Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker

Review: Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker

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Extract:

Kit grasped the banister for support. She felt dazed with shock because, down below, the hall was not empty and silent as it should have been; it was teeming with hundreds of historic costumes. The mannequins of the museum had come to life. 

(From Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker. P79.)

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Synopsis:

Kit is supposed to pass the entrance exam to a prestigious school like her siblings did. Her Dad won’t accept any less. The trouble is, Kit’s already found and hidden the rejection letter. The one which refers to her as ‘mediocre’.

Fed up of revision and tuition sessions, Kit runs away to find her grandfather at Moonstone Costume Museum.

Bard (as her Grandfather agrees to be called) isn’t keen on visitors, especially family visitors. He still hasn’t recovered from the death of Kit’s Mum and the loss of his wife. The Museum, once a glorious visitor attraction, is falling into disrepair.

It also has a secret. When the clock strikes midnight, the mannequins come to life. Kit meets them all and befriends the child mannequin Fenella.

Refusing to let her new friends go on the scrapheap, Kit sets to work. But how can she save the museum unless Bard gets in on the action?

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Review:

A feel-good story which is a most for all fans of the Green Knowe series. Every night at midnight, the mannequins at Moonstone come to life. Their characters represent the people who might have worn the costumes exhibited in the museum. Fenella, for example, is an aristocratic child from the eighteenth century. The most delightful thing about the book is I have seen some of the costumes which inspired the characters (including Fenella’s dress, which is exhibited in the Museum Of Childhood, a couple of miles from where I grew up).

The stakes are set out nicely and there is a chance, at any moment, that Kit could be taken away. With her grandfather unable to face the challenge, the museum will fall into the hands of a suitably vile property developer.  His determination to turn it into a conference centre beautifully demonstrates the challenge the arts face to survive in a culture with a narrow idea of productivity.

The theme of pressure will be familiar to children even if their siblings aren’t as impossibly talented as Kit’s. Even without entrance exams, children of ten or eleven will be familiar with the pressure to pick studying over playtime. In his drive to produce academically-exceptional children, Kit’s father overlooks and derides the talents his daughter does have – her creativity and dedication to her arts and her drive to get things done. The book reminds us that different talents are important and that however we measure up in one area says nothing about another.

On the surface, this is a gentle story about a magical museum and a feisty, determined heroine. Go deeper and you will find themes which are sadly relevant to our current society.

A beautiful story. I hope to see more from Lara Flecker.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Midnight At Moonstone. Opinions my own.

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Non-Fiction · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

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Have a novel manuscript? Have a few scraps of writing with no idea where to start? Whether you are a regular writer or someone just setting out, Ally Carter has said it all. 

No theory book will make you a writer, this is true, but everybody needs to learn the craft, and everybody needs to learn from experienced writers. 

Part theory book, part reflective autobiography on the writing life, this is the book which has been missing from the creative writing shelves. I don’t say that lightly. With people who have barely finished their first story penning advice, it might seem like a saturated market. As somebody who has spent the past couple of years working seriously on her writing craft, I can tell you from experience that this book does two or three things which I haven’t found before: 

 

  • It introduces the basic theory in one volume. Certainly, there are books which talk about more than one element of story craft, especially screenwriting books, but they tend to be of more use with a couple of manuscripts completed. Ally Carter’s novel is a lovely refresher for practicing writers, but it is also accessible to the total novice. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the terms ‘novice’ and ‘practicing’ to differentiate between people who have never completed a story and people who are not yet published but have drafted enough to be familiar with the most common theories.) 

 

  • It combines theory with the kind of down to earth, pragmatic advice previously found on YouTube. There are some things only time will teach a writer. Like how a novel takes the best part of a thousand hours. Minimum. Like that the first novel-sized thing you write probably won’t be novel-shaped, the first story you write probably won’t be agented, and the first thing you have agented won’t necessarily be published. Like how one person’s process is entirely different to another person’s. Often novice writers don’t want to hear these things. It breaks every myth they have ever heard (about inspiration, for example, or gifted people) and it can set their goals back by years. However, learning from more experienced writers is liberating. It is quite often the moment where people realise they aren’t doing anything wrong. 

