Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams

Review: Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams

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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.) 

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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. 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

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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.)

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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.  

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Storm Hound by Claire Fayers

Review: Storm Hound by Claire Fayers

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Synopsis:

Jess Price finds the cutest puppy in a rescue centre, but it turns out he isn’t any ordinary dog. He is Storm of Odin, the youngest puppy in the wild hunt, and he is in danger.

Storm hounds are full of magic, a resource which is running short in the human world, and there are people who would kill Storm for his magic. Meanwhile, Jess can’t tell whether the new boy at school has an agenda of his own.

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Review:

A magical adventure with a big heart. I love stories about magic which are rooted in folklore and place, so it was a delight to read Storm Hound which is set in Wales. It imagines a world where the figures from mythology are an eternal presence. The magicians of stories past are as alive today as they were centuries ago.

The relationship between Storm and Jessica is beautiful, and I love Storm’s unique voice. Although he is a tiny puppy, he has the voice and attitude of an ancient god. He thinks an angry neighbour as the Valkyrie-Lady and refers to Jess as his human servant. If you like stories which give you an insight into the thoughts of other animals, this one is for you.

This is also a story about a family finding their new normal after an amicable split. Jessica and her brother are from London, and the Welsh countryside is outside their experience. They’ve left their friends and everything they know behind to be with their Dad. They adjust to this in different ways. It was nice to see a story about a break that wasn’t traumatic. Sometimes separation is a healthy and mutual choice. Although it hurts, young readers need stories where the characters move forward with a positive outlook.

A gentle sense of humour makes this stand out among middle-grade fantasy adventures. Although the threat is there, and it has the potential to change the world, this story never felt dark or frightening. It maintained that sense of wonder and humour which is unique to children’s literature.

After Mirror Magic in 2018, a book which swept me away, Clare Fayers had a hard act to follow. I have to admit I was turning the pages until I reached the conclusion and will be back here for her next story.

 

Thanks to Karen Bultiauw and Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my proof copy of Storm Hound. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Review: The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

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Synopsis:

A mysterious letter arrives at Emily’s house, and then her parents disappear. When a terrifying stranger turns up at her door, Emily goes in search of answers and finds the Midnight Hour – a Victorian London frozen in time which is home to all people magical.

What secrets have her parents kept about their connection to the Midnight Hour? With two worlds in danger, Emily will have to hurry if she is to save the day.

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Review:

A fantasy adventure about a magical world threatened by a big bad antagonist. This story begins like many others. Emily believes she is an ordinary child until she discovers her parents have a connection to a hidden world. Personally, I don’t think these stories ever get old. Every new world and every set of characters bring their own unique magic to a tried and tested plot.

Like many other reviewers, I was spellbound by the worldbuilding and the backstory of the world. As science and reason became more prevalent in the 1800s, the magical community found itself under threat and needed shelter. Scientists and magicians worked together to build the Midnight Hour. This is why Big Ben was really built. I love it when children’s books offer fantastical explanations for ordinary things. This allows the readers to experience that sense of wonder outside the pages of the book. Next time I see Big Ben, I know I will be thinking of this story.

Emily is a feisty character with a reputation for having ‘the family gob’. I love heroines with attitude. Girls are often criticised quicker than boys for speaking out or pushing their own will, which is an imbalance we need to change. Headstrong girls in fiction encourage us to break away from tired ideas about nice girls and daring boys.

An adventure which will keep you awake and reading long after the clock strikes midnight. I look forward to reading more from this creative pair.

 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my proof copy of The Midnight Hour. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart.

Review: The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart.

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Extract:

‘Many of us feel that realities work like a spider’s web; a disturbance at one point leads to tremors being felt in many other places, just as a spider knows when a fly gets stuck in its trap.’

(The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart. P87.) 

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Synopsis:

Tess de Sousa was left at Ackerbee’s Home For Lost and Foundlings under strange circumstances. Years later, when a man comes to claim her, there is nothing Mrs Ackerbee can do except give Tess the strange device which was left with her when she was a baby.

Tess is taken to Roedeer Lodge by the sinister Mr Cleat. It soon becomes apparent that his interest in Tess is part of his own scheming. Added to that, Tess suffers unkindness from housekeeper Mrs Thistleton.

When Tess learns what her strange device is, and how it can connect her to other worlds, she realises she is part of a much bigger plan.

A modern classic with elements of The Secret Garden and His Dark Materials.

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Review:

Sometimes a special book comes along. One which keeps the reader awake into the night. Where the reader feels as if they have lived alongside the character and shared their experiences. The Star-Spun Web is such a book.

