Showing posts with label children's books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children's books. Show all posts

Friday, 17 January 2020

Guest Blog Post: The World of Masks by Anna Hoghton

Click here to read my review of The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton.

In this guest blog post, author Anna Hoghton explains how she researched a key motif in her debut novel for children and shares some of her findings. A great read for anyone who has read the book, or wants to, and for teachers who want to encourage children to research information for their own stories:

Masks are clearly important in the world of my book – I mean, they’re in the title and on the front cover. Given that I was writing about Venice, I always knew I would use masks, it was just a question of how. What did I want masks to mean for my characters?

For inspiration, I investigated into how masks have been used throughout history. Masks have been used for centuries and the oldest mask ever found is from 7000 BC, though the art of mask making is likely to be even older than this. There are as many different styles of masks as there are different cultures and they’ve been used for everything: rituals, ceremonies, hunting, feasts, wars, in performances, theatres, fashion, art, sports, films, as well as for medical or protective reasons. Here are a few examples of how masks have been used by everyone from the ancient Greeks to Spiderman.

Ancient Greece

The iconic smiling comedy and frowning tragedy masks were used in ancient Greek theatre. Paired together, they showed the two extremes of the human psyche. Before this, Greeks also used masks in ceremonial rites and celebrations during the worship of Dionysus at Athens.

West Africa

In West Africa, masks are still used by some tribes (such as the Edo, Yoruba and Igbo cultures) as a way of communicating with ancestral spirits. These masks are skilfully made out of wood and often have human faces, though they are sometimes in the shapes of the animals. Some tribes believe that these animal masks allow them to communicate with the animal spirits of savannas and forests. Some tribes also use war masks with big eyes, angry expressions and bright colours to scare their enemies.

North America

In North America, the skilled woodworkers in coastal Inuit tribes make complex masks from wood, leather, bones and feathers. These masks are cleverly crafted, often with movable parts, and are very beautiful. Used in shamanic rituals, these masks represent the unity between the Inuit people, their ancestors and the animals that they hunt. When people are sick, the masks are also used to exorcize the evil spirits from them.

Oceania

In Oceania, where the culture of ancestral worship is very important, masks are made to represent ancestors. Sometimes these masks are enormous, even six metres high. They are also used to ward off evil spirits.

Latin America

In Latin America, Ancient Aztecs used masks to cover the faces of their deceased. At first these funeral masks were made from leather, but later they were made out of copper and gold.

Venice (of course I had to mention this one)

In the Republic of Venice, the concealment of identity was part of daily activity and used to break down social boundaries. This was useful as it meant state inquisitors could find out truths without citizens knowing who they were. But masks also meant that people could get up to no good... Eventually the wearing of masks in daily life was banned except for during certain months of the year.

However, masks continued to be used in the Commedia dell’Arte - an improvisational theatre that was popular until the 18th century. Their plays were based on established characters with a rough storyline, called Canovaccio. If you’ve read ‘The Mask of Aribella’ that name might sound familiar…

During the Black Death, plague doctor masks were also worn in Venice. These masks had long, white beaks, which were filled with sweet-smelling herbs and used to protect the wearer from breathing in infections, which at the time people believed to be airborne. I’ve used this iconic mask as the Mask Maker’s mask in ‘Aribella’.

Nowadays, masks are the fodder of superheroes such as Spiderman and Zorro who wear masks to protect their identities. Masks were used interestingly in the new ‘Watchmen’ TV series, which imagines a world where police also wear masks to protect their identities. There are several great lines, such as: "You can't heal under a mask [...] Wounds need air." and ‘Masks allow men to be cruel’.


So, in conclusion, masks can, and have, been used for many different purposes, even within a particular culture. I love the empowering, spiritual side of masks and decided to use masks in my story as a tool that could not only hide their wearers (by making them ‘unwatchable’), but also help them become more fully themselves and access the unique strengths inside of them. We all wear masks to greater or lesser extents in our lives. At the start of the novel, Aribella is hiding from the people around her. However, throughout the course of the book, she learns to trust her own power. When she eventually gets a mask of her own, one that is made for her, and puts it on, she knows she will never hide again. I think lots of young people could learn to trust themselves a little more and drop some of the false masks that we all hide behind in order to fit in. Imagine a world where we all fearlessly showed our true selves and unique powers? What a magical place that would be.

THE MASK OF ARIBELLA by Anna Hoghton is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Book Review: Respect: Consent, Boundaries and Being in Charge of YOU by Rachel Brian

When a book is pounced upon and read within moments of it entering the house, it is fairly indicative of a good book. Sure, it means that someone is judging by the cover, but I believe that is why publishers, illustrators, authors and such other folk really spend time on getting the cover right.

When a book is then read by the entire household in quick succession you get another sense of its importance: it wasn't just the cover that worked but the contents too. And given that Rachel Brian (co-creator of the viral Tea Consent video and the follow-up Consent For Kids) is responsible not only for the cover but for the innards of this book, that's two marks for her.

However, there is something even more special about a book entering the house and being read by all members of the family: when you are really hoping that it is read and digested and it is. You see, Rachel Brian's new book is called 'Respect' and it is about 'consent, boundaries and being in charge of you'. When you have three children growing up in a world which has recently shed light on how terribly people can be exploited by others, it's good to know that there are child-friendly resources available to help to protect them.

In no uncertain terms, this book uses language and pictures which appeal directly to children to give a slow walk through exactly what is meant by consent. The thrust of the book is that we can make our own choices about what happens to our bodies. 'Respect' doesn't refer to sex (the closest thing it gets to this is a panel about taking and sharing pictures of people under 18 with no clothes on); instead, the focus is on more every-day scenarios where we have a choice about our own bodies.


The book also contains an all-important chapter about respecting other people's boundaries. It could be argued that this is the most crucial part of the book: it places the responsibility on us to control our own actions rather than expecting others to take preventative measures against our potential non-consensual actions. Another chapter focuses on what the reader can do if they witness abuse of someone else.


With many a humourous touch, a whole host of funky cartoons and some exceedingly sensitively-written text, this book is an essential read for... well, pretty much everyone, old and young alike. It's the sort of thing teachers and parents should be jumping at the chance to read with their children - and the children won't be complaining either. Not many books exist like this - many books about such issues can be a bit twee, or don't contain enough to appeal to the intended audience - so I welcome this little book with open arms and hope that there are more where it came from.

WREN & ROOK | £7.99 | HARDBACK | 9TH JANUARY 2020

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Book Review: 'The Mask Of Aribella' by Anna Hoghton

Choosing the islands and lagoon of Venice for the setting of a magial middle grade escapade was a stroke of genius. The surrealness of such a location makes the events of the story seem entirely plausible: very surely an only-just teenager in that strange place could find out they are a member of a magical order and that actually, they are the one to avert the catastrophe that is looming over the people of Venice.

