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.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock.

Blog Tour: The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock.

boywhoflew.jpgAithan Wilde is a dreamer and an inventor. He would rather work for a scientist or an inventor who is always reaching to see what might be possible than settle down and take what his grandmother would call a respectable job. 

When his inventor friend Mr Chen is murdered, Aithan must find the flying machine they were building. There are other people looking for it too, and a reward is offered for the first person to build a machine capable of staying in the air. 

This a story with twists and turns. It is set in a gloriously creepy past. Think cobbled streets and fear of knowledge and gentlemen with guns. Fleur Hitchcock has never shied away from the horror of murder, and this book is no exception. This is perfect for readers who like a bit of gore with their crime fiction. 

I was given a chance to ask Fleur Hitchcock a question, and I was curious to know what inspired the machines in her story. I am delighted to share her answer with you. Thank you, Fleur H for your time and for the insight into your work. 

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Guest Post by author Fleur Hitchcock. 

We had some odd books in our house. Not really picture books, but books with pictures. We had a book of early aeroplanes. Huge and incomprehensible to a child, but somehow very pretty. 

We had a book of Rowland Emmett cartoons, and many books of Heath Robinson, and we had Professor Branestawn. I think I was always interested in the drawings – rather than the engineering, but found myself drawn towards the inventions themselves, and the possibilities that they offered, the promises they made.  I kept this up by reading Tintin and then immersing myself in DC comics – Batman’s utility belt was soooo exciting.

And gradually as I moved further into words I began to understand the descriptions of the machines imagined, and sought them out in books, from the Alethiometer of His Dark Materials to the Time Turner in Harry Potter, I found the doors that these machines opened a little dangerous, and infinitely thrilling.

It happened that in my non-book life, I ran a gallery, where I sold automata – mechanical toys – and was, some years ago, commissioned to research ancient invention.  I discovered ancient civilisations were much more technologically advanced than I had realised.  The Middle East was full of time pieces and automated statues and sculpture. Heron of Alexandria invented a machine that could roll onto a stage, play out several scenes with puppets and roll off again.  It was run entirely by sand, and he did this in 10 AD.  There were all the awful machines of war, used by the Greeks and the Romans.  There were the complicated stone door mechanisms of the Egyptians, and clever ways of getting water up from the sand into cities.  I found that the Chinese invented tonnes of things, compasses, gunpowder and they really messed around with the possibilities of flight.  Some of it rather horribly as punishment, and some of it for the advancement of humankind.

I found out that everyone, ever has seen new invention as both threatening, and exciting, and that people always wanted to own it, or fear it.  This makes inventions in stories very useful and the catalysts for advance and intrigue.  There’s this whole thing about what is possible and what is impossible. And I found that I really wanted to use that in stories myself – after all, as Arthur C Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.   So – invention? Or magic? They may be one and the same thing. And stories allow a person to blur that boundary – and take huge leaps into the unknown.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Legend Of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

 

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Review: The Legend Of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

About a hundred years ago, a gorilla was born. On that night, gorilla elders prophesied that she would meet with many misfortunes … So begins the story of Sally Jones, heroine of last year’s big hit The Murderer’s Ape. Sally’s journeys take her from Istanbul to Borneo to New York. Her run-in with an infamous jewel thief begins a series of unfortunate events which continue until Sally finds her home on The Hudson Queen.

sallyjones2Sally Jones was possibly my first choice for an origin story. She’s a feminist icon – a skilled engineer, proficient writer and not someone who submits to capture. It was lovely to see her life-story and to learn why she became so fiercely loyal to Koskela, and to find out how she came by her name.

One of the delights of The Murderer’s Ape was the line-drawings. The Legend Of Sally Jones is something between a graphic-novel and a picture book. It plays to Wegelius’s style, and the effect is like looking at cigarette cards. The key moments and turning points of Sally’s life are captured and when you’ve read through once it is as great a pleasure to flick through and pick out individual illustrations.

This book is all about atmosphere – if you love the steam-boats and expeditions and shady characters of 1900s adventure-books, this one is for you. A delightful companion which could be read before or after reading its sister-story.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of The Legend Of Sally Jones. Opinions my own.

Read more about Sally Jones in  The Murderer’s Ape

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Endling – The Last by Katherine Applegate

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Extract: 

And then I saw them.

All of them.

My mother.

My father. 

My siblings.

They were piled on the ground like discarded hides, blood pouring, white and pearly, soaking the leaves, eyes glassy and open, mouths open. Torn and stabbed.

They lay in a mound, as if they’d been too late to scatter, my parents on top, protecting as always. 

