TAILS: the animal investigators of London by Martin Penny

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but in this case it is definitely a case that the fiction stems directly from real events.  The world of children’s literature has long been the natural home of stories featuring animals, both wild and domesticated.  From ‘Wind in the Willows’ to ‘Watership Down’ we have grown up with these glimpses of life for other creatures.  In the last couple of decades we have seen a focus on more animals that we think of as being domesticated, although in the stories they are often feral and very wary of the human world; characters such as ‘Varjak Paw‘show a slightly different side, being more akin to Yowl with his connection to humans.  The characters that we find in this story are a mix of domesticated and wild and they share an uneasy truce, in the face of a common enemy.

This particular new story features a collection of animals, all of whom live in the London  suburbs; it is based on true life events that took place in Croydon, starting in about 2010.  The central character is a young kitten called Yowl and he has just moved to a new home with his owners  and their young daughter, Lucy.  We follow this young and intrepid kitten as he gradually meets his neighbours, both feline and canine.  He is then gradually introduced to some of the surrounding wildlife, in the guise of pigeons, squirrels and even a family of foxes.  What really brings all of these creatures together is the realization that cats have been disappearing over the last year or so, something like 70 of them,  and the human ‘authorities’ have decided that it is all the fault of wild foxes.  As with any really good detective story, we are given a set of clues and a central character who has the ability (with the help of older and wiser friends) to sort through the evidence and find the likely culprit.

The hero, Yowl, may be young but he is very intelligent and has learnt to understand human speech and written words, from watching television and reading the local paper!  However, at no time does he lose his character as an animal and his encounters with a ‘litter tray’ can be quite amusing.  I love the underlying humour and also the tensions that exist between the various species.  There are some real lessons to be learnt about accepting people who are different, showing empathy and treating others as you would wish to be treated.  It is definitely a recommended read for KS2 children.  I look forward to further adventures for this intrepid band of friends.


About the author: Martin Penny is a cat lover originally from London, the son of a
BBC sound engineer who worked on the Goon Show, he
takes after his mother who used to say, ‘a home isn’t
complete without a cat’. The character of Yowl is based on
the tabby he got as soon as he left his parents’ home. Later in life, for over ten
years, Martin managed the flagship Oxfam Bookshop in Marylebone High Street
(London) which under his stewardship became one of the most profitable Oxfam
shops in the country. He has been living in Turkey since 2015 where he teaches
English part-time. Ideally, this enables him to dedicate himself to his ‘real’ job as
a writer. Already the author of a 7-book crime series, TAILs: The Animal
Investigators of London is his first children’s book. He has enjoyed the company
of Yowl and his friends so much (the pleasure is mutual) that he’s already writing
a new adventure, Yowl and the Fugitive from Justice. It seems that Martin’s
brave and enterprising animal friends aren’t going to leave us any time soon!

Picture Book Update

Parents, librarians and teachers are always on the lookout for new picture books to read to their young readers.  Whilst most children have favourites that they have to have read almost every day, it is important that they are introduced to a wide range of the fabulous works which are out there.  Teachers in particular are looking for books that have themes that they can integrate into their curriculum work, as well as being a fun and lively story.  I hope that some of these books will meet the needs of many of you reading this.  Give them a go, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Two Hoots, 9781509889839

“Three Little Vikings” by Bethan Woollvin  tells the story of three children who struggle to get the adults to believe that they have heard something big and dangerous outside; the chief is particularly irritating as he repeats that he is a grown up and he knows best.  You can see that many children would find that message very frustrating.   The story uses Viking mythology to brilliant effect, as the children try and save their village from a destructive troll and eventually the adults have to believe them.

Uclan, 9781912979608

“The Bear and her Book” by Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O’Connor.   This is a truly magical story of adventure and also about the joys that books can bring to our lives.  When bear decides to see the world, she takes her copy of “Bear’s Big Book of being Wise” and finds it very useful in many of the situations that she finds herself in.  It is a fabulous addition to my collection of books about books and libraries and I really recommend it.

Big Picture Press, 9781787418769

“Ratty’s Big Adventure” by Lara Hawthorne is a lovely story of a small vegetarian rat called Ratty, who decides he wants to explore beyond the mountain crater that he lives in.  He meets a wide range of animals and faces many dangers and challenges.  However he decides that home and friends are what he really wants in life.  This is full of information about the wild life of Papua New Guinea, but above all, it is a tale of adventure and finding your place in the world.

Pikku Publishing, 9781999639891

“The Happy Hedgerow” by Elena Mannion and Erin Brown tells the story of Old Oak and the changes that he sees, when the hedgerow is grubbed up to make larger fields.  It is a story about the seasons and also about the changes that we see in the countryside.  Happily this story has a happy ending, as the humans realize the importance of the hedges and re-plant them.  This will work well as part of  environmental studies in KS1.

Chronicle Kids, 9781452173191

“Inside Cat” by Brendan Wenzel  is the story of one of those cats who lives indoors and only sees the world through the prism of the windows that enclose him.  However, he discovers that seeing something from the inside is not the same experience as being out there. This book makes us more aware of our senses and how we can explore our world, even if we are limited in some ways.  It increases our understanding of the world around us and how we perhaps need to challenge the limits and perhaps go outside our comfort zone.  The quirky illustrations and the limited text make the whole story relatable to the small child.  This is aimed at very young children and would be brilliant for encouraging Early Years children to try new experiences.

