Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Kitty series by Paula Harrison and Jenny Løvlie. 

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Kitty wishes she could be a superhero just like her Mum, but she’s not certain she is brave enough. Then she listens to the magic of a starry night and discovers that she has special powers all of her own. What’s more, the cats in Hallam City need her help. 

Kitty’s very special powers make her the hero of the feline world. Together with the cats, she prowls the rooftops, ready to rescue those in need and to return priceless treasures to their rightful owners. This new series is exceptionally charming, with the action of any good superhero story but the friendship and security of a story for very young readers. 

The illustrations are a perfect match for the story. They have a slight roundness to them, making them feel cute and friendly, but the action comes across too. The orange and black creates a world that is dark but magical. There is always something brighter to ensure it is only scary enough. 

This is shorter than a young middle-grade story or early chapter book, but longer than a picture book. This format is growing in popularity, and for good reason – it allows less confident readers to feel like they have a ‘real book’ because it is divided into chapters and builds up a plot in the same way as a shorter novel. 

 

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic by Harriet Muncaster. 

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Isadora is back – half fairy, half vampire, and happy to play in the snow.

Isadora is disappointed and lonely after she is the only person not invited to a party, but not for long. Aunt Crystal – whose specialty is snow magic – comes to play, and soon Isadora has made a snow boy and a snow bunny and brought them to life. They are brilliant friends, but when he starts dripping, Isadora realises that snow magic can’t last forever.

Aunt Crystal makes a suggestion, but can Isadora come to the rescue?

A charming tale filled with sparkles and frost and the magic of friendship.

The Isadora Moon books are fabulous because they balance the pink and pretty with some dark and gothic. Children shouldn’t feel pressured to fall into one camp or another, and this series demonstrates that just being yourself is the best way to be.

This would make a lovely gift for a stocking or a Christmas Eve bag. It is long enough to snuggle up with and listen to over hot chocolate, but short enough to wrap up in one session.

 

Kevin’s Great Escape by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

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Kevin the roly-poly flying pony is back for his next adventure. He’s been very happy in his new home, with his friend Max, and Max’s big sister Daisy, and a constant supply of biscuits. Especially custard creams.

There is huge excitement when Misty Twiglet announces that she is moving to Bumbleford. Everyone knows who Misty Twiglet is. She’s the famous, all-singing, all-dancing pop star who has everything she needs. A car, a manager, and a ginormous house. Misty has everything – except a roly-poly flying pony.

Kevin isn’t the only one in trouble. Misty and her manager have trapped lots of magical creatures. Luckily, Max is on the case, and he’s not afraid to utilise his big sister …

A fantastic and funny tale from the amazing duo of Reeve and McIntyre.

Just picking this book up makes life feel instantly 325% better. It contains custard creams, guinea pigs, shiny-edged pages and a beautiful flying pony. Stories by Reeve and McIntyre seem to summon up all that is good and interesting and tie them together in a brilliant narrative. The illustrations are filled with such life and energy, too, that at times it feels as if they will burst off the page.

A must for readers who love whimsy and fun.

 

Speedy Monkey by Jeanne Willis. Illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne.

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Deep in the rainforest, everything is peaceful and quiet until Speedy Monkey arrives. He is a bit different from the other animals. He is bouncy, and jumpy and loud and happy and his energy is endless. Day and night, he moves and makes noises. Eventually, the other animals get fed up of him and he leaves their company.

Then a storm comes. Suddenly Speedy’s quickness and loud voice don’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

This is a charming story about acceptance and being true to yourself. It could also be used to open conversations about neurodiversity, especially ADHD and hyperactivity generally.  Knowing that everyone is a valuable member of society and that we don’t all present in the same way is pivotal if the next generation is to change the narrative and welcome true diversity.

The illustrations beautifully capture emotion with use of colour – the sadness Speedy Monkey feels when he is all alone, and the joy when he is accepted and welcomed back by the other animals.

Another big hit from the Stripes colour illustration range.

 

A Sea Of Stories by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Paddy Donnelly. 

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Grandpa’s house is filled with objects, and every one of those objects has a story. When Roo goes to stay, she thinks at first that the whole world must be stuffed inside his cottage. Every night, Grandpa tells Roo a story. A memory from his life which is attached to a possession.

There is one place which crops up in his stories more often than anywhere else – the sea cove which his elderly legs will no longer carry him down to. As Roo realises that so many of his memories are associated with this special place, she formulates a plan.