It's on the eve of Aribella's 13th birthday that, in a fit of rage, she discovers she has the power to conjure fire. Very quickly she is whisked away into an ever-present but invisible parallel world where she discovers there is more to her unique city than meets the eye. But it is clear that not all is well, and is the way with such tales, she finds it is up to her and her new-found friends to save the day.

With the odd hint of certain giants of the genre, albeit with an Italian twist, this story is bound to enchant anyone within just a few pages. The story skims along at a cracking pace, yet, just as with the wooden piles on which Venice is built, there are foundations that run deep - the power of friendship and family, trust and responsibility provide a solid base for this dark tale of good versus evil.

Not only is this a fantasy adventure, it will also have its readers guessing whodunnit-style as to who is really responsible for the sinister goings on. As I read, I mentally drew up my own list of suspects and weighed up their motives, questioning their behaviour and coming to my own conclusions about who is behind the appearance of spectres in the lagoon, the disappearance of all the animals and the too-regular appearance of the Blood Moon. I, of course, was wrong, but that made the ending all the more satisfying - and there was more than one goosebump moments as the elements of the plot came together in the final moments.

A strong start for children's publishing in 2020 and a great introduction to Anna Hoghton, a new voice in children's fiction.

Published by Chicken House · 2nd January 2020 · Paperback · £6.99 · 9+ year olds

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Book Review: 'Empire's End - A Roman Story' by Leila Rasheed

There are over 30 other books in Goodreads' Roman Britain in YA & Middle Grade Fiction Listopia list, some by eminent writers such as Rosemary Sutcliff. So why do we need another book which falls into this (very niche) category?

Well, Leila Rasheed has an important story to tell. Scholastic's Voices series focuses specifically on 'the unsung voices of our past' - in this particular book it's the voice of a young Libyan Roman woman who finds herself at the empire's end - in Britain. She has accompanied her father, a doctor, who is an aide to Septimius Severus, a Roman Emperor originally from Libya, and his powerful and influential Syrian wife, Julia Domna.

Not only do we get a much more diverse cast than in other historical novels, and are allowed to hear the stories of those who history doesn't always like to remember, but we also hear it from the pen of an author who herself grew up in Libya and who describes herself (on her Twitter bio at least) as British-Asian European.

CLPE's Reflecting Realities survey of ethnic representation in UK children's books  found that in 2018 only 4% of children's books published featured a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) main protagonist. The BookTrust Represents research into representation of people of colour among children’s book authors and illustrators found that in 2017 less than 6% of book creators were from a BAME background. That's why we need this book.

But this doesn't just fill a void in the market, this is a seriously good book. The gripping and fast-paced story is all carefully interwoven with historical fact: a Roman emperor from Libya did live and die in York, archaeological research has shown that those with black African heritage did live in Britain during the Roman period and that people from all over the Roman provinces ended up marrying each other and having children.

In 'Empire's End' Rasheed imagines how one such character may have ended up in Britain, despite having been born in North Africa. Although slavery is a key theme in the book, it is important that we follow the story of a high status a BAME character - as we've mentioned before, it is these stories that are seldom told. As Camilla's destiny is linked to that of the struggle for power in the Roman Empire, nothing is very certain for her as she travels the world and settles in a place that seems as far from home as she can imagine. The story twists and turns, painting vivid characters and their realities in a human way against the backdrop of one of the Roman Empire's trickiest times.

Young readers will be thrilled to find this combination of qualities in one fairly short story which is bound to hold the attention of even the most flighty of readers. And with this being the fourth book in the series, there is already plenty for readers to go back and discover. A fantastic first read for 2020.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Book Review: 'The Star Outside My Window' by Onjali Q. Rauf

As an adult reader, I found this book a difficult one to read - difficult but compelling, yet strangely heartwarming. However, what is apparent to grown ups will certainly be less so for younger readers - the age range the book is really intended for.

The difficult thing about it is that the clues are all there as to what Aniyah and Noah have been through prior to the events in the story. I remember saying when Lisa Thompson's 'The Light Jar' was published that I hadn't encountered themes of domestic violence in a children's book before - in The Star Outside My Window it is a much more central theme.

In its plot, there are definite reminders of Onjali's previous book 'The Boy At The Back Of The Class' - a group of optmistic children hatch a hare-brained, heart-filled scheme to ensure that justice is done. Aniyah, Noah and their new foster brothers Ben and Travis, run away on Halloween and head to London to gate-crash the naming ceremony of a brand new star which is travelling closer to earth than any other star has before.

With the scientific element of the story being quite fantastical, and the terrible realities of domestic violence being ever present, a balance is created. Aniyah's love of astronomy brings another dimension too - there are plenty of great factoids scattered throughout the story. But it is the narrator's voice which really sets this story firmly in place as appropriate for the intended age group despite its upsetting premise. The child's point of view which Rauf adopts, and carries off so well (as she also did in her first book), makes for a gentle and palatable yet serious treatment of the subject matter.

Books which tackle ideas about what happens after death are usually problematic: more often than not, they push one particular, definite idea or another - beliefs which definitely wouldn't align with everyone's way of thinking, therefore alienating potential readers. In 'The Star Outside My Window' a new precendent is set: all it portrays is one child's own rationalisation of what they think has happened to their mum - an idea forged in the furnaces of grief and the only thing that makes sense to them at the time. The author pushes no religious or secular beliefs, she just tells the story of one little girl, struggling to come to terms with what has happened.

And whilst the bulk of this review has focused on the deep and meaningfuls of this book, it really must be said that it is a rip-roaring, heart-in-mouth adventure too - will they really make it all the way to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from Waverley Village in Oxfordshire in time without being caught? The odds are stacked against them but you'll cheer repeatedly as they thwart well-meaning citizens who only want to keep them safe, and you'll laugh as squirrels - yes, squirrels! - pretty much save the day in the nick of time.

This certainly is one of 2019's must-read books, but perhaps one that parents and teachers might want to exercise caution with. To help with potential upset, and to promote growth of empathy, the book actually contains a few helpful sections pre- and postscript about the nature of the story and domestic abuse, as well as information for how to get help if aspects of the story ring true for its readers - a thoughtful and essential addition to this brave new book.

Orion Children's Books - 3rd October 2019 - Price: £6.99 - ISBN-13: 9781510105140

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

#Lollies2020: Joshua Seigal - 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh'


When I was asked to champion one of the books nominated for the Lollies 2020 book awards, there was really only one choice for me: Joshua Seigal's 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh'. My middle daughter (I have three) is an avid reader (I mean really avid) and, amongst other things, she is partial to both funny books and poetry. So when a copy of Joshua Seigal's 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh' which I won (and is signed) dropped through our letterbox, she pounced upon it and devoured it.

And it's regularly off the bookshelf for a quick read, which, as avid readers among you will know, often turns into a long read (I'm not complaining). With poems from Joshua himself, as well as a range of other poets such as A.F. Harrold, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Frank Dixon (aged 7), Irene Assiba D'Almeida, Alfred Noyes, Lewis Carroll, Kat Francois, Andy Seed and Jay Hulme, this collection really willmost probably, almost certainly make you laugh - if you're an adult. If you're a child, there's no doubt about it: you will laugh.

