teen

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

The Good HAwk

Extract:

She’s right, it is the Fourth. It’s the one chime we are taught to listen out for. All of the fourths – from all around the wall – are being struck over and over again; I’ve never heard them all ringing at the same time before. 

(The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott. P81.) 

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Synopsis:

Agatha is a hawk. It is her job to patrol the sea wall to protect the boats on the water. When she makes a big mistake, and people question her right to be there, she determines to prove that she is capable of doing her job.

Jamie has been made an Angler against his wishes. He is afraid of the sea, afraid of the boats, and not at all happy about his arranged marriage to a girl from another clan.

When the clan us attacked and the survivors taken prisoner, Jamie and Agatha escape together. They come up with a plan to help their clan but first they must travel through the deserted mainland – a country decimated years ago by dark shadows and terrible magic.

Jamie and Agatha learn all sorts about themselves along the way, but they are not the only ones with secrets.

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Review:

Enter an Ancient Scotland ravaged by plague and dark shadows. Jamie is filled with anxiety about his future. Agatha has Down’s Syndrome and is fed-up of other people underestimating her abilities. When their clan is betrayed in a brutal scene (think demons who rip the heads straight off their quarry), Jamie and Agatha team up to rescue the survivors who were imprisoned and taken away on boats. Together they travel across the land and meet other people including a tribe of bull-herders who are interested in Agatha’s incredible empathy with animals.

With high stakes and an intriguing setting, this makes for a strong adventure.

This is a book with strong characters. Agatha and Jamie share the narration and it is impossible not to want to know what happens to them later down the line. It is a sign of a good character when you care as much about whether they get what they originally wanted (ie Agatha wants to return to her job as a sea hawk) than about whether they sort the massive obstacles in their lives (you know, like those terrifying shadow demons). Think Moana. Who cares whether she beats the coconut pirate things when we so badly want her to accept her inner-Voyager. The Good Hawk is definitely one of those stories. The adventure was strong but I cared especially about Agatha and Jamie who felt so very real.

Ancient Scotland is a fascinating and underexplored setting. Many readers have been excited to see a book for young people set in the world of clans. There has been a middle grade series in the USA and a couple of children’s films, but aside from those the first story to come to mind is by Rosemary Sutcliff and was published over 50 years ago. Joseph Elliot shows the beliefs and ways of life of different clans and tribes and this makes the world vivid and memorable.

Be warned: the attack scenes don’t shy away from detail. Think heads torn from bodies and characters we’ve connected with in grave peril. This doesn’t detract from the story and is used to make the action more real but some readers might prefer to know this in advance. 

With fantastic scenes and strong character building, The Good Hawk is set to be a talked-about adventure.

 

Thanks to Walker Books Ltd for my copy of The Good Hawk. Opinions my own.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: Special Edition

Waiting On Wednesday: Special Edition. 

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Waiting On Wednesday is a meme where bloggers announce forthcoming titles and explain why they are excited about their arrival. This very special edition celebrates the imminent arrival of my friend Christina’s baby girl. 

Working title: Jellybean

Publication date: Mid February 2020

She is a special edition. There is only one of her in the whole world which makes her unique and precious. 

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  • It is too early to say that this baby is a reader – or at the very least to say what kind of reader she will be. What is certain is that she will be surrounded by books from the word go. From her mummy’s collection of children’s books, to the shelves that have already been bought for her very own, this little girl will have access to books from birth. Not only that but she will have a library card. Libraries do a fantastic job of turning small people into readers and this little girl will be inside one long before she can walk. We can’t be certain whether she will love stories, or facts, or copying out the pictures but she will soak up images and words and ideas from a tiny age. 

 

  • If What Will You Dream Of Tonight? was available as a board book, I would send it her way. This is both a lullaby and an incantation. It wishes readers adventurous dreams and introduces them to the magical places we visit in stories. It is also ideal for tiny babies who can’t yet understand words but enjoy listening to their rhythm. I hope Jellybean will find big adventures – in her stories, and her play. In her dreams and in her drawings. I hope her creative mind will always run free. 

