Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore

Chicken House, 9781913322366

Over the last few years we have started to see more stories for young people that feature not just diverse characters, but also a diverse setting.  This story is set in the author’s home country of Nigeria and gives us an insight into the the challenging contrasts between different ways of life.  Over many years I have had several friends from Nigeria; they included girls in my class at school and then three or four friends who attended library school in Manchester and were looking forward to contributing to the development of library services in the country.  However this book really brings the country to life provides a wonderful sense of the balance that is being sought between different aspects of culture.

Simi finds herself being sent to live with her grandmother for the summer, whilst her mother is in England for a work training course.  Simi is a thoroughly modern girl who lives in the buzzing metropolis of Lagos, so it comes as quite a shock to find herself in a small rural village, without computers or mobile phone coverage.  She then discovers that her grandmother is central to the village structure and acts as the healer and wise woman for the local community.  Whilst out, exploring the local area, Simi finds herself drawn to a small lake which the local people avoid as they say many children have disappeared there over the years.  What follows next seems like a dream to Simi; she is drawn down into the lake and discovers a land beneath the water, even seeing two children talking, however she is then raised out of the lake and left on its edge; so is there magic at work here?  The rest of the story follows Simi as she tries to make sense of what is going on, and also how she tries to discover why there is so much bad feelings between her mother and grandmother.  By the end of the book we have found old secrets uncovered, old wounds healed and a sense that a new positive future is possible for all the people of the area.

I absolutely loved this story as it shows the conflict that so many young (and not so young) people feel about the many changes that we are constantly seeing in our lives. Although this is set in Nigeria, it is a scenario that could take place in many other countries, as tradition and the modern world try to work together and maintain the sense of belonging that is so important in most of our lives.  It also reminds us that the modern world does not always provide answers to what we see and feel.

Efua Traore

Efua Traoré is a Nigerian-German author who grew up in a small town in Nigeria. For as long as she can remember, her head was filled with little stories, but it was not until much later that she began to write them down.

Apart from Nigeria, she has also lived in France and Germany and she writes in English and in German. If she had her way, she would travel much more and write every single day.

Efua won the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa with her short story ‘True Happiness’ and she is a literature grant holder of the Munich Literaturreferat. Children of the Quicksands is her debut novel which won the Times / Chicken House Prize in 2019.

She lives in Munich with her husband and three daughters.

Photo credit belongs to Boubacar Traoré (if not, please let me know and I will update the credit).

The Three Impossibles by Susie Bower

Having worked for Bristol Libraries for nearly 20 years, I am always delighted when I read that an author lives and works in this vibrant city, although I have just heard that Susie has moved to Devon; yet another hub for fantastic authors and illustrators.  I first came across Susie Bower when her book “School for Nobodies” appeared in 2020 and was excited to hear about this new title.

Pushkin, 9781782692928

“The Three Impossibles” is the story of a young girl called Mim, who is actually Princess Jemima, but hates all of the trappings that go with being a ‘perfect princess’.  She lives in a castle, but is forbidden to leave its grounds and the whole town is said to suffer from a curse that occurred when her mother died, just as Mim was born.  The arrival of a new governess called Madame Marionette soon sets the cat among the pigeons.  There is something very sinister about this teacher, her servants and her so called ‘pet’ that she keeps hanging in a covered cage; she appears to have a secret agenda and Mim is worried by what that might mean to the inhabitants of the castle.  Mim is a very inquisitive person and loves escaping to the library and reading her way through the books, unfortunately she can only reach those at the start of the alphabet.  But then she comes across a book that is definitely out of place and there is something very unusual about it.  “The Three Impossibles” positively glows, as if it want to be found, but Mim finds it impossible to open the book, which just makes her more determined to investigate this puzzle.  the story develops at a tremendous pace as Mim uncovers the secrets surrounding her home and the inhabitant of the lighthouse that is just off the shore.  Will the book finally reveal its secret and can Mim actually break the curse that has ruined lives for so many years?  Well, you will have to read the adventure to find out, I am afraid.

