Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The House Of Madame M by Clothilde Perrin.

Review: The House Of Madame M by Clothilde Perrin.

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Are you lost? Come in! 

Welcome to The House Of Madame M, where things slither and creak and nothing is as it seems. There are skeletons in the cupboards – real ones – and clawed things in the corners and the food in the kitchen would literally kill. 

This pop-up book is a delight for the insatiably gothic. With doors to open and dials to turn, it is super hands-on. The illustrations are rich in detail. As well as playing with the interactive features, the reader is kept busy scanning over the page and taking in the surprises. 

For surprises there are. It seems a shame to spoil any more, but I jumped once or twice as I came across things I hadn’t seen at the first glance. 

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Four or five lines accompany each spread, giving the impression that someone – or some creeping, crawling thing – has been charged with giving the reader a guided tour. The implication is that, once a person enters the house, they can never ever leave. 

My interest in this was particularly as a pop-up. There’s something about pop-up books. Perhaps they remind us that storytelling can take so many different forms. They break the rules, almost, by giving the reader so much authority over what moves when and in what order things are explored. Anybody who had a pop-up book in childhood will gravitate towards them in a second-hand bookshop, even if they don’t intend to buy. This format lends itself well to the gothic and unruly world of Madame M. There’s something compelling about playing with the illustrations while being guided through the book by the unearthly narrator. 

I love the use of dark and light. The eye is drawn to the patches of yellow and then to the details within them. The use of texture is also exciting, especially to bring the monsters to life. 

Both trick and treat at the same time. With added surprise value. A lovely creation that will excite readers this Halloween. 

 

The House Of Madame M is available now from Gecko Press. RRP £16.99

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Gecko Press for my copy.

TV tie-in

Review: Moon And Me – The Little Seed by Andrew Davenport. Illustrated by Mariko Umeda.

Review: Moon And Me – The Little Seed by Andrew Davenport. Illustrated by Mariko Umeda.

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It’s time to go to sleep. Lie down, Pepi Nana. Close your eyes, don’t you peep! 

Andrew Davenport, creator of In The Night Garden and co-creator of Teletubbies is back with a new programme. Moon And Me follows Pepi Nana, who lives in the toy house, on a very special adventure with her new friend the Moon Baby. It brings the toy room stories of Enid Blyton into the modern day with the same balance of music, tea parties, friendships, adventures, and games. 

This volume contains a mixture of stories and song words. As with Davenport’s other creations, the adventure is very much rooted in the familiar. The character is woken up by a narrator and sent to bed with a special Goodnight, Everybody routine. This mirrors the day of a small child. The adventures happen while an adult narrator keeps everything scheduled and safe and familiar. 

Characters include Pepi Nana the doll, a stuffed onion, a pretend Lily plant and the Moon Baby. You can bet they will soon become household names to anyone with small children. 

Davenport fascinates me as a creator of stories and brands for children. He seems to have a deep understanding of what will click with the under-threes at any given moment. I also think his brands are a lesson in aspiring writers for children. I am of the right age to recall the Teletubbies craze of the 90s – at seven or so I was outside the target age but young enough to participate and be an observer. Everybody had a favourite character. The world drew children and held them fascinated, even when the stories were so basic. Several memorable details became part of our everyday language (the Noo-Noo, anybody? Tubby Custard? We weren’t just watching it on Television. We were literally consuming the stuff from the supermarket). 

Introducing the world of Moon & Me through a book seems like a lovely idea. Many bookworms turn their noses up at television tie-ins, but I challenge you to recall the books from your own childhood. There will be at least one TV book or annual which you read until the spine broke and the pages were tissue-paper thin just because you loved the character. And that kind of immersion in a story is priceless. 

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Moon & Me. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Atlas Of Amazing Birds by Matt Sewell.

Review: Atlas Of Amazing Birds by Matt Sewell.

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Our planet is home to some amazing birds. Open your eyes and meet the true wonders of the world. Knowing about the birds we share our planet with encourages us to care about their wellbeing. 

This is divided into seven sections and introduces the birdlife of eight continents. Each section begins with a map, making this part Atlas, part guidebook. As a whole, with its jewel-bright illustrations and informative fact files, it is a book to marvel over. 

It is the images that make the book. The full-colour images draw the eye as soon as the book is opened. The style is a play on scientific drawings – flat, and forward-facing, they are certainly there is no pretence at a story or pose. However, they are also filled with a certain character which makes it possible to imagine them coming to life and to picture how they might move. This one would glide, for example, and that one flutter. 

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Each entry includes the scientific name and the common one. The common one comes first which not only allows readers to spot the familiar but to marvel over a vocabulary which is in danger of becoming lost. Two or three paragraphs accompany the names. These are well-written and explain where the bird might be found and introducing some of its habits. 

