Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Moon by Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook

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Review: The Moon by Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook. 

For many years, man has looked up to the moon …

From artists to astronomers, poets to mathematicians to dreamers, the moon has been a source of inspiration and wonder to humankind. Myths have been told about the moon and songs written.

What is the moon and why does it continue to be a source of inspiration?

The Moon is special because it examines a topic from a multidisciplinary-perspective. Instead of being a science book or a history book or a collection of literature it looks at everything together.

img_7025I am a huge believer in this approach. It has always seemed strange to me how quickly children are taught to believe that one subject is more important than another, and concurrently that one subject is separate from another. All knowledge is interlinked and all communication starts with the human mind. The Moon shows how one subject has been approached, studied and communicated from different angles across the course of history.

It is also a beautiful and fascinating gift-book.

This doesn’t have to be read from start to finish, which can be a very attractive thing, especially for young readers. The Moon is the sort of book which will be dipped into. Poured over. I can imagine readers opening to any page and seeing where they land.

The illustrations and design are five-star.

The colour-pallette is drawn from the night sky – and I realise now how many colours we see in the evening. From the dark blues to inky blacks to ochre and pale yellow. This would make a lovely starting-point for anyone drawing pictures of the night sky. After asking children to use the colours they see at night, you could ask them to look at the pictures and ask what sort of colours are used.

I also love the number of people illustrated. The pictures remind us that this book is not just about the moon, it is about our relationship with an understanding of the moon. It is an anthology of human experience.

This would make a beautiful gift and will be high on my recommendations for Christmas 2018.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of The Moon. Opinions my own.

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Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview · Uncategorized

Author Q&A: Catherine Johnson talks about Race To The Frozen North

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Author Q&A: Catherine Johnson talks about Race To The Frozen North

Catherine Johnson 2018 credit Andy DonohoeCatherine Johnson is a star. 

She’s written a large number of books, including Sawbones and The Curious Lady Caraboo. Her stories are mainly historical and often feature lesser-known characters from history, particularly those from black history. 

Her fiction opened my eyes to the fact that history, and the canon of literature we are all familiar with, has been one-sided. Catherine’s work also made me aware of the all the stories yet to be listened to, yet to be told. 

birdAbout Race To The Frozen North: 

When Matthew Henson runs away from his violet stepmother, he begins a new life which nobody could have predicted. Inspired by the stories of an explorer named Baltimore Jack, Matthew sets out to see the world. 

As a black boy in early 1900s America, the odds were against him. 

Matthew works three times harder than anyone else to be judged on merit instead of being dismissed. His tenacity and hard work pay off, and he is hired and rehired in various positions on ships which sail the world. Often those positions are menial to his experience, but he perseveres and sees more of the world as a young man than most people see in their lifetime. 

Finally, the opportunity comes for him to play a key role in an expedition and he sets out to become the first man to reach the North Pole. 

Matthew and his friends Ootah and Segloo look at the success of the expedition in a different light – although Matthew plants the American flag in the right spot he understands how absurd it seems to his friends that another country would be so hung up about one spot of ice. This would make a lovely opening to conversation about colonial attitudes and inherited beliefs (ie we may not think we are prejudiced, but we may have inherited a set of beliefs from our culture including the idea that ‘conquering’ geography is cause for celebration.

I am delighted to welcome Catherine to my blog for a Q&A. Her answers are insightful and interesting. Thank you Catherine for your time.

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Q&A: Catherine Johnson

1.) What drew you to Matthew Henson’s story?

I LOVE black history. For centuries people like me have been airbrushed out of the past and I believe it’s vital that everyone realises that enslavement is not the only story to be told about us. Also I am a sucker for terrible stories of people pushing themselves to their limits. I cannot imagine doing what Henson or Peary or Scott or Amundsen did. Also Henson was unique in that he learnt from the indigenous people of the far north. It was a completely different attitude to the prevailing one of the time, which said that western culture knew best about everything.

