Early Reader Reviews · Picture Books · Young Middle Grade

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

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Flat Stanley is back, and this time he is in picture book format.

When a pinboard falls on Stanley, it squashes him flat. Flat as a pancake. Changing shape has advantages and disadvantages. Stanley’s brother can fly him like a kite, but Stanley also gets stuck up a tree.

When the local museum reports trouble with sneak thieves, Stanley comes up with a cunning plan to help. A plan which only someone who is flat can enact.

A humorous adventure from the author of the original Flat Stanley titles. This is a very similar story to one in the original book, but the words have changed to bring it to a new audience.

img_9403Changing shape and doing things which nobody else can is a big dream at a certain age. The Flat Stanley stories play on this to great effect, but they also explore the downside of feeling different. Stanley faces physical obstacles and he is also on the receiving ends of unkind comments and thoughtless behaviour from other people. This more than anything makes him wish to be the same as everybody else.

Stanley is lucky to have a big brother, Arthur, who is always there to help him. The sibling relationship in this story is as memorable as that in the Horrid Henry series. It is difficult to imagine Stanley without Arthur.

Rob Biddulph’s illustrations have brought the stories to life. Both in the picture book and the new collection of the Flat Stanley stories, Biddulph’s work adds energy and freshness which was missing before. Given that the stories are over 50 years old, it makes sense for the illustrations to be updated for the current generation.

Seeing the same brand in different formats is an encouraging new trend in children’s fiction. There is nothing more powerful at an early age than a familiar character. Think how small children are drawn like magnets to their favourite television characters. (For me it was Postman Pat. Everyone can name theirs.) Transitioning to chapter books can feel like a big jump, but knowing the character already takes away part of the work and makes it feel more like an adventure. For a great post about picture book/early reader pairings see this post by mother of small children and blogger Lilyfae. 

A bright and beautiful new edition of an old classic which will be a hit with a new generation. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

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Young Middle Grade

Young Fiction and Younger MG roundup: May 2019

Young Fiction and Younger MG roundup: May 2019

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The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman 

Mrs Minty’s bookshop is the most important place in Milly’s world. It is run by Mrs Minty, who is a walking, talking encyclopedia of stories. She’s also getting a bit slower. A bit creaky.

One day the bookshop is closed and a woman packs all the storytime rugs and cushions into a van. Milly can’t imagine the bookshop vanishing, and she wants Mrs Minty to know how much it means to the community. Unable to contact Mrs Minty, Milly sticks a picture on the bookshop window. Then a strange thing happens. All kinds of pictures and messages appear.

A  heartwarming story about the role of independent bookshops.

Nothing replaces the knowledge of a good librarian or bookseller … and there is nothing more magical than the moment a young customer looks at you with an open mouth and says ‘have you read every book in the world‘? I know because I played that role for eighteen months. It was special every time.

No algorithm can replace the knowledge a bookish person has of themes or settings or character development.

The illustrations show the contrast between the warmth and colour of a bookshop and the dull cold of other shops. Although bookselling is a retail job … it just isn’t. Because while shifting books is important, the conversations between bookseller and customer mean so much more.

Another fabulous title from the new Colour range from Stripes Publishing.

 

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Little Dolphin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye

One minute Fliss is in a swimming lesson, admiring the artwork at the bottom of the pool. The next minute she is on a tropical island. 

While she is out swimming in the coral, Fliss meets a little dolphin. Then she meets some fishers who explain how much care take to remain a fair distance from the corals and to free any animals caught up in their nets.

When Spinner gets trapped in some netting which has been left on the ocean floor, Fliss must use all her Future Vet determination and bravery to free him before he becomes a meal for a shark. 

The second book in Little Rescue series. 

Sometimes I get a book I know I would have loved as a child, and these stories are exactly the sort of thing I would have stuffed down the side of my bunk bed and read early in the morning. Fliss’s love of other animals goes beyond toys and posters. She truly wants to learn about them.

There is also a bit of magic in the way Fliss is transported to another setting. It is the superpower lots of small children would pick, and it enables Fliss to see new parts of the world. 

Too often stories about animals put humans in a dominant role. Even rescue books can fall foul of this. If the human’s only interaction with the animals is as a rescuer, and no time is given to spending time alongside or learning about other species, it reinforces the idea of humans in control. Rachel Delahaye’s stories introduce the idea that we share interactions with creatures other than humans. That we should respect them equally to ourselves. If the current climate catastrophe is to be reversed, we need people to adopt this worldview fast. 

A great addition to the series. 

 

Star Friends – Moonlight Mischief by Linda Chapman. Illustrated by Lucy Fleming

A cloud of dark magic is hanging over the village of Westcombe. 

Luckily the girls and their Star Friends are alert for any trouble. When the village is entered for the Best Kept Competiton, strange things begin to happen. At the same time, an elderly resident takes against the local schoolchildren and demands that they keep away from his house. Could he have something to do with the dark shades? 

Another great installment in the Star Friends series. 

I love the magic in the Star Friends books. It starts with a bond between a human and an animal, and every person has a different magical talent. These talents reflect the girls’ personalities. The dark magic, while creepy, is written with its young readership in mind. It keeps the reader hooked but there is nothing to induce nightmares. 

The books always have great contemporary storylines mixed in with the fantasy. As a result, the friendship group has grown stronger over the series. 

The illustrations show wonderful observations of animal behaviour and the girls remind me of the Lego Friends. (There is *huge* potential for reenacting this series with Lego Friends and some Lego animals). 