 

  • She has already influenced my own reading. This little girl is born at a time when the climate is in crisis. I have read up on all the things I can do to help the planet and this year there will be no excuses. We can’t wait for the next generation to save the planet. There is plenty of literature available to help now and if I wish Jellybean a healthier planet then I must make every choice with our climate in mind

 

  • It is entirely possible that I sent her the above babygrow. My wish is for Jellybean to see positive messages about what she can do. This extends to literature too and it is encouraging to see more awareness of subconscious messages within children’s fiction. I want Jellybean to see girls leading the world, and girls taking part in STEM activities. I want her to see that girls in scruffy dungarees can play princesses and unicorns. I want her to see angry girls as well as happy girls. Assertive girls as well as quiet ones. Even picking clothes to send as a gift was eye-opening. I wouldn’t steer away from pink or pretty entirely but there were too many t-shirt slogans that practically read Obedient Little Miss Pretty Face. And that isn’t on. 

 

Now it is Wednesday and the world is waiting to hear Jellybean’s voice.

 

 

Written with permission from Christina. For Christina, Ben, and Jellybean. And possibly a dog, one day. x

 

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell.

Review: Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell.

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Synopsis: 

In ancient times, long ago, a King built a Great Hall. He intended it to be a special place for all his people, a place of peace and celebration, but the sound of music awoke a monster. Grendel feasted upon the sleeping warriors and left the community in devastation.

Warriors came from distant lands, but none could defeat Grendel. Then Beowulf came, and with his tricks and cunning, he defeated Grendel. But little did Beowulf know that an even greater monster lay in wait …

A strong retelling of a classic tale.

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Review:

Have you ever played the ultimate bookish game of thinking up dream author/illustrator partnerships for classic or modern classic tales? Just me? Monster Slayer is a fine example of a retelling done right. Brian Patten is a champion wordsmith whose prose chimes in all the right places. Chris Riddell is famed for his slightly gothic line drawings. Together they make the perfect team to tell one of the oldest tales around.

I was nine or ten, and a true bookworm, when Beowulf was put under by nose. I was supposed to like it. I turned it down. Thinking back, I couldn’t picture the historical setting and the author tried too hard to be clever with language in homage to the original text. A clear, well-told story is the very best thing. Monster Slayer reads as if it is being read aloud. The twists and turns come in all the right places and the set-up allows the reader to truly care about the community that is being ravaged by Grendel’s visits.

Together with the illustrations – think full-page line drawings of drooling monsters – and this makes a book that is impossible not to pick up. 

 This edition follows Beowulf up until his battle with Grendel’s Mother and ends on a heroic note. 

Barrington Stoke is committed to breaking down barriers to reading. Shortened versions of classic tales allow readers to get the story into their heads and enjoy the drama of the tale. This is a fabulous introduction to a timeless story. The engaging text, together with the illustrations, make an experience for everybody to enjoy. 

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for my copy of Monster Slayer. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.

Review: What Will You Dream Of Tonight? by Frances Stickley and Anuska Allepuz.

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One little girl flies in a hot air balloon and floats downriver and rides on the back of a polar bear beneath the Arctic Lights. Tuck up in bed. Close your eyes. Anything is possible, anything at all, inside your dreams. 

This book is a lullaby, but inside of focusing solely on encouraging the reader to sleep it is filled with positive messages about living an active life and believing that anything is possible. In a world filled with uncertainty and chaos, it is helpful to remember that there is one place that belongs entirely to us. Good dreams make us stronger and braver during waking hours. 

Each double-page spread is accompanied by a single stanza. Most lines describe the world’s wonders, from cresting waves to stars and waterfalls, but occasionally this is broken up with empowering statements and questions that are echoed in the end: 

You are safe.

You are lovely. 

You are loved. 

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Books offer young people a space to feel safe. The world can be confusing even at the best of times and rhymes like this mean that readers can always find a kind and reassuring place to escape to for a little while. 

The illustrations magic up a strong sense of adventure. My favourite page is definitely the Polar Bear, which is reminiscent of Lyra from Northern Lights but there are so many pictures that could be used as story or conversation starters. Best of all, they capture that sense of wonder that can only be found in childhood. Those times where a young person is so deep in a story or game that they lose all sense of the world around them. Muted blues and purples, and silhouetted details, support the idea that everything is happening within a dream. 

