blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

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

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

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It may sound a cliché but writing is an escape.

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

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

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

TIP ONE

Catch your ideas

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

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

 

TIP TWO

Read something different

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

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

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

 

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

 

TIP THREE

Have adventures!

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

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

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

 

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

 

 About the Author

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

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

 

Catch the other stops on the tour:

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

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

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

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

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

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

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Synopsis:

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

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

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Review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Check out the other stops along the tour:

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

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Pests by Emer Stamp.

Blog Tour: Pests by Emer Stamp.

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About Pests

Stix lives with his saftey-conscious Grandma behind the washing machine in Flat 3 Peewit Mansions. Although Stix knows that not being seeing is the golden rule – a seen mouse is a dead mouse after all – he wishes life could be a little bit more fun.

Then a rat intrudes and makes a mess, and the terrible Nuke-A-Pest are called. Grandma’s act of bravery goes wrong when she is flushed down a toilet and into a septic tank. Stix is left all alone … until he discovers the school for animals branded as pests down in the basement. Suddenly, he is encouraged to make a nuisance of himself, but what is the limit when there is so high a cost?

Pests had me hooked from the start. The strong character and voice was one reason I couldn’t stop reading. Think of Ratatouille, where a brilliant but vulnerable small creature is forced out into the wider world. Add some strong side characters and an evil non-human villain (no spoilers) with a terrible plan.

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Throughout the story, the illustrations heighten both the comedy and the emotional narrative. From the all-knowing dog in Flat 3, who is so much wiser than his humans, to Stix’s wide-eyed facial expressions, the story is made richer by the wonderful sketches.

There is also a healthy dose of humour. There are toilet jokes, although these are kept to a total minimum and done with such skill that even as a very grown-up person it is impossible not to giggle. This is in the suspense – certain things are planted earlier, and we just know … almost … that they will return in all their poo-based glory later on in the narrative.

I was delighted to be offered a guest post Emer Stamp, and even more so when she agreed to write about character creation. Stix and the gang are so believable that I can still imagine them even though I’ve finished reading the book. Thank you so much to Emer for your time, and to Lucy Clayton for organising this blog tour.

 

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Guest Post: Creating Believable Characters by Emer Stamp 

I believe the key to a good book, or film, for that matter, are the characters. You can have the best story in the world, but if the key players populating it aren’t believable, or likeable, or perhaps even dislikeable – if that’s your skit – then I can guarantee that pretty soon your audience is going to wander off and have a cup of tea or, in my case, a glass of squash.  This is why I spend a lot of time considering who my characters are and what makes them appealing or, in the case of the baddies, unappealing.

Both Pig, the protagonist in The Diary of Pig series, and Stix (a small mouse), the lead character in PESTS, possess the same quality – a childlike naivety about life. Pig is almost entirely clueless about the world beyond the farm and is quite often boggled by the everyday things inside it too. Stix is smarter than Pig but, thanks to his sheltered upbringing, is clueless about life outside the flat in which he lives. He openly admits to the reader that he has no idea what, if any, life exists beyond the front door.

I think the reason this naïve character trait works so well is that is it reflects the way children themselves so often feel – though they may not be able to give it such a sophisticated label. They see a bit of themselves in the character, which helps them invest more in its wellbeing. To be honest, even I see bits of myself in both Pig and Stix – the world still boggles me on a pretty frequent basis.

It also allows the child to feel smart.  I’ve been told by numerous parents that their child loved Pig because they felt cleverer than him. For once the child is the wise one. They know the answers to Pig’s silly questions, they know what is outside Stix’s front door.

Now, of course, not all my characters work in this way. Pig’s best friend Duck, and Stix’s best friend Batz, are more worldly-wise. They are the ones who help my protagonists make sense of everything. But, I am very careful to make sure they do this in an endearing way – no one likes a show-off or a big-head. Nobody wants a sidekick who makes the beloved hero look a fool. So, in both cases, I gave each a loveable foible, one to which I believe children can relate. Duck is the super-smart, sensible friend who needs a bit of lightening up; Batz is the over-eager friend who has a tendency to leap before she looks. In both cases my lead offers the antidote – Pig helps Duck see the funny side of life, whilst Stix’s in-built caution helps temper Batz’s dangerous gung-ho attitude.

