Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture book review: Sleep by Kate Prendergast


Animals sleep too … but do they sleep like you? Do they sleep in nests? Do they lie down or stand up? Do they close their eyes? This beautiful picture-book explores different animals and the way they sleep. 

img_6750I fell in love with the illustrations. What a lovely way to teach children about other animals. It is so important for children to learn about the natural world and these detailed pictures will encourage them to develop a vocabulary around animals they may not have encountered. 

The book can be read like a story – a single fact about each animal is shared in continuous prose. This is a lovely way to introduce young children to non-fiction because they can read it in just the same way as their other picture-books. The story ends with a question – do animals dream? This book will certainly encourage children to ask more questions. There is a fact-file at the back which is a lovely resource for readers to begin their investigations. 

Both the colour-pallette and the brush-strokes are soft. This would be a soothing book to read ahead of bedtime. 

Children are very curious about the world about them and this picture book encourages them to ask questions about the natural world. It would be a lovely introduction to discussion about the similarities and differences between humans and other animals. 

This would make a lovely gift for young children. 


Thanks to Old Barn Books for my copy of Sleep. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Island by M.A. Bennett

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It was actually John Donne, not my Dad, who said:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself.’ 

I say:

If John Donne said that, then John Donne didn’t know about English schools.

(The Island by M.A. Bennett. P38.)




Only one thing matters at Osney School. Sport. New boy Link finds it impossible to settle in after he is ranked lowest in a school-wide challenge. A single aspect of the curriculum defines Link’s place in the school society. He is the bag-carrier. The butt of every joke. Not a single person dares to befriend him.

Link decides he is not going back to school. Then the plane crashes.

Link and six classmates are stranded on a remote island. Will their social roles remain fixed away from Osney?



The Breakfast Club meets Lord Of The Flies in this chilling and intelligent novel. Following on from STAGs was always going to be a challenge but MA Bennett has confirmed herself as a great storyteller. The Island is darker. Those are the last words I expected to say when STAGs was about teenagers chasing each-other as blood sports. However, in STAGs we followed the three good guys. The victims were blameless and heroic. The Island is more complex.

At school, Link is bullied, ostracised and shunned. His experience lasts for years and is traumatic. Does that make him a saint? Does it heck. This novel examines teenage psychology in more depth than any novel I have read. The high school experience of cliques and gangs defines us and destroys many people’s confidence. This is the overriding theme of the novel. To what extent does your place in one society define your character?

It is the sort of intelligent which raises goosebumps.

Aside from the iPhones, the other major difference between Lord Of The Flies and The Island is the presence of girls. MA Bennett gets right under the skin of patriarchal societies and attitudes, looking at how the behaviour of individual males has led to male-dominance.

MA Bennet examines her themes in depth and is the master of character-creation. She is one of the most exciting new voices in YA fiction and I look forward to seeing what she writes next.


Thank you to ReadersFirst and Hot Key Books for my copy of The Island. Opinions my own.


waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Synopsis (from Chicken House Books):

midnight-hour-668x1024When Big Ben sounds the stroke of midnight, Emily’s parents vanish.

As an adventurous eleven year old, Emily packs her sandwiches and her hedgehog, Hoggin, and heads into the Midnight Hour. A Victorian London frozen in time, the Midnight Hour is a magical place of sanctuary and of peril dreamt up by children – and inhabited by monsters of legend, creatures of the imagination, and a Postal Service determined to save the day (and night!). To save her mum and dad, Emily must be brave enough to embrace her own inner magic …


Why I can’t wait to read The Midnight Hour:

  • The book began as a comic called Night Post about the postal service which comes to life on the stroke of midnight to deliver post to London’s less human inhabitants. Images from the comic have already sold the novel to me. Not only is it a work about ghosts and witches and monsters, the artwork perfectly captures that magic of the small hours, when anything and everything seems possible. 
  • Victorian London is a wonderful setting. Although it is well-covered there is always another alleyway to explore or building to visit. It is the perfect backdrop to stories with an underworld, stories of political power and class-division and stories about industry. 
  • A hedgehog companion. Enough said. 
  • The protagonist’s story is about self-belief and confidence. This character-arc goes so nicely with magic. Sometimes we find it difficult to recognise the magic inside ourselves. 
  • The Postal Service sounds intriguing. Are they are resistance movement? If so, what is the biggest threat to the world? Is the threat to the monsters or to the fabric of the world itself? 
  • The setting is dreamed up by children. I love stories about temporal worlds and can’t wait to find out how much influence the protagonist might have on her surroundings. Will she be able to change the setting with her own dreams? 


The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Chicken House Books


Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young middle-grade round-up – August 2018



The Hounds Of Penhallow Hall by Holly Webb and Jason Cockroft

Penhallow Hall is full of ghostly dogs, waiting to wake up and share their stories. Polly is excited when she wakes up the ghost of a terrier called Patch. Can Polly help Patch remember what happened to his boy Jake? Did Jake run into trouble from the terrible Highwaymen of the 1700s?

This is one of the loveliest quick reads I have encountered in a long time. This series would be brilliant for introducing children to different time periods. We learn so much by empathising with a character. Young readers will turn the pages to find out whether Patch and Jake are reunited, and I adore the canine guardian of all the ghost dogs, Rex.

I recommend this series to people of any age who love time-slip. Think Green-Knowe with dogs. It may only take a couple of hours to read but this is brilliant storytelling. Although this is part of a series it could be read as a stand-alone.

Jason Cockroft’s illustrations bring the historical hall and forest to life. I feel as if I have been there. This is a dream author-illustrator pair.


Star Friends – Nightshade by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Maia and her friends are back for another adventure. Star Friends follows a group of children who have a special bond with magical animals. Together they protect the world from Dark Magic.

The woodland plants are dying because someone is creating potions with dark magic. Meanwhile, the girls are divided by new-girl Essie and her clique, and the grown-ups have all become seriously competitive. Can the girls put aside their differences and find the source of the dark magic?

The story in Star Friends continues from one book to the next so if you are new to the series I would recommend starting at book one. I can see this series being very popular with 7 – 9 year-olds. Tween girls can develop a real interest in friendship groups and life-stages. This story explores current-age friendships while looking at the girls’ future ambitions and goals. This installment looks at popularity and competitiveness.

A series with the magic of Harry Potter and the cute-factor Animal Ark.


Shine – Chloe Takes Centre Stage by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

 Chloe is desperate to go to The Shine School for the Performing Arts. It is only when she gets in that she realises she won’t be the only funny, confident and talented student. How do you stand out at a school where everyone is talented? Chloe goes overboard to make people laugh but her jokes backfire when the teachers complain about her behaviour. Will Chole ever fit in at The Shine?

This would be a lovely story to introduce the subject of secondary school transfer two or three years ahead of time. It would also be a nice book for talking about behaviour and friendships. Secondary school transfer can be difficult and low self-confidence or social skills can quickly turn it into a nightmare.

It was lovely that one of the characters didn’t make it into The Shine but plans to achieve her ambitions via a different path. No child should feel like a failure at eleven. Children need to see that success can come at the end of infinite different paths.


Pet Defenders – Invasion Of The Giant Nits by Gareth P. Jones and Steve May

Earth has been invaded. Gadget genius Annascratch and her army of NITS (Nano Inventive Trained Soldiers) have invaded Earth and it is up Pet Defenders Biskit and Mitzy to stop them. Aided by Agent Daley they set out on their mission, but the NITS keep getting bigger. Do they have a weakness? Can the Pet Defenders find it before it is too late?

