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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson).

Review: Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson).

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Extract:

Lina dragged her feet along the platform, and then she saw her, just up ahead – a teenager in bright blue boots. Lina watched as a man rudely barged into her. But then the most peculiar thing happened: he bounced off her as if she were nothing but bones and magic. The teenager turned and mouthed something at the man. Something that looked a lot like –

‘HAG!’ Lina shouted.

And then everything went black.

(Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson). P7.)

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Synopsis:

Lina wishes her parents would see magic as something more than a fairy tale which their daughter will soon outgrow. Lina just knows there are magical creatures in the world – like Odge, the hag who finds Lina at Vienna Central Station.

Odge is on a mission. Mist has been taken over by harpies. Many of the magical creatures have been expelled and the royal family have been forced into hiding. The gump – the portal which allows people from the ordinary world into magical one – is about to close, and if the harpies are not defeated before then it will be years before the citizens of Mist have another chance to return.

Meanwhile, the little furry creatures known as mistmakers are not well and it is their magic which protects the island.

Can  Lina help Odge and her friends to heal the mistmakers and defeat the harpies before the gump closes? A whole new adventure in the world created by Eva Ibbotson in The Secret Of Platform 13 begins.

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Review:

When I was nine my school librarian placed a book into my hands. ‘You’ll really enjoy this one’ she told me. It was The Secret Of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. I enjoyed it so much that, when a certain Platform 9 and ¾ started to gain more attention later in the same year I told everyone smartly that Platform 13 was already quite magical enough thank you very much. I remember dreaming about Eva Ibbotson’s world in the playground and sneaking the book outside to read it during my lunch break.

The original book is the story of a missing prince who disappeared into the human world nine years ago. It is about a rescue party, led by a wizard and a certain ogre called Odge, sent to find him before the gump closes for another period. In Beyond Platform 13 Odge returns older and wiser as a key player in a rebellion group whose aim is to overthrow the usurping harpies. Except, instead of finding the person she is sent out into the human world to discover, Odge brings back Lina – a young girl with a big imagination and a suspiciously fluffy backpack.

With high stakes and an impossibly short about of time to oust the harpies, Lina and Odge have their work cut out. Luckily they are helped on all sides – by Prince Ben, and a ghost rat named Magdelena and Netty Pruddle the hag who is prepared to risk her life going undercover as a handmaid to the harpy Queen herself.

Lina is a lovely character. She is the child with such a big imagination that the ordinary world simply doesn’t feel good enough. She doesn’t think she can possibly belong in a world of school and work and nine-to-fives and tax returns and absolutely no witches or warlocks at all. Anyone who has ever banged hopefully on the back of an old wardrobe or checked the doormat on their eleventh birthday can relate to her. As much as she wants to remain with her parents, her heart belongs in a more magical place altogether. This theme carries through the book and the conclusion Lina comes to is beautiful. Belonging and being in a physical place can be two very separate things. This is not only relevant to the modern-day, but it pays tribute to Ibbotson who came to Britain as a child refugee from Austria.

Sibéal Pounder was the perfect choice to write the next story in Ibbotson’s world. Pounder too develops rich and complex worlds, and like Ibbotson, her magic has something of a lighthearted touch. Pounder’s stories, like Ibbotson’s, deal with serious subjects like war and revolution while maintaining a kind of playfulness and an awareness of the line which a seven or eight-year-old would be too afraid to cross. They never underestimate the reader- quite the opposite, in fact – but they narrate the tale in a way which is entertaining and exciting to young readers. Pounder is the perfect successor to Ibbotson and she has done the world justice in this new tale.

A magical story for readers of all ages. Whether this is your return to Mist or an introduction, it will capture your imagination in the same way that Ibbotson’s work held mine almost twenty years ago.

 

 Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of Beyond Platform 13. Opinions my own. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

The House Of Light

Extract:

He was shivering. His feet were bare. His clothes torn. She was sure he hadn’t eaten for a long time. But he seemed intent on moving the boat. He rocked it back and forth, loosening it from the snow and sand. He lifted it up from one end, and with a deft shove he flipped it right over. He must be much stronger than he looked. He began to push the boat away from the dunes, away from her, down the beach.

(The House Of Light by Julia Green. P32.)

 

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Synopsis:

Bonnie and Granda live quietly together, keeping to themselves and following their own interests in spite of all the regulations and rules from the authorities. One day, Bonnie finds a battered old boat on the beach. When news comes that the Border Guards are searching for a boy, Bonnie decides to find him first.

Ish has travelled a long way. He is cold and hungry and alone in the world. He needs shelter but keeping him safe is a criminal offence. As Bonnie and Ish talk about art and borders and people who pass through the island, Bonnie begins to wonder if there is a place out there where she can be free to live without fear of regulations. Would she be brave enough to search for such light?

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Review:

In a sea of divisions, hatred and narrow ideas, it can be difficult to know where to look for the light. Children are currently faced with news stories about global crises and politicians who shut these out to focus on their own agenda. I remember, as a child, being frightened about what 9/11 meant. Goodness knows how today’s children feel.

