Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

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Every time  Molly tries to go outdoors, her fear-monsters appear. 

They follow her down the pavement and prevent her from having conversations with new people. They crowd her and surround her and multiply no matter how far she runs. Eventually, Molly realises that if she ever wants to join in with other children, she will have to face her fears down. 

A beautiful wordless picture book about social anxiety.

The thing about social anxiety is that, on the surface, it can look like nothing is wrong. Like the person in question is being rude, or like they shun the company of other people. The truth is that the experience is intense. The fear that you won’t be liked, that other pepole are laughing at you, and that you’ve done everything the wrong way is a tremendous thing to deal with and it multiples inside you just like Molly’s monsters. 

The trouble is, walking away from social situations doesn’t defeat it. 

The story begins with Molly indoors. She is a happy, creative and intelligent girl whose love of art and reading can be seen around her bedroom. The trouble isn’t that she likes to spend time alone – and this is an important point because sometimes it feels as if society views social pastimes as superior to lone ones. The trouble is that when she wants to socialise, her fears stop her from making friends. I liked how the opening scene shows us how much Molly has to offer. A person skulking away may not look, at first glance, like the obvious friend, but make that little bit of effort and they might turn out to be interesting and kind. 

Molly’s monsters are dark shadows which hang over her. The way they darken any social situation and hound her away from other people is extremely evocative. 

As well as encouraging people to face down their fears and recognise their worries, this book will help others to empathise with people who have social anxiety. The wordless format is brilliant because it encourages the reader to ask what is going on and to take time to read the visual clues which we so often miss out on in the rush of real life. 

A wonderful and relatable book about social anxiety. 

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

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Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

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William Bee loves trains and boats and planes. He has a massive collection of engineering marvels from across time and he likes to play with them all. Join him as he travels through his collection, laying tracks and flying rescue planes and blasting off into space. 

A joyful celebration of vehicles. 

The illustrations in this story are a visual feast. The colour pallette and detailed drawings remind me of the Haynes instruction manuals which are instantly recognisable as a brand. Although they are vibrantly coloured and full of little quirks which will delight small readers (such as the smiling traffic-cones) the illustrations fully respect how even the very youngest of children can be hungry to know how something works.

The language, too, is challenging and never once underestimates its readers. It talks about gravity, about streamlined design and cylinders and pistons and supercharged engines. It takes readers who have fallen in love with vehicles straight to the heart of their design. 

With shelves and television programmes filled with talking trains and animal pilots and imaginary trips to space, it is refreshing to see a book which shows that vehicles are designed and built to fulfill a purpose. This simple understanding is the first step to an interest in engineering, and it can’t come too early in life. Playful vehicles have their place but it is great to see a book which acknowledges that some children take their trains seriously. 

William is the only human in the story. He is helped along the way by animals and walking, living traffic cones. This style will be appealing to children who enjoy their own company. My one thought is that it would be great to see some titles in the series lead by a girl. With uptake of STEM subjects far lower among girls, it is pivotal that all children see these subjects as something they might play a role in from an early age. That’s not a criticism of the book as it stands – I firmly think it is important to show people enjoying solitary activities as well as social ones – but I would love to see a girl in the series.  

A wonderful book which will make readers of all ages curious to learn more about vehicles and engines. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my gifted copy of William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes. Opinions my own.

 

Young Middle Grade

Young Fiction and Younger MG roundup: May 2019

Young Fiction and Younger MG roundup: May 2019

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The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman 

Mrs Minty’s bookshop is the most important place in Milly’s world. It is run by Mrs Minty, who is a walking, talking encyclopedia of stories. She’s also getting a bit slower. A bit creaky.

One day the bookshop is closed and a woman packs all the storytime rugs and cushions into a van. Milly can’t imagine the bookshop vanishing, and she wants Mrs Minty to know how much it means to the community. Unable to contact Mrs Minty, Milly sticks a picture on the bookshop window. Then a strange thing happens. All kinds of pictures and messages appear.

A  heartwarming story about the role of independent bookshops.

