Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang.

Review: Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang.

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Remember the chills you had when you read The Lost Words for the first time? Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World has the same effect. Using only one word per illustration, it presents the reader with all the wonderous places in our world. 

A Tiger travels through beautifully coloured landscapes, taking in jewel-bright seas and massive skies. She sits and stares and takes in the world around her. It is enough to give any reader the urge to travel. Throughout the book she carries a chair on her back. This presents the reader with a question – why? Where is she going and what is the chair for? This question will keep younger readers hooked as they take in the words and pictures. 

Unless people get outdoors and develop a connection to the natural world, certain worlds will be lost. Gorge. Foothills. Isthmus. Perhaps the best way to tempt people outdoors is to introduce them to these magical features. Readers will soon have favourites, whether it is the space-like badlands or the bubbling lagoon. 

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There is something enigmatic about the illustrations. By simply presenting nature in all its glorious colours, Eggers and Chang have conjured up the mystery and wonder of our world. 

One of those books which presents a simple concept in the most beautiful manner. Striking in its simplicity and memorable for the glory of its subject, Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World deserves a place on every bookshelf. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my copy of Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward.

Review: Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward.

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Our planet is experiencing a climate crisis. Plastic pollutes the ocean, air pollution is reaching higher and higher levels, and entire species are disappearing every single day. It is enough to make anyone feel powerless, and yet all the power is in our hands. It is up to humans to change their habits, and this book gives young eco-warriors some great ideas about where to start. 

This book is so important, for people who feel that they don’t have a clue as well as for committed activists. 

The great thing about Guardians Of The Planet is it outlines the issues behind the climate crisis as well as giving readers ideas about practical things they can do to make changes in their daily habits. It is easy to think these things won’t make any difference, but rest assured that as people change their habits, so will businesses, and as businesses change their habits it will put vast pressure on politicians and world leaders. Sometimes change really does start with many tiny actions such as buying rechargeable batteries or leaving those plastic bags behind. 

Seven chapters cover different issues affecting our planets – home consumption, energy usage, food waste, water supplies, ocean pollution, forestry, and wildlife extinction. First the chapters outline the difficulties and then look at the different areas of our lives which touch on these issues. For example, we all know that water is used in the shower and kitchen, but some readers might forget that food production is a major source of water waste too. One practical suggestion is to keep a water butt and grow some fruit and veg. 

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The book strikes the right tone, taking the issues seriously while remaining upbeat about our chance to help. It is more important than ever that young people feel empowered to care for the environment. The current generation will be the last with any realistic chance to help unless we act now. Making people feel happy that starting now is always a positive thing is important. 

Jonathan Woodward’s illustrations make this an appealing book to dip into, with full-colour pages broken up by bursts of text. More importantly, some of the pictures illustrate the problems faced by our planet without the full graphic horror of photographs. Being able to visualise what something means is important in conversations about the planet, but this book also respects the age of its target readers. The result will be that they want to help but aren’t left with nightmares. 

This book is a rallying call to young readers to help the planet. It is also a guidebook and a helping hand so that they know where to start. 

 

Thanks to Buster Books (In support Of Client Earth) for my copy of Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero. Opinions my own.

blog tour

Lollies 2020 blog tour: The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

Lollies 2020 blog tour: The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

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Welcome to the Lollies 2020 blog tour stop for The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah Mcintyre. 

So what are the Lollies? 

The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, or the Lollies, celebrate the best in funny children’s fiction. They are voted for by children and cover three categories – picture books, 6-8 year olds and 9-13 year olds. The current awards have been shortlisted and will be announced early in 2020. 

All about The Legend Of Kevin 

The Legend Of Kevin has been shortlisted in the 6-8-year-olds category. 

Reeve and McIntyre are a well-established duo. Both talented creators in their own right, with Phillip Reeve best-known for the hit success that is Mortal Enginges and Sarah McIntyre a well-known name in work for younger readers, the pair began with Cakes In Space and soon built up a selection of titles which proved a great hit with readers of all ages. 

