Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

Review: Nell & The Circus Of Dreams by Nell Gifford & Briony May Smith

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When Nell’s chicken friend runs away, it leads her to the circus of her dreams.

A circus family welcomes Nell and introduces her to the lights and music and magic tricks of their show. After the circus packs up and Nell goes home, the circus fades from her memory like a dream, but all through the summer and into the summers beyond she plays her own circus games in the back garden.

Partly based on the memories of Nell Gifford, from Gifford’s circus, the setting brings to life the magic of a traditional circus. Being among the animals and the music and the traditional caravans are enough to bring anyone’s imagination to life. In this story, a young girl’s games are given a new lease of life after visiting the circus.

There is something folksy and beautiful about the illustrations, from the field of wildflowers to the circle of wooden caravans. It invokes a strange kind of nostalgia – a nostalgia for a life most of us have never lived. Of course, this can make us yearn for a different world, and Nell does exactly this when the circus goes. She finds it in little pockets, though. In her games and in her back garden.

The illustrations are full of a golden light and beautiful textures. They bring back romanticised memories of childhood summers and remind us of the magic of our dreams. A double-page spread of the circus in action is so beautiful, it is possible to stare at it for hours. These are pictures which bring to life all our senses. I could hear the music and feel the soap bubbles popping beside my cheeks.

A real treat of a story and one of those books which demands to be reread and treasured.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Nell And The Circus Of Dreams. Opinions my own.

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Blog Tour: Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

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About Kingsbane. 

Sun Queen Rielle is touring the kingdom when a request for help arrives from a neighbouring kingdom. Upon investigation, it turns out Rielle is the only person who can help. The Gate which keeps most of the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the hidden castings of the saints who constructed the gate. The castings are hidden across the kingdom.

She must also overcome the temptations of angel Corien.

Centuries later, Sun Queen Eliana fears corruption and becoming another Rielle. Eliana is supposed to be humanity’s saviour, yet she is the daughter of the woman who put the world in peril. As Eliana grapples with her identity, her friend Navi is in increasing danger. Her transformation into a crawler is progressing.

Eliana learns of a way to help Navi, but she will only be able to do it if she takes ownership of her powers.

Kingsbane second book in an epic fantasy trilogy. Think big world, big plot and a huge number of questions.

As in the first book, the story is told in a dual narrative. Rielle lives in a time of magic. The angels who have been held at bay are breaking through into the world. Rielle is succumbing to the temptations of the Angel Corien and her actions will lead to downfall.

Eliana lives centuries later when magic is viewed as a myth and Angels are in control of the world. Without any spoilers, her mother’s legacy is such that Eliana is uncertain whether she can be the person to save the world. 

The worldbuilding is as complex and believable as any fantasy I’ve read and I love Eliana’s unique perspective. Living in a time when the story of Rielle is a legend, you would think Eliana has an advantage, but her personal backstory and ties leave her unable to see past that legacy. 

Although the story is dark, there are strong romances and friendships which keep us invested in the characters. 

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Giveaway:

Thanks to the lovely people at Midas PR, I have a copy of Kingsbane to giveaway. Check out my Twitter page for more information. UK and Ireland only. Giveaway ends at 11.59pm 28.05.2019. 

 

Thanks to Midas PR for my ARC of Kingsbane. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Slow Samson by Bethany Christou

Review: Slow Samson by Bethany Christou

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Samson the sloth is slow. He is invited to a lot of parties, but the trouble is by the time he gets there he is hours too late. He misses out on everything. Sorry to always miss his friends, he becomes unhappy, but Samson’s friends have a plan. The next time there is a party, they put the wrong time on his invite to give him an extra two hours to get there. 

A lovely story about friendship and the benefits of adjusting to meet everyone’s needs. 

Too often, when we plan, we plan for the majority. The able. What about the people who just can’t meet certain criteria? Be it a tricky time, an inaccessible place or a set of instructions which someone finds difficult to follow, there are so many reasons why one or two people in a group might be left behind. 

