Middle Grade Reviews · Young Middle Grade

Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo. Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.

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Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo (Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.) 

Once upon a Christmas, a little boy called James and his Grandma snuggle up together and wish for snow. When that snow comes, there is one thing James wants most of all – to build a snowman. 

When that snowman comes to life and takes James on an adventure he will never forget, he returns home desperate to share the magic with his Grandma. 

The Snowman is a staple of British Christmas, and this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the original picture book by Raymond Briggs. For many adults, there has never been a Christmas without The Snowman. There are several things which make the story so successful, and I think one of those things is it speaks equally to people watching together as to those watching alone. Its poignancy makes it effective even for those who are not having the happiest of Christmases. Its key message is about how short and precious time is – Christmas comes, it melts away, and it comes around again, except we can never be children again. 

This adaptation is a short chapter book suitable for children of all ages. It is extraordinarily faithful to the original story, changing very little, but it develops the characters. James is a modern-day child who lives on a farm. He has a stutter and wants a bike just like cool-kid Paul. 

The other key change is the relationship with Grandma. In the original story, James’s family know very little about his adventures but in this adaptation, Grandma is well aware of what James is up to. I don’t want to spoil the plot – this is a book which lots of families will want to read together -but I thought it was a heartwarming addition. Children can get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and the story reminds us that memories created with grandparents are precious. 

 The illustrations are equally faithful to the original, picking out moments which we all recognise such as the flight and the circle of snow-people. I loved the pictures of a rural childhood, where a garden might have views of the mountains and hills beyond.

This is a story which never loses its magic. It works for every generation and the new adaptation will bring it to a young audience. Whether you share it with someone special or cuddle up alone, I think this will be a favourite this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Puffin Books for my proof-copy of The Snowman. Opinions my own.

 

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Grandma Bird by Benji Davies

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Review: Grandma Bird by Benji Davies

Noi isn’t at all sure about spending summer at Grandma’s. She lives on a remote island and never has time to play. Then Noi finds a bird stranded at sea and gets caught up in the waves. Only Grandma Bird knows what to do. 

A stunning picture book about family and friendship. 

Adults are pushed for time. In the modern world, there is an increasing amount of pressure to be on the go from dawn until dusk, and the rise of technology has seen a decline in the concept of clocking off. Even when we’re at home, we might be expected to answer a phone call or an email. 

Children are competing with work, overtime, and technology for adult attention. While most children don’t have a Grandma who lives on a rock at sea, they will certainly relate to the themes of the story. Sometimes it must be hard not to feel ignored and unwanted. 

Grandma Bird teaches us, in a touching way, that people don’t have to be available 24/7 to have their loved ones’ backs. When Noi is in trouble, Grandma Bird is straight to the rescue. 

Iimg_6586-1 love Benji Davies’s work and have collected his picture books since The Storm Whale came out. There is something special about his remote and homely settings. They are books of adventure and shelter and family. I love the wide vistas, which are as likely to be populated with animals as people. The color-pallette is that of nature – soft greys and blues. 

There is a sense of security and love in his worlds. His protagonists are not afraid to venture away from home, but we know they are loved and looked out for. 

After the success of Davies’s first books, this will doubtless be on many Christmas lists. I can’t think of a better story to share as the nights are closing in.  

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my early copy of Grandma Bird. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Peek And Seek by Charlotte Milner and Violet Peto

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Review: Peek And Seek by Charlotte Milner and Violet Peto

A flock of birds. A troop of monkeys. Peek under each flap to discover different animals, learn fun facts about their species and uncover a great big hide and seek game. With five different flaps and ten things to find in each spread, this book will keep young explorers happy for hours. 

I adore this book because it is a fact-file which is accessible to very young readers. Before we read paragraphs and sentences, before we even recognise letters, we have positive experiences with books. Hide-and-seek games are a wonderful way to share time with children. They are also brilliant for keeping kids entertained and they encourage children to be observant. Trusting that information is on the page, even if we can’t initially see it, is an important step to analytical-thinking. 

peekandseek2The short facts on each spread will encourage reading skills and help children to take an interest in wildlife. With more people than ever out of touch with nature, it is important that we use books and media to pass on our knowledge and vocabulary of the natural landscape. 

Peek And Seek is bold and colourful, with appealing illustrations. Each spread takes us straight into the landscape of the different species, from the snowy mountains where the wolves hunt to the burrows and tunnels beneath tree-roots where rabbits hide their food. There is lots to be learned from the illustrations alone: which other species can be found in a habit, what sort of home the animals keep and whereabouts in the world they might be found. The illustrations promote huge amounts of conversation which will teach children about the natural world. 

An attractive and engaging book which demands to be shared and enjoyed together. 