Children, especially young children, spend about half their lives asleep. Reminding them that sleep is a magical and adventurous place is important and this rhyme is not only reassuring but also empowering. A fabulous text with beautiful illustrations. 

 

Thanks to  Nosy Crow for my copy of What Will You Dream Of Tonight? Opinions my own.

Activity Book

Letting Go and Be Positive – mindful workbooks for young people by Dr. Sharie Coombes.

Letting Go and Be Positive – mindful workbooks for young people by Dr. Sharie Coombes.

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Doodle and reflect and let go of the bad feelings with these brilliant new workbooks.

Finally emotional health is no longer confined to clinics. Young people need space to think about their feelings at all times and the most exciting thing about these workbooks is they are designed like any other colouring or drawing book. Except that the activities are centred around mindfulness. 

Letting Go centres around grief and disappointment, while Be Positive is about letting go of negative feelings and increasing self-worth and confidence. Both workbooks feature a range of activities, from mindful colouring to yoga poses to pages which encourage readers to think about specific issues such as setting their own boundaries or recognising their agency in making things better for the future. 

These are perfectly pitched for Primary and younger Secondary children. These books avoid the vigorously upbeat tone of so many books about mindfulness and well-being but they always sound calm and bright. This allows readers to feel that their negative feelings are valid but it also encourages them to believe in happier things. 

Top marks to this series for encouraging mindfulness as part of our day to day routine. 

 

Thanks to Studio Press for my copies of the books discussed in this feature. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

The Boy Who Fooled The World

Extract:

‘Cole,’ she repeated, crouching down to study the picture more closely. Her wide-legged trousers brushed against the side of my picture, leaving a streak of blue paint near the hem. Those trousers probably cost more money than my mum earned in a month.

‘Yes, erm … Cole Miller,’ I said, gulping.

‘I can see it. I can see exactly what it is you were trying to do,’ she said. 

(The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson. P51.) 

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Synopsis:

Cole is sick of being poor and the taunts he endures at school only get worse after everyone finds out that his Dad doesn’t work at all.

Then Marina, an artist who is visiting the school, claims to see potential in Cole’s work. She takes it to her gallery in London where it sells for a thousand pounds. Marina reckons that the next painting will sell for even more.

The only trouble is there was nothing really special about the first one. Cole can’t see for the life of him what the big fuss was. He considers owning up, but his family desperately needs the money. Cole is under huge pressure to produce the next masterpiece and the growing media interest doesn’t help. Then Cole does something. Something that fools the entire world.

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Review:

Lisa Thompson has forged a reputation for unbeatable contemporary middle-grade stories. Her stories get right to the emotional heart of her characters’ experiences and The Boy Who Fooled The World is no exception. Cole is struggling with being the poor kid in school and never having the money to join in with everyone else. He also loves his family lots and is fed up of the judgement cast over his parents.

There are two big stories going on in this book. The first centres around an unsolved art mystery that allegedly leads the solver to great riches. The painting with all the clues happens to be housed in the local museum where Cole’s Mum works. The museum is due to close down so if Cole and his friends want to find the treasure they are running out of time. The second story is about Cole’s sudden rise to fame when a modern artist sees something in his work that he never intended. Lots of questions are posed early on and it is impossible not to want to know what happens in the end.

The emotional stories are strong too. Cole wants the jibes to stop to the extent that he is desperate to find his family some money. He never stops to questions whether this is everything he needs in life. His best friend Mason, meanwhile, comes from a very well-off family but hardly ever sees his parents. When he does, there is immense pressure on him to uphold their very high standards. It was interesting to see this contrast. Sometimes people write off the concerns off middle-class children because everything that matters is OK. Yet it is impossible to put into words what family time and praise and happy family relations mean to a kid.

That’s not to say Cole’s situation isn’t shown with sensitivity. The descriptions of his coat and the rubbish heating system inside his house and the school trip letter that he almost doesn’t bring out of his bag paint a picture that is sadly too common at this moment in time. The scenes with Cole’s Dad are brilliant too – how people in society are so uncomprehending of his choice to put his children first and take time out of work. How he is treated as a lesser person the second he explains what he is doing. These scenes give readers a chance to reflect on their own attitudes away from the prejudice of other influences.