In organising the birds by continent, the book also introduces the idea that we adapt to our habitats. Flicking through, it is impossible not to notice similarities and differences between the birds, and discussing how all the small, bright birds live in warm places, for example, would open an interesting conversation with young readers. 

A page at the back includes a glossary of bird-related terms and suggestions for songs featuring birds. This is such a lovely touch and would make a wonderful ‘next activity’ after reading. 

This is the kind of book which helps a reader form a love with a new subject. After looking through the pages, it is impossible not to want to spot birds in the real world and to know more about the birds which live far away. 

The perfect holiday gift for a young nature enthusiast or for readers who just love a beautiful book. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Children’s Books for my copy of Atlas Of Amazing Birds. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Hansel And Gretel by Bethan Woollvin.

Review: Hansel And Gretel by Bethan Woollvin.

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Once upon a time, there was a nice witch called Willow who lived in the forest. One day, two children dropped breadcrumbs everywhere, threatening the security of her gingerbread house. Wait a second – what? Is that how the story goes? 

This Hanel & Gretel retelling is deliciously funny and works because it is understated. The narrator doesn’ t sound like a smarty-pants who is proud to be subverting the story (which is, if you’ll excuse me, a major put-off in retellings). Rather, this is a whole new story. The story of a witch who put up with gingerbread-stealing, rude little children for just a bit too long. 

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The ending is so fantastic that it made me squeal with delight. Partly because I love gingerbread and partly because it was so much better than the original ending. That’s what happens when you hand the story to a witch with a sweet-tooth and strong magical powers. 

There are a handful of tales I heard once too often in childhood, to the extent that I started to question what the big deal was. Hansel & Gretel is one of them. Everyone loves the gingerbread house and the breadcrumb trail through the forest and that climactic moment as the witch wobbles in front of the oven. I firmly believe that fairy tales are an important part of our lives and that every child deserves to be told them, but there is such a vast range of stories and so many ways of telling each one. Today’s children are lucky to have books like this one. 

The illustrations are impossibly cool, with their contrasting black, grey and orange palette and minimal shapes and in block colours. Hansel & Gretel’s thoughtless, gleeful expressions are terrific. We know from their faces that there is no reasoning with them. 

An old tale reworked into something equally timeless and memorable. This rebalances the story and the result is hugely fun. 

 

Thanks to Two Hoots for my copy. Opinions my own.

fairytales · Feminist/Gender Equality

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

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Fairy tales fire our imaginations and they shape our understanding and expectations for our lives. So says Kate Pankhurst in her introduction, which explains how some fairy tales were told less often than others, and so became lesser-known or forgotten. As stories die, Pankhurst says, so do their messages. And why should there only be one version of a tale, when braver, bolder characters can tell us the things which make sense in our lives? 

It is a fantastic foreword to a book that aims to change the narrative on female heroines. Why should the princesses sit around waiting to be rescued when they could ride out into the night and take on the darkness themselves? 

This image, incidentally, comes from my favourite fairy tale. In Tam Lin, included here as Fearless Fiona And The Spellbound Knight, the heroine rides out at midnight to confront an evil faerie queen and prevent a young man from being given as tribute to hell. I came to this story through folk music and something about it felt different from the same-old-same-old stories which I knew from repeated tellings. There was something about Tam Lin which, even in my teens, I was unable to explain. 

And of course, that image says it all. The heroine was brave. Not the wimpy, waiting around without complaint brave, but the kind where she took things into her own hands, faced her fears and remained resolute in her position. She had guts. She had authority as a character. 

Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls offers young readers this very thing. Girls need to see themselves at the centre of the action from an early age to believe that their strength and intelligence is equal to that of a boy.

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The stories are retold in a way that is suitable for younger readers. The writing is strong and rich in detail and the book could very definitely grow with the reader and remain a favourite. In fact, these would be lovely to read aloud as a group or to reenact together. Tales included are English, Scottish and European but vary from the best-known stories. This would be a lovely book to help readers think more broadly about fairy tales and folklore and to give them a hunger for more tales. 

The illustrations are bold and colourful and bring the stories to life. I especially love the towering, waving nettles in the illustrations of The Nettle Princess, and the picture of Tam Lin with his armour wrapped in flowers. 

It is always encouraging to see anthologies which aim to challenge outdated narratives. A lovely introduction to the diversity and richness which stories can offer. 

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing and Rontaler Events for my copy. Opinions my own.

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Kitty series by Paula Harrison and Jenny Løvlie. 

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Kitty wishes she could be a superhero just like her Mum, but she’s not certain she is brave enough. Then she listens to the magic of a starry night and discovers that she has special powers all of her own. What’s more, the cats in Hallam City need her help. 

