Christmas Glitters

This is turning out to be a bumper year for titles about Christmas and the winter season. Not only have we got a collection of additions to already popular titles, but we also have a huge range of new characters to bring us Christmas Cheer.

Picture Books

“Little Santa” by Jon Agee  is a delightful take on how Santa became the focus of Christmas that he has become.  It is about doing what is right for you, rather than just following everyone else; a great addition to the Christmas collection.

Little Bear and the Silver Star by Jane Hissey is a look at her famous collection of toys as they start to decorate the tree for Christmas.  When the star for the top cannot be found, Little Bear gets worried.  A midnight visit to the attic eventually finds the hidden glittery star, but then he loses it in the snow outside.  However, with a bit of Christmas magic, the tree eventually has its crowning glory!

The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson and Victoria Sandoy  is a magical look at what happens to a small Norwegian pine tree as it grows into a tall and strong tree.  It is brought to another country and city (London), where it is the centre of celebrations and helps people remember the true meaning of the festivities.  This is the story of the Trafalgar Square tree that is gifted by the Norwegian people, in thanks for the help they received in WW2.

“The Mice before Christmas” by Anne L Watson and Wendy Edelson is based on the classic story by Clement Clark Moore, however this is about how the mice prepare and spend Christmas.  It is a bright and vibrant story of family and friendship and the joy of the festive season.  There are echoes of the Brambly Hedge stories and you can see this especially in the highly detailed and energetic illustrations.  This is definitely one that should be a classic read.

“Santa’s Stolen Sleigh” (Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton  sees our two heroes, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam back in action.  When Santa’s elves become ill, a polar bear called Flo offers to help with toy making, but then she steals Santa’s sleigh, so she can have a ride.  Luckily things turnout well in the end and Flo is very remorseful.

“Grace and the Christmas Angel” by Lucinda Riley, Harry Whittaker and Jane Ray is a beautiful and timeless story of Christmas, family and the sense of community that is found in fishing villages around the world.  When Grace’s father does not get home for her Christmas concert she worries about his boat, out in a tempestuous sea.  Luckily she has a guardian angel, called Hope, who answers the call and guides the vessels back to port. The illustrations are yet another triumph form the magical Jane Ray and they really add to the joy in te book.

“The Twelve Green Days of Christmas” by Barry Timms and Sian Roberts is another version of the 12 Days of Christmas, however this time it has Santa as the main character and looks at what he sees when he is flying with his reindeer.  The theme is about caring for our planet and being more green about the way we behave.  It is a great and humorous story but with a strong eco message.

“Croc O’Clock” by Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders  is a decidedly modern take on the concept of the 12 days of Christmas, but mixed with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Feeding time at the zoo is exciting as Croc gets increasingly larger meals, until he finally is ready to burst, but of course he doesn’t and his keepers put him on  vegetarian diet for a while.

“The Toys’ Christmas” by Claire Clement and Genevieve Godbout is about a young boy called Noah and his toy elephant called FanFan.  when the latter can’t be found on Christmas Eve, Noah is worried and finding it hard to go to sleep.  But FanFan is on his annual secret mission, together with lots of other toys; they meet up with Santa and let him know what their child would like for Christmas.  This means that everyone gets a present that they wanted and of course on Christmas morning Noah finds his faithful friend is safely home. 

 

Middle Grade Stories

“The Christmas Pig” by J K Rowling and Jim Field.  This is a delightful Christmas story from one of the world’s best known children’s authors.  When Jack’s favourite toy Dur Pig (DP) is thrown out of a car window, he is distraught and even a replacement pig does not help.  This is a totally magical story of lost toys and the love that a child has for a favourite toy.  It is also a story about families, as Jack’s dad has gone and his mum is just beginning a new relationship; however, the daughter of the new friend is not happy and she is the one who threw DP out of the car.  The twin elements of the story are all about accepting change and understanding that there can be new loves, even though you never forget the old.

“Diary of a Christmas Elf” by Ben Miller  tells the story of a young Elf called Tog, who really wants to become one of the toy-makers for Father Christmas.  When things start going wrong and toys are being stolen, can Tog do anything to help solve the mystery, with the help of Santa’s daughter Holly?  This is a great read for the 7-9 age group and will definitely bring on the Christmas spirit.

Clara Claus saves Christmas by Bonnie Bridgman and Louise Forshaw .  When Santa is taken ill just before Christmas, it is up to his children, but especially his daughter Clara, to try and save the day, by making sure all the presents are delivered.  This is a delightful and very funny story for the young confident reader

“How Winston came home for Christmas” by Alex T Smith is the gorgeous follow up to the star |Christmas book from last year.  Once again we have the story told in 24 chapters, so that you can read one for every day of Advent.  This time, Winston is on the hunt for a missing mouse and has lots of adventures on the way.  The book is full of recipes, craft ideas and that magical something that we all want from a Christmas story.  A totally glorious read.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu  shows us a family who take their love of Christmas to the extreme.  They celebrate it throughout the year and can’t understand those who just celebrate in December.   When they move house and Holly starts at a new school, they find they are definitely meeting a lot of “Bah Humbug” feelings, so can they change people’s minds?  A brilliant look at what ‘being different’ can mean and how we can stay true to ourselves, whilst understanding the different views of others.

