Skylar and the K-pop headteacher by Luan Goldie

The idea of an adult and young person changing bodies has been a favourite theme in stories and film for several generations.  The first title I remember is “Freaky Friday” by Mary Rodgers, although it does not appear to be in print at the moment.  Since then we have had a wide range of situations, many of which are extremely funny and lots of which have a message for the characters.

This story by Luan Goldie is an absolute delight, even though I am closer in age to Ms Callus than to any of the other characters.   This means that I am learning about the fan base of K-pop, which I had heard of, but which really hooks in the fans.  Skylar is an eleven year old super fan of a K-pop group called AZ8 and as far as she is concerned, nothing else really matters (except perhaps her best friend Dana), who shares her passion.  When she get grounded from watching the launch of the band’s new video things get even worse, but the real crunch happens at school when she has an argument with the headteacher about a pair of ‘bunny ears’ that she has been seen wearing.  There is a flash of green lightning and the next thing is that Skylar and Ms Callus have swapped bodies.  The ensuing  mayhem turns their lives upside down and both Skylar and her teacher hopefully learn a few lessons.  However, the big question is “what caused the change and how are they going to change back” or perhaps “do they want to change back!!”

The humour in this story is very much hinged around the totally different characters that are involved.  Skylar is 11 years old and is trying to show  how ‘grown up’ she is and of course she is totally fixated, even obsessive about K-pop; Ms Callus is the opposite, she is a 70+ year old teacher, who really should have retired and her methods of running a school are somewhat out of alignment with the modern educational system.  They both find themselves in situations that they know nothing about, but where age and experience might be more beneficial than youthful energy.  I loved the way that the two main characters were constantly at odds and yet they both appear to learn some useful lessons about friendship, family relations and what it is like to live a very different life.  It is great to see a story that is funny and thoughtful, with a believable young heroine, who just needs to broaden her horizons.  It is highly recommended for middle grade readers.

Skylar and the K-pop Headteacher by Luan Goldie (£7.99, Walker Books) available now.

 

The  Author

Luan Goldie’s debut novel for adults, Nightingale Point, was
longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the RSL Ondaatje
Prize in 2020 and recently has been chosen as one of the titles for
World Book Night 2023. She is also the author of Homecoming,
which featured on BBC Woman’s Hour, and These Streets, a family
drama set in Stratford, London.
In 2018 she won the prestigious Costa Short Story Award and her
short stories have appeared in Stylist, HELLO! and the Sunday
Express. A former teacher, Goldie has over a decade’s worth of
experience teaching in London schools. She has also taught adults
through London’s writer development agency Spread the Word,
and is a First Story Writer-in-Residence working with young people
in Tower Hamlets. You can find Luan on Instagram @luangoldie,
Twitter @LuanGoldie and at www.luangoldie.co.uk

Seven Days by Rebeka Shaid

I have to say that this book has somewhat taken me out of my comfort zone, which is important in my work as a blogger and reviewer; it would be very limiting if I only read the genres and age ranges that I am comfortable with.  However, I am very happy with the setting of the book.  Having worked for Bristol libraries for 20 years, I have worked in many parts of the city and the book really gave me the opportunity to visualize so many familiar places.

This is the story of how a totally random meeting changes the lives of the two main characters, both of whom have South Asian heritage.  As the title suggests, the story is told over a period of seven days and follows 16 year old Noori and the slightly older Aamir  as their worlds keep colliding.  The story is told from their alternative perspectives, so that we get a real sense of the personal traumas that they are having to deal with. Both of them are mourning the death of someone close; for Noori, it is her best friend and cousin, whilst for Aamir it is his beloved mother.  At the same time they are having to grapple with the uncertainties they feel about identity and growing up; in the case of Noori we see a conflict based on her mixed British and Pakistani  heritage and how she struggles to understand her own feelings.  Aamir comes from a very traditional Pakistani family and this produces expectations that he is unable to accept, which in turn has led to conflict with his father.  This starts off as a quite low key story, but there is a build up over the period of a week, in which we see all of the characters having to examine their own attitudes and try and find common ground.  The events of day seven really brings all of the elements together and I am not going to give any spoilers about it; however, it is quite shocking for those involved.

One element that links the two main characters in the book is the poetry of the thirteenth century  Sufi poet Rumi.  Aamir is reading a book of his poetry when he first meets Noori and she recognizes the work.  I admit that I was not aware of Rumi, but I suggest that it is well worth looking at his life and works; collections of his poetry can be found translated into English, both as print and on kindle.  From the excerpts that I have read I get a real sense of calm and peace, with a wonderfully positive outlook on life.  Definitely someone I need to learn more about, so thank you Rebeka Shaid for bringing him to my attention.

