Young Middle Grade

Young Fiction and Younger MG roundup: May 2019

Young Fiction and Younger MG roundup: May 2019

img_9110

The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman 

Mrs Minty’s bookshop is the most important place in Milly’s world. It is run by Mrs Minty, who is a walking, talking encyclopedia of stories. She’s also getting a bit slower. A bit creaky.

One day the bookshop is closed and a woman packs all the storytime rugs and cushions into a van. Milly can’t imagine the bookshop vanishing, and she wants Mrs Minty to know how much it means to the community. Unable to contact Mrs Minty, Milly sticks a picture on the bookshop window. Then a strange thing happens. All kinds of pictures and messages appear.

A  heartwarming story about the role of independent bookshops.

Nothing replaces the knowledge of a good librarian or bookseller … and there is nothing more magical than the moment a young customer looks at you with an open mouth and says ‘have you read every book in the world‘? I know because I played that role for eighteen months. It was special every time.

No algorithm can replace the knowledge a bookish person has of themes or settings or character development.

The illustrations show the contrast between the warmth and colour of a bookshop and the dull cold of other shops. Although bookselling is a retail job … it just isn’t. Because while shifting books is important, the conversations between bookseller and customer mean so much more.

Another fabulous title from the new Colour range from Stripes Publishing.

 

img_9111

Little Dolphin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye

One minute Fliss is in a swimming lesson, admiring the artwork at the bottom of the pool. The next minute she is on a tropical island. 

While she is out swimming in the coral, Fliss meets a little dolphin. Then she meets some fishers who explain how much care take to remain a fair distance from the corals and to free any animals caught up in their nets.

When Spinner gets trapped in some netting which has been left on the ocean floor, Fliss must use all her Future Vet determination and bravery to free him before he becomes a meal for a shark. 

The second book in Little Rescue series. 

Sometimes I get a book I know I would have loved as a child, and these stories are exactly the sort of thing I would have stuffed down the side of my bunk bed and read early in the morning. Fliss’s love of other animals goes beyond toys and posters. She truly wants to learn about them.

There is also a bit of magic in the way Fliss is transported to another setting. It is the superpower lots of small children would pick, and it enables Fliss to see new parts of the world. 

Too often stories about animals put humans in a dominant role. Even rescue books can fall foul of this. If the human’s only interaction with the animals is as a rescuer, and no time is given to spending time alongside or learning about other species, it reinforces the idea of humans in control. Rachel Delahaye’s stories introduce the idea that we share interactions with creatures other than humans. That we should respect them equally to ourselves. If the current climate catastrophe is to be reversed, we need people to adopt this worldview fast. 

A great addition to the series. 

 

Star Friends – Moonlight Mischief by Linda Chapman. Illustrated by Lucy Fleming

A cloud of dark magic is hanging over the village of Westcombe. 

Luckily the girls and their Star Friends are alert for any trouble. When the village is entered for the Best Kept Competiton, strange things begin to happen. At the same time, an elderly resident takes against the local schoolchildren and demands that they keep away from his house. Could he have something to do with the dark shades? 

Another great installment in the Star Friends series. 

I love the magic in the Star Friends books. It starts with a bond between a human and an animal, and every person has a different magical talent. These talents reflect the girls’ personalities. The dark magic, while creepy, is written with its young readership in mind. It keeps the reader hooked but there is nothing to induce nightmares. 

The books always have great contemporary storylines mixed in with the fantasy. As a result, the friendship group has grown stronger over the series. 

The illustrations show wonderful observations of animal behaviour and the girls remind me of the Lego Friends. (There is *huge* potential for reenacting this series with Lego Friends and some Lego animals). 

 

The Hideaway Deer by Holly Webb 

When Lola moves house she misses her old life. That is until she finds the huge garden and the deer who come to visit. When she finds a little foal stuck in some netting, Lola is determined to help. 

