Flamingo Fashion by Samantha Hunter and Maggy Roberts; read by Michael Maloney

This is something of a departure for me, as I have not reviewed an audio book on this Blog before.  However, I don’t think this will be the last time that I look at this version of a book.  There are large numbers of readers for whom this is the best option and of course it also allows for the possibility of multi-tasking; after all doing the ironing can be a very boring option!

This particular story is a short picture book that last just over 5 minutes, making it a good choice for young children as part of their pre-bedtime reading.  The actual story line is about two flamingos, Freddie and Fifi,  who love their fashion and decide to set up a boutique, so that they can ‘style’ some of the other animals.  They are particularly fond of anything pink, frothy and fluffy and whilst that might work for them, it does not suit some of the others.  They are soon in trouble with the Lion, Crocodile, Hippo and Giraffe (among others) as the animals can no longer fulfill their natural ways of living and hunting.  Luckily the two fashionistas realize their mistakes and rectify them, bringing the other animals back to their natural state.  What they realize is that we are all special, but in different ways and that we should be kind and love ourselves as we are.  Which is a lesson that all of us can take on board, even from a very young age.

As a spoken word story it is greatly impacted by the audio part of the book.  We have a light and pleasant introductory music, which is then repeated at the end.  The introduction tells us about the author and narrator, so that we have a feel for what is coming.  The narrator is Michael Maloney and he uses an excellent range of voices, although his voice for ‘Fifi’ is somewhat irritating (perhaps this is on purpose?); however, his voice for the lion is an almost perfect reflection of the inimitable Kenneth Williams and is exactly right for the character.

I am delighted to say that  the publisher has created a place online, so that children can create their own activities and also follow some ideas that the author has come up with.   If children want to see the animals in all of their glory then you will need to look at the kindle version, as this does not appear to have been printed as a hard-copy at the moment.  However, I think the audio book is an excellent way of telling the story and enables the children to create their own interpretation of the animals and their fashions.

https://flamingofashionbook.squarespace.com/

About the author

Sam Hunter is a full-time mum, podcast host and entrepreneur. She started writing after the birth of her son in 2017 and self-published her first book – Flamingo Fashion – at the end of 2020.

Sam wrote creatively as a young girl on her weekends and during visits to her mum’s office in the summer holidays. All of her writing was about animals and it is no wonder that her first book is a children’s story set in an animal’s world!

Her first book, a middle grade novel called Freddie’s Fantastic Adventures, was inspired by a children’s t-shirt with a flamingo on the front and while out walking a few years later, the idea for Flamingo Fashion popped into her head!

Sam is passionate about developing both children’s and adult’s creativity and her writing is designed to inspire imaginations in a fun and playful way. Proceeds from the book are going to the LitWorld charity, who work to develop children’s creative confidence and literacy skills, through the power of storytelling.

Sam lives with her son, daughter and husband in Hertfordshire, England.

Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

The Magician’s Map; a Hoarder Hill adventure, by Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai

If you are a fan of magical adventures, mixed with some very quirky and funny characters, then this is the book for you.  There are hints of other familiar stories as we are introduced to a parallel world of magicians and mythical creatures, but linked to our own mundane world.

This is the second adventure featuring Hedy and her brother Spencer as they spend another holiday at their grandparents’ house; only this time they are accompanied by their cousins, Jelly and Max.  The house is very far from normal, being full of magical artifacts, as well as a talking Bearskin and Stag’s head (otherwise known as Doug and Stan), who are the epitome of a comic duo; they are absolutely fantastic .  In this story the children manage to persuade their grandfather and  his neighbour Mrs Pal, to take them to a magical convention and competition called the Fantastikhana.  Initially they said no, but eventually changed their minds as the adults want to find a magical artifact that allows people to manipulate time; and they want to  keep it out of the hands of those who intend to actually misuse it.    When Hedy is accidentally linked to a ‘living map’ that seeps under her skin, things get exciting, as the map is a way of retrieving items that it has been linked to.  Before we know it, Hedy and the rest of the group are on a quest to find the mysterious ‘Verdandi’s loom’, but can they trust everyone they meet?