I ran. 

(Endling – The Last by Katherine Applegate. P45.) 

birdbreakSynopsis:

Humans are not the only intelligent species. Byx is a Dairne – one of the governing species. Dairne have been hunted for generations. When her pack is killed, Byx is forced to confront the possibility that she may be the last Dairne alive.

Joined by Tobble the wobbyk, and a girl who disguises herself as a boy, Byx sets off in search of the legendary haven which is said to protect and home other Dairne. As new friends and allies join her, she confronts a secret which may threaten every other creature in the world.

The first book in a new trilogy.

birdbreakReview:

An extraordinary middle-grade adventure which explores the way humans treat other animals. Set in a world which humans govern alongside other intelligent species, Katherine Applegate shows how the human urge to dominate leads to death and destruction.

Not all humans in the story are bad – some, like Khara, seek only to survive under the rule of the Murdano. Khara’s storyline explores gender roles and gender stereotyping. She disguises herself as a boy so she can use her gift for tracking in order to survive and send money home to her family.

The book is not solely about extinction – at its heart is the last remaining member of a species, trying to figure out what it means to be something which almost doesn’t exist. Anybody who remembers the news stories about Lonesome George – the last-known Pinta Island tortoise – will remember how he became a figurehead for the damage wrought by humans.

None of the characters are perfect – Khara initially holds Byx captive, and Byx herself has eaten Wobbyk. This makes the story feel more realistic and the themes more pressing -this is not about poor, innocent animals and nasty humans. It is about the difference between taking to survive and taking through greed and power.

Katherine Applegate writes the perfect scene – short and concise, giving the reader a little more information every time.

A wonderful addition to the canon of children’s books our place in the natural world. Empathising with Byx will make it easier for readers to empathise with other animals. This is an ambitious world but the fact that totally fictional species are made so believable is an achievement. I look forward to continuing the trilogy.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Firebird by Elizabeth Wein

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Extract:

I wondered what would happen to my friends. I wondered how long it would be before they were armed and fighting – protecting the blue skies of Motherland from the enemy invaders. 

(The Firebird by Elizabeth Wein. P37.)birdSynopsis:

I am not a traitor. Let me tell you why I landed my plane behind enemy lines …

Nastia is the daughter of revolutionaries and a life-long Communist. As Russia enters the Second World War, Nastia is determined to fly a fighter-plane. Instead she is sent to train new pilots alongside Chief. As war takes over, Nastia uncovers secrets which have been buried since the fall of the Romanovs.

birdReview:

 A short and compelling narrative about a Soviet woman during the second world war. This pulls together two strands of history – the fall of the Romanovs in 1917 and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

The greatest difficulty about learning history as a young person is understanding that time-periods didn’t happen in isolation. The events of one time-period were shaped by or in reaction to the time which preceded it. The brilliance of this story is it shows how the past twenty-five years have built-up to the time-period of the story. Nastia is also very aware of the wars in her country. She has been raised to revere and fight for her country.

This is an exceptionally well-written story. Its format makes it accessible to a wider audience – Barrington Stoke produce books which are friendly to people with lower reading levels – but the story itself is as well-told as anything Elizabeth Wein has written. I felt as if I knew Nastia and enjoyed the strand about the Romanovs. It is interwoven in a way which allows the reader to guess at things before they are revealed.

Both Nastia and Chief are strong female role-models. Nastia is a captain at her rowing-club and is the person in her friendship group who goes first. Both Nastia and Chief are looked up to and respected. It is wonderful for young readers to see female characters in these roles.

Reading this felt like a window into a different life. The level of research which has gone into this was apparent from the text but also detailed in the back of the book. This would be a wonderful introduction to study of the Romanovs, the Second World War or the history of aviation. Empathising with people from very different times or places is the first step to understanding their history.

There are many books set during the second world war but I felt this did something new. Maybe it was that sense of history as a complex web of events, or maybe it was the strong female voices from this particular time and place. All I know is Nastia’s voice will stay with me and I hope to learn more about the history behind the book.

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke and Kirstin Lamb for my copy of The Firebird. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodheart

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Extract:

With his bad foot, Dad found carrying hard. He spent much of his time standing still at the benches in the greenhouses, planting and dividing his dahlia plants. He even talked to them. As if the plants were babies in the nursery. Bill supposed that was why the job was called being a ‘nurseryman’. Dad sometimes sang while he worked. I wish I could be a gardener like Dad, thought Bill, except maybe one who travels to collect new plants from foreign places.

