Time for my annual Bath (Festival of Children’s Literature)

For the 11th year in a row my September has been highlighted by the BathKidsLitFest.  Every year I get this in the diary and know that I will be stewarding for some fantastic authors and illustrators over the 10 days of the Festival.  this time was no different and I managed to pack my diary with events over both weekends.

Rachel Ward, Fox Benwell and Marie-Louise Jensen

The festival started on the evening of 29th September when I found myself stewarding for a Cressida Cowell event at the Forum in Bath.  There must have been about 6-800 in the audience and as usual Cressida gave an amazing session, talking about both her “How to train your Dragon” series but also about her new book “The Wizards of Once”  The session was highlighted by photos drawings and clips from the latest dragon film.  All in all it was a great event and the audience were delighted.  The signing queue was long and must have lasted nearly 2 hours, which meant that I missed most of the launch party; luckily several of my friends were still there, so we were able to have a catch up chat.

Saturday started with the David Baddiel session, talking about his new book “Birthday Boy” but also about some of his earlier works, like “The Person Controller” and “The Parent Agency”As he is a polished comedian and entertainer I was expecting a funny and well put together performance and I was not disappointed.  He spoke about his inspiration for the stories and really promoted the need for children to read for pleasure.  Once again he had a large and very attentive audience and it was good to see the mix of boys and girls, although especially good to see so many boys.

The next session was one for my grandson, or rather it will be at Christmas!  This event “Star Wars with JAKe” was aimed at a slightly younger age group, but really it was for anyone who loves Star Wars.  Of course with the new film coming out soon this was just the thing to whet people’s appetites.  JAKe is the illustrator of two small books called “How to speak Wookiee” and “How to speak Droid with R2-D2.  They are simple stories explaining about Wookies and Droids and giving insights into their respective languages.  Each page has a number and the book has a keypad, so that you can hear the sounds associated with that page by pressing the correct key.  Very interactive and great fun (but not necessarily for parents or grandparents!).  The children got the chance to draw a variety of characters from the films and some very lucky people got to take one of JAKe’s illustrations home.  It was a lovely family event that the audience really enjoyed.

Chris Riddell

My next day at the festival was Sunday the 1st October and unusually I did the afternoon session rather than the morning.  this was because I wanted to listen to two exciting and fascinating authors in conversation.  They are Emma Carroll, author of “Letters from the Lighthouse” and Eloise Williams who has just published her first book “Gaslight“.  The Session was described as “The History girls” and both authors have placed their books in the past, although in widely different places and times.  Emma has written about World War II although previously she has set her books in the Victorian period and this has enabled her to bring in a range of dangers and differing characters.  Eloise has set her book in Victorian Cardiff and has centred the story around a theatre and the docks, o there is again plenty of opportunity for mystery and villainy.  A really great time for all of those, especially young girls who love a great historical novel.  I was also lucky enough to meet Chris Riddell in the Green Room as he was preparing for his talk later in the day.  I know that the audience would have had a truly amazing time as he is such a brilliant speaker and artist.  We were so lucky to have him as a Children’s laureate and he is now an ambassador for Booktrust.  The day was further improved by seeing the lovely talented Martin Brown in the Green Room as he had just finished his event on illustrating the “Horrible Histories” series; his covers and ink sketches really are the icing on the cake as far as these books are concerned.  He has also just produced a book about unusual animals that I talked about in my post from the Federation of Children’s Book groups this year, absolutely brilliant.

Having had a few days off, Friday 6th saw me back in action stewarding for the Nadiya Hussain event.  She was promoting a book which mixed food and stories all linked in to the theme of Christmas, called “Bake me a Festive Story”.  She got several children to come on stage to help decorate gingerbread Christmas trees with green coconut and this was put on to large screens behind her.  There were also readings of at least one of the stories and it was a shame that they appeared to have been pre-recorded.  However the audience, both adults and children appeared to enjoy the event and were eager to get their hands on copies of her books.

I stayed on at the Guildhall for the following event, which was the brilliant illustrator/artist Jim Kay, whose illustrated ‘HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ has just been released.  It is truly amazing how he has taken the world created by J K Rowling and has added depth and reality to an already beautifully realized world.  The insight that we were given into the whole process was enlightening and the fact that the illustrations for the first book took him over two years to produce had the audience  gasping.  When he went on to say that he had been given a deadline of eight months for the second book, it made most of us cringe at the concentration and focus that was required.  We were then treated to some amazing drafts for pages  from the current book and Jim talked through the process of how the final images evolved.  It really was a must see event for those who love Harry Potter as well as those who just love high quality illustration and imagination.

