Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

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Extract:

I know it’s autumn because it’s the end of October and I am eight weeks into Year Eight, but there are no leaves to colour and fall and in our crowded, clean city the cold never really penetrates too much. The breaks go up if it’s windy, the canopies if it rains.

And every morning I’m waking from my dreams of an altogether different kind of canopy of branches and leaves, and I think I can’t stand it anymore. Another day in this city.

(Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold. P32.)

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Synopsis:

Juniper and Bear live in one of the two remaining glasshouses – the only spaces where plants are allowed within their city. Everywhere else is grey and enclosed. Like a prison. This is how it has been ever since a virus was unleashed to kill humans and save the wild. Juniper is afraid that if her little brother Bear doesn’t calm down, he will end up in the institute. A place from which nobody comes out.

When scientists discover that the siblings’ blood holds the secret to surviving in the outdoors, their lives are endangered. They are left with no choice but to run. They set out for Ennerdale, the half-remembered home of their infancy.

The wild is a beautiful place but it is also a brutal one. It is a place where survival plays out on a daily basis and every living thing is in some danger. Not to mention the drones that follow them from the city. With so much up against them, will they ever make their way home?

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Review:

Dystopia is back and it is tackling bigger themes than ever before. It is also reaching out to a younger audience.

Where The World Turns Wild asks one of the deepest and darkest questions of our time: is sacrificing humans the only way to save the world? If, as an individual, you were given a choice between mankind and life itself, which would you choose? Juniper lives in a world where, fifty years before, a group took the fate of the world into their own hands, and the only humans to survive are the ones who live in enclosed spaces with barely any contact with nature. Children are taught to fear the wild and only the ones born with immunity to the virus can go outside. More to the point, Juniper reckons the ReWilders – the group who spread the virus – did the right thing. It is a view that could get her locked up for life.

It is a massive theme for an older middle grade or teen audience. It is also a question they must surely ask themselves in theory. Because if we don’t change the way we live soon – very soon – it will be too late to save the planet. Juniper knows the ReWild was extreme and that terrible things happened because of the virus. She also knows every living being was going to die if it didn’t happen.

Juniper and Bear are wonderful characters. They are children of nature trapped inside an unnatural city. They remind us that nobody who has seen trees and valleys and life would ever choose an artificial world. This is the other big theme in the book. There are people who have grown up inside cities and have barely seen the world outside. They are complacent about wildlife because they do not know it. This is a sad reflection of our own world. Growing up in London, I met people who stuck their fingers in their ears – literally – if anyone told them what was in their fast food milkshake. What had been sacrificed in the world for their beef burger to exist. They simply couldn’t imagine the damage, or the parts of the world that were being damaged, sufficiently to care. Books provide a safe space to face up to such attitudes. Being challenged can be scary, but books like this allow us to challenge ourselves and come to our own conclusions.

Bear and Juniper are also searching for their parents. Their travels across the landscape are inspiring and terrifying in equal measures. As a reader I wanted them to be safe, but I also wanted them to survive in the wild, because the thought of them going back to that city was terrible.

I also felt a personal connection to the story as a born Londoner who now lives in Cumbria. As much as I miss certain aspects of London, I remind myself how I used to feel returning there after visits to Cumbria. I used to miss the wide open skies and birds and green space so badly that it hurt.

With a fantastic premise and strong characters, Where The World Turns Wild has got the book world talking. It is beautifully written and it is up there with the greatest outdoor journeys of children’s literature. Read this.

blog tour · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

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About Mother Tongue.

The new dictator of the Ark – a society which exists in a world destroyed by Global Warming – wants to silence speech forever. People with fewer words are less able to argue back. Letta is a wordsmith. It is her job to keep words safe and to pass them on to the next generation. Letta and her followers are fighting back by forming hedge schools, and passing words on to those children who are willing to risk their security to learn. 

Then the babies start to go missing. 

This is high on my list of recent dystopia. We are now ten years on from The Hunger Games and it is important that young adult literature reflects the issues and discussions of the current day. Mother Tongue picks up on the disparity in society between those who have access to books and writing and words in childhood, and those who don’t. It shows a world where language education is purposely limited to all but a ruling minority. 

