Wednesday 20 March 2024

What's new in lower middle grade?

We've done lots of reviews for chapter books recently - books that are aimed at the 5-8 age group - but there are some cracking 7-9 books around too! These books can also come under the banner of 'chapter books' but are often referred to as lower middle grade. It's a great space to find books of about 30,000 words which are packed full of humour and adventure. Here are three new releases that we think are corkers!

Sammy and the Extra Hot Chilli Powder by Charlie P. Brooks, illustrated by Steve May

Published by: HarperCollins, 15th February 2024

In three words: humorous sniffer dogs

This book was a brilliant read and right up both my street and my son's. Told from the point-of-view of Sammy, himself, it's pacy, funny and totally entertaining...

Sammy the Setterpoo loves her life with her owner. So when she begins her training as a sniffer dog, Sammy struggles with the unfriendliness of the other dogs and the change in lifestyle. That is until she realises that she has such a brilliant nose, she can sniff out anything. 

But when Sammy accidentally takes a whiff of some extra-hot chilli powder, she loses her sense of smell. Sent to live with Beanie while she recovers, Sammy wonders if she'll ever smell anything again. And when she gets wind that someone is planning on stealing a diamond, can she find a way to stop them?

Sammy is an instantly brilliant character with a hugely engaging voice. Although we love a story about an underdog - which is many ways Sammy is - we loved how she became top of her game at sniffing. Who would expect that of a setterpoo? 

Even when the trouble started and things started to go wrong, we were rooting for Sammy all the way through. Charlie P. Brooks has done an incredible job of capturing the bouncy, upbeat nature of a dog, which is reflected perfectly in the illustrations by Steve May. The plot is twisty and fun, the other characters - both four and two-legged - are great. There just wasn't anything not to like. Do I wish I'd thought of writing this story with this character? Absolutely 100% - Sammy is a winner. 

Kevin the Vampire: A Wild and Wicked Witch by Matt Brown, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino.

Published by: Nosy Crow, 14th March 2024

In three words: carnivals, dragons, witches

Perfect for fans of The Addams Family and Vlad, The World's Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson or those just looking for a spooky story, Kevin the Vampire is a great new series that readers can sink their teeth into. Following on the adventure from Book One, this second story sees Kevin, his family and his new human friend, Susie, arrive at The Festival of Fear...

Arriving in Monstros City, Kevin is determined that his family will win Carnival of the Year. Performing a dangerous and daring dragon display alongside Susie and Gerald - the new member of Carnival Monstromo who is half-dragon and half-griffin - will surely win them the title. 

But in their hurry to get to Monstros City, Carnival Monstromo travelled through the Wild Woods - home to a terribly wicked witch. Unbeknownst to Kevin and Susie, Dog did something to upset the witch and now she has followed them, determined to get her revenge...

This story has loveable characters and a fun, fast-paced plot that is big on world-building and imagination. We enjoyed the mists of time, the evilness of the villain and the spooky, high-stakes atmosphere. The narrator tells the story with a huge amount of humour. This mixes the fear with fun and creates the perfect tone for the age-group. We found Dog particularly hilarious!

If you're looking for action, then there's also a huge amount in this book. From high-speed chases to daring moves, tricks and traps, every chapter is designed to hold the reader's attention. There's also a lovely exploration of some relatable themes - feeling different, alone and out-of-place - and a fun sub-plot which involves wider members of the family. We can't wait to see what happens next. 

Pirate Academy: New Kid On Deck by Justin Somper

Published by: UCLan, 7th March 2024
In three words: pirates, school, swordfighting

If you're after less humour and more serious adventure then this new pirate series is for you. Fast-paced with some cut-throat action, the story-telling is slick and you can tell the author knows this world inside and out...

Step into the future. The year is 2507, seas have risen and pirates rule the waves. 

Jacoby and Jasmine are students at the elite Pirate Academy. Their teachers are pirate legends and they train their students to be the best. But when Jasmine receives news that her pirate parents are missing and new student, Neo Splice, turns up, tensions quickly rise. New students don't just turn up at the academy. Who is Neo really and what alarming news does he bring from the ocean? Suddenly, no one is safe...

I was taken by surprise by the fierceness of this story. The concept is both gripping and believable and the prologue sets the tone for the whole book. Unlike other school stories for this age-group, there is no messing about at pirate academy. Everyone means business and when danger comes a-calling, there's a whole lot of ruthlessness afoot. From kidnaps to swordfights to desperate chases across the ocean, every page is packed with action and adventure and yet it still remained appropriate for the age-group. 

This is the perfect series for adrenaline junkies, pirate fans and those who just want to read a hard-hitting adventure. Although pirate stories are nothing new, this felt fresh, original and something you'd want to see on the big screen. Pirates of the Caribbean for kids - but a serious version. We LOVED it!

A big thanks to NetGalley and the above publishers for allowing us a review copy. 

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