illustrated · Non-Fiction

Review: Viking Voyagers by Jack Tite.

Review: Viking Voyagers by Jack Tite.

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The Vikings gained a reputation as fearsome and bloodthirsty warriors, but their contributions in other areas deserve equal attention. This book offers a more rounded picture of the Vikings as a voyager civilization. 

An account of the Viking era – which spanned more than 300 years and various countries – is presented alongside information about the Viking myths and legends. That history is given together with mythology offers the reader a rich picture – after all, the stories we tell most often offer clues to who we are as people. The book is divided into six chapters, covering everything from mythology and seafaring to home life, legends and an overview of the earlier and later parts of the Viking era. I was particularly pleased with how the book situated the Vikings within a context of world geography – by showing a world map marked with Viking travel routes, the book makes clear that other parts of the world were home to different people. 

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Illustration brings to life the Norse myths and the day-to-day life within a Viking settlement. Showing the two side by side makes plain how the stories we tell grow out of our geography and our lived experiences. Seeing the same mountains in pictures of the Gods as in the picture of a small farmstead made this plain in a way that no words can. Not only will readers of this book learn about history, but they can begin to think about the links between mythology and life. 

As well as larger, double-page spread illustrations, smaller groups of pictures are labelled clearly such as the food the Vikings might have eaten or the names of the lesser deities. Seeing pictures with labels enables children to learn and test their memories, and readers will soon return to their favourite spreads to find their favourite images. 

Fold-out spreads offer even more to look at. I was particularly impressed with the spread on the Bayeux Tapestry – it looks more modern than replicas of the real thing but maintains a faithful style, engaging younger readers and allowing them to browse and ask questions about what is going on at their leisure. 

This is the kind of book that encourages children to engage their own creativity. The drawing style invites readers to copy or to put the characters and images into scenes of their own. I can see this being hugely popular in classrooms where the topic is being studied for its engaging and intelligent content. It maintains a serious tone whilst offering readers plenty to look at if they aren’t up for a long read. Some spreads have very short sections that are a few sentences long, yet they are all informative and interesting. 

A winner both with adults and young readers. Viking Voyagers offers a rounded perspective and beautiful content to bring to life a favourite topic. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Don’t Mess With Duck! by Becky Davies And Emma Levey.

Review: Don’t Mess With Duck! by Becky Davis And Emma Levey.

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Duck likes peace and quiet. When his neighbours continue to quack and splash, Duck packs his suitcase and sets off in search of a quiet place. The trouble is that everywhere he goes is noisy and overcrowded. When he finally finds a peaceful spot, he has competition. Duck And Frog refuse to talk to one another, each determined that the pond belongs to them.

Everyone needs some chill time. With increasing numbers of people renting in busy cities, and living without garden space, it can be difficult to find somewhere to unwind or concentrate. Duck and Frog are both in search of the same thing, but they realise that maybe the competition for space doesn’t have to be so fierce. Maybe a little noise is worth it if it means having a friend around?

Duck’s anger is brought out in the illustrations to humorous effect and the crowds get noisier, busier, and more extreme (a flock of bats, anyone?) with every move he makes. Knowing how Duck has reacted in the past builds anticipation, and his reactions get more and more comically livid. This would be a wonderful book for discussing overreaction with children – Duck’s initial response might be justified, but it soon becomes an ongoing campaign.

It is lovely to find a picture book that makes the most of watery settings. From elegant white ducks in boaters rowing across a pond to a fountain populated by pigeons, seagulls, and rodents, the illustrations especially bring the settings to memorable life. There is a touch of The Wind In The Willows – perhaps a homage – in the interactions between the different communities on the water. 

A humorous and enjoyable story about balancing our needs with an open mind to new experiences. A true keeper. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Don’t Mess With Duck. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

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Extract:

As sunset bloomed in the west like coloured ink spreading in water, Arthur and Maudie stood with Felicity and Gilly at the aft end of the sky-ship taking in the view of hills, rising and falling like gentle waves, criss-crossed with farm fields and woodland patches will full, blousy trees. It felt good to be under the wide sky again.

(Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy. P86.)

