Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Little Robin Red Vest by Jan Fearnley

Review: Little Robin Red Vest by Jan Fearnley

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Little Robin is excited about Christmas. He has seven warm vests washed and ready for the festive season. When he sees his friends shivering in the cold, Little Robin gives away all his vests. His generosity has left him warm inside but freezing cold. Is there a present for Robin this Christmas?

There are two things at the heart of this story – an origin story for how robins came to have a red vest, and a message about sharing and generosity. This beautiful edition has been printed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the story. With its warm take on the festive season, it is little wonder that this book has endured.

With so much emphasis on receiving, Little Robin Red Vest reminds us that the thing which will leave us warm inside is giving to those in true need. The animals Robin gives to are without warm clothes. This would make a lovely, gentle introduction to the difference between need and want, and the difficult fact that a lot of people are currently going without the things they need.

Blue and grey snowscapes make a lovely soft background. Robin’s red vest stands out bright and warm in the cold, just as it does when we see a real robin on a snowy day. The animal’s facial expressions speak louder than the words -desperate, longing eyes turn to hugs of joy and gratitude as the animals receive the warm clothes they need.

Every time I see a robin now I think of this story. It captures the joyful spirit of this bird and uses it to remind us that generosity will bring us greater happiness than want. A true Christmas classic and one I recommend to all my friends.

 

Thank you to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Little Robin Red Vest. Opinions my own. 

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Blogmas 2018 · Chat · Guest Post

Guest Post: Amy from Golden Books Girl tackles the Christmas shake-up Q&A.

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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 Amy from Golden Books Girl

Amy is one of my earliest blogging friends. She’s the one who keeps me sane when I have 460 blog posts to write on a Friday evening. Her knowledge of middle-grade fiction is second-to-none and she has cheered on my writing from the early, shapeless stories through to the third edits of a 45,000-word manuscript. 

I love Amy’s blog too – it’s a mash-up of Disney and middle-grade fiction and exceptionally cute dogs. 

Thanks to Amy for your time. 

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Gift an object from one book to a character from another and explain why.

Oooh this one is definitely the hardest! I think I’d give a certain very expensive spoilery object from the Children of Castle Rock to Joni’s family from Skylarks so that they could sell it and have a really special Christmas with the proceeds.

You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together.

I want a party with basically all the Geek Girl characters, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells from the Murder  Most Unladylike books because I think they’s be brilliant company and Ade and everyone else who lives in his tower because they deserve a really special Christmas because they go through so much in the book!

If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be?

I loved the sound of the royal Christmas in Maradova, and I’d love to give those a go! We see them in Princess in Practice, and they sounded wonderful! Or some of the Covey family’s from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!

Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting?

Much like Fergus from the Children of Castle Rock’s decision to sabotage Alice when she first arrives at Stormy Loch, my choice for this question is inspired by literally nothing other than to see what would happen: I want to move Daisy and Hazel’s present opening scene from the end of Mistletoe and Murder to a fantasy world. Really any, but I think something where the animals speak like in Narnia, would be HILARIOUS to see Daisy especially navigate. I can’t imagine her putting up with the White Witch for long!

Make your New Year’s resolutions with messages from three books. 

I need to embrace what Gracie learns throughout You Only Live Once- you need to have a healthy balance between doing school work and other things you love.

‘Nobody ever really metamorphoses’- this is from Geek Girl (I’ve mentioned them SO many times in this post alone, but they’re such faves so why not?!). It’s something I try to remember constantly- you can’t really change yourself that much, and as such you really should like yourself.

I also liked the Great Diamond Chase’s message of trying your best to be good to the people around them and do the best thing for them, so I’ll go for that as my last one I think.

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

I think for a dress I’d go for the polka dot dress from the Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington, or perhaps one of the party outfits from A Sky Painted Gold- which all sounded gorgeous! For jewellery, I seem to recall Harriet wearing lovely expensive earrings in one of the Geek Girl books, so I’d have those too, and for shoes I’d probably go for strappy sandals (which are mentioned in loads of books, and I’m almost certain they pop up in several of Cathy Hopkins’) even though it’s December, because I can’t wear high heels. I can’t think of any characters off the top of my head who wear red lipstick, even though there are probably loads and I just can’t remember them, but I’d finish off the look with that because I wear it with just about any outfit it even vaguely goes with!