 

The Hideaway Deer by Holly Webb 

When Lola moves house she misses her old life. That is until she finds the huge garden and the deer who come to visit. When she finds a little foal stuck in some netting, Lola is determined to help. 

Looking after the fawn causes some friction at school. A group of girls is jealous about the attention Lola receives from her teacher. Lola doesn’t mind though, not when it brings her closer to her new friend Paige. 

When Lola’s Uncle asks her to keep a secret about the fawn, Lola agrees not to tell anyone. Will keeping secrets from Paige spoil their friendship for good?

A beautiful story about animals, friendship and how wild spaces can help us through times of change and hurt. Paige and Lola come together because of their shared respect for animals, but sometimes sticking to our own principles can mean upsetting other people

Holly Webb creates some beautiful settings. Lola’s garden is no exception. The deer come through the fence early in the morning. It is a real wildlife haven. 

 

Shine – Lily’s Secret Audition by Holly Webb

Lily has never felt like she belongs at stage school. Even though her parents both have connections to the industry, and everyone expects her to do well, Lily has never been certain it is the place for her. She’s always worried that she only got the place because of her mother’s reputation. 

When Lily asks to be put forward for an audition for a television adaptation of her favourite book, her teachers are doubtful. If Lily can’t put the effort in during regular classes, how will she pull it out for the dramatisation? They put her name forward, but the pressure is on for Lily to perform during school time. 

Can Lily get to the bottom of her issues about stage school in time to pull off the audition?

A lovely story which encourages us to empathise with people no matter how perfect their lives seem. Lily appears to have it all. A big house, wealthy parents, connections in the industry … and yet she’s been under immense pressure since she was a small child. Her Mum can’t understand that Lily might want other things. That it might be tough to live up to a big name. And sometimes Lily wants her parents to step back and allow her to achieve things on her own. 

From the day she auditioned at stage school, Lily has felt certain she only got in because of a name. That she hasn’t got the same talent as her friends. 

This series is brilliant at showing the flip-side of the coin. After following Sara, whose parents don’t want stage work to get in the way of normal education, we meet Lily whose mother would have seen her with acting credits from an early age. Neither girl is badly off. Both girls have issues to overcome.

Shine is a wonderful series. It has a wide cast, emotionally involved storylines and encouraging messages to everyone who ever had a dream. 

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Level Up! By Tom Nicoll. Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

Flo and Max can’t believe their luck when they are taken inside a video game. How many other children land directly on the moon? Then the Emperor’s son Gary captures them, mistaking them for the infamous player known as the Red Ghost.

The children will have to win to escape the game, but how will they do that when the Red Ghost has hacks and cheats at his fingertips?

A wonderful story which is true to all the best gaming experiences.

There are some brilliant themes, especially the attitude Flo experiences as a female player. Other characters question how a ‘little girl’ can win the game. With female technology journalists opening up about the discrimination they have faced in a male-dominated world, it is important that the next generation grow up confident that gaming is for anybody with the skill.

The illustrations show the children in a realistic world which has gaming-inspired touches (such as electricity bursting out from the weapons).

The next story in the series looks set to be in a Minecraft style building game. Looking forward to seeing this series grow.

 

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 The Naughtiest Unicorn by Pip Bird. Illustrated by David O’Connell

Mira has always dreamed of going to Unicorn School. When her dreams come true, she vows to be a good student and gets lots of medals. Then she is paired with her unicorn, Dave. Dave has other plans. Most of them involve eating, and none of them involve being Mira’s best friend. How will she ever win lots of medals if Dave doesn’t cooperate? And what use will he be on a magical quest if he can’t behave?

A fun story filled with friendship, sparkles and lots of droughts.

The Naughtiest Unicorn didn’t feel like a typical unicorn book. Certainly, there were rainbows and magical quests, but there was a healthy dose of dung and doughnuts and everyday school pressures to counter the fluff.

After all, why should every unicorn be handsome and brave? How boring would it be if we were all the same? Even so, Mira puts herself under a lot of pressure to achieve results and she needs to connect with Bob to get through the year.

The illustrations are a must. Think grumpy unicorns pulling faces while Bob misbehaves. These stories will be popular for the pictures alone.

A fresh take on unicorns brings a whole lot of fun to these stories.

 

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Dennis In Jurassic Bark by Nigel Auchterlounie [A Beano Adventure]

The Mayor of Beanotown is determined to bring some of the dinosaurs from Duck Island to the Beanotown zoo, and nothing will stop him. Due to an asteroid which hit many years ago, everything on Duck Island is small, but if the asteroid were tampered with the dinosaurs would grow to a normal size and spread out across Beanotown.

Dennis and Gnasher set off to stop the Mayor from spoiling Duck Island and unleashing the dinosaurs.

A story of fun, action and interactive puzzles.

Favourite Beano characters come together for a novel sized adventure. Minnie the Minx wants a pet dinosaur, Walter is a walking fact file and Gnasher has fangs to challenge the biggest prehistoric beasts. I read the Beano aged six or seven and considered myself a loyal fan. It offered an escape from the rules made up by adults and showed me a world where children ruled.

The mixture of puzzles and games in the book offers incentives to reluctant readers while proving that stories can take any number of forms.

A fun-filled adventure which sees Beanotown go Jurassic.

 

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Ada Twist And The Perilous Pantaloons by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Ada Twist has an inquiring mind. Every question leads to two more questions, and every answer leads to a better understanding of how the world works.

She’s the perfect problem to help Rosie Revere with a problem. Her Uncle Ned is wearing a pair of helium pantaloons, and the rope which is supposed to keep him anchored to the ground came loose. Now it is caught on the top branch of a tree. How can Rosie and Ada get him down?

