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.

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Days Out

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

Day Out: Seven Stories – The National Centre For Children’s Books. (Newcastle Upon Tyne).

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Material from David Almond’s notebooks

About Seven Stories

Imagine a place which celebrates children’s literature, illustration and all forms of creativity.

Seven Stories in Newcastle is home to the biggest archive of material related to children’s literature in the UK. It also has a visitor centre which host exhibitions, author visits and creative activity of all kinds.

Exhibitions 

My reason for visiting was to see the exhibition about David Almond’s work, Where Your Wings Were. I’ve loved Almond’s work since childhood, and every time I return to one of his stories I gain something new about creativity and humankind. His talks on art and the creative process have also influenced my writing and encouraged me to think deeper about the role writing plays in my life.

The exhibition explored different elements of Almond’s work, including the magic which exists alongside the everyday and the different settings around Newcastle.

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Artwork by David McKee

I was delighted to find that an exhibition of David McKee’s artwork was on display at the same time. Elmer is another childhood favourite. My mum, sister and I read the stories together at bedtime. Seeing so many of the original illustrations on display made me think about McKee’s use of colour and space. The exhibition explored this, and also looked at McKee’s recurring themes of tolerance and letting everyone be free to be themselves.

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A further gallery was dedicated to Aliens Love Underpants. This was very much a play space and we were impressed by the different elements of the book which had been picked out and recreated for visitors to explore and reenact. 

Thoughts after visiting 

Seven Stories is also a place where everybody is welcome. Sensory trails run alongside ordinary exhibitions. Adult dressing-up clothes hang alongside those for children. Quiet spaces are clearly signposted. Most especially, this is a space where families of all shapes and sizes are welcome. Seven Stories is the one place I have visited where it feels like nobody needs to explain themselves. Everyone can join in and everyone is welcome.

The centre understands how writing, drawing, dressing-up and play are connected. How one form of creativity leads to another. It is special to be in a place which encourages all kinds of art and expression.

I came away feeling as if my batteries had been recharged. Not only was I excited to return to my writing projects, but I also wanted to play with different types of art.

Look forward to a return visit at the first opportunity.

 

Louise Nettleton

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: This Or That? by Pippa Goodhart.

Review: This Or That? by Pippa Goodhart.

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What will you choose at the British Museum? Will it be a red toy car or a hot air balloon? A king with a sword or a lady in a gown? Written in a similar style to Pippa Goodhart’s ever popular ‘You Choose’ books, This Or That allows readers a first look at some of the artefacts held by The British Museum. 

The double page spreads are themed by categories familiar to young children including transport, animals, clothes, and toys. These pages are laid out in an attractive format of squares and rectangles, which reminded me of a modern blog layout. 

As well as picking their favourite items, readers can engage in spotting games which are suggested in the text. An index at the back offers readers the names of the objects featured in the book, and a QR code leads to more in-depth information about the artefacts. 

With London an increasingly expensive place to live or visit, it is important that people in all areas have access to information about its museum collections. This early introduction too is inspired. Not only does it allow conversations about what a visit to a museum might involve, but it also allows readers to play their own games of curation. As an additional challenge, it might be nice to challenge readers to come up with a theme and pick objects which would fit that exhibition (ideas for themes include childhood, the great outdoors and entertainment). 

I often say on my blog that reading is about so much more than the words. Or pictures. Time spent feeling rewarded by books, time spent enjoying books as a social activity, only makes us more enthusiastic to engage with reading again. 

The popular format of You Choose is adapted to great effect to introduce a museum collection. Big thumbs-up to this playful approach to non-fiction. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my gifted copy of This Or That? Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Your Mind Is Like The Sky by Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carlin

Review: Your Mind Is Like The Sky by Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carlin

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Your mind is like the sky. It changes from blue to grey. Your thoughts are like clouds. There are nice, white fluffy clouds. Then there are the darker ones. The ones which bring worrying thoughts. The question is what can we do to prevent those clouds from hanging over us and obscuring the view? 

A beautiful picture book that introduces mindfulness concepts and techniques. Brownwen Ballard is a psychologist and coach who teaches mindfulness in primary schools, so she is well-placed to write a book for children. 

Anxiety, worry and fear can all become overwhelming, and when that happens it can be difficult to see past our thoughts and to understand that other possibilities are equally likely. It can be difficult to see that we are in control. Your Mind Is Like The Sky suggests that rather than fighting or trying to ignore our feelings, we acknowledge them alongside all the other thoughts in our head. This helps us keep negative thoughts in perspective. 

img_8431The book follows one child through a world. We see what is really there alongside any number of other things, some of which are really there and some of which are inside the child’s head. At times it can be difficult to tell between the two, but I think that is the clever thing about the illustrations. Pictures often show what has been observed, but there is more to the world than that. There are the things we fail to see, the things we can’t possibly see and the things inside our head. At times our thoughts can feel as real as the world around us. 

