Surviving lockdown

The last couple of months have seen huge changes in my ability to see forthcoming titles.  First we had London Book Fair cancelled and then the wonderful Federation of Children’s Book groups Conference.  This month I should have been attending the School Library Association Conference, but that is now online.  All of this has meant that I could not meet up with the fabulous friends in publishing and look at the amazing books that they bring to the various exhibitions.  However  I will say thank you to the many publishers who have kept on sending review copies when requested, it is greatly appreciated.  It has also been great to keep up with those books that appear as e-galleys on Netgalley and Edelweiss, this means that I am able to still read and promote the books that I think everyone will enjoy.

I am starting off with this look at some titles for younger readers and I hope they will enjoy this small group of titles featuring ghouls, vampires and witches.

Guppy Books, 9781913101060

“Ghoul Scouts, Welcome to Camp Croak!” by Taylor Dolan is the first in a new series about Lexie Wild, who finds herself at a summer camp called ‘Camp Croak’, because her grandma took a wrong turning on the road.  Finding herself sharing a cabin with a ghost, a zombie and a werewolf definitely was not what she expected, but turned out to be great fun.  This is a fast and furious story of a truly evil teacher and how the girls foil a plot to take over and then sell the camp.  I loved the amazing illustrations, they are totally weird and wonderful.

Egmont, 9781405293921

“Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures” by Laura Ellen Anderson is the latest adventure of everyone’s favourite vampire and her assorted friends.  When they are all invited to the 350th birthday party of Florence the yeti’s great grandmother they did not anticipate that there would be a thief about, but finding the perpetrator and saving the Yeti mountain from collapsing will take all their ingenuity and see them facing great danger.

OUP, 9780192773579

“Victoria Stitch, Bad and Glittering” by Harriet Muncaster is not due for publication until September but it brings us a new heroine from the author of the ‘Isadora Moon‘ series; in fact we get two for the price of one, because Victoria Stitch has a twin sister called Celestine.  Victoria thinks she should be in line of succession to the throne of Wiskling Wood but finds herself in all sorts of trouble, especially when a strange girl called Ursuline offers to help her.  This is a delightful story about two girls who discover that, in general, people are a mix of good and bad and they just need to have the right motivation.  the author has produced some wonderful illustrations that have a truly witchy and gothic feel.

David Fickling, 9781788450522

“King Coo, the Curse of the Mummy’s Gold” by Adam Stower  is the second adventure for young Ben Pole and the unlikely hero King Coo who lives in the woods near his house.  When an ancient treasure is stolen from the local museum Ben’s mother is under suspicion as she is a security guard; so it is up to Ben to try and find the real thieves and save the day.  Yet again we have a hysterical tale of intrigue and adventure, where the totally incredible King Coo helps in their own inimitable way.  This is definitely for those who love to laugh their way through their adventures.

Piccadilly, 9781848127654

“Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers” by Simon Mockler introduces us to an exciting and feisty young heroine called Beatrix.  She has spent her life cooped up in a castle with her aunt and uncle, neither of whom seem the least bit interested in her.  She know that there is some mystery surrounding her but doesn’t know what, so eventually she decides to leave the castle and discover who she really is. Of course we have all guessed the secret well before Beatrix cottons on to being the QUEEN; the problem is her aunt rather enjoys running the country and Beatrix soon finds that she is in danger.  This is a funny fast paced and very enjoyable read for adventurous young people.

Andersen Press, 9781783448388

“Mermaid School, the Clamshell Show” by Lucy Courtney and Sheena Dempsey joins the surge of titles that have mermaids as their central characters.  this series is aimed at younger readers and centres around Marnie Blue and her two best friends as they get used to attending mermaid school.  This title tells us what happens when they are all auditioning to take part in a show, but then a new girl appears on the scene who wants the starring role by fair means or foul.  This is great fun and also is a good way to help young people understand the dynamics of school life.

Gecko Press, 9781776572717

“Hattie” by Frida Nilsson and Stina Wirsen is the story of a young Swedish girl and her first year at school.  It shows a very different life from that in the UK but the challenges of finding friends and learning about the wider world seem to reflect issues found around the world.  This is a charming look at a young person just finding their feet as they start school.

Usborne, 9781474972178

“Unipiggle, Unicorn Muddle” by Hannah Shaw tells the story of how Princess Pea (Peony) has to choose a unicorn to become the Royal Unicorn.  But Pea would rather be out playing and getting muddy instead of being dressed up in all her finery and sitting on a stage with her parents.  Things take a hilarious turn as a pig joins the parade of unicorns, but he also has a horn, and most importantly he seems to have a great sense of fun.  Of course Princess Pea decides that this creature, she calls the Unipiggle, has to become her companion.  What follows is a lot of humour and the beginning of a delightful relationship between the princess and her magical pig.

Five Quills, 9781912923045

“Bug Belly, Babysitting Trouble” by Paul Morton is definitely a hilarious story for those just beginning to read alone.  The main character is a frog called Bug Belly, who is called upon to look after his large number of nephews and nieces (tadpoles and froglets) whilst their parents are off at a frogspawn conference.  The story follows his adventures as he tries to avoid numerous enemies whilst also moving the young offspring to a safer lower pool after he accidentally created a hole in the upper pond.  Not only is this a great adventure but it also enables young children to understand some of the dangers that frogs encounter.  There are  great illustrations and lots of fun.

Piccadilly, 9781848127753

“Hotel Flamingo” by Alex Milway tells the story of young Anna Dupont who finds herself the owner of the Hotel Flamingo; unfortunately the hotel is rundown and the animals who are running it have run out of energy.  They are also facing competition from the hotel on the hill, called “The Glitz”  This is a great story about friendship, sharing and creating a sense of community.  There are some delightful characters and charming illustrations that bring the story alive.

OUP, 9780192773630

“Mickey and the animal spies” by Anne Miller is a fabulous story for those who like mystery, spies and some very unusual characters.  Mickey is a great fan of codes and spies and longs to follow in the footsteps of her hero Hildegarde L McTavish, so when she discovers a code taped to a bus window she just has to investigate.  Cracking the code leads her to a mysterious office where she discovers a spy unit  consisting of animals and called Cobra.  Further adventures follow as they try and save the pet of a famous pop star as well as preventing a jewel robbery.  This is an excellent first children’s book by the author and I was lucky enough to attend the book launch in London earlier in the year.

