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

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Review: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

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Extract:

Alex looked down at the jinn. It was as if there was a thread strung between them now, invisible but real. The connection they’d almost made before was complete now. Real. 

(The Fire Maker by Guy Jones. P61.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Alex is invited to compete in the Young Magician Of The Year contest but he is certain that he isn’t good enough. These feelings aren’t helped by the bullies, and especially not by the fact one of them used to be his best friend. Then Alex is drawn to Mr Olmos’s garden by the magical fire.

Mr Olmos knows about a whole other world of fire spirits, genies and Jinn, and the people who would control their power.

Mr Olmos isn’t the only person who spots Alex’s potential. As Alex progresses through the contest, his need to feel special becomes overpowering.

A lyrical tale about friendship and responsibility.

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 Review:

A short and lyrical story with big themes.

We first see Alex as the victim of bullying, but the situation is more complex than that. He is on the end of bullying behaviour, and some of the children involved only bully him for the sport, but while he doesn’t deserve what is happening, he isn’t a blameless person. He needs to face up to things he has done and said. Bullying in fiction is too often black-and-white. Victim and persecutors. This story examines different behaviours from different people and its themes are all about how behaviour can be used to exert power and control.

The story about the fire spirits picks up on the same themes. Mr Olmos tells Alex that wherever there is power, there is someone willing to use it for their own gain, and the fire spirits have historically suffered as people have sought to control their magic. Alex pushes the spirits too far at times, wanting to know what they are capable of, but ultimately he becomes their protector and friend.

There’s a moment in the story, a revelation about one of the characters, which makes us question our own prejudices and assumptions. I don’t want to spoil this for the reader but I love it when books ask us to question why we came to a certain conclusion or viewpoint.

 I loved this book, from the magical realism which lives just out of sight from most people’s everyday lives to the themes of bullying and oppression. This is cleverly told and masterfully written. It brings a touch of magic and hope to a world in desperate need of both.

 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my gifted copy of The Fire Maker. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

5 illustrated books about the great outdoors.

5 illustrated books about the great outdoors.

Outdoor adventures are wonderful at any time of year, but with spring on the way there has never been a better time to put on those wellies or walking boots and embrace the great outdoors.

The books reviewed here are all about nature, but they all focus on a different lens. Which would be of most interest to you? If you were stepping outside today, what would you want to think about or see?

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The Green Giant by Katie Cottle

img_8613Bea is visiting Grandad in the countryside. She loves his wild garden and sitting in the great outdoors. When her dog runs off, Bea discovers a greenhouse full of wild treasures and befriends the Green Giant.

One the Green Giant roamed the city, but it became too grey and difficult to breathe. He gives Bea some seeds in the hope that one day the city will become greener again.

A timely fairytale about the decreasing awareness of nature in urban populations.

img_8614It is not enough to know facts. It takes something more to move humans into action, and that is empathy. Care. As readers empathise with the giant, pushed away from the city by the inaction of humans, they take the first steps into caring about nature.

This is an irresistible book. I adore children’s stories about visitors, particularly ones like the giant whose plight makes us reconsider our own attitudes, but this one stands out with its gentle narrative and a colour-palette of greens and yellows taken straight from the natural world.

Katie Cottle’s publication deal came about after she won a prize, and she is a talent to watch.

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A Walk Through Nature: A Clover Robin peek-through book. Written by Libby Walden. 

Nature is all around us. Over and under and beneath our feet. How often do we take the time to look at the natural world?

img_8596The format of this book allows us to pick a landscape or microhabitat – a beach, the nighttime sky or a single log – and to look closer at the life which might be found in that setting. The second page of every double-page spread has an extra flap. This opens out to reveal a second full-page illustration and a bank of information.

This would make a lovely book for less confident readers. With each fact limited to three or four sentences, it is less daunting than many non-fiction books. That the fact files can be ignored in favour of a rhyming text which runs through the book is another plus. This would make a lovely bedtime book, with the information introduced in little bursts.

I adore the illustrations. A muted background makes them stand out, and I love the visible brushstrokes and different textures. This would be a lovely book to look at ahead of painting, especially studies of leaves and fields.