 

Do you have a great answer for one of these questions? Let me know in the comments below.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller

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Extract:

Torvil’s was most definitely one of the town’s richest elves. In fact, as the owner of its only toyshop, he had done rather well for himself. But whereas most people who make money are happy to share it with their family and friends, Torvil kept his fortune all to himself. 

(The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller. P19.) 

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Synopsis:

Jackson has always wondered where Father Christmas came from. How did he come to be the man who delivered all the presents around the world. 

Then, one magical night, Father Christmas arrives and takes Jackson on the ride of a lifetime. Along the way, he tells a story. A story about a stingy elf who never thought of those less fortunate, until one night three strange beings showed him a different way of thinking. 

A Christmas Carol meets the magic of the North Pole. 

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Join Jackson on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for the answer to the ultimate question – how did Father Christmas get his position? 

There are two parts to this story – the strand in which we see Father Christmas and Jackson, and the story of Father Christmas’s – or should I say Torvil’s – life. It is this second strand where the action and development takes place, so the story is about Torvil and not Jackson. 

Let me be clear – this is a retelling of A Christmas Carol. Although the landscape is different and there are some minor changes (Torvil, does not, for example, face his own grave,) the plot builds in just the same was as the original Christmas classic. What Ben Miller has done is made it accessible to younger children, and added a bit of Christmas sparkle for bigger kids. 

This narrative has never been more relevant – young Torvil’s claims that he will grow up to help the poor fade as he grows older and greedier. At a time when politicians are putting their own personal feuds and whims above the increasing number of Foodbank users, it is important for children to understand why the wealthy and powerful need to think about others. 

The world is full of magic – think snowy hills and starry skies and reindeer. 

Accepting that this is a retelling, I think it brings the story to a younger audience. Snuggle up and listen with wonder to the story of Father Christmas himself. 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne

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Silent Night, holy night;

All is calm, all is bright …

Join in the traditional carol with this beautiful new edition. Angels fly over the stable and animals gather on the hillside as Mary and Joseph await the birth of their Son. Recall the earliest Christmas story and celebrate the magic of the nativity story.

 Silent Night is one of the best-known and best-loved Christmas carols of the past hundred years. It is also one which children learn at an early age, which makes it a lovely introduction to the nativity story. Whether you are a practising Christian or just exploring one of the best-known stories of all time, this edition captures the atmosphere of the nativity story.

The artwork is stunning. Black skies and white hills and buildings make the perfect backdrop for angels and animals and shepherds on the hills. The simple background means the eye is drawn to the characters and the activity of the story. There is very much a sense of the story happening on a hillside long, long ago – which of course is exactly where it begins.

The story follows Mary and Joseph from their arrival on a donkey to the moment where everyone gathers to pay respects to the baby. Jesus’s birth is marked by a stream of stars and an announcing angel. This would be a lovely book to read ahead of a nativity play.

An information section at the back tells us the history of the carol, from the moment it was composed in Austria in 1818 to the time it was sung by troops on all sides of the conflict in WW1. The folk-history of a beloved carol would be a lovely way to explore – without pushing any messages – the unity between European nations. 

A striking book which captures the magic and joy of the nativity and of the Silent Night carol. This deserves to become a staple for many libraries.

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books for my copy of Silent Night. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Blogmas 2018 · Non-Fiction

Review: Bestiary by Christopher Masters

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Exploring the collection of The British Museum, this book looks at objects relating to animals. From porcelain jugs to spear-throwers, jewelry to watercolor-paintings humans have included other animals in their art for centuries. 

Divided into five sections – wild animals, domestic animals, exotic, symbolic, and mythical creatures – the book uses the museum collection to explore the different relationships humans have held with the natural world over the centuries. One of my favourite things about the format is how it encourages readers to look at museums differently. It is easy to trail around a museum or to do a gallery, but museums were designed to preserve human knowledge. Entering with a question or a theme (‘What do we know about human relationships with animals?’) encourages us to get so much more from a visit. 

