Activity Book

Letting Go and Be Positive – mindful workbooks for young people by Dr. Sharie Coombes.

Letting Go and Be Positive – mindful workbooks for young people by Dr. Sharie Coombes.

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Doodle and reflect and let go of the bad feelings with these brilliant new workbooks.

Finally emotional health is no longer confined to clinics. Young people need space to think about their feelings at all times and the most exciting thing about these workbooks is they are designed like any other colouring or drawing book. Except that the activities are centred around mindfulness. 

Letting Go centres around grief and disappointment, while Be Positive is about letting go of negative feelings and increasing self-worth and confidence. Both workbooks feature a range of activities, from mindful colouring to yoga poses to pages which encourage readers to think about specific issues such as setting their own boundaries or recognising their agency in making things better for the future. 

These are perfectly pitched for Primary and younger Secondary children. These books avoid the vigorously upbeat tone of so many books about mindfulness and well-being but they always sound calm and bright. This allows readers to feel that their negative feelings are valid but it also encourages them to believe in happier things. 

Top marks to this series for encouraging mindfulness as part of our day to day routine. 

 

Thanks to Studio Press for my copies of the books discussed in this feature. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

Review: The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson.

The Boy Who Fooled The World

Extract:

‘Cole,’ she repeated, crouching down to study the picture more closely. Her wide-legged trousers brushed against the side of my picture, leaving a streak of blue paint near the hem. Those trousers probably cost more money than my mum earned in a month.

‘Yes, erm … Cole Miller,’ I said, gulping.

‘I can see it. I can see exactly what it is you were trying to do,’ she said. 

(The Boy Who Fooled The World by Lisa Thompson. P51.) 

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Synopsis:

Cole is sick of being poor and the taunts he endures at school only get worse after everyone finds out that his Dad doesn’t work at all.

Then Marina, an artist who is visiting the school, claims to see potential in Cole’s work. She takes it to her gallery in London where it sells for a thousand pounds. Marina reckons that the next painting will sell for even more.

The only trouble is there was nothing really special about the first one. Cole can’t see for the life of him what the big fuss was. He considers owning up, but his family desperately needs the money. Cole is under huge pressure to produce the next masterpiece and the growing media interest doesn’t help. Then Cole does something. Something that fools the entire world.

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Review:

Lisa Thompson has forged a reputation for unbeatable contemporary middle-grade stories. Her stories get right to the emotional heart of her characters’ experiences and The Boy Who Fooled The World is no exception. Cole is struggling with being the poor kid in school and never having the money to join in with everyone else. He also loves his family lots and is fed up of the judgement cast over his parents.

There are two big stories going on in this book. The first centres around an unsolved art mystery that allegedly leads the solver to great riches. The painting with all the clues happens to be housed in the local museum where Cole’s Mum works. The museum is due to close down so if Cole and his friends want to find the treasure they are running out of time. The second story is about Cole’s sudden rise to fame when a modern artist sees something in his work that he never intended. Lots of questions are posed early on and it is impossible not to want to know what happens in the end.

The emotional stories are strong too. Cole wants the jibes to stop to the extent that he is desperate to find his family some money. He never stops to questions whether this is everything he needs in life. His best friend Mason, meanwhile, comes from a very well-off family but hardly ever sees his parents. When he does, there is immense pressure on him to uphold their very high standards. It was interesting to see this contrast. Sometimes people write off the concerns off middle-class children because everything that matters is OK. Yet it is impossible to put into words what family time and praise and happy family relations mean to a kid.

That’s not to say Cole’s situation isn’t shown with sensitivity. The descriptions of his coat and the rubbish heating system inside his house and the school trip letter that he almost doesn’t bring out of his bag paint a picture that is sadly too common at this moment in time. The scenes with Cole’s Dad are brilliant too – how people in society are so uncomprehending of his choice to put his children first and take time out of work. How he is treated as a lesser person the second he explains what he is doing. These scenes give readers a chance to reflect on their own attitudes away from the prejudice of other influences.

This book has a great plot line and strong friendships and I think Lisa Thompson is one of the most amazing writers of contemporary middle grade today. Her books are one-sitting wonders that are impossible to put down and they promote kindness and empathy.

A must read.

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Boy Who Fooled The World. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Board Book

Review: Gregory Goose In On The Loose board book series by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley.

Review: Gregory Goose In On The Loose board book series by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley.

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Featuring On The Moon and In The Jungle

Gregory Goose gets everywhere. The trouble is, it can be difficult to keep up with him when there is so very much to see. This wonderful board book series challenges readers to find Gregory Goose on journeys through different environments.

