Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond

What a really great concept for a story.  The heroine, Morgana is a witch and lives in a world that has divided into the magical community and the non-magic; the latter have become a highly technical society and robots are used in order to do all of the more menial tasks in life.  The main problem is the absolute dislike that the two societies have for each other, it really is a case of “Ne’er the twain shall meet”.  The only reason that the magical community visits the city is to get supplies from the small magical community, who live in the ‘undercity’ and are looked down on by the non-magic.  Morgana is definitely different and has a fascination for robots; her magical abilities are nearly non-existent and she really wants to go to school.  When her father takes her on one of his trip to the city she is delighted and together with her friend Esther she makes several secret visits to the metropolis.  A turning point comes when school inspectors arrive in the village and she demands that she be allowed to attend school, something unheard of in the past.  The consequences not only put her at odds with her community, but it also puts her life at risk, when she and her new friend Jonathan find that robots have been changed and are ready to take over the world.

Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics were first written down in 1942 in a short story called “Runaround” and state:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

We are now living in a world where robots and specifically Artificial Intelligence are getting closer to having independent thought, something that this book actually addresses as we discover the importance of empathy, understanding and balance, both in the human and in the hi-tech world.  This book is full of so many issues that the young characters have to come to terms with, but we realise that the adults are the ones who really need to change their views; they need to be more flexible in the way they treat those with different beliefs.  It really is a message that needs to be passed on in as many ways as possible, particularly at the moment.

Although the underlying messages are quite serious there is still room for a lot of action and adventure and I am sure that everyone will love ‘kitty’ the robotic kitten that Morgana finds and repairs and which becomes her version of a ‘familiar’.  Overall this book is an absolute joy with its amazing mix of lifestyles.  It will open children to the possibility of creating their own world where just about anything is possible, but where actions have consequences.  What a stunning way to start the New Year!  On top of all this, the author is a Librarian, I am so happy!!

 

My Journey to Publication by Amy Bond

I had started books before, but abandoned them not far into the story. One I had finished, but once I had gotten to the end of the first draft, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mess of words and tangle of plot. The first draft of Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age wasn’t any neater, but perhaps I saw more potential, or had just learnt more discipline in the intervening years. I began to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it until, at last, I could see some hope for it.

This hope was dashed, repeatedly, once I began to submit it to agents. There were a couple of manuscript requests among the rejection, which momentarily raised expectations, only to be brought down again. Some of their kind advice did help me finesse my work some more. All the time I had been keeping an eye out on the opening of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. I had followed it the past couple of years as I tinkered away on my book. It seemed such a magical prospect, that you could send in your work and come away with a book deal from such a renowned publisher. Though I wasn’t feeling too optimistic at the time I entered, I reminded myself to be proud to have even got so far as to have something book shaped enough to submit.

It was coming to the end of the day in the office when I got the call to say I had made the longlist. It genuinely felt like a dream. I missed the call to say I had made the shortlist, but given the embarrassing squealing and dancing around my bedroom that took place listening to the voicemail, I am glad I wasn’t actually on the phone to Barry Cunningham, Chicken House’s Publisher. The announcement day in London is still a bit of a blur in my head, and while I didn’t come away with the book deal, I had some solid feedback from the judges and a new confidence in my writing. I got back to work.

Chicken House had kindly said that I could send them on any improved manuscript, so I did. I didn’t really think much would come of it, but no harm would come of it at least, and maybe some more feedback. I had to read the publication offer email several times before I let myself get too excited. Perhaps I had misunderstood. But no, I was going to have my book published.

A lot more work and writing, doubt and belief have followed this. A COVID-19 induced delay pushed the reality further into the distance. But it is really happening. I have held my own book, and it was just as amazing a moment as I had anticipated. The only thing more wonderful is to imagine it in the hands of children soon.

