite, while Vi and Robert are clueless to what is happening. My favourite characters are the Ex-Villains Improvement League, a bunch of supervillains who are trying to go straight. There’s Doctor Doppleganger (a two-headed villain who argues with himself), Dimitri (the vampire), Auguste (the clown), and my favourite, Siren (the femme-fatale with a flatulence and body odour problem). The dialogue between these characters makes up some of the funniest parts of the story.

Vi is a great character who is super-relatable. She’s been sheltered her whole life, thanks to her over-protective mum, but now she has a chance to prove that she can look after herself. She is desperate to become a spy, and her mum’s reluctance just makes her even more determined. I love the relationship that Vi has with her Nan and the relationship that grows between her and the Sprouts.

Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is the first book in this new series and I’m excited to see how Vi grows as a spy. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Maz will make me laugh next.

There is a fantastic collection of resources for Vi Spy: Licence to Chill on the Chicken House Books website. Check out their Schools Hub page for chapter-by-chapter resources, videos from Maz Evans, an extract of the book, and a super cool Spy Kit activity book.

When We Got Lost in Dreamland by Ross Welford

What would you do if you had the power to control your dreams? Would you meet people that you would never be able to meet in real life? Would you have crazy adventures? In Ross Welford’s latest book, When We Got Lost in Dreamland, Malky discovers a device that allows him and his little brother, Seb, to share dreams and control them, which has disastrous consequences.

Malky has never really got on with his little brother, Seb. He’s the annoying little brother who always gets in the way. Their relationship changes one day, when Malky brings home the Dreaminators, seemingly harmless devices that hang over your bed and allow you to control your dreams. Malky has stolen them from the back yard of a house down the road from him, after a dare from a girl at school. At first, Malky thinks that they are just cheap and tacky, but after reading the instructions Malky and Seb try them out. They discover that they can share their dreams and control them. They can have fun in their dreams and if something gets too weird or scary, they can alter the dream or wake themselves up. The more dreams that Malky and Seb share, the closer they become, until the night that disaster strikes. While sharing a dream something scary happens, and while Malky escapes and wakes up, Seb remains lost in the dream. No matter what Malky or his family try Seb won’t wake up, so he is transferred to hospital. The doctors are perplexed about Seb’s condition and no one seems to believe Malky about the Dreaminators. Malky knows that he is the only one who can rescue Seb from the dream and he must own up to the theft of the Dreaminators in order to get help from its creator, Kenneth McKinley. Will Malky be able to save Seb before the doctors and his family pull the plug?

When We Got Lost in Dreamland is another wonderfully original story from Ross Welford. Like each of his books, this one makes you think, care deeply for the characters and makes you leap into the unknown. I love how Ross takes a seemingly impossible idea, like time travel or controlling dreams, and makes it happen. Ross throws you straight into the story and hooks you in with a taste of what is to come. Malky’s voice is clear from the first page and you want to keep reading to discover how things went so wrong.

One of the things that I love about Ross Welford’s books is the way that he uses foreshadowing. He teases little details of the story to make you keep reading, like ‘It turns out it’s all going to become a lot clearer, but not necessarily in a good way.’ He’s telling you that you will get answers to your questions eventually.

Relationships play a big part in this story, whether it is between Malky and Susan, Malky and Mr McKinley, Malky and Seb, or Malky and his dad. Malky isn’t sure about Susan at first but their relationship grows throughout the story as they are thrown together both in and out of school. She is different from anyone else that Malky knows but she becomes an important ally. Malky isn’t honest with Mr McKinley when they first meet, but the more that he gets to know Mr McKinley, the more important he becomes to helping Malky save his brother. Mr McKinley is a curious character who I enjoyed learning more about as the story progressed. Malky’s relationship with Seb changes the more they share dreams and Malky finds that he really does care about Seb. When Seb gets lost in Dreamland, Malky does whatever it takes to get him back again, including putting himself in danger. Malky’s relationship with his dad is quite strained and we learn there are complicated reasons why his dad hasn’t been part of his life for a while. The lack of trust that Malky’s dad has in him infuriated me.