Winner of the ‘Not A Singe Eye Dry’ award. This beautiful and gentle tale had me in tears because it captures how much we love the people we have lost, and how their stories remain a part of our lives. Objects and places and even special moments like a sunset can bring memories of them flooding back inside our hearts.

The illustrations by Paddy Donnelly give a sense of the sea cove waiting around the corner to be discovered. Of waves and sunsets and breezes creeping into our memories.

A beautiful story about the importance of memories and tales.

 

Jasper & Scruff – Hunt For The Golden Bone by Nicola Colton.

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Jasper the cat likes the finer things in life. Scruff the dog prefers the simple. This doesn’t stop them from being friends, and they happily run a bookshop together.

When a rare book about the pirate cat Black Whispers appears in the shop, the pair find a treasure map and set out on an adventure. However, as the trail runs cold, the pair realise that they have been tricked by the Sophisticats – the society who only accept cats like themselves. Will anyone come to the aid of the duo who dare to like each other regardless of difference?

Jasper & Scruff is one of my favourite series for younger readers. The stories are well written and the running theme of accepting each other as we are is woven into the tales. I also love the illustrations, which look effortless (but probably take ages to perfect) and make me itch to pick up a pencil or a crayon every time I see them.

Highly recommend this series.

 

Little Penguin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye.

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Fliss travels magically on incredible adventures with animals.

A snow day lands her in the Antarctic, where she meets a colony of penguins with chicks who are ready to head North for the winter. Then a blizzard sweeps in and when it is over Fliss finds an injured mother with her chick, separated from the other birds. Fliss realises that it must be her mission to help them, but how will they ever catch up when the mother bird has an injured leg?

Luckily Fliss knows all about animals, and her respect and determination will see her through.

This series of beautifully written tales won me over from the first book. The stories show total understanding of the relationship between humans and other animals. How we can bond with our fellow creatures only if we fully respect them as intelligent beings. Fliss sets a great example to her young readers in how to treat other animals.

The third book in the series is perfect for wintertime as it takes us into a land of ice and snow.

 

Peanut Butter And Jelly by Ben Clanton.

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The fabulous friends are back for a whole new underwater adventure. And this time they have peanut butter. Lots of it.

Narwhal is certain nothing can beat waffles. Then Jelly gives him some peanut butter cookies and a whole love affair begins. Everything in Narwhal’s life is peanut butter.

Like the previous volumes in this series, this book contains three main stories, one fact-file and a side story that will have readers in stitches. This is cartooning at its best – whimsical and expressive and packed with fun and laughter. By the end of the volume, we feel as if we know the two friends like our own.

These books have been a big hit in book corners according to the educators I talk to during Twitter chats. I can see why they would appeal to a generation who speak Meme and GIF as fluently as they speak their first language. There are pages and spreads and individual boxes that could be copied into relatable and entertaining posters. The humour speaks directly to the social media generation.

Bright, bold and witty, these offer readers an alternative format to novels and stories.

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing, Oxford University Press and Stripes Books for the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Shadow by Lucy Christopher and Anastasia Suvorova.

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In the old house, there was nothing to be afraid of. No monsters under the bed. Nothing hiding in the dark. In the new house, Shadow appeared.

With vibes of The Bridge To Terabithia, The Snow Lion, and Skellig, this book was going to win my heart. Superficially dark and scary, it actually sees a little girl work her way through a period of unhappiness in her family. It is not explicitly stated what that is. Others have read this book as a narrative of depression, and how a parent’s illness can affect a child, but I thought the illustrations hinted at grief. Of course, we all bring ourselves to a story, and I am currently grieving the loss of my Mum, but there are pictures on the wall of the house which hint at it being the old family home, and Ma in the story is seen with her head bent over two pictures later on.

Anyway. While this is going on, a little girl is waiting. The house is dark, the world feels dark, and she’s all alone. Except for Shadow.

Is he imaginary? Is he a projection of her feelings? He leads the little girl deeper and deeper away from her ordinary life until she can’t cope anymore. She cries like never before, and suddenly she is able to tell Ma what she is feeling. From then on, the light comes back, and eventually the house is filled with a new life and a new happiness.

Sometimes before the light comes back in, we have to acknowledge the dark.