MORGANA MAGE IN THE ROBOTIC AGE by Amy Bond is out now, priced £6.99. Follow Amy on Twitter: @amylouisebond

Darwin’s Dragon by Lindsay Galvin and Gordy Wright

Since the bicentenary of his birth in 1809 there has been a great deal written about the naturalist Charles Darwin.  Many of the books focus on his major work “On the Origin of Species”, or they are biographies which cover his whole life.  this new book by Lindsay Galvin takes a slightly different tack and covers the period of his time on HMS Beagle from 1831-36.  Darwin himself is not even the main character in the story, that honour goes to the young cabin boy Syms Covington, who in real life was promoted to become Darwin’s assistant during the five year voyage.

The story mainly takes place in the Galapagos Islands, a place that still seems somewhat magical, even today, but in those days it was virtually unknown and full of new and fascinating wildlife.  When returning from an expedition to an island, Darwin and Syms are caught in a storm and Syms is thrown overboard from the small dingy they are in.  When he wakes up he is on a strange island, with no ship in sight.There is an active volcano that threatens Syms, but he is aided by a small lizard that he names Farthing and before long he finds himself running for his life as he experiences something that should not exist outside of myths and legends, a real dragon and it is not happy.  Syms eventually escapes from the island and the many dangers he has faced and is picked up, together with Farthing and some eggs he has collected,  by the Beagle and the voyage continues.  The second part of the story is about what happens when the eggs hatch and a group of lizards are returned to England, where they are handed over to a young Queen Victoria.  What eventually becomes obvious to Syms is that they are actually young dragons and they go through the same sort of metamorphosis that creatures such as butterflies and frogs go through.  The conditions that they are kept in is not suitable and Syms wants to release them, but the Queen will not agree, even though one of the young dies in captivity.  We definitely start cheering when our young hero manages to release the dragons and we hope that they survive.  In order to escape the wrath of the Queen, Darwin helps his young assistant to travel to Australia, where he settles and has a family.  The final section of the story is set twenty five years later when Syms takes his young daughter on a trip to the Galapagos.  She has been brought up on the stories her father tells of his adventures, but does not believe them, until she is suddenly presented with a huge dragon, that greets her father; Farthing has not forgotten the friend that set him free.  We then have the final image of all the other dragons flying free in the sky above their island.

This is a stunning mix of true story with a hint of the mythical.  It is full of action and adventure but it also has additional layers that make us think about the way that we treat creatures.  In the book, Darwin and other naturalists see the animals as subjects for experimentation and investigation.  Whilst they are frustrated when something happens to the creatures, it is just an inconvenience and there is little sense that they have any empathy for the animals they have captured.  Luckily Darwin seems to have altered his views somewhat as he grew older and Lindsay Galvin has quoted him as saying “All animals feel wonder and may exhibit curiosity” and also “There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery”, both taken from “The Descent of Man” .  This story can be read at several different levels and I particularly like all the information at the back of the book, which will encourage young people to read more about the period and the discoveries that were being made.  the discussion with the author gives a brilliant insight into how she created the book and what caught her interest at the very beginning.  The illustrations are a lovely addition and blend extremely well, but it is the actual cover and the inside covers which are a real ‘Tour de Force’; they are absolutely stunning and make this a very special addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

 

I have to say that this makes a really stunning start to 2021 and I just hope that all the others books this year manage to meet this very high standard.  As always ‘Chicken House’ has found yet another winner; I look forward to reading more by this author.

The Author Lindsay Galvin

“Lindsay was lucky enough to be raised in a house of stories, music, and love of the sea. She left part of her heart underwater after living and working in Thailand where she spent hundreds of blissful hours scuba diving. Forced now to surface for breath, she lives in sight of the chillier Sussex sea with her husband and two sons. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, running or practicing yoga. She has a degree in English Language and Literature, is fascinated by psychology and the natural world, and teaches Science. Lindsay hadn’t written creatively since childhood until the idea for her debut novel The Secret Deep splashed into her mind, and she now she’s hooked.”  from Chicken House website, with thanks.

