Friday 2 September 2016

Tally and Squill written by Abie Longstaff, illustrated by James Brown, reviewed by Dawn Finch

First the blurb...

Ten-year-old Tally is a servant girl at Mollett Manor. She sleeps in the scullery sink, and spends her days scrubbing, polishing and ironing (when she's not secretly reading books). Then Tally and her squirrel friend, Squill, find a secret library hidden under the manor - a magical library where the books come to life! When Mollett Manor is burgled, can Tally use the knowledge she finds in the books to catch the criminals? Can they even help her solve the mystery of her missing mother?

Tally and Squill in a Sticky Situation is the first in a new series of books from Abie Longstaff. Abie is perhaps best known for her Fairytale Hairdresser books for younger readers, and her charming writing style is easily recognised in this new series.

Tally lives a hard life scrubbing and cleaning for her guardians at Mollett Manor. A foundling child raised by the servants of the house, Tally knows that she once had a mother (she can remember little bits about her) but somehow she was lost and then found by the servants and raised by them. She is also very very smart. Tally knows the power of books and libraries and she knows that any time she gets in trouble, a book will be there to help her, especially the books of the Secret Library.

The story takes us along with Tally on an adventure where she captures burglars, solves crimes and tunnels into a mystery - oh, and meets a very special friend; a clever and cheeky little red squirrel that she names Squill.

Wonderful descriptive passages to read aloud
This is a very enjoyable book, and one that packs a lot of punch for its size. The book is ostensibly short, but it is linguistically challenging and perfect for a developing reader. There are lots of gorgeous new words that a freshly independent reader might not otherwise have come across, all embedded in a beautifully illustrated book allowing for supported contextualisation.The book also makes great use of more complex literary elements such as footnotes, and it also manages to include many positive references to the use of non-fiction material for both enjoyment and to solve problems. The positive message about enjoying non-fiction, and using libraries is very satisfying in a book for children who are just beginning to expand their reading skills and establish a reading habit.

Ok, so that's the boring educational bit.... but the big thing is that Tally and Squill are a delight! The story is fun and adventurous and Tally is brave and smart and inspirational. When the going gets's feisty Tally right up there in front - and who doesn't love a red squirrel? The text is harmoniously coupled with the illustrations of James Brown (illustrator of the Elspeth Hart series). The illustrations are filled with life and movement and they work particularly well with Longstaff's lively text.

All in all, this is a book to read with a child, help them chew on the delicious new words, let them guess at the meanings and use the excellent illustrations to work out the puzzles. Read along, share, and enjoy the adventure with them. I was reading it on a plane and the little girl behind me was leaning over my shoulder to get a better look. When I finished it I asked her father if I could give his daughter the book as a gift. He said "well, thanks but she's not much of a reader." His daughter frowned at him and said, "that's not true, I just haven't found one I like yet." Wise words.

She took the book with a big grin and, stuffing her ipad in the seat pocket, she spent the rest of the journey with Tally and Squill. At the end of the flight I felt a little tug at my sleeve and looked down to see the little girl still clutching the book.
 "I really like squirrels," she said, "and this little girl is very clever so I like her."
"I like her too," I said. "I like her a lot."

Tally and Squill in a Sticky Situation is written by Abie Longstaff, illustrated by James Brown
Published by Little Brown, July 2016

Review by Dawn Finch
Children's writer and librarian
President, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)
CWIG Committee Member



Unknown said...

What a splendid review! 🕷 Thank you!

WendyMac said...

I am going on Amazon straight away to order this for my grandson. I knew after reading her book about the pirate houseswap that great things awaited Longstaff.

Penny Dolan said...

What a great review - and I did like that moment with the young reader on the plane!

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