My Saturday morning was a mix of very different books, but I enjoyed both events because the speakers were so enthusiastic about their subject. The first event was about the book “Kid Normal“, written by Radio 1 DJs Greg James and Chris Smith.  The book is about a young boy who accidentally finds himself at a school for superheroes, despite having no superpowers.  I must admit that I enjoyed reading the book and am looking forward to the follow up which is coming out in March 2018.  The presenters were fun and very positive about children and reading; it was obvious that the audience really enjoyed the whole session  and that included the suspiciously large number of lone adults who attended.

The following session was very different and was aimed at those young people who are fascinated by space and the skies above our heads.  Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the well known and very charismatic astronomer, was talking about the new Doring Kindersley  book “Star Finder for beginners”.  She gave a fully illustrated talk, with some amazing images taken from various telescopes and satellites.  Her knowledge and enthusiasm is boundless and it was obvious that her young audience were just as keen on the subject.  I was surprised by the depth of questioning that they provided.  It was a real treat to see how engaged everyone was.  Those were my only sessions of the day but I was lucky enough to meet up with the lovely Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton in the Green Room after they had finished their event about the new “Shifty McGifty” stories.  These are great reads for those who are just gaining confidence in their reading,

On Sunday morning it was difficult to believe that this was the end of the festival.  We spend months looking forward to it and then it just goes in a flash.  My final day was spent at a different venue, the Widcombe Social Club, which although smaller than the Guildhall had a very friendly feel, as well as very good coffee from the bar. I was scheduled to steward on two events and they were ones that I was really looking forward to.  The first session was a discussion between Gill Lewis, author of “Sky Dancer” and Kieran Larwood who has written two books about the eponymous hero rabbit “Podkin One-Ear”  It was  a fascinating look at the difference in their styles of writing.  Gill very much keeps her books grounded in the real world and the creatures are not humanized in any way, yet we are able to make a connection with the animals and their worlds.  Kieran, on the other hand, has created a world that is inhabited by speaking, clothes wearing and almost human rabbits.  There is a mix of magic and fantasy but still they retain their link to the natural world they live in.  It was fascinating to hear both authors explain how they went about creating their stories and I would recommend that readers give both of them a try; they are well worth reading.

My final session was with one of my favourite authors for the MG (Middle Grade) reader.  Robin Stevens has made a name for herself as the author of the “Murder Most Unladylike” series and all her fans are eagerly awaiting the sixth in the series, which will be published in the early spring.  I understand that she has already started writing number seven, so everyone is happy.  However at this event she was talking about something very different.She has been chosen to write the follow up to the “London Eye Mystery”by the late Siobhan Dowd.  Her book “The Guggenheim Mystery” has just been published and it was fascinating for the young readers to find out about the challenges of taking over the characters and plot conceived by such a loved author.  Whilst the main characters are the same as before, the story is set in the United States and this gives problems to the young hero and his friends as they do not understand the culture.  The fans were eager to ask questions and most stayed to have their book collections signed by the author.

The day was rounded off by saying hello to the lovely and brilliant writers Kevin Crossley- Holland and Francesca Simon who were preparing for their discussion about “Norse Myths”; a topic about which they are both very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about.  It is great to see how myths and legends seem to be coming back in to favour and there are so many great versions and variations that you can look out for.

Well that brings me to the end of my Bath for this year.  As always it was stimulating, educational and above all a very friendly festival.  I love the range of events and look forward to volunteering for my twelfth year in 2018.

A Harry Potter themed Chair!

 

It must be Christmas!

Well, for the last couple of months we have been showered by lists of books that we should be reading this Christmas and I thought that as in previous years I will pick a few of the ones that I have really enjoyed.  Yet again it has been quite a bumper year for Christmas stories and this year they cover a large range of genres as well as age ranges.  So let us start with those for what is now termed the ‘independent’ reader.

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Puffin, 978-0141369723

“Mistletoe and Murder” by Robin Stevens is the latest in her series about the two young sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  I have been an avid reader of all her works and this definitely lives up to the superb standard of the others.  Daisy and Hazel find themselves spending Christmas in a Cambridge college and then they become embroiled in a murder enquiry which really tests their skills.  Robin Stevens has used her love of ‘Golden Age’ crime to link this story to the works of Dorothy L Sayers and in particular to ‘Gaudy Night’ which is set in an Oxford College.  As the girls might say, this is a “really spiffing read”.