It is terrifyingly close to the bone. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has highlighted statistics that show that children on free school meals are twice as likely to go to a school without a library. And adult education, which once enabled people to sit A-Levels through night classes, or attend university without getting into major debt, has been reduced to the bare minimum. The result is a lack of social mobility and a society willing to support those who appear to have knowledge

Letta is a fantastic protagonist. The dystopia of ten years ago featured lots of characters whose anger was shown as a strength. Letta is contemplative, doubting of herself but firm in her resolve. Her strength comes from a rounded mix of qualities. 

I am delighted that author Patricia Forde has written a post about the power of words. Thank you Patricia for your time, and to Little Island Books for arranging this opportunity. 

Mother Tongue is available now from Amazon, Waterstones and good independent bookshops.

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The Power of Words by author Patricia Forde. 

Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.

This was a song we sang in the playground as children. Even then I think we knew it was untrue. The bruises and wounds caused by the sticks and stones healed, and before they healed, everyone could see the marks and sympathise. The words that hurt us left no visible mark and elicited no sympathy, but buried deep inside us, they festered.

Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.

So said the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in his inauguration speech at the beginning of his second term in office. Through words, we can share our ideas, change people’s minds, support or destroy our fellow human beings.

Looking at history, we can trace the power of words, through the speeches of great orators. Who can forget Nelson Mandela’s famous speech where he said that he would die for that which he believed in?

I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela’s words echoed the earlier words of Martin Luther King in his most iconic I have A Dream speech.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

In my novel The Wordsmith and its companion book Mother Tongue, John Noa, leader of Ark, has rationed words. People are only allowed to choose from  a list of five hundred words on pain of death. The words on the list are mostly practical. There are no words for emotion: no belief, no hope, no love. No words to persuade, no words to properly interrogate, no words to raise a rebellion. John Noa knew the power of words. In The Wordsmith Letta, the young protagonist, asks Noa to include the word hope on the list but Noa refuses. Noa knew that to encourage hope was to encourage the possibility of change.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Throughout his political career he was a committed activist for gay rights and became famous for his Hope Speeches.  This is an extract from one of them:

Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s; without hope the us’s give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

We are the only species that can plant ideas in one another’s heads and we don’t even need a scalpel. Today, Donald Trump has weaponised words. He talks about illegal immigrants infesting America. Immigrants are referred to as dogs and criminals. He uses words to belittle women and to divide people. Words are his weapons. But words can be used for good or ill. For  Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist, words are also weapons – weapons that might save the planet. Speaking at a United Nations summit recently she denounced world leaders for their inertia when it came to climate change.

How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

 

You could almost see people in the chamber duck as the shrapnel from her speech ricocheted off the walls around them. Words are dangerous. That is why powerful people have always feared them.

I will leave the last word to Winston Churchill, a man who had many faults but who knew much about power and much about language.

You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. … Yet in their hearts there is unspoken—unspeakable!—fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse—a little tiny mouse!—of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

The Middler

Extract:

I knew all the kids in our town. Been at school with them since I was knee-high. None of us had hair that colour. And none of us would hide on the wrong side of a town boundary. Not ever. 

She was a wanderer. 

(The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum. P23.) 

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Synopsis: 

Eldest go to camp to fight for their countries. Everyone knows they deserve all the glory. All the attention. Everyone knows never to leave the town boundaries and everyone despises the wanderers, who live outside the town and refuse to give their eldest up.

Maggie is a middler. She’s fed up of being overlooked to her eldest brother Jed. When she meets Una, a wanderer girl who lives beyond her town’s boundaries, Maggie sees an opportunity to finally get some attention. The trouble is she makes friends with Una before she can hand her in.

Una and her father force Maggie to question everything she ever believed to be true.

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Review:

Anyone who came of age through the height of YA dystopia knows about the special kids – the ones sent off to camp or the Capitol. The ones join a new faction. The Middler focuses on the younger siblings who are left behind and it tells the same story of corruption and bravery from a new and wonderful angle.

