Blogmas 2019 · fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

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The Moon King is delighted when he finds out he is to become a father, and he vows to give his daughter the most beautiful present in all the world. He captures the Starbird, whose legendary voice fills the young Princess’s dreams with magic.

One day, the Princess notices that Starbird’s songs are filled with sadness and longing for the open skies. When the Moon King finds out that the Princess has set Starbird free, he vows to hunt high and low until the bird is recaptured.

The Princess begs and pleads with her father to see reason, for she knows that a living thing can belong to no other being.

A beautiful folktale presented with striking illustrations for a new generation.

Starbird – and variations on the story – is a story of hope for humankind. As equally as it makes us despair for the actions of people who have believed they can enslave and claim ownership of other lives, it brings hope. This story has been passed through the generations so clearly there have been voices speaking against such actions throughout time. It gets to the very core of the attitudes that have caused, among other things, the current Climate Crisis. To make a difference to the world we have to put aside the idea that ownership and profit are important.

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With plenty of great books coming out which have an overt message, is it lovely to see a folktale that happens to be relevant to our times. Readers will be introduced to this tale without expecting a message and so it will be their empathy for Starbird that leads them to think more broadly other issues. Otherwise, it is simply a beautiful tale to read over and over.

The illustration and design of this story is stunning and it stands out as a particularly special book because of it. Striking landscapes in pale colours alternate with patterned pages where animal shapes can be made out it the blank space between different designs. Silver foil detail is used to great effect throughout. There is a particular focus on skies – starry heavens, and swirling Arctic lights and pale sunsets over the mountains. This enhances our emotions around Starbird’s longing for freedom because the skies make a contrast with the metal bars of his cage.

It is always nice to mix Christmas stories with fairytales, folklore and classic stories. Starbird’s stunning illustrations and sparkling silver detail make it the perfect book to read over Winter and it is a story that offers a message hope and love for our times.

 

Thanks to Two Hoots (Macmillan Children’s UK) for my copy of Starbird. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Greta And The Giants by Zoë Tucker and Zoë Persico.

Review: Greta And The Giants by Zoë Tucker and Zoë Persico.

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Her name was Greta. She lived in a beautiful forest filled with animals. The giants had always been there, but they had stopped caring about the forest. They chopped down the trees and built cities to generate money. Luckily Greta wasn’t daunted by their size. 

 For years everyone has known that the climate is in terrible peril but too many people have found it easy to wave this fact away rather than sacrifice their own comfort. It took one voice to remain strong. One person to point out – regardless of the response she met – that saving our world was more important than capitalism. 

And suddenly other people felt bold enough to join in. 

That person was, of course, Greta Thunberg, and she has become an icon not only for her generation but of our times. She and other young eco-warriors have moved the conversation about the climate crisis to a new level. 

It is what the politicians and major broadcasters and other giants of our world failed to do. 

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What Greta Thunberg proved was that if every small voice speaks a bit louder the world starts to listen. Her school strike hit adults where it hurt because they had to admit that, while the loss of education was a serious issue, the children had a valid and urgent message. Books like this one, aimed at young readers, remind us that no voice is too small to make a difference. Stand a little higher, shout a little louder and someone somewhere will listen. 

I am delighted to see books and media for children about environmental issues. I was fascinated by these issues at twelve or thirteen but there was nothing aimed at children or teenagers. It was too easy for my peers to dismiss something they only heard about in a couple of science or PSHE lessons. If children grow up with books that reflect what is happening, they will respond in a more positive and informed way than any previous generation. 

 The illustrations in this book are like a modern take on a traditional fairy tale anthology. With cooking pots and leafy forests and little people taking on the giants, this could be a tale as old as time. Except that it is happening here and now and there are some cities and bright modern raincoats to prove it. 

This story could be told over and over again until readers are familiar with its morals and that is what makes it stand out amongst the sudden rush of books about the environment. It is relatable and memorable and, although it is quick to tell, it raises some big issues which will take a lifetime to learn about. 

 

Thanks to Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (in association with Greenpeace) for my copy of Greta And The Giants. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward.

Review: Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward.

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Our planet is experiencing a climate crisis. Plastic pollutes the ocean, air pollution is reaching higher and higher levels, and entire species are disappearing every single day. It is enough to make anyone feel powerless, and yet all the power is in our hands. It is up to humans to change their habits, and this book gives young eco-warriors some great ideas about where to start. 

