Book review: Fresh horizons for young readers
There is an inter-continental flavour to some new and exciting books from two small publishers who delight in bringing children some offbeat treats.
From the magical adventures of a French-style Harry Potter series to a tiny half-Japanese and half-Italian girl with big, bold ideas, there are stories to whisk us away to parallel worlds or into the mind of a fun and feisty youngster.
Age 8 plus:
Oksa Pollock: The Forest of Lost Souls by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf
Oh là là, what have we here? Meet Oska Pollock, schoolgirl extraordinaire and the eponymous star of an epic French fantasy series which has become a global publishing phenomenon.
Oksa’s amazing and fantastical adventures, translated by Sue Rose, have been brought to an English-speaking audience by Pushkin Children’s Books which specialises in tales from different languages and cultures.
They believe firmly that children love to hear about monsters and heroes, romance and death, disaster and rescue, from every place and time. From picture books and adventure stories to fairy tales and classics, and from 50-year-old bestsellers to current huge successes abroad, the books on the Pushkin Children’s list reflect the very best stories from around the world.
The Forest of Lost Souls is the second instalment of Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf’s high-octane and atmospheric series and follows hot on the tail of The Last Hope which introduced us to Oksa Pollock and is now out in paperback from Pushkin at £7.99.
Oska thought she was a normal 13-year-old girl from Paris about to start a new school and life in London until she discovered she could produce fire from her hands, move objects with her mind and even fly.
The truth was that her family fled Edefia, their magical, hidden home years ago, and Oksa is their queen, a role that throws her into wilder adventures than she could ever have imagined.
St Proximus School pupil Oksa has made some pretty incredible discoveries in the last few months and if that wasn’t enough to cope with, her mother is still desperately ill after being attacked by Edefia’s unscrupulous enemies.
But with the battle between her followers, known as the Runaways, and the evil Orthon McGraw behind them, Oksa is determined to forget the burden handed down to her and enjoy the holidays with her best friend Gus Bellanger.
Unfortunately, the excitement is short lived. Gus has vanished without a trace which can mean only one thing. Orthon may be dead but the Felons will not stop until Oksa, the key to Edefia, is within their grasp.
This time Gus is their victim. He is trapped in a strange, parallel world and Oksa will not rest until he is safe. Accompanied by her fellow Runaways, including the moody and mysterious Tugdual, Oksa and her friends face countless dangers from horrific and deadly creatures.
And even if Oksa and her group make it through the wastelands and the monsters, there are greater threats to face – betrayal, grief, and the end of the world itself. And it’s only just beginning…
Oska’s enchanting and death-defying missions, combined with an imaginative narrative revealing strange and mystical universes and a storyline that gets darker with each book, ensure a thrilling adventure for children looking for a worthy successor to Harry Potter.
Heart-stopping danger, fast-paced action and some of the quirkiest and scariest characters you could hope to meet will leave young readers yearning for more.
And they won’t have long to wait as the third book in the series, The Heart of Two Worlds, is coming soon.
(Pushkin Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 7 plus:
Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah
Say hello to another new kid on the block… Ambra Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamoto. But you can call her Amber, a name her friends find easier to say and which she finds less embarrassing.
She has this ‘mad’ name because she’s half-Italian and half-Japanese and it’s not easy to be half this and half that, especially when the two halves are so completely different.
Lovable Amber is one of the stars of a new collection from the Chicken House, a small but highly original children’s book publishing company with an enthusiasm for fiction suitable for children of all sizes, shapes and colours.
Their imaginative and adventurous books are finding huge popularity with children, parents, teachers and librarians around the world.
In Dream On, Amber, we find the 11-year-old preparing to start a new school in South London and worried that her caveman phone will do her street cred no favours.
But the hardest thing about being Amber is that a big part of her is missing… her dad. He was a Japanese computer science student and he met her Italian mum at university but he left when Amber was six years old and her sister Bella was one. Now it feels like there’s a massive black hole. But nothing’s perfect in this life, or so her mum keeps telling her.
And if he isn’t coming back, she’ll have to find a way to make it up to Bella who is always writing letters to their absent dad. And Amber has a big imagination and some genius ideas…
Author Emma Shevah is herself half-Irish and half-Thai – in fact her great-great-great grandfather was King Rama I in exotic Thailand – but she spends a far more prosaic life writing, teaching and looking after her four children in London.
With its touching innocence, bittersweet comedy and gregarious characters, her story of Amber will touch a nerve with any child who has felt isolated or marginalised by family circumstances.
But there is also plenty of fun and excitement as Amber carves out a niche for herself at her new school and learns that things aren’t always what they seem to be at home.
A charming and reassuring story for children everywhere.
(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)