A Head full of Magic by Sarah Morrell

Hashtag Press, 9781913835156

This is a strikingly original look at magic and the various ways that it is perceived and understood in different cultures.  Thank you to Hashtag Press for giving me the opportunity to read this and to be part of the joyous celebration for its publication.

The heroine, Fleur is just a normal year six pupil, who lives with her English Mother and West India Nan.  The only unusual thing is that she doesn’t like birds, especially the parrot (called Sir Barclay Wigbert Titus Smythe) who shares Nan’s room in the attic.  Apart from that, she is focused on surviving the last term at her school and avoiding the bully Celeste, who seems to have taken a dislike to her.  But strange things are happening in the community, with mysterious flying figures, lost slippers in the road and even more strange, Nan seems to be part of this.  The final, and really disturbing occurrence is when  Fleur discovers she can understand what the animals are saying.  It starts off with Sir Barclay, but she soon finds that she can communicate with everything from insects to large animals.  After finding the courage to talk to her Nan about all of this, she discovers that she is a Hexter (someone with magic) and her  version makes her an Animalator.  Nan explains about many of the other versions and says that she is able to fly invisibly, hence the  lost slipper.    It turns out that the rather nasty Celeste has the ability to recognize magic, but does not have any skills that she can use, hence her dislike of Fleur.  But can Fleur deal with this problem, help her Nan and come to terms with her amazing new powers; above all, can they manage to reunite Sir Barclay with his lost love Dame Genevieve?

What a fabulously funny story, with some really feisty and  smart characters.  You can’t help but love Nan with her wonderful spirit and sense of family;  despite being 89 years old, she is the glue that holds everyone together.  However, for me, it is Sir Barclay who really steals the show;  he is a totally snarky parrot, with a wicked turn of phrase but he also has the determination to help the family in any way he can.  I do hope that we will be treated to more stories as Fleur learns to control her powers and perhaps find her father, who had left home when his father died.  This is definitely aiming to be a five star story.

 

Thanks to Literally PR

About the Author
Sarah lives in Yorkshire and worked as a Criminologist until
she fell in love with writing and quickly swapped a life with
crime for a life with rhyme! She is married with three awesome
kids who keep her on her toes whilst she is plotting and
sharing her latest stories.
Sarah has self-published two picture books. The King and
the Cockerel was a finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards
in 2018 and Molly’s Magic Brolly picked up a Silver Award
in 2019. She is currently working on a number of middle
grade and children’s picture books and has a couple of book
club novels up her sleeve too. When she is not writing, she
loves nothing more than to run, bike or swim in the hills
of Holmfirth and recently entered her first Triathlon. Next
New Year’s Eve, she will not be making any sports related
resolutions.
Sarah is an active SCBWI Member and a Volunteer
Ambassador for Candlelighters Charity.
Follow Sarah @SMorrellAuthor
www.sarahmorrellauthor.co.uk

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna and Tomislav Tomic

I admit to really loving books about magic, witches, and the mythology surrounding the Fae folk.  This belief in the fairy people has its roots in Celtic myths, as far as I know and you can forget any thoughts of pretty little fairies with tinsel and wings.  The characters in this story are human sized, powerful and have a very strong dislike for humans, although they have a fondness for young children and often kidnap them.  In the land of fae there are also creatures ranging from goblins to pookhas, all of which are a danger or at least an irritation to the human world.

Cassandra, or Cassie Morgan has been at the really awful Fowell House School for seven years, ever since her mother left her there at the age of five.  When she is told that her mother has been declared officially dead, she does not believe it and runs away, to avoid being sent to an orphanage.  But that is when things become very strange; firstly she is attacked by six very small men and then she is saved by a talking cat (yes, really!) and a flying broomstick.  The cat, Montague, tells Cassie that he has been sent by her unknown Aunt Miranda, to bring Cassie to the family home and when she arrives she discovers a world that she had dreamt about, but had not really believed existed.

