Board Book · Round-Up

Board Book Round-up (October 2019).

Board Book Round-up (October 2019).

 

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A Marvelous Museum and A Forest’s Seasons by Ingela P Arrhenius.

Learn the seasons of the forest, and take a walk through different museum exhibits with these fantastic Bookscape Books.

Why should all the pages of a book be the same size and shape? It is something we all take for granted, yet the world is full of such interesting shapes. When we look across the different distances of a landscape, we see things of all shapes and sizes. This idea works especially well in the board book format. The pages are sturdy enough to hold it, while all the different colours and images peeking out at the start are irresistible to little readers.

The books themselves are simple introductions to two places – museums and forests. The forest book focuses on seasons, as if one forest is changing over time, while the museum book looks at a wide variety of exhibits. These would be lovely to give to a small child who is going to a new place for the first time, to talk them through what they might see and hear.

 

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Animal Homes by Clover Robin

We often pass by animal homes without even knowing it. From underground warrens to beehives, lodges, and the nests in the trees, other animals are all around us, and their homes are more incredible than we could possibly imagine.

Clover Robin is a designer whose children’s books always win my heart. She specialises in nature and botanical designs, and her work always seems to come from careful observation. She captures more than the shape, getting right to the very spirit of her subjects.

Animal Homes is a lift-the-flap book that takes its audience seriously. It is too easy to underestimate tiny readers and to offer them watered-down explanations, but doing so forgets that tiny people are always learning and looking and drinking the world in. Anybody who has ever spoken to a small child knows that they are always observing or questioning something. Animal Homes takes them right inside nests and hives, lodges and warrens, and allows them to explore the worlds of their fellow creatures.

Little bites of information surround the pictures. This is a book that will grow with the reader, taking them right into early information books already prepared to learn. Top marks for design, level of knowledge and sheer wonder factor.

 

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5 Wild Shapes by Camilla Falsini.

Circles and triangles. Hexagons and squares. Our world is full of shapes and lines. Learning their names and appearances is the first step in understanding their properties.

This book is instantly attractive, with primary-coloured backgrounds populated with funny creatures. At a second glance, these animals are made up of different shapes, with plenty of strong examples to point out (the fox, for example, has a triangular nose).

At the centre of each spread is a shape, cut away from the rest of the board so that it can be traced around by little fingers. There is also a disk to chase around each shape so that readers can guide a little insect around the outlines of the shapes. Tactile learning is a brilliant way into early geometry – the more familiar readers are with tracing the shapes, the more confident they will feel when they come to drawing and identifying them.

This book is beautifully designed, balancing fun with early learning. The large format makes the game more fun, and there are plenty of things for a young reader to look at and enjoy.

 

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A to Z Menagerie by Suzy Ultman

Enter the wonderful world of the alphabet with this delightful book of letters and words. Look at the pictures. Touch the cut-out letters, and pull the tabs to see them come to life. Trace their shape with your fingers. Learning to read has never been more exciting.

Essentially this book is two things – it runs through the alphabet, and it introduces first words alphabetically, with illustrations. Its design makes it one of the most delightful A-Z books I have encountered, with doodle-style drawings in pastel colours. It is so beautiful that people will pretend to pick it for their children just so they can enjoy it themselves.

The pull-the-tab feature changes the cut-out letters from white to decorated. The tabs also feature an extra word, related to the design.

The spellings and words are American – as the title suggests if you make it rhyme – so what Brits would call ‘aubergine’ is down as ‘eggplant’, for example. Personally, I think this is fantastic because children today live in a global world where they will encounter different formats of English online on a daily basis. Introducing them to these words early prepares them for this reality.

A fantastic introduction to letters and words.

 

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Can You Find? series by Nancy Bevington. 

The world is full of adventures for little people. The forest, the farm, the beach, and the ocean all represent new and exciting possibilities.

The Can You Find? series introduces vocabulary specific to different places. Throughout the book, there are labeled illustrations, which show is there to be discovered. At the end of each book is a wonderful reminder of everything which has been introduced. A smaller version of every illustration is included on this double-page spread. This gives the reader (especially older board book readers) an opportunity to test their memory and see if they can name all the pictures. 

It is always great to have books that introduce new words and a new understanding of our world. A fantastic and fun series. 