Andersen Press, 9781783448944

“Scissorella” by Clare Helen Walsh and Laura Barrett.   This is a truly magical re-telling of ‘Cinderella’, but with the twist being that the main character is an amazing paper artist. The art is inspired by the creative work of Lottie Reiniger, a German born artist who had a great influence on the development of film animation.  The story has an art deco setting, with the costumes harking back to the 1920s; in fact, it reminds me in many ways, of the marvellous version ’Ella’s Big Chance’ by Shirley Hughes. However, we have the added beauty of the paper cutting, which gives a very lace like feel to many of the images. This is a truly beautiful book, which shows a determined female character, who is determined to succeed in life and is a wonderful addition to the Cinderella canon of books.

Pushkin Children’s, 9781782693154

“Shoo!” by Susie Bower and Francesca Gambatesa is the very funny story of what happens when a Zoo moves next door, to someone who doesn’t like animals.  It is full of mayhem and laughter and is a great read for younger readers.  It also reminds us that we all need friends and that our perceptions should be open to change. This will make a great book for story time, both in the school and in the library.

Templar Books, 9781787419179

“The Little wooden robot and the log princess” by Tom Gauld is a very modern interpretation of a fairy tale.  The king and queen have no children and ask a witch and an inventor to create a child for them.  The log princess, worked by magic, but turned back into a log every night.  Whereas the Robot Prince was worked by mechanics and housed a family of beetles in his working.  When the princess goes missing, it is up to her brother to go searching, but he faces many challenges before finding his sibling.  Luckily, as with the best fairy tales we have a happy ending.

Farshore, 9780755502851

“Splash” by Claire Cashmore and Sharon Davey is written by the Paralympian athlete Claire Cashmore and is a version of how she overcame her fear of water, in order to become a gold medal swimmer.  It is a story of determination and overcoming many challenges.  Hopefully it will help many young people to focus on overcoming their own challenges, what ever they may be.



Some book gems to read


“Brilliant” by Roddy Doyle

I have been waiting for a while to write this review as I was privileged to read the proof several months ago.  It is not often that a book lives up to its title in such an concise way but Roddy Doyle really has written a brilliant book.

Macmillan, 978144724884

Macmillan, 978144724884

It is an allegorical tale of life in Dublin and how the ‘black dog’ of despair hits the adult population.  Luckily the children still have faith in the positive and over a day they seek to banish the darkness by affirming that things are brilliant.   It may be that having an Irish mother made me more susceptible to the concept, but I had no difficulty in hearing the accent in my mind as I was reading the book, together with the very lyrical language..  It really showed the spirit of the children as they banished the ‘black dog.

Despite the serious theme of the book it is full of humour and a huge optimism about the ability of people to overcome even major problems.  It truly is brilliant!



“The boy on the wooden box” by Leon Leyson

This is the amazing true story of a young boy who survived the war thanks to the efforts of Otto Schindler.  Along with his father he was employed in Schindler’s factory and the book’s title related to the fact that he stood on  box to reach the machine controls for his job.

The story is a simple retelling of his story, but it is haunting and  a real reminder of the horrors that people went through.  It also shows how human nature can overcome such trials and succeed in life.

Simon & Schuster 9781471119682

Simon & Schuster

Unlike many other wartime stories it does not end in 1945 but follows Leon as he grows into adulthood in the USA and eventually meets Otto Schindler again.  It gives us the answer to the question about ‘what happened next?’, something which is often missing from other accounts, but which will be greatly impacted by the trauma that the main character has been through.





“The cat who came in off the roof” by Annie M G Schmidt

The cat who came in off the roof

Pushkin Children’s Books, 9781782690368

It seems amazing that I have never heard of this author.  When I was growing up in the 1960s she was the most famous children’s writer in Holland and went on to win the Hans Christian Andersen award in 1989. Thankfully her work is now being translated and brought to a wider audience.

It is a quirky little story about a reporter called Tibbles who loves to write about cats, but is told to stop by his editor because the stories are boring.  Then one day Tibbles rescues a young lady from the tree she is hiding in, because of a dog.  The woman is called Minou and she shows some remarkably catlike traits.  Well, as it turns out, she was a cat and turned into a human after eating scraps from the waste bin at a science institute.  All sorts of situations occur as she struggles to keep her cat links whilst living as a human.

It is a fascinating book about change and being accepted as well as about the dangers of big business.  There is a very 1950s feel to the book and I keep imagining Miss Minou as Audrey Hepburn (not a bad thing),  but the themes are still relevant today and the characters are full of personality.


Fleeced by Julia Wills

What a great piece of fun for those who love oddball heroes and a tongue in cheek approach to the Greek myths.

Fleeced 9781848779853

Templar, 9781848779853

Aries, the ram of the Golden Fleece, had been in the underworld for millenia and he is still mourning the loss of his fleece.  Then he wins the opportunity to go on a quest to our world in order to search for it.  However he and his friend Alex end up in modern London, not Athens and then all kinds of dangers start presenting themselves.  Who is trying to kill them and can they depend on their new friend Rose to help them, but most importantly what has happened to the fleece since it was last seen in ancient Greece?

Fantastic fun and will really suit those who enjoyed books such as “The Pig Scrolls” by Paul Shipton, “Corydon”by Tobias Druitt and of course the Percy Jackson novels of Rick Riorden.

I do hope that we will see further adventures for this Ram with attitude.


“The Bubble-wrap boy” by Phil Earle

A really great book for those 8-12 year old who want to spread their wings, but feel that they are being stopped by their parents.  We all know that the world is a dangerous place but sometimes being over protected  can feel like being wrapped in bubble-wrap.  Charlie finds that he is really good at skateboarding, but is not allowed to anything dangerous by his mother.  How he fights for his dream and discovers a family secret are the two main themes of this book.  Charlie is such a great hero, he just wants to be normal and do the things that others do, so that he is not picked on at school.  Yet again Phil Earle has produced a fantastic story with lessons for us all and a hero who we can all cheer for.

Penguin, 9780141346298

reading copy with thanks to Netgalley