 

  • The voice is pitched at teens – in the most non-patronising, realistic and totally brilliant way. This is the book I needed at 17 when I tried to write but had no idea how to turn my scrappy ideas into novels. As an adult reader, I found the book accessible and handy, but it would have meant the world to me as a teenager to find a book by an author whose name I recognised. 

 

Examples are drawn from Ally Carter’s career, and from the experience of guest writers. While most of these were American YA authors, plenty has been published to huge success in the UK and their names will be familiar to voracious readers. Regardless of this, hearing from multiple authors on the same subject gives a wider lens to each answer. Creative writing books to often claim to have the answer. This book encourages the reader to find a way of working which suits them. 

I would recommend this to any writer starting out, to practicing and emerging writers who need a gentle reminder that it doesn’t all happen at once, and especially to young people who would like to know where to begin. 

All the theory, expertise and gentle encouragement you ever needed to get going. A fantastic book about creative writing from a successful Young Adult author. 

 

Thanks to Orchard Books for my gifted copy of Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · craft · Guest Post

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts

 

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts – a collaboration with Lisa’s Notebook

There’s no better time for quick crafts than in the run-up to Christmas. Whether you’re looking to distract the children for half-an-hour, to make a last-minute gift or for a bit of time out, factor some craft time into your festive agenda. 

This post is a collaboration with Lisa from Lisa’s Notebook. I adore Lisa’s blog. With regular features about gardening, self-care and kid-friendly activities, there is something for everyone. Be sure to check out Lisa’s post and see how she got on with the same crafts.

We chose some crafts from Pinterest – collaborating was a lovely way to motivate each other to do the crafts, rather than just pinning them to our boards. It was also a great way of finding things we might not have picked ourselves. Our theme was ‘nature’ and I love how we interpreted this in different ways. 

The three crafts featured here are:

  • A pine-cone elf
  • Bird feeders
  • Star decorations made from twigs 

Check them out below, then have a look at Lisa’s post to see how her crafts came out. 

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Pinecone elf – 

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This was the first craft I picked. There are many examples over Pintest and by looking at these I decided I wanted to keep my elf simple, to add a jingle-bell to his hat and to have accessories in two colours. 

The fiddliest part was making the hat, but once I found a template it came together quickly enough. The result was very sweet and I think these would make lovely little gifts or table-favours. 

 

You will need:

  • Sheets of felt
  • One pinecone 
  • A wooden ball 
  • Jingle bells
  • A pen to draw on the face
  • A glue gun 

 

Instructions: 

  1. Cut out the hat. There is a great template here which shows you the shape to cut the felt. Stick the hat together using your glue gun and add a jingle bell at the top. 
  2. Cut out the feet and scarf.  
  3. Stick the hat to your wooden ball, then stick the head on to the pine cone. Add the feet and scarf. When everything is dry, draw on the face. 

 

Bird feeders – 

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You will need – 

  • Dry mix: Birdseed, currents, sultanas, oats 
  • Fat. I used vegetable fat. 
  • Cookie cutters laid out on a baking tray. You need open cookie cutters, not the ones with patterns in. 
  • Straws (Paper ones work just fine.) 

 

Instructions –

  1. Measure out your dry ingredients. I used a ratio of 2 parts dry ingredients to one part vegetable fat, so I used 500g of dry ingredients to 250g of vegetable fat. Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Melt the fat in a saucepan. When it is ready, pour it in with the dry mixture and stir until all the fat is soaked up. This step should be done by an adult. 
  3. Distribute your mixture between the cookie cutters, patting it down with a spoon. 
  4. When you’ve filled your cookie cutters, stick a straw in each one near the top of the cutter. This will form a hole so you can hang up your bird-seed cake when it is set. Leave your bird-seed cakes to set. 
  5. When your bird-seed cake is solid, remove the cookie cutter, tie the string through the hole and hang it on a branch. 

 

Twig star decorations:

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Never again will I judge a craft by the picture on Pinterest. When I saw this, I thought it would make a nice, easy extra. Little did I know how difficult it would be. The tricky part was cutting twigs to equal length and laying them out in a five-pointed star. They move so much that it was like a game of pick-up sticks. I am pleased with my final result and would try this again. 