This is one of those books that gradually creeps up on you and really makes you think about the issues that young people face in this day and age.  When those young people also face a conflict between modern life and the culture they have grown up in, it really can lead to problems; especially if the issues are within the family, so they don’t feel as if they talk to their elders.  I am so glad that I was asked to review this book, as it really is a very thought provoking story that will resonate with so many young people and also those adults who surround them, both at home and at school.  Definitely recommended for the 14+ age group.

About Rebeka Shaid

Rebeka Shaid was raised in a multicultural household, surrounded by piles of
books, nosy siblings and lots of mythical trees that are known as the Black Forest.
Growing up she wanted to be a snake charmer or ventriloquist, but that (luckily)
didn’t pan out. Instead, she turned to words and writing. After doing sensible
adult things like going to university, working as a business journalist, and
becoming a mum, she decided to pen a YA novel. In her writing, she likes to
explore themes of identity, loss, and coming-of-age. Rebeka lives in Germany.
Visit her website at www.rebekashaid.com

Seven Days is her first novel.

Diamond Jack by Anna Rainbow

When I was asked to take part in the blog tour for this book I thought that I would check on what other books were out there, which featured highwaymen rather than outlaws or pirates.  I did this because the only title that had sprung to mind was “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by the incredible Charles Keeping.  What I discovered is that there really aren’t that many titles featuring this type of outlaw; so in order to remind myself of the titles I have put them on a Pinterest page  https://www.pinterest.co.uk/booklib61/highwaymen-in-childrens-books/ .  However I would be delighted to hear about more fiction titles that feature highwaymen and will endeavour to add to my list whenever I hear of a title.

Anna Rainbow has written a fantastic story, set in an alternative world where magic has only recently been banned.  There is a feeling that the story reflects some of the atmosphere from the alternative history stories of Joan Aiken, as well as others where the chronology and royal line has been tweaked.  The story centres around eleven year old Bramble Browning and her friend Ernest  (a fanatical fan of highwaymen and the iconic ‘Diamond Jack’ most of all).  Life takes a strange turn when her older sister goes off to visit their aunt overnight and their grandfather (who looks after them) is kidnapped from his shop, by three evil highwaymen.   Bram suddenly get an overwhelming desire to go and look in an old shed in the garden, but has no idea why?  What she discovers, hidden away is a face mask, which when she tries it on makes her appear to be an adult, specifically the notorious highwayman ‘Diamond Jack’.  The question is whether Bramble can use the mask to save her grandfather, as well as foil a plot to kill the queen and put the queen regent on the throne?  Our heroine is joined by a group of friends who are determined to help those in need and to prove that  ‘Diamond Jack’  only steals in order to help those who are poor and in need of help.

I absolutely love this story, the only down side being that I keep getting an ear-worm of “Stand and Deliver” by Adam Ant every time I look at the brilliant cover, illustrated by Isabelle Follath.  This is very much a story about family and friendship and in particular we have the way that Bramble’s sister Lena tries to protect her, even though she had done similar things when she was Bramble’s age.   The use of the magical masks (there are three in total) can perhaps be seen as reflecting the way that most people hide behind a public face, which can be very different from what they are like inside.   Bramble’s best friend Ernest is one of those wonderful characters that you take to your heart.  He is loyal, kind and loves celebrating the fact that he enjoys making clothes, as well as being a great believer in the good that his favourite highwayman does.  What a totally amazing and fast paced story this is;  you really need to hang on tight as you ride ‘hell for leather’ through the adventure of a lifetime.  The stars are definitely out and shining for this book and I highly recommend it.  What a great television series this would make.

 

About Anna Rainbow

Anna grew up and still lives in North East England and works as a Clinical Psychologist with people with disabilities. Anna loves music and has always been in various choirs, singing quartets, bands, and orchestras.

Winner takes Gold by Eloise Smith

For most of us, the world of elite sports is something that we hear about in the news.  It is also a world where we watch in awe, particularly when major events such as World or Olympic championships occur.  With the Olympics taking place in Paris this summer millions of people around the world will be watching the events and some of the most popular will be the gymnastics.  The author of this book, Eloise Smith is a former world class fencer and she wrote about this world in her first book “Sister to a Star”.  Her new book has a slight change in direction, as she enters the world of young gymnasts.

The central character of this story is a young 12 year old called Pearl,  who is fanatical about her gymnastics and is determined to follow her late mother’s dream and make it to the Great Britain team.  When she and her best friend Ryan are chosen to attend an elite training centre called  ‘Leaping Spires’, they are thrilled and understand that it will require all of their grit an determination to succeed.  However, what neither of them expects, is discovering that there are dangers to be faced and not just from their exercises.  The centre seems to be suffering from more than the average number of injuries, so that Pearl begins to suspect that some form of sabotage is at play.  The problem is, who can she trust  and who is carrying out the sabotage?

