Blogmas 2019 · Guest Post

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read.

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read. 

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As autumn comes to a close and spider season is done, we might be ready to forget about mini-beasts and think more about Christmas feasts.

But as a bug lover (and author of Milton the Mighty) I’m here to share a few interesting facts about some of my favourite creepy-crawlies and wishing you all a happy holiday and bee-sons greetings. No bah! Hum-bugs I hope.

 

The Little Things That Matter

 

Making up 97 percent of all animal species on earth, invertebrates are, according to ecologist E. O. Wilson, “the little things that run the Earth.” Though small, their ecological importance is huge – we rely on invertebrates to pollinate flowering plants, consume pests, recycle and compost waste and turn over the soil. Without them our whole ecological system would rapidly collapse.

There are so many wonderful ‘little’ things we can do to help the environment in 2020, and with invertebrates in mind, perhaps you might consider a New Year’s resolution to love bugs a little bit more? Here’s a song to get you in the mood while you wait for Ant-a-Claus.

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas, by the Invertebrettes

 

12 Tansy beetles – These pretty beetles have iridescent elytra which the Victorians used to wear as jewellery. They are now on the endangered listbugmas 1

 

11 Furry bumblebees – Dumbledore was named for the Old English word for bumblebees!

 

10 Tortoiseshell butterflies – Also endangered, but on the increase thanks to greater awareness and public support

 

9 Leopard slugs – What’s to love about slugs? They are the great recyclers of the garden, disposing of decaying organic matter. They are also a favourite food of hedgehogs, which are in severe decline in the UK

 

8 Chirping cicadas – Although thriving in Europe, the cicada may already be extinct in the UK

 

7 Seven-spot ladybirds – Known colloquially as bishy-barny-bees and dowdy cows, ladybirds are often favourites in the insect world. Contrary to all the ladybird juice drunk by the spiders in Milton the Mighty, ladybird blood is actually toxic to most would-be predatorsbugmas 2

 

6 Ladybird spiders– Possibly even more beautiful than actual ladybirds, this spider was thought to be extinct for over seventy years. Rediscovered in the 1980s this species is now protected.

 

5 Yellow jacket wasps – Yes, they’re a pain at picnics, but wasps are actually one of our most important pollinators and pest controllers, particularly partial to aphids

 

4 Stag beetles – Their population is not known but they are considered endangered. Members of the public are encouraged to report any sightings to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species

 

3 Common centipedes – Another super pest controller and friend to the gardener, centipedes are one of the oldest animals on Earth, some have been found in fossils dating over 400 million years old

 

bugmas 32 Painted lady butterflies, in a butterfly kit – this is a lovely way to encourage children to care for invertebrates and learn about the wonders of nature. Ladybird breeding kits are also available

 

1 And a false widow on the Christmas tree. Much maligned, the false widow is neither deadly, nor invading. They’ve been here since the nineteenth century and are super pest controllers. If you’re not convinced maybe Milton the Mighty might be able to help!

 

Resources:

 

https://wildearthguardians.org

 

https://www.buglife.org.uk/

 

https://www.theschoolrun.com/homework-help/spiders

 

 

About the Author

 

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty (Chicken House), which was one of The Times’s Best Children’s Books of 2019. MILTON is a story for younger readers about finding courage, good friends, and doing amazing things – even if you’re a spider the size of a raisin! Emma lives in Bath, and never sweeps up cobwebs. The sequel to Milton the Mighty, Milton the Megastar is available for pre-order here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/milton-the-megastar/emma-read/9781912626069

Blogmas 2019 · Guest Post

Blogmas Guest Post: An Inventor’s Guide To Christmas by author Holly Rivers.

 

Blogmas Guest Post: An Inventor’s Guide To Christmas by author Holly Rivers.

Holly Rivers

About Holly Rivers and Demelza & The Spectre Detectors. 

One of my very favourite things about putting together a series of Christmas posts is inviting authors to feature on my blog. It is especially exciting, with the New Year around the corner, to invite authors whose upcoming debuts are already on my radar. Holly Rivers has been in my Twittersphere for some time and, more reccently, I was sent a proof copy of her 2020 debut. Trust me when I say you will soon hear loads of great things about Demelza & The Spectre Detectors. 