 

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Goodnight, Rainbow Cats by Bàrbara Castro Urio. 

Who is asleep in the big white house? 

One one side of every spread is a house. The cut-through windows show colours – the colours of the cats already indoors and asleep. On the other side of the spread, the next cat comes creeping up to the door. 

There are cats of all different colours. Essentially, this book teaches readers words for colours. At the same time, it is great fun, with a narrator who talks directly to the cats, and a clever cut-through design. 

A simple concept done to perfection. This is a beautiful book and would be top of my list for anyone looking to introduce colours to small people. 

 

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Everybody’s Welcome by Patricia Hegarty. Illustrated by Greg Abbott.  

Everybody’s welcome, no matter who they are. A group of animals meets in the forest. Every one of them has been forced to leave their old home, whether by predators or for environmental reasons. They all band together, united by one principle: everybody is welcome. The little animals search for a space to build a safe home. 

Given the state of the world, and the attitudes which children might pick up about people who are searching for a safe place to live, it is important to teach them other values early on. It is also a lovely message for children to learn before they go to nursery. Learning to share and collaborate is always a good thing. 

A gentle and beautiful story. 

 

Little Explorers – Goodnight Forest and Goodnight Ocean by Becky Davis. Illustrated by Carmen Saldaña.

Whisper goodnight to the forest and the ocean, and learn what they look like during the nighttime. 

Beautiful peep-through pages build up a landscape that is almost 3D. It reminded me of a paper puppet theatre, but an exceptionally beautiful one, with details from later pages visible as you read. Fun facts surround the illustrations, explaining how different creatures behave when the sun goes down. 

A rhyming couplet heads each page so that the book can be read as a bedtime rhyme. 

The combination of design, lullaby, and fact-file is a winner. I love it when books do more than one thing at once, especially with board books because it allows the book to grow with the reader. If you are looking for something attractive and clever, give this series a try. 

 

Thanks to Abrams and Chronicle Books, Catch A Star Books, Little Tiger Press, Nosy Crow and Quarto Kids for my gifted copies of the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

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Extract:

‘But now there were only nineteen left and the story behind that was drummed into every youngling. How one of Earth Mother’s children abandoned her slabs – the one called human. And now, many cycles later, she didn’t even look like a yeti at all.’ 

(The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. P16.) 

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Synopsis:

Ella is on an expedition in the Himalayas with her Uncle Jack, a television explorer. When they set out, Ella thought the goal was to shoot a nature documentary, but it soon becomes clear that the trip is centered around the question of whether or not yeti exist – and it seems Uncle Jack’s intentions are not entirely honorable. 

Tick is a young Yeti whose questions keep leading him to trouble. When he leads the documentary party to the door of the cave, his sett is forced to abandon their home, leaving the ancient Yeti slabs behind. 

If the slabs are deciphered, it could endanger Yeti all over the world, which would be a disaster for the ecosystem, of which Yeti are the guardians. Can Tick and Ella overcome their fears of one another and work together to recover the slabs before it is too late? 

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Review:

Imagine if the ecosystem had a network of secret guardians, whose role was pivotal for the survival of the planet. Welcome to The International Yeti Collective – the fantasy story of the year, and an idea which you will wish could be true. In this story, those guardians are under threat, and with them the wellbeing of our planet. 

Enter Tick – a hapless but loveable Yeti, and Ella. Like the very real children who give up their spare time to raise awareness of the issues faced by our planet, Ella is a small person with shedloads of determination. She doesn’t always realise this, but just by being decent and having the right ideas she is well ahead of many of the grown-ups around her. 

Environmental themes are long overdue in children’s fiction. Teaching children the science is important so that they understand the stark choice humanity must face, but teaching them a love for the planet and a determination to help is even more important. Their generation may be the very last with a say in this issue because if we don’t act in the next few years, it will simply be too late to make any meaningful change. What I love about The International Yeti Collective is its heart. It is a great, entertaining story, but it also shows how much empathy with our fellow creatures means. 

This is also a story with tribes – and we all love a good tribe, faction, house or another fictional sorting. The different Yeti tribes live around the world and care for different aspects of the eco-system. I am torn between four or five tribes, based on places and creatures I love, and activities I might be good at. In this instance there is no ‘better’ tribe because the key here is balance – every one of these natural places needs help, and the more we can do the better. 