Aunt Miranda is a witch, as are some of the locals in the village of Hedgely and her duty is to protect the ‘Hedge’, a dense wood that creates a barrier between the human and faery worlds.  It seems that creatures are trying to break through the barrier and they have been stealing children to take them back to sell to the ‘Lords and Ladies’ as the Fae are called.  Cassie finds that life has become very complicated; not only is she is starting lessons at the witch version of the girl guides, trying to navigate between several friends and getting to know her new family, but above all she is trying to find clues about her mother’s disappearance.  As you can see from the brilliant map, this is a small and tightly knit community, but it is still wonderful to be able to visualize it in this way.  There are also some marvellous illustrations throughout the book.

This is a truly fantastic story of witchcraft and magic, mixed with that slightly dark version of Celtic mythology.  Cassie is one of those characters that you can’t help but like, even though as an adult I find her very frustrating at times.   The friction between her and her aunt  is caused by the difference in the way they see the world.  Cassie, like many young people sees the world in fairly straightforward terms, unlike her aunt, who has learnt that there are all kinds of nuances and you often need to tread carefully.  Mixed with the search for the missing children and mother we also have multi-layers of friction between individuals and witch families.  You can see that there are echoes of other stories featuring young witches, but of course it is what the author does with the story that makes all the difference.  I first read this story in preparation for attending the Federation of Children’s Book groups’ Conference last month; as you can see from the photos, I had the pleasure of meeting Skye, as she launched her book with a selection of cakes.  I have now re-read the book ready for this blog and I am really delighted to say that the book is even better the second time around.  We are treated to adventure, intrigue, family and some fascinating characters, although I think that my favourite is that cat with attitude, Montague; he has that hint of sarcasm in his comments and yet we feel that he would do anything for the Morgan family.

This is one of those books that you give 10 out of 10, or even 5 stars, but if you bring it all to a basic level then this is a brilliant read and I can’t wait for the follow up, “WoodWitch” due to be published in April 2023.  It is a must have for any lover of fantasy stories.

 

The Author

Skye McKenna grew up in a mining town in the Australian outback. Surrounded by the red dust of
the Pilbara, she developed a healthy respect for wild things and wild places at a young age. Seeking
adventures of her own, she travelled to the UK and fell in love with the British countryside.
Skye now lives in Scotland and works for a heritage charity, with whom she recently curated an
exhibition on medieval magic. When she’s not reading and writing, she goes looking for stories in
the hills and forests of her new home.

Hedgewitch is Skye’s first novel.
For further information, images please contact Lorraine Keating
Head of Children’s Marketing and Publicity at lorraine.keating@welbeckpublishing.com
@KidsWelbeck @WelbeckKids

Cover illustration  Saara Katariina Soderlund

Interior illustrations   Tomislav Tomic

Picture Book Update

Parents, librarians and teachers are always on the lookout for new picture books to read to their young readers.  Whilst most children have favourites that they have to have read almost every day, it is important that they are introduced to a wide range of the fabulous works which are out there.  Teachers in particular are looking for books that have themes that they can integrate into their curriculum work, as well as being a fun and lively story.  I hope that some of these books will meet the needs of many of you reading this.  Give them a go, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Two Hoots, 9781509889839

“Three Little Vikings” by Bethan Woollvin  tells the story of three children who struggle to get the adults to believe that they have heard something big and dangerous outside; the chief is particularly irritating as he repeats that he is a grown up and he knows best.  You can see that many children would find that message very frustrating.   The story uses Viking mythology to brilliant effect, as the children try and save their village from a destructive troll and eventually the adults have to believe them.

Uclan, 9781912979608

“The Bear and her Book” by Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O’Connor.   This is a truly magical story of adventure and also about the joys that books can bring to our lives.  When bear decides to see the world, she takes her copy of “Bear’s Big Book of being Wise” and finds it very useful in many of the situations that she finds herself in.  It is a fabulous addition to my collection of books about books and libraries and I really recommend it.