“The Christmasaurus and the Naughty List” by Tom Fletcher and Shane Devries  is the third adventure featuring this totally unique dinosaur and his friends.  When Santa does his annual weigh-in of the Naughty and Nice lists, he discovers that there are far too many children on the naughty list.  If not enough children receive presents then Christmas cannot take place, and that would be a disaster!  The Christmasaurus decides to intervene and get children moved from naughty to nice.

“The Santa List” by Kieran Crowley is another story about the naughty list.  |this time, the siblings, Aisling and Joe have been playing tricks on their new babysitter and she has sent a letter to Santa, putting them on the naughty list.  Can the children redeem themselves and get on the nice list; that is, if they can recover the list, which they have managed to lose!  A brilliant read for the festive season.

“A Mouse called Miika” by Matt Haig and Chris Mould is the latest story set in the world that Matt Haig created around “A Boy called Christmas”.  This time the hero is the small mouse, Miika,  who faces moral dilemmas when he wants to be friends with the only other mouse at the North Pole, but they are not as honest as he is, so eventually decisions have to be made.  With the release of the film version of “A Boy called Christmas“, this new story set in the same world is bound to be a hit.

“The Night train” by Matilda Woods and Penny Neville-Lee.  This is a magical story that follows a group of characters as they board the night train, which will take them to a place where their dreams can come true.  However, they have to reach their destination by midnight, otherwise they will not dream;  unfortunately on this night there is an obstruction on the track and everyone has to work together to make things right.  It is a great story for younger readers, with lots of bright and atmospheric illustrations that bring the story alive.

“Winter Story” by Jill Barklem invites us to join the mice of Brambly Hedge as they celebrate the coming of snow and the excitement of preparing for a ‘Snow Ball’.  The preparations are magical; from carving out a huge ballroom in the snow, to everyone baking and cooking a huge feast for everyone to share.  this gives a warm and cosy feel to the reader.

“Wishyouwas” by Alexandra Page.   It is the lead up to Christmas 1952 and Penny Black has been sent to stay with her Uncle Frank, who runs a small post office in central London.  Penny’s mother is a pilot for the Royal Mail and flies post to Europe and back; but Penny is hoping that she will be back home in time to celebrate Christmas.  What Penny does not expect, is to discover what she initially thinks is a rat, but turns out to be something very special indeed.  This small creature speaks English and says his name is ‘Wishyouwas’; he is a ‘Sorter’ and this group of creatures have made it their purpose to try and retrieve lost post and make sure it finds its rightful recipient.  However, the Sorters are under threat from the Royal Mail Rat Catcher and Penny finds herself trying to save them and prove how useful they would be to the service.  This is a wonderful story about friendship, family and also being open to new ideas and accepting others who are very different.  Alexandra Page has created a new Christmas classic and I know it will be a firm favourite for children and adults alike.

“A Night at the Frost fair” by Emma Carroll and Sam Usher  is a wonderfully evocative time slip adventure in which the young Maya finds herself transported back to the Frost Fair of 1788, where she meets a young boy called Eddie.  She thinks he is being kidnapped, but finds that he has run away from home, because he is being treated as an invalid and not allowed any freedom.  How Maya helps him and also makes changes to lives in the present day, makes for a perfect Christmas tale.

“The very Merry Murder Club”, edited by Robin Stevens and Serena Patel is a collection of murder and mystery stories, written by some of our most talented writers for Middle Grade readers.   The stories range from dead bodies to stolen treasures and each of them gives the reader opportunities to use their “little grey cells”.  This has kept me happily engrossed over several days waiting to collect someone in my car.

 

The Big Christmas Collection from Little Tiger

I don’t think that I have written about a collection of books by one publisher before, but I have been asked to look at this collection by the supplier Books2door and as it is a group of stories about Christmas (my favourite time of the year, despite the weather), I agreed.  The publisher is also one that I am very fond of; Little Tiger was founded in 1987 and ran as an independent publisher until 2019, when it was bought by  Penguin Random House, but it still maintains its ethos and individualism.  There are ten picture books in this collection and they are a mix of traditional stories and modern tales.  Interestingly there are only two titles that actually have human characters, with the other eight featuring a wide, but familiar range of animals.

“When Granny saved Christmas” by Julia Hubery and Caroline Pedler is the story of  two small mice, named Bubble and Squeak, who are visiting their Granny for Christmas. But how will Father Christmas know where to deliver any presents and even more worrying, how will he get in the house?  Granny doesn’t have a chimney, but she comes up with an exciting alternative that they can all enjoy.

“Waiting for Santa” by Steve Metzger and Alison Edgson  shows us the power of believing and of friendship.  Little bear is convinced that Santa will bring presents at Christmas, but badger is very sceptical as they have never had presents before.  Despite this the friends all decorate a tree, with a star on top and snuggle up to wait for Santa, but will they get the surprise they wanted?  Well it is Christmas and dreams can come true.

“One Snowy Night” by M Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton has been a firm Christmas favourite since it was published over a decade ago.  When little hedgehog is woken from his winter sleep he is too cold to go back to sleep, but then out of the sky falls a parcel and it is addressed to him!  Inside is a red woolly hat, but as it doesn’t fit, he decides to give it to his friend.  The hat is passed to several animals before it finally finds its true home and everyone can snuggle down and keep warm.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement C Moore and Mark Marshall.  This is a re-telling of the now classic story of Christmas eve and is probably how most young children have learnt the names of Santa’s reindeer.  As always, this story leaves a nice warm glow.

