Sensory exploration and overcoming fears
Where do you go with your family during your summer vacation? Could it be as bad as the stay abroad inflicted on Stan, the introverted hero of Charlie Higson’s new novel? Worst. Vacation. Never. (Puffin, £ 6.99, 8+)?
Stan is the kind of kid who has a Duck It List, instead of a Bucket List: a list of “all the horrible, terrible, horrible, embarrassing, dangerous, scary, and stupid things you need to avoid,” which includes bungee jumping, dancing, fighting alligators and “going on vacation with strangers”.
So when his mother announces that they are leaving for Italy with a crowd of foreigners, Stan goes into panic mode. Although he put him in this situation, his mother has devised some helpful strategies to avoid total disaster in case there is an emergency, covering everything from strange food to shark attacks.
Higson writes sensitively about Stan’s shyness, using humor to dispel his building anxiety. Stan may have 30 (valid) reasons for not going on vacation, but by the end of the book, he’s learned a lot about his ability to overcome his fears.
The protagonist of David O’Doherty The summer I robbed a bank (Puffin, 8+, € 6.99), is the disturbing Rex, 12, “the scariest scary cat” in sixth grade. His parents have separated, high school is looming, and he has been sent to his strange uncle Derm on Achill Island for the summer. However, Derm is exactly the kind of influence Rex needs to overcome his fears. He’s the kind of uncle who makes extraordinary things happen, whose behavior requires the invention of new words, like “shocksplosion” and “bloob”. He is also, thankfully, Rex’s favorite person. An unlikely friendship with the fearless Kitty and a mobile banking heist ensues, as Rex learns to trust his own instincts. O’Doherty’s story is rich in quirky detail and slapstick chaos, which often involves the most humorous Irish animals: sheep!
More hilarious holiday disasters abound in Jim Beckett The caravan on the brink of destiny (Farshore, £ 6.99, 10+). Harley is on vacation with her two grandparents when her summer plans go awry as Pops, Gran, Grandpa and Nana explode, exposing a portal of doom in their portable toilets and their true identities as guardians of the Land of the Dead. . When Harley’s little brother crosses the threshold, Harley realizes she only has 30 hours to save him. So begins a crazy comedic adventure with unexpected twists and a thrilling time limit that adds to the pace dramatically. Olia Muza’s scattered portraits offer visual glimpses of Beckett’s grotesque underworld: from the multi-member Optimugoon to the mellow Beast Guardian of the First Task.
The natural, rather than unnatural, world is at the heart of MG Leonard’s new mid-level adventure book, Tic (Walker, £ 6.99, 7+). Jack is known as Twitch to local bullies, due to his nervous blinking habit. Bullies might not know it, but Jack doesn’t really care about the nickname: “his grandfather told him a tic was a bird watcher who cared about rare birds,” and rare birds are one of Jack’s favorite things. One day, out with his binoculars in the local forest, Jack accidentally sees an escaped convict looking for the treasure he buried before being locked up. With the help of his pigeon sidekicks, Frazzle and Scabby, Jack manages to outsmart him and the local bullies, and his belief that it’s better to be smart than cool is perfectly justified. Leonard crafted a clever mystery out of unlikely materials, with additional facts about the birds.
A bird is being born at Rascal’s Pablo (Gecko Press, £ 10.99, 3+). It is a shy little thing, hesitant in its hatching. It begins by drilling a small hole, then another and another, freeing its eyes, its beak, its wings to the world, allowing every inconspicuous part of its nascent feathered body to acclimate to the environment outside its shell. In Antony Shugar’s translation, the story becomes a sensory exploration and it sings. However, it’s Rascal’s clever illustrations with their simple layers that really help the chick capture the heart of the young reader. Even the cover pages are a visual delight.
Nila Aye’s detailed illustrations make Benjamin Zephaniah Nature trail (Orchard, £ 12.99, 2+) stand out in this knee-high journey through a back garden, underground and undergrowth. Aye creates dapper costumes for each animal character and even the most obnoxious insect is made colorful and cute: have you ever seen a woodlouse in a top hat? You have to. Meanwhile, the sweet rhymes of Zephaniah keep us turning the pages until night falls and “the dragonflies come humming.” It’s a perfect bedtime reminder on bright summer nights that it is, indeed, time to sleep.