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Macmillan, 978-1509832583

“The Road to Ever After” by Moira Young is a total change from her earlier work and is for a slightly younger audience.  It is the story of young  Davy David who scrapes out a living in the  small  town of Brownvale and re-creates pictures of angels on the ground.  Life changes when the mysterious Miss Flint hires him to driver her to an unknown house on the coast, despite the fact that he is only 13 years and cannot drive.  What follows is a magical journey, with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of being on a quest as well as there being a nod in the direction of “A Wonderful Life”.  This is a story to re-read and treasure and I know it will be with me for a long time.

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Canongate, 978-1782118572

“The Girl who saved Christmas” by Matt Haig is the follow on to last year’s best seller “A Boy called Christmas”.  Whilst the central character  is still Father Christmas, this book is set at a later period.  People are beginning to not believe in Father Christmas and the magic is starting to disappear.  It needs someone who really believes, to save the day; but even she is beginning to have doubts.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857636386

“Murder in Midwinter” by Fleur Hitchcock.  When Maya thinks she might have seen a murderer, the police send her to stay with her aunt in Wales.  But the danger follows her in this exciting story.

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Puffin, 9780141373324

“The Christmasaurus” by Tom Fletcher is about a dinosaur searching for his identity and a young boy who loves dinosaurs and Christmas; add a nasty villain to the mix and get set for a fantastically magical adventure

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471159800

“Winter Magic” edited by Abi Elphinstone is a collection of seasonal stories curated by Abi.  the authors are a range of the top children’s writers that are in the UK today.  They include Piers Torday, Michelle Magorian, Jamila Gavin and Lauren St John.  There is bound to be something for everyone in this collection

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Hodder, 9781444926491

“Santa Claude” by Alex T. Smith.  When Claude accidentally locks Santa in handcuffs and can’t find the key (don’t ask)  he faces the problem of trying to deliver all of the presents himself.  This is a great story for those who are just beginning to read by themselves or who want to share with others.

 

With picture books we are always inundated by a host of new titles every year, however there are also some favourites that make a welcome re-appearance.  I have included some that have come back this year and which I have not written about on previous years.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781442496736

“Click Clack Ho! Ho! Ho!” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.  This is the Christmas offering about the animals on farmer Brown’s farm and how they ‘cope’ with Christmas Eve and the arrival of Santa. As usual it is extremely funny and will be a great read.

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Scholastic, 9781407109053

“The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach.  This is a truly beautiful rendering of the Christmas story which really touches the heart.  A absolute classic of the future.

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Floris books, 9781782502944

“Mary’s Little Donkey” by Gunhild Sehlin and Helene Muller.  This is a story of the Nativity for younger Children.  It is translated from the Swedish and then it has been abridged.  The illustrations are sympathetic to the tale and evoke the feel of the occasion.  A lovely version to read to young children.

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Puffin, 9781780080116

“Otto the Book Bear in the Snow” by Katie Cleminson is the magical story of two book bears whose book is borrowed from the library and then left whilst the readers go on holiday.  But the bears need to get back to the library for the Christmas party, unfortunately things do not go as planned, so will they get back in time?

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Puffin, 9780141373706

“Dream Snow” by Eric Carle.  A delicious little lift the flap book about preparing for Christmas on a farm.  It is great for recognizing the animals and getting into the festive spirit.

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OUP, 9780192747372

“Winnie and Wilbur meet Santa” by  Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. When Santa gets stuck in Winnie’s chimney he asks her and Wilbur to help him deliver the rest of the presents.  They have a great adventure but also lots of problems, so in the end Winnie uses a bit of magic to make sure that all the presents are delivered.  As always the illustrations are sumptuous and this time there is a pop-up at the back, which is sure to be a great hit with everyone.  I particularly like the use of Greek for names etc in the pictures, I wonder how many children will recognize the language?

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Bloomsbury, 9781408859155

“Robin’s Winter Song” by Suzanne Barton is a beautiful story of the Robin discovering Winter for the first time and seeing what a great time he can have with his friends.  The illustrations are positively jewel-like and add to the sense of joy and excitement about the time of year.

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Walker books, 9781406365955

“The Christmas Eve Tree” by Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton is the story of a small and unloved Christmas tree that was saved from destruction by a young  homeless boy and of the joy at Christmas as people gather around the tree to sing carols and to forget the problems of their everyday life.  The ending shows that there is always hope and we need to believe in the goodness of people around us.  There are beautiful illustrations with a feel of the 1960s to them, which really adds to the atmosphere of the story.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471119989

“The Storm Whale in Winter” by Benji Davies is the second story about a young boy called Noi and the young Whale that he had rescued in the summer.  This is a winter’s tale and a wonderful coming together of man and nature to save one another.  It is a simple but very heart warming story.

