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Trick-Or-Treat

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Halloween. When all the spirits, monsters and under-twelves come out to play. When a basket of sweeties appears at the front door, and nobody’s going to know how many I nick because it will all be gone by the end of the night. Nobody can deny it is a happy day. Let’s play a game.

It’s time to go trick-or-treating in our favourite Kidlit settings. Which costume would you wear? What sort of treats would you hope to receive? Which tricks will you have up your sleeve?

 The rules? Only the same rules the nation’s little monsters (largely) abide by. We are tricksters not yobs. Tricks must be played before the door is shut. Tricks and treats must fit in with the setting of the book. No electronic tricks in the early-1900s, for example.

I encourage you to join in. Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or write your own blog post and link back.  Play well, little ghouls.

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scholastic_hp_azkaban_illustrated_coverLocation: Hogwarts

Costume: If I dressed as a witch or wizard, I might be mistaken for a … well, staff member. Or visitor. This might be the best thing of all. Imagine joining the Hogwarts feast? Next to that, I would like to trick-or-treat the Hogwarts kitchens, so I need to go Sirus Black and turn into an animal so I get past the Hogwarts security.

Treats: Forget the Fizzers. Take me to the Great Hall for pumpkin pasties and butterbeer.

Tricks: Beware. There are hundreds of people armed with wands, and most of them have only a tentative control on their magic. The likelihood of ending up a toad if you upset the wrong person is high. This is the place for something cheesy. Water spray? Stick my tongue out?

owlLocation: Toad Hall

 Costume: Anything but a Weasel. I’m aiming for treats, so the first thing is not to get run through with a rapier. A pilot or a racing driver might get Mr Toad in the generous mood, although there is always the possibility I will hit the wrong hobby, and be chased out as riff-raff.

 Treats: There’s a running theme here. Feasts. Great halls. At the very least, I expect a slice of home-baked cake.

 Tricks: If I’m feeling risky, I’ll imitate the noises of the Wild Woods. To play it safe, my friend will hide in the trees, and make the noises of a motor car, or horse’s hooves. When Toad gets overexcited and goes to investigate, I’ll nip round to the kitchen door and try my luck there.owl

Location: Sinclair’s (1900s department store)

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 Costume: Trick-Or-Treating would probably be frowned upon in the 1900s. To be honest, I just want to go in and try on a ball-gown. Reckon I can convince anybody that I might seriously consider buying one?

Treats: Overlooking the fairly large issue about etiquette, get me into the sweet department for some samples. A sugar-mouse? Rose and violet cremes? The chocolate department is described in The Midnight Peacock, and my mouth was watering.  

Tricks: It would have to involve a clock-work toy. Have you ever been in one of those retro-vibe shops which sells clockwork mice? I bought my sister a clockwork tortoise a couple of years back. It is the cleverest and most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

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613vpukf1xl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Location: The Huntress (pirate ship, home of the Sea tribe)

Costume: The reason I want to trick-or-treat in this world is the costume options. And the materials! Spider-silk. Feathers. I reckon I’ll dress as a sky wolf. Or possibly ride one.

Treats: I’d pass over the raw reindeer steak. A carved wooden trinket would be the best. There are skilled crafts-people in this world.

Tricks: In peril of being forced to walk the plank, my trick would have to incorporate a quick getaway. Perhaps I could throw a spider-silk net over the ship? I would be at quite a height before I threw it, and the rule about the door doesn’t apply. I’d be on my sky wolf, remember, above the desk of the ship.

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine

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Extract:

It was a trick. It had to be. ‘Charlie, I know it’s you!’ she called. ‘Come out and stop playing the fool.’ 

But there was no reply, no answering snigger. Instead the footsteps just kept coming towards her along the passageway – slow and heavy. Too heavy to be the steps of a young underfootman. Her chest tightened. 

‘If this is your idea of a stupid joke…’ she began, but the words seemed to choke her, and fell away. 

As she stared, she saw that a dark shape was moving steadily towards her. A tall, billowing, unearthly shadow, stretched into the shape of a human figure, advancing closer and closer along the wall.’

(The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine. P13.) birdSynopsis:

Christmas comes to Sinclair’s. Mr Sinclair’s Midnight Peacock New Year’s Ball is the event of the London festive season. While Billy and Joe stay behind to set up, Sophie and Lil set off for Winter Hall, home of their friend Leo and her aristocratic family.

