Picture Books · Uncategorized

Review: Leyla by Galia Bernstein

Review: Leyla by Galia Bernstein


Leyla has a big family. A huge one. They’re always around, making noise and fussing over each other and generally getting in the way. One day Leyla’s has enough. She heads outside and goes off on a big adventure. She meets a lizard who teaches her to find a quiet space inside herself, and to enjoy the outdoors. 

A cute and relatable picturebook about large families and small living spaces. 

Leyla has a huge family, but it doesn’t take a big family to get on top of each other. With young families struggling for space, especially in cities, many children today will be familiar with the difficulties of not having enough personal space. 

Leyla discovers three things during the same adventure. She finds the quiet of outdoor space which is open to everyone. She learns to meditate or to enjoy her own inner peace. Finally, when she returns home with a minor injury, she learns that it is always better to have family and be loved, even if it means struggling for space. 

The baboons in the story have such extraordinary facial expressions and poses that I feel certain Galia Bernstein has spent lots of time observing them in life and learning their mannerisms. The early pages show Leyla squashed in with her family, with no other background, but when she gains a new perspective we see the baboons life close to a large outdoor space. I love the contrast between Leyla squashed in among her family and the next pages where she explores the outdoors. 

A story which appears to be written from the heart, with a lovable cast of characters. 


Thanks to Abrams Kids for my gifted copy of Leyla. Opinions my own.

Board Book · Uncategorized

Board Book Round-Up (March 2019)

Board Book Round-Up (March 2019)


The ABC OF Musical Instruments by Ailie Busby

Join a cast of forest animals as they bang their drums, blow their oboes and party from A to Z. An alphabet book in a traditional format (A is for …, B is for …), what makes this especially beautiful is the use of pattern. The designs were inspired by Jane Austen’s garden, and by the lining of a coat thought to have belonged to her which is in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust. Pages alternate from a colour-blocked letter with a patterned background to a colour-blocked letter with a patterned background.

The book has a lovely vintage feel but is lively and appealing for young readers.

123 Tea Party by Ailie Busby

A little fox is setting out a tea party for his friends. How many cakes does he need? How many pots of tea. Count from one to ten and join little fox and his friends at the end as they celebrate with a tea party.

Plain block backgrounds allow the patterned numbers and details to stand out. As in The ABC Of Musical Instruments, the patterns were inspired by Jane Austen’s garden and at Chawton. This is a very pretty book. Fox is helped along the way by a flock of birds and everything about his tea service is totally Cath Kidston.

Early numeracy is important but teaching children the basics of afternoon tea is inspired.




Say Hello To The Gruffalo. Based on the book by Julia Donaldson And Axel Scheffler.

A stroll in the wood. Off we go! Who is coming to say hello?

Join the famous mouse on a walk through the woods and meet the characters known and loved from the original picture book. This would make a gentle introduction to The Gruffalo for children too young for the original book. It is also a lovely rhyme.

The book has peek-through pages. Characters are first seen through round windows which then frame the mouse when the page is turned. This allows plenty of play and is a good big space to stick little fingers through.

A thoughtfully designed companion to a favourite book.


Gruffalo, What Can You Hear? Based on the book by Julia Donaldson And Axel Scheffler.

A hiss in the leaves, a hoot in the trees …

This lovely little book introduces words for sound, especially focusing on the animals featured in The Gruffalo. Three sentences extend over the course of the book, making it the perfect size to enjoy on the go.

The book clips on to the buggy with a strap, which can be dettached if the book is unclipped and given to a tiny child. The strap is made from stretchy elastic so the book can be pulled a little way around from where it is attached.

Give the gift of reading on the go, and introduce a small child to the Gruffalo.



Pets by Jane Foster

Reptiles and birds. Big and small. Say hello to the animals most commonly adopted as companions.

With a word and a picture, this is the perfect vocabulary builder. Point at the pictures and follow the letters of the word until your little reader learns the words for our animal friends.

I adore the design, with bright, contrasting colours, subtle patterns on the pages with the words and funky retro-style animals which could be straight out of a 1960s picture book. Elder siblings might enjoy using this as a catalogue for drawing inspiration. This would be a lovely way to bring the bigger kids into a reading experience designed for the very young.

This is part of a series of books. Think first 1000 words split into bright, attractive volumes. Why wait until your child is old enough for paper pages when you can start with such beautiful and fun books?