This is a fantastic story that looks at a world which most of us know very little about.  However we have seen instances over the last few years where trainers and coaches have been accused of bullying, harassing and even worse.  The author has really brought the whole sport alive for us and I am sure that any young gymnast will be absolutely enthralled by the plot, characters and the information about the various types of equipment and the moves associated with them.  However, there are several really important themes that are brought into focus in this story.  The first is the sense of loss that Pearl feel at the death of her mother, who was also her trainer;  this leads to her total fixation on succeeding, but in doing so , she misses the fact that others are also suffering from this loss.  Perhaps the most chilling element of the story is the way that the trainers expect the gymnasts to push themselves beyond what is healthy or wise and to put their sport before family, friends and normal life.  We have to remember that Pearl is just a 12 year old girl who has suffered a great loss and is clinging on to the one certainty in her life.  However, she is confused by what she sees and hears and even begins to mistrust her greatest friends, so I raced through the book with my fingers crossed that all would be well.

What a real cliff-hanger of a story which really moves along at a tremendous pace.  This is helped by the fact that the chapters are very short and you think “one more chapter”  before going to bed.  The characters are fantastic and the reader becomes truly involved in what is going on.  The fact that we are now in an Olympic year will only add to the enthusiasm for this story and I consider it as one of my 5 star choices for this year.

 

The Author

(from her website

Me, a little over-excited.

In my former lives I’ve been an Olympian, triple Commonwealth fencing gold medallist, Oxford English graduate and award-winning executive creative director in advertising. Now I’m a children’s author, following my wildest dream of all . . .

My first book draws on my experiences in fencing and film sets: Sister To A Star is a thrilling mystery about warring twins in a swash-buckling Hollywood movie. My second book uses my understanding of high-level sport: Winner Takes Gold is a gripping adventure about sabotage on an elite gymnastics camp.

In my spare time I relax by skiing, climbing, running and yoga. All while raising two boys who bring me more joy than all my dreams put together.

Man-Man and the Tree of memories by Yaba Badoe and Joelle Avelino

Carnival has become part of life in towns and cities across the UK and together with the parades held especially in the winter they are now part of the cultural scene.  The first one in the UK (and still the largest) is the Notting Hill carnival, which began in 1966 and this is the centre of Man-man’s story.  I became much more aware of the importance of carnival when I worked in Bristol and St Paul’s was one of my libraries.  I remember a gentleman coming to the library and having a discussion about a children’s book written about 1970 and telling the story of the St Paul’s carnival, using photos of the preparations and event; we were able to find a copy of the title in the store and he was able to show us pictures of him and his friends taking part.  At the time, there were very few books covering the subject, but I am pleased to say that the situation appears to have improved, with a good range of both fiction and information books covering the topic.

This latest title is a wonderful evocation of the power of carnival and the way that people react in different ways to the culture and energy of the event.  Man-man and his sister Pan, together with their friend Kareem, are practicing their dance moves, so that they can be part of a carnival float at Notting Hill; however with Man-man’s mother being ill and his visiting grandma grumbling about the way they dance, things are not going well.  On the day of the parade they are all wearing their costumes and ready to enjoy the moment, although Man-man is still worried about his mother.  As he dances on the float, he asks the  spirit “Queen of Revels” to help his mother; what he does not expect is for the spirit to answer him and carry both him and his companions back to the African past and to the Tree of memories, which was a symbol for those being taken into slavery.  What they learn there has a profound impact on them and makes Man-man believe that his mother will get better; so that when they return to the carnival it is with a much more optimistic attitude.

This really is a fabulous story of family, culture, history and community.  It is beautifully illustrated with an exuberant use of colour and a real sense of energy and movement.  I particularly love the relationship between the three main characters and especially the sibling backchat, which hides their real affection for each other.  The author has given us a real sense of the excitement that leads up to carnival and the wonderful spirit that is shown through the community working together to make it all a success.  Whilst this is an exciting and overall positive tale, it does introduce the young audience to aspects of west African history that are so important and which can then be discussed in class, or with family.  There are definitely five stars shining for this one.

 

Yaba Badoe is a Ghanaian-British documentary filmmaker and writer. A graduate of King’s College Cambridge, she was a civil servant in Ghana before becoming a general trainee with the BBC. She has taught in Spain and Jamaica and worked at the University of Ghana. Her short stories have been published in Critical Quarterly, African Love Stories:an anthology and New Daughters of Africa. Her first adult novel, True Murder, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2009. Her first YA novel, A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award in 2018 and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award 2018. The Secret of the Purple Lake, a collection of interlinked fairy stories for children aged 9 to 12 was published by Cassava Republic in October 2017. She lives in London.

