Book review: Shola the dog and other half-term boredom busters

A diverse selection of enthralling children’s books is all ready and waiting to help prevent bad weather and boredom defeating the fun of half-term week.

Tuesday, 29th October 2013, 9:00 am
The adventures of Shola
The adventures of Shola

Whether it’s a wise little dog who believes ‘leads are for losers,’ a boy spy who faces the indignity of going undercover as a girl or a barn owl in a flap over losing his home, there is a book here to inform, entertain and amuse.

Age 7 plus:

The Adventures of Shola by Bernardo Atxaga and Mikel Valverde

Say hello to Shola, a little dog who is big on attitude! This Spanish-born bundle of fun is the newest and cuddliest canine on the block and guaranteed to have you wrapped around her paw before you can say her favourite word… ‘discombobulated!’

Shola, the adorable creation of award-winning Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga, has been welcomed into the world of English-speaking children by Pushkin Children’s Books whose aim is to share tales from different languages and cultures with young readers, and to open the door to new and colourful landscapes.

She may look like an ordinary white pet dog but, as her long-suffering owner Señor Grogó knows only too well, Shola is actually a highly cultivated creature and she is out to prove that no adventure or challenge is too tough.

In fact, the world is Shola’s playground – or rather, her jungle – and she is ever ready to discover her inner lioness or to lead the pack on a wild-boar hunt. If only home-made cheese and finely cooked, delicious, marvellous, near-miraculous chips were not quite so tempting, the world would recognise her for the heroic dog she truly is.

Because, frustratingly for Shola, she loves both comfort (mainly in the form of food) and adventure (in theory, at least), and spends much of her time trying to decide between the two.

In these four charming, funny and heart-warming stories, beautifully packaged and affectionately and cleverly illustrated by Mikel Valverde, Shola finds soul-mates in unexpected places. From her mouse-mad cousin Angeliño to Señor Grogó’s rodeo-chasing Aunt Clementine from Wyoming, nobody can help but agree with Shola in the end.

Valverde’s lively, witty illustrations provide an endearing accompaniment to the adventures of this cute little dog whose facial expressions are truly a work of art.

Her tendency to ruminate speaks volumes about the philosophy of life, not too much to over-burden young brains but enough to encourage them to think for themselves and gain a rudimentary understanding of moral values and self-awareness.

Charmingly different and full of charisma, Shola will amuse readers young and old as she sets out to prove that small dogs are not to be messed with. Unless, of course, it’s dinner time… and then everything can wait!

(Pushkin Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)


Young, Gifted and Dead by Lucy Carver

There’s plenty of high school high drama in Yorkshire-born Lucy Carver’s gripping teen debut novel featuring murder and mayhem at an academy for the young, gifted and very, very rich.

Carver has her finger firmly on the pulse of teenage angst in this dark, atmospheric thriller which weaves a rollercoaster journey through the repercussions from a young girl’s mysterious death.

You can’t get into St Jude’s Academy unless you’re gifted, talented and supremely rich. New girl Alyssa Stephens is on a scholarship and feels like an outsider. After all, she reckons she’s not even that clever, apart from her photographic memory, and some would claim that that was cheating.

Then one day her charismatic room-mate Lily Earle is found floating face down in the school lake. It looks like suicide but, torn apart with guilt and grief, Alyssa is convinced that things aren’t as they seem.

Soon a jolted memory puts her on the trail of a sinister secret that might hold the clues to Lily’s suspicious death. But Alyssa is in too deep and she’s being watched…

Ideal for fans of The Gallagher Girls, Young, Gifted and Dead is an impressive debut which explores many contemporary issues whilst delivering a fast-moving, edgy and absorbing whodunit.

(Macmillan, paperback, 6.99)

Age 10 plus:

Blueberry Wishes by Kelly McKain

Back with the third in her deliciously heart-warming Rainbow Beauty series about a girl following her dreams is Kelly McKain, author of the popular Totally Lucy books.

These fun and lively stories about a family who have set up a home-made cosmetics business against the odds are full of dramatic highs and lows and perfect for girls on the cusp of teenagehood.

Abbie has always loved her lotions and potions but it was only when her family’s money troubles hit an all-time low that she decided to turn that love into something more. With her big sisters, Grace and Saff, and a little help from new friends Ben and Summer, she set her dream in motion.

Abbie’s new project – the Rainbow Beauty Parlour – lifted her spirits and it meant she could spend quality time with her mum and sisters.

Now the family are loving their new lives in sunny Devon, Abbie is enjoying being with Ben, Summer and gorgeous Marco, and the parlour is going from strength to strength, thanks to Abbie’s scrummy lotions and potions.

But when a swanky new spa starts to steal their customers, their fortunes come crashing down and the family faces its biggest storm yet. Can Abbie save Rainbow Beauty Parlour before it’s too late...or is this one wish too far?

With realistic dialogue, vibrant characters and a storyline that is both relevant and appealing to young girls, this is a series grounded in reality but with plenty of excitement, adventure and young romance to keep the pages turning.

A story to warm hearts and put every girl’s dreams in the spotlight…

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

Jack and the German Spy by Bernard Ashley

Wartime proves an exciting and atmospheric backdrop for an adventure story centred on a 12-year-old boy evacuated to a rural village from London.