Who’s Hiding At The Seaside? and Who’s Hiding In The Woods? by Katherine McEwan

There are animals hiding everywhere. 

Take a trip to the seaside. Go for a stroll in the local woods. Who do you expect to find?

The answer is there are more animals out there than many of us realise. With an increasingly urbanised population, and dwindling knowledge of the natural world, it is important we introduce a love of the outdoors early so that the next generation grow up to love and protect the world.

Microhabitats are introduced, from a windy cliffside to a rock pool. Lift back the flaps to find out which animals inhabit each area. On the reverse side of the flaps are facts about the animals. As these are cardboard flaps, I would recommend these books to the oldest board book readers, although many of the parents I speak to on Twitter are absolute pros at keeping cardboard flaps safe (or letting them get damaged in the name of education. Also a good call.)

The illustrations pick out the different textures you would expect in each habit and capture the movement of leaves and grass blowing in the wind. A beautiful introduction to the outdoors.



Hello, Mr Dinosaur! by Sam Boughton

Take a tour through the time of the dinosaurs. Just how big was a velociraptor? What did a triceratops eat? Learn some basic facts about each dinosaur until you too are a fully qualified dino-spotter.

With the dinosaurs illustrated from different angles and the textures of their bodies really thought out, this is one of the most attractive introductions to the subject which I have seen in a long time. I love the paint and crayon effect of the pictures and the way the landscape is shown alongside the animals. Many children are shown touring the prehistoric world, which makes the subject feel less remote than it can in books which show only the unknown.

The end pages fold out into a big dinosaur display which also acts as a memory test of the dinosaurs’ names. This will keep young enthusiasts busy and engaged.

The book has cardboard flaps and challenging facts and would be perfect for slightly older board book readers. This would be perfect for older children with small siblings – this was a specific group we catered to when I worked as a bookseller because some parents just didn’t want to buy paper books when they were in danger of being wrecked, but also wanted to keep their nursery aged children engaged.

An insightful and attractive introduction to a popular topic. Highly recommended.



Ottie Elephant In The Town and Marley Bear At The Farm by Melissa Crowton

Where are the animals off to today? What do the hear? What kind of objects might they find? Take a trip out and about with an animal friend and explore the vocabulary relevant to different settings.

With felt flaps to lift and scrunch, mirrors for play time, textures to stroke, and hide and seek games in the pictures, these books are high on play value. They are bright and attractive with lots of primary colours and simple patterns.

Although the book follows the animal through one location, it could be opened on one page to play a game. This makes them great books for on the bus or train because they will keep your little reader distracted without it being a disappointment if the story can’t be finished.


Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, MacMillan Children’s Books UK, Templar Publishing and New Frontier Publishing UK for gifting the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

awards · Chat · Uncategorized

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

Celebrate children’s literature and show your love for the Carnegie medal.

carnegie 2019

Looking for a great way to celebrate children’s literature? Get yourself behind the Carnegie awards.

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards are judged by children’s librarians. What makes them unique is that this never changes. The only people who have ever judged them are qualified librarians. Those magical people who work with books on a daily basis and put them into children’s hands. They have the double-expertise of qualifications and regular contact with young readers.

The medal is also uniquely brilliant at identifying books which we will still be reading in 50 years time.

Look at the list of past winners. The Little White Horse, The Borrowers, Tom’s  Midnight Garden. Many of the earliest winners are still beloved reads. Still in circulation and read by the current generation of children. The medal has spotted debut authors who have gone on to be some of the biggest names in children’s storytelling (David Almond’s Skellig, for example, was awarded the medal). 

Every year people in my Twittersphere debate whether children should have a say in the judging process. This conversation can get heated because there are people who are rightly passionate about children having a say in their own literature. 

greenaway 2019

It is also important to recognise children’s writing as a craft. An art. Too often children’s literature loses press space and attention and literary critics have made comments which dismiss children’s fiction as something inferior to the adult literary canon. To stand against this and say we recognise the artists at work in children’s literature today, we need awards run by professionals. That’s not to dismiss children’s voices. In fact, the awards feature a very popular shadowing scheme, where school and library groups work their way through the shortlist, and for the first time this year has introduced the Shadowers’ Choice Award to celebrate the shortlisted book most popular with young people.