As part of the blog tour, I was given a beautiful map that shows the locations of the different Yeti tribes. It also comes with a handy guide explaining real-world issues these tribes are facing today. 

 

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Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 1

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Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 4

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nibbles The Monster Hunt by Emma Yarlett.

Review: Nibbles The Monster Hunt by Emma Yarlett.

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Uh-oh! Nibbles?

Nibbles the monster is on the loose again. There’s no stopping him. He’s eating his way through all the information books on the shelf, leaving great big monster-sized holes. The boy in the story has been here before. Except, this time, a dragon has awoken, and he’s hunting Nibbles through the pages.

Can the boy help Nibbles escape before he becomes a snack for a hungry dragon?

Nibbles the book munching monster is a popular character from recent illustrated fiction. Imagine a stack of five or six books, piled up on the floor. If Nibbles ate his way through book one, he would find himself at the cover of book two. Then climb inside that and carry on his way.  Younger readers will take Nibbles to heart because he is a rule-breaker. He is allowed wreck books – something they have hopefully been warned against! 

Along the way, we get to peek at the books Nibbles himself is reading. This time, he is in a pile of information books. Real facts are illustrated – about the sun, the moon, and colours, and a counting book – introducing the idea of non-fiction to newer readers. 

This title is especially fun because Nibbles is not the only monster around. The other title I reviewed saw him munch his way through a book relatively unchallenged. This time, he is in trouble and must use his wit to escape the books without being eaten by a dragon. This adds some tension and gives the reader a solid reason to side with Nibbles. Nibbles only eats pages. The dragon eats little monsters like Nibbles. 

The illustrations use blocks of primary colours, but they are nicely shaded and coordinated with other colours in the pictures. I love Emma Yarlett’s style – things are bouncy and might have looked innocent, except that characters like Nibbles have a cheeky glint in their eyes. 

Another successful book in the series. This is a story with a strong reread factor. It is just impossible to resist chasing Nibbles through the holes for another round. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Nibbles The Monster Hunt. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

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Extract:

‘The town motto?’ said Molly. ‘I think so. It’s only a short motto, but it’s in code, and to crack the code you need to understand about five different mythologies. I had to read about fifty books.’

‘So what does it mean?’

‘It means If Howlfair falls, the whole world falls.

(The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson. P29.)

 

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Synopsis:

The Howlfair tourist board would like everyone to believe it is the spookiest place around, and nobody is buying it, but behind the painted boards and the funny costumes, something seriously creepy is lurking.

Molly Thompson is forever in trouble. The last thing she needs on her hands is another investigation. Then an elderly lady dies at the guest home where Molly lives, and her ghost leaves a message which Molly can’t ignore. Howlfair is in trouble from an evil which is set to rise.

Together with her friend Lowry, Molly sets out to uncover the mysteries of her local town against the backdrop of a Mayoral election. The only trouble is everyone and everything is starting to look suspicious.

A seriously spooky mystery adventure.

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Review:

Imagine a sleepy little tourist town where trouble is brewing. This setting had me hooked because it reminded me straight away of Penelope Lively’s middle-grade novels. Little places which are easy to forget, mind-numbingly boring to grow up in … and crammed with history and stories. That is what I love most about The Ghouls Of Howlfair. As well as uncovering something spooky, the main character Molly realises how rich Howlfair is in hidden legends.

I love it when mystery stories include fantasy or supernatural elements. In the past couple of years, there have been two or three stories that have done this well, and I am always excited to see a merge of genres. In Howlfair, most people think the spooky stories are past their sell-by date, but Molly is a budding historian and she knows there is truth in some of the old records.

Molly investigates everything, but she isn’t classically brave. She’s bookish and awkward and loves her cat Gabriel more than anyone in the world. I loved having a character who wasn’t an obvious hero. In real life, we all have different traits and personalities, but we are all capable of making different choices and rising to the occasion. All the characters in this story felt realistic, and this made them more memorable.

With Halloween coming up, lots of people will be looking for a scary story. This was honestly more frightening than I thought, with seriously creepy ghouls and very casual references to death and the macabre. The storyline itself is hilariously fun, and the backdrop of the sleepy town balances out the scary to make for a brilliant tale. I can see this being popular with humans, ghouls, ghosts, and monsters as Halloween approaches. Just be warned – read this with the light on!

