Board Book

Review: Matchstick Monkey – Colours

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Monkeys grey and monkeys red, 

Monkeys green and pink,

Monkeys yellow, orange, blue – 

Who’s quickest, do you think? 

 

Monkeys of all different colours a leaping through the trees, leaving colourful trails in their wake. Loops and zig-zags and bouncy-hills – all the trails are different shapes and colours. 

Matchstick Monkey is best-known as a teething toy. It is the saviour of sleep and parent-kind. The monkey motif has been used on blankets and towels. Now your little one can share in the monkeys’ adventures through this beautiful board-book. 

img_6948This board-book would make a beautiful introduction to colour. It also introduces the language of line-shape – loops and zig-zags and bounces are drawn in bright, glittery trails. I love the design. A book like this could easily have induced a headache in the adult-reader but the white background and minimalist design counterbalance the splashes of colour. 

The raised glitter-trails provide a game for the young reader and offer early practice of hand-eye coordination. With a little practice, children will pick up the game and be able to play it by themselves. This would be a lovely book to leave in the buggy or the back of the car. Small children will be engrossed in following those glittery lines. 

If a child took to this, it would be lovely to make your own trails – try crayons, paint or messy play. Trace different lines in sand and mud until your child has the vocabulary for colour and line-shape. 

This board book will give children hours of fun and is gentle enough to be enjoyed by the reader-adult. A big thumbs-up to the Matchstick Monkeys. Here’s to the adventures of learning and play. 

 

Thanks to Ladybird Books for sending a copy of Matchstick Monkey – Colours. Opinions my own.

 

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craft

Craft: Make A Scrapbook Memory Jar – Collaboration with HelloBexa

Making a scrapbook memory jar – collaboration with HelloBexa. 

I was looking to add a little more craft to my blog, and I needed some inspiration. That’s when I turned to my blogging friend Bexa. HelloBexa is one of my ultimate blog-reads. It’s a little bit of craft, a load of positivity and the cutest photographs on the internet. Not to mention Bexa’s sunny personality. 

If any blog could make me feel creative it was HelloBexa. There’s something special about her approach to craft. She never makes it feel like a chore. The crafts she suggests are all about self-care and spreading positivity and I can’t think of a better approach to crafting. Check out her blog here. 

So what did I decide on for my first craft? 

Autumn is here. The leaves will fall and Christmas will be upon us and once again we’ll be looking to the new year. Whether we care to admit it or not, 2018 is winding to an end.

And oh the memories!

Last week, I was looking for a way to display my memories from the NYA Festival and the spin-off event in August. I have always loved journaling and papercraft but there is something final about a scrapbook. Scrapbook pages can’t be unstuck. There are bookmarks and charms which I might want to use in other ways. 

Then I heard about memory jars. 

A memory jar is essentially a scrapbook page inside a jar. It can be added to and reorganised and this exactly fitted the way I wanted to display my bits and pieces. 

You can decorate the jar any way you like – and there are heaps of pictures across the internet – but here are some ideas to get you started. 

How to washi-tape a jam jar lid: 

Washi-tape. What doesn’t it improve? Washi-tape has been one of my happy discoveries of 2018 so it only seemed fitting to incorporate it into my jar. 

Here are some tips:

Stick the tape on in straight lines. Fold it carefully over the sides then cut off the overhanging tape. Do not fold it in. 

Start in the middle and work outwards in both directions. The final pieces you fold will be a bit messier. Do not worry. Just stick one strip of washi tape around the edge. This will hide all your trimmed ends. 

My tape was a little see-through. I was happy with this because I wanted blue and white, but you might want to do a test-strip before you start. 

Finding decorations to fill the jam jar: 

It was my wish, as far as possible, to use objects from around the house. I thought I might need some sand or glitter to fill the bottom of the jar. Then I thought of my bath petals. Regular readers might remember that I won a haul of bath goodies back in the Spring. The bath bombs have long since been used but the petals were so pretty I kept them on display. 

In fact, they were so pretty I felt terrible tearing them up. Until I saw them in the jar.

Using bits from around the house is not only eco-friendly, it adds to the memory theme. Those bath petals not only look pretty, they are another happy memory from 2018. 