The illustrations in this story have a beautiful, ethereal quality. The gentle snowy landscapes contrast with the darkness and ensure it isn’t too frightening for the young audience. Somehow it conveys without words that this is about emotions and not about a terrible danger from the outside. At times – like times of grief or depression – it can be difficult to put emotions into words. Shadow puts them into images and promises a lighter, brighter future.

Lucy Christopher is a talented story writer, and her words together with these beautiful illustrations have created something special. The perfect reminder that when darkness strikes, the light can be found by hugging our loved ones.

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my gifted copy of Shadow. Opinions my own.

fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

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Every tale in this book is centuries old. So explains the introduction by Michael Morpurgo which explains that even before we had books, we had stories. 

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a passion for folk tales and legends. They are the stuff on which our dreams are built. They are the place from which other forms of storytelling evolved. It is lovely to see this collection of ten tales about well-known figures like Icarus and Robin Hood. 

This is the perfect introductory book to myths and legends. It looks a challenging size, but the text is large and the illustrations take up most of the page, so it is actually limited to one or two paragraphs per page. This makes it brilliant for less-confident readers, or for sharing aloud in shorter time-spaces, such as bedtime or the gap between lessons and play. 

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It also has a good range of origins – Greek Myths, and English folk tales, and Viking legends among them – and the stories are told and illustrated by different creators. I was particularly charmed, as a Millenial, that many of these the storytellers of my childhood. It felt like something I might have picked up in my childhood library (albeit in the fresher, prettier publishing style of today). Perhaps myths and folk-tales feel like this anyway, but reading words by Tony Bradman and Jeanne Willis added to this effect. These are some of the most established and practiced children’s authors working today. 

The range of illustration styles makes each story feel distinctive. Readers will soon have their favourites, and it is impossible to pick this up without flicking through to pick. 

I am impressed with this as an early collection of folk tales, and as stories that can be shared between people of all ages. This is the perfect book for reading out loud. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Magical Myths And Legends. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson and Kate Hindley.

Review: The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson and Kate Hindley.

The Same But Different Too

I am me, and you are you. We are the same, but different too. 

A rolling, rollicking rhyme explores similarities and differences between one being and another. Personality, size, abilities and emotions are all included so that this book gets readers thinking about what defines us as people. Opposites such as ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ are also explored in spreads so beautiful they would make wonderful posters.

‘All About Me’ is a favourite subject with younger children (both in school settings and at home), but sometimes it is handled in a heavy-handed way. The difficulty is helping readers identify traits without reducing diversity down to a list of options. Anyone remember, as a kid, searching for their eye-colour in an All About Me book and feeling disappointed that bluey-green with flecks of amber was missing? Right here. How very much worse if that is your ethnicity or your gender identity or your home. The Same But Different Too resists posing Are you this or are you that? questions. Instead, the rhyme opens a new curiosity about everything from height and age to the way we like to drink. 

A wide cast of children and animal friends demonstrate the opposites and traits.

The wide-eyed animals are full of life and humour comes from exaggerated differences. A calm llama turns grouchy and drags a little boy along, while an elephant sticks his trunk into a human cup. The pictures fit the text but seeing these things in life would be wildly funny, and that sense of right but odd provokes giggles. There is a sense that both author and illustrator know what will amuse their young audience well. Bold, colour block backgrounds give this a playful feel. 

A first look at similarities and differences which encourages readers to look around them and feel confident to be themselves. Bright and funny and possible to read over and over, this is a brilliant approach to a familiar theme. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my gifted copy of The Same But Different Too. Opinions my own.

Young Middle Grade

Younger fiction round-up: June 2019

Younger fiction round-up: June 2019

 

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Cinders And Sparks – Magic At Midnight by Lindsey Kelk. Illustrated by Pippa Curnick.

Cinders lives a boring life with her stepmother and stepsisters. Nothing ever happens to Cinders. She’s too busy doing the jobs. That’s why it is a surprise when her wishes start coming true. Somehow, she makes impossible things happen, like turning her companion dog Sparks into a talking dog.

Her fairy godmother Brian appears to guide her, but he’s not always reliable.

When Cinders wishes to go to the ball, her magic works out and she’s off to the palace in style. However, the story is far from over as she figures out what kind of life she wants to live.

A quirky and magical take on the traditional fairy tale.

Cinders has a sweet tooth, a strange ability to make things happen and a passionate love of the outdoors, but she doesn’t know everything about herself. In this first story, Cinders figures out who she is and is given a choice about what sort of life she wants to lead. Is she destined to be the perfect princess in the tower?

