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.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller

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Extract:

Torvil’s was most definitely one of the town’s richest elves. In fact, as the owner of its only toyshop, he had done rather well for himself. But whereas most people who make money are happy to share it with their family and friends, Torvil kept his fortune all to himself. 

(The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller. P19.) 

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Synopsis:

Jackson has always wondered where Father Christmas came from. How did he come to be the man who delivered all the presents around the world. 

Then, one magical night, Father Christmas arrives and takes Jackson on the ride of a lifetime. Along the way, he tells a story. A story about a stingy elf who never thought of those less fortunate, until one night three strange beings showed him a different way of thinking. 

A Christmas Carol meets the magic of the North Pole. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

Join Jackson on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for the answer to the ultimate question – how did Father Christmas get his position? 

There are two parts to this story – the strand in which we see Father Christmas and Jackson, and the story of Father Christmas’s – or should I say Torvil’s – life. It is this second strand where the action and development takes place, so the story is about Torvil and not Jackson. 

Let me be clear – this is a retelling of A Christmas Carol. Although the landscape is different and there are some minor changes (Torvil, does not, for example, face his own grave,) the plot builds in just the same was as the original Christmas classic. What Ben Miller has done is made it accessible to younger children, and added a bit of Christmas sparkle for bigger kids. 

This narrative has never been more relevant – young Torvil’s claims that he will grow up to help the poor fade as he grows older and greedier. At a time when politicians are putting their own personal feuds and whims above the increasing number of Foodbank users, it is important for children to understand why the wealthy and powerful need to think about others. 

The world is full of magic – think snowy hills and starry skies and reindeer. 

Accepting that this is a retelling, I think it brings the story to a younger audience. Snuggle up and listen with wonder to the story of Father Christmas himself. 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Young Middle Grade

Younger Middle-Grade – Christmas round-up.

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Unicorn Academy: Olivia And Snowflake by Julie Sykes. Illustrated by Lucy Truman. 

Olivia is happy to be at Unicorn Academy, but life would be even better if she could bond with her unicorn, Snowflake, ahead of graduation, otherwise her friends will leave her behind and she’ll be stuck with the horrible girls. Olivia is also hiding a secret. She doesn’t want her friends to find out her family is super-rich. Meanwhile, someone at Unicorn Academy is causing trouble with dangerous spells. Can Olivia and Snowflake save the day?

This will capture the attention of all young readers who love unicorns and sparkle, but more to the point it is a well-written story. We care about Olivia and Snowflake, and want to see them graduate alongside their friends. There are also messages about kindness and empathy which will resonate with young animal-lovers. 

 

Snow Sisters: The Silver Secret by Astrid Foss. Illustrated by Monique Dong

The Keepers Of The Lights keep everything in balance. It is their job to guard the Everchanging Lights which shine in the sky. Triplets Magda, Hanna and Ida know that one day it will be their responsibility. The Shadow Witch has returned and she is determined to steal the lights from the sky. When their parents fall into trouble, it is up to the girls to hunt for the three snow globe which will keep the Lights safe. If they don’t act fast, the Kingdom will fall under an evil power. 

The first in a new series, this story is full of the same magic as Frozen – lights in the sky and arctic animals, a palace with stained-glass windows and sisterly love. The world is clear from the first word and young readers will want to join the sisters as they venture through this landscape. A strong quest-narrative which will keep the reader hooked across the series. 

 

Snow Sisters: The Crystal Rose by Astid Foss. Illustrated by Monique Dong

With The Keepers Of The Light trapped buy the evil Shadow Witch, it is up to Magda, Hanna and Ida to protect the Everchanging Lights from harm. With one orb found, the girls have two to find before they can save their Kingdom from harm. Their mother’s clue sets them on the trail of the crystal rose and the blue orb. 

This book is the second in the series, and continues the quest began in The Silver Secret. This is a very strong quest story for very young readers. There is enough threat to build suspense but nothing which would overwhelm the audience. The world is enchanting and we learn more about the main characters as they develop. 

