blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Three Ways to Grow your Creative Writing by author Emma Read.

Blog Tour: Three Ways to Grow your Creative Writing by author Emma Read. 

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It may sound a cliché but writing is an escape.

These days, when our worlds have shrunk and our daily lives have become limited to the experiences within our own four walls and the queue at the supermarket, many people turn to writing to open the door to somewhere else.

Perhaps you’ve decided to write that book you’ve always dreamed of. Perhaps your teacher has asked you write a story as part of your home-schooling. Perhaps you’ve just read a brilliant book and want to write about what happens next.

If so, here are a few tips to get you started and keep you going – now and beyond the Lockdown…

TIP ONE

Catch your ideas

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They are flighty little things and when float in they are just as liable to float right out again. Keep notebooks. Everywhere!

Write down all your ideas – be they character names, or settings in a strange world, or a magical item. I write down dreams. Not necessarily the whole, bizarre detail, usually just images or feelings that have lingered. You might find yourself struck by an idea while watching TV, or reading a news story. Or maybe by something you hear over the fence – the scratch of squirrels, the neighbours playing football, or an alien spaceship landing on the balcony (or was it just the cat?)

 

TIP TWO

Read something different

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By which I mean – if you’re like me, and generally read fiction, try something like:

  • Non-Fiction – e.g. How to be Extraordinary, by Rashmi Sirdeshpande
  • Poetry – Like Poems to Live your Life By, Illustrated by Chris Riddell
  • Comics or Graphic Novels – My current favourites are Bunny vs Monkey, by Jamie Smart, and Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi.
  • Scripts – Take a look at Dr Who, Episode One – The Woman Who Fell to Earth.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts/doctor-who-series11

 

Reading outside your normal scope of media opens your mind to new ways of expressing yourself, new language and also sparks new ideas.

 

TIP THREE

Have adventures!

No, you don’t need to run away and join the circus, or take up with a gang of treasure-mad pirates. But once we are allowed out-out again, have your own adventures. Try something new, even if it feels a bit scary. As a writer, we create fantastical images and write these from our imaginations. But to make them feel real and relatable we weave our real-life experience into the words. The more experiences you have, the more you’ll be able to bring to your writing.

So, for example – your main character is running away from a dragon, and has to climb a sheer rock face to get away. The dragon comes from a picture in your mind, but the effort and nerves felt when climbing the cliff comes from that time you went on a climbing wall at the sports centre.

Or perhaps your hero has to eat a strange alien food. You can go to town describing the food, then really bring it to life by recalling a time you ate something new and unusual for the first time.

 

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I hope these tips have been useful and you find yourself escaping to somewhere new and exciting. Happy writing, happy reading … happy escaping!

 

 About the Author

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty, which was one of The Times’s Best Children’s Books of 2019, and the sequel, Milton the Megastar (both Chicken House Books). The MILTON series is written for younger readers and is all about finding courage, good friends, and doing amazing things – even if you’re a spider the size of a raisin! Emma lives in Bath, and never sweeps up cobwebs.

Find out more at: https://www.emmareadauthor.com/

 

Catch the other stops on the tour:

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Thanks to Emma Read for your amazing content. Thanks to Laura Smythe PR for organising.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd.

Blog Tour: The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd.

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Guest Post: The Billy Goat Curse by author of The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley, Amber Lee Dodd. 

In 1945, William “Billy Goat” Sianis brought his pet goat, Murphy, to Wrigley Field to see the fourth game of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. However, many fans weren’t too happy to have to stand next to the badly behaved and rather smelly goat. So they got together to get William and Murphy booted from the stadium. But as William and Murphy where being led from the stadium, William promised to have his revenge. Later that day William reportedly put a curse on the team. Ever since, the Cubs have had legendarily bad luck. More so than any other team in the league. Don’t ever mess with a man and his goat.

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Synopsis:

Noah’s family never stays in the same home for very long. Legend goes that a curse was placed upon them long ago to ensure that they were never able to settle. Twelve-year-old Noah is about to move into his thirteenth home – and this time, he would like to remain. He not only has friends at school. For the first time in his life, Noah is one of the cool kids. Everything is great, even if he feels awkward about the way his friends treat his new neighbour, Neena.

When the curse returns, with a flock of birds that attack Noah and Neena, Noah keeps quiet. The trouble is, the curse has a mind of its own, and it will take more than one boy’s determination to break it.