Kitty’s very special powers make her the hero of the feline world. Together with the cats, she prowls the rooftops, ready to rescue those in need and to return priceless treasures to their rightful owners. This new series is exceptionally charming, with the action of any good superhero story but the friendship and security of a story for very young readers. 

The illustrations are a perfect match for the story. They have a slight roundness to them, making them feel cute and friendly, but the action comes across too. The orange and black creates a world that is dark but magical. There is always something brighter to ensure it is only scary enough. 

This is shorter than a young middle-grade story or early chapter book, but longer than a picture book. This format is growing in popularity, and for good reason – it allows less confident readers to feel like they have a ‘real book’ because it is divided into chapters and builds up a plot in the same way as a shorter novel. 

 

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic by Harriet Muncaster. 

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Isadora is back – half fairy, half vampire, and happy to play in the snow.

Isadora is disappointed and lonely after she is the only person not invited to a party, but not for long. Aunt Crystal – whose specialty is snow magic – comes to play, and soon Isadora has made a snow boy and a snow bunny and brought them to life. They are brilliant friends, but when he starts dripping, Isadora realises that snow magic can’t last forever.

Aunt Crystal makes a suggestion, but can Isadora come to the rescue?

A charming tale filled with sparkles and frost and the magic of friendship.

The Isadora Moon books are fabulous because they balance the pink and pretty with some dark and gothic. Children shouldn’t feel pressured to fall into one camp or another, and this series demonstrates that just being yourself is the best way to be.

This would make a lovely gift for a stocking or a Christmas Eve bag. It is long enough to snuggle up with and listen to over hot chocolate, but short enough to wrap up in one session.

 

Kevin’s Great Escape by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

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Kevin the roly-poly flying pony is back for his next adventure. He’s been very happy in his new home, with his friend Max, and Max’s big sister Daisy, and a constant supply of biscuits. Especially custard creams.

There is huge excitement when Misty Twiglet announces that she is moving to Bumbleford. Everyone knows who Misty Twiglet is. She’s the famous, all-singing, all-dancing pop star who has everything she needs. A car, a manager, and a ginormous house. Misty has everything – except a roly-poly flying pony.

Kevin isn’t the only one in trouble. Misty and her manager have trapped lots of magical creatures. Luckily, Max is on the case, and he’s not afraid to utilise his big sister …

A fantastic and funny tale from the amazing duo of Reeve and McIntyre.

Just picking this book up makes life feel instantly 325% better. It contains custard creams, guinea pigs, shiny-edged pages and a beautiful flying pony. Stories by Reeve and McIntyre seem to summon up all that is good and interesting and tie them together in a brilliant narrative. The illustrations are filled with such life and energy, too, that at times it feels as if they will burst off the page.

A must for readers who love whimsy and fun.

 

Speedy Monkey by Jeanne Willis. Illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne.

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Deep in the rainforest, everything is peaceful and quiet until Speedy Monkey arrives. He is a bit different from the other animals. He is bouncy, and jumpy and loud and happy and his energy is endless. Day and night, he moves and makes noises. Eventually, the other animals get fed up of him and he leaves their company.

Then a storm comes. Suddenly Speedy’s quickness and loud voice don’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

This is a charming story about acceptance and being true to yourself. It could also be used to open conversations about neurodiversity, especially ADHD and hyperactivity generally.  Knowing that everyone is a valuable member of society and that we don’t all present in the same way is pivotal if the next generation is to change the narrative and welcome true diversity.

The illustrations beautifully capture emotion with use of colour – the sadness Speedy Monkey feels when he is all alone, and the joy when he is accepted and welcomed back by the other animals.

Another big hit from the Stripes colour illustration range.

 

A Sea Of Stories by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Paddy Donnelly. 

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Grandpa’s house is filled with objects, and every one of those objects has a story. When Roo goes to stay, she thinks at first that the whole world must be stuffed inside his cottage. Every night, Grandpa tells Roo a story. A memory from his life which is attached to a possession.

There is one place which crops up in his stories more often than anywhere else – the sea cove which his elderly legs will no longer carry him down to. As Roo realises that so many of his memories are associated with this special place, she formulates a plan.

Winner of the ‘Not A Singe Eye Dry’ award. This beautiful and gentle tale had me in tears because it captures how much we love the people we have lost, and how their stories remain a part of our lives. Objects and places and even special moments like a sunset can bring memories of them flooding back inside our hearts.

The illustrations by Paddy Donnelly give a sense of the sea cove waiting around the corner to be discovered. Of waves and sunsets and breezes creeping into our memories.

A beautiful story about the importance of memories and tales.

 

Jasper & Scruff – Hunt For The Golden Bone by Nicola Colton.

