Simon Packham is the author of several well-received books for readers aged 9 and above and has a gift for addressing issues that will be familiar to many young people sensitively but in a way that feels totally true to life. Josh, the protagonist of his latest book, is beset by worries, to the extent that it seriously impacts his life. Work with a counsellor has helped hugely and Josh has a number of strategies to help him cope, including his Worrybot, the home-made cardboard robot into which he posts his fears. Now though, he has a major new worry: the family are moving to Brighton, which means a new school. Worrying enough for any young person, but a nightmare for Josh. What really drives his worries is the bullying he endured at his previous school and fears that there might be another Lottie at the new one.
Readers won’t be surprised to discover that there is another bully – thoroughly nasty Noah – maybe there is in every class? Isolated initially, Josh finds friendship and support with Charlie, who can’t physically be in class, but attends school via a learning robot. With Charlie’s help, Josh even starts to attend the drama classes he enjoyed so much before it all went wrong at his old school.
It’s proof of Packham’s writing ability that we accept completely the growing friendship between Josh and Charlie. Their eventual double act at the end of term show – boy and robot – is a huge success with everyone, and it emerges that their classmates are far less enamoured with Noah than his brashness has led us to believe. There are two twists to the story – one I saw coming, one I didn’t, the latter perhaps stretching our credulity a little, but it’s another thoroughly satisfying story from this author, skilfully blending empathy and humour.