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Synopsis:

The Brightstorm twins are back for another adventure. Arthur and Maudie witness a burglary by their nemesis Eudora Vane. The very next day, Eudora announces a search for the missing explorer Ermitage Wigglesworth – the person whose house she has burgled.

Arthur, Maudie, and Harriet Culpepper are convinced that the search is a cover for something else. What could Eudora Vane want in the legendary Eastern Isles?

The Eastern Isles are almost impossible to find and hold many secrets of their own. The twins are separated for the first time in their lives in a territory which they hardly know. Will they be reunited? Will they work out what Eudora is up to in time?

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Review:

A spectacular, high-flying sequel to hit adventure novel Brightstorm. This is perfect for readers who dream of big, daring adventures. With skyships and jungles and magical continents, Darkwhispers builds on the legacy of the first book as an exciting and intelligent story about exploration.

Arthur and Maudie are separated for the first time and this allows us to know them better as individuals. We see Maudie’s vulnerabilities and Arthur’s desperation to live up to his brilliant sister. Grief for his father causes him difficulties, and at times people write off his reactions as being grief based. Arthur’s emotional narrative plays a strong part in the story and he grows as a character. 

The new settings are as memorable as the old, and there are some new creatures, not least the Darkwhispers of the title.

There is not only a love for geography in these books but complete and heartfelt respect. The worlds are brought to life with care and detail. It feels as if Vashti Hardy must have visited them to give the reader such a clear picture. Her worldbuilding offers questions about our own world – could we invent power sources that do no harm to the environment? Are the other animals around us more intelligent than we give them credit for?

Vashti Hardy has confirmed herself as an exceptionally strong storyteller. Her narrative is told with a confidence that allows her imaginative ideas to soar. I look forward to reading whatever she writes next and hope that there will be a return to Arthur and Maudie’s world.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Darkwhispers. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Dear Earth by Isobel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi.

Review: Dear Earth by Isobel Otter and Clara Anganuzzi.

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Inspired by her Grandpa’s adventures, Tessa writes a love letter to the Earth. As she writes, her mind takes her to all the wonderful places on the planet and she realises what an extraordinary place our planet really is. Grandpa says that humans have damaged the planet. Tessa wonders whether, if everyone knew how wonderful it is they would make more effort to save our home. 

A poignant and beautiful response to the climate crisis. 

Climate has been a hot topic for picture books in the past year. It can also be difficult to strike the right balance. Children need to know, without glossing over, exactly where the climate crisis stands. We are out of time to pretend. Facing up and responding is the only way we will save the planet. However, too many details too soon can result in tears and fright. This, in turn, will lead children to avoid the topic altogether. This book sits squarely between the brutally honest (better for slightly older readers) and the gentle stories that encourage interaction with and respect for the outdoors. Grandpa does say that the Earth is in trouble. However, most of the story is about one girl’s growing love of our world. 

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Illustrations take readers through the magical places conjured by Tessa’s mind and back to the present moment. After this journey through beautiful landscapes, it is impossible not to care for our wild spaces. 

The idea of writing a love letter to the Earth is beautiful, and it offers readers an immediate activity to engage with. After reading about difficult topics, it is important for young readers to feel immediately empowered. Dear Earth allows exactly this. Sending a message to the planet is something that readers of all ages can engage with. 

Both the illustrations and the text are warm and filled with a sense of wonder. Dear Earth is perfect for introducing the topic of climate crisis because it tells the truth but offers readers enough hope that they will feel safe after finishing the book. A balanced and beautiful love letter to our planet. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Dear Earth. Opinions my own.

fairytales

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

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Meet Inanna who conquered a mountain. Bridget who rid her house of witches. Kandek who outsmarted a wearwolf. These heroines are fearless, bold, quick-thinking and smart, and their stories make for excellent reading. 

Folk stories have been important to me since I was small. It began with music. Songs I heard as my Dad worked through his collection of LPs, cassettes and CDs. Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention – the stories they sang weren’t always fully comprehensible to my young mind but I got the jist enough to know that they were a little more exciting than the limited cannon of fairytales that was read on a regular basis to children. Later, I found a collection of folk tales retold by Kevin Crossley Holland and my interest in folklore really took hold. How stories grow out of human experiences. How time and place shapes the retelling, until each culture has its own canon of best-known tales. 

