Ten Little Dogs by Ruth Brown

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

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

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

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

 

Ruth Brown

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

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

The Eye of Mogdrod by Derek Keilty and Mark Elvins

There is something quite fascinating about pirates and even ex-pirates; the stories have been sparking  the imagination of readers both young and old for many years.  As a child my first encounter with the idea was watching episodes of ‘Captain Pugwash’ on the television and then later on discovering the wonders of ‘Treasure Island’.  If I thought really hard about it, I am sure that there were other pirates in books, but I definitely remember those to be found in the swashbuckling adventures of actors such as Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster; Sunday afternoon was full of old films that kept us happy on a cold winter’s day.  Today we have the whole range of films such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘The Goonies’, as well as a host of books for all ages.  As a librarian for a School Library Service I was constantly being asked for collections of titles about pirates and whilst there are lot of amazing titles about real-life buccaneers, it is also fantastic to be able to create imaginary worlds with a wide range of characters.  This would definitely have been part of my collection at work..

Flyntlock Bones is the unlikely hero of this series for all serious wannabee pirates.  He is the cabin boy aboard the vessel “The Black Hound” , but the crew are not what you might expect.  They are all ex-pirates and have become ‘Pirate Investigators’ who help retrieve stolen treasure.  This second adventure sees them asked to retrieve a precious gold goblet that has been stolen from Fergus McSwaggers, the chief of one of the clans in the Boglands; the only problem is that he is the brother of the cook on board the ‘Black Hound’ and they have not spoken for quite a while.  The plot deepens as they try and discover who has stolen the goblet.  The consensus is that it was probably a giant cat-like creature called the Mogdrod, that is feared but rarely seen and is said to love shiny things.  When Flyntlock, his friend Red and the rest of the crew are captured by Gretel the Sea Witch, they discover that Mogdrod is her ‘Kitty’ and that she had taken the goblet.  To further complicate the story, the treasure is then taken by the Ice Pirates and it is up to the crew to rescue it again.

This is a fantastic and very funny story for the young reader, who is just growing in confidence.  The author has this real ability to make even the most fantastic of stories seem real.  His previous series about an elfling sky cowboy called Will Gallows has been a favourite of mine for a few years now.  As you can see from the images, Mark Elvin has produced the most amazing illustrations that bring the story to life and which are so intricate that the reader can spend quite a bit of time working their way through all of the detail.

I was delighted to be asked to join in the celebrations for the launch of this brilliant book and I look forward to reading further adventures in the future.

If you love this story as much as I did, why not read some more pirate adventures and take part on “Talk Like a Pirate day” on Sunday 19th September this year.

 

Derek Keilty

Meet the author

Derek KeiltyDerek Keilty lives in Belfast and is the author of over ten books for children. His work has been translated into many different languages, selected for the Richard and Judy Club and shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year.

 

Mark Elvins Personal website

Derek KeiltyMark Elvins lives in Yorkshire. When he’s not drawing pirates he’s a print-maker and recently won an English Heritage competition to illustrate the displays at Whitby Abbey.

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.

A Christmas Wish for All

Yet again we have a bumper crop of books to celebrate winter and the Christmas season. Among those are some old favourites that have returned, plus a range of fantastic new titles that are going to become firm favourites in the future.  It has got to the point at the moment that I need a longer run up to the festive season in order to get all of my reading done; but of course that means that I get to enjoy the spirit of Christmas for a couple of months.  I hope that you enjoy some of these stories and that they will add to your appreciation of the season.

“A Christmas in Time” by Sally Nicholls is the second adventure for Alex and Ruby as they are taken back to a Victorian Christmas; where they have the task of saving a young ancestor  from being sent to a really awful girls boarding school.  The plot also involves mending family relationships and bringing the true spirit of Christmas to those that they meet.  This is a lovely read for those who are just becoming confident in their reading and I look forward to another story (that was hinted at) in the future.

Tinsel” by Sibeal Pounder  is a truly magical story about the history of Santa Claus.  In this version we have a very strong set of female characters, but of course the men in the story tend to get the wrong end of the stick and assume that  S Claus must be a man.  There is a truly horrible villain, Mr Krampus, named after the scary devil figure found in Germanic festivities leading to Christmas, but just is served at the end.  this makes a really original story and is bound to be a great favourite.

“The Night After Christmas” by Kes Gray and Claire Powell  follows on from last year’s offering “The night before the night before Christmas” and shows us how Santa and Mrs Claus, together with the reindeer and Elves celebrate the completion of their mammoth task every year.  This is an exuberant, funny and so very happy story for younger readers.  Fantastic for reading to classes and all the little ones in your life.

Miracle on Ebenezer  Street” by Catherine Doyle.  The hint is in the title as we are treated to a wonderful re-interpretation of “A Christmas Carol”, but set in the present day and dealing with the aftermath of family bereavement and the profound impact that can be felt for years.  A definite future classic.