It must be a challenge to take on travel between multiple worlds as part of a story when everyone associates it with His Dark Materials. A bit like writing about a magic school. Not that there haven’t been many stories about these things, but in some respects it must be a hard act to follow. Full credit to Sinéad O’Hart, because she has not only pulled it off, she has written a story which is equally as compelling and memorable.

There is a great cast of characters, from the ‘outspoken’ Mrs Ackerbee to Tess’s best friend Wilf. Think strong females and people who look out for each other.

It was lovely to see a story with STEM elements in the plot which doesn’t feel like it is about science. There is also a gothic touch, with the orphanage and the big house and the mysterious chapel in the grounds. Tess is free to roam the grounds but she is isolated from the rest of the world. The sense of foreboding inside the house reminded me of The Secret Garden and Rebecca. We know from the behaviour of the people around Tess that secrets are being kept, and something has to give.

I also loved Tess’s relationship with her spider, Violet. Tess goes out of her way to protect Violet, and acknowledges that animals can provide friendship and company as equally as humans. I loved Tess from the word go because of her consideration towards Violet.

An adventure which will keep you awake into the small hours and leave you desperate for more. I am looking forward to a reread at the earliest opportunity, and can’t wait to hear more from Sinéad O’Hart.

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for my gifted copy of the book. This was received as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Sinéad O’Hart, author of ‘The Star-Spun Web’, introduces her new character.

Blog Tour: Sinéad O’Hart, author of ‘The Star-Spun Web‘, introduces her new character.

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About The Star-Spun Web

Tess de Sousa was left at Ackerbee’s Home For Lost and Foundlings under strange circumstances. Years later, when a man comes to claim her, there is nothing Mrs Ackerbee can do except give Tess the strange device which was left with her when she was a baby.

Tess is taken to Roedeer Lodge by the sinister Mr Cleat. It soon becomes apparent that his interest in Tess is part of his own scheming. Added to that, Tess suffers unkindness from housekeeper Mrs Thistleton.

When Tess learns what her strange device is, and how it can connect her to other worlds, she realises she is part of a much bigger plan.

I loved The Eye Of The North last year. The Star-Spun web not only met my expectations, it blew them away. 

I am delighted to welcome Sinéad to my blog to talk about her protagonist. Thank you Sinéad for your time, and to Leilah at Stripes publishing for organising this content. 

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Sinéad O’Hart introduces Tess de Sousa. 

Who is this girl, and where did she come from? Tess and Violet originally came into my head starring in a different story completely, but they had one thing right from the start: they were a team and were very definitely meant to be together. When I needed to redraft the story, Tess and Violet had to slot into a different world, but things worked much better then – they’d found their true home, and Tess and Violet seemed to come alive in my hands. As for where Tess came from: I really have no idea! Tess, complete with Violet and her full name and how she looked, just arrived in my head one day, even if her story needed a bit of tweaking.

 

What inspired her story? I suppose she’s inspired by the women scientists and adventurers who inspire me, as well as being the sort of character I like to read about in other people’s books. As for what inspired her story: the setting, and the historical reality at the time, had a lot to do with it. Incorporating a real-life historical event into the story meant I worked back from that point, trying to create an interesting chain of events which might have led up to it. Also, the building Tess and her friends live in (Ackerbee’s) is a real building in Dublin city centre, though it’s not a children’s home. It’s a building I’ve loved for many years and I always wanted to put it in a story, so having that setting helped too.

 

I feel like Tess would be one of my best friends in school. Is there a fictional character or characters that you’d have wanted to hang out with at break-time if they were real? Characters I’d have liked to hang out with at school would have included:

Tiffany Aching, (a young witch in training from the books by Terry Pratchett – she first appears in the book The Wee Free Men) Rose Raventhorpe (from the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series by Janine Beacham, Ivy Sparrow (from the Uncommoners series by Jennifer Bell), Coraline (from Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece Coraline), Lily and Robert (from the Cogheart series by Peter Bunzl, Twister (from the book Twister by Juliette Forrest) and the Brightstorm twins Arthur and Maudie from the Sky-Ship Adventure series first book, Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy). Imagine the trouble we’d cook up!

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for organising this content as part of a promotional blog-tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: January 2018

Young middle-grade round-up: January 2018

 

Bramble The Hedgehog by Jane Clarkebramblehedge

Bramble the Hedgehog has a wobbly tooth. Dr Kitty Cat’s advise is to eat lots of sticky food. When the little animals go to the funfair, Bramble embraces this advice. He eats lots of sticky sweets until he feels very poorly.

This is the latest title in a charming range which is perfect for children at the Squishy McFluff reading stage. The Dr Kitty Cat series incorporates pictures of real animals into the illustrations and is guaranteed to interest animal-lovers or to hook readers on cute factor alone.

The stories also include basic first aid and medical advice. I think this is a fantastic idea as too many people grow up unable to respond to basic first aid situations.