No story is complete without a horribly bad villain. So, the thought I give to these is just as rigorous. It’s important a baddie is as bad as they can be. I want my readers to really despise them. Which is why I always imbue them with a hearty helping of sociopathic tendencies. This, I find, is always a solid base from which to build. My favourite baddies from the Dairy of Pig series are the Evil Chickens. These avian aggressors who care for no one but themselves. In fact, to be correct, the Super Evil Chicken cares for no one but itself. All the other chickens are just collateral – to be disposed of in whatever way needed to facilitate the ultimate goal – taking over the farm (for completely nefarious purposes of course). A plan which, for obvious reasons, they do their level best to keep a lid on  – secrecy being another great baddie trait. No one likes secretive characters.

And there is no one more infused with secrecy than the aptly-named Professor Armageddon, the despotic cockroach whose grand plan is to destroy the block of flats the pests live in. Not only is he keeping schtum about what he’s up to, but he’s also lying and manipulating others in order to get the job done. Again, both nasty traits that engender instant dislike.

Good or bad, naughty or nice, the most important thing is that your reader feels something towards the characters you create, be it positive or negative. If they don’t, the chances are, they’ll be reaching for the kettle or a bottle of squash.

Check out the other stops along the tour –

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Thanks to Hodder Children’s Books for my copy of Pests which was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

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Extract:

We are the Jensen & Jenson Troofriend 560 Mark IV. We are The Better Choice For Your Child. She no longer needs to play with other human children, who might bully or harm or lie or covet or steal or envy. We are programmed only for fun and goodness. 

(Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum. P2.)

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Synopsis:

Imagine having a friend who never disagreed with a word you said? A friend who did everything that you wanted. A friend, like a TrooFriend 560 Mark IV, who wasn’t even human.

Sarah’s parents are often absent, and her friend’s complicated family situation means that she is regularly out of town. Sarah has another friend, but the complicated rules of High School popularity mean that they can no longer hang out together. As a result, Sarah is lonely.

Her mother is convinced that android Ivy is the solution, but Sarah isn’t so sure. At first, she turns the android off when nobody is looking, but over time evidence convinces her that Ivy is something more than other technology. That she is almost human.

As Sarah uses Ivy in a bid to win popularity at school, a factory recall puts Ivy’s existence into danger. There are people out there who reckon Ivy shouldn’t exist, and if they track her down, she will be destroyed.

A complex and philosophical story about popularity, taking account for our own actions, and what it means to be human.

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Review:

Technology is taking over our lives. It is now the norm, where is wouldn’t have been several years ago, to look at smartphones and tablets during conversations with other people. Increasingly we consult search engines about our problems before we talk to an expert. The story demonstrates the effect all this technology has on our social skills and imagines things one step further, where children are actively encouraged to replace human friendships with technology.

Sarah is a relatable character. Transitioning to secondary school can be painfully hard. What makes someone popular, and what makes a person likeable, isn’t often taught in a way that is obvious to all children. Being treated as unpopular – being shunned, for example, for some imperceptible flaw -isn’t always treated as bullying by adults in the same way it might have been in a primary school. Sarah, the protagonist in the story, is desperate not to be labelled as unpopular, but her quest to be liked by the ‘right people’ leads her to behave in unkind ways to her old friends.

What I loved about Sarah was that her behaviour wasn’t perfect. She was like so many kids, struggling with day-to-day life, and the story shows her moving from selfish and desperate behaviours to an acceptance that she has to take ownership of her actions. The quest to be popular is no justification for behaving unkindly.

Ivy’s quest to prove that she is unique is also touching. It reminded me in many ways of the characters in Never Let Me Go, using art to communicate their inner selves. Troofriend is a great adventure, but everybody I have spoken to who has read the book is especially moved by the themes.

The reader is constantly challenged to think about their own stances. When the androids are recalled it seems obvious that Ivy should be helped … except that some very real children are being hurt by the android’s actions. This conflict makes for a real page-turner. How can such a conundrum possibly be resolved?