The introduction tells us how the relationship with animals has developed over time. I was particularly fascinated to learn about early societies where there was less distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ than there is in the modern day. It gave me a greater empathy with and understanding of societies which believed in spirt-animals. 

The book is beautiful, full of high-definition photographs, including many full-page pictures. If you left this book out on a coffee table or in a school book-corner it would be picked up and thumbed through. It has high ‘flickabilty’. Much of the pleasure is in thumbing through the pages to look at the images. 

Bestiary would make a lovely Christmas present – for fans of Newt Scamander, for museum-goers and for people who are insatiably curious. A beautiful look into the collection of The British Museum which encourages us to think deeper about museum collections. Brilliant. 

 

Thanks to Thames And Hudson for my copy of Bestiary. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon

 

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About Rosie Loves Jack

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. 

Rosie would spend every day and every hour with her boyfriend Jack, but due to a brain injury sustained when he was born, Jack finds it difficult to control his temper. After an incident at college, Jack goes away to learn some anger management techniques.

Rosie’s Dad says this is the last straw. He sees is as an opportunity to put an end to the relationship between Rosie and Jack. 

Rosie has other ideas. She may have Down’s Syndrome but she’s not going to let that define her and she’s not going to let her Dad treat her like a small child. Rosie leaves home in search of the boy she loves – even though people think girls like Rosie can’t survive a journey like that on their own. 

What makes Rosie Loves Jack special? Aside from Rosie’s voice, which is so distinctive, it will remain with you love after you close the book, I love the fact that the book confronts the fear and prejudice around people with neurological conditions, mental health problems, and additional needs. Jack certainly needs to learn to control his temper, but there are reasons why it is taking him longer to learn those behaviours than other people. Rosie’s Dad, like many people in the real world, judges Jack on one aspect of his condition and not on his whole personality. 

It is a deep irony that some people are more willing to forgive behaviour in those without additional needs. Everyone deserves the chance to grow. In the end, it is Rosie’s Dad who has to confront his own prejudice. 

Mel Darbon wrote this story because of the attitudes towards her brother. It is a sad fact that people with additional needs face a hard time – for example, only 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in full-time employment, and even fewer in a job which matches their abilities. People are more willing to overlook issues in those with strong communication skills than in those with a genuine need for empathy and patience. Statistics like this will not change unless, as a society, we decide to show more tolerance. 

The novel gives voice to a group who are not often heard. 

As part of the blog tour, we were asked to choose from a series of questions. Like many characters, Rosie and her father undergo big emotional changes. I have written about what it is like as a reader to follow a character through their story. 

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What is it like to follow a character’s emotional journey? 

What makes something a story instead of a lump of writing?  

There are many answers to this question, but it begins with the protagonist – the main character who drives the story. Once upon a time there was a person with a flawed world-view. This person wanted something very much. Something stood in their way. There you have the (very very) basics of a story. The result of this is, of course, that writers put their protagonists through the wringer. Before we get to the end of the story, we know the protagonist will have faced many challenges and we know they will have developed their world-view as a result.

The question I chose to answer for the blog tour related specifically to these turning-points – the moment when the protagonist grows and changes as a result of their experience. How does it feel, as a reader, to follow these emotional journeys?

If we connect with a character – and particularly if we identify with their flaw – it can feel as if we have walked a thousand miles in their shoes. As if we were part of the journey and have undergone the same transformation. We may not have gone to wizard-school or crossed the seas, may not have been called up for the Hunger Games or trained a dragon but we can undergo the same learning journey as the character. This is why fiction is an important part of life and why it is the greatest teacher of empathy. It takes us to places we are unlikely to reach to help us change our worldview.

Reaching a turning-point in the story is an almost-spiritual moment. Whether this is the first book we have ever read or the six-thousand and fourth, we know it is coming.  The character has been pushed to their lowest ebb and we know this is the moment where they will have to confront their attitudes. As readers, we come in one step ahead of the protagonist, and there can be a great satisfaction in turning the page and seeing a character come to the same realisation.

Then comes the action-sequence. The moment where the protagonist lifts their head and walks to face their final challenge. This is a moment of empowerment for the reader, too, because we see that internal changes can result in proactive changes in life. If the character’s situation can change as a result of their growth, maybe we can change our own lives too. Maybe we change the world for others.