A Christmas Wish for All

Yet again we have a bumper crop of books to celebrate winter and the Christmas season. Among those are some old favourites that have returned, plus a range of fantastic new titles that are going to become firm favourites in the future.  It has got to the point at the moment that I need a longer run up to the festive season in order to get all of my reading done; but of course that means that I get to enjoy the spirit of Christmas for a couple of months.  I hope that you enjoy some of these stories and that they will add to your appreciation of the season.

“A Christmas in Time” by Sally Nicholls is the second adventure for Alex and Ruby as they are taken back to a Victorian Christmas; where they have the task of saving a young ancestor  from being sent to a really awful girls boarding school.  The plot also involves mending family relationships and bringing the true spirit of Christmas to those that they meet.  This is a lovely read for those who are just becoming confident in their reading and I look forward to another story (that was hinted at) in the future.

Tinsel” by Sibeal Pounder  is a truly magical story about the history of Santa Claus.  In this version we have a very strong set of female characters, but of course the men in the story tend to get the wrong end of the stick and assume that  S Claus must be a man.  There is a truly horrible villain, Mr Krampus, named after the scary devil figure found in Germanic festivities leading to Christmas, but just is served at the end.  this makes a really original story and is bound to be a great favourite.

“The Night After Christmas” by Kes Gray and Claire Powell  follows on from last year’s offering “The night before the night before Christmas” and shows us how Santa and Mrs Claus, together with the reindeer and Elves celebrate the completion of their mammoth task every year.  This is an exuberant, funny and so very happy story for younger readers.  Fantastic for reading to classes and all the little ones in your life.

Miracle on Ebenezer  Street” by Catherine Doyle.  The hint is in the title as we are treated to a wonderful re-interpretation of “A Christmas Carol”, but set in the present day and dealing with the aftermath of family bereavement and the profound impact that can be felt for years.  A definite future classic.

“Trouble in a Tutu” by Helen Lipscombe starts off at the Christmas season and is a brilliant mix of spies and ballet.  A full review can be found in my blog post from November.

A Thing called Snow” by Yuval Zommer is the delightful story of two young animals as they discover winter and,in particular, snow for the first time.  The arctic fox and hare have only heard about winter, as they had been born in the spring, so they find the whole experience quite magical.  The author/illustrator has created a wonderland of images for us and it is a story that works on so many levels and is an absolute delight.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas: Grandma is overly generous” by Alex T Smith is a totally brilliant and hysterical take on the famous song.  As the author says, it is very difficult to remember the list of items sent on the twelve days, so in the end he made up his own list. It is absolutely mad and I can imagine the fun that groups of children will have in trying to act out this song. Once again Alex T Smith has given us an real gem of a book for Christmas.

The Empty Stocking” by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb  is the sort of picture book that gives you a nice warm feeling as you read it.We get to see how things turn Cover Imageout when Santa accidentally puts presents into the stocking of a naughty twin, but leaves nothing for the good sibling.  The magic of Christmas shows that everyone has a good side and that the power of love is limitless.

“Dogger’s Christmas” by Shirley Hughes sees the return of one of the most iconic characters in picture books.  It is the run up to Christmas and young Dave (Dogger’s owner) is getting very excited and puts Dogger safely in the window.  However after the great day, he cannot find his toy and it looks as if  Dogger has gone, however with the help of older sister Bella, miracles can happen.  There are going to be a few tears and lots of Christmas cheer as this gorgeous story reaches its conclusion.

“Trouble on Planet Christmas” by Kate Saunders is the second in the series Cover Imagefeaturing the planet Yule-1 and the Trubshaw family, who find themselves having to help Father Christmas when a rogue inventor threatens to make dangerous toys for presents.  This is a great story for younger readers and the humour is just as infectious as in the first story.  It is yet another brilliant addition to my Christmas shelves.

“The Church Mice at Christmas” by Graham Oakley is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and it is just as wonderful as the first time I read it, all those years ago.  The adventures of the mice and their unwilling ally, Sampson the cat, make for a wonderful story that will be loved by both the adults and children in your life.