Animals, aliens, gadgets and burp-jokes combine into a laugh-out-loud funny adventure. The humans are totally unaware that their pets are fighting dangerous invaders so the reader feels as if they have been let in on the secret. I can see lots of children being unable to resist this combination of action, humour and favourite animals. I loved the lead pair and their discussions about animal fiction (Why are cats always cast as the baddies? Why is it never a dog?)

Steve May’s illustrations are brilliant. Any child who likes drawing their own monsters or robots will be inspired by these creations.

Funny books are the way forward.


St Grizzle’s School For Girls – Gremlins And Pesky Guests by Karen McCombie and Becka Moor. 

Headteacher Lulu reckons it is time for the pupils at St Grizzle’s to make friends with the children at Twittering primary. When a flood temporarily closes Twittering School, Lulu invites them to stay at St Grizzle’s. Mr Puddock and the pupils at Twittering primary are not so keen to make friends. Their school is as modern-looking as St Grizzle’s is old-fashioned. The pupils at Twittering primary wear uniforms and follow the rules whereas life at St Grizzle’s is just a little chaotic. Can the two schools come to a truce?

This is at the longer end of young-MG and combines humour with a warm-hearted story. It also gets a big thumbs-up in terms of representation. The children are as diverse as children in a modern-day primary. Do you remember wishing you could go to a fictional school? I imagine kids will be tickled by the slightly madcap way of life at St Grizzle’s. 

The illustrations capture the story perfectly. They are the sort of pictures you get lost in, looking for details. I found myself reading the illustrations as much as I did the story. 

The narration is chatty and casual and something happens on every single page. This hit series has already gathered lots of fans who will be delighted to see it back for another story. 


legendofkevinThe Legend Of Kevin by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Max has always wanted a pet but he lives in a top-floor flat. Not having a pet makes Max sad. Then Kevin arrives. Kevin is a flying pony who blows to Bumbleford during a storm. During the same storm, Bumbleford is flooded. All sorts of strange things happen when the sea monkeys and mermaids move in. Can Max and Kevin set things right?

How can anybody resist this book? One look at Kevin’s cute little face and I was sold. Sarah McIntyre’s drawings always make me want to reach for a pencil and I imagine they will have the same effect on young readers. They are so imaginative and sweet and full of energy.

This is imaginative and gentle and would make a lovely bedtime story.


Dino Wars – The Trials Of Terror by Dan Metcalf and Aaron Blechadinowars2

Adam Caine and his friends have found two Dilotron Crystals so far, but they need two more to deactivate the deadly Coda Program. One might be at the heart of Pteratopolis, the city of the pterosaurs. Will siblings Adam and Chloe be able to work together to get it?

Dystopia can be suitable for very young readers. Dan Metcalf has proved this with Dino Wars, a series set in a future in which humans and dinosaurs live together and a reactivated bio-weapon threatens to wipe out all dinosaur life. This is the second book in the series. Adam is having issues with leadership. It was his fault the weapon was reactivated so he must be responsible for saving the dinosaurs.. right? His sister Chole doesn’t reckon so and she is going to challenge him all the way.

Like all great dystopia the children see signs of ruined civilization all around them – ruined cars and huge rubbish dumps. It is so important for children to start questioning how they treat the world from an early age and dystopia is way into these issues. The stories are suitable for very young children. While they touch on deep issues the primary goal is to save the good dinosaurs.

These adventures will leave children desperate for the next installment.


A big thanks to Stripes Publishing, Maverick Arts Publishing and Oxford University Press for sending copies of the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

Uncategorized · Young Middle Grade

Blog Tour: The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin

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Poppy seems to be accepting this place more, but I keep thinking about the man, Doctor Jonathan, and the argument between him and Iona. I’m beginning to feel like we are in a giant containment pen, like a safari-park enclosure.

(The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin. P34.)



After their mother dies, Aster and her little sister Poppy are sent to live with Aunt Iona. They are excpecting a house but Aunt Iona lives in an eco-village where she studies healthy lifestyles. Aster keeps noticing strange things about the eco-village. There’s the forced injections for one thing, and the argument between Aunt Iona and the other doctor. Then Aster wakes up on a tropical island with no idea how she got there. Poppy has disappeared.