When We Got Lost in Dreamland another fantastic book from one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend all of his books, which are great for class sets for Year 7/8. There is plenty in Ross’s books for readers to ponder and his characters stick with you.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold – extract and author intro

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold has just been released in NZ, in a beautiful hardback edition, with illustrations by Levi Penfold (the illustrator of the new editions of Harry Potter). The book sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read it. Here is the cover and blurb:

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

Hannah Gold says about her book:

The character of Bear came to me first. I can’t remember when or how, but suddenly he was gazing at me with his dark chocolate eyes and a forlorn, pleading expression on his face. I’ve always found it impossible to ignore animals, particularly ones as magnificent, regal and bighearted as Bear. There was a story he had to tell, and I, apparently, was the one to tell it. When I wrote this book, most of the children’s books about climate change were dystopian. But I believe it’s not too late and that’s why I was keen to tell a story that showed how one girl, even a very little one, could create a huge impact. You don’t need to single-handedly rescue a polar bear like April (I wouldn’t advise that!), but I hope this book encourages every reader to believe that he or she can help. And if, like me, you’ve fallen in love with Bear, then the best way to help polar bears and protect our beautiful planet is to do everything you can to fight climate change. With a loud enough roar, I know we can make a difference.

You can watch a short video of Hannah introducing the book and the book trailer below. You can also read an extract of Chapter One.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and illustrated by Levi Penfold is available in NZ now.

Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest series by Maureen Crisp

There are lots of great series available now for newly independent readers to choose from. There are books about monsters, fairies, horrible boys, unicorns, stinky dinosaurs and much more. Something there isn’t a lot of for younger readers is mystery books. This is where Maureen Crisp’s wonderful Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest series comes in.

Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest follows a circus troupe who have been together for many years, but believe this year may be their last together. In the first book in the series, The Playbill, they receive an invitation to the circus conclave (a gathering of circus troupes) from The Puzzle Master. However, they must solve the clues to discover its location. Monsieur Charles has said that if they received the invitation this year, it would be his last as head of the circus, which would mean the circus would split up. Everyone agrees to do anything they can to solve the clues and try to save their circus. Last year, the clues were stolen, so this year it is up to Kestrel to keep the clues hidden and safe. Meanwhile, Stanley, one of the circus workers, is being paid by a shadowy figure to make some accidents happen to try and shut down the circus. Kestrel must work together with his brother Peregrine and his friend Skye to solve the clue and figure out where to find the next one. The second book, Magician’s Moustache, follows Monsieur Charles’ circus as they travel to the island of Papenton to perform and try to solve the second clue.

Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest is a clever and fun series for younger readers. It’s a series that gives younger readers a taste of mystery and adventure, but at a level that they can understand. Kids will enjoy trying to solve the clue in each book and figure out what exactly the clue means. Maureen has written the books in such a way that you don’t find out the answer to the clue until the next book. That way you have to read the next book to find out if you’re right. I was a bit stumped by the clue in book 1 but when I started book 2 it was clear straight away.

There is something in the books for all readers, whether they want mystery, adventure, laughs, suspense, or interesting characters. I’ve read the first two books in the series but I need to know what happens to the circus so I’ll be hunting down the other books. There are currently five books in the series, with another five planned. You can buy them from The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie or from Wheelers.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

B.B. Alston’s debut middle grade novel, Amari and the Night Brothers, has been one of my most anticipated books of 2021. It feels like forever that I’ve had it on my to-be-read list. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and lots of marketing to get it in front of readers. After having just finished it, I can confirm that it is totally worth the hype. This is the first book in a new series that will have readers, including myself, counting down the weeks, days and minutes until the next book in the series is released.

Amari has a scholarship to a prestigious school, where she is constantly reminded how much she doesn’t fit in. She is picked on constantly because she lives in the wrong part of town and she’s Black. She lives with her mum, and until recently, her brother Quinton. Her brother is currently missing and nobody seems to be doing anything to try and find him. Amari receives a package from her brother, with an invitation to attend an interview at the place where he worked. Thanks to her brother’s nomination, Amari is introduced to a world that she never knew existed. Amari joins the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, an organisation charged with protecting the known world from the world of the unknown. Her eyes are now open to the weirdness of the world and she can see the supernatural creatures around her that are hiding in plain sight. Amari must be awarded a badge and decide which part of the organisation that she would like to belong to. At the badge ceremony, Amari is identified as a magician, something that is illegal in the supernatural world. Amari now finds herself even more of an outcast than she was at her school and she has to try and prove to those around her that she isn’t evil. Amari decides to try out for a position as a Junior Agent for the Department of Supernatural Investigations, following in her brother’s footsteps. Her brother was one of the most famous Junior Agent’s before he disappeared, leaving few clues behind about his disappearance. While facing the three try-outs to become a Junior Agent, Amari makes it her mission to find out more about her brother and his disappearance. Together with her new friends, Amari must use her new skills and the information she gathers to stop the Night Brothers and their apprentice from getting their hands on a weapon that could bring about the end of the world.