Humour, friendship and a touch of magic make this story sparkle. Cinderella retellings are old as the hills but there is a sense with this one that it is only the beginning. Cinders could be the girl to marry the prince, but she’s discovering a whole other side to her personality.

Illustrations by Pippa Curnik bring out the humour, especially through the facial expressions. Even the animals manage to express their displeasure, alarm and sheer delight in a way which brings the story alive.

This would be brilliant for fans of Sibéal Pounder. It has the same quirky humour and sense of adventure as the Witch Wars series, and I can see Cinders And Sparks growing into a hit.

An Otter Called Pebble

An Otter Called Pebble by Helen Peters. Illustrated by Ellie Snowdown.

Friends Jasmine and Tom are amazed to find a baby otter in the riverbank. Otter cubs haven’t been seen regularly in Sussex for decades. When the little cub is swept downriver, they jump in to help and take her home for some care.

Jasmine calls the little otter Pebble and wants to keep her, but Pebble needs the care of experts and to be with others of her kind. A further blow comes when Jasmine learns how difficult it will be to reunite Pebble with her family. Otters have a wide range and are hard to find. The race is on to find Pebble’s home and family before it is too late to reunite her with her mother.

A beautiful animal rescue story from Helen Peters, whose stories about the countryside are the next best thing to an afternoon ramble. Peters writes about animals with the care and attention of someone who truly cares about their conservation. They are never once treated as toys for the characters to play with. When Jasmine complains about giving Pebble up, she is gently reminded what a privilege it is to spend even a night in the company of a young otter.

This story has just the right level of information to keep readers young and old interested, and everyone wants to see Pebble safely back in the river.

Ellie Snowdon’s illustrations reminded me so much of a walk I enjoyed during the year I lived in Sussex, along the river Ouse. Whether or not Snowdon based her pictures on East Sussex, they fit so very well with the story.

As I child, I devoured Dick King-Smith’s stories, and Helen Peters writes countryside adventures which are fit for a new generation.

 

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Clifftoppers: The Arrowhead Moor Adventure by Fleur Hitchcock.

Ava, Josh, Aiden, and Chloe are a group of cousins who are ready for an outdoor adventure. Together with dog Bella they are ready to explore the countryside around their grandparents’ home.

During a picnic, they overhear a suspicious conversation which leads them to uncover a jewel heist. Twelve shining stones have been hidden inside a hollowed-out book, and a group of adults seems to be organising the book’s collection. Where do the diamonds come from and how can the cousins prevent them from disappearing for good?

Move over Famous Five. A whole new set of cousins are on the case.

A fantastic outdoor mystery adventure which will make most adults nostalgic – even if they didn’t take down a criminal gang during their childhood summers. So many people grew up reading Enid Blyton’s mysteries, and it is only fitting that new stories are written for the current generation. I love how the stories have so much of their own, yet they contain all the things we would hope to see – picnics, animal friends and some serious pedal power.

Fleur Hitchcock is an established mystery writer and I can’t think of anybody better to write a new mystery adventure series. The length is shorter than her previous books, and nothing too grizzly or upsetting happens. This is a feel-good mystery which shows how much fun can be had outdoors.

 

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Beatrix The Bold And The Curse Of The Wobblers by Simon Mockler

Living in a palace should mean you have everything, but Beatrix has never been outside at all. Her aunt and uncle have always told her that there are countless dangers in the outside world. Beatrix isn’t convinced. In fact, she’s starting to think people are keeping secrets.

One day she overhears her uncle talking. Not only does Beatrix learn that she is Queen, she finds out that a terrible army from beyond the woods is willing to kill her. Not only that, but the oath her aunt and uncle swore to protect her turns out not to be so unbreakable after all.

It is up to Beatrix to protect herself, and the first step is to get out into the world outside the palace without being afraid of the Wobblers.

At last, a royal role-model who looks out for herself. No sitting around waiting for a handsome prince for Beatrix. She is far too resilient and bright enough to question what is going on around her. (That’s the trouble with princess in the tower stories. Didn’t they see it coming?) Her inquisitiveness and bravery are on a par with Prince Caspian’s.

That’s not to say there aren’t times she feels afraid. Because bravery doesn’t mean not feeling afraid.

The humour in this story will appeal to readers who like one-liners and snap jokes (Sore Bottom Alley features on the second page,) and there are references to modern day culture to keep even reluctant readers turning the page.

A Shrek-style world with a Queen for our times.