Where is she? Where are all the teenagers from the eco-village, and most importantly of all, where is Poppy? The more Aster searches for Poppy, the more strange things she finds. There is a secret deep in the water. A secret with the potential to change medical history.bird


An underwater thriller and a fantastic adventure. From the creeping sense that something isn’t right in the eco-village to the show-stopping underwater scenes, everything about this book is designed to keep you reading.

Here’s a secret – I thought I didn’t like thrillers. I loved this book. Maybe I don’t like thriller clichés. Car chases and eccentric billionaires and ‘broken’ protagonists. This book is original, its characters are rounded and the villains are the heroes of their own story. You could almost sympathise with the main villain, and that’s what makes this so good. It is a Frankenstein story about the darkest human experiences and how far we should reasonably go to change the inevitable. It is about science and ethics and the lengths we would go to save people we love.

Aster’s grief feels real. She deflects all conversation about her mother but sees likenesses to Mum everywhere. This isn’t a melodramatic grief. It is silent and all-encompassing. Aster also suffers from anxiety, and it is wonderful to see a protagonist with mental health issues who is able to live with their condition. This story isn’t about treating the anxiety. It is something Aster lives with and manages while she continues her life. Top marks for representation. It is so important for people to understand that mental health conditions can – when they are manageable – be part of everyday life.

There is another great character in the story. Sam’s Grandad has cancer and the experimental trial which was working wonders has been cancelled. If you find it difficult to empathise with Iona, you will certainly feel for Sam. He would go to any lengths to save his Grandad, even if it meant endangering other people. Sam’s story gives us a deeper emotional link to the main themes. It is easier to imagine ourselves in Sam’s shoes than Iona’s.

The other thing I love about this book is the setting. The coral reef and white sands. Lindsay Galvin clearly has an interest in science. We learn about bioluminescent creatures and edible plants and preserving resources. This is a deeply intelligent setting with the potential to interest its readers in biology and geography.

A brilliant and beautiful story whose themes are deeper for their subtlety. I would love to read more about Sam and Aster, and their fascinating discovery.


THE SECRET DEEP is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Connect with Lindsay on Twitter: @lindsaygalvin
Huge thanks to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for my copy of The Secret Deep. Opinions my own.
Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: 100 Dogs by Michael Whaite


Shaggy dog, baggy dog, wag-wag-waggy dog, dirty dog, squirty dog, watering a tree … Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. This charming and rhythmic picture-book features 100 different types of dogs.

The catchy rhyme and cute illustrations will make sure this is soon a bedtime favourite. 100 Dogs proves that picture-books don’t have to be stories. Children are curious and love playing with language. This book would be brilliant for early descriptive writing, rhythm and teaching adjectives.

img_6593The dogs themselves are a delight. The illustrations capture not only their looks but their characteristics. There are dozy dogs and playful dogs and dogs itching for a fight. Even if you have only seen other people’s dogs, you will recognise many of the expressions. This might help children who are nervous around dogs – it would aid discussion about why dogs behave in different ways at different times.

I love the colour palette – it manages to be bold without overuse of primary colours. Colour-block backgrounds are broken up with unobtrusive patterns.

A hide-and-seek game is hidden in the illustrations. ‘Lost Dog’ features on a poster, is hidden in a different illustration and makes a final appearance as ‘Found Dog’. This isn’t announced at the front of the book – children who find the dog without prompting will feel a great sense of achievement. Games like these all help to build confidence and enjoyment around books.

A cute and colourful book which will captivate the young and not-so-young.


Thanks to Puffin Books for my copy of 100 Dogs. Opinions my own.

Lists · Stationery

Bookish Stationery Guide – August 2018

Bookish stationery guide and wishlist

This week I took part in one of those memorable group conversations when someone produces something everybody else once. The thing in question was a set of Jackie Morris notecards. These were passed around the table and admired. Stoked. Snail-Mail may be in decline but people love beautiful notecards more than ever. 

