Codes – book reviews

Codes – book reviews © Jason and Clare

Book reviewer Anne Faundez’s mission: To hunt out the very best books for our Codes topic. It looks like this mission has been accomplished!

Tom Gates Genius Ideas

Tom Gates Genius Ideas

Title: Tom Gates Genius Ideas (PB)
Author: Liz Pichon
Publisher: Scholastic
Price: £6.99

Tom Gates writes in a code of words and drawings, scribbles and doodles to tell his story of everyday life. To his deep embarrassment, Dad starts working out, dressed in bright blue cycling shorts, and teacher Mr Fullerton shows his competitive streak by getting his class to practise endlessly for sports’ day.

At the same time, auditions for the talent show competition are underway, classmate Marcus continues to annoy and sister Delia’s hair turns green.

The first-person account is fastpaced and uproarious, with Tom describing events, experiences and reactions in quick succession, and recording them in his battered old homework diary. In this story – as in the whole award-winning series – pictures and visuals are as important as words and even form part of the sentence structure. It’s surprising how easy it is to decode Tom’s narrative style – and how enjoyable, too! Filled with cheeky wit and laugh-out-loud situations, this is the perfect read for both accomplished and reluctant readers.

Top Secret Code Book

Top Secret Code Book

Title: Top Secret Code Book (PB)
Author: Dan Newman
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: £4.99

Do you know what a circular traffic sign means – and how it differs from a triangular sign? Which famous seventeenth-century writer used shorthand to write his diaries? What is stenography? How does a code wheel work? Learn how to tap out a message in Morse, to create an invisible message and to use your fingers in American Sign Language. This book aimed primarily at Scouts is packed full of information and activities on making and breaking codes. It examines the application of codes in keeping a message secret, communicating over long distances and conveying information in a simple, immediately accessible way, as in the Highway Code. There are examples of codes used historically such as Ancient Greek Polybius’ signalling for use on the battlefield and the butterfly drawings of Scouts founder Baden-Powell, which he used to mark enemy positions. This is an intriguing book, both practical and filled with fun activities.

Knight Puzzles, Unicorn Puzzles and Mermaid Puzzles

knights puzzles

Title: Knight Puzzles, Unicorn Puzzles and Mermaid Puzzles (PB)
Author: Stella Maidment and Daniela Dogliani
Publisher: QED Publishing
Price: £5.99 each

Encourage young children to solve simple puzzles with these three cheerfully coloured stories. In Knight Puzzles, Henry sets off to find the King’s golden shield and comes across a fiery dragon with a terrible roar. In Unicorn Puzzles, Sparkle the unicorn is invited to a magical picnic by her Fairy Godmother and meets an assortment of woodland animals, while in Mermaid Puzzles, Molly mermaid and her friends put on an underwater concert – to King Neptune’s delight. On every page, there are fun games such as sorting, matching and spot the difference, activities to develop visual literacy and open-ended questions on the storyline. The full-page illustrations are bright and appealing with just enough detail to hold the reader’s attention. Answers to puzzles can be found at the back of each book.

Secret Agents v Giant Slugs in the Jungle

Secret Agents v Giant Slugs in the Jungle Mega Mash  Up series

Title: Secret Agents v Giant Slugs in the Jungle (PB)
Author: Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Price: £5.99 each

The reader actively participates in piecing together the story in words and pictures in this highly innovative series of books.

The story begins in the jungle, when a group of tiny slugs fall into a pool of toxic goo and turn into giant slimy creatures with evil ambitions. Bent on taking over the world, they hadn’t reckoned on Gadget Gavin and his ace team of secret agents. There’s just enough madcap storyline and graphics to hook the reader. Every spread has plenty of blank spaces, prompts and instructions to fill in the plot, create illustrations, add dialogue and write captions. One spread has newspaper columns waiting to be filled with pictures that expand the headlines.

For those readers unsure of how to proceed, there’s help at hand in the four pages at the back of the book devoted to an assortment of illustrative prompts – of characters and gadgets – to be copied or used as a source of inspiration. Attractively produced, the book will especially appeal to children who are reluctant to read a full story but eager to use their imagination and participate in the storytelling.

Taff in the WAAF

Taff in the WAAF

Title: Taff in the WAAF (PB)
Author: Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £7.99 each

This engrossing non-fiction narrative recounts the wartime experience of the mother of its author, Mick Manning. It begins with a scene in which she, her sisters and parents are huddled around the wireless listening to the declaration of World War II. It goes on to describe her experience as a wireless operator and as a listener for the top secret ‘Y’ service intercepting enemy messages. The story is rich and multi-layered, the first-person viewpoint providing a warm and personal account while bringing into the story facts such as the crucial role of Morse code, the BBC and Bletchley Park – the cracking of the German Enigma code and its significance in ending the war.

The story touches on the heroism of the many young women in wartime Britain. Simply told, the story weaves together text, captions, illustrations and reproductions of historical artefacts into a moving and memorable account of women at war.

Codes and Ciphers

Codes and Ciphers

Title: Codes and Ciphers (PB)
Author: Adrian Gilbert
Publisher: QED Publishing
Price: £6.99 each

The secret world of spying is laid bare in this fascinating non-fiction book. It begins by explaining the difference between a code and a cipher and moves on to discuss their application through the ages. It explains how to encipher/decipher. There’s information, for example, on Julius Caesar’s cipher, Morse code, visual codes, one-time pads, secret writing, microdots and specific machines such as Purple used by the Japanese during the World War II and the German Enigma Code. The text is broken into bite-sized chunks and accompanied by large supportive photographs. The book is well set out, with clearly marked chapter headings, subheadings and captions to further accessibility and the retrieval of nonchronological information.

The Ruby Redfort series

Title: The Ruby Redfort series (PB)
Author: Lauren Child
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: £12.99 each

I would recommend this series to anyone who likes mystery books. They are very action-packed, and the fact that the secret agent is a child who can crack really hard codes like a Vigenère code makes you think ‘Wow – that is one clever kid’. The books have lots of interesting twists and you can do things inside the book, for example, you can attempt to crack the codes that Ruby and Clancy (her best friend) use. Lauren Child makes it seem more real as Ruby’s life is always conflicting with her job and she is always falling out with her friends, if she doesn’t turn up when they are supposed to meet and so on.

Reviewed by Lucy Wood – aged 11

More in this category: « Author interview – Luke Swann

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