 

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Thanks to Walker Books UK for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.

poetry

Review: Poems to Fall In Love With. Chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell.

Review: Poems to Fall In Love With. Chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell.

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Has any subject been written about more than love? It is one of the fundamental human experiences, and if the poems in this anthology prove anything, it is that love is timeless.

The poems are categorised by different types of love. This was one of the reasons I took to the anthology straight away. It recognises that love without romance, and that friendship, are equally profound and important. This is an exploration of love in different forms, and this variety makes it richer than some other anthologies of love poetry.

Chris Riddell’s illustrations need no introduction. As a past Children’s Laureate and a long-time political cartoonist, his work is known far and wide. The pictures in this anthology are in his trademark style. They look so effortless, yet convey a huge amount of energy and detail. When I took the book to my local poetry group (a twice-monthly meeting which involves cake and chatter and the reading of any poems we fancy) a number of people went home eager to do some drawing of their own. This is the very best thing about Riddell’s work. It gives viewers the bug to doodle. To scribble. To draw.

Poems included range from the modern-day through to  Sappho. My poetry group fell in love with the story of Simon the hedgehog, who writes postcards to his mother through a particularly intense crush. Alas, the crush is ill-fated, although Simon comes out happy and well. It is also a treat to see Riddell’s take on classic poetry. 

With too many people willing to say they don’t like poetry, as if every poem is alike, it is more important than ever to have books that are irresistible to pick up. Poems To Fall In Love With hits that mark, from its embossed purple cover to the beautiful work inside. This is truly a celebration of the range of voices that have, over the centuries, explored themes of love and friendship. 

 

Poems To Fall In Love With is available now from Macmillan Children’s Books.

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my review copy.

Board Book

Review: Apple by Nikki McClure.

Review: Apple by Nikki McClure.

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An apple is picked from the tree. It is forgotten, thrown on the ground, buried, and in time a shoot grows from the earth. This beautiful board-book uses papercuts and minimal words to explore the life-cycle of the apple. 

The perfect book to read as the Harvest comes around. 

Early autumn is my favourite time of year, with fruit on the trees, sunshine and cool breezes which make it perfect for walking. Our village has a large number of apple trees and previous years have brought apple-pie, apple and blackberry crumble and fresh apples in the fruit bowl. Since living here, I have felt more in touch with where our food comes from, and this book is the perfect introduction to exactly that. 

It’s generous, full-page illustrations open lots of conversation about the harvest, composting and growing. 

The illustration is not only beautiful, it is also attractive to the adult reader. Board books begin as a supervised activity, and it is lovely to see one with art that the adults can engage with. Not that the book is aimed at them, but this might encourage big readers to look closer and point out details to the young listener. It would also be lovely to make apple pictures together with black and red crayons. 

At the back, there is an explanation of life-cycles and seasons which would be lovely for older siblings who share in the reading. 

An attractive and engaging book to introduce the science behind food growth. 

 

Thanks to AbramsAppleseed for my gifted copy of Apple. Opinions my own.

Guest Post

Guest post by Daniel Gray-Barnett, author of ‘Grandma Z’.

Guest post by Daniel Gray-Barnett, author of ‘Grandma Z’.

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About Grandma Z

Albert wants to feel special on his birthday. Nothing ordinary will do. He blows out his candles, makes a wish … and then there is a knock at the door. His Grandma Z has arrived, and she knows how to turn an ordinary day into something magical. 

Grandma Z caught my attention because it celebrates the relationships between young people and their grandparents. Grandparents too often go unacknowledged and underappreciated, but the time we spend with them stays in our memories for a lifetime. 

Grandma Z has raised children. She’s lived her own life, developed her personality, and she has so much to share with Albert. 

I am delighted to share a guest post from creator Daniel Gray-Barnett which discusses his own three beloved grandmothers. Thanks to Daniel for your time, and to Catherine Ward PR for organising. 

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My Grandmothers as inspiration for my debut picture book

By Daniel Gray-Barnett

When I wrote Grandma Z, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have three women in mind when I created the title character. Yes, three! I’m lucky enough to have had three grandmothers, though sadly one has now passed away.

My father’s father divorced and remarried before I was born, so on my dad’s side, I’ve always had my Nanna, my Grandma and, on my mum’s side (she’s of Chinese background), my Poh-Poh.