With her friends the Questioneers, their combined brainpower and a bit of help from her brother’s tennis racquet, Ada Twist saves the day.

A brilliant story which centres around scientific problem-solving.

This story looks at the air pressure, air currents and how the behaviour of molecules changes at different temperatures. I am delighted to find a story built around scientific problems. Fiction and illustration can make a problem memorable and make readers excited about learning more.

Thumbs up for Ada Twist and the Questioneers. I am seriously late to the party but this series is popular for a good reason.

 

Thanks to Stripes Books, Egmont UK, Bonnier Books, Abrams And Chronicle Books and Laura Smythe PR for gifting the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Young Middle Grade

Younger fiction and Young Middle Grade round-up: April 2019

Princess Of Pets: The Naughty Kitten by Paula Harrison. Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller 

img_8925Princess Bea rescues and cares for any animal in need. She finds a lost kitten in a tree, names him Tiger, and tries to trace his owner, but how can Tiger stay in the palace when he is constantly getting into trouble? Is there any way Bea can prove that Tiger has a good side?

An adventurous kitten causes mayhem as he takes risks he is not yet ready to manage. Princess Bea is the perfect story for children with an interest in pets. It shows that having animals in the house (or the palace) is about responsible ownership. Tiger may appear to be causing trouble, but actually, he’s going through a stage which is not uncommon to young cats. Any prospective owner must question themselves about how they will manage this and not blame their new animal friend. After all, if you’re really ready to share your life with a cat, kittens have to be more important than curtains.

A charming story for newly confident readers.

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The Puppy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Sophy Williams. 

When Lara and her dad find a homeless puppy, they take him in and try to help. Jet seems happy in his new home except for one thing. He never manages to settle at night. With Lara and Dad losing out on sleep, they search for ways to help Jet at night. What is it that upsets him when the lights go out?

This story was inspired by a true tale about a dog in a shelter. Only one thing would help him to sleep at night, so he needed a home which would fulfill that need. Stories like this remind us that animal care is about so much more than having a ‘pet’ to play with. When we take another animal into our homes, we agree to recognise the needs of a fellow living creature. One dog’s needs can be very different from another’s, even within the same species. It is lovely to see a story which reminds us of this.

A gentle story in a real-world setting which is perfect for young animal enthusiasts.

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The Climbers by Ali Standish. Illustrated by Ali Standish. 

All her life, Alma has been told that the trees and mountains beyond her home are dangerous, but no matter how often she is warned of the dangers, Alma wants to explore. One night, she runs into the forest and finds a bear cub with a pattern like a fallen star on his chest.

Alma and Star Bear bond and together they explore the world. Then Star Bear grows big and is sighted by the other townspeople. Afraid and angry, the people cut down the forest trees and threaten to kill Star Bear.

Alma and Star Bear run. That’s when they meet Tully and his tiger-friend Comet. 

An extraordinary story about the price of human progress and how much better we would be as a race if only we could discover some empathy. 

With children marching around the world to defend our climate, with children standing up and telling politicians that time is running out, this book could not be better timed. The talks and marches which have happened have inspired a number of adults, but unless we all stand up and make big changes to our approach time will run out. It already has for too many beautiful animal species. 

Books like this will keep the wonderful generation, the kids who have already raised their voices, actively thinking about the major issues which face our planet today. They will also inspire readers to consider the underlying issues to all the major problems we face – namely a lack of empathy and a culture which puts progress above goodness. 

This is a gentle and moving story which doesn’t shy away from difficult topics but approaches them in a way which won’t frighten young readers. The illustrations contrast the magic of nature with the dull misery of the world’s biggest towns. Sometimes pictures speak a thousand words. 

Another hit from the new Colour range from Little Tiger UK. These books aim to bridge the gap between picture books and early chapter books. 

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Revenge Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchison. Illustrated by Lee Cosgrove. 

Lisa Marie and Vernon have just recovered from the night of the living teddy bears when they are kidnapped and taken to the lair of the super-creepy villain Ursine. He’s made sure nobody else remembers the battle which took place, and he’s creating an army of teddy bears to fight his cause. Then Grizz, the evilest bear of all returns, and orders the army to fight for world domination. 

The funniest fantasy series in years just got even better. 

Anyone who has walked past that shop we’ll affectionately call Create A Ted knows it is creepy. Anyone who has been stuck inside knows it goes beyond that. Animal skins and stuffing machines and staff who grin maniacally while they jab a pretend needle into a teddy bear. It is painful. And hilarious. Barry Hutchinson has played on the creepiness behind the cuteness to huge effect. 

How can you not love a henchman called Cuddlyplump?

This is the second book in the series and shows the teddybear army mobilizing against the world. Only Lisa Marie and Vernon know what is going on, and who would believe them if they said anything? Aimed at the youngest middle-grade readers, this would make a brilliant short read for older children, and would also be hugely friendly to readers whose reading age is younger than their actual age. Sweet teddy bears these are not. This is as brilliant a fantasy series as anything in the older middle grade section. 

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The Unlucky Eleven by Phil Earle. Illustrated by Steve May. 

Everything is going wrong for Stanley and his football team The Saints this season. From injuries to misses to unfair judgments by the referee. They think they know why: the Saints have been cursed like football teams of the past. Stanley needs a plan. He presents his team with a magical, lucky kit, but will it change their fortunes?

Sometimes it only takes a shift in attitude to change our fortunes. Stanley tries everything to help his team, but finally, he realises that the team players need to change their own luck. If only he can nudge them along the way. 