Demelza loves science and rational stuff, but she also has a very unscientific gift. She can summon ghosts. When her grandmother is kidnapped, Demelza and her friend Percy set out to solve the mystery. 

Holly has written as her protagonist, Demelza Clock herself, who has some not exactly adult-approved thoughts on how inventors can survive Christmas. The first will make you laugh into your hot chocolate … but just you wait until you get to number 10. No cheating!

Many thanks to Holly Rivers for your time and wonderful post. 

 

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An Inventor’s Guide to Christmas by Demelza Clock

Written by author Holly Rivers.

 

1. Suggesting to your teacher that baby Jesus might have appreciated a soldering iron more than Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh is not a wise move (unless you want to spend the last week of term in detention.)

 

2. If you’re running low on pocket money and haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, look to your tool-box for inspiration. Who’s Grandma wouldn’t appreciate a lovely pair of earrings made from 80mm joint connector bolts?

 

3. Christingles definitely don’t make good inventing snacks.

 

4. Forget about gold rings, maids-a-milking and partridges in pear trees, what an inventor really wants for Christmas is a Nobel prize for Physics.

 

5. Always keep your inventing apparatus close at hand on Christmas day — a good quality handsaw is the perfect tool for carving turkey that’s spent one too many hours in the oven, and an electric drill can be useful for blocking out the sound of unwanted carol singers.

 

6. Scientific studies have proven that cocoa is beneficial for the brain — so eating your body-weight in chocolate coins for breakfast every day in December is perfectly reasonable behaviour. (Dipping a mince pie in your boiled egg is equally acceptable.)

 

7. Start perfecting your fake smile in November — your’e going to need it when you receive yet another pair of socks instead of the new Super Screwdriver 700 you’ve been dropping hints about all year.

 

8. Run out of wood-glue during the festive season? Don’t worry, bread sauce works just as well.

 

9. Whatever anyone says, a lab coat is appropriate attire for going to watch The Nutcracker.

 

10. If you’re inventing on Christmas day and planning on using a blowtorch in your workshop, don’t eat too many Brussels sprouts. Gassy bottoms and open flames don’t mix.

 

Demelza & The Spectre Detectors publishes in February 2020 from Chicken House Books. RRP. £6.99.

Blogmas 2019 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

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Santa’s work doesn’t all happen in a single night. Long before he sets out on Christmas Eve he touches up the paintwork on his sleigh and checks the presents off on his modern, new-fangled Techno-Pad. With all this gadgetry to help him do the job, what could possibly go wrong? 

Quite a lot, it turns out. When the pad drops from the sky and the screen goes blank, Santa doesn’t have a clue how to get it working again. He does what any self-respecting adult does during such a crisis – he pokes the screen several times and then accepts the help of a young person. 

Jasmin knows exactly what she is doing and Santa rewards her with an early present. The trouble is, it leaves him nothing to deliver for Jasmin to open on Christmas day. Luckily Jasmin is two steps ahead as always …

A witty story that will gain laughs from children raised with smart technology at their fingertips. 

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Given that adults design the stuff, it is strange how, whether it is GameBoys in the 1990s or laptops in the noughties, or the latest smart technology today, children are, as a whole, always more fluent in the use of electronic gadgets. It helps, of course, when they have never known a world without them – so children born today learn to navigate their way around apps at the same time as learning the alphabet. Even so, I reckon this book will gain plenty of laughs over Christmas as adults hand their new gifts over to nearby young people for configuring.

This story of new-fangled things is illustrated with retro-style pictures. This contrast works beautifully because it hints at the idea that Santa himself has been around … you know … for quite some time. It suggests a nostalgia for days of earlier technology – except, of course, that this was revolutionary in its era. 

A new take on the Christmas Eve delivery story just perfect for anyone who loves their technology. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Santa’s High-Tech Christmas. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

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A shy girl called Mimi finds a baby dragon asleep in the woodpile. Everyone in the village is afraid of the great Mountain Dragon but Mimi decides that the baby must be returned. As soon as the bells ring and call the other villagers to church, Mimi sneaks out treks up the mountainside to take the baby dragon safely home.