Whilst none of my grandmothers wear a radiant blue coat, sport bright orange hair, nor ride a motorbike, what they did do in terms of writing this story was inspire it with their stories, their spirit and the love I have felt from them. Grandma Z herself is a gregarious force-of-nature – her zest for life is hard to contain. In a way, she represents the inner-grandmother I see inside each of my own grandmothers. They are kind, strong women who have each faced challenging lives and never lost the twinkle in their eyes. I always felt loved and safe with them.

I remember as a young child growing up in Sydney, Australia, my Nanna stayed with us a few days most weeks to help care for us and take some pressure off my mum. I’m one of triplets, with 2 other younger siblings – there were 5 kids under the age of 6 so I’m sure it was a challenge, no matter how well behaved we were!

Nanna had a room at the end of the hall, right next to the bedroom I shared with my triplet brother. I have fond memories of creeping into her room and watching Eastenders and The Bill with her, whilst she knitted. If I couldn’t sleep, or I was upset, or needed somewhere to be quiet, I could cuddle up with my Nanna in there. She was a quiet, sweet woman who taught me how to knit and make pikelets. She raised my father as a single mother and her strength is an inspiration. She used to wear lovely felt hats and coats and I think she’d approve of Grandma Z’s sartorial choices.

My Poh-Poh is even quieter than my Nanna was – she speaks English but uses it less and less the older she gets. I was very fortunate that she lived with my grandfather in a house across the road from ours. I can still picture many afternoons after school spent sitting at the bench of her kitchen, watching her as she cooked. She fled China together with my grandfather when the Japanese invaded in WWII, raising her young family in Malaysia then Singapore before settling in Australia. As a result, the Chinese food I grew up with had a very South-East Asian flavour. Char Kway Teow noodles, curry puffs and steamed BBQ pork buns were some of my favourite things she would make. She may have been – and still is – a woman of few words, but she showed me how love can be communicated equally as strongly in non-verbal ways.

Grandma is probably the grandmother who is most similar to Grandma Z in mannerisms. I call her every couple of weeks and she never fails to make me smile with her cackling laugh. She’s a little frail nowadays, but when she was younger she was an avid ballroom dancer. She has a large china cabinet proudly displaying her porcelain figurine collection. These are not dolls, they are elegant women in their finery – ruffled flowing dresses, parasols or flowers in their hands. Every time we would visit, I would scan the shelves of glass and choose a new favourite.

Sometimes during school holidays, we would stay with my grandparents for a few days. I have memories of dressing up and playing witches, turning the living room into a cubby house and collecting macadamia nuts from the tree in the garden. Grandma was the one who would let us sprinkle a spoon of sugar on our cereal and always let us have ice-cream for dessert. There would always be at least several different toppings we could choose from and one of them would always be a new flavour. She was the grandmother who indulged and spoilt us. With her, we had room to just be kids and know there was little we couldn’t get away with. The warmth and joy I get just from speaking to her is nearly tangible. We’re not related by blood, but the bond we share is just as strong as any familial bond. Our relationship has shown me that family can be a choice, that it’s not just about who you are related to, but who you choose to connect with and love.

There’s something to be said for the special, unique relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Each grandparent brings their own history and talents to the table. Sometimes, that relationship is stronger with one grandchild more than the others. Often freed of the boundaries of parental discipline, the relationship can become a true friendship – a child seeking a confidante or acceptance, a grandparent who has a chance to explore their inner-child. There is an exchange of wisdom and perspective, from both parties. In the case of complicated or damaged relationships between grandparents and a parent, a grandchild can be a bridge, an opportunity to reconnect.

Grandma Z is as much about celebrating this intergenerational connection as it is about celebrating the imagination and connecting with someone who allows you to just be yourself. Often, these things go hand in hand. The relationship between Albert and Grandma Z is a representation of that love and freedom I felt with each of my grandmothers.

Sometimes, ‘on an ordinary day, in an ordinary town’, a child just wants to feel unordinary. And sometimes, spending time with a grandparent is the quickest way to do just that.

 

Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is out now, published by Scribe, £6.99 paperback.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nordic Tales (various authors and translators). Illustrated by Ulla Thynell.

Review: Nordic Tales (various authors and translators). Illustrated by Ulla Thynell.