 

Joelle Avelino is a Congolese and Angolan Illustrator who grew up in the United Kingdom. She obtained a BA (Hons) in Illustration with Marketing from the University of Hertfordshire. She is particularly motivated by the need for people from all races and backgrounds to see themselves in the world around them.

Her most recent children’s book, written by best selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘Mama’s Sleeping Scarf’, will be published in September 2023. It is a tender story that celebrates the simple joys of family life.

She has also worked on several other titles including Hey You! Written by Dapo Adeola, a 2022, British Book Awards winner. An empowering celebration of growing up black and she worked on the 25th anniversary edition of Baroness Floella Benjamin’s classic memoir Coming to England. Her animation project with the Malala Fund was featured as one of Design Week’s favourite International Women’s Day projects of 2020.

 

Other titles of interest

“The door of no return” by Sarah Mussi (Hodder, 2007) is the first story that I read about this infamous door in Ghana, which led captives out to the slave ships and the hideous consequences.  It is unfortunately now out of print, but I do recommend getting your hands on a second-hand copy if possible.

“The door of no return” by Kwame Alexander , Andersen press, 2023 is a new title set during the period of the slave trade.  It has received very positive reviews and is by a fantastic author.

Getting reading for Christmas

What an absolutely stunning collection of stories to add to your Christmas shelves.  I hope that there is something for everyone to enjoy and many will become firm favourites for future years.

Middle grade reads

Farshore, 9780008666583

The Christmas Carrolls, The Christmas Club” by Mel Taylor-Bessant and Selom Sunu is the final part of the trilogy featuring the Christmas Carrolls, a family so fixated by the festive season that they try and include it in their lives for the whole of the year.  Having won a competition in the previous book, they find themselves in New York, to take part in the Christmas parade; but then they receive a mysterious invitation to try and join the “Christmas Club”, something that they thought was just a fairy tale.  A totally fantastic and exciting story that sees the family facing some of  their greatest challenges yet.  It is a totally fabulous series to get you into the Christmas spirit.

Orion, 9781510112933

Step Father Christmas” by L D Lapinski is about siblings Harper and Will, and what happens when their mother invites her new boyfriend to stay for Christmas.  His name is Nick and he has grey hair and beard, which leaves Harper wondering whether he could actually be Father Christmas.  This is a brilliant story for getting you in the festive mood and it has been written in 25 chapters, so you can use it as an Advent calendar to be read every day.

Simon & Schuster, 9781398515840

Adventures of a Christmas Elf” by Ben Miller, illustrated by Chris Naylor and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini is the third in the series featuring Holly Claus and Tog, the Elf. After the excitement of book two, things seem to have settled down at the Workshop.  But when Santa starts feeling tired and decides to take a short holiday, problems start to happen and the two young heroes step up to the challenge and save Christmas, yet again.  It is a tale of redemption (for some) and also how important family can be.

HarperCollins, 9780008475536

“Juniper’s Christmas” by Eoin Colfer and Chaaya Prabhat is set in a world where Father Christmas has not been seen for ten years and children are forgetting about him.  Some do remember the stories told by parents and long for Santa to reappear.  Juniper lives with her mother, near one of the London parks, where her father had worked, but when her mother disappears she ask for help from one of the homeless people who find shelter in the wood.  But then she discovers his secret, he is Father Christmas.  This is a story about helping each other, friendship and evil people who are only interested in themselves. what a fantastic story and so very relevant in the world we inhabit at the moment.

Penguin, 9780241595879

A Christmasaurus carol” by Tom Fletcher and Shane DeVries.  this series featuring the hero William and the last Christmasaurus is fast becoming one of my treats for the Christmas season.  There is a mix of fun and also some serious  subjects.  In this story, the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge is transported to our time and is determined to get rid of Christmas (as you can guess it is the character, BEFORE the three spirits of Christmas visited him).  The question is whether William and his friends can save the day and send Scrooge back into the book “A Christmas Carol”, so that he can change his ways.

Scholastic, 9780702330827

The Great reindeer Rescue” by Stephen Mangan and Anita Mangan is one of those totally silly yet lovable stories, where really quirky things happen.  In this case, Dave, the newest reindeer is startled by Rudolph farting (!!) and accidentally un-clips part of the harness, so Rudolph continues his journey whilst the others are left behind with the sleigh, and then due to a malfunction, Santa and the others are sent to different parts of the globe.  At this point, a young girl called Holly enters the scene and  endeavors to find the missing sleigh and contents, with a bit of ‘help’ from Dave.  A really great bit of fun for the holiday season.

Macmillan, 9781035028177

“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’s  Christmas Shenanigans” by Alex T Smith.  Well the author has done it again.  Another of his Christmas stories which are meant to be read over the Advent season.  This is his interpretation of the famous ballet, “The Nutcracker” and features many of the same characters, but with a modern twist.  It is absolutely fabulous and a future classic.