This collection includes tales from different cultures. It reflects the fact that stories are told and retold all around the world. 

My favourites included The Lace Dragon, the story of a girl who outsmarts the Emperor demanding her hand in marriage by drawing on her magic as a lacemaker, and Goddess VS Mountain, which is the story of a girl up aganist the might of the land itself. The stories have such different themes and settings that the collection remains engaging. As an adult reader, it reminded me of the magic of being a child and begging for just one more story. 

The way these stories are written lends itself to speaking aloud. It is an art in itself to write with such clarity and yet in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them hooked. 

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware that the notions we form about gender begin early and restrict our ideas about our identities. Countering stereotypes is important if we are to offer the next generation a wider range of ideas about who they might become. The fact that this collection shows girls being clever and active, angry and proactive and energetic will make it  popular with teachers, librarians and parents looking to counter narrow ideas about what it means to be a girl. 

It turns out happy ever after can come in all kinds of ways. These tales are well written, timeless and filled with strong female role models. 

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR and Bloomsbury Education for my copy of Fierce, Fearless And Free. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

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Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson

Extraordinary. Inspiring.

We live in a world obsessed with the mighty. The large. The barely achievable. Yet wondrous things happen all around us. Extraordinary! is both a wake-up call and a love song to the quiet, everyday moments that remind us what an amazing thing it is to be alive in this world. 

This is a theme I adore. It is like seeing my interest in Romantic literature meet squarely with my love of children’s fiction. 

The gentle rhyme takes us from dreaming of bigger, more unusual things to slowly noticing the beauty and wonder of the natural world. It is like tuning in. Turning from the exciting dreams put into our heads by the media to a realisation that every day is incredible. 

Recent articles have highlighted that environmental themes in picture books have been approached in ways that don’t necessarily make easy bedtime reading. Extraordinary! is the antidote. The book for younger readers who aren’t yet ready to hear about the damage inflicted on the world by humans. It reminds us how special and beautiful our planet is by drawing on the known. The everyday. 

Author Penny Harrison has kindly written a post about her favourite things to do outdoors and I am honoured to host it. Thank you to Penny Harrison for your time, and to the stars at New Frontier Publishing for organising this opportunity. 

 

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Things To Do Outdoors by author Penny Harrison

Growing up on a cattle farm, in central-western New South Wales, Australia, it was easy to develop a strong connection to the outside world. Even when I moved to the city, in later years, I always sought out the nearest park, found a favourite tree to read under, or planted some cheery daffodils in a pot by my back door.

Many of my books aim to inspire a similar love of nature in children. But in Extraordinary, I wanted to do more. I wanted to instil a sense of mindfulness in readers, encouraging them to experience the ever-changing natural world with all their senses, to notice the little things, and to cherish these moments.

Here are some of my favourite things to do outdoors:

 

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  • Make a nature mobile. Forage in the garden or park for pine cones, feathers, stones, seedpods and vines that you can bend into small shapes (circles, stars, hearts). Tie a variety of items to different pieces of string, then hang them from two sticks bound together to form an x-shape. Arrange them so the mobile is balanced.

 

  • Start your own nature journal. Use your magnifying glass to zoom in on a flower or bug; then sketch it, and add colour and labels. Include tracings/rubbings of leaves and drawings of the different flowers you find (press some between the pages, using heavy books). Look for beetles, lizards, worms, or caterpillars to draw. Give them names and make up stories or poems about them. Go on a nature walk and record everything you notice.

 

  • Sit outside and make a map of your garden, park or neighbourhood. Draw in all the little details that mean something to you (eg. a flower bed that butterflies love to visit, your favourite climbing tree, the best patch of grass for daydreaming/cloudgazing, the spot where the best tomatoes grow, the house next door with the fairy lights in the tree).

 

  • Turn yourself into a witch or wizard for the day and make your own potions and spells from nature. Gather flower petals, seeds, dirt, leaves and other natural ingredients to stir in a pot. Give your spells names and don’t forget to make up your own magic words. For some extra pizzazz, you could add a little baking soda and food colouring to your potion, then a splash of vinegar for a fizzing, enchanting illusion!