“The magical Snowman” by Catherine Walters and Alison Edgson tells the story of young rabbit, who has spent the morning building a very special snowman.  When he is asked to pick some berries for tea, he sets off and enjoys it so much, he doesn’t see the now start to fall and the visibility disappear.  Magically he is rescued by the snowman and gets home safely.

“A Christmas Wish” by Julia Hubery and Sophy Williams is the story of Gemma and her little brother Ty.  When Ty accidentally breaks her favourite tree decoration, Gemma is very upset  and angry.  But then she remembers all the nice things about her brother and when she finds that he has left some glue and a note saying ‘I’m sorry’ outside her door, she realises that the ornament can be mended and she wants to make up with her brother.

“The magic of Christmas” by Claire Freedman and Gail Yerrill  is about the wonder and joy of experiencing your first Christmas celebration.  Little Mouse has never had a Christmas, so he asks his large family what it means to them.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and other relatives all share their favourite things.  This can vary from making snowmen, sledging, and snowball fights, to Christmas dinner, presents and keeping warm around a fire.  All of the things that we imagine a magical Christmas to be, but mainly it is about sharing with family and friends.

“Big Bear, Little Bear” by David Bedford and Jane Chapman is the delightful story of a polar bear and her cub.  The latter wants to grow up as big and strong as his mother and to be able to do all the things she does, but she explains that when he is big, she won’t be able to give him a ride on her shoulders.  So he decides that growing up is a long term aim, as he loves sharing adventures with his mother.

“A long way from home” by Elizabeth Baguley and Jane Chapman  tells the story of a young rabbit called Moz, who is being squashed by his siblings in the burrow.  He decides to go outside and  meets his friend Albatross, who offers to take him for a flight.  Unfortunately Moz falls off and ends up in the snow and then inside a huge ice hall.  At first it is exciting, but then he gets scared and misses his family, so he manages to escape from the ice.  Luckily Albatross finds him and he is soon back in the warmth of the burrow and the cuddles of the family.

“When will it Snow?” by Kathryn White and Alison Edgson  features another young bear who is longing to see snow.  However his mother tells him that bears hibernate when the snow arrives, so he will not be able to seethe winter.  So little bear asks his friends, mole and squirrel, what snow is like and they explain about the way it falls, goes slushy and how you can make snow angels.  They also confirm that they will be out playing in the winter weather and bear is worried that they will forget about his during the winter and that he will lose his friends.  But as we all know, true friends do not forget about you over a short period of time and all is well in the end.

All of these stories have been published over the last couple of decades, but I think this shows the enduring love and fascination that we have with winter and specifically Christmas. There  are themes around friendship and family, but the stories often also address some of the fears that young children have about whether Father Christmas needs a chimney any more.  this collection is one of several from this publisher and they have always provided a solid basis for school collections about this time of year; they also work brilliantly with individual families as they build their own winter traditions.  Reading these stories has really helped start my preparations for the festive season, although decorations will have to wait until December!

 

A Discovery Disappears by Pip Murphy and Roberta Tedeschi

Whilst thinking about this blog post I considered what had made me interested in mystery/crime stories and what had been available when I was a child.  The answer seems to be a mix of film and television memories and then an introduction to authors such as Agatha Christie.  What I did not have was a wide range of children’s books that were written in this genre.  I am thinking about the early 1960s, so books tended to be historical, family and general adventure stories and although they were often well written, they did not offer the range of themes that we are used to today.

I am delighted by the range of mystery titles that are available now and particularly this move to writing for younger audiences.  This title is the first in a series called “Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency” and is aimed at the 7-9 year age group.  the two heroines are twin sisters, but very unlike each other in character.  Christie is the scientific and adventurous one, while Agatha is the reader and dreamer; but put them together and you have the perfect detective team.  When they are invited to a special tea-party, they are excited about meeting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but also a guest is Alexander Fleming, who is about to announce a new discovery.  When his evidence disappears it is up to the girls to find out what happened and retrieve the ‘mouldy sandwich’, which of course was harbouring penicillin, or as Fleming calls it “Mould Juice”.

I am delighted that the author has been kind enough to share some of her thoughts about the book, based on a series of questions that I asked.

Book Tour Questions for Pip Murphy

1. Have you always had an interest in mystery stories? If so, who were your favourite authors as a child?

Yes! I loved anything with mysteries and twists (and still do!). I of course read all of the Enid Blyton books and was particularly into her Adventure series with all the animals and exciting locations, like ruined castles.

I read my first Agatha Christie book (Murder on the Orient Express) when I was 11 and immediately ran off to the library and charity shops to track down the rest of her extensive mystery collection!

2. What makes twin sisters Christie and Agatha great heroines?

They’re both very relatable and they compliment each other so well!

Christie is outgoing and will ask questions and take action to move the situation along when Agatha would be too shy.

On the other hand, Christie sometimes leaps to impossible conclusions and can be too frank with her opinions, so she needs Agatha’s thoughtfulness and sensitivity to balance this out.

Both sisters recognise each others skills and trust each other a lot. I think it’s important to know and trust in your friends’ strengths, just like Christie and Agatha do.