And if you don't believe me (and I'm so excited about this), here's a brand new poem from Joshua Seigal to give you a taste of what's to come if you get your hands on a copy of Lollies 2020 nominated book 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh'. I cheekily asked that he pen something new especially for my blog and here it is: a funny Shakesperean sonnet (go on, count the lines and try reading it in iambic pentameter)!

The Ferocious Commotion

A ferocious commotion’s occurring next door.
It’s like ten thousand buffalo having a fight
It’s as loud as the crash of a rusty chainsaw
and I know it’ll keep me awake half the night.

Like the whistling whoosh of a runaway train,
a ferocious commotion’s occurring next door.
Like a hideous gargoyle yelling in pain,
it’s as loud as a battlefield, loud as a war.

It roars like a lion that’s stepped on a pin.
It clanks like a tank that’s got stuck in the mud.
It shrieks like a shark when you tickle its fin
with a hoot and a honk and a bang and a thud.

What on earth is it? I go exploring
and discover it’s only my grandfather snoring.

www.joshuaseigal.co.uk

Monday, 23 September 2019

Book review: 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind' by Victoria Williamson

Family politics are never easy. Especially not when you're a kid with ADHD.

Family politics are never easy. Especially not when you're a kid who is trying everything, including being absolutely perfect, to make things how they used to be.

When Jamie and Elin's parents get together, and Jamie has to move in with Elin, things do not look good. With step-siblings, American boyfriends, new schools, changes in medication and school bullies to contend with, things get (realistically) messy. In 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind' Victoria Williamson turns her forensic but empathetic lens on life for children when their parents split up. Those who haven't experienced it will get a glimpse into the lives of those who have, and those readers whose parents have split will be quietly glad to see themselves represented in the pages of a book.

Williamson manages to convey the agony of having to live with all the complications of medical conditions and broken families with enough sensitive humour to keep the reader wondering how things will all resolve. Will Jamie and Elin ever learn to get along? Will therapy and medicine help the children through their confusion and anger? How does friendship figure in such a tense family situation? Through a sequence of immersive set pieces the story romps along, not always joyfully, but always full of heart, driven by the well-painted characters and the believable plot lines.

Joining Lisa Thompson's 'The Day I Was Erased' and Stewart Foster's 'Check Mates' and 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong', this book serves as an insight for children and adult readers alike into the potential reasons behind the actions of children who at school get labelled as 'the naughty kid'. It's not often that other children are given reason to empathise with these children making this an important read for youngsters. Although fiction, this story serves as a powerful illustration of how acceptance and understanding can help others to manage the impact of their experiences and medical conditions.

Employing a dual narrative technique, with each chapter alternating between Jamie and Elin's point of view, 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind', is a moving and compelling read. Capable of triggering an emotional response, Victoria Williamson's latest book is a brilliant follow-up to her debut novel 'Fox Girl And The White Gazelle', giving her fans something else equally as brilliant to get their teeth, and hearts, into.

https://discoverkelpies.co.uk/books/uncategorized/boy-with-the-butterfly-mind-2/

Friday, 20 September 2019

Extract From 'Guardians Of Magic' by Chris Riddell

An extract from Chris Riddell's latest book 'Guardians of Magic', the first book in the new 'The Cloud Horse Chronicles' series:

Chapter 1: The Runcible Spoon

Zam Zephyr woke early and climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb the other apprentice bakers of Bakery No. 9, who were still fast asleep around him.

It was the day before the Grand Duchess of Troutwine's Tea Ball and Zam was too excited and nervous to stay in bed. Today, they would bake for the tea ball tomorrow. All twelve bakeries in the city competed for the honour of making the most delicious treats for the ball. If anything went wrong again, after last year's disaster that put Bakery No. 9 at the bottom of the heap, Zam and his friends would be sent home in disgrace. The thought of his father's disappointed face was too much to bear. No, Zam thought. He would do anything he could to make sure that his baking was perfect.

In the corner of the attic dormitory, his best friend Langdale the goat boy was gently snoring. Beneath the flour-sack blanket, his hooves twitched as he dreamed of chasing blue butterflies through the summer pine forests of the Western Mountains. In the other corner, the two Shellac sisters clutched the comfort shawl they shared. In the cots in between, the gnome boys from the Grey Hills slept soundless and still, five to a blanket, their small grey-tufted heads just visible.

Looking out of the window, Zam could see the golden roofs of the palaces glittering in the early morning sunlight. He gazed up at a billowing cloud and made a wish: 'To bake the best gingerbread ever, he whispered. 'Cloud horse, cloud horse, far from view, make this wish of mine come true.'

Zam took his apron and cap from the hook and crept out of the attic, leaving his friends to their dreams.

Zam ran all the way down the stairs to the basement, opened the door to the flavour library, and stepped inside. This was his favourite place. He loved how precise, tidy and ordered everything was here. He smiled to himself. With everyone asleep upstairs, it was the perfect time of day to practise without any interruptions.

Shelves lined the basement walls from floor to vaulted ceiling. Looking up through the glass paving stone, Zam could see the shadows of feet walking overhead as people passed the doors of Bakery No. 9.

The shelves around him were stacked with jars of all shapes and sizes, each clearly labelled.



Zam selected the jars he needed, opening each one in turn and taking pinches of the powders they contained. Carefully, he placed the spices on little squares of baking parchment, which he folded neatly and placed in different pockets of his apron. Satisfied with his choices, Zam crossed the stone floor to a large chest of drawers set in an alcove. He opened a drawer labelled 'Index of Crusts' and selected one with crinkle-cut edges and memorized the baking instructions written in small lettering on the underside.

‘For a crumbly texture, short, intense mixing and slow bake in quiet oven ... Zam read. The memory of the calm, reassuring sound of the head baker's voice filled his head, as it always did when Zam read his recipes. 'For a more robust biscuit, easeful mixing with broad, generous spoon and a short, fierce bake in busy oven...

‘Broad, generous spoon,' Zam repeated to himself, returning the crinkle-cut crust to the drawer and closing it. He looked up and was about to select one of the wooden spoons, which hung from the hooks in the ceiling, when he trod on something. It was a large spoon he hadn't noticed lying on the flagstone floor.

'That is so careless,' Zam muttered, picking it up. The spoon was broad and long handled, carved from a single piece of wood, by the look of it. Zam turned it over. It was a slotted spoon, full of small holes, with three large ones near the base of the handle.

‘Easeful mixing with broad, generous spoon,' the head baker's voice sounded in Zam's head.

‘Perfect,' he said, wiping the spoon on his apron before slipping it into a pocket.

He selected a favourite battered old book from a shelf: The Art of Baking. “There you are," he said happily and climbed the back stairs to the kitchen.

An hour later, the other apprentice bakers had been woken by the six o'clock gong and were filing in, putting on their caps and rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Balthazar Boabab, the head baker of Bakery No. 9, followed them into the kitchen smiling.