A fun story which will go down well with anybody who loves football, and anybody who has ever felt that nothing is going their way. 

The Little Gems series are so attractive that, although they are friendly to children whose reading age is younger than their actual age, they will be picked up and treasured by anybody who loves a good story. They are a great size for any reader who is coming into chapter book format but isn’t yet ready for the language or page length. 

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The Big Top Mysteries: The Case Of The Missing Granny by Alexander McCall Smith. Illustrated by Sam Usher. 

The shortbread siblings star in their family’s circus show. They also have another talent. They are brilliant at solving mysteries. When audience member Tom reveals that his granny has gone missing, the Shortbread siblings step in to help. 

Does this have anything to do with Mrs Fudge and her chocolate shop? Using all their circus skills, the Shortbreads and Tom get straight into the investigation. 

The first in a new series by master mystery writer. 

Aimed at readers from 8 upwards, this would also be a lovely story for readers of early chapter books. Although the children in the story are briefly locked up, the peril is minimal and the outcome of the investigation is friendly to the youngest of readers. With murder mysteries now popular among 8 – 12 year-olds, this would be a great way for readers to join in even if they aren’t up for the blood and fear and gruesome details. 

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Narwhal Unicorn Of The Sea and Super Narwhal and Jellyjolt by Ben Clanton

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Two books. Two friends. A whole new series of awesome undersea adventures. 

Narwhal is a super-happy unicorn of the sea. Jelly is less chirpy, less cheery and full of questions. Together they make a brilliant new duo for readers who are looking for an alternative to a short chapter book. 

Each book has three stories, one fact file and a Super Waffle story which will have young readers in stitches. It’s like the same kind of story … but with a strawberry and a waffle. Any lovers of online comics, GIFS or cartoons will enjoy these. Think cartoon books for the very young. 

In Narwhal Unicorn Of The Sea, the friends meet for the first time, make friends, and form a pod (aka form a wider friendship group). Super Narwhal And Jellyjolt sees them explore their strengths and venture up to the ocean’s surface to meet a starfish. The books are numbered on the spine and I bet they will look fantastic all lined up as a little comic library. 

With simple backgrounds and expressive characters, these stories will encourage readers to draw and create cartoons of their own. 

An attractive new series for early readers. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, Barrington Stoke Ltd, Little Tiger UK and Egmont Publishing for the gifted books included in this feature. Opinions my own. 

Young Middle Grade

Younger fiction and young middle-grade round-up: March 2019

Younger fiction and young middle-grade round-up: March 2019

Amelia Fang And The Half-Moon Holiday by Laura Ellen Anderson

Amelia Fang and her Rainbow Rangers troop are off to Sugarplum Island. They’re going to earn their Food Foraging Badge by making meals from bobbin-berries, frillyflowers img_8471and dung pods of all sizes. After eating plums from a curly branch, something strange happens. Amelia and her friends shrink to the size of insects. They need to break the curse, but suddenly the island feels like a huge place. 

Packed with humour and adventure, Amelia Fang and the Half-Moon Holiday is the latest installment in the hit series. 

This is my first Amelia Fang book, something which I can’t comprehend given the popularity of the series on my bookish Twitter network. Parents, teachers and librarians all report is as being a big hit with their young readers, and I’ve noticed that is has transcended age divisions to be a big hit with older readers. The setting must play some part in this. With its band of supernatural friends, the adventure island and the strange things which grow there, The Half-Moon Holiday is exactly the sort of world I would have adored as a pre-teen. There is something Studio Ghibli about the assortment of beings and worlds contained within a single location. 

Laura Ellen Anderson’s illustrations are amazing to the extent that this is worth buying for the art alone. The book makes me want to sketch imaginary worlds, or design costumes or start a mood board. I love how the amount of space the illustrations take up on a page is so varied, from the best part of a double page spread to a small illustration at the bottom.

This will doubtless delight fans of the series and as a new reader I was spellbound. 

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Little Lion Rescue by Rachel Delahaye. Illustrations credited to Artful Doodlers.

Fliss is disappointed on a school trip to the zoo when the new lion cubs are asleep. Keeper Jonty offers Fliss a sneaky peek at the end, and Fliss finds herself transported to the Serengeti where she comes across a lost lion cub. Her knowledge of wildlife helps her to come up with a plan and she and the cub set out across the plains. There are all kinds of dangers for a girl in the wild. Fliss must overcome hunger, thirst and stampeding bison to reunite the cub with its pride.

Little Lion Rescue is the first in a new series which follows aspiring vet Fliss on magical adventures which bring her into contact with wild creatures. Although Fliss is transported to different locations via a portal – in this case the zoo – her powers are entirely based on real-world knowledge.

This will appeal to readers who love animals, and what makes it special is that it differentiates between finding toy animals and animal videos cute and really appreciating animals for who they are and learning to recognise their communication ranges, habits and needs.

The book is well written and introduces a promising series.

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

Vlad is a vampire but unlike his family he isn’t the slightest bit scary. He hasn’t found his super strength. He’s also been going to a human school in secret. 

When the school play is announced, Vlad is delighted to find he has been given the main part, but then it causes all kinds of problems. Having his photograph taken is tricky for a start, as vampires really can’t deal with camera flash. And how will he ever keep it a secret from his parents? 

A wonderful series about fitting in and being comfortable with your own identity. Vlad doesn’t want to go to a special vampire school to study fitting in with humans. Not when he fits in perfectly well with his friends. He is under constant pressure to be as good as his cousin Lupus, but his parents fail to see that Vlad has different strengths. At times they don’t get the chance. Vlad is desperate to keep his place at human school a secret. 

