Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos.

Review: The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos.

The Moosic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

Nutmeg and Celery love making Moo-grass music. Farmer Joni loves their music too, even though she would like them to include the sheep and donkey and other animals once in a while. But Moo-sic is a cow thing. When the barn roof is damaged, a bit of moo-sic seems the perfect way to raise some money for the farm. 

Spotting Nutmeg and Celery’s potential, a music producer comes along and insists they switch their sound to dis-cow. Will the new sound give Nutmeg and Celery everything they have ever dreamed of, or will they need to rethink their plan?

A witty story about friendship, sticking to your roots and hogging the spotlight. 

Nutmeg and Celery begin with confidence in their own sound. Country music is the obvious choice for a pair of cows and the duo has an established audience. Their plan is to raise enough money for the barn roof and to carry on as normal. Their encounter with a music producer may raise more money, but the barn roof doesn’t appear to be his priority. 

This story offered an entertaining range of cow puns and wordplay. Moo-sic, Discow (that’s disco to us humans) and mootiny spring to mind. It would be a lovely book to encourage wordplay and introduces a range of animal sounds to young readers. 

Themes of sharing and taking turns are explored. Other animals have big ideas about how to raise money for the barn and how the farmyard should sound, but it always comes back to Nutmeg and Celery. Learning to put ideas together and reach an agreed outcome is a big skill and this would be a lovely book to read ahead of group work or a shared project. 

A fun, friendly story where there is as much enjoyment in the language as there is in the story. A picture book which is especially suited to a young audience. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my copy of The Moosic Makers. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

earth swarm by tim hall

Extract:

Each one was about the size of a small car. And they were clearly metallic – all hard edges and dull gleaming surfaces. Yet at the same time – these machines – they were so lifelike. They flew with an undulating motion, like that of a fly. Their wings were a greenish blur at their sides. Each had a pair of reddish orbs, like compound eyes. 

(Earth Swarm by Tim Hall. P82.) 

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Synopsis:

A swarm of killer drones has descended on London.

Hal Strider wishes his Dad had a little bit more family time. Like any time. But there’s been a lot going on at Starr-Strider Biomimetics, especially since Tony Daeger turned up. That’s when the secret plans began. When the drones attack London, leading to mass evacuation and widespread panic, Hal realises they were built by his father’s company. And now his Dad is nowhere to be found.

Hal and his sister Jess are determined to prove their father’s innocence and to save the city, but they are up against machines which never stop, police officers who don’t want to listen and seven million people in panic. They also have something which the person responsible really wants. Perhaps Hall can figure out the truth with the help of the incredible, free-flying girl Sky, but they are up against a deadly enemy and time is running out.

A spectacular new Sci-Fi series suited to fans of Mortal Engines. 

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Review:

Everyone remembers where they were the day the drones struck.

Although the drones themselves are the stuff of Sci-Fi, the story is made relatable by the atmosphere. A historical news story is breaking, like 9/11 or days after Princess Diana died. The drone attack marks a transition in recent human history. The mass exodus, too, feels very much news footage from recent years although the setting is changed. Now it is Londoners whose homes are under siege. Earth Swarm is the sort of story which asks the reader to face big questions. What would it take to provoke such movement of people in the West? Should Capitalism and the quest for money put humanity at risk?

It is also a compelling adventure.

Even at the start, before we see the drones, Hal Strider’s life seems pretty exciting. He’s a trained pilot whose flying skills would be the envy of most adults. The range of aircraft and gadgets made me think of Thunderbirds. This story begins with a wealthy boy and his techy toys. Hal’s character goes far deeper than that, and his desperate longing to spend more time with his Dad will be relatable to young readers whose parents have no choice but to work overtime.

The drones themselves are like something from a horror film. There are masses of them and nobody knows who is at the controls or what their agenda is. Short passages at the end of some chapters offer the reader a drones-eye view of the action and drip feed information about what the drones are capable of. This increased my anticipation as I was reading the main action because my knowledge of what the drones could do felt incomplete, but I was given enough each time to feel that they were hiding some pretty mega technology.

And it turns out the clue is in the name. SWARM. Emphasis on the WAR.

This is a fast-paced adventure with high stakes, and I am delighted to see a children’s book centered around drone technology. Not so long ago, drones brought UK airports to a halt and raised big questions about how such basic air technology was able to invade the airspace. In my opinion, there are so many grey areas about drones which have yet to be explored, and these grey areas are the perfect place to find stories.