Nothing replaces the knowledge of a good librarian or bookseller … and there is nothing more magical than the moment a young customer looks at you with an open mouth and says ‘have you read every book in the world‘? I know because I played that role for eighteen months. It was special every time.

No algorithm can replace the knowledge a bookish person has of themes or settings or character development.

The illustrations show the contrast between the warmth and colour of a bookshop and the dull cold of other shops. Although bookselling is a retail job … it just isn’t. Because while shifting books is important, the conversations between bookseller and customer mean so much more.

Another fabulous title from the new Colour range from Stripes Publishing.

 

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Little Dolphin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye

One minute Fliss is in a swimming lesson, admiring the artwork at the bottom of the pool. The next minute she is on a tropical island. 

While she is out swimming in the coral, Fliss meets a little dolphin. Then she meets some fishers who explain how much care take to remain a fair distance from the corals and to free any animals caught up in their nets.

When Spinner gets trapped in some netting which has been left on the ocean floor, Fliss must use all her Future Vet determination and bravery to free him before he becomes a meal for a shark. 

The second book in Little Rescue series. 

Sometimes I get a book I know I would have loved as a child, and these stories are exactly the sort of thing I would have stuffed down the side of my bunk bed and read early in the morning. Fliss’s love of other animals goes beyond toys and posters. She truly wants to learn about them.

There is also a bit of magic in the way Fliss is transported to another setting. It is the superpower lots of small children would pick, and it enables Fliss to see new parts of the world. 

Too often stories about animals put humans in a dominant role. Even rescue books can fall foul of this. If the human’s only interaction with the animals is as a rescuer, and no time is given to spending time alongside or learning about other species, it reinforces the idea of humans in control. Rachel Delahaye’s stories introduce the idea that we share interactions with creatures other than humans. That we should respect them equally to ourselves. If the current climate catastrophe is to be reversed, we need people to adopt this worldview fast. 

A great addition to the series. 

 

Star Friends – Moonlight Mischief by Linda Chapman. Illustrated by Lucy Fleming

A cloud of dark magic is hanging over the village of Westcombe. 

Luckily the girls and their Star Friends are alert for any trouble. When the village is entered for the Best Kept Competiton, strange things begin to happen. At the same time, an elderly resident takes against the local schoolchildren and demands that they keep away from his house. Could he have something to do with the dark shades? 

Another great installment in the Star Friends series. 

I love the magic in the Star Friends books. It starts with a bond between a human and an animal, and every person has a different magical talent. These talents reflect the girls’ personalities. The dark magic, while creepy, is written with its young readership in mind. It keeps the reader hooked but there is nothing to induce nightmares. 

The books always have great contemporary storylines mixed in with the fantasy. As a result, the friendship group has grown stronger over the series. 

The illustrations show wonderful observations of animal behaviour and the girls remind me of the Lego Friends. (There is *huge* potential for reenacting this series with Lego Friends and some Lego animals). 

 

The Hideaway Deer by Holly Webb 

When Lola moves house she misses her old life. That is until she finds the huge garden and the deer who come to visit. When she finds a little foal stuck in some netting, Lola is determined to help. 

Looking after the fawn causes some friction at school. A group of girls is jealous about the attention Lola receives from her teacher. Lola doesn’t mind though, not when it brings her closer to her new friend Paige. 

When Lola’s Uncle asks her to keep a secret about the fawn, Lola agrees not to tell anyone. Will keeping secrets from Paige spoil their friendship for good?

A beautiful story about animals, friendship and how wild spaces can help us through times of change and hurt. Paige and Lola come together because of their shared respect for animals, but sometimes sticking to our own principles can mean upsetting other people

Holly Webb creates some beautiful settings. Lola’s garden is no exception. The deer come through the fence early in the morning. It is a real wildlife haven. 

 

Shine – Lily’s Secret Audition by Holly Webb

Lily has never felt like she belongs at stage school. Even though her parents both have connections to the industry, and everyone expects her to do well, Lily has never been certain it is the place for her. She’s always worried that she only got the place because of her mother’s reputation. 

