The Ice Lolly Book Tag


Mid-July means walking past the freezer isle, drooling over boxes of ice-lollies. As a kid, I had great ambitions to try every type of ice-lolly under the sun during those six-week summer breaks which lasted a life time. These days, I’m hyper-aware of the calorie count. 

What better way to eat every type of ice-lolly than to match them to books? This is how the conversation between myself, Amy and Charlotte began. ‘Mini Milks – Short and Sweet’, said Amy. An hour of Twtitter-Chat-Gold later, and our tag was born. 

I hope you enjoy. If you are tagged, please tag FOUR other people and credit Amy, Charlotte and Louise. I guarantee you will be craving a Nobbly Bobbly or a Mini-Milk by the time your answers are written. Thanks to Charlotte for the cute pictures, and Amy for the Banner. 

  • Some of the questions are straightforward. Others – such as ‘Calippo’ – are open to interpretation. 






Mini Milk: Short and Sweet?

The Aarhus 39 stories. 39 short stories by some of the strongest emerging children’s writers in Europe. What’s not to love? I’ve read all the stories, and know I will be rereading them for the rest of my life. Read my review of YA collection Odyssey here.

Magnum: Best Classic?

Best is difficult. Staying with children’s fiction, Alan Garner’s works are great modern classics. I’m a huge fan of Red Shift. If you liked Midwinderblood by Marcus Sedgwick, you’ll love Red Shift.

Cornetto: Book with a surprise ending?

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson. The best sort of surprise endings hang over your head throughout the novel. As well as the ending, there is a surprise which made me catch me breath. It had been there all along.

Rocket Ice Lolly: a book which looks more exciting from the Outside?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Script. I don’t care if it’s Harry. I don’t care how many awards the stage production won. Voldemort was nothing more than a pantomime villain, and the plot was so dull I barely remember it. Compared to Fantastic Beasts, which is one of the best stories I’ve heard in the past year … This wins the Rocket Lolly because ‘Harry Potter’ made me expect more.

Ben and Jerry’s – Most Versatile Author 

Geraldine McCaughrean. From haunted seaside music halls to the early days of the American railroad, to Noah’s Ark, McCaughrean can take any setting and tell a great story. I have her latest novel form the library. Whether the library will get it back is a moot point.

FAB – Weak Ending

Heartless by Merissa Meyer. Why set up that fascinating story about Chess if the reader was never going to see it? There was potential for a seven-story series. Instead, it was cut off with something which amounted to ‘you didn’t see that coming’. Did I say earlier this was the strongest type of surprise? It can be done badly, it can be done well. Done well, it doesn’t sweep away the plot as it stands.

Calippo – Reader has to Work to Get the Good Stuff Out

I’m interpreting this as a story made stronger by textual analysis. My answer is Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond. A strong adventure, when you think about the structure, you realise the story is a metaphor for storytelling. A story which is already strong becomes 100 times more interesting. I get something new out of Almond’s stories on every reread. 

Rainbow Lollies – Favourite LGBQTA fiction

Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott. It is not openly stated that the relationship in Barefoot on the Wind is Ace, but it is possible to interpret it this way. Marriott is openly Ace, and some of her other novels are about Ace characters. I love that the relationship isn’t LABELLED – an asexual relationship is equally valid as any other, and Marriott’s fiction shows people that Asexuality isn’t something lesser or non-valid. It is a relationship like any other.

Nobbly Bobbly – Gritty Subject, Sweet Message

The Bombs that Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan. Charlie Law wants a space to escape the bombs and the tyranny. The Big Man is willing to provide that space, at a cost. The Big Man says it is time for Charlie to decide between ‘them’ and ‘us’. A look at war, and political tyranny, the ultimately uplifting message is to look at the things we have in common, not the things which make us different.

Boss Strawberry Double – Book by an International Author (nb. Country other than your own.)

Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais. A super-uplifting summer read about overcoming the slurs people throw at us, and finding what out what is important to ourselves. Check back for my review on Thursday.

Magnum Ice Cream Tubs – Weird but Good

The Head of the Saint by Socoroo Acioli. A kid hides in the head of a fallen statue, and answers the prayers of a town. Should it work? It does. It so does. Would take a reread to do it justice, but I remember raving about it.

Cruchie Blast – Great Spin-off/Retelling

Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriot. Again? Yep, but Marriot deserves Crunchie Blast Crown. Instead of lanching into sugary tributes to someone else’s vision, she thinks about the story she is retelling, then plots something new. Her Japanese-style fantasy world was perfect for Barefoot on the Wind, with its whispering trees and daemon women. Marriot is writing a Little Mermaid spin-off. I can’t wait for her take on the story.

Solero – Light and Fluffy

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton. Yup, it deals with grief, but it also has great mother/sibling relationships, a handsome boy on a motorbike and a fashionable girl in the sunshine. It proved that light, summery reads can have substance.

Choc-ice – Book you don’t want to admit you love

Hairy McClairy. Actually, I’ll shout it to the world, but I was once in a situation where a group of not-very-pleasant people said how rubbish the Hairy McClairy books are. Rubbish? The plot isn’t elaborate, but listen to those words. ‘Bottomley Potts all covered in Spots.’ If I’d asked you to write the start of that sentence, you would have said Fred Smith, or Dot Trot. Not got the same ring to it, has it? The best picture books look deceptively simple.

Fruit Lolly – Left on Shelf

I ran out to get Strange the Dreamer. When I started blogging, everybody had beautiful photographs of this blue book on their Twitter feed. Six months on, it is still pristine. As in untouched.

Mint Choc Chip – Love it or Hate it

Wonder. Either reading about a kid with a facial disfigurement reaffirmed your live and broadened your horizons, or you hate that Auggie’s character development is all about his disability. Love it or hate it. It’s mint choc chip.


I tag: Sarah, Donna, Bex and Kelly. With strawberry sauce and a flake on top. Take our little tag out into the world, guys!








Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Bad Mermaids by Sibeal Pounder



They looked up as a cluster of piranhas started making their way back down from the rock face. 

Shelly Shelby started drumming her fingers against her tail with the momentum of someone who thought time was going to run out. ‘Your mother is a dear friend of mine, Beattie, and she’d want me to tell you to stay safe, to hide. But I say – be like her!

‘But I’m not nearly as brave as her,’ Beattie mumbled. 

‘Go find danger! Be bold! Bad!’ Shelly Shelby went on, really getting into it. ‘And figure out how to stop this Swan character.’ 

(Bad Mermaids by Sibeal Pounder. P51.) 


Beattie, Mimi and Zelda are enjoying a holiday on land when they receive a Crabgram from mermaid queen Arabella Cod. It instructs them to go home to the lagoon through the secret back pipe entrance. If Beattie’s Mum can investigate wrecks in the Atlantic searching for legendary shells of power, then surely Beattie can be brave?

The girls arrive home to find Arabella has been overthrown by a mysterious mermaid known only as The Swan. The Swan orders her sidekick Ommy Pike to keep the lagoon under surveillance. Piranhas follow the mermaids, drawn to them by the marks imprinted on their nails. Beattie, Mimi and Zelda were away when Arabella was overthrown, so they haven’t got the piranha marks. They may be the only mermaids who can investigate.

Every year the mermaid queen appoints five mermaids to rule the districts of the Lagoon. When it becomes apparent that the only mermaids Arabella met with on the day she vanished were the newly appointed SHOAL councillors, Beattie and her friends journey across the lagoon, seeking the truth while trying to avoid some seriously bad mermaids.



In Witch Wars, Sibeal Pounder made a distinctive world, of friendship, glitz and quirky buildings. She’s done it again. The Lagoon has its own fashions and sports, television shows and cars. The different areas of the Lagoon are distinctively different from each other, allowing Pounder to go to town with her ability to create interesting places. You’ve got to love the restaurant built in the stomach of a floating shark, and the drive-through hairdressers of upper-class Oysterdale. Pounder is clearly observant of people and their quirks.

The mystery itself is straightforward. It can only be one of four people – we work through the SHOAL councillors until we realise what we’re overlooking and the mystery is solved. I don’t read much younger MG, (although Pounder’s books make me think I should read more,) but I imagine the limited range of suspects is comforting to a very young audience. There is more to the story than the initial mystery. A secondary plot comes into play, opening new questions and leading us into a sequel.

Pounder’s books remind me of some of the puzzle adventures I read when I was young. This is not about the style, but the poems and magazine pages, menus and letters which build the narrative alongside the story itself. We’ve got half an eye on Beattie’s Mum, who is off exploring wrecks. There a secret codes to solve, and a whole chapter written in ‘mermish’. Reading is about so much more than sitting with a book. Reading is about involvement with a text. Pounder offers her young readers different ways to interact with the story.

On a similar note, throughout the story we’re keeping track of press cuttings from ‘The Scribbled Squid’ and ‘Clamzine’. I was ridiculously tickled by this element of the text. The Scribbled Squid is a newly opened gossip tabloid. Alongside news from the Clamzine, we’re presented with misinformation and unnecessary gossip form The Scribbled Squid. What a great way to open conversation about reliable and unreliable media from the very young. What an important conversation to have with children, who have access to a range of communication from an early age. You’ve got to laugh when meet Penny Poach, editor of The Scribbled Squid. So much can be communicated by a character’s name.

Fun and funky, Bad Mermaids is a great adventure. Certainly a quick read for adult kidlitters, but you close the book feeling as if you have been in Lagoon. I look forward to the rest of the series, and intend to read the rest of Witch Wars at the nearest opportunity.







Chat: Memories of my childhood library

South Woodford Library

In 1998, I found a pair of gerbils on the library shelves. Their names were Oscar and Roo, although I never found a single detail to tell them apart. They lived with me for two-and-half happy years. Being a small child, I thought that was a very long time. 

South Woodford Library was a short walk from my childhood home, (though it felt like a very long walk back up the hill, especially on a sunny day.) My family spent many happy Saturday afternoons in the children’s library, and Mum would often take me and my sister for an hour on the way home from school. I was read to from birth, but there is no denying the library played a HUGE part in forming my love of books. My primary hobby as a child was ‘picking library books’. I remember the library as a cool, quiet space with seemingly unlimited shelves of books.

The library was a place of discoveries. I often followed my sister. When she discovered the ‘big children’s’ (8-12) books in alphabetical order, I followed. Although a relatively small space, it offered endless discoveries to relatively small people. Not only did we read, we learnt to browse books. To choose titles. To scan shelves. By nine or ten I knew the system. If I wanted to search for a book, I knew where to look. We developed research habits -me and my sister found out about gerbils in the pet section, and diligently researched their background and care. My parents probably gave in to the gerbils so the library could have their gerbil books back. When people fight to save libraries, they talk about the damage done to children’s reading, but libraries are about so much more than sitting quietly with a book. They are the first place anybody learns academic skills.

GerbilsGerbils aside, I want to share some memories of a childhood spent in libraries. I’m sorry the pictures are all taken from the internet. I’m a child of the 90s/00s. Libraries were sacred places of hushed tones, and camera phones didn’t come into play in any useful way until my late teens. I wouldn’t change my quiet-in-the-library childhood, but I’m sorry not to have a single picture. A visit to the library was too day-to-day to waste film, (actual fim,) on, yet visits to the library are among the most special memories of my childhood.

[nb. The photograph I found online is reccent. Three or four years ago, a private company took over the library services, and turned the bottom floor into a gym. That gym is my childhood library. My feelings about that gym are neither here nor there for the purpose of this post. (*cough*). ]

Memories of a Childhood Spent in the Library: 

  • When we were tiny, me and my sister caught our Mum tearing pages out of her magazines. We knew books should never be damaged, and we told naughty Mummy off. Mum explained she was tearing out the recipes. Later, she found us tearing pages from our library books. When she asked, we explained: we too were tearing out the recipes. The only time we damaged our own books was library-related. We found sticky dots and turned our books ‘into library books’. There might have been some crayon scrawled returns labels…Naughty libraries. They don’t know how to look after their books. 


  • After rainwater damaged a large amount of stock, the children’s library was moved Crocodiledownstairs, and given a new lease of life. With said new lease of life came Mr Crocodile. I was possessive about ‘my crocodile’. He was just the right size to lie back on with a book. (See what I mean? Life-long habits formed in libraries.) The only time I was told off for making noise in the library involved an exuberant game with the child from next-door-but-two and Mr Crocodile. 


  • Reservations were made by writing a request on a pink slip and pinning it to a noticeboard. When your request was in, a white slip would appear. My sister and I made countless requests for the joy of pinning up pink slips. Even if the book was in. Even if we’d read if 46 times.


  • The library was good for a free bookmark or postcard at the best of times. The postcard is CARBONEL, no less, and the puffin bookmark still glows in the dark. With bookmarkslibrarysummer came the reading scheme. You know the one – it is now a national programme. A noticeboard was taken over with a board-game like display. You got your very own counter – if you the pink reservation slips were exciting, the laminated pictures were in a league of their own. Every time you read to a volunteer/librarian, your counter moved along the board. So many squares meant a bookmark. So many more, a stickyfoot. If you got to the end – as a graduate of the Redbridge Libraries Summer Reading Scheme circa. 1997 I am well-placed to inform you – you were invited to a prize-giving, complete with magic show.


  • One November, children were invited to the library after closing hours to decorate  for Christmas. We made paperchains and paper snowflakes. Our picture was taken for the local paper, (sadly not found in the online archive.) 


Do you have any memories of your childhood library? Did you discover gerbils on the library shelves? Do you have a bag full of free-and-treasured bookmarks? Please share.

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Odyssey by Aarhus 39

AarhusOdyssey is one of two books published by the Aarhus 39 – 39 emerging Eurpoean children’s writers under the age of 40. The books, Odyssey and Quest, have been published to coincide with the International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, which takes place in October 2017. Both books were editied by Daniel Hahn. Odyssey is the YA title.

The stories are centered around the theme of ‘journeys’. It is wonderful to see the different interpretations. Many metaphorical journeys take place – rites of passage, growth, exploration of gender and sexuality. The book’s introduction talks about political division, and goes on to highlight how the same themes emerged regardless of which country the author came from. I think this is one of the most interesting things about the book. Adolescence is adolescence is adolescence, no matter where it takes place. It is a journey in its own right.

I was interested to see the varying ages of the protagonists – although the majority of protagonists fitted the standard 14 – 18 of YA fiction, there were a healthy number of younger children, and a couple of adults. I was pleased to see a university-aged protagonist. In all other sections of children’s fiction, it is accepted that the reader wants to read up, to see what is coming next. Certainly in the UK, the advice is to write about young people of school age. Where does this leave 17 year-olds who want to know about settings beyond  the school gates? 

 I have written a short synopsis for eight stories which stood out. These are the stories which stayed with me when I closed the book. They stood out for different reasons, some for the theme, others for the form. I want to emphasise that both Odyssey and Quest are high among the best reads of the year. Devour these stories, then return to them for a second sitting. See what else they have to say. Outstanding.


Breakwater – Michaela Holzinger. Illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

Breakwater uses a repeated journey to show how young people change over time. Lilian’s family have vacationed by the lake every autumn. Every autumn, Lilian spends her days with Kilian, while their fathers play chess under the trees. This year Lilian would rather stay at home. She’s too old to play games. Too old for geeky Kilian, with his silly games and his Lego-Minecraft. Except time has changed Kilian, too. Suddenly, Lilian’s father is not so certain the teenagers should be spending so much time together. Like the chess played out below the trees, Lilian and Kilian have a battle on their hands.

This was one of the few stories which took place in a static location – that is, many authors took travel literally, and wrote about walking trips and boat journeys and trains. Holzinger shows the passage of time as effectively by focusing on one moment in time.


Everyone Knows Petter’s Gay – Endre Lund Eriksen. Illustrated by Jörg Mühle. 

Everyone knows that new kid Petter is gay, but our narrator sets out to prove it to his peer group. After all, anything could happen if there was any uncertainty. This story is great for tone – it is clear from the character’s voice that he is resentful. He begrudges Petter his success on the football team, and the friendships he makes when he moves away from the narrator’s company. It is a great story about the peer pressure which makes coming out feel impossible to young people, and the effect that can have on their life.

Like ‘Breakwater’, there is a physical journey, to training camp, and a metaphoric journey. In Everyone Knows Petter’s Gay, the metaphoric journey is coming out.


Journey at Dusk – Sandrine Kao. Illustrated by the author.

 Blanche could have spent the summer practicing for her oboe exam and hanging out with her friends. You know, normal French things. Instead, she must spend time in her parents’ country. Blanche works hard to fit in at home. She doesn’t  want to learn about the family culture. Greeted by Aunt Mi-I and her small son, Blanche trails through the market, dripping with sweat and contempt. Then she hears the one thing that might win her over to a new culture – a woodwind instrument.

This was the only journey which focused on a young person born in the western world, learning about their parents’ very different culture. With so many people now relating to multiple cultures, it was right up to date, and so beautifully done. Blanche learns to focus on the similarities between cultures, and to explore her heritage with pride.


What We’ve Lost – Sarah Engell. Illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet.

aarhus2 A boat full of people who know each other not by name, but by what they’ve lost. After seven hours at sea, the engine packed in. Our protagonist looks after a small boy, but with no idea which direction they are drifting in, and only so much water between them, odds are not in their favour. We’ve all seen the news articles. ‘Journey in Europe’ brings to mind the refugees, who undertake desperate journeys in search of a peaceful home. Sarah Engell hands it with great sensitivity. This was one of the stories which beautifully matched its pictures. I was in floods by the end, but so I should be. These stories need to be read. 


The Blue Well – Ana Pessoa. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

 Our protagonist has found herself sitting back, watching life slip past. She’s lost her sense of adventure. The day her family visit the mountains, she would rather hide beneath her wide-brimmed hat, alone with her thoughts. Thoughts nobody else understands, but that is OK. Our protagonist would rather exist, a part of the landscape. The mountain. Then she reaches the Blue Well. This is a story which merits rereading. It is also in touch with the intensity of young people’s thoughts.


 Mine – Sarah Crossan. Illustrated by Anke Kuhl. 

The baby is coming. Stacey is waiting to find out whether it is a girl or boy, but frankly she doesn’t care. Curled in the baby’s cot, she waits for live to change beyond recognition. Why does the baby’s room get a fancy name? Why does it get everybody’s time and attention. Then she sees the bunny in the corner of the cot, and she hatches a plan.

Rites of passage are metaphorical journeys. Stacey travels along with her family, wondering whether anybody will care about her when they reach the point of great change.


Out There – Victor Dixon. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. 

 Thibaut refuses to wait another season before taking up a rifle and becoming a man. He has great dreams of taking over his father’s estate, and protecting the livelihood of the tenants. Determined to prove he is a man, Thibaut shoots a gander, as it leads a flock of geese on migration. Throughout the summer, the geese land on the farm, first in tens, then in thousands. The crop is decimated.

Victor Dixon uses the metaphor of migration to explore the transition between adolescence and manhood, and the relationship between Thibaut and his father. This reminded me of a fairy tale, particularly with its country-estate setting.


Lost in Transformation – Cornelia Travnicek. Illustrated by Dave McKean. 

aarhus4 Lou is neither male nor female. That’s about to change, but Lou wants to know why. ‘Because everybody has to make that decision’ doesn’t seem a good enough reason to face the transformation all young people undertake before the start of their secondary education. Following years among the Cybele – a colony of asexual, genderless beings – Lou wants to know if there are options which have not been presented. This was the only Sci-Fi story in the anthology, and it is one of the stories which got under my skin. It put its questions across in a way which lasted beyond the last page. This was intensified by Dave McKean’s haunting illustrations.

Lou is about to be escorted back to face transformation into something gendered. Will Lou follow, or will Lou break away?


waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Secret of Supernatural Creek by Lauren St John

ssc-imageEleven-year-old ace detective Laura Marlin is back for her next exciting adventure in the fifth mystery from award-winning author Lauren St John.

‘Anyone ever told you that you’re too clever for your own good, Laura Marlin?’

With her arch-nemesis, Mr A, safely behind bars, Laura Marlin can’t wait to relax on a school trip to Australia. But hours after arriving, a seemingly supernatural message makes her fear for her safety. As the group tours the Northern wilderness, mysteries and near-disasters haunt them, but only Laura believes they’re connected. Can she figure out what’s real and what’s an illusion … before it’s too late?


Why I can’t wait to read The Secret of Supernatural Creek:


  • Favourite series alert! I’ve been with Laura Marlin since 2011. My first impression of Dead Man’s Cove was ‘modern Famous Five’ – from the seaside setting to the faithful dog. It was when Kidnap in the Caribbean came out that I realised Lauren St John was something special. Not only are her mysteries A1, she includes enough of an ‘issue’ to get her message across without it overwhelming her young audience. The adventure takes precedence to the message.


  • I’ve been an animal lover since I could toddle. I turned vegetarian before my fifth birthday, and have spent the years since trying to figure out why people fail to live peacefully alongside other species. Lauren St John is the author I needed in my childhood. Her work examines ethical issues about animals, and she has written some touching relationships between human and animal characters.


  • Supernatural? I love it when there is some question as to whether events are caused by supernatural forces. I want to know whether it is possible in the realms of the story, and if so how. If it isn’t possible, why would another character go to great lengths to pretend it is? From the short synopsis, I’ve already got a sense Laura might be in danger. I want to know the outcome.


  • Laura Marlin has been around for seven years. I have already spoken to my blogging friend Amy about growing up with Laura Marlin. Amy is fifteen, and has read the series from her pre-teen years. For the first time, Laura Marlin offers interesting discussion about growing up alongside a fictional character.


The Secret of Supernatural Creek by Lauren St John

August 2017

Orion Children’s Books

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Defender of the Realm by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler



‘…It must be tough to care about the future when your fate has been decided for you since the day you were born.’

Alfie was speechless. It was as if Lock had reached into the darkest corner of his mind and shone a light on the thing he’d been secretly feeling all his life. That strange empty sensation deep down in his gut: that feeling of total utter pointlessness. Like nothing he did mattered. He tried not to think about about the future, because when he did, all he saw was more of the same – a life not his own, governed by stupid rules and traditions and ceremonies he neither understood nor cared about. His father’s life. The life that would one day be his. 

(Defender of the Realm by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler. P54.) 



Alfie is heir to the throne, but he’s not keen on the title. It is difficult enough being fourteen, and dealing with the school bully. Being Prince means the world is watching your every blunder. It means constant monitoring by security services. It means failing to meet your father’s expectations. Everybody knows Alfie’s brother, Richard, is the one for the job. As far as Alfie is concerned, Richard can have it.

Alfie’s life changes in a moment, and it turns out there is more to being a Royal than waving to the camera. Alfie is called on to be the Defender. There’s a whole side to Britain’s history which has been covered up. With a monster on the loose, there is no time to learn.

Hayley is caring for her elderly gran. It’s a huge responsibility, but Hayley would do anything for Gran. Hayley is given additional worries when a trip to the Tower of London ends with a brutal attack by a supposedly made-up creature. Hayley pockets evidence of the attack, and draws the attention of Britain’s very secret services. The ones who destroy such evidence at all costs.

The events which began at the Tower draw Alfie and Hayley together. Is the difference between them deeper  than their social background? Will Hayley evade the evil agents? Is Alfie ever going to be fit to save the realm?



Ancient myths are given a new lease of life. Like Ned’s Circus of Marvels, and Harry Potter, Defender of the Realm uses the old myths to give Britain its hidden past. Devil Dogs? Vikings unleased them when they came to conquer. Dragons? Still causing mayhem. That’s the first reason I love this book. As well as forming the plot, mythology crops up in unexpected places to give the book its tone. (The Prince’s dog? His name is Herne.)

The second reason I love this book: it is edge-of-the-seat readable. Huckerby and Ostler are masters of scene. They are great at hooking the reader, pulling them along, then throwing in the unexpected to keep things interesting. They know when to ramp up the drama, and when to use comedic effect. You’ll always be on for one more chapter. I defy you to put it down past chapter three.

The story is up to date with its technology – news spreads via social media, and kids are ahead of adults in communication and gadgetry. Hayley is a ahead of Alfie in the technology stakes. It is nice to see a female character as a role model for STEM interests. Alfie inherits some seriously cool super weapons which date to the dawn of time, but Hayley makes his job easier with a webcam and microphone. 

Huckerby and Ostler have done a great job of ensuring a diverse readership can relate to Alfie. Alfie is complex enough to be more than a poor-little-rich-boy. If you can’t relate to his private education and palatial home, you might relate to how difficult he finds it to deal with the school bully. How Dad is too busy with work to help Alfie figure the world out. Failing that, Hayley provides a great contrast. In material terms, she has nothing. She also has a huge responsibility as Gran’s carer. Hayley proves a great role model to Alfie, regardless of her social background. 

The main theme is responsibility, and the core message is about the difference between having superpowers and being a hero. Alfie learns there are better reasons to do your duty than to fit the title. A fast-paced adventure with a lasting message. Brilliant. 



Huge thanks to Faye for my copies of Defender of the Realm and Defender of the Realm – Dark Age. I look forward to reading book two.  I won my copies in a competition. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday – Charm School by Anne Fine



Bonnie’s been dragged to a new town.. As if that wasn’t unfair enough, Mum doesn’t know where to find a babysitter, so Bonnie is forced to spend the day at Charm School while Mum sits her boring exams. The indignity. Bonnie heads out determined to be anything but charming.

Charm School is a strange place. As if it isn’t bad enough on a regular Saturday, it is the annual ‘Curl’s’n’Purls’ show. The winner gets the glistering tiara, and the chance to choose their very own special name. And what names they are: Miss Cute Candy. Miss Stardust. Sweet Caroline. Not only do the girls learn to be charming, they learn how to flounce around in dresses and polish their elbows in lemon juice. Charm School is a place where girls come to be ‘ladylike’.

Bonnie is certain she doesn’t fit in. She hides behind stage, crossing her fingers the lighting technician won’t turn up and send her back into Charm School. When she befriends and immediately falls out with Araminta, Bonnie becomes certain it is her job to teach the girls a lesson they will never forget. Will the girls accept Bonnie’s ideas?



Charm School was published when I was ten. It was holiday ‘tradition’ to buy a book at the airport, (never mind we had only been to the airport once before. If I got another book, it was tradition.) Charm School looked a little short, but I loved Anne Fine’s work. The plane was delayed – we were sat on it for two hours before it took off. By the time I reached Greece, I’d read Charm School twice over. It didn’t matter. I read and reread it through the holiday, and have reread every year since. Of the books mentioned in the post which began my Flashback Friday series, Charm School is one of the most read.

In 2015, I introduced Charm School to a group of girls who came to the creative writing club at the bookshop I worked in. The group took to Charm School the way I had fifteen years before – they raced through it, but I never saw them more animated.

It may be short, but it opens the way for some deep discussion. Feminist narratives have become popular over the past year. Charm School was ahead of its game – or behind, if it was a product of the original feminist era. Perhaps the reason Anne Fine’s work connected with my opinionated-little -liberal-self was it was packed with messages I wanted to hear. Bill’s New Frock? Another great feminist narrative. Let me be clear – Anne Fine bangs a drum, but she does so quietly. Her message forms the beat of her story, but the story itself can be enjoyed even if the political undertones go over the reader’s head. Anne Fine is a great storyteller. Like Dick King-Smith, who I wrote about a fortnight ago, Anne Fine knows how to hold her audience’s attention.

Charm School is funny. It is funny on different levels. As a child, I appreciated the mayhem Bonny provokes, (‘nuff said,) for the sake of the mayhem itself. As an adult I appreciate the message behind that mayhem. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate the message as a child. Tweenage girls notice nail-varnish and overpriced face-creams like no-one else. The book is aimed at an audience who is awakening to this strange idea that girls have a different set of standards to perfect. It challenges it in a kid-friendly way, but its message remains relevant. I think it will remain relevant when I am elderly, and wishing my wrinkles away.





Chat: Bookish Gifts

Bookmarks and posters and pins, oh my! Sports fanatics and film buffs have been a recognised market since time began, but it is only in the past ten years that serious interest has been taken in bookworms. Before the dawn of social media, I suppose manufacturers thought we were catered for. Bookworms needed books. Perhaps the odd bookmark, or a set of fancy bookplates. What else could we possibly want?

With social media, it became apparent we wanted so much more.

Willam and Joseph Candles

Perharps we had never been recognised as a tribe before. Bookworms don’t, as a rule, gather. Oh, we gather in spirit. We share concerns. Those concerns are largely for make-believe people, and our own right to be left alone with these figmants of our mind. I don’t know about you, but I always experience a frission of solidarity when I meet another bookish person. If I had whiskers, they would quiver.

It seems an unlikely coindcidnce, that the rise in online book communities has lead to an explosion in the number of bookish gifts available. A second reason exists – the internet gave artists and small companies an affordable platform through which to sell their goods. To summarise, the internet made us a market, and gave us the goods.

I own a huge number of bookmarks, and some beautiful Alice in Wonderland Christmas decorations, but have been a bit slow to catch on to the number of products available. To spare my purse – and following on from my ideal reading space – I have made a pinboard of bookish items I would like to buy.

Where do you stand on bookish gifts? Are they an addiction, or would you have a book every time?

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

9781408854877Synopsis (from Bloomsbury Website): 

From his seat in the tiny aeroplane, Fred watches as the mysteries of the Amazon jungle pass by below him. He has always dreamed of becoming an explorer, of making history and of reading his name amongst the lists of great discoveries. If only he could land and look about him.

As the plane crashes into the canopy, Fred is suddenly left without a choice. He and the three other children may be alive, but the jungle is a vast, untamed place. With no hope of rescue, the chance of getting home feels impossibly small.

Except, it seems, someone has been there before them …


Why I can’t wait to read The Explorer – [nb. I have The Explorer on Netgalley. This is NOT a review. This is my regular exposition of upcoming books.]