Looking after the fawn causes some friction at school. A group of girls is jealous about the attention Lola receives from her teacher. Lola doesn’t mind though, not when it brings her closer to her new friend Paige. 

When Lola’s Uncle asks her to keep a secret about the fawn, Lola agrees not to tell anyone. Will keeping secrets from Paige spoil their friendship for good?

A beautiful story about animals, friendship and how wild spaces can help us through times of change and hurt. Paige and Lola come together because of their shared respect for animals, but sometimes sticking to our own principles can mean upsetting other people

Holly Webb creates some beautiful settings. Lola’s garden is no exception. The deer come through the fence early in the morning. It is a real wildlife haven. 

 

Shine – Lily’s Secret Audition by Holly Webb

Lily has never felt like she belongs at stage school. Even though her parents both have connections to the industry, and everyone expects her to do well, Lily has never been certain it is the place for her. She’s always worried that she only got the place because of her mother’s reputation. 

When Lily asks to be put forward for an audition for a television adaptation of her favourite book, her teachers are doubtful. If Lily can’t put the effort in during regular classes, how will she pull it out for the dramatisation? They put her name forward, but the pressure is on for Lily to perform during school time. 

Can Lily get to the bottom of her issues about stage school in time to pull off the audition?

A lovely story which encourages us to empathise with people no matter how perfect their lives seem. Lily appears to have it all. A big house, wealthy parents, connections in the industry … and yet she’s been under immense pressure since she was a small child. Her Mum can’t understand that Lily might want other things. That it might be tough to live up to a big name. And sometimes Lily wants her parents to step back and allow her to achieve things on her own. 

From the day she auditioned at stage school, Lily has felt certain she only got in because of a name. That she hasn’t got the same talent as her friends. 

This series is brilliant at showing the flip-side of the coin. After following Sara, whose parents don’t want stage work to get in the way of normal education, we meet Lily whose mother would have seen her with acting credits from an early age. Neither girl is badly off. Both girls have issues to overcome.

Shine is a wonderful series. It has a wide cast, emotionally involved storylines and encouraging messages to everyone who ever had a dream. 

img_9035

Level Up! By Tom Nicoll. Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

Flo and Max can’t believe their luck when they are taken inside a video game. How many other children land directly on the moon? Then the Emperor’s son Gary captures them, mistaking them for the infamous player known as the Red Ghost.

The children will have to win to escape the game, but how will they do that when the Red Ghost has hacks and cheats at his fingertips?

A wonderful story which is true to all the best gaming experiences.

There are some brilliant themes, especially the attitude Flo experiences as a female player. Other characters question how a ‘little girl’ can win the game. With female technology journalists opening up about the discrimination they have faced in a male-dominated world, it is important that the next generation grow up confident that gaming is for anybody with the skill.

The illustrations show the children in a realistic world which has gaming-inspired touches (such as electricity bursting out from the weapons).

The next story in the series looks set to be in a Minecraft style building game. Looking forward to seeing this series grow.

 

img_9043

 The Naughtiest Unicorn by Pip Bird. Illustrated by David O’Connell

Mira has always dreamed of going to Unicorn School. When her dreams come true, she vows to be a good student and gets lots of medals. Then she is paired with her unicorn, Dave. Dave has other plans. Most of them involve eating, and none of them involve being Mira’s best friend. How will she ever win lots of medals if Dave doesn’t cooperate? And what use will he be on a magical quest if he can’t behave?

A fun story filled with friendship, sparkles and lots of droughts.

The Naughtiest Unicorn didn’t feel like a typical unicorn book. Certainly, there were rainbows and magical quests, but there was a healthy dose of dung and doughnuts and everyday school pressures to counter the fluff.

After all, why should every unicorn be handsome and brave? How boring would it be if we were all the same? Even so, Mira puts herself under a lot of pressure to achieve results and she needs to connect with Bob to get through the year.

The illustrations are a must. Think grumpy unicorns pulling faces while Bob misbehaves. These stories will be popular for the pictures alone.