“Winter Tales” by Dawn Casey and Zanna Goldhawk  is a stunningly illustrated collection of folk tales from around the world.  Although there are some familiar tales from Europe, there are also stories from China, Japan and South Africa and they all have the ability to uplift the spirit.  Definitely a great collection for a school where you want to be able to read short, but complete, stories during the day.

Letters from Father Christmas” by J R R Tolkien, edited by Baillie Tolkien.  I can’t believe it is 100 years since Tolkien started writing these letters to his children.  This centenary edition is much longer that the original edition from 1976, which was called “The Father Christmas Letters” and which was also edited by Baillie Tolkien.  The magic that the author was able to create for his family shouts to us from the page and I am sure that there are many families where following his example has become something of a tradition.  It is a glorious addition to any Christmas collection.

 

 

 

 

The Marvellous Land of Snergs by Veronica Cossanteli and Melissa Castrillon

 

When you read that a book was instrumental in giving J R.R Tolkien the inspiration for his Hobbits, then it is time to get excited.  The plot of the story is similar to frameworks that we have become used to over the last decades.  The two main characters Pip and Flora are orphans and both find themselves living in a somewhat unusual orphanage.  The owner, Miss Watkyns, is strict but the children are well looked after.  However when a strange woman tries to kidnap Flora, the two children decide to run away and hide.  They then accidentally pass through a magical door and find themselves in the land of the Snergs; these are small rather round individuals who have a love of eating cake and other sweet things.   Our first introduction to these characters is through the person of Gorbo, who ends up being central to the whole story and  helps the children navigate the strange world they find themselves in.  The children soon discover that Flora is the target of a rather nasty witch called Mrs Meldrum, but the reason for this is unclear; however she turns out to be the same person who had tried to kidnap Flora at the beginning of the story. How they solve the mystery and save themselves and others from a terrible fate makes for a really tremendous adventure.

This is a story that can be read by confident readers from 7 years and up.  The text has a generous font size, which makes for easy reading and children will feel as if they are really achieving something as they read the book.  The story is divided into sections with a brief explanation show at the beginning and this then divides into several short chapters, which would be great for bedtime reading, or for reading in class.  The illustrations add to the charm of the book and have a delightful naivety that harks back to the period between the wars.

This retelling is based on the original story by E A Wyke-Smith (1871 – 1935), which was written in 1927.  The original version of the book is still in print and it is still possible to buy  both an audio and e-book version.  The original author would have appeared to be a bit of an adventurer in his youth but he started writing children’s books after World War I, perhaps as a respite from the horrors of war.  the original book has been written with a slightly older audience in mind and the text is much fuller, with quite long sections of description and explanation.  However it would be a great choice for avid readers who want to see how a story can have more than one way of being told.

I am delighted that this story has found a new audience for our modern times.  It was not a title that I had come across before but it does go to show that a good story remains just that, even if the writing style changes through time.

 

About Veronica Cossanteli

“Veronica grew up in Hampshire and Hong Kong with an assortment of animals, including an imaginary pet dinosaur who slept on her bed. She works in a primary school in Southampton, where she lives with three cats, two snakes, one guinea pig and a large number of lizards.

Her debut novel The Extincts is a wonderfully funny and charming adventure with more than a hint of Dahl.” thanks to the Chicken House website for this information.

Melissa Castrillon

Melissa is a freelance illustrator who works for a variety of publishers.  She studied at Cambridge School of Art and gained an MA in Children’s Book Illustration.  She still lives in Cambridge.

National Non-Fiction November

National Non-Fiction November is a celebration of Information books that has been around for the last few years and which grew out of National Non-Fiction Day.  It was founded by the Federation of Children’s book Groups and they are still responsible for its success.

#NNFN2020 and #ThePlanetWeShare

This year the theme is The Planet we share, which is something that has been highlighted by many people, but especially Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg.  The three titles that I have been asked to review look at different areas of concern, but they have all acted as catalysts to get young people engaged in the world around them and in motivating them to become involved in creating solutions for the future.