I do hope that you find some books in here that you would like to share with young readers.  At a time of such uncertainty it is good to have books that we can really enjoy and which take us away from the restrictions that we have to face.  I sincerely wish that we all have a happy and peaceful summer and that we can return to a new normal in the near future.

The Cut-Throat Cafe by Nicki Thornton

This is the third book in the wonderful series by Nicki Thornton.  I loved the previous titles “The Last Chance Hotel” and “The Bad-luck Lighthouse” so I was delighted when this book dropped through my letterbox.  I was even more happy when I was asked to take part in this blog tour.

We were introduced to the hero of this series, a young boy called Seth Seppi in the first story, when he is the kitchen boy at the rather weird ‘Last Chance Hotel’.  Life changes when he discovers that some of the guests are magicians, but then one of them is murdered and Seth’s life becomes complicated.  this is also the book where Seth discovers that he has got some magical ability.  Nicki Thornton has created a totally sympathetic hero, who is bemused by the new world that he finds himself in, but who wants to make the most of the opportunities he is given.

By the beginning of this third book in the series Seth is headed for the magical town of Gramichee, together with his talking cat Nightshade and his magical friend Angelique.  He hopes to be taken on as an apprentice, so that he can learn to control his magic and also learn more about his missing mother (who was also a magician). Unfortunately strange things are happening in the town and Seth soon finds himself in the centre of the action.  The problem is, who can he trust?  His friend Angelique is away on magical business and his new teacher Miss Young treats him as a shop assistant; whilst her other apprentice, Cheery Damson, really doesn’t want him around.  Seth needs to find out who is attacking magical people before magic is banned from the town.

Once again we have a fantastic story, full of heroes and hidden villains.  There is a lot of humour, both in characters such as Nightshade and in the names that the author has used.  I absolutely love the quirky and zany names that abound in the book.  It is not just the characters but also some of the potions that are part of the magical businesses in the town; there are people such as Haddock Troutbean, Herb Camphor and Sagacious Pewter, whilst the potions include Sinful Skin and Delicious Demise.  The author has really gone to town with her imagination.  This is a world that we are able to identify with, even though there are some very strange differences to the world we live in.  However the people have the same personality traits that are found all around us; we have examples of insecurity, greed, jealousy,  prejudice and friendship.  The author keeps the action going and we are never quite sure who is trustworthy; there are twists and turns that keep us guessing and on the edge of our seats.

This book has been a delight to read and the whole series is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  In fact I can’t wait to read the next instalment and discover some of the answers to a whole host of questions.

Highfire by Eoin Colfer

This review is something of a departure for me.  Firstly it is about an adult novel and secondly the post is just about this one title.

Eoin Colfer has been a favourite author of mine since I first came across Artemis Fowl in the early years of this millennium; has really been nearly twenty years?  His work is always quirky, whacky and full of laugh out loud humour, I think he invented the concept of ‘fart flaps’ for dwarfs and his imagination takes him to places that we can only dream of, but of course he then takes us along for the ride with these amazing stories.

Although he has written two other adult novels this is the first that I have read and it is definitely a change from any of the other works I have read.  rather than being set in Ireland this story is firmly embedded in the bayou lands of Louisiana and although the nearest I have been is the Florida Everglades, there is a real sense of place; so that you can really feel the heat and humidity  that the characters are having to live in.

The story itself  has a small cast but the two central ‘heroes’ are unusual to say the least.  Squib is a young teenager who spends his life trying to avoid trouble and school, whilst making money doing errands for those who live in the bayou.  What he doesn’t  expect is that one of his clients turns out to be a cable TV, flash dance loving dragon called Vern (that’s short for Wyvern).  At that moment it is time to suspend your disbelief and just go with the flow.  Of course this is not going to be the end of the story; enter the villain of the piece,  the sadistic sociopath of a sheriff called Regence Hooke who has his eyes on Squib’s mother and also is more than willing to get involved in bending the law to suit himself.When Hooke finds out about Vern the $$$ signs appear before his eyes and life gets extremely dangerous for anyone who gets in his way.

Given that this book is full of very strong language as well as a lot of blood and guts I didn’t think that I would like it, after all I am now in possession of a bus pass!  However I really loved it, so thank you Eoin Colfer for expanding my horizons and reminding me that you need to give a book a chance; this was definitely worth the read.  I found myself chuckling over some of the very subtle humour that the author has brought to this story; the references to Peter Pan which you can see with the name ‘Hooke’ as well as the Louisiana alligators which fill in nicely for a Crocodile are a joy.  However I think it is Vern who has definitely stolen my heart.  This is someone who has lived for a very long time, seen all other members of his family and species killed by humans,  has become a creature of legend and yet still manages to have a sense of humour and a desire to enjoy his life.

Eoin Colfer has given us a wonderful story of hope and friendship that overcomes the mutual distrust of some of the characters.  There is a wonderful sense of community despite the truly awful machinations of the sheriff and a sense of neighbours who are willing to share and help each other in the ups and downs of every day life.  Definitely a five star rating for this title.

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

Venice has long been a favourite setting for children’s books and if they happen to have an element of magic then so much the better. This fabulous book delivers on all levels and takes us into the world of  a charming and very resourceful heroine.

Chicken House, 9781912626106

Aribella has been brought up by her lace-maker father after the death of her mother ten years previously.  Their lives are poor and Aribella’s father is still grieving for his wife and takes little notice of his daughter.  The day before her 13th birthday Aribella is out fishing with her friend Theo when a dark fog comes down and fishing become impossible.  The local fishermen think it is a bad omen and seek to blame Aribella, as females are bad luck on ships!  When an older lad Gian gets into a fight with Theo and Aribella she is horrified to discover that flames shoot out of her finger ends.  What follows next takes Aribella into a secret world that she had never heard of and leads her to discover what had actually happened to her mother.  It appears that she is a Cannovacci, a person who holds special powers, and she needs to discover what this means and how to control the powers.  Not only this, but she has to try and rescue her father from prison and save Venice from a dark and threatening danger.  All of this adds up to a thrilling and fast paced adventure story that will have the readers totally engrossed by the plot and wanting more.