This book is so important, for people who feel that they don’t have a clue as well as for committed activists. 

The great thing about Guardians Of The Planet is it outlines the issues behind the climate crisis as well as giving readers ideas about practical things they can do to make changes in their daily habits. It is easy to think these things won’t make any difference, but rest assured that as people change their habits, so will businesses, and as businesses change their habits it will put vast pressure on politicians and world leaders. Sometimes change really does start with many tiny actions such as buying rechargeable batteries or leaving those plastic bags behind. 

Seven chapters cover different issues affecting our planets – home consumption, energy usage, food waste, water supplies, ocean pollution, forestry, and wildlife extinction. First the chapters outline the difficulties and then look at the different areas of our lives which touch on these issues. For example, we all know that water is used in the shower and kitchen, but some readers might forget that food production is a major source of water waste too. One practical suggestion is to keep a water butt and grow some fruit and veg. 

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The book strikes the right tone, taking the issues seriously while remaining upbeat about our chance to help. It is more important than ever that young people feel empowered to care for the environment. The current generation will be the last with any realistic chance to help unless we act now. Making people feel happy that starting now is always a positive thing is important. 

Jonathan Woodward’s illustrations make this an appealing book to dip into, with full-colour pages broken up by bursts of text. More importantly, some of the pictures illustrate the problems faced by our planet without the full graphic horror of photographs. Being able to visualise what something means is important in conversations about the planet, but this book also respects the age of its target readers. The result will be that they want to help but aren’t left with nightmares. 

This book is a rallying call to young readers to help the planet. It is also a guidebook and a helping hand so that they know where to start. 

 

Thanks to Buster Books (In support Of Client Earth) for my copy of Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

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Extract:

‘But now there were only nineteen left and the story behind that was drummed into every youngling. How one of Earth Mother’s children abandoned her slabs – the one called human. And now, many cycles later, she didn’t even look like a yeti at all.’ 

(The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. P16.) 

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Synopsis:

Ella is on an expedition in the Himalayas with her Uncle Jack, a television explorer. When they set out, Ella thought the goal was to shoot a nature documentary, but it soon becomes clear that the trip is centered around the question of whether or not yeti exist – and it seems Uncle Jack’s intentions are not entirely honorable. 

Tick is a young Yeti whose questions keep leading him to trouble. When he leads the documentary party to the door of the cave, his sett is forced to abandon their home, leaving the ancient Yeti slabs behind. 

If the slabs are deciphered, it could endanger Yeti all over the world, which would be a disaster for the ecosystem, of which Yeti are the guardians. Can Tick and Ella overcome their fears of one another and work together to recover the slabs before it is too late? 

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Review:

Imagine if the ecosystem had a network of secret guardians, whose role was pivotal for the survival of the planet. Welcome to The International Yeti Collective – the fantasy story of the year, and an idea which you will wish could be true. In this story, those guardians are under threat, and with them the wellbeing of our planet. 

Enter Tick – a hapless but loveable Yeti, and Ella. Like the very real children who give up their spare time to raise awareness of the issues faced by our planet, Ella is a small person with shedloads of determination. She doesn’t always realise this, but just by being decent and having the right ideas she is well ahead of many of the grown-ups around her. 

Environmental themes are long overdue in children’s fiction. Teaching children the science is important so that they understand the stark choice humanity must face, but teaching them a love for the planet and a determination to help is even more important. Their generation may be the very last with a say in this issue because if we don’t act in the next few years, it will simply be too late to make any meaningful change. What I love about The International Yeti Collective is its heart. It is a great, entertaining story, but it also shows how much empathy with our fellow creatures means. 

This is also a story with tribes – and we all love a good tribe, faction, house or another fictional sorting. The different Yeti tribes live around the world and care for different aspects of the eco-system. I am torn between four or five tribes, based on places and creatures I love, and activities I might be good at. In this instance there is no ‘better’ tribe because the key here is balance – every one of these natural places needs help, and the more we can do the better. 

As part of the blog tour, I was given a beautiful map that shows the locations of the different Yeti tribes. It also comes with a handy guide explaining real-world issues these tribes are facing today. 

