Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Dear Earth by Isobel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi.

Review: Dear Earth by Isobel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi.

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Inspired by her Grandpa’s adventures, Tessa writes a love letter to the Earth. As she writes, her mind takes her to all the wonderful places on the planet and she realises what an extraordinary place our planet really is. Grandpa says that humans have damaged the planet. Tessa wonders whether, if everyone knew how wonderful it is they would make more effort to save our home. 

A poignant and beautiful response to the climate crisis. 

Climate has been a hot topic for picture books in the past year. It can also be difficult to strike the right balance. Children need to know, without glossing over, exactly where the climate crisis stands. We are out of time to pretend. Facing up and responding is the only way we will save the planet. However, too many details too soon can result in tears and fright. This, in turn, will lead children to avoid the topic altogether. This book sits squarely between the brutally honest (better for slightly older readers) and the gentle stories that encourage interaction with and respect for the outdoors. Grandpa does say that the Earth is in trouble. However, most of the story is about one girl’s growing love of our world. 

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Illustrations take readers through the magical places conjured by Tessa’s mind and back to the present moment. After this journey through beautiful landscapes, it is impossible not to care for our wild spaces. 

The idea of writing a love letter to the Earth is beautiful, and it offers readers an immediate activity to engage with. After reading about difficult topics, it is important for young readers to feel immediately empowered. Dear Earth allows exactly this. Sending a message to the planet is something that readers of all ages can engage with. 

Both the illustrations and the text are warm and filled with a sense of wonder. Dear Earth is perfect for introducing the topic of climate crisis because it tells the truth but offers readers enough hope that they will feel safe after finishing the book. A balanced and beautiful love letter to our planet. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Dear Earth. Opinions my own.

fairytales

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

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Meet Inanna who conquered a mountain. Bridget who rid her house of witches. Kandek who outsmarted a wearwolf. These heroines are fearless, bold, quick-thinking and smart, and their stories make for excellent reading. 

Folk stories have been important to me since I was small. It began with music. Songs I heard as my Dad worked through his collection of LPs, cassettes and CDs. Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention – the stories they sang weren’t always fully comprehensible to my young mind but I got the jist enough to know that they were a little more exciting than the limited cannon of fairytales that was read on a regular basis to children. Later, I found a collection of folk tales retold by Kevin Crossley Holland and my interest in folklore really took hold. How stories grow out of human experiences. How time and place shapes the retelling, until each culture has its own canon of best-known tales. 

This collection includes tales from different cultures. It reflects the fact that stories are told and retold all around the world. 

My favourites included The Lace Dragon, the story of a girl who outsmarts the Emperor demanding her hand in marriage by drawing on her magic as a lacemaker, and Goddess VS Mountain, which is the story of a girl up aganist the might of the land itself. The stories have such different themes and settings that the collection remains engaging. As an adult reader, it reminded me of the magic of being a child and begging for just one more story. 

The way these stories are written lends itself to speaking aloud. It is an art in itself to write with such clarity and yet in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them hooked. 

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware that the notions we form about gender begin early and restrict our ideas about our identities. Countering stereotypes is important if we are to offer the next generation a wider range of ideas about who they might become. The fact that this collection shows girls being clever and active, angry and proactive and energetic will make it  popular with teachers, librarians and parents looking to counter narrow ideas about what it means to be a girl. 

It turns out happy ever after can come in all kinds of ways. These tales are well written, timeless and filled with strong female role models. 

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR and Bloomsbury Education for my copy of Fierce, Fearless And Free. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

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Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson

Extraordinary. Inspiring.

We live in a world obsessed with the mighty. The large. The barely achievable. Yet wondrous things happen all around us. Extraordinary! is both a wake-up call and a love song to the quiet, everyday moments that remind us what an amazing thing it is to be alive in this world. 

This is a theme I adore. It is like seeing my interest in Romantic literature meet squarely with my love of children’s fiction. 

The gentle rhyme takes us from dreaming of bigger, more unusual things to slowly noticing the beauty and wonder of the natural world. It is like tuning in. Turning from the exciting dreams put into our heads by the media to a realisation that every day is incredible. 

Recent articles have highlighted that environmental themes in picture books have been approached in ways that don’t necessarily make easy bedtime reading. Extraordinary! is the antidote. The book for younger readers who aren’t yet ready to hear about the damage inflicted on the world by humans. It reminds us how special and beautiful our planet is by drawing on the known. The everyday. 

Author Penny Harrison has kindly written a post about her favourite things to do outdoors and I am honoured to host it. Thank you to Penny Harrison for your time, and to the stars at New Frontier Publishing for organising this opportunity. 

 

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Things To Do Outdoors by author Penny Harrison

Growing up on a cattle farm, in central-western New South Wales, Australia, it was easy to develop a strong connection to the outside world. Even when I moved to the city, in later years, I always sought out the nearest park, found a favourite tree to read under, or planted some cheery daffodils in a pot by my back door.

