Aarti and the Blue Gods by Jasbinder Bilan and Margaux Carpentier

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

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

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

The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy by Richard Pickard and Maxine Lee-Mackie

I know that I am biased about this, because they are based in my part of the world, but anything published by the fabulous Chicken House is going to get my attention.  This title was even more noteworthy because it was the inaugural Chairman’s Choice prize winner at the 2019 Times/Chicken House competition.  Added to this is the totally original concept that we find in this heartwarming story, it is a real must-read for this summer.

Marina lives in the fishing port of Merlington, where there are probably more fish shops that anything else; unfortunately Marina really dislikes fish, but particularly since her beloved father (a fisherman) went missing 6 years before.  Life in the town appears  boring, so Marina resorts to storytelling to liven things up; unfortunately she can’t seem to limit the scope of her tales and it ends up with her being called a ‘liar’ by one of her classmates.  When she discovers  a mysterious young boy, with claws for hands and hair made of tentacles, no one believes her; not until the boy is found asleep on the beach the following day.  What follows is a quest to discover where the boy, called William, comes from and whether there is any link to her missing father.  There are are mysteries and a very evil villain, who is hiding in plain sight.

The first thing that came to mind when I started reading this story was that Marina was a little bit like ‘the boy that cried wolf’.  She was so in love with telling stories that she did not know when to stop and the consequences threatened to ruin her life in the town.  We all love stories, after all that is why we read books, but it is about recognizing  fact from fiction and also knowing how our stories will impact on our listeners.  This is a lesson that Marina has to learn and we are lucky to be able to follow her on this journey of discovery.  This is also a story about the importance of family and friends; as Marina needs the support of her mother and close friends to overcome the disbelievers and find the answers to her questions.

This is a fabulous book for middle grade children.  It is full of adventure and some amazing characters, especially Marina and William.  Not only will you want to visit Merlington for the various fish dishes, but you might even give Japanese ‘Sashima’ a try.  You will have to read the book to discover these delicacies if you don’t already know what they are!

******************************************************************

I am delighted to say that Richard Pickard has agreed to provide a guest blog about this book and I know you will enjoy it as much as I did.

 

MY WRITING SPACE

A short walk from Westbourne village, where you’ll find a gorgeous bookstore and the best fish and chips in the world, there is a small path that punches a shapely hole through a thick wall of hedging… This is the doorway to Alum Chine – a steep-sided valley that guides you down through the cliffs and toward a Bournemouth beach hut, where much of The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy was written.

Spending most of my time in London, where space is a premium and my own desk is the stuff of dreams, I find myself writing wherever I can – on trains, in cafés (pre-pandemic) and on my bed propped up by pillows. But my favourite place, where I’ve found much of my inspiration, has always been the beach hut.

The walk down Alum Chine is the perfect way to find the right headspace – the scent of damp pine needles filling your nose as a canopy of trees obscures the sunlight. Further along the pathway, a black iron fence shielding its steepest edge, a weathered bridge comes into view – the teal green paint flaking as it stretches across the deepest section of woodland. We call this ‘Summer’s Bridge’, a place to remember my dad’s beautiful border collie who was possibly the only being to love Alum Chine quite as much me.

The journey to the beach hut is punctured with memories such as these at every step. From the small hole at the base of a now-felled tree (my Granny Pat taught us this was the Dorset home of Winnie-the-Pooh), to the secret archways and snug stone staircases that twist through the undergrowth and lead up to unknowable places. An army of invisible birds call out through the trees which cover the steep banks at the mouth of the Chine, which we’d run down at full pelt and still would if it weren’t for the tightly packed vegetation that has claimed the slopes over the years.

Once the deep blue of the English Channel appears on the horizon, the most eager person calls out: “I saw the sea first!” and the sunlight breaks through at last. Sand mingles with a row of wild poppies as you pass the sprawling playground which felt so impressive at 3ft tall, and the newest beach huts rise from the promenade where an old stone amphitheatre once circled our childhood paddling pool.