All is not right at Winter Hall. Everybody knows the East Wing is haunted, but recently the ghost has been heard and sighted by the serving staff. Serving girl Tilly was too rational to believe it, until she saw it for herself. When Leo comes home, Tilly tells her about the figure in the downstairs passageway. Who better to investigate that Leo’s guests, detectives Sophie and Lil?

Meanwhile, Billy finds an investigation of his own. Somebody has taken the empty office opposite Sinclair’s, and they only move about at night. What connects the two things? Who is the strange lady Sophie keeps seeing? Can she find out more about her father’s relationship with the Baron?

An epic finale for the Sinclair’s series.birdReview:

The Sinclair’s Mysteries has been a favourite series over the past 18 months. I love the settings, the young detectives and how Woodfine has expanded her world with a cast of characters from different social backgrounds. The Midnight Peacock is my favourite story of all. I read it over a day, finishing in the small hours having failed to put it down.

Winter Hall is a deliciously gothic setting. It is not the first aristocratic manor with hidden passages I have encountered in fiction, but Woodfine makes it something special. Winter Hall, in the North, contrasts nicely with Sinclair’s. It may be that the social scene takes place in London, but it is at dinner tables and in smoking parlours that links between aristocratic ‘sets’ are forged. Leo’s mother is quick to make it known that she disproves of Sophie and Lil as guests, even though they are the darlings of Sinclair’s, and have caught the imaginations of many wealthy visitors to Sinclair’s.

The mystery builds nicely. I love how the main characters split early, so the reader keeps their attention in two places. The questions build, and it becomes a puzzle. How could the answers connect the events? The story which was introduced in The Painted Dragon, about the Baron’s past and his connections, continues as Sophie learns more about his father. I love how Woodfine connects a wide cast of characters. The stories set in Sinlair’s may have finished, but there is scope for further stories set almost anywhere in the world.

Woodfine has also explored the history of the early 1900s, and the attitudes of the time towards different groups of people. This time we meet Tilly, a black working-class girl in a world skewed towards middle-class white men. It is humbling to see how hard Tilly works when the world literally forbids her from pursuing her education as a scientist. There were real-life women like Tilly, with a passion for engineering and science, who paved the way for change.

All along, I have loved descriptions of Sinclair’s. The chocolate department made my mouth water, and the spectacle of the Midnight Ball caught my imagination. I hope Sophie and Lil’s adventures continue. There is a hint after the story that they will, and I will be here to read them wherever in the world they might go.

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Fairtrade chocolate: guilt-free reading snacks.

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Those of you who read my blog regularly, or saw a picture of my chocolate-topped birthday cake will know I love chocolate. It is like catnip for humans. I can’t get enough. It also happens to make the perfect reading treat. It melts in the mouth, allowing your concentration to stay between the pages, and everybody knows there is a connection between chocolate and emotions. Professor RJ Lupin says so, and if nobody else does, that is good enough for me. Chocolate is like an edible hug, and lets face it. Our emotions are at play when we read. Alongisde our heros we confront our craziest fears, and we invest time in characters who can find themselves in grave peril.

Chocolate fuels this bookworm. I thought it would be fun to pair some chocolate with my latest favourite reads. What to choose? I discourage anybody from feeling guilty about their reading snacks. I wouldn’t change my habits for love nor body image. But getting a better deal for some of the poorest people in the world?

That’s the job of Fairtrade. Maybe you’ve noticed the Fairtrade mark and wondered what it means? It means the trade is fair (geddit?) for people who produce food supplies in developing countries. The people who manufacture goods, like my chocolate bars, must meet criteria, such as:

  • paying producers a fair and stable price for goods
  • Entering into longer-term relationships with producers, ensuring longer-term stability. 

The Producers benefit from:

  •  training and skills to develop their businesses
  •  a ‘Fairtrade Premium’ to spend within their businesses or communities.

 

 It shows a commitment to investing in the world’s poorest places. When Fairtrade UK sent an email asking if I would like some samples, I jumped in. I was sent these samples in exchange for review but all opinions remain my own.They sent such a great selection, I was able to pair books and chocolate very nicely. 

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The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine.

