The Puddle Street Chronicles, by Alan Kelly (Hawkwood Books €11.20)
TOBY Sprocket’s uncle has invented, by his own admission, a “wonderful, truly remarkable” anti-gravity machine.
It does, when Toby and his friend Sally Bunn sit into the machine for a test run, prove to be remarkable, but not quite in the way retired scientist Professor Arthur C Sprocket had anticipated.
One moment, the children are in the uncle’s dusty attic laboratory in Puddle Street, London, the next they find themselves in a house they do not recognise. Worse still, their mobile phones have stopped working.
“Everything is clean, and nothing is old. Also, where’s all your stuff?” asks Sally.
“And when was the last time you saw a fire in your front room? Chimneys around London (have) been blocked up for years.”
It must be a joke, they surmise, or perhaps they have been concussed during their journey in the “anti-gravity machine”.
The terrible truth finally dawns after the pair, somewhat unwisely, leave the house and the machine in which they arrived, venturing out into an unfamiliar London where only the Thames looks the same.
Instead of defying gravity, they have travelled through time, landing in the Puddle Street of 1610.
As strange as Sally and Toby find their gloomy new surroundings, the citizens of 17th century London find the pair’s appearance even stranger and the youngsters have to defend themselves against attackers - some armed with particularly unpleasant maggot-infested dead rats - as they wander lost and hungry through a hostile city.
As time travels go, this is a fairly bleak expedition, not only because of the unwelcoming surroundings but due to the seeming impossibility of finding a way back to the present without a time machine or the knowledge of how to operate one.
Events take an upward turn when the children find their way back to Puddle Street, and are given the opportunity to work in the Globe Theatre with actor Richard Burbage and a playwright by the name of William Shakespeare.
Danger is still lurking, however, in this fast-paced adventure for readers aged nine-plus, due for release next week.
With a stylish cover illustrated by Katherine Mabey, this is the debut children’s novel from Alan Kelly, a mature student living in Cork city and newly qualified with a masters in creative writing from UCC.
Monaghan author Claire Mulligan’s debut novel for the same age group is also the first book published by Irish arts and literary magazine The Moth - and what a way to make an entrance.
The Hunt For David Berman (€9.99) tells the heart-stopping story of Second World War evacuee Robert and the boy he finds hiding out in a cave near his grandparents’ home on the Scottish coast.
Robert and David, a Jewish boy who has arrived from Germany via Kindertransport, become firm friends, David explaining how he was mistreated by the foster family with whom he had been placed, prompting him to go on the run.
Despite the eagle-eyed watch of his formidable grandmother, Robert begins smuggling food out of the house to feed David, who is terrified of his whereabouts being discovered by adults.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that being returned to the cruel Scottish foster family is the least of David’s worries. Side by side with the Scottish narrative are glimpses of the violent tyranny of Nazi Germany, seen from inside Gestapo headquarters.
Unknown to the two boys, David’s safety in Scotland is in dire peril as he is the target of a Nazi secret agent who, with the book’s every page, is closing in on his quarry with the intent of murdering the boy for the secret contents of his suitcase.
A story of friendship and courage on the part of both boys, this is a thriller in the best tradition of children’s writing, laced with danger at each turn.
With heartbreak, warmth, hardship, and battles for survival - plus a top-secret codebook - this is Ian Serraillier meets Michael Morpurgo, with a hint of Famous Five.
Mulligan, whose short stories have been published in The Caterpillar, the children’s magazine of The Moth, and broadcast on RTÉ Radio, may have caused a few raised eyebrows by setting her children’s novel in 1940. Yet with the shadows of war again darkening the world, her choice seems truly prescient and the obvious parallels with the displacement of Ukrainian children will only add to her novel’s poignancy.