The Mountain Dragon is huge. She breathes fire. She is also relieved to have her baby home. As a gesture of thanks, she keeps watch over Mimi’s village which, being situated under the snowy mountains, is in constant danger from avalanches. 

Get ready for television animation by sharing the story together. 

This story, which has been available in a smaller book format for many years, has been remade as a larger picture book. The form suits it beautifully. Looking at the double-page and full-page illustrations, I felt as if I was a part of the landscape – looking down on the village from the mountains or up the slopes with Mimi as she climbed. It also allows us to look at the smaller pictures in more detail, and the illustrations are so beautiful that this is fully-deserved. 

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The main themes are friendship and fear and the way we judge others. A person who comes across as terrifying – maybe because they shout too much, or maybe because their tone is blunt and to the point – but who is kind and generous and filled with empathy. The dragon in this story may have a reputation for being fierce, but she cares greatly for her child and wants to show thanks for the little dragon’s safe return. 

Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of our best-known storytellers. Reading his stories always feels more like being told the tale of something that happened by a witness. Often this is intentional. In Mimi And The Mountain Dragon, as in some of Morpurgo’s books, we meet the narrator and learn of their connection to the tale before we hear the story itself. This is so rarely done now in children’s literature and yet it reminds us that the narrator is a part of the story and that stories are, after all, about people and places and experiences worth sharing. Putting The Mountain Dragon down, it is hard to believe the story never happened. 

A touching and gentle story that teaches us not to judge other people on their temperaments so readily. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the animation over Christmas, or make some hot chocolate and read the story together. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for my copy of Mimi And The Mountain Dragon. Opinions my own.

 

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Winnie The Pooh Titles.

Review: Winnie The Pooh Titles.

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Everyone loves Winnie-The-Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood. The original titles are childhood staples and even those of us who haven’t read them know the characters from television and film adaptations. These two books, one stocking-sized and one larger, are perfect to share in the run-up to Christmas.

The Long Winter’s Sleep sees Pooh and his friends making everything snug and warm ahead of a winter hibernation. Rabbit is cosy in his burrow, and Piglet is safe in bed, but something outside is cracking with life. Luckily it turns out to be Christopher Robin toasting marshmallows around a fire and he has plenty to share with all of his friends.

In A Pudding For Christmas, Winnie-The-Pooh advises his friends that the most important thing to feeling warm and cosy during the Winter is food. The gang set about making a Christmas pudding, which they share around a log-fire.

The running theme of warmth and friendship makes these feel very much like Winnie-The-Pooh stories.

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Branded titles – books based on existing characters and worlds, whether they be cartoon characters, toys or classic characters like Winnie-The-Pooh – are a staple part of a young person’s reading diet. Recognising favourite characters is one way that young people choose their reading material. These books aren’t by A.A. Milne but they capture the charm and comfort of his original stories and provide a faithful representation of his characters and setting. 

Winnie The Pooh is, quite frankly, irresistible. With one book small enough to slip into a stocking and another perfect to wrap up and put under the tree, there is no need to choose which title to give this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for sending the titles featured in this article for review. Opinions remain my own.

Blogmas 2019 · fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

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The Moon King is delighted when he finds out he is to become a father, and he vows to give his daughter the most beautiful present in all the world. He captures the Starbird, whose legendary voice fills the young Princess’s dreams with magic.

One day, the Princess notices that Starbird’s songs are filled with sadness and longing for the open skies. When the Moon King finds out that the Princess has set Starbird free, he vows to hunt high and low until the bird is recaptured.

The Princess begs and pleads with her father to see reason, for she knows that a living thing can belong to no other being.

A beautiful folktale presented with striking illustrations for a new generation.

Starbird – and variations on the story – is a story of hope for humankind. As equally as it makes us despair for the actions of people who have believed they can enslave and claim ownership of other lives, it brings hope. This story has been passed through the generations so clearly there have been voices speaking against such actions throughout time. It gets to the very core of the attitudes that have caused, among other things, the current Climate Crisis. To make a difference to the world we have to put aside the idea that ownership and profit are important.