I support the Carnegie then because it champions children’s literature as an art, it has a great track record of picking future classics and it gives dedicated authors and illustrators the recognition they deserve.

With this year’s list on my bookshelf, I am already exploring a great range of literature and illustration and making notes about the merits and qualities of every book.

I look forward to reviewing the shortlisted titles and sharing my thoughts over the coming weeks. Join in the discussion: let me know your predictions on this year’s medal, your favourite past winner or who you would like to see nominated in the future.

The most wonderful thing about the Carnegie of all is it gets us talking about books.


(Images from CILIP Carenegie and Kate Greenaway website.)

craft · Uncategorized

Annual reading challenges – why I won’t be setting targets for 2019.


A reflection on annual reading challenges

Last December, book-bloggers everywhere set their annual challenges. The GoodReads counter felt obligatory. Beyond that, there were challenges based on Diversity, challenges for fantasy book lovers and challenges for people who wanted to broaden their literary horizons., challenges everywhere. Like every other book blogger, I set my targets and made a page, copying out my bingo-list of books to read in 2018.

Six weeks into the New Year and that page was forgotten.

If you like and enjoy challenges, please understand I think there is space for them. This is not a page to knock book challenges. It is a personal reflection and a post to explore the reason I won’t be signing up for reading challenges in 2019.

What are reading challenges anyway? 


I set three challenges last year – to read 100 books, to read eight or more books by an Australian YA author and the Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge. I gave some more consideration than others – the Australian YA came from my enjoyment of Begin, End, Begin, an anthology which showcased the brilliant work of Australian YA authors. One hundred books, now that was arbitrary. It was the figure-I-would-reach-but-not-too-quickly. The Modern Mrs Darcy just ticked a broad range of literary styles. I certainly wanted to include poetry, essays, work in translation etc in my reading diet, although on reflection they were also targets I was going to hit without serious consideration.

This isn’t a space to reflect on my success or failure – this is a space to question whether we should hold ourselves accountable to goals we set at the start of the year.

Every bookworm knows that feeling. The one we get when we walk into a bookshop or a library. I know it – I see a room full of bookshelves and change from woman to book-sniffer. My hunting instincts kick in. With no conscious decision, my walk slows, my eyes become alert and I prowl the shelves. Titles are sized-up and discarded. Covers are scanned, pages read until … something clicks. Certainly, there are times when I go in search of a specific book but on those occasions when I am browsing, I know the right book by instinct.

Subconscious plays an important role in reading. When I say I’ve found the right book, when I say it feels right, I mean I subconsciously know the sort of book I’m looking to read next. This is one of the most magical parts of being a bookworm and I don’t want to ignore it for the sake of a list.

Notice how many ghost stories are published in the autumn? How many light YA romances in the summer? Our reading tastes are shaped by our day-to-day experience and publishers know it. Come the autumn, come the need to cuddle up under a blanket and read by torchlight into the small hours. That’s not to say everyone reads seasonally or we only read ghost stories in the autumn, but seasonal conditions are one of the things which affect our choices without us giving the matter any thought. Likewise a popular documentary or film could put us in the mood for a certain type of story. Hands-up who read lots of fairytale spin-offs when Beauty and The Beast was released?

We absorb the world around us and go in search of more. This is magical and special, like a current flowing through our minds, and I want to ride it.

That’s not to say I won’t be reflective or go in search of particular things. I would certainly like to read more books which represent minorities – books which represent BAME characters, LGBTQA characters, characters from different socio-economic backgrounds and characters with a long-term health condition or disability. Less than one percent of all books published in 2017 featured a BAME main-character, but those which are out there? They are windows into life-experiences and I will pick those books up. I will pick them up because I want every story told and every life represented on the bookshelves, not to tick off a box on an annual challenge.  

What about the social side of challenges? There’s nothing better than talking to other bookish people about specific bookish topics. Maybe I picked the wrong selection of challenges, or maybe I should have kept track of my challenges on social media. Certainly, I didn’t have any additional interaction beyond the comments when I initially wrote the page. I would love more interaction in 2019 and want to talk to all kinds of people – book bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, people who have never written in their lives. I want to take part in chats and receive recommendations. I’m just not certain annual challenges bring that.