 

2.) What sort of research did you do and how did this shape your story?

Real solid research for this book mostly meant reading a lot of books! So even though I had read many of them when I wrote a non-fiction book about his exploits I had to look again. And read again, and check again. It was harder with this book because it’s more of a personal account. And even though there is an autobiography – written by Henson and a co-writer – there are still loads of gaps. And although there is a lot of detail about the polar expeditions, I thought readers could always get that elsewhere. What I imagine a lot of young readers will be really interested in is how and why an eleven-year-old boy runs away from home, and how he sets off – like a kid in a story – to see the world and perhaps seek his fortune.

 

3.) If you could voyage to one place in time and history, where would it be and why?

Ooh this is hard. I love a hot bath and antibiotics and modern medicine – can you imagine getting frostbite so badly your toes come off in your boot when you take them off? That’s what happened to Robert Peary who was the leader of Henson’s expeditions? 

And while I love clothes – especially late 18th century/early 19th century women’s dresses – if you weren’t wealthy or healthy the past was not an easy place!  

So if I was very rich and very healthy – and not about to have a baby – maybe I would have liked to live in 1780s London and meet the Blackbirds of St Giles…

 

4.) You write historical fiction. What draws you to historical narratives?

Historical fiction is life or death, and the stakes for young people (all people actually) were often much higher than they are today. This means there’s so much scope for adventure and excitement. Also it’s important to show readers that our past as Britons was full of very different sorts of people. Even in Roman times Britain was an island where many cultures smashed together, and that black people were always a part of British society from at least (if not before) Roman times. It’s about saying we all belong here.

 

5.) Matt decides to travel after listening to tales of adventure from a man named Baltimore Jack. Who were your role models as a child and how did they inspire you?

Writing role models? I suppose I was massively impressed by my Uncle who wrote books (I couldn’t read them and they were heavy theological books all in Welsh) but I remember the thrill of seeing his name on a book in a shop window when I was on holiday with my family in North Wales. Also I babysat for a woman who lived next-door-but-one when I was in my early teens. She had a desk in her kitchen with her typewriter set up and above it a shelf of the books she had written. She was a single parent and supported her family writing not just books but radio plays and TV – she was one of the first on the Grange Hill team. I was incredibly impressed by her, her name is Margaret Simpson.

 

6.) Matthew Henson is a forgotten character from history. Which other characters need a higher profile?

 

My favourite would have to be John Ystumllyn, who became a head gardener at a big house in North Wales at the end of the 18th century. He was enslaved and brought to Wales as a boy, during the fashion for exotic slave attendants for wealthy young women. Unlike some of these children he wasn’t sent to be worked to death on Caribbean plantations as soon as he grew up, but gained his freedom, married a local girl and had several children. 

 

Guest Post

Blog Tour: Author Content – Pages & Co by Anna James

Pages & Co by Anna James – blog tour. 

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Pages & Co was one of my favourite reads this summer. It is a magical middle-grade story which will by loved and enjoyed by all bookish people. The story follows a girl with the magical ability to wander inside books. 

I am delighted to welcome Anna James to BookMurmuration to talk about the books which made her an avid reader. bird

Children’s Books That Made Me The Person I Am Today – reccomendations from author Anna James 

 I imagine that anyone reading this is built of books. I dread to think of who I would be if you took everything I’ve learned or felt because of a book I’ve read, I worry there wouldn’t be much left. In Pages & Co, my heroine Tilly feels much the same, so much so that she struggles to relate to real people outside of the bookshop that she lives in. When characters from her favourite books start popping up, she thinks she’s found the friends she needs, but of course real life is still waiting.

Yesterday I wrote about my top ten children’s classics over on a Day Dreamer’s Thoughts. All of those books were hugely formative for me, but I’ve resisted the urge to repeat any (Anne of Green Gables in particular!) to choose some more modern books that had a big impact on me growing up. From the super famous to the out of print, these are the five books that have most impacted me as a reader, a writer and a person.