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With plenty of great books coming out which have an overt message, is it lovely to see a folktale that happens to be relevant to our times. Readers will be introduced to this tale without expecting a message and so it will be their empathy for Starbird that leads them to think more broadly other issues. Otherwise, it is simply a beautiful tale to read over and over.

The illustration and design of this story is stunning and it stands out as a particularly special book because of it. Striking landscapes in pale colours alternate with patterned pages where animal shapes can be made out it the blank space between different designs. Silver foil detail is used to great effect throughout. There is a particular focus on skies – starry heavens, and swirling Arctic lights and pale sunsets over the mountains. This enhances our emotions around Starbird’s longing for freedom because the skies make a contrast with the metal bars of his cage.

It is always nice to mix Christmas stories with fairytales, folklore and classic stories. Starbird’s stunning illustrations and sparkling silver detail make it the perfect book to read over Winter and it is a story that offers a message hope and love for our times.

 

Thanks to Two Hoots (Macmillan Children’s UK) for my copy of Starbird. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

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Sidney Street is filled with beautiful Christmas trees in the windows at every house … except at number 34. Behind the front door, the decorations are engaged in a chase with the tree. The tree has no interest in standing still and dressing up. There are hundreds of more exciting things to do. 

Eventually, the decorations tire of running about and set to making a different plan. 

A laugh-out-loud funny rhyming tale about a Christmas Tree who just wants to be left alone. 

What makes this work is that it is relatable. Any young reader will side with the tree, however much they love decorations because every small child knows how boring it is to be made to dress in a certain outfit or to pose for a photograph all on the whim of some adult. Adults too will dimly remember those days. Don’t we all have one photograph of ourselves scowling at Christmas time in a hand-knitted jumper or a frilly dress sent by some well-meaning but clueless relative? 

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On a deeper level, this might help readers to think about each other’s feelings at Christmas. There is a lot of pressure on everybody and it is worth remembering that just because somebody doesn’t go along with plan A doesn’t mean they aren’t there to have a nice time with everyone else. A compromise can often be found and respecting personal boundaries is important. 

The rhyme and illustrations are both in the style of previous books by this author/illustrator duo and these are very popular with young readers. The illustrations are bold and filled with movement and life. At times there is so much energy in the characters it seems that they might run right off the page. 

Funny books play an important part in any reader’s diet. They tackle deep themes and real life issues just as much as other stories and writing good humour is an art form in itself. Oh, Christmas Tree! is pitched perfectly to be funny both to children and their adult readers and it will be a big hit this Christmas. 

 

Many thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Oh, Christmas Tree! Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

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An elderly lady visits the park every day to remember her childhood. 

She remembers walking through the park with Nanny Clementine. She remembers the carousel and statues, and the bullies who would poke fun at her on her way home. Most of all she remembers Scruffle-Nut – the little squirrel with the stumpy tail. 

In her mind, the elderly lady is a little girl again. She’s coping with bullies of her own, so when she sees the other squirrels ganging up on one who looks more vulnerable, she makes a special point of feeding him. Every day she returns until winter drives the squirrels out of the cold. 

A nostalgic and beautiful story about childhood, bullying and time. 

The idea that we might be elderly is a strange one to young children, as is the idea that elderly people were once small. Understanding that our formative years go a large way to making us the person we are helps young readers to relate to the elder people around them. It also helps to understand that the elderly once experineced the same things we are going through now. Adults can, unintentionally, trivialise the everyday experiences of the young, so it is important for young readers to see that adults understand younger lives on some level. 

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My favourite part of this story was the girl’s bond with Scrufffle-Nut. The bonds we make with animals in childhood are important and teach us so much about life. By watching Scruffle-Nut hold his head up around the stronger squirrels, the protagonist learns new approaches to her own situation. 

The illustrations remind me a little of Raymond Briggs. Not in style so much as in tone. The faint colours of the landscape and buildings make them appear as if they have blown in from the remote past, while the girl herself, and her immediate concerns, are bolder and brighter.

This story is a winner because people of all ages will find something in it and it will grow with readers in the same way as books like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or Grandpa by John Burningham. A beautiful book to share over the holidays and certainly a story to treasure. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Scruffle-Nut. Opinions my own.