The Legend Of Kevin is the first book in a new series. It follows a roly-poly flying Dartmoor pony who is blown from his home during a storm straight into the lives of Max and his family. Together, Kevin and Max sat out to save the town from an invasion of creatures (with a little bit of help from Max’s teenage sister and a truckload of custard creams). 

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Exciting extras

I was delighted to be offered the chance to represent Kevin on the 2020 Lollies blog tour because it was a book I looked forward to for a very long time. Way back when I was a student, I remember looking on Phillip Reeve’s blog after reading Mortal Engines and finding a little cartoon about a flying pony. It stuck with me through the years, and when I heard that the idea had been expanded into a book with illustrations by Sarah McIntyre (whose Pugs Of The Frozen North I had attempted to draw) I was extremely happy. 

I wanted everyone to know more about how Kevin came to life and am delighted to share the story and some sketchbook illustrations with you. Thanks to Sarah McIntyre for your time and resources. 

Where the idea for The Legend Of Kevin came from by Sarah Mcintyre. 

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Kevin the Roly-Poly Flying Pony first began as a tiny painting on a piece of driftwood that Philip Reeve found on the beach in Brighton in the 1980s. He hung it on his wall, and each time he moved house, he’d take it with him.I spotted it on the wall of his kitchen while my husband and I were staying with the Reeve family on Dartmoor, and I thought it would be a fun character to draw. We’d seen a lot of cute wild ponies out on the moor, and it amused us to imagine them flapping among the big rocks there, snaffling up hikers’ biscuits. We started it out as a dare: Philip wrote a bit of text and I’d draw a picture each day and post it on my blog. (You can see the short story we created this way in our Pug-a-Doodle-Do! activity book.)  I made a few more paintings of Kevin, and eventually we turned it into a book – then two books! Now we’re working on the third book: we thought up some story ideas together, Philip wrote it, and now I’m working on the pictures (although Philip came to my studio and gave me some help with some of the pencil roughs). It’s fun creating stories with a friend, we always have a good laugh.

 

The Lollies Shortlist is available to view now. Thanks to Sarah McIntyre for your time and resources, and to Antonia Wilkinson for organising.

I was sent a copy of The Legend Of Kevin as part of this promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli. Illustrated by Felicita Sala.

Review: The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli. Illustrated by Felicita Sala.

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‘It’s time to go,’ cried a voice, but nobody can find Hannah. That’s because Hannah has chosen to remain in the park. There’s just too much to do – collecting lost things and shooting at birds with her slingshot and drinking from the fountain. Hannah finds a home in the shrubs, makes a cape out of feathers and a bed out of leaves and befriends the Odd Furry Creature. Together they live, the tangled wilderness closing them off from the rest of the world until Hannah hears another call. 

A lyrical tale that will delight anybody who has ever hidden in the trees because it is too early to go home. 

I remember being that child. My sister and I had found a hideout miles and miles from the rest of the park. We’d set up camp, certain that nobody would ever find us. When I revisited that park in my early 20s, I was stunned to find out that it was quite small. In my memories, it was a vast space, with a patch of trees the size of a small forest. That is what The Hideout captures so beautifully – that sense of exploration and wonder which can only belong to a small child. 

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It also shows us that wild spaces can be found not so far from our ordinary lives. The park bustles with human activity, but just to the side are the shrubs and trees, and anything could be hidden between their branches. The Odd Furry Creature is metaphorical of any natural life which lives just within our sight. 

Felicita Sala is one of my top current-day illustrators. Her work is ethereal without being scary or strange. It feels to me like she finds the peace and wonder within the unknown, as she does in The Hideout when Hannah dresses in a cape of feathers. I especially love the colour palette of this book with its lilacs and olives and soft greens and blues. 

A modern-day fairy tale which reminds us of the magic of nature, and of the joys we can find in, ever so briefly, taking time away from the busy world. 