 

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When The Stars Come Out by Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright.

What is the night? Why does it even happen and how come the moon is there and why do stars appear? 

This book not only answers the questions commonly asked by children about the night, it goes beyond to explore the night time through different lenses. The book is divided into four sections: The Sky At Night, The Earth At Night, Animals At Night and Humans at Night. The chapter divisions work well, allowing the activity in different habits to be explored separately from biological facts about animals. There is also a short introductory section which deals with the physics of sunrise and sunset. 

What strikes me immediately about this volume is that it is visually stunning. Both the illustrations and the design are of the highest quality, and every double-page spread is a feast for the eye. It is the sort of book which you want to open at random and delve into. Leave it in a book corner or face out on a library shelf and it will be snapped up by curious readers. 

It would also be a lovely art prompt, especially because it celebrates the range of colours associated with nighttime. It goes well beyond the midnight black, celebrating lilacs and pale blues and light orange hues. 

There is just enough information on every topic, and what is there is insightful. It never scrimps on depth but challenges the reader with facts which will be new to many adult readers. I also adore the mixture of biology, physics, geography and myth.

A treat for younger and older readers, this will expand the reader’s worldview and encourage them to look harder at the night sky. 

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Beneath The Waves by Helen Ahpornsiri

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Journey through the world’s oceans and take a close up look at their inhabitants.

The art in this book is made from pressed seaweeds, coastal flowers and a smaller number of garden plants. The beauty of it struck me before I had turned a single page. The plants are brought to life, their colours and shapes working together to show animals from under the water and around the seashore.

img_8630The information in this book is divided into four sections: Coast, Open Ocean, Tropics and Polar Waters. These four chapters help readers to understand that, like the land, the waters have different climates depending on where they are in the world. 

Each animal or subject is given two or three paragraphs. Identifying features, diets, habitats and breeding are all introduced.

With STEM subjects sometimes receiving more attention than the arts, I am always delighted to find books which promote the two together. After all, where would science be if people hadn’t once spent time observing and drawing what they saw? Where would technology be if mankind hadn’t learned to imagine?

The illustrations in this book push the bounds of what has been done in children’s literature before. They are extraordinary and worthy of celebration.

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The Lost Book Of Adventure by Unknown Adventurer.

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Imagine getting out into the wilderness. Really getting out, beyond the bounds of the known, and living outdoors.

img_8522This is the ultimate compendium of outdoor survival knowledge, taken from the notebooks of an unknown adventurer. Starting with the basics, form how to pack for camp, this incredible volume offers insights on everything from first aid to rafting to panning for gold.

It is also a love letter. A nostalgia for adventures of the past and a reminder of the skills and knowledge which was once common-place.

Advice and diagrams are alternated with insights into outdoor adventures. This makes the volume friendly and accessible to dreamers as well as to serious explorers. Beautiful colour pictures allow the reader a snapshot of the world which awaits us if only we set foot out of the door.

I am shamelessly in love with this book, which offers me plenty of material and information as an aspiring writer. This would be a priceless resource for starting off adventure stories, and I love the tone of the book which claims to speak from direct experience.

If we as a society are to embrace nature and get back out into the wild, we need to remember the old skills which allowed expeditions in the past. The Lost Book Of Adventure will open new eyes to the outdoors.

 

Many thanks to Little Tiger Press, Quarto Books, Big Picture Press, Pavillion Children’s Books, Catherine Ward PR and Antonia Wilkinson PR for gifting the books reviewed in this feature. Opinions remain my own.

 

 

 

blog tour · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.

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Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.

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About The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould. 

Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? 

Alfie Fleet is fed up of being poor. He wants some money to buy his Mum a foot spa for her birthday, and he wants it fast. His determination to make some cash brings him into the path of Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont, who wants to update his Cosmic Atlas. Think Bradshaws for the entire universe. 

Alfie and The Professor set off in Betsy (one special moped) for the adventure of a lifetime. They pass through Brains In Jars world, Outlandish and a run in with a dragon on their way through the universe. 