Big Picture Press, 9781787418769

“Ratty’s Big Adventure” by Lara Hawthorne is a lovely story of a small vegetarian rat called Ratty, who decides he wants to explore beyond the mountain crater that he lives in.  He meets a wide range of animals and faces many dangers and challenges.  However he decides that home and friends are what he really wants in life.  This is full of information about the wild life of Papua New Guinea, but above all, it is a tale of adventure and finding your place in the world.

Pikku Publishing, 9781999639891

“The Happy Hedgerow” by Elena Mannion and Erin Brown tells the story of Old Oak and the changes that he sees, when the hedgerow is grubbed up to make larger fields.  It is a story about the seasons and also about the changes that we see in the countryside.  Happily this story has a happy ending, as the humans realize the importance of the hedges and re-plant them.  This will work well as part of  environmental studies in KS1.

Chronicle Kids, 9781452173191

“Inside Cat” by Brendan Wenzel  is the story of one of those cats who lives indoors and only sees the world through the prism of the windows that enclose him.  However, he discovers that seeing something from the inside is not the same experience as being out there. This book makes us more aware of our senses and how we can explore our world, even if we are limited in some ways.  It increases our understanding of the world around us and how we perhaps need to challenge the limits and perhaps go outside our comfort zone.  The quirky illustrations and the limited text make the whole story relatable to the small child.  This is aimed at very young children and would be brilliant for encouraging Early Years children to try new experiences.

Andersen Press, 9781783448944

“Scissorella” by Clare Helen Walsh and Laura Barrett.   This is a truly magical re-telling of ‘Cinderella’, but with the twist being that the main character is an amazing paper artist. The art is inspired by the creative work of Lottie Reiniger, a German born artist who had a great influence on the development of film animation.  The story has an art deco setting, with the costumes harking back to the 1920s; in fact, it reminds me in many ways, of the marvellous version ’Ella’s Big Chance’ by Shirley Hughes. However, we have the added beauty of the paper cutting, which gives a very lace like feel to many of the images. This is a truly beautiful book, which shows a determined female character, who is determined to succeed in life and is a wonderful addition to the Cinderella canon of books.

Pushkin Children’s, 9781782693154

“Shoo!” by Susie Bower and Francesca Gambatesa is the very funny story of what happens when a Zoo moves next door, to someone who doesn’t like animals.  It is full of mayhem and laughter and is a great read for younger readers.  It also reminds us that we all need friends and that our perceptions should be open to change. This will make a great book for story time, both in the school and in the library.

Templar Books, 9781787419179

“The Little wooden robot and the log princess” by Tom Gauld is a very modern interpretation of a fairy tale.  The king and queen have no children and ask a witch and an inventor to create a child for them.  The log princess, worked by magic, but turned back into a log every night.  Whereas the Robot Prince was worked by mechanics and housed a family of beetles in his working.  When the princess goes missing, it is up to her brother to go searching, but he faces many challenges before finding his sibling.  Luckily, as with the best fairy tales we have a happy ending.

Farshore, 9780755502851

“Splash” by Claire Cashmore and Sharon Davey is written by the Paralympian athlete Claire Cashmore and is a version of how she overcame her fear of water, in order to become a gold medal swimmer.  It is a story of determination and overcoming many challenges.  Hopefully it will help many young people to focus on overcoming their own challenges, what ever they may be.

 

 

Rita Wong and the Jade Mask by Mark Jones and Seamus Jennings

At the moment we are in a period that can only be described as something of a golden age for children’s books, but especially for the genre that surrounds crime and mystery writing.  When this is then widened to include beings such as dragons, werewolves and vampires, then you can expect to have an exciting time.

“Rita Wong and the Jade mask” encapsulates all of these characteristics, although it starts out being situated in the rather prosaic setting of Morecambe.  Somehow, despite it’s glorious Art Deco hotel and the associations with Morecambe and Wise, we cannot really think about this seaside town as being a centre of intrigue and a doorway to another world; yet, as Rita Wong discovers, this is exactly what it is.  13 (nearly 14) year old, Rita has moved to the seaside town with her parents, which is a bit of a difference from her previous home in Hong Kong and she is still struggling to make friends and settle into a new country.  Whilst waiting in a cafe for the library to open up, she sees something that intrigues and slightly confuses her and before she knows it, she is having a conversation with an eight foot green dragon called Lester Thyme.  He is visiting from a parallel world called Neon City, where crime is rife and there are more types of inhabitants than we are used to.