This is why I struggle to understand when people talk about fiction as if it is a form of light entertainment or a hobby which should be saved for the weekend. Fiction is empowering and it teaches us more about the world than our day-to-day lives ever can. Fiction gives us new approaches and it helps us to believe we can make a change.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing LTD for my copy of Rosie Loves Jack. 

 

 

 

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Amy Wilson talks Snowglobe, fairytales and creating magical settings.

IMG_E6003The first book I reviewed for BookMurmuration became a lifelong favourite. A Girl Called Owl is a story of frost magic, the search for family-identity and a hidden world where a magical council controls the seasons. 

Amy Wilson has now published three books, each as fantastic as the other. Her latest novel, Snowglobeis a story of three magical sisters, manipulation and the importance of grabbing life with two hands. Like all her novels, it is set in a world with hidden pockets of magic and wonder. 

I am delighted that Amy has agreed to take part in a Q&A about magic and fairytales and all things winter. Her answers will leave you daydreaming and grabbing for a pen to write your own magical tales. It is a pleasure to have Amy here on my blog. BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Your debut novel, A Girl Called Owl, takes us into Jack Frost’s wintery world and your latest story Snowglobe features a room full of magical snowglobes. Why are you drawn to snowy landscapes?

I love the blank page of a snow-filled street. The sense of possibility and magic that comes with all the ordinary being hidden away. And the danger that comes with the beauty feels like such a truth. Many of us are lucky enough that we spend most of our lives cushioned from the harsh extremities of the world. Snow – winter – reminds me that we are still, always, at the mercy of our environment.

 

Do you have any favourite stories set in snowy worlds? What do you love about these stories?

CS Lewis’ Narnia stands out immediately. I have such a sense of the wild and the cold, and the snap of branches underfoot. The danger, and the suffering of those who need spring so desperately. I love the heart of the characters, the friendship offered when there is little else to give. I’ve recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and I suppose it seems natural that I would love it, but I LOVED it so much. I loved the old myths and legends, the wilderness, the magic. All of it!

 

Snowglobe and A Far Away Magic feature houses with magical secrets. The houses are unique to your stories. Please do you have any tips about creating magical houses as settings?

See them as a character. These houses have been around for longer than the characters themselves, and if there is magic in your world, and in your characters, then that magic may have infused the place. See normal things: a kitchen sink, a clock, a chest of drawers, with infinite possibilities. Even a settee is capable of much, in a magical house. And we all know about wardrobes…

 

The magic in your stories is subtle – other people in the same world may not be aware it exists. Why do write magic in this way?

I want it to be so nearly real that you can truly be there, even if you’re sitting on the train reading. Like shadows in the corners of your eyes, or the mist rolling over the fields in the very early morning that could be more than it looks. Powers that work like a sneeze, or the tingling of skin with a shock. The sensations are real, it’s just a question of taking that one step further, and then wondering, if that did really happen, if I could do things that we believe are impossible, would other people believe it? Or would they just blink and think they’re tired? Would they see it? I think that even if it were real, some people perhaps wouldn’t see it because they don’t open their eyes to see the magic that is in the world, they’ve trained their minds in other ways.

 

Snow melts shortly after it settles, especially in the UK. If you were given magic to turn a snowflake into an object you could keep, what would that object be? Please can you describe it for us? 

I would turn it into a unicorn – a Pegasus actually, because it would have wings, and we’d travel the world, at night, and have the most incredible adventures. And then one day we’d find a whole heard of snow-Pegasus’ and I’d have to leave her there but every winter she’d come and graze in my garden, and give my children rides up to the stars.

 

If you could choose any magical power, what would it be and why? 

I’d like to talk with trees. I’d like to hear their voices, to know what they think of the world.

 

Win a copy of Snowglobe – thanks to the lovely people at Macmillan Children’s Books UK, I have three copies of Snowglobe to give away to readers in the UK or Ireland. Check out my Twitter feed for a chance to win. Competition ends 16.12.2018 at 11.59pm.

A huge thanks to Amy Wilson and Jo Hardacre for your time.