Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Bear, The Piano, The Dog And The Fiddle by David Litchfield

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Hector plays his fiddle. Hugo the dog is one of his biggest fans. They have always been the best of friends. Now times aren’t so good and Hector has stopped making money from his music. He puts down his fiddle for good. 

When Hugo picks up the fiddle and gains a big following and joins a famous bad, Hector is jealous. At their parting, he says something he regrets. 

Will the two friends ever be united? 

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A poignant and beautiful picture-book about the lasting power of friendship. 

David Litchfield is a rare talent. His story is as touching and memorable as his illustrations. This isn’t a one-read picture book. It is a story which will stick in your mind. 

I loved the themes of friendship. Even the best of friends fall out and our actions are often motivated by our emotions. Elderly Hector has always wanted to play a famous concert hall but never achieved that success. Seeing his friend rise to fame brings back difficult feelings and Hector says something he regrets. This would be a lovely story for talking to children about how arguments start. Hector is not a bad person. He is a sad person. That understanding can help children to empathise with each other and to understand that, often, nobody is at fault. 

The moment of reconciliation is touching and special. 

img_7098The illustration is top-rate. Litchfield captures the atmosphere of a big city – how it can be both beautiful and ugly, crowded and lonely. I particularly love his use of light – light reflecting from damp pavements. Windows glowing and streetlights casting a narrow beam. I grew up in London and can think of no picture-book which has ever captured this quite so well. 

This is the kind of arty, beautiful book which I would gift to adults. It is also going to be a big hit with the target audience – expect it to become a real favourite and one which your children remember beyond childhood. 

 

Thanks to Quarto Books for my copy of The Bear, The Piano, The Dog And The Fiddle. Opinions my own.

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Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

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Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

Our world is so wet. We need water to survive. Venture on a journey through the world of water. Where does water come from and how does it move around our planet? Those questions and more are answered in this beautiful and informative book. 

This book is both informative and poetic. It immerses the reader into the world of water through questions and language, then gently imparts information about the origins of water and the water cycle. Information books for younger readers have come a long way in recent years. There is suddenly an understanding that information needs to come in small bites and that it needs to be presented in interesting and attractive ways to hold the reader’s attention.

img_7100Once Upon A Raindrop is a masterpiece of design. Kazuko Nomoco has produced designs for numerous brands and clients including The Guardian, The Folio Society, Audi and Moschino. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find she had a background in communications – her designs remind me of the very best infographics. They grab your attention straight away and impart just enough information in one go. 

This is an information book for modern times. 

I love the minimalist colour-palette – different shades of blue and grey are occasionally broken with splashes of colour. The style is impressionistic, with very few lines. 

This would be suitable for children as young as four but would make a lovely gift for any child interested in geography or learning about the water cycle. It would also be a great book to use in art. It would inspire children to think outside the box about how they paint and draw water. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books for my copy of Once Upon A Raindrop. Opinions my own.

Chat · Reflection

Four Things I’ve Learned This September

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Fresh fruit and nature – September 2018

August ranks as the third most disappointing month of the year after February and January respectively. Which used to seem strange, given how much I love September. Then I figured it out.

September is supposed to be autumnal.

Nobody expects sunshine and beaches and ice-lollies. If I have to get a raincoat out in September, I’ll go with the flow. In August, that’s a disappointing summer. These days I’ve learned to embrace the cycle of nature a little more but I still notice the darkness creeping in every August.

My month has been about editing. Editing a 42,000 word (give or take) manuscript. It’s a strange old time – a triumph because I am putting in so much hard work and learning heaps about chapter and scene. In reality, many authors write three or four manuscripts before they are published (I’ve heard everything between 2 and 9). This perspective is important – too many people think novel-writing is a one-shot game – but it is also daunting. I will have to face the blank page many times over if I want to make this a reality.

What have you been up to this month? Is August your favourite time of year? Chat to me in the comments below and I promise to reply. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this August.

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Old proofs are THERE to cut up

One of the highlights of book-blogging is getting to read books ahead of publication. Sometimes this happens in the form of a digital file. Sometimes a finished copy is sent weeks ahead of publication. Sometimes bloggers are set proof-copies.

A proof is essentially an unfinished copy of the text. That’s not to say the story isn’t finished, but details are allowed to change between the proof and the final version. Selling proof copies is blogger-sin No1 (Don’t. Just don’t.)

What do you do with a proof copy you don’t want to keep? Throwing away or burning them goes against everything I have ever been taught about respecting people’s hard work.

This month I found a solution – use them for craft.

Hang on a second – I won’t burn them but I’ll cut them up?

Craft is about creation over destruction. I think this act of creation means I’m treating the used proof with respect. The publishers don’t want those texts in circulation so using them for craft seems like a great answer. I’m partway through a Christmas decoration and can’t wait to share pictures online.

 

Collaborations = creativity.

