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).

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.

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

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)

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

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

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

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

 

Maz Evans Biog:

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

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

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

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

Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond

What a really great concept for a story.  The heroine, Morgana is a witch and lives in a world that has divided into the magical community and the non-magic; the latter have become a highly technical society and robots are used in order to do all of the more menial tasks in life.  The main problem is the absolute dislike that the two societies have for each other, it really is a case of “Ne’er the twain shall meet”.  The only reason that the magical community visits the city is to get supplies from the small magical community, who live in the ‘undercity’ and are looked down on by the non-magic.  Morgana is definitely different and has a fascination for robots; her magical abilities are nearly non-existent and she really wants to go to school.  When her father takes her on one of his trip to the city she is delighted and together with her friend Esther she makes several secret visits to the metropolis.  A turning point comes when school inspectors arrive in the village and she demands that she be allowed to attend school, something unheard of in the past.  The consequences not only put her at odds with her community, but it also puts her life at risk, when she and her new friend Jonathan find that robots have been changed and are ready to take over the world.

Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics were first written down in 1942 in a short story called “Runaround” and state:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

We are now living in a world where robots and specifically Artificial Intelligence are getting closer to having independent thought, something that this book actually addresses as we discover the importance of empathy, understanding and balance, both in the human and in the hi-tech world.  This book is full of so many issues that the young characters have to come to terms with, but we realise that the adults are the ones who really need to change their views; they need to be more flexible in the way they treat those with different beliefs.  It really is a message that needs to be passed on in as many ways as possible, particularly at the moment.

Although the underlying messages are quite serious there is still room for a lot of action and adventure and I am sure that everyone will love ‘kitty’ the robotic kitten that Morgana finds and repairs and which becomes her version of a ‘familiar’.  Overall this book is an absolute joy with its amazing mix of lifestyles.  It will open children to the possibility of creating their own world where just about anything is possible, but where actions have consequences.  What a stunning way to start the New Year!  On top of all this, the author is a Librarian, I am so happy!!

 

My Journey to Publication by Amy Bond

I had started books before, but abandoned them not far into the story. One I had finished, but once I had gotten to the end of the first draft, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mess of words and tangle of plot. The first draft of Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age wasn’t any neater, but perhaps I saw more potential, or had just learnt more discipline in the intervening years. I began to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it until, at last, I could see some hope for it.

This hope was dashed, repeatedly, once I began to submit it to agents. There were a couple of manuscript requests among the rejection, which momentarily raised expectations, only to be brought down again. Some of their kind advice did help me finesse my work some more. All the time I had been keeping an eye out on the opening of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. I had followed it the past couple of years as I tinkered away on my book. It seemed such a magical prospect, that you could send in your work and come away with a book deal from such a renowned publisher. Though I wasn’t feeling too optimistic at the time I entered, I reminded myself to be proud to have even got so far as to have something book shaped enough to submit.

It was coming to the end of the day in the office when I got the call to say I had made the longlist. It genuinely felt like a dream. I missed the call to say I had made the shortlist, but given the embarrassing squealing and dancing around my bedroom that took place listening to the voicemail, I am glad I wasn’t actually on the phone to Barry Cunningham, Chicken House’s Publisher. The announcement day in London is still a bit of a blur in my head, and while I didn’t come away with the book deal, I had some solid feedback from the judges and a new confidence in my writing. I got back to work.

Chicken House had kindly said that I could send them on any improved manuscript, so I did. I didn’t really think much would come of it, but no harm would come of it at least, and maybe some more feedback. I had to read the publication offer email several times before I let myself get too excited. Perhaps I had misunderstood. But no, I was going to have my book published.

A lot more work and writing, doubt and belief have followed this. A COVID-19 induced delay pushed the reality further into the distance. But it is really happening. I have held my own book, and it was just as amazing a moment as I had anticipated. The only thing more wonderful is to imagine it in the hands of children soon.

MORGANA MAGE IN THE ROBOTIC AGE by Amy Bond is out now, priced £6.99. Follow Amy on Twitter: @amylouisebond

Darwin’s Dragon by Lindsay Galvin and Gordy Wright

Since the bicentenary of his birth in 1809 there has been a great deal written about the naturalist Charles Darwin.  Many of the books focus on his major work “On the Origin of Species”, or they are biographies which cover his whole life.  this new book by Lindsay Galvin takes a slightly different tack and covers the period of his time on HMS Beagle from 1831-36.  Darwin himself is not even the main character in the story, that honour goes to the young cabin boy Syms Covington, who in real life was promoted to become Darwin’s assistant during the five year voyage.

The story mainly takes place in the Galapagos Islands, a place that still seems somewhat magical, even today, but in those days it was virtually unknown and full of new and fascinating wildlife.  When returning from an expedition to an island, Darwin and Syms are caught in a storm and Syms is thrown overboard from the small dingy they are in.  When he wakes up he is on a strange island, with no ship in sight.There is an active volcano that threatens Syms, but he is aided by a small lizard that he names Farthing and before long he finds himself running for his life as he experiences something that should not exist outside of myths and legends, a real dragon and it is not happy.  Syms eventually escapes from the island and the many dangers he has faced and is picked up, together with Farthing and some eggs he has collected,  by the Beagle and the voyage continues.  The second part of the story is about what happens when the eggs hatch and a group of lizards are returned to England, where they are handed over to a young Queen Victoria.  What eventually becomes obvious to Syms is that they are actually young dragons and they go through the same sort of metamorphosis that creatures such as butterflies and frogs go through.  The conditions that they are kept in is not suitable and Syms wants to release them, but the Queen will not agree, even though one of the young dies in captivity.  We definitely start cheering when our young hero manages to release the dragons and we hope that they survive.  In order to escape the wrath of the Queen, Darwin helps his young assistant to travel to Australia, where he settles and has a family.  The final section of the story is set twenty five years later when Syms takes his young daughter on a trip to the Galapagos.  She has been brought up on the stories her father tells of his adventures, but does not believe them, until she is suddenly presented with a huge dragon, that greets her father; Farthing has not forgotten the friend that set him free.  We then have the final image of all the other dragons flying free in the sky above their island.

This is a stunning mix of true story with a hint of the mythical.  It is full of action and adventure but it also has additional layers that make us think about the way that we treat creatures.  In the book, Darwin and other naturalists see the animals as subjects for experimentation and investigation.  Whilst they are frustrated when something happens to the creatures, it is just an inconvenience and there is little sense that they have any empathy for the animals they have captured.  Luckily Darwin seems to have altered his views somewhat as he grew older and Lindsay Galvin has quoted him as saying “All animals feel wonder and may exhibit curiosity” and also “There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery”, both taken from “The Descent of Man” .  This story can be read at several different levels and I particularly like all the information at the back of the book, which will encourage young people to read more about the period and the discoveries that were being made.  the discussion with the author gives a brilliant insight into how she created the book and what caught her interest at the very beginning.  The illustrations are a lovely addition and blend extremely well, but it is the actual cover and the inside covers which are a real ‘Tour de Force’; they are absolutely stunning and make this a very special addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

 

I have to say that this makes a really stunning start to 2021 and I just hope that all the others books this year manage to meet this very high standard.  As always ‘Chicken House’ has found yet another winner; I look forward to reading more by this author.

The Author Lindsay Galvin

“Lindsay was lucky enough to be raised in a house of stories, music, and love of the sea. She left part of her heart underwater after living and working in Thailand where she spent hundreds of blissful hours scuba diving. Forced now to surface for breath, she lives in sight of the chillier Sussex sea with her husband and two sons. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, running or practicing yoga. She has a degree in English Language and Literature, is fascinated by psychology and the natural world, and teaches Science. Lindsay hadn’t written creatively since childhood until the idea for her debut novel The Secret Deep splashed into her mind, and she now she’s hooked.”  from Chicken House website, with thanks.

The Marvellous Land of Snergs by Veronica Cossanteli and Melissa Castrillon

 

When you read that a book was instrumental in giving J R.R Tolkien the inspiration for his Hobbits, then it is time to get excited.  The plot of the story is similar to frameworks that we have become used to over the last decades.  The two main characters Pip and Flora are orphans and both find themselves living in a somewhat unusual orphanage.  The owner, Miss Watkyns, is strict but the children are well looked after.  However when a strange woman tries to kidnap Flora, the two children decide to run away and hide.  They then accidentally pass through a magical door and find themselves in the land of the Snergs; these are small rather round individuals who have a love of eating cake and other sweet things.   Our first introduction to these characters is through the person of Gorbo, who ends up being central to the whole story and  helps the children navigate the strange world they find themselves in.  The children soon discover that Flora is the target of a rather nasty witch called Mrs Meldrum, but the reason for this is unclear; however she turns out to be the same person who had tried to kidnap Flora at the beginning of the story. How they solve the mystery and save themselves and others from a terrible fate makes for a really tremendous adventure.

This is a story that can be read by confident readers from 7 years and up.  The text has a generous font size, which makes for easy reading and children will feel as if they are really achieving something as they read the book.  The story is divided into sections with a brief explanation show at the beginning and this then divides into several short chapters, which would be great for bedtime reading, or for reading in class.  The illustrations add to the charm of the book and have a delightful naivety that harks back to the period between the wars.

This retelling is based on the original story by E A Wyke-Smith (1871 – 1935), which was written in 1927.  The original version of the book is still in print and it is still possible to buy  both an audio and e-book version.  The original author would have appeared to be a bit of an adventurer in his youth but he started writing children’s books after World War I, perhaps as a respite from the horrors of war.  the original book has been written with a slightly older audience in mind and the text is much fuller, with quite long sections of description and explanation.  However it would be a great choice for avid readers who want to see how a story can have more than one way of being told.

I am delighted that this story has found a new audience for our modern times.  It was not a title that I had come across before but it does go to show that a good story remains just that, even if the writing style changes through time.