All of these titles are published  by the educational publisher Raintree.  The company was founded in the 1990s as Heinemann Library and then in 2004 they introduced Raintree as part of the Group.  Four years later the publishers were brought by the American company Capstone and have been part of that group ever since.  They have always specialized in information books for the curriculum and most school libraries, especially in primary schools, will have a wide selection of their titles.

“You are eating Plastic every day” by Danielle Smith-Llera  is a book that is aimed at the lower secondary age group and possibly the top of KS2.  The text is easily accessible and looks at the world wide impact that plastic is having on our environment.  The illustrations are full of impact and many young readers will find the images quite shocking.  the book has been published in 2020 and it is good to see that the pictures and text reflect current realities. This is actually quite a short book, with only 57 pages of text, but it also has a good glossary, index and bibliography.  The only thing I would say about the bibliography is that some of the reference might be aimed at a more mature audience than the book itself.  However this will make an excellent addition to the school library and act as a great introduction to further research.

https://www.raintree.co.uk/media/15066/you-are-eating-plastic-every-day-activity-sheet.pdf

“Climate Change and You” by Emily Raij is aimed at a younger audience.  I would definitely place it in the lower KS2 range, although it could be used in KS1 to support an introduction to this topic.  The text is well laid out, with short sentences, large font and a pictures on every double page spread.  I particularly like the highlighted terms in the main text which are then explained in the glossary at the back; this makes linking the two areas quite easy.  There is a short index as well as the glossary and a very short list other other books and websites’ although all the other books are Raintree titles.  The publication date is shown as 2021, so I have been lucky in being shown it at such an early time.  It is definitely one of those titles that will become a staple of the school library and classroom and it will provide a good introduction to a vital subject.

“Saving British Wildlife” by Claire Throp is part of a series called ‘success stories’, which rather gives the hint that this is going to be about positive changes that have happened over the last few years.  The book starts out by talking about a survey that was undertaken in 2016, which resulted in a report called “The State of Nature“.  It provided the frightening statistic that 56% of our wildlife was in decline.  The book then goes on to explain the various issues which have  affected our wildlife and the ways that organizations and individuals have tried to improve matters.  Most of the book looks at different types of wildlife, so there is a chapter on birds, mammals, fish, insects and amphibians, before looking at those species that are still in danger.  This book also uses the highlighted text and glossary link system as well as having a good index and bibliography with quite a few online links.  Once again this book is aimed at KS2 and the wonderful illustrations and attractive layout make it very appealing.

The latter two titles are both give a book banding of ‘Dark Red’, which many schools will find helpful.

Trouble in a Tutu by Helen Lipscombe

It is fair to say that there seems to have been a resurgence in interest with regard to books and ballet.  Although there has been a long term interest with picture books we went through quite a long period where middle grade and YA titles were definitely out of fashion.  Over the last few years we have seen a change, but the books tend to have more of an edge to them and ballet is just part of the plot structure.  This delightful series mixes ballet and spying and is perfectly aimed at its middle grade audience.

This is the second book in the series, the first being “Death en Pointe” and it follows the heroine Milly during her second year at Swan House Ballet School, which is also a school for spies.  In this book we see the re-appearance of a famous villain who calls himself ‘The Mouse King’, after the character in the Nutcracker Suite.  He has been in hiding for several years, but now seems determined to have his revenge on the school and also on Milly’s mother (who is a spy as well as a world famous Prima Ballerina). We also see the appearance of another famous dancer who takes up the role of Head of Ballet; Max Deverall is a friend of Milly’s mother, but she wonders if they are too close and why do Max and his daughter Leonora seem so perfect?  Importantly can Milly and her friends solve the mystery surrounding the Mouse King and save the school from being closed?