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Review:

A beautiful story of magical-realism that is set in a very ordinary world. Legend says that once upon a time, the Bradley family were given magical gifts to enable them to settle on an island. After becoming greedy and using these objects to strip the island of its resources,  the islanders cursed the family to always be chased from their home by the winds of the North. That was many years ago. Now, twelve-year-old Noah wants more than anything else to be normal.

Curse aside, the story is set in a very ordinary contemporary world. Noah’s life means he has gone from school to school, changing his identity every time to fit into his new surroundings. He has a knack for blending in. At one school, he was very academic. In another, he was a drama kid. Now, for the first time in his life, Noah is popular. This comes with trials as well as perks, because Noah feels compelled to laugh at Neena, the girl from over the road who he would otherwise have liked as a friend. This theme is explored beautifully, showing empathy with Noah but not ultimately excusing his behaviour. Adults can be too quick to say that’s just fitting in when dealing with issues of childhood popularity, but bullying is bullying, and no child should be on the receiving end.

Noah’s family also experiences additional upheaval when his Dad insists on leaving for a time to work abroad. Living with the curse has taken its toll, but it is never easy for children who feel that their family has become too much for a parent. The constant moves, too, will be relatable to many readers. With increasing numbers of children moving from one rental property to another, plenty of readers will identify with Noah’s confused sense of identity.

The characters are created with such empathy that reading the story is like seeing straight into their souls. I especially loved Noah’s brother Billy. Billy is partially deaf, and the representation is spot-on. Billy’s hearing problems affect his life, but so does the way he is treated at times by other people. The things he struggles with need to be recognised and accommodated for without Billy being treated like a baby. He is also finding his own identity for the first time, and this causes Noah endless anxiety. Why must his brother wear girl’s tops? Doesn’t he know what happens to boys who carry sparkly backpacks? People with disabilities, as well as autistic people, often face this kind of overbearing guidance that makes it difficult for their own confidence to develop. Seeing this represented in a children’s book was wonderful because stories enable empathy to grow.

A great story, with strong characters, relatable problems, and a really memorable premise. I raced through the pages and the story was so vivid that I could almost hear the birds of the North.

 

Check out the other stops along the tour:

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The Thirteenth Home Of Noah Bradley is available now. RRP £6.99.

My copy of the book was provided as part of a promotional blog tour. Thanks to Scholastic UK for sending my book, and for inviting me to take part.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

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Extract:

As sunset bloomed in the west like coloured ink spreading in water, Arthur and Maudie stood with Felicity and Gilly at the aft end of the sky-ship taking in the view of hills, rising and falling like gentle waves, criss-crossed with farm fields and woodland patches will full, blousy trees. It felt good to be under the wide sky again.

(Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy. P86.)

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Synopsis:

The Brightstorm twins are back for another adventure. Arthur and Maudie witness a burglary by their nemesis Eudora Vane. The very next day, Eudora announces a search for the missing explorer Ermitage Wigglesworth – the person whose house she has burgled.

Arthur, Maudie, and Harriet Culpepper are convinced that the search is a cover for something else. What could Eudora Vane want in the legendary Eastern Isles?

The Eastern Isles are almost impossible to find and hold many secrets of their own. The twins are separated for the first time in their lives in a territory which they hardly know. Will they be reunited? Will they work out what Eudora is up to in time?

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Review:

A spectacular, high-flying sequel to hit adventure novel Brightstorm. This is perfect for readers who dream of big, daring adventures. With skyships and jungles and magical continents, Darkwhispers builds on the legacy of the first book as an exciting and intelligent story about exploration.

Arthur and Maudie are separated for the first time and this allows us to know them better as individuals. We see Maudie’s vulnerabilities and Arthur’s desperation to live up to his brilliant sister. Grief for his father causes him difficulties, and at times people write off his reactions as being grief based. Arthur’s emotional narrative plays a strong part in the story and he grows as a character. 

The new settings are as memorable as the old, and there are some new creatures, not least the Darkwhispers of the title.

There is not only a love for geography in these books but complete and heartfelt respect. The worlds are brought to life with care and detail. It feels as if Vashti Hardy must have visited them to give the reader such a clear picture. Her worldbuilding offers questions about our own world – could we invent power sources that do no harm to the environment? Are the other animals around us more intelligent than we give them credit for?