With events, readathons and tags throughout the year, there will be opportunities to engage with the blogging community and try out something new. As the New Year approaches I may write a post looking to the year ahead and my commitment to read a wide range of voices. After that I’ll see where 2019 takes me and I will be here to blog about it. 


Are you setting challenges this year? How did you find the experience in 2018? Let me know in the comments below. 




Blog Tour: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli




Roa and her sister Essie shared an unbreakable bond. A bond so strong that, when Essie was killed, her soul remained in this world. Roa swore she would never forgive the boy responsible for Essie’s death but, when Dax came begging for help, Roa made a deal.

She would provide an army for his uprising if he agreed to make her Queen and end the sanctions which kept the Scrublanders in poverty.

Dax didn’t keep his side of the bargain. Not only has he not made the slightest improvement for the Scrublanders, he is seeing other girls. He hasn’t honoured any of the bonds he made with Roa. There is no reason to think he will turn out any differently to his manipulative, cruel father.

There is an old myth. A myth about the Skyweaver, who sends the souls of the dead into the sky where they belong. If Roa can get her hands on the Skyweaver’s knife she can reclaim her sister’s soul.

All she would have to do is kill Dax, the boy king.

A powerful sequel about love, betrayal and the bond between two sisters.



Please note: This review assumes you are familiar with The Last Namsara and its storyline. If you haven’t read The Last Namsara, please be warned that there are spoilers. Check out my review of The Last Namsara here.

 The Last Namsara was one of my favourite books of 2017. It was a brilliant and lyrical fantasy which told the story of a young woman who overturned a corrupt king and freed the dragons who had been hunted almost to extinction. The Caged Queen is told in the same style. Short fairytales are interwoven into the main story. These build up a storyline about an object so powerful it could return the soul of a loved one to a body.

We follow the same group of characters, but the narrative is told from a different perspective. This time, the story centres on Roa, the Scrublander warrior who was key to the rebellion. Roa gave up everything to marry the Firgaardian King, including the boy she truly loved. It was a move which she hoped would liberate her people. I love how the same characters look totally different from a different set of eyes. The history between the two cultures exacerbates this – what appeared heroic to a Firgaardian might appear oppressive to a Scrublander.

It was lovely to learn more about the history of these two cultures. About the rebellion which lead to the divide and the fact that neither culture is perfect. The Scrublanders may have chosen exile over tyranny but over time they forgot their key principle – that there is no such thing as an enemy. The themes explored in this storyline are highly relevant to the modern world. The two cultures have long lived apart. Corrupt Firgaardian rules have taken advantage of this to claim the Scrublanders are something different. Something other. This that could promote discussion of historical divisions and the reasons they continue.

The other theme which has been explored in both books is manipulation. Dax comes from a line of men who have historically exploited others. His father married and then killed a woman from the Scrublands. Dax doesn’t respect Roa as a human being. He sees her as a potential bedmate who is not living up to her duty. It is important to see manipulative behaviour in YA – both in the context of partnerships and in a broader context (manipulation within families, for example, and manipulative rulers.) Manipulative people are often the most charming and the ones in command of their conversation and behaviour. It is important for young readers to see this behaviour in fiction if they are to recognise and avoid it in life.

Another great hit for Kristen Ciccarelli. The Caged Queen confirms this series as one of the great YA fantasies. Watch this author – she’s an extraordinary talent.


Thanks to Victor Gollancz LTD for inviting me on to the tour and for my copy of The Caged Queen. Opinions my own.


Review: The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup



Although she had wished for and almost expected it, the next thing that happened surprised Tessa: six fingers and a furry head appeared at the top of the hole. Two pointed ears and a rather large potato-like nose stuck out of the shaggy, whitish fur. Beneath bushy eyebrows, a pair of icy-blue, beady eyes were staring at her. 

(The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup. P59.)


Tessa’s grandfather recently died and her grandmother is ill. Nobody else believes Tessa about the Barbegazi – the fairy-like creatures who live in the mountains. There is only one old book which confirms their existence.

Tessa sets out to prove their existence.

Gawion is a young Barbegazi who has grown up with one golden rule: never trust humans. Humans have imprisoned Barbegazi before, trapping them in iron cages. Humans can’t be trusted.

Now Gawion’s sister is missing and he might have to break that golden rule to get her back.

A story of friendship, trust and the reason some things are better kept secret.


