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.

 

 

The Cut-Throat Cafe by Nicki Thornton

This is the third book in the wonderful series by Nicki Thornton.  I loved the previous titles “The Last Chance Hotel” and “The Bad-luck Lighthouse” so I was delighted when this book dropped through my letterbox.  I was even more happy when I was asked to take part in this blog tour.

We were introduced to the hero of this series, a young boy called Seth Seppi in the first story, when he is the kitchen boy at the rather weird ‘Last Chance Hotel’.  Life changes when he discovers that some of the guests are magicians, but then one of them is murdered and Seth’s life becomes complicated.  this is also the book where Seth discovers that he has got some magical ability.  Nicki Thornton has created a totally sympathetic hero, who is bemused by the new world that he finds himself in, but who wants to make the most of the opportunities he is given.

By the beginning of this third book in the series Seth is headed for the magical town of Gramichee, together with his talking cat Nightshade and his magical friend Angelique.  He hopes to be taken on as an apprentice, so that he can learn to control his magic and also learn more about his missing mother (who was also a magician). Unfortunately strange things are happening in the town and Seth soon finds himself in the centre of the action.  The problem is, who can he trust?  His friend Angelique is away on magical business and his new teacher Miss Young treats him as a shop assistant; whilst her other apprentice, Cheery Damson, really doesn’t want him around.  Seth needs to find out who is attacking magical people before magic is banned from the town.

Once again we have a fantastic story, full of heroes and hidden villains.  There is a lot of humour, both in characters such as Nightshade and in the names that the author has used.  I absolutely love the quirky and zany names that abound in the book.  It is not just the characters but also some of the potions that are part of the magical businesses in the town; there are people such as Haddock Troutbean, Herb Camphor and Sagacious Pewter, whilst the potions include Sinful Skin and Delicious Demise.  The author has really gone to town with her imagination.  This is a world that we are able to identify with, even though there are some very strange differences to the world we live in.  However the people have the same personality traits that are found all around us; we have examples of insecurity, greed, jealousy,  prejudice and friendship.  The author keeps the action going and we are never quite sure who is trustworthy; there are twists and turns that keep us guessing and on the edge of our seats.

This book has been a delight to read and the whole series is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  In fact I can’t wait to read the next instalment and discover some of the answers to a whole host of questions.

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

Venice has long been a favourite setting for children’s books and if they happen to have an element of magic then so much the better. This fabulous book delivers on all levels and takes us into the world of  a charming and very resourceful heroine.

Chicken House, 9781912626106

Aribella has been brought up by her lace-maker father after the death of her mother ten years previously.  Their lives are poor and Aribella’s father is still grieving for his wife and takes little notice of his daughter.  The day before her 13th birthday Aribella is out fishing with her friend Theo when a dark fog comes down and fishing become impossible.  The local fishermen think it is a bad omen and seek to blame Aribella, as females are bad luck on ships!  When an older lad Gian gets into a fight with Theo and Aribella she is horrified to discover that flames shoot out of her finger ends.  What follows next takes Aribella into a secret world that she had never heard of and leads her to discover what had actually happened to her mother.  It appears that she is a Cannovacci, a person who holds special powers, and she needs to discover what this means and how to control the powers.  Not only this, but she has to try and rescue her father from prison and save Venice from a dark and threatening danger.  All of this adds up to a thrilling and fast paced adventure story that will have the readers totally engrossed by the plot and wanting more.

This is a magical story in several senses of the word.  The author has managed to really imbue the book with a feel of the city and the the atmosphere that surrounds the waterways.  At its core this is a story about the meaning and importance of family and friendship, as Aribella is torn between the various calls on her loyalty and has to decide who she can trust.  It is also a story about people’s craving for power and what they will do in order to achieve their ends, even betraying their friends and colleagues.