Vashti Hardy has confirmed herself as an exceptionally strong storyteller. Her narrative is told with a confidence that allows her imaginative ideas to soar. I look forward to reading whatever she writes next and hope that there will be a return to Arthur and Maudie’s world.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Darkwhispers. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

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Extract:

Betty took it, her heart beginning to beat fast again, but this time it was with excitement rather than with fear. She unfolded the paper carefully, but even as she did so she knew it was a map. Hand-drawn in black ink, with a decorative nautical star in the corner. 

(A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. P72.) 

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Synopsis:

The Poachers Pocket is on the market and Betty Widdershins is desperate for her family to leave Crowstone. Then, one night, the prison bell tolls, and a mysterious girl arrives on the doorstep, accompanied by marsh wisp.

Willow escaped the prison island with her mother. Her father has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Charlie is kidnapped in Willow’s place, and the people who have her aren’t even who they claim to be.

The clue to freeing her, and saving Willow’s family, lies in an old map, a secret island, and a folk tale about three brothers.

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Review:

The Widdershins are back. Their pinch of magic this time is matched by a folk tale about three brothers who were faced with a sprinkle of sorcery. With escaped prisoners, pirates and a magical island, this has all the ingredients of a fantastic tale.

Betty Widdershins takes Willow in at a great cost. Her own sister, Charlie, is kidnapped, and their granny is endangered by the same people who take Charlie. This constantly challenges Betty, as she battles with her consciene and the ultimate question – should she give up one child to guarantee the security of another? It is impossible to stop turning the pages as the stakes for everyone get higher and higher.

This exceptionally popular series introduces some new characters. There’s the ethereal Willow herself, who washes up in the night like a Dickensian waif. She’s tougher than she first appears, though, and this is what offers hope that the injustice that sees her father in desperate trouble will be reversed. Then there is Sniff. Sniff is introduced halfway through the book. He’s a pirate, right, tough as they get … except there’s more to Sniff’s story, too, than it first seems. There are also cats. Cats in all their glory.

Alongside the main story runs a folk tale about three brothers: Fortune, Luck, and Hope. Initially, it builds like any moralistic narrative. Fortune blunders his choices, valuing wealth over the right things. Luck has kinder values, but the wrong approach. Then things get interesting – because fairytales, as every reader knows, have at least some basis in real events, and real events are tied to specific locations.

This understanding of the relationship between place, narrative and real events underpins the series. Harrison’s Essex marshes begin with the real Essex marshes and a real folktale. Where that story originated from, of course, is left to speculation. The tales of the Widdershins sisters read exactly like that imaginative narrative. That if three magical sisters once lived on an island in the Essex marshes, then maybe they owned three magical objects … and with Harrison’s confident storytelling, it is possible to believe that those sisters are real people.

Michelle Harrison’s adventures promote a sense of wonder in the world. They are not only excellent narratives, but they leave the reader ready to embrace life and all the adventures it holds. A Sprinkle Of Sorcery is a triumph, and the Widdershins sisters are already listed among the greatest families of children’s literature.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD for sending a proof copy ahead of publication. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Q&A with Annabelle Sami, author of Agent Zaiba Investigates – The Missing Diamonds.

Blog Tour: Q&A with Annabelle Sami, author of Agent Zaiba Investigates – The Missing Diamonds.

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About Agent Zaiba Investigates – The Missing Diamonds. 

Zaiba is at the Royal Star Hotel for her cousin Sam’s mehndi party when she learns that a VIP guest is staying in the hotel. Alongide her brother Ali and their friend Poppy, Zaiba sets out to learn the VIP’s identity. What they uncover is a whole lot more exciting. 

A dog has gone missing. A very important dog with a diamond collar. More to the point, some unknown person let the dog off the lead. Zaiba, Ali and Poppy use the principles of the great fictional detective Eden Lockett to solve the mystery and save Cousin Sam’s mehndi party from being remembered as a total doggy disaster. 

Agent Zaiba Investigates is fast-paced, funny, and it is also slightly lighter than some of the popular middle grade mysteries. Murder can be frightening – even fictional murder. A missing dog is more managable, especially with a team of dedicated agents on the case. The story also has a strong cast of characters, from the main characters right down to the passers-by. Every person in the story is so well imagined that reading it feels more like watching it play out. From emotional bride Sam to bossy, infuriating cousin Mariam, everyone is so memorable. This will make it a strong series because the reader will recall all the characters when they pick up the next instalment. 