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Red Fox, 9781782955504

“Lucy and Tom at Christmas” by Shirley Hughes have, together with “Alfie’s Christmas”, become symbols of what we might call a traditional Christmas.  It was first published in 1981 and the world has changed a great deal since then.  However the story gives a lovely sense of family, friendship and the meaning of the occasion.  Sometimes it is nice to wallow in nostalgia and think of the simple enjoyments of life.

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David Fickling, 9781910200803

“Coming Home” by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman (illust.)  is the story of a Robin as he migrates to his winter home, all the time thinking about his partner who should be waiting for him.  It is full of trials and tribulations but also kindness and hope.  Definitely a story full of the meaning of  Christmas.

 

I can’t believe it is only a week until the big day but I am sure that there is still time to do a bit of reading or to get some stocking fillers for the family.  I know I will be reading some of these stories to my grandson when he comes to visit and i might even treat myself to a re-read of one or two favourite stories.  The Christmas season has definitely started as I was telling Christmas stories in my local primary school last week and I have also been to a performance of Messiah.  There is just “The Muppet Christmas Carol” to go and then all will be ready.  Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and enjoy your reading.

 

Christmas Crackers

Why does a cold always strike when you least want it to?  Thankfully I seem to be getting over the worst of it, but it has meant missing a performance of “Messiah” that we had booked to attend.  We will just have to listen on CD, but it is not quite the same.’  This means that I will have to depends on my books to bring the Christmas spirit into our lives and whilst I have re-read some old favourites, I have also had the chance to read a couple of fantastic new additions.

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Canongate, 9781782117896

The first of these books is one that has taken the children’s book world by storm this year and it is “A boy called Christmas” by Matt Haig.  It is the story of a young boy’s journey to find his father and how he saves relations between elves and humans.  It is also the story of how he gradually becomes the person known as Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus.  A wonderful mix of fairy tale and fantasy that whilst showing the depths of human behaviour also shows how goodness overcomes evil and that it is possible to live happy peaceful lives.  The illustrations are by the truly original and inventive Chris Mould.  I particularly like his front covers for “The Daily Snow”, all of which had me chuckling to myself.

“Snow Sister” by Emma Carroll is a fairly short little story, aimed at the 7-9 year olds.  It is the story of Pearl and her desire to keep the memory of her dead sister Agnes by creating a ‘snow sister’ whenever it snows.   This is a Victorian tale about family and what is really important in life.  Yet again Emma Carroll has produced a story that provided deep satisfaction and a sense of the Christmas season. (NG)

“Reindeer Girl” by Holly Webb is not a direct Christmas story but it deals with the magical events that unfold during Lotta’s visit to her Sami family, especially her grandmother, in Norway.  It is a beautiful story about family and also about caring for the animals we are responsible for.  Holly Webb writes some fantastic books and this has just joined the list of those that the younger reader (7+) will love. (NG)

“The Legend of Holly Claus” by Brittney Ryan, illustrated by Laurel Long is the story of Santa Claus’ daughter and her fight to break a curse that has been placed upon her and the Never land where she and her parents live.  It is an original and very entertaining story that makes a great addition to the pantheon of Christmas stories. (NG)

I first read “Nikolai of the North” by Lucy Daniel Raby when it first came out several years ago and then read the second book in the series.  It is the story of how Nikolai became Father Christmas after defeating the evil Queen Magda, who has killed all of the elves except Nikolai himself. It is a real adventure story

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Nosy Crow, 9780857637413

“Refuge” by Anne Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher is a beautiful and simple retelling of the Christmas story and it reminds us that Jesus was a refugee and had to flee to Egypt as a baby.  It is told in short and clear sentences by the donkey who carried Mary and the baby and the final line is one we should all remember, “…and we found refuge.”

For the younger readers there are some old favourites and some humorous new friends to be made.  Firstly there is “Librarian’s Night before Christmas” by David Davis, illustrated by Jim Harris.  It is based on the original story by Clement C. Moore and tells the story of a librarian working on Christmas Eve and what happens when Santa and his Elves turn up to help.  There are some serious messages underlying the humour and it is a book that will make most librarians chuckle.

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HarperCollins, 9780008164362

Judith Kerr has caused quite a stir with her new “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” which was created as part of the Sainbury’s Christmas advert.  In this adventure our favourite cat manages to create the problem and then save the day for all concerned.  It is a lovely ‘feel good’ story and will join the original “Mog’s Christmas” in becoming a seasonal favourite.