 

Thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for my copy of The Hideout. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Frostheart by Jamie Littler

Review: Frostheart by Jamie Littler

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Extract:

My parents are out there somewhere, Ash reassured himself. I have to find them. And I have to find out who I am – who the Song Weavers are. I can’t do that from behind Stronghold walls. If there really is a Song Weaver Stronghold, I have to find it. That’s where I belong. 

(Frostheart by Jamie Littler. P117.) 

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Synopsis:

Out in the frozen lands live a group of tribes cut off from the rest of society and at the mercy of the monsters which lurk under the Snow Sea.  

Ash has never known his parents. He was left with the Fira hunters as a baby and doesn’t know where he originally came from. When an accident reveals that Ash is a song weaver – a person capable of powerful and ancient magic – Ash and his Yeti guardian are expelled from the tribe.

Together they board the Frostheart – an explorer’s sleigh with a crew whose mission is to unite the tribes. Can they help Ash find his family, or will he fall foul of people who would use his magic?

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Review:

Enter a new fantasy world populated with yeti and explorers and mysterious monsters. If you like quests and stories of exploration from authors like Abi Elphinstone and Vashti Hardy then you will love this. It has all the tropes of a good fantasy and wonderful world-building.

This story is set in the years after the world has undergone an environmental crisis. Old technology is prized by scavengers and archeomekologists, while strange creatures known as Lurkers rise to the surface of the snow to wreak their anger on humans. Living in this world is Ash. He has a strange and greatly feared power which seems to have some sort of connection to the Lurkers. He is on a quest to find his long lost parents and his only clue is the old rhyme they used to sing to him which speaks of a Song Weaver Stronghold.

This is a story full of strong characters, from Ash himself to Tobu his wise and grouchy guardian, and Shaard the enigmatic scholar and outcast. Ash’s friend Lunah stands out as one of those characters you remember for life. She has enough energy and enthusiasm for six people, and the kind of voice which is infectious. However much she kids with Ash, it is clear that Lunah is someone to trust.

Middle-grade fantasy is one of the main genres which helped me develop a love of children’s literature and it is a genre I aspire to write in. Frostheart is a solid story set in an intriguing world. I finished wanting to know more about certain elements of Ash’s world. This to me is the sign of a good fantasy.

Jamie Littler has a background as an illustrator and has made his debut as an author/illustrator with this wonderful story which is illustrated all the way through. I am delighted to see a book for older middle-grade readers so heavily illustrated. This confirms my belief that books for older readers benefit from illustration.

If you are looking for a magical and snowy world to get lost in this winter, you can’t do better than Frostheart. Climb aboard the sleigh and let Jamie Littler’s storytelling and illustration sweep you away.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Jazz Dog by Marie Voigt.

Review: Jazz Dog by Marie Voigt.

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Cats and dogs are divided. Dogs are powerful and play one music. There is one dog who doesn’t fit in anywhere, until one night he is called by the siren song of the jazz cat band. This is his music. This is where he belongs. Then the cats at the club shut the door in his face.

Undeterred, the dog goes about teaching himself everything he can about jazz music. He ignores all the bad comments and practices every hour of the day and dreams of the day when cats and dogs will stand united.

A charming story about diversity, individuality and respecting everyone regardless of their music style.

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Jazz Dog recognises what cats have to offer. Cats have a whole style of music that dogs barely know about. Cats have cool rhythms and sounds that dogs need to learn. Although the focus is on Jazz Dog, really this is about two separate communities and the need for one to accept the other. This would tie in beautifully with the history of the jazz era. Jazz didn’t heal all the atrocities of segregation in America but it did bring some communities together. And recognising common ground is a very important first step in breaking down other barriers. Jazz music helped to fuel the civil rights movements and some very important musicians broke new ground by refusing to play to segregated audiences.