I offered a chance to put some questions to author Annabelle Sami, and her answers are worth reading for budding detectives and aspiring authors alike.

Thanks to Annabelle Sami for your time and to Stripes Publishing LTD for the opportunity. 

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Q&A with author Annabelle Sami. 

 

Q. How did you decide what the mystery would be?

A. I worked with my friend Karen Ball at Speckled Pen on the storyline, and we both agreed that a mystery set at a mehndi party would be exciting! Hotels are perfect locations for hidden staircases and a variety of guests/ suspects.

 

Q. Will we hear more about The Snow Leopard Detective Agency in future adventures? Can you tell us anything more about its history?

A. Yes, Aunt Fouzia does tell Zaiba a little more about some of the cases the agency is working on. Of course it’s all supposed to be top secret, but Aunt Fouzia does occasionally let the odd detail slip.

 

Q. Zaiba’s family feels so real. Have you got any tips for aspiring authors about bringing minor characters to life?

A. Think about the minor characters in your book like the cast in a film. You want to make sure you have a wide variety of distinct characters, who all bring something different to the story. You should be able to ‘see’ every character, no matter how minor, in your minds eye. This means that when you’re writing them, they come across as fully formed, realistic, characters.

 

Q. What tips would Zaiba give to other young detectives?

A. Zaiba knows that being organised is key to a good investigation. That means taking thorough notes, photo evidence and making lists are all very important.

 

Q. Zaiba is inspired by her favourite fictional detective, Eden Lockett. Did any fictional detectives inspire your writing?

A. Nancy Drew will always be the ultimate girl detective! However, I also like Violet from the series by Harriet Whitehorn and the Murder Most Unladylike books by Robin Stevens.

 

Q. Please can we have a hint on the kind of adventures we might see next from Zaiba, Ali and Poppy?

A. Hmmmm, in the spirit of Zaiba, here’s a series of clues: 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of summer fun and a dash of a deadly ingredient!

 

My copy of Agent Zaiba Investigates – The Missing Diamonds was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions about the book remain my own.

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.) 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.

Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.

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Extract:

Chaya stood up and ran. A searing pain shot through her leg and all the way up. It was useless. She was in too much pain. This was it; they’d find her here eventually. 

And then in the distance, through a blur of pain, Chaya saw her getaway vehicle. 

(The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.) 

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Synopsis:

Chaya can solve anything. A broken leg that requires emergency medical treatment, education fees, roof repairs … Chaya is happy to steal from the rich if it means that the people in her village are able to cover the cost of their basic needs. Then Chaya steals the Queen’s Jewels and her best friend Neel takes the blame.

The King doesn’t take kindly to thieves. Even falsely accused ones. Unless Chaya acts fast, Neel will lose his live.

Together with rich, lonely Nour, Chaya breaks Neel out of prison. Together with a stolen elephant, the King’s elephant Ananda, the children escape to the jungle.

They need to find a solution before the village suffers for their actions.

 

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Review:

Are you ready for adventure? Chaya is the new daredevil protagonist to win readers’ hearts. Her habit of causing real trouble is matched only by her determination to do the right thing. Think break-ins and breakouts and epic getaways. And an elephant named Ananda.

This novel challenges us to question our definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Chaya does something illegal when she breaks into the palace. However, the people of Chaya’s village aren’t able to meet their basic needs without the theft and the King hasn’t raised a finger to help. He lives off the profit of the land and allows the villagers to go without. This context opens some interesting questions about morals and actions. How far would we go to have a secure life? Does this make Chaya’s actions right? We see very early on that what Chaya does is a gamble and that it can lead to greater and more desperate trouble. However, there was no doubt for me as a reader that my empathy lay with her. This is a brilliant middle grade novel to introduce topics about social injustice – a topic which is sadly all too relevant in the present day.

 This is also a story about revolution, without the focus on the bloodshed and sacrifice that is more common in YA. We see that scary things happen, desperate things, but the story itself is mainly about Chaya’s escape and return to the village. This allows younger readers to learn about the idea of revolution without seeing the scarier parts in lengthy detail.

That’s not to say the stakes aren’t high. We know the King won’t relent unless he is fought.

