I was lucky enough to request and receive copies of these from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.
It’s a double bill of books for slightly younger readers today – the first perfect for those just edging towards MG but not quite there yet, and the second an illustrated chapter book for those just starting to read more at length but still wanting pictures with their prose! Both would also make excellent read aloud choices to share.
Dragon Detective: Catnapped by Gareth P. Jones, cover and chapter art by Scott Brown
My friend Michelle is a big Gareth P Jones fan, her boys have loved/still love his books and she has been championing him for years. So, I was very pleased to be offered the chance to try his newest/oldest offering (this is an edited, re-jacketed, generally refreshed re-publication of the book).
This is a classic down-on-his-luck, heavy drinking (in this case neat orange squash), works-alone detective story, but with a twist, namely that our Detective, Dirk Dolly, is a dragon.
It transpires that dragons are mostly in hiding in their natural habitats – sea, mountain, underground etc – and urban dragons, like Dilly are rare, so he needs to be doubly careful to go unnoticed.
Luckily for him, his landlady, the brilliantly named Mrs Klingerfilm, is almost blind as a bat. Unluckily for him, his most recent client is rather keen to help and soon finds out his secret!
Partnered (begrudgingly) with smart keen bean and loner, Holly, and on the case (begrudgingly) searching for her missing cat, the plot soon thickens…
With dodgy dragons, a great double-act of bad-guy henchmen, an enormous and mysterious creature in a lake, a detective detecting our detective, and crates full of stolen cats, this case turns out to be much more complicated, dangerous and intriguing than you’d think a missing cat could be!
Told with plenty of humour, and a touch of fantasy, this is a great addition to the younger chapter book offering, especially as the detective/crime/mystery genre in children’s fiction remains strong.
Skeleton Keys: The Unimaginary Friend by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
I received a copy of this aaaaages ago but it got a bit lost in the pile (sorry!), so when Mary mentioned she was hoping to listen to it after hearing the author read a little from it and thinking it was brilliant, and with book 2,The Haunting of Luna Moon due out in March, I decided to read it via audiobook!
It’s narrated by Guy Bass himself and honestly it’s just a joy to listen to – what a performance! Full of energy, feeling and drama it sweeps you up into the action and the voices really make the characters complete!
And if, like me, you’re an enthusiastic read-aloud-er who’s a bit rubbish at voices, I can highly recommend listening to the audiobook of this with young readers instead (even if you’re a dab hand at voices, this really is one kids will love to listen to with all the sound effects etc!)
That being said, you’ll also want a physical copy as the illustrations really bring it to life! Managing to be all at once dark, funny, and full of detail, they have a touch of Tim Burton but with plenty of warmth and character. The whole book is beautifully designed and laid out – with some dark pages, some lighter, borders and decorations, text which grows and moves in emphasis – utterly appealing!
The story itself is both imaginative and a champion of imagination in itself. Ben doesn’t have many (any) friends, that is except for his best (imaginary) friend, The Gorblimey. When no one shows up to Ben’s party and his dad tells him he’s too old for imaginary friends, Ben manages to imagine The Gorblimey Unimaginary and he comes to life – as warm, friendly and caring as he is in Ben’s mind.
Close on his heels is the slick and suave Skeleton Keys (who also narrates our tale) determined to capture The Gorblimey and send him to Oblivion, as Keys is convinced he’s up to no good and preparing to unleash chaos.
But is The Gorblimey the only Unimaginary around?
This is such a fun read for younger readers – packed with humour, action, wordplay (those names!) and mayhem… and of course a skeleton, a monster abd a pirate not to mention a naughty little girl with a backwards head! An imaginative and dark delight that’s full of giggles too.