Jackie Morris is one of my favourite artists, and I’m also pleased to include Dee Nickerson in this round-up. She paints introverts. Women with cats and books. Women who jump in the waves and dream of flying with the birds. I love her art more than I can possibly say and aspire to live like a woman in a Dee Nickerson painting. 

I own a small amount of bookish stationery. My Peter Pan Moleskine is my pride and joy – and still hasn’t been written in because I haven’t had thoughts which are worthy of its pages.

Here is my current bookish stationery wish list. Is there anything here you would like to own? Do you have any beautiful bookish stationery? Let me know in the comments below. 

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Jinxed by Amy McCulloch (Amy Alward)



I think about Companioneers Crescent, the road we would have moved into if my dad had not … disappeared. If I’d gotten into Profectus, I could have guaranteed a good life for Mum and myself. A big house. A good job for life. Life-long benefits. But once I graduate St Agnes I will have to leave Monchaville, or else get a Moncha job suitable for a beetle baku owner.

(Jinxed by Amy McCulloch.)  birdSynopsis:

Lacey Chu dreams of working for Moncha, the technology company responsible for creating baku. Baku are like pets, except they also function as a smart-phone. Nearly all employees at Moncha came through Profectus Academy. When Lacey receives a rejection it seems like the end of the world. She’ll be stuck at St Agnes school with a low-level baku. Her future is over.

Then Lacey finds and repairs a cat baku and her life starts to change. First she receives a notification that the rejection was a mistake. Lacey is off to Profectus with an extraordinary baku.

What is Jinx? Is he an ordinary robotic pet or does he have a secret? Could that secret endager everything Lacey has worked for?


An action-packed adventure from the creators of The Potion Diary. Jinxed is the first book in an exciting new series. We’re all addicted to our smart-phones. Sometimes this comes at the expense of interaction with other people and with the world around us. Jinxed takes this truth and builds on it. What if someone found a way for our smart-phones to behave like real animal companions?

Profectus is a great setting. It is an anti-Hogwarts. Instead of arriving and finding the house where you belong, students at Profectus are constantly pitted against each other to prove themselves number one. This competitive environment and the elite nature of the school made some interesting commentary on social advantage. This theme is continued with the bakus – to achieve anything in life, people need a level 3 baku but this is out of reach on most salaries. I will be interested to see whether this theme returns later in the series because it has been set-up as something of an undercurrent to the main action.

Lacey is a believable character. Lots of her story centres around her conflict. She is so driven to achieve her single dream that it sometimes overshadows other areas of her life. Moving to a new school separates her from her long-time friend and school-life quickly takes over. Students at Profectus are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement – they swear not to reveal anything they are taught about Moncha. There are secrets at Moncha which certain people would rather keep under wraps.

Jinx is nothing like other baku. He refuses to follow commands and is always ready with a smart answer. Some interesting questions are raised about artificial intelligence. At what point does simulated life become real life? That Jinx is a robotic cat is perfect – cats are independent-minded.

An excellent story and a wonderful start to a series. I’m looking forward to the next installment.


Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK Children’s Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Pages & Co – Tilly And The Bookwanderers by Anna James



Tilly lives with at Pages & Co – the magical bookshop run by her grandparents. Her mother disappeared when Tilly was a baby and the transfer to secondary-school has left her short on friends. Tilly seeks solace in the company of books, where she knows she will always find likeminded characters.

Then Tilly meets her favourite book characters and discovers she can travel into fictional worlds. Who is Enoch Chalk and why does he follow Tilly in her favourite fictional worlds. Alongside her new friend Oskar, Tilly is initiated into the world of bookwandering, but there is a past in her family which she is about to uncover.

A magical debut which will capture the heart of every bookworm.