When Lily asks to be put forward for an audition for a television adaptation of her favourite book, her teachers are doubtful. If Lily can’t put the effort in during regular classes, how will she pull it out for the dramatisation? They put her name forward, but the pressure is on for Lily to perform during school time. 

Can Lily get to the bottom of her issues about stage school in time to pull off the audition?

A lovely story which encourages us to empathise with people no matter how perfect their lives seem. Lily appears to have it all. A big house, wealthy parents, connections in the industry … and yet she’s been under immense pressure since she was a small child. Her Mum can’t understand that Lily might want other things. That it might be tough to live up to a big name. And sometimes Lily wants her parents to step back and allow her to achieve things on her own. 

From the day she auditioned at stage school, Lily has felt certain she only got in because of a name. That she hasn’t got the same talent as her friends. 

This series is brilliant at showing the flip-side of the coin. After following Sara, whose parents don’t want stage work to get in the way of normal education, we meet Lily whose mother would have seen her with acting credits from an early age. Neither girl is badly off. Both girls have issues to overcome.

Shine is a wonderful series. It has a wide cast, emotionally involved storylines and encouraging messages to everyone who ever had a dream. 

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Level Up! By Tom Nicoll. Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

Flo and Max can’t believe their luck when they are taken inside a video game. How many other children land directly on the moon? Then the Emperor’s son Gary captures them, mistaking them for the infamous player known as the Red Ghost.

The children will have to win to escape the game, but how will they do that when the Red Ghost has hacks and cheats at his fingertips?

A wonderful story which is true to all the best gaming experiences.

There are some brilliant themes, especially the attitude Flo experiences as a female player. Other characters question how a ‘little girl’ can win the game. With female technology journalists opening up about the discrimination they have faced in a male-dominated world, it is important that the next generation grow up confident that gaming is for anybody with the skill.

The illustrations show the children in a realistic world which has gaming-inspired touches (such as electricity bursting out from the weapons).

The next story in the series looks set to be in a Minecraft style building game. Looking forward to seeing this series grow.

 

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 The Naughtiest Unicorn by Pip Bird. Illustrated by David O’Connell

Mira has always dreamed of going to Unicorn School. When her dreams come true, she vows to be a good student and gets lots of medals. Then she is paired with her unicorn, Dave. Dave has other plans. Most of them involve eating, and none of them involve being Mira’s best friend. How will she ever win lots of medals if Dave doesn’t cooperate? And what use will he be on a magical quest if he can’t behave?

A fun story filled with friendship, sparkles and lots of droughts.

The Naughtiest Unicorn didn’t feel like a typical unicorn book. Certainly, there were rainbows and magical quests, but there was a healthy dose of dung and doughnuts and everyday school pressures to counter the fluff.

After all, why should every unicorn be handsome and brave? How boring would it be if we were all the same? Even so, Mira puts herself under a lot of pressure to achieve results and she needs to connect with Bob to get through the year.

The illustrations are a must. Think grumpy unicorns pulling faces while Bob misbehaves. These stories will be popular for the pictures alone.

A fresh take on unicorns brings a whole lot of fun to these stories.

 

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Dennis In Jurassic Bark by Nigel Auchterlounie [A Beano Adventure]

The Mayor of Beanotown is determined to bring some of the dinosaurs from Duck Island to the Beanotown zoo, and nothing will stop him. Due to an asteroid which hit many years ago, everything on Duck Island is small, but if the asteroid were tampered with the dinosaurs would grow to a normal size and spread out across Beanotown.

Dennis and Gnasher set off to stop the Mayor from spoiling Duck Island and unleashing the dinosaurs.

A story of fun, action and interactive puzzles.

Favourite Beano characters come together for a novel sized adventure. Minnie the Minx wants a pet dinosaur, Walter is a walking fact file and Gnasher has fangs to challenge the biggest prehistoric beasts. I read the Beano aged six or seven and considered myself a loyal fan. It offered an escape from the rules made up by adults and showed me a world where children ruled.