With bright and attractive pictures, these books offer an exciting game of hide-and-seek.

This format is ever popular, but what I love about the Gregory Goose series is it doesn’t push the game on the reader. It is just as possible to read through one of the books to enjoy the setting as it is to stop and search for Gregory Goose. Every double page spread introduces something new – so when Gregory Goose goes to the moon, for example, we are first introduced to rockets, then to stars, then to planets and so on. This makes the books excellent vocabulary builders. The close focus on one location makes it easy for the reader to pick up new words.

Gregory Goose himself looks friendly and inquisitive – much like a young child exploring the world for the first time. He is a kindred spirit on the great adventure that is this world. 

There is a rhyme scheme to the text, but it feels entirely natural, much like being spoken to in a slightly sing-song voice. This makes the books perfect for repetition – and they will certainly be on repeat for many readers!

The perfect books for little adventurers on the hunt for new facts about the world. 

 

Thanks to Catch A Star for my copies of the books featured in this review. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.

Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.

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Extract:

Chaya stood up and ran. A searing pain shot through her leg and all the way up. It was useless. She was in too much pain. This was it; they’d find her here eventually. 

And then in the distance, through a blur of pain, Chaya saw her getaway vehicle. 

(The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.) 

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Synopsis:

Chaya can solve anything. A broken leg that requires emergency medical treatment, education fees, roof repairs … Chaya is happy to steal from the rich if it means that the people in her village are able to cover the cost of their basic needs. Then Chaya steals the Queen’s Jewels and her best friend Neel takes the blame.

The King doesn’t take kindly to thieves. Even falsely accused ones. Unless Chaya acts fast, Neel will lose his live.

Together with rich, lonely Nour, Chaya breaks Neel out of prison. Together with a stolen elephant, the King’s elephant Ananda, the children escape to the jungle.

They need to find a solution before the village suffers for their actions.

 

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Review:

Are you ready for adventure? Chaya is the new daredevil protagonist to win readers’ hearts. Her habit of causing real trouble is matched only by her determination to do the right thing. Think break-ins and breakouts and epic getaways. And an elephant named Ananda.

This novel challenges us to question our definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Chaya does something illegal when she breaks into the palace. However, the people of Chaya’s village aren’t able to meet their basic needs without the theft and the King hasn’t raised a finger to help. He lives off the profit of the land and allows the villagers to go without. This context opens some interesting questions about morals and actions. How far would we go to have a secure life? Does this make Chaya’s actions right? We see very early on that what Chaya does is a gamble and that it can lead to greater and more desperate trouble. However, there was no doubt for me as a reader that my empathy lay with her. This is a brilliant middle grade novel to introduce topics about social injustice – a topic which is sadly all too relevant in the present day.

 This is also a story about revolution, without the focus on the bloodshed and sacrifice that is more common in YA. We see that scary things happen, desperate things, but the story itself is mainly about Chaya’s escape and return to the village. This allows younger readers to learn about the idea of revolution without seeing the scarier parts in lengthy detail.

That’s not to say the stakes aren’t high. We know the King won’t relent unless he is fought.

The friendships in this story are wonderful and the tensions between the children are clear. Chaya wants to do right. Neel can see that the cost of Chaya’s actions might be too high. Nour wants company and friendship – a big thing to her, but she struggles to see that Chaya isn’t playing games. I loved what Nour brought to the story. Middle-Class children are too often derided in fiction without any consideration given to the fact that they are young too, and only know their ‘normal’. This story empathises with Nour while gently showing that she hasn’t seen enough of the world yet to understand the wider picture. She is naïve and often frustrating to the other characters, but she is also good-hearted and willing to stick by her new friends.

I love stories where the main characters aren’t natural bosom buddies. The development, and the way they come together, is often deep and memorable. This is the case with The Girl Who Stole An Elephant.

This is pure middle-grade brilliance and deservedly Waterstones Book Of The Month for January 2020. Prepare to have your heart opened and to fall in love with this fantastic adventure.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my proof copy of The Girl Who Stole An Elephant. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

Review: On Sleepy Hill by Patricia Hegarty and Xuan Le.

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Night is falling on the hillside. The moon has risen and the world is calm and peaceful. Across the landscape and over towards Sleepy Hill, the animals are ready to sleep.

This gentle, rhyming text reassures the reader that everything is well as the day draws to an end. 

The pages have large cutaway sections that draw the eye naturally towards the animals sitting in the foreground. At first these sections are like large windows, and we peek through them towards the distant hills, but as we get further into the book the windows disappear and the pages get smaller still. We are guided through clearings and mountain plains until we finally reach Sleepy Hills, bathed in silvery moonlight and blanketed by stars. 