What happens thereafter is somewhat surreal, but Rita finds herself partnering Lester as a private detective, helping the local policeman, Inspector Donnelly, solve the theft of a variety of antique items.  The duo find themselves caught up in a mixture of crime and magic, which puts them both in danger and yet brings them a deep sense of satisfaction as they find challenges as well as new friends.

This really is a fantastic book for those who love their detective stories.  The two main characters have their imperfections, but they persevere in their enquiries, learn to make friends and also to balance out their individual skills and knowledge.  I really love the relationship between the two main characters and the humour that shows itself every now and again.

I particularly love the illustrations for this book.  The front cover puts me in mind of work by artists such as Satoshi Kitamura, David Roberts and Chris Riddell, with the use of very fine ink outlines and the use of shading to create the atmosphere and perspective.  There are other illustrations throughout the book, most of which introduce us to characters, or provide a sense of concern about what is about to happen.  This is very much about accepting people for themselves and realizing that being different can be a positive thing.  I am definitely looking forward to more adventures with this enterprising duo.

 

 

 

Mark Jones
Mark Jones is the author of poems and children’s books. He began writing for his college magazine, and later moved to Delhi. There he edited and wrote original stories whilst expanding his waistline with delicious Indian cuisine. He followed that with a job teaching English in Singapore, where he consumed large quantities of sushi. When he is not writing, he likes to travel to see someone he loves in Osaka.

from “Everything with Words” site

 

Seamus Jennings, illustrator

Seamus works as a political cartoonist and has work produced in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, amongst other publications.  This is his first children’s book.  https://www.seamusjennings.com/9d665dcf17-gallery

His Royal Hopeless by Chloe Perrin and George Ermos

Every now and again you get someone who is the ‘black sheep’ of the family.  But in this story we have the opposite happening.  Young Robbie is the heir to the Sinistevil’s dynasty and whilst he tries very hard to live up to his mother’s expectations, it is obvious that he will never fit (both literally and metaphorically), into his dead brother  Brutus’s shoes.  The family are the most evil rulers that you can imagine, with a love of killing, looting and pillaging.  At the age of 12 years they are made to pledge their heart to a  jewelled sceptre, which re-enforces their desire for evil.  Nothing gets in their way and there is no such thing as family love or loyalty.  The problem is that Robbie really does not fit into this world.  He thinks he is evil, but in fact he is a real softy and even has a local peasant girl, Layla, as his friend.  When Robbie discovers that he has an artificial heart, after his mother had the real one removed when he was a baby, he decides to go and retrieve the real one, so that he can take the oath to the sceptre.  What follows is a funny and yet sad look at someone who is desperate for love and affection, but who cannot see the reality of the family that he is growing up in.  Thankfully there are people who want to help Robbie be the good person he is meant to be, although they have their own challenges in life.

What an absolutely magical story this is. I can’t imagine that anyone will not love Robbie despite the fact that he needs a bit of ‘backbone’.  However, with the strong-willed Layla and loyal servant Devon, he is able to overcome many dangers and eventually realizes that he does not want to be evil and much prefers being an ordinary person.  I think it is possible to come to the conclusion that we are not just the character we inherit from our family.  We definitely see that Robbie has an innate goodness that even his horrible mother cannot destroy.  There are so many instances where we wonder about the meaning of family; the Sinistevils take the meaning of ‘dysfunctional’ and then raise it by several notches.  Some of the other characters prove that money plays no part in the way that family love can work and are excellent role models for young Robbie to follow.  If you want a story of a lovable character, with the added ‘attraction’ of a really vile villain (hiss, boo!)  then this really is the book for you.  It is full of laughter, adventure and even the possibility of redemption at the end of the book.