 

Special Delivery

Special Delivery by Jonathan Meres. Illustrated by Hannah Coulson.

Frank wants to save up for a bicycle, so he starts helping with his big sister’s paper round. Along the way, he meets an elderly lady called Mary with a great cowboy collection. When Frank is playing in the park, he goes over to say hello to Mary but realises she is confused. Will she get home safely? Frank decides it is his job to make a very special delivery. 

A gentle story about dementia, responsibility and caring for people in our community. 

This is a wonderful story about the everyday world of a child. It isn’t a big adventure, but it is told in such a way that it stays with the reader and makes them question what they would do in the same situation. 

Mary’s character is shown with empathy. We get to know her as a person before she is in a situation which requires intervention from others, and Frank and his sister behave towards her as they would towards any adult. It is only when she needs help that Frank jumps in. 

A beautifully told story which encourages readers to think about who they might encounter when out and about. 

 

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The Loneliest Kitten by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Sophy Williams.

Darcey’s Dad isn’t big on animals, but the new kitten Charlie is so cute that Darcey is certain he will win Dad over. Darcey spends as much of the summer holidays as possible playing with Charlie, but then school comes around and Charlie is left indoors. Why won’t Darcey play with him anymore? Charlie heads out in search of new adventures and finds an elderly neighbour to talk to.

Darcey can’t understand why Charlie keeps disappearing. Eventually, she begins a search which leads to her neighbour’s door.

A sweet story about companionship, animal welfare, and community.

Sometimes what is best for our animal friends isn’t the first thing we had in mind. Elderly neighbour Rose has time on her hands which Darcey and her family lack, and Charlie the kitten is only too happy to keep Rose company. Is this something which should continue? Darcey has to search deep in her heart to find the answer.

Holly Webb is a prolific writer of fiction for younger readers and this story lives up to her previous titles about animal friends.

 

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My Babysitter Is A Robot by Dave Cousins. Illustrated by Catalina Echeverri.

Having a babysitter for a robot is rubbish. He always knows when there is homework, finds hiding places straight away and embarrasses Jess and Jake in front of their friends. Jake can’t imagine anything worse until an accident in the swimming pool changes everything. Suddenly robot babysitter Robin is badly behaved and it is up to Jess and Jake to stop him from causing absolute mayhem.

A hilarious ride of a story where the tables are turned in a big way.

This reminded me of a children’s television drama where the parents were hypnotized to behave like big children. Big children who refused to follow any of the rules. Although the real kids had to stop trouble from breaking loose, they also saw things from a new perspective. Robin the Robot is the same kind of character. He’ll end up winning you over even as he causes more trouble.

The illustrations bring extra humour as almost human-looking Robin is caught out by little details which make him different.

A brilliant, funny read and an excellent addition to a younger fiction bookshelf.

 

Jolly Rogers

The Jolley-Rogers And The Pirate Piper by Jonny Duddle.

Rats. Rats have infested Dull-On-Sea and closed everything down. Luckily the Pirate Piper is here and he knows just the trick to charm the rats away. The strangest thing is Matilda sees him tucking the crates of rats away on board his ship instead of casting them out to sea. When the Mayor refuses to pay the Piper, children start walking in their sleep. Disappearing.

Can Matilda, Jim and little Nugget save the day? And what does Nugget’s horrible violin have to do with anything?

A wonderful twist on The Pied Piper Of Hamelin set in the familiar world of Dull-On-Sea.

Anyone who knows Jonny Duddle’s pirate stories will know Matilda, the girl who lives on land but has the heart of a pirate, and the crew of the Blackhole. They will also know that the stories are told with just the right level of humour.

The illustrations are more like theatrical scenes which come straight to life in the reader’s imagination. Perhaps it is the action or maybe that they often hint at what is coming next, but I often finish Duddle’s books feeling more like I’ve viewed a performance.

Jump on board and join the Jolley-Rogers in their latest adventure.

 

magic kingdom of the birds

Magical Kingdom Of The Birds – The Silent Songbirds by Anne Booth. Illustrated by Rosie Butcher.

Maya is back with the colouring book which transports her into the Magical Kingdom Of The Birds. This time she is attending a singing concert hosted by Princess Willow’s evil uncle, Lord Astor. Willow is adamant that Lord Astor has mended his ways, but her friend Patch senses trouble. Then Lord Astor plays his flute, and it drowns out the sound of the birdsong.