While this is aimed at a teen or older middle-grade audience, it has crossover appeal and huge potential to evolve into a series. The story explores the lengths to which people will go for personal gain, and how increasingly-sophisticated technology is putting us at risk from these individuals. It is also a fast-paced and convincing adventure.

The drones have arrived. Could they be our downfall?

 

Thanks to David Fickling Books for my copy of Earth Swarm. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

No Longer Alone

The young protagonist of this story is used to being spoken about. People say how quiet she is. And shy. How she doesn’t like to run about. Everyone gets it wrong. Sometimes it is easier to talk and talk when nobody else is listening and to run riot through the landscapes of her imagination. People don’t understand that the other things are what she did before. 

Before she felt alone. 

Together with her Dad and her little sisters, the young girl in this story explores her feelings and emotions, and bit by bit they start to heal. To find a new normal. Nothing will ever replace the loved one they have lost, but together they start to feel less alone. 

A beautiful book which explores the thoughts and feelings of a grieving child. 

The extraordinary thing about this story is how it shows grief through things which are apparently normal. That is what happens when we lose people we love. We have to act out the old things, the things we did before, and it can feel frustrating and hurtful that the everyday itinerary has changed so very little when everything has changed so much. How can it be possible to get up without that special person to say good morning? Many picture books about grief show the huge, the overwhelming, but No Longer Alone captures that unfairness and wonder of life going on. 

First, our protagonist finds it impossible. She has been left alone and however normal and quiet she looks, there’s a whole world going on inside her head. Then she talks and talks with her family, and together they manage to feel together again. 

This is a story about a child who has lost a parent, although the relations aren’t made clear until the end. This is a clever way of examining feelings of grief which might be universal. It also encourages readers to empathise and question what might be going on. When I was a child, stories about grief were pretty much labeled on the front. They were rarely read to children who weren’t going through it at the time. This encouraged a generation to think of grief as something which belonged in a neat box. Beautiful books like No Longer Alone encourage everyone to know and recognise and empathise with those emotions. 

Certain images have become stock pictures for grief – calm landscapes, pale flowers, and the tide far out from the beach. No Longer Alone turns this on its head. There may be landscapes and oceans but they are brimming with all the energy of a young child’s imagination. There are different types of noise, as the girl in this story is well aware, and it is only when she opens up about her feelings that things become truly still. 

A beautiful, poetic look at grief which has taken the time to imagine and reflect the real experience. This book will encourage readers to empathise with those who are grieving and to go deeper than how things appear on the surface. 

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing for my copy of No Longer Alone. Opinions my own. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Billy And The Dragon by Nadia Shireen.

Review: Billy And The Dragon by Nadia Shireen.

Billy And The Dragon

It’s party time! Billy and Fatcat are back, and this time they’re off to a fancy dress party. Fatcat isn’t keen on the dressing up part but is persuaded to put on a dragon suit. Everything is going well until a real dragon swoops down and seizes Fatcat. 

Billy and her friends set out on a rescue mission. They fly up to the top of tall trees, climb mountains and befriend fluffy white rabbits on their quest to see Fatcat safely home. Is it possible he will be OK? Will this all end in a slice of birthday cake?

Another delightful story about Billy And Fatcat from the author of Billy And The Beast. 

Resourceful, adventurous Billy and her grouchy (but adorable) sidekick Fatcat may be my new favourite picture book duo. Certainly, these stories have all the ingredients of memorable picture books. They have strong plots, a fearless main character, and happy endings which don’t feel in any way like a cheat or a letdown. They understand – like The Gruffalo, like Peter Rabbit, that young readers have a higher tolerance for peril than many adults realise. 

Fatcat too is a gem. His disgruntled expression is somewhat reassuring. Small children know well that nursery rhymes and unicorns and jelly and ice-cream can get plain annoying. Tantrums and frustration and rejecting perfectly good things are all part of a stable early childhood and we need more disgruntled characters in their literature. 

Wonderful skies in pink, orange, purple, red and blue add a hint of darkness without being too scary. The quest is broken with moments of light relief too, like Billy’s colourful bunch of balloons and the random chat with a fluffy bunny rabbit. The gang of adorable woodland creatures, too, add humour. Whoever heard of noble knights who looked so cute? 

Billy is a fantastic heroine who represents many young girls. She is bright, resourceful and loyal to her friends. I would recommend her in a second to anyone looking to balance out the princesses with young heroines. It is so important for girls to have strong role models. 

