Children’s book of the week: The House At The Edge Of Magic

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Our latest recommendation for young readers is the new book from Amy Sparkes: here’s our review of an upcoming treat.

One of the areas that’s been heavily cut back on as newspapers and magazines trim their budgets in current times is reviews of books for young readers. As such, it’s getting trickier and trickier for authors of books for children and younger readers to get their work noticed. This weekly spot on the site is our attempt to do something about that. If you see a book you like here, please do spread the word. And who knows? We may see some of these stories on the big screen in the future.

For Nine, life never quite delivers the sweetness of strawberries. She’s a rough and ready street urchin, stealing for the head of her Nest, a shadowy figure known as Pockets – with whom she’s falling out of favour. Things couldn’t get any trickier – that is, until she steals an ornament that turns out to have much more to it than meets the eye.

The House At The Edge of Magic is, like its central characters, fast-moving and very funny. Its pace is absolutely relentless, so it’s probably not a great bedtime read if either of you want to be able to put the book down for the night without finishing it. A quick reader or an adult could devour it in an afternoon, but it’s a shame to race through Sparkes’ world too quickly and not give yourself enough time to enjoy the quirky details.

In the best possible way, The House At The Edge Of Magic borrows widely from very British magical books. Pockets whiffs of Gollum. There’s a hint of Harry Potter in the belching sugar bowl and the dangerously overflowing cupboard under the stairs. Most of all, it recalls Howl’s Moving Castle in the residents of an unpredictable house under a witch’s curse – especially Flabberghast, the over-emotional and unreliable wizard. Swirling these all together creates an altogether fresh yet familiar mad tea party, and a very satisfying one at that.

At the centre of it all is a story about finding a sense of belonging. Orphan Nine has reconstructed the shape of a family out of other hurt and abandoned souls – but she’s struggling to retain her place in it when all she’s valued for is her skill at theft. As reluctant as she is to be press-ganged into a quest to help Flabberghast and his unusual housemates, it does give her a sense of purpose. Underneath all the slapstick shenanigans, there’s a gentle reminder that it’s much more important who you are than what you can do.

As it happens, The House At The Edge Of Magic is Sparkes’ first middle-grade offering, having made her name with picture and chapter books for younger readers. On the strength of this, it definitely shouldn’t be her last; with any luck, the enthusiastic response this book deserves will convince her to return to Nine’s world and give us more of her, Flabberghast, Mr Spoon, and the wonderful Eric (you’ll see).

Target age: 8-11
Publisher: Walker Books
Release date: January 7th 2021
More details: right here

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