Once again we have a wonderful story full of adventure and mystery, where both the adults and the young people have to work together to get results.  In the first book Molly had rescued her mother after nearly a year in captivity, so it is understandable that she is somewhat protective of their relationship.  However, when Max appears on the scene Molly is definitely envious of his relationship  and her jealousy seems to cloud her judgement.  But what if he is linked to the Mouse King and Molly is the only one that can see through his charming ways?  The author has given us a bit of a conundrum that takes a lot of unraveling and we have to wait until the end of the book to find out the truth of the matter. One of the major strengths of these stories is the relationships between the school friends, so it is a shock to Molly when they do not automatically support her view of the situation.  Thankfully we are able to work through the various elements of the plot and reach a conclusion.  The author has however left some ‘doors’ slightly open, so that we have the lead into the next title in the series.  I am sure that there are many fans who can’t wait for the next exciting installment, I know I am one of them.

 

Helen Lipscombe is a graduate of the Bath Spa course on ‘Creative Writing for Young people’ and this is the second title in her series.  She grew up in Wales and says that she has been writing since she was a small child.  She trained as a graphic designer at the Exeter College of Art and Design and has worked in Singapore, the Caribbean and London.  Helen now lives in the Cotswolds with her family and is busily writing her magical stories and researching as much about ballet as she can.

The Acrobats of Agra by Robin Scott-Elliot

Beatrice, known as Bea, finds herself in India and living with her Aunt, Uncle and cousin.  She has grown up living with her grannie in Scotland, after her parents had died in India, but as the latter got older she was no longer as able to care for Bea and the family packed Bea off to Aunt Constance.  Unfortunately the year is 1857 and the city of Agra and the surrounding region are fast becoming the centre of a rebellion by the Indian troops.  Bea and her relatives had just attended a performance of the Circus and but within days life has changed as the city of Agra finds itself under siege.  Bea finds herself caught up in events and together with Jacques (an acrobat from the circus) and an Indian servant called Pingali manages to escape from the city and head for the hills, in an attempt to find her younger brother George.  He had travelled to India with their parents and was sent to live with another aunt after their deaths.  The dangers that this group face, both from the rebels and from army deserters brings them into huge danger and makes them very aware that you cannot judge people by their ethnicity or background.  The epilogue at the end rounds off the story and we get an insight into how lives have changed over the three years since the rebellion.

Literature has long been fascinated by the Indian continent but although there are many adult novels written about the history and events, there are fewer written from a child’s point of view.  Even those are often about a person travelling from India to the UK and the differences that they find.  We can start with titles such as the “Secret Garden”  but we are now seeing an increase in books that give us a much better perspective of the country’s history as well as allowing us to share in the lives of a huge range of people.  Bea is a very strong and feisty character who did not want to travel to India, but is determined to be re-united with her brother whatever it takes.  She is the total antithesis of a Victorian young lady, having been brought up in Scotland and allowed to have freedom of movement and thought.  The strictures of life within the Raj are frustrating and you get the feel that the European women live in a constant form of social straitjacket.  Life in Britain was itself full of social restrictions, but this was only amplified in the confined communities that they found themselves in as part of the Empire.  We also get an insight into the total lack of cultural and religious understanding that the British had for the population that they were ruling; the rebellion was caused by the supposed use of pork and beef fat to coat rifle shells, which was insulting and against the beliefs of both Muslim and Hindu communities.  It  is to be hoped that the world has changed for the better, but I do wonder if there are still people with no empathy and understanding of those around them; however that is a question that should be a large area of discussion within schools.  Above all this is a thrilling adventure story that pits the central characters against all kinds of dangers, but they come together and even take on board the saying “All for one, and one for all” from the “Three Musketeers”.  It is a story that is very exciting but which will also make you think about what happened and why.

 

Robin Scott-Elliot has been a sports journalist for 25 years with the BBC, ITV, Sunday
Times, Independent and the ‘i’, covering every sport you can think of and a few you
probably can’t. In 2012 he covered the London Paralympics as the Independent’s
Paralympic Correspondent. He threw that all away to move home to Scotland and
write. He lives on the west coast with his wife and two children. His first book for
children, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, was published in 2019.