 

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The Perfect Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams 

Abi has always wanted a kitten, so she is really excited when Mum phones the rescue shelter. Unfortunately, the family lives on a main road where cats have been run over before. The shelter isn’t willing to house a cat there.

Then a deaf kitten arrives. Flower will never be able to go outside, so she is the perfect pet for Abi’s family … if they can only keep her indoors.

As the companion of two rescue cats, this story warmed my heart. I know that animals are as much a part of the family as humans, and how very much we worry about them when they go outdoors. What I liked about this story was it made clear that the needs of our animal friends come above our own wants.

 

Shine – Sara’s Dream Role by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

Sara is so pleased to have got a place at Shine stage school, but her parents would have preferred her to go to a normal school. If her marks aren’t perfect by the end of term, she will not be able to carry on at Shine. 

An audition comes up for the stage version of Mary Poppins. It is a role Sara has always wanted, but can she beat competition from fellow pupil Lizebeth?

The second book in the Shine series looks at parental pressure and rivalry from fellow pupils. It also sees Sara befriend a boy. For most readers, this series will be wish-fulfillment, but it always shows the hard work which goes into forming a talent.

 

Star Friends – Poison Potion by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming 

The latest installment in the series picks up where the last book left off. Three of the four friends still don’t trust new girl Essie, but she and her Mum are starting to settle into the village. Essie’s Mum even sells her own anti-aging potion. 

Then all the adults in the village start acting like children, and it is up to the friends to work out why. 

I am a big fan of this series, with its slightly folksy and magical feel. It does scary antagonists in a way which is just scary enough for its young audience. It is also firmly grounded by reality. There is at least one day-to-day issue such as peer pressure or friendship problems in every story. Unlike many of the younger middle-grade stories, these are best read in order as one story runs into another.) 

 

hotelflamingoHotel Flamingo by Alex Milway

Anna arrives at Hotel Flamingo to find it in a state of disrepair. The Hotel hasn’t had a paying guest for years because it can’t compete with it’s rival, the Glitz. Anna thinks this is a great pity because Hotel Flamingo had a reputation for welcoming all animals. She thinks there is space on Animal Boulevard for a hotel which is friendly and welcoming. 

She assembles a team and they get to work. Can they restore the hotel to its former glory and bring sunshine back to Animal Boulevard before the hotel inspector shuts them down? 

A bright and cheery story suitable for the youngest of middle-grade readers. I love the vintage style glamour of the hotel. It reminded me of Tiana’s diner in The Princess And The Frog. This will raise lots of laughs as Anna and her team try to meet the needs of every animal (the cat wants a litter tray, for example, while the Flamingos need access to a swimming pool). 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger UK and Piccadilly Press for the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell

girlwithshark'steeth

Extract: 

The Wild deep is a real ocean. An sea within an sea. You dive deep to enter its gate at Vintertide, then swim to a place of waves and sky, icebergs and islands. It is home to many marvels, Minnow, stranger than you dare imagine. 

(The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell. P66.) BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Synopsis:

Minnow has grown up listening to stories about an enchanted ocean called The Wild Deep. When two men appear on Minnow’s boat and take her mother away, Minnow must journey across the seas in time to save her mother. The only way she might get to the Caribbean in time is to cross the Wild Deep.

With her new friend Raife by her side, Minnow sets off to find out the truth about the fairy tales and her own magical abilities.

BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

A magical underwater quest about a girl who belongs under the sea as equally as she belongs on land. If you love fantasy stories where characters discover their magical heritage, this one is for you. Minnow is a shark-tooth and her mother once played a special role in the Wild Deep. A role which led her to trouble.

I adore the setting – the magical ocean with its different gates and zones, and the boat which Minnow calls home.

Thumbs up for an antagonist who isn’t all bad – JahJah began as a boy who loved the ocean but he used that love to justify terrible actions. His brother Ely is even more complex – warning Minnow’s mum that Jah Jah is coming but doing nothing to prevent his actions. It is lovely to see a fantasy where the characters aren’t pure evil or pure good. They felt rounded and human and it made a believable world.

With growing awareness of the damage humans have caused to the oceans, this story couldn’t come at a better time. One of the themes explored is whether humans have a right to see the magic of the ocean. The story doesn’t condemn anyone for being enchanted by the corals and underwater treasures, but it shows how that love can quickly turn to greed. To a lack of awareness of our planet. This would be a lovely novel to start a discussion about our responsibility to the sea.

A strong adventure which hooked me from start to finish. This would be perfect for fans of Abi Elphinstone’s stories, or for anyone who has ever dreamt of finding magic beneath the waves.  

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my copy of The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth. Opinions my own.