Take the magic of Inkheart, add a homage to bookshops and libraries and you have Pages & Co – Tilly And The Bookwanderers. I enjoyed every page of this brilliant debut. Anna James has taken the magic of bookshops and turned it into a unique world.

Bookwandering takes different forms – initially, favourite characters appear to the bookwanderer in the real world. Those characters might lead a person into their world, but the highest level of bookwandering happens when a person can read themselves in and out of fictional worlds. I loved the world-building in this novel. The magic is bound by rules and conventions and the world has a rich and established history. 

In the first instalment, we meet characters from a number of different novels. Including Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables and Sara Crewe was a daring move. So many people love these characters – making them believable must have been an extraordinary challenge. Do not worry. I felt as if Anna James had met these characters in person. She captures their voices and mannerisms to perfection that you will be clamouring for the next character just to see them brought back to life.

One of my favourite characters was Amelia Whisper, librarian extraordinaire. I would love her job, her life and she’s a total heroine. I hope we’ll see more of Amelia in future installments.

Bookwandering is an established magic in Tilly’s world. It takes place in libraries and bookshops, and people with a special connection to books such as librarians and booksellers are particularly susceptible. That thrill you feel when you walk into a bookshop and see a thousand spines? That’s the first tingling thread towards bookwandering. What I particularly loved about this book was the bookish in-jokes. Those little moments which other readers will skim past but true bookworms will understand.

An extraordinary debut and a must-read for anyone who believes in the magic of reading.


Thanks to Harper Collins for my ARC. Opinions my own.


Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: A Chase In Time by Sally Nicholls

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Alex had seen quite a lot of old-fashioned toys at museums and things, and they were almost always creased and faded and falling to bits. He supposed that was because they were old, and of course they must all have been new once. But it was still strange to see the old-fashioned box looking as bright and new as something you might buy in Toys-R-Us.

(A Chase In Time by Sally Nicholls.)



Alex and Ruby Pilgrim are always up for an adventure. They love staying in their aunt’s ginormous house because it is like the houses in old stories. The type where children have adventures. The trouble is Aunt Joanna will have to sell the house to make ends meet. Then Alex and Ruby fall headfirst into the hallway mirror.

They find themselves in 1912. Dora and Henry are waiting for their Uncle Atherton to get married. He’s an explorer-type and always comes home with new treasures. His latest purchase is The Newberry Cup – an Ancient Saxon Wedding Cup.

Alex and Ruby wonder if the cup might be the thing to save Applecott House, but the cup goes missing before they can learn anything more. Can four children from different eras work together to bring back the cup?


A charming and gentle time-slip. This has all the conventions of a good time-slip: a problem in the current day, an object in the past which could solve everything and an incident which puts that object out of the protagonists’ reach. It is shorter than many time-slips I have read but everything is in the right place and the story rolls along.

Food and language-usage and clothing conventions are all explored in the 1912 setting. This to me is pivotal to a good time-slip. Readers who won’t read a straight historical novel are often up for time-slip and I think they need to take away a sense of that different era which makes them curious to learn more. Sally Nicholls has passed this test with a gold star.

The car chase is a brilliant scene. We remember the car – or ‘bus’ – as much as we remember the characters. This is helped by Brett Helquist’s fantastic illustrations. I grew up with Helquist’s illustrations of A Series Of Unfortunate Events and think they are some of the most memorable drawings in children’s literature. His work here is equally memorable and I feel as if I have met the characters. Three cheers for illustrations in middle-grade novels.

This was a gentle novel with minimal threat or fear. As much as I enjoy adventure stories, I think there is a very big need for gentle books in children’s literature. We forget that the intended audience for a novel like this might be seven or eight years old. We forget how quickly ‘scary’ could become overwhelming at this age. I applaud this novel because it has created a story compelling enough for older readers in a way which is reassuring for a very young audience.

This is a must for fans of time-slip and for anyone who appreciates a short but compelling book which can be read over and over. Join the ride.