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Princesses and enchanters and giants. Dragons and polar bears and hags. Enter a world of icy magic with this beautiful anthology of traditional Nordic Tales. 

This collection contains 17 stories, each with a full-page illustration by Ulla Thynell. Her artwork is so beautiful and atmospheric that just looking at them brings an imaginary breeze into the room. They conjure up a world carpeted in white snow, where anything and everything could be waiting beyond the window. Although there are no further illustrations or decorative borders within the text, the pictures are so rich and detailed that they set the scene and draw the reader into the story. 

Tales include East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, The Forest Bride and The Magician’s Pupil. They are categorised by events, so those which contain stories of transformation are together. The three categories are Transformation, Wit and Journeys. This was interesting as a writer because it allowed me to see similarities between stories in each category.

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The stories come from different sources and were rewritten by various translators. A section at the back explains their origin, and credits all involved. 

I was interested in this title because of my love of folklore. I grew up on my Dad’s collection of folk-rock, which led me, in turn, to seek out folk stories as a teenager. The books I found were primarily British or Celtic, although I also read some Greek mythology. It was later that I started to look wider, and discovered stories from so many other places. 

Anthologies like this are magical. The beautiful pictures make the dark nights seem bearable, and possibly even a bit special. Reading this every evening made me want to curl up in front of a log fire and sink deeper into the words. The perfect present for a winter celebration, or the perfect treat to ease yourself into the cold weather. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my copy of Nordic Tales. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Guest Post

World Animal Day: Guest Post from ‘Wild Lives’ author Ben Lerwill.

World Animal Day: Guest Post from ‘Wild Lives’ author Ben Lerwill.

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About

October 4th is a very special day. It is World Animal Day – a chance for every one of us to raise awareness of the other creatures who share our planet. This is a sentiment I believe in as a vegetarian and friend to animals.

Ben Lerwill is a travel writer, whose love of wildlife comes from the amount of time he spends outdoors. Wild Lives is his first book for young people, and it tells the stories of 50 amazing animals throughout history. From the two male penguins who hatched an egg to Elsa the lioness who changed the way we think about conservation, the stories in this book prove just how much we can learn by looking at other animals.

In his guest post, Ben Lerwill talks about three of the places which informed his stories. From Tasmanian streams to the mountains and beaches right on our doorstep, he teaches us that animal encounters can be found just about anywhere in the world.

Thanks to Ben Lerwill for your time, and to Catherine Ward PR for organising.

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Guest post from Wild Lives author Ben Lerwill.

Gathering together the 50 stories that make up WildLives has been enormously enjoyable, largely because it’s allowed me to bring in animals from all over the world. There’s a wolf, an orca, a giraffe, a silverback gorilla, a red-tailed hawk… we even managed to fit a giant tortoise in there!

Part of my passion for the project came from spending the past 15 years as a travel writer for different magazines and newspapers. I’m extraordinarily lucky that this has led to some unforgettable wildlife encounters, from watching penguins in Antarctica to tracking chimpanzees in East Africa. Selecting just three of the most memorable experiences is difficult – but I’ve given it a go.

 

Kakadu National Park, Australia

Few places in the world rate so highly for wildlife as Australia. I have family living out there, so it’s somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time. Where animals are concerned, the joy lies in the variety: platypuses drifting down Tasmanian streams, cassowaries high-stepping through Queensland rainforests, red kangaroos hopping across the Outback. The book’s adorable Aussie representative is Sam, a koala who survived a horrific forest fire.

But topping the list, for me, are the saltwater crocodiles of Kakadu, a magically expansive national park in the Northern Territory. Five or six years ago, I joined an early morning sailing along the park’s Yellow Water Billabong. Our small boat was the only vessel out. The day was warm and still, with egrets in the shallows and eagles overhead. Then the crocs appeared. The sight of ton-weight dinosaurs basking in the mud, slithering into the water and swishing their thick, tree-trunk tails within feet of the boat was impossibly thrilling.

 

Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

I’m an ardent believer in the fact that you don’t have to venture outside of the UK for a fantastic travel experience. We live in a truly spectacular part of the world – for proof, you need only look at the peaks of Snowdonia, the coast of County Antrim, the islands of Scotland or the hills of the Peak District. Our wildlife is fantastic too, whether you’re spotting otters in Shetland or snorkelling with seals in Scilly. And the birdlife, of course, can be sensational.

