Trouble Next Door by Chris Higgins and illustrated by Emily MacKenzie is a really wonderful book for younger readers. Bella’s family has moved into a new house, which seemed like a good idea to Bella until she actually saw the house and realised that ‘new’ meant ‘hundreds of years old’. As Bella struggles to adjust to this new environment, she and her brother meet Magda, who lives next door. Madga is one of those children that nicely-brought-up children are fascinated by. She makes her own rules and isn’t good with manners. But she exudes a kind of joie de vivre that Bella is drawn to. Why not climb up the inside of the chimney? Who cares about getting dirty?
When you’re lonely and unsettled like Bella, a character like Magda is like a bright light. Bella can’t help saying yes to her, even when her instinct advises against it. And as such, she gets into a whole heap of trouble. Most unfairly, her own mother blames HER and not Magda for what goes wrong, including breakages and eating all the biscuits.
It’s a fantastic way of showing readers the dilemma so many of them will face: should you speak up against injustice, or should you keep quiet in order to keep your friend? And can they really be your friend if they don’t care about what you think or how you feel? There are also moments when the reader feels sorry for Magda, blurring the lines between right and wrong.
At the end of the book, I felt frustrated that Bella still wasn’t standing up for herself, but I’m sure young readers will identify with this! And it is the first in a series, which is excellent news. Hopefully as the series goes on, Bella will grow a spine, and Magda will start to understand that friendship is based on mutual respect, not getting the other person to do what you want all the time…!
Trouble Next Door deals with real issues with a charmingly light touch, is published by Bloomsbury and out now. Trouble At School will be published in August 2017. Perfect for readers of 5-7