'Good morning, apprentices!' he said cheerfully, peering over the top of his half-rim spectacles. “As you know, the twelve bakeries of Troutwine are baking for the Grand Duchess's Tea Ball tomorrow, and we all have our parts to play.W

The head baker smiled again, a little ruefully this time. 'Bakery No. 1 is doing the first tiers. Bakery No. 2 the second and third tiers. Fillings are being produced by bakeries No. 3, 4 and 5. While No. 6, 7 and 8 are baking pastry shells and meringues. - Bakeries No. 10 and 11 are fruitcake and turnovers, and Bakery No. 12 is making floating islands...' Balthazar Boabab took a deep breath. 'This means, once again, Bakery No. 9 is picking up the crumbs…'

The apprentice bakers began to mutter. It wasn't fair. They had tried so hard, but they weren't being given a chance.

'I know, I know ...' said the head baker. 'It's not ideal, but after last year's cake collapse and exploding-eclair incident, Bakery No. 9 has a lot to prove ...'

'But that wasn't our fault,' protested one of the gnomes.

'The last head baker didn't pay off the League of Rats, said Langdale the goat boy, stamping his hooves, "and they ruined everything…'

'Nothing was proved,' said Balthazar gently. 'I am head baker now, and things are different, aren't they?'

Zam and the other apprentices nodded. It was true. Bakery No. 9 had changed since Balthazar Boabab had taken over: no more bullying, tantrums or random punishments. The kitchen was a happy place, and everyone was respected and baking beautifully. It was just as well. A year ago, after the disaster of the last tea ball, Bakery No. 9 had almost been shut down and everyone sent home. If Balthazar hadn't joined them from the fashionable Bakery No. 12, the apprentices would have had no future. None of them wanted to let him down.

"But what about the rats?' asked Langdale anxiously.

‘Let me worry about them,' said the head baker, doing his best to sound cheerful. ‘After all, we have heard nothing from the rats since I arrived.
Meanwhile, you have baking to do. We will be making the crusts as well as gingerbread and some spun-sugar decorations. And, at the tea ball itself –

Balthazar cleared his throat; even he couldn't sound cheerful about the next bit – 'Bakery No. 9 will be doing the washing-up.

The apprentice bakers groaned.

‘Langdale and the Shellac sisters are on shortcrust pastry shells,' Balthazar instructed. 'Gnomes are on glazed piecrust. Zam, are you confident to bake the gingerbread and help me with the spun sugar?'

'Yes, head baker,' said Zam excitedly. “I've already been down in the flavour library ...

‘Baker's pet,' muttered Langdale.

Balthazar gave the goat boy a stern look. But before he could say anything, an unexpected sound silenced them all.

In the shop, the doorbell had rung, and now they could hear the scritch-scratch of claws on the floorboards.

'I smell a rat,' said Langdale.
 


Publishing 19th September 2019 | Hardback, £12.99 | Macmillan Children’s Books | ISBN 9781447277972

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Book Review: 'Spylark' by Danny Rurlander

Just as Daniel Craig's James Bond brought a more human dimension to the franchise, Danny Rurlander has broken the Stormbreaker mould with the unlikely hero of Spylark. True, Tom Hopkins has lost both parents and is living with a relative, but he also suffers bullying at school, has terrible claustrophobia and is living with the after-effects of an accident which has left him needing a walking stick to get about.

Tom is at risk of becoming withdrawn and reclusive and his love inventing machines and piloting his homemade drones seems to be making this worse. But flying is his escape - as he explores the beautiful surroundings of the Lake District using his drone's camera's live feed he feels free of his body and able to do all manner of things. However, a routine flight brings him into a world of danger and terror as he attempts to foil the plans of a criminal gang whose activity threatens to have world-wide consequences. Tom's freedom very quickly becomes captivity.

Thankfully Tom isn't in this alone - he reluctantly befriends two children who come to stay in his aunt's holiday cottage and, as he becomes tour guide to their Swallows and Amazons fantasy holiday, he takes them into his confidence. And a good job too - they prove crucial not only in helping him combat the criminals, but in causing Tom to break free of how his life's experiences are holding him back.

Although certain aspects of the book are recognisable, the storyline is far from formulaic - halfway through it seems like the action is soon to be over: not so. You see, the familiar idea of children being taken seriously enough to have done what a country's secret services couldn't have done is rubbished in this story, lending it an air of credible realism. The fact that some adults don't believe Tom and his friends means that the story must go on and the no-nonsense advice of more trusted adults ensures that it does.

Spylark is an awesome page-turner and an incredible feat for this first-time author. If Arthur Ransome legitimately got so many sequels out of his sailboats-and-sandwiches romps (and don't get me wrong, they thrilled me) then Rurlander could certainly provide us with a brilliant follow-up to Spylark - I know I'd be queueing up to read it. Immediately gripping, this book would go down well with upper key stage two readers and upwards, not least with those considered to be reluctant readers. I couldn't recommend it enough - a cracking adventure.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

3 Children's Books To Celebrate The 50th Anniversary Of The Moon Landing

With 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission's successful moon landing, it's no surprise that authors, illustrators and publishers have been hard at work producing some amazing non-fiction books by way of celebration. Whilst there are many children's books already available on the subject, it's always nice to welcome new ones into the fold, especially given that current design trends favour beautiful illustrations over stock photography. So, here are my three current favourites on the topic:

Balloon To The Moon by Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielsen

Anyone who is familiar with Big Picture Press books will have some idea of what to expect: a large format, hardback book which couples easy-to-read but insightful information with the very best of illustrations. In this case its the retro-styled images of Christopher Nielsen which evoke an age gone by: the era of the great space race. The vintage drawings might remind an older reader of a time when astronauts were just the fantasy of sci-fi comics - younger readers will simply delight in the colourful depictions of a wealth of scientific and historic facts and stories.

'Balloon To The Moon' also cleverly employs a countdown to the moment when man finally stepped foot on the moon: it begins with chapter 10, running all the way through to chapters 3, 2, 1 and then Lift-Off, Lunar Orbit and Re-Entry. Along the way, Gill Arbuthnott tells the story of everything that had to happen before Neil Armstrong could step out of that lunar landing module and utter his immortal words. Filled with facts and figures, this book provides accessible, bite-size chunks of space travel history - children of all ages will learn something from this stellar publication.


'Where Once We Stood' by Christopher Riley and Martin Impey

New publishing house Harbour Moon Publishing are making a great first step with this visual feast of a book. Illustrator Martin Impey's pencil drawings and watercolour paintings take centre stage in this pleasingly large-scale paperback book. This isn't just a book with one or two pictures in it; every one of its 128 pages features multiple, largely monochrome but highly evocative, images. This book certainly is a visual treat - even if the text were ignored one could spend a great deal of time exploring its pages, wondering at one of the world's greatest dreams come true.

