The Boy in the Post by Holly Rivers

Every now and then you find a book that really hits the mark in terms of the plot and the characters you are presented with.  I was delighted to find that this book went beyond the high expectations that I had.  It really is a case of buckle up and prepare for the ride of your life.

Chicken House, 9781912626045

This is the story of three siblings who find themselves at the start of a grand adventure when they apply for a summer job at a local enterprise run by the quirky Grandy Brock and his assorted adopted children.  Grandy is an ex-postman, who lives in an old windmill, and is busily trying to train a wide range of animals to deliver the post;  he calls them the ‘animail’ and hopes they can be a fantastic addition to the postal service.  The three Shalloo children, called Orinthia, Seafra and Taber really want something to do in the summer holidays as their mother is always busy at work, selling high class motor cars; so when they realize this is not a joke, they jump at the chance to help train the animals and are soon looking after a Pelican called Geronimo and her youngster, Gungho. When Geronimo is sent off to New York on a test flight (to visit Grandy’s brother) everyone is really excited, but as the days and weeks pass, they become increasingly worried.  It is at this point that we begin to understand the title of this book;  yes, 6 year-old Taber (the youngest of the children) decides to hide out in a crate and have himself shipped to New York.  His siblings are totally horrified by this and decide that they will have to follow him. They take a very rare stamp from the local post office, put themselves in a crate for antiques and set off on their adventure.  However, as you can imagine, things do not turn out to be very simple and we get to join the children as they career from one situation to another,just managing to avoid capture thanks to some very helpful young people that they meet on their way.  We follow them through the streets of London, on the high seas aboard a Mail Ship and along the east coast of the USA, as passengers in a balloon. All of this time they are being chased by a very weird policeman and people who think that they are criminals.  The grand finale occurs in New York and there are some very surprising discoveries to be made.

I remember reading a while ago that a suffragette had posted herself to the Prime Minister as part of their campaign for women’s rights; in fact this happened in 1909 and officials at Downing Street declined to accept delivery of the’parcel’.  So when I had finished reading this gorgeous book, I decided to have a look online and was frankly amazed (!) by the sheer number of people who have attempted to travel by post. The vast majority seem to have had some success, but with modern courier firms limiting the weight of items, it is more difficult for people to travel in this way.

This story takes us on a real roller-coaster of a ride, both literally and metaphorically, as our heroes try and catch up with the very young Taber.  There are adventures on trains, boats and planes (well, a balloon anyway) as the children also try to evade the law and a very secretive villain.  It is a story about family and friendship; where non-traditional families share strong bonds and where friendships can be created when sharing danger and a fight against wrongdoers.  It is fantastic to discover a 5 star book so early in the year and I really hope that we might see the children having some further adventures in the future.

About Holly Rivers

Holly grew up in a real-life children’s book, playing the part of Drusilla in ITV’s The Worst Witch alongside Felicity Jones. She spent her childhood in Wales, wishing that she was Pippi Longstocking, and after graduating spent time working as an actor, broadcaster and cheese-seller, until one day she had the idea to pen a story about a tenacious young inventor named Demelza. Holly’s days are now spent penning new stories as well as leading drama, craft and bushcraft classes for children. She lives in Brighton with her girlfriend and still wishes that she was Pippi Longstocking.  (from Chicken House website)

Tiger Tales

I have been contemplating a blog post about “Tiger tales” for quite some time, as I kept discovering more and more books which feature these majestic creatures.  The realization that this is the Chinese “Year of the Tiger” spurred me on to actually put together this group of books.  One of the main problems is that I keep finding even more, really exciting sounding books that I have now got on my ‘to be read’ list.  I have added these to the end of the blog post, so that you can all have a go at reading some of them.

 

Pavilion, 9781843654018

“Big Cat” by Emma Lazell is a very funny look at what happens when Grandma loses her spectacles.  She finds a very large cat and decides to look after it, but what everyone else can see is that this is no ordinary Cat.  Eventually some visitors, who are out searching for their son, find the glasses and everything becomes very clear!!  There is a real sense of playfulness with this story and I detect a certain ‘homage’ to  The Tiger who came to Tea.  Definitely one to keep and keep re-reading.

Little Tiger, 9781788810418

“Squish, Squash, Squeeze” by Tracey Corderoy and Jane Chapman tells the story of Mouse, who thinks he has found the perfect new home, but Bear, Crocodile, and Tiger say there is no room for them all.  When the floor collapses under them they are scared, but perhaps a burrowing Mole has provided the solution to all of their problems?  Another superbly funny picture book from Tracey Corderoy.