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Jasper the cat likes the finer things in life. Scruff the dog prefers the simple. This doesn’t stop them from being friends, and they happily run a bookshop together.

When a rare book about the pirate cat Black Whispers appears in the shop, the pair find a treasure map and set out on an adventure. However, as the trail runs cold, the pair realise that they have been tricked by the Sophisticats – the society who only accept cats like themselves. Will anyone come to the aid of the duo who dare to like each other regardless of difference?

Jasper & Scruff is one of my favourite series for younger readers. The stories are well written and the running theme of accepting each other as we are is woven into the tales. I also love the illustrations, which look effortless (but probably take ages to perfect) and make me itch to pick up a pencil or a crayon every time I see them.

Highly recommend this series.

 

Little Penguin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye.

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Fliss travels magically on incredible adventures with animals.

A snow day lands her in the Antarctic, where she meets a colony of penguins with chicks who are ready to head North for the winter. Then a blizzard sweeps in and when it is over Fliss finds an injured mother with her chick, separated from the other birds. Fliss realises that it must be her mission to help them, but how will they ever catch up when the mother bird has an injured leg?

Luckily Fliss knows all about animals, and her respect and determination will see her through.

This series of beautifully written tales won me over from the first book. The stories show total understanding of the relationship between humans and other animals. How we can bond with our fellow creatures only if we fully respect them as intelligent beings. Fliss sets a great example to her young readers in how to treat other animals.

The third book in the series is perfect for wintertime as it takes us into a land of ice and snow.

 

Peanut Butter And Jelly by Ben Clanton.

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The fabulous friends are back for a whole new underwater adventure. And this time they have peanut butter. Lots of it.

Narwhal is certain nothing can beat waffles. Then Jelly gives him some peanut butter cookies and a whole love affair begins. Everything in Narwhal’s life is peanut butter.

Like the previous volumes in this series, this book contains three main stories, one fact-file and a side story that will have readers in stitches. This is cartooning at its best – whimsical and expressive and packed with fun and laughter. By the end of the volume, we feel as if we know the two friends like our own.

These books have been a big hit in book corners according to the educators I talk to during Twitter chats. I can see why they would appeal to a generation who speak Meme and GIF as fluently as they speak their first language. There are pages and spreads and individual boxes that could be copied into relatable and entertaining posters. The humour speaks directly to the social media generation.

Bright, bold and witty, these offer readers an alternative format to novels and stories.

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing, Oxford University Press and Stripes Books for the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Blog Tour: Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardner.

Blog Tour: Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardner.

Sally Gardner Blog Tour Graphic

Extract:

Down she falls, through the dome of the opera house, down she falls, past the crystal galleon, and as she passes it she hears the sound of something coming adrift. Down, down she falls …

(Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardener. P6.) 

 

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Synopsis. 

1870. It is opening night at the Royal Opera House and every one of the candles is lit in the huge chandelier shaped like a galleon which was mysteriously lost at sea. Orphaned and impoverished Celeste wakes from a strange dream to find that everyone thinks she is somebody else: a player in the forthcoming opera. 

Then the chandelier falls and the hauntings begin. 

Celeste is shadowed by a girl who claims to know her past. Together they must play a game called the Reckoning and save the lives of the loved ones Celeste can’t remember before it is too late. 

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Review:

There is no storyteller quite like Sally Gardener. She reminds me of my younger self in a very good way, my childhood self at fourteen or fifteen just before I became afraid to run with ideas and see where they took me. When you open one of Gardener’s books, there is no knowing where it will take you, except that the show will be spectacular and that it will be an experience to remember. 

Which is why I was delighted to see that Gardener had written a book about the theatre. Her style matches the visual, multi-sensory splendour of a good show. 

The strange events of Invisible In A Bright Light tie together a man in a green coat, a theatre, and a fantastic chandelier. Gardener weaves different layers together until we understand more about Celeste’s life, and what it is she must do. Reading it is like being led through the darkness until the lights come on and everything starts to make sense. Gardener creates a world that is disorienting and beautiful in equal measures. 

The relationship between Celeste and the girl whos shadows her, which begins after an accident involving the chandelier, reminds me of the best fairytales. It could be the thing to lift Celeste from her miserable life, or it could trap her in a nightmare forever. The balance of fear and hope kept me on tenterhooks as I invested all my hope for Celeste in this girl and her dangerous game. 

It is fantastic to see Gardener writing for a middle-grade audience again. Her stories draw the reader in and keep them hooked until the very last pages. This would be a great book for readers who like something a bit spooky but tremendously beautiful. 

 

Thanks to Head Of Zeus for my gifted copy of Invisible In A Bright Light. Opinions my own.