A fresh take on unicorns brings a whole lot of fun to these stories.

 

img_9034

Dennis In Jurassic Bark by Nigel Auchterlounie [A Beano Adventure]

The Mayor of Beanotown is determined to bring some of the dinosaurs from Duck Island to the Beanotown zoo, and nothing will stop him. Due to an asteroid which hit many years ago, everything on Duck Island is small, but if the asteroid were tampered with the dinosaurs would grow to a normal size and spread out across Beanotown.

Dennis and Gnasher set off to stop the Mayor from spoiling Duck Island and unleashing the dinosaurs.

A story of fun, action and interactive puzzles.

Favourite Beano characters come together for a novel sized adventure. Minnie the Minx wants a pet dinosaur, Walter is a walking fact file and Gnasher has fangs to challenge the biggest prehistoric beasts. I read the Beano aged six or seven and considered myself a loyal fan. It offered an escape from the rules made up by adults and showed me a world where children ruled.

The mixture of puzzles and games in the book offers incentives to reluctant readers while proving that stories can take any number of forms.

A fun-filled adventure which sees Beanotown go Jurassic.

 

img_8935

Ada Twist And The Perilous Pantaloons by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Ada Twist has an inquiring mind. Every question leads to two more questions, and every answer leads to a better understanding of how the world works.

She’s the perfect problem to help Rosie Revere with a problem. Her Uncle Ned is wearing a pair of helium pantaloons, and the rope which is supposed to keep him anchored to the ground came loose. Now it is caught on the top branch of a tree. How can Rosie and Ada get him down?

With her friends the Questioneers, their combined brainpower and a bit of help from her brother’s tennis racquet, Ada Twist saves the day.

A brilliant story which centres around scientific problem-solving.

This story looks at the air pressure, air currents and how the behaviour of molecules changes at different temperatures. I am delighted to find a story built around scientific problems. Fiction and illustration can make a problem memorable and make readers excited about learning more.

Thumbs up for Ada Twist and the Questioneers. I am seriously late to the party but this series is popular for a good reason.

 

Thanks to Stripes Books, Egmont UK, Bonnier Books, Abrams And Chronicle Books and Laura Smythe PR for gifting the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Advertisements
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

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

The Middler

Extract:

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

She was a wanderer. 

(The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum. P23.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Synopsis: 

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

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

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

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams

Review: Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams

cloud boy.jpg

Extract:

I am not happy and neither are the clouds. Harry says they often reflect his mood and today they certainly reflect mine. 

(Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams. P15.) 

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

Synopsis:

Harry Christmas and Angie Moon are best-friends. Practically twins because they were even born on the same day. They spot clouds together, and do drawings and spent lots of time in their treehouse. 

Then Harry’s head starts hurting and it won’t go away.

Soon Harry is in hospital receiving lots of treatment. Angie records all his feelings in his diary. The ups and downs and how it feels to watch his best friend slowly fade away.

Meanwhile, Angie’s gran shares the letters she wrote as a prisoner in Changi. Learning about Grandma’s past gives both Harry and Angie a story to focus on. 

A story of friendship and courage told in diary form. 

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

Review:

Being a friend and building close relationships is the best thing in the world. It also means opening ourselves to the possibility of loss. Angie is faced with that predicament, but she shows what it means to be a friend all the way through a life-threatening illness. 

I loved the set-up. Harry and  Angie’s friendship is based on a range of shared interests and things they have always done together. It reminded me how deep childhood friendships went. They were everything. As a big a part of your world as siblings or animal companions. Remember those friendship necklaces and bracelets where you wore a half each? Childhood friends are like a part of us. 

Do not read this without tissues. Angie’s emotions as she watches her best friend’s health deteriorate are profound. At times she writes only very short messages in her diary, but those messages show how silence sometimes speaks louder than words. 

