Young Adult Reviews

Review: Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan

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Extract:

Something was out there, waiting. Something that had brought Hanna back here, after all she had been through. Something terrible. 

Hanna stole one last glance at the valley far below, then turned back towards the hotel, wondering if tonight she might finally learn answers to the questions that had haunted her for as far back as she could remember. 

(Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

A group of young people is at a ski resort in the Alps. For Charlie it is an escape from a difficult home. For Tara it is a low-budget alternative to the life she thinks she deserves. To Hanna it is an income. When a storm cuts them off from the rest of the world, they realise there is more outside than wind and snow.

Then they find the blood and the massacre begins.

A quest to survive begins and the different personalities in the group clash as different people assert their own ideas. Who will survive and how will it change their lives?

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Review:

If you’ve enjoyed the recent spate of novels with Breakfast Club style casts such as Floored or One Of Us Is Lying, you’re in for a treat. Here we have the spoiled girl, the boy with a criminal past, the tough-cookie and a whole cast of strong personalities thrown into a story of mayhem and survival. There are monsters out there in the snow and they’re not afraid to feed on humans.

What made this book for me was the characters. Each character is so realistic that I felt as I had been introduced to living, breathing people. The tensions between the characters are real. Conflict and friction are created by the events which happen the characters’ different reactions. Most memorable to me was ‘bad boy’ Charlie who is more responsible and reflective than many of his peers. The book never resorts to stereotypes but shows that we are deeper than the image we like to project.

In terms of horror – there is blood. There are monsters which feast on human flesh. You can be certain there is a certain level of gore. It never felt overdone. As someone who prefers subtle, folksy horror, I thought this would be a departure from my comfort zone, but the action is well-paced and there is a big emphasis on the people thrust into that situation. Be warned though: the body count is high.

The climax is haunting and it will fill you with adrenaline. Secrets have been kept in the mountains and horror has thrived.

Instead of pinning down what the horror is early and categorising it (zombie-attack, vampire plague …) there is a strong sense of the unknown and the unknowable. This keeps the tension up and we ask those questions alongside the characters. A gripping story and an author I will look out for in the future.

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for my gifted copy of Whiteout. Opinions my own.

 

   

 

Bath · Lifestyle

Soap And Glory product selection – my ultimate evening treats.

Soap And Glory product selection – my ultimate evening treats.

Winter brings dark days and long evenings and bubble-bath. 

With the cold and the dark, it is only natural that we should use nice bath products to give ourselves a lift. And with a Christmas haul to explore I was able to do just that. Someone who knows me very well bought me a tin of Soap And Glory wonders. It is round as a drum and lined with tissue-paper and contains a whole selection of treats. 

So how have I been getting on with the products?

Like a dream. I haven’t sampled everything yet, but those have opened have become integral to my evening routine. Soap And Glory is just a bit special. It fills the niche between luxury bath stuff and day-to-day regular products. The vintage feel to the labels is instantly recognisable and I am a fan of their pinks and oranges and unashamed love of all things peaches’n’cream. 

Here are my thoughts on four Soap And Glory products. 

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img_8122Clean On Me – creamy shower gel 

If you’re looking for a pre-bedtime shower treat, this one is for you. 

Clean On Me is like a shower-gel with extra moisturising cream. It feels smooth as it rubs on and bubbles up into a perfect lather. Once rinsed, it leaves my skin silky-shiny. The gel has a gentle orange smell which is more like orange-oil mixed with vanilla than a full-on tangerine. It only takes a few squirts in the palm for a full massage. 

A lovely day-to-day treat. 

 

img_8120The Scrub Of Your Life – body scrub

A body scrub which doesn’t take your skin off? Sign me up. 

There are two types of body scrubs – the heavy duty and the daily helper. This is a daily, a body buffer rather than a scrub, but I love it for that because it allows me to add a different texture to my daily routine. It comes in a handy squeeze tube (yay to no extra plastic toppers) and comes out as a thick gel layered with orange beads. 