3. How does your experience travelling inspire the settings in this series?

I love travelling by train so you might notice a few trains in future books! Being from a coastal town, the occasional seaside location is also a must. When I researched how long certain journeys would take, though, it made me very grateful for today’s speedier transport… although if you’re not in a hurry, taking in beautiful landscapes is a treat in itself!

4. Have you discovered any evidence that Alexander Fleming and Arthur Conan Doyle actually met in real life?

Unfortunately I don’t think the two ever did meet! Conan Doyle was already hugely famous when Fleming was still a child, and Fleming’s important discovery wasn’t really developed until after Conan Doyle’s death. I’m sure that, as a medical man, though, Conan Doyle would have been very interested in penicillin and supportive of its development.

One fun fact is that when the real Agatha Christie went missing, Conan Doyle tried to hire a medium to find her. It’s an extremely Conan Doyle thing to do!

The great writer also had connections to some other famous historical figures who you might well meet in future books…

5. I’m looking forward to the release of book 2, Of Mountains and Motors. What can we expect from the rest of the series?

Thank you! Well, the first two books take place in the British Isles but in future books we’ll also be crossing overseas to solve mysteries in mainland Europe and two other continents as well.

We’ll also be meeting exciting historical figures including inventors, aviators, composers, actors — and more scientists, too, of course! They all have baffling problems but luckily Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency is there to lend a hand.

You should also look forward to seeing more of Auguste, the Belgian boy who is introduced at the end of A Discovery Disappears. He’s definitely one of my favourite characters in the series!

Author Biography
Pip Murphy is a British writer and lived her early life in England on the Wirral. She studied Classics at Edinburgh University, after
which she moved to Tokyo, Japan.
Pip is also an English teacher and has loved reading her whole life – some of the books that influenced and inspired her the most
were ones she read when she was little (she even read every book in her primary school, some of them more than once).

 

A Discovery Disappears
By Pip Murphy, Illustrated by Roberta Tedeschi
Publication Date: 02 September 2021
Price: £6.99
ISBN: 9781782268147
Format: Paperback
Extent 128pp
Reading Age From 7 to 9 Years
Series Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency

 

Rita Wong and the Jade Mask by Mark Jones and Seamus Jennings

At the moment we are in a period that can only be described as something of a golden age for children’s books, but especially for the genre that surrounds crime and mystery writing.  When this is then widened to include beings such as dragons, werewolves and vampires, then you can expect to have an exciting time.

“Rita Wong and the Jade mask” encapsulates all of these characteristics, although it starts out being situated in the rather prosaic setting of Morecambe.  Somehow, despite it’s glorious Art Deco hotel and the associations with Morecambe and Wise, we cannot really think about this seaside town as being a centre of intrigue and a doorway to another world; yet, as Rita Wong discovers, this is exactly what it is.  13 (nearly 14) year old, Rita has moved to the seaside town with her parents, which is a bit of a difference from her previous home in Hong Kong and she is still struggling to make friends and settle into a new country.  Whilst waiting in a cafe for the library to open up, she sees something that intrigues and slightly confuses her and before she knows it, she is having a conversation with an eight foot green dragon called Lester Thyme.  He is visiting from a parallel world called Neon City, where crime is rife and there are more types of inhabitants than we are used to.

What happens thereafter is somewhat surreal, but Rita finds herself partnering Lester as a private detective, helping the local policeman, Inspector Donnelly, solve the theft of a variety of antique items.  The duo find themselves caught up in a mixture of crime and magic, which puts them both in danger and yet brings them a deep sense of satisfaction as they find challenges as well as new friends.

This really is a fantastic book for those who love their detective stories.  The two main characters have their imperfections, but they persevere in their enquiries, learn to make friends and also to balance out their individual skills and knowledge.  I really love the relationship between the two main characters and the humour that shows itself every now and again.

I particularly love the illustrations for this book.  The front cover puts me in mind of work by artists such as Satoshi Kitamura, David Roberts and Chris Riddell, with the use of very fine ink outlines and the use of shading to create the atmosphere and perspective.  There are other illustrations throughout the book, most of which introduce us to characters, or provide a sense of concern about what is about to happen.  This is very much about accepting people for themselves and realizing that being different can be a positive thing.  I am definitely looking forward to more adventures with this enterprising duo.

 

 

 

Mark Jones
Mark Jones is the author of poems and children’s books. He began writing for his college magazine, and later moved to Delhi. There he edited and wrote original stories whilst expanding his waistline with delicious Indian cuisine. He followed that with a job teaching English in Singapore, where he consumed large quantities of sushi. When he is not writing, he likes to travel to see someone he loves in Osaka.

from “Everything with Words” site

 

Seamus Jennings, illustrator

Seamus works as a political cartoonist and has work produced in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, amongst other publications.  This is his first children’s book.  https://www.seamusjennings.com/9d665dcf17-gallery

Aarti and the Blue Gods by Jasbinder Bilan and Margaux Carpentier

This is the latest book from yet another fantastic graduate of the Bath Spa course on Writing for Young People.  It is Jasbinder Bilan’s third book and this time she takes us to a remote Scottish Island, which is hiding a secret.  Aarti has lived on the island for most of her life and can remember little else.  She is looked after by her ‘Aunt’ and life is extremely hard.  they are totally self sufficient, living off the vegetables they grow, the eggs from their hens and anything they can find on the island; the only friend that Aarti has is a fox that she calls Chand, although she doesn’t know where the name comes from..  However, as she grows older, Aarti begins to wonder if she is being told the truth about what happened to her parents and whether they are really dead.  There is also the mystery of a locked room that she is not allowed to enter, but when it is left unlocked one day, she goes in and discovers an old stuffed toy that brings back some long-lost memories.  One of the few things that Aarti has is a collection of stories about Hindu deities, hence the reference in the title to blue Gods; although why she has this is a mystery.