The mixture of puzzles and games in the book offers incentives to reluctant readers while proving that stories can take any number of forms.

A fun-filled adventure which sees Beanotown go Jurassic.

 

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Ada Twist And The Perilous Pantaloons by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Ada Twist has an inquiring mind. Every question leads to two more questions, and every answer leads to a better understanding of how the world works.

She’s the perfect problem to help Rosie Revere with a problem. Her Uncle Ned is wearing a pair of helium pantaloons, and the rope which is supposed to keep him anchored to the ground came loose. Now it is caught on the top branch of a tree. How can Rosie and Ada get him down?

With her friends the Questioneers, their combined brainpower and a bit of help from her brother’s tennis racquet, Ada Twist saves the day.

A brilliant story which centres around scientific problem-solving.

This story looks at the air pressure, air currents and how the behaviour of molecules changes at different temperatures. I am delighted to find a story built around scientific problems. Fiction and illustration can make a problem memorable and make readers excited about learning more.

Thumbs up for Ada Twist and the Questioneers. I am seriously late to the party but this series is popular for a good reason.

 

Thanks to Stripes Books, Egmont UK, Bonnier Books, Abrams And Chronicle Books and Laura Smythe PR for gifting the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

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When Nell’s chicken friend runs away, it leads her to the circus of her dreams.

A circus family welcomes Nell and introduces her to the lights and music and magic tricks of their show. After the circus packs up and Nell goes home, the circus fades from her memory like a dream, but all through the summer and into the summers beyond she plays her own circus games in the back garden.

Partly based on the memories of Nell Gifford, from Gifford’s circus, the setting brings to life the magic of a traditional circus. Being among the animals and the music and the traditional caravans are enough to bring anyone’s imagination to life. In this story, a young girl’s games are given a new lease of life after visiting the circus.

There is something folksy and beautiful about the illustrations, from the field of wildflowers to the circle of wooden caravans. It invokes a strange kind of nostalgia – a nostalgia for a life most of us have never lived. Of course, this can make us yearn for a different world, and Nell does exactly this when the circus goes. She finds it in little pockets, though. In her games and in her back garden.

The illustrations are full of a golden light and beautiful textures. They bring back romanticised memories of childhood summers and remind us of the magic of our dreams. A double-page spread of the circus in action is so beautiful, it is possible to stare at it for hours. These are pictures which bring to life all our senses. I could hear the music and feel the soap bubbles popping beside my cheeks.

A real treat of a story and one of those books which demands to be reread and treasured.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Nell And The Circus Of Dreams. Opinions my own.

blog tour

Blog Tour: Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

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About Kingsbane. 

Sun Queen Rielle is touring the kingdom when a request for help arrives from a neighbouring kingdom. Upon investigation, it turns out Rielle is the only person who can help. The Gate which keeps most of the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the hidden castings of the saints who constructed the gate. The castings are hidden across the kingdom.

She must also overcome the temptations of angel Corien.

Centuries later, Sun Queen Eliana fears corruption and becoming another Rielle. Eliana is supposed to be humanity’s saviour, yet she is the daughter of the woman who put the world in peril. As Eliana grapples with her identity, her friend Navi is in increasing danger. Her transformation into a crawler is progressing.

Eliana learns of a way to help Navi, but she will only be able to do it if she takes ownership of her powers.

Kingsbane second book in an epic fantasy trilogy. Think big world, big plot and a huge number of questions.

As in the first book, the story is told in a dual narrative. Rielle lives in a time of magic. The angels who have been held at bay are breaking through into the world. Rielle is succumbing to the temptations of the Angel Corien and her actions will lead to downfall.

Eliana lives centuries later when magic is viewed as a myth and Angels are in control of the world. Without any spoilers, her mother’s legacy is such that Eliana is uncertain whether she can be the person to save the world. 

The worldbuilding is as complex and believable as any fantasy I’ve read and I love Eliana’s unique perspective. Living in a time when the story of Rielle is a legend, you would think Eliana has an advantage, but her personal backstory and ties leave her unable to see past that legacy. 