The scent put me in mind of a walk through an orchard. Think mandarin and strawberries and vanilla and amber. It is a dreamy, fruity scent which is much stronger than the Clean On Me shower gel. 

Afterwards I felt fresh, much more so than after an ordinary shower, and that feeling lasted for hours. 

 

Hand Food – Hand Cream 

img_8124A scented hand cream which keeps my hands soft. Magic. 

I have the kind of skin which throws up a reaction to the tiniest hint of artificial ingredients. Especially on my skin. I use olive oil soaps, unscented hand cream and even have to buy a specific brand of washing-up liquid. 

This is why Hand Cream is such a revelation. It not only keeps my hands in a reasonable state, it actually hydrates them. It is so light too, and not the tiniest bit greasy. The scent is described as marshmallow although it put me in mind of strawberry ice-cream. 

 

img_8125Melty Talented – Multi-use balm

This is a multi-talented pot of glory. 

It looks like wax but is more like oil to the touch. On application, it is light and shiny and nourishing. I use it on my cuticles most of all, but it is also there for dry elbows, scaly-skin, and emergency lip balm. 

The almond and mango scents come out above all the others, although there is a hint of coconut. 

The tin is really useful to slip into a handbag or travel case. It would be a great product to carry around for any little irritation. 

 

All products featured were Christmas gifts from family members and I have no affiliation with Soap And Glory.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford

Review: The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford

dog who saved the world

 

Extract:

So that was it. Damage done. I had started the end of the world.

Obviously, I didn’t know it at the time. I’ve kept the secret until now: how I handled the tennis ball that was infected with Dudley’s germs, germs that he had picked up from the little girl who wanted to adopt him. I then passed on the infection to poor Ben by letting him lick my germy hands, and then to the other dogs …

(The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford. P69.)

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Synopsis:

Georgie has two best friends in the world. Her school friend Ramzy and her beloved rescue dog Mr Mash, who lives in a dog shelter.

The trio meet an eccentric and reclusive scientist and agree to take part in her virtual reality project. Georgie steps in front of a super computer, puts on a helment and is transported to a digital version of the real future.

A disease breaks out at the dog shelter, a disease as terrible as Ebola. It could very quickly spread to all the dogs and then to humans. The shelter goes into lockdown and a cull is announced.

With mankind and dogkind under threat, Georgie knows she must act quickly if she is to save the world and her beloved Mr Mash. 

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Review:

An extraordinary and poignant quest set in the near future. I bought into the science and was so immersed in the story that I felt as if I had walked in Georgie’s footsteps.

What works beautifully is how the story is set in an almost contemporary world. The dog plague is not so different to the viruses which have killed thousands of people worldwide. The supercomputer is not so far off virtual reality experiences which already exist. This is the sort of sci-fi I enjoy best, where the fiction, the make-believe, is subtle.

It is impossible not to love the dogs. From Mr Mash, who swallows things which are totally not edible, to Dudley to Ben the snarly Jack Russel, the dogs add a huge amount of warmth to the story. Having fallen in love with their individual characters, we are desperate for Georgie to do the impossible and change the future.

Georgie’s character development centres around her acceptance of her stepmother, Jessica. Jessica is allergic to dogs, and this is the reason Mr Mash had to go back to the shelter, where he lives as a permanent resident. Georgie hasn’t adjusted to the new family dynamics and she hasn’t forgiven Jessica for the allergy. This story isn’t a typical bad-stepmother narrative. Jessica is a great role model and a brilliant scientist who plays her own part in the story. She’s just not Georgie’s Mum. It was great to see this story told in a way which wasn’t melodramatic or over emotional. The family functions, but it takes time for Georgie to feel OK about that.