 

Favourite books from childhood –

–          Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

“And it’s a pity too that I’ve no right to open your letters. I hope you don’t get many, or my conscience will give me no peace.”

If I had to name one writer that has had the biggest impact on me it would be Diana Wynne Jones. She’s written a lot of books and I think I’ve read most of them. She’s probably best known for Howl’s Moving Castle because of the Studio Ghibli film, but in my mind the Chrestomanci series is her best. They’re a bit of a Narnia situation, i.e. do you read them in the order they were written, or chronologically in terms of in-world timing, but I would recommend starting with Charmed Life. Quirky, funny and clever, it’s storytelling at its absolute best. With her worlds within worlds, playfulness with genre and tropes, and stories of finding yourself, Wynne taught me all the foundations of the things I love to read and write.   

 

–          Back Home by Michelle Magorian

“Come on,’ said Peggy. ‘You’ll have to come with me. I need you to show me the way.”

Michelle Magorian wrote the beloved Goodnight Mr Tom (which I’ve somehow never read) but my heart lies with Back Home, the story of Virginia, nicknamed Rusty for her red hair (I can’t resist ginger heroine as a redhead myself) who is returning to England after her evacuation to the US during the Second World War. She comes back to a country and a family she barely understands and struggles to fit in at home or at the strict boarding school she’s sent to. It’s a story of hope, bravery, family and being true to yourself. If you’re already a fan, I recently read Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War and it took me right back to how I felt reading Back Home.

 

–          Momo by Michael Ende

“Those who still think that listening isn’t an art should see if they can do it half as well.”

Another book where the author is better known for a different title, you might have heard of Ende as the writer of The Neverending Story, but he also wrote another book about the power of storytelling about an orphan called Momo. It’s sometimes also published as The Grey Gentlemen, who are the villains of the piece and inveigle their way into Momo’s town and start to steal the people’s time. This is one of my Dad’s favourite books, and I came to it through his version which is printed in brown ink with amazing illustrations. It’s a trippy, weird, profound book about how we use our time, and what is really important in life, and the grey gentlemen were big inspiration for me creating Enoch Chalk, the villain in Pages & Co. His grey bowler hat is a nod to them.

 

–          Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

“You cannot change what you are, only what you do.”

From some slightly more obscure titles to one of the most famous books of recent decades. I was bought Northern Lights for Christmas by my Grandad when I was about nine or ten and I fell in love. My Grandad, and the way he chose books for me and my sister, hugely inspired Tilly’s Grandad. He died when I was at university, but I hope that in Tilly’s Grandad he exists still in some way. His Dark Materials is also the series that made me aware of publishing, because I had to wait for the third book in the series. I remember going into my local Waterstones every time I passed to ask if they knew when it was going to be available. As well as being brilliant stories, these books taught me about challenging corrupt authority, standing up for what is right, and showed me the power of being your own heroine, something that is at the heart of Tilly’s story too.

 

–          They Do Things Differently There by Jan Mark

“We have to be careful from now on,’ Elaine said. ‘In a minute we’ll be back where we started. If we’re going to disappear, this is where it happens.”

It is an absolute travesty that this book, first published in 1994, is out of print (I think I am going to have to petition my publisher to buy the rights and reissue it). It’s one of the weirdest, most wonderful books I’ve ever read, and my childhood copy (whose RRP is £3.50!) is very worn from how much I read it. Arguably a UKYA novel before UKYA existed as a genre, it’s about two teenage girls living in a newly built town just outside of London, inventing a hidden world in the cracks and corners of the identical suburban houses. It features fishmonger poets, avenging angels, and a mermaid factory and it is a clever, weird trip of a book that kicked off my love of books about magic just around the corner, hiding in plain sight in the real world (see also Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones!).

 

Pages & Co: Tilly And The Bookwanderers is available from 20th September 2018.