Jazz Dog is a gentle story that allows young readers to discuss some of the issues involved in this history. Why are the dogs and cats separate in the first place? Is Jazz Dog a hero or is he just the first to listen to a whole group of cats? How might music and other art help to break divisions? Thinking about this in the boundaries of a fictional story can help readers to think more deeply when they approach the real history.

The illustrations shine with Voigt’s usual attention to detail. Her cityscapes contrast the bleak and dingy spaces with life and sparkle. Think the reflection of neon lights in a puddle or the stars behind a block of highrises. 

Another great hit from Voigt with a message for everyone to listen to. 

 

Thanks to OUP Children’s Books for my copy of Jazz Dog. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson).

Review: Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson).

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Extract:

Lina dragged her feet along the platform, and then she saw her, just up ahead – a teenager in bright blue boots. Lina watched as a man rudely barged into her. But then the most peculiar thing happened: he bounced off her as if she were nothing but bones and magic. The teenager turned and mouthed something at the man. Something that looked a lot like –

‘HAG!’ Lina shouted.

And then everything went black.

(Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson). P7.)

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Synopsis:

Lina wishes her parents would see magic as something more than a fairy tale which their daughter will soon outgrow. Lina just knows there are magical creatures in the world – like Odge, the hag who finds Lina at Vienna Central Station.

Odge is on a mission. Mist has been taken over by harpies. Many of the magical creatures have been expelled and the royal family have been forced into hiding. The gump – the portal which allows people from the ordinary world into magical one – is about to close, and if the harpies are not defeated before then it will be years before the citizens of Mist have another chance to return.

Meanwhile, the little furry creatures known as mistmakers are not well and it is their magic which protects the island.

Can  Lina help Odge and her friends to heal the mistmakers and defeat the harpies before the gump closes? A whole new adventure in the world created by Eva Ibbotson in The Secret Of Platform 13 begins.

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Review:

When I was nine my school librarian placed a book into my hands. ‘You’ll really enjoy this one’ she told me. It was The Secret Of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. I enjoyed it so much that, when a certain Platform 9 and ¾ started to gain more attention later in the same year I told everyone smartly that Platform 13 was already quite magical enough thank you very much. I remember dreaming about Eva Ibbotson’s world in the playground and sneaking the book outside to read it during my lunch break.

The original book is the story of a missing prince who disappeared into the human world nine years ago. It is about a rescue party, led by a wizard and a certain ogre called Odge, sent to find him before the gump closes for another period. In Beyond Platform 13 Odge returns older and wiser as a key player in a rebellion group whose aim is to overthrow the usurping harpies. Except, instead of finding the person she is sent out into the human world to discover, Odge brings back Lina – a young girl with a big imagination and a suspiciously fluffy backpack.

With high stakes and an impossibly short about of time to oust the harpies, Lina and Odge have their work cut out. Luckily they are helped on all sides – by Prince Ben, and a ghost rat named Magdelena and Netty Pruddle the hag who is prepared to risk her life going undercover as a handmaid to the harpy Queen herself.

Lina is a lovely character. She is the child with such a big imagination that the ordinary world simply doesn’t feel good enough. She doesn’t think she can possibly belong in a world of school and work and nine-to-fives and tax returns and absolutely no witches or warlocks at all. Anyone who has ever banged hopefully on the back of an old wardrobe or checked the doormat on their eleventh birthday can relate to her. As much as she wants to remain with her parents, her heart belongs in a more magical place altogether. This theme carries through the book and the conclusion Lina comes to is beautiful. Belonging and being in a physical place can be two very separate things. This is not only relevant to the modern-day, but it pays tribute to Ibbotson who came to Britain as a child refugee from Austria.