This is a magical story in several senses of the word.  The author has managed to really imbue the book with a feel of the city and the the atmosphere that surrounds the waterways.  At its core this is a story about the meaning and importance of family and friendship, as Aribella is torn between the various calls on her loyalty and has to decide who she can trust.  It is also a story about people’s craving for power and what they will do in order to achieve their ends, even betraying their friends and colleagues.

She pulls in some of the things that make Venice so individual, especially the masks, which are central to the way that special powers are controlled.  These masks appear in several stories about the city and everyone knows them from Carnival, in fact they have become popular style icons around the world. A quick search online reveals a fascinating history and I have added a couple of links that might be of interest.  The term canovaccio, which is a close relation to the title Cannovacci actually refers to the performances by the “Commedia dell’ Arte”  and seems to basically describe the outline of the performance.  In order to circumvent the censorship laws the actual script was not written down, so the artists were able to ‘ad-lib’ within the basic frame work.  I would be interested to know whether there was an intentional connection when the name of the group was chosen.

Anna Hoghton

Anna Hoghton is a poet and filmmaker and is also a graduate of  Bath Spa University and its outstanding MA in Writing for Young People Course.  This is her first published novel and I very much hope that it will not be the last.  She really has put together a work that connects the characters with the audience, but also gives us that desire to know more about the magical city that they inhabit.  What a brilliant start to this part of Anna’s career!

Thank you to Chicken House for providing this excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.

 

http://magicofvenezia.com/history-of-venetian-masks/

https://www.italymask.co.nz/About+Masks/History+of+Venetian+Masks.html

In the Deep Midwinter

Once again we are on that countdown to the Christmas season and with the major publishing Thursday at the beginning of October we  began to see all of the winter offerings arriving.

 

Andersen Press, 9781783448548

“Wolf in the Snow” by Matthew Cordell is a delightful story of a young child and a young wolf cub who both become lost in a dangerous snow storm.  They find and support each other in finding their respective homes and show that helping each other is definitely the way to go.  The book is almost wordless, with just the odd wolf howl, or a groan from the child, however the emotive and really strong illustrations give us all the information we need to interpret the story.  A great book for reading on a one to one basis with the younger child.

Simon & Schuster, 9781471172465

“The Snow Dragon” by Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock.  What a truly magical story with totally dreamlike illustrations to bring the story to life.  Phoebe is the final child living at Griselda Bone’s orphanage and longs to find her forever family but she did not reckon on her snowman turning into an ice dragon and taking her off on an adventure to see the northern lights and other wonders she had only seen in books.  There are glorious illustrations and an ending that will give everyone a very seasonal glow.

Hachette, 9781444940374

“A home in the Snow” by Peter Bently and Charles Fuge  is not specifically a Christmas story, but it is about winter, friendship and giving.  Bramble the Badger wants to share his birthday with his friends, but they all seem to have forgotten his special day.  When they ask for help to go to another friend’s house, he willingly helps and there is a truly delightful surprise for him when they arrive at their destination.

Hachette US, 978-1525302039

“One Wild Christmas” by Nicholas Oldland features the  wonderful characters of Moose, Bear and Beaver as they try and find a tree to decorate for Christmas.  When the do find one they hit a problem; Bear loves their beautiful tree and will not allow the others to cut it down, so how are they going to celebrate the holiday?  Bear comes up with a solution and with a lot of hard work and some sharing they manage to have a celebration that reflects the true meaning of the festivities.

Nosy Crow, 9781788005449

“Mouse’s Night before Christmas” by Tracey Corderoy and Sarah Massini is a heart warming tale that take as its starting point the famous  story by Clement C Moore.  Only in this version the mouse becomes the central character, helping Santa deliver presents after the reindeer became lost.  How Santa grants him his greatest wish makes for a perfect ending and will help the book become a favourite for every Christmas.

Pikku Publishing, 9781999639822

“Father Christmas and the Donkey” by Elizabeth Clark and Ari Tokinen.  This is a wonderful story about the true message of Christmas.  A donkey has been left out in the snowy weather and is making his way to find shelter when all of a sudden he hears bells and then sees a  figure trudging through the snow; it is Father Christmas and he is about to deliver the last presents before going home, having already sent his reindeer back.  The donkey volunteers to help  deliver the presents and begins to understand the joy of giving and sharing.  The ending find the donkey having a gift that will happy and loved for the rest of his days.

HarperCollins, 9780008180362

“The Crayons’ Christmas” by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers sees  the crayons preparing for the great day.  Some of them have gone on holiday and send messages to their owner Duncan and the other crayons, whilst others have been busily shopping for presents.  Yet again we have brilliant illustrations, and also an amazing set of envelopes full of festive surprises.  this is bound to become an annual favourite for the young and not so young.

Macmillan, 978-1509854295

“The Most-loved Bear” by Sam McBratney and Sam Usher is the story of a much loved bear who was lost on a train and went through many years of adventures, moving between owners and gradually getting more worn.  However he never gives up  and eventually there is a miraculous reunion with his original beloved owner.  This is the sort of story that gives you a warm Christmas feeling and will be perfect for those of us who have a favourite teddy or toy from our childhood.

Two Hoots, 9781509857296

“Meerkat Christmas” by Emily Gravett sees the meerkats preparing for Christmas, but Sunny has been reading about the ‘perfect’ holiday and decides that the Kalahari Desert is not the place for a real Christmas.  He sets off to find the perfect ingredients: snow, singing, tree, presents and dinner, but nowhere has all of them.  When Sunny falls asleep on Christmas Eve it is Father Christmas who grants him the wish he really wants – to be home with his family.  One again Emily Gravett has produced a glorious book that I absolutely loved and which should be in everyone’s’  Christmas collection

Egmont, 9781405288453

“Countdown to Christmas” by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, and Pippa Curnick is a delightful countdown to the festivities.  One day Bear announces that he has made a Christmas game and everyday leading up to the great day he will choose an animal and give them each a gift.  Young mouse is desperate to get something but becomes increasingly despondent as others are chosen, however on Christmas eve he is given a box and nestling within it is a lovely star.  Bear leads him to the clearing in the wood where all their friends have collected, having decorated  and used their gifts to dress up for a nativity play.  A wonderful story told in rhyme that children will love.

