• Mart

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Fiona Sandiford, illustrated by Clare Elsom

Leni is nuts about birds. She knows every kind that lives on her beautiful, bountiful island nation of Mauritius. She can tell just from a tail-feather or a squawk whether it’s a pink pigeon or an echo parrot, or one of any number of beautiful tree-top dwellers. She even has her own faithful talking parakeet friend, Popcorn, who makes repeat appearances (“who makes repeat appearances”). Leni also knows a lot about the Dodo – the most famous Mauritian bird ever. She has grown up on her grandmother’s hand-me-down stories of the strange flightless bird with the big beak and fluffy football-shaped body. But it’s sadly extinct. Never to be seen again…

But one day two rival professors come to stay on Mauritius, and both of them are hunting the same thing: Dodo DNA. They want to use their ingenious scientific techniques to de-extinct the dodo and bring it back to life! Leni can hardly believe her luck, and right away offers to be their island guide. She quickly becomes involved in the adventure, running between the scientists as they race to perfect their de-extinction machines. But there are others who want to be involved too. And while these shady characters like to preen, they’re not exactly bird-lovers. Because, while the professors are busy hatching chicks, an evil sugar magnate by the name of Benny Shoober, and his ugly entourage are hatching a plan to re-extinct the de-extinct Dodo.

This is a gobble-in-one-go joyful breeze of a book with a brilliant plot, fascinating facts and a hell of a lot to laugh at.

The characters are bitingly funny – from greedy bling-man Benny Shoober and his revoltingly self-obsessed wife, to the little and large henchmen you’ll love to hate, and the professors, one scatty and the other meticulous (and both equally competitive). Even the side characters, such as the cleaning ladies, are fun to be around. Put them all together with one of the best story premises I’ve seen and it’s a side-splitting adventure which tumbles with fun and personality.

And there’s a lot more besides. The author gives a snide side-eye to greedy corporations that destroy wildlife habitats for profit and really rockets home the importance of preserving native species. The descriptions are magic – tropical and rich, with just enough detail – and I’m booking my trip to Mauritius just as soon as I can. In addition to a great story, the illustrations are stand-alone fantastic and a perfect fit, being simple but packed with charm. And even when the adventure reaches its conclusion, the book just keeps on squawking. There’s dodo facts, a quick quiz, and dodo jokes, too. Just in case you didn’t laugh enough (which I promise you won’t be the case). Fiona Sandiford’s effortless humour will win over kids who like their adventures plucky and very, very funny.

Reviewer: Rachel

Publisher: Usborne

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  • Mart

Jenny Moore

If you like fart gags (and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t) Audrey Orr and the Robot Rage is going to be right up your gate. That’s Norwegian for ‘street’. You can laminate that and stick it on a flash card. But I digress. Fart gags are just the start in this gag-heavy romp. There are athlete’s foot jokes aplenty, too; zany, knitting grand-dads; head teachers in false beards and every kind of wackiness in between, some of which will make your eyebrows shoot up your forehead. I can honestly say I never thought I would read a book that contained the line “Audrey remembered the giant robo-turd”. It made me do a proper, wet, snort. Every book should contain that line. Could someone please send Hillary Mantel a memo.

Let’s get down to it then. The story starts with Audrey’s mum winning a Scandinavian cruise holiday, and so begins a deluge of barmy. Audrey’s boil-kneed headteacher won’t allow her to take a holiday during term time, under threat of expulsion. But in between knitting colanders and car aerial warmers her grand-dad finds an intriguing advert in Men’s Knitting Weekly while sitting on the toilet. It may just solve all his granddaughter’s problems. Mad professor A. N. Droyde fashions a perfect robot copy of Audrey to take her place at school so Audrey can take full advantage of the ship’s onboard a Soft Scoop 2000 ice-cream machine while sailing from fjord to fjord.