This is a fabulous story about a young girl who just doesn’t fit in to the world that she lives in. She loves science and finding things out, hates dressing up and wants to have more freedom, but I think above all she wants to be loved by those around her, especially her father.  There is magic and mystery, curses and creatures of myth for Mim to contend with, but with the help of her friend Smith and Miranda (the cursed grand daughter of the court alchemist) she battles to  overcome evil.  There is a wonderful lesson for us all about striving to be the best we can be, whilst also being true to our inner selves.  So often, this world tries to mould us into something we aren’t, so Mim reminds us to recognize our true selves.

What made you want to write for young people? Or was it a happy accident?

Susie Bower

By the time she hit her teens, Susie Bower had lived in 8 houses and attended 7 schools. This theme continued in her working life: she’s been a teacher, a tour-guide, a typist, a workshop facilitator, a PA and a painter. She formerly wrote and directed TV programmes for children at the BBC and Channel 4, for which she won a BAFTA Award, and she currently writes audio scripts. School for Nobodies, her debut novel, is also available from Pushkin Children’s. Susie lives in Devon.

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt

This is the second book about Pirates that I have had the pleasure of reading in the last few months.  this one is aimed at a slightly older audience, age 8 years and above and definitely makes it onto the reading list for “Talk like a Pirate” day.

Tiggy (short for Antigua) wants to lead a life of adventure and perhaps even be a pirate.  She wants to spend time down by the harbour with her friends Marina and Felipe, but unfortunately, she is a young lady and has to wear long dresses and even attend her first dance at the Governor’s Ball.

During the celebrations to commemorate the freeing of the town’s boys, based around  a legend about the ‘Pirate King’ who had taken all the boys and turned them into Sea Golems in the distant past, history seems to repeat itself.   A band of sinister pirates and a giant squid, attack the island and make off with all of the young boys, including Tiggy’s younger brother; she and her friends decide to try and free the captives.  Mysterious mental messages from a mermaid and the fact that Tiggy’s friend Marina is the daughter of a Selkie helps them in their quest.    Importantly,  how can this threat be defeated?

Although there is no real location for the island on which they live, the authors have very strongly given the setting a feel of the Caribbean, but with strong links to Spain, with the use of Madre and Padre  as well as some of the characters’ names.  They have created a world that we can associate with, but which has magical elements that weave a wonderful  and complex place.  You can absolutely feel the heat and hear the sounds of the busy Caribbean Port, together with the rich diversity of characters that are found there.

This is a roller coaster of a story in which the Swash has never before been so Buckled!  It is a fantastic story for the KS2 reader and gives the opportunity to explore themes such as identity, belonging, family, as well as folk tales and legends.  There are wonderfully strong characters, so that this book will appeal to both girls and boys.  It is also a great starting point for some very creative art and writing.  I definitely hope that we will see some more adventures for Antigua and her friends.  Thank you to Anna for this short post that she has given, sharing the background to the Selkie theme that is so important in the book.

 

An introduction to Selkies

By Anna Rainbow

One of the oceanic myths of particular interest to Oli and me was that of the selkie. Unlike the better known mermaid, who is permanently a human with a fish tail, the selkie is a shapeshifter, most commonly a woman who can exist as a seal in water, and then upon shedding her seal skin, change into a human form on land.

A main theme of our book was trying to reconnect landlubbers with the ocean, and promoting the synergy between land and sea, so the selkie seemed to encapsulate this theme perfectly — a person (or a seal) who could live in and enjoy both environments. Someone who values both habitats equally is far less likely to dump plastics in the waves and destroy marine life with pollution.

But it wasn’t just this that fascinated us, it was the dark feminist twist on the tale, something we weren’t aware of before we started our research. A common tale about Selkies is that should a man steal her selkie skin, he can make her his bride. Perhaps symbolic of the power, the identity and freedom, taken from women when they become a wife, especially in the olden days. Or perhaps even deeper, the power taken from women they are born into a patriarchal society.