A story that evokes the feelings of Christmas without being about the festival is “Snow” by Sam Usher.  this is the tale of a young boy and his excitement on discovering snow has fallen.  We can positively feel his anguish as he has to wait while his grandfather gets ready to take him to the park.  Eventually they gt out and join all their friends for snowball fights and sledging, so a fantastic time is had by all concerned.

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V&A Publishing, 9781851778584

My final winter choice is a short illustrated story by Lani Yamamoto and it is called “Stina”.  This is an Icelandic story about a young girl who cannot cope with the cold and gradually cuts herself off from the outside world, but even this does not make her feel warm, in fact quite the opposite.  Then one day two children take shelter from a storm and Stina wonders why they are so warm being outside, whilst she is cold in the house.  A lovely story with a strong moral running through it

(NG)  Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for access to these titles as online proofs.

A Simply Super Summer

Well we are now midway through the summer break and according to the papers have just passed the worst day of the holiday for parents.  One of the mainstays of the summer break is the “Summer reading Challenge” and this year they have linked with the Guinness book of records to promote the theme of Record Breakers; this is bound to be a really popular theme and it would be great if they could break the million participants barrier.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857634795

 

Some of the books that could prove popular over the coming weeks are”My brother is a Superhero” by David Solomons, which follows the adventures of Luke and his brother Zak.  Luke is a mad comic fan and totally in to superheros, whereas his brother is more into homework.  Due to an urgent need to go to the loo, Luke misses out on getting superpowers and has to help his brother come to terms with becoming “Star Lad”.  When an asteroid heads on a collision course with Earth it is up to the two boys, together with friends Serge and Lara to save the day;despite the machinations of a crazed Comic Empire owner.

Rampage

Piccadilly Press, 978-1848124776

“Rampage” by Julia Wills is the second in a series of books about Aries, the ram from the legend of the Golden Fleece and it is set in the Amazon jungle.  This story continues the adventures of Aries and his friend Alex, together with the ‘Hero’ Jason, as they try and save their friend Rose from the  grip of the evil Medea.  One again we have a story full of humour and adventure thanks to the ram with attitude.

 

In darkling Wood

Faber & Faber, 978-0571317578

 

 

“In Darkling Wood” by Emma Carroll is yet another brilliant book by this author.  It is the tale of Alice, who is sent to live with her grandmother when her young brother is taken into hospital.  When she arrives she finds that there is a local campaign to stop her grandmother cutting down the Darkling wood that surrounds the house.  This is a story full of magic and mystery and has links to the tale of the Cottingley fairies which was a public sensation just after the First World War.  Alice does not want to leave her family and the bleak atmosphere at Darkling Cottage does nothing to help.  This is the third book I have read by this author and they just keep getting better and better.  Of course I might be slightly biased as Emma Carroll is a graduate of the amazing writing course at Bath Spa University.

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Chicken House, 978-1909489004,

There has been a real surge in the number of books with school setting, especially boarding schools.  The actual stories range from mystery and magic to murder and mayhem and they seem to cover from 7 to 17, so something for everyone.  “Mischief at Midnight” by Esme Kerr is the second in a series about Edie and her friend Anastasia who attend  Knight’s Haddon and this year they have to cope with new girl Janet, a mystery at a local tower and environmental protesters.  It is a great story about friendship and is full of excitement and adventure, so we hope for more to come.

 

August brings a new title from Louis Sacher, author of “Holes” and this one is called “Fuzzy Mud”.  It is about bullying at school and also the issues surrounding genetic modification of food.  This is a great read with a very serious message underlying it.  Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this.

For younger readers there are lots of great reads.   Michael Rosen has got a new character who makes his first appearance in “Uncle Gobb and the dread shed”.  It is a totally whacky story about Malcolm and the frightening Uncle Gobb who lives with the family and is  very strict about homework etc.Neal Layton’s illustrations are dramatic and atmospheric and add so much to the story.  While Gill Lewis has brought out another title in the Puppy Academy series, this one is called “Scout and the Sausage thief” and is about a puppy who wants to follow in her parents’ paw prints and become a police dog, a lovely school based tale.  Kjartan Poskitt has a new tale about his barbarian hero called “Borgon the Axeboy and the Prince’s shadow”, this is full of action and humour with great illustrations by Philip Reeve.  Finally we have “Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody” by Roland Chambers, a story of lost explorers, daring young heroines and dastardly postman pirates.

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