Macmillan, 9781035014217

“The Ice Children” by M G Leonard is a truly magical story, with echoes of the “Snow Queen” and even “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe“.  When her young brother is found frozen in the local park, and then each day more children become victims, Bianca faces some incredible dangers to try and release them from their frozen prisons. It is a wonderful tale about imagination, family love and needing balance in our world.

Usborne, 9781803704357

“The Snow Girl” by  Sophie Anderson is about a young girl Tasha, who builds a snow girl with her grandfather.  When the sculpture comes to life in the image of a girl called Alyana, it looks as if Tasha has achieved her wish of a best friend.  But what will happen if spring does not arrive, and is Alyana to blame for this change in the seasons?  A wonderful story of friendship, but also a cautionary tale about the way that we interact with nature, and the impact it can have on all our lives.

Pushkin, 9781782694205

“The Secret of Helmersbruk Manor” by Eva Frantz and Elin Sandstrom (translated by Annie Prime) is a wonderful surprise of a book.  It is a translation from a Finnish book, but inspired by the stories of ghosts at Hampton Court Palace.  When Flora and her mother move to Helmersbruk for Christmas, they don’t know that there are hidden secrets and mysteries to be solved.  This is a creepy and yet inspiring story for the Christmas season

David Fickling, 9781788452694

“Adventuremice: mice on the ice” by Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve is the third in the series featuring the delightful and very adventurous mice.  This time they face frozen seas and lots of danger, but as always, they work as a team and win the day.

Macmillan, 9781529070415

“Winnie the Pooh at the Palace” by Jeanne Willis and Mark Burgess is a beautifully illustrated story of Pooh and Piglet going on a visit to the Palace with Christopher Robin.  They have lots of fun in the snow and then find the king’s gold crown in a snow drift. They are then invited in for tea and honey, as a thank you.  A delightfully whimsical story with a much loved bear, and friends.

Penguin, 9780241652541

A very curious Christmas” by Maddie Moate is one of those brilliant pot-potpourris, full of fascinating facts about Christmas.  We all know that children ask the most bizarre questions about the festive season, so this book attempts to answer as many of them as possible.  It is full of fun and facts and would make a brilliant present

Picture Books

Macmillan, 9781761180675

Pink Santa” by Tanya Hennessy and Ben Whitehouse is a super funny tale of what happens when Rudolph accidentally turns Santa’s coat PINK.  Everyone is getting very worried, but Santa is not fazed by events and even paints his sleigh and all the decorations, to match.  It has a lovely message about how good things can happen by accident

Walker books, 9781529507126

“Bunnies in a Sleigh” by Philip Ardagh and Ben Mantle is a new adventure for this set of fun loving bunnies.  When the elves eat too many sweets on Christmas Eve, the bunnies have to help Santa deliver all of the presents and they do so; even if there are some hilarious escapades on the way.  A great rhyming story by a delightfully funny author.

Tiny Owl, 9781910328934

Christmas Cobweb” by Pippa Goodhart and Ema Maliauka is a delightful story about not forgetting that the joy of Christmas can be found in many things.  When old bear decides to have a party for her friends, she spends time cleaning the house and making everything look lovely, but the pesky spiders keep spinning their webs and creating a mess.  So bear is horrified to see webs hanging all over her tree, but then her friends point out how magical it looks and she learns to appreciate the beauty of a cobweb.

Penguin, 9780241489048

The robin who stole Christmas” by Rachel Morrisroe and Richard Merritt brings a very different Robin to our attention; this is one that has close links to Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grumpus.  To spoil Christmas for everyone, Rotten Robin decides to steal all of the presents as well as  FATHER CHRISTMAS himself.  How all the other robins save the day makes for a great fun story, with a lovely underlying message about kindness and sharing.

Little Tiger, 9781801045025

“Santarella” by Suzy Senior and Lucy Semple brings a delightful twist to the story of Cinderella.  When her sisters are out at the ball, Cinderella is surprised by Santa falling down the chimney.  Unfortunately he hurts his back and is going to have problems carrying sacks of gifts, so our adventurous heroine volunteers to help him deliver all of the gifts.  When she is finally delivered to the palace, she decides that life has more to offer than being a princess and goes of on multiple adventures.

HarperCollins, 9780008497606

The Winter Wish” by Helen Mortimer and Rachel Dean is the story of William, who lives in a small bookshop with his parents.  Like many shops they are struggling to make end meet, so can a bit of Christmas magic turn things around and save the shop?  A gorgeous tale about the importance of reading and books.

HarperCollins, 9780007197149

Merry Christmas Blue Kangaroo” by Emma Chichester Clark  was first published in 2004 and has been re-printed to celebrate 25 years of this favourite toy.  It tells the story of preparing for the big day, from decorations to presents.  When Blue Kangaroo magically comes alive, he sneaks downstairs to meet Father Christmas and asks if he can help find a present for Kangaroo’s owner.  A delightful tale that has stood the test of time.

HarperCollins, 9780008413323

“The Three Little Monkeys at Christmas” by Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark  is full of anarchy and humour, as the three mischievous monkeys find ways to amuse themselves, on a visit to Hilda’s uncle, for Christmas.  However, perhaps they can redeem themselves, when a burglar tries to steal a priceless golden teapot.

HarperCollins, 9780008552954

“The Burpee Bears, a Christmas Adventure” by Joe Wicks tells how the bears save their Christmas, when the weather gets so bad that they think grandma bear will not be able to reach them for Christmas.  So they all decide to load of their sledge and go to visit her instead.  things are proving difficult until Santa Bear appears on the scene and helps them get sorted. this is a charming story about the joy of family at Christmas.

HarperCollins, 9780008626013

“How the Grinch lost Christmas” by Dr Seuss tells of what happens when the Grinch comes second in a Christmas tree competition, which makes him lose his Christmas spirit.  However, the winner, a small girl called Cindy-Lou shows him that sharing is what is important and that he is part of the community of Who-ville.

Scholastic, 9780702312281

“Santa’s Marvellous Mechanical Workshop” by Vashti Hardy and Katie Cottle is about moving house near to the Christmas holiday and how to keep the festive spirit.  Lily has been unpacking all of her books and useful tools into her new room, when she finds an unknown wrapped parcel.  It is an empty book that magically takes her to Santa’s workshop, so that she can help to re-purpose some broken toys.  When she wakes up she can’t find the book or the elfbot who she had met in the workshop, however she soon sorts that out.  A delightful story that will please those who are into STEM and recycling.

Nosy Crow, 9781788006903

“A House for Christmas Mouse” by Rebecca Harry is a warm and cuddly story of a young mouse who arrives in the forest, on Christmas Eve, looking for a new home.  He meets a variety of animals on his travels and is able to help them with a variety of tasks, but then he has to go and find this home.  When he eventually finds somewhere, it is cold and empty and frankly not very inviting.  When he tries to ask for help, the other animals don’t seem to hear him, but when he get back to the new home, it has been magically transformed by his new friends. This leaves a warm glow, thinking about the true meaning of Christmas.

Start Small, Think Big

It is always a delight to welcome a new publisher to the world of children’s books, so I am very happy to be asked to take part in this blog tour for the relatively young publisher ‘Mama makes Books‘, which started in 2020.  They are celebrating the launch of the first two titles in a new series  called “Start Small, Think Big“.  This is a series of factual books aimed at the  young newly confident reader, but which can be shared with those who are slightly younger.  The launch of these titles also celebrates the fact that this is National Non-Fiction November.

As someone who has been involved with Information books over many years (it is a lot, I promise you) I am thrilled by the wonderful books that are being produced today.  These two beauties are no exception and they really do focus the attention from the moment you catch sight of the covers.  Physically the books are just the right size for a child to hold and the number of pages (18, +foldout) means that they are not tiring for the reader.  I particularly love the use of a cut-out on the front cover, so that the reader is instantly drawn in to the inside pages.

“Little, Brown Nut”  by Mary Auld and Dawn Cooper takes us into the magical world of the Amazonian rainforest, where we follow the life cycle of the Brazil nut.  Until now I had only thought of these nuts in relation to Christmas and tins of chocolates!  However, their life cycle is absolutely fascinating and particularly the fact that the Agouti is one of the only animals that is able to actually crack the shell of the nut.  This led me on to wonder whether the animals are endangered by the loss of rainforest and what impact that would have on the nut trees.  Luckily the book explains about the ‘castaneros’; these are natives of the Amazon who harvest the nuts, whilst also maintaining and protecting the trees from the large logging companies.  I love the vibrant use of colour in the illustrations, which seem to perfectly reflect the vivid and wide ranging vegetation and animal  life in the environment.

 

 

 

“Small, Speckled Egg” by Mary Auld and Anna Terreros Martin is set in a totally different part of the world and shows us the life cycle of an Arctic tern.  These beautiful birds live in some of the harshest environments that you can imagine and they are the target for a wide range of creatures, from polar bears to seagulls and foxes.  The illustrations for this book are absolutely beautiful and show the life process, from the egg to the moment when the new terns follow their parents as the migrate south in the autumn.  There is a delicacy in the line drawings and the subdued use of colour, which really emphasizes the world that these birds live in.  I particularly love one page, where the bird shows how it can glide, hover and dive; the illustrator has managed to really capture these movements, especially the hovering.