But uh-oh, what’s this? When Audrey’s robot stand-in - or Awesome as Audrey has named her - hears a song called ‘Robot Rage’ on the radio it sends her into a … well … robot rage. Awesome becomes Awful, intent on stealing Audrey’s life before crushing humankind beneath her techno-foot.

I’ll leave it there because spoilers, but the story belts along at a pace and every page is liberally sprinkled with gags and bonkers characters. The whole Orr family is quite, quite barking but Audrey’s dad with his foot-fungus fixation especially spoke to me (hey, we’ve all been there). Stuffed with silly, and with a massive gag-per-pence ratio, Audrey Orr and the Robot Rage will appeal to readers at the younger end of Middle Grade. Obviously, every reader’s sense of humour is different but with so many jokes everyone is sure to find something that will make them chuckle.

Reviewer: Martin

Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing

Full disclosure: Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.

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  • Mart

Joanna Nadin

Welcome to Class 4B, otherwise known as The Worst Class in the World. And you’ll be glad you came. Because while in class 4A there is swotty stuff going on, in class 4B there’s just a whole lot of fun. Not that the Head, Mrs Bottomly-Blunt would see it that way. Not that long-suffering but really rather lovely form teacher, Mr Nidgett would see it that way. Not that Ofsted would see it that way. But look at this way: if you’re laughing, surely you’re learning?

Problem solving, cooperation and healthy competition are top lessons for our raucous bunch in 4B. And in this first book come two neat stories that explore all that, and more. The first story, called Biscuit King, is a tale of how a simple snack-time comparison explodes into an all-class baking contest, with some colourful results. And the next, called Show and Tell, looks at the wisdom of bringing pets into class. Also, with colourful results. None of the colourful results are of course compatible with Mrs Bottomly-Blunt’s list of school rules (which include commandments such as ‘No Tomfoolery’ and ‘No Pretending to be Daft’).

So, let’s meet Class 4B. They don’t exactly aim to be troublemakers but just somehow are, thanks to their individual peculiarities and clashing personalities. There’s tell-tales, greedy gutses, liars and, marvellously, a boy who wants to be the first human boy to do practically anything (like swim faster than a shark). The only two kids who aren’t off-the-scale bonkers are our main characters, best friends Manjit and Stanley, who use their brand name ‘Manley’ on joint projects. (Their Manley biscuits made me laugh out loud, and even more so when I discovered what they contained). But while Manjit and Stanley aren’t exactly crazy, most of the crazy action comes from their FOOLPROOF PLANS.

FOOLPROOF PLANS, like LITERALLY and OUTSTANDING – among other oft-used words exclamations – are in caps throughout the book, creating wonderful childlike emphases akin to Charlie and Lola. Although it’s way, way funnier (sorry Charlie and Lola). The narration skips along with ease and the dialogue will have you in stitches: the excitable kids spouting their absurd logic is an utter delight; Mrs Bottomly-Blunt’s bursts of outrage are an absolute treat; and timorous Mr Nidgett as he tries to wrangle his class into shape – precious.

Although this book is aimed at the lower end of Middle Grade (I’d say 6+), I’d suggest it as a go-to for any kid up to age 11 who fancies a cosy, light read and a very big laugh.

Inside, there’s definitely daftness and tomfoolery (which immediately breaks school rules), but there’s also the comfort of simple stories and recognisable playground scenarios. And, while Class 4B’s humour is very much out there on its own, there’s also a delightful little introduction to Monty Python for beginners.

Illustrated throughout, Rikin Parekh’s depictions of the characters and the chaos is absolutely perfect. They are sketchy and full of movement, and the facial expressions wickedly comic. There’s lots of other stuff for kids to get their eyes into, too, such as character intros, funny lists, silly questions and extra pictures. For a little book, it makes a big impression.

Class 4B doesn’t often win prizes, but for me, The Worst Class in the World comes top for comedy.

Reviewer: Rachel

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Full disclosure: Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.

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