Another hit from Nadia Shireen. I hope Billy and Fatcat will be back for further adventures and I look forward to cheering them on. 

 

Thanks to Penguin Books UK for my copy of Billy And The Dragon. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Small World by Ishta Mercurio and Jen Corace.

Review: Small World by Ishta Mercurio and Jen Corace.

small world 1

When Nanda was born, and she was wrapped in a bundle, the world was safe, small and warm. Over the years her world grew bigger and bigger, from the family dinner table to the playground to riding the roller-coasters at the theme-park. She went to college away from home, and her world grew bigger again as she learned about science and engineering. 

Finally, her dream came true and she set off into space. Her world became a rocket. A helmet. A small blue jewel in a dark galaxy. 

A beautiful story which turns the enormity of space travel on its head and celebrates the achievements of every individual who has ever made a contribution to space science. 

small world 2Small World is one of my favourite titles in the run of books published ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landings. Its jewel-bright colours and geometric patterns make a change from page after page of stars and planets, and it adds a very human touch to a STEM subject. It also shows how an interest in engineering can begin with the smallest of steps. An interest in building blocks, constant observations and measuring the world in patterns and shapes. The best way to encourage interest in a subject is to show that learning begins with very achievable steps. 

Nanda was once a little girl who sat on somebody’s knee at the family table. Who tumbled down the slide, and played in her bedroom. Who went out with her friends as a teenager. Who studied hard enough to get on to a top science course. Understanding what it takes to be an astronaught will encourage readers to aspire to big things.

The illustrations turn the world into a kaleidoscope of colour and pattern, and I would love to imitate this style with watercolours or glass paint. This would be a beautiful book for encouraging artwork and think about how we observe shapes nature. 

A gentle and richly illustrated story which explores the human face of space science. A lovely book to read around the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landings. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Kids for my copy of Small World. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Peril En Pointe by Helen Lipscombe.

Review: Peril En Pointe by Helen Lipscombe.

peril en pointe

Extract:

‘OK, fairies – one more for luck.’ Mr Lamont squints into his phone. ‘Can the Lilac Fairy move to the front? And Golden Vine, you to the back. Milly, did you hear me? That’s it – a bit further back. Smashing. Everyone smile for the camera. Let’s hear you say “Scarlet Slipper”.’
‘Scarlet Slipper!’
‘Smiley face, Milly. And again . . .’

(Peril En Pointe by Helen Lipscombe. P1.) 

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Synopsis:

First Milly messes up the dance of her life. Then her famous ballerina mother vanishes into mid-air.

After the fiasco at the Scarlet Slipper Ballet Prize event, Milly thinks she has hung up her pointe-shoes for good. Then she receives a mysterious letter telling her she has received a place at Swan House ballet school.

Beneath the tutus and tiaras, Swan House is also a school for spies.

Milly learns about her mother’s time at the school and realises exactly how much danger she is in, but how can Milly help when she can’t even get through her lessons without disaster? And why has she been made lead ballerina in the latest round of the Scarlet Slippers?

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Review:

Who says ballerinas are dainty? They are super fit, trained in languages and they travel the world, which makes them brilliantly placed to be spies. And this is the ballet spy story of your dreams. Think past grudges, secret weapons and lots and lots of dance practice.

Mysteries and detective stories are a favourite genre of mine and this story has incredible series potential. Swan House is a brilliant setting which places equal importance on the two main aspects of its curriculum. It is also an old building with a rich history, and it is home to some technical geniuses as well as to the pupils themselves.

Milly’s storyline is all about jealousy and doubt. Her best friend Willow is a bully and a liar, but she has always received heaps of praise and attention from Milly’s mother. Over the years Milly has struggled to outshine Willow and this rivalry destroys Milly’s confidence until she hangs her shoes up for good. With ballet being notoriously competitive, this was a brilliant storyline.

The first case centres on the school itself, although locations outside the school include a prestigious shop in Covent Garden and Milly’s London home. Pupils from rival schools are invited in to compete in the best fictional school tournament since The Goblet Of Fire. There was a hint of Durmstrang in the distinctive and memorable natures of each school and this will appeal to Potter fans for the nostalgia as well as the story.  

I am certainly enchanted by this new world and look forward to seeing where Milly goes next. Her future spy missions could take her almost anywhere, and I hope she keeps the ballet shoes close to her side.  

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books And Laura Smythe PR for my copy of Peril En Pointe. Opinions my own.