For me, the seabird nesting season is my birdwatching highlight of the year. I’ve gone in search of puffins everywhere from Orkney to Northern Ireland, but my all-time highlight was a two-night trip to Skomer Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire. It’s a birdlife bonanza – not just puffins, but huge numbers of guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and gannets too. Watching them all circling above the waves, on a small, high-cliffed island miles from the mainland, is truly special. At night, meanwhile, Skomer gets taken over by more than half a million Manx shearwater – which is as mind-boggling as it sounds.

 

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda       

Most wildlife-centred trips to Uganda focus on the mountain gorillas in the brilliantly named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Mine certainly did, and I found the experience of seeing a troop up close almost overwhelming. However, a trip further north to Queen Elizabeth National Park has also seared itself into my memory. This was, I think, mainly because I had almost no expectations, so was rather giddy to find a wildlife reserve not only packed with animals but low on other visitors.

The park’s Kazinga Channel is a long, wide waterway, where the banks were alive with elephants, warthogs and great honking pods of hippos. The real highlight came on one early-morning game drive, however, when we spotted a herd of panicked deer skittering over the plains in the distance. Minutes later, we crested a hill to see the cause of the commotion – a stunning leopardess, no more than ten metres away, her spotted coat glowing in the dawn light.

No leopards feature in WildLives, but we’ve made space for a tiger and two lions – because no animal book would be complete without a few big cats.

 

Wild Lives by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, is out now, published by Nosy Crow £16.99 hardback.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Marco Guadalupi.

Review: Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Marco Guadalupi.

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Extract:

His first scoop. He carefully folded the note and placed it back on the desk, before putting his fingers on the keys of the typewriter and hammering out

By Jamie Creeden

It looked just as good as he had always imagined it would. 

(Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. P42.)

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Synopsis:

Paperboy Jamie Creeden loves the news. His biggest dream is to be a reporter for the Morning Yorker. He is given a chance to visit the paper’s offices, and on the same day the paper reports an actress missing. Jamie sees his chance to investigate and is drawn into a world of underground criminals and strange events.

Together with Eve, whose family owns the Morning Yorker, and Rose, whose father has been affected by recent events, Jamie tries to solve the mystery before another journalist takes his scoop.

Will Jamie still want to be a reporter when he uncovers the truth?

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Review:

I recently read The Secret Of The Night Train, Sylvia Bishop’s middle-grade mystery published in 2018, and fell in love with her playful yet intelligent style. It was a pleasure to have her latest novel to hand, and I am impressed with how she has built a mystery around a topic issue. Set in the 1960s, at a time when television news is causing a threat to print journalism for the first time, Trouble In New York is a mystery with themes that are relevant in the present day.

Jamie is a great character – he is driven so much by his interests and ambition to become a reporter that at times he forgets all else. He wants to be a good friend, and his morals are in the right place, but getting to a story before adult journalists and winning a competition for young reporters is the central focus of his life. He has read The Morning Yorker every day for practically as long as he can remember. He would trust every word it says.

A trip to the offices suggests things aren’t as rosy and brilliant as they first seem. The workers in the office are male, white and from the same privelleged backgrounds. They think it is a good joke that a paperboy can imagine himself in the same role, and their interest in journalistic values only reaches as far as their next pay packet. It is one of these slacking journalists who gives Jamie his chance to investigate a real story. Except doing so puts Jamie into a whole lot of danger – and also puts him on the scent of a real story.

The trio of main characters has a wonderful dynamic as a group. They each have strengths and flaws in their personalities, and it feels as though the writer has had huge fun writing the different characters’ responses to the same situations. All three are faced with questions about their futures – Eve is expected to live up to family values and expectations, Rose wants to be a firefighter to prove she can be brave, and Jamie reckons he would do anything to become a reporter. Their learning and growth are wonderful, and they make a great team.

This will feed the appetite of mystery readers, while the deeper questions the book explores make it a good choice for readers who are less familiar with the genre. The trio of memorable characters would make this a fabulous first in a series, although Sylvia Bishop has written so well in different settings that I look forward to finding out where her next story is set.  

 

Thanks to Scholastic LTD for my copy of Trouble In New York. Opinions my own.