Chocolate: Chocolate And Love – Rich Dark 71%

My first reason for this pairing was the cute peacock decoration on the chocolate wrapper. The Midnight Peacock came out in October. I have loved Sinclair’s all along, but The Midnight Peacock was my very favourite. Aside from being a great mystery, it has this dark, sumptuous atmosphere. This is another reason these make a lovely pair. A little of this chocolate goes a long way, but it doesn’t have the bitterness a higher percentage of cocoa solids would produce. As a milk chocolate person, this made it the perfect dark chocolate for me. Dark, but not cloying, and it has a deliciously fruity smell. 

 

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed. 

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This is my current read. A book which has taken my Twitter circle by storm, The Nowhere Girls covers some hugely difficult topics such as mysogynistic culture and victim-blaming. As of the first 100 pages, I can see strong relationships being formed between the three central characters. This is a book-group book. A book to send to your closest friends. This is a book which incites discussions which need to happen. It is one to share, so it had to be paired with a sharing chocolate. Sea salted caramel is having a moment, and is a flavour lots of people enjoy. This is dark chocolate, but only just – I mistook it for a heavy milk. The caramel is quite sweet, and put me in mind of banoffee. I love the crunch of the caramel pieces. 

 

The Murder’s Ape by Jacob Wagelius img_3633

Chocolate: The Raw Chocolate Company – Raw Organic Chocolate Mulberries 

I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the packet. I thought these might make a good pairing because the novel is a slow, winding adventure. I liked the idea of loose chocolate, which I could dip my hand into as the hours unfolded. I was worried they might have a chalky coating. You know what I mean by chalky, don’t you? Loose, dusty coating which leaves marks over your hands. The coating wasn’t like that at all. It was sweet and pleasant. The fruit wasn’t overpowering, either, and went well with the chocolate. bird

Guilt-free and scrummy. My verdict? I would love to check out more goods endorsed by Fairtrade UK. The chocolate came with some recipe cards, and those cookies look mouth-watering. Check back later – if the chocolate lasts long enough, I’ll give them a go and share the results!

HUGE thanks to Fairtrade UK for sending the chocolate samples reviewed in this piece. As stated, all opinions my own. 

Do you have a favourite reading snack? Is fair trade something you have thought about? Do let me know in the comments below. 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: You Choose In Space by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

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You Choose is a winning format which shows that stories do not need to stick to one format. It promotes speaking and listening, and encourages readers to make up the story themselves. You Choose in Space sees the format taken to intergalactic reaches on a journey through space which aims to inspire an endless number of stories.

img_3652Readers follow two characters on their travels, a boy and a girl. I love how we meet the characters at the title page. As a book which breaks with traditional formats, it is lovely to see more made of the title page and end-papers. Children are so often fascinated by the ‘non-story’ parts of a book, and I think this is an important part of book ownership, the familiarity with what makes something a book rather than a typed-manuscript. It is also great to see a wheelchair user in a book which is not about one person’s experience of a health condition. It is important for children to see disabled people as part of everyday life, not as people who only belong in stories about illness. 

My favourite thing about the book is encourages confidence in storytelling without anyimg_3657 instructions. Children are natural storytellers! The different choices act as a spring-board. It would be worth discussing with children that when we imagine things, we take ideas from the world around us. Challenge them to find something in the pictures which doesn’t exist in the world. When they point to a chocolate planet, or a bus made of jelly, discuss the fact the jelly and buses, chocolate and planets all exist! It is amazing how liberating this understanding is. We’ve all met somebody who says they have no imagination, but those people are usually happy to point and state, or to blend things they have observed into something new. 

I love the range of ways the choices are presented, from a cinema audience of potential characters to a conveyor belt of food. My favourite has to be the spaceship which looks as if it has endless rooms, although I also like the clothing choices, which remind me of the drag’n’drop dress-up games I played online in the days of early broadband.

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This book will appeal to a wide age range – from tots to pre-teens. There is a rhyming couplet on each double-page spread in large font, which makes it suitable for the youngest readers. Nick Sharratt’s illustrations are popular with older readers, as they are familiar from Jacqueline Wilson’s ever-popular titles. Like many people who grew up with Wilson’s novels, I remember trying to copy Sharratt’s drawings, which look deceptively simple. You Choose In Space will inspire budding artists and cartoonists as much as storytellers. 