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  • Make your backyard or balcony a friendly place for birds, bugs and other creatures that might visit. Decorate an old milk carton and turn it into a bird feeder. Leave out bowls of water for birds and small creatures on hot days. Make a bug hotel by creating a tight bundle of twigs, bark and and dried seedpods and flowers to hang. Plant a patch (or pot) of flowers rich in pollen to attract butterflies and bees (try lavender, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos). And have a go at growing some of your favourite vegetables.

 

  • Go hunting for fairies in your garden or neighbourhood park. Make flower wreaths, crowns and wands to entice them out. Find a hollowed-out tree or stump to turn into a miniature mailbox and leave natural treasures and notes for your fairy friends. Put together your own ‘fairy garden’ in a shallow bowl or pot, complete with moss, pebble walking path, a pond and a fairy house made from pieces of wood (this is where your hot glue gun comes in handy!)

 

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My copy of Extraordinary! was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour.

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

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Extract:

The locomotive puffed out a sigh of steam, as if it were alive – a dragon, ancient, powerful, and ready to fly. 

(The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. P14.) 

 

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Synopsis:

As Harrison Beck waits for his new sibling to enter the world, he is sent off to spend time with journalist and train enthusiast Uncle Nat. The pair board the Highland Falcon for its final journey before it is sent to a museum. They are in the company of well-known society figures – from actress Sierra Knight to a Countess, a Baron and important railway officials.

Then a notorious jewel thief strikes.

Can Harrison and his friend, the not-so-secret stowaway Lenny, solve the mystery and catch the culprit before the wrong person takes the blame?

 

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Review:

All aboard for the first mystery adventure in a series dedicated entirely to trains. Imagine that Michael Portillo had taken an 11-year-old boy along as he filmed Great British Railway Journeys. And that the boy in question had met a girl with a wealth of knowledge about railways. The train isn’t just a pretty backdrop in this series. It is the living, beating heart of the story. At last! A mystery series for readers who care about the ins and outs of railways.

This first story sees a notorious jewel thief strike on the first night of the journey. The Magpie has a reputation for stealing high-value pieces. The trouble is, nobody knows the Magpie’s true identity. As the blame shifts from one person to another, Harrison and his friend Lenny set to work figuring the case out.

Harrison is an artist and the illustrations tie in with the story as his casebook. This breaks from the recent tradition of detectives with notebooks. This detective has a sketchbook. It also gives the reader very visual reminders of the events and allows them to flick backwards and forwards through the pages as each piece of new information is revealed and notice new details in the illustrations.

Lenny is the resident train geek. Her father drives the train and Lenny has followed him along the rail tracks since she was very small. I was impressed with the level of knowledge and railway vocabulary woven into the story. This series acknowledges that when children have hobbies and interests, they gather huge amounts of knowledge and trivia. It is great to see a series built around this. Recent conversations about whether middle grade has become too adult have failed to discuss this aspect of childhood, but the pure love that young people have for their favourite subjects needs to be reflected in their fiction.  

This story will be a hit with fans of middle-grade mystery and its fictional trains should be a hit with young railway enthusiasts. A roaring start.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Booksfor my copy of The Highland Falcon Thief. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

Board Book · Round-Up

Board Book Round-Up – February 2020.

Board Book Round-Up – February 2020.

 

Baby Goat and Baby Kitten. Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang.

Animal behaviours.

img_1245Wake up, explore, play, and end the day with some baby animals. These beautiful board books incorporate finger puppets of baby animals so that different behaviours can be acted out as the text is read.

These books introduce the idea that other animals sound and act differently, but that maybe they are not so dissimilar to ourselves. Little animals wake up, they interact with their mothers, play, eat and explore just like little people. Building this empathy will help the reader to treat other animals with respect and kindness, and to decrease fear when meeting these creatures in the real world.

These books are also incredibly cute. I had never been sold on puppet books when I saw them in bookshops. Then I tried the puppet out. It works just as well as puppetry in other forms. The illustrations provide a landscape for the play.

These would make a lovely gift for a new baby.

Baby’s Very First Faces. Illustrated by Jo Lodge.