A moving and philosophical story told in such a way that it is impossible to put down. I had high hopes for this after reading The Middler, and I wasn’t disappointed. Kirsty Applebaum is a skilled literary writer and Troofriend confirms her as a real talent.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd and Clare Hall-Craggs for my copy of Troofriend. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

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Extract:

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

(Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy. P86.)

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Synopsis:

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

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

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

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Review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

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Extract:

The locomotive puffed out a sigh of steam, as if it were alive – a dragon, ancient, powerful, and ready to fly. 

(The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. P14.) 

 

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Synopsis:

As Harrison Beck waits for his new sibling to enter the world, he is sent off to spend time with journalist and train enthusiast Uncle Nat. The pair board the Highland Falcon for its final journey before it is sent to a museum. They are in the company of well-known society figures – from actress Sierra Knight to a Countess, a Baron and important railway officials.

Then a notorious jewel thief strikes.

Can Harrison and his friend, the not-so-secret stowaway Lenny, solve the mystery and catch the culprit before the wrong person takes the blame?

 

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Review:

All aboard for the first mystery adventure in a series dedicated entirely to trains. Imagine that Michael Portillo had taken an 11-year-old boy along as he filmed Great British Railway Journeys. And that the boy in question had met a girl with a wealth of knowledge about railways. The train isn’t just a pretty backdrop in this series. It is the living, beating heart of the story. At last! A mystery series for readers who care about the ins and outs of railways.

This first story sees a notorious jewel thief strike on the first night of the journey. The Magpie has a reputation for stealing high-value pieces. The trouble is, nobody knows the Magpie’s true identity. As the blame shifts from one person to another, Harrison and his friend Lenny set to work figuring the case out.

Harrison is an artist and the illustrations tie in with the story as his casebook. This breaks from the recent tradition of detectives with notebooks. This detective has a sketchbook. It also gives the reader very visual reminders of the events and allows them to flick backwards and forwards through the pages as each piece of new information is revealed and notice new details in the illustrations.

Lenny is the resident train geek. Her father drives the train and Lenny has followed him along the rail tracks since she was very small. I was impressed with the level of knowledge and railway vocabulary woven into the story. This series acknowledges that when children have hobbies and interests, they gather huge amounts of knowledge and trivia. It is great to see a series built around this. Recent conversations about whether middle grade has become too adult have failed to discuss this aspect of childhood, but the pure love that young people have for their favourite subjects needs to be reflected in their fiction.  

This story will be a hit with fans of middle-grade mystery and its fictional trains should be a hit with young railway enthusiasts. A roaring start.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Booksfor my copy of The Highland Falcon Thief. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

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Extract:

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

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

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Synopsis:

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

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

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

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Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

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

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

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About Agent Zaiba Investigates – The Missing Diamonds. 

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

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

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

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

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

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Q&A with author Annabelle Sami. 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

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Extract:

I know it’s autumn because it’s the end of October and I am eight weeks into Year Eight, but there are no leaves to colour and fall and in our crowded, clean city the cold never really penetrates too much. The breaks go up if it’s windy, the canopies if it rains.

And every morning I’m waking from my dreams of an altogether different kind of canopy of branches and leaves, and I think I can’t stand it anymore. Another day in this city.

(Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold. P32.)

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Synopsis:

Juniper and Bear live in one of the two remaining glasshouses – the only spaces where plants are allowed within their city. Everywhere else is grey and enclosed. Like a prison. This is how it has been ever since a virus was unleashed to kill humans and save the wild. Juniper is afraid that if her little brother Bear doesn’t calm down, he will end up in the institute. A place from which nobody comes out.

When scientists discover that the siblings’ blood holds the secret to surviving in the outdoors, their lives are endangered. They are left with no choice but to run. They set out for Ennerdale, the half-remembered home of their infancy.

The wild is a beautiful place but it is also a brutal one. It is a place where survival plays out on a daily basis and every living thing is in some danger. Not to mention the drones that follow them from the city. With so much up against them, will they ever make their way home?

