Runaway Teacher by Pete Johnson - Barrington Stoke Book 32

Another Pete Johnson book, Runaway Teacher, and just like the others I have read recently, it's a perfectly drawn and believable scenario. Scott and Martin's class have seen-off two English teachers already this year. But 'MT' is different (the use of his initials is a compromise between 'Sir' and his first name). Scott in particular forms a real bond with this new style teacher.

Whether trickery or inspiration, MT gets the most out of his new class. But not every one sees it in the same way. His rebellious streak does not go down well with the Headmaster and some of the pupils' parents.

There are some great quotes. When Scott meets MT in town with his girlfriend, she says "He's been in that library for hours - it's like his second home" (my girlfriend has said very similar things about me, and I am guessing the author can relate to this too).

After this meeting in town, Scott gets to know MT out of school too, they seem to have a lot in common. The relationship is mutually beneficial. But perhaps too close for a teacher and his pupil.

The book shows, in a simple but brilliant way, that teachers are human beings too. Over the course of just 87 pages the relationship between Scott and MT becomes pretty intense. Scott says towards the end "you treated us like mates last night. And we let you down" which shows that MT needs Scott as much as Scott needs MT. There is never going to be a big happy ending. But everyone, including the reader, learns a lot.


The Best Holiday Ever by Pete Johnson - Barrington Stoke Book 31

Just like I have over-dosed on Alan Gibbons recently, I have had a bit of a run on Pete Johnson. I see his books everywhere, so thought I best check them out. The TV Time Travellers has been shortlisted for the Sheffield Children's Book Award Shortlist 2010 and How to Get Famous was the Community Library favourite last year. I can recommend both of these slightly longer books set today, in realistic settings with characters that are very easy to relate to.

The Best Holiday Ever is no different. It is a very easy to read story about three girls on holiday on there own for the first time. These three different characters are just like any girls of a certain age and anyone can identify with their exploits. Having said that, the book is going to be mostly for girls who are just getting a desire for more independence.

There is not much of a plot to The Best Holiday Ever, but as the girls holiday develops it is fun to read how their personalities and relationships to each other change. It is amazing to think it is written by a middle aged man, but Mr Johnson has a real knack for getting into the minds of his teenage characters. I'm looking forward to reading more of his books.


Night Hunger by Alan Gibbons - Barrington Stoke Book 30

I said I had been reading a lot of Alan Gibbons recently, and here is another. Night Hunger is a classic Barrington Stoke book. It is very short and written in the first-person, so we get very direct story-telling with no words wasted. We learn first hand about 16 year old John's mental state. But this is not just a bad case of puberty, John has the Hunger!

Even before John meets sexy, disturbing Beth, he is going through some changes, especially in his diet. He eats anything and everything. But when Beth gets her hands on him, things get a lot more serious. There are some vivid descriptions of meals of raw steak and chicken bones. I'm vegetarian, so might be particularly sensitive, but I think most readers will find it pretty gross (and therefore a possible reason to read the book!) Next come dreams, which are all too real. More vivid descriptions, this time of Beth as a predator-hunter.

This is all really entertaining and gripping but the seriousness of the story really goes up a gear in the second half of the book. I am not going to spoil it, but what happens to one of John's teachers, comes as quite a shock, especially at it is told to us directly by John.

A "thirst for blood" builds to a party on the night of the full moon. A night of lust and fear. John has to manage his out-of-control instincts and "fight the hunger". It does not end with out some blood being spilled.

The issues (girls, school, bodily changes etc.) and the gory nature make this perfect for 15-16 year olds, looking for a grizzly tale. My stomach turned, but I couldn't put it down.


The Greatest by Alan Gibbons - Barrington Stoke Book 29

Another Alan Gibbons book, he is certainly versatile. The Greatest is in Barrington Stoke's FYI range, that's 'Fiction with Stacks of Facts', like The Number 7 Shirt I reviewed previously.

I think the FYI books are perfect for reading partnerships. I can imagine a partner reading the main story and a reading mentor reading the more tricky fact bits. These two styles are nicely separated by different fonts.

The Greatest is all about Ali, a twelve year old Muslim boy, who has had his bike stolen by a local bully. Just like Muhammad Ali! With the greatest boxer of all time as inspiration, Ali takes on the biggest fight of his life. He'll be up against the racist bully that nicked his bike.

The first half of the book is the big build up to the match. Not much happens but we learn a lot about Ali and the tension builds nicely. The rest of the book is the fight itself. This feels very well judged with the bulk of the book centred on the crucial match.

Muhammad Ali often won despite the odds, using brains as well as strength. He knew he was an inspirational figure. By the end of this story not only has Ali's life changed, but the life of his bully opponent has been altered too.

It is clear author, Alan Gibbons, has a deep passion for Ali, as he says Muhammad Ali is "much more than just a sports man"! This is born out in the facts and fiction in The Greatest.


The Cold Heart of Summer by Alan Gibbons - Barrington Stoke Book 28

I have read a few Alan Gibbons books recently, including Shadow Of The Minotaur, which I have been meaning to check out since he talked about it at our Reading Matters event last year.

The Cold Heart of Summer is shorter, but not too dissimilar to Shadow Of The Minotaur. Both are 'horror' stories and feature children with troubled lives. Debbie is the heroine of The Cold Heart of Summer. Debbie and her Dad are fixing up 'The Grange'. They are desperate for the cash so much stick with it even when the houses murderous past comes back to haunt them.

It is very similar to The House with No Name which I have reviewed before, and it is also reminiscent of The Shining; families changing in disturbing surroundings.

The Cold Heart of Summer is a basic horror story but (as in Shadow Of The Minotaur) you can also see that the real fear comes from the characters having to adjust to unfamiliar family life. However you read it, it will grip you to the end.


Virtual Friend by Mary Hoffman - Barrington Stoke Book 27

Virtual Friend by Mary Hoffman felt familiar to me because the first illustration is one Reading Matters often uses in training sessions. It turns out the theme of book is very similar to the areas we explore using the illustration. Ben is an only child, his Mum has died recently and his Dad has buried himself in his work. They have moved to a new town, so Ben has started at a a new school late in the term and has not made any friends.

Ben and his Dad are befriended by the mad professor next door. They use his latest invention, a Virtual Reality programme. Ben creates a new best friend, Rory Polestar, who is all too real to him. When the power is lost Ben experiences a real sense of loss.

To Ben's surprise and confusion, next day, Rory turns up at school! No one is sure who is real and who's not. Rory helps Ben break the ice with the other kids. This is all he needs. When Rory 'goes home' only Ben remembers him. But all his new friends are still there.

It's a really sweet little story, I really felt for Ben. The illustrations, by Shaun McLaren, give a real window into the story and themes too. Which is why we use one of them in our training!