Is this strictly about cancer? I would say it is very much about the experience of being a friend to someone who is very ill. This is explored with sensitivity and while Harry is the centre of everyone’s world, Angie’s diary is a place where she can explore her own emotions. 

 A moving and memorable story with characters you will not easily forget. Smile and cry with Angie and explore what it means to be a true friend. 

 

Thanks to Walker Books UK for my copy of Cloud Boy. Opinions my own.

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Captain Cat And The Treasure Map by Sue Mongredien. Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst.

Sometimes pirates are useless.

img_8230Patch the pirate cat is always having to get her pirates out of trouble. From pirates overboard to spilled potatoes, there is always something going on. Patch is pleased when the pirates find a treasure map until it turns out the map is cursed. Captain Halibut won’t take anybody’s warnings, so it is up to Patch and her friends to stop the pirates before disaster strikes.

A hilarious first adventure about a pirate crew who would be sunk without their animal friends.

Patch the cat, Ginger the monkey and Cutlass the parrot run the Golden Earring. Captain Halibut thinks he does, but he’s lazy and unwilling to listen to anyone else’s views. This was a lovely new approach to the familiar adventure of pirates in possession of a cursed treasure map. There’s lots of humour in this story. Think silly pirate songs and wordplay and regular jokes from Cutlass the parrot.

Kate Pankhurst’s illustrations bring the story to life and the facial expressions on her pirates and animals give a lot of character.

A brilliant first in the series from a wonderful author-illustrator team.

 

Bee Boy – Curse Of The Vampire Mites by Tony De Saulles

img_8229Melvin Meadly is half bee, half boy. Bee Boy is back, and this time the hive is facing a deadly threat. A plague of vampire mites has taken over beehives all over the planet, wiping out entire colonies. There’s another more local threat too. The local bee-keepers are disappearing. Is this down to the hive-checkers who are checking for the vampire mites, or is something strange going on? The Bee Club is on to the case.

The third book in the popular Bee Boy series.

With real bees disappearing in such numbers, there has never been a more important time to educate children and adults about respecting and caring for bees. Bee Boy is filled with facts about bee-keeping and about the science of pollination which will open the eyes of both children and their adult readers.

I love the style of the illustrations. Although this is an illustrated story, it put me in mind of graphic novels and this will be popular with readers who prefer different formats. There is plenty of detail in the pictures for keen eyes, and I love how many conversations could be started from a single picture.

 

img_8290

Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow. Illustrated by Alison Friend.

Little Rabbit is bored. Her family and friends are all too busy to play. When her grandfather Big Rabbit asks her to help with some jobs, Little Rabbit is confused. Big Rabbit doesn’t have a job. Surely he spends all day with his friends? Then she joins him on a visit around friends and neighbours and finds out how much her grandfather does to make sure nobody in the community is overlooked. Inspired by his kindness, Little Rabbit makes herself busy and soon she and her friends are spreading warmth and kindness too.

A delightful story about generosity and sharing.

I always loved animal stories when I read books of this size as a child. From Bramley Hedge to Beatrix Potter, if the story involved dormice or rabbits I was twice as likely to listen. This is exactly the sort of story I would have loved, with its community of residents in their various burrows and dens.

Alison Friend’s beautiful illustrations bring so much to the story. Her work is so fine that every blade of grass seems to move in the breeze and the animals are made real by the texture of their fur. Their expressions are gorgeous too. They capture something of human facial expressions without distracting from the animal nature of their subjects.

I love this new format of books. The stories have a couple of short paragraphs on every page and would be suitable for the earliest reader. Although they look like early readers from the outside, they maintain everything that is wonderful about the picture book format.

 

Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen. Illustrated by Binny Talib.

Lula and Lenka are best of friends. They have different habits and tastes and personalities, which is all fine until the day everything goes wrong. It starts with something small – a broken promise and a forgotten pencil-case – but soon it escalates into breaking friends and swearing never to see each other again. As their personalities clash, both Lula and Lenka become increasingly unhappy. Will things ever be right between them again?