But there is text in this book too, and film producer, director and writer Christopher Riley presents the real-life conversations of the Apollo astronauts alongside urgent, present tense narrative. This combination makes for compelling reading - readers, helped along by the illustrations, will easily imagine that they are there with the astronauts, or in the control room, at least. Featuring the voices of astronauts from all 6 successful Apollo moon landings, this book might take a younger reader a while to make their way through as they savour both the text and the pictures. That's not to say there is too much, rather that this book is something unique, being unlike other non-fiction books, and therefore necessitating a different kind of reading. 'Where Once We Stood' is the kind of book that will be taken off the shelf time and time again and is an absolute must for any space-loving child or classroom where space is being taught about - you won't find anything else like this out there.


Neil Armstrong: First Man On The Moon by Alex Woolf (with Illustrations by Luisa Uribe, George Ermos and Nina Jones)

The latest in Stripes' Trailblazers series, Alex Woolf's biography of Neil Armstrong, presented in a novel-sized paperback, is the perfect thing for KS2 readers who want to know more about one of the world's most famous men. Stepping right back into his childhood and following Armstrong's life through to his last days, the story of how one man became the astronaut to first step foot on the moon is told compellingly yet simply - I can't imagine a reader wanting to even put this down.

The main story is interspersed with fact files, illustrations and other asides which, far from interrupting the flow of the narrative, add to it and provide a greater level of insight than one might expect from a book like this. Young readers will not only close the book more knowledgeable about one of the greatest feats of mankind, they will also leave feeling inspired by the level of commitment and hard work that Neil Armstrong demonstrated throughout his life - Woolf surreptitiously draws life lessons out of Armstrong's story, giving the book another dimension altogether. The book finishes nicely with a word on the legacy of both Armstrong and the Apollo missions, encouraging readers to look ahead to how 'spaceship earth' might be protected in the future.

That's all for now, but watch this space for more space-themed children's books - I have a whole shelf's-worth that I'd love to share with you! Here's a sneak peek of some of them:

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Children's Books Reviewed By Children #2

In our house we have recently revamped the bedtime routine to contain A LOT more reading. This was partly out of necessity - the nights are so light that they couldn't go to sleep as early as they do when it is dark. They were also doing some pretty wild stuff pre-bedtime which DID NOT make them at all calm or ready to sleep. The answer: you already know: reading, of course!

As a result, my three children have read a ridiculous number of books and now they have industriously written a whole host of comments about the books for you. Here are the books they've chosen along with a few of their thoughts on them:


When Tyler is sent to summer camp, she can’t resist packing one of her latest science projects – the Hologramaphone 3000. Problem is, some of the phone’s functions have EXTREME side-effects, the kind that can turn your best-friend into a ferocious werewolf!

But when Tyler, Dylan and Ashley band together, there’s no problem that they can’t solve – no matter how big, hairy, and terrifying.

You would definitely so love it! I would probably say ages from 6 -10. Well, maybe. Apart from that, I would still recommend it to friends and family. - A, 7

I liked the part where they sneak into Pipper's office to get Tyler's Hologramaphone 2000 because Courtney and Pipper suddenly come in and Courtney starts talking about how clever she is. There's a really funny bit where Courtney says: "You can't say werewolves are real until you've actually see one." That bit's soooo funny! This book is 10/10 is for 7-13 year-olds. My favourite character is Courtney because she is show-y-off-y and funny. Enjoy! - I, 8


A swimming lesson takes an exciting turn when Fliss is magically whisked away to the Indian Ocean! There she finds a young dolphin in trouble and she knows she has to help. But she’s scared of deep water, and who knows what other animals there might be out there! Can Fliss face her fears and save her new friend?

A beautifully detailed book. I liked the bit where Fliss swam right up to the tiger shark and bopped it on the nose, just to save Spinner. I think Fliss was very brave to swim out of her depths, right next to a whale shark! I liked how welcoming and kind the author made Izad. I also liked how the author explained about the reef and how beautiful it was. I would highly recommend this book to friends and family. I think it was a very good book! It was awesome!  - I, 8

The Flute by Ken Wilson-Max, Illustrated by Catell Ronca (Tiny Owl)

Hear the whisper of the flute and see how it floats like a butterfly or blows like cold, grey wind. Discover how music can make you move and feel!

"I like Tiny Owl - he's a good book owl, isn't he?"

This book is about playing the flute. The flute makes nice noises but the sounds are like colours. It makes me feel like I want to play the flute and make a nice song with it. I like the part at the end where is says 'And a lilac sigh' because it has lots of colours. I like the colours in this book. - J, 5

Click here to watch a video of Ken Wilson Max reading The Flute.

The Bolds' Great Adventure by Julian Clary, Illustrated by David Roberts (Andersen Press)

Fasten your seatbelts - it's a special adventure for World Book Day with Teddington's wildest family! Learn just how our intrepid hyenas managed to get from their African safari park onto the plane and off to their new home in England. It's quite a remarkable, and some would say, unbelievable tale - but there are many laughs along the way! 

The Bolds are Hyenas. One day, the find some safari clothes lying near a river. There they found clothes, keys and passports. So they decided to travel to England. When they get there, they get things so muddled up! Mum poops in the shower, eats a wooden fruit and other bad stuff!

I liked the jokes that Mr. Bold makes up - they are very extremely funny!

This book is all about trying hard and listening and it is very fun.

Thank you for making this book, Julian Clary and David Roberts! - A, 7

The Hideaway Deer by Holly Webb, Illustrated by James Brown (Stripes)

When Lola moves house she can’t help feeling sad to leave her old friends and life behind. She’s always been shy and worries it’ll be hard to make friends at her new school. It’s not all scary, though. Lola loves her new home with its rambling garden and the deer that sometimes wander in through the broken fence.

Then one day she comes across a fawn who seems to be in trouble. Lola is determined to do everything she can to help the terrified little deer, but will she be able to do it on her own?


This book is amazing! It's all about a deer who has lost her mum. Her name is Dapple.

This book is all about growing up, leaving your animal friend and moving places.

I liked the bit when Lola stands in front of her class and talks about freeing the deer. - A, 7

Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan)
When Mum and Dad go away for the night, Aunt Amelia comes to look after one very cross little girl and boy. They do NOT want to be looked after and, even worse, Mum has left a list of boring instructions. But Aunt Amelia turns out to be rather different from expected . . . and a LOT more fun!

It's about Aunt Amelia coming to babysit the children. Mum and dad give her a list but they do everything wrong and they have loads of fun! They have fun swinging on trees; they have fun going on Aunt Amelia's back in the pond; they have fun eating loads of ice cream and they have fun eating sweets! At the end, they get ready for mum and dad coming back and they sweep and mop the house. I like everything about this book! - J, 5

My Babysitter Is A Robot by Dave Cousins, Illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (Stripes)

When Grandma creates a robot babysitter for twins Jake and Jess, chaos ensues!

Robin is embarrassing, clumsy and, worst of all, programmed to make them do their homework. They're also pretty sure he thinks their dog is a baby. The twins decide they have to do something before everyone realizes that Robin is a robot. But getting rid of their new babysitter will mean putting aside their sibling squabbles and working together, which might be an even bigger challenge...