 

The Dog That Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Mike Byrne. 

Jake hates Christmas. There’s no routine, everyone acts differently and the flashing lights fill his head so he never has a break from them. Even school is disrupted by preparations for the Christmas show. Nobody cares about all the facts Jake can contribute to the nature show – they just want the kids to dress up in animal-costumes. Jake decides to take on Christmas … and causes a lot of damage in the process. Then Jake meets a stray dog, and Christmas no longer feels so unmanageable. 

This story shows how Christmas can disrupt the lives of people on the autistic spectrum. It also shows that, although people with autism sometimes behave in a way which appears frightening, it is often because they themselves are overloaded, confused or frightened. The bond between Jake and Susan shows the instinctive empathy many autistic people have with other animals, and slowly the people around Jake begin to see how Christmas feels from his perspective. 

A brilliant read for empathy. 

 

Frost by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Artful Doodlers. 

Cassie thinks the Foxes that live near her block of flats are beautiful, especially Frost, the fox with the white-tipped tail. One night, Frost leads Cassie out of her home and into the streets of 1600s London. The Frost Fair may be fun, Cassie needs to return to her home and help her neighbour. 

A winerty time-slip adventure which captures the magic of London’s historical frost fairs. 

I loved the relationship between Cassie and Mrs Morris. It begins with misunderstanding and grows into true empathy and a shared-secret.

 

One Snowy Night (Anthology). Illustrated by Alison Edgson. 

Why pick one wintery animal story when you can have ten? This charming anthology brings together some of the strongest writers of younger middle-grade fiction including Sita Brahmachari, Linda Chapman, Holly Webb and Candy Gourlay. From a trip to Mongolia to see snow leopards in the natural surroundings to the story of a baby-panda who gets separated from her mother on the journey down the mountains, this anthology is full of animal tales. 

Some of the stories are about humans who come into contact with animals, while others focus on animal-characters. All are well-written and my favourites were the ones which taught us about real animals in real habitats. As an anthology for very young readers, it could not be better – there is something to suit everyone and every one of these stories would be a perfect read in assembly or ahead of bedtime. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, Stripes Publishing and Barrington Stoke for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig And Chris Mould

Review: The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig And Chris Mould

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Review: The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig And Chris Mould

Once upon a time, a little pixie was cursed to always tell the truth. Always – even when it might be insulting. Every single social situation goes wrong and Truth Pixie is about to give up when she is confronted with Aada – an unhappy child who wants to know if things get better. Truth Pixie is terrified because all she can tell is the truth …

A rhyme which will speak to anyone who has ever been afraid or had a difficult time.

Matt Haig is an author who has written and spoken about his experiences with mental health. He is an advocate for changing attitudes towards mental health, particularly towards eradicating the stigma and giving mental and physical health equal priority.

Aada is the character in the story who appears to need a comforting fib. Her Dad is out of money, they will be forced to move from their house and Gran is terribly ill. Aada is going to lose friends as a result of her situation. Most people would tell Aada it’s all OK – but the difficult truth is, it isn’t. Lying won’t change Aada’s situation and it won’t make her feel better in the long-run. I related to this. I can’t bear it when someone dies and the news is drawn out into a string of false hope and comfort. The only way to deal with something so huge is to hear it. It will be terrible. It will be dire. Telling people otherwise will never, ever change this. 

Truth Pixie has the right words because, just as Aada is about to face a dark time, better times will come again. There will be times when life feels impossibly wonderful and times when it feels unbearable. This is the unfortunate truth of the human experience … and knowing it can make the dark times bearable.

The Truth Pixie is a character from the Christmas stories by Matt Haig and Chris Mold. Hearing this message from a familiar character will add an extra-dimension because it associates positive approaches to mental health with existing works. If characters from these stories have bad mental health moments, it reassures the reader that these experiences are normal and manageable.

