blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli.

Review: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli.

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Extract:

‘There’s no need to be unkind.’ The Death Dancer’s mouth bent up at the sideas she moved towards Safire. ‘Now, what’s behind that scarf you don’t want me to see?’ Safire took a step back, but those quick fingers snagged her sandskarf. The girl tugged it free, revealing Safire’s face.

(The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli. P. 65-66). 

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Synopsis:

Safire is now a soldier. She maintains the peace of Firaard – but there is one criminal she can’t catch. 

Eris, a pirate and known thief, is known as the Death Dancer. She has a reputation for evading capture made possible by her magical spindle, and the ability it gives her to vanish and reappear at will. She can evade everyone … except the pirate who holds her captive. 

Safire and Eris are thrown together when they are united by a common mission – to find Asha, the last Namsara. As they spend time together, they realise they may be bound by more than a common goal and that their fates may be inextricably entwined. 

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Review: 

The Last Namsara was one of the first major releases I was offered as a book blogger back in 2017. It is hard to imagine now that before it arrived I had little idea how phenomenally good it would turn out to be. Think dragons and fearless heroines and a story linked to its world’s mythology. Now the trilogy concludes with The Sky Weaver. 

The story is centered around two characters. Pirate Eris has a deadly reputation and a strange skill that enables her to vanish and reappear anywhere else at will. Safire, familiar to readers of the first book, is now a soldier and catching Eris becomes her own personal mission. Then the pair find themselves on a common mission – to find the last Namsara Asha. 

It is a classic enemies-to-lovers storyline which promises to be a great yarn from the beginning. The early chapters make it seem impossible that the pair could ever find anything in common, but that is what makes this trope so timeless. It tells the eternal truth that sometimes we can work together in spite of insurmountable differences and that in doing so we can find previously unimagined common ground. 

Both girls narrate. Seeing Safire as a protagonist will be a big draw for established fans of the series because she was the character who was both of the incredible court world and an outsider – or the relatable insider. It is also interesting, having seen her root for and protect Asha, to see Safire begin from a position of distrust and enmity.

As in previous books, a myth is built up alongside the main story. No spoilers – readers of the series will know that clues about the main story can be found in these myths – but this time the myth is about Crow and The Fisherman’s Daughter. 

Now that the trilogy is complete, I look forward to reading the three books together. The overlap of characters and plotlines between them is fascinating and confirms Ciccarelli as a strong and ambitious storyteller. 

 

The Sky Weaver was provided as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Thanks to Gollancz for my copy.

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.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Blog Tour: Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardner.

Blog Tour: Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardner.

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Extract:

Down she falls, through the dome of the opera house, down she falls, past the crystal galleon, and as she passes it she hears the sound of something coming adrift. Down, down she falls …

(Invisible In A Bright Light by Sally Gardener. P6.) 

 

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Synopsis. 

1870. It is opening night at the Royal Opera House and every one of the candles is lit in the huge chandelier shaped like a galleon which was mysteriously lost at sea. Orphaned and impoverished Celeste wakes from a strange dream to find that everyone thinks she is somebody else: a player in the forthcoming opera. 

Then the chandelier falls and the hauntings begin. 

Celeste is shadowed by a girl who claims to know her past. Together they must play a game called the Reckoning and save the lives of the loved ones Celeste can’t remember before it is too late. 

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Review:

There is no storyteller quite like Sally Gardener. She reminds me of my younger self in a very good way, my childhood self at fourteen or fifteen just before I became afraid to run with ideas and see where they took me. When you open one of Gardener’s books, there is no knowing where it will take you, except that the show will be spectacular and that it will be an experience to remember. 

Which is why I was delighted to see that Gardener had written a book about the theatre. Her style matches the visual, multi-sensory splendour of a good show. 

The strange events of Invisible In A Bright Light tie together a man in a green coat, a theatre, and a fantastic chandelier. Gardener weaves different layers together until we understand more about Celeste’s life, and what it is she must do. Reading it is like being led through the darkness until the lights come on and everything starts to make sense. Gardener creates a world that is disorienting and beautiful in equal measures. 

The relationship between Celeste and the girl whos shadows her, which begins after an accident involving the chandelier, reminds me of the best fairytales. It could be the thing to lift Celeste from her miserable life, or it could trap her in a nightmare forever. The balance of fear and hope kept me on tenterhooks as I invested all my hope for Celeste in this girl and her dangerous game. 