Scholastic, 9781407185712

“Collecting Cats” by Lorna Scobie.  When the narrator of the story decides they want to collect cats they go about it in a very unusual way.  Firstly they get a load of cheese, this attracts mice and eventually the cats arrive to catch the mice.  However, you can have too much of a good thing and eventually they decide that collecting cheese is a better idea.  This is a fantastically silly and funny story, full of very kind of cat, so everyone is probably going to see their own version.

HarperCollins, 9780007215997

“The Tiger who came to Tea” by Judith Kerr is a modern classic, which is now celebrating  54 years since its original publication in 1968.  I probably came across it when I started working in a library in the early 1970s, so it has been part of my professional life for a very long time.  We never seem to tire of this somewhat unwelcome visitor, but are always thankful when he decides to leave.  Despite the setting, this seems to avoid many of the criticisms that could be made about gender roles in particular.  I still love it as a story.

Nosy Crow, 9781788002523

“This Zoo is not for You” by Ross Collins. When platypus turns up at the zoo, the animals assume that he is there for an interview to join the zoo.  Each of them finds a reason why he would not fit in, based on their own preferences.  However, after he has left, they discover a letter, inviting them to a party on his Platybus!! After apologies all round, everyone enjoys the fun.  A brilliant book about not making assumptions, or judging by appearances.

Bloomsbury, 9781408892183

“Ravi’s Roar” by Tom Percival is another delightful book by this author and it focuses on the feelings that the youngest member of a family can feel.  Ravi feels left out of things by his siblings and he always seems to be last, because of his size.  One day it all becomes too much and Ravi is so angry, he turns in to a tiger, but what will happen when he calms down?  This is a brilliant look at coping with anger and is a welcome addition to the other books by Tom Percival, which deal with emotional well-being.

Nosy Crow, 9781788005678

“Tiger, Tiger burning bright” by Fiona Waters and Britta Teckentrup is an amazing poetry collection for the younger reader, although it requires a table or very strong arms when reading it.  It really is one of those collections that every primary school should have and will act as a wonderful focus for children and their imaginations.

HarperCollins, 9780007119691

Tiger in the Snow by Nick Butterworth is an absolute classic, featuring a tabby kitten, called Tiger and the adventure he has when he discovers snow for the first time.  With all of his friends either too cold or too busy to come and play, can Tiger find a companion to share his fun?

Macmillan,9781509855155

“I am a Tiger” by Karl Newsom and Ross Collins is an absolutely hysterical story of a mouse who insists that he is actually a tiger.  He manages to persuade several other animals that they are not who they think they are.  However, when a real tiger appears on the scene, can the mouse persuade him that he is actually a MOUSE!!  This is an real delight and a must have in every early years setting

Bloomsbury, 9781408839041

“Never tickle a tiger” by Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Marc Boutevant.  Izzy is a girl who can’t keep still. She is always wriggling and jiggling and generally causing havoc.  Can Izzy behave herself on a school visit to the Zoo and what will happen if she can’t?  A colourful and very energetic story about a young girl who cannot seem to keep out of trouble.  Izzy is one of those children who has to try everything and only learns from her mistakes.  On this occasion she creates total mayhem as she disregards the order “never tickle a tiger” and we have an amazing 4 page spread explaining just how big a disaster she has caused.  You would think that she has finally learnt her lesson, but I wouldn’t be sure about that.  This is a definite morality tale, much in the style of Hilaire Belloc, but with a thoroughly modern heroine.  A really fun book for younger readers.

Welbeck, 9781783125661

“Interview with a Tiger and other Clawed Beasts too” by Andy Seed and Nick East.  What a fascinating and very funny book this is, particularly if you want information but without the boring bits. The author gives us a series of ‘interviews’ with a range of animals and we get a wonderfully relaxed set of answers about them and their lifestyles.

Orion, 9781510107045

“Tiger Heart” by Penny Chrimes.   Fly is a young girl, abandoned at birth and then taken to work for a chimney sweep, climbing up and down the chimneys all day.  One day she makes a bid for freedom and quite literally finds herself trapped in a cage with a rather large tiger.  The strangest thing is that this creature begins to talk to her and she can understand him, but most oddly of all the tiger insists on calling her ‘princess’ and says that she comes from the same land as himself.  They escape from the house they are in but find themselves hunted by the man responsible for bringing the tiger and other animals to this country.  This is a story about friendship, knowing yourself and trying to understand the world around you.  It is a lesson in not letting physical possessions become the most important thing in life, but in knowing that people are what make the world a better place to live in

Lion, 9781782643173

“The Tigers in the Tower” by Julia Golding is a fascinating story of animals at the Tower of London in the 19th Century.  there is a full review of this book on this blog, written in September 2020.