My Babysitter Is A Robot is so good! This story is all about a robot who is very strict. I liked it when they were at the school fair and Robin did knock down the coconuts because the children found out that the coconuts were glued on! I also liked the part when they put salt in the sugar bowl for Olivia's party buns! - A, 7

Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief by Linda Chapman, Illustrated by Lucy Fleming (Stripes)

When the residents of Westcombe enter the Best Kept Village competition, they appear to have a helping hand – someone has tidied the village overnight! No one knows who has mowed the lawns and painted the fences but the town is looking neater than ever. Then pets and toys start to go missing. The villagers are upset and worried, and the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is involved. They're going to have to use all of their skills to solve this latest mystery...

In Star Friends: Moonlight Mischief someone's doing dark magic! There are shades in dolls and the dolls come alive! First, they do a good thing, then bad, good, bad.

This book is all about dark magic, powerful girls and trying hard.

I really liked it when they were having to fight the shades. Oh, the book is so good! - A, 7

The Nothing To See Here Hotel by Steven Butler, Illustrated by Steven Lenton (Simon & Schuster)

Welcome to The Nothing to See Here Hotel! A hotel for magical creatures, where weird is normal for Frankie Banister and his parents who run the hotel.

When a goblin messenger arrives at The Nothing to See Here Hotel, announcing the imminent arrival of the goblin prince Grogbah, Frankie and his family rush into action to get ready for their important guest. But it soon becomes obvious that the Banister family are going to have their work cut out with the demanding prince and his never-ending entourage, especially when it turns out the rude little prince is hiding a secret..

I liked the bit where Mrs V gobbles Grogbah up in her sleep. I also like how the Molar Sisters speak - 'Thith ith amathing!' - they speak like that because they have lost so many teeth! It's good when the pirates come and have a fight with the goblins! It turns out that Grogbah has the encrusted diamond aaaaaaaaaaaaall along! This book is 10/10 and is for 7s and over. My favourite character is Nancy because she is a very calm, lovely spider. This book is amazing. - I, 8

Action Stan by Elaine Wickson, Illustrated by Chris Judge (OUP Oxford)

Stan and his little brother Fred are off on a school trip to an outdoor adventure camp. Stan has been asked to keep an eye on Fred and his friends while they're away . . . what could possibly go wrong!?
Packed full of infographics, charts, and diagrams, this hilarious and visually-exciting book will have huge appeal for young readers.

Charts - WOW! I liked the bit where Stan joins the dogs and he wears all the funny clothes. This book is definitely 10/10 and I'd say it's for 8-13 year olds. My favourite character is Maddies because she is dressed in black and the only streak of colour is purple in her hair. She chews bubblegum and stands up for her sister Billie. I also like the bits where calls Jess Alaska. - I, 8

The Travels of Ermine: Trouble in New York by Jennifer Gray, Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Usborne)

Meet Ermine. She may be small but she’s on a BIG journey around the world.

Ermine the Determined is off to explore NEW YORK.

She can’t wait to visit Central Park Zoo, ride in a yellow taxi, and zoooom to the top of the Rockefeller building!

But when her suitcase is switched, Ermine finds some robbers are hot on her tail…

I really like how Barry does his burps and tummy rumbles - they're so funny! Also, all the time in the book Barry and Harry are trying to get the diamond all along and Ermine doesn't even know!

I like the accidental trick where Ermine scatters nails on the floor and puts glue on the floor. She also puts chili sauce on the hotdog and fizzymints in the Coca-Cola. I think think this book should be for 7-10s and it's definitely a 10/10! Enjoy! - I, 8

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions I Asked Myself When Writing Check Mates by Stewart Foster


I asked Stewart Foster to let us inside the mind of an author at work. One thing that potentially hinders us when we create their own writing is that they don't know the questions to ask themselves as they write. If a writer isn't asking these kinds of questions they could miss out on really ensuring their writing connects with its audience and fulfils its purpose. So, see what Stewart thought about whilst he wrote 'Check Mates' and use his questions as inspiration for your own as you write.

1. Is the beginning quick enough to hold readers attention? My answer to this is to go to dialogue as soon as I can.

2. Will the reader engage with the characters? This is not the same as ‘like’. Again, the answer is to go to dialogue. I find it the best way to ‘hear’ my characters.

3. Do I have Felix’s voice right? The funny thing about this, as with all my books, is that I only knew I had it right when I was no longer conscious of doing it.

4. Was Granddad too much of the perceived stereotypical German. The answer in the first draft was yes, so I dumbed down his accent, and simply had a key phrase ‘I am thinking…’ which I found endearing and quite funny.

5. Was I just writing a series of activities that I found funny, but didn’t move the story forward? Answer, yes, a little. So, I cut out the Go-Karting and car cleaning chapters. Maybe they will see light one day, as I really did like the Go-Karts, but as they say, ‘you have to kill your darlings.’

6. Was the Stasi section too much of an info-dump? I’m terrible about this when I think I spot it in other books, but the truth is, I’m a terrible reader, so I’m no judge at all. In this case I had my daughter read it, and she said it was fine.

7. After the ‘Fall out between Felix’s friend, Jake, and Granddad, how do I get them to make up, without having three chapters of people apologising? This was probably the bit I got most stuck on, and it stopped me for a few days. Then suddenly it came to me, and as with most writing problems, one solution can often solve three things. So, my favourite chapter in Check Mates is the scene with the chess board, under the tree.

8. Am I making it too sad? In order to address this, I broke a rule and went back and read a few chapters (I never go back and read as I write). Luckily, and perhaps vainly, I found myself laughing at my own jokes. Well someone has to! But this meant I knew it was a good balance of sadness and humour.

9. This wasn’t so much a question, as a problem, and that was how to avoid the clichĂ© ending. Luckily the ending came to me when I was out cycling, and to be honest, the ending even surprised me. Of course, I can’t tell you it, as….well, it would spoil the fun!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Book Review: 'The Adventures of Harry Stevenson' by Ali Pye

Adults love to recommend children's books. But what do kids actually think about them? For this review I decided to get my daughter's thoughts as well as give my own. And it only seemed right to let my daughter (who is in year 2) share her thoughts first:

Harry is a guinea pig who is always getting lost. Billy and Harry are best friends who always tell each other everything.

At Billy's birthday party Harry floats away and although he is scared he is determined to get back to Billy.

This book is about friendship, finding your feet and it talks a lot about a football team called 'The Sparky F.C'.

The illustrations of Harry are really cute and they are really interesting to look at.

It is simple enough for 7-11s to read but definitely entertaining.

Harry Stevenson is a really good book and it is very enjoyable to read!

And here's my review:

Harry Stevenson is a guinea pig - of course he is, what else would he be with such a name? Harry lives with Billy and is pretty much his best friend and confidant. In this new book from author and illustrator Ali Pye we get not one, but two of Harry's charming and barmy adventures.