The Truth Pixie is an open, honest rhyme which will help anyone facing a difficult time. It will also make people who are a bit too honest for their own good feel better, and give them confidence that just as the truth can be difficult, sometimes it can be the best policy.

 

Thanks to Canongate Books for my copy of The Truth Pixie. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Twelve Days Of Christmas by Brian Wildsmith

Review: The Twelve Days Of Christmas by Brian Wildsmith

img_7584Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves … and a Partridge in a pear tree. Join in with the song with this beautiful gift edition, illustrated by artist Brian Wildsmith.

The Twelve Days Of Christmas is one of the most popular carols and one often taught to children. The repetition and the counting-rhyme make it an obvious choice to sing with the very young. This edition would make a lovely gift for children or adults. You almost don’t need the words because the illustrations speak so beautifully for themselves.

Originally published in the 1970s, the illustration style is in keeping with picture books from the second golden age of Children’s literature – the works of John Burningham and Eric Carle spring to mind. Some of the pictures are impressionistic and there is a heavy focus on pattern and colour. I love the colour-palette – the reds, purples and yellows have the quality stained-glass or paper decorations.

This new edition is a lovely size – it would fit into most stockings and would certainly make a lovely Secret Santa present or a table gift. A traditional rhyme with retro illustrations. Buy this for the arty friend in your life or for children who appreciate gifts which they will love equally in 40 years’ time.  

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my copy of The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Opinions my own.

 

Check out day one and day three of Blogmas 2018. 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat by Lucy Rowland And Paula Bowles

Review: Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat by Lucy Rowland And Paula Bowles

img_7588Furry, purry Sammy Claws dreams of the day that Santa will take him up in the sleigh, but every time Sammy tries to help with the Christmas preparations he ends up causing trouble. When Sammy Claws falls asleep in a box, he finds himself wrapped up and packaged away in the back of the sleigh. Can Sammy save Santa when he gets into a spot of bother?

A cute and funny story about Santa’s pet cat.

Ginormous purrs for this lovely story about Santa’s pet cat. Cat lovers will recognise Sammy – he’s the sort of cat who licks the bowl clean, asks for more then falls asleep in a corner. He’s also warm-hearted. As someone who has always lived with cats, I know how they come to help with different tasks. Help, unfortunately, often means delay and disruption.

Even so, we love our furry friends. As Santa finds out, they are there for us in ways we may not even expect. Sammy’s run-in with two burglars is classic comedy. Think people in black-and-white stripes sneaking up on the sleigh while good old Santa is busy down the chimney. Get in practice for the panto season with cries of they’re behind you, and calls for Sammy to wake up and help. This story would make a lovely read-aloud because of the opportunities for acting and audience-involvement. 

The illustration is bold and twinkly. I love the blue backgrounds. Lots of starry skies and icy North-Pole dwellings. It feels just a little bit magical and provides the natural backdrop for Santa’s red sleigh. I love the detailed buildings and the bright textile patterns which bring out Christmassy details like wrapping paper and warm scarves.

At long last there is a story about Santa’s cat. Sammy Claws is as memorable and sweet as any literary cat and you will cheer him on as he saves Christmas Day.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat. Opinions my own.

 

Check out day two of Blogmas 2018. 

 

 

Feminist/Gender Equality · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

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Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

Stories retold by – Julia Bruce 

Illustrators – Olga Baumert, Molley May, Kerry Hyndman, Hannah Tolson, Hannah Peck and Holly Hatam, 

 

Once upon a time there was a girl … 

Join six girls from around the world, in six separate stories, as they set off on an adventure and use their courage, strength, and intelligence to return safely home. 

This collection of bedtime stories features familiar tales, such as the Snow Queen, but the stories are told with a difference. Every story has a girl at the centre. Hansel and Gretel? Try Gretel and Hansel. It was Gretel who pushed the witch in the oven and saved her brother. Without spelling it out, the stories show readers that girls can be intelligent, brave and resourceful. 