Egmont, 9781405294195

“Mimi and the Mountain Dragon” by Michael Morpurgo and Helen Stephens tells the story of  a young Swiss girl Mimi who finds a baby dragon hiding in the woodshed at Christmas. She bravely climbs the mountain to reach the castle where the mother dragon live and reunites the two animals.  However they are then startled by an avalanche that basically covers Mimi’s village burying everyone, including her parents.  It is only with the help of the dragon that they are able to clear the snow and release the trapped villagers.  The event is meant to have happened hundreds of years ago but it still forms the basis of a winter celebration in the village.  It is a magical story about friendship and understanding and has been adapted for the stage.

Hodder, 9781444939231

“The Night Before the Night Before Christmas” by Kes Gray and Claire Powell is a look behind the scenes at the north pole on the day before Christmas Eve.  The Elves are working their socks off, Santa is ticking his list and the reindeer are waking up and feeding themselves in preparation for the great night, but Santa is sure that he has forgotten something important.  It is only after he has taken off on his round that Mrs Claus shouts to let him know that he has forgotten to shave! Which is why we always see him with a bushy beard. This is a truly delightful and funny story that is told in rhyme and is a real pleasure to read out loud.

Simon & Schuster, 978-1471183799

“A Cat’s Christmas carol” by Sam Hay and Helen Shoesmith.  Clawdia has an important job as the night watchman’s cat in a large department store.  On Christmas Eve everyone goes home, but she is left guarding the building and soon finds herself in a battle of wits with some very small and very cold mice.  She chases them through departments full of Christmas decorations until finally they see an artificial cat patrolling the store.  Feeling let down, Clawdia joins the mice in trying to enjoy the festivities but then in a truly lovely moment her owner tells her that the robot is her present and that Clawdia will be going home for Christmas with the family.

 

As you can see there are some really amazing books out there this year and I am sure that they will become family and library favourites in the coming years.  I hope that everyone has a great time and that the true spirit of Christmas can be found wherever you find yourselves.

 

 

 

Snow is all around

Faber & Faber, 9780571348985

“The Great Reindeer Disaster” by Kate Saunders and Neal Layton is a brilliantly funny look at what happens when a young and accident prone reindeer called Percy lands on the Trubshaw family’s roof.  We meet the villainous Krampus and the various teams of reindeer who make sure that all presents are delivered on the great day.  There are thrills and laughs as young Jake and Sadie Trubshaw try and save Christmas from being ruined.  This is a great read for those who are just beginning to read with confidence and will make a great present.

OUP, 9780192767455

“The Santa Surprise” (Winnie and Wilbur) by Laura Owen and Korky Paul  once again has the hilarious Winnie the Witch and Wilbur preparing for the festive celebrations, but then Winnie wonders  ‘who gives presents to Father Christmas?’  she and Wilbur hatch a plan to prove Santa with a surprise and of course all sorts of things go wrong before finally they get sorted out.  This is one of the stories intended for the young reader of chapter books and is full of Korky Paul’s delightful and energetic illustrations.

Walker, 9781406379648

“Angel on the Roof” by Shirley Hughes  is a magical and hopeful story about a young boy called Lewis Brown and what happens when he finds a golden feather floating down from the roof of the flats where he lives.  The setting is quite bleak as everyone lives separate lives and there are frictions all around in the community.  Lewis is often bullied by other young people because of a weak leg but things might just be about to get better.  When he climbs to the roof of the flats he discovers an angel and begins to talk to him, thus beginning a new friendship.  gradually over a few days the presence of the angel has an impact on people, even though they are not aware of his existence.  this is a beautiful story about developing friendships and not judging people; it has lessons for all of us.

Nosy Crow, 9781788000314

“Rose Campion and the Christmas Mystery” by Lyn Gardner is the third and final story in the series about the young Rose Campion, who had been left as a baby outside the doors of Campion’s Music Hall.  There is danger and deception as the performers prepare for Christmas and the pantomime season.  Murder and mayhem follow as the criminal called ‘The Duchess’ sets her sights on stealing a precious emerald necklace from a friend of Rose.  Eventually all is revealed, and this includes the secret of Rose’s parents, but will it be a truly happy Christmas for everyone?

Simon & Schuster, 9781471170454

“Snowflakes, Silver and Secrets” (Seaview Stables Adventures) by Tracey Corderoy  is the third in a series of books about the pony-mad Bryony and her collection of friends.  There is a Christmas fair and a pantomime but in the middle of this some silver goes missing from the home of Bryony’s arch-nemesis Georgina Brook.  It is up to Bryony and her friends to find out what has happened and to stop others from being blamed for something they didn’t do.  A perfect gift for those pony-mad members of the family.

Puffin, 9780241338520

“The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch” by Tom Fletcher and Shane deVries follows on from the original ‘Christmasaurus’ and this time the young hero Will discovers that Christmas itself is under threat.  Children are beginning to lose their belief in Christmas and when they all do this then the festival itself will cease to exist; not only that, but the reindeer, elves and Father Christmas will also disappear.  Will needs the help of his step-sister Brenda and his friend the Christmasaurus to go back in time and save Christmas from being banned.  What a glorious way to start the holiday season; this book is full of joy but it will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, just in case the villains actually win.  It is a great book for any middle grade reader (and the adults in their lives).

I hope that you will find something here to enjoy over the holiday and that many of them will become firm favourites over the coming years.  Happy Christmas everyone.

Information in November

November is the month in which UK books celebrate ‘Non-fiction November’ which is sponsored by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.  It is brilliant to see the resurgence of interest in this area and also the development of some truly excellent  publishers, bringing new ways of presenting information to young readers.

 

“Frida Kahlo” by Lucy Brownridge and Sandra Dieckmann is a wonderful  evocation of the artist’s life and art, aimed at younger children.  I have loved her work for a long time, but seeing the exhibition about her life at the V&A in 2018 really brought home how amazing she was.  This book  mentions her health issues but does not go in to tremendous detail, rather it focuses on her development as an artist and the influence she has had outside Mexico.  Sandra Dieckmann has done a tremendous job with the illustrations, bringing her own touches to the work whilst also paying ‘homage’ to Kahlo’s own style.  This will make a tremendous addition to any primary school.