Ramzy is another brilliant character. His family has fled a warzone and their life in the UK is nothing like their life back home Ramzy is the kid who has to wear the same shirt to school every day. Who goes hungry to help his siblings. Often characters suffering from extreme poverty are featured in books which focus in on ‘issues’. Ramzy is bright and capable and he is 100% part of the adventure. It is important for people from every background and in every circumstance to see themselves at the centre of the action. Ramzy’s poverty isn’t brushed over and there is a powerful scene where he opens up about his experiences.

A dystopia filled with love and laughter. Having read this I want to read everything else Ross Welford has written, and I would recommend it to any reader of middle-grade fiction.

 

Thanks to Harper Collins Children’s Books for my gifted copy of The Dog Who Saved The World. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

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Yarr! Prepare for a voyage of discovery on the seven seas. Everybody has an image of pirates from films and stories, but who were the real-life pirates across history? What does piracy involve? Meet The Pirates is an accessible and humorous introduction to a favourite topic. 

From the Vikings to the modern day pirates with GPS systems, the book is like  a time-line of piracy. 

img_8171This book continues an already popular series which looks at the periods of history covered by the KS2 curriculum. It is easy to see why the series has taken off. The books are highly visual and the information is broken up by the illustrations. Each page contains a short amount of text. It is easy to make the mistake of looking for non-fiction books which match a child’s fictional reading skills, but readers have limited patience when they are learning new facts. The information needs to be broken up, and what is there needs to be written in such a way that it is engaging and memorable, without skimping on the content. 

The limited colour-palette of the illustrations makes the book look trendy and modern. They still manage to incorporate a lot of information, from the kind of pistol Blackbeard carried to the sails on different ships. The illustrations are as informative as the text. 

I love the features of the book. The title of each topic is written down both sides of every spread, so readers can flick through and find the relevant information with ease. As well as informative illustrations, such as a map of trading routes and an image gallery of different types of ship, there are cartoons and humorous illustrations. The importance of comedy in children’s books can’t be stressed enough. For many readers, these cartoons are the reward for taking in new information.

This will doubtless be a hit with teachers and librarians, but it would also make a lovely introduction to the topic for children who have shown an interest in pirates fictional or otherwise. I am hugely impressed with these books and look forward to sharing my review of Meet The Ancient Greeks. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my copy of Meet The Pirates. 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Kiss by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle

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Review: The Kiss by Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle

When Edwyn blows Grandma a kiss, she spreads the love and fills other people with joy. A rich man hears about this and decides he wants the kiss for himself. When Grandma won’t give it up, the man steals the kiss. A charming fairytale about the power of kindness and love.

Some books just sparkle with magic. This story spreads warmth and smiles which will make the world a brighter place.

Sometimes we are angry. Or upset. Sometimes we say or do miserable things. Grandma spreads warmth to people who maybe others would condemn. That’s one of the special things about this story. Instead of showing people as just plain nasty it goes deeper.  Maybe they need a little warmth and affection. Grandma spreads that love. I love the idea that this begins with the kiss from her grandchild. Grandma is feeling loved and cherished so she is able to empathise with others and spread kindness.

The story promotes loves over greed. Love over condemnation. Love over hate.

The illustrations have the same magic. I adore the use of brush strokes and patterns to make the background. Many of the pictures show trees and flowers, grass and rainwater and foliage. The effect is like taking a walk through a beautiful meadow. The skies remind me of the time between dawn and the start of the day. Between dusk and night. Lanterns and stars and the kiss itself brighten the darkest of scenes. 

I would recommend this as a bedtime story or to anyone who loves fairytales. It would also be a great book to promote discussion about kindness and empathy. A big hit. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger UK for my copy of The Kiss. Opinions my own.

Chat · Lifestyle

Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

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Meet my middle-grade shelves. 

One name has been all over my Twittersphere of late: Marie Kondo.

 Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is the latest hit on Netflix. Every episode follows a household as they de-clutter their home according to Kondo’s principles. We are in the age of Instagram where everyone is conscious of how they look and how their homes look and basically about the image they are putting across, so maybe it is no surprise that the programme has been a hit. What is surprising is how so many people seem to have been affected by it on a deeper level. Kondo’s basic principle, that every item you own should spark joy inside you, has been revelatory.

