We've long been fans of Maverick's delightful picture books so we were very pleased when they launched a series of Early Readers last year, transforming some of their popular picture book titles into a simplified format for beginner readers to enjoy. They've now taken their books in another direction and are about to release their first ever Junior Fiction titles, aimed at six to nine year olds. (Available in October but they can be pre-ordered already.) These books are for children who are embarking on their own reading adventure or can be shared with a grown up.
They are perfectly suited for Pierre, who has just turned seven and is turning into quite a confident little reader. These are his first "real" books and he was initially daunted by the number of pages in each book (around 120) and the fact that they would have lots of words in them.
The books are very well thought-out though and are packed full of illustrations that break up the text, making it all much less intimidating for beginner readers and also helping to keep their interest up if they are listening to a parent reading to them. We tend to alternate passages, with Pierre reading a couple of paragraphs then having a rest while I read the next ones, or sometimes he will read the narrator's parts, leaving me to put on silly voices for the dialogues ! It's lovely to see that Maverick books are "growing up" at the same rate as Pierre, leading to a much more interactive bedtime story time than when it was just me reading and him listening and looking at the pictures.
We were delighted to discover that the initial trio of Junior Fiction books includes some of our favourite Maverick authors. Rickety Rockets is written by Alice Hemmings, author of George and the New Craze, The Black & White Club, Robopop, Bibble and the Bubbles and A Gold Star For George (click through to read my reviews), and illustrated by Emma Randall. It is a collection of three stories - Rickety Rocket, Jetpack Jelly and Picnic Planet - all featuring Spacey Stacey and her friends who live on Planet Five Ways.
There's never a dull moment in their lives, whether it's trying to stop a bunch of naughty Space Rabbits from pinching their picnic, delivering jellies by jetpack or fixing up an old rocket together to try and win a space race. In these action-packed, intergalactic stories that children of both sexes will enjoy, Stacey and her friends repeatedly show that it's important for friends to stick together and help each other out - and finding a way to get one up on the annoyingly arrogant twerps in your life (like Astro Pete or Jack Boom and Jill Zoom) is just the icing on the cake ! Pierre loved the stories (particularly the part where Stacey's jetpack gets her all wrapped up in a washing line full of spotty pants !) and was very proud of managing to read them out loud to me.
Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape is written by new author and illustrator, Izy Penguin. In this ssssscrumptiously sssssilly ssssslice of bedlam, Lucy calls in the help of her impressively flexible grandma to clear her name when someone releases a deadly snake in Pumperton and she is the main suspect. Just like Rickety Rockets, this book reinforces the notion that while it is great to have a group of loyal friends that you can count on in a crisis, there are also always going to be people at school or in life in general who you aren't going to like - in this case, school bully Mike Grimace and snooty busybody, Lady Lavender. This is an important life lesson for children of this age group to integrate.
Pierre giggled as he read all about the madcap antics of Lucy and the other residents of Plumperton, plunged into terrified chaos as they try to escape the scary snake. I laughed myself when he triumphantly announced "Look Mum, more pants !" at one point in the story (thick organic woolly ones from the health food shop, no less !). We also enjoyed the mini story by Spag Bol the dog at the end of the book, seeing how he got up to his own adventures unnoticed !
Finally, we discovered Letter To Pluto by Lou Treleaven, author of another picture book that we have reviewed, Professor McQuark & the Oojamaflip. This delightful book is entirely written in letters, the fruit of an interplanetary school penpal project dreamed up by Jon's teacher. At first, Jon is not at all enthusiastic, particularly when he realises that his penpal Straxi is a girl and that she lives on Pluto, the most boring, smelliest and far away place possible.
They soon realise, though, that they have more in common than they ever would have imagined and they become real friends rather than just penfriends. As they delight in learning about each other's different lives and cultures, they send little gifts to each other, including a sickeningly smelly vomblefruit that Straxi has been telling Jon about.
Even on Pluto, everybody hates the smell of vomblefruit so the government decide to eradicate them from the planet, with disastrous knock-on effects for the rest of the ecosystem, which leave Pluto dying. In the nick of time, Jon remembers that he has his penfriend's stinky gift hiding out in his mum's greenhouse and sends it back, with a police escort, to save the day (and the planet) ! It's a totally enchanting book, with brilliant messages for children about how exciting it is to write real letters (not just emails or facebook updates), how you can still be friends with someone who (at first glance) has nothing in common with you and the importance of respecting the natural balance of the environment. As a teacher myself, I also couldn't help smiling when I read the letters from Mrs Hall to Jon at the end of the book - it's a tough life being a teacher sometimes !!
All three of the books were perfectly adapted to Pierre's level and the stories really appealed to him (and me!). The texts are challenging but not too difficult and the oodles and oodles of illustrations inside them add to the utter delight of reading your first ever proper book. We'll definitely be keeping an eye out for further titles as they're added to the series.
star rating : 5/5
release date : 13 Oct. 2016
Disclosure : We received the books in order to write an honest review.