Can Maya help before Lord Astor steals the voices of the birds, and of his niece Willow?

This series is a real favourite of mine in the younger fiction category, and The Silent Songbirds is another hit. It has just the right level of fantasy and conflict, but the beautiful world of the birds and the determined heroes keep the stories from being too dark for their intended audience. These are brilliant stories to share with younger readers, and they are great for older readers looking for something shorter.

The illustrations add to the magic and make the reader feel as if they too have slipped inside Maya’s magical colouring-book. I am considering a campaign for a colouring-book tie-in and would happily sneak one away for my own entertainment.

Another hit in a beautiful series about a magical kingdom which suffers from the actions of an evil Lord.

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke, Harper Collins, Nosy Crow, Oxford University Press, Picadilly Press, Stripes Books and Templar Publishing for gifting the books in this feature.

Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sea by Britta Teckentrup

Review: Sea by Britta Teckentrup

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A school of little fish swim through the coral sea. It is a magical world of jellyfish and whales, lionfish and seahorses and great white sharks. Follow them on their journey through one of the world’s great treasures. 

Britta Teekentrup is one of my favourite illustrators, and sea is no exception. Her jewel-bright colours build to a great visual experience. Cut through pages, with different fish recurring through the story, create continuity in the narrative and add fun to the reading experience. 

The prose is written in rhyme. Although it follows a group of fish, it is more non-fiction than story, introducing different species which live in the Coral Sea. The concept of predators and prey is also explored, but don’t worry – no fish are captured. It is important for readers to understand that every animal needs to eat and to begin to think about how this happens. 

The rhyme ends on an environmental note, with a plea to the readers to keep the sea clear and clean. There is no mention of plastic and the damage it causes, but if young readers love the sea and its inhabitants, they will want to explore how they can help. 

This book is the next best thing to a scuba-diving trip down to the reef. It brings the magic of the underwater world into readers hands and gently explains that they have a responsibility towards the ocean’s inhabitants. A lovely introduction to the coral reef and another hit from Britta Teekentrup.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of Sea. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

When The Bees Buzzed Off by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett

When The Bees Buzzed Off by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett

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Where have all the bees gone? The other insects search through the undergrowth, but they can’t find the bees anywhere. This is a terrible day for the garden. What will happen to the vegetables, flowers and supply of nice green leaves?

A lift-the-flap story which works in facts about environment change and pollination.

The threat facing our bees is tremendous, and the cost of losing them would be catastrophic, yet we don’t hear about it on a daily basis. We need to be worried, we need to act, and most of all we need to care about the consequences. This is a huge thing to say to very young readers but the story gently hints at what might happen if the bees had gone away for good while the other insects search to bring them back.

Following a happy but realistic ending, the insects work together to collect and plant wildflower seeds to bring the bees back to their garden.

The illustrations get close-up with the undergrowth. I love this insect’s-eye view of the garden, which reminds us to be curious about how much is really in an outdoor space and reminds the reader that humans aren’t the only ones who care about the garden. More alarming spreads of greying leaves and dying plants are mixed with colourful and happy habitats.

Flaps hide more creatures and creepy-crawlies. Young readers who enjoy the hunt through the book will be desperate to get outside and do it in the real world.

The journey through the undergrowth is a joy and the subject is treated with optimism and care.

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of When The Bees Buzzed Off. Opinions my own.

Young Middle Grade

Younger fiction and Young Middle Grade round-up: April 2019

Princess Of Pets: The Naughty Kitten by Paula Harrison. Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller 

img_8925Princess Bea rescues and cares for any animal in need. She finds a lost kitten in a tree, names him Tiger, and tries to trace his owner, but how can Tiger stay in the palace when he is constantly getting into trouble? Is there any way Bea can prove that Tiger has a good side?

An adventurous kitten causes mayhem as he takes risks he is not yet ready to manage. Princess Bea is the perfect story for children with an interest in pets. It shows that having animals in the house (or the palace) is about responsible ownership. Tiger may appear to be causing trouble, but actually, he’s going through a stage which is not uncommon to young cats. Any prospective owner must question themselves about how they will manage this and not blame their new animal friend. After all, if you’re really ready to share your life with a cat, kittens have to be more important than curtains.

A charming story for newly confident readers.

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The Puppy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Sophy Williams. 

When Lara and her dad find a homeless puppy, they take him in and try to help. Jet seems happy in his new home except for one thing. He never manages to settle at night. With Lara and Dad losing out on sleep, they search for ways to help Jet at night. What is it that upsets him when the lights go out?