A lovely story which shows how different personalities clash, and how different personalities help each other to grow.

This is another book in the new Colour Fiction range, and it couldn’t be more beautiful. Everything about the book, from its endpapers to the story inside is beautifully crafted.

As well as being a story about friendship which will be relatable to a younger audience, this is a wonderful book for exploring the craft of writing. How do we make one character different from another? The fact that the two girls’ thoughts and reactions are shown in different fonts makes it easier to show how their choices show their different personalities.

This shows how beautiful and how creative younger fiction can be.

 

Jasper & Scruff by Nicola Colton

img_8383-1Jasper likes everything to be of top quality. The one thing he wants more than anything else is to join the Sophisticats, the society for sophisticated felines. Finally, he is invited to a Dinner Party where his merits will be tested. As he prepares to make his best impression, he meets Scruff. Scruff likes sloppy licks and rolling in mud and chasing after balls.

During the dinner party, Jasper finds himself spending the evening at the beck and call of the Sophisticats. Only Scruff is prepared to see him without judgement, but Scruff just isn’t up to Jasper’s standards.

A heart-warming story about the true meaning of friendship.

This book couldn’t be more needed. In the age of social media, judgment is no longer confined to dinner clubs. We’re all at it. What makes a likable profile or picture, what standards we expect to see if someone wants to be considered beautiful. If they put their food or their home up for judgment. It has never been more important to learn early that there are other values which matter more. That friendship shouldn’t begin with a talent contest and a judging panel.

The story also examines themes of inequality. Is it right that the Sophisticats have multiple-course meals when others are starving?

I adore the illustrations with their muted purple-and-orange pallete and their sketchy style. They are the sort of pictures which look effortless but take great skill. I hope they will encourage young artists to pick up their pencils and draw townscapes and indoor scenes.

 

img_8291

Ellie And The Cat by Malorie Blackman. Illustrated by Matt Robertson

Ellie is obstinate and rude and bad-tempered. She doesn’t want to stay with Grandma and she’s not afraid to let people know it. When her behaviour goes too far, Grandma plays a trick of her own. She uses magic so that Ellie is forced to switch places with Jolly the cat. She challenges Ellie to find a lost ring if she ever wants to be a girl again.

Suddenly Ellie needs the help of those around her like Dimple the mouse and Vinegar the spider, and she’s not going to get it by being rude. They’ve also got to contend with the real Jolly, who quite enjoys being a girl.

A brilliant read from a classic author.

This reminds me of stories I read in my childhood, particularly of stories by Dick King-Smith. The adventure takes place over a short time period, it is set in a place familiar to the protagonist and it still manages to have excitement in every chapter. These stories are lovely for newly-confident readers. The challenge must be to keep the reader hooked without overcomplicating the plot. Malorie Blackman has done this to perfection and I highly recommend this to newer readers.

 

Laura Norder – Sheriff Of Butts Canyon by Guy Bass. Illustrated by Steve May.

Long ago in the Wild West, a place called Butts Canyon was run by Laura Norder. After seeing off the fearsome Ten Gun Ben, Laura decides that she and everyone else will live by her ten golden rules forever. That’s when the real trouble starts. People keep breaking Laura’s rules, and as her enforcement gets stricter, rebellion stirs. The mysterious Duncan Disorderly leaves messages all over town in protest at the Golden Rules.

Can Laura unmask Duncan Disorderly and reinstate her rules?

A brilliant read which will be highly relatable to many children. It can be difficult accepting that, although our ideas of how to manage the world come from the right place, there is no way to enforce them. Management belongs to specific spaces at specific times of the day. Outside of those, there is no manager. It is not for us to enforce order. Doing so not only makes us unpopular, it causes real hurt.

The story achieves a brilliant balance in showing that Laura’s feelings come from the right place, but to be a real sheriff, she needs to learn the responsibilities and limitations of the role.

