Picture Books

Review: Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen



After Michael Rosen’s fantabulous answers to my questions on Thurs, I wanted to share with you the book which brought about the Q and A. Isn’t it special? Many of you know the poem Chocolate Cake. I first came across it at school, in a different edition. Since then, YouTube has come along. Rosen is a YouTube natural. His videos are hilarious, and allow his poetry to be accessed in a different format. This book is the text of the YouTube performance. Please note, although the protagonist is named as Michael, to avoid confusion I refer to him either as ‘the protagonist’ or ‘the boy’. 

Kevin Waldron is a new illustrator. Judging by Chocolate Cake, he is a rising star. I love img_2909the mix of close-ups and comic-book style pages. Sometimes the boy and the cake appear multiple times across a double-page spread. My eyes followed their journey across the page, as if I was on the journey with the protagonist. 

I love the bright-pastel palette, and how some details are simple black-and-white line drawings. This keeps our attention on the boy and the cake, and on the words. 

Anyone familiar with Rosen will know he uses lots of noises in his performances. He img_2912explained the reasons these noises were kept in the printed version in the Q and A. I love how these words are emphasised in bold, playful font. Children really are encouraged to act them out, and to think up their own words. 

We all relate to the boy’s  situation. I read this at a poetry group, to an audience aged 19 – over 80. Everyone related to the feeling of being caught out, and plenty of people empathised with the midnight fridge raids! 

It is lovely to see Chocolate Cake in picture book format. It’s a format which is easy to share, and easy to reread, and the pictures are a celebration of the text as well as a new way to experience the story. I can see this being devoured by schools, and it would make a great gift for any chocoholic. 


Huge thanks to Sarah Hastelow at Penguin Random House for sending a copy to review. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Q and A/Author Interview

Michael Rosen Q and A: On word play, format and memories.

RosenbannerMichael Rosen Picture 2 - Credit Goldsmiths, University of London

I was hugely excited first to be offered the new edition of Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake to review, then to be given the chance to ask him some questions. Michael Rosen has been a hero since I was small. He came to talk at my primary school, and made every child laugh within about three seconds by describing the assembly hall as having a ‘Weetabix Ceiling’. Rosen’s poetry is funny, and great for sharing and reading aloud. It is also full of moments which are easy to relate to. The boy in chocolate cake, for example, finds himself caught-out after breaking the rules. 

I’m delighted to welcome Michael Rosen, on language, format and childhood memories. breakbirdLN: I have been familiar with the poem since childhood, as it appeared in The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry. Have you adapted the text over time, or was it rewritten for the new edition? 

MR: I adapted the text over time through my performances in schools. Then I put that performance on my YouTube channel. The book is the text of that performance.


LN: Did years of live performance influence the changes?

MR: Yes indeed. Every performance demands that I grab the attention of everyone in the room or wherever it is I’m performing. 


LN: I am particularly interested in the addition of extra noises, which are highlighted in different fonts. Is playful language important to the poem?

 MRI think it is. It’s easy to forget that letters belong to us, they don’t belong to dictionaries or academics. We make all sorts of noises that mean a lot but are not strictly speaking ‘words’. If we want to, we can represent those noises with letters, with brand new spellings. I think it’s great for children to know that they can do that. They can make letters work for them.


LN: In the past, you have spoken about books being more important than formalised language learning. Why is it important for children to see playful approaches to language? 

MR: Books work very hard to convince readers that they are worth reading. We do this with all sorts of ‘hooks’ to do with emotions, thoughts, feelings but we also do it with the sound of what we write. Language always has a physical aspect. With books, that aspect is print and paper. With speech, it’s sound waves created with our bodies. What’s very infectious (and funny) is when you write things down that appear to invite your body to play and experiment with those sounds. The poem is full of that, and I’ve found ways to have created an element of surprise in the sounds. This is also connected with a visceral pleasure (eating cake!) and high risk (what if I’m found out?). This combination seems to have tickled quite a few children and drawn them into wanting to hear it and read it over and over again. 


LN: The illustrations are new to this edition. How much of a collaboration was there between yourself and Kevin Waldron? Did you have any ideas about how you wanted the poem to be experienced, and how the illustrations might differ from previous editions of the poem? 

 MRMy attitude to illustrators, publishing and editors is that my job is to write. Everyone else in the production of a book has their job to do. The illustrator ‘reads’ my text and re-represents it through the pictures. The editors and other publishing workers create the book. That’s not my job either! So I saw the roughs as Kevin worked but I had very little to say because he was doing his work, his way and we all trusted him. I like that way of working. 


LN: I am interested in the different ways you have brought the poem to readers, for example in his school performances and on social media. Has YouTube changed the way in which you write new poems? Did it influence the new text? 

MR: Thanks for asking this. My own view of my poems is that I have several ways of ‘delivering’ them to people, each as valid as another. You’ve identified three: books, live performances, social media.  These aren’t separate from each other, though. They each nudge each other into adapting how they are written or performed. This book is a perfect example of this kind of hybrid. I think I realised this for the first time in the late 1970s when I was going into schools a good deal to perform my poems and found that the talk I was doing between the poems was more interesting to the children than my poems! Then I realised that I could write down these talking parts. Nowadays, I think my thoughts have become  very compressed: as I write I’m miming performance in my head. Social media are quite hard to do from a performance point of view because the only people there are the film crew and the director. They’re not there to enjoy themselves, they’re working, so I’d be ill-advised to take notice of their reaction. I do ‘take direction’ though, especially as the director is my son!


LN: You have said before that you writes about childhood memories. Why and how do particular moments lend themselves to poetry? Are they universal experiences, or very personal memories?

MR: This is your hardest question. I’m not really sure how I find these memories or why I select them. I sense that they are ones that have at their core something absurd or ironic. In some way or another, the person in the story (usually me but not always) doesn’t know as much about what they are saying or doing as the audience. It’s the core of dramatic irony, discovered or polished  thousands of years ago by the Ancient Greeks in drama and has been keeping us going through entertainment ever since. I’m not even sure why it interests me so much other than that I like the way dramatic irony respects the audience: it seems to say, ‘you take over’ or ‘you figure this out’. 


Huge thanks to Michael Rosen for his fantastic answers. The picture book edition of Chocolate Cake is available now. It looks as scrumptious as it sounds!

Thanks to Sarah Hastelow and all at Penguin Random House Children’s for arranging this opportunity.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday – The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

namsaraSynopsis (From GoodReads):

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer. 

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of 51ozm2tbpjl-_sx318_bo1204203200_the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her. 


breakbirdWhy I can’t wait to read The Last Namsara:


  • I am interested in the role the story of the Iskari plays within the story. I loved Ink by Alice Broadway and The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury. Both books looked at how folk stories come to life, and the reasons people attach significance to those stories.


  • This is about storytelling, and the role of stories. I love stories which have a message about storytelling under their surface, and I love the idea of the dragon which must be coaxed from the sand with words.


  • Enough said. I have loved dragons in stories since the first time I heard The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader at a very young age. My other favourite dragon is from Merlin. Deliciously voiced by John Hurt, dragon has been locked in the caverns beneath Camelot for too many centuries. Dragons represent different things in stories, but are often associated with fear, or the threat in the dark, or sometimes the darkness inside ourselves.


  • I loved the sampler. This was a real favourite of the samplers I was sent after YALC. It feels like proper fantasy, when YA often tends towards fantasy lite. I went through a major Robin Hobb devotion in my teens, when fantasy was largely dismissed as something a bit geeky. I’m always glad to see money being invested in well-written YA fantasy.


The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

October 2017

Gollancz (UK)

Chat · Days Out

Staycation #3 – Beneath the Trees, Where Nobody Sees …



Beneath the trees, where nobody sees … our third Staycation day was a visit to the other side of the Solway. When we planned the Staycation, we had two objectives: to take time to stare, and to see more of the wider region around our home in Cumbria. Staycation day 3 cost us the petrol, and the price of our picnic, but it gave us so much in terms of our objectives. 


The trees? The wooden dude, who looks like the spirit of a dead tree come back to hunt img_2747the axe-man? We walked from Rockcliffe to Kipford. There are houses built on the cliffs. One of the gardens is populated with stange beings. Experincing it is like stepping into an Anthony Browne picture book. The more you look, the more you see, as some are hidden in the walls and trees. It is difficult to give this experince in photographs, but I have close-ups of some of the beings, including the masks which hang in the grotto. These sculptures and strange beings are out for the world to enjoy. There is no charge. It was lovely to see the land around someone’s house transformed by imagination. 

Along the way we heard woodpeckers, and various other birds. Birds have a huge presence on our side of the Solway. There are various sanctuaries, and the year is measured in swallows and migratory geese (who came back Spet 12th). The geese fly over the house twice a day – they feed in Scotland, but sleep in Cumbria.  Seeing them fly in is one of my favourite things.


After a picnic, we headed to Sandyhills, then had a nose at Sweetheart Abbey. As Edward I once said, if this is Scotland, I want more of it. We have planned a return visit, to the Robert Burns trail around Sweetheart Abbey, and plan to set-up for the day at Sandyhills next spring. 

What is the strangest or most lovely thing you have seen on a walk? Let me know in the comments!

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Characters In Touch With Worlds Within This World

I love stories which feature hidden worlds. Worlds within this world. Blame Hagrid. Since I first took a trip down Diagon Alley with Hagrid and Harry, I have loved the idea that more than one world can exist within the same physical space. The most magic moment for me is when Hagrid taps that brick wall. An everyday ordinary object, made extraordinary by the secret it conceals.

Every protagonist visits a new world, at least figuratively speaking. A new experience changes their flawed point of view. When that new world is magical, it  plays up the truth of new experiences around the corner. 

Here are ten stories I’ve really enjoyed. Ten worlds I have loved.  


A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson 

9781509832460a20girl20called20owl_jpg_264_400A favourite Middle Grade read of 2017. Owl has always made ice appear from her fingertips. When she learns who her father is, she sets out into a world where the seasons are controlled by a council of leaders, and brought into being by magic. 


In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll 

Alice’s brother needs a heart transplant. Alice is packed off to stay with her Grandmother Nell. Alice meets a girl nobody has heard of. Flo shows her the secrets of Darkling Wood, 51cmvnmhp1l-_sx324_bo1204203200_the wood Nell wants to have chopped down. I am so due a reread. With Carroll’s next novel out in January, a cosy week in rereading her novels sounds like a very happy way to spend Christmas.


The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison

512l4djyrhl-_ac_us218_I love, love and triple love Harrison’s work. Tanya is always in trouble, but it’s not her fault the fairies stalk her. Sent to stay with her Grandmother, Tanya explores the woods, and starts to uncover the secrets hidden in her Grandmother’s past. Harrison’s faeries are descended straight from folklore. Divine.


Gabriel’s Clock by Hilton Pashley

Half-Angel, Half-Daemon Jonathan is in danger. Attacked in the middle of the night by strange monsters, Jonathan is sent to his Grandfather in the magical village of Hobbes End. The final part of the Hobbes End trilogy is out this autumn, 515gsdoi4kl-_ac_us218_and I can’t wait. This was a real favourite when I worked as a bookseller, and I can’t wait to tell people all about it. Look out for my spot on the blog tour in November. 


The Rose Muddle Mysteries by Imogen White 

Another favourite Middle Grade read this year. Rose has never had a family, so imagine rosemuddleher surprise when a wealthy lady gives her a locket to try on and says she is a long lost descendant. The only trouble is the dark shadows Rose saw when she tried the locket on, and the immediate murder of her benefactor. This is a great new series, set in a world reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, with added folklore. Brill. 


Ink Heart by Cornelia Funke 

Meggie’s father can read characters out of books. The only trouble is, they don’t always 51zunfb4-ml-_ac_us218_want to be let back in. Every character has their own agenda. A well known series, which highlights that books really do take us into whole new worlds. 


Ned’s Circus Of Marvels by Justin Fisher 

x293Ned has always thought of himself as ordinary. Average. Pretty boring. Then he learns about the veil which divides our world from a magical one, the circus which acts a front to keep dangerous magical beings from attacking the human world, and the people who would destroy the veil. Totally action packed, totally pacy, I loved the unique world and the idea of engineering as a form of magic. 


The Dream Snatcher by Abi Elphinstone 

Earth magic has always existed. Moll Pecksniff lives with a tribe of gypsies, who arethe-dreamsnatcher-9781471122682_lg among the last people to be in touch with it. The Witch Doctor Skull would destory the old magic, and turn the world over to darkness. Moll has a special ability, one which she inherited from her parents. It might help her save the old magic. I love Moll. She’s headstrong, but her heart is in the right place and she is brave. Also love her wild cat Gryff. 


The Boy Who Went Magic by A. P. Winter 

There’s no such thing as magic … everyone says so, except Bert accidentally activates a wentmagic


magical mirror, and learns the princes plans. I love this book. It has airships and pirates, magical mirrors and hidden lands. 

Read my Review for more info.



Bad Dreams by Anne Fine 9780440864240-uk-300

Mel likes to be left alone. She lives through the books she reads. Then her class teacher puts her in charge on new girl Imogen. That’s fine, Mel reasons. Imogen can sit with her in the library. The only problem is, Imogen can’t so much as touch a book without yelping in pain. I LOVE this book. I loved it as a child, and reread it often alongside Charm School. 


Are there any worlds within this world that you love? Do you have a TTT link? Post in the comments below.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius




I took out Morro’s silver locket and showed it to Ana and Signor Fidardo. Then João patiently told them the whole story, from Elisa Gomes’s tragic death to the arrival of the letter containing the money the seaman had brought all the way from the Far East. Ana and Signor Fidardo had many questions, all of which João answered to the best of his ability. 

Meanwhile it was getting late in the afternoonand the tall cypresses in the cemetery were throwing long shadows across the rows of gravestones and crosses. We said goodbye to João and walked towards the tram stop. 

Ana was just as happy and eager as I was.

‘The police never found Alphonse Morro’s body,’ she said. 

(The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius. P149.)


Sally Jones is a gorilla with a typewriter, determined to put the truth into words. Her friend Koskela is imprisoned for a murder he did not commit when Morro apparently drowns. Sally Jones is forced into hiding when an order goes out that ‘the murder’s ape’ should be taken to the zoo. With the help of her new friends, Ana Molina and Signor Fidardo, Sally Jones investigates the truth.

The only clues are a locket, with pictures of the victim and his deceased sweetheart Elisa, and the circumstances of Elisa’s death. When money arrives from the Far East, to pay for the upkeep of Elisa’s grave, Sally Jones sets out on a great adventure. There are people who would rather she didn’t learn the truth. Can she free Koskela before she comes to harm herself?breakbirdReview:

A globe-trotting adventure of a book which has won praise in the field of international children’s literature. Written and illustrated by Jakob Wegelius, enjoyment of the story is enhanced by the charming line drawings, which bring the characters and setting to life.

The story unfolds slowly, but this is to its merit, as there is so much to savour. It reminded me of Around The World In Eighty Days – I was intrigued by the mystery set up in the early pages, but more than anything I wanted to take in the period of time which Wegelius brings so satisfyingly to life. It is like a collage of everything you might want to experience in the time period: from vintage accordions to opera, steamboats to early aviation, to the palace of a particularly opulent Maharajah. Sally Jones’s role as an engineer and seaman gives her flexibility to travel the globe. Holding the book was like holding the world in my hands.

I loved the characters, Sally Jones particularly. She is so loyal to Koskela, and determined to get him out of trouble despite the danger to herself. The book contains a huge cast of memorable characters. Even the minor characters stuck in my mind. Think of His Dark Materials. Many of the minor characters are worthy of a trilogy, and I can see this inspiring people to write their own stories. 

They say you shouldn’t write about animals. It’s one of those tidbits of lore which gets bantered around by aspiring scribblers. Like The Wildings, and Watership Down, The Murder’s Ape proves that if you can do it well, you can do anything. Wegelius gets a good balance between anthropomorphising Sally Jones, and respecting her animal characteristics. Her story line and character are written for humans, so follow human concerns, but she bares her teeth at rogues and scrambles up to hide on the rooftops when need-be, and always fears imprisonment by humans.

 As well as being a great story which takes in the world, the book as an object is a thing of beauty. The illustrations are a perfect style for the time in which the story is set, and I love the maps on the inner covers which follow Sally Jones’s journey. Light the log fire, and settle in for a long evening’s read. A real classic.


Huge thanks to Pushkin Press for sending my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Picture Books

Review: Hide and Seek by Anthony Browne.



Subtlety. Not a word you instantly associate with products for the Under 7s. Hide and Seek, Anthony Browne’s 50th picture book, is a masterpiece, and its genius is in its subtlety.

Goldie the dog has gone missing. To cheer themselves up, siblings Cy and Poppy play hide and seek in the woods. They enter a timeless world of surprises in the dark. The wood is bigger and stranger than they expected, and as they lose sight of each other, there is a sense that anything could be lurking around the corner.

P1020284The reader is drawn into the game of hide and seek. An array of objects are cleverly hidden within the pictures, P1020285from furniture, to musical instruments, paws and crocodiles. The game is challenging – certainly, some objects are a little easier to find, so children won’t give up straight away, but other objects are cleverly hidden into the pictures different shades and tones. This is a book which family members of all ages can share, and enjoy together.



A sense of foreboding is created with light and dark, and with perspective. The trees seem taller and more numerous when the children are afraid. When the story is resolved, the woods look brighter, and are viewed again at child height. I also love how indoors looks confining at the start of the story, but when the children run home, their caravan at the edge of the woods looks like a warm and welcoming place.

Clues in the hide and seek game hint at the happy ending, and build up to the moment of revelation. The pictures themselves are divine. Did I tell you how much I loved autumn? This book is a celebration of the season, with bare branches and leaves every shade of red and gold and brown.

Anthony Browne is undoubtedly a master of the picture book form, and his books are truly beautiful.


Please note: images are cropped from originals to show details.

HUGE thanks to Sarah Hastelow and Penguin Random House for sending a copy in exchange for review. This does not affect my honesty.

Do you have a favourite Anthony Browne? Let me know in the comments below.