It was therefore important to us that the Selkies in our story were strong women who kept hold of their seal skins. It is no coincidence that Gabriella, a well known Selkie and Mother to Antigua’s best friend, Marina, is a single Mother who has kept her powers. On the flip side, woman generally don’t give their power away, it is stolen by men, so it was equally important that the men in our book did not steal our Selkie’s skin.

That is not to say that all men steal women’s power, of course not, but Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas is a feminist book, with a strong female lead who rescues all the boys of her island, and we wanted this reflected in our mythology too. It was important to us that we invented a world where Selkies keep hold of their own skin, and men don’t attempt to steal it.

ANTIGUA DE FORTUNE OF THE HIGH SEAS by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

 

About Oli Hyatt & Anna Rainbow
ANNA RAINBOW grew up and still lives in North East England and works as a Clinical Psychologist with people with disabilities. Anna loves music and has always been in various choirs, singing quartets, bands, and orchestras. In 2015 she was shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition which led to Chicken House publishing The Fandom, her series for young adults (as Anna Day) – it sold in 24 territories and was optioned for TV development by Fox. This is her debut middle-grade novel.  Find out more at annadaybooks.com and follow her on twitter @annadayauthor

OLI HYATT is based in Kings Sutton and is the co-founder of BAFTA award-winning animation studio Blue Zoo. He is also the Director of Alphablocks Limited, the company behind the popular CBeebies phonics shows, Alphablocks and Numberblocks. He is also the chair of Animation UK and was awarded an MBE for his services to the animation industry. This is Oli’s debut novel. Follow Oli on twitter @HyattOli

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas is Oli and Anna’s first co-authored book together.

Feast of the Evernight by Ross McKenzie

I absolutely loved the first book in the series, “Evernight” when it reached our shelves in early 2020.  It introduced us to a new world that we very quickly became engrossed in.  I was already a fan of the author, Ross Mackenzie through his series about the “Nowhere Emporium” and was delighted by this strange new world that he presented us with.  The main characters are the young girl Lara(belle) Fox and her friend Joe; both of them are Toshers and much like the ones in Victorian London, they make a living finding lost items in the sewer below the city of  King’s Haven.  When the country is threatened by the Everdark and the evil Mrs Hester, together with the Silver King, who rules the land, they link up with the Westerly Witches in an attempt to thwart their evil plans.  At the end of this book we get the impression that Mrs Hester has been eliminated and that a greater freedom is starting to seem possible for the general population.  But  is everything really better?

In this second book we find ourselves nearly a year further on in time; Lara has just passed her test and become a Witch, whilst Joe is getting over the death of his grandmother, as well as feeling rather out of place in the magical environment.  He decides to return to King’s Haven and the world that he knows, but he is asked to meet up with Rob, a ‘resistance’ worker, in order to carry out a secret mission.  At the same time Lara is also sent south, to work with another Witch and find out what has caused several mysterious deaths.  The friends make the first part of the journey together and end up helping a young girl, who is showing startling signs of  ‘out of control’ magic.  We have two parallel stories going on throughout the book, but we gradually come to understand that they are linked and that there are some deeply evil minds trying to destroy the witches and keep the population under their control.

This is an absolutely brilliant book and a worthy successor to the first in the series and whilst I am sure that people can dive straight in to this book, I think it is better to have read the first book, so that you are totally immersed in the world.  The cast of characters may be quite familiar, but they are having to cope with increasing danger and a whole range of villains. We see the young people mature as they have to cope with the terrifying events that surround them.  Luckily they have strong friendship bonds that give them the strength to carry on, despite the dangers.  I absolutely love the way that the author has created a world that is so different from our own and yet it is one that we can believe in.  The action is fast paced and at times quite hard hitting;  the author is not afraid to show that death can be a consequence of standing up to the evil that the heroes face.    The atmosphere really sparks the imagination and I can see the book being used in school  to encourage activities from writing and drawing, to music and drama.     It is yet another fabulous read for the older ‘middle grade’ reader and I know it will become yet another firm favourite not only in the home, but also in the classroom.  This is definitely a five star story.