This book has a great plot line and strong friendships and I think Lisa Thompson is one of the most amazing writers of contemporary middle grade today. Her books are one-sitting wonders that are impossible to put down and they promote kindness and empathy.

A must read.

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Boy Who Fooled The World. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Board Book

Review: Gregory Goose In On The Loose board book series by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley.

Review: Gregory Goose In On The Loose board book series by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley.

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Featuring On The Moon and In The Jungle

Gregory Goose gets everywhere. The trouble is, it can be difficult to keep up with him when there is so very much to see. This wonderful board book series challenges readers to find Gregory Goose on journeys through different environments.

With bright and attractive pictures, these books offer an exciting game of hide-and-seek.

This format is ever popular, but what I love about the Gregory Goose series is it doesn’t push the game on the reader. It is just as possible to read through one of the books to enjoy the setting as it is to stop and search for Gregory Goose. Every double page spread introduces something new – so when Gregory Goose goes to the moon, for example, we are first introduced to rockets, then to stars, then to planets and so on. This makes the books excellent vocabulary builders. The close focus on one location makes it easy for the reader to pick up new words.

Gregory Goose himself looks friendly and inquisitive – much like a young child exploring the world for the first time. He is a kindred spirit on the great adventure that is this world. 

There is a rhyme scheme to the text, but it feels entirely natural, much like being spoken to in a slightly sing-song voice. This makes the books perfect for repetition – and they will certainly be on repeat for many readers!

The perfect books for little adventurers on the hunt for new facts about the world. 

 

Thanks to Catch A Star for my copies of the books featured in this review. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.

Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.

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Extract:

Chaya stood up and ran. A searing pain shot through her leg and all the way up. It was useless. She was in too much pain. This was it; they’d find her here eventually. 

And then in the distance, through a blur of pain, Chaya saw her getaway vehicle. 

(The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.) 

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Synopsis:

Chaya can solve anything. A broken leg that requires emergency medical treatment, education fees, roof repairs … Chaya is happy to steal from the rich if it means that the people in her village are able to cover the cost of their basic needs. Then Chaya steals the Queen’s Jewels and her best friend Neel takes the blame.

The King doesn’t take kindly to thieves. Even falsely accused ones. Unless Chaya acts fast, Neel will lose his live.

Together with rich, lonely Nour, Chaya breaks Neel out of prison. Together with a stolen elephant, the King’s elephant Ananda, the children escape to the jungle.

They need to find a solution before the village suffers for their actions.

 

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Review:

Are you ready for adventure? Chaya is the new daredevil protagonist to win readers’ hearts. Her habit of causing real trouble is matched only by her determination to do the right thing. Think break-ins and breakouts and epic getaways. And an elephant named Ananda.

This novel challenges us to question our definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Chaya does something illegal when she breaks into the palace. However, the people of Chaya’s village aren’t able to meet their basic needs without the theft and the King hasn’t raised a finger to help. He lives off the profit of the land and allows the villagers to go without. This context opens some interesting questions about morals and actions. How far would we go to have a secure life? Does this make Chaya’s actions right? We see very early on that what Chaya does is a gamble and that it can lead to greater and more desperate trouble. However, there was no doubt for me as a reader that my empathy lay with her. This is a brilliant middle grade novel to introduce topics about social injustice – a topic which is sadly all too relevant in the present day.

 This is also a story about revolution, without the focus on the bloodshed and sacrifice that is more common in YA. We see that scary things happen, desperate things, but the story itself is mainly about Chaya’s escape and return to the village. This allows younger readers to learn about the idea of revolution without seeing the scarier parts in lengthy detail.

That’s not to say the stakes aren’t high. We know the King won’t relent unless he is fought.

The friendships in this story are wonderful and the tensions between the children are clear. Chaya wants to do right. Neel can see that the cost of Chaya’s actions might be too high. Nour wants company and friendship – a big thing to her, but she struggles to see that Chaya isn’t playing games. I loved what Nour brought to the story. Middle-Class children are too often derided in fiction without any consideration given to the fact that they are young too, and only know their ‘normal’. This story empathises with Nour while gently showing that she hasn’t seen enough of the world yet to understand the wider picture. She is naïve and often frustrating to the other characters, but she is also good-hearted and willing to stick by her new friends.