A gentle and beautifully-written fairy tale set in the snowy mountains of Europe. I was charmed by the Barbegazi – a word which describes the creatures’ frozen beards. Barbegazi are fairy-like creatures who hide away in the mountains. They only come into contact with humans during an avalanche. They will rescue any humans who are in danger, but they will knock those humans out so they have no memory of their rescuers.

Many humans can’t be trusted with secrets of the natural world. It is a sad but honest fact – as a species, we are inclined to destroy the world around us in the name of human progress. This story is told from two perspectives – that of a young Barbegazi who needs to recognise that a small number of humans can be trusted, and that of a young girl who wants everyone to believe her when she talks about the Barbegazi.

There is a secondary storyline about an old book and a professor who may be the only person who knows about the Barbegazis’ existence. I loved the way this history was pieced together through extracts from the book. It reminded me of the storyline in Paddington, about the one explorer who gave up everything because he refused to deny the existence of talking bears.

I also loved the setting – the Swiss Alps are simultaneously beautiful and dangerous. A skier distracted by the view can find themselves falling off a precipice or buried under feet of snow. Although this is not somewhere I have visited, it was brought to life in such a way that I felt as if I knew the place. At a time when certain British politicians are pushing anti-European sentiments around, it is important to introduce young readers to the geography and culture of Europe. Stories build connections between people in different places. Now more than ever we need to share art and literature from around the world.

This would be a perfect read in the run-up to Christmas. Snuggle down in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and be swept away by the magic of a great story.


Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of The Missing Barbegazi. Opinions my own.





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

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


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.


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. 


Uncategorized · Young Middle Grade

Blog Tour: The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin

Secret Deep blog tour banner.jpg



Poppy seems to be accepting this place more, but I keep thinking about the man, Doctor Jonathan, and the argument between him and Iona. I’m beginning to feel like we are in a giant containment pen, like a safari-park enclosure.

(The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin. P34.)



After their mother dies, Aster and her little sister Poppy are sent to live with Aunt Iona. They are excpecting a house but Aunt Iona lives in an eco-village where she studies healthy lifestyles. Aster keeps noticing strange things about the eco-village. There’s the forced injections for one thing, and the argument between Aunt Iona and the other doctor. Then Aster wakes up on a tropical island with no idea how she got there. Poppy has disappeared.

Where is she? Where are all the teenagers from the eco-village, and most importantly of all, where is Poppy? The more Aster searches for Poppy, the more strange things she finds. There is a secret deep in the water. A secret with the potential to change medical history.bird


An underwater thriller and a fantastic adventure. From the creeping sense that something isn’t right in the eco-village to the show-stopping underwater scenes, everything about this book is designed to keep you reading.

Here’s a secret – I thought I didn’t like thrillers. I loved this book. Maybe I don’t like thriller clichés. Car chases and eccentric billionaires and ‘broken’ protagonists. This book is original, its characters are rounded and the villains are the heroes of their own story. You could almost sympathise with the main villain, and that’s what makes this so good. It is a Frankenstein story about the darkest human experiences and how far we should reasonably go to change the inevitable. It is about science and ethics and the lengths we would go to save people we love.

Aster’s grief feels real. She deflects all conversation about her mother but sees likenesses to Mum everywhere. This isn’t a melodramatic grief. It is silent and all-encompassing. Aster also suffers from anxiety, and it is wonderful to see a protagonist with mental health issues who is able to live with their condition. This story isn’t about treating the anxiety. It is something Aster lives with and manages while she continues her life. Top marks for representation. It is so important for people to understand that mental health conditions can – when they are manageable – be part of everyday life.

There is another great character in the story. Sam’s Grandad has cancer and the experimental trial which was working wonders has been cancelled. If you find it difficult to empathise with Iona, you will certainly feel for Sam. He would go to any lengths to save his Grandad, even if it meant endangering other people. Sam’s story gives us a deeper emotional link to the main themes. It is easier to imagine ourselves in Sam’s shoes than Iona’s.

The other thing I love about this book is the setting. The coral reef and white sands. Lindsay Galvin clearly has an interest in science. We learn about bioluminescent creatures and edible plants and preserving resources. This is a deeply intelligent setting with the potential to interest its readers in biology and geography.

A brilliant and beautiful story whose themes are deeper for their subtlety. I would love to read more about Sam and Aster, and their fascinating discovery.