 

Author Information

Contact: rossmacauthor@gmail.com

Local authority: Renfrewshire

Languages: English

19/10/18 . The Sunday Post, by Andrew Cawley.
Pics of staff designer Ross MacKenzie, who has written a children’s book. Location: Skypark, Glasgow.

I am a multi award-winning author of books for children, including The Nowhere Emporium, which won both the Blue Peter Book Award and Scottish Children’s Book Award.Stories have always been important to me. I can remember vividly how I felt as a child, curled up in bed, eager to set off on the next great adventure. I became a writer for children because I love the magic of great stories and my dream is that readers will one day feel the same way about my books.I regularly visit primary schools, libraries and literary festivals where I read from my books, discuss the power of stories and imagination, and hold Q&A sessions and writing workshops. I live in Renfrew with my lovely wife and two beautiful daughters – though I spend much of my time exploring other worlds.

thank you to Scottish Book Trust, who host this information

 

 

 

City of Rust by Gemma Fowler and Karl James Mountford

I have been a fan of science fiction since my teens, when I discovered authors such as John Christopher, with his Tripods trilogy.  Working as a library assistant when I left school gave me the opportunity to explore a whole range of genres and publishers and for Sci-Fi the lead publisher was definitely Gollancz (with their iconic bright yellow covers).  It as unfortunate that for many people the subject became less popular as we faced the reality of moving into space and the area of fantasy seems to become the replacement genre. Luckily there has been a move back towards Sci-Fi at all age ranges.

Chicken House, 97890655436

The story is set in a future world where humanity has found that the only way to deal with the amount of metal rubbish is to send it in to orbit around the earth, where it joins the space debris accumulated from satellites and rockets.  The heroine is Railey, a young girl who lives with her grandmother and has ambitions to be a champion drone racer, with the help of her bio-robotic gecko called Atti.  Things have been getting more difficult as her engineer/inventor grandmother begins to suffer memory loss and making a living is even more difficult.  When Railey is chased by a bounty hunter and thinks that her gran has been killed, she has to make a run for it; finding herself rescued by the members of a space junk vessel.  As they uncover a plot to  crash a huge ‘trash bomb’ into the earth, their loyalties are tested and they find themselves questioning the world that they live in.

The world that Gemma Fowler has created is one that has been completely overwhelmed by the amount of metal that has been discarded and it has become a dystopian place of those that have (and live in Glass City) and those that have not and live in places such as Boxville, named from the shipping containers which provide homes.  There is a real sense that we should be treating this as a window into our future if we do not do something to change the disposable world that we live in.  Scarily we have had news within the last week or so about a rocket crashing into the Indian ocean; very much a case of life imitating art!  There are elements in the plot that take me back to some of my favourite films, with the drone racing being very familiar to those who love the Star Wars series.  However this is a totally original take on the society that we live in.  There have been several books in the past that are situated in rubbish tips and but this goes several stages further and shows us as destroying the space that surrounds us.

There are some fascinating characters who are trying to find their way in this terrible world, but I think that my favourite has to be Atti, the gecko.  He is a mix of real animal ,but with the addition of bionic improvements, and he actually talks; above all he has a really positive attitude that you can’t help but love.  The ending of this story resolved the danger that the young people have faced, but we are left with the slightly open ending, which allows us to hope that we will have further adventures as they start their lives as ‘Junkers’, cleaning up the space around them.

 

Gemma Fowler

photographybytarik-GemmaFowler-Headshot-002.jpg

photo is on her website https://www.gemmarfowler.com/about

A world of Art

The various ‘lock-downs’ that we have had over the last year or so, has meant that many exhibitions have not taken place and there has been no opportunity to go to galleries in order to lift the spirits.  Thankfully so many museums and art galleries have taken up the challenge and have provided a wealth of material online.  There have also been a range of books that look at the world of art and hopefully these will encourage young readers to explore the creative world and to produce their own work in the future.  These are just some of the books that I have seen in the last year and they have greatly enhanced my appreciation of the talent that is there for us to admire, as well as to try and emulate.