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Review:

Dystopia is back and it is tackling bigger themes than ever before. It is also reaching out to a younger audience.

Where The World Turns Wild asks one of the deepest and darkest questions of our time: is sacrificing humans the only way to save the world? If, as an individual, you were given a choice between mankind and life itself, which would you choose? Juniper lives in a world where, fifty years before, a group took the fate of the world into their own hands, and the only humans to survive are the ones who live in enclosed spaces with barely any contact with nature. Children are taught to fear the wild and only the ones born with immunity to the virus can go outside. More to the point, Juniper reckons the ReWilders – the group who spread the virus – did the right thing. It is a view that could get her locked up for life.

It is a massive theme for an older middle grade or teen audience. It is also a question they must surely ask themselves in theory. Because if we don’t change the way we live soon – very soon – it will be too late to save the planet. Juniper knows the ReWild was extreme and that terrible things happened because of the virus. She also knows every living being was going to die if it didn’t happen.

Juniper and Bear are wonderful characters. They are children of nature trapped inside an unnatural city. They remind us that nobody who has seen trees and valleys and life would ever choose an artificial world. This is the other big theme in the book. There are people who have grown up inside cities and have barely seen the world outside. They are complacent about wildlife because they do not know it. This is a sad reflection of our own world. Growing up in London, I met people who stuck their fingers in their ears – literally – if anyone told them what was in their fast food milkshake. What had been sacrificed in the world for their beef burger to exist. They simply couldn’t imagine the damage, or the parts of the world that were being damaged, sufficiently to care. Books provide a safe space to face up to such attitudes. Being challenged can be scary, but books like this allow us to challenge ourselves and come to our own conclusions.

Bear and Juniper are also searching for their parents. Their travels across the landscape are inspiring and terrifying in equal measures. As a reader I wanted them to be safe, but I also wanted them to survive in the wild, because the thought of them going back to that city was terrible.

I also felt a personal connection to the story as a born Londoner who now lives in Cumbria. As much as I miss certain aspects of London, I remind myself how I used to feel returning there after visits to Cumbria. I used to miss the wide open skies and birds and green space so badly that it hurt.

With a fantastic premise and strong characters, Where The World Turns Wild has got the book world talking. It is beautifully written and it is up there with the greatest outdoor journeys of children’s literature. Read this.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell.

Review: Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell.

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Synopsis: 

In ancient times, long ago, a King built a Great Hall. He intended it to be a special place for all his people, a place of peace and celebration, but the sound of music awoke a monster. Grendel feasted upon the sleeping warriors and left the community in devastation.

Warriors came from distant lands, but none could defeat Grendel. Then Beowulf came, and with his tricks and cunning, he defeated Grendel. But little did Beowulf know that an even greater monster lay in wait …

A strong retelling of a classic tale.

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Review:

Have you ever played the ultimate bookish game of thinking up dream author/illustrator partnerships for classic or modern classic tales? Just me? Monster Slayer is a fine example of a retelling done right. Brian Patten is a champion wordsmith whose prose chimes in all the right places. Chris Riddell is famed for his slightly gothic line drawings. Together they make the perfect team to tell one of the oldest tales around.

I was nine or ten, and a true bookworm, when Beowulf was put under by nose. I was supposed to like it. I turned it down. Thinking back, I couldn’t picture the historical setting and the author tried too hard to be clever with language in homage to the original text. A clear, well-told story is the very best thing. Monster Slayer reads as if it is being read aloud. The twists and turns come in all the right places and the set-up allows the reader to truly care about the community that is being ravaged by Grendel’s visits.

Together with the illustrations – think full-page line drawings of drooling monsters – and this makes a book that is impossible not to pick up. 

 This edition follows Beowulf up until his battle with Grendel’s Mother and ends on a heroic note. 

Barrington Stoke is committed to breaking down barriers to reading. Shortened versions of classic tales allow readers to get the story into their heads and enjoy the drama of the tale. This is a fabulous introduction to a timeless story. The engaging text, together with the illustrations, make an experience for everybody to enjoy. 

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for my copy of Monster Slayer. Opinions my own.