Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Vote For Effie by Laura Wood

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Extract: 

I’ve got six weeks to win over my fellow students, and that’s loads of time. Just think about all the good things I could achieve. Like doing away with lunch passes for the privileged few, and setting up more clubs and activities so people don’t have to eat their lunch alone. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This could be the first step on my path to prime minister. 

(Vote For Effie by Laura Wood. P43.) BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Synopsis:

New girl Effie Kostas isn’t afraid to speak her mind. It’s not helping her to make friends, so the last thing she needs now is to be involved in a campaign, but when she finds out that popular boy Aaron is only on the student council to get a lunch pass, Effie feels compelled to speak up.

Effie signs up to run for the student council. With her new friends behind her, she sets out to win people’s votes.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

If 2018 was the year of the inspirational book, 2019 looks set to be a year of inspirational characters. As much as I believe there is a place for list books I am glad to see this shift. Seeing a fictional character developing and growing can be so much more empowering than reading about someone who already appears to be impossibly special.

Effie is unafraid to speak out, even about the smallest things, even if she drives the people around her up the wall. However, as Effie’s elderly neighbour constantly reminds her, fairness and equality doesn’t come for free. Sometimes we have to speak up for what we believe in. The lunch pass may cause more than one adult to roll their eyes (rather like Effie’s teacher) but it is a twelve-year-old sized battle.  It also leads Effie to investigate other inequalities in her school, such as the disparity in funding between girls’ and boys’ sports teams, and then to issues which affect the wider world. Children, and particularly girls, are often told to accept the way things are, but only when we are all unafraid to speak up will things change for the better.

Effie learns to voice her views in a constructive way, to listen to her opponents and to take setbacks with resilience and grace. The conflict between herself and Aaron turns into something healthier as they learn to respect each other’s stances.

It is lovely to see a contemporary novel about issues which affect every young person, and one which encourages readers to speak up and form their own opinions. This would make a great introduction to topics around discussion and debate. Effie is a brilliant role model for today’s preteens.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Vote For Effie. Opinions my own.

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Other Side Of Lost by Jessi Kirby

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Synopsis:

Mari is a social media star who appears to have it all – perfect body, perfect home and perfect life. As her eighteenth birthday approaches, Mari is more aware than ever of the thing that is missing. Her cousin Bri, who should also have been turning eighteen.

Mari shares her true feelings online – that she isn’t the flawless person she pretends to be. In the backlash, she set outs to follow the adventure Bri had planned before her death.

Mari hikes the John Muir trail and navigates her own feelings as she sets a new course for life.cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

A contemporary YA for a contemporary audience. I’m always up for books which promote an outdoor lifestyle and this one had such positive messages and a great vibe.

The online world can get a bit OTT. Mari’s certainly has. She plans her photos down to the smallest detail. It’s nothing to do with real life and everything to do with getting likes. Which isn’t the wrong way to live, btw, and the book doesn’t condemn social media altogether. Mari’s built a platform and gained useful skills along the way. She’s just fed up of the constant pressure. When she lets the mask slip and shows her more vulnerable side, she’s condemned for it. There is a huge pressure to create and stick to an image, particularly on Instagram which is Mari’s main platform and the story explores the effect this has on users like Mari.

I’ve seen reviews which describe Mari as shallow and selfish, but my reading was that she sunk herself deeper into this artificial world following the death of her cousin. There is pressure in the real world as well as in the virtual one. When we lose a loved one there can be huge pressure to keep up the pretence of doing fine. Social media is an obvious place to do this, where every picture and every post can be curated.

I enjoyed the trek itself, particularly the descriptions of the landscape. It’s the sort of book which makes you want to train up and get outside even if, like Mari, you have very little experience of the wilderness.

A relatable contemporary novel which encourages us to choose what matters in life while highlighting the pressures social media puts on today’s teenagers.

 

Thanks to Harper360 for my ARC of The Other Side Of Lost. Opinions my own.

fairytales

Review: Through The Water Curtain & Other Tales From Around the World. Selected by Cornelia Funke.

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Fairytales can get a bit same-old. The handsome prince rescues the girl in the tower, who is glad to become his wife. There is a place in the world for every kind of story, and if you dig a little deeper there are stories of all kinds of people in all kinds of places. Stories with endings you may not know or expect. 

Through The Water Curtain takes thirteen stories from around the world and looks a little deeper into their origins. Insightful commentary at the end of each tale helps us to think about how stories come to be written in the first place. 