In the first story, Billy and his family move house and in a bizarre twist of fate (or twist of the cage's latch) Harry gets left behind. Of course, he finds his way back but not without severely spooking a dog, having a close shave with a cat and ending up in a box of pizza (which he doesn't even eat as he sticks closely to a proper guinea pig diet).

The second story also sees Harry let loose in the outside, this time in an even more crazy set of circumstances - Ali Pye's illustration of a beat up VW van in hot pursuit of an airborne rodent is one I'd love to have a print of!

Speaking of the illustrations, their screenprint-style of limited, but bright, colour palette are what makes the book immediately appealing - so much so that when my copy arrived it was promptly removed from my shelf and read within a 24 hour period by my 7 year old daughter.

Once the illustrations have hooked in their readers young and old, all will delight in the warmly told stories of a boy and his guinea pig. Pye opens up the mind of a devoted pet and confirms what everyone who keeps an animal secretly hopes - that they completely understand their humans and their complicated lives and love them unconditionally. Harry's mixture of wisdom (when it comes to how Billy must be feeling about loving house, starting a new school and hoping that his football team win) and daftness (when he dreams he's eating spaghetti but is in fact chewing the strings of helium balloons) is quite delightful!

Unlike many books aimed at this age range (I'd say 6-9ish), it's one that will appeal to grown ups as well as children. It's funny without being silly, or rude, and far-fetched in such a heart-warming way that no one could dislike it! It falls into the category of 'great books to introduce children to reading chapter books', of which I've not yet read enough - thanks Ali for writing a good one!

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Book Review: 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' by Christopher Edge

Thinking back on this book there are certain things which I'm really unsure of: when was it actually set? I'd assumed here and now, but as I've thought about the mind-bending events of the story I'm now not so sure. Did some of it occur in the imagination or were there actually slips in time? A book that keeps you thinking long after you've read the last page has got to be a book worth reading.

In fact, the questions it leaves you with really give you no option but to read it again. As someone with a To Be Read pile that takes up an entire bookshelf (and that's just the children's books) re-reading is not usually an option, but in this case I think I'll have to. The knowledge that Christopher Edge has put together one of his playlists to accompany the book is another point in favour of picking up this excellent novel again, especially as it contains The Cure, Paul Weller, Beastie Boys, James, The Kinks... the list goes on.

Charlie and Dizzy are lost in the woods, looking for some strange symbols that they think might be clues as to who lives in the woods - is it spies, or is it monsters? Or is it Old Crony? And Jonny, the school bully, has ended up with them too. But as night falls (or does it?) things begin to get strange. Trippy even. And suddenly the book is kind of a World War 2 novel - but not one like you've ever read before.

The children experience strange things which are genuinely quite scary - nightmares become a kind of questionable reality where neither the characters or the reader can quite understand what is going on. However, Edge has written it cleverly enough for readers to begin to build up a picture of what might be going on - especially those who have some background knowledge of theories about time, Greek mythology and World War 2. But for those who don't know what's going on, nearly all is explained - perhaps that second read-through will reveal all, though?

And it's not just the intrigue of the plot that makes this such a captivating read - the writing itself is so evocative. I would defy anyone not to feel transported to those woods with those children on that night:

"Above our heads comes a sudden hushing of leaves, the treetops swaying with a leathery creak... Beneath the tunnel of leaves, dappled light swirls along the path like reflections on a river, but beyond this, the thick ferns and bushes straggle into shadow."

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon takes a look at how, with the benefit of understanding the bigger picture of life, some things which once seemed so important become trivial - what's the point in being at enmity with those around you when the world holds much greater enemies and threats? But it does the opposite too: if you can change the small things in life, then perhaps you can change the big things too - once one has changed one's own world, maybe they can go on to change things in the wider world.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Book Review: 'Lubna and Pebble' by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egnéus

There are plenty of books out there that tell the story of how a child befriends an inanimate object, but none are as pertinent or as substantial as 'Lubna and Pebble' by Wendy Meddour & Daniel EgnĂ©us.

The title page gives the adult reader a good idea of the story's context: a beautiful illustration of a boat, laden with passengers, Arabic script on its hull, is seen from below the waves as sunlight pierces the water's surface. The boat is painted with flowers - this is a story of hope, yet it is the story of a small girl running from the certain horrors (never explicit) of her home land. Children will need to read the story to understand all that this image depicts.

Lubna and her Daddy are searching for safety. But where are her brothers? And where is her mother? And how will she and her father weather the winter in the camp? Pebble will help. And Daddy. Young children will identify with Lubna as she speaks to her pebble but the surprise they find in her not having a cuddly toy to provide solace will spark conversations, allowing empathy and understanding to grow.

The comfort that is afforded Lubna allows her to pass the kindness on when she meets Amir. With illustrations that are rich in imagery and simple but powerful text, even the youngest readers will feel the emotions at play here. Not only should they begin to understand, at an appropriate level, of the plight of other children in the world, they are also shown that kindness costs nothing.

Although there are plenty of picture books out there that aim to open the eyes of more privileged children, there are few which manage to achieve that with this level of simplicity and implicitness. Egnéus' imagery cleverly weaves motifs of hope - glowing light and blooming flora - with a use of colour that speaks to children's hearts. The text nearly always leaves the reader wanting to know more: why did they arrive on the beach at night? Why were Daddy's arms salty? What was the World of Tents? Why did they have to stay in the tent during winter? In this way, Meddour sensitively allows the difficult answers to be discussed between the adult who knows the child reader best, never presuming to be the one who knows how best to tackle the issues.

In a culture of entitlement, books like these are so important for our children. Although this could be read alone, I'd recommend that it is one that adults take the time to read with children. If you are struggling to explain the plight of refugees to your children then this book is a brilliant starting place.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Cross-Curricular Links in 'The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon' (Blog Post by Christopher Edge)

One of the joys of writing for children is seeing the inspiration that young readers take from a story you have written. I’m often contacted by teachers via Twitter showing me the amazing creations their classes have produced after reading one of my novels and when I visit schools I get to see this inspirational work first-hand, from Möbius strip sculptures inspired by 'The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day' to playground rocket launches straight out of 'The Jamie Drake Equation' and fabulous creative writing where young authors have taken Albie Bright into many more exciting new worlds.

The 'Longest Night of Charlie Noon' is a story about three children who get lost in the woods, and at its heart it’s a mystery story. As Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny make their way through the woods they find strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurking in the shadows, and I hope the excitement and intrigue readers will find in the story will get them reading closely to find the clues they need to solve the mystery. As readers, they can make inference and predictions as they follow Charlie’s path through the woods, with the twists and turns of the story also maybe challenging assumptions they might make and showing them the rewards of close reading.

The puzzles in the story can also be used to help develop children’s problem solving skills. From decoding ciphers to building circuits to create their own Morse code keys, 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' shows how stories can be used to connect subjects across the school curriculum. As Charlie tries to use the stars to find a way out of the woods, links can be made to the topic of ‘Earth and Space’ in the science curriculum and the movement of stars across the night sky, whilst other science topics such as the life cycles of trees, plants and flowers and how fossils are formed are also touched on in the story. Connections could be made to Geography too, with children learning about changing environments and carrying out nature audits in their own local area, whilst there are also links to History too.