I don’t use a star system, but if I did I would award You Choose in Space a galaxy full of stars. Only fair when it offers infinite possibilities. 

 

Huge thanks to Sarah Hastelow and Penguin Random House for sending a copy in exchange for review. This does not affect the honesty of this review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Waiting On Wednesday – Eye Of The North by Sinead O’Hart

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Picture from @SarahGreenhouse, Sinead O’Hart’s agent.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):  When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, she is kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Siegfried Bauer, who is bound for the ice fields of Greenland. There he hopes to summon a mystical creature from the depths of the ancient glaciers, a creature said to be so powerful that whoever controls it can control the world. 

Unfortunately, Bauer isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The North Witch has laid claim to the mythical beast, too, and Emmeline along with a scrappy stowaway named Thing may be the only one with the power to save the world as we know it. Can Emmeline face one of the greatest legends of all time and live to tell the tale?bird

Why I can’t wait to read Eye Of The North:

  •  I love the idea of a creature who has remained hidden in the glaciers coming to the knowledge of the wrong people. I am interested to know whether Emmeline’s parents have anything to do with the creature coming to light. Have they been kidnapped, perhaps, or might they have shared this knowledge voluntarily?

 

  • I want to know more about Thing’s background. How did he/she end up with such a name? It sounds the opposite of Emmeline, daughter of two scientists. Educated. Possibly well-off. I wonder whether there will be a conflict between Emmeline and Thing? If they need to work together, they need to reach an understanding.

 

  • The North Witch. Between the Polar Bear Explorer’s Club and Eye Of The North, I am getting my share of magical ice-beings. I love ice as a setting for enchantment and magic.

 

  • ‘Greatest legends of all time’ – this world comes with stories of its own, and that makes a strong world. I also like how the stories and science co-exist. Science finds the truth, but before that the world is experienced. Before that comes the stories.

 

  • The story reminds me of Abi Elphinstone. Not the setting, or the characters, but the struggle of one power against another. The one power who can save the world. This is entirely good.

 

Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

February 2016 (UK)

Stripes Publishing

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: A Pocketful Of Crows by Joanne Harris

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Extract:

 

I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.
(The Child Ballads, 295)

birdSynopsis:

She is one of the travelling folk. She travels with the deer, and the hare and the sparrows. When the Lord’s son rides by, she enchants him. The wild things warn her against him, but like a lovestruck girl she follows him home, hoping to be his wife.

 

He names her Melmuria. A named thing is a tamed thing, and she can no longer travel with the wild. That does not matter, for she hopes to be Alexander’s wife. It is not that simple.

 

For one thing there is Fiona, white as white can be. The village girls are milksop girls, but he loves them better. For another thing, neither Fiona nor Melmuria are the kind of girl Alexander’s father will allow him to marry. A young man must sow his wild oats. He may play with these girls, for it has always been this way, but he cannot marry them.

 

Jilted by Alexander, and no longer wholly wild, Melmuria returns to the forest. She will not settle. Love bound her to Alexander. Death will free her. She vows that by Spring, he will be dead and she will dance over his grave.

birdReview:

Inspired by Child Ballad 295, A Pocketful Of Crows is set in a world which is like our own, except the stories found in British folk-tales are true. Witches travel in the guise of hares. Tie charms around the faerie tree to wish for your love. The hawthorn tree is a wise lady. I came to this story as a folky, as someone who has listened to Steeleye Span and The Pentangle since she was knee-high, as someone with a collection of the Child rhymes, (not written for children, in case you were wondering. Collected in the 1800s by Francis James Child.)

I came to A Pocketful of Crows as a folkie, and it was glorious.

 

The first thing I loved was the refrains. ‘A something bride is a something bride’. ‘I went into a …’ A hare. A doe. The refrains have their origins in folklore, and made the story feel as if it had evolved from a long tradition. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but when you get there, you will realise it is cleverer still. It mirrors a key part of the story, which also repeats.

 

The story raised interesting questions about the concept of ‘self’. Names, objects and clothes all bind a soul to others. Is this what we mean by self, or does it run deeper, to something we are regardless of our connections with others? Is there more than one self – a social self and an elemental self?