Illustrations from Steve May add extra humour. Think fat mayors and mean bandits and all the characters familiar from cartoons.

 

Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence. Illustrated by Becka Moor.

One morning a toad lands on Leo’s head. Soon the toads are turning up all over town. They’re not ordinary toads, either. These are flying toads, the like of which have never been seen before. Rosa’s Dad Raj is making a special nature programme about the toads and he thinks they’re related to the cane toads which eat everything in their path. Leo and Rosa will have to act fast before the Exploders eradicate the toads.

A wacky and wonderful tale which brings an old plague to the modern day. Animal plagues have been around since Biblical times, but never before have they been captured on smartphones. This is a story for the latest generation.

Becka Moor’s illustrations are as lively and brilliant as ever. Spotting the flying toads will bring amusement to young readers.

 

Arlo, Miss Pythia And The Forbidden Box by Alice Hemming. Illustrated by Mike Garton.

img_8319-14X, now 5P, is back. Their last teacher came from the Stone Age, but even though Mrs Pythia doesn’t wear animal skins, she’s definitely not normal. For one thing, she always seems to know what is about to happen. And can it be a coincidence that she shares her name with the prophets of the Ancient Greek world?

As 5P rehearse for their play of Pandora’s Box, they must fight the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s very real box. Once again, it falls to Arlo to be the leader and keep his classmates safe, but can he do it all alone?

Another hit from the author and illustrator of Arlo, Mrs Ogg And The Dinosaur Zoo.

This looks set to be a brilliant series, following Arlo, his classmates and a string of teachers who don’t exactly come from the age of OFSTED. I kept turning the pages to see whether the box would be opened and once again I loved Arlo’s distinctive voice.

This author-illustrator pair is a perfect match. It feels as if the drawings sprung up to match the text and they add to the humour with extra details and brilliant facial expressions.

A series to look out for, and one which will be popular with teachers introducing historical time-periods.

 

The books in this post were gifted in exchange for honest review. Opinions remain my own. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books UK, Oxford University Press, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Maverick Arts Press for the gifted copies of your books.

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Closest Thing To Flying by Gill Lewis

Review: The Closest Thing To Flying by Gill Lewis

img_8231

Extract:

Many years ago, another girl her age had sat looking at this bird. 

Something about it had changed her life. 

Semira wondered if she and the diary were somehow connected, as if her whole future were bound up within its pages.

Maybe this small green bird could unlock the secrets of Semira’s past. 

Maybe it could even change Semira’s whole life too. 

(From The Closest Thing To Flying by Gill Lewis. P19.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Synopsis:

Semira and her mother have no choice but to live with abusive, angry Robel. If they tell immigration the truth Robel says they will be sent back to Eritrea. When Semira breaks the rules and buys an old hat at a junk store, she finds a diary written in the 1800s written by a girl called Hen.

Hen writes about the social expectations of women, and how fearless aunt Kitty is for forming her own opinions. Reading about Hen and Kitty makes Semira feel braver, but will it be enough to help herself and her mother?

A touching and beautiful story about the powers and limitations of bravery.  

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

There is a saying. The battle’s lost but not the war. This is a story about knowing where we stand against injustice and oppression, but also knowing the limitations of what we can do alone.

Both strands of the story were beautiful. I felt I knew Semira straight away. She’s been through some difficult times and has learned through necessity to keep her head down, but she is also a fighter. A rebel. She hasn’t allowed Robel to dictate her thoughts.

Hen lives in a society where women are forced to adhere to strict rules, but the earliest signs of rebellion are happening underground. After riding a bicycle and feeling liberated, Hen questions what else women might do.

The other character who deserves mention is Semira’s real-life friend Patrick. Patrick is bullied at school and misunderstood, but he shows Semira true friendship and loyalty. As his story unfolds the reader is reminded people have experienced far more than we know from the surface.