Gently shaded backgrounds and colourful line-drawings add to the impression that we are sharing the child’s experience. The line-drawings have a childish quality about them in the very best way. Flowers sit alongside pianos and toy dinosaurs and lines of marching ants. All are out of proportion but somehow they build a lively and imaginative world. 

A gentle and informative introduction to the principles of mindfulness. 

 

Thanks to The Quarto Group for my gifted copy of Your Mind Is Like The Sky. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson

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Extract:

And according to my Mum (Her Majesty Sophia XII, Queen Of Waldenburg, if you want to be technical), if there is one thing, (actually, according to my mother there are many, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll stick to one here) a princess and future Queen does not do it is vlog about fashion … 

(Royal Rebel by Carina Axelsson. P10.) 

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Synopsis:

Lily has always wanted to be a vlogger. There’s only one problem. Princesses are not supposed to be on social media. As the future Queen of Waldenberg, there is a whole list of rules Lily is supposed to follow. When she finds a secret turret in the castle, she is able to follow her dreams and set up a fashion vlog. The only trouble is keeping it a secret from Grandmaman. 

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Review:

The Princess Diaries gets a makeover for the YouTube generation. This is the story of a princess who wants to live her own life and who is unafraid of breaking the rules. 

Her battle is with her grandmother, and all the rules a princess must follow to maintain composure. 

The story shows readers that it is possible to be independent and motivated while loving dresses and tiaras and all things glitzy. Lots of gatekeepers (adults who pick books for children) who are thinking about gender identity are getting stuck on that issue. Should we ban stories of princesses and fashion vloggers. The answer is not at all. Just make sure those girls aren’t stuck in stereotypical roles and make sure those books are available to children regardless of gender. (Fingers crossed for some boys from the fashion vlogging scene in later books. They are the perfect example of boys who like dressing up.) 

I loved Waldenberg. It follows in a tradition of fictional European royalties which is beloved of children’s literature enthusiasts (indeed author Katherine Woodfine pays homage to these countries by dropping them into her first Taylor And Rose novel). Waldenberg is a little bit fairytale with its turrets and twisting pavements, but it also has all the modern necessities a fashion vlogger could dream of.

Waldenberg is a place noted for its positive approach to feminism. The university specialises in the subject, children take their mother’s name and the country is ruled by Queens. This gives young readers a chance to question the things they take for granted and form their own views. 

Lily is not only a princess and vlogger, she’s unafraid to use her own brain. A lovely story which encourages readers to form their own views. This will be a big hit with anyone who loves all things pink and sparkly. 

 

Royal Rebel is available from Usborne Publishing. Thanks to EdPr for my copy.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

Review: Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

img_7520Mia wants to see Daddy this Christmas, but he works far away in the North Pole. When Mia goes to post a card, she finds a magic post box which takes her to the Reindeer Express and all the way to the North Pole. A story about family love – families together and families apart.

The themes make this a good read for children whose loved ones are away at Christmas -either on the day itself or during the build-up. The message gently reassures the reader that their loved ones think about them even when they can’t be together.

The design is so beautiful that reading the book is as magical as riding a reindeer to the North Pole. Peek through the post box, lift flaps and doors and peek through the papercut trees to the page beyond.

I love the colour-palette – the muted colours and geometric patterns produce an effect which is as cosy as a patchwork quilt. The scenes alternate between snowy mountains, Christmas street markets and snug interiors. There is a hygge-like vibe about the book which makes it an attractive read on dark winter nights. A map at the back adds to this with pictures of arctic animals, reindeer and warm campsites.

A lovely read for young children and a book which is so beautifully festive it would appeal to the young-at-heart. This is a real snuggle-up-and-share story with just enough magic to build excitement ahead of the big day itself.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Last Stop On The Reindeer Express. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · Board Book · christmas

Review: Where’s Santa Claus by Ingela P Arrhenius

Review: Where’s Santa Claus by Ingela P Arrhenius

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Where’s Mrs Polar Bear? Where’s Santa Claus? Lift the felt-flaps and find all of our festive friends. A hide-and-seek book perfect for sharing with the very tiniest of readers.

Christmas with a tiny baby must be hectic and wonderful. Everyone is enthusiastic to introduce the concept of Christmas, even when the child is too young to fully understand. This book would be a lovely starting-point – introduce the familiar festive characters while the tiny-tot enjoys the tactile flaps and engaging pictures. 

The felt flaps are a brilliant idea. They are attractive for tiny hints to stroke and grab at and are easier to lift than traditional cardboard flaps. Poking or pushing the flaps from almost any angle leads to movement. This would be a brilliant way of teaching babies and tiny-tots how to engage with lift-the-flap books.

The illustrations are bright and bold with lots of colour-blocking and geometric design. They will hold the attention of babies too young to take interest in detailed pictures. At the same time, they are attractive to have on the bookshelves. There is a series of similar books and they would look very cute together.

With its baby-proof flaps and shiny mirror, this is a great option for the youngest people on your shopping list.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow books for my copy of Where’s Santa Claus? Opinions my own.