“Trouble in a Tutu” by Helen Lipscombe starts off at the Christmas season and is a brilliant mix of spies and ballet.  A full review can be found in my blog post from November.

A Thing called Snow” by Yuval Zommer is the delightful story of two young animals as they discover winter and,in particular, snow for the first time.  The arctic fox and hare have only heard about winter, as they had been born in the spring, so they find the whole experience quite magical.  The author/illustrator has created a wonderland of images for us and it is a story that works on so many levels and is an absolute delight.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas: Grandma is overly generous” by Alex T Smith is a totally brilliant and hysterical take on the famous song.  As the author says, it is very difficult to remember the list of items sent on the twelve days, so in the end he made up his own list. It is absolutely mad and I can imagine the fun that groups of children will have in trying to act out this song. Once again Alex T Smith has given us an real gem of a book for Christmas.

The Empty Stocking” by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb  is the sort of picture book that gives you a nice warm feeling as you read it.We get to see how things turn Cover Imageout when Santa accidentally puts presents into the stocking of a naughty twin, but leaves nothing for the good sibling.  The magic of Christmas shows that everyone has a good side and that the power of love is limitless.

“Dogger’s Christmas” by Shirley Hughes sees the return of one of the most iconic characters in picture books.  It is the run up to Christmas and young Dave (Dogger’s owner) is getting very excited and puts Dogger safely in the window.  However after the great day, he cannot find his toy and it looks as if  Dogger has gone, however with the help of older sister Bella, miracles can happen.  There are going to be a few tears and lots of Christmas cheer as this gorgeous story reaches its conclusion.

“Trouble on Planet Christmas” by Kate Saunders is the second in the series Cover Imagefeaturing the planet Yule-1 and the Trubshaw family, who find themselves having to help Father Christmas when a rogue inventor threatens to make dangerous toys for presents.  This is a great story for younger readers and the humour is just as infectious as in the first story.  It is yet another brilliant addition to my Christmas shelves.

“The Church Mice at Christmas” by Graham Oakley is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and it is just as wonderful as the first time I read it, all those years ago.  The adventures of the mice and their unwilling ally, Sampson the cat, make for a wonderful story that will be loved by both the adults and children in your life.

“Winter Tales” by Dawn Casey and Zanna Goldhawk  is a stunningly illustrated collection of folk tales from around the world.  Although there are some familiar tales from Europe, there are also stories from China, Japan and South Africa and they all have the ability to uplift the spirit.  Definitely a great collection for a school where you want to be able to read short, but complete, stories during the day.

Letters from Father Christmas” by J R R Tolkien, edited by Baillie Tolkien.  I can’t believe it is 100 years since Tolkien started writing these letters to his children.  This centenary edition is much longer that the original edition from 1976, which was called “The Father Christmas Letters” and which was also edited by Baillie Tolkien.  The magic that the author was able to create for his family shouts to us from the page and I am sure that there are many families where following his example has become something of a tradition.  It is a glorious addition to any Christmas collection.

 

 

 

 

Surviving lockdown

The last couple of months have seen huge changes in my ability to see forthcoming titles.  First we had London Book Fair cancelled and then the wonderful Federation of Children’s Book groups Conference.  This month I should have been attending the School Library Association Conference, but that is now online.  All of this has meant that I could not meet up with the fabulous friends in publishing and look at the amazing books that they bring to the various exhibitions.  However  I will say thank you to the many publishers who have kept on sending review copies when requested, it is greatly appreciated.  It has also been great to keep up with those books that appear as e-galleys on Netgalley and Edelweiss, this means that I am able to still read and promote the books that I think everyone will enjoy.

I am starting off with this look at some titles for younger readers and I hope they will enjoy this small group of titles featuring ghouls, vampires and witches.

Guppy Books, 9781913101060

“Ghoul Scouts, Welcome to Camp Croak!” by Taylor Dolan is the first in a new series about Lexie Wild, who finds herself at a summer camp called ‘Camp Croak’, because her grandma took a wrong turning on the road.  Finding herself sharing a cabin with a ghost, a zombie and a werewolf definitely was not what she expected, but turned out to be great fun.  This is a fast and furious story of a truly evil teacher and how the girls foil a plot to take over and then sell the camp.  I loved the amazing illustrations, they are totally weird and wonderful.

Egmont, 9781405293921

“Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures” by Laura Ellen Anderson is the latest adventure of everyone’s favourite vampire and her assorted friends.  When they are all invited to the 350th birthday party of Florence the yeti’s great grandmother they did not anticipate that there would be a thief about, but finding the perpetrator and saving the Yeti mountain from collapsing will take all their ingenuity and see them facing great danger.