Thanks to Anna James for your time and to Sam White at HarperCollins UK for organising the tour.

blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Maybe The Moon by Frances Ives

Blog Tour: Maybe The Moon by Frances Ives

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‘Maybe the moon, so high above, 

Is shining on me and the friends I love.’ 

Eric loves his life in the forest, especially living so close to his animal friends. When Eric moves away from the city, he worries he will never be happy in a place so far away from his friends. 

As Eric explores his new home and makes new friends, he takes comfort from the fact that all the people he loves are under the same moon. 

A gentle but profound story about moving away from our loved ones. 

This book is extraordinarily beautiful, from the shiny-moon on the cover to the bright double-page spreads. The words are beautiful too – the gentle story is framed by the moments Eric looks at the moon, and his changing emotions about moving away from his country home. 

The story is like an inversion of Town Mouse and Country Mouse. Although Eric does return to the country, he does so with the new understanding that wherever he travels there will be new friends to make and old friends who still love him. The message of the story is clear – we may leave a place behind but we don’t have to move on from the people

img_7018I also loved that Eric’s first friends are animals. He is perplexed by the city, and initially thinks there won’t be any animals, but soon he finds pockets of nature (as well as other children to go exploring with). This could stimulate some great discussion about what might make an environment hostile to nature and what we can do to encourage and protect wildlife. 

I adore the design – double-page spreads which are dedicated to illustration are balanced with other spreads where the background is white. The variety means our eyes are drawn to the different illustrations. It never feels predictable or sameish. 

This would be especially appropriate for children facing a move or a change of schools. It would be a lovely gift to give to someone to tell them that, however far apart, you will always share a connection. 

One of the most beautiful picture books I have seen this year and one with a gentle story and a strong theme. 

 

Thanks to OMaraBooks for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my copy of Maybe The Moon. Opinions my own.

 

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: September 2018

 

 

Violet And The Mystery Of Tiger Island by Harriet Whitehorn and Becka Moor

These may be the most photogenic books for younger middle-grade readers and I love everything about this series.

Violet and her friends are invited to a wedding on a tropical island. Tiger Island used to be an animal sanctuary, and now it is a luxury hotel. It has tree houses, gourmet food and even a tame tiger.

It is paradise … until Violet’s old enemies show up.

The Du Plicitouses have a history of stealing rare objects so they are top suspects when a valuable figurine goes missing. Violet and her friends set out to investigate and a race begins to figure out the truth before the wedding day is spoiled.

These books are perfect – they are as engaging as any middle-grade mystery but suitable for younger readers. They would make a brilliant quick-read for older mystery fans. I loved the set-up – we’re introduced to different hotel guests and our attention is then turned on the Du Plicitous couple. Harriet Whitehorn is a master at dropping hints while drawing the reader’s attention on to red-herrings.

The illustrations are fab – Becka Moor is a total star of young-MG and it is lovely to see her pictures in colour. Her characters are a delight – I feel as if I am reading the pictures at least as much as the worlds. This is so important for readers of this age – decoding words is still an effort and the pictures offer a quicker way into the story.

Five shining stars.

 

Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad is the world’s least-scary vampire. He’s afraid of spiders, he’s afraid of the dark and he’s especially afraid of looking like a failure next to cousin Lupus.

Lupus upholds all the Vampire traditions, like drinking blood. He keeps a raven near him at all times and he has mastered all the flying skills. Nobody seems to notice that he is rude and horrible. Nobody except Vlad.

Is Lupus really as perfect as he seems? Is there any chance he could be friends with Vlad?

This is a lovely series, perfect for newly-readers, and would make a lovely bedtime story. The events of the story are much like any book about friendship and family, except the family happens to have fangs. And ravens. This would be a great Halloween read for children who don’t like scares but love a touch of the gothic world.

 

Night Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchinson and Lee Cosgrove

Zombie Bears! Ghost Bears! Witch Bears! Alien Bears!

Lisa-Marie is adjusting to having a step-parent and living with her new step-brother Veron. Vernon can be nice but he won’t stand up for his new step-sister.