Past the cloisters and three huts down you’ll find it. The place where my story took shape. A small, terraced cabin facing out onto the golden sand of Bournemouth’s prize-winning beach. Here I would sit, come rain or shine, in a squidgy deck chair with my leatherbound notebook from Portobello market and a thick mug of tea – which I’d brew on the small gas hob inside.

After the death of my beloved Granny Pat, this spring was sadly our last with the beach hut. But for more than thirty years it was the scene of so many happy moments. Eating bacon sandwiches on the morning of my dad’s wedding. The long evenings sat drinking a beer with my boyfriend Rob. The countless childhood summers spent visiting Granny Pat and Grandad, and of course, those happy days writing my novel. So, now that I’m drafting a second story for Chicken House, I’ll need to make do with a towel on the sand and a large thermos of tea. I’ll pack an umbrella, in case of weather-related disaster, plus extra jumpers in those colder months and a pack of biscuits to munch on after emerging from the sea to write…

Which actually, when I think about it, sounds like a pretty great alternative.

THE PECULIAR TALE OF THE TENTACLE BOY is out now, priced £6.99. Read chapter 1 on the Chicken House website!

 

The Three Impossibles by Susie Bower

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

Pushkin, 9781782692928

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

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

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

Susie Bower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An introduction to Selkies

By Anna Rainbow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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)

The Magician’s Map; a Hoarder Hill adventure, by Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai

If you are a fan of magical adventures, mixed with some very quirky and funny characters, then this is the book for you.  There are hints of other familiar stories as we are introduced to a parallel world of magicians and mythical creatures, but linked to our own mundane world.

This is the second adventure featuring Hedy and her brother Spencer as they spend another holiday at their grandparents’ house; only this time they are accompanied by their cousins, Jelly and Max.  The house is very far from normal, being full of magical artifacts, as well as a talking Bearskin and Stag’s head (otherwise known as Doug and Stan), who are the epitome of a comic duo; they are absolutely fantastic .  In this story the children manage to persuade their grandfather and  his neighbour Mrs Pal, to take them to a magical convention and competition called the Fantastikhana.  Initially they said no, but eventually changed their minds as the adults want to find a magical artifact that allows people to manipulate time; and they want to  keep it out of the hands of those who intend to actually misuse it.    When Hedy is accidentally linked to a ‘living map’ that seeps under her skin, things get exciting, as the map is a way of retrieving items that it has been linked to.  Before we know it, Hedy and the rest of the group are on a quest to find the mysterious ‘Verdandi’s loom’, but can they trust everyone they meet?

This is a delightful escapade and I am so sorry that I had not read the first in the series, so I have just bought a copy to fill in the gaps.  The new story dives straight in with all of the characters and it takes a few pages to get everyone sorted in your mind, so reading book one is definitely to be recommended.  The authors have created a world and set of characters that we are easily able to relate to and there is a great sense of humour that balances the tensions created by the lurking villain.  Whilst the theme of family is very strong in this story, not every group has the same closeness and we get to see that there are different kinds of family relationships; not all of them are good.    However we do see how special friendship can be and  this helps the children in their quest.  I am desperately hoping that we are going to see further adventures for this feisty set of individuals, as they are an absolute joy, but until then I am going to settle down and read the first of their adventures.

 

About Mikki Lish & Kelly Ngai

Australian co-authors Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai create worlds together, even though they don’t live on the same continent. This means that when they video call each other, it’s not unusual for someone to be in pyjamas.

Mikki has worked with many musicians and actors and now lives in America with her husband, dog and cats.

Kelly lives in Australia with her two sons and loves waking up to the wild story ideas that Mikki has sent during the night.

 

The House on Hoarder Hill is their second collaboration and is being developed for television with Sam Raimi’s Ghost House and Wiip.