High contrast pages. Mirror.

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New babies love to look at faces. They also love high-contrast pictures.

This book has been designed with the very tiniest readers in mind. Make no mistake – we can learn reading beahviours long before we speak a sentence. Reading isn’t just about vocabulary. It is about communication and fun and knowing that there is a secure space at the end of every day. Reading is about so very much more than words and this book reminds us of that.

With striking black-and-yellow designs and crinkly sounding pages, this book is strong on sensory experience.

The three words inside here – Daddy, Mummy, and Baby, are words that lots of children learn earliest of all. This is, of course, only one family model – if it helps at all, the words are on separate pages, so it is possible to pick out the ones most relevant to the young reader in question.

The soft pages also encourage lots of cuddling-up and lots of practice in turning pages.

 

Bake A Rainbow Cake! by Amirash Kassem.

Colours. Baking terminology.

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Cut it. Fill it. Frost it. Sprinkle it.

Run through the process of baking a rainbow cake. With tabs and wheels and colourful illustrations, this is the perfect book not only to practice the colours of the rainbow but to introduce words and concepts associated with baking.

Little people are great bakers. Sure, there are things they can’t do, like use a knife or put trays into the oven, but all that mixing? And sprinkling? And using their hands to roll things into shape? The sooner small people get into the kitchen – under supervision – the better.

This is a wonderful book to run through what the experience of baking might look like. It has a great play factor. Turning a wheel to add food colouring. Pulling a tab to see cakes rise. There is plenty of scope for adult – mini-reader talk, which will introduce even more wonderful vocabulary.

This is the first board book I have seen about baking, and it is fabulous.

Fun At The Fair by Ingela P Arrhenius.

Motion. Location-specific vocabulary. 

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Welcome to the funfair. 

The roller coaster goes up then down. The wheel spins round and round. There’s so much for small people to watch at a fair, long before they are big enough to go on the rides. 

Fairs are great for talking about motion. Spinning. Sliding. Up and down. Twirling around. Not to mention what they do for the imagination. Where on earth do such magical places come from? What might happen when the wheel reaches the top? Where does the little train go when it disappears inside the tunnel? 

The design of this book imitates the experience of visiting a location in real life. Instead of seeing things one at a time, the pages are all different shapes and sizes. As one thing is in the foreground, others can be seen in the distance. 

A beautiful addition to the series. 

 

Let’s Go series (On A Ferry and On A Rocket) by Rosalyn Albert and Natalia Moore.

Vehicles and new settings.

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All aboard. Let’s Go!

Climb on board different vehicles and get set for adventure. Sail up to the moon in a rocket, or ride the waves and watch out for dolphins from the deck of a ferry.

This beautiful series not only introduces new vehicles, but it also introduces new locations. It is also one of the few times I have seen children of all genders and skin tones at the helm of big and exciting vehicles. Too often, the books feature a single blonde boy wearing glasses and dungarees. Possibly with a cheeky grin. There is such a child in this series, but there are six children in total and the representation is far broader than normal. Research shows that children form ideas about gender limitations by the age of two. Two change this, we need books like these that challenge stereotypes and prove that everyone can grow up to command ferries and rockets.

Two children share each adventure, so this is also a great series to promote friendship and working together.

With heaps of excitement and positive message, this belongs on every nursery bookshelf.

 

 

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! by Todd Tuell. Illustrated by Tad Carpenter.

Movement. Sibling relations.

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The popular picture book is now available in board book form. 

Little ninja is very busy. He runs. He climbs. He chops. Little ninja never stops. As the words follow his adventures, the pictures tell the emotional narrative. This little ninja is watched by a small brother. At first, the little brother is ignored. Then Ninja’s activities cause upset. As he makes it up, he finds out that his little brother is, in fact, the perfect partner. The story ends with the pair dressed up together, kicking, jumping, and chopping. 

For small readers, this book is a brilliant way of introducing vocabulary around movement. It is also good for talking about friendly relationships – with siblings and with other children. 

The rhyme is as fast-paced as Ninja’s actions. It would be fun – in the correct space – to read it and allow small readers to act out some of the movements. 

High-flying, jumping, kicking fantastic fun. 