It is like one woman has given us permission to clear stuff out.

As a lover of objects and collections, I was certain the programme wouldn’t be for me. Ten minutes in and I was hooked. What sold it to me was Kondo’s respect for every object. She encourages her clients to take time to acknowledge the function every object has played in their lives, and to be grateful for what they have. Tidying out doesn’t have to be depressing. It doesn’t have to be a sad parting. It can be about letting things go to a person who can use them better.

Even with my acceptance of Kondo’s central principle, I wondered how her methods would go down in the book community. The fact that she owns no more than thirty books at any one time particularly seemed to go against the values of many of my bookish friends. When I logged on to Twitter, I expected riots. I expected full-scale rebellion.

Everyone was having a tidy out. Myself included.

So what’s different about sorting books?

I didn’t apply Kondo’s rules to the letter and that was what inspired this post. Maybe they need tweaking for bookworms. Sparking joy is a dubious principle when you spend more time with books than you do with actual humans. You learn to value books for different reasons. Books may be objects, but we need to respect them as tools of communication, art forms and gateways to empathising with whole new sets of people. By tweaking the rules to recognise this, you will make the job less of a battle.

Here are some of the reasons I came up with for keeping a book:

 

It is a great example of a genre or writing technique:

the work that goes into constructing a piece of fiction is vast. Behind every book is years of practice, years of trial and error and pieces of writing scribbled in notebooks. An author’s first book might be their fifth manuscript. Over this time the author accumulates knowledge of writing, and this makes existing texts the best teachers an aspiring writer can have. I am forever looking for strong examples to emulate. From genre conventions to character development, I could never improve my writing without learning from other people’s work. This is a valid and totally acceptable reason to keep a book. It is another way of accessing and appreciating the author’s work.

 

There is a specific memory attached to the book:

As I was sorting my adult mass-market fiction, I realised there was a specific sub-group of books to consider. The books which had a specific memory attached to them. The characters and worlds we read don’t end when we close the book. We can spend weeks, months or lifetimes thinking about them. Maybe a certain book helped you through a hard time. Maybe a book gave you the courage to confront your feelings and move forward. When I was sorting my shelves, I piled these books together and tackled them as a separate group. Certain books just couldn’t go because they are part of my make-up. Part of my human experience.

 

You may yet read it:

Many of us can name a book which has sat unread for too long. Those books become a running joke among book bloggers. Book blogging is so heavily about promotion that, consciously or not, we are often keen to move on to the newest thing.

My advice? This is the point at which to take Marie Kondo’s advice. Instead of holding the book to see whether it sparks joy, open it up. Read the first page, then read a couple of random pages from about a quarter of the way into the book. Do you like the prose style? Did the subject hook you? Are you intrigued by the characters? Personally, I think we have a strong intuitive feeling for whether or not a book is for us. Take time to try these books out and don’t feel guilty for hanging on to something which has been unread for too long.

 

There are currently stacks of books on the landing awaiting my final verdict. One last look over is fair because distance gives you time to feel the absence of the books you have sorted. My tip – before you have that final look, close your eyes and name any of the sorted books which stand out in your memory. This will give you a good indication of anything you may not be ready to part with.

I am still sorting my books, but my newly tidied picture-book shelf and middle-grade fiction bring me nothing but delight. I can find the books I want, access my collection to browse and most importantly there is room for growth as I choose to keep books from my review pile. It is easier to dust, the #shelfies make better pictures and it is once again a pleasure to sit in the study and read.  

 

Have you been watching Marie Kondo? Can you think of any great reasons to keep a book? How does tidying-up enhance your life? I’m here to chat in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: How To Train Your Dragon (10 book set) by Cressida Cowell

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Review: How To Train Your Dragon (10 book set) by Cressida Cowell

There is only one difficulty about being a children’s literature fanatic, an aspiring author and a book blogger. You can’t read all the books. Until this month I had missed out on one of the biggest children’s series of the 21st Century –  the How To Train Your Dragon stories by Cressida Cowell. 