Unfortunately life takes a horrendous turn, when Aunt is killed as she tries to collect some sea bird eggs from the cliffs and Aarti is left totally on her own.  To begin with she thinks she can manage, but then her supplies are ruined by rain and she realizes that a young girl cannot live by herself.  Just as she is beginning to give up all hope, she finds a young boy floating in the sea and manages to save him.  Euan is a young Scottish boy and talks to Aarti about his family and whether they will be able to leave the island and get back to more inhabited land.  This raises the question of whether there is a boat on the island.  Aarti has never seen one, but they realize that Auntie would have needed some means to get her and Aarti to the island in the first place.  After lots of exploration they are finally successful in finding a small boat hidden away in a cave and eventually manage to bring it around to the small harbour.  The pair manage to escape from the island and head in what they think is the general direction of other islands and the mainland.  Thankfully the boat is rescued during a storm and the youngsters saved; however, that is when things take a very strange turn, because Euan is nowhere to be found and none of the rescuers had seen him on the boat.  What happens next totally changes Aarti’s life and  helps explain so much of her past, but it is her discoveries about Euan that will probably have the most profound impact on her future.

This is one of those books that keeps growing in its impact on the reader.  When you start thinking of the stresses of living in that environment and then the questions about family and lack of communication, it really does make you understand just how bleak the whole way of life would be.  This is definitely a five star read, for a whole host of reasons and I have become a great fan of Jasbinder’s work.  we also have a fabulous cover and inside  which draws together the two mythologies that are represented in the book.  Hopefully it will encourage the young readers to explore these and see how different cultures share connections.

His Royal Hopeless by Chloe Perrin and George Ermos

Every now and again you get someone who is the ‘black sheep’ of the family.  But in this story we have the opposite happening.  Young Robbie is the heir to the Sinistevil’s dynasty and whilst he tries very hard to live up to his mother’s expectations, it is obvious that he will never fit (both literally and metaphorically), into his dead brother  Brutus’s shoes.  The family are the most evil rulers that you can imagine, with a love of killing, looting and pillaging.  At the age of 12 years they are made to pledge their heart to a  jewelled sceptre, which re-enforces their desire for evil.  Nothing gets in their way and there is no such thing as family love or loyalty.  The problem is that Robbie really does not fit into this world.  He thinks he is evil, but in fact he is a real softy and even has a local peasant girl, Layla, as his friend.  When Robbie discovers that he has an artificial heart, after his mother had the real one removed when he was a baby, he decides to go and retrieve the real one, so that he can take the oath to the sceptre.  What follows is a funny and yet sad look at someone who is desperate for love and affection, but who cannot see the reality of the family that he is growing up in.  Thankfully there are people who want to help Robbie be the good person he is meant to be, although they have their own challenges in life.

What an absolutely magical story this is. I can’t imagine that anyone will not love Robbie despite the fact that he needs a bit of ‘backbone’.  However, with the strong-willed Layla and loyal servant Devon, he is able to overcome many dangers and eventually realizes that he does not want to be evil and much prefers being an ordinary person.  I think it is possible to come to the conclusion that we are not just the character we inherit from our family.  We definitely see that Robbie has an innate goodness that even his horrible mother cannot destroy.  There are so many instances where we wonder about the meaning of family; the Sinistevils take the meaning of ‘dysfunctional’ and then raise it by several notches.  Some of the other characters prove that money plays no part in the way that family love can work and are excellent role models for young Robbie to follow.  If you want a story of a lovable character, with the added ‘attraction’ of a really vile villain (hiss, boo!)  then this really is the book for you.  It is full of laughter, adventure and even the possibility of redemption at the end of the book.

 

“CHLOË PERRIN is a North Walian writer who currently lives in West London studying Creative Writing at Brunel University.

They love to feed crows, prefers Halloween to Christmas and was frequently told off as a child for reading in class. Chloë has previously worked as a youth worker, drama tutor and professional storyteller, having always believed that the best way to teach anyone anything is through a story.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS was longlisted for the 2019 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize and is their debut novel.”  Chicken House website.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS by Chloë Perrin is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at chickenhousebooks.com

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The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy by Richard Pickard and Maxine Lee-Mackie

I know that I am biased about this, because they are based in my part of the world, but anything published by the fabulous Chicken House is going to get my attention.  This title was even more noteworthy because it was the inaugural Chairman’s Choice prize winner at the 2019 Times/Chicken House competition.  Added to this is the totally original concept that we find in this heartwarming story, it is a real must-read for this summer.