Mention the War, 9781911255673

“Flying High in the Sunlit Silence: the aviation art of Jack Berry.  I came across the book when it featured on a programme on the TV and just had to get a copy for myself.  The author is a young autistic boy called jack and he was 13 years old when the book was published.  I was attracted to the book because it features aircraft, but it also has articles by a variety of aviation veterans, as well as the beautiful poem “Say Something Nice” by A.F.Harrold

Kingfisher, 9780753444542

“Who’s in the Picture?” by Susie Brooks  is a delightful look at 20 famous paintings and the images within them.  It is aimed at possibly KS1 children and encourages them to ask lots of questions.  It is a great introduction to the huge range of what we call ‘Art’.

Scallywag Press, 9781912650170

“A gallery of Cats” by Ruth Brown is a delightful and quirky look at art, as a young boy called Tom wanders through an Art Gallery.  Instead of the artists we see the works through they eyes of cats which have been placed in the paintings.  It gives a really fresh and original take on the images that we see.

Book Island, 9781911496151

“The bird within me” by Sara Lundberg is a remarkable look at the early life of the Swedish artist Berta Hansson.  It has been shortlisted for the 2020 Kate Greenaway Medal, which of course looks at the illustration in the nominated titles.  The publisher is the wonderful small company Book Island Books which is based in Bristol and specialized in picture books in translation; they are a favourite of mine.

Phaidon, 9781838660802

“Yayoi Kusama covered everything in dots and wasn’t sorry” by Fausto Gilberti is something of a surprise for me.  I could not believe that I had not come across the artist’s name before, even though she has been creating her work for most of my life.  It is amazing what someone can create using just one basic shape, but this artist brings colour, shape and design together to amaze us with her work.

“Bob goes POP!” by Marion Deuchars is the third in the series about the small black bird called Bob.  This time he is trying his hand at POP art and finds himself in competition with another artist called Roy.  How they overcome their differences and produce some very positive results makes for a delightful take on the modern art scene.

Laurence King, 9781786277718

“Lets make great ART: Colours” by Marion Deuchars is part of a series by this author in which she looks at different aspects of art.  Other works in the series include ‘Pattern’ and ‘Animals’. They are all aimed at the youngest of readers, as they gain confidence with drawing tools and the art of ‘Mark Making’.  The get the imagination flowing.

Usborne, 9781409598893

“How Art works” by Sarah Hull is aimed at the teenage and adult  reader, who want to understand more about the world of art.  It has to be said that for many this is a very difficult area to get to grips with, but this book asks the sort of questions that we all want to ask.

 

“Why do we need Art ?” by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young asks us some of the major questions about Art.  It does not look at individual works of art in depth but does examine

Wayland, 9781526312587

where the concept of art comes from, what it means to us now and why do we need art in our lives.  It is very up to date, in that it looks at the impact of ‘Black Lives matter’ as well as the experiences of those who have been been outside of mainstream art; this includes poets, artists, sculptors and writers.

Thames and Hudson, 9780500652206

“Modern Art Explorer” by Alice Harman and Serge Bloch allows the reader to dip into some of the great artists of the 20th and 21st century.  The book include artists, sculptors, textile artists, and those who create large scale installations.  Some of the artists are household names, such as Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo but others are know to more specialized audiences.  This makes this book a good choice to dip into as a way of discovering new works.  The text is quite chatty in style and would be suitable for maybe young people over the age of 10 years.

 

 

Ten Little Dogs by Ruth Brown

I have to say, with no exaggeration,  that I have been a great fan of this author for well over 20 years.  I was lucky enough to meet her in the late 1990s, when she came to do an event for Bristol Libraries, talking to a large group of school children.  It is one of my earliest experiences of  an author event in a public library, but I think I have made up for it since then.