Amelia Fang and the Trouble with Toads by Laura Ellen Anderson

Amelia Fang is the wonderful vampire heroine of this series of books and I was so sad to hear that this is going to be the last of her adventures in Nocturnia.  I am consoling myself with the thought that ‘maybe’ in the future she might have adventures elsewhere;  after all it is just down to the phrasing of the information.  Amelia has a fantastic group of friends comprising of  Florence, who is a Yeti, Grimaldi, a reaper and Tangine, who is a vampire prince and not forgetting squashy, her pet pumpkin.  We have followed this team as they have lots of exciting and often funny adventures with their respective families and communities.

In this latest story we are introduced to Vincent, Amelia’s baby brother!  Anyone who has had children, or who has had younger siblings will probably have some idea of what this means. At the beginning of the story Amelia is looking forward to attending Grimaldi’s birthday party but when her parents go down with Frankenflu she ends up having to take Vincent with her and things go downhill after that.  Eventually the friends take Vincent for a walk to keep him quiet, which seems to work, until he disappears from his pram.  They track him to  a swampy area which leads to the ‘Pond Beyond’, where toads go when they are squished; so of course they have to follow him.  What follows is a great adventure as they meet new friends and find the missing Vincent.  The problem is that there is supposedly no way back to their world, so how are they going to get home?  You will have to read the story to find out if they succeed.

This series of stories with its lovable yet very quirky main characters has been a great hit with younger readers.  In this particular tale we have a very strong theme about being yourself and also loving people despite some of the things that can irritate us.  Both Amelia and some of the characters she meets in the Pond Beyond realize that the love they have for family member and friends transcends the  issues they face, such as snot, dirty nappies, tears and just being clumsy.  This is something that we as adults have learnt to realize, but for young children it is part of the learning process.We have been given a fabulous finale to this series, but I might just have to read them all over again.

Thank you to Egmont for a copy of the book and also for the image and information about the author.

 

About the Author
When she’s not trying to take over the
world or fighting sock-stealing
monsters, Laura Ellen Anderson is a
professional children’s book author and
illustrator, with an increasing addiction to
coffee.
She spends every waking hour creating
and drawing, and would quite like to live
on the moon when humans finally make it
possible. Laura is the official illustrator of
the 2020 Summer Reading Scheme and is
also the creator of EVIL EMPEROR
PENGUIN and illustrator of WITCH WARS,
THE FAMOUS FIVE, Terry Pratchett’s
TIFFANY ACHING novels as well as many
other children’s books. AMELIA FANG is
her first series as author-illustrator.
You can follow her on @Lillustrator

The Wonder Tree by Teresa Heapy and Izzy Burton

Egmont, 9781405292887

We are living in a time that many young children find worrying and they need reassurance that everything will be fine.  As adults we have all been through a variety of occasions where things have been difficult, but we have learnt that these things pass and the world settles down for us.  However very young people are often seeing and feeling these events for the first time, so they do not have that security blanket in place.

this is the delightful story of little owl and how he is worried when the wind start blowing the leaves off the tree, where he lives with his mother.  However his mother is there to comfort him and explain why the tree is losing the leaves.   She goes on to explain the wonders of a tree’s root system and the annual cycle that nature goes through; she remembers when she learnt about such things from her parents and how their memory is entwined with these changes.  The mother gradually helps little owl to understand the wonder of nature and the way that we are all part of this beautiful cycle of life.                   

Teresa Heapy has created a simple but lovely story that will help young children feel more grounded at this time of uncertainty.   The little owl is inquisitive and  yet worried by the events going on around him, so he depends on his mother for the comfort and explanations that help him cope.  This is a story that reads well and will be very popular, not just in the home, but also in nursery and library storytimes.  The illustrations by Izzy Burton are really bold and colourful.  They are full of energy and detail that really helps bring the story to life; giving the audience a chance to explore the pages of the book. This is her picture book debut and it looks to be the start of a very promising career.

Given that we are moving towards Autumn this book will prove to be of particular interest to adults who want to help children understand the natural change in conditions.  This really is a charming, thoughtful and informative story that I really enjoyed.