A feature of this series is that the final page layout consists of a foldout , which expands into a map and shows not only the migration of the birds and the location of the rain forests, but also gives information to further our knowledge of the areas.  Because these books are aimed at a young age group and do not have a huge number of pages, they do not have any of the added extras such as index or glossary.  However, these are books that are going to work perfectly on a one to one basis, both in school and at home.  They are full of information, but can also be read as narrative non-fiction, where the story is just as important.

These books are delightful and have raised high expectations for future titles in the series.  They really need to find a home in every primary school.

‘Wonderful Water’, celebrating National Non-fiction November

I am delighted that I have again been asked to share some fabulous Information books with you, as part of #NNFN2023.  The theme of this year’s blog tour is “Wonderful Water” and if you check out the hashtag  you will discover a fantastic selection of books for both home and school.  the two books that I have been asked to review are from Flying Eye books and although they are written for different series, they both have the same author; however, there are two different illustrators, which brings a variation to the look and feel of the books.

Flying Eye, 9781838740931

Scientist in the Wild: Galapagos by Helen Scales and Romolo D’Hipolito

This gives us a look at one of the most inaccessible areas of the world, although this is less the case than it was even 30 years ago.   The book is framed around the work of 7 scientists, aboard the research ship Sula and it seems to be aimed at KS1 and lower KS2.  The book is full of illustrations and the sections of text are short, with an overview and then more detail about specific creatures or environments.  Some of the facts that we see are quite shocking; for instance there used to be a population of about 1,000 on the islands, but this has grown to about 30,000 and there are around 250,000 visitors (tourists) every year.  In the book we get to see the work of the scientists and to build our understanding of the changes that mankind is bringing to the area.  There is a fascinating section about how they tag Tiger Sharks and I was really taken by the description of something called “tonic immobility”, where the shark is turned on its back and  goes into a trance like state.  The whole book is full of amazing information about the wildlife, flora and history of the Galapagos.  We always think of the islands in relation to Charles Darwin, but this title shows us that adaption to the environment is still going on and that we have lots of valuable lessons to learn about saving the natural world.

Earth’s Incredible Places: The Great barrier Reef by Helen Scales and Lisk Feng

Flying Eye, 9781838741471

This second title is about one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world and one that is suffering because of the climate change that is affecting water temperatures in the oceans.  Again, this is aimed at lower KS2 and also KS1 , with the same clarity of text, but with longer sections which require a bit more reading stamina.  The author has not limited herself to the coral and fish who live in the reef, but also covers the links with Aboriginal people throughout history and then the arrival of westerners and the impact that they made on the environment.  The sections about plastic pollution and about the use of fossil fuels brings the story up to date and highlights the issues that need addressing urgently.     The illustrations are so full of colour and life, but they are all very different, depending on the subject that is being discussed.  For example the section about the Aboriginal people and some of their beliefs, is very subdued with a sense that they hark back to the wonderful rock drawings that are found in tribal lands.  In contrast, we have the bright, vivid colours of creatures such as starfish and octopuses, whilst the cover itself uses extremely bright, almost fluorescent colours, that really catch the eye.

Both of these books make wonderful introductions to the oceans that surround us and the immense diversity of wildlife, both flora and fauna that are found there.  However, they also highlight the importance of trying to improve the quality of the environment and not destroy the world in which we live.  These books will make an excellent addition to the school or public library and will spark discussion about  “Wonderful Water”.

 

 

 

 

The Spirit Snatcher by Cat Gray

I absolutely loved Cat Gray’s first novel “Spellstoppers”, with its mix of magic and normal life; so I was delighted when I got the opportunity to read and review this new book.  Of course, I was hoping that it could meet the high standard of the first; well, I need not have worried as it surpassed my high expectations.

Usborne, 978-1801310048

This story is set in central London, where Pip and his parents have moved to, from Norwich, because of his scientist mother’s new job.  Things do not start out well as they find the flat and shop they have rented is down a side alley that looks as if it is out of a Dickens novel.  The alley is dark, seedy and the flat itself is very run down and things do not get any better when a young girl tells Pip that they should leave  because “IF YOU STAY HERE, SOMETHING EXTREMELY BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN”  Well, she turns out to be perfectly correct.  The very next morning Pip discovers his parents have totally change personality; no longer are they Tofu eating, TV hating and anti-mobile type people, now they are sitting in front of the TV and ignoring everything around them, so what has happened and what can Pip do?  When he meets the young girl again he discovers that she is called Fliss and she lives next door in the “Ragged Hare” pub.  He also finds out that this is a very unusual alley in that it is the home of some very unusual inhabitants.  There are vampires, werewolves, banshees and ghosts amongst others and the alley is closer to Diagon Alley than it is to anything else.  What he also discovers is that there is a mysterious character called the spirit snatcher, which feeds on people’s spirits, leaving them as shadows of their former selves and his parents are the latest victims.  Not only that, he is likely to be the next target when he reaches his 13th birthday in a few days (at Halloween actually).  The race is on to find the spirit snatcher and to find a way to reverse the effects on Pip’s parents.