 

Many thanks to Antonia Wilkinson and Dorling Kindersley Limited for my copy of Peek And Seek. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sing To The Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn

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Review: Sing To The Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn

Being indoors on a rainy day is boring. One little boy dreams of all the things he could be doing while the rain comes down and wishes on the moon for the rain to stop. Then he finds Jjajja – his grandfather. Together they play games and tell stories until a rainy day no longer looks like a miserable thing. 

A gentle, rhyming story which tackles something known to every small child – boredom. 

In a day and age when adults are always on the go, and children’s hours are filled for them, it is hardly surprising that they are afraid to stop. This beautiful picture book introduces the idea that time to entertain ourselves is one of the most precious and magical things we can experience. 

It is also a touching look at a relationship between a child and his grandfather. Grandparents often play an important part in a young child’s world and picture books about these relationships have been published before … but, most often, the protagonist is white. This story focuses on a grandfather who tells African myths. On a boy who climbs guava trees. Culture is about far more than skin-colour. Food and stories, music and landscape make up the things we associate with our families. It is tremendously important that children from all cultures are represented in book-corners and libraries. 

I love the illustrations and the whole book design – it shimmers and sparkles with the magic of Jjajja’s stories. I love the dark pages with patches of candle-light – they made me feel as if I was in the dark house, sitting around the table with the characters in the book. 

A reassuring and uplifting story which will help children change their approach to rainy days and boredom in general. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my copy of Sing To The Moon. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

 

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Extract: 

There were three sisters, named for Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Io. As they had blood in their veins, so they had magic, fine and strong as a spider’s web. They lived in a house of white marble, and the tower stretched to the sky and speared the clouds, searching, they said, for the moon. They filled it with miniature worlds, set whole galaxies spinning, caught within glass spheres. And then they hid in their house while the world changed. That was their lot.

(Snowglobe by Amy Wilson.) 

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Synopsis:

There are three sisters with strong magic, named for Jupiter’s moons – Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Callisto vanished ten years ago, leaving behind a young daughter.

Now Clementine is showing signs of the same magic. When she turns it against the school bully, Clementine faces a short suspension from school. This prompts her to go in search of information about the magic and takes her to the house where the three sisters lived.

The house is filled with magic. Clementine discovers a room full of snowglobes like perfect little worlds. Inside one of those snowglobes is Dylan – a boy from school who never joins in the bullying, but never stands up for Clementine either.

Together they journey through the snowglobe words and hunt for answers about Clementine’s connection to the magic.

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A lyrical tale of bullying and individuality. Amy Wilson’s debut novel – A Girl Called Owl – was the first book I reviewed as a blogger. I remember being caught up in the snowy world and being impressed at how the fantasy story linked to the character’s development in the real world. This is Amy Wilson’s third novel and it left me with the same chills. I adore her subtle magic. Her characters weave between everyday situations and the fantastical with ease. Magic isn’t an ordinary part of her worlds, but certain individuals are in touch with special powers and secret realms. Magic is both extraordinary and part of the normal world.

There are some strong themes such as bullying and manipulation. The snowglobes, as well as being beautiful, are slightly sinister. They are used to imprison anyone who disagrees with the sisters. This was a perfect metaphor for manipulation. The prisoners are caught in one person’s view of perfection when their magic belongs in the outside world. It made me think of people who have an idea of how others should think and behave. Everyone needs to be free to explore and share their own personalities.

I liked the friendship between Dylan and Clem. Dylan is the kid who nods along with bullying but doesn’t support it. Clem goes to school every day to harassment and teasing. While she needs to learn not to see the worst in every single person, Dylan needs to assert himself and stand up for what he thinks is right. I liked how there was no blame – both Clem and Dylan need to alter their perspective and both have things to learn.

I also loved the house with its room of snowglobes. Amy Wilson has created magical houses before, and they are unique to anything I have ever seen. They have their own magic and their own secrets and they are so well described I feel as if I have walked through their halls.

A beautiful story to read by the fire. Amy Wilson has confirmed her place as a writer of lyrical and poetic stories.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my proof copy of Snowglobe. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Darkness Of Dragons by S.A. Patrick

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Extract:

When the Hamelyn Piper was finally caught, he refused to reveal what had become of the children. Many wanted to see him die for what he had done, convinced he would never reveal the children’s fate, but the council kept him alive and gave him the cruelest punishment they could devise. The Iron Mask: fastened around the head of Hamelyn Piper, it prevented him ever using his abilities again, as no magic could escape it. 

(From A Darkness Of Dragons by S.A. Patrick. P94.)

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Synopsis:

After a song on his magical pipe goes terribly wrong, Patch is sentenced to life in jail. That’s where he meets Wren, the girl turned into a rat by enchantment,. It is also where he first encounters the Hamelyn Piper. 