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As a metaphor for bedtime, this couldn’t be more reassuring. Instead of suggesting that there is anything to fear, the book guides us from a place where Sleepy Hills seem distant and impossibly far away through to the place of sleep itself. Along the way we see lots of animals having their last play or tucking in for the night. If they can settle down, then surely the reader can too. 

A gentle colour palette of lilacs and blues and silvery-greens completes the effect of night drawing in. 

Although this is a book about bedtime, it also promotes walks through nature. The cut-away pages layer together like a landscape and remind us one place is not separate from another. Forests and clearings and foothills and mountains roll into one another, and there is always somewhere else on the horizon. This book recreates the feeling of being outdoors. 

On Sleepy Hill brings nature and bedtime together beautifully and reassures the reader that sleep is a lovely place to be. A perfect bedtime read. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger Group) for my copy of On Sleepy Hill. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

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Extract:

Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it earlier.

 ‘I will go with you,’ Rose said to the bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animal’s great paw flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.

(North Child by Edith Pattou. P91.)

 

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Synopsis:

No matter how hard her mother tried to deny it, Rose was born facing North. And just like the old stories about North-born children say, she longs to venture far from home.

When her sister gets dangerously ill, and the family is in danger of losing its home, Rose makes a pact with a mysterious white bear. In exchange for her sister’s survival and her family’s prosperity, Rose follows the bear to a strange palace where she remains with him, uncertain why he called on her.

Rose spends her days exploring the palace and weaving in the sewing room. At night somebody sleeps beside her, but she never quite sees this person’s face. The more Rose sees of the palace, and the more she comes to like the bear, the more curious she gets.

Can she unravel the secret of the palace without ruining her own destiny?

 

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Review:

It has been some time since I got so thoroughly immersed in a book. This is a story told in multiple voices, often in short chapters, but the plot is so satisfying and the language so beautiful that I lost myself within its pages. Reading it was like sinking into a dream and I spent my days waiting for the chance to pick the book up again.

Inspired by the fairy tale East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, North Child is mainly about two characters: Rose, the adventurous girl who was always destined to leave her family, and the mysterious white bear. We also hear from the Troll Queen, our antagonist, and her story of desire and greed and heartless cruelty interweaves with those of the main characters.

Rose’s mother, father and brother Neddy are also given narrative voices. This may seem unusual at first, but Pattou pulls it off with great skill and the result is that we get a rounded picture of Rose. We learn about her home life and the people she loves even when she is miles away from them.

It seems no coincidence that weaving and threads are motifs within this narrative. The writing itself is like many richly coloured threads worked together into a tapestry.

There are so many memorable imagines within this story. Rose working at a loom to create herself a cloak fit for adventure. The White Bear carrying Rose over a frozen landscape. Rose and the Bear playing music in their many hours together in the palace. This is a very visual, very detailed story that remains in the mind in vignettes much like a fairy tale.

An epic tale about love and possessive desire told by a great storyteller. If you love fairy tale adaptations or simply good writing, this one is for you. The perfect story for long Wintery nights.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending a proof copy of North Child. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne.

Review: The Rabbit, The Dark And The Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne. 

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Rabbit isn’t tired and he doesn’t want to go to bed. Then he has a clever idea: if the sky doesn’t get dark, he will never be forced to rest. So he gets out his biscuit tin, opens the lid, takes it outdoors and SNAP. The Dark is trapped inside a biscuit tin.

It seems like the perfect ending until the other animals are upset and Rabbit’s carrots begin to wilt in the sunlight. Eventually, Rabbit is forced to face up to his feelings and open the biscuit tin lid. To his great surprise, the Dark has some really very interesting lessons. 

A gentle and humorous story that encourages readers to think beyond their own feelings and fears.

Rabbit’s feelings about bedtime will be relatable to so many young readers, but this is also the perfect story about thinking about people other than ourselves. Rabbit’s action with the biscuit tin may solve his own problem but it creates sadness, mayhem and even hunger for the animals around him. Eventually he faces up to this and recognises that his own feelings don’t always come first. 

This would also make a lovely companion read to the great classic The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark. 

The illustrations drew me straight in and made me want to pick this title up. Rabbit’s facial expressions are strong and help to tell the story alongside the words. There is also a stunning fold-out feature where readers can open the biscuit tin for themselves and release the night sky. 

This story is gentle in just the right way. The character overcomes his fears and finds that this new way of looking at things is more beautiful than the old. The perfect bedtime story to read in the darkest nights of the year. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin. Opinions my own.