The friendships in this story are wonderful and the tensions between the children are clear. Chaya wants to do right. Neel can see that the cost of Chaya’s actions might be too high. Nour wants company and friendship – a big thing to her, but she struggles to see that Chaya isn’t playing games. I loved what Nour brought to the story. Middle-Class children are too often derided in fiction without any consideration given to the fact that they are young too, and only know their ‘normal’. This story empathises with Nour while gently showing that she hasn’t seen enough of the world yet to understand the wider picture. She is naïve and often frustrating to the other characters, but she is also good-hearted and willing to stick by her new friends.

I love stories where the main characters aren’t natural bosom buddies. The development, and the way they come together, is often deep and memorable. This is the case with The Girl Who Stole An Elephant.

This is pure middle-grade brilliance and deservedly Waterstones Book Of The Month for January 2020. Prepare to have your heart opened and to fall in love with this fantastic adventure.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my proof copy of The Girl Who Stole An Elephant. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

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Extract:

Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it earlier.

 ‘I will go with you,’ Rose said to the bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animal’s great paw flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.

(North Child by Edith Pattou. P91.)

 

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Synopsis:

No matter how hard her mother tried to deny it, Rose was born facing North. And just like the old stories about North-born children say, she longs to venture far from home.

When her sister gets dangerously ill, and the family is in danger of losing its home, Rose makes a pact with a mysterious white bear. In exchange for her sister’s survival and her family’s prosperity, Rose follows the bear to a strange palace where she remains with him, uncertain why he called on her.

Rose spends her days exploring the palace and weaving in the sewing room. At night somebody sleeps beside her, but she never quite sees this person’s face. The more Rose sees of the palace, and the more she comes to like the bear, the more curious she gets.

Can she unravel the secret of the palace without ruining her own destiny?

 

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Review:

It has been some time since I got so thoroughly immersed in a book. This is a story told in multiple voices, often in short chapters, but the plot is so satisfying and the language so beautiful that I lost myself within its pages. Reading it was like sinking into a dream and I spent my days waiting for the chance to pick the book up again.

Inspired by the fairy tale East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, North Child is mainly about two characters: Rose, the adventurous girl who was always destined to leave her family, and the mysterious white bear. We also hear from the Troll Queen, our antagonist, and her story of desire and greed and heartless cruelty interweaves with those of the main characters.

Rose’s mother, father and brother Neddy are also given narrative voices. This may seem unusual at first, but Pattou pulls it off with great skill and the result is that we get a rounded picture of Rose. We learn about her home life and the people she loves even when she is miles away from them.

It seems no coincidence that weaving and threads are motifs within this narrative. The writing itself is like many richly coloured threads worked together into a tapestry.

There are so many memorable imagines within this story. Rose working at a loom to create herself a cloak fit for adventure. The White Bear carrying Rose over a frozen landscape. Rose and the Bear playing music in their many hours together in the palace. This is a very visual, very detailed story that remains in the mind in vignettes much like a fairy tale.

An epic tale about love and possessive desire told by a great storyteller. If you love fairy tale adaptations or simply good writing, this one is for you. The perfect story for long Wintery nights.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending a proof copy of North Child. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton.

Review: The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton.

The Mask Of Aribella

Extract:

Something pale was emerging out of the mist behind the boat, behind Theo. Something so strange and so terrifying that it looked as if it had come right out of a nightmare, with two dark eye sockets and a face that gleamed, white as a bone … A human skull floated in the mist, detached from everything.

The dead have risen. 

(The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton. P39.) 

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Synopsis:

On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Aribella discovers that she has a secret power. She can shoot magical flames out of her fingertips. Venice is not a place to stand out and the strange incident is witnessed by none other than the Doge himself. Afraid for her safety, Aribella runs away.

Then she witnesses a skull-like spectre rising from the Island Of The Dead.

Rescued by a secret organisation that exists to protect Venice, Aribella sets out to learn about her own unique magical skills.

However, Venice is in danger and the attacks must be stopped before the Blood Moon.

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Review:

Venice is a setting beloved by writers of literary fiction and I am delighted to see it appear in a middle grade fantasy. The history of Venice – its art and architecture and gondolas -lend rich material to fiction. Anna Houghton has used this to brilliant effect, weaving in mask makers and the waterways and the infamous Island Of The Dead. She has also created a very secret society of her own.

Aribella’s powers mark her out as a Cannovacci – someone with magical talent whose duty is to protect and guard Venice. Like the best fictional societies it is rich in traditions. Every member wears their own unique mask, messages come in through the mouth of a stone lion and their secret hiding place is known as the Halfway Hotel. I was able to get into both the world and think that it offers younger readers an exciting introduction to Venice.