Write a secret message:

img_7008At the first NYALiterature Festival back in March, author Alwyn Hamilton gave a piece of advice which had changed the way I approach plotting for the better. 

You don’t need to know everything but know your ultimate destination. It is hard to plot a course without knowing how the story ends. 

This piece of advice has seen me finish and edit a 42,000-word manuscript. It will see me plot my next work, and my next one and just knowing other people have found their way through the plotting stages gives me courage. 

I wrote this in my best left-handed-scrawl on a sparkly gift-tag. Nobody looking at the jar would know it was there except me. (And … you guys. Sssh!) 

The Finished Jar:

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Here’s my finished jar. It contains:

  • A photograph of me on the day. I love this picture – I’m wearing the crown knitted by my blogging friend Charlotte and have a unicorn painted on to my cheek.
  • A candle 
  • A secret message
  • A badge
  • Blue – the hall was decorated with blue balloons 
  • A unicorn charm – to represent the unicorn facepaint 
  • Other charms. I made this necklace years ago and sourced charms which related to imagination. See, there’s a crown, a unicorn, and keys to magic kingdoms. 

 

Making my jar was a pleasure and I can’t wait to make something else. Which crafts would you like to see? What would you put in your memory jar? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thanks to Bexa from HelloBexa for joining me. This was such a lovely collaboration and I can’t wait to see your jar. Make sure you check out Bexa’s blog and find her memory jar post. 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Extract: Charlie And Me by Mark Lowery

 

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Earlier this year, I read a special book about a pair of brothers with a strong bond. 

Charlie And Me follows Martin on a journey of a lifetime. Martin sneaks out of the house and travels across the country with the biscuit tin and his little brother Charlie. They are visiting the site of a beloved holiday.

A holiday where something happened. 

With everyone back to school, the guys at Piccadilly Press thought it would be lovely to share extracts from this uplifting and warmhearted book. 

Have a great school year, everyone, and keep reading. birdA few years ago, Mum told me I was the best big brother in the world. It was cool of her to say so, but I don’t see it like that. Charlie’s a right laugh, but he can be like a lost kitten sometimes – bumbling through life all confused and unaware of what’s going on around him. It’s not like I’m a good person or anything. I just have to help him out.

Still, Charlie doesn’t always want me to help him. He likes to do things his own way. Mum says he’s a free spirit, but I’d call him a loony. In the nicest possible way of course.

Even when he was a baby he was like that. It took him ages to learn to walk, but he never let it hold him back. He used to do this strange lop-sided crawl – the walrus flop, Dad called it – which was surprisingly fast. One time when he was nearly two, Mum put him in his travel cot (aka ‘The Cage’, because it was the only way to keep him still) and nipped upstairs to do something.

When she came back down ten minutes later, he’d disappeared. The front door was open. She thought he’d been snatched and she ran outside in a blind panic. And there he was – walrus-flopping across the road, cars slamming on their brakes and swerving out of the way.

Trying to piece together what’d happened afterwards, Mum reckoned he’d been bored so he’d bitten his way through the seam of the plastic mesh wall of the travel cot. Then he’d yanked the sides apart to make an escape hole, walrus-flopped across the lounge, somehow opened the front door and made a break for it.

Then there was the day when he was four and he decided he didn’t like his eyebrows. He said they were freaking him out. So, being Charlie, he shaved them clean off with Dad’s razor. There was blood everywhere. He looked like he’d been attacked with a potato peeler.

And how about when he played the innkeeper in the school nativity play? We still watch the film of it every Christmas. He only had one line to remember – ‘Sorry. No room at the inn.’ – but this is Charlie we’re talking about. After telling Mary and Joseph that they could stay in the honeymoon suite (who knows where he got that from?) and that the donkey could have its own room, he pulled the baby Jesus out from under Mary’s dress, held Him up by His ankle and announced: ‘Behold! The King of the shoes!’ On the film you can almost hear the teacher slapping her forehead off-screen as she says, ‘It’s King of the Jews. And put Him back – you’re a day early.’

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Warrior Boy by Virginia Clay

Review: Warrior Boy by Virginia Clay

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Extract:

‘…you’re the only son of the great warrior, and they haven’t met you yet? Do you think they’ll just smile and say hello?’