She pulls in some of the things that make Venice so individual, especially the masks, which are central to the way that special powers are controlled.  These masks appear in several stories about the city and everyone knows them from Carnival, in fact they have become popular style icons around the world. A quick search online reveals a fascinating history and I have added a couple of links that might be of interest.  The term canovaccio, which is a close relation to the title Cannovacci actually refers to the performances by the “Commedia dell’ Arte”  and seems to basically describe the outline of the performance.  In order to circumvent the censorship laws the actual script was not written down, so the artists were able to ‘ad-lib’ within the basic frame work.  I would be interested to know whether there was an intentional connection when the name of the group was chosen.

Anna Hoghton

Anna Hoghton is a poet and filmmaker and is also a graduate of  Bath Spa University and its outstanding MA in Writing for Young People Course.  This is her first published novel and I very much hope that it will not be the last.  She really has put together a work that connects the characters with the audience, but also gives us that desire to know more about the magical city that they inhabit.  What a brilliant start to this part of Anna’s career!

Thank you to Chicken House for providing this excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.

 

http://magicofvenezia.com/history-of-venetian-masks/

https://www.italymask.co.nz/About+Masks/History+of+Venetian+Masks.html

Summer Sunshine reads

Well, we are now over half way through the summer break and it is about this time that I start thinking about what to read next.  If you are anything like me then you will already have got through the pile of books that you had kept for the holidays.  So here are some suggestions that you might have missed, or which are just being published.  They are wide ranging in their subject matter and a few are ones that I might have missed if I had not been asked to review them, but all of them turned out to be very pleasant surprises.

2016-04-05 12.05.23

HarperCollins, 9780008124526

“Ned’s Circus of Marvels” by Justin Fisher.  This book has had a very high profile over the last few months and is a great adventure with an ‘ordinary’ hero, an amazing and magical circus and demons who live on the other side of the’veil’.  Definitely a series that I will follow with interest.

2016-08-25 14.23.53

Firefly Press, 978-1910080382

“Alien Rain” by Ruth Morgan was a lovely surprise. In essence it is a science fiction story but with Earth being the planet being excavated years after it had fallen to a mysterious invader and the explorers are settlers from the planet Mars and they are excavating the city after which their home settlement is named- Cardiff! . The descriptions of the city and in particular the Museum of Wales really adds to your appreciation of a very good story.When Bree was chosen to be part of the team of explorers it was a complete surprise, as she is not one of the top students in her class, so why was she chosen?  The answer brings a fitting climax to the story.  I will definitely be looking out for this author in the future and have high hopes for more from Firefly Press (who are based in Wales).

2016-06-21 16.54.06

Chicken House, 978-1910655153

“The Apprentice Witch” by James Nicol is a truly super read.  The heroine Arianwyn fails her witch’s assessment and gets sent off to a small remote village as an apprentice.  Then strange things start happening and Arianwyn has to pull out all the magic that she can find.  This is a lovely story about being different and being able to succeed despite this.

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Andersen Press, 9781783444014

“Racing Manhattan” by Terence Blacker (NG)  is the first of two titles set in the world of horse racing.  Whilst I have read “horse” stories as a child I have not read those set in this particular world.  The book is aimed at teens and deals with difficult issues but in a very sympathetic way.  I really cared what happened to the heroine Jay as well as to the real star, Manhattan.

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Puffin, 9780141362908

“The Racehorse who wouldn’t gallop” by Claire Balding and with illustrations by Tony Ross is another story set in the world of horse racing but aimed at a slightly younger audience.  The author is a well known commentator and ex- amateur jockey and has already written several books for adults.  The knowledge that she brings to the book is very evident and she is also a good writer, so that we are totally engrossed in the story of the ten-year old heroine Charlie Bass and her lovable if rather eccentric family.

