Non-Fiction

Review: Irreplaceable: A History Of England in 100 Places by Philip Wilkinson

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Historic places represent inventions, achievements, and discoveries which have shaped the country and the world beyond. From the observatory in Greenwich to the Howarth parsonage – we are drawn to places where remarkable work has taken place. 

This book is the result of a campaign designed to promote and celebrate Britain’s historical places. The sites were chosen by 10 expert judges, including BBC Arts editor Will Gompertz and classicist and academic Mary Beard. The introduction from author and historian Bettany Hughes draws attention to the fact that, in conflict zones, similar sites have been destroyed, and suggests we should celebrate the places which represent our human experience. 

The book is divided into ten chapter which cover different disciplines. There is a chapter dedicated to places of Loss and Destruction, as well as one to Power, Protest and Progress. These chapters link back to the introduction and remind us that human progress should never be taken for granted. 

Each site is covered in a double-page spread. Photographs on one side are accompanied by information on the other. The location of each site is made clear, and the reasons for its significance are explored. I enjoyed the photography alone – Historic England holds one of the largest photographic archives in the country and many of the pictures in the book come from these archives. Reading the book made me aware of this invaluable resource which is just waiting to be explored.

I can see this being a popular coffee-table book – the entries have enough depth to be interesting but are short enough that people might enjoy flicking through. Prepare to draw up a bucket-list of places you would like to visit – the best part of reading the book as a person in the UK was knowing how many of these sites were just outside my doorstep. 

 

Thanks to Historic England and MidasPR for my copy of Irreplaceable: A History Of England in 100 Places. Opinions my own.

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Round-Up

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

mgleonardDid you know we would die without beetles? I didn’t either until I heard MG Leonard talking as part of the Guildford Book Festival. Dung beetles clear away the nasty stuff – the clue is in the name – which would otherwise litter our world and cause lots of diseases. Without dung beetles, we would be dead in weeks.

Way to captivate an audience – especially a young one. 

It was clear that MG Leonard had thought about how to keep her audience interested – and she spoke about how children as a general rule are more open to new facts and new ways of thinking than adults. Her event reminded me what it was like to be young, and to be in a state of near-constant exploration. 

I read Beetle Boy for the first time ahead of the event. I have meant to read it since its debut in 2016, but one way or another never got my hands on a copy. The story follows Darkus, whose father disappears in suspicious circumstances. As he investigates, he learns about genetically-modified beetles and a villain called Lucretia Cuter, who is as interested in high-fashion as she is in science. 

I read the book in one setting and chose the sequels for my birthday. I loved how, although it was the familiar and archetypal story of child-vs-big-bad-power, there was so much I hadn’t seen before. For one thing, the villain is not only a woman, she is also a mother, and her child aids our heroes. I can’t think of a single book where a woman with a family is the villain. Female villains are often shown to have chosen something wrong in over family. (Think of Nicole Kidman in Paddington, who totters around London in impossible heals and tight cat-suits.) Lucretia Cutter has both. 

During the talk, MG Leonard spoke about the inspiration for her story, and the pressure to be original. She struggled with many genres because she felt everything had been explored before. The thought which set her on the road to her story was that, although beetles have featured in stories, they are usually shown as monsters. As villains. 

It was lovely to hear a children’s author talk honestly about her writing history. Too often, it can seem that writers were just able to write a manuscript without any learning. MG Leonard spoke about being a child, and about how her ideas seemed to come faster than her writing. 

It is always a pleasure to hear authors talk about their work. There is no better way to gain an insight into the writing process and to add depth to our reading of a novel. Many thanks to MG Leonard for her time, and to the organisers of the Guildford Book Festival.  

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Middle Grade

Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo. Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.

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Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo (Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.) 

Once upon a Christmas, a little boy called James and his Grandma snuggle up together and wish for snow. When that snow comes, there is one thing James wants most of all – to build a snowman. 

When that snowman comes to life and takes James on an adventure he will never forget, he returns home desperate to share the magic with his Grandma. 