The Hungry Ghost by H.S.Norup

When Freja moves to Singapore, to live with her father and his new family for a year, she could not imagine the mysterious and frightening occurrences that will change her life.  The move was caused by the breakdown in her mother’s mental health, but Freja feels guilty for not being able to stay with her.  The world that she discovers in Singapore is very different from her home in Denmark and she finds it difficult to adapt to life with her step-mother Clementine and her two year-old twin half-brothers.  Freja arrives in her new home during the month of the “Hungry ghosts”, a festival celebrated in Buddhist Chinese and Vietnamese cultures;  where local residents leave food and other offerings at the graves of their ancestors to appease them and prevent evil spirits gaining access to our world.  On the evening of her arrival Freja sees a young girl, dressed in white, in the garden but no one seems to know where she comes from.  As the story progresses we learn that the girl is called Ling and that she is a ghost who cannot settle until she remembers what happened to her family.  How Freja and her new school friends help solve the mystery makes for a fascinating story and we discover that it was not just Ling who had hidden away some painful memories.

This is a beautifully told story with characters that are full of energy, but who are often suffering a lot of hidden pain.  The world of Singapore is brought to life and we are aware of just how much of a multi-cultural place it is.  All of the friends that Freja makes come from different parts of the world and their parents are often from separate countries; just like Freja, whose mother is Danish but her father is English and her step-mother is Anglo-Chinese.  The festival of the “Hungry Ghosts” puts me in mind of the Mexican Day of the Dead, but there is a slightly darker aspect to the commemoration as there is a strong need to prevent the ‘hungry ghosts’ (who may have committed a wrong doing in their life) from coming back to this world and wreaking havoc on their descendants.  The multiple layers of the story that are gradually revealed remind us of the inequalities of our colonial past and the heartache that this could cause for many of the people involved.  This is at times heart wrenching as Freja peels back hidden secrets and finally understands her links to Ling and Singapore.

 

Author bio:

H. S. Norup is the author of The Hungry Ghost and The Missing Barbegazi—a Sunday Times Book of the Year in 2018. Originally from Denmark, she has lived in six different countries and now resides in Switzerland with her husband and two teenage sons. She has a Master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration and sixteen years’ experience in corporate marketing strategy and communications. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors either skiing, hiking, walking, golfing or taking photos.

Thank you to the author for the author information and the photograph that she has made available on her website https://www.hsnorup.com/

 

Amelia Fang and the Trouble with Toads by Laura Ellen Anderson

Amelia Fang is the wonderful vampire heroine of this series of books and I was so sad to hear that this is going to be the last of her adventures in Nocturnia.  I am consoling myself with the thought that ‘maybe’ in the future she might have adventures elsewhere;  after all it is just down to the phrasing of the information.  Amelia has a fantastic group of friends comprising of  Florence, who is a Yeti, Grimaldi, a reaper and Tangine, who is a vampire prince and not forgetting squashy, her pet pumpkin.  We have followed this team as they have lots of exciting and often funny adventures with their respective families and communities.

In this latest story we are introduced to Vincent, Amelia’s baby brother!  Anyone who has had children, or who has had younger siblings will probably have some idea of what this means. At the beginning of the story Amelia is looking forward to attending Grimaldi’s birthday party but when her parents go down with Frankenflu she ends up having to take Vincent with her and things go downhill after that.  Eventually the friends take Vincent for a walk to keep him quiet, which seems to work, until he disappears from his pram.  They track him to  a swampy area which leads to the ‘Pond Beyond’, where toads go when they are squished; so of course they have to follow him.  What follows is a great adventure as they meet new friends and find the missing Vincent.  The problem is that there is supposedly no way back to their world, so how are they going to get home?  You will have to read the story to find out if they succeed.

This series of stories with its lovable yet very quirky main characters has been a great hit with younger readers.  In this particular tale we have a very strong theme about being yourself and also loving people despite some of the things that can irritate us.  Both Amelia and some of the characters she meets in the Pond Beyond realize that the love they have for family member and friends transcends the  issues they face, such as snot, dirty nappies, tears and just being clumsy.  This is something that we as adults have learnt to realize, but for young children it is part of the learning process.We have been given a fabulous finale to this series, but I might just have to read them all over again.