When Lisa-Marie makes a witch bear at Create-A-Ted, she gets more than she bargained for. Henrietta is alive and she is dangerous. In fact, there is a whole army of Halloween-bears on the loose, led by the terrifying Grizz.

If Lisa-Marie is going to stop them from destroying humankind, she’ll need help from her new step-brother Vernon.

The premise of this story is hilarious. A shop where children pick a bear-skin, add stuffing then provide the bear with a heart. What’s creepy about that?! Someone has clearly spent an hour too long in Create-A-Ted.

This story shows that ideas come from observation. I reckon children will love this spooky twist on their favourite shop.

The scares are softened with humour. I love that that humour is accessible to adults as well as children. Books of this length are often read aloud and it makes a difference to the child’s experience when the adults are laughing along too.

 

Anty Hero by Barry Hutchinson 

Ant is the total opposite of cool. He’s bony, has an obsession with insects, and wears shaded-glasses. In fact, Ant has a secret, and it is hidden behind those glasses which he refuses to take off.

When Ant’s science teacher glimpses what is behind those glasses, Ant’s life is in danger.

It is up to his friends Zac and Tulisa to save the day. Can they round up the insects of the school and rescue Ant?

Imagine if the thing which made you different put you in danger. Grave danger. Ant isn’t like the other boys at school. He counts insects among his friends and he looks at the human race objectively.

This story has some brilliant themes about perceived differences and human attitudes towards nature.

Like all Barrington Stoke stories, Anty Hero is printed in a way which makes it accessible to a larger number of readers. These books also make excellent quick reads for fluent readers.

 

Dirty Bertie – Frights And Bites by David Roberts or Alan MacDonald

Fangs! Scream! Zombie!

Experience three whole volumes of Dirty Bertie in one book. Know someone who loves Dennis the Menace and Horrid Henry? You need to introduce them to Bertie. He’s silly, he’s full of terrible ideas and best of all, he embraces all things disgusting.

The three books in this compilation are divided into stories which are about forty pages long. There are nine stories between the three books, which means plenty of silliness and troublesome events.

I love how the stories have recurring features. They quite often end with Bertie in some kind of bother – whether his head is stuck in the railings or he is running away, you can be sure the story will end on a memorable note.

These are perfect for newly confident readers. Finishing the short stories offers a high level of reward and there are plenty of hilarious illustrations.

 

 

Sherlock And The Baker Street Curse by Sam Hearn

It’s a new term at Baker Street Academy which means new adventures for Sherlock, John Watson (Watson, geddit) and Martha.

There’s something spooky going on at school. Caretaker Mr Musgrove has seen a ghost and some great, big, spooky letters appear on the side of a wall. Is the school really haunted by the Baker Street Ghosts? So begins an investigation which uncovers hidden treasure, and old legend and some dastardly deception.

This is Sherlock like you’ve never seen him before. He’s a totally modern kid – he has a smart-phone and he’s not afraid to use it. Moriarty is the school-bully and Baker Street Academy is like any school from this decade … except there’s a heck of a lot going on.

The format of this book will really appeal to comic-book fans and might attract less-confident readers. Cartoon strips are mixed with emails and speech-bubble chats (which are the most recognised form of communication among today’s pre-teens.)

Innovative format aside, the mystery is solid and the information is given in just the right places. I reckon kids would stand a chance of solving the puzzle but there is also huge satisfaction in identifying the clues.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke, Scholastic UK and Laura Smythe PR for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Have you read any great books for younger readers? Have any of the featured books caught your attention? Let me know in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth

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Extract:

I keep my wrist loose and easy, strum-flicking. The beat builds in me, and the opera singer’s voice and the commuters’ footsteps fade. The outside worlds gets smaller and smaller until it is just me and the rebab.

But the world inside me expands. Even though my eyes are closed, I see my home. Not the apartment here in Boston, or the slum in Istanbul, or the cramped hostel in Athens, or the back room in Iran.