When we ask them to fulfill the same criteria as the majority, they end up exhausted. Poor Samson tries and tries to get to those parties, and sometimes he even makes the end, but he’s tired out from the dash, miserable to have failed yet again and out of the loop with what’s happening. What should we do? Accuse him of not trying? But Samson does try. Tirelessly. 

Samson’s friends know better. They tweak his invitation so that he gives himself extra time to get there. 

The ending shows how happy the group is to be together. All together. No exclusion.  

A cute story about a slow sloth and a string of parties also shows us that it can take a bit of extra thinking to meet the needs of a whole group. 

Use of colour shows how miserable Samson feels on his own, and how happy everyone is to enjoy the party at the end.

 A lovely story with a big heart. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my gifted copy of Slow Samson. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Review: The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

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A stranger arrives one day with nothing but a suitcase. When the animals ask what is inside, the stranger gives an impossible list. He says there is a broken teacup, a table and chair, and a hut on the mountainside. Tired from his journey, he falls asleep. The animals are so keen to find out the truth that they break open the suitcase. When they see what is inside, they question their behaviour and ask what they should do to make the exhausted stranger welcome. 

The Suitcase is, without question, my new favourite picture book about empathy and compassion. 

With the world in crisis and the number of displaced people rising, there have been a number of stories which explain the situation to very young children. There are some fantastic ones. The trouble is, below a certain age, how much can children understand about war? How much information is too much? 

The Suitcase pitches the story perfectly for children who are not yet ready to talk about war. It talks about a suitcase, a journey, and the reception at the other end. Should we greet exhausted people with hostility and suspicion, or should we greet them with a cup of tea and friendship? Even readers who don’t understand where ‘the stranger’  came from or why he is tired can understand the question posed by the text. 

It is also a fabulous story for older readers. Clues in the text hint tell some of the backstory and the reader can use their own knowledge to question where the stranger came from. 

The way the animals behave, combing over the items in the suitcase, could be metaphorical of the way people’s life stories are questioned and examined upon their arrival in a new country. It opens some gentle conversation about whether this is fair. How much information should people be forced to share and what might they want to keep private? Why might the few belongings they have left be precious? The story helps the reader to empathise by introducing different questions about how somebody might feel in this situation. 

The other interesting point is how the lizard [I think the new arrival is a lizard] is called ‘the stranger’ by the narrator. Stranger is a word we use to mean person we don’t know but at the same time it automatically implies suspicion and hesitation on our part. Is the new arrival a stranger? How else could he be seen? By questioning their own behaviour, the animals in the story discover a whole new way to think about the new arrival. 

With different coloured fonts for every animal in the story, this would be a lovely book to act out. The illustrations are wonderful too, with the animals’ facial expressions changing over the course of the story as they question their own reactions and become better friends to the new arrival. 

A wonderful story which encourages empathy and compassion to displaced people. This apparently simple tale about a suitcase, a journey and a group of friends deserves to become a classic.  

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my gifted copy of The Suitcase. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Odd Science – Spectacular Space by James Olsen

Review: Odd Science – Spectacular Space by James Olsen

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Did you know that NASA astronauts have grown plants in space? That the highest mountain known to mankind is on an asteroid? That the centre of a comet is made of ice? This book is filled with fascinating facts about the world beyond our planet.

A contents page divides the book into different facts although the sections are not divided. This could be flicked through or consulted for facts on one subject, although I think its strength is in the former. It’s striking, retro-style illustrations catch the reader’s interest and make it impossible to resist finding out more. 

With one or two facts on every page, limited to a few short lines of text, this is the perfect book to foster an early interest in space and physics. 

The book covers facts about space itself – about planets and asteroids and gravity – but it is high on human activity in space and the advances made by space science. With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing taking place this year, there has never been a better time to read up on this topic. 

The restricted colour palette and use of block colour backgrounds gives the illustrations a  pop-art feel, although the humour in them brings them right up to date. They would translate into beautiful posters and it is impossible not to stop and look closer when flicking through the book.