Thank you to Egmont for a copy of the book and also for the image and information about the author.

 

About the Author
When she’s not trying to take over the
world or fighting sock-stealing
monsters, Laura Ellen Anderson is a
professional children’s book author and
illustrator, with an increasing addiction to
coffee.
She spends every waking hour creating
and drawing, and would quite like to live
on the moon when humans finally make it
possible. Laura is the official illustrator of
the 2020 Summer Reading Scheme and is
also the creator of EVIL EMPEROR
PENGUIN and illustrator of WITCH WARS,
THE FAMOUS FIVE, Terry Pratchett’s
TIFFANY ACHING novels as well as many
other children’s books. AMELIA FANG is
her first series as author-illustrator.
You can follow her on @Lillustrator

Emily Knight: I am … Becoming by A Bello

This is an exciting and action packed series of books about a young girl called Emily Knight.  The title that we are
celebrating is actually the third book, of what I think is going to be a quartet; at least that is the impression I get from the end of the book.  I would however suggest that starting with the first title and working your way through is probably a very sensible option.  The complex plot and relationships mean that you need to understand the background and it is book one that gives you this information.

The series is set in a modern world; but it is one made up of ‘Mundanes’, who are people like us and the ‘Warriors’ who appear to have an assortment of special powers and act as protectors to the ordinary population.  Emily is the daughter of the most famous warrior, Thomas Knight, who had defeated the renegade warrior called Neci in a past battle.  She does not want to be the centre of attention and feels the pressure on her to be like her father and elder brother, Lox, both of whom have cult star status; having been star players in the seriously tough game called Dojo.  In books one and two  Emily’s brother is missing and her father is on a hunt to try and find him, leaving Emily at home with foster parents and friends.  By the start of book three the family have been reunited, but there are still many tensions and there is a move towards a war as Neci becomes more powerful and builds an army of followers.

This is definitely a series for those who love the idea of friendship groups involved in battling evil.  There are real echoes of other popular series from the past, but as always it is what the author does with the basic outline that is important. A Bello has produced something that although familiar in many ways has its own distinct story and characters.  Although we know that Neci is cast as the villain of the piece, I find myself wanting to know more about her back story.  We are told how she discovers her powers and develops her hatred of the warriors, but I feel there is more to the story and I hope that we will learn more about her motivation in the final story.  Emily herself  has all the anxieties and uncertainties of someone in their teens.  She feels the burden of leadership that is being placed on her and does not think that she can live up to the expectations.  She is also going through the normal ups and downs of adolescence and dealing with her attraction to two of the male students at her school.   With the reappearance of her father and brother she has to learn to cope with their personalities and to make them understand that she is an individual in hr own right.

It is good to see a series where there is a strong female central character and particularly one who is a person of colour.  There has been a lot of emphasis on diversity in literature this year, but this author has been writing such stories for several years and we can see from her author profile she is someone who is heavily involved in broadening the range of people and stories in children’s publishing.  I am delighted to have had the opportunity of reading these books and I look forward to the next title, when hopefully we will see the  finale of this exciting series

 

The Author

A. Bello is the award-winning author of the bestselling fantasy
series Emily Knight I am. . . and Emily Knight I am. . .
Awakened, which was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie
Medal 2019, Winner of London’s Big Read 2019, finalist for
A. Bello first began writing the Emily Knight saga at aged
12 with the intention of filling the gaping hole in children’s
fiction for an inspirational, strong, black female, young
protagonist.
A. Bello won the London Book Fair’s Trailblazer Award
2018. She is the founder of The Lil’ Author School, co-founder
of The Author School, Hashtag Press, Hashtag BLAK, The
Diverse Book Awards and ink!
Find out more at www.a-bello.com
Follow A. Bello on Twitter: @ABelloWrites
Instagram: @abiolabello @emilyknightiam
Facebook.com/EmilyKnightIAM
Facebook.com/A.BelloAuthor