I adore the illustrations which are very character-centric and make great use of exaggerated facial expressions. I also love how the spooky vampire castle is full of homely touches, like a roaring log fire in the living room and a pair of socks on the floor beside Vlad’s coffin bed. 

Make friends with Vlad and you’ll root for him from the word go. 

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Isadora Moon Has A Sleepover by Harriet Muncaster

What fun is staying up until midnight when vampires do that every night?

img_8577Half vampire, half fairy Isadora is off to a sleepover at her friend Zoe’s. A school baking contest has been announced, and Isadora hopes her magic wand can her entry the edge so that she and Zoe can meet television personality Whippy Mcfluff. However, when the lights go out, Isadora is unable to sleep. Her conscience is bothering her and the cake doesn’t seem so magical after all. They bake a different cake, but it seems Zoe has other ideas about which one they should enter.

A charming tale about friendship, honesty and cakes galore.

The first thing I noticed about this young reader was the design. It balances pink and glitter with bat wings and black. It would be perfect for the smallest readers who want to explore their inner vampire without letting go of the pink and glittery. After all, Isadora Moon can be two things at once.

The supernatural details are grounded by a story set in the ordinary world. Isadora goes to a human school, has human friends and likes to the same things as anybody else. It would be lovely for young readers who want to explore fantasy while feeling secure in the known world.

Although most small children have never used magic, most will, at some point, push the boundaries with cheating. Learning why cheating is unfair, and that it doesn’t feel like much of a win without the achievement, is a big step.

An attractive book with a relatable storyline.

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Shifty McGifty And Slippery Sam – The Aliens Are Coming by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton

Three mysteries with our two favourite baker dogs.

Have aliens really landed? How does Red Rocket manage to win the sandcastle contest without putting in any work? How is Miss Peachy Pie’s Cafe attracting so many customers? This collection of stories sees the heroes use their quick wit, daring … and skills at running away, fast.

There is something Scooby-Dooish about these mysteries. They are just the right level of scary with plenty of laughs thrown in. The heroes are fallible and mysteries are not their whole lives – rather, they interrupt everyday life at the bakery.

The illustrations use a minimal colour palette to great effect – different shades of grey, black white and lime green. The green runs throughout the book and makes it different to others in the series. This is a lovely way of making books quickly findable. It is easier to remember that a story was in ‘the red book’ than to recall a title.

Tracey Corderoy is a master of humour for younger readers. Shifty and Sam have already featured in picture books and it is lovely to see the characters in a different format. A big thumbs up for laughs and for memorable main characters.

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The Rescue Princesses – The Amber Necklace by Paula Harrison. Illustrations credited to Artful Doodlers.

Princess Zina loves the lemurs and their forest home, and she would do anything to protect them, but she finds herself with a fight on her hands. The carnival is passing through the kingdom of Ramova but the floats are too wide pass. A team has been contracted to cut down the trees, but this will leave the lemurs without a home. Can Princess Zina and her friends persuade the demolition team to step back, or is there a magical stone which will save the day?

The latest in a popular series about a group of princesses who use their knowledge of magical gemstones to protect the wildlife.

This story will appeal to readers who like their princesses with some social responsibility, determination and a hint of magic. The illustrations look so much like a particularly beautiful colouring book that they would make a lovely gift for anyone who likes to colour in their own readings books (nb. This is not always advised. Only if the book belongs to you and you especially want to add colour.)

A story with a strong environmental message, a beautiful setting, and a great group of friends.

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Magical Kingdom Of The Birds – The Missing Fairy-Wrens by Anne Booth

Maya loves her new friends in the human world, but she is always pleased to be called img_8576into the colouring book to meet her bird and fairy friends. Maya is excited to see the new fairy-wrens, who present their mates with petals, but more than half the birds have gone missing. As guardian of the book, it is Maya’s duty and pleasure to help. 

Maya sets out towards the fairy castle to find out whether villainous Lord Astor is up to his usual schemes. 

The Missing Fairy Wrens is the third book in this delightful series, and it just keeps getting better. 

It is lovely to find a younger book about fairies and petals and sparkles which is totally palatable and attractive to a large number of readers. Stories about fairies can lapse too easily into sentimentality, but this series is genuinely well written, the threat level is just right and the world is unique and interesting. 

The fact it teaches readers about birds is an added bonus. Fairywrens are real Australian birds with beautiful plumage. With the ability to identify birds dwindling among adults, it is important that this knowledge is passed down to younger generations. Introducing birds through stories and illustration is a great idea. There is a reason we are all familiar with robins regardless of how many we see. It is time this was extended to a wider range of species. 

A real favourite series. The books are a joy from start to finish. 

 

Many thanks to Egmont UK, Nosy Crow Books, Oxford University Press and Stripes Publishing for gifting the titles reviewed in this feature. Opinions remain my own.

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Captain Cat And The Treasure Map by Sue Mongredien. Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst.

Sometimes pirates are useless.

img_8230Patch the pirate cat is always having to get her pirates out of trouble. From pirates overboard to spilled potatoes, there is always something going on. Patch is pleased when the pirates find a treasure map until it turns out the map is cursed. Captain Halibut won’t take anybody’s warnings, so it is up to Patch and her friends to stop the pirates before disaster strikes.

A hilarious first adventure about a pirate crew who would be sunk without their animal friends.