Is the humour too bonkers? Not in the slightest. It is wacky and wonderful, but it is so perfectly balanced with the story that we are invested in the plot and rooting for Alfie all the way. It must take real skill to inject this kind of humour and not overdo it. Funny books deserve more admiration and this one is top of my list to shout about. 

As I reviewed a proof copy, I have not seen all of Chris Mould’s illustrations, but my experience of his work tells me readers are in for a treat. He brings scenes to life as if he was a casual observer, and his people are full of character. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to put some questions to author Martin Howard and to share them here on my blog. Thank you Martin for your time. 

 

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Q&A with author Martin Howard. 

 

Alfie and the Professor travel to all kinds of other places. What inspired the different worlds? Do you have any favourite fictional worlds?

Big question! HUUUUGE question. My favourite worlds have always been fantasy worlds – places like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and many, many more. I am a massive fantasy geek. When I started writing The Cosmic Atlas I made a very conscious decision to mix and match sci-fi with fantasy. Because it involves travelling through space it’s really a sci-fi book, but I wanted to break with the idea that sci-fi worlds should be hi-tech worlds. As Alfie and the Professor use stone circles – a very old technology – to travel there’s no need for space ships (which are a very slow and dull way to get around) or robots or computers so my worlds could be much more rustic and magical. They’re inspired by all sorts of things: worlds I enjoyed as a child, artwork (I love Olivia Kemp’s drawings), places that exist in the real world or in history, space articles I’ve read and stuff plucked from my imagination. Obviously, they have to be funny but I hope they’re full of wonder, too – places readers would like to visit.

 

 The Professor says technology has killed general interest in cartography. How do you think technology has changed our relationship with maps?

I spent ages as a cub earning my map-reading badge by poring over Ordnance Survey maps. It really felt like I was exploring the landscape and there were always interesting landmarks to discover that you’d miss with a GPS tracker. Obviously, hi-tech gizmos are very handy but there’s something beautiful about real maps, and I especially love ancient charts where navigators would include mythical lands and creatures. Some great artists – like Leonardo da Vinci – produced maps and many are superb works of art in their own right. I love that that tradition lives on in books though. Most fantasy books include maps of their worlds, and – as with old maps of the real world – they are often drawn by truly great artists. I’m very lucky to have Chris Mould bringing my imaginary worlds to life.

 

Do you have any advice about writing humour in middle-grade fiction?

Oh wow, that’s a tricksy question. There are so many different kinds of humour in MG books at the moment, it’s like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age. There are amazing authors out there using comedy in different ways and I can only tell you what works for me:  having confidence in my own instincts and writing what I find funny. The Cosmic Atlas is a Middle-Grade book, but even though I’m a saggy old man of 49 I made myself laugh all the time while writing it. After reading it hundreds of times it still makes me giggle. Beyond that there are some things that will always make kids laugh – bums and fart gags – but you don’t have to use them. If you do, you can’t rely on them to carry a book, unless you’re writing the Big Book of Bums and Fart Gags. There has to be more than that and, personally, I try not to miss an opportunity to add more humour, whatever way I can – through odd characters, box texts, surprise visits from the narrator, unexpected twists or quirky use of language. There are moments when the humour has to take a back seat to developing the plot but even then there are opportunities to keep the comedy going. PG Wodehouse was amazing at that, even when he’s not being funny he’s being funny. I think not trying too hard is important too. Humour should flow and feel natural, not forced. I say all this as someone who is constantly striving to improve. It all comes down to developing your own voice and style of humour and that’s a never-ending journey. I have huge amounts of respect for anyone who can make readers laugh out loud though and I find it ma-hooosively annoying when people dismiss funny books as “unimportant”.

 

When writing about the strange and wonderful things in Outlandish, how did you ensure the story remained believable?

You ask hard questions! Can I have one about biscuits instead? No? Okaaaay then. In any sci-fi or fantasy book that’s stretching the imagination and creating weird worlds it’s important that readers don’t feel lost. That means characters they can identify with who have goals they can believe in. In The Cosmic Atlas, Alfie and Derek – the younger characters – are both much less bonkers than the adult characters (though they both have a sense of humour) and Alfie in particular has a very believable primary goal: to get home to his mum. So long as the reader can understand their main protagonist’s motivation I think writers are pretty free to be as creative as they like with everything else. Pheww, I totally deserve a biscuit-based question now.