It also features girls from around the world. It is so important for young readers to see that people from different cultures can encounter the same feelings and demonstrate the same skills. 

The book is a beautiful collection of fairy tales. It would make a lovely present for a younger child or a less-confident reader – the stories are short enough that nobody will lose patience and there is a full-colour illustration on every other page. 

A different illustrator was chosen to work on each story. This adds to the experience because without reading a single word each story has a unique feel. Every story has a decorative title spread and beautiful full-page illustrations. 

Not only is this a wonderful collection of fairy tales, it puts girls at the centre and shows how much they can do. This would be a wonderful book to keep on a bedside table or to share with a class in KS1/Lower KS2. 

 

Thanks to Ladybird Books for my copy of Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Froggy Day by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

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Review: Froggy Day by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos. 

The weather woman wasn’t joking when she said it was going to be froggy. There are frogs everywhere – on the farm and in the shops and in the cars and coming out of people’s hair. There are frogs everywhere! 

A funny picture book which celebrates word-play. 

As a small child, I often misheard and mispronounced things. Trinket-pots were treacle pots, for example, and I couldn’t imagine what all that treacle would do to the velvet-lining. As well as reassuring children that they are not alone in mishearing worlds, Froggy Day shows that mistakes can lead to great leaps in imagination. 

Both text and illustration will bring young readers to laughter. The one joke runs through the text and the big question as you turn the page is where will the frogs get next? This anticipation leads to increased amusement when the question is answered. 

This would be a lovely book to encourage wordplay and art. After reading, it would be lovely for children to make their own maps of unusual (imaginative) weather. 

A humorous book which will appeal to young readers. Prepare to be bombarded with plays on words.

 

Many thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my copy of Froggy Day. Opinions my own. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Darkness Of Dragons by S.A. Patrick

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Extract:

When the Hamelyn Piper was finally caught, he refused to reveal what had become of the children. Many wanted to see him die for what he had done, convinced he would never reveal the children’s fate, but the council kept him alive and gave him the cruelest punishment they could devise. The Iron Mask: fastened around the head of Hamelyn Piper, it prevented him ever using his abilities again, as no magic could escape it. 

(From A Darkness Of Dragons by S.A. Patrick. P94.)

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Synopsis:

After a song on his magical pipe goes terribly wrong, Patch is sentenced to life in jail. That’s where he meets Wren, the girl turned into a rat by enchantment,. It is also where he first encounters the Hamelyn Piper. 

The Hamelyn Piper is a notorious criminal. He was locked in the dungeons at Tiviscan after his attack on the children of Hamelyn and the dragon children.

Then Patch learns something terrible. The Hamelyn Piper is on the loose. Can he uncover the secret around the Hamelyn Piper before something catastrophic happens? Alongside Wren and a dracogriff called Braver, Patch sets out to prevent the biggest battle of all time.

birdbreakReview:

Welcome to a world of dragons and griffins and magical pipes. A world where magical piping is overseen and policed by a council of elders. The story about the Piper of Hamelyn is not as you know it, and that story was just the beginning …

I adore books which put a twist on myths and fairytales but this story has been told particularly well. At its core, it is the narrative we all know about dark power and corruption, but it is told in such a way that you won’t figure out what is going on until exactly the right moment. The climax will take your breath away.

Patch, Wren and Braver may be my new favourite team. Patch is the archetypal underdog. After failing to win a place to train as an elite piper, Patch ran away from his magical academy. Remember Harry Potter realising that Hogwarts was his true home? Tiviscan is the opposite of that. It is delightfully creepy and authoritarian and we’re rooting for Patch from the get-go because although he breaks the rules, his intentions are better than the people in charge.

I loved the worldbuilding, from the magical pipes to the politics between humans and dragons. Every culture within this world has a separate history and political stance. I love how important these histories are to the plot and how they make the setting feel real.

An unmissable fantasy from a talented voice. I loved the characters, the plot and the setting. I’m certain Patch and his friends will remain with me even now I’ve closed the book.