The Hamelyn Piper is a notorious criminal. He was locked in the dungeons at Tiviscan after his attack on the children of Hamelyn and the dragon children.

Then Patch learns something terrible. The Hamelyn Piper is on the loose. Can he uncover the secret around the Hamelyn Piper before something catastrophic happens? Alongside Wren and a dracogriff called Braver, Patch sets out to prevent the biggest battle of all time.

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Welcome to a world of dragons and griffins and magical pipes. A world where magical piping is overseen and policed by a council of elders. The story about the Piper of Hamelyn is not as you know it, and that story was just the beginning …

I adore books which put a twist on myths and fairytales but this story has been told particularly well. At its core, it is the narrative we all know about dark power and corruption, but it is told in such a way that you won’t figure out what is going on until exactly the right moment. The climax will take your breath away.

Patch, Wren and Braver may be my new favourite team. Patch is the archetypal underdog. After failing to win a place to train as an elite piper, Patch ran away from his magical academy. Remember Harry Potter realising that Hogwarts was his true home? Tiviscan is the opposite of that. It is delightfully creepy and authoritarian and we’re rooting for Patch from the get-go because although he breaks the rules, his intentions are better than the people in charge.

I loved the worldbuilding, from the magical pipes to the politics between humans and dragons. Every culture within this world has a separate history and political stance. I love how important these histories are to the plot and how they make the setting feel real.

An unmissable fantasy from a talented voice. I loved the characters, the plot and the setting. I’m certain Patch and his friends will remain with me even now I’ve closed the book.

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Blog Tour: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

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Synopsis:

Roa and her sister Essie shared an unbreakable bond. A bond so strong that, when Essie was killed, her soul remained in this world. Roa swore she would never forgive the boy responsible for Essie’s death but, when Dax came begging for help, Roa made a deal.

She would provide an army for his uprising if he agreed to make her Queen and end the sanctions which kept the Scrublanders in poverty.

Dax didn’t keep his side of the bargain. Not only has he not made the slightest improvement for the Scrublanders, he is seeing other girls. He hasn’t honoured any of the bonds he made with Roa. There is no reason to think he will turn out any differently to his manipulative, cruel father.

There is an old myth. A myth about the Skyweaver, who sends the souls of the dead into the sky where they belong. If Roa can get her hands on the Skyweaver’s knife she can reclaim her sister’s soul.

All she would have to do is kill Dax, the boy king.

A powerful sequel about love, betrayal and the bond between two sisters.

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Review:

Please note: This review assumes you are familiar with The Last Namsara and its storyline. If you haven’t read The Last Namsara, please be warned that there are spoilers. Check out my review of The Last Namsara here.

 The Last Namsara was one of my favourite books of 2017. It was a brilliant and lyrical fantasy which told the story of a young woman who overturned a corrupt king and freed the dragons who had been hunted almost to extinction. The Caged Queen is told in the same style. Short fairytales are interwoven into the main story. These build up a storyline about an object so powerful it could return the soul of a loved one to a body.

We follow the same group of characters, but the narrative is told from a different perspective. This time, the story centres on Roa, the Scrublander warrior who was key to the rebellion. Roa gave up everything to marry the Firgaardian King, including the boy she truly loved. It was a move which she hoped would liberate her people. I love how the same characters look totally different from a different set of eyes. The history between the two cultures exacerbates this – what appeared heroic to a Firgaardian might appear oppressive to a Scrublander.

It was lovely to learn more about the history of these two cultures. About the rebellion which lead to the divide and the fact that neither culture is perfect. The Scrublanders may have chosen exile over tyranny but over time they forgot their key principle – that there is no such thing as an enemy. The themes explored in this storyline are highly relevant to the modern world. The two cultures have long lived apart. Corrupt Firgaardian rules have taken advantage of this to claim the Scrublanders are something different. Something other. This that could promote discussion of historical divisions and the reasons they continue.

The other theme which has been explored in both books is manipulation. Dax comes from a line of men who have historically exploited others. His father married and then killed a woman from the Scrublands. Dax doesn’t respect Roa as a human being. He sees her as a potential bedmate who is not living up to her duty. It is important to see manipulative behaviour in YA – both in the context of partnerships and in a broader context (manipulation within families, for example, and manipulative rulers.) Manipulative people are often the most charming and the ones in command of their conversation and behaviour. It is important for young readers to see this behaviour in fiction if they are to recognise and avoid it in life.

Another great hit for Kristen Ciccarelli. The Caged Queen confirms this series as one of the great YA fantasies. Watch this author – she’s an extraordinary talent.

 

Thanks to Victor Gollancz LTD for inviting me on to the tour and for my copy of The Caged Queen. Opinions my own.