With millions of copies sold and borrowed worldwide, with a successful film franchise based on the books, it was clear I was missing something. 

When Books2Door offered me the chance to review a boxset, I jumped at the chance. 

So what is How To Train Your Dragon about? 

The story begins with Hiccup, son of the fearless Viking leader Stoik. Hiccup is training to be a great warrior. The only trouble is he is a wimp. My heart went straight out to Hiccup. I was that kid who was picked last for PE. I still have no coordination, no sense of direction and generally no skills which would make me of any use on a sports team.  I rooted for Hiccup from the first chapter and didn’t stop until I had finished the series. 

You see, Hiccup learns that there is more to being a hero than wielding a sword. There are other skills which are valuable in this world, like logic and empathy and resilience. Hiccup has those in spades. He continually outwits perils – from dragons to Barbarians to a deadly volcano – with his own skills and the help of his friends. 

In short, it is about dragons and Vikings and sea battles and warriors. 

The recurring antagonist Alvin keeps the tension up in a way which reminded me of the Harry Potter series. Every time something goes wrong in Hiccup’s life, the reader wants to know whether Alvin is behind it. 

What I loved about the series was the plots differed from each other. The first book is about the other Vikings realising that their tribe needs more than one skill to survive. The second is a quest for an ancient sword. There are quests and mysteries and survival narratives. 

The books are also witty and conscious of their young readership. Passages of text are broken up with slogans in large fonts and information files about dragons which reminded me of Top Trumps cards. 

Would you recommend the books?

The books are page turners and I can see why they are so hugely popular. As well as being a detailed world, they are just well-plotted stories. Reading the boxset was a lovely experience because I was able to follow Hiccup and his friends through their different adventures. The boxset I read contains the first ten books and is available from Books2Door

If you are yet to visit these classics, dive in. You’re in for a treat. 

 

Click here to buy the same set and join the tribe.

Thanks to Books2Door for gifting my set of How To Train Your Dragons books. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson

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Extract:

And according to my Mum (Her Majesty Sophia XII, Queen Of Waldenburg, if you want to be technical), if there is one thing, (actually, according to my mother there are many, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll stick to one here) a princess and future Queen does not do it is vlog about fashion … 

(Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson. P10.) 

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Synopsis:

Lily has always wanted to be a vlogger. There’s only one problem. Princesses are not supposed to be on social media. As the future Queen of Waldenberg, there is a whole list of rules Lily is supposed to follow. When she finds a secret turret in the castle, she is able to follow her dreams and set up a fashion vlog. The only trouble is keeping it a secret from Grandmaman. 

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Review:

The Princess Diaries gets a makeover for the YouTube generation. This is the story of a princess who wants to live her own life and who is unafraid of breaking the rules. 

Her battle is with her grandmother, and all the rules a princess must follow to maintain composure. 

The story shows readers that it is possible to be independent and motivated while loving dresses and tiaras and all things glitzy. Lots of gatekeepers (adults who pick books for children) who are thinking about gender identity are getting stuck on that issue. Should we ban stories of princesses and fashion vloggers. The answer is not at all. Just make sure those girls aren’t stuck in stereotypical roles and make sure those books are available to children regardless of gender. (Fingers crossed for some boys from the fashion vlogging scene in later books. They are the perfect example of boys who like dressing up.) 

I loved Waldenberg. It follows in a tradition of fictional European royalties which is beloved of children’s literature enthusiasts (indeed author Katherine Woodfine pays homage to these countries by dropping them into her first Taylor And Rose novel). Waldenberg is a little bit fairytale with its turrets and twisting pavements, but it also has all the modern necessities a fashion vlogger could dream of.

Waldenberg is a place noted for its positive approach to feminism. The university specialises in the subject, children take their mother’s name and the country is ruled by Queens. This gives young readers a chance to question the things they take for granted and form their own views. 