He didn’t know what to say. 

‘No Ben. There will be a huge welcoming ceremony with dancing and singing and their finest young bull will be slaughtered. But not just that … ‘ She took a deep breath. ‘Blood will be taken from a heifer and you’ll be expected to drink it.’ 

(From Warrior Boy by Virginia Clay. P14.)

birdSynopsis:

London boy Ben is heading to Kenya for the first time in his life. He gets to meet his Maasai family, his Dad’s family.

There’s just one problem – Ben needs to overcome his phobia of blood.

Ben meets his cousin Kip, and the boys are taken into the Savannah to learn what it takes to become a warrior. They must keep their cattle safe, hunt for food and even keep the elephants safe from a gang of poachers.

Can Ben protect his family and become a true warrior?

 birdReview:

A good story should be a window on someone else’s life. It should take you outside your own world experience and teach you to look at the world a little differently. That’s what Warrior Boy did for me.

Ben comes from a comfortable home and has always been protected. He’s teased a little at school because he comes from one of the nicer areas of London and isn’t part of a gang. It was lovely to see a male character written this way. Ben’s not a tough-boy stereotype. He’s hardworking and looks out for his mum. He’s concerned he might not fit in with his family in Kenya.

Ben is mixed-race. He lives with his Scottish mother and has grown up in London. The Dad he never knew was from a Kenyan tribe. Warrior Boy looks at a character who learns about the other side of his family for the first time aged twelve. Ben is keen to embrace the culture, but it frightened he might not live up to his Dad’s memory.

The poaching storyline broke my heart and I hope it inspires young readers to speak up for conservation. It was a story sensitively told but the message was clear. Unless poaching stops more beautiful species will be lost.

I loved the relationship between Ben and his cousin Kip. There is a kind of healthy competitiveness and a true comradeship between the boys. I also loved the bond between Ben and his Grandfather. It showed that you don’t need to speak a common language to communicate love and pride.

Warrior Boy is a beautiful addition to the middle-grade shelf. It shows us the beauty of embracing a second culture and tells a story relevant to many children in Britain.

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Feelings by Libby Walden and Richard Jones

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Review – Feelings by Libby Walden and Richard Jones 

What you feel is who you are …

What do all those feelings mean? Happy and brave, calm and angry and afraid. Feelings follows one boy on a journey of emotions. Explore the world of emotions through the lyrical text and beautiful artwork, and learn to recognise different emotions. 

A stunning and special book. 

I love how the boy – the one boy who takes the same place on every double-page spread – appears to journey. His feelings are shown as calm seas and raging volcanos and mountains silhouetted against the sunset. Motifs of travel and exploration support this. The effect is that our emotions are shown as something to explore. To brave.  

I’ve spoken before about the partnership between Libby Walden and Richard Jones. They are an author/illustrator pair made in heaven. Libby Walden’s calm, melodic prose sits perfectly alongside Richard Jones’s artwork. Think muted colours, soft brushstrokes and a sense of movement. Dance and flight and spinning windmills and long grass blowing in the breeze. Richard Jones captures it all. 

Not everyone finds it easy to talk about their feelings. There is an increasing understanding that children – both girls and boys – need encouragement to show their emotions. Gone are the days of the stiff upper lip. All children need to feel safe and secure to show their feelings. It is great to see a boy on the cover. Boys need books which break the tough-fighter stereotype. 

This book would also be a lovely stimulus for art projects. The emotions are explored with both language and art in a way which might encourage children to create their own work around the same topic.

Another stunning work from one of my very favourite author/illustrator pairings. 

 

Thank you to Caterpillar Books for my copy of Feelings. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

 

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What happens when you put an athiest in Catholic school?

Synopsis:

Michael is sick of moving around to suit his Dad’s job. This time it is even worse. Michael is an atheist and his new school – St Clare’s – is a Catholic school. After a dire first day, he is desperate to find one likeminded person.

Then he meets Lucy. Lucy is a staunch Catholic but her views on women are considered heretical by the church. She initials Michael in Heretics Anonymous – a group where students can hold their own views. Michael has four new friends.

When his plans to protest the school rules put his friends’ futures at risk, Michael must decide what his fight is really about.

birdReview:

A warm and witty book about tolerance and religion. 