Patch the cat, Ginger the monkey and Cutlass the parrot run the Golden Earring. Captain Halibut thinks he does, but he’s lazy and unwilling to listen to anyone else’s views. This was a lovely new approach to the familiar adventure of pirates in possession of a cursed treasure map. There’s lots of humour in this story. Think silly pirate songs and wordplay and regular jokes from Cutlass the parrot.

Kate Pankhurst’s illustrations bring the story to life and the facial expressions on her pirates and animals give a lot of character.

A brilliant first in the series from a wonderful author-illustrator team.

 

Bee Boy – Curse Of The Vampire Mites by Tony De Saulles

img_8229Melvin Meadly is half bee, half boy. Bee Boy is back, and this time the hive is facing a deadly threat. A plague of vampire mites has taken over beehives all over the planet, wiping out entire colonies. There’s another more local threat too. The local bee-keepers are disappearing. Is this down to the hive-checkers who are checking for the vampire mites, or is something strange going on? The Bee Club is on to the case.

The third book in the popular Bee Boy series.

With real bees disappearing in such numbers, there has never been a more important time to educate children and adults about respecting and caring for bees. Bee Boy is filled with facts about bee-keeping and about the science of pollination which will open the eyes of both children and their adult readers.

I love the style of the illustrations. Although this is an illustrated story, it put me in mind of graphic novels and this will be popular with readers who prefer different formats. There is plenty of detail in the pictures for keen eyes, and I love how many conversations could be started from a single picture.

 

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Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow. Illustrated by Alison Friend.

Little Rabbit is bored. Her family and friends are all too busy to play. When her grandfather Big Rabbit asks her to help with some jobs, Little Rabbit is confused. Big Rabbit doesn’t have a job. Surely he spends all day with his friends? Then she joins him on a visit around friends and neighbours and finds out how much her grandfather does to make sure nobody in the community is overlooked. Inspired by his kindness, Little Rabbit makes herself busy and soon she and her friends are spreading warmth and kindness too.

A delightful story about generosity and sharing.

I always loved animal stories when I read books of this size as a child. From Bramley Hedge to Beatrix Potter, if the story involved dormice or rabbits I was twice as likely to listen. This is exactly the sort of story I would have loved, with its community of residents in their various burrows and dens.

Alison Friend’s beautiful illustrations bring so much to the story. Her work is so fine that every blade of grass seems to move in the breeze and the animals are made real by the texture of their fur. Their expressions are gorgeous too. They capture something of human facial expressions without distracting from the animal nature of their subjects.

I love this new format of books. The stories have a couple of short paragraphs on every page and would be suitable for the earliest reader. Although they look like early readers from the outside, they maintain everything that is wonderful about the picture book format.

 

Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen. Illustrated by Binny Talib.

Lula and Lenka are best of friends. They have different habits and tastes and personalities, which is all fine until the day everything goes wrong. It starts with something small – a broken promise and a forgotten pencil-case – but soon it escalates into breaking friends and swearing never to see each other again. As their personalities clash, both Lula and Lenka become increasingly unhappy. Will things ever be right between them again?

A lovely story which shows how different personalities clash, and how different personalities help each other to grow.

This is another book in the new Colour Fiction range, and it couldn’t be more beautiful. Everything about the book, from its endpapers to the story inside is beautifully crafted.

As well as being a story about friendship which will be relatable to a younger audience, this is a wonderful book for exploring the craft of writing. How do we make one character different from another? The fact that the two girls’ thoughts and reactions are shown in different fonts makes it easier to show how their choices show their different personalities.

This shows how beautiful and how creative younger fiction can be.

 

Jasper & Scruff by Nicola Colton

img_8383-1Jasper likes everything to be of top quality. The one thing he wants more than anything else is to join the Sophisticats, the society for sophisticated felines. Finally, he is invited to a Dinner Party where his merits will be tested. As he prepares to make his best impression, he meets Scruff. Scruff likes sloppy licks and rolling in mud and chasing after balls.

During the dinner party, Jasper finds himself spending the evening at the beck and call of the Sophisticats. Only Scruff is prepared to see him without judgement, but Scruff just isn’t up to Jasper’s standards.

A heart-warming story about the true meaning of friendship.

This book couldn’t be more needed. In the age of social media, judgment is no longer confined to dinner clubs. We’re all at it. What makes a likable profile or picture, what standards we expect to see if someone wants to be considered beautiful. If they put their food or their home up for judgment. It has never been more important to learn early that there are other values which matter more. That friendship shouldn’t begin with a talent contest and a judging panel.

The story also examines themes of inequality. Is it right that the Sophisticats have multiple-course meals when others are starving?

I adore the illustrations with their muted purple-and-orange pallete and their sketchy style. They are the sort of pictures which look effortless but take great skill. I hope they will encourage young artists to pick up their pencils and draw townscapes and indoor scenes.

 

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Ellie And The Cat by Malorie Blackman. Illustrated by Matt Robertson

Ellie is obstinate and rude and bad-tempered. She doesn’t want to stay with Grandma and she’s not afraid to let people know it. When her behaviour goes too far, Grandma plays a trick of her own. She uses magic so that Ellie is forced to switch places with Jolly the cat. She challenges Ellie to find a lost ring if she ever wants to be a girl again.

Suddenly Ellie needs the help of those around her like Dimple the mouse and Vinegar the spider, and she’s not going to get it by being rude. They’ve also got to contend with the real Jolly, who quite enjoys being a girl.

A brilliant read from a classic author.