 

What should be included in a good travel guide? If you were setting off on an adventure to another world, what would you want to know?

I am very fond of a good travel guide. I have a collection of DK Eyewitness guides on my bookshelf and they’re brilliant, endlessly enjoyable books. Flicking through them and deciding what to see is like having a mini holiday in your head. I also love reading travel books – Bill Bryson’s spring to mind – and watching travel TV shows. A good guide gives you a real feel for a place: it’s history, culture, people and – of course – the best places to have a good time. That’s something I’ve tried to bring to The Cosmic Atlas. I love good food so my perfect guide to other worlds would probably be heavily restaurant-based, but as I also enjoy lazing around on sun-loungers, reading (preferably while getting a massage) that’s the sort of information I’d be looking for, too. There’s a world called Blyssss in The Cosmic Atlas which is my perfect holiday destination. Sun, beaches, spa treatments, fresh baskets of puppies and kittens delivered to your room daily, and a butler who will win the lottery for you while you have a pedicure …

 

And I’ve run out of questions. Since Louise failed to ask, I would like to add that I am very fond of a custard cream and also thank her hugely for having me. This is my first blog tour and I am hugely grateful for the support. I hope it turns into a long and happy friendship.

Mart

 

Huge thanks again for your wonderful answers, and for giving us a great insight into your work. 

Louise 

 

The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet is available in paperback (Oxford University Press, £6.99).

Find out more at Oxford University Press.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In The Swamp By The Light Of The Moon by Frann Preston-Gannon

Review: In The Swamp By The Light Of The Moon by Frann Preston-Gannon

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A little frog sings his song one night in the swamp by the light of the moon. It is very lonely singing by himself, and one voice doesn’t carry far. Frog sets off in search of others to join his song, and eventually, he has formed a whole band to sing together in the swamp. 

A gentle tale about companionship and music. 

I love how this story could be taken at face value, or read on a deeper level. It could be about music, and how different instruments make a richer song. The different animals make different sounds, which could be used to explore complimentary rhythms. 

This could also be a metaphor for companionship, and how different voices and opinions make a richer environment. We may look different, and sound different, and move to different rhythms, but that’s what makes our world a rich and wonderful place. 

The setting and characters share total Princess And The Frog vibes. Anyone who was in love with the swamp setting and the animal friendships in the Disney film will adore this beautiful picture book. 

The colours are rich but subtly mixed to bring the nighttime swamp to life. I adore the animals’ expressions too. Their wide eyes and open mouths somehow convey huge amounts through apparently simple expressions.

Frann Preston-Gannon was the talent behind I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree, an anthology of poems about nature. Her style won my heart over for both showing the natural world and being accessible and attractive to very young children. 

This is a winner both in the story and in illustration. Pick it up and join in the tune. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my gifted copy of In The Swamp By The Light Of The Moon. Opinions my own.

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Captain Cat And The Treasure Map by Sue Mongredien. Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst.

Sometimes pirates are useless.

img_8230Patch the pirate cat is always having to get her pirates out of trouble. From pirates overboard to spilled potatoes, there is always something going on. Patch is pleased when the pirates find a treasure map until it turns out the map is cursed. Captain Halibut won’t take anybody’s warnings, so it is up to Patch and her friends to stop the pirates before disaster strikes.

A hilarious first adventure about a pirate crew who would be sunk without their animal friends.

Patch the cat, Ginger the monkey and Cutlass the parrot run the Golden Earring. Captain Halibut thinks he does, but he’s lazy and unwilling to listen to anyone else’s views. This was a lovely new approach to the familiar adventure of pirates in possession of a cursed treasure map. There’s lots of humour in this story. Think silly pirate songs and wordplay and regular jokes from Cutlass the parrot.

Kate Pankhurst’s illustrations bring the story to life and the facial expressions on her pirates and animals give a lot of character.

A brilliant first in the series from a wonderful author-illustrator team.

