Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

Blog Tour: Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson.

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Extraordinary! by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson

Extraordinary. Inspiring.

We live in a world obsessed with the mighty. The large. The barely achievable. Yet wondrous things happen all around us. Extraordinary! is both a wake-up call and a love song to the quiet, everyday moments that remind us what an amazing thing it is to be alive in this world. 

This is a theme I adore. It is like seeing my interest in Romantic literature meet squarely with my love of children’s fiction. 

The gentle rhyme takes us from dreaming of bigger, more unusual things to slowly noticing the beauty and wonder of the natural world. It is like tuning in. Turning from the exciting dreams put into our heads by the media to a realisation that every day is incredible. 

Recent articles have highlighted that environmental themes in