Although the story is dark, there are strong romances and friendships which keep us invested in the characters. 

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Giveaway:

Thanks to the lovely people at Midas PR, I have a copy of Kingsbane to giveaway. Check out my Twitter page for more information. UK and Ireland only. Giveaway ends at 11.59pm 28.05.2019. 

 

Thanks to Midas PR for my ARC of Kingsbane. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Maker Of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory

Review: The Maker Of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory

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Review:

The creature clutches at his head with his huge hands and lets out a blood-freezing cry, showing off the many rows of enormous serrated white teeth which fill his massive jaws. 

‘You will follow my orders or suffer the consequences!’ Lord Macawber insists, holding the locket with one hand and extending his other palm out towards his creation. 

(The Maker Of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory. P37.) 

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Synopsis:

Brat has lived in the castle since he was small, caring for all the monsters that his master has created. Some of the monsters are kind, but recently they’ve become scary and dangerous. Lord Macawber’s plan is to build a monster army and rescue his daughter, but one day the monsters get out of control and turn on their creator.

Only Brat can escape into the city and warn the other people of the danger but do this he must overcome the feeling that he is hopeless.

The world outside the castle may be as brutal as the one inside.

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Review:

A fantasy story which explores the definition of the word monster.

Like Dr Frankenstein, Lord Macawber creates monsters from body parts. His reasoning is that his daughter was taken from him and he is entitled to revenge. And certainly the man he is seeking to harm has done some terrible things. The novel explores whether Lord Macawber’s reaction is justified when other people who have been harmed are looking to find their own place in the world without endangering others.

Lord Macawber shows no respect for the creatures he creates. His early creatures, whose personalities were too kind for the job, are treated as scrap. Brat, whose life Macawber sees as worthless compared to that of his daughter, is treated as a slave whose life is disposable. However, it is Brat who acts with humanity, warning the other people of the danger. The theme of prejudice recurs throughout the book. Brat and his monster friends have learned that they are worthless, but eventually they question what they have always been told and find new ways to define themselves.

The setting is spook-tacular. A crumbling castle over the sea. A community of outcasts. A walled city with hidden tunnels. This is a wonderful landscape to adventure through and all the large buildings serve to make Brat appear smaller and even less significant than he feels.

Although this is short it has real depth and an extraordinary narrative which balances various subplots and settings. It would be wonderful for older readers after something shorter.

A wonderful fantasy which pays tribute to Frankenstein but brings something new and entirely magical of its own.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The Maker Of Monsters. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Field Trip To The Moon by John Hare and Jeanne Willis

Review: Field Trip To The Moon by John Hare and Jeanne Willis

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The aliens watch while a group of children is guided around the moon. They stick together for safety … all except one boy who slips away to draw pictures of what he sees. When he gets left behind, the aliens creep out to watch him, and together they add some colour to the moon. 

A story of friendship, exploration and caring for the places we visit. 

With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in July 2019, a whole spate of books has been published, from fact files to real-life stories of space scientists to stories set in outer space. This book falls into the latter category, imaging what a school trip or day out might look like if we could travel en-masse into space. 

The story is told in rhyme and balances both the gravitas of major exploration and the light excitement of a day trip. The one child who does their own thing will be familiar to anybody who has lead a group of children outdoors (or been a child on a school trip) and I was pleased to see the story showing that this can be lead by curiosity rather than trouble. Although the boy is in the wrong, he is the only person who takes enough time to look back and admire the view of the earth. 

When the aliens come out, the real fun begins. 

Their world is grey, and they have never seen so many colours as the boy holds in his crayon packet. A new game begins and soon the boy is less frightened about being left behind. 

The illustrations have a futuristic feel to them, and the reader is always looking forwards on to the moon landscape as if they were standing up close to the boy. This sense of being right there makes the story even more exciting. 

This would be a lovely story to get readers interested in the Moon anniversary and to help them imagine where the future of space travel might lie. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.