 

About Veronica Cossanteli

“Veronica grew up in Hampshire and Hong Kong with an assortment of animals, including an imaginary pet dinosaur who slept on her bed. She works in a primary school in Southampton, where she lives with three cats, two snakes, one guinea pig and a large number of lizards.

Her debut novel The Extincts is a wonderfully funny and charming adventure with more than a hint of Dahl.” thanks to the Chicken House website for this information.

Melissa Castrillon

Melissa is a freelance illustrator who works for a variety of publishers.  She studied at Cambridge School of Art and gained an MA in Children’s Book Illustration.  She still lives in Cambridge.

Trouble in a Tutu by Helen Lipscombe

It is fair to say that there seems to have been a resurgence in interest with regard to books and ballet.  Although there has been a long term interest with picture books we went through quite a long period where middle grade and YA titles were definitely out of fashion.  Over the last few years we have seen a change, but the books tend to have more of an edge to them and ballet is just part of the plot structure.  This delightful series mixes ballet and spying and is perfectly aimed at its middle grade audience.

This is the second book in the series, the first being “Death en Pointe” and it follows the heroine Milly during her second year at Swan House Ballet School, which is also a school for spies.  In this book we see the re-appearance of a famous villain who calls himself ‘The Mouse King’, after the character in the Nutcracker Suite.  He has been in hiding for several years, but now seems determined to have his revenge on the school and also on Milly’s mother (who is a spy as well as a world famous Prima Ballerina). We also see the appearance of another famous dancer who takes up the role of Head of Ballet; Max Deverall is a friend of Milly’s mother, but she wonders if they are too close and why do Max and his daughter Leonora seem so perfect?  Importantly can Milly and her friends solve the mystery surrounding the Mouse King and save the school from being closed?

Once again we have a wonderful story full of adventure and mystery, where both the adults and the young people have to work together to get results.  In the first book Molly had rescued her mother after nearly a year in captivity, so it is understandable that she is somewhat protective of their relationship.  However, when Max appears on the scene Molly is definitely envious of his relationship  and her jealousy seems to cloud her judgement.  But what if he is linked to the Mouse King and Molly is the only one that can see through his charming ways?  The author has given us a bit of a conundrum that takes a lot of unraveling and we have to wait until the end of the book to find out the truth of the matter. One of the major strengths of these stories is the relationships between the school friends, so it is a shock to Molly when they do not automatically support her view of the situation.  Thankfully we are able to work through the various elements of the plot and reach a conclusion.  The author has however left some ‘doors’ slightly open, so that we have the lead into the next title in the series.  I am sure that there are many fans who can’t wait for the next exciting installment, I know I am one of them.

 

Helen Lipscombe is a graduate of the Bath Spa course on ‘Creative Writing for Young people’ and this is the second title in her series.  She grew up in Wales and says that she has been writing since she was a small child.  She trained as a graphic designer at the Exeter College of Art and Design and has worked in Singapore, the Caribbean and London.  Helen now lives in the Cotswolds with her family and is busily writing her magical stories and researching as much about ballet as she can.

The Midnight Howl by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

I first met up with Emily, the very characterful heroine of this series, in the story of The Midnight Hour.  This introduced Emily, and us, to a world that she had not known existed, but which her parents were heavily involved in. Yes, we have parents who have been keeping secrets (quite big ones as well) from their daughter; obviously it was intended to keep her out of harm’s way, but things didn’t quite work out.  Anyway Emily managed to save the Midnight Hour from certain destruction,  and discovered that she was part Pooka (a shapeshifter from Celtic mythology).  Life should have gone back to normal, but for Emily that does not appear to be an option.

In the Midnight Howl we are taken back to this magical version of London, that has been frozen in time since 1859.  Emily is allowed to go there with her father (a postman in this magical realm) in order to practice her shape changing abilities, but she is banned from contacting any members of her mother’s family, because her mother was banished from the clan years ago.  Unfortunately Emily discovers that things are not well and that magic is creeping out of the Hour, because someone is bringing in goods from the real world.  The adventure that follows sees Emily re-united with her friend Officer-in-training Tarkus as well as the magical force called the Library (representing Literature) as they try and prevent the total destruction of the Midnight Hour and all of its inhabitants.

What an absolutely brilliant follow-up to a really exciting story.  Emily is one of those characters that you really hope will succeed, but at the same time she makes you want to bang your head against a wall.  She really wants to do what her parents tell her, but somehow the world and circumstances get in the way.  I think a fair description of Emily would be to say that she is feisty, very quirky and her temper has something of a short fuse.  Perhaps my favourite character is her pet hedgehog called Hoggins, who doesn’t speak (naturally) but does have a way of commenting on the action around him.  If you go to Laura Trinder’s website you will find some great downloads, including creating your own Hoggins https://www.lauratrinder.co.uk/downloads

This team have produced a wonderfully subversive and funny adventure that provides just enough darkness to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.  I am really looking forward to some further escapades with this delightful cast of characters.