There are other kinds of secrets too, darker ones, that keep the plot rolling along and the reader guessing.

Aribella is a wonderful character, determined to get past the grief that has overshadowed her family life for so long. Her friends play a big part in the story too, both her non-Cannocacci friend Theo and her new friend Seffie. The conflict between her old and new life, and Theo’s acceptance of Aribella’s new role, all make a rich emotional narrative.

Middle grade fantasy is really having a moment and this will be perfect for readers who love the genre. It is also very much about friendships and family, so it would make a lovely introduction to the genre for readers who prefer contemporary fiction.

An exciting narrative from a new voice in middle grade fantasy.

 

The Mask Of Aribella is available from Chicken House Books now. RRP £6.99

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my copy.

Blogmas 2019 · Guest Post

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read.

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read. 

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As autumn comes to a close and spider season is done, we might be ready to forget about mini-beasts and think more about Christmas feasts.

But as a bug lover (and author of Milton the Mighty) I’m here to share a few interesting facts about some of my favourite creepy-crawlies and wishing you all a happy holiday and bee-sons greetings. No bah! Hum-bugs I hope.

 

The Little Things That Matter

 

Making up 97 percent of all animal species on earth, invertebrates are, according to ecologist E. O. Wilson, “the little things that run the Earth.” Though small, their ecological importance is huge – we rely on invertebrates to pollinate flowering plants, consume pests, recycle and compost waste and turn over the soil. Without them our whole ecological system would rapidly collapse.

There are so many wonderful ‘little’ things we can do to help the environment in 2020, and with invertebrates in mind, perhaps you might consider a New Year’s resolution to love bugs a little bit more? Here’s a song to get you in the mood while you wait for Ant-a-Claus.

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas, by the Invertebrettes

 

12 Tansy beetles – These pretty beetles have iridescent elytra which the Victorians used to wear as jewellery. They are now on the endangered listbugmas 1

 

11 Furry bumblebees – Dumbledore was named for the Old English word for bumblebees!

 

10 Tortoiseshell butterflies – Also endangered, but on the increase thanks to greater awareness and public support

 

9 Leopard slugs – What’s to love about slugs? They are the great recyclers of the garden, disposing of decaying organic matter. They are also a favourite food of hedgehogs, which are in severe decline in the UK

 

8 Chirping cicadas – Although thriving in Europe, the cicada may already be extinct in the UK

 

7 Seven-spot ladybirds – Known colloquially as bishy-barny-bees and dowdy cows, ladybirds are often favourites in the insect world. Contrary to all the ladybird juice drunk by the spiders in Milton the Mighty, ladybird blood is actually toxic to most would-be predatorsbugmas 2

 

6 Ladybird spiders– Possibly even more beautiful than actual ladybirds, this spider was thought to be extinct for over seventy years. Rediscovered in the 1980s this species is now protected.

 

5 Yellow jacket wasps – Yes, they’re a pain at picnics, but wasps are actually one of our most important pollinators and pest controllers, particularly partial to aphids

 

4 Stag beetles – Their population is not known but they are considered endangered. Members of the public are encouraged to report any sightings to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species

 

3 Common centipedes – Another super pest controller and friend to the gardener, centipedes are one of the oldest animals on Earth, some have been found in fossils dating over 400 million years old

 

bugmas 32 Painted lady butterflies, in a butterfly kit – this is a lovely way to encourage children to care for invertebrates and learn about the wonders of nature. Ladybird breeding kits are also available

 

1 And a false widow on the Christmas tree. Much maligned, the false widow is neither deadly, nor invading. They’ve been here since the nineteenth century and are super pest controllers. If you’re not convinced maybe Milton the Mighty might be able to help!

 

Resources:

 

https://wildearthguardians.org

 

https://www.buglife.org.uk/

 

https://www.theschoolrun.com/homework-help/spiders

 

 

About the Author

 

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty (Chicken House), which was one of The Times’s Best Children’s Books of 2019. MILTON is a story for younger readers about finding courage, good friends, and doing amazing things – even if you’re a spider the size of a raisin! Emma lives in Bath, and never sweeps up cobwebs. The sequel to Milton the Mighty, Milton the Megastar is available for pre-order here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/milton-the-megastar/emma-read/9781912626069