Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

The Boy Who Fooled The World

Extract:

‘Cole,’ she repeated, crouching down to study the picture more closely. Her wide-legged trousers brushed against the side of my picture, leaving a streak of blue paint near the hem. Those trousers probably cost more money than my mum earned in a month.

‘Yes, erm … Cole Miller,’ I said, gulping.

‘I can see it. I can see exactly what it is you were trying to do,’ she said. 

(The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson. P51.) 

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

Synopsis:

Cole is sick of being poor and the taunts he endures at school only get worse after everyone finds out that his Dad doesn’t work at all.

Then Marina, an artist who is visiting the school, claims to see potential in Cole’s work. She takes it to her gallery in London where it sells for a thousand pounds. Marina reckons that the next painting will sell for even more.

The only trouble is there was nothing really special about the first one. Cole can’t see for the life of him what the big fuss was. He considers owning up, but his family desperately needs the money. Cole is under huge pressure to produce the next masterpiece and the growing media interest doesn’t help. Then Cole does something. Something that fools the entire world.

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

Review:

Lisa Thompson has forged a reputation for unbeatable contemporary middle-grade stories. Her stories get right to the emotional heart of her characters’ experiences and The Boy Who Fooled The World is no exception. Cole is struggling with being the poor kid in school and never having the money to join in with everyone else. He also loves his family lots and is fed up of the judgement cast over his parents.

There are two big stories going on in this book. The first centres around an unsolved art mystery that allegedly leads the solver to great riches. The painting with all the clues happens to be housed in the local museum where Cole’s Mum works. The museum is due to close down so if Cole and his friends want to find the treasure they are running out of time. The second story is about Cole’s sudden rise to fame when a modern artist sees something in his work that he never intended. Lots of questions are posed early on and it is impossible not to want to know what happens in the end.

The emotional stories are strong too. Cole wants the jibes to stop to the extent that he is desperate to find his family some money. He never stops to questions whether this is everything he needs in life. His best friend Mason, meanwhile, comes from a very well-off family but hardly ever sees his parents. When he does, there is immense pressure on him to uphold their very high standards. It was interesting to see this contrast. Sometimes people write off the concerns off middle-class children because everything that matters is OK. Yet it is impossible to put into words what family time and praise and happy family relations mean to a kid.

That’s not to say Cole’s situation isn’t shown with sensitivity. The descriptions of his coat and the rubbish heating system inside his house and the school trip letter that he almost doesn’t bring out of his bag paint a picture that is sadly too common at this moment in time. The scenes with Cole’s Dad are brilliant too – how people in society are so uncomprehending of his choice to put his children first and take time out of work. How he is treated as a lesser person the second he explains what he is doing. These scenes give readers a chance to reflect on their own attitudes away from the prejudice of other influences.

This book has a great plot line and strong friendships and I think Lisa Thompson is one of the most amazing writers of contemporary middle grade today. Her books are one-sitting wonders that are impossible to put down and they promote kindness and empathy.

A must read.

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Boy Who Fooled The World. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

img_9202
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.

img_9182
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.

img_9187

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

 

Picture Books · Uncategorized

Review: Leyla by Galia Bernstein

Review: Leyla by Galia Bernstein

img_9078

Leyla has a big family. A huge one. They’re always around, making noise and fussing over each other and generally getting in the way. One day Leyla’s has enough. She heads outside and goes off on a big adventure. She meets a lizard who teaches her to find a quiet space inside herself, and to enjoy the outdoors. 

A cute and relatable picturebook about large families and small living spaces. 

Leyla has a huge family, but it doesn’t take a big family to get on top of each other. With young families struggling for space, especially in cities, many children today will be familiar with the difficulties of not having enough personal space. 

Leyla discovers three things during the same adventure. She finds the quiet of outdoor space which is open to everyone. She learns to meditate or to enjoy her own inner peace. Finally, when she returns home with a minor injury, she learns that it is always better to have family and be loved, even if it means struggling for space. 

The baboons in the story have such extraordinary facial expressions and poses that I feel certain Galia Bernstein has spent lots of time observing them in life and learning their mannerisms. The early pages show Leyla squashed in with her family, with no other background, but when she gains a new perspective we see the baboons life close to a large outdoor space. I love the contrast between Leyla squashed in among her family and the next pages where she explores the outdoors. 