 I see my Kandahar house.

(The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth. P5.)

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Synopsis:

Sami and his grandfather fled Afghanistan and are making a new life for themselves in Boston. Sami’s grandfather was a famous musician in Afghanistan and the sound of his rebab reminds Sami of home.

When the rebab is stolen is a subway station, Sami vows to get it back. The only problem is he will have to raise $700 to buy it back before it is sold to someone else.

Sami embarks on a series of trades, making deals which bring him closer to his goal. The only problem is, to make the trades work, he will need to open up to new people … and that’s something Sami isn’t ready to do.

A warm-hearted book about trauma and friendship.

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Review:

A contemporary middle-grade book with a big heart. Sami’s life has been torn apart. People he loves have died, his home has been attacked and he has been forced to leave behind everything he knows. What he wants most – for his life to return to normal – isn’t possible. This is a story about reaching out to other people and building new connections.

I loved how this story was built around the idea of trading. Kids trade. Trading is part of any childhood – from the upsets about trades we want to reverse to the trouble caused by unfair trading. Do you remember objects being banned in primary school? Pokemon cards or Loom bands? Usually, the reason for the ban was so adults didn’t have to manage the drama caused by swapsies and trading. Kids are more enterprising than we give them credit for. Alyssa Hollingsworth has built a lovely story around this staple childhood pastime.

It was clear from both the story and the notes at the back that the author has fully embraced and learned about Sami’s culture. It is important that, when we write stories about cultures other than our own, we listen to people with the life experience. Alyssa Hollingsworth has done more than that – she has lived alongside and befriended people who have shared their stories. I wasn’t just introduced to Sami. I was introduced to a whole culture.

There are some lovely themes about friendship and particularly about remaining open to new experiences even when we can’t return to our old lives. There is a beautiful moment when Sami’s grandfather says that there can never be a replacement for the people we have lost, but there are abundant additions. New friends bless our lives and, in any form of grief, we eventually have to open ourselves to that change.

Readers will cheer Sami on in his quest and cry with him when he shares his worst experiences. A true read for empathy and a great story of our times.

 

Thanks to Piccadilly Press for my copy of The Eleventh Trade. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Peace And Me by Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi

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Review: Peace And Me by Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi

What does peace mean to you?

Peace And Me profiles the lives of twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Jean Henry Dunant, Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. The book asks what peace means and challenges readers to think about ways they can make the world a better place for everyone to live in. Beautifully illustrated, this is an essential read for children in the current international climate.

2018 is the year of inspirational life anthologies. There have never been more books about real-life figures whose stories might inspire readers to form their own worldview. So in this crowded market, what makes Peace And Me a bookshelf essential?

There are several answers.

Firstly is the lens. The book is specifically about international peacemakers. When children hear about the Nobel Peace Prize, it can be difficult for them to grasp what it is about. We have minor conflicts and make peace on a regular basis during childhood. Aside from ending wars – which is a recurring theme in children’s fiction – it can be hard for children to imagine what might be worthy of a major peace prize.

Alongside each life story is a single line which summarises how that recipient made the world a better place. Peace is respecting all communities. Peace is making sure every child gets to go to school. The recipients all saw a wrong – or a gap – in the world and fought to mend it. This shows the reader that is could be them on the stage. This prize isn’t about extraordinary people who are nothing like anybody else. It is about people like us who saw a wrong and made an extraordinary effort to right it.

The other reason this book should sit on any bookshelf is the illustration. The book is a rich tapestry of colour and pattern. How could any child not be drawn in by those illustrations? It would make a lovely book for a classroom shelf. It is the sort of book which could be read in five-minute chunks between lessons.

Peace and Me is a beautiful book which uses real-life stories to answer an important question. What is peace? How can we make the world a better place? A beautiful book which deserves a place in any classroom or library.

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my copy of Peace And Me. Opinions my own.