Review: Gormless Gods and Hapless Heroes: Tim Baker and the Ancient Curse by Stella Tarakson

The first in what promises to be an epic series.

Publication date: 6th April 2017
Publisher: Sweet Cherry Publishing

Funny, compelling and oddly educational, Gormless Gods and Hapless Heroes: Tim Baker and the Ancient Curse blends realism and fantasy seamlessly. When Tim Baker accidentally broke his mother’s priceless, ancient vase, he expected to get a telling off not his own resident hero! As Hercules bursts through the life of the 21st century school boy like a bull in a china shop, Tim learns a little something about how to navigate his own life himself.

Tim and Hercules are a dynamic duo of entertainment. They are well-constructed characters, that Stella Tarakson truly brings to life. Tim is multi-faceted, and his reaction to Hercules’ takeover of his life is constructed in a sensitive and realistic way. Likewise, Hercules and Tim’s mum – who may have run the risk of fitting into stereotypes of the ‘meathead’ hero and ‘no-fun’ mum – demonstrate an unexpected breadth of character. Tarakson’s characterisation alone is a joy to experience, and the book just gets better and better.

Mythologically, it brings in more than I expected it to. The story juxtaposes the original labours of Hercules with the trials of being an awkward young boy trying to support both himself and his mother. Lesser known labours, such as the Augean stables, make a welcome appearance. Perhaps I was ready to be confronted by another portrayal of Hercules as per Disney or Kevin Sorbo, but what I got instead is a genuine adaptation of the original hero.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a school-and-friendship-based novel, and are open to the fantastical, mythological world the flows through it. It is the first in a series, and it ends with a cliffhanger, so I am excited to see how it develops! This is solid middle grade at its best.

 

Review: The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan

Myth and reality intermingle in a refreshing representation of Damascus.

Publication date: 11th April 2016
Publisher: Lantana Publishing

The Jasmine Sneeze is a fantastically vibrant read which takes the reader through a world of senses, accompanied by a comical cat. Sauntering through the city of Damascus, the reader follows Haroun on his quest to appease the Jasmine Spirit.

I haven’t read such a satisfying picture book in a while. The story flows perfectly and has just the right balance of conflict and character progression. Haroun is thoroughly likeable – despite being a bit of a grump when it comes to jasmine – and the Jasmine spirit is portray wonderfully. She has a childlike quality, both quick to anger and quick to forgive. A real joy to follow.

The illustrations are mesmerising, with bright block colours and complementary shades. Kaadan creates a magical landscape and brings Damascus to life. Haroun is adorable and humorous, and you can almost smell the jasmine. The only thing I might note, is that the font can be distracting: a simple sans serif which can seem incongruous in its colourful surroundings.

I recommend this as a wonderful feel-good book. It cannot fail to entertain readers of all ages and genders. There are quite a few words, so it might not be perfect for very early readers, but it can easily be read by more confident children or with an adult. All in all, definitely a book worth owning.

Review: The Queen’s Handbag by Steve Antony

An illustrated tour of the UK.

Publication date: 5th May 2016
Publisher: Hachette Children’s

The Queen’s Handbag is the fantastic sequel to The Queen’s Hat. However, this time, instead of chasing the Queen’s belongings around London, there is a royal tour of Great Britain. The result is a hilarious – and educational – book, with so much to dwell on at each wonderful double spread.

A swan stealing a handbag might not sound like a premise for a book, but when the handbag belongs to the Queen of England it’s a whole other story. The pursuit of the bag allows the reader to follow the Queen throughout the UK, stopping off at famous landmarks as they go. The different modes of transport the Queen uses to go after the swan are ingenious, and as much a source of interest as the places she sees.

Antony’s illustrations are unmissable. They really bring the book to life, and the police chase gaining on the thieving swan is a joy to watch unfold. The landmarks are drawn simply but expertly, and the composition of each spread is a work of art.

I recommend this book mostly to UK readers, but there’s no reason why a curious child living elsewhere wouldn’t enjoy it. It could definitely be a great introduction to the UK if you’re planning a trip there. Overall, it’s a really enjoyable book which can be read again and again.

 

Review: The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst

A bit like Inside Out but without the Hollywood whirlwind.

Publication date: 5th February 2015
Publisher: Walker Books

The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head is a wonderful book which really touches on the anger and confusion that comes with losing a best friend. After Simon moves away, Isabel is needs to learn how to spend time on her own. This turns into an attempt to ignore her loneliness by creating an organisational system wherein she categorises everything from books to wolves. The spiral of accumulating boxes is broken by the discovery of a new friend.

Hirst’s use of the almost obsessional image of Isabel separating all of her things into boxes is poignant. Amidst the emotional turmoil, Isabel is trying to find meaning and clarity, but ends up simply putting her “wolves” into boxes rather than confronting them. This is such a sensitive representation of the child’s inner world when their life changes drastically. The emphasis on an imaginary world further reinforces the internal nature of the boxes. With the introduction of a new friend, Isabel is able to release her creativity again, and expand it.

The illustrations suit the book perfectly. They have a childish quality which complements the raw sentiments behind the story, and a playfulness which really accentuates the concerns raised. It is also really good to see characters of colour represented in such a lovely way.

I recommend this book to anyone struggling with losing  a friend, or simply to readers who enjoy a considerate and unique picture book exploring children’s emotional worlds.