 

Noisy Farm by Rod Campbell.

Farm terminology. Animal names. 

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It’s daybreak at the farm. Soon all the farm animals are waking up and making different noises. What other sounds can be heard around the farm? Lift the flaps to find out what else is going on around the farm. 

Tiny people have such a lot to learn – and they learn with all of their senses. Noises,  smells and tastes can be just as new and confusing as anything they see. This book is perfect for introducing small people to the things they might see and hear in the countryside, and especially around a farm. It is also perfect for introducing animal names. 

A potentially unknown and frightening location is made friendly with the inclusion of baby animals. The message throughout the book is that animals have parents and babies too. 

This book is such a classic that I remember it from my own infancy. There is a gentleness to the narrative and illustrations that helps the young reader to feel comfortable with the idea of other animals. 

 

 

 

Who Loves Books? by Lizi Boyd.

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Who loves books? Is it you?

On a sunny day, Squirrel sails her boat along the bank handing out books. She has lots of takers. All the way along the bank, little animals appear to make use of her floating library. All except Raccoon, who sneaks along the bank keeping track of the boat. This not only creates a fabulous hide and seek game, but it builds in some suspense as we are kept waiting to learn whether Raccoon will, eventually, get a book to read. 

The design is beautiful. With full-size and half-size pages, it is possible to create different layouts – to match the stream on the bottom half of the spreads with different backgrounds. 

The colour palette, with its summery greens and light pastel blues, is perfect for a calming shared read. 

A lovely way to share some positivity and excitement about books with tiny readers. 

 

Thanks to Abrams And Chronicle Kids, Catch A Star, and Macmillan Children’s Books for gifting the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner.

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About The Bat Book. 

What is a bat? What do bats look like, and what do they eat, and how do they fly? Whereabouts in the world do bats live? 

This fantastic volume answers every question a reader could have about bats. Additionally, it is informative about the threat bats face today from deforestation, demolition of old buildings, and pesticides. A helpful section at the back advises readers on how to keep a bat-friendly garden. 

With pages divided into short sections – the text is in chunks from a couple of simple sentences to a paragraph – this book is perfect for less confident readers, and for children under 7. The bold, close-up pictures make it easy to visualise the topic in question. 

I was lucky enough to be given a chance to put some questions to author and illustrator Charlotte Milner. Her responses tell us not only about bats but about her approach to nature writing. 

Thanks to Charlotte Milner for your time and answers. 

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Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Q: Your books deal with environmental conservation issues and facts about the natural world. Please can you tell us about your approach to the subject?
A: My aim with each of the books is to inspire a love of nature by offering children an understanding of the amazing ways that animals survive within the context of different ecosystems.
When we understand how plants and animals interact with each other, we can understand why certain problems like climate change or habitat loss have an effect on them and what can be done to help. I try to make the books as simple and as visual as I can, and I hope that the books can be used as a tool for parents and children to have a conversation about conservation issues while enjoying learning about animals.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about bats?
A: I think generally a lot of people see bats as either being scary or as vermin, I’ve heard them being described as ‘flying mice’ before. But bats are not even closely genetically related to rodents, they belong to their own order, Chiroptera, and as the only mammals that can fly, there really are no other animals like them. While it is important never to touch a bat, they are also no more likely to carry a disease than other wild animals.
As a common Halloween symbol, I can also understand why people might think of bats as spooky but bats keep to themselves and are unlikely to fly anywhere near a human. As nocturnal animals, most of the time we don’t even know they are around. I hope that The Bat Book will give a more in-depth understanding of how bats live, and how, as pollinators and important seed dispersers, they have a really important ecological role.
Q: What sort of experiences did you have with bats whilst researching the book?
A; I went on a fantastic bat walk in Hyde Park. I’d really recommend a bat walk, it’s a great way to see the different bat species that live around you, which you might not have even known were there. You also get to use a bat detector, which is a very exciting gadget that detects the high-pitched calls of bats and translates them into sounds we can hear. This is a really useful for understanding echolocation- the way that bats use sound to ‘see’ what is around them so accurately that they can catch tiny-fast flying insects.
 