Usborne, 9781474903042

“The troublesome |Tiger” by Tamsyn Murray is part of her series for young readers, featuring Zoe, who lives at Tanglewood Animal Park.   This book is about Tindu, a new addition to the park, but one that is not settling in to their new home.  Can Zoe help and make their new tiger feel at home.  This is a great series for those who love animals and is an excellent precursor to reading Gill Lewis and similar writers.

 

 

These are some other books that I have come across and hope to read, or re-read in the near future.  Do give some of them a try.

“Mr Tiger goes Wild” by Peter Brown

Two Hoots, 978-1509848232

 

“Cinnamon” by Neil Gaiman and Divya Srinivasan

Bloomsbury, 978-1408879221

 

 

“Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Blue Moon” by Sally Gardner

Zephyr, 978-1786697189

 

 

“The Time traveller and the Tiger” by Tania Unsworth

Zephyr, 978-1788541718

 

The Dancing Tiger” by Malachy Doyle

Simon and Schuster Children’s, 978-0689873102

 

“The magic Bed”  by John Burningham

Red Fox, 978-0099439691

 

“Love is…” by Sarah Maycock

Big Picture Press, 978-1787418745

 

 

 

“Tiger in trouble” by Jess Butterworth

Orion, 978-1510107984

 

“There’s a Tiger in the garden” by Lizzy Stewart

Lincoln Children’s Books,  978-1847808073

 

So, from me and my tiger friends, enjoy these books and have a wonderful “Year of the Tiger”

 

Nisha’s War by Dan Smith

For someone who watched the full series of ‘Tenko’ as a young person, this subject matter brings back many memories.  For those who are far too young to have watched the original programmes, Tenko is the story of the fall of Singapore and the imprisonment of women and children by the Japanese; the name tenko means “roll-call” in Japanese.  It caused quite a stir at the time, because of its portrayal of the prison camps, the  social class system and the racism towards non-European prisoners.  The war in the far-east has received far less attention than the war in Europe, or even the final assault on the main Japanese islands.  This conflict in Malaya and Burma has been considered “the forgotten war” and yet the suffering is almost beyond comprehension; both for the European middle classes and especially for the general population of these countries.  This is a period that deserves to be remembered and the people appreciated for what they suffered.

The story begins in 1942 when Nisha and her mother arrive at grandmother’s island home in the north east of England; they are fleeing their horrific experiences during the fall of Singapore to the Japanese.  Nisha’s mother suffers an attack of malaria and her life hangs in the balance.  Nisha is desperately worried about her mother, but also about her missing father, when she meets a mysterious boy in the garden.  No one else seems to know the boy and we gradually realize that he is a ghost, who is linked to the old tree that he sits under. He offers to help her mother and father, if Nisha will find three ‘truths’ in the house.   How she tries to do this (without knowing what they are) and how she solves some long-standing mysteries makes for an exciting and yet heart-rending story.

This is an absolutely stand out story with wonderful characters and a magical and yet truly believable story.  Nisha is such a strong yet vulnerable character, who has been through many traumas.  She has a mixed heritage family, with an English father and an Indian mother, and  although her father’s job has shielded her from racial discrimination, she finds that in England many of the people are far more wary and even hostile. The story is told with two separate ‘voices’, both of them showing the different aspects of Nisha’s life.   We have the contrast between the main narrative, set in an England still beset by German raids, rationing and a sense of exhaustion with the war;  then we have  the journal that Nisha keeps (of what happened in Singapore), which really highlights the trauma that she has suffered and her very close escape from death by drowning.  There are many twists and turns along the way and we see how she is haunted by her experiences, but gradually she is able to find her place in her new community and build a relationship with her very formidable grandmother.

This is proving to be one of my highlights of the year, so far.  It is a story that lingers in the mind and makes you appreciate the challenges that previous generations faced, and that people in many countries are still facing.  I hope that this will help young people understand the past and hopefully want to find out more about less well known conflicts.  This story has ‘award nomination’ written all over it and I am sure it will appear in some lists over the coming year or so.

The Author

I first came across Dan’s work when I was asked to review a book of his called “Big Game”, which was a great read.  It is safe to say that the author has gone from strength to strength.

“Growing up, Dan Smith led three lives. In one he survived the day-to-day humdrum of boarding school, while in another he travelled the world, finding adventure in the padi fields of Asia and the jungles of Brazil. But the third life he lived in a world of his own, making up stories . . . Which is where some people say he still lives most of the time.