You will need –

  • Twigs (we picked up longer sticks and branches and cut them to equal length. This should be done by an adult.)
  • A glue gun
  • Raffia or any ribbon or thread to wrap around the centre. 

 

Instructions – 

  1. Cut the twigs to equal length and lay them out in the shape of a five-pointed star. This is easier said than done. My advice is to draw the star out on paper and not overthink the layout. See how it comes together. 
  2. Stick your star together. Before you get the glue-gun out, look at where your twigs overlap and make a plan. I started with the overlaps nearest the bottom and worked up. 
  3. When your star is dry, tie raffia on to the twigs and wrap it around the decoration. This is a very kid-friendly part and you could use all sorts of ribbons and spare bits of thread. 

 

Final thoughts – 

Thanks again to Lisa for joining me in this collaboration. Our nature theme got me outside looking for bits and pieces, and it was lovely to take time out of the busy Christmas schedule for some crafting time. 

Have you tried any of the above crafts? Do you have any favourite Christmas activities? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Craft: Make A Scrapbook Memory Jar – Collaboration with HelloBexa

Making a scrapbook memory jar – collaboration with HelloBexa. 

I was looking to add a little more craft to my blog, and I needed some inspiration. That’s when I turned to my blogging friend Bexa. HelloBexa is one of my ultimate blog-reads. It’s a little bit of craft, a load of positivity and the cutest photographs on the internet. Not to mention Bexa’s sunny personality. 

If any blog could make me feel creative it was HelloBexa. There’s something special about her approach to craft. She never makes it feel like a chore. The crafts she suggests are all about self-care and spreading positivity and I can’t think of a better approach to crafting. Check out her blog here. 

So what did I decide on for my first craft? 

Autumn is here. The leaves will fall and Christmas will be upon us and once again we’ll be looking to the new year. Whether we care to admit it or not, 2018 is winding to an end.

And oh the memories!

Last week, I was looking for a way to display my memories from the NYA Festival and the spin-off event in August. I have always loved journaling and papercraft but there is something final about a scrapbook. Scrapbook pages can’t be unstuck. There are bookmarks and charms which I might want to use in other ways. 

Then I heard about memory jars. 

A memory jar is essentially a scrapbook page inside a jar. It can be added to and reorganised and this exactly fitted the way I wanted to display my bits and pieces. 

You can decorate the jar any way you like – and there are heaps of pictures across the internet – but here are some ideas to get you started. 

How to washi-tape a jam jar lid: 

Washi-tape. What doesn’t it improve? Washi-tape has been one of my happy discoveries of 2018 so it only seemed fitting to incorporate it into my jar. 

Here are some tips:

Stick the tape on in straight lines. Fold it carefully over the sides then cut off the overhanging tape. Do not fold it in. 

Start in the middle and work outwards in both directions. The final pieces you fold will be a bit messier. Do not worry. Just stick one strip of washi tape around the edge. This will hide all your trimmed ends. 

My tape was a little see-through. I was happy with this because I wanted blue and white, but you might want to do a test-strip before you start. 

Finding decorations to fill the jam jar: 

It was my wish, as far as possible, to use objects from around the house. I thought I might need some sand or glitter to fill the bottom of the jar. Then I thought of my bath petals. Regular readers might remember that I won a haul of bath goodies back in the Spring. The bath bombs have long since been used but the petals were so pretty I kept them on display. 

In fact, they were so pretty I felt terrible tearing them up. Until I saw them in the jar.

Using bits from around the house is not only eco-friendly, it adds to the memory theme. Those bath petals not only look pretty, they are another happy memory from 2018. 

Write a secret message:

img_7008At the first NYALiterature Festival back in March, author Alwyn Hamilton gave a piece of advice which had changed the way I approach plotting for the better. 

You don’t need to know everything but know your ultimate destination. It is hard to plot a course without knowing how the story ends. 

This piece of advice has seen me finish and edit a 42,000-word manuscript. It will see me plot my next work, and my next one and just knowing other people have found their way through the plotting stages gives me courage. 

I wrote this in my best left-handed-scrawl on a sparkly gift-tag. Nobody looking at the jar would know it was there except me. (And … you guys. Sssh!) 

