Book review: Something old, something new from Oxford University Press

There is a classical feel to this month’s children’s books from Oxford University Press… and not just because they are republishing some all-time favourites.

Thursday, 21st August 2014, 10:00 am
Something old, something new from Oxford University Press
Something old, something new from Oxford University Press

A Dickens-style adventure story from the ever-inventive Julia Lee has a wonderfully traditional feel and Steve Antony’s quirky picture book aims to help quell those classic toddler tantrums.

Age 9 plus:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

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Lewis Carroll’s timeless adventures featuring Alice’s bizarre journey down a rabbit hole are just one of the latest range of Oxford Children’s Classics published this month.

These appealing and educational new editions give a contemporary look and feel to much-loved stories which have stood the test of time. All the books are unabridged and feature additional materials including reviews, author background, activities, quizzes and book recommendations from young Oxford Children’s Classics Champions.

And what better introduction to the classics than the irrepressible Alice who finds wonder, adventure, confusion, madness, mayhem and cake on her journey underground?

It’s a story that plays cleverly with logic ensuring a lasting popularity with adults as well as with children. The famous narrative course and structure, characters and imagery have been hugely influential in both popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre.

Youngsters will love joining Alice as she tumbles into a strange world where curious things are normal and normal things are ‘curiouser.’ There is the chance to marvel at the classic nonsense poem The Jabberwocky and join in with Tweedledum and Tweedledee’s brilliant ode The Walrus and the Carpenter.

The book features both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in one edition and helps younger readers to discover a fantastical adventure that has captured imaginations since the originals were published in 1865 and 1872 respectively.

The perfect start to a lifetime of reading…

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Since Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote her classic adventure novel Anne of Green Gables in 1908, it has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 20 languages.

Written as fiction for readers of all ages, the literary classic introduces us to fun-loving, feisty Anne Shirley and all her adventures take place in the vast, exciting Canadian landscape.

Anne, an 11-year-old orphan, is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who live at Green Gables farm on Prince Edward Island and who had intended to adopt a boy to help them.

Anne’s escapades are sure to delight readers as she struggles to fit in at home and at school. She wishes her bright red hair was a beautiful auburn (not the green she accidentally dyed it) and she dreams of pretty dresses and eating fancy cakes (made with all the right ingredients instead of the medicine she accidentally used).

She’s determined to beat Gilbert Blythe to be top of the class, and doesn’t care one bit how handsome he is, but most of all she wants to stay at Green Gables forever with her very best friend Diana.

There’s friendship, family, catastrophes and romance and a world of heart-warming excitement and adventure just waiting to enchant a new generations of fun-lovers.

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Also available in this new series are The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Age 9 plus:

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard by Julia Lee

Step back in time with the new queen of storytelling Julia Lee and discover the anarchic world of Victorian delivery boy Gully Potchard and the madcap but marvellous Marvel family.

In the follow-up to the highly-acclaimed The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth and featuring some of the star names of Lee’s vividly created Victorian landscape, we find a youngster with an extraordinary talent.

Gulliver (Gully) Potchard is 14 and, while his mother travels the world, he is lodging with his eccentric aunt Hetty Marvel and her children Whitby, Leicester and Dorchester (Dora), named after the places where they were born so that their mother can ‘keep track.’

Gully has been recently reacquainted with two old school fellows Nathan Boldree, a thuggish no-good bully, and Charlie Scudder, ‘a hard-faced rat of a boy.’ Against his better judgment, Gully finds himself part of their gang of thieves and it isn’t long before he’s tangled up in a mess of mischief and skulduggery.

Cats and dogs go astray, a child is kidnapped, and ransom notes are delivered to the wrong people. Gully thought he was just an ordinary boy but as a storm rages and a fire blazes, he discovers that he has a remarkable skill that might just make him an unlikely hero after all…

There’s a bewitching thread of dark humour and appealing warmth amidst all the knockabout action and thrilling plot twists, a mesmerising mix of magic and mayhem guaranteed to keep youngsters amused and bemused.

Written with Lee’s trademark style, wit, colourful characterisation and seductive sense of place, this is a brilliant story for both boys and girls.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony

Tears and tantrums… they are a familiar part of early childhood and a regular cause of headaches for exasperated parents.

So why not give your testy toddlers a ‘taste’ of their own grumpy gripes with author and illustrator Steve Antony’s creatively crotchety ape Betty?

Betty might look beguilingly beautiful in her charming pink bow but she’s simply beastly when she doesn’t get what she wants.

Betty’s hungry and when she sees a banana, she wants nothing more than to eat it but the banana just won’t open. Poor Betty. She cries and sobs, and kicks and screams until her friend Mr Toucan swoops by. ‘There’s no need for that,’ Mr Toucan tells her. ‘Would you like me to peel the banana for you?’ Mr Toucan peels the banana for Betty and, after several more terrible tantrums, she can finally enjoy the fruits of her labour. It’s a relief all around but then Betty spots another banana…

With its bold and delightfully distinctive illustrations and wry humour, this is a book to calm, compose… and ensure smiles all round!

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)