The Snowman is a staple of British Christmas, and this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the original picture book by Raymond Briggs. For many adults, there has never been a Christmas without The Snowman. There are several things which make the story so successful, and I think one of those things is it speaks equally to people watching together as to those watching alone. Its poignancy makes it effective even for those who are not having the happiest of Christmases. Its key message is about how short and precious time is – Christmas comes, it melts away, and it comes around again, except we can never be children again. 

This adaptation is a short chapter book suitable for children of all ages. It is extraordinarily faithful to the original story, changing very little, but it develops the characters. James is a modern-day child who lives on a farm. He has a stutter and wants a bike just like cool-kid Paul. 

The other key change is the relationship with Grandma. In the original story, James’s family know very little about his adventures but in this adaptation, Grandma is well aware of what James is up to. I don’t want to spoil the plot – this is a book which lots of families will want to read together -but I thought it was a heartwarming addition. Children can get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and the story reminds us that memories created with grandparents are precious. 

 The illustrations are equally faithful to the original, picking out moments which we all recognise such as the flight and the circle of snow-people. I loved the pictures of a rural childhood, where a garden might have views of the mountains and hills beyond.

This is a story which never loses its magic. It works for every generation and the new adaptation will bring it to a young audience. Whether you share it with someone special or cuddle up alone, I think this will be a favourite this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Puffin Books for my proof-copy of The Snowman. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Grandma Bird by Benji Davies

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Review: Grandma Bird by Benji Davies

Noi isn’t at all sure about spending summer at Grandma’s. She lives on a remote island and never has time to play. Then Noi finds a bird stranded at sea and gets caught up in the waves. Only Grandma Bird knows what to do. 

A stunning picture book about family and friendship. 

Adults are pushed for time. In the modern world, there is an increasing amount of pressure to be on the go from dawn until dusk, and the rise of technology has seen a decline in the concept of clocking off. Even when we’re at home, we might be expected to answer a phone call or an email. 

Children are competing with work, overtime, and technology for adult attention. While most children don’t have a Grandma who lives on a rock at sea, they will certainly relate to the themes of the story. Sometimes it must be hard not to feel ignored and unwanted. 

Grandma Bird teaches us, in a touching way, that people don’t have to be available 24/7 to have their loved ones’ backs. When Noi is in trouble, Grandma Bird is straight to the rescue. 

Iimg_6586-1 love Benji Davies’s work and have collected his picture books since The Storm Whale came out. There is something special about his remote and homely settings. They are books of adventure and shelter and family. I love the wide vistas, which are as likely to be populated with animals as people. The color-pallette is that of nature – soft greys and blues. 

There is a sense of security and love in his worlds. His protagonists are not afraid to venture away from home, but we know they are loved and looked out for. 

After the success of Davies’s first books, this will doubtless be on many Christmas lists. I can’t think of a better story to share as the nights are closing in.  

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my early copy of Grandma Bird. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Peek And Seek by Charlotte Milner and Violet Peto

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Review: Peek And Seek by Charlotte Milner and Violet Peto

A flock of birds. A troop of monkeys. Peek under each flap to discover different animals, learn fun facts about their species and uncover a great big hide and seek game. With five different flaps and ten things to find in each spread, this book will keep young explorers happy for hours. 

I adore this book because it is a fact-file which is accessible to very young readers. Before we read paragraphs and sentences, before we even recognise letters, we have positive experiences with books. Hide-and-seek games are a wonderful way to share time with children. They are also brilliant for keeping kids entertained and they encourage children to be observant. Trusting that information is on the page, even if we can’t initially see it, is an important step to analytical-thinking. 

peekandseek2The short facts on each spread will encourage reading skills and help children to take an interest in wildlife. With more people than ever out of touch with nature, it is important that we use books and media to pass on our knowledge and vocabulary of the natural landscape. 

Peek And Seek is bold and colourful, with appealing illustrations. Each spread takes us straight into the landscape of the different species, from the snowy mountains where the wolves hunt to the burrows and tunnels beneath tree-roots where rabbits hide their food. There is lots to be learned from the illustrations alone: which other species can be found in a habit, what sort of home the animals keep and whereabouts in the world they might be found. The illustrations promote huge amounts of conversation which will teach children about the natural world. 

An attractive and engaging book which demands to be shared and enjoyed together. 