This is a delightful escapade and I am so sorry that I had not read the first in the series, so I have just bought a copy to fill in the gaps.  The new story dives straight in with all of the characters and it takes a few pages to get everyone sorted in your mind, so reading book one is definitely to be recommended.  The authors have created a world and set of characters that we are easily able to relate to and there is a great sense of humour that balances the tensions created by the lurking villain.  Whilst the theme of family is very strong in this story, not every group has the same closeness and we get to see that there are different kinds of family relationships; not all of them are good.    However we do see how special friendship can be and  this helps the children in their quest.  I am desperately hoping that we are going to see further adventures for this feisty set of individuals, as they are an absolute joy, but until then I am going to settle down and read the first of their adventures.

 

About Mikki Lish & Kelly Ngai

Australian co-authors Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai create worlds together, even though they don’t live on the same continent. This means that when they video call each other, it’s not unusual for someone to be in pyjamas.

Mikki has worked with many musicians and actors and now lives in America with her husband, dog and cats.

Kelly lives in Australia with her two sons and loves waking up to the wild story ideas that Mikki has sent during the night.

 

The House on Hoarder Hill is their second collaboration and is being developed for television with Sam Raimi’s Ghost House and Wiip.

The Eye of Mogdrod by Derek Keilty and Mark Elvins

There is something quite fascinating about pirates and even ex-pirates; the stories have been sparking  the imagination of readers both young and old for many years.  As a child my first encounter with the idea was watching episodes of ‘Captain Pugwash’ on the television and then later on discovering the wonders of ‘Treasure Island’.  If I thought really hard about it, I am sure that there were other pirates in books, but I definitely remember those to be found in the swashbuckling adventures of actors such as Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster; Sunday afternoon was full of old films that kept us happy on a cold winter’s day.  Today we have the whole range of films such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘The Goonies’, as well as a host of books for all ages.  As a librarian for a School Library Service I was constantly being asked for collections of titles about pirates and whilst there are lot of amazing titles about real-life buccaneers, it is also fantastic to be able to create imaginary worlds with a wide range of characters.  This would definitely have been part of my collection at work..

Flyntlock Bones is the unlikely hero of this series for all serious wannabee pirates.  He is the cabin boy aboard the vessel “The Black Hound” , but the crew are not what you might expect.  They are all ex-pirates and have become ‘Pirate Investigators’ who help retrieve stolen treasure.  This second adventure sees them asked to retrieve a precious gold goblet that has been stolen from Fergus McSwaggers, the chief of one of the clans in the Boglands; the only problem is that he is the brother of the cook on board the ‘Black Hound’ and they have not spoken for quite a while.  The plot deepens as they try and discover who has stolen the goblet.  The consensus is that it was probably a giant cat-like creature called the Mogdrod, that is feared but rarely seen and is said to love shiny things.  When Flyntlock, his friend Red and the rest of the crew are captured by Gretel the Sea Witch, they discover that Mogdrod is her ‘Kitty’ and that she had taken the goblet.  To further complicate the story, the treasure is then taken by the Ice Pirates and it is up to the crew to rescue it again.

This is a fantastic and very funny story for the young reader, who is just growing in confidence.  The author has this real ability to make even the most fantastic of stories seem real.  His previous series about an elfling sky cowboy called Will Gallows has been a favourite of mine for a few years now.  As you can see from the images, Mark Elvin has produced the most amazing illustrations that bring the story to life and which are so intricate that the reader can spend quite a bit of time working their way through all of the detail.

I was delighted to be asked to join in the celebrations for the launch of this brilliant book and I look forward to reading further adventures in the future.

If you love this story as much as I did, why not read some more pirate adventures and take part on “Talk Like a Pirate day” on Sunday 19th September this year.