“A Whisper of Horses” by Zillah Bethell (Piccadilly Press, 978-1848125346) (NG)  is the last of my books to feature horses, although in this case it is the heroine, Serendipity who is trying to find the last surviving horses in Britain.  the plot is set in a post-disaster country where the population in London is divided into the workers and the ruling classes.  There is a barrier around the city, following the lines of the M25 and no one is allowed out.  However Serendipity is determined and manages to escape; with the help of her ‘storyteller’ employer and a young smuggler called Tab.  It really is a magical story about chasing your dream and making the world change for the better.

“Girl out of Water” by Ned Luurtsema (Walker books, 978-1406366525)  deals with the world of competition swimming and a heroine who is totally sidelined when she fails to make the summer training squad with her best friends.  How she copes with this and crashes and splashes her way to success with others make up this story.  It veers from sad to hysterical in turn and makes an excellent summer read.

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Scholastic, 978-1407170589

“Robyn Silver: the Midnight Chimes” by Paula Harrison is the story of an ordinary girl, Robyn Silver, who suddenly starts seeing strange creatures that none of her siblings can.  Then when her school is re-located to a local ‘big house’ after a disaster, she discovers that she is a “Chime”; someone born at Midnight who can see creatures from a parallel world and whose role is to keep our world safe.  This is full of action, thrills and adventure but with some very human characters that you really want to succeed.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857634863

“Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret”by Lyn Gardner is a wonderful Victorian melodrama with orphaned heroines making their way in the theatre, missing heirs and a truly villainous uncle.  This a fantastic read for those who have a love of Sherlock Holmes or the books of Robin Stevens and I am really looking forward to seeing some more stories featuring Rose and her friends.

“Stormwalker” by Mike Revell (Quercus, 978-1784290696) (NG) is yet another amazing story from the author of  “Stonebird” .  The hero Owen lives with his father and it is just over a year since his mother has died.  Owen suggests that his father re-starts writing a novel to help him get over his grief, but what happens next is totally unexpected – Owen finds himself transported into the story as one of the main characters.  Unfortunately the story is a dystopian one and Owen’s alter ego finds that he and those around him are in great danger.  So how can Owen save the characters whilst still helping his dad get better.  this really had me on the edge of my seat and longing to know the outcome.

“The girl from everywhere” by Heidi Heilig (Hot Key books, 978-1471405105)  (NG) Is a fantastic time travel fantasy where the heroine Nix travels through place and time using old maps.  She is part of the crew of an old pirate ship and her father is the captain; his mission in life is to go back and save his wife’s life.  However they can only go to a specific time once and their attempts are also hindered by the wrong maps and some true villains who want their help for ‘nefarious’ purposes.  This was a really original story and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Corgi, 978-0552572507

“The Crooked Sixpence” (The Uncommoners series) by Jennifer Bell.  I really loved this story of an alternate 2016-08-25 14.24.32London called Lundinor, that exists below our own city.  Ivy and her older brother Seb are left alone when their grandmother is admitted to hospital after a fall (both of their parents are away working) and then strange things start happening and they find themselves transported to Lundinor via a  suitcase !  All this is linked to their grandma losing her memory many years before and they face danger and excitement as they try and solve the mysteries.

“Rose in the Blitz” by Rebecca Stevens (Chicken House, 978-1910655542)   is the second in the series about Rose, the first one being “Valentine Joe” when she goes back to the first world war and meets an ancestor.  In this book the link to the past is her grandmother and we are taken back to her life during the London blitz.  It is a really emotional story and the end just about had me in tears.  This really mixes a beautiful story with the reality of life during the war  and I  know I will be recommending it to schools for their libraries.

Every time I write another post I am reminded of how wonderful the world of children’s books is at the moment.  I can only skim the surface of what is being published but I hope that you enjoy the books that I have chosen.  We are about to enter the frenetic period that leads to the big pre-Christmas launches, so there should be some fantastic titles to come; many of them from favourite authors but also some brilliant new talent.I look forward to letting you know about these little gems

 

 

NG With thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for access to the e-proofs.