 

Thanks to Catherine Ward PR and Pavillion Books for my gifted copy of Odd Science – Spectacular Space. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

Review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

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Synopsis:

Prue Haywood hasn’t felt the same since the death of her brother, Francis.

When a Craftsman from the Imperial Personifate Guild Of Medlock inquires about a talented mechanic called Francis, Prue sees her chance. She scribbles a note for her parents, leaves home early one morning and disguises herself as a mechanic called Frances. Getting into the Guild might be her only chance to reunite herself with her late brother.

The Guild leads Personifate research and creation. A Personifate is an animal-like machine which houses a human spirit. The spirit of someone who has died. This has been made possible through scientific discoveries about a very special material.

If Prue wants to find her brother, she will have to help the Personifates to remember their first lives. Doing so goes against the wishes of the Guild leaders.

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Review:

First Vashti Hardy wrote Brightstorm, which took us to the skies in adventure. With Wildspark, Vashti Hardy confirms herself as an exceptional storyteller. The premise, that spirits can be brought back to being as mechanical animals, opens a world of political discord, entitlement and questions about what makes someone alive.

The Guild first harnessed the technology has a monopoly on Personifate creation. Like many professions in Medlock (a city which plays the same role London plays in the UK) it is open mainly to the old families, although some people like Craftsman Primrose make it their mission to find talent regardless of birth. One of Prue’s fellow apprentices, a girl called Cora, lives and breathes this entitlement but another apprentice, Agapantha, is much friendlier. The final apprentice, Edwin, is the first Personifate in the role. At every twist and turn, his right to be there is challenged. Prue suffers the same treatment, although negativity towards her is displayed in a much subtler way.

This was a brilliant way of showing how constantly hearing that you shouldn’t be somewhere shapes young people’s aspirations and self-belief.

Other major themes include the definition of life and our sense of personal identity. Debates rage in Medlock about whether Personifates should exist, and what sort of rights they should have? At what point is something a machine and when does it become alive? To what extent do our bodies shape our identity? The story raises fascinating questions without ever losing its momentum or sense of wonder.

Prue is a fantastic STEM role model, and the way characters of different genders were written felt considered and non-stereotypical. Subtle things make a huge difference. For example, many male role models (and particularly in steampunk) have names relating to machinery or power. This gives a false impression that men in STEM are tough and overtly-masculine. By naming a man ‘Primrose’, Hardy shows that boy can be an engineer.

The worldbuilding is both detailed and nuanced. This has the same feel as worlds by Pullman and Rowling, where everything is known from the material used to make apprentice uniforms to the range of sweets on offer at the local shop. Great thought has been given to how the world functions too. Medlock, like London, enjoys great investment over the rest of the country.

This is one of those books which deserves to be read widely and for a long time. Vashti Hardy is a storyteller to watch and a writer of wonderful stories.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my proof copy of Wildspark. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

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Earth’s forests are magical places full of wilderness, wonders and wildlife. From the Black Forest in Europe to rainforests and American national parks and the kelp forests below the ocean, they are special places which need to be cared for and preserved. 

Libby Walden has created a beautiful book to do them justice. Every double page spread introduces a new subject, then unfolds to reveal a four-page fact file. As well as introducing different types of forest, the book looks at forest mythology, people who live in the forests and the anatomy of different trees. 

This is one of my favourite illustrated non-fiction titles of the year. It has the right balance of beauty and information and offers different ways into the subject. Its multi-subject approach proves yet again that subjects are interrelated. For example, myths and legends often come from attempts to answer big scientific questions. 

The short sections on each spread make it easy to learn new facts while plants and animals the reader might not have seen are clearly illustrated. I love how the illustrations, although informative, remain eye-catching and attractive to their younger audience. 

Something which I noticed immediately was the child-friendly fonts – a clear, sans-serif font for information with headings in the handwriting font used in many primary schools. Younger children are often asked to learn joined-up handwriting, but this is rarely reflected in the books they read. 

The sort of book which makes learning feel more like an adventure than a task. This is one to treasure. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of In Focus … Forests. Opinions my own.