Amari and the Night Brothers is an addictive read that is bursting with magic and imagination. I was hooked from the start and constantly marveled by B.B. Alston’s imagination. Reading this gave me the same tingles that I got reading Nevermoor, because the world is so fully realised and it’s full of really clever and funny details. The story is action-packed and you care about the characters, so you keep turning the pages because you need to know what happens. Even when you get to the end of the story it’s still exciting because you know that you’ve only just scratched the surface of this world and what is going on, so there will be (hopefully) many more books to come. Amari is just coming in to her powers and figuring out who she is, so you know that she is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Amari has grown up in a neighbourhood where she didn’t have much, but she did have her family. Whether it is at Jefferson Academy, where she is picked on because of the colour of her skin and where she lives, or at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where she is an outcast as a magician, Amari is told that she isn’t good enough.

It’s kind of like how being a Black kid from the projects makes Mr. Jenson feel the need to watch me extra close every time I come in his store. Or how surprised my scholarship interviewers were that I could speak so well. People assume stuff about you based on things you can’t change about yourself.

Amari just does her ‘best to prove them wrong, to be the person they’re not expecting.’ She does this throughout the book, trying to prove that she is worthy to have a place in the Bureau and that she isn’t the evil magician they think she is.

The Bureau is a fascinating place and I really enjoyed learning about the different parts of it and the way that it operates. It seems like one of those places that you would never really know everything about. There are so many different floors and areas and we only see a handful of them in this first book. I particularly enjoyed the Department of the Unexplained, which has a room called the Origin of Both the Chicken and the Egg. Each of the elevators has a different personality too, from ones that sing opera to ones that like to prank kids.

There are lots of quirky details that give this world depth (and make me laugh). There is a gossip magazine called Rumours and Whisperings, in which one of the headlines is ‘Dwarves insulted by Merlin’s insinuation that golden city is merely gold-plated.’ Amari and her friends sneak out to the All-Souls Festival in the story and discover the Sweet Dreams tent, where you can purchase liquids that give you the dreams that you want. They have titles like Richest Person in the World and Sweet, Sweet Revenge.

Amari and the Night Brothers is the perfect book to recommend to anyone who loves Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series or Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series. Anyone who loves stories with magic, superpowers, secret organisations, the supernatural or the unexplained will love Amari and the Night Brothers. I can’t wait to see where B.B. Alston takes us next!

Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher

Do you know a kid that’s read all of the Dog Man books multiple times? Do you want to keep that reading spark alive by giving them something similar? You need to get your hands on John Gallagher’s meow-tastic new graphic novel series, Max Meow: Cat Crusader.

Max was just an ordinary cat, with a pretty average internet show, until the day that he accidentally eats a piece of space meatball and gets superpowers. His scientist friend Mindy discovered the meatball on her travels in space and brought it back to earth to investigate. Now Max can fly and has super strength, so he becomes the Cat Crusader and protects Kittyopolis. Agent M, Reggie and their boss, Big Boss, want to get their hands on Mindy and her space meatball so it’s up to Max to figure out this superhero thing and save the day. Oh, and stop the giant mini-golf monsters while he’s at it!

Meow-za! Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a super fun, action-packed read that will have kids and adults begging for more. There’s something in this book for everyone – superpowers, cats, villains, a robot with daddy issues, monsters, cliff-hanger endings and laughs galore. I had to read this over just two nights to my 5 year old daughter because she couldn’t stand waiting to know what happened in the next chapter. John Gallagher sets that up perfectly by ending each chapter with questions, like ‘WHAT will Mindy show Max? WHY is there a floating whale in Mindy’s lab?’ It’s one of the first graphic novels I’ve read aloud and it works so well. We giggled along together and each picked up different things in the illustrations.

John’s illustrations have heaps of kid appeal. They’re bright, colourful, and full of action and expression. John hasn’t let himself be constricted by the panels, as the action and characters often flow through or burst into other panels, and even right off the page.

The humour works on lots of different levels too. John uses puns in the text and there are plenty of visual gags. There are jokes for the kids and jokes for the adults. I especially enjoyed the character of Cody the dog, who doesn’t say anything but always gives a thumbs up. I also really like Reggie the robot who can’t seem to stop referring to Agent M as Daddy.

Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a must-have graphic novel for all primary and intermediate school libraries. It will be snapped up straight away and it’s popularity will spread like wildfire. Kids will be begging for the next book in the series, which is due out here in NZ in July. My daughter and I can’t wait for Max Meow: Donuts and Danger!

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Imagine if clothes could affect your mood or change aspects of your personality. A hat could give you a confidence boost, give you a dash of bravado, help you sleep or fall in love. In Tamzin Merchant’s enchanting debut middle grade book, The Hatmakers, clothes have these magical properties and their creators are highly valued craftspeople.

Cordelia is part of the Hatmaker family. For centuries her family have been the creators of the headpieces worn by the British royal family. They use their skills to create hats that keep the monarchs level-headed, improve their concentration and help them negotiate peace. They use materials from plants, birds, and insects to create their masterpieces. The Bootmakers, Cloakmakers, Glovemakers and Watchmakers also create their masterpieces, that come together to form the Royal Garb. While the clothes have power individually, they are more powerful if all of them are worn at the same time. However, a rift between the families has left them untrusting of each other. The Hatmakers work their magic, not only for the royal family, but for anyone who needs a special hat to improve their life. When Cordelia receives word that her father’s ship has been wrecked and he is missing, she knows that he can’t be dead. She knows that she needs to ask the king to send a ship to find him. The King, however, is acting rather strangely indeed. It is hoped that a special hat will return the king to normal, but when this doesn’t work, the king’s advisor, Lord Witloof, suggests a holiday by the sea might help and puts Princess Georgina in charge. Cordelia knows that she must convince the princess to send a ship to find her father but every attempt to ask for her help is thwarted. Meanwhile, each of the Maker’s houses are broken into and their precious materials, needed for making their creations, are stolen. Cordelia is accused of being the thief and so she sets out to discover the true thief. She uncovers a plot that will set England at war with France, and when the rest of her family are imprisoned, it is up to Cordelia and her friends to foil the plot and save her family.

The Hatmakers is tantalisingly good! From the moment I picked up this book I was captivated by its magic and I didn’t want to put it down. Tamzin takes us back to a time to a London filled with horse and carts, Lords and Ladies, scruffy orphans and lavish palaces. While it seems familiar, it is also a London filled with magic, where clothes can make a person who they wish to be. As with all magic there is a dark side to this creation of garments, and one particular outfit will make your skin crawl. There are plenty of twists in the story to keep you guessing, with many of the characters not who they first appear to be.

There are so many things I loved about this book. Tamzin is a gifted storyteller, whose words wrap you up in a comforting blanket. I became immersed in her story as soon as I started reading and the language that she uses paints a vivid picture of her world. The idea of clothes being created, with special ingredients entwined in them and added to them to give them certain properties, is just amazing. It is fascinating to read the descriptions of Cordelia’s aunts and uncle creating the different aspects of the hats. Cordelia is left in charge of the hat shop in one part of the story and she knows that she is not allowed to create new hats. However, she has several customers who come in to the shop needing specific hats. This was my favourite part of the book, as Cordelia creates hats for them (even though she knows she shouldn’t) and the hats have unexpected consequences. Two young men, who need a hat to help them win a pistol duel, get hats of a different kind, and an actor gets more than a cure for stage fright. I love the idea of food being a kind of magic too. The Hatmaker’s Cook suggests that food is a kind of magic because it ‘can heal all manner of maladies.’

Tamzin’s glossary at the back of the book adds even more to the story. The glossary is fascinating and lists the ingredients that are ‘most potent and valuable for apprentice hat makers.’ Each ingredient is named, with a description of what it looks like or where it comes from, and what property it possesses. The Sicilian Leaping Bean ‘gives the wearer a sense of levity and gladness of heart,’ the Feather of the Athenian Owl ‘can be used for cleverness, concentration and contemplation,’ and Mellow Daisies ‘promote a happy-go-lucky attitude and a sunny outlook.’ I could imagine a faded, leather-bound book filled with these descriptions and drawings of the ingredients for identification.

Paola Escobar’s cover and internal illustrations are like the ingredients added to the Hatmaker hats. They give the book an extra magical quality. Paolo’s cover illustration invites you in to the world of the Hatmakers and his internal illustrations give you glimpses of the characters and the events of the story. I love that Paolo has even topped the Hatmaker house with giant hats.

The ending perfectly wraps up the story but leaves the promise of more adventures to come. I’m already dying to get back to the world of The Hatmakers and find out what happens next.