 

Derek Keilty

Meet the author

Derek KeiltyDerek Keilty lives in Belfast and is the author of over ten books for children. His work has been translated into many different languages, selected for the Richard and Judy Club and shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year.

 

Mark Elvins Personal website

Derek KeiltyMark Elvins lives in Yorkshire. When he’s not drawing pirates he’s a print-maker and recently won an English Heritage competition to illustrate the displays at Whitby Abbey.

Vi SPY: Licence to Chill by Maz Evans and Jez Tuya

When you see the name Maz Evans on the cover of a book, you know that it is going to be a brilliant, exciting and extremely funny story.  The author has been thrilling us with her first series “Who Let the Gods Out” and I am sure that I was not the only person suffering from withdrawal symptoms when that series finished.  I need not have worried because she has come back with a complete ‘humdinger’ of a plot and a feisty and completely awesome heroine called Valentine Day (yes, really).

The plot introduces us to Valentine who wants to be a spy and follow in the footsteps of her mother, even though the latter denies that she has ever been an agent.  Her father is dead, according to her mum and it looks as if she is about to marry Vi’s teacher, Mr Sprout; providing Vi with  step-brother called Russell!  However at the wedding there is a problem, when the registrar turns out to be Vi’s father in disguise and he is also the world’s second most wanted super villain, his name is Robert Ford, aka Sir Charge (honest).  The plot begins to thicken as someone called Umbra wants to steal a mind control device in order to help them take over the world (you can almost hear the evil laugh can’t you?) and Vi is determined to stop them.  the problem is how will she achieve this and who can she trust to help her.  The world seems to be full of villains, recovering villains, spies and robowars aficionados. Vi also discovers that not only is her mum a retired spy but so is her grandmother and several generations before that; so it is no wonder that she has this need to investigate things. The plot moves at a tremendous pace and it really does need you to hang on to your hat as the action moves forward.

I think by now you will have been able to see the beautiful way that Maz Evans strews her plot with puns and jokes; so that if you are not laughing, you will probably be groaning.  However, despite all of this humour there is also the underlying look at more serious issues that we have come to know from the author’s previous work.  Both Vi and Russell are from families where the parents are no longer together and they are having to try and come to terms with the changes.  We also see that Russell in particular is subject to bullying at school; partially because his dad is a teacher but mainly because he is something of a science geek and is totally into robowars and has entered his robot ‘Agadoo’ for the Blitzbot competition.  This is a glorious story with the ability to make us all smile and laugh out loud in this difficult time.  I am so looking forward to reading more adventures with Vi and her new sidekick Russell.

 

Maz Evans Biog:

Still unsure how it happened, Maz Evans is apparently the author of the bestselling WHO LET THE GODS OUT? series, which has sold to 19 countries worldwide and has received over 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, Books Are My Bag and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year. She narrates the audiobooks for the series and her acclaimed live events have featured at Hay, Imagine, Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Bestival, Wilderness and countless literary festivals and primary schools around the UK.

Maz has contributed to RETURN TO WONDERLAND, THE BOOK OF HOPES and SWALLOWED BY A WHALE and her children’s poetry has been published in Caterpillar magazine. Her career began as a TV journalist, writing for The Daily Telegraph and TV Times magazine and she still regularly broadcasts her views on anything from politics to parenthood on BBC Radio 2 and the bus.

As a scriptwriter, her original musical H. R. HAITCH (with composer Luke Bateman) was produced at the Union Theatre, London in 2018. She has previously had shows produced at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, Southend Palace Theatre and Bryanston Arts Centre and she was awarded places in the Holby City and Casualty BBC Shadow schemes.

As a songwriter, Maz won the Iris Theatre songwriting award three years in succession (with Luke Bateman) and her cabaret songs are regularly performed in the West End and beyond. As an author, she has won the hearts of thousands of children and as a nuclear physicist, she has frankly been completely rubbish.

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.