A story which appears to be written from the heart, with a lovable cast of characters. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Kids for my gifted copy of Leyla. Opinions my own.

Guest Post

Guest Post: Christmas Around The World

cpost3

Today’s post is from Christina at Chrikaru. Christina is a special friend. We are bookshelf-twins, and equally obsessed with getting our hands on every book available. Christina’s other interest is language-learning. Her blog is filled with fantastic multi-lingual flash-cards. She speaks four languages fluently, and is learning four others. Her talent has taken her to other countries, and she has spent Christmas around the world. She has shared her experiences of other customs and traditions. A HUGE thank-you Christina, and it is lovely to welcome you to my blog. birdVietnam

This was my first Christmas overseas and away from my family – I was pretty young and me and my roommate had to work as Christmas day is not a holiday in Vietnam. My roommate’s dad and my brother came out to visit us, bringing the essential supplies of crisps and chocolate. Christmas dinner was local crabs and noodle soup, eaten on a rush mat on the floor of our tiny room, followed by a sing-along with several hundred of our students at the university. Bizarre but unique experience!

Ireland.

Cpost1Christmas back home is a three day celebration. Christmas Eve is spent driving around visiting the extended family, drinking lots of tea, catching up and exchanging gifts. Most years we also went to our church for mince pies, carols and midnight service. Presents from friends and extended family go under the tree straight away, but presents for the immediate family are a bit different. Our family tradition is to conceal them in our rooms, then each member of the family has to sneak downstairs and put them under the tree…all without being caught of course! Christmas Day was always Mum, Dad, my brother and me. The day usually starts with getting stockings from the end of bed, then us all coming downstairs and having breakfast (parents are both diabetic so this is an essential!). My job has always been to sort the presents into piles for each person, then we start opening them. My dad usually likes to read the paper in the morning so I normally have to chivvy him to actually open his gifts! After that we all go for a long walk. When we were younger we used to go to a Christmas morning service too. Then a light lunch before the cooking of Christmas dinner begins in earnest. As a kid I always felt very grown up at Christmas because it was my job to get our special tablecloth out and set the table. The tablecloth started off as a plain white linen one, then my mum embroidered it over the years to commemorate special events e.g. when each child was born, trips overseas, etc. It’s lovely to reminisce about these every year at Christmas! Boxing Day is always spent with my sister and her family – usually we go to her house, exchange gifts and have a second Christmas dinner! On the 27th, most years, my family would host a party at our house when anyone was welcome – a chance for me to see my friends before the New Year and to catch up with people that we hadn’t managed to see before Christmas. Is this very different from your traditions?

Japan

cpost2I was an exchange student in Japan for a year and celebrated Christmas with a mixture of students from all over the world. It was weird having to go to class on Christmas morning! After that each student cooked a dish from their home country to bring to a party, then we shared Christmas traditions from around the world. This still ranks as one of the achievements I am most proud of – cooking a roast dinner in a portable oven about the size of a small toaster! Strangely for me, Christmas Eve is a much bigger deal than Christmas in Japan – it is seen as a romantic day so you often see couples out and about on Christmas Eve. The second Christmas I spent in Japan was with my boyfriend and we spent the day eating lots of amazing Japanese food and playing in the snow!

Italy

Despite being an exchange student in Italy for 5 months, unfortunately I wasn’t there for Christmas. I would really love to spend Christmas there one year, particularly as I love all the stories that surround the holiday there – Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) might bring some presents but the main gift-giving occurs on the Epiphany when La Befana ( a witch) brings presents to children.

China

I spent 4 Christmases in China. Christmas Eve is much more popular but Christmas Day is a normal working day for most people. In my first year I went to work, then to have burgers with a group of my work colleagues! In the second year, we clubbed together with a group of expat to cook a Christmas dinner in my favourite café, fittingly called the Bookworm (a lending library and restaurant completely walled with books!) In the third year and fourth year my work organised a Christmas party and Christmas Day was a quiet one at home with friends. It felt quite odd as most people in China didn’t even really seem to be aware that it is a special day for anyone. In the four years I spent there I did begin to see a change though; every year the number of shops or businesses with Christmas decorations up increased.

Now I’m back living in the U.K.. This year I am spending Christmas with my partner’s family in Austria where they take Christmas very seriously – so excited to find out some new Christmas traditions! How are you planning to spend Christmas this year? Do your family have any traditions they follow? Would love to hear your thoughts!