 

Many thanks to Antonia Wilkinson and Dorling Kindersley Limited for my copy of Peek And Seek. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sing To The Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn

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Review: Sing To The Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn

Being indoors on a rainy day is boring. One little boy dreams of all the things he could be doing while the rain comes down and wishes on the moon for the rain to stop. Then he finds Jjajja – his grandfather. Together they play games and tell stories until a rainy day no longer looks like a miserable thing. 

A gentle, rhyming story which tackles something known to every small child – boredom. 

In a day and age when adults are always on the go, and children’s hours are filled for them, it is hardly surprising that they are afraid to stop. This beautiful picture book introduces the idea that time to entertain ourselves is one of the most precious and magical things we can experience. 

It is also a touching look at a relationship between a child and his grandfather. Grandparents often play an important part in a young child’s world and picture books about these relationships have been published before … but, most often, the protagonist is white. This story focuses on a grandfather who tells African myths. On a boy who climbs guava trees. Culture is about far more than skin-colour. Food and stories, music and landscape make up the things we associate with our families. It is tremendously important that children from all cultures are represented in book-corners and libraries. 

I love the illustrations and the whole book design – it shimmers and sparkles with the magic of Jjajja’s stories. I love the dark pages with patches of candle-light – they made me feel as if I was in the dark house, sitting around the table with the characters in the book. 

A reassuring and uplifting story which will help children change their approach to rainy days and boredom in general. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my copy of Sing To The Moon. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

 

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Extract: 

There were three sisters, named for Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Io. As they had blood in their veins, so they had magic, fine and strong as a spider’s web. They lived in a house of white marble, and the tower stretched to the sky and speared the clouds, searching, they said, for the moon. They filled it with miniature worlds, set whole galaxies spinning, caught within glass spheres. And then they hid in their house while the world changed. That was their lot.

(Snowglobe by Amy Wilson.) 

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Synopsis:

There are three sisters with strong magic, named for Jupiter’s moons – Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Callisto vanished ten years ago, leaving behind a young daughter.

Now Clementine is showing signs of the same magic. When she turns it against the school bully, Clementine faces a short suspension from school. This prompts her to go in search of information about the magic and takes her to the house where the three sisters lived.

The house is filled with magic. Clementine discovers a room full of snowglobes like perfect little worlds. Inside one of those snowglobes is Dylan – a boy from school who never joins in the bullying, but never stands up for Clementine either.

Together they journey through the snowglobe words and hunt for answers about Clementine’s connection to the magic.

birdbreakReview:

A lyrical tale of bullying and individuality. Amy Wilson’s debut novel – A Girl Called Owl – was the first book I reviewed as a blogger. I remember being caught up in the snowy world and being impressed at how the fantasy story linked to the character’s development in the real world. This is Amy Wilson’s third novel and it left me with the same chills. I adore her subtle magic. Her characters weave between everyday situations and the fantastical with ease. Magic isn’t an ordinary part of her worlds, but certain individuals are in touch with special powers and secret realms. Magic is both extraordinary and part of the normal world.

There are some strong themes such as bullying and manipulation. The snowglobes, as well as being beautiful, are slightly sinister. They are used to imprison anyone who disagrees with the sisters. This was a perfect metaphor for manipulation. The prisoners are caught in one person’s view of perfection when their magic belongs in the outside world. It made me think of people who have an idea of how others should think and behave. Everyone needs to be free to explore and share their own personalities.

I liked the friendship between Dylan and Clem. Dylan is the kid who nods along with bullying but doesn’t support it. Clem goes to school every day to harassment and teasing. While she needs to learn not to see the worst in every single person, Dylan needs to assert himself and stand up for what he thinks is right. I liked how there was no blame – both Clem and Dylan need to alter their perspective and both have things to learn.

I also loved the house with its room of snowglobes. Amy Wilson has created magical houses before, and they are unique to anything I have ever seen. They have their own magic and their own secrets and they are so well described I feel as if I have walked through their halls.

A beautiful story to read by the fire. Amy Wilson has confirmed her place as a writer of lyrical and poetic stories.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my proof copy of Snowglobe. Opinions my own.