I loved how humans, not wild things, were known as ‘the folk’. That was the other theme in the story, how humans interact with nature, the insatiable desire to tame. To own. My favourite scene took place in a fair, where items were given as seen fit rather than bought.

 

This is the perfect novel to curl up with on a cold autumn night, but it is also a masterpiece. It is a fierce, intelligent interpretation of a folk ballad. The language is beautiful and poetic, and it raises some interesting themes. If you enjoyed this, I implore you to check out the ballads and songs which inspired the story. Ballads are another form of storytelling, one of the oldest forms. If you’re looking for witches and jilted lovers and vengeance you can do no better than turn to the folk cannon.

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9 Ways to Enhance your Reading Experience

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Reading is about so much more than books. When non-readers roll their eyes at the idea of books, they miss the point that reading is about so much more than text. Of course we can be philosophical about books developing empathy skills, but I was thinking about the physical reading experience. 

Books are not the only things which are important to the reading experience. There are little things which make reading even more of a pleasure. Sure, we can read in anywhere, but if you designed the perfect reading environment, what would the little touches be? 

Here are nine things which make my reading experience – 

 

Seating and cushions – It makes a difference. I like to read with my feet up, and a pile of cushions behind my back and shoulders. I love my huge cushion – firmer than a pillow, it turns what would be a slump into something which passes for sitting up.  Blankets are important in the cold. My Mum is a prolific knitter, and only knits with pure wool. I’m well sorted for pretty blankets. 

 

hot_chocolate_28229Hot Drink – I’m not up on a range of teas like some of my lovely Twitter friends, but I make a mean cup of tea. Pour the milk in first (how do those milk-after people measure??) and give the tea bag time to work it’s magic. Simples. I like a good hot chocolate too. I’m a chocolate-snob, but hot chocoalte? That sugar-packed chocolate drink works for me. 

 

Stationery – I make notes. Lots of notes. I could do this on any scrap of paper, but there is so much pleasure in a beautiful notebook. I am a self-confessed Paperchase addict. 

 

Bath Products –  Whether you read in the bath or have a long soak afterwards to contemplate the story, you need good bath products molton-brown-pink-pepperpod-body-wash_2016_kbt034_xl. My favourite is Molten Brown’s Pink Pepperpod. Pepper is one of those scents which has been marketed to men for too long. Don’t let anybody genderise your bath bubbles. Pepper and Sandalwood are as refreshing as fruity and floral scents. 

 

IMG_2677Chocolate – There is nothing better than good chocolate. Real chocolate uses cocoa butter, not vegetable oil. Last month, I visited one of my favourite chocolate places, Kennedy’s in Orton. It isn’t super-pricey, but it is good chocolate, and they have some wonderful combinations. I chose some chocolate for the top of my birthday cake. The St Clements (orange and lemon) didn’t make it on to the cake, but it was wickedly-good. 

 

Candles – I prefer to read in good light, but I understand the attraction of candles. I haveil_570xn-1165135269_oi31 a scented candle I refuse to burn, because it makes my room smell … of my room, actually. It has become a defining smell. I love the range of ‘bookish’ candles available at William and Joseph. 

 

Bookshelf Decoration –My bookshelves are pretty packed. I would love to be a bookstagramer, and get into the whole visual side of things, but at the moment I’m happy to admit that is not me. My shelves are cluttered, there is a beloved childhood toy on top of one and I had a great Lego display space until I acquired more Middle Grade fiction than I can otherwise store. 

 

Declarations of Love to Favourite Books –

P1010556This is something the internet has got me into. Good old internet. Whether it is a necklace with a Narnia quote, a bookish GIF or a Hogwarts travel poster, there are any number of ways to declare undying love to a favourite book. I would like to see more bookish Christmas decorations. I have the cutest Wonderland tree decorations, but where is Peter Pan? Narnia? I also love these little wooden people, which are sold as toys, but actually double-up as cute and totally bookish tree decorations. Jesters? Kings? Zombie-Pirates? SOLD. 

 

Book Chats –Reading a story is only the beginning. Talking to someone who has read the same book is like finding someone who has been on the same journey. It’s a scary thought. They have seen your special place with different eyes, and that can be difficult. It can also be wonderful. Hours can be spent reliving those journeys, colour can be added to your recollections and the friends I have loved most have without exception been bookish.