Easter ‘eggs’ to enjoy reading

 

Spring is definitely bursting out around us.  We have got the first of the daffodils and cherry blossom and from my window I can sit and watch the magnolia coming in to bloom.  It is also the time that programmes start appearing for all the conferences and festivals taking place in the next few months.  For publishers and real aficionados then Bologna is the place to be in the spring, closely followed by the London Book fair in April .  Oxford is about to have its Literature festival and I am looking forward to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference just after Easter.

I can’t quite believe that Easter is almost upon us, but at least it hopefully brings a little time to sit and read a good book, or several if you are really lucky.

it seems amazing that it is about 4 months since I had the privilege of reading  “The Astounding Broccoli Boy” by Frank Cottrell Boyce as a proof on Netgalley.  A really great story with all the humour and adventure that we have come to expect from the author. The hero, Rory, always tries to be prepared for everything, but how do you prepare for turning green? He and two other children are put in isolation whilst the adults try and sort things out, but the children have other ideas make nightly escapes to see what is going on.  A really great adventure.

 

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“The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross Mackenzie is the latest offering from the Kelpies imprint so I was really keen to give it a try; it is fair to say that the publisher has never disappointed me with the stories they produce.  This is the story of Daniel Holmes who is taken as an apprentice by the mysterious Mr Silver, the owner of the Emporium.  There is magic in this book and it takes you on a roller coaster of a journey as the heroes try to evade the creepy and evil Vindictus Sharpe. A wonderful story which leads us through an amazing world of imagination.

 

“The Girl at Midnight” is a book for older readers, written by Melissa Grey  and featuring a young girl called Echo who lives an underground life as a 2015-03-15 14.04.05 pickpocket and thief.  This is a parallel   world of the Avicen, who have a slight covering of feathers, and the Drakharin, descended from Dragons and with remnants of scales found on their hands and heads.  There is a long history of warfare between the two peoples and it looks ready to flare again as they both search for the mythical Firebird.  There is lots of action and unlikely alliances  and whilst  this took a while to get in to, I ended up loving it and I can’t wait for the next episode of the story to appear.

“The Sound of Whales” by Kerr Thomson

This is a superb first novel by Kerr Thomson full of action but also full of heart and emotion.  There are several intertwined stories which all link to a teenager 2015-04-01 11.04.25called Fraser and his slightly younger brother Dunny, who has never spoken and has a total fascination for whales. We are faced with people smugglers, a wonderful evocation of life on St Ninian’s, off Shetland and a reminder of the importance of friends and family.  It is the kind of book that just creeps up on you and then really takes root.  I have a feeling that I will be recommending this to a few people in the future.

 

Nicola Burstein’s “Other Girl”

this is a great read and is all about the strength of friendship, even when your 2015-04-01 11.04.49BFF (best friend forever) happens to develop superpowers.  There are times of great humour in this book, but the author has also included a darker side as the villain tries to force Erica (aka Flamegirl) into destroying buildings and people.  Luckily the goodies live to fight another day and also get a first date. Whilst the heroines are in their teens I think this would be great for anyone from about  9 years.

“Completely Cassidy” by Tamsyn Murray

I have read some of the author’s books for teens but this is the first in a new series for the pre-teens and it is centred around the worries and fears of Cassidy as she faces her first term at secondary school.  She also has to cope  with the fact that her mother is due to have twins at Christmas and her elder brother is a complete pain.  It is a lovely story which centres around the bonds of friendship and how things are not always as bad as we imagine they are going to be. It should almost be required reading for those just about to start ‘big school’.

Usborne,

Usborne,

February and March seem to have been particularly busy months when it comes to reading.  Not all of the books have been long, difficult or challenging but I have had a great time looking at a wide range of books, which really shows the great strength of children’s publishing at the moment.  Some books will become classics, whilst other will eventually gather dust, but it is just to wonderful to have the range of books which we can recommend to young readers and potential readers.

A bunch of books for the Spring

The end of January brings the bi-annual listing of new children’s books  from Bookseller magazine.  It is always great to sit and check which of my favourite authors have got a new titles in the next few months.  This latest offering has got me all excited about those books appearing over the next months, but also those that have been appearing in the post for me to look at.  I still think we are  lucky to live at a  time where so much writing and illustration talent is on offer.

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HarperCollins, 978-0007545766

The other week I was lucky enough to be invited to meet new Irish author Shane Hegarty, whose book “Darkmouth” has just been published.  It is a dark and atmospheric book about a small seaside village in Ireland where there exists one of the last doorways between the world of ‘Legends’ and our world.  The hero is a young boy called Finn, who is being trained as a Legend Hunter by his father, but he is not very successful.  It is an action packed story for both boys and girls and there will be more to come in the series.

 

 

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Corgi, 978-0552568531

For those who like their mysteries to be more linked to the modern world then the new book by Amanda Mitchison, called “Crog” might fit the bill. the ‘hero’ Wilf is something of a kleptomaniac, although he steals because he is bored.  A less than inspiring person who has an extremely wealthy father and a very normal sister, he finds himself in real trouble when he steals a bowl from a local museum and the next morning finds a 3000 year old man in his room, who says he has to guard the bowl.  There are great adventures and many
twists in the plot before the truth is discovered. A real page turner for the middle years.

 

 

 

 

 

“Big game” by Dan Smith is a really strong story, which has just been made into a film, starring Samuel L Jackson.  Imagine being out in the snow in Finland, undergoing a trial to prove your manhood, and then finding a crashed escape pod containing the president of the United States. The problem comes when you find there are men out there who want to kill the president – and you.  A great adventure thriller.

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Chicken House, 978-1910002797

 

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Walker books, 978-1406354928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favourite books of the last couple of months is “Julius Zebra: rumble with the Romans”  by Gary Northfield.  This is a hysterical story of the less than brave Julius who is captured by the Romans and ends up fighting in the Colosseum in Rome.  It requires a huge amount of disbelief around the idea of anthropomorphic animals.  There is wonderful humour, mixed with a fair amount of information about gladiators, which will be great for young readers, both boys and girls.

 

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Chicken House

For a young teen audience there is a really heart wrenching book being published by the great Chicken House.  It is called “The Honest Truth” by Dan Gemeinhart and is the story of Mark, a twelve year old who is terminally ill with cancer and decides he is going on one last big adventure while he can.  It is a fantastic story of grit and determination, fighting against the odds and also about the families and friends who care.  I strongly recommend this one.

 

 

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HarperCollins, 978-0007589180

“Scarlet and Ivy” by Sophie Cleverly is a first novel, by one of the graduates from the truly amazing Writing for young people course at Bath Spa.  they have produced some of the best authors of the last few years.  This story is about mysteries and missing people; with all kinds of twists and turns as Ivy tries to find out what has happened to her missing sister.

 

 

 

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OUP, 978-0192737748

For younger readers we have the funny and truly imaginative story of “The Accidental Prime Minister” by Tom McLaughlin.  The premise is totally impossible but it makes for a good read and I think some of the contenders for the real office might learn a thing or to about working for the people, if they read this book to their children.

 

 

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Bloomsbury, 978-1408854136

“The Last of the Spirits” by Chris Priestley is a wonderful re-telling of the story of  “A Christmas carol” but told from the perspective of a destitute boy and his sister.  It is one of those books that just grabs you, and I finished it in one sitting.  It is also going on my list of those books which have to be read every year; probably just after I have watched the ‘Muppet Christmas carol’.

 

 

 

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Hot Key Books, 978-1471404597

“The door that led to Where” by Sally Gardner is yet another real winner  from a truly superb writer.  It is a time travel novel, set in modern and Victorian London, but with the twists and turns that keep you hooked into the story.  The ending seems to give hope that there will be a follow up, I do hope so.

 

 

 

Arsenic for Tea. jpeg

Randomhouse, 978-0552570732

“Arsenic for Tea” by Robin Stevens is the second in the series featuring the girl sleuths  Daisy Wells and  Hazel Wong and set in a Poirotesque time frame.  I have to say that this one kept me guessing and I was really disappointed
when the murderer was announced, because all of the suspects were such nice people, in fact the only nasty person turned out to be the victim.  I have just heard that a contract has been signed for more books by this author and I can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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Curious Fox, 978-1782022527

My last offering is the first in a new series by Vicki Lockwood, called ” The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom”.  It is set in Victorian London and surrounds the adventures of Lizzie Brown, who runs away from her drunken father and finds herself joining a circus.  Whilst assisting the fortuneteller, Lizzie discovers that she has a true ability to see into the future, not something she really wants.  the story deals with her attempts to unmask a mysterious thief, with the help of her new circus friends.  I am looking forward to the next in this exciting series for the ‘tweens’.

 

Christmas is almost upon us.

Every year we seem to find Christmas preparations getting earlier, with the shops starting the marketing as early as the end of August.  However I try and keep things in perspective until the beginning of December, although you do have to think of cakes and puddings a bit earlier.  The build up to the festivities has always started with the arrival of the latest Christmas/winter themed picturebooks and ends with a surfeit of “Muppet Christmas Carol”.  This year I am going to highlight a couple of new books and several ‘old’ favourites and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have done.

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes

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Walker books, 9781406320633

This wonderful evocation of Christmas in the 1930s is really something special from the amazing Shirley Hughes.  It is set in working class Liverpool and gives us an insight into how people  were influenced by their religious upbringing.  When their widowed mother has to leave them for a short while, Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by the odd thumping sound coming from their outhouse.  Lucky their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley took them in to her home and found the reason for the sounds.  The story is full of pathos and has a real lesson for us all about the meaning of goodwill to all men.

 

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes

This book came out last year and stars one of the favourite characters in children’s picturebooks.  Perhaps Alfie and Annie Rose live a somewhat idealized life compared to many, put they still have to go through all the worries and hopes about the coming festivities. This story perfectly shows the excitement that the  children experience in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  From Christmas carols and plays, to making decorations and mince pies, we join Alfie and Annie Rose in their preparations and their enjoyment of the big day.

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Red Fox, 9781849416498

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Little Angel by  Ruth Brown

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Andersen Press, 9780862648467

Although this book was first published in 1998 it is still one of my favourites.  The gentle humour  surrounding the young angel  is a reminder that not everyone wants a halo and wings.  The twist at the end is something of a lightbulb moment that makes sense of the whole story and Ruth Brown did a magnificent job in leading us away from the real plot.  It should be read in every primary school at this time of year.

 

 

 

Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman

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Andersen Press, 9780862649277

An enchanting retelling of the nativity story, but from the perspective of a cat who takes shelter in the stable on that cold winter’s night  in Bethlehem.  It is a very grumpy cat, so we get his opinions about cattle, donkeys, sheep and all the other animals and people who arrive to see the new baby that has been born. However, the lives of all there were changed by that event and even the cat is mellowed by his experience.

 

The Snow day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb (illust)

Whilst this new book is not specifically about Christmas it is about the simple joys of snow and the  magic of imagination which can flourish when we change to our normal routines and attitudes.  This really had me chuckling at the events and the two characters.  It is a gentle book , full of hope and a belief in the simpler ways of enjoying life. I am preparing a longer review of this book for the School Librarian, but it had to make an appearance in my own listing for this year and will definitely be on my annual “to read” list.

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Puffin, 9780723288923

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Snow by Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei (illust)

I first spoke about this book in my previous review of picture books.  It is a lovely re-drawing of the poem by de la Mare, with a slightly 1950s feel to the illustrations with their simplicity and limited colour palette.  there is that really simple joy which comes from making the most of what surrounds us and which we often forget in the hustle bustle of the modern world.

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The final two books have elements that bring them together.  They  have gatherings of people, although in some stories it is a greater number than in others.  There is a strong sense of family and friendship and also of making the best of things when there are a few problems.

The first of the books is a very old favourite that I have told on endless occasions in libraries and schools

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

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Harpercollins, 9780007146932

A wonderful story of friendship featuring the loveable Percy the Park keeper and the wide assortment of animals that live in his park.  When the snow falls heavily the animals arrive at Percy’s hut for a bit of shelter, and how things work out makes for a magical tale which never fails.

 

 

Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry and John lawrence (illust)

Amazingly this book was first written in 1989 and I can only suppose I missed it because we moved to Cyprus at the end of that year. It is a very funny tale of what happens when a house if filled lierally to the rafters with people seeking shelter for the Christmas break.  We end up with 18 children that father Christmas has to remember, never mind all the adults.  It is rather like a festive game of ‘sardines’.  Thankfully the book was republished last year by Walker books, so it is available to a whole new audience.

 

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Walker books, 978406343038

I do hope that you get the chance to read some of these books and in particular have the chance to read them to a young audience because they really do add to that magical feel that we have for Christmas.

Picture book fun

With a small grandson I am even more interested in picture books than I was before, and I have always loved seeing how writers and illustrators get the words and pictures to work together.  Here are some of the books I have enjoyed over the last few months, and I just had to include two books with the same title!

The first of these books is by Angie Morgan and is a story about a rat who thinks he is actually a mouse.  It is beautifully written and illustrated tale of knowing who you are inside and not being stereotyped.  The second story is the story of a small kitten who joins the circus and has difficulties finding his place in the world.  Then he has a BIG idea and becomes a triumph.  Again this is about knowing yourself and also working with your strengths.

Egmont Books

Egmont Books

Frances Lincoln books

Frances Lincoln Books 

 

 

David Roberts must be one of my favourite illustrators, with a very distinctive style and pictures that are full of colour, action and a truly  subversive  sense of humour.  I first saw a copy of his latest book, written by Peter Bently, at an Andersen preview evening last autumn and I was thrilled when a copy landed on my doorstep.  It is about the adventures of a group of sheep who steal an airplane and have fantastic adventures, whilst being chased by the pilot, who looks remarkably like Dick Dastardly.  The setting is early 20th century, so we have the open bi-plane and the link to the film ” those magnificent men….”  It really is a great story and full of wonderful atmospheric pictures.

Andersen Press

Andersen Press

Andersen Press

Andersen Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jo Hodgkinson is new to me but I really loved this gentle tale of friendship and parenting.  Billy has parents who love magic, the trouble is, they are not very good at it.  One day Billy saves Nigel the snail from one of their spells and they become firm friends.  Unfortunately the parents think Nigel is unexciting and try to persuade Billy to have another pet; as a result Nigel decides to leave.  Luckily, after a lot of excitement, all ends well.  I think I am going to have great fun reading this to my grandson and I look forward to seeing more work by this author.

Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury

Alison Green Books Scholastic

Alison Green Books
Scholastic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These final two stories really appealed to me and I have been talking about them to anyone willing to listen.  “Herman’s Letter” is written and illustrated by Tom Percival, perhaps better know for his covers to the “Skulduggery Pleasant” books.  It is a gently humorous book about what happens when best friends Henry Raccoon and Herman Bear are separated.  Herman worries that his friend has forgotten him and Henry is concerned that he has not heard from his friend.  How everything is resolved makes for a warm and enjoyable tale.

The final book is by Thomas and Helen Docherty and focuses on the importance of bedtime stories, family and friendship.  In Burrow Down all the children enjoy stories at bedtime, but then their books start to mysteriously disappear.  Who could be stealing their bedtime stories?  A small rabbit called Eliza Brown takes on the challenge and finds a small creature called a “Snatchabook”.  The resolution to the story is satisfying and reminds us of the importance of the bedtime story and the way it brings adults and children together.