Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Milton The Megastar by Emma Read.

Review: Milton The Megastar by Emma Read.

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Extract:

Zoe danced around the garden with Milton, jumping for joy, in her hand. She looked so happy it melted Milton’s heart, and he felt a sense of peace flow through him. This would be the break he needed and he would get to see his Dad again. Everything was falling into place. It was all going to be OK. 

(Milton The Megastar by Emma Read. P36.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Being the star of the #NotScaredOfSpiders campaign has stressed Milton out. His friends are supporting him, but secretly they think he’s become a real diva. Milton is on the edge of a breakdown, and he’s also concerned about his Dad who was last spotted in Hawaii.

Zoe’s new life should be easier. Since Dad got together with Greta, there’s been more comfort, less stress, and a whole lot more laughter in the house. Yet it doesn’t feel entirely right.

When Dad and Greta announce a trip to Hawaii, Zoe invites Milton along for the ride. After all, this could be the only opportunity for him to find his Dad. But Milton’s Dad is in more trouble than they know, living on the site of entrepreneur Bradley O’Hair’s latest project. Oh, and there’s also a volcano showing more signs of life than it has done for years …

Can Milton and Zoe trust other people – and spiders – to help them rescue Milton’s Dad?

 

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Review:

Zoe and the spider gang are back. Following their escapades in Milton The Mighty, the group is now suffering under the pressure of having a social media presence. Zoe has troubles of her own. As much as she likes Greta, and feels happy for her Dad, the relationship between them has moved so quickly. Where does Zoe herself fit into this new family unit? And why does everybody keep acting as if Greta is her Mum?

A holiday in Hawaii should be exactly what everybody needs, but it only makes things harder. Firstly there’s all the single-use plastic and environmentally awful activities offered by Bradley O’Hair and his mega hotel. Secondly, the man himself is clearly up to something big, and whatever it is, it appears to be bad news for Milton’s Dad and the colony of endangered spiders. Then Zoe herself is struggling – Dad used to tell her everything, but all of a sudden he and Greta are hiding things.

It is lovely to see a book about environmental action that is sensitive to the complexities. Is travelling to Hawaii wrong? Does the spider campaign justify the trip? And then what about Bradley O’Hair’s son Dillon? Dillon has only ever been taught that environmentalism is an extreme view and that there are heaps of trees to go around. Does that make him a bad person? Does it mean he will never listen? His Dad is certainly doing a lot of damage, but when Dillon listens to Zoe, he starts to think about spiders and rainforests in entirely new ways.

The story also proves that struggling with anxiety and stress doesn’t make someone any less of a hero. It is so important for readers to see positive representations of mental health struggles. Feeling overloaded, or talking about feelings, doesn’t make a person any less capable, and seeing favourite characters struggling can help to counter the stigma around anxiety and asking for support.  

Emma Read’s books fit into the growing market for stories younger than Harry Potter but older than the early reader chapter books. This is currently known as Lower Middle Grade, although I would question whether middle grade (traditionally for 8 – 12-year-olds) got so skewed towards the top that we are now seeing a resurgence of books aimed at younger primary aged children. Labels aside, this reminds me of the wonderful stories by Dick King-Smith that I read and reread as a child.

When we aren’t capable of doing something alone, reaching out to other people helps us to get things done. A triumphant return for Zoe and Milton – a story with a massive heart and absolutely loads of spiders.

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for my copy of Milton The Megastar. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

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Activity Book · Non-Fiction

Review: The Unworry Book by Alice James

Review: The Unworry Book by Alice James

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Let go of your worries and identify your emotions. This brilliant activity book is on hand to help everyone deal with worries, fears, and bad memories. 

Unlike standard activity books, this has a range of different pages. There are advice sheets, spaces to write and identify worries, drawing pages, puzzles and games for mindfulness and distraction, diary pages and places to figure out what is most important to the reader. It is not only a fun space. It is a toolkit and helping hand. 

The Unworry Book came at a brilliant time. I was able to test it out not only in the spirit of a good reviewer but as a place to help me deal with my own emotions and fears. Although I am an adult, and this is targeted at younger readers, I found it a brilliant way to try out new management techniques. For example, I would never have thought of using a dot-to-dot for mindfulness or of drawing a creature to represent my feelings, but both activities have their place. Following on from this it would be possible to build a worry kit based on the activities which worked best for me. 

Worries lead to so many places. To a sleepless night, to a shouting session, to sheer desperation. The Unworry Book has a technique for every occurrence. It encourages the reader to manage their emotions and keep their fears in proportion. 

The design mixes calming colours with happy ones. Pale blues and greys with bright yellow. A round, friendly-looking guide follows the reader through the book. Not only does this provide a friendly face, but we see a different range of facial expressions which might prompt the reader to think about how they are feeling. 

This book is a big hit in so many ways. Unlike conventional books about emotions, which can feel heavy on the lectures, this leaves the reader to find the right page for the moment. 

A section of numbers and advice at the back suggests places where young readers can go if things get too much. 

A treasure trove of ideas for dealing with stress and unhappiness. 

 

Thanks to Usborne Books for my gifted copy of The Unworry Book. Opinions my own.