Sibéal Pounder was the perfect choice to write the next story in Ibbotson’s world. Pounder too develops rich and complex worlds, and like Ibbotson, her magic has something of a lighthearted touch. Pounder’s stories, like Ibbotson’s, deal with serious subjects like war and revolution while maintaining a kind of playfulness and an awareness of the line which a seven or eight-year-old would be too afraid to cross. They never underestimate the reader- quite the opposite, in fact – but they narrate the tale in a way which is entertaining and exciting to young readers. Pounder is the perfect successor to Ibbotson and she has done the world justice in this new tale.

A magical story for readers of all ages. Whether this is your return to Mist or an introduction, it will capture your imagination in the same way that Ibbotson’s work held mine almost twenty years ago.

 

 Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of Beyond Platform 13. Opinions my own. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Nevertell by Katharine Orton.

Blog Tour: Nevertell by Katharine Orton.

 

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Extract:

What she pulled out looked like a beaded necklace with a pendant attached – except, instead of a pendant, it was some gnarled old piece of wood, or stone. It was rough, pockmarked and warm. It shimmered in the dim light – like the snow did, sometimes, in the moonlight. She’d never known a stone do that before. 

(Nevertell by Katherine Orton. P41.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Lina has never seen life beyond the prison camp where she has grown up. She is used to seeing people on the verge of starvation and to the cruelty to the guards, including Commandant Zima who is rumoured to be her father. Then Lina joins an escape party and is followed by her best friend Bogan.

Lina has one mission – to survive the journey and find the grandmother she has never known.

Beyond the camp is a snowy Russian wilderness and a hint of something magical. Stories of a vengeful sorceress with a pack of shadow wolves are rife, but such stories are dangerous in Soviet Russia. Is there any truth to them? If so, does this sorceress have the power that the stories claim?

A lyrical tale about survival, friendship and the power of magic.

 

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Review:

Occasionally you open a book expecting it to be one thing and find out it is a totally different story. And that actually the story you never expected was a valuable and magical experience. This is how I felt about Nevertell. From the cover I predicted something akin to Sky Song but with a real-world setting. Instead I found a historical novel with magic so subtle it is closer to magical realism. A lyrical tale about the power of stories and magic against real-life atrocities.

Lina and Bogdan are the only children in a Soviet labour camp. Lina was born there. Bogdan looked older and stronger than his age and was brought in with his parents. The scenes in the work camp are sensitively told and only show what is relevant to Lina and Bogdan’s story. The thing which will stay with me is the suspense. Katherine Orton creates an atmosphere in which the reader, as well as the characters, constantly expects an attack from the Secret Police, or from the criminals who are part of Lina’s escape party.

Svetlana the sorceress is like no ice queen you have ever met before. Yes, she has the same trappings – a cape and a palace of ice guarded by a great animal – but the emotional truth of her story and her conflicting nature make her a different and extremely complex character.

Lina is conflicted about what she needs to do most – escape and find the grandmother she never knew or return to the camp to help her mother who was left behind. To choose her path she must first learn about the world outside the camp and the secrets of her own past.

It is lovely to see a story where the genres merge. Does this belong closer to Emma Carroll in categorisation or is it more Abi Elphinstone? Or next to a lyrical writer like Amy Wilson. In the end, the category doesn’t matter. It is the story that counts, and this is a tale with rounded characters and rich and beautiful writing. Follow Lina and Bogdan on their journey and find out the deepest truth about fairy tales and imagination.

 

Q&A with Katherine Orton – 

 

Q. In Lina’s world fairy tales are dangerous and telling them can result in the death penalty. Can you explain her feelings when she is first confronted with them? Why did you want to explore this conflict?

A. It’s not quite as harsh as the death penalty, but fairy tales are forbidden – and Lina is as sceptical as everyone else at first. One character called Old Gleb who’s with Lina in the prison camp she was born in believes in spirits and the supernatural, and people have always just dismissed him. But Lina soon comes face to face in the most dangerous way possible with things she thought could only exist in fairy tales – and it shakes her whole world. Not that she has time to be too shocked, or even afraid: her main concern is to survive.