This month I wrote a post in collaboration with the wonderful HelloBexa.

As much as I love my blog, there are times when I worry it gets a bit same-old. Those are the times to reach out to other people.  When I suggested the collaboration, I wanted something which would suit both our blogs. By looking at Bexa’s niches, I brought something new to my blog.

The Scrapbook Memory Jar may be one of my favourite blog posts this year. I would love to collaborate with other bloggers, especially bloggers outside the bookish-sphere.

 

Heritage open days are my new hobby

Late in August, I was asked by a member of my poetry group to help with the heritage open day at the local church. I was happy to help … but little did I know how much I would LOVE it.

Seriously. Next year I am signing up for every single slot.

What’s so great about leading people up and down a church tower?

Firstly, I met people from all over. A group of cyclists from Amsterdam on their way to the Irish Sea. People from the local area who I’ve never met before. People from other parts of the country with interesting jobs and life-experience. As an aspiring author, the best thing I can do is get out and *listen*. Heritage open day offered people to listen to in abundance.

Secondly, I learned so much history. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable about the local area as well as the church and one of our visitors talked about local sites of interest from different time-periods.

Dare you to sign up for something different. Netflix is fun but talking to people is better.

 

Fruit tastes better when it is fresh from the trees

I learn this every autumn and relearn it with every mouthful. There’s no denying it. Food is supposed to be fresh.

We picked apples and plums from the trees on the village green and were sent apples and pears by different neighbours. Now everybody has taken their first crop there are buckets of apples all around the village looking for good homes.

As well as eating some fresh, we freeze lots of apples to keep a stock for apple-pie.

 

What have you learned this September? Do you love autumn? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Tangle Of Magic by Valija Zinck

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Review – A Tangle Of Magic by Valija Zinck

Extract:

This was all going very wrong. She didn’t want to be light, she wanted to be strong … but … her feet! Her feet, in their blue sandals … they were floating in the air! 

(A Tangle Of Magic by Valija Zinck. P60.) 

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Synopsis:

Penelope has always been different. How many other ten-year-olds have totally grey hair? Then there is the fire smell which seems to hang around her. When Penelope’s mother has an accident and stays in hospital for a few weeks, Penelope discovers a secret. Her hair isn’t really grey at all. The grey is just dye. Penelope’s hair is bright, flaming red.

Then Penelope starts hearing voices from the earth around her and floating in the air.

What are these strange powers and do they have something to do with her father – the one who disappeared years ago? Penelope sets off in search of her father and learns about herself along the way.

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Review:

A gentle fantasy about magic and inheritance. Think flaming hair and talking roads and the discovery of magical powers.

This reminds me of slightly older books like Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh. The story is as much about the journey as it is about the outcome and Penelope’s adventures take place in her local area. Penelope’s magic brings the setting to life – she hears the road talking to her and flies alongside flocks of birds. Each chapter shows Penelope having different adventures and mishaps with her magic as she gets to grips with it and learns about her father.

It was lovely to see Penelope’s friendships growing in this story. Penelope’s friends protect her and look out for her as she tests her magic. There wasn’t a specific storyline about Penelope’s friendships but her little group of friends is very much part of her landscape.

The thing I enjoyed most about this book was the atmosphere. It would be a lovely story for a 6 – 9-year-old because it captures that feeling of newly-found wonder and interest in everything which children experience at this age. When I worked in a bookshop several years ago, it was hardest to recommend books for this age-group. Books which bridged the gap between early chapter books and core middle-grade. It is lovely to find a book which fits that description.

I also enjoyed the language – the sentences and paragraphs roll along and there is some beautiful descriptive writing.

A gentle story which would be well-suited to newly confident readers. 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Waiting On Wednesday: The Great Animal Escapade by Jane Kerr

The Great Animal EscapeSynopsis (from Chicken House Books): 

Danny works at Belle Vue Zoo, where – alongside training the famous elephant Maharajah – he helps out with the day-to-day tasks of caring for the animals.

But when animals start escaping, Danny is the prime suspect: after all, he was a former street urchin and pickpocket. When a man turns up claiming to be his father, the plot thickens. Can Danny untangle the mystery of the animal escapade – and find out where he really belongs – in order to clear his name?

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Why I can’t wait to read The Great Animal Escapade:

  • Hurrah! A sequel to The Great Elephant Thief, which follows orphan Danny’s progress as he rides an elephant from Edinburgh to Manchester in a bid to escape trouble and help a zoo-owner keep his fortune. The Elephant Thief was one of those books which is just a bloomin’ good story. It kept me reading from start to finish and the plot stayed in my head in such a way that I think about it at random moments. I would read another book by Jane Kerr in a second. 