This reminds me of stories I read in my childhood, particularly of stories by Dick King-Smith. The adventure takes place over a short time period, it is set in a place familiar to the protagonist and it still manages to have excitement in every chapter. These stories are lovely for newly-confident readers. The challenge must be to keep the reader hooked without overcomplicating the plot. Malorie Blackman has done this to perfection and I highly recommend this to newer readers.

 

Laura Norder – Sheriff Of Butts Canyon by Guy Bass. Illustrated by Steve May.

Long ago in the Wild West, a place called Butts Canyon was run by Laura Norder. After seeing off the fearsome Ten Gun Ben, Laura decides that she and everyone else will live by her ten golden rules forever. That’s when the real trouble starts. People keep breaking Laura’s rules, and as her enforcement gets stricter, rebellion stirs. The mysterious Duncan Disorderly leaves messages all over town in protest at the Golden Rules.

Can Laura unmask Duncan Disorderly and reinstate her rules?

A brilliant read which will be highly relatable to many children. It can be difficult accepting that, although our ideas of how to manage the world come from the right place, there is no way to enforce them. Management belongs to specific spaces at specific times of the day. Outside of those, there is no manager. It is not for us to enforce order. Doing so not only makes us unpopular, it causes real hurt.

The story achieves a brilliant balance in showing that Laura’s feelings come from the right place, but to be a real sheriff, she needs to learn the responsibilities and limitations of the role.

Illustrations from Steve May add extra humour. Think fat mayors and mean bandits and all the characters familiar from cartoons.

 

Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence. Illustrated by Becka Moor.

One morning a toad lands on Leo’s head. Soon the toads are turning up all over town. They’re not ordinary toads, either. These are flying toads, the like of which have never been seen before. Rosa’s Dad Raj is making a special nature programme about the toads and he thinks they’re related to the cane toads which eat everything in their path. Leo and Rosa will have to act fast before the Exploders eradicate the toads.

A wacky and wonderful tale which brings an old plague to the modern day. Animal plagues have been around since Biblical times, but never before have they been captured on smartphones. This is a story for the latest generation.

Becka Moor’s illustrations are as lively and brilliant as ever. Spotting the flying toads will bring amusement to young readers.

 

Arlo, Miss Pythia And The Forbidden Box by Alice Hemming. Illustrated by Mike Garton.

img_8319-14X, now 5P, is back. Their last teacher came from the Stone Age, but even though Mrs Pythia doesn’t wear animal skins, she’s definitely not normal. For one thing, she always seems to know what is about to happen. And can it be a coincidence that she shares her name with the prophets of the Ancient Greek world?

As 5P rehearse for their play of Pandora’s Box, they must fight the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s very real box. Once again, it falls to Arlo to be the leader and keep his classmates safe, but can he do it all alone?

Another hit from the author and illustrator of Arlo, Mrs Ogg And The Dinosaur Zoo.

This looks set to be a brilliant series, following Arlo, his classmates and a string of teachers who don’t exactly come from the age of OFSTED. I kept turning the pages to see whether the box would be opened and once again I loved Arlo’s distinctive voice.

This author-illustrator pair is a perfect match. It feels as if the drawings sprung up to match the text and they add to the humour with extra details and brilliant facial expressions.

A series to look out for, and one which will be popular with teachers introducing historical time-periods.

 

The books in this post were gifted in exchange for honest review. Opinions remain my own. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books UK, Oxford University Press, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Maverick Arts Press for the gifted copies of your books.

 

 

 

 

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: January 2018

Young middle-grade round-up: January 2018

 

Bramble The Hedgehog by Jane Clarkebramblehedge

Bramble the Hedgehog has a wobbly tooth. Dr Kitty Cat’s advise is to eat lots of sticky food. When the little animals go to the funfair, Bramble embraces this advice. He eats lots of sticky sweets until he feels very poorly.

This is the latest title in a charming range which is perfect for children at the Squishy McFluff reading stage. The Dr Kitty Cat series incorporates pictures of real animals into the illustrations and is guaranteed to interest animal-lovers or to hook readers on cute factor alone.

The stories also include basic first aid and medical advice. I think this is a fantastic idea as too many people grow up unable to respond to basic first aid situations.

 

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The Perfect Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams 

Abi has always wanted a kitten, so she is really excited when Mum phones the rescue shelter. Unfortunately, the family lives on a main road where cats have been run over before. The shelter isn’t willing to house a cat there.

Then a deaf kitten arrives. Flower will never be able to go outside, so she is the perfect pet for Abi’s family … if they can only keep her indoors.

As the companion of two rescue cats, this story warmed my heart. I know that animals are as much a part of the family as humans, and how very much we worry about them when they go outdoors. What I liked about this story was it made clear that the needs of our animal friends come above our own wants.

 

Shine – Sara’s Dream Role by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

Sara is so pleased to have got a place at Shine stage school, but her parents would have preferred her to go to a normal school. If her marks aren’t perfect by the end of term, she will not be able to carry on at Shine. 

An audition comes up for the stage version of Mary Poppins. It is a role Sara has always wanted, but can she beat competition from fellow pupil Lizebeth?

The second book in the Shine series looks at parental pressure and rivalry from fellow pupils. It also sees Sara befriend a boy. For most readers, this series will be wish-fulfillment, but it always shows the hard work which goes into forming a talent.

 

Star Friends – Poison Potion by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming 

The latest installment in the series picks up where the last book left off. Three of the four friends still don’t trust new girl Essie, but she and her Mum are starting to settle into the village. Essie’s Mum even sells her own anti-aging potion. 

Then all the adults in the village start acting like children, and it is up to the friends to work out why. 