I wanted to explore this because I actually discovered via an amazing book called Inside the Rainbow, and the foreword by Philip Pullman, no less, that fairy tales of the magical variety really weren’t supposed to be told to children in the Soviet Union at one point. It got me wondering about who gets to decide what’s real and what’s not, why it matters, and even how the beings of a magical world might react to such a decision. That was what truly sparked Nevertell into life. (No one was ever put to death over it as far as I know, though, thank goodness).

Q. Magic in your world ranges from spirit-like shadow wolves to magical plants. What sort of magic was the most fun to imagine and write?

A. I truly loved the wolves. But the idea of being able to grow plants with willpower and with touch… I think that was probably my favourite to both imagine and write. I wanted to be a gardener myself at one point (along with a whole load of other things – paramedic, stained glass window maker, archaeologist. The list goes on…) so it’s something that speaks to me. Imagine having that connection with the natural world, and also having such a useful skill! Just think what someone could do for people with that ability, how they might affect the world. And that’s something Lina definitely begins to think about as the story goes on.

 

Q. Your title, Nevertell, refers to something Lina hears whispered by a spirit. What does this word hint at?

 I think that might be telling, haha! Let’s just say that it refers to a few different things. The truth about what happened between the spirit – a ‘shadow’ as they’re known in the book – and the sorceress, Svetlana, who’s been so fanatical about pursuing Lina and her best friend, Bogdan, without us really knowing why. But it’s also a reference to this idea that fairy tales aren’t allowed, and to the reasons that might be.

Q. What sort of challenges did you face in writing an ice queen?

A. I found it hard to make her scary enough at first, because to be totally honest I sympathised with her in lots of ways! (I know that sounds slightly worrying for an ice queen…). But once I’d realised that her character needed work, I had ridiculous amounts of fun making her really fierce and cold and terrifying. And getting her to do some really awful things, of course.

Q. You have mixed fantasy with a story about a very difficult piece of history. What do you think fantasy can offer in terms of telling these very real stories?

A. Fantasy, I think, is a powerful tool for making sense of the world. We start out as children learning through play and I don’t think that ever really stops – or at least I don’t believe it ought to. To me, fantasy is a safe place in which to process very real ideas and feelings, to learn, experiment, stretch our minds and foster emotions. This balance only works of course alongside sound, careful and respectful research into the real aspects of the story, however, and that’s something I took seriously, so I hope I was able to manage the balance.

Q. Your story has a strong sense of suspense and keeps the readers turning the pages. How did you create this in your writing?

A. Firstly it’s great to hear that you felt that. I think I just asked myself what I would want to read, and the answer was: something exciting. So I put a lot of thought into how to achieve that, and then went back over the drafts (and so did my editors!) to tighten it and to look for places where I could ramp up the tension even more. Ending the chapter at a really tense moment was something I enjoyed doing a lot. It felt a bit cheeky. I just kept asking myself, what would make this more exciting? What would make me want to keep reading?

Thank you for having me on your blog, Louise, and for your brilliant questions!

Kat

 

My copy of Nevertell was gifted by Walker Books LTD as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Thanks to Katharine Orton for your time and wonderful answers.

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Caspian Finds A Friend by Jacqueline Véssid. Illustrated by Merrilees Brown.

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Caspian lives in a lighthouse by the sea. Every day he casts his light out over the waves in search of a friend, but nobody comes. One day he finds a bottle. Inside is a piece of paper with a word written on it. Caspian finds his boat, races out to sea and goes in search of the message writer. What – or who – he finds at the other end comes as a big surprise. A big, polar bear-shaped suprise.

A beautiful tale that would make a great companion read for Lost And Found.

This gentle story won my instant affection. It is about a lonely boy who puts his trust in a message and reaches out to find out who is there. It makes a beautiful metaphor for friendships, especially those early childhood friendships forged in the playground which could begin with a phrase as simple as ‘will you play with me?’ Sometimes it can be hard to trust a new person, and when we set out we have no idea what will come of it, but this story reminds us that beautiful things may be at the other end.