 

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Map

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 1

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 2

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 3

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 4

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sea by Britta Teckentrup

Review: Sea by Britta Teckentrup

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A school of little fish swim through the coral sea. It is a magical world of jellyfish and whales, lionfish and seahorses and great white sharks. Follow them on their journey through one of the world’s great treasures. 

Britta Teekentrup is one of my favourite illustrators, and sea is no exception. Her jewel-bright colours build to a great visual experience. Cut through pages, with different fish recurring through the story, create continuity in the narrative and add fun to the reading experience. 

The prose is written in rhyme. Although it follows a group of fish, it is more non-fiction than story, introducing different species which live in the Coral Sea. The concept of predators and prey is also explored, but don’t worry – no fish are captured. It is important for readers to understand that every animal needs to eat and to begin to think about how this happens. 

The rhyme ends on an environmental note, with a plea to the readers to keep the sea clear and clean. There is no mention of plastic and the damage it causes, but if young readers love the sea and its inhabitants, they will want to explore how they can help. 

This book is the next best thing to a scuba-diving trip down to the reef. It brings the magic of the underwater world into readers hands and gently explains that they have a responsibility towards the ocean’s inhabitants. A lovely introduction to the coral reef and another hit from Britta Teekentrup.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of Sea. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

When The Bees Buzzed Off by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett

When The Bees Buzzed Off by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett

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Where have all the bees gone? The other insects search through the undergrowth, but they can’t find the bees anywhere. This is a terrible day for the garden. What will happen to the vegetables, flowers and supply of nice green leaves?

A lift-the-flap story which works in facts about environment change and pollination.

The threat facing our bees is tremendous, and the cost of losing them would be catastrophic, yet we don’t hear about it on a daily basis. We need to be worried, we need to act, and most of all we need to care about the consequences. This is a huge thing to say to very young readers but the story gently hints at what might happen if the bees had gone away for good while the other insects search to bring them back.

Following a happy but realistic ending, the insects work together to collect and plant wildflower seeds to bring the bees back to their garden.

The illustrations get close-up with the undergrowth. I love this insect’s-eye view of the garden, which reminds us to be curious about how much is really in an outdoor space and reminds the reader that humans aren’t the only ones who care about the garden. More alarming spreads of greying leaves and dying plants are mixed with colourful and happy habitats.

Flaps hide more creatures and creepy-crawlies. Young readers who enjoy the hunt through the book will be desperate to get outside and do it in the real world.

The journey through the undergrowth is a joy and the subject is treated with optimism and care.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of When The Bees Buzzed Off. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish by Lara Hawthorn

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Review: Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish by Lara Hawthorne

Alba loves all things beautiful and shiny, and it is her pleasure to bring her treasures back to her coral reef home. Over the years her collection grows. One day, she realises there aren’t so many fish as there used to be. In fact, the coral isn’t looking so healthy either, and instead of shiny treasures, she can only find strange and horrible rubbish. 

When Alba gets trapped in a plastic bottle which washes up on a beach, a little girl decides it is time to act. With the help of her community, she makes part of the ocean a healthier place for Alba to live again. 

This story was inspired by a rough-eye rockfish which lived until 205 years old. It was also inspired by the changes which the ocean has undergone in that time. Changes which are entirely down to human activity. 

img_8076Birds are dying with plastic in their stomach. Dolphins are getting caught in plastic debris. The list of animals harmed by plastic goes on and on, but even with growing awareness of the problem, it will take something else for humans to commit to a real change. It takes empathy. Learning to care about the environment from a young age has never been more important and story plays a key role in nurturing empathy. Soon awareness campaigns won’t be enough. The next generation needs to care about the world without being told. 

I love the illustrations which lay out the changes Alba has seen in the ocean. A colourful world or a grey one. The choice is as simple as that. 

img_8072That’s not to say this book is all agenda. It is a gentle story which shows the difference one determined person can make. It also gives us a look at the coral reef and underwater world in all its colourful glory. 

Lara Hawthorne is one of my favourite illustrators of recent years. She makes eye-catching use of colour and pattern. These are the type of pictures which I look over and over to spot more detail. This would make a lovely book to share at bedtime just because every picture opens up a whole new conversation. ‘Did you spot the diamond? Which fish is your favourite?’ It is a real book for sharing. 

This would also be a lovely book to encourage children to draw underwater pictures. It shows shells and corals and fish in their infinite shapes and colours. 

Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish may have a strong message, but it isn’t an awareness campaign. It is the sort of book which promotes true empathy and love. I’m a big fan and I can see this being a huge hit we look to start more conversations about plastic pollution. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press and Molly Holt for my copy of Alba The Hundred Year Old Fish. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

grandpachristmasMia’s all grown up and she has a family of her own, but every year at Christmas she takes out the letter her grandfather wrote when she was a little girl. Grandpa had one big wish for his little grandchild – that she would love the earth and learn to respect it. That she would inherit a world of clean air and water. A world where people take only what they need, a world where no-one ever goes hungry again and where animals have nothing to fear from humans.

It’s quite a big wish but every year Mia and her family remember Grandpa and his letter.

A gentle and touching narrative about caring for our planet, which captures the love we feel at Christmas towards people who are no longer with us.

Mia remembers the time she and her grandfather spent together in the garden, planting seeds and digging for words and looking at frogs. This gentle and loving introduction shows the reminds the reader the ways in which they may have experienced the joys of nature. This is a clever way to make the environmental narrative accessible. It may be a difficult subject but it relevant to everyone – even the smallest child.

This section also shows us the relationship Mia held with her Grandpa. They spent time together when she was young. One of the most poignant parts of Christmas is the feeling that some of our loved ones are missing. Nothing brings that loss back like a missing Christmas card. This story gently reminds us that, although people are gone, we may have messages that they gave us in life. Mia’s routine of reading Grandpa’s letter to her children shows us that, although grief never goes, we find ways to keep those people close to our hearts.

Jim Field’s illustrations capture the warm memories, big thoughts and poignant emotions Mia experiences as she reads Grandpa’s letter. Seeing the contrast between the environmental damage and Grandpa’s dream world helps us understand exactly what we’re doing – and how different it could be. I love the landscapes. Every leaf and every blade of grass is full of life and movement.

Certainly one which will make older readers emotional. It moved me to tears as swiftly as the end of The Snowman. I think it is important to acknowledge Christmas as a time of reflection and change, and this picture book does it so beautifully it deserves to be a classic read by many generations.

 

Thanks to Egmont UK for my copy of Grandpa Christmas. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Endling – The Last by Katherine Applegate

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Extract: 

And then I saw them.

All of them.

My mother.

My father. 

My siblings.

They were piled on the ground like discarded hides, blood pouring, white and pearly, soaking the leaves, eyes glassy and open, mouths open. Torn and stabbed.

They lay in a mound, as if they’d been too late to scatter, my parents on top, protecting as always. 

I ran. 

(Endling – The Last by Katherine Applegate. P45.) 

birdbreakSynopsis:

Humans are not the only intelligent species. Byx is a Dairne – one of the governing species. Dairne have been hunted for generations. When her pack is killed, Byx is forced to confront the possibility that she may be the last Dairne alive.

Joined by Tobble the wobbyk, and a girl who disguises herself as a boy, Byx sets off in search of the legendary haven which is said to protect and home other Dairne. As new friends and allies join her, she confronts a secret which may threaten every other creature in the world.

The first book in a new trilogy.

birdbreakReview:

An extraordinary middle-grade adventure which explores the way humans treat other animals. Set in a world which humans govern alongside other intelligent species, Katherine Applegate shows how the human urge to dominate leads to death and destruction.

Not all humans in the story are bad – some, like Khara, seek only to survive under the rule of the Murdano. Khara’s storyline explores gender roles and gender stereotyping. She disguises herself as a boy so she can use her gift for tracking in order to survive and send money home to her family.

The book is not solely about extinction – at its heart is the last remaining member of a species, trying to figure out what it means to be something which almost doesn’t exist. Anybody who remembers the news stories about Lonesome George – the last-known Pinta Island tortoise – will remember how he became a figurehead for the damage wrought by humans.

None of the characters are perfect – Khara initially holds Byx captive, and Byx herself has eaten Wobbyk. This makes the story feel more realistic and the themes more pressing -this is not about poor, innocent animals and nasty humans. It is about the difference between taking to survive and taking through greed and power.

Katherine Applegate writes the perfect scene – short and concise, giving the reader a little more information every time.

A wonderful addition to the canon of children’s books our place in the natural world. Empathising with Byx will make it easier for readers to empathise with other animals. This is an ambitious world but the fact that totally fictional species are made so believable is an achievement. I look forward to continuing the trilogy.