THE SECRET DEEP is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Connect with Lindsay on Twitter: @lindsaygalvin
Huge thanks to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for my copy of The Secret Deep. Opinions my own.
Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books · Uncategorized

Picture Book Review: Billy And The Beast by Nadia Shireen


Billy loves going for walks with his Fatcat. They jump and splash in puddles and greet all the adorable little creatures in the woods. It should be the perfect day but something isn’t right. The adorable little creatures have disappeared. Before Billy and Fatcat can investigate further they are tied up in a sack.

img_6596There’s a Terrible Beast with a terrible plan. He’s got a recipe for soup and he plans to stick to the ingredients. Can Billy and Fatcat save the adorable little creatures before they end up in the pot?

A familiar tale of a beast with an appetite retold for our times. There are scooters and donughts and familiar motifs which make this feel less like a fairytale than a modern story. The bright colour palette and bold drawings support this sense that the story is thourghly of our times.

img_6617The humour in this book is reminiscent of The Gruffalo. The world is a dark place, little creatures are in danger of getting eaten – or stuffed into ingredients jars – but plucky and daring heroes can outwit the darkness. I adore books like this because they don’t sugarcoat the world.

There has been conversation online about Billy -the protagonist with an afro. It is a symptom of how poor representation has been that it is even worth noting but having children from all backgrounds in stories is vital. Do you remember being a kid and liking a protagonist more because they had your hair-colour or wore glasses or came from an area just like yours? These things may seem trivial to adults but children need to imagine themselves at the centre of an adventure. Skin colour is exactly the same. Books like Billy And The Beast are precious because they let children see themselves as the hero of the story.

Thanks to Sarah Hastelow and Puffin at Penguin Random House for my copy of Billy And The Beast. Opinions my own.


Literary Fiction Reviews · Uncategorized

Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood



I was handed over to Odysseus like a package of meat, A package of meat in a wrapping of gold, mind you. A sort of gilded blood-pudding. But perhaps that is too crude a similie for you. Let me add that meat was highly valued among us – the aristocracy at lots of it … 

(The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. P39.) birdSynopsis:

Everyone knows the story of Odysseus the hero. Odysseus the bold adventurer who sailed the seas. His wife is remembered for her devotion. Although Odysseus disappeared for many years, Penelope refused to marry one of the suitors who begged for her hand. She wove a shroud, refusing to marry until it was done, and unpicked her work every night to keep the suitors at bay. This is her role in the Odyssey.

Now Penelope wanders the underworld she is free to tell her own story. Her version of events is quite different. It begins with the father who tried to drown her at birth, moves to the husband who disappeared for twenty years and then to the son who grew to assert his dominance over his mother.


Penelope. Immortalised as the devoted wife of Odysseus, Penelope is best remembered for weaving and unpicking and reweaving a shroud as she awaited her husband’s return. Margaret Atwood gives Penelope her own voice. As Penelope wanders the underworld she tells her own story, freed for the first time from the shadow of men.

Good retellings should bring something new to existing stories. Make us see something in a new light. The Penelopiad is fearless and feminist. It shows us what life was like for Penelope and how little value a woman’s life had in Ancient Greece.

Poetic and lyrical, Penelope’s story is woven around regular songs from the hanged maids. While Odysseus was away – looting and pillaging and having affairs – Penelope’s home was overrun by men seeking her hand in marriage. The twelve maids were hanged for their affairs with these suitors. The way in which the songs interrupt the narrative is haunting, precisely what Atwood seems to have been aiming for, as the voices are meant to haunt the men who think they can get away with rape and murder. Odysseus, who killed the girls for the shame of their crimes, was free enough in his affairs with other women.

Penelope recounts her life in relation to men – the father who tried to drown her before he realises the material worth of marrying a daughter, the husband who left her for years to conduct affairs with other women and the son who grew up to believe his voice was the most important in the household. The maids’ songs remind us that Penelope was lucky – a noblewoman was safer because her life had material worth.

These themes are not all retrospective. The trial at the end of the novel reminds us that the same issues are still present in the world today. This is an extraordinary work because it not only brings a female voice to the myth but a female agenda. Poetic and bold and one of my favourite retellings.  


Thank you to Canongate Books for my copy of The Penelopiad. Opinions my own. The Canongate Myths – new takes on old myths by leading authors – are available now.