Cornelia Funke, bestselling author of series such as Inkheart and Dragon Rider, is the perfect person to edit a collection of fairytales. Over the course of her career, she has travelled the globe in search of stories, something which she refers to in this collection. Her commentaries offer insight both into the stories themselves and into Funke’s experience as a storyteller. 

These stories certainly aren’t Disneyfied. Character meet brutal endings, such as the girls in Kotura, Lord Of The Winds who freeze to death when they fail to heed instructions. They remind us that fairy tales can be dark and unknowable. 

The book is beautifully desinged. The cover demands that you pick it up and I love the detailed design of the pictures. Each story has a title page with an illustration like those on the front cover. 

If you are looking to treat yourself to a fairytale collection, this is a beautiful and insightful introduction. It is also a lovely size to read and reread until the tales are known by heart. 

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of Through The Water Curtain. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

Review: Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

img_7520Mia wants to see Daddy this Christmas, but he works far away in the North Pole. When Mia goes to post a card, she finds a magic post box which takes her to the Reindeer Express and all the way to the North Pole. A story about family love – families together and families apart.

The themes make this a good read for children whose loved ones are away at Christmas -either on the day itself or during the build-up. The message gently reassures the reader that their loved ones think about them even when they can’t be together.

The design is so beautiful that reading the book is as magical as riding a reindeer to the North Pole. Peek through the post box, lift flaps and doors and peek through the papercut trees to the page beyond.

I love the colour-palette – the muted colours and geometric patterns produce an effect which is as cosy as a patchwork quilt. The scenes alternate between snowy mountains, Christmas street markets and snug interiors. There is a hygge-like vibe about the book which makes it an attractive read on dark winter nights. A map at the back adds to this with pictures of arctic animals, reindeer and warm campsites.

A lovely read for young children and a book which is so beautifully festive it would appeal to the young-at-heart. This is a real snuggle-up-and-share story with just enough magic to build excitement ahead of the big day itself.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Last Stop On The Reindeer Express. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · Guest Post

Guest Post: Blogger Charlotte Burns talks about her decision to get a dog for Christmas.

In the last of my blogger guest posts is Charlotte from Charlotte Somewhere, talking about her decision to get a dog for Christmas. 

Charlotte has kept us all hooked to Twitter this autumn with her ridiculously cute pictures, from the day-old puppies through to first visits and videos of dumpling-sized puppies toddling around their basket. It has also been interesting to hear how the decision to get a dog – sorry, Dexter, another dog – has given Charlotte’s family memories to share.  

I was delighted when Charlotte agreed to share her thoughts as part of my Blogmas. Thanks to Charlotte for your time and for keeping me up to date on the latest fluffy pictures. cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

A dog is not just for Christmas by Charlotte Burns

A Dog Is Not Just For Christmas…

But I’m getting one anyway. We’ve all seen the adverts at this time of year, urging people not to get a dog as a Christmas present without considering the consequences. The statistics telling us how many of these dogs end up in shelters when the initial excitement wears off.

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Dexter

I’m getting a puppy. He’s not going to be here by Christmas, but it will be soon after. I know what I’m in for: we already have a cocker spaniel who we adopted at 17 months old. Dexter. He’s a love. He changed our lives when he arrived, but now I don’t remember what it was like to be without him. We’re well prepared for life with a dog.

Recently a friend of ours had puppies (well, she didn’t, her dog did). They’re related to Dexter (his brother is the father and the friend also owns Dexter’s mum – are you still with me?) They were the cutest balls of fluff you ever did see. I wanted one. We’d never discussed getting another dog, but when I suggested it to Husband, he thought it was a good idea too. We did maths and talked about it, and did all the sensible things before settling on getting one.

Then we involved S. And, if you know anything at all about S, you’ll know that’s when the chaos started. We chose our puppy via a facetime call. Then S started to think about names. We had to veto Voldemort (“but mummy we can call him the Dark Lord for short”). We also vetoed Buckbeak. Eventually we narrowed the choice to two names we all liked (except for Dexter, who has zero interest in the puppy’s existence). And we let S chose.

He enrolled the assistance of a very carefully crafted Goblet of Dog Names which contained only one name. And he revealed it very dramatically over Sunday lunch but throwing the paper into the air and announcing…

‘THE DOG’S NAME IS GOING TO BE … NEVILLE.’