“I’m not (very) afraid of the Dark” by Anna Milbourne and Daniel Rieley is a delightful look at coping with a fear of the dark.  The young hero  finds that he is a ‘bit’ afraid of the dark because of the shadows and various sounds that he cannot identify.  So when his father takes him on an overnight camping trip he is really worried by the idea of the dark.  However he has a revelation when it is truly dark; for it is then that he can really see all the stars in the night sky.  This is a story of finding the beautiful and positive in something that we are not sure about and it is great for young readers.  There are lovely illustrations and a really imaginative use of cutouts in many of the pages, which brings everything to life.

“The Usborne book of Night time” by Usborne and Bonnie Pang  is aimed at younger children, perhaps up to lower KS2.  It takes the concept of night and then gives us a double page spread to look at the various elements that make up the night.  There are factories and cities, the sea and the sky, nocturnal animals, northern lights and different parts of the world; all of these are working while we are sleeping.  This is a great introduction to understanding our world and can lead on to some really fascinating discoveries for the young readers.

“Apes to Zebras” by Liz Brownlee, Sue Hardy-Dawson and Roger Stevens is a collection of poetry, but importantly it is an A-Z of shape poetry.  I think most of us find writing poetry quite challenging, so to find that these poets have created stunning work and all in the shape of various animals is quite amazing.  The layout of the book and the simple use of colour really helps the words and shapes stand out but it is the imagination of the writers that really makes this book so stunning.

“Boy oh Boy” by Cliff Leek and Bene Rohlmann  is a look at 30  men, both living and dead, who have had an impact on the way that we look at men and our expectations of them. Many of these people are household names, but others have not made headlines outside their immediate areas, yet they have had an effect on the way that people think and behave and they have even changed the laws of the land.  These people are from around the world and from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, which shows that everyone has the potential to be great.  The illustrations are very bright and strong and are somewhat 1950s in style, making the work stand out from others.  After so many books about strong females recently it is good to see a book that looks at broadening the range of biographies.

“The book of Big Science Ideas” by Freya Hardy and Sara Mulvanney  is an introduction to many different concepts that we find in science.  The book is divided into different subject areas and gives us a double page spread of ‘big thinkers’ in that area and then it looks at the development of our knowledge.  Subjects covered vary from the periodic table, animal classification, and astronomy to computers, big data, and renewable energy.  Whilst this does not have an index it does have a good glossary which will help the readers understand the new terms thy come across.

I am looking forward to investigating some more new information books when I make a visit to Peters booksellers next week. I am sure that I will see some wonderful books and hope to tell everyone about them very soon.

Festivals galore

Autumn is definitely the time for festivals and usually a conference or two.  This year  I have just been to Cheltenham and also Bath, where I have been helping out for 13 years – I don’t know where the time has gone.

The start off was in Bath and I spent Saturday the 28th Sept over at the Guildhall helping with two of the very popular events.  The first of these was with the current Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell and it was a total sellout in the Banqueting Room.  300 eager fans and parents were in the room to hear Cressida talk about her writing journey, how to train your dragon and particularly about the latest volume in the series ‘Wizards of Once’, which is called “Knock Three Times”.  The signing queue was enormous and took nearly two hours for everyone to speak to Cressida, get their books signed and have photos taken.  We just managed to get things tidied when it was time for our second speaker of the day to start her signing session.  This was the wonderful Emma Carroll, who has become one of our brightest lights when it comes to historical novels for the middle grade audience.  This latest book has a very local feel, not least because Emma lives in Somerset; it is called  “The Somerset Tsunami” and is based on a true event that took place in January 1607 (Gregorian calendar) and which affected large parts of the county as well as the area around Newport in South Wales.  I remember seeing a programme about this many years ago and can’t wait to read her version of events.  Once again the room was packed full of eager readers and then another long queue formed to get books signed.   I was also lucky enough to see the amazing Chris Mould in the Green Room, although his session about his new illustrated version of Ted Hughes’ “The Iron Man” was not until after I had left.  However I hear great reports about it and gather there was even a surprise appearance by the  totally unique Chris Riddell, who was doing his own event about “Guardians of Magic”, the first in a new series called the ‘Cloud Horse Chronicles’. By the time I left, tiredness was beginning to set in, but it had been a great day.

After this I had a bit of a rest but on Tuesday I was back in Bath.  The first event was at the Central Library and was a craft and reading session with Tracey Corderoy, when she was talking to some very young children and their parents about her book “The One-Stop Story Shop”, illustrated by Tony Neal.  There were rhymes, props, singing and lots of glitter and glue.  I was amazed by how well prepared Tracey was.  There were pre-cut templates, packs of sequins, paper and all the things that were needed, so we didn’t have to go hunting around.  This really did make for a stress free event.  She also told us about her latest picture book called “Mouse’s Night Before Christmas”, which I have already bought and which will be in the Christmas round up.  After this lovely session (which really took me back to the days in a public library) I went down to the Guildhall for my second event.  This was with the lovely Abi Elphinstone and she had a couple of hundred school children enthralled by her talk about her books, but particularly about “Rumblestar” the first in a magical new series called  ‘The Unmapped Chronicles‘.  This was an excellent event which the children loved, although I think being shown her very own home-made catapult might have made quite a large impression.  This is yet another young writer who is taking the book world by storm and I look forward to following her books over the coming years.

My third day at the festival was on Sunday 6th October and it was the finale of the whole event.  As usual there were more people that I wanted to see than I was actually able to get to, but it was a fabulous time.  I started off with the wonderful Robin Stevens who was talking about her books ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ and particularly about the new title “Top Marks for Murder”, which once again sees her heroines Daisy and Hazel back at school and facing yet another murder mystery.  The idea for the story came to her when she was standing on Bath railway station and saw a couple of people on the hill in the distance; it made her think about seeing a murder, but not being close enough to recognize the murderer and so the plot was conceived.  Robin has built up a following of avid readers and they were out in force to get their books signed, some of them bringing their complete collections.  I was then scheduled to help with the “Horrid Henry” session with Francesca Simon, which was a packed event and there were loads of excited fans wanting to find out about their unlikely hero.  Once again the queues were long and everyone wanted their books signed.  I managed to dash downstairs to try and get some books signed by the speakers for another event.  They were Catherine Fisher, author of “Clockwork Crow” and “Velvet Fox” and P.G. Bell who wrote“The Train to Impossible Places” and now has “The Great Brain Robbery”.  I managed to meet Catherine and get my books signed but unfortunately  Peter Bell had already left the building.  Never mind, I will catch up with him eventually and the books will gain his signature.

Anyway this saw the end of the festival for this year but as the saying goes “I’ll be back” next year I hope.  In the meantime I have also been spending time at Cheltenham Literary Festival, but only in the audience.

I attended it on Saturday 5th October, so I had a double dose of book events that weekend.  The first event was Robin Stevens, something that I had booked before I found that I was stewarding for her the following day.  Whilst it was great for me to be able to see and hear her talk to different groups, I must apologise to Robin for popping up all over the place.  What was great was to see how she tailored her talks to suit the audience and the length of time that was available at each venue.  This event was definitely larger than in Bath and lasted an hour, so there was more time for questions from her adoring fans.  What we all discovered was that the Cheltenham audience is quite politically minded and when asked to come up with plots and characters for a murder mystery they chose the House of Commons and some well known politicians !!  Thankfully this was all fiction.  My second event was a panel session called “The Ultimate Guide to Writing for Children”.  It consisted of the iconic Barry Cunningham, founder of Chicken House Publishers and discoverer of the “Harry Potter “series, Alex O’Connell from ‘The Times’, Nikesh Shukla from the Good Literary Agency and Jasbinder Bilan, the author of “Asha and the Spirit Bird” (and previous winner of the Times Children’s Fiction Competition).  This was definitely one for the adults, something that was reflected by the lack of young people in the audience, although the Pillar Room was crammed full of excited adults, some of whom definitely wanted to have their work published.  The talk itself was stimulating and reminded me that I have been very lucky over the years to meet many people in publishing, all of whom are generous with their knowledge and experience.

My next visit to Cheltenham was on Saturday 12th and one again I had two very special events to attend.  Both of them were panel events although the themes were very different from each other.  The first discussion was entitled “70 years of Children’s Books” and was chaired by the totally amazing Daniel Hahn (editor of “Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature” and prolific translator and reviewer); he was talking to Alex O’Connell, Mat Tobin (Oxford Brookes University) and Clare Pollard, the author of  “Fierce Bad Rabbits”, a truly delightful look at picture books.  Each of the participants had to choose one title from each of the last seven decades and it was brilliant to see the range that they came up with.  Many of the titles I am glad to say were old favourites, some I really must get around to reading and one or two were new to me.  The panel also chose a title that they thought might prove to be future classics and although I have not read one of them yet, I think that they are definitely worthy of this accolade.  They are  “Bearmouth” by Liz Hyder, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Lowe, “Skylark’s War” by Hilary McKay and “Town is by the Sea” by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith.   The second event of the day was entitles “Mysterious Places” and it had been guest curated by Robin Stevens, although she was not able to attend and the wonderful and talented Katherine Woodfine took the role of chair, as well as being one of the authors, talking about “Spies in St Petersburg”.  The other speakers were Dominique Valente with her book “Starfell”, which was about magic and what happens when a particular day ceases to exist; Dave Shelton with the first in a series of adventures featuring “Emily Lime, Librarian Detective” and Polly Yo-Hen with her latest novel “Where Monsters Lie”.  They spoke about their individual books and specifically how they created the characters and situations, but they also talked about other recent books that they have been influenced by.  This was an event that was definitely loved by the young audience and hopefully they will have added some new titles to their reading lists.  The great thing about such panels is that you might go to hear a particular author but you then discover that you might enjoy books by the other participants.

That was my final event for this year but I am already looking forward to the various events for next year.  There are also a few book launches in the offing, so I hope that I be able to report on some of them.  The thing to remember is that these book events are for everyone and it is a total delight to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic readers, especially the young ones.

Picture books for Summer – Part 1

“The Golden Cage” by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut can only be described as a stunning piece  of art, but it is also a salutatory lesson in how not to behave towards humans and birds.  The story itself is a cautionary tale of a very nasty princess who loves collecting birds, but kills off servants who don’t bring her exactly what she wants.  This is very much about what happens when there are no rules, because Princess Valentina is totally spoiled and no one tells her that there are limits on what is possible.  The illustrations are amazing; they are vibrant, sophisticated, full of emotion and bring the story to life.  There is a very limited colour palette and the strong use of the colour yellow highlights the title of the book and the importance of the ‘golden cage’ as the place where her most treasured acquisition will be held captive.  The ending of this fairy tale has been left open, so that we can imagine a variety of plots, to suit our mood.  Somehow this reminds me of the Brothers Grimm and I think it will be a great read with older children despite the small amount of text.

“Tomorrow” by Nadine Kaadan is a story about living in a war zone and there are moments when it is quite heartbreaking.  The young hero Yazan loves going to the park to play but life suddenly changes and he doesn’t know why.  He gets bored not going to school, not meeting his friends and not going out to play, so one day he decides to take his bike to the park; but nothing is as it should be and thankfully his father finds him before anything happens. The illustrations often have a darkness about them that reflects the reality of life that the family are living and Yazan is shown as being a very young child caught up in a dangerous world. This thought provoking book really adds to the collection that is developing and which helps young children understand what it has been like to live in some of the war zones around the world.  It will also hopefully help them develop their empathy with those who have lost their homes and had to move to another country.

“Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love is a delightful story about being true to yourself and about others accepting that we are all different.  When Julian is walking home with his grandma they see a group of ladies dress as mermaids and Julian decides that he want to be one too.  At home he finds an assortment of clothes to help in his transformation and even put on some make-up.  His Nana reacts in a very supportive way and gives him a bead necklace to finish his look and then they go off on a walk.  During this stroll they see a range of very individual and vibrantly dressed people and finally they start to see lots of mermaids; much to Julian’s delight.  This is actually a carnival and people are allowing themselves the pleasure of dressing up.It is a delightful way to show the way that a wide range of people can live in harmony and enjoy life.