 

Bee Boy – Curse Of The Vampire Mites by Tony De Saulles

img_8229Melvin Meadly is half bee, half boy. Bee Boy is back, and this time the hive is facing a deadly threat. A plague of vampire mites has taken over beehives all over the planet, wiping out entire colonies. There’s another more local threat too. The local bee-keepers are disappearing. Is this down to the hive-checkers who are checking for the vampire mites, or is something strange going on? The Bee Club is on to the case.

The third book in the popular Bee Boy series.

With real bees disappearing in such numbers, there has never been a more important time to educate children and adults about respecting and caring for bees. Bee Boy is filled with facts about bee-keeping and about the science of pollination which will open the eyes of both children and their adult readers.

I love the style of the illustrations. Although this is an illustrated story, it put me in mind of graphic novels and this will be popular with readers who prefer different formats. There is plenty of detail in the pictures for keen eyes, and I love how many conversations could be started from a single picture.

 

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Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow. Illustrated by Alison Friend.

Little Rabbit is bored. Her family and friends are all too busy to play. When her grandfather Big Rabbit asks her to help with some jobs, Little Rabbit is confused. Big Rabbit doesn’t have a job. Surely he spends all day with his friends? Then she joins him on a visit around friends and neighbours and finds out how much her grandfather does to make sure nobody in the community is overlooked. Inspired by his kindness, Little Rabbit makes herself busy and soon she and her friends are spreading warmth and kindness too.

A delightful story about generosity and sharing.

I always loved animal stories when I read books of this size as a child. From Bramley Hedge to Beatrix Potter, if the story involved dormice or rabbits I was twice as likely to listen. This is exactly the sort of story I would have loved, with its community of residents in their various burrows and dens.

Alison Friend’s beautiful illustrations bring so much to the story. Her work is so fine that every blade of grass seems to move in the breeze and the animals are made real by the texture of their fur. Their expressions are gorgeous too. They capture something of human facial expressions without distracting from the animal nature of their subjects.

I love this new format of books. The stories have a couple of short paragraphs on every page and would be suitable for the earliest reader. Although they look like early readers from the outside, they maintain everything that is wonderful about the picture book format.

 

Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen. Illustrated by Binny Talib.

Lula and Lenka are best of friends. They have different habits and tastes and personalities, which is all fine until the day everything goes wrong. It starts with something small – a broken promise and a forgotten pencil-case – but soon it escalates into breaking friends and swearing never to see each other again. As their personalities clash, both Lula and Lenka become increasingly unhappy. Will things ever be right between them again?

A lovely story which shows how different personalities clash, and how different personalities help each other to grow.

This is another book in the new Colour Fiction range, and it couldn’t be more beautiful. Everything about the book, from its endpapers to the story inside is beautifully crafted.

As well as being a story about friendship which will be relatable to a younger audience, this is a wonderful book for exploring the craft of writing. How do we make one character different from another? The fact that the two girls’ thoughts and reactions are shown in different fonts makes it easier to show how their choices show their different personalities.

This shows how beautiful and how creative younger fiction can be.

 

Jasper & Scruff by Nicola Colton

img_8383-1Jasper likes everything to be of top quality. The one thing he wants more than anything else is to join the Sophisticats, the society for sophisticated felines. Finally, he is invited to a Dinner Party where his merits will be tested. As he prepares to make his best impression, he meets Scruff. Scruff likes sloppy licks and rolling in mud and chasing after balls.

During the dinner party, Jasper finds himself spending the evening at the beck and call of the Sophisticats. Only Scruff is prepared to see him without judgement, but Scruff just isn’t up to Jasper’s standards.

A heart-warming story about the true meaning of friendship.

This book couldn’t be more needed. In the age of social media, judgment is no longer confined to dinner clubs. We’re all at it. What makes a likable profile or picture, what standards we expect to see if someone wants to be considered beautiful. If they put their food or their home up for judgment. It has never been more important to learn early that there are other values which matter more. That friendship shouldn’t begin with a talent contest and a judging panel.

The story also examines themes of inequality. Is it right that the Sophisticats have multiple-course meals when others are starving?

I adore the illustrations with their muted purple-and-orange pallete and their sketchy style. They are the sort of pictures which look effortless but take great skill. I hope they will encourage young artists to pick up their pencils and draw townscapes and indoor scenes.

