Book review: All the world’s a stage as the nights draw in

Drama school dreams come to life as independent publishers Troika Books raise the curtain on a new season of enchanting reading for children.

Tuesday, 11th November 2014, 9:00 am
All the worlds a stage as the nights draw in
All the worlds a stage as the nights draw in

Master storyteller Michelle Magorian, the best-selling author of Goodnight Mister Tom, plays a blinder with an exciting adventure of a young wannabe actress, Jess Renison sweeps us away to a performing academy by the sea and poetess extraordinaire Hilda Offen knocks ’em dead with some glorious rhymes.

Age 10 plus:

Impossible! by Michelle Magorian

A nostalgic backdrop, an intriguing mystery and the enthralling world of the theatre take starring roles in a wonderful new book from Costa Prize winner Michelle Magorian.

An actress as well as an author, Magorian uses her own theatrical experiences and the work of stage stalwart Joan Littlewood, founder of the groundbreaking Theatre Workshop Company, as the inspiration for a page-turning story set in 1960s London.

Exasperated with the buttoned up attitudes of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Littlewood set about transforming the training of actors and explored a more truthful and risk-taking approach to acting.

Her Theatre Workshop Company performed all over Britain and she found a home for them in a down-at-heel theatre in Stratford East, London, where they performed both classics and the work of new writers such as Brendan Behan and Shelagh Delaney.

Harnessing fact and fiction, Magorian brings us the endearing and feisty 12-year-old tomboy schoolgirl Josie Hollis from a London theatrical family who is determined to become a famous actress herself.

The problem is that teachers at her snooty finishing-style stage school have told her in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t have any acting ability. Still determined to be famous, Josie finds herself cast as a boy in an American comedy but it’s not all plain sailing when she is mistaken for the star and kidnapped and imprisoned in a dockside warehouse.

Josie manages to escape and she and a fellow runaway take refuge in the Theatre Royal in London. They are offered work by the legendary Joan Littlewood and much to Josie’s surprise and delight, this leads to a role in a Saturday morning film.

However, the dangerous kidnappers haven’t given up yet and they are soon hot on Josie’s trail…

Impossible! packs in all the drama of a real-life stage production with its colourful cast of characters, authentic backdrop and nail-biting suspense.

Take a bow, Ms Magorian, for a marvellous production…

(Troika, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

Mysteries at Starlight Academy by Jess Renison

And there’s more excitement and drama at exotic Starlight Academy, a fairy tale castle by the sea where dreams come true for girls with a passion for performing.

Mysteries at Starlight Academy comes courtesy of Ragged Bears, a publishing division specialising in well-produced, educational and entertaining children’s books, and is the first of a delightful new series from Jess Renison.

It’s the summer term and Cassie March is looking forward to getting back to her boarding school, Starlight Academy, and choreographing the Liesel and Rolf duet for the big production of The Sound of Music.

But Cassie can’t stop wondering what’s wrong with Freya who has been grumpy for months. Cassie is determined to get to the source of Freya’s troubles but when her friend suddenly confesses all while they’re squashed together in a trunk during a game of sardines, the mystery only grows.

Shortly afterwards Carlo – the judge from Friday Night Fever who has put headteacher Mrs Frost in a spin – appears on the scene to choose who will play the part of Maria and events take an ever more surprising turn.

Amidst trips to the beach and rehearsals for The Sound of Music, Cassie falls into an unlikely new friendship with rebellious dancer Jamila Seagrave who has troubles of her own. She’s from a famous American dancing dynasty but she’s got secrets to hide.

So what really happened at Jamila’s last school and why has she suddenly appeared at Starlight? With so many mysteries to unravel, Cassie doesn’t find much time for her old friends… until a fateful trip to a cave by the sea changes everything.

Packed with thrills and spills, fun and friendships, tensions and tantrums and dreams and drama, Cassie’s adventures at Starlight Academy are perfect for any young performer with their sights set on fame.

(Ragged Bears, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears by Hilda Offen

There’s smiles all round as award-winning children’s author and illustrator Hilda Offen gets into a jolly rhythm with her lively and lovely new book of poems.

There is a rhyme for everyone in this delicious mix of original nursery rhymes and poems guaranteed to entertain children and adults alike.

Divided into four sections – Wild Things, That’s Ridiculous, Out and About and Home Again – Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears celebrates the enduring glory of rhythm and rhyme, and marks Offen’s first collection of her own poems in true fun-loving style.

The young-at-heart, quirky poetry celebrates the wonder, variety and infinite possibilities of a child’s world and aims to inspire youngsters to write their own verse.

Full of the raucous humour and madcap antics of traditional children’s nursery rhymes, and Offen’s appealing illustrations, these original poems make an ideal and inspirational gift.

(Troika, paperback, £5.99)