Lily is not only a princess and vlogger, she’s unafraid to use her own brain. A lovely story which encourages readers to form their own views. This will be a big hit with anyone who loves all things pink and sparkly. 

 

Royal Rebel is available from Usborne Publishing. Thanks to EdPr for my copy.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Pinch Of Magic by Michelle Harrison

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Synopsis:

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives.

That isn’t the only magic in the Widdershins family. Three magical objects have been passed down the family for generations – a carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. The sisters inherit one object each and with them, they gain a pinch of magic.

Betty is determined to break the curse but to do that she must unravel certain mysteries – who is the mysterious prisoner Granny has been visiting in prison? Do the special objects contain enough magic to help break the curse? Who was the witch who cursed the family and began all this in the first place?

An atmospheric and timeless fairy tale.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

An ancient curse. Three objects with a specific and special magic. A spooky prison island. Three sisters whose desires pull them in different directions. This story has all the ingredients of a great tale and Michelle Harrison brings them together as only a true storyteller can.

I have loved Harrison’s work since I first read The Thirteen Treasures almost ten years ago. With black cats and quaint place names and references to folk customs, the settings are straight after my own heart. She’s also a great writer. Her plots keep the reader turning the pages will her prose ensures they savour every word. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. It will delight old fans and new readers. The setting is particularly evocative – the misty marshlands and the three islands. Repent (which houses the prison), Lament (where the dead are buried) and Torment (which is out of bounds to all but the exiled.) The thought of looking across the water and seeing those islands is enough to give anyone chills.

The three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – are distinct and memorable characters. Each one has a strong voice and we very quickly learn what they want and how they are likely to react in any given situation. Charlie particularly is a treasure. She’s the youngest and she demands to be heard, even if it goes against her older sisters’ plans. She is the voice of little sisters everywhere, and even those of us who have grown up until we are practically the same age as our siblings will smile with recognition.

The readers learn about the Widdershins family history along with Betty, Fliss and Charlie until we find out how the curse came to be. I love it when a strand of the story builds up to a full understanding of historical events. The story concerns two sisters, Sorsha and Prue, and their desperation to leave the island of Torment.

A Pinch Of Magic is a book full of wonder. I was up into the small hours to see the heroines through to the final pages. A must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

 

To meet the heroines of this story and to share their very special gingerbread recipe, click here. 

 

A Pinch Of Magic is available 07.02.2019 from Simon And Schuster UK. Thanks to Simon And Schuster UK for my proof copy. 

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Sea Saw by Tom Percival

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The Sea Saw by Tom Percival. 

Sofia loses her bear on the beach and nobody sees but the sea. Although Sofia and her family search, there is no sign of the bear. The sea has taken him into its care and together they search for Sofia. The little bear ends up on a journey through rivers and oceans to be reunited with his owner.

A heartwarming tale of childhood friends and the things that are precious to us.

Losing a favourite toy must be every child’s worst nightmare. Perhaps something which still tugs at the hearts of big kids. We can all name that toy who is family. Stories of toys reunited by train companies and travel providers regularly make good publicity. People reunited with their stuffed friends makes a good story.Q

img_8162-1This picture book is a firm keeper. It has a timeless feel and it is the sort of story which is read and reread for sheer pleasure.

The illustrations feel both vintage and modern. They capture the historical setting while remaining relevant and relatable to a modern audience. I love the use of grey and black for the indoor scenes. Only the character is shown in colour, which allows the reader to focus on her actions and emotions. Later on in the story we see different seas and rivers, beaches and harbours, which remind us that although time passes, the sea remains constant.

The ending will make you smile as it brings tears to your eyes.

A beautiful story which offers new ways to look at loss, while still offering hope of reunion. This is a must for any childhood bookshelf.

 

Thanks to Simon And Schuster UK for my copy of The Sea Saw. Opinions my own.