What a wonderfully dark and magical story this is, with an excellent cast of characters representing many of the folk tales from our islands.  However, we find that beneath their unusual appearances and habits, there are people who just want to live their lives and not have to be looking out for danger all of the time.   Above all, there is the element of trust; when his parents are not there, who can Pip actually trust to help him get things back to his ‘normal’ and will Fliss learn to trust Pip enough to tell him her own dark secret?  I really loved the way that the author has built up the atmosphere in the alley, but also the  roller coaster of expectation as we think that the villain has been unmasked, only to have the arguments dashed.  Thankfully there is a denouement, but how can the villain be stopped and what, if anything will reverse all of their evil doings?

This will make a tremendous addition to a Halloween collection, either in school, or at home.  I can’t wait for more fabulous tales from this really excellent author.

The Author

Cat Gray is an author and journalist, based in London and Ireland. She started her journalism career at the age of 19, interviewing musicians and celebrities in between attending classes, then went on to be an editor at a series of glossy magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country.
Since she was very young, she’s always believed that there’s an adventure just around the corner, and this is reflected in her magical fantasy stories. Spellstoppers was her first book.

Feast of Ashes by Victoria Williamson

Neem Tree Press, 9781911107873

I will freely admit that dystopian novels are not my favourite genre, perhaps because I have been reading them for a VERY long time.  However, I have read and enjoyed Victoria’s middle grade work, so I wanted to see what she imagined in this first YA novel.

As you would expect, the story is set in a dystopian future and where the population live in sealed domes, to protect them from the lethal environment outside.  The central character, Adina  is a teenager with all of the frustrations and longings of her age; what she does not expect is that her desire for a ripe apple will lead to the explosion that destroys her home and kills most of its inhabitants, including her parents.  The small group of survivors have a matter of days to find refuge at Sanctuary Seven, the nearest habitation,  before their bio filters stop working and they succumb to the deadly atmosphere.

This is a story that reminds me of the conflicts that have happened during my life around the wishes of big business, especially when genetic modification is the focus.  The story is set in an African landscape that has basically been destroyed by the desire of multinationals to provide food as cheaply as possible, using non-western countries as test beds for their ideas.  This need to feed the population, together with the pressing issues around the environment, is something that is very much at the heart of the eco-movements that are voicing concerns today.  In contrast to this theme, we have the much more personal issues around Adina, her attitudes and the way that she has to deal with her guilt after the disaster.  The story is set out in a simple timeline; dealing with life and attitudes before the event and then following the survivors as they face the natural dangers and also the potential threat to them, if they do not reach safety in time.  We see the interaction of the characters and how they all react to their circumstances; in particular we see the gradual shift in the way that Adina thinks and acts, until we have the final scene that really packs a punch.

This is one of those stories that I cannot say I ‘enjoyed’, but that is perhaps not the purpose.  It does however, make you think very long and hard about what we are doing to our world and in particular those parts that are still seen as ‘developing’.  The author has given us a book to be mindful about and which will hopefully give its young readers a lot of food for thought.

About the Author

Victoria Williamson is an award-winning author who grew up in Scotland surrounded by hills, books, and an historical farm estate which inspired many of her early adventure stories and spooky tales. After studying Physics at the University of Glasgow, she set out on her own real-life adventures, which included teaching maths and science in Cameroon, training teachers in Malawi, teaching English in China and working with children with additional support needs in the UK. Victoria currently works part time writing KS2 books for the education company Twinkl and spends the rest of her time writing novels, and visiting schools, libraries and literary festivals to give author talks and run creative writing workshops.
Victoria’s previous novels include The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, Hag Storm, and War of the Wind. She has won the Bolton Children’s Fiction Award 2020/2021, The YA-aldi Glasgow Secondary School Libraries Book Award 2023, and has been shortlisted for the Week Junior Book Awards 2023, The Leeds Book Awards 2023, the Red Book Award 2023, the James Reckitt Hull Book Awards 2021, The Trinity School Book Awards 2021, and longlisted for the ABA South Coast Book Awards 2023, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2020, and the Branford Boase Award 2019.
Her latest novel, The Pawnshop of Stolen Dreams, is a middle grade fantasy inspired by classic folklore. Twenty percent of the author royalties for this book are donated to CharChar Literacy, an organisation working to improve children’s literacy levels in Malawi.
You can find out more about Victoria’s books, school visits and free resources for schools on her website: www.strangelymagical.com