This is also a brilliant historical and political novel, showing how the formation of the RSPB (then the Society for the Protection of Birds) was founded by a woman in protest to the use of feathers in fashion. We also see the social undercurrents which later lead to the women’s suffrage movements, and the trials faced by refugees in Britain today.

What could have been a serious book is exceptionally uplifting. We can find friends in the darkest of times, and those friends can be the catalyst we need to challenge ourselves. They also offer cake and company and an open door.

A beautiful story from an established and popular author. This made me desperate to seek out Gill Lewis’s earlier work, and I look forward to catching up on her other stories.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The Closest Thing To Flying. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Guest post from Claire Fayers, author of Storm Hound.

Blog Tour Banner High res.png

Blog Tour: Guest post from Claire Fayers, author of Storm Hound.

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Storm Hound, a middle grade adventure about a storm dog who falls to earth and meets a girl in Wales.

What is a storm hound? To answer that, you’ll have to look to mythology, and to Claire Fayers. Her understanding of the relationship between place, mythology and adventure is one of the things which brings the book to life.

I was delighted to be offered a guest post from Clarie, and to hear more about the mythology which fed into her story. Thank you to Claire for your time. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

The Missing Mountain Top

“What is geography, after all?” said Professor Nuffield. “It’s the study of the land, and you can’t begin to understand a land and its people until you know something of their legends.”

Wales is a land of legends, and the Black Mountains around Abergavenny have more than their fair share. A group of red sandstone hills, wrapped around in green
heather, just the name conjures up castles, magic and ancient battles. I spent many pleasant hours walking in the mountains when I was researching Storm Hound. One of my favourite walks is to the top of Skirrid Fawr. It’s quite a low mountain and you’ll spot its distinctive shape straight away. The long peak has a dip in the middle as if a large part has been scooped out.

The mountain’s name comes from the Welsh ‘Ysgryd’ which means split. The most
likely explanation for the missing piece at the top is a landslip in the Ice Age, which
formed Ysgryd Fawr (big Skirrid) and the nearby hill Ysgryd Fach (little Skirrid). But the most likely explanation is not the most interesting and the inhabitants of the Black Mountains have come up with many more exciting tales.

 

The Crucifixion
The first story says that the mountain split in sympathy at the exact moment of Christ’s death. Because of this, Skirrid is also known as the Holy Mountain, and people used to take handfuls of the soil to scatter on crops, houses and churches for good luck.
There was a church on the mountain peak – St Michael’s Chapel. You can still see
the ruins if you climb up.

 

The Devil and St Michael
Welsh folklore is cluttered with tales of people outwitting the Devil. In this story, the
Devil tried to tempt the archangel Michael. When, inevitably, he failed (because who
in their right mind would try to tempt an archangel), the Devil stamped in rage on the
mountain and broke it.

 

The Devil and Jack O’Kent
There’s a large flat stone on the top of Skirrid, where the Devil played cards with a
local giant known as Jack O’Kent.

Once, the two of them got into an argument about which mountain was higher – the nearby Sugarloaf, or the Malvern Hills across the border in England. It turned out to be the Sugarloaf and the Devil, losing his temper yet again, scooped an apron full of earth from the top of Skirrid, meaning to dump it on the Malverns to make them taller. (The Devil, it seems, is a very bad loser.) But his apron broke and the earth and formed the little Skirrid hill.

Because the Devil never gives up in these tales, he later challenged Jack that he
couldn’t jump from the top of Skirrid to the Sugarloaf. Jack succeeded, and left a
giant footprint in the top of Skirrid.

 

Skirrid Ghosts

Finally, while you’re visiting the mountains, you should also visit Skirrid Mountain Inn,
which is said to be the most haunted building in Wales, and probably the whole of the
UK. Maybe even the most haunted place in the world given the number of ghosts
who are queuing up to frighten people.
I have to admit, I’ve never seen any ghosts, but you never know what you might find
with an open mind and a dash of imagination.

 

Thanks to Karen Bultiauw for arranging this opportunity.