OUP, 9780192773579

“Victoria Stitch, Bad and Glittering” by Harriet Muncaster is not due for publication until September but it brings us a new heroine from the author of the ‘Isadora Moon‘ series; in fact we get two for the price of one, because Victoria Stitch has a twin sister called Celestine.  Victoria thinks she should be in line of succession to the throne of Wiskling Wood but finds herself in all sorts of trouble, especially when a strange girl called Ursuline offers to help her.  This is a delightful story about two girls who discover that, in general, people are a mix of good and bad and they just need to have the right motivation.  the author has produced some wonderful illustrations that have a truly witchy and gothic feel.

David Fickling, 9781788450522

“King Coo, the Curse of the Mummy’s Gold” by Adam Stower  is the second adventure for young Ben Pole and the unlikely hero King Coo who lives in the woods near his house.  When an ancient treasure is stolen from the local museum Ben’s mother is under suspicion as she is a security guard; so it is up to Ben to try and find the real thieves and save the day.  Yet again we have a hysterical tale of intrigue and adventure, where the totally incredible King Coo helps in their own inimitable way.  This is definitely for those who love to laugh their way through their adventures.

Piccadilly, 9781848127654

“Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers” by Simon Mockler introduces us to an exciting and feisty young heroine called Beatrix.  She has spent her life cooped up in a castle with her aunt and uncle, neither of whom seem the least bit interested in her.  She know that there is some mystery surrounding her but doesn’t know what, so eventually she decides to leave the castle and discover who she really is. Of course we have all guessed the secret well before Beatrix cottons on to being the QUEEN; the problem is her aunt rather enjoys running the country and Beatrix soon finds that she is in danger.  This is a funny fast paced and very enjoyable read for adventurous young people.

Andersen Press, 9781783448388

“Mermaid School, the Clamshell Show” by Lucy Courtney and Sheena Dempsey joins the surge of titles that have mermaids as their central characters.  this series is aimed at younger readers and centres around Marnie Blue and her two best friends as they get used to attending mermaid school.  This title tells us what happens when they are all auditioning to take part in a show, but then a new girl appears on the scene who wants the starring role by fair means or foul.  This is great fun and also is a good way to help young people understand the dynamics of school life.

Gecko Press, 9781776572717

“Hattie” by Frida Nilsson and Stina Wirsen is the story of a young Swedish girl and her first year at school.  It shows a very different life from that in the UK but the challenges of finding friends and learning about the wider world seem to reflect issues found around the world.  This is a charming look at a young person just finding their feet as they start school.

Usborne, 9781474972178

“Unipiggle, Unicorn Muddle” by Hannah Shaw tells the story of how Princess Pea (Peony) has to choose a unicorn to become the Royal Unicorn.  But Pea would rather be out playing and getting muddy instead of being dressed up in all her finery and sitting on a stage with her parents.  Things take a hilarious turn as a pig joins the parade of unicorns, but he also has a horn, and most importantly he seems to have a great sense of fun.  Of course Princess Pea decides that this creature, she calls the Unipiggle, has to become her companion.  What follows is a lot of humour and the beginning of a delightful relationship between the princess and her magical pig.

Five Quills, 9781912923045

“Bug Belly, Babysitting Trouble” by Paul Morton is definitely a hilarious story for those just beginning to read alone.  The main character is a frog called Bug Belly, who is called upon to look after his large number of nephews and nieces (tadpoles and froglets) whilst their parents are off at a frogspawn conference.  The story follows his adventures as he tries to avoid numerous enemies whilst also moving the young offspring to a safer lower pool after he accidentally created a hole in the upper pond.  Not only is this a great adventure but it also enables young children to understand some of the dangers that frogs encounter.  There are  great illustrations and lots of fun.

Piccadilly, 9781848127753

“Hotel Flamingo” by Alex Milway tells the story of young Anna Dupont who finds herself the owner of the Hotel Flamingo; unfortunately the hotel is rundown and the animals who are running it have run out of energy.  They are also facing competition from the hotel on the hill, called “The Glitz”  This is a great story about friendship, sharing and creating a sense of community.  There are some delightful characters and charming illustrations that bring the story alive.

OUP, 9780192773630

“Mickey and the animal spies” by Anne Miller is a fabulous story for those who like mystery, spies and some very unusual characters.  Mickey is a great fan of codes and spies and longs to follow in the footsteps of her hero Hildegarde L McTavish, so when she discovers a code taped to a bus window she just has to investigate.  Cracking the code leads her to a mysterious office where she discovers a spy unit  consisting of animals and called Cobra.  Further adventures follow as they try and save the pet of a famous pop star as well as preventing a jewel robbery.  This is an excellent first children’s book by the author and I was lucky enough to attend the book launch in London earlier in the year.

I do hope that you find some books in here that you would like to share with young readers.  At a time of such uncertainty it is good to have books that we can really enjoy and which take us away from the restrictions that we have to face.  I sincerely wish that we all have a happy and peaceful summer and that we can return to a new normal in the near future.