Reviews: Owen and the Soldier and A Most Peculiar Toy Factory

Both Owen and the Soldier and A Most Peculiar Toy Factory are published by Barrington Stoke who publish dyslexia-friendly books.  They both have a Reading Age of 8 and an Interest Age of 8-12. Both these books are written by popular children’s authors who write middle-grade fiction. Lisa Thompson is the author of The Goldfish Boy, The Light Jar and The Day I was Erased. Alex Bell is the author of The Polar Bear ExplorersClub books.

Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Publication Date: 15th June 2019
Pages: 87

This poignant, beautifully written story really tugged at my heartstrings.  It is a short story, but it packs so much into those pages. 

Owen hasn’t seen his Dad in two years, his Mum is struggling at home, and he finds making friends difficult.  Until the day he encounters a crumbling stone soldier sitting on a memorial bench in his local park. 

He begins to talk openly to him, sharing his fears, worries and dreams.  The soldier helps assuage some of his feelings of intense loneliness.  I loved the genuine regard he shows towards the soldier and what he represents:  showing respect in remembrance of the sacrifices made by fallen soldiers. 

His English teacher is keen for him to write and recite a poem at the opening of the school library, but he refuses to do it as he doesn’t like speaking in front of others. 

When the town Council decides to remove the stone soldier, it becomes the catalyst to propel Owen into taking action which forces him to confront some of his fears.   

His courage in the face of his terror is both heart-breaking and heart-warming as he faces up to his fear of public-speaking:

My poem is about my Dad … And I’d like to dedicate it to the stone soldier who sits in the memorial garden.

I must admit, I cried when I read his poem which is so touching, given how it resonates with him.  The ending of this story is uplifting and demonstrates the importance of seeking help in difficult circumstances. 

Illustrator: Nan Lawson
Publication Date: 15th September 2019
Pages: 114

This is a terrifically creepy and really rather chilling read which had me on the edge of my seat throughout, eager to turn the next page, but worried about what I might discover.

Shadows of teddy bears flit across windows.  Dolls whisper behind closed doors.

Hoggle’s Happy Toy Factory has been closed for five years amid rumours of strange and evil occurrences, until the day that the new owner, Marmaduke J Hoggle, re-opens it.   Ten-year old Tess Pips is intent on saving her family farm from closure, so is determined to overcome her reluctance to work there when it becomes apparent that Mr Hoggle will only employ children in his factory.

The build-up of tension and sense of dread which pervades the Pips’ children’s entry into the factory is brilliant.  Of course, it is not long before they have reason to be afraid.  The sinister goings on in the factory are ominously portrayed, giving the reader that edgy, jumpy feeling that watching a horror movie gives … and the chapter cliff hangers are just perfect for adding to this.

The use of sights, sounds and unexpected twists play a large part in building the creepy atmosphere:  doors painted with manically grinning toys.

The clever use of horror fantasy, magical creatures, and an incredibly eerie setting leads the reader on an irresistible path to unravel hidden secrets and make new discoveries … The action is fast-paced and relentless in a good way.  So much plot happens in this short story, but I can’t talk about it because I’m too worried about giving away spoilers, and this story needs to be read without knowing what to expect in order to have the full impact it definitely intends to have on the reader.

Tess is a wonderfully strong protagonist who overcomes her fears to protect her siblings and has a very matter-of-fact approach which helps her deal with whatever the factory throws at her … and it sends a lot her way!  Can I just say … the ending … oh my … the ending!

10 thoughts on “Reviews: Owen and the Soldier and A Most Peculiar Toy Factory

    1. I can see why but please inform the Elf that it is definitely not! I found it scary – like a real good old-fashioned horror! Some chd might find the idea of evil – and I mean evil – teddies worrying, especially if they own a white teddy!

      Liked by 1 person

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