Reviewed by Deborah Banasko
I have been asked to review two very different books, and as we are a family who visit the library at least once a week this is a dream review.
The first book, Bob the Bear’s Adventures by Alice Chambers, is perfect for my three year old boy. The book tells the story of Bob the Bear, a knitted traditional looking Teddy who is hiding in various places around a garden. Your job is to try to spot him, although some of his hiding places aren’t very good! Photographs are used to bring the story to life rather than pictures, which makes the book much more engaging as Bob feels “real”. The front cover hasn’t got the usual glossy finish, but the pictures and text are really cute.
I have never seen a book quite like this, as it is based on colourful photographs which are key to telling the story, and as a reader you feel that you are part of Bobs’ adventure and helping to find him. My 3 year old laughed a lot from the very first read!
It is clear that this book is written by an educator as I noted the use of positional language, which is very much an early years Maths target, and she makes references to the senses.
Bob is a generic, universally accessible looking bear and whilst he may seem a little unremarkable, he does possess a certain Grandmotherly warmth and nostalgia. On this thread, the book does feel like your Grandma is taking you on a tour of her garden and this familiarity is appealing to children.
The concept is lovely and unique as children love to hide so Bob is playing a pre-school child’s favourite game. My son found Bob funny as he wasn’t the best at hiding, so we would say “Silly Bob”. It also led onto our own games of hide and seek with Teddy’s at home.
The text is littered with questions for Bob, and this is useful as you can either pretend to answer in a funny Bear voice or ask your child to think about what Bob may say in reply or how you can answer his question to really get them thinking about the book.
I can see this being a great teaching tool as it is easy to talk through with a class of children.
The summary page at the end was a fantastic touch as you can introduce your child to the idea of re-telling the story in their own words, again a key skill as they learn to read.
I would have liked there to be one final page, as I felt we were missing a goodbye from Bob the Bear and my older children did agree on this with me.
Also whilst the photographs were really sweet and there were plenty of them (I love a decent length story), there were a couple that felt slightly repetitive; perhaps replace one with Bob in an apple tree, in a brightly coloured flower bed or next to an animal such as birds, a pet or a cow in a field, just to add some variety and scope for more conversation. I think that I wanted Bob to get up to something a little more exciting than hiding in the one garden. At times the photograph ideas felt a little predictable, which is a shame as the the concept works well and all the educational elements and creativity are there. My 10 year old completely disagrees with me on this point might I add; she loved it (for her little brother) exactly as it was so I think it comes down to personal preference.
This book would suit a child from around 12-18 months until perhaps 4; whilst my 3 and a half year old listens to much more detailed stories I do think that the educational and almost interactive side to this book allows it to still work for older pre-school children, plus it is a decent length. It is also a book that they can easily look through by themselves, as I find my son talking to himself about where Bob is when he’s looking through the pages.
The book is priced at £8.99 which feels a little steep for a pre-schoolers paperback, but it is independently published so this needs to be taken into account so that, on reflection, it is a fair price point.
Rating: I would score this book 4 stars out of 5.
The second book is The Crystal Palace Chronicles: Star of Nimrod, by Graham Whitlock. I love a title that “grabs”, but with this book the front cover also does the same with the flames and Heterochromia eyes. This is a much longer read than the first story (322 pages) and suited perhaps to strong readers from the age of around 10 until adults who love a fantasy time-travel read. The target age is young teen to young adult, but my 10 year old is a strong reader so we both had a read of this.
Whitlock tells us about Joe, a bored skateboard-loving teenage boy who is having to spend his summer helping out at his Dad’s restaurant. He finds himself embroiled with some bullies who throw his skateboard over a fence, and whilst retrieving it he discovers a shattered compass in the undergrowth where the Crystal Palace used to stand. As a result of this find, Joe is transported back in time to 1888 and the time of the Victorian Crystal Palace. He befriends some very famous characters from the past, who help him to overcome diamond thieves and discover the secrets of the Crystal Palace so that he may return to his own time. The secrets are tied to the fate of his family and the question of whether Joe will return home.
The opening chapter is powerful, a mere two pages, but my daughter said instantly that it was going to be her kind of book; with the drama of the fire (spoiler alert) but also the introduction of a creepy sounding character, The Alone Child. It leaves you with so many questions as it begins at the end (as it were), before jumping forwards then backwards in time. It is very cleverly written.
It also gives you a background of what the Crystal Palace is, as my daughter hadn’t a clue, and as for me I thought this was going to be a football based book (how ridiculous do I feel?!) This description of the building is developed as the story progresses and you get a real insight into the Victorian Crystal Palace which I found fascinating. I love that this is timed with the 85th year since the Palace burnt down too.
It is a fast moving tale which is always appreciated, and information is fed and characters are introduced at the same swift pace. It is very visual in the descriptions, and the dialogue flows easily which my daughter appreciated as she likes to read books before going to sleep.
I love the amazing historical characters entwined into this story; it was so clever and surprising when the writer Herbert George Wells appeared at the end of chapter 5 as you can’t beat a bit of history in your children’s novels. The character of Wells, or Bertie as he is referred to in the book, has such a funny manner about him and is really likeable. There are more characters who you will recognise but I will hold back on those surprises. What is unique about this novel is that these famous characters had not yet reached notoriety at the time when Joe meets them; it’s just so intelligently put together and a truly brilliant concept.
There is so much going on with this tale, as you have the interesting characters, Joe dealing with time travelling to the past plus the plot to steal the diamond (The Star of Nimrod). It covers various genres from mystery, to historical fiction to time-travel and moves into stranger and more magical happenings. Whitlock literally crams everything possible into this book and there isn’t a dull moment. Plus it is great fun!
The growing crescendo to the end of the tale is thrilling but it is also great to see how Joe grows, the bonds of friendship he forms and how he develops and matures as a character, and both myself and my daughter loved how things came to a close. It’s a book that keeps you wondering and guessing until the end. There were a couple of things that weren’t quite cleared up for me but I suspect this is intentional as we all love a sequel, right?!
At the end of the story is a taster for the follow-up book two, and in the back of the book there is a section about the real Crystal Palace and the key figures who were around at the time when it stood (handy if you aren’t too sure who some of the soon-to-be-famous characters in the book were). This section is a clever and appreciated feature as a reader, as I hate breaking off from a story to look something up myself. I actually suggested that my daughter read through the character section first so that they had more relevance once she encountered them in the story.
The RRP of £8.99 feels fair for a self-published novel of this quality.
A strong plot, amazing characters, many of whom were historical figures from the past; simply a clever, fast-paced read. A worthy 5 stars out of 5.
Books always make a perfect Christmas gift, and these would be great for this or any occasion. Both are a great price as a stocking filler, or token gift for a friend or family member.
RRP: £8.99 for each book
Bob the Bear’s Adventures by Alice Chambers can be purchased from Amazon here.
The Crystal Palace Chronicles: Star of Nimrod, by Graham Whitlock can be purchased from Amazon here.