I love stories where the main characters aren’t natural bosom buddies. The development, and the way they come together, is often deep and memorable. This is the case with The Girl Who Stole An Elephant.

This is pure middle-grade brilliance and deservedly Waterstones Book Of The Month for January 2020. Prepare to have your heart opened and to fall in love with this fantastic adventure.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my proof copy of The Girl Who Stole An Elephant. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

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Night is falling on the hillside. The moon has risen and the world is calm and peaceful. Across the landscape and over towards Sleepy Hill, the animals are ready to sleep.

This gentle, rhyming text reassures the reader that everything is well as the day draws to an end. 

The pages have large cutaway sections that draw the eye naturally towards the animals sitting in the foreground. At first these sections are like large windows, and we peek through them towards the distant hills, but as we get further into the book the windows disappear and the pages get smaller still. We are guided through clearings and mountain plains until we finally reach Sleepy Hills, bathed in silvery moonlight and blanketed by stars. 

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As a metaphor for bedtime, this couldn’t be more reassuring. Instead of suggesting that there is anything to fear, the book guides us from a place where Sleepy Hills seem distant and impossibly far away through to the place of sleep itself. Along the way we see lots of animals having their last play or tucking in for the night. If they can settle down, then surely the reader can too. 

A gentle colour palette of lilacs and blues and silvery-greens completes the effect of night drawing in. 

Although this is a book about bedtime, it also promotes walks through nature. The cut-away pages layer together like a landscape and remind us one place is not separate from another. Forests and clearings and foothills and mountains roll into one another, and there is always somewhere else on the horizon. This book recreates the feeling of being outdoors. 

On Sleepy Hill brings nature and bedtime together beautifully and reassures the reader that sleep is a lovely place to be. A perfect bedtime read. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Group) for my copy of On Sleepy Hill. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

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Extract:

Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it earlier.

 ‘I will go with you,’ Rose said to the bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animal’s great paw flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.

(North Child by Edith Pattou. P91.)

 

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Synopsis:

No matter how hard her mother tried to deny it, Rose was born facing North. And just like the old stories about North-born children say, she longs to venture far from home.

When her sister gets dangerously ill, and the family is in danger of losing its home, Rose makes a pact with a mysterious white bear. In exchange for her sister’s survival and her family’s prosperity, Rose follows the bear to a strange palace where she remains with him, uncertain why he called on her.

Rose spends her days exploring the palace and weaving in the sewing room. At night somebody sleeps beside her, but she never quite sees this person’s face. The more Rose sees of the palace, and the more she comes to like the bear, the more curious she gets.

Can she unravel the secret of the palace without ruining her own destiny?

 

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Review:

It has been some time since I got so thoroughly immersed in a book. This is a story told in multiple voices, often in short chapters, but the plot is so satisfying and the language so beautiful that I lost myself within its pages. Reading it was like sinking into a dream and I spent my days waiting for the chance to pick the book up again.

Inspired by the fairy tale East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, North Child is mainly about two characters: Rose, the adventurous girl who was always destined to leave her family, and the mysterious white bear. We also hear from the Troll Queen, our antagonist, and her story of desire and greed and heartless cruelty interweaves with those of the main characters.

Rose’s mother, father and brother Neddy are also given narrative voices. This may seem unusual at first, but Pattou pulls it off with great skill and the result is that we get a rounded picture of Rose. We learn about her home life and the people she loves even when she is miles away from them.

It seems no coincidence that weaving and threads are motifs within this narrative. The writing itself is like many richly coloured threads worked together into a tapestry.

There are so many memorable imagines within this story. Rose working at a loom to create herself a cloak fit for adventure. The White Bear carrying Rose over a frozen landscape. Rose and the Bear playing music in their many hours together in the palace. This is a very visual, very detailed story that remains in the mind in vignettes much like a fairy tale.

An epic tale about love and possessive desire told by a great storyteller. If you love fairy tale adaptations or simply good writing, this one is for you. The perfect story for long Wintery nights.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending a proof copy of North Child. Opinions my own.