It is fantastic to see Gardener writing for a middle-grade audience again. Her stories draw the reader in and keep them hooked until the very last pages. This would be a great book for readers who like something a bit spooky but tremendously beautiful. 

 

Thanks to Head Of Zeus for my gifted copy of Invisible In A Bright Light. Opinions my own.

blog tour · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

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About Mother Tongue.

The new dictator of the Ark – a society which exists in a world destroyed by Global Warming – wants to silence speech forever. People with fewer words are less able to argue back. Letta is a wordsmith. It is her job to keep words safe and to pass them on to the next generation. Letta and her followers are fighting back by forming hedge schools, and passing words on to those children who are willing to risk their security to learn. 

Then the babies start to go missing. 

This is high on my list of recent dystopia. We are now ten years on from The Hunger Games and it is important that young adult literature reflects the issues and discussions of the current day. Mother Tongue picks up on the disparity in society between those who have access to books and writing and words in childhood, and those who don’t. It shows a world where language education is purposely limited to all but a ruling minority. 

It is terrifyingly close to the bone. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has highlighted statistics that show that children on free school meals are twice as likely to go to a school without a library. And adult education, which once enabled people to sit A-Levels through night classes, or attend university without getting into major debt, has been reduced to the bare minimum. The result is a lack of social mobility and a society willing to support those who appear to have knowledge

Letta is a fantastic protagonist. The dystopia of ten years ago featured lots of characters whose anger was shown as a strength. Letta is contemplative, doubting of herself but firm in her resolve. Her strength comes from a rounded mix of qualities. 

I am delighted that author Patricia Forde has written a post about the power of words. Thank you Patricia for your time, and to Little Island Books for arranging this opportunity. 

Mother Tongue is available now from Amazon, Waterstones and good independent bookshops.

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The Power of Words by author Patricia Forde. 

Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.

This was a song we sang in the playground as children. Even then I think we knew it was untrue. The bruises and wounds caused by the sticks and stones healed, and before they healed, everyone could see the marks and sympathise. The words that hurt us left no visible mark and elicited no sympathy, but buried deep inside us, they festered.

Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.

So said the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in his inauguration speech at the beginning of his second term in office. Through words, we can share our ideas, change people’s minds, support or destroy our fellow human beings.

Looking at history, we can trace the power of words, through the speeches of great orators. Who can forget Nelson Mandela’s famous speech where he said that he would die for that which he believed in?

I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela’s words echoed the earlier words of Martin Luther King in his most iconic I have A Dream speech.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

In my novel The Wordsmith and its companion book Mother Tongue, John Noa, leader of Ark, has rationed words. People are only allowed to choose from  a list of five hundred words on pain of death. The words on the list are mostly practical. There are no words for emotion: no belief, no hope, no love. No words to persuade, no words to properly interrogate, no words to raise a rebellion. John Noa knew the power of words. In The Wordsmith Letta, the young protagonist, asks Noa to include the word hope on the list but Noa refuses. Noa knew that to encourage hope was to encourage the possibility of change.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Throughout his political career he was a committed activist for gay rights and became famous for his Hope Speeches.  This is an extract from one of them:

Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s; without hope the us’s give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

We are the only species that can plant ideas in one another’s heads and we don’t even need a scalpel. Today, Donald Trump has weaponised words. He talks about illegal immigrants infesting America. Immigrants are referred to as dogs and criminals. He uses words to belittle women and to divide people. Words are his weapons. But words can be used for good or ill. For  Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist, words are also weapons – weapons that might save the planet. Speaking at a United Nations summit recently she denounced world leaders for their inertia when it came to climate change.

How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

 

You could almost see people in the chamber duck as the shrapnel from her speech ricocheted off the walls around them. Words are dangerous. That is why powerful people have always feared them.

I will leave the last word to Winston Churchill, a man who had many faults but who knew much about power and much about language.

You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. … Yet in their hearts there is unspoken—unspeakable!—fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse—a little tiny mouse!—of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.

 

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

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

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

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Extract:

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

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

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Synopsis:

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

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

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

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Review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Map

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 1

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

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

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Extract:

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

‘So what does it mean?’

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

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

 

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Synopsis:

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

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

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

A seriously spooky mystery adventure.

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Review:

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

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

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

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

 

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

blog tour · Guest Post

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

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

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About

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

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

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

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

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Guest post from Wild Lives author Ben Lerwill.

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

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

 

Kakadu National Park, Australia

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

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

 

Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

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

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

 

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda       

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

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

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

 

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