This story was inspired by a true tale about a dog in a shelter. Only one thing would help him to sleep at night, so he needed a home which would fulfill that need. Stories like this remind us that animal care is about so much more than having a ‘pet’ to play with. When we take another animal into our homes, we agree to recognise the needs of a fellow living creature. One dog’s needs can be very different from another’s, even within the same species. It is lovely to see a story which reminds us of this.

A gentle story in a real-world setting which is perfect for young animal enthusiasts.

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The Climbers by Ali Standish. Illustrated by Ali Standish. 

All her life, Alma has been told that the trees and mountains beyond her home are dangerous, but no matter how often she is warned of the dangers, Alma wants to explore. One night, she runs into the forest and finds a bear cub with a pattern like a fallen star on his chest.

Alma and Star Bear bond and together they explore the world. Then Star Bear grows big and is sighted by the other townspeople. Afraid and angry, the people cut down the forest trees and threaten to kill Star Bear.

Alma and Star Bear run. That’s when they meet Tully and his tiger-friend Comet. 

An extraordinary story about the price of human progress and how much better we would be as a race if only we could discover some empathy. 

With children marching around the world to defend our climate, with children standing up and telling politicians that time is running out, this book could not be better timed. The talks and marches which have happened have inspired a number of adults, but unless we all stand up and make big changes to our approach time will run out. It already has for too many beautiful animal species. 

Books like this will keep the wonderful generation, the kids who have already raised their voices, actively thinking about the major issues which face our planet today. They will also inspire readers to consider the underlying issues to all the major problems we face – namely a lack of empathy and a culture which puts progress above goodness. 

This is a gentle and moving story which doesn’t shy away from difficult topics but approaches them in a way which won’t frighten young readers. The illustrations contrast the magic of nature with the dull misery of the world’s biggest towns. Sometimes pictures speak a thousand words. 

Another hit from the new Colour range from Little Tiger UK. These books aim to bridge the gap between picture books and early chapter books. 

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Revenge Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchison. Illustrated by Lee Cosgrove. 

Lisa Marie and Vernon have just recovered from the night of the living teddy bears when they are kidnapped and taken to the lair of the super-creepy villain Ursine. He’s made sure nobody else remembers the battle which took place, and he’s creating an army of teddy bears to fight his cause. Then Grizz, the evilest bear of all returns, and orders the army to fight for world domination. 

The funniest fantasy series in years just got even better. 

Anyone who has walked past that shop we’ll affectionately call Create A Ted knows it is creepy. Anyone who has been stuck inside knows it goes beyond that. Animal skins and stuffing machines and staff who grin maniacally while they jab a pretend needle into a teddy bear. It is painful. And hilarious. Barry Hutchinson has played on the creepiness behind the cuteness to huge effect. 

How can you not love a henchman called Cuddlyplump?

This is the second book in the series and shows the teddybear army mobilizing against the world. Only Lisa Marie and Vernon know what is going on, and who would believe them if they said anything? Aimed at the youngest middle-grade readers, this would make a brilliant short read for older children, and would also be hugely friendly to readers whose reading age is younger than their actual age. Sweet teddy bears these are not. This is as brilliant a fantasy series as anything in the older middle grade section. 

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The Unlucky Eleven by Phil Earle. Illustrated by Steve May. 

Everything is going wrong for Stanley and his football team The Saints this season. From injuries to misses to unfair judgments by the referee. They think they know why: the Saints have been cursed like football teams of the past. Stanley needs a plan. He presents his team with a magical, lucky kit, but will it change their fortunes?

Sometimes it only takes a shift in attitude to change our fortunes. Stanley tries everything to help his team, but finally, he realises that the team players need to change their own luck. If only he can nudge them along the way. 

A fun story which will go down well with anybody who loves football, and anybody who has ever felt that nothing is going their way. 

The Little Gems series are so attractive that, although they are friendly to children whose reading age is younger than their actual age, they will be picked up and treasured by anybody who loves a good story. They are a great size for any reader who is coming into chapter book format but isn’t yet ready for the language or page length. 

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The Big Top Mysteries: The Case Of The Missing Granny by Alexander McCall Smith. Illustrated by Sam Usher. 

The shortbread siblings star in their family’s circus show. They also have another talent. They are brilliant at solving mysteries. When audience member Tom reveals that his granny has gone missing, the Shortbread siblings step in to help. 