Many of my books aim to inspire a similar love of nature in children. But in Extraordinary, I wanted to do more. I wanted to instil a sense of mindfulness in readers, encouraging them to experience the ever-changing natural world with all their senses, to notice the little things, and to cherish these moments.

Here are some of my favourite things to do outdoors:

 

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  • Make a nature mobile. Forage in the garden or park for pine cones, feathers, stones, seedpods and vines that you can bend into small shapes (circles, stars, hearts). Tie a variety of items to different pieces of string, then hang them from two sticks bound together to form an x-shape. Arrange them so the mobile is balanced.

 

  • Start your own nature journal. Use your magnifying glass to zoom in on a flower or bug; then sketch it, and add colour and labels. Include tracings/rubbings of leaves and drawings of the different flowers you find (press some between the pages, using heavy books). Look for beetles, lizards, worms, or caterpillars to draw. Give them names and make up stories or poems about them. Go on a nature walk and record everything you notice.

 

  • Sit outside and make a map of your garden, park or neighbourhood. Draw in all the little details that mean something to you (eg. a flower bed that butterflies love to visit, your favourite climbing tree, the best patch of grass for daydreaming/cloudgazing, the spot where the best tomatoes grow, the house next door with the fairy lights in the tree).

 

  • Turn yourself into a witch or wizard for the day and make your own potions and spells from nature. Gather flower petals, seeds, dirt, leaves and other natural ingredients to stir in a pot. Give your spells names and don’t forget to make up your own magic words. For some extra pizzazz, you could add a little baking soda and food colouring to your potion, then a splash of vinegar for a fizzing, enchanting illusion!

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  • Make your backyard or balcony a friendly place for birds, bugs and other creatures that might visit. Decorate an old milk carton and turn it into a bird feeder. Leave out bowls of water for birds and small creatures on hot days. Make a bug hotel by creating a tight bundle of twigs, bark and and dried seedpods and flowers to hang. Plant a patch (or pot) of flowers rich in pollen to attract butterflies and bees (try lavender, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos). And have a go at growing some of your favourite vegetables.

 

  • Go hunting for fairies in your garden or neighbourhood park. Make flower wreaths, crowns and wands to entice them out. Find a hollowed-out tree or stump to turn into a miniature mailbox and leave natural treasures and notes for your fairy friends. Put together your own ‘fairy garden’ in a shallow bowl or pot, complete with moss, pebble walking path, a pond and a fairy house made from pieces of wood (this is where your hot glue gun comes in handy!)

 

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My copy of Extraordinary! was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour.

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

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Extract:

The locomotive puffed out a sigh of steam, as if it were alive – a dragon, ancient, powerful, and ready to fly. 

(The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. P14.) 

 

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Synopsis:

As Harrison Beck waits for his new sibling to enter the world, he is sent off to spend time with journalist and train enthusiast Uncle Nat. The pair board the Highland Falcon for its final journey before it is sent to a museum. They are in the company of well-known society figures – from actress Sierra Knight to a Countess, a Baron and important railway officials.

Then a notorious jewel thief strikes.

Can Harrison and his friend, the not-so-secret stowaway Lenny, solve the mystery and catch the culprit before the wrong person takes the blame?

 

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Review:

All aboard for the first mystery adventure in a series dedicated entirely to trains. Imagine that Michael Portillo had taken an 11-year-old boy along as he filmed Great British Railway Journeys. And that the boy in question had met a girl with a wealth of knowledge about railways. The train isn’t just a pretty backdrop in this series. It is the living, beating heart of the story. At last! A mystery series for readers who care about the ins and outs of railways.

This first story sees a notorious jewel thief strike on the first night of the journey. The Magpie has a reputation for stealing high-value pieces. The trouble is, nobody knows the Magpie’s true identity. As the blame shifts from one person to another, Harrison and his friend Lenny set to work figuring the case out.

Harrison is an artist and the illustrations tie in with the story as his casebook. This breaks from the recent tradition of detectives with notebooks. This detective has a sketchbook. It also gives the reader very visual reminders of the events and allows them to flick backwards and forwards through the pages as each piece of new information is revealed and notice new details in the illustrations.

Lenny is the resident train geek. Her father drives the train and Lenny has followed him along the rail tracks since she was very small. I was impressed with the level of knowledge and railway vocabulary woven into the story. This series acknowledges that when children have hobbies and interests, they gather huge amounts of knowledge and trivia. It is great to see a series built around this. Recent conversations about whether middle grade has become too adult have failed to discuss this aspect of childhood, but the pure love that young people have for their favourite subjects needs to be reflected in their fiction.  

This story will be a hit with fans of middle-grade mystery and its fictional trains should be a hit with young railway enthusiasts. A roaring start.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Booksfor my copy of The Highland Falcon Thief. Opinions my own.