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The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things, Paul Gamble   Age 10+

The Ministry of Suits deals with dinosaurs (live ones), Were-books, Piratoriums, Evil Beings with Unimaginable Powers and (Oh no!) the Tooth Fairy – who is over six feet tall, carries a pair of pliers and looks ridiculous in a tutu.  The Ministry are the only people strange, unusual and impossible enough to be able to help Jack to rescue his friend David from....from...from....Aaagh! It’s too gruesome. You’ll have to read the book.


Jack is a fairly normal boy – perhaps just a bit more curious about the world than most.  His best friend is David, who might definitely be considered ‘not normal’ with his geekiness and extra long arms and legs.  Jack has the same struggles that most kids do – keeping his parents happy; getting the school bus on time; forgetting PE Kit and facing the wrath of the hideous PE teacher, who goes out of his way to make his students lives a misery. But unlike most of his peers, Jack is super curious about the world and is always thinking; he wants the world to make sense.  So when he and his friend David come across a BEAR in the middle of the road on the way to school, Jack is very, very keen to find out what this means.  And his curiosity leads him to discovering the Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things (SUITS).  Little does Jack realise the adventure is only just beginning as he finds himself ‘recruited’ by the Ministry, and attempts to unravel all the clues. He meets some of the strangest and most unusual people he has ever known, but perhaps most terrifying is Moody Trudy, the school’s most scary student.  Soon Jack is caught up in a mystery which only seems to produce more and more unanswered questions, putting himself in mortal danger to save not just his friend David, but a whole host of missing school children....


I haven’t laughed out loud at a story this much for a very long time.  In fact, possibly ever.  As strange and unusual as the title suggests, this book is really funny featuring everything from pirates to aliens to the Tooth Fairy. You’ve got to love a story that starts with an explanation of how a single shoe ends up by itself in the middle of the road (which I’ve often wondered about).  Throughout the narrative there are fantastic footnotes, with often witty and hilarious observations and explanations.  I loved the use of these as little asides between the reader and the author.  And how fantastic to finally get an understanding of the ‘Heavy Plant Crossing’ road sign! Or maybe I’m just on the same, slightly odd, wavelength as the author...There are also ‘extracts’ throughout from the Ministry of SUITS guidebook, which some might find distracting but once you get used to them you’ll look forward to what on earth they’re going to say next.


Jack is a great character - how wonderful to be so curious about the world, even if you do get into trouble because of it here and there.  And his best friend David is brilliantly portrayed as one of the unsuspecting victims of an evil pirate plot.  Alongside all the hilarity and madness, it’s a great story about friendship too – that Jack risks his life to save David, making an ally of the ever so slightly terrifying Trudy in the process, shows what a true friend he is.  All three of them are just to the left or right of ‘normal’ – whatever that means – I like that this story sheds being a little different in a positive light.  The wider cast of characters are wonderfully described from the lunatic PE teacher to the mysterious Grey to David’s Dad (or should I say David’s Dad’s moustache?!) and of course,  the weird and wonderful creatures the ministry ‘looks after’.  Lots of action and cliff hangers keep you guessing – and it’s quite bloodthirsty in places, but that’s pirates for you!


I love the fact that this book is different; a real original in a wonderfully crowded field of great children’s writers. Madcap, maybe; strange, in places; unusual, all the time; impossible – well, no. Nothing is impossible with a vivid imagination and this book has imagination in bucket loads. Read it!

The Impossible, Michelle Magorian        Age 10+

‘Play out to the audience...nice sweeping gestures and remember to gaze up at the Dress Circle. And keep smiling!’  Such is the endless advice Josie receives from her London stage school. It is only when she finds herself watching the recently established Theatre Workshop Company in a dress rehearsal that Josie realizes how thrilling acting can be.  First though, there’s the small matter of being kidnapped – in a case of mistaken identity. Escaping from her pursuers she unexpectedly finds refuge with the famous Joan Littlewood’s company. Who she meets and what a turn her career takes thereafter is an education in itself.  All looks set to be lost forever when the villains are back on her trail. Can Josie shake them off for good, and can she realize her dreams of acting?


Josie is the youngest daughter of the Hollis family, her birth featured in Michelle Magorian’s previous novel A Spoonful of Jam.  A young girl growing up in 1959, Josie dreams of acting. Fortunate enough to have an Aunt who has come into money and is happy to invest in Josie’s education, she attends a London Stage School. With her short cropped hair and tom-boy behaviour fitting in is harder than she’d like; Josie is frequently teased and bullied by the other students.  However, thankfully her eccentric, but loving Auntie Win and other family members such as fellow actress Elsie help Josie keep her chin up.  And it is thoughts of her family that keep Josie going when she is mistakenly kidnapped, whilst performing in a play. Managing a daring escape, what follows is an extraordinary tale of adventure, mystery and of course, acting, all set against the backdrop of London theatre in the 60s.  Will Josie achieve the impossible in beating the kidnappers and securing her future on stage?


This is a great novel; the kind of book I wish had been around when I was a young reader.  Full of adventure, emotion, interest and excitement the narrative keeps you guessing right until the end.  The author creates characters you care about and brings to life a vivid cast, from the enigmatic Mr Beauvoisin down to the theatre volunteer Mrs P.  


Josie’s determination to succeed and help others on the way to doing so permeates the story and you find yourself cheering her on! I loved Auntie Win, with her eccentric manner, care for Josie and hilarious lack of cooking skills. Clearly much research has gone into the novel, and the backdrop of 1960s London in all its splendour along with the not so pleasant attributes of racism and sexism, springs off the page.  There is lots of detail about theatres, film and acting which were interesting to discover.  And a look at the Girl Guides is brilliant! I would highly recommend this book to confident young readers looking for an absorbing read, especially those interested in theatre and performing!


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