Here he is.

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Neville

Blogmas 2018 · Board Book · christmas

Review: Where’s Santa Claus by Ingela P Arrhenius

Review: Where’s Santa Claus by Ingela P Arrhenius

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Where’s Mrs Polar Bear? Where’s Santa Claus? Lift the felt-flaps and find all of our festive friends. A hide-and-seek book perfect for sharing with the very tiniest of readers.

Christmas with a tiny baby must be hectic and wonderful. Everyone is enthusiastic to introduce the concept of Christmas, even when the child is too young to fully understand. This book would be a lovely starting-point – introduce the familiar festive characters while the tiny-tot enjoys the tactile flaps and engaging pictures. 

The felt flaps are a brilliant idea. They are attractive for tiny hints to stroke and grab at and are easier to lift than traditional cardboard flaps. Poking or pushing the flaps from almost any angle leads to movement. This would be a brilliant way of teaching babies and tiny-tots how to engage with lift-the-flap books.

The illustrations are bright and bold with lots of colour-blocking and geometric design. They will hold the attention of babies too young to take interest in detailed pictures. At the same time, they are attractive to have on the bookshelves. There is a series of similar books and they would look very cute together.

With its baby-proof flaps and shiny mirror, this is a great option for the youngest people on your shopping list.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow books for my copy of Where’s Santa Claus? Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith

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Review: How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith 

Christmas is coming everywhere, but not for Winston. As the world goes mad with music and bright lights and shopping-fever, Winston can only watch from his place at the side of the street. Then, when a little boy’s letter to Father Christmas goes missing, Winston takes it upon himself to see the letter all the way to The North Pole. 

Told in 24 sections – one a day for every day of advent – and accompanied by Christmas activities, games and trivia, How Winston Delivered Christmas will leave you eagerly awaiting the next installment. 

Take one lonely boy, a letter to Father Christmas and an adventurous mouse and you have a new Christmas classic. Winston’s adventures take him into doll’s houses and travel agents, department stores and nativity-scenes as he works out how to deliver the letter to the North Pole. Just flicking through the book will make you nostalgic. Every thing you imagine when you picture the ideal Christmas is here. Paper chains and mince-pies and brass bands. 

img_7720-1I love the book’s retro-feel, especially the activity pages which look so like the pieces of paper you find in crackers. While the book could easily be read alone, this would be the perfect one to share. Five minutes of story and a bit of fun time. If you’re buying this for a child, maybe look ahead through the book and get some of the bits and pieces together so you can try the activities. Imagine if those craft supplies or baking ingredients were wrapped in numbered boxes. It could add an extra dimension if your child had to guess what they were for ahead of reading the book.

From the front cover through to the final page, this book captures the warmth of Christmas. It also offers us a reminder that for every person having a good time, there is someone else going without basic needs. This message isn’t hammered in, but just wanting to see Winston get the happy ending he deserves enables readers to think further and understand that there are people in real-life who need shelter and clothing and food too. 

I will be taking this book out year after year. Advent books have been seen before, but this one is a favourite. A strong story, magical illustrations and all the ingredients of a Happy Christmas. What more could you ask for?

 

Thanks to Clare Hall-Craggs and Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of How Winston Delivered Christmas. Opinions my own.

 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree by Axel Scheffler

Review: Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree by Axel Scheffler

img_7591Pip and Posy are decorating their Christmas Tree. First the biscuits disappear, then the chocolate bells, and then the candy canes. Posy begins to have her suspicions about where they have gone when Pip is hit with a stomach ache. Can the pair find a solution which won’t cause so much temptation?

A cute and highly relatable story about excess at Christmas. We’re all guilty of it. Maybe we’ve never eaten as many decorations at Posy, but many of us have fallen into the trap of over-indulgence. For tiny children, this can be a big learning experience. Which child wouldn’t like to choose how many sweets they eat for themselves?

Reading this ahead of Christmas would be a lovely way to remember that a moment’s pleasure can come with a cost.

I love the format and the big, bold illustrations. Axel Scheffler is a star of children’s illustration and his style is immediately recognisable. Pip and Posy are gentle, everyday characters perfect for the pre-school and early years market. The book has paper pages, but its cover is soft and chunky – perfect for smaller hands.

The story introduces activities which would be fun to try out after reading – from making biscuit decorations to paper chains and lanterns, and playing in a cardboard box like Pip does on the final page.