Marina lives in the fishing port of Merlington, where there are probably more fish shops that anything else; unfortunately Marina really dislikes fish, but particularly since her beloved father (a fisherman) went missing 6 years before.  Life in the town appears  boring, so Marina resorts to storytelling to liven things up; unfortunately she can’t seem to limit the scope of her tales and it ends up with her being called a ‘liar’ by one of her classmates.  When she discovers  a mysterious young boy, with claws for hands and hair made of tentacles, no one believes her; not until the boy is found asleep on the beach the following day.  What follows is a quest to discover where the boy, called William, comes from and whether there is any link to her missing father.  There are are mysteries and a very evil villain, who is hiding in plain sight.

The first thing that came to mind when I started reading this story was that Marina was a little bit like ‘the boy that cried wolf’.  She was so in love with telling stories that she did not know when to stop and the consequences threatened to ruin her life in the town.  We all love stories, after all that is why we read books, but it is about recognizing  fact from fiction and also knowing how our stories will impact on our listeners.  This is a lesson that Marina has to learn and we are lucky to be able to follow her on this journey of discovery.  This is also a story about the importance of family and friends; as Marina needs the support of her mother and close friends to overcome the disbelievers and find the answers to her questions.

This is a fabulous book for middle grade children.  It is full of adventure and some amazing characters, especially Marina and William.  Not only will you want to visit Merlington for the various fish dishes, but you might even give Japanese ‘Sashima’ a try.  You will have to read the book to discover these delicacies if you don’t already know what they are!

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I am delighted to say that Richard Pickard has agreed to provide a guest blog about this book and I know you will enjoy it as much as I did.

 

MY WRITING SPACE

A short walk from Westbourne village, where you’ll find a gorgeous bookstore and the best fish and chips in the world, there is a small path that punches a shapely hole through a thick wall of hedging… This is the doorway to Alum Chine – a steep-sided valley that guides you down through the cliffs and toward a Bournemouth beach hut, where much of The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy was written.

Spending most of my time in London, where space is a premium and my own desk is the stuff of dreams, I find myself writing wherever I can – on trains, in cafés (pre-pandemic) and on my bed propped up by pillows. But my favourite place, where I’ve found much of my inspiration, has always been the beach hut.

The walk down Alum Chine is the perfect way to find the right headspace – the scent of damp pine needles filling your nose as a canopy of trees obscures the sunlight. Further along the pathway, a black iron fence shielding its steepest edge, a weathered bridge comes into view – the teal green paint flaking as it stretches across the deepest section of woodland. We call this ‘Summer’s Bridge’, a place to remember my dad’s beautiful border collie who was possibly the only being to love Alum Chine quite as much me.

The journey to the beach hut is punctured with memories such as these at every step. From the small hole at the base of a now-felled tree (my Granny Pat taught us this was the Dorset home of Winnie-the-Pooh), to the secret archways and snug stone staircases that twist through the undergrowth and lead up to unknowable places. An army of invisible birds call out through the trees which cover the steep banks at the mouth of the Chine, which we’d run down at full pelt and still would if it weren’t for the tightly packed vegetation that has claimed the slopes over the years.

Once the deep blue of the English Channel appears on the horizon, the most eager person calls out: “I saw the sea first!” and the sunlight breaks through at last. Sand mingles with a row of wild poppies as you pass the sprawling playground which felt so impressive at 3ft tall, and the newest beach huts rise from the promenade where an old stone amphitheatre once circled our childhood paddling pool.

Past the cloisters and three huts down you’ll find it. The place where my story took shape. A small, terraced cabin facing out onto the golden sand of Bournemouth’s prize-winning beach. Here I would sit, come rain or shine, in a squidgy deck chair with my leatherbound notebook from Portobello market and a thick mug of tea – which I’d brew on the small gas hob inside.

After the death of my beloved Granny Pat, this spring was sadly our last with the beach hut. But for more than thirty years it was the scene of so many happy moments. Eating bacon sandwiches on the morning of my dad’s wedding. The long evenings sat drinking a beer with my boyfriend Rob. The countless childhood summers spent visiting Granny Pat and Grandad, and of course, those happy days writing my novel. So, now that I’m drafting a second story for Chicken House, I’ll need to make do with a towel on the sand and a large thermos of tea. I’ll pack an umbrella, in case of weather-related disaster, plus extra jumpers in those colder months and a pack of biscuits to munch on after emerging from the sea to write…

Which actually, when I think about it, sounds like a pretty great alternative.

THE PECULIAR TALE OF THE TENTACLE BOY is out now, priced £6.99. Read chapter 1 on the Chicken House website!

 

Real life heroes

“Youthquake” by Tom Adams and Sarah Walsh is a book that I first came across when it was nominated for the Information Book Award.   It is aimed a Middle grade readers, as well as those in KS3 and focuses on 50 young people throughout history who have had a lasting impact on the world that we live in.  This is a book that is divided into themes, so that creative arts are under the heading “Create and Dream”, while sport is called “Lead and Triumph”.  It is a book to dip into, as well as to learn more about specific people.  Many of the names are now well known, but there are also many who are just receiving their first acknowledgements.  It shows how people an overcome multiple challenges if they are determined to achieve.

“Just like Me” by Louise Golding, Melissa Iwai and Caterina Delli Carri is a collective biography of a range of individuals who are neurologically and physically diverse.  It is aimed at the Middle Grade age range, even down to age 7 years according to the publishers.  It is great to see a title that allows young children to understand that we are a world of wonderfully diverse people.