Dan writes for both children and adults”

Picture Book Update

Parents, librarians and teachers are always on the lookout for new picture books to read to their young readers.  Whilst most children have favourites that they have to have read almost every day, it is important that they are introduced to a wide range of the fabulous works which are out there.  Teachers in particular are looking for books that have themes that they can integrate into their curriculum work, as well as being a fun and lively story.  I hope that some of these books will meet the needs of many of you reading this.  Give them a go, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Two Hoots, 9781509889839

“Three Little Vikings” by Bethan Woollvin  tells the story of three children who struggle to get the adults to believe that they have heard something big and dangerous outside; the chief is particularly irritating as he repeats that he is a grown up and he knows best.  You can see that many children would find that message very frustrating.   The story uses Viking mythology to brilliant effect, as the children try and save their village from a destructive troll and eventually the adults have to believe them.

Uclan, 9781912979608

“The Bear and her Book” by Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O’Connor.   This is a truly magical story of adventure and also about the joys that books can bring to our lives.  When bear decides to see the world, she takes her copy of “Bear’s Big Book of being Wise” and finds it very useful in many of the situations that she finds herself in.  It is a fabulous addition to my collection of books about books and libraries and I really recommend it.

Big Picture Press, 9781787418769

“Ratty’s Big Adventure” by Lara Hawthorne is a lovely story of a small vegetarian rat called Ratty, who decides he wants to explore beyond the mountain crater that he lives in.  He meets a wide range of animals and faces many dangers and challenges.  However he decides that home and friends are what he really wants in life.  This is full of information about the wild life of Papua New Guinea, but above all, it is a tale of adventure and finding your place in the world.

Pikku Publishing, 9781999639891

“The Happy Hedgerow” by Elena Mannion and Erin Brown tells the story of Old Oak and the changes that he sees, when the hedgerow is grubbed up to make larger fields.  It is a story about the seasons and also about the changes that we see in the countryside.  Happily this story has a happy ending, as the humans realize the importance of the hedges and re-plant them.  This will work well as part of  environmental studies in KS1.

Chronicle Kids, 9781452173191

“Inside Cat” by Brendan Wenzel  is the story of one of those cats who lives indoors and only sees the world through the prism of the windows that enclose him.  However, he discovers that seeing something from the inside is not the same experience as being out there. This book makes us more aware of our senses and how we can explore our world, even if we are limited in some ways.  It increases our understanding of the world around us and how we perhaps need to challenge the limits and perhaps go outside our comfort zone.  The quirky illustrations and the limited text make the whole story relatable to the small child.  This is aimed at very young children and would be brilliant for encouraging Early Years children to try new experiences.

Andersen Press, 9781783448944

“Scissorella” by Clare Helen Walsh and Laura Barrett.   This is a truly magical re-telling of ‘Cinderella’, but with the twist being that the main character is an amazing paper artist. The art is inspired by the creative work of Lottie Reiniger, a German born artist who had a great influence on the development of film animation.  The story has an art deco setting, with the costumes harking back to the 1920s; in fact, it reminds me in many ways, of the marvellous version ’Ella’s Big Chance’ by Shirley Hughes. However, we have the added beauty of the paper cutting, which gives a very lace like feel to many of the images. This is a truly beautiful book, which shows a determined female character, who is determined to succeed in life and is a wonderful addition to the Cinderella canon of books.

Pushkin Children’s, 9781782693154

“Shoo!” by Susie Bower and Francesca Gambatesa is the very funny story of what happens when a Zoo moves next door, to someone who doesn’t like animals.  It is full of mayhem and laughter and is a great read for younger readers.  It also reminds us that we all need friends and that our perceptions should be open to change. This will make a great book for story time, both in the school and in the library.

Templar Books, 9781787419179

“The Little wooden robot and the log princess” by Tom Gauld is a very modern interpretation of a fairy tale.  The king and queen have no children and ask a witch and an inventor to create a child for them.  The log princess, worked by magic, but turned back into a log every night.  Whereas the Robot Prince was worked by mechanics and housed a family of beetles in his working.  When the princess goes missing, it is up to her brother to go searching, but he faces many challenges before finding his sibling.  Luckily, as with the best fairy tales we have a happy ending.

Farshore, 9780755502851

“Splash” by Claire Cashmore and Sharon Davey is written by the Paralympian athlete Claire Cashmore and is a version of how she overcame her fear of water, in order to become a gold medal swimmer.  It is a story of determination and overcoming many challenges.  Hopefully it will help many young people to focus on overcoming their own challenges, what ever they may be.

 

 

Christmas Glitters

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

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Middle Grade Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Big Christmas Collection from Little Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Discovery Disappears by Pip Murphy and Roberta Tedeschi

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

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

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

Book Tour Questions for Pip Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

from “Everything with Words” site

 

Seamus Jennings, illustrator

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

Aarti and the Blue Gods by Jasbinder Bilan and Margaux Carpentier

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

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

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

His Royal Hopeless by Chloe Perrin and George Ermos

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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