Managed to complete the 52 book challenge this month, so have extended it to see whether I can reach 100.
Huge thanks to Jack Phillips for relentlessly enthusing about this – really glad he did as it is an astonishing book.
Book 1: Everyone’s looking for Vango, and Vango is trying to find himself.
This book has an enormous scale to it. Set in the early 20th century, the main protagonist, Vango, is on the run after a murder is pinned on him, but he’s not sure who wants him dead – or why.
The story chops and changes in time, going back to Vango’s early life before returning to the present, and takes in the viewpoints of a huge revolving cast of characters. This is probably my favourite part of the book – there is such a range and depth to these characters, each with their own story to tell and they all have a real purpose, interweaving with one another seamlessly. To name but a few, there is Ethel, a woman who lives with her brother in Inverness and has an unexplained obsession with Vango; Colonel Eckener, a high-ranking military official who leads the voyages of the Graf Zeppelin, a vehicle Vango becomes familiar with; Auguste Boulard, the much-beleaguered police officer who’s tasked with finding Vango; Mademoiselle, the woman who has raised Vango and knows more about his past than she lets on…the list continues. The Cat, Viktor, Pino Troissi – all brilliantly written and all important.
As well as moving back and forth through time and changing character viewpoints, the story moves swiftly from Paris to Italy, London to Inverness, with even mentions of Rio. The story has such scope and is wonderfully translated by Sarah Ardizzone.
Recommended. I’ll be reading it again.
Book 2: I enjoyed the second book a little less but it retains the same scale, just with a little less pace. The story focuses more on Viktor and his many guises, as well as exploring how Ethel’s relationship with Vango started and continued. The ending is a little emotional, and worth investing two books worth of time in for!
50. Melissa Savage – Bigfoot, Tobin & Me
A heart-warmer. Set in the mid-70s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, Lemonade is in mourning after her mother dies, and so moves to Willow Creek to live with her grandfather.
She meets Tobin, a boy who is obsessed with finding Bigfoot but struggles to make friends with others. Lemonade helps him to deal with his problems, and the two find more than they were bargaining for…
Some of Savage’s language and repetition reminded me a little of Kate DiCamillo, and she creates a lovely story of friendship. On a personal level, it reminded me of simpler times, when my friends and I would go off exploring in the fields nearby.
51. Frank Cottrell-Boyce – Cosmic
Liam Digby is an unusual 12 year old – his height and his beard give him the look of a much older man. He passes as the father of his friend, Florida, and this sows the seed of adventure in his young old head.
The book is written from the point of view of Liam already being in space. We find out he is up there with four other children – the first 2/3 of the story are japes, scrapes and silliness that lead to Liam’s venture into space.
The final 1/3 ties everything together beautifully – it is expertly crafted and is an ode to fathers and to fatherhood. Before this I was enjoying the book without loving it; the ending is perfect.
52. Gill Lewis – A Story Like the Wind
This short, beautifully illustrated book is set on a boat, in which a group of refugees are at sea – and scared. None of them have very much, if anything at all; Rami has a violin that he uses to tell a story, offering hope and a thin veil of security to those around him.
Warmly written and one that leaves a lasting impression.
53. Peter Bunzl – Moonlocket
The trials and tribulations of Lily and Robert continue with abandon, as the two encounter a new villain, Jack Door (named after Door from Neil Gaiman’s Neverland), an escapologist who is searching for the precious Moonlocket. Unbeknown to him, Robert and his family history hold the key to what Jack is looking for.
The follow up to Cogheart throws much more of a spotlight on Robert and how he is coping following the death of his father. Lily takes more of a back seat, as do the cast of mechanicals, as we follow their adventure to London, where Professor Hartman has been unwittingly assisting Jack…
54. Jess Butterworth – Running on the Roof of the World
One I’d been wanting to read for a while, and it didn’t disappoint.
Following a protest in their village, Tash and Sam escape Tibet and make their way across the Himalayas to India, where they think their parents are being held. They have to dodge soldiers, decide on who is trustworthy and who is not, and, simply, survive. The relationship they develop with their yaks is particularly poignant, and a serious message about refugees and political/social unrest is dealt with in a tone that would be perfect for year 5/6 children.
55. Stewart Foster – All the Things That Could Go Wrong
I really loved this book. Chapters are written from the alternate points of view of Dan and Alex. Dan is essentially full of anger, led astray all too easily by the vindictive Sophie, and his struggles are slowly revealed as the story progresses.
Alex, meanwhile, suffers with OCD, and is an easy target for the likes of Sophie. Dan digs away at him too, giving him the nickname ‘Shark Face’, but the two come together in unlikely circumstances.
The two characters are portrayed brilliantly – simultaneously different, but essentially struggling in the same way. Both are alone, worried and torn, and neither know how to deal with it.
Goldfish Boy + Wonder = All the Things That Could Go Wrong.
56. Malorie Blackman – Cloud Busting
Picked this up for 50p in the local charity shop. In my ignorance I hadn’t quite realised what it was – for those who don’t know, it is a short story written in poetic verse. The poems revolve around Davey, a boy who is bullied at school. There’s not much more to say without giving it away, but each poem is written in a slightly different style, revealing a little bit more about how Davey is treated. A thoughtful, thought-provoking book that I hope to use with my class next year.
57. M.G. Leonard – Beetle Queen
We started this in class but never got round to finishing it, so I was more than happy to spend an afternoon devouring it.
The gang – Darkus, Virgina and Bertolt – are hot on the heels of Lucretia as she prepares for a film award show in the US. They know she is up to something – but what is it? And can they stop her in time?
Another fast-paced tale, one that crescendos in the final few chapters with a stunning climax. As promised, the final part of the trilogy has been announced, so the loose ends here will be nicely tied up.
58. Siobhan Dowd – The London Eye Mystery
A true mystery story in which Ted, the narrator, is the boy who tries to solve it. When his cousin Saleem goes missing after taking a ride on the London Eye, Ted begins to develop a multitude of theories as to what happened. As he explains, his brain ‘works on a different operating system’, which means he sees and thinks about things in a different way.
I loved the way most chapters started with Ted’s fixation on the weather, and his relationship with his sister Kat is a perfect microcosm of brotherly-sisterly love (or otherwise).
A well-told story, particularly interesting in how it portrays Ted, a boy with Asperger’s.