 

  • The 1800s entertainment industry provides a rich setting for story. Maybe it is the same attraction as steam-punk – there is enough innovation to be interesting, and enough left undiscovered (such as forensic science, the internet and mobile technology,) to keep the story interesting. It is also a fertile ground for interesting characters. Many people whose didn’t fit into conventional roles found their homes in the entertainment industry. Their stories have proved pouplar in reccent years as we’ve become more aware of all the voices waiting to be heard. 

 

  • I love books set in a specific geographical location, especially historical books which show us what a town or region meant at a different time.

 

  • The bond between Danny and Maharajah the elephant was special. Although I don’t support animals in modern zoos, it was lovely to read about a boy from the streets of 1800s Edinburgh bonding with an animal. Contact and respect for other species can change our lives and Danny instinctively understood that Maharajah could communicate with him too. 

 

 

The Great Animal Escapade by Jane Kerr

Chicken House Books

March 2019

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash by Chloe Seager

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Extract:

How is it possible that just because Steph’s busy and Faith’s away, I have no one left?! Literally no one. How pathetic is that?! How do I only have two friends in the entire globe?! The entire globe of nearly eight billion people? TWO? Out of EIGHT BILLION?

Is that normal??!!

I’m Robinson Crusoe, sitting out on a tiny island all by myself. And no one’s coming to rescue me. 

(From The Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash by Chloe Seager.) 

birdbreakSynopsis:

Emma’s given up on love but all her friends are in relationships. Suddenly Emma isn’t sure what to do with herself and she misses the old dynamic of her friendships. This puts her on a mission to make new best friends. 

The school fashion show seems like the perfect opportunity to meet new people.

The result is a series of hilarious situations and mishaps. Emma is back online and she is unafraid to share all. 

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Review:

Editing Emma was one of my surprise hits of 2017. By surprise, I don’t mean there was any reason the book shouldn’t have been fab. I mean I wasn’t certain it would be for me. I was late the party with contemporary YA and had just discovered what it fabulous genre it is when I read Editing Emma. The book had a distinctive, chatty voice and the characters stayed with me long after I opened the book. It reminded me what it was really like to be the teenager and its themes about online identity were totally up to date. 

Guess what? The sequel is fab too.

Lots of seventeen and eighteen-year-olds have to confront shifts in their friendship groups. Partners come and go, groups expand and reshape as young people move into sixth-form and there is the great big end-of-school looming over everything. That’s what is happening to Emma Nash. She may have sorted out her own love life but with her friends in relationships, she’s feeling pretty lonely. 

So Emma logs back online. 

I love how these stories explore the role of the internet in modern friendship groups. This is something which – until the past couple of years – wasn’t acknowledged in YA. It was like the unspoken taboo. Teens had a whole world online but people were afraid to encourage it. It is great to see books which honestly reflect how teenagers use the internet. Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash covers everything from trawling through profiles of people we vaguely know to awkward emails to how it can feel when the internet turns nasty. 

This book is also upfront about the things teenagers really talk about. Periods. Sex. This book is unafraid to visit the supposedly-taboo topics. Emma is unafraid to share everything – and I mean everything. She’s like that real girl you knew as a teenager who would give you regular updates on bra-size and period flow. The reader is reminded that these subjects are totally normal and hopefully this will give them confidence to have open conversations and challenge stereotypes. 

Another hit. Laugh, cry and nod your head in recognition. Emma is every-girl and she is your new fictional BFF. 

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas PR and HQ Stories for my copy of The Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Moon by Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook

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Review: The Moon by Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook. 

For many years, man has looked up to the moon …

From artists to astronomers, poets to mathematicians to dreamers, the moon has been a source of inspiration and wonder to humankind. Myths have been told about the moon and songs written.

What is the moon and why does it continue to be a source of inspiration?

The Moon is special because it examines a topic from a multidisciplinary-perspective. Instead of being a science book or a history book or a collection of literature it looks at everything together.

img_7025I am a huge believer in this approach. It has always seemed strange to me how quickly children are taught to believe that one subject is more important than another, and concurrently that one subject is separate from another. All knowledge is interlinked and all communication starts with the human mind. The Moon shows how one subject has been approached, studied and communicated from different angles across the course of history.

It is also a beautiful and fascinating gift-book.

This doesn’t have to be read from start to finish, which can be a very attractive thing, especially for young readers. The Moon is the sort of book which will be dipped into. Poured over. I can imagine readers opening to any page and seeing where they land.

The illustrations and design are five-star.

The colour-pallette is drawn from the night sky – and I realise now how many colours we see in the evening. From the dark blues to inky blacks to ochre and pale yellow. This would make a lovely starting-point for anyone drawing pictures of the night sky. After asking children to use the colours they see at night, you could ask them to look at the pictures and ask what sort of colours are used.

I also love the number of people illustrated. The pictures remind us that this book is not just about the moon, it is about our relationship with an understanding of the moon. It is an anthology of human experience.

This would make a beautiful gift and will be high on my recommendations for Christmas 2018.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of The Moon. Opinions my own.