As someone who’s never been much of an outdoor type, writing 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' has helped me to connect to the natural world in a way that has fed my imagination. From mentions of 'The Wind in the Willows' to echoes of 'Brendon Chase' by ‘B B’, there are opportunities to make connections with classic works of children’s fiction and nature writing. A vocabulary of the natural world is woven through the story and I hope that young readers take these words and make them their own, enriching their vocabularies and using this wild inspiration to create their own art and stories.

Teaching resources for 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' are available from my website (https://www.christopheredge.co.uk/resources) and if you read the book with your class, I’d love to hear about the inspiration they find in the story. And please tell them to keep reading and change the world.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Book Review: 'The Maker of Monsters' by Lorraine Gregory

Dystopian fantasy/scifi inspired by Frankenstein from the author of the brilliant 'Mold and the Poison Plot'? Don't mind if I do. When I heard there was to be a new Lorraine Gregory book I was certain it was going to be another original tale of adventure, full of heart and soul.

This one is also full of gristle with a side helping of gore. Whereas 'Mold...' had the smells, 'The Maker of Monsters' gets its grim grittiness from the horrific creatures, so vividly depicted, created by the tortured Lord Macawber. Bent on revenge he raises an army of resurrected creations, pieced together from beasts both mythical and real and powered by his waning magic.

Brat knows what's going on; after all he has worked for Macawber (love the name - great etymological links with 'macabre') nearly all his life since he washed up on the beach of the island where the magical Lord has his forbidding castle. He knows that if the monsters break free then all hell will break loose. And when they do its up to him to warn the people of the mainland. Of course, no main character in a children's book goes it alone and thankfully Molly rescues Brat and proves more than useful along the way as she and her father help to break into the City.

Despite being based in a corner of a world completely different to our own, both the settings and characters are so well developed that nothing seems out of place, even the monsters. In such a short story Gregory displays absolute craftsmanship in the way that she writes. The fact that the people in the story are hardly any different to us (only a handful have magical powers) is the glue that holds it all together - they are just so incredibly human that everything else is plausible.

With several subplots involving rivalry, an estranged daughter and a people held captive under false premises, this hard-hitting tale (things really don't go to plan where in conventional children's books everything would be OK) is touching and warming: Brat's pets Tingle and Sherman play the role of adorable animal sidekicks (such as you might find in all good Disney films) and the real central theme here is love and relationships. The things we do, in good faith, in the name of love and their impact on the lives of others is a concept explored here in an upper key stage two-friendly manner, although it would probably suit KS3 readers even better.

If you're after a short-ish read for older children, especially one that would make a great read aloud and one which also would provide plenty of points for discussion whilst still falling into the fantasy genre, then look no further than 'The Maker of Monsters'. Lorraine Gregory has done it again.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Book Review: 'Girl 38 Finding a Friend' by Ewa Jozefkowicz

'Girl 38 Finding A Friend', brings to life not only a narrative of present and past, but also introduces a third storyline in the form of an imaginary story which is being written by the story's main character, Kat.

In her second novel for children, Ewa Jozefkowicz draws on the second world war experiences of her own grandmother in Poland. Her story is told by the lips (and paintbrush) of Kat's elderly neighbour Ania, who tells her life story in installments throughout the book. The modern day storyline focuses on the arrival of a new boy at school - a boy who Kat's supposed best friend is intent upon bullying. But Gem doesn't do her own dirty work - that's what she's developed her toxic relationship with Kat for.

If Kat's conscience isn't enough to put her off the cruel things that she's putting Julius through, then Ania's story is. The book itself is a celebration of the power of narrative; through listening to someone else's tale, whilst simultaneously creating her own comic strip, Kat develops her empathy towards others.

And that's just what this book will do for its readers. The elderly are not to be snubbed or looked down upon - they are wonderful people with vast experience and understanding of life and what it is to be human. Newcomers are always potential friends - people who can expand our horizons and open our eyes. Friends are supposed to be friendly - they are meant to do good to you, not harm. It even hints at the fact that even the nastiest people might have a back story that we need to know so as to understand their negative behaviour.

As with other narratives in this vein - Once by Morris Gleitzman and The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailier, for example - there is also the exploration of how, in war, not everything is black and white - there are good people trying to do good things despite their circumstances; despite looking like the enemy.

Suitable for children in upper key stage 2 and older, this delicately written yet compelling book would be a great read for those who enjoy history and slightly more grown-up themes in their reading material. Very much a coming-of-age novel, 'Girl 38 Finding a Friend' (a clever title with dual meaning) will sit well alongside recent books such as 'Armistice Runner' by Tom Palmer and 'Closest Thing To Flying' by Gill Lewis, as well as the aforementioned older books.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Book Review: 'D-Day Dog' by Tom Palmer

If you've read any of Tom Palmer's other historical novels - Over The Line, Armistice Runner, for example - then you will not be disappointed by D-Day Dog at all. In fact, you'll be blown away and left pondering whether, in fact, this is actually his best one yet.

Reading 'D-Day Dog', you'd be forgiven for thinking that what you are actually reading is an accurate retelling of real life events, so thorough is the historical research that has informed this story. But that makes this brilliant book sound far too cold and clinical - here we have a story full of heart, warm and so tenderly handled.

As with Armistice Runner, stories of past and present intertwine, only this time there are several threads running through: Jack's love of war simulation computer games, his dad's desire to fight with the TA in Afghanistan, a Falklands veteran's story, a Syrian refugee's experience of war and the story of Emile and his dog, Glen, who both parachuted into France on D Day during the Second World War.

Jack loves his dog and when he has to do a project on a war hero prior to a school visit to Normandy he learns more about the part that animals, especially dogs, played in the World Wars. But things aren't great at home - his parents don't see eye to eye on his Dad's potential deployment - and Jack's perception of war is changing. What's the point? Why would a soldier choose to go into battle knowing he might be killed, or have to kill others?

The crowning glory of this book is that Tom Palmer sensitively answers those questions - questions we've all turned over in our minds at some point - all through the perfect and powerful medium of story. Tom's inclusion, and positive treatment of, marginalised characters - a child who has a 1:1 learning support, a shell-shocked survivor of conflict in Syria, a boy caught in the middle of family tensions, a grizzly, grumpy old ex-soldier-turned-bus driver - is so natural - there is no shoehorning here.

In fact, cohesion is the name of the game: all the strands mesh together perfectly to promote diversity, inclusion and understanding. What's more, published by Barrington Stoke's Conkers imprint for 7 to 10 year olds, this book is readable by design, allowing such serious subject matter to be accessed and explored by younger children - it's dyslexia-friendly too.

With so much packed into a short read, there is ever reason for this book to be devoured left, right and centre. Get it on your bookshelves - at the library, at school, at home. The children need this.

Here's Tom telling us a little more about the dogs featured in the book: