Beatrice, known as Bea, finds herself in India and living with her Aunt, Uncle and cousin. She has grown up living with her grannie in Scotland, after her parents had died in India, but as the latter got older she was no longer as able to care for Bea and the family packed Bea off to Aunt Constance. Unfortunately the year is 1857 and the city of Agra and the surrounding region are fast becoming the centre of a rebellion by the Indian troops. Bea and her relatives had just attended a performance of the Circus and but within days life has changed as the city of Agra finds itself under siege. Bea finds herself caught up in events and together with Jacques (an acrobat from the circus) and an Indian servant called Pingali manages to escape from the city and head for the hills, in an attempt to find her younger brother George. He had travelled to India with their parents and was sent to live with another aunt after their deaths. The dangers that this group face, both from the rebels and from army deserters brings them into huge danger and makes them very aware that you cannot judge people by their ethnicity or background. The epilogue at the end rounds off the story and we get an insight into how lives have changed over the three years since the rebellion.
Literature has long been fascinated by the Indian continent but although there are many adult novels written about the history and events, there are fewer written from a child’s point of view. Even those are often about a person travelling from India to the UK and the differences that they find. We can start with titles such as the “Secret Garden” but we are now seeing an increase in books that give us a much better perspective of the country’s history as well as allowing us to share in the lives of a huge range of people. Bea is a very strong and feisty character who did not want to travel to India, but is determined to be re-united with her brother whatever it takes. She is the total antithesis of a Victorian young lady, having been brought up in Scotland and allowed to have freedom of movement and thought. The strictures of life within the Raj are frustrating and you get the feel that the European women live in a constant form of social straitjacket. Life in Britain was itself full of social restrictions, but this was only amplified in the confined communities that they found themselves in as part of the Empire. We also get an insight into the total lack of cultural and religious understanding that the British had for the population that they were ruling; the rebellion was caused by the supposed use of pork and beef fat to coat rifle shells, which was insulting and against the beliefs of both Muslim and Hindu communities. It is to be hoped that the world has changed for the better, but I do wonder if there are still people with no empathy and understanding of those around them; however that is a question that should be a large area of discussion within schools. Above all this is a thrilling adventure story that pits the central characters against all kinds of dangers, but they come together and even take on board the saying “All for one, and one for all” from the “Three Musketeers”. It is a story that is very exciting but which will also make you think about what happened and why.
Robin Scott-Elliot has been a sports journalist for 25 years with the BBC, ITV, Sunday
Times, Independent and the ‘i’, covering every sport you can think of and a few you
probably can’t. In 2012 he covered the London Paralympics as the Independent’s
Paralympic Correspondent. He threw that all away to move home to Scotland and
write. He lives on the west coast with his wife and two children. His first book for
children, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, was published in 2019.
When Freja moves to Singapore, to live with her father and his new family for a year, she could not imagine the mysterious and frightening occurrences that will change her life. The move was caused by the breakdown in her mother’s mental health, but Freja feels guilty for not being able to stay with her. The world that she discovers in Singapore is very different from her home in Denmark and she finds it difficult to adapt to life with her step-mother Clementine and her two year-old twin half-brothers. Freja arrives in her new home during the month of the “Hungry ghosts”, a festival celebrated in Buddhist Chinese and Vietnamese cultures; where local residents leave food and other offerings at the graves of their ancestors to appease them and prevent evil spirits gaining access to our world. On the evening of her arrival Freja sees a young girl, dressed in white, in the garden but no one seems to know where she comes from. As the story progresses we learn that the girl is called Ling and that she is a ghost who cannot settle until she remembers what happened to her family. How Freja and her new school friends help solve the mystery makes for a fascinating story and we discover that it was not just Ling who had hidden away some painful memories.
This is a beautifully told story with characters that are full of energy, but who are often suffering a lot of hidden pain. The world of Singapore is brought to life and we are aware of just how much of a multi-cultural place it is. All of the friends that Freja makes come from different parts of the world and their parents are often from separate countries; just like Freja, whose mother is Danish but her father is English and her step-mother is Anglo-Chinese. The festival of the “Hungry Ghosts” puts me in mind of the Mexican Day of the Dead, but there is a slightly darker aspect to the commemoration as there is a strong need to prevent the ‘hungry ghosts’ (who may have committed a wrong doing in their life) from coming back to this world and wreaking havoc on their descendants. The multiple layers of the story that are gradually revealed remind us of the inequalities of our colonial past and the heartache that this could cause for many of the people involved. This is at times heart wrenching as Freja peels back hidden secrets and finally understands her links to Ling and Singapore.
H. S. Norup is the author of The Hungry Ghost and The Missing Barbegazi—a Sunday Times Book of the Year in 2018. Originally from Denmark, she has lived in six different countries and now resides in Switzerland with her husband and two teenage sons. She has a Master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration and sixteen years’ experience in corporate marketing strategy and communications. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors either skiing, hiking, walking, golfing or taking photos.
Thank you to the author for the author information and the photograph that she has made available on her website https://www.hsnorup.com/
Amelia Fang is the wonderful vampire heroine of this series of books and I was so sad to hear that this is going to be the last of her adventures in Nocturnia. I am consoling myself with the thought that ‘maybe’ in the future she might have adventures elsewhere; after all it is just down to the phrasing of the information. Amelia has a fantastic group of friends comprising of Florence, who is a Yeti, Grimaldi, a reaper and Tangine, who is a vampire prince and not forgetting squashy, her pet pumpkin. We have followed this team as they have lots of exciting and often funny adventures with their respective families and communities.
In this latest story we are introduced to Vincent, Amelia’s baby brother! Anyone who has had children, or who has had younger siblings will probably have some idea of what this means. At the beginning of the story Amelia is looking forward to attending Grimaldi’s birthday party but when her parents go down with Frankenflu she ends up having to take Vincent with her and things go downhill after that. Eventually the friends take Vincent for a walk to keep him quiet, which seems to work, until he disappears from his pram. They track him to a swampy area which leads to the ‘Pond Beyond’, where toads go when they are squished; so of course they have to follow him. What follows is a great adventure as they meet new friends and find the missing Vincent. The problem is that there is supposedly no way back to their world, so how are they going to get home? You will have to read the story to find out if they succeed.
This series of stories with its lovable yet very quirky main characters has been a great hit with younger readers. In this particular tale we have a very strong theme about being yourself and also loving people despite some of the things that can irritate us. Both Amelia and some of the characters she meets in the Pond Beyond realize that the love they have for family member and friends transcends the issues they face, such as snot, dirty nappies, tears and just being clumsy. This is something that we as adults have learnt to realize, but for young children it is part of the learning process.We have been given a fabulous finale to this series, but I might just have to read them all over again.
Thank you to Egmont for a copy of the book and also for the image and information about the author.
About the Author
When she’s not trying to take over the
world or fighting sock-stealing
monsters, Laura Ellen Anderson is a
professional children’s book author and
illustrator, with an increasing addiction to
She spends every waking hour creating
and drawing, and would quite like to live
on the moon when humans finally make it
possible. Laura is the official illustrator of
the 2020 Summer Reading Scheme and is
also the creator of EVIL EMPEROR
PENGUIN and illustrator of WITCH WARS,
THE FAMOUS FIVE, Terry Pratchett’s
TIFFANY ACHING novels as well as many
other children’s books. AMELIA FANG is
her first series as author-illustrator.
You can follow her on @Lillustrator