Q: Please can you share your favourite facts about bats? (I think if you can share just the one, that would be great as these are featuring in a different blog post I think!)
A: My favourite bat fact has to be that bats pollinate over 500 species of plant, including plants that grow tropical fruits such as bananas. Many of the plants that bats visit for nectar from have evolved to attract their nocturnal pollinators. The flowers will often bloom at night, and have white petals to stand out in the dark. Unlike the sweet-smelling flowers that bees love, bat-pollinated flowers often have a rotten smell that attracts bats during the night-time.
 
Q: How can humans help bats? What can everybody do to make the world a friendlier place for bats?
A: Yes they can! The main problem that bats face is habitat loss which means that there aren’t enough places for bats to roost and find food. If you have a garden you can make it more wildlife-friendly by adding certain plants. Plants such as borage, cornflower, night-scented stock and evening primrose release their scent in the night-time which attracts moths and flies that bats love to eat. Putting a bat box up is also great for giving bats a place to roost.
 
Q: Any hints about which areas of the natural world you are currently writing about?
A: I’m having a lot of fun writing the next book which is all about a part of the world that feels a million miles away from my London home. It’s a place where there are endless animal species to write about that have all evolved in the most fascinating ways to survive in an environment that is wildly dense!
The Bat Book is available from Dorling Kindersley Books. RRP. £12.99.
Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR for organising this promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.
Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

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Extract:

Betty took it, her heart beginning to beat fast again, but this time it was with excitement rather than with fear. She unfolded the paper carefully, but even as she did so she knew it was a map. Hand-drawn in black ink, with a decorative nautical star in the corner. 

(A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. P72.) 

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Synopsis:

The Poachers Pocket is on the market and Betty Widdershins is desperate for her family to leave Crowstone. Then, one night, the prison bell tolls, and a mysterious girl arrives on the doorstep, accompanied by marsh wisp.

Willow escaped the prison island with her mother. Her father has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Charlie is kidnapped in Willow’s place, and the people who have her aren’t even who they claim to be.

The clue to freeing her, and saving Willow’s family, lies in an old map, a secret island, and a folk tale about three brothers.

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Review:

The Widdershins are back. Their pinch of magic this time is matched by a folk tale about three brothers who were faced with a sprinkle of sorcery. With escaped prisoners, pirates and a magical island, this has all the ingredients of a fantastic tale.

Betty Widdershins takes Willow in at a great cost. Her own sister, Charlie, is kidnapped, and their granny is endangered by the same people who take Charlie. This constantly challenges Betty, as she battles with her consciene and the ultimate question – should she give up one child to guarantee the security of another? It is impossible to stop turning the pages as the stakes for everyone get higher and higher.

This exceptionally popular series introduces some new characters. There’s the ethereal Willow herself, who washes up in the night like a Dickensian waif. She’s tougher than she first appears, though, and this is what offers hope that the injustice that sees her father in desperate trouble will be reversed. Then there is Sniff. Sniff is introduced halfway through the book. He’s a pirate, right, tough as they get … except there’s more to Sniff’s story, too, than it first seems. There are also cats. Cats in all their glory.

Alongside the main story runs a folk tale about three brothers: Fortune, Luck, and Hope. Initially, it builds like any moralistic narrative. Fortune blunders his choices, valuing wealth over the right things. Luck has kinder values, but the wrong approach. Then things get interesting – because fairytales, as every reader knows, have at least some basis in real events, and real events are tied to specific locations.

This understanding of the relationship between place, narrative and real events underpins the series. Harrison’s Essex marshes begin with the real Essex marshes and a real folktale. Where that story originated from, of course, is left to speculation. The tales of the Widdershins sisters read exactly like that imaginative narrative. That if three magical sisters once lived on an island in the Essex marshes, then maybe they owned three magical objects … and with Harrison’s confident storytelling, it is possible to believe that those sisters are real people.

Michelle Harrison’s adventures promote a sense of wonder in the world. They are not only excellent narratives, but they leave the reader ready to embrace life and all the adventures it holds. A Sprinkle Of Sorcery is a triumph, and the Widdershins sisters are already listed among the greatest families of children’s literature.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD for sending a proof copy ahead of publication. Opinions my own.