To celebrate National Libraries day 2012, we asked librarians to review some of our top 2012 titles. Unsurprisingly, we received a huge response via a special Librarians Newsletter. We picked just a handful of people to submit book reviews; they’ve done a fantastic job! This week, we’re showcasing the reviews starting with a review of Simon Mayo’s ITCH. Jo Huett of Rossett School in Harrogate has provided the review – thanks Jo!
ITCH starts off with a bang, literally. Before we are introduced to Itch himself, his Cornish neighbourhood trembles with an explosion created in his bedroom. This science mad teenager is left without any eyebrows but it is a fitting introduction to this rather awkward but enthusiastic boy who stands out from his class mates as being a bit different.
He is a bit of a loner, an oddball who doesn’t quite fit in at school but he has loyal friends in his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jack (short for Jacqueline). Itch is short for Itchingham (not a name I’ve come across before!) and he is a passionate collector of all the elements of the Periodic Table. I enjoyed the descriptions of his eclectic collection, kept in his smoke blackened bedroom and sympathised with his poor mother. I was prepared to be annoyed with Itch because of his unlikely name but I soon warmed to him.
After an exciting start the book falters a little as there is a lot of scene setting and introductions of characters which goes into slightly more depth than I felt I needed. There is a taster of how Itch’s elements can wreak havoc, in a plot involving a class in the school greenhouse. The story really gets going when Itch acquires a mysterious rock which, it turns out, is a previously undiscovered element that can be used for great good (an amazing green source of power) or great evil. He is also warned to “trust no-one”.
Soon the pace picks up and Itch is involved in a race to protect the rock from evil villains who want it for the wealth and destruction it would bring. As the baddies say ”with terrifying consequences if the wrong people get there first” and the other replies “You forget. We are the wrong people”. The story now rattles along as Itch and his cousin Jack are pursued across the country getting steadily more ill as the radioactive element has its effect on them. Don’t read this if you’re sensitive about descriptions of being sick! The teenage element hunter soon has to rely on his scientific knowledge to get him out of several narrow escapes.
The science theme of the book is integral but very lightly threaded through the story – not enough to put anyone off if they are not a scientist but very interesting for those who are. Itch is a very endearing and resourceful character who wrestles with the decision of how best to put things right. His sister and cousin are less well drawn but Itch really takes centre stage. His poor well-meaning parents don’t get much of a look in (as it should be, if a teenager is involved in an adventure- no parents to take over and sort it out). Some of the villains are a bit ‘pantomime’ but once the story is rattling along merrily this doesn’t seem to matter.
The story ends with a major loose end leaving room for further adventures with Itch. I’d be happy to read more about this likeable teenager and his family. I can imagine this book would really appeal to boys the same age or a bit younger than the protagonist especially Alex Rider or Young James Bond fans, but I’ve also recommended it to my science enthusiast husband!
ITCH is published by Doubleday on 1st March 2012. To keep up to date with Itchingham’s adventures, you can follow him on Twitter @itchingham. You can also find Simon Mayo @simonmayo. Look out for more ITCH news coming soon!
Librarians, publishers and authors (including RHCB’s own Bali Rai) gathered for a special reception at Waterstone’s Piccadilly last night to celebrate libraries working closely together with other creative partners. Kate Mosse gave a rousing speech, urging us all to champion our libraries and saying how our library system is the envy of every other country in the world. Some of the best events RHCB has held this year have been organised or hosted by public and school libraries – I went to Bridgnorth for an event with Joanne Harris organised by the Friends of Bridgnorth Library earlier this month. Joanne spoke to a packed audience of 250 who had travelled from a wide area to hear her talk about her comic fantasy Runelight.
Shirley Hughes opened the newly refurbished Notting Hill Gate library yesterday with the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Councillor James Husband and Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, Cabinet Member for Education and Libraries. Shirley has always been a champion supporter of the library service, and it was particularly heartening to hear her praising librarians. Shirley turned to all of the librarians, and paid tribute to their skill and professionalism, saying that it is their skill that keeps libraries going, that no volunteer, however enthusiastic, or computer, could ever take their place. Shirley then had a chat with a class from Fox Primary School, telling them that the best drawings she does aren’t nearly as good as the ones they imagine in their heads as they read. She decided to do some drawing for them, and when she’d sketched just an ear of Dogger they all called out with glee ‘Dogger’. Another group of children made an impromptu visit to the library when we were there, and decimated the display table of Shirley’s books, so eager were they to take them home for themselves that afternoon. Shirley was joined at the library by her son the journalist Ed Vulliamy, who last visited the library as a child with his brother and sister over 40 years ago! Here they are together on the steps of the library.
For more on Shirly, visit the new Alfie anniversary website at http://alfiebooks.co.uk/