Does this have anything to do with Mrs Fudge and her chocolate shop? Using all their circus skills, the Shortbreads and Tom get straight into the investigation. 

The first in a new series by master mystery writer. 

Aimed at readers from 8 upwards, this would also be a lovely story for readers of early chapter books. Although the children in the story are briefly locked up, the peril is minimal and the outcome of the investigation is friendly to the youngest of readers. With murder mysteries now popular among 8 – 12 year-olds, this would be a great way for readers to join in even if they aren’t up for the blood and fear and gruesome details. 

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Narwhal Unicorn Of The Sea and Super Narwhal and Jellyjolt by Ben Clanton

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Two books. Two friends. A whole new series of awesome undersea adventures. 

Narwhal is a super-happy unicorn of the sea. Jelly is less chirpy, less cheery and full of questions. Together they make a brilliant new duo for readers who are looking for an alternative to a short chapter book. 

Each book has three stories, one fact file and a Super Waffle story which will have young readers in stitches. It’s like the same kind of story … but with a strawberry and a waffle. Any lovers of online comics, GIFS or cartoons will enjoy these. Think cartoon books for the very young. 

In Narwhal Unicorn Of The Sea, the friends meet for the first time, make friends, and form a pod (aka form a wider friendship group). Super Narwhal And Jellyjolt sees them explore their strengths and venture up to the ocean’s surface to meet a starfish. The books are numbered on the spine and I bet they will look fantastic all lined up as a little comic library. 

With simple backgrounds and expressive characters, these stories will encourage readers to draw and create cartoons of their own. 

An attractive new series for early readers. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, Barrington Stoke Ltd, Little Tiger UK and Egmont Publishing for the gifted books included in this feature. Opinions my own. 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Creature Feature Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

Review: Creature Feature Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

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Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. This fantastic visual guide shows dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes – horned ones and beaky ones and dinosaurs with long necks.

Each section has an introduction which explains what specific characteristics were for. Beaks, for example, were useful for snipping leaves, spearing fish and cracking open nuts. The double page spreads are largely visual, making this a catalogue of dinosaurs. It would be perfect for flicking through and finding a favourite. The dinosaurs are named and it would be a wonderful resource for enthusiasts to learn names and test their memories. 

The illustrations use a wonderful range of colours which stand out against single colour backgrounds. The use of shape is inventive and the book is a lovely starting point for anyone wanting to draw dinosaurs. 

Although the book has board pages, it is not exclusively for tiny readers. It could be enjoyed by anyone aged two upwards. As this is a visual guide, I can imagine readers flicking backwards and forwards through the pages, and the more durable material means the pages won’t wear about with heavy use. 

A ROARsome visual guide which will be loved and examined by young dinosaur enthusiasts. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my gifted copy of Creature Feature Dinosaurs. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Meet The Penguins by Mike Brownlow

Meet The Penguins by Mike Brownlow

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Meet the penguins. They really want to play, but nobody wants to play with them. Everybody else is busy concentrating, playing complicated games or hurrying along. When the penguins find someone to play with, and they are able to show how many brilliant games they know, they find themselves with a queue of new friends desperate to join in. 

A witty picture book which will be especially relatable to children coping with playground time. 

The penguins are polite to the point of being charming. Enthusiastic. Friendly. They just can’t find anybody who wants to play. This can be a frustrating and frankly baffling situation for children small enough that their world is governed by the rules. Sticking to the rules about good manners and kindness should result in a win. The trouble is, social situations are complicated and other people can have their own agenda. This would be a lovely picture book to open discussions about the fact that sometimes it just isn’t about whether we’ve done the right things. Gorilla wants to focus, Rabbit is in a hurry and Kitty is just plain rude and unfriendly. 

There’s a lovely picture in the middle where the dejected penguins slump down. They’ve given up. The story turns this around and demonstrates that once you’re enjoying your own games, there might be plenty of people looking to join in.

The final page puts a spin on it again when the Penguins stop wanting to let everybody into their games. This would be a great picture for opening up a debate. Did the Penguins do something wrong and unfriendly, or is it just a fact that sometimes there are too many people to play a game properly? 

The illustrations are all about facial expressions, with exaggerated disappointment, pleading, rudeness and enjoyment. The sober backgrounds of the early scenes turn to a riot of colour as the penguins’ games get going. 

A funny and relatable story about friendship and social situations.