(The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart. PP. 18 – 19.)bird

Synopsis:

Bill’s Mum is unwell but all she wants in the world is for Bill to stay in school. Bill would rather be outside working with plants like his Dad. When one of Bill’s tricks causes Dad to lose his job, Bill reckons it is up to him to provide for the family.

He takes a job at the coprolite diggings and it is there he learns about fossils, and the money people will pay for them. Then Bill makes a discovery – a huge sea dragon buried beneath the earth for millions of years. Could this be the answer to Bill’s problems?

birdReview:

A coming-of-age story about a boy desperate to prove himself and find his own place in the world. Bill has a lot on his mind. He doesn’t want to become a banker or a clerk but he wants to please his mother. His estranged family has returned to town which upsets Bill’s mother. Dad isn’t able to find another job and Bill just wants to be a good son and find an occupation which suits him. I loved Bill as a character. So many readers will relate to his frustration and his curiosity.

This is a wonderful time-setting. The story of Mary Anning has gained more coverage in recent years and is often studied by children in primary school. I’ve always thought it is a story which makes people curious about the past. It is about a person with no special education, who had an instinctive understanding of one particular field. I like how Bill’s story has echoes of Anning’s but is a new and fictional account of the era.

The discovery of fossils challenged many religious beliefs about creation and this is explored in the story. People were forced to reevaluate their beliefs in light of the discovery, and this proves too much for some of the characters. This would make an interesting discussion point about religion – can we reshape our beliefs in light of new knowledge and still believe in God? Is it up to an organised body to decide the truth? Although this book is aimed at middle-grade readers, it would make a wonderful introduction to these discussions with teenagers and young adults.

Bill uncovers more than one secret and I love how all the strands come together. Saying more would risk spoilers but the ending was touching and enabled the reader to empathise with more than one character.

A historical middle-grade title which explores the concerns of one era with the hindsight of the modern-day. The specific focus on fossil-discovery was fascinating and I would love to read more historical fiction which looks at scientific discovery and debate.

 

The Great Sea Dragon Discovery by Pippa Goodhart out now in paperback (£6.99, Catnip)

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Catnip Books for my copy of The Great Sea Dragon Discovery. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Peril In Paris (Taylor& Rose Secret Agents) by Katherine Woodfine

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Extract:

For a moment, she saw Carruthers’s sneering face again, then heard the Chief say, ‘your friend is a very courageous woman’. Was the implication that she herself was not? But surely that wasn’t fair: her mind flashed at once through scenes of underground passageways and rooftops and standing in an empty Office, face to face with the Baron himself. But that had been different, she realised. Then she’d always had Lil by her side.

(Peril In Paris by Katherine Woodfine. P40.) 

birdSynopsis:

Taylor and Rose detective society is turning its hand to espionage.

Sophie and Lil are sent abroad on top-secret missions. Lil must play an undercover governess, while Sophie is posing as the niece of a recently dead professor. Although both girls have solved many mysteries, Sophie is uncertain how she will fare without Lil by her side.

Can the girls get to the bottom of the murder and intrigue before international security is threatened?

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Review:

The gang from Taylor and Rose are back and now they are having adventures on an international scale. I am a long-time fan of Katherine Woodfine’s mysteries and am pleased to see the same characters back in a different guise. By shifting the focus of the series, Woodfine has maintained the same characters but broadened the setting. Their adventures could now take them anywhere in the world.

The Taylor &  Rose series follows on from The Sinclair’s Mysteries. You could certainly read this first, but if you haven’t read the earlier books I can’t recommend them enough. They are set in an Edwardian department store and follow a group of young detectives.

Katherine Woodfine is the master of the overarching plot. I’ve said it before but this series confirms my conviction. Without giving too much away, things we learned as the Sinclair’s series came to an end have become the first plot-point in a new storyline. While every book has a standalone plot, there is also a larger story. Something which needs to be solved across the series. Peril in Paris not only sets up a new story, it follows neatly on from The Sinclair’s Mysteries.

Peril In Paris takes a fascinating look at European history. Although the countries in the book are made up, their politics and geography situate them in the middle of very real events. This would make a fascinating introduction to the political events which lead to World War 2 because it takes in a complex web of relationships and conflicts.

There are also some beautiful moments which pay homage to made-up European countries in past children’s literature. It was a delight to see those countries from a different angle.

I’ll make no secret that these are some of my favourite mystery-books of all time. They are complex, intelligent and have just the right mix of history and legend. Without any spoilers, it is difficult to say more. I know readers of these books aged between 8 and 70-something and the big kids wait as eagerly as the real ones for the next installment.

 

Thanks to Egmont UK for my copy of Peril In Paris. Opinions my own.