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck is a very unusual but very relevant look at plastic waste and the effect on the sea.  Stanley is a striped plastic bag and he finds himself blown into the sea where he is in turn swallowed by a Whale, Seagulls and a Turtle; luckily they were able to free themselves, but the Turtle need the help of a young boy.  The boy then tells Stanley that he should not be in the sea, because creatures think he looks like a jellyfish.  The boy then turns Stanley into a kite which is much more appropriate.  This is a very simple story but it acts as a perfect introduction to looking at our environment as well as being a great story.

“Clem and Crab” by Fiona Lumbers is another story that helps us look at our environment and in particular the issues that we find along our beaches.  Clem loves visiting the beach with her sister and fishing around in the rock pools, searching for wildlife.  One day she finds a small crab and although she puts it back into the water, it somehow manages to get caught in her clothing and end off back in the city.  Clem would love to keep her new friend but knows it must be returned to the beach; but how can she help make that a safe place for the crab?  This is a lovely book at friendship and helping others and would be fantastic if you were planning on visiting the seaside.

“I am a Tiger” by Karl Newson and Ross Collins  is a delightful story of a mouse who wants everyone to believe that he is a tiger.  The absurdity of such a claim becomes apparent as he wanders along and meets a wide range of animals, none of which are correctly identified; this leads them to be sad and frustrated as they try and make this small creature understand who they are.  In some ways this has the feel of the Gruffalo as the mouse is walking though the landscape and is telling ‘stories’ to the animals he sees.  It is also a story about identity and perhaps about not being limited by our physical appearance.  Most of us know who we are but often like to imagine that we have a different persona.   I am delighted to find that a follow up called “I am not an Elephant” is scheduled to be published early in 2020, I can’t wait to read this as well.

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Nicholas Oldland is the third in a series of adventures featuring Moose, Bear and Beaver.  In this story they decide to climb a mountain, but find that it is much harder than they had imagined.  After lots of danger and obstacles they discover that the only way to succeed is by helping each other, and then they finally achieve their objective.  I love these very simple, humorous stories that each give a very strong message and look forward to many more adventures for the intrepid trio.

“The New Neighbours” by Sarah McIntyre tells the story of the what happens when the residents of a block of apartments discover that a family of rats have moved in to their building.The bunny children are the first to find out and they are looking forward to going and meeting their new neighbours.  But as they tell more people, mainly adults,  we see attitudes change as people believe the stereotypes they have heard in the past.  Thankfully when they finally meet the neighbours they realize that they are just the same as everyone else.  This is a charming story with a strong and very important message about not listening to gossip and not judging people because of their backgrounds.  As always Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations are colourful, energetic  and funny and it is a great story for reading aloud.

“Cyril and Pat” by Emily Gravett  tells the story of  Cyril, a grey squirrel who finds himself living alone in the park. Then one day he meets another ‘squirrel’ called Pat and suddenly he has a friend to share adventures with; however we can see that Pat is actually a rat, not a squirrel.  Eventually the other creatures tell Cyril the truth and Pat is forced to leave the park, leaving his friend alone again.  The story does have a happy ending and the two are able to resume their friendship despite being different.  Emily Gravett  has given us a wonderful story of friendship, acceptance and empathy.  It is full of humour but also has its fair share of pathos; it is a wonderful tale.

“Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph was first published in the UK in 1968 and since then it has become a perennial favourite with young children.  They love the quirky and imaginative  story of a young boy who is squashed flat, but then goes on to have amazing adventures.  In this version Stanley saves the museum from robbers and is flown as a kite, however he has to cope with people being mean because he is different.  Luckily his brother comes up with a solution and Stanley is pumped back into shape with a bicycle pump.  This version of the story is illustrated by Rob Biddulph with his characteristic

“Sweep” by Louise Greig and Julia Sarda tells the story of Ed and what happens when he allows his dark and angry feelings to get out of control.  There is the wonderful analogy of sweeping up dead leaves, but what do we do when they become too many for us to cope with and begin to effect those around us?  Luckily a wind comes along and blows away his bad mood and he learns to think twice before allowing it to take over again.  This is a very dynamic book with energetic illustrations which really help us visualize the issues that Ed is facing. The  story is very simple but absolutely gets its message across; it will be great for helping young children come to terms with their own emotions as well as those of others around them.

“There’s Room for Everyone” by Anita Teymorian is a very thought provoking story about our world and about sharing the space that we have.  This is something of a philosophical look at our world and how we seem to always want more space, yet this book reminds us that there is always room for all of us; this includes humans and animals.  At a time when there are refugees across the globe, forests are  being cut down and housing seems to be at a premium, perhaps we need to remember some of the ideas in this story.  The illustrations are sophisticated and get also naive but manage to convey the meaning of the text in a way that we can readily relate to.  I am sure this will find its place in the discussions about our world and the way we all live.

 

There are so many amazing new picture books out there that this is just the beginning of my selection.  I am busily working on another collection and then there will be some brilliant books for Middle Grade that I hope to highlight in the near future.  I have not forgotten about information books and my collection to share with you is growing, so look out for the next selection.

 

 

 

 

Colours in our minds

Several years ago I became aware of a few books where colour was very much the central theme of the story.  It was used as a way of interpreting emotion as well as being the way that people can ‘see’ music.  Unfortunately I did not make a note of these titles (a lesson that I have hopefully learnt from).  Over the last year or so I have found quite a few of this type of book and decided that the only way to remember them is to write a post and let everyone else know that they are out there.  I would also be grateful for any other suggestions about titles that I can add to my list.

 

Simon & Schuster, 9781471169397

“Pencil Dog” by Leigh Hodgkinson  is one of those books that really touches the heart.  On the surface it is about a young girl and her pencil, or do we mean her dog?  They share lots of adventures and we see how drawing helps expand the girl’s imagination, but also about the friendship between the two characters.  We all know that pencils get smaller the more they are used and of course we reach that moment when pencil disappears and the girl is left alone.  However we also see that memory is a wonderful thing and that pencil dog will never truly disappear.  This book really work on several levels; from imagination and storytelling, to dealing with grief but above all it is a story about love and friendship.