“I am not a label” by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Baldo is another collection of biographies from the past and present.  All of the people represented are disabled in some way and this book focuses on their achievements, rather than on the disability.  There are quite a few names that I am not familiar with, so it is wonderful to see people from across the world who have overcome many obstacles to achieving their ambitions.

We are the Beatles” by Zoe Tucker and Mark Wang  AND “We are the Supremes” by Zoe Tucker and Salina Perera. These two titles are the first in a new series from ‘Wide Eyed Editions’ and aimed at KS1 readers. The author is beginning to make a name for herself with the range of biographies for young people that she has written, so it is great to think that we have another talent to depend on for many years hopefully.  The stories are told very simply and have underlying themes of friendship, equality and teamwork.  There are some exciting titles in the pipeline and I am really looking forward to the books on NASA Scientists and also the Apollo 11 crew, which are due out this autumn.

“Fearless” by Gattaldo  tells the story of a Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was well known for her expose of injustices in her country.  I first heard about her a couple of years ago when there was a TV documentary about her life and an investigation into the bomb  attack that killed her.  This book is aimed at younger readers and emphasizes her belief in freedom of speech and civil rights, it does not cover the horror of her death.  It is supported by Amnesty International and shines a light on the fact that all countries seem to have dark areas in the way they are run and in the way that people are able to live their lives.

“The Fog of War” by Michelle Jabes  Corpora and  Amerigo Pinelli,  AND “Queen of Freedom” by Catherine Johnson and Amerigo Pinelli are both titles in the best selling series “True Adventures” from Pushkin Children’s books.  The range of subjects is extremely broad.  The former title is about Martha Gellhorn an American journalist who managed to be part of the D-Day landings, something that her then husband, Ernest Hemingway, did not manage.  The latter title is about the Jamaican freedom fighter Queen Nanny who led  the revolt of the Maroon people against the British colonial authorities and slave owners in the late 18th century.  All of the books in this series tell us about people that struggled against oppression, stereotypes and colonialism among other issues.  They bring all of this home to the reader in a straightforward and understandable way.

Little people: BIG DREAMS” is a wide ranging series of biographical books aimed at very young readers. Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara they have a range of  illustrators , however they do follow a ‘house style’ that most people will recognize.  This links in to the small format of the books and also the age range that they are aimed at, which is in the 5-8 years range.  the characters portrayed range from people such as Alan Turing and Martin Luther King, to Captain Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford.   there are also multiple books about famous women, from Mary Anning to Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel. One of the latest that I came across is about the iconic figure of Iris Apfel, who at the age of 100 is still a major figure in the fashion world and an example to us all.   Hopefully some of these titles can be found in every school and library.

Down to the Sea again

Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of books that talk about the environment.  It is good to see that a lot of them have been aimed at the youngest age ranges, as we need to make sure that the need to change is embedded in all young people, as well as adults.  Perhaps the main worry that this look at titles has raised is that Michael Foreman was talking about the problem so many years ago; it seems that the pace of change is still far too slow, however programmes such as “Blue Planet” have definitely raised awareness at government levels as well as with general populations.  Here are a few titles that I hope will be useful for younger readers.

QED ‎Publishing, 9780711250055

The Deep Blue” by Charlotte Guillain and Lou Baker Smith.  Mankind has always been fascinated by the sea and the creatures that inhabit it.  Since the coming of modern media, such as film, television and now digital resources we have become more aware of the environment and the effect we are having on the oceans and its inhabitants. From Jacques Cousteau to Sir David Attenborough, we have been introduced to the wonders that lie below the surface and a thirst for knowledge has been developed by many children and adults.  We have also become more aware of what can happen to mankind if we don’t care for our oceans, ice caps and animals.  This is a fascinating look at the world of water and those animals who depend on it.

Big Picture Press,‎ 9781787417755

“There are Fish everywhere” by Katie Haworth and Britta Teckentrup is a gorgeous, stunningly coloured look at the world of fish.  Starting with what they are and then the history of their development from pre-historic times, the reader gets to understand the part that they play in the eco-structure that we live in.  The author looks at all parts of the world and also covers the relationship between mankind and the aquatic world.  Definitely one to browse and enjoy as well as looking up the facts.

Andersen Press, 9781849393041

“One World” by Michael Foreman is now over 30 years old, but it was re-published last year to celebrate the anniversary.  This is full of stunning artwork by Michael Foreman and the use of watercolours provides a very individual feel to the pictures.  It is such a tragedy that we still have the same concerns about the environment, after all these years, but given the movements being led by young people at the moment, it is appropriate that this book comes to the forefront for a new generation.  Whilst this book works as a picture book for reading to young audiences, it also works at another level in pointing out the dangers we face from pollution, plastics, climate change and industry.  This is yet another book that should be in all primary schools.

Pavilion, 9781843654513

“The Blue Giant” by Katie Cottle.  This is a delightful allegorical story about cleaning up our oceans and landscapes.  It is told as a picture book story, featuring Meera and her mum.  When they go to the beach, they are surprised by a giant wave that speaks to them and asks them for help in cleaning up the sea.  They start to help, but realize that it is a huge task.  However, gradually they get their friends involved and the more people help, the more rubbish they can clear.  This gives a strong message about us all doing our part and would be great as part of work about environmental issues.