I am a big fan of this series, with its slightly folksy and magical feel. It does scary antagonists in a way which is just scary enough for its young audience. It is also firmly grounded by reality. There is at least one day-to-day issue such as peer pressure or friendship problems in every story. Unlike many of the younger middle-grade stories, these are best read in order as one story runs into another.) 

 

hotelflamingoHotel Flamingo by Alex Milway

Anna arrives at Hotel Flamingo to find it in a state of disrepair. The Hotel hasn’t had a paying guest for years because it can’t compete with it’s rival, the Glitz. Anna thinks this is a great pity because Hotel Flamingo had a reputation for welcoming all animals. She thinks there is space on Animal Boulevard for a hotel which is friendly and welcoming. 

She assembles a team and they get to work. Can they restore the hotel to its former glory and bring sunshine back to Animal Boulevard before the hotel inspector shuts them down? 

A bright and cheery story suitable for the youngest of middle-grade readers. I love the vintage style glamour of the hotel. It reminded me of Tiana’s diner in The Princess And The Frog. This will raise lots of laughs as Anna and her team try to meet the needs of every animal (the cat wants a litter tray, for example, while the Flamingos need access to a swimming pool). 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger UK and Piccadilly Press for the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Young Middle Grade

Younger Middle-Grade – Christmas round-up.

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Unicorn Academy: Olivia And Snowflake by Julie Sykes. Illustrated by Lucy Truman. 

Olivia is happy to be at Unicorn Academy, but life would be even better if she could bond with her unicorn, Snowflake, ahead of graduation, otherwise her friends will leave her behind and she’ll be stuck with the horrible girls. Olivia is also hiding a secret. She doesn’t want her friends to find out her family is super-rich. Meanwhile, someone at Unicorn Academy is causing trouble with dangerous spells. Can Olivia and Snowflake save the day?

This will capture the attention of all young readers who love unicorns and sparkle, but more to the point it is a well-written story. We care about Olivia and Snowflake, and want to see them graduate alongside their friends. There are also messages about kindness and empathy which will resonate with young animal-lovers. 

 

Snow Sisters: The Silver Secret by Astrid Foss. Illustrated by Monique Dong

The Keepers Of The Lights keep everything in balance. It is their job to guard the Everchanging Lights which shine in the sky. Triplets Magda, Hanna and Ida know that one day it will be their responsibility. The Shadow Witch has returned and she is determined to steal the lights from the sky. When their parents fall into trouble, it is up to the girls to hunt for the three snow globe which will keep the Lights safe. If they don’t act fast, the Kingdom will fall under an evil power. 

The first in a new series, this story is full of the same magic as Frozen – lights in the sky and arctic animals, a palace with stained-glass windows and sisterly love. The world is clear from the first word and young readers will want to join the sisters as they venture through this landscape. A strong quest-narrative which will keep the reader hooked across the series. 

 

Snow Sisters: The Crystal Rose by Astid Foss. Illustrated by Monique Dong

With The Keepers Of The Light trapped buy the evil Shadow Witch, it is up to Magda, Hanna and Ida to protect the Everchanging Lights from harm. With one orb found, the girls have two to find before they can save their Kingdom from harm. Their mother’s clue sets them on the trail of the crystal rose and the blue orb. 

This book is the second in the series, and continues the quest began in The Silver Secret. This is a very strong quest story for very young readers. There is enough threat to build suspense but nothing which would overwhelm the audience. The world is enchanting and we learn more about the main characters as they develop. 

 

The Dog That Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Mike Byrne. 

Jake hates Christmas. There’s no routine, everyone acts differently and the flashing lights fill his head so he never has a break from them. Even school is disrupted by preparations for the Christmas show. Nobody cares about all the facts Jake can contribute to the nature show – they just want the kids to dress up in animal-costumes. Jake decides to take on Christmas … and causes a lot of damage in the process. Then Jake meets a stray dog, and Christmas no longer feels so unmanageable. 

This story shows how Christmas can disrupt the lives of people on the autistic spectrum. It also shows that, although people with autism sometimes behave in a way which appears frightening, it is often because they themselves are overloaded, confused or frightened. The bond between Jake and Susan shows the instinctive empathy many autistic people have with other animals, and slowly the people around Jake begin to see how Christmas feels from his perspective. 

A brilliant read for empathy. 

 

Frost by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Artful Doodlers. 

Cassie thinks the Foxes that live near her block of flats are beautiful, especially Frost, the fox with the white-tipped tail. One night, Frost leads Cassie out of her home and into the streets of 1600s London. The Frost Fair may be fun, Cassie needs to return to her home and help her neighbour. 

A winerty time-slip adventure which captures the magic of London’s historical frost fairs. 

I loved the relationship between Cassie and Mrs Morris. It begins with misunderstanding and grows into true empathy and a shared-secret.

 

One Snowy Night (Anthology). Illustrated by Alison Edgson. 

Why pick one wintery animal story when you can have ten? This charming anthology brings together some of the strongest writers of younger middle-grade fiction including Sita Brahmachari, Linda Chapman, Holly Webb and Candy Gourlay. From a trip to Mongolia to see snow leopards in the natural surroundings to the story of a baby-panda who gets separated from her mother on the journey down the mountains, this anthology is full of animal tales. 

Some of the stories are about humans who come into contact with animals, while others focus on animal-characters. All are well-written and my favourites were the ones which taught us about real animals in real habitats. As an anthology for very young readers, it could not be better – there is something to suit everyone and every one of these stories would be a perfect read in assembly or ahead of bedtime. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, Stripes Publishing and Barrington Stoke for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.