Macmillan, 9781509871346

“Mixed” by Arree Chung is a delightfully simple but very effective way of looking at the world we live in today.  It is about equality and friendship; understanding that we all have our place in the world and that no one is better than those around them.  The story starts with the three prime colours red, yellow and blue living in harmony, until one of the reds decides that they are better than the others.  This leads to segregation but eventually a yellow and blue fall in love and get married; they then have a baby called green.  Thankfully this leads the others to realize the possibilities  and eventually a multi-coloured society is created.  The story works at several levels and can be about modern society, but it can also be used to explain the way that colours are created in art and how this reflects the reality of the natural world.

Chronicle, 9781452150147

“Hello, Hello” by Brendan Wenzel looks at the wide variation in visual experience that we see when we look at wildlife around us.  It begins with animals that are black and white and then moves on to a range of colours, patterns, shapes and sizes.  The animals are wonderful and although some of them are commonly found, others are threatened or endangered species.  Because of this the books acts as an introduction to the ecology of our world and hopefully will spark an interest in young people.  This  is a great book to read with the very young and with small groups of pre-school children.

Abrams, 9781419728518

“They say Blue” by Jillian Tamaki  is a magical tale of looking at the world and seeing the beauty that surrounds us.  Colour is used as a way of adding feeling to the way that a young girl reacts to the world around her.  The is a sense of magic and mystery about the world which makes you want to understand the changes that we see throughout the year.

Pavilion, 9781843653950

“Arty, the greatest artist in the world” by William Bee is a whimsical and quirky look at how Arty (a frog) became the greatest artist in the world. However I think that many readers will feel that they can achieve the same results without resorting to the totally mad experiences that Arty has to undertake.  This funny story definitely seems to poke gentle fun at the art world, but I am sure that we can take away the message that with a lot of hard work we can all become artists.  It also shows that art is all a matter of taste.

Laurence King, 9781780677712

“Bob the artist” by Marion Deuchars brings us the story of Bob, a bird who is being teased by others because of his very thin legs.  He tries various solutions like exercise, eating and wearing clothes, but nothing works; but when he visits an art gallery he is inspired by the works of the modern artists that he sees.  Bob decides to ignore his legs and every day he paints his beak in a different style.  The other birds think this is fantastic and Bob gains in confidence, even keeping to his natural red beak on occasions; he becomes happy with his own looks.  The very sparse colour palette really highlights the small areas of modern design  and  allows the colours used there to really sing out.

Laurence King, 9781786270696

“Bob’s blue period” by Marion Deuchars follows Bob after his friend Bat has to go away for a while.  Bob finds it very difficult without his best friend and no longer feels the same about his paintings.  In fact every painting seems to be blue, which all of his other friends are worried by, but they don’t know how to try and make him feel better.  One evening they take him for a walk up a hill and he sees a wonderful technicolor sunset, something that reminds him that the world is full of colour.  the following day he gets a post card to say that Bat is coming home, after hibernating for the winter.  The celebration takes the form of a party for all their friends.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781126943

“Colour my days” by Ross Collins takes us on an energetic journey through the rainbow and how colour can make us feel.  When their world is black and white Emmy and Jeff feel dull and bored, but each colour adds a lively element to the way they feel.  Everything is OK when they just have one colour per day, but at the end of the week all the colours come out to play and it becomes overwhelming, so they are shown the door.  Thankfully Emmy and Jeff can have a quiet and relaxing weekend.  This is a brilliant way of showing how colour an affect our mood and the importance that it plays in our lives, both at home and definitely at school.  I wonder if they have ever considered this when choosing the colours for school uniforms?

QED, 9781784939670

“The colours of history” by Clive Gifford and Marc-Etienne Peintre is a fascinating information book about the differing versions of colours and their importance throughout history.  The author is one of the best known and widely regarded writers of non-fiction and this is a very different look at major periods in history.  He looks at reds, yellows, purples, blues and greens and explains how some of the shades were created and how important items such as saffron, lapiz lazuli, indigo and purple were in society.  The illustrations for this book are sophisticated and beautiful; they compliment the text and add so much to the feel of the book.

Andersen Press, 978-1842707319

“Elmer” by David McKee is probably the epitome of a book about colour.  The story of this beloved patchwork elephant has been with us for a quarter of a century and he still has a profound effect on his young readers.  It is all about being different and being accepted for who you are and that is a message that has lost none of its importance over the years.  I have always loved telling these stories in schools and libraries and the children have great fun in creating their own versions of Elmer and his friends.

HarperCollins, 978-0007513765

“The day the Crayons quit” by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers has become something of a modern classic.  It tells the story of Duncan and how he copes when all of his crayons send him letters complaining about the way that he uses them.   It is a fascinating look at how we see different types of colour, or people and  what impact that has on their self esteem.  This book, together with its follow on “The day the crayons came home” has become something of a must read for young readers.

 

Red Fox, 978-0099266594

“My many coloured days” by Dr Seuss, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher  is not a title by this prolific author that I had come across.  So of course I just had to order it.  It is unusual in that it was not illustrated by Dr Seuss and  was not published immediately it was written; in fact it took 20 years for the right illustrators to come along.  This is a book about feelings, moods and emotions and how colour can reflect these, both in humans and in the natural world around us.

 

Candlewick Press, 978-0763623456

“Sky Color” by Peter H Reynolds is part of a series of picture books that look at art and whether we should be put off by the comments of those around us.  This particular book is the final part of the ‘Creatrilogy’ (consisting of “Dot” and “Ish”)and is about Marisol and how she finds inspiration when asked to paint a mural for the school wall.  The art  is very reminiscent of Quentin Blake, with some beautiful line work, but the fact that the story is told in a series of small images brings it close to feeling like a graphic/comic book.  The colour palette is extremely limited, mainly line drawings with some shading, but it brings a lot of feeling to the story and helps us focus on the activities as they unfold.

Chronicle, 978-1452141213

“Golden Domes and Silver lanterns” by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini was a book that I came across completely by chance.  It is a beautifully illustrated look at various colours and how they relate to various aspects of the moslem faith.  It gives the appearance of being set in the USA, based of scenes in the street and other characters in the pictures, but it the focus is on the important aspects of  dress, the mosque and especially writing text from the Koran.  This makes for a very simple and yet positive introduction to the ways that other people might have questions about and would be good to use in a primary school or nursery.

I hope that I will keep on finding more titles that fit within this category as it works so well with people of all ages and can often act as a spark to ignite their own creativity.  Please let me know if you can think of some other amazing stories.