  • It builds on a tradition. From Moby Dick to Walkabout, from Lord of the Flies to Kensuke’s Kingdom, British writers seem to get castaway narratives spot on. Perhaps it is in the water which surrounds our small island? Building on a tradition must be daunting, but I have read enough of Rundell’s work to believe she will add to the cannon.


  • Katherine Rundell is gaining accolades. Rightfully so – like Lauren Wolk, she has found the perfect balance between ‘literary’ and ‘readable’ (inverted commas, as regular readers know, indicate I am resorting to quick terms. I acknowledge this. In depth discussion is for another article.) I notice she is included in the Aarhus 39 Middle Grade anthology. More about this over the coming month – basically, some of the greatest new voices in children’s fiction from across Europe were invited to contribute to one of two anthologies. Rundell was one of the British writers who took part.


  • The plane on the jacket reminds me of the early era of aviation. I can find nothing to confirm the book is set in the early 1900s, although Katherine Rundell has set fiction in this era before. I love that era of ‘real’ exploration, of great female aviators like Amelia Earhart. Like many people, I don’t know HUGE amounts of history, but my imagination has been captured by fiction and film and song. (And Lego. Any 90s Kids remember Lego Explorers? More recently, there was Pharaoh’s Quest. Epic stuff.)


Due 10.08.2017

Bloomsbury Publishing


Middle Grade Reviews

Review – The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy



‘You don’t know what a clan is, do you?’ said Beraal. 

Mara concentrated very hard on tearing up the carpet. 

‘Mara, do you know what the difference between inside and outside cats is?’ 

Mara refused to say anything, though her ears twitched a little. ‘Do you understand why I was stalking you a little while ago, why why any cat from the Nizamuddin clan would try to kill you, Mara?’ 

The kitten’s ears folded back. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t very nice of you, was it?’ 

(The Wildings, Nilanjana Roy. P34.) 


Years of peace are about to be broken. The Wildings – the cats who roam Delhi – have known seasons of peace. Something is stirring in The Shuttered House. The scent of death surrounds the Bigfoot who lives there. When the Bigfoot dies, the feral cats who live behind its walls will come out. Will they obey the same boundaries as the other animals – the boundaries which keep the relationship between predator and prey respectful?

Into the midst of the Wildings comes Mara, a ginger kitten with special powers. All cats can communicate with each other using their whiskers, but Mara can do more. She is a sender – she can read the thoughts of other cats from a distance, and communicate with other species. She can also travel outside her body.

Most of the Wildings would kill Mara straight off. Beraal fights for Mara’s life. Senders come in times of danger. Will Mara leave the comforts of her home to help the Wildings?



The Wildings reminds me of Varjak Paw – not because it is about cat clans, but because it is about how the relationships between clans change in times of crisis. Instead of a tribe of pampered cats who are invaded when their owner dies, a tribe of cats comes outside, full of bloodlust. I found it strange that the cats were portrayed as born killers. The blame lay squarely with the cats. There was no discussion of the circumstances which led to their state. Everything else was perfect. Like Varjak Paw, the relationships between the cats are well imagined. There are rules which govern the life of an outdoor cat, and rules which govern the relationships between the different species.

As in The Jungle Book, there was interesting exploration of the place of man in a world of animals. In The Wildings, Man is neither predator or prey, but can easily become either. I liked the contrast between Mara’s life as a pampered house-cat, and the life of the tigers in the city zoo. The outdoor cats consider Mara to be imprisoned, but Mara is free to dictate her life. It is the big cats in the zoo who are truly imprisoned. Cubs are separated from their parents according to the zoo’s greed for more tiger-cubs, or want for money. Mara’s home may look like a prison, but its doors and windows are open wide.

Novice writers are often told not to write from an animal’s point of view. The Wildings proves advice is there to be ignored – but it handles the point of view well. Like the best animal books – The Jungle Book, Watership Down, Varjak Paw – it is unsentimental about its protagonists. It respects as animals, as much as it anthropomorphizes, its characters. The is some impeccable observation of feline behaviour – you have it from a life-long cat owner.

The language is beautiful. I was particularly excited to find a snake referred to as a ‘nagini’. This is a book which is exciting for its languae as well as its plot.

Be warned – you will cry your eyes out towards the end, not only for the events, but for how beautifully they are handled. The Wildings is part of a duology, and you will want the second book to hand.


Pushkin Press

320 pages