This masterful novel offers readers a safe space to think about these issues. It is also a story of empathy and friendship. From the moment I saw the boat, I wanted the owner to find shelter. To find people who cared. Julia Green creates powerful images which draw us in long before we know the details.

Bonnie is aptly named. She lives in a time of tight controls, where obedience and conformity are enforced, but she has been taught other values. About art and empathy and places far away. She drinks the world in, combing beaches and singing with Granda and dreaming of a time when people were free to see other parts of the world. She is a vessel of all the beautiful things which are less valued under the regime she lives in.

Her outlook is beautiful. It offers hope because so long as someone remembers these values, they are not lost. They can return.

This is a novel of our times, but it is also a novel of nature. Of outdoors. Julia Green’s books make me want to get out an explore as much as any nature biography. Her descriptions conjure the setting so well that becomes real, and the story is peppered with facts which would make anyone hungry to explore. Her books remind everyone that nature is miraculous and out there discover.

Although the themes of this story sound bleak, Julia Green is a masterful writer, and the main feelings which the reader would take away are hope. Hope and a sense of wonder at the beautiful things which are out there to find. At the difference one small person can make. This is children’s literary fiction at its finest. A beacon of light and a beautiful story.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The House Of Light. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Butterfly Circus by Francesca Armour-Chelu

Review: The Butterfly Circus by Francesca Armour-Chelu

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Extract:

The applause builds anyway until the benches are shaking. I can’t help myself; I turn to look. 

The silks flap emptily and Belle’s nowhere to be seen. 

(The Butterfly Circus by Francesca Armour-Chelu. P29 -30.)BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Synopsis:

Sisters Tansey and Belle are the stars of the Butterfly Circus. Their trapeze act turns them into human butterflies. Then a bad accident leaves Tansey on the ground. Afraid to get back on the trapeze, she is certain her career is over, so she doesn’t see what happens the night Belle disappears.

The best lead is an invitation from a rival circus. Determined to find Belle, Tansey sets out on a search which takes her across the isle of Gala. Tansey’s shadow comes to life and drives her on in the quest to find out what happened.

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Review:

A story about bravery, confidence, friendship and rivalry. Tansey is certain she will never be brave enough to fly through the air again, but she doesn’t know just how many wonderful things are hidden inside her.

Stories set in performance spaces are always a treat and The Butterfly Circus is no exception. Drawing on the golden age of the British seaside holiday, Francesca Armour-Chelu has created a world of piers and promenades and fairgrounds and music halls. It is also a world of poor health and hard grind. The people on the mainland are worked to the bone, and they are only permitted to enter the holiday island of Gala if they are scrubbed down. Candyfloss and sideshows may seem light, but they came from a time which was difficult in many ways. In a world where so many things glitter and shine, it is easy to see the dirt.

Tansey has always looked to her big sister Belle for confidence. Belle is quite literally the person who catches her when they are performing, and in life she is the person who stops the pair falling flat. However, when Tansey is on her own and her shadow Rosa comes to life, Tansey finds a whole new personality to admire.

The challenges Tansey faces during her quest come in different forms. At times the story is almost Dickensian, with the threat of the orphanage looming large and disgusting characters with equally odious names prepared to kidnap children and work them to the bone. The idea of ‘freak’ shows is also explored, and it is clear from the story that it doesn’t take much for someone to be labelled as different.

A strong protagonist whose story teaches us that there are different ways to be brave. This is a story which is all about the internal struggles of the protagonist, but those are brought to life in a beautiful and visual way. Although there are plenty of circus stories for children, this one adds to the canon with its darker edge and brilliant characters.  

 

Thanks to Walker Books Ltd for my gifted copy of The Butterfly Circus. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

Review: Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

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Extract:

‘You and me, Mr Macey. Together we’ll clear this house of invaders.’ 

‘So, you’ll kill them?’

Felicity smoothed down her corduroy skirt.

‘Every. Last. One.’ 

At this point, Milton stopped having thoughts altogether. He went cross-eyed, eight different ways, and fainted.

(Milton The Mighty by Emma Read. P30.)

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Synopsis:

When spider Milton discovers he has been branded deadly by a popular internet story, he realises his life is in peril. His house human has a phobia of spiders and will go to any length to destroy them, which makes him an easy target for Felicity Thrubwell whose pest control business thrives on fear.

Milton’s only hope is to prove he is not a deadly spider. Luckily he has help. Milton’s eight-legged friends are on board, and so is the younger human Zoe. Together they set out to straighten out the facts.

But will that be enough to stop Felicity Thrubwell?

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Review:

A story about a little spider with a big heart. Milton’s quest to clear his name and save spider-kind is the sort of animal tale I loved when I was small. Dick King-Smith was one of my favourite childhood authors, and this reminds me of his work. It has the same mix of charm and resilient characters, with up to date technology.