The Finished Jar:

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Here’s my finished jar. It contains:

  • A photograph of me on the day. I love this picture – I’m wearing the crown knitted by my blogging friend Charlotte and have a unicorn painted on to my cheek.
  • A candle 
  • A secret message
  • A badge
  • Blue – the hall was decorated with blue balloons 
  • A unicorn charm – to represent the unicorn facepaint 
  • Other charms. I made this necklace years ago and sourced charms which related to imagination. See, there’s a crown, a unicorn, and keys to magic kingdoms. 

 

Making my jar was a pleasure and I can’t wait to make something else. Which crafts would you like to see? What would you put in your memory jar? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thanks to Bexa from HelloBexa for joining me. This was such a lovely collaboration and I can’t wait to see your jar. Make sure you check out Bexa’s blog and find her memory jar post. 

 

Activity Book · Non-Fiction

Review: Toca Life Holiday Super Sticker Book

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What would you like to do on Holiday? Go sightseeing? Laze around on the beach? With the Toca Life Holiday sticker book, children can explore and build different locations. 

Toca Life, I am reliably informed, is an app which has been described as a virtual dolls house. I can imagine this will be wildly popular. Do you remember loading the Sims, using the money cheat until your Sims had unlimited finances and building the house of all houses? I was that kid. Toca Life satisfies children’s curiosity about different surroundings and gives them free reign to develop their perfect settings. 

img_6922Different settings are represented as double-page spreads and the main focus of the book is on filling those settings with stickers. What a selection of stickers! People and pets, food and pot-plants and signs and every object imaginable. This would be perfect for slightly older children, who might have outgrown the simple activities and chunky stickers of other books. It would certainly keep kids occupied on a long journey – when they are long past interest in anything else, just making their own worlds would provide a perfect distraction. 

There are a couple of puzzles here too – a memory game, a spot the difference and a ‘hunt the rainbow poo’ game which runs throughout the book. These add an extra dimension to the book and gives it extra keep-them-occupied power.

The stickers are super cute and could be used to decorate things outside of the book. This makes the book a great present – if the kids aren’t interested in the activities, they’ve still got a fab range of stickers. 

The Holidays may be over, but there are hours of fun here. 

 

Thanks to Ladybird Books for my sticker book. Opinions my own.

Giveaway

Review and Giveaway: Hey Duggee Sticky Stick Sticker Book

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About Hey Duggee and the Sticky Stick Song

Stick Stick Stick Stick

Sticky Sticky Stick Stick.

Who would have thought the hit of the World Cup would be an animated stick? Hey Duggee is an animated series for pre-school children. It follows the adventures of the Squirrel Club as they gain badges and explore the outdoor world. The Sticky Stick song featured in a single episode of the programme but has since gained something of a cult following. Millions of views later and a special version was introduced for the World Cup.

Kick Kick Kick Kick

Add some techno-vibes, background chanting and an animated stick and an anthem is born. 

 Sticky Stick Sticker Book review and giveaway

The lovely people at Penguin Random House sent me some copies of the Sticky Stick Sticker book to review and share with my readers. 

img_6638The book combines stickers with puzzles, activities and your favourite Hey Duggee characters. There is an added element which would earn a great big WOOF of support from Duggee – as well as the usual sticker activities, the book encourages children to get outside, find a stick and decorate it with their stickers. This would be a lovely activity to share with pre-school children and a great way into nature play for the shy or reluctant. 

Great fun was had in the creation of sticky-characters. The stickers didn’t stick perfectly to the real sticks, but this would be a nice introduction to decorating sticks with objects from the garden. An alternative would be to use ice-lolly sticks, or to photograph your sticks before the stickers come off. Why not create a gallery of stick friends? 

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The stickers peel easily and repeel from the pages without tearing. They are big and solid enough for their young audience. The puzzles and games are pitched at different levels so this would be as friendly to a six-year-old as it would to a smaller child. The suggested age range is 3 years upwards. 

If you would like to win a copy of the Sticky Stick sticker book head over to my Twitter. I have FOUR copies for giveaway within the UK and Ireland. Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to host this giveaway