A charming and festive story which will get laughs of recognition from young readers and their big people.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · Chat · christmas

Blogger guest post: Cora from Tea Party Princess tackles the Christmas shake-up

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Christmas shake-up Q&A:

What is the Christmas shake-up Q&A? Basically, it is a little game I devised where participants mix things from different books to create a festive situation. So clothes from three books to make a party outfit or objects from one book gifted to a character from another. 

Today’s answers come from Cora from Tea Party Princess.

Cora is one of those lovely people who cheers everyone on. She’s also a brilliant person to consult on creative projects – from writing to blogging, her advice always improves my work. 

I adore Cora’s blog. It mixes all things bookish with lifestyle content, something which I think book bloggers generally could be more open to. This Christmas, she has written fantasy shopping lists and to-do posts and book and film reviews. 

Thanks to Cora for your time. 

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Gift an object from book to a character from another and explain why. 
I would give Cassandra from I Capture the Castle a One Line a Day five year journal, so that every day she could write something new and watch how she changes from year to year.

You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together. 
I’d keep it intimate, inviting only a few, and we’d drink cocktails and just talk about anything and everything. I think they’d all have some stories and despite being so different, and from different times and worlds, I think they’d get on famously.
Abi from Gilded Cage by Vic James
Hadley from Fashionistas by Sarra Manning
Daisy from Royals by Rachel Hawkins
Mary from Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
Sasha from Floored

If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be? 
While not a tradition, I’d love to try Kayla’s Christmas when she first visits Snow Crystal in Sleigh Bells In The Snow by Sarah Morgan. Staying in a cabin in the woods, with a hot tub on deck and starry skies above? It sounds heavenly.

Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting? 
I’d take the private club from Royals by Rachel Hawkins, and bring the characters from The Fallen Children by David Owen there. Mostly because they deserve a freaking break, somewhere to be themselves and not be afraid of what other people would do to them.

If you could wish for resolutions from three books for 2019, what would they be? 
I can’t think of resolutions from books, but these are my three inspired by books: 
  1. Be there when people need it, inspired by Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
  2. Learn more about dinosaurs, inspired by The Extinction Trials by SM Wilson
  3. Speak out against sexism, inspired by The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Make up a Christmas ball outfit with clothes and accessories from different books.

Sorrow’s dress from A State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury, Lexi’s shoes from Clean by Juno Dawson, Eelyn’s hair style from Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young, Feyre’s crown from A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maa. I would be a dressed like a princess for a day.
Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

grandpachristmasMia’s all grown up and she has a family of her own, but every year at Christmas she takes out the letter her grandfather wrote when she was a little girl. Grandpa had one big wish for his little grandchild – that she would love the earth and learn to respect it. That she would inherit a world of clean air and water. A world where people take only what they need, a world where no-one ever goes hungry again and where animals have nothing to fear from humans.

It’s quite a big wish but every year Mia and her family remember Grandpa and his letter.

A gentle and touching narrative about caring for our planet, which captures the love we feel at Christmas towards people who are no longer with us.

Mia remembers the time she and her grandfather spent together in the garden, planting seeds and digging for words and looking at frogs. This gentle and loving introduction shows the reminds the reader the ways in which they may have experienced the joys of nature. This is a clever way to make the environmental narrative accessible. It may be a difficult subject but it relevant to everyone – even the smallest child.

This section also shows us the relationship Mia held with her Grandpa. They spent time together when she was young. One of the most poignant parts of Christmas is the feeling that some of our loved ones are missing. Nothing brings that loss back like a missing Christmas card. This story gently reminds us that, although people are gone, we may have messages that they gave us in life. Mia’s routine of reading Grandpa’s letter to her children shows us that, although grief never goes, we find ways to keep those people close to our hearts.

Jim Field’s illustrations capture the warm memories, big thoughts and poignant emotions Mia experiences as she reads Grandpa’s letter. Seeing the contrast between the environmental damage and Grandpa’s dream world helps us understand exactly what we’re doing – and how different it could be. I love the landscapes. Every leaf and every blade of grass is full of life and movement.

Certainly one which will make older readers emotional. It moved me to tears as swiftly as the end of The Snowman. I think it is important to acknowledge Christmas as a time of reflection and change, and this picture book does it so beautifully it deserves to be a classic read by many generations.

 

Thanks to Egmont UK for my copy of Grandpa Christmas. Opinions my own.