Milton’s campaign for justice is balanced with a whole load of creepy crawly fun.

The theme couldn’t be more relevant to our times. Milton has always had trouble from some humans, but a piece of viral internet content turns the whole world against him. And it’s just not true. Milton isn’t a killer spider. Emma Read resists an anti-internet stance. Instead the book shows that the internet can be used for good or bad and that we must trust our own judgement and knowledge.

Zoe is a wonderful character. She’s having trouble at school because she just refuses to cave into the anti-spider hype. She knows better. It is good to see a role model who sticks to her principles and is determined to make a change. Like Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has turned heads and opinions, Zoe knows that making a change isn’t about being big or special. It’s about being unafraid to get your message out.

This is also a book about friendship and the power of changing our habits. Fears and actions can be ingrained. It takes kindness and understanding – not anger – to help people change their ways.

A fantastic story with two heroes (a spider and a girl) whose resilience, determination and kindness make them perfect role-models to us all.

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Early Reader Reviews · Picture Books · Young Middle Grade

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

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Flat Stanley is back, and this time he is in picture book format.

When a pinboard falls on Stanley, it squashes him flat. Flat as a pancake. Changing shape has advantages and disadvantages. Stanley’s brother can fly him like a kite, but Stanley also gets stuck up a tree.

When the local museum reports trouble with sneak thieves, Stanley comes up with a cunning plan to help. A plan which only someone who is flat can enact.

A humorous adventure from the author of the original Flat Stanley titles. This is a very similar story to one in the original book, but the words have changed to bring it to a new audience.

img_9403Changing shape and doing things which nobody else can is a big dream at a certain age. The Flat Stanley stories play on this to great effect, but they also explore the downside of feeling different. Stanley faces physical obstacles and he is also on the receiving ends of unkind comments and thoughtless behaviour from other people. This more than anything makes him wish to be the same as everybody else.

Stanley is lucky to have a big brother, Arthur, who is always there to help him. The sibling relationship in this story is as memorable as that in the Horrid Henry series. It is difficult to imagine Stanley without Arthur.

Rob Biddulph’s illustrations have brought the stories to life. Both in the picture book and the new collection of the Flat Stanley stories, Biddulph’s work adds energy and freshness which was missing before. Given that the stories are over 50 years old, it makes sense for the illustrations to be updated for the current generation.

Seeing the same brand in different formats is an encouraging new trend in children’s fiction. There is nothing more powerful at an early age than a familiar character. Think how small children are drawn like magnets to their favourite television characters. (For me it was Postman Pat. Everyone can name theirs.) Transitioning to chapter books can feel like a big jump, but knowing the character already takes away part of the work and makes it feel more like an adventure. For a great post about picture book/early reader pairings see this post by mother of small children and blogger Lilyfae. 

A bright and beautiful new edition of an old classic which will be a hit with a new generation. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

Review: The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

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Extract:

‘Old Crony lives in the woods. Deep in the heart of the woods. He’s been there for years. He’ll be the one that’s left the message, not some stupid spy.’ 

Beneath the dark line of his close-cropped hair, Johnny’s eyes stare with a strange fascination.

‘Old Crony eats children, you know.’ 

(The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon by Christoper Edge. P13.) 

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Synopsis: 

There could be anything in the woods. Even Old Crony, the legendary monster. They say he eats children. Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny set out in search of the truth.

First the trio get lost among the trees. Then they get lost in time. Faced with puzzles and questions and all kinds of revelations, Charlie fears they will never leave.

What if they remain lost?

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Review:

An intelligent middle-grade novel which demands a second reading. It begins with three children who get lost on the trail of a legendary figure. Events get stranger, puzzles deeper and the children are forced to question where they stand in time. And whether time exists at all.

The mystery of Old Crony builds tension throughout the story. Are the children in danger of being eaten? What kind of creature is it that lives in the woods?

As the puzzles are solved, the characters are faced with big questions. What is time? Are we ever in one moment?  

Science and Philosophy aside, this is a great story. It has a strong cast of characters – friends and frenemies. The fact that Johnny doesn’t begin the story as one of the gang makes it stronger, both at points of conflict and when they all manage to work together.

The reader, like Johnny, is forced to face their own prejudices as information about the characters is spelt out. Details we didn’t know are made clear. Reviewers often talk about these moments as big character revelations but we need to think a little deeper. Have we learned anything new? Or have we learned plenty about the character, about the person’s traits and interests, already? What difference does this new information make?

This is not only a story about time. It is also about nature. The two are inextricably intertwined, especially at this moment when our world is facing a climate crisis. Time (as the old riddle goes) eats men, women, children, animals and trees … and this time it might not only take individuals away. It might take every species. Towards the end of the story, our protagonist Charlie asks the question which must plague today’s children: what can I do when I am so young? The answer is encouraging and powerful. ‘You will change the world. All you need is time.’

A book which proves that stories for children can be both gentle and intelligent.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books and Clare Hall-Craggs for my gifted copy of the book. Opinions my own.