Heretics Anonymous is unusual in its open debate about religion. Instead of representing one side, it represents many. There’s Lucy, who believes in God but not the staunch rule of her church. Eden, who’s belief in paganism may be serious or may be teenage rebellion. There’s Michael, who reckons anyone who believes in God needs a reality check. Then there is Theresa, who has never known anything but God, to whom the rules of St Clare’s appear liberal compared to being homeschooled by her parents.

While the book invites skepticism about the more unusual aspects of different religions, it’s ultimate message is tolerance and respect. I liked this plea for open-mindedness. We don’t need to believe – or be prepared to believe – in something to respect other people’s right to believe in the same thing.

I laughed out loud at the antics of the group – from editing an extremely biased health-ed video to inviting students to follow the dress-code with fake mustaches. The book challenged the total authority of the school as much as it did the total authority of religion. Although it centered around religion, it’s messages could extend to any organised system.

Michael’s family story made him a relatable character, especially the tension between him and his Dad. Michael makes an interesting rebel – he is forced to confront the question about what he is really rebelling about. 

With fantastic character development and great chemistry between the main characters, this story of teenage rebels and overbearing authority will gain lots of fans. A great debut. 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Storm Witch by Ellen Renner

Storm Witch Blog Tour Banner

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Extract: 

‘…Does anyone doubt that was Air magic? The Albatross’s prophecy proves this: ‘As you command words, so you shall command the wind. Storm-bringer. Storm-rider. Storm-queller.’ 

‘Her choosing has confirmed our suspicions. The Albatross signaled its intent to grant power to the child before she was born: Storm is an Air-witch.’ 

(From Storm Witch by Ellen Renner. P57.) 

birdSynopsis:

At thirteen, children on Yanlin are Chosen by one of the elementals – Earth, Air, Fire or Water. Their choosing determines their apprenticeship and their future life-path. Storm, still recovering from the loss of her father, wants only to avoid the Water Elemental.

Instead, she is chosen by three Elementals – Earth, Air and Water. The fourth tries to kill her. There will be no easy destiny – Storm is a witch with great powers. She must help her island in the fight against The Drowned Ones, the band of pirates who roam the seas, destined never to live on land.

Then a boy washes up on the island and Storm makes a decision – a choice which will change her life forever.

 birdReview:

Storm Witch starts a new fantasy quartet which will be beloved by fans of Abi Elphinstone. Think the one chosen for a different destiny. Think vengeful pirates. Think Gods with a plan. Guys, this one is something special and it is going to be huge.

Storm has experienced tragedy before, and she wants nothing more than to keep her loved ones safe. Unfortunately, the Gods don’t seem to have planned it that way, and she finds her home and family in constant danger. I love how Storm had to face up to and own her abilities. She’s not a cardboard cut-out chosen-one but is forced to embrace her powers by circumstance.

Storm is teased for her boy’s name, and when she becomes a witch she gives up her gender entirely. Meanwhile, her cousin is considered soft because he allies with Earth and wants to remain on the island rather than go out on the boat with the men. It was lovely to see commentary about gender worked into a fantasy story. The culture of Yanlin divides male and female in a way which could be a metaphor for real-life preconceptions about gender. I will be interested to see whether this theme develops across the series.

There was another character who provided an interesting dynamic – Mixi is introduced as a bully, but her own perspective is slowly fed to us until we empathise with both Mixi and Storm. I love it when authors write strong characters who we don’t necessarily like. The difference between liking and empathy is one of the most important lessons we can learn as human beings.

As well as being a gripping adventure, Storm Witch introduces a new setting. Storm’s world of pirates and Elementals and apprenticeships to the island’s Elders was so well described that I finished the book feeling as if I had visited Yanlin. From the magical caves of the Elementals to the staff-carrying elders, there was just enough description to make this place real.

A strong start to the series which establishes the world and character and sets out Storm’s dilemma. This will doubtless be a hit and I look forward to finding out how the story continues.

 

Storm Witch by Ellen Renner is published on 6th September by Nosy Crow in paperback priced £6.99

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD and EDPR for inviting me on to the tour and for my ARC of Storm Witch. Opinions my own.