Maggie is a wonderful character with a distinctive worldview. She’s convinced that the elders have it all. Fame, glory and special attention. It isn’t until her brother Jed and his friend Lindi are sent away that Maggie begins to question this stance. I loved this realistic child’s eye view. Kids Maggie’s age often have a strong sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. Equal or nothing. Seeing this in a dystopian setting was particularly effective because when Maggie’s eyes are opened her personal beliefs are shattered in a big way.

Dystopia isn’t the first genre I think of when I talk about Middle-Grade (books marketed at roughly 8 – 12 year-olds) but Kirsty Applebaum shows how effectively it can be done. By keeping the action away from the worst of the conflict, and focusing on the friendship between Maggie and Una, Applebaum proves that dystopia can be written for pre-teens.

As an adult reader, I loved the tone. The children in Maggie’s world sing childish rhymes which are loaded with propaganda and darkness and the story was like that. So gentle and innocent on the surface but with so much depth in every chapter.

An exceptional work which left me with the same feeling I get when I read our greatest children’s writers. Kirsty Applebaum is clearly a talent and she’s one to watch out for.

 

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford

Review: The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford

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Extract:

So that was it. Damage done. I had started the end of the world.

Obviously, I didn’t know it at the time. I’ve kept the secret until now: how I handled the tennis ball that was infected with Dudley’s germs, germs that he had picked up from the little girl who wanted to adopt him. I then passed on the infection to poor Ben by letting him lick my germy hands, and then to the other dogs …

(The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford. P69.)

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Synopsis:

Georgie has two best friends in the world. Her school friend Ramzy and her beloved rescue dog Mr Mash, who lives in a dog shelter.

The trio meet an eccentric and reclusive scientist and agree to take part in her virtual reality project. Georgie steps in front of a super computer, puts on a helment and is transported to a digital version of the real future.

A disease breaks out at the dog shelter, a disease as terrible as Ebola. It could very quickly spread to all the dogs and then to humans. The shelter goes into lockdown and a cull is announced.

With mankind and dogkind under threat, Georgie knows she must act quickly if she is to save the world and her beloved Mr Mash. 

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Review:

An extraordinary and poignant quest set in the near future. I bought into the science and was so immersed in the story that I felt as if I had walked in Georgie’s footsteps.

What works beautifully is how the story is set in an almost contemporary world. The dog plague is not so different to the viruses which have killed thousands of people worldwide. The supercomputer is not so far off virtual reality experiences which already exist. This is the sort of sci-fi I enjoy best, where the fiction, the make-believe, is subtle.

It is impossible not to love the dogs. From Mr Mash, who swallows things which are totally not edible, to Dudley to Ben the snarly Jack Russel, the dogs add a huge amount of warmth to the story. Having fallen in love with their individual characters, we are desperate for Georgie to do the impossible and change the future.

Georgie’s character development centres around her acceptance of her stepmother, Jessica. Jessica is allergic to dogs, and this is the reason Mr Mash had to go back to the shelter, where he lives as a permanent resident. Georgie hasn’t adjusted to the new family dynamics and she hasn’t forgiven Jessica for the allergy. This story isn’t a typical bad-stepmother narrative. Jessica is a great role model and a brilliant scientist who plays her own part in the story. She’s just not Georgie’s Mum. It was great to see this story told in a way which wasn’t melodramatic or over emotional. The family functions, but it takes time for Georgie to feel OK about that.

Ramzy is another brilliant character. His family has fled a warzone and their life in the UK is nothing like their life back home Ramzy is the kid who has to wear the same shirt to school every day. Who goes hungry to help his siblings. Often characters suffering from extreme poverty are featured in books which focus in on ‘issues’. Ramzy is bright and capable and he is 100% part of the adventure. It is important for people from every background and in every circumstance to see themselves at the centre of the action. Ramzy’s poverty isn’t brushed over and there is a powerful scene where he opens up about his experiences.

A dystopia filled with love and laughter. Having read this I want to read everything else Ross Welford has written, and I would recommend it to any reader of middle-grade fiction.

 

Thanks to Harper Collins Children’s Books for my gifted copy of The Dog Who Saved The World. Opinions my own.