 

“CHLOË PERRIN is a North Walian writer who currently lives in West London studying Creative Writing at Brunel University.

They love to feed crows, prefers Halloween to Christmas and was frequently told off as a child for reading in class. Chloë has previously worked as a youth worker, drama tutor and professional storyteller, having always believed that the best way to teach anyone anything is through a story.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS was longlisted for the 2019 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize and is their debut novel.”  Chicken House website.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS by Chloë Perrin is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at chickenhousebooks.com

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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.

Feast of the Evernight by Ross McKenzie

I absolutely loved the first book in the series, “Evernight” when it reached our shelves in early 2020.  It introduced us to a new world that we very quickly became engrossed in.  I was already a fan of the author, Ross Mackenzie through his series about the “Nowhere Emporium” and was delighted by this strange new world that he presented us with.  The main characters are the young girl Lara(belle) Fox and her friend Joe; both of them are Toshers and much like the ones in Victorian London, they make a living finding lost items in the sewer below the city of  King’s Haven.  When the country is threatened by the Everdark and the evil Mrs Hester, together with the Silver King, who rules the land, they link up with the Westerly Witches in an attempt to thwart their evil plans.  At the end of this book we get the impression that Mrs Hester has been eliminated and that a greater freedom is starting to seem possible for the general population.  But  is everything really better?

In this second book we find ourselves nearly a year further on in time; Lara has just passed her test and become a Witch, whilst Joe is getting over the death of his grandmother, as well as feeling rather out of place in the magical environment.  He decides to return to King’s Haven and the world that he knows, but he is asked to meet up with Rob, a ‘resistance’ worker, in order to carry out a secret mission.  At the same time Lara is also sent south, to work with another Witch and find out what has caused several mysterious deaths.  The friends make the first part of the journey together and end up helping a young girl, who is showing startling signs of  ‘out of control’ magic.  We have two parallel stories going on throughout the book, but we gradually come to understand that they are linked and that there are some deeply evil minds trying to destroy the witches and keep the population under their control.

This is an absolutely brilliant book and a worthy successor to the first in the series and whilst I am sure that people can dive straight in to this book, I think it is better to have read the first book, so that you are totally immersed in the world.  The cast of characters may be quite familiar, but they are having to cope with increasing danger and a whole range of villains. We see the young people mature as they have to cope with the terrifying events that surround them.  Luckily they have strong friendship bonds that give them the strength to carry on, despite the dangers.  I absolutely love the way that the author has created a world that is so different from our own and yet it is one that we can believe in.  The action is fast paced and at times quite hard hitting;  the author is not afraid to show that death can be a consequence of standing up to the evil that the heroes face.    The atmosphere really sparks the imagination and I can see the book being used in school  to encourage activities from writing and drawing, to music and drama.     It is yet another fabulous read for the older ‘middle grade’ reader and I know it will become yet another firm favourite not only in the home, but also in the classroom.  This is definitely a five star story.

 

Author Information

Contact: rossmacauthor@gmail.com

Local authority: Renfrewshire

Languages: English

19/10/18 . The Sunday Post, by Andrew Cawley.
Pics of staff designer Ross MacKenzie, who has written a children’s book. Location: Skypark, Glasgow.

I am a multi award-winning author of books for children, including The Nowhere Emporium, which won both the Blue Peter Book Award and Scottish Children’s Book Award.Stories have always been important to me. I can remember vividly how I felt as a child, curled up in bed, eager to set off on the next great adventure. I became a writer for children because I love the magic of great stories and my dream is that readers will one day feel the same way about my books.I regularly visit primary schools, libraries and literary festivals where I read from my books, discuss the power of stories and imagination, and hold Q&A sessions and writing workshops. I live in Renfrew with my lovely wife and two beautiful daughters – though I spend much of my time exploring other worlds.

thank you to Scottish Book Trust, who host this information

 

 

 

Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

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