It also brings to live the adventures which can be had on a beach or by the sea. 

The illustrations are stunning, especially in the numerous ways they find to show the sea. From a pale blue wash with white foam to an inky flat surface with fish hidden below, the pictures remind us that there is more than one way to see a thing. I love the use of texture and the way we can almost see the water moving as the boy plays in it. 

I also love the design – the use of white space and the way the page layout changes as the polar bear leaps forward into Caspian’s life. 

A gentle and memorable book which reminds us that friendship is an adventure and that trust is a leap of faith worth taking. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my gifted copy of Caspian Finds A Friend. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

Review: The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

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Synopsis:

If history has taught us one thing it is that wherever there is trouble, there is also a Fowl.

Myles and Beckett Fowl have a lot to live up to. Their brother Artemis is a super genius whose many adventures with the fairies brought him to fame, until he finally became a scientist and went to Mars. Fortunately the Fowl Twins aren’t feeling the pressure. Myles is an even greater genius, and Beckett speaks multiple languages including dolphin and troll. He also has gummy sweets to cheer himself up.

Unfortunately, their famous family has gained lots of attention in the past. There are people who would use Myles and Beckett to get at another group entirely – the fairies. Like sister Jeronima, the nunterrogator, and Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye the notorious faerie hunter.

What will happen when a troll, two Fowl children, a non-magical Pixel, a nun and a murderous Lord get entangled in the same business?

Mayhem. Fowl style.

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Review:

Eoin Colfer is back with a new series set in the world of Artemis Fowl. The new stories will focus on Artemis’s little brothers, Myles and Beckett, and this first adventure suggests they are about to steal the limelight. It all begins shortly after the boys’ eleventh birthday, when they befriend a troll who is on the run from known faerie-killer Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye.

What happens next establishes the first bonds between the twins and the faerie realm.

The boys are both strong characters. Myles is eleven going on fifty-five. He dislikes childish nonsense, phrases which are not strictly logical and being bested by his elder brother Artemis (noted space scientist and three times a PHD). Beckett embraces childhood, relaxation time and opportunities for jokes. He is made interesting my his love of nature – he has a bond with every living thing, animal, faerie or otherwise – and an intuitive grasp of non-human languages. He also pretends not to understand his brother just to keep a healthy balance. Neither boy is driven by criminal activity like the young Artemis, because the Fowls have put criminal genius behind them for good. Almost. Possibly.

The faeries are well represented too. Lazuli is a Pixel who works for LEP. She’s unusual in that her magic has never woken up. Like Holly Short before her, Lazuli is unafraid to break the rules, especially if it means helping a faerie in danger. Like Whistle Blower the toy troll (so named by Beckett because he squeaks) who is at the centre of the entire commotion.

One of the most interesting characters in the story isn’t human at all. NANNI is the AI system designed by Artemis (with a little input from Myles) to look after the twins, who communicate to her via Myles’s hi-tech glasses. NANNI has greater depths than anyone has realised and looks set to become as big a character as the twins themselves.

What makes the book for me is Colfer’s masterful narration. His prose has such skill about it that as a reader you relax into it, confident that however improbable the actions of a scene there is no doubt that Colfer has all the threads of the story in hand. And possibly some amazing tricks alongside them. As an aspiring author I was especially taken by the balance of action and narration – this is one of those things which everyone strives to perfect and the wonderful thing about learning from this story is that Colfer’s narrator is so clearly having fun.

Artemis Fowl was one of the major book series of my millennial childhood. Think faeries meets gadgets meets criminal genius. The twins are more hyper, less prone to criminal intent and happier to roll with events than their elder brother, which gives the book a different tone to the original series.

These are the Gen Z Fowls and everyone – devoted readers and new, older and young – will be delighted to meet.

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Harper Collins Children’s Books for my ARC of The Fowl Twins. Opinions my own.