This link to an interview with the wonderful Jake Hope is a fascinating look at the author and her beautiful collection of work. https://www.cilip.org.uk/blogpost/1637344/354662/An-Interview-with-illustrator-Ruth-Brown

This latest book is a totally delightful re-working of the old counting rhyme that has been popular with young children for so many generations.  We start out with ten small puppies of assorted varieties and through the book we count down, as one by one they are caught out by their adventurous behaviour.  As you would expect, the text is in rhyme and I am delighted by the way that Ruth Brown has maintained the rhyming structure and yet has brought the language up to date.   I love the way that the author has moved the action between different pages; the backgrounds range from the seaside to the park and also the various back gardens.  We see the puppies playing with sticks, garden hoses, food bowls and even chasing butterflies, as well as being nipped by a crab at the seaside.  This gives a superb opportunity for discussion with the children about their experiences with puppies, or they might not have had any contact but will be fascinated by the antics of those they see on the page.

Anyone who has ever come into contact with small dogs will recognize the body language that the author portrays in her illustrations.  The images are full of energy and the excitement in life that young dogs have in abundance.  The situations that they find themselves in is very believable and I am sure that most dog owners will have seen some of these hilarious events.  The humour and the movement are elements that really stand out and make this a book that will become a favourite in years to come; both for reading to groups and  as a book to enjoy with a child or grandchild.

I was recently looking through a folder of old newspaper cuttings and came across the one relating to Ruth’s visit to Bristol Libraries; it was in the “Bristol Observer” for Friday 13th November 1998.  Ruth was there to help us launch the start of the “Bookstart” project in Bristol

Ruth Brown

Ruth BrownRuth Brown is the creator of some of Britain’s best loved children’s books. She was born in Devon and now lives in London and Kent. Ruth’s books are translated in many languages around the world, and she has won the Earthworm Award, the English Association Award, the Prix Sorcière and been shortlisted 3 times for the Kate Greenaway Medal.  Scallywag Press

“Brown, whose exceptional draughtsmanship makes all her books a feast, visits a gallery with a difference in this picture book about cats and artists. A book to lead readers to 13 painters from Mondrian to Munch and Kahlo to Klimt.” Sunday Times Culture Magazine

How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg by Emma Shevah and Kirsti Beautyman

I am delighted to say that this is one of a growing number of books that focuses on the world we live in and how we interact with the nature that surrounds us.  There has been an ever growing number of information books and television programmes that focus on the environment and it is so good to see so many young people becoming involved in raising the awareness of the situation.  This book provides a wonderful mix of adventure, nature and also the difficulties that people can have if they are perceived as being ‘different’ in any way.

Chicken House, 9781910655474

Nathaniel has grown up being looked after by his grandmother (although he attends a boarding school during term time).  When his grandmother dies, he was going to spend the holidays with his aunt and uncle, but then his mother, who has just returned from living in India decides that she wants to have him stay with her at the old family home at Southwold in Suffolk He finds living in such a chaotic surrounding a challenge and is on the verge of wanting to leave and go to the familiar surroundings of his other family.  A chance meeting a young girl called Ivy, who thinks she can communicate with animals of all kinds, gives him something to focus on; their common interest in the environment also helps both of them cope with a variety of issues. However, there is a secret from the past that is about to re-surface and the two Eco-warriors will have their work cut out to find a solution.
This is a beautiful story of two children who have had many issues in their lives. Nathaniel has Asperger’s syndrome and struggles to connect with others, while Ivy is living with very supportive foster parents but has undergone abusive treatment from her real father, who even sent her Thai mother back to Thailand. This moving tale shows how these two eventually begin to work together despite the major difference in the way that they interact with others. It also shows how they can connect with the adults in their lives, when the adults take the time to help them. It is a superb read for all children, whether they are aware of environmental issues or not.  I gradually became more engrossed by these seemingly eccentric characters and I would love to follow some more of their adventures; in fact I get the hint that there might be another real adventure in the offing.  Thank you Emma Shevah for such a fantastic read.

 

Emma Shevah is Thai and Irish and was born and raised in London. She is the author

Emma Shevah

of four Middle Grade novels published by Chicken House:Dream on AmberDara Palmer’s Major Drama (optioned by the BBC), and What Lexie Did and How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg, and an early reader for BloomsburyHello Baby Mo! She has lived and travelled in many countries but now lives in Brighton with half of her four children. She is Head of Year at Roedean, where she teaches English and gazes at the sea, wishing she was in it.  (Chicken House Books)

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’.