Little Tiger, 9781912756148

“Goodnight Ocean” by Becky Davies and Carmen Saldana is a beautiful flap book for the youngest readers.  It looks at a wide range of animals and environments related to the Ocean.  the book was long-listed for the  SLA Information Book Award in 2020 and works at both a story telling and an information level.  It is a fantastic introduction to the watery world around us.

Scholastic, 9781407195100

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck brings home to us the dangers that sea creatures face from plastic bags that are thrown away.  Stanley is a striped bag and looks remarkably like a jelly fish, so sea creatures think that he will make a good meal.  Unfortunately he can get stuck in their throat and prevent breathing, or get tangled up in parts of their body.  This story really brings it home to us how dangerous plastic can be in the environment and is a must read title.

Andersen Press, 978-1783449149

“Clem and Crab” by  Fiona Lumbers is about a young girl called Clem who has a day out at the beach with her sister.  She finds a crab and takes it home as a pet.  Of course, this turns out to be a bad idea and she has to take it back to its own habitat.  She also discovers the dangers that it faces from pollution and rubbish and sets out to improve the beach and in doing so she gets lots of others involved in the process.  This works beautifully as a picture book, but also acts as a starting point in discussions about the environment.

 

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril by Jeff Norton and Jeff Crosby

It is always exciting when I receive a new book for younger readers.  Over the years there has been a real problem in finding well written, adventurous and interesting stories that will fire the enthusiasm of our new readers.  Luckily we are in a period where  publishers have realized that young people need to feel inspired by books and are giving many very talented writers and illustrators the chance to create some fabulous books.  It is a real challenge to write a well rounded story, with characterisation and action, when the word count and vocabulary is more limited, but I am delighted to say that Jeff Norton has achieved it.

I think that we would all agree that any book for a young reader depends to some extent on the illustrations that go with the actual text.  The images help young readers interpret and even expand their understanding of the main story, so it is vital that the pictures show the character and overall atmosphere of the story.  Jeff Crosby has done a fantastic job of bringing the world of Panterra to life and we really get a feel for this mythical world and the creatures that are found there.

As Jeff Norton explains in his guest post for this launch, the story revolves around a medieval world where dinosaurs had not died out and are used instead of horses by a crack team of young dino knights.  What we also discover is that learning to work as a team and valuing the skills and talents of others is just as important as being brave and willing to fight.  This is a fast paced adventure story for those young readers who prefer their stories to be full of action.  We have the young hero, Henry Fairchild, who was found as a baby and has a close link with the dinosaurs he looks after and then we have the evil Sir Neville who wants to take over the kingdom, using a force of Pterosaurs that he has bred and trained.  I can really imagine many young readers will be using their toy dinosaurs in order to re-enact the skirmishes in this book and no doubt they will use their imagination to take the story to a higher level.  Thank you Jeff for this explanation of how the story came about, I know it is going to be the start of a fantastic series (at least, I hope it is?)

 

On juggling being a father with writing for kids

I’m not sure I can take full credit for the idea behind DINO KNIGHTS. That would have to go to my then two-year-old son, Torin. It was the middle of the night, about three in the morning, which of course for two-year-olds is the perfect time to party.

So, we were up, playing with all of the toys in the living room. I was half-asleep but he was fully awake. Torin grabbed one the many plastic dinosaur toys we had (an Albertosaurus, if memory serves) and placed one of his older brother’s plastic knights on top of it, to ride on it.

It was a genuine eureka moment. Suddenly, I could see a whole story world with brave knights riding into adventure on the backs of dinosaurs. Camelot meets Cretaceous!

I quickly grabbed a pencil crayon and some paper and sketched out a drawing of the dino-riding knight and then Torin and I played with the dino knights on the living room floor until it was time to go (back) to bed.

The next day, I couldn’t shake the idea, so I started to write. I created four brave knights, one of whom I named after Torin, and a character called Henry, who was a lowly stable boy who dreamed of being a dinosaur-riding knight.

As the story took form, the themes emerged: courage, loyalty, and bravery. This was a tale about young people facing down a threat. They would have to work together as a team to defend the realm.

My writing process usually starts this way, with a singular idea or a character. I start with something very specific and then build out from there. I’m a big believer in the “one pager”, distilling down the core concept into a laser-focused articulation of the idea. For me, it keeps the story focused as it unfolds. In the case of Dino Knights, I then wrote an overview document about the world and the characters. Who are they? What do they want? What are they seeking and what are they afraid of? Everything starts with character, so even a clever idea like Dino Knights doesn’t work unless you care about the characters.

In Henry, I wanted someone the audience could identify with and root for. He’s an outsider, someone who doesn’t feel like he belongs and through his own determination and bravery slowly grows to become a valued team member and eventually a leader. But he’s going to make a lot of mistakes along the way, because we all do!

I tend to write in the mornings, often first thing. Torin is now eight and my elder son is eleven, so we’ve got a busy household. I like to get a few hours in at the writing desk every day to keep projects moving forward. I get through a lot of coffee!

You never know where inspiration will come from, so my advice to everyone is to keep an open mind and grab ideas when they come to you, even at three in the morning playing with toys with a toddler.

DINO KNIGHTS by Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby is out now in paperback (£6.99, Scallywag Press)