It’s 1939 and a mass evacuation of London’s children is about to begin. That includes Jack Bell who would much rather stay on the streets of Woolwich, bombs or no bombs, than go and hide out in the countryside.

When he arrives in Mardenhurst, which seems a million miles from ‘dear old Woolwich,’ he is billeted with the aristocratic Lady Ashwell who patriotically sweeps him off to grand Ashwell Hall and Jack decides he’ll stay after all.

It’s a learning curve though for young Jack who is shown how to hold a knife and fork amongst other things and he soon becomes good friends with Lady Ashwell’s son Clive who teaches him how to fight dirty.

Constantly on the watch for spies, the two boys from very different backgrounds team up to unmask a sinister enemy when events turn nasty one night...

Ashley has drawn on his own childhood experiences of war in books such as Johnnie’s Blitz and now in Jack and the German Spy which serves up thrills and spills as well as a warm and memorable portrayal of two boys whose loyalty, friendship and understanding cross class boundaries.

(Troika Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights by Kate Scott

Is it a boy? Is it a girl? No, I spy a spy in dress and tights!

Kate Scott, master spy creator and author of children’s books, children’s television programmes, radio plays and verse, has come in from the cold to bring young readers an especially special espionage adventure.

Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights is the first of what promises to be a series of classic comedy capers with a hilarious, pitch-perfect story about a boy who discovers his parents are spies but must dress up as a girl to fool the enemy.

Funny, fast-moving and exciting, Scott’s brand of hilarious heroics are full of excitement and tension and ideal for reluctant young readers.

When Joe discovers his parents are spies, it seems like the start of a wonderful adventure until he discovers that they are in danger and must change their names and identities. Joe will become Josephine and will start a new school as … A GIRL! Joe is quite to prepared to change his name to Reginald, Brian or even Nigel but Josephine… definitely not!

He had expected to be plunged into a James Bond style world of car chases, spy gadgets, cool black outfits, first class plane travel and fizzy drinks by swimming pools but instead he’s been told he must dress up as a girl to throw their pursuers off the scent.

However, it’s the only way to save his mum and dad so a very miserable ‘Josephine’ heads off to his new school in a blond wig, dress and tights. But soon he has a spy mission of his own. Using a host of unusual gadgets, Joe investigates some suspicious goings-on. The problem is, can he do the job without revealing his true identity?

Imaginative and clever, Spies in Disguise will have youngsters laughing out loud and begging for more!

(Piccadilly, paperback, £5.99)

Barmy Barney Barn Owl by Ann Jungman and Marion Lindsay

Former teacher and publisher Ann Jungman is on a mission to help save endangered barn owls and has harnessed the wing power of Barney to help her battle take flight.

Barn owls have lived in the barn at Hoden Farm for as long as anyone can remember but times are changing and developer Greedy Mr Grasspit wants to knock down their barn.

Grandma Millicent and Aunt Em have already been made homeless so when Barney realises it might happen to them too, he is determined to save the family home. He befriends Sally the farmer’s daughter and learns to talk. Not all humans are friendly though and soon Barney is kidnapped. But he is a bright little owl and uses his skills not only to escape but also to develop a marvellous new career. The sky’s the limit for Barney now!

In 1932 it was estimated that there were 12,000 barn owl pairs in Britain but by the late 1990s this had dropped to only 4,000 pairs. Jungman hopes Barmy Barney Barn Owl’s thrilling adventures will encourage children to find out more about these wonderful birds and the work of the Barn Owl Trust ( to save them.

(Troika Books, paperback, £5.99)

Age 2 plus:

Miss Dorothy-Jane Was Ever So Vain by Julie Fulton

Musician Julie Fulton hits just the right note – again – in the third book of her addictive, rhyming Ever So Series set in the funny, fictional town of Hamilton Shady.

A combination of colourful, quirky characters, bold illustrations by Jona Jung and sing-along rhyming verse make these picture books a favourite with younger children.

Dorothy-Jane thinks her good looks and stylish clothes make her popular. However when she is on her way to Hamilton Shady’s Best Lady Competition, she sees a little black dog in danger of drowning in a pond and decides she must put aside her vanity to save the day. Dorothy-Jane is sure she’ll never ever be clean again, with weeds on her toes and slime on her nose, but that doesn’t matter any more because she’s now everybody’s favourite person!

The follow-up to Tabitha Posy was ever so Nosy and Mrs MacCready Was Ever So Greedy sees musical maestro Fulton on top form in a story that delivers a moral message as well as entertainment with its eye-catching pictures, madcap antics and effervescent rhymes.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

The Black and White Club by Alice Hemming and Kimberley Scott

No-one likes being an outsider so this warm and clever picture book story from Alice Hemming and Kimberley Scott aims to make everyone feel at home.

At Heavenly Hippos Wildlife Park, the penguins have started up a new club but only black and white animals are invited to share in the fun. George the Giraffe feels so left out that he comes up with his own brilliant scheme and the long and the short is that we’re all different… and true friendship is about loving and liking whatever colour or shape you are.

The Black and White Club is the charming debut from author Alice Hemming and her reassuring, quirky story is brought to life by Kimberley Scott’s vibrant illustrations.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £5.99)