 

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Ellie And The Cat by Malorie Blackman. Illustrated by Matt Robertson

Ellie is obstinate and rude and bad-tempered. She doesn’t want to stay with Grandma and she’s not afraid to let people know it. When her behaviour goes too far, Grandma plays a trick of her own. She uses magic so that Ellie is forced to switch places with Jolly the cat. She challenges Ellie to find a lost ring if she ever wants to be a girl again.

Suddenly Ellie needs the help of those around her like Dimple the mouse and Vinegar the spider, and she’s not going to get it by being rude. They’ve also got to contend with the real Jolly, who quite enjoys being a girl.

A brilliant read from a classic author.

This reminds me of stories I read in my childhood, particularly of stories by Dick King-Smith. The adventure takes place over a short time period, it is set in a place familiar to the protagonist and it still manages to have excitement in every chapter. These stories are lovely for newly-confident readers. The challenge must be to keep the reader hooked without overcomplicating the plot. Malorie Blackman has done this to perfection and I highly recommend this to newer readers.

 

Laura Norder – Sheriff Of Butts Canyon by Guy Bass. Illustrated by Steve May.

Long ago in the Wild West, a place called Butts Canyon was run by Laura Norder. After seeing off the fearsome Ten Gun Ben, Laura decides that she and everyone else will live by her ten golden rules forever. That’s when the real trouble starts. People keep breaking Laura’s rules, and as her enforcement gets stricter, rebellion stirs. The mysterious Duncan Disorderly leaves messages all over town in protest at the Golden Rules.

Can Laura unmask Duncan Disorderly and reinstate her rules?

A brilliant read which will be highly relatable to many children. It can be difficult accepting that, although our ideas of how to manage the world come from the right place, there is no way to enforce them. Management belongs to specific spaces at specific times of the day. Outside of those, there is no manager. It is not for us to enforce order. Doing so not only makes us unpopular, it causes real hurt.

The story achieves a brilliant balance in showing that Laura’s feelings come from the right place, but to be a real sheriff, she needs to learn the responsibilities and limitations of the role.

Illustrations from Steve May add extra humour. Think fat mayors and mean bandits and all the characters familiar from cartoons.

 

Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence. Illustrated by Becka Moor.

One morning a toad lands on Leo’s head. Soon the toads are turning up all over town. They’re not ordinary toads, either. These are flying toads, the like of which have never been seen before. Rosa’s Dad Raj is making a special nature programme about the toads and he thinks they’re related to the cane toads which eat everything in their path. Leo and Rosa will have to act fast before the Exploders eradicate the toads.

A wacky and wonderful tale which brings an old plague to the modern day. Animal plagues have been around since Biblical times, but never before have they been captured on smartphones. This is a story for the latest generation.

Becka Moor’s illustrations are as lively and brilliant as ever. Spotting the flying toads will bring amusement to young readers.

 

Arlo, Miss Pythia And The Forbidden Box by Alice Hemming. Illustrated by Mike Garton.

img_8319-14X, now 5P, is back. Their last teacher came from the Stone Age, but even though Mrs Pythia doesn’t wear animal skins, she’s definitely not normal. For one thing, she always seems to know what is about to happen. And can it be a coincidence that she shares her name with the prophets of the Ancient Greek world?

As 5P rehearse for their play of Pandora’s Box, they must fight the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s very real box. Once again, it falls to Arlo to be the leader and keep his classmates safe, but can he do it all alone?

Another hit from the author and illustrator of Arlo, Mrs Ogg And The Dinosaur Zoo.

This looks set to be a brilliant series, following Arlo, his classmates and a string of teachers who don’t exactly come from the age of OFSTED. I kept turning the pages to see whether the box would be opened and once again I loved Arlo’s distinctive voice.

This author-illustrator pair is a perfect match. It feels as if the drawings sprung up to match the text and they add to the humour with extra details and brilliant facial expressions.

A series to look out for, and one which will be popular with teachers introducing historical time-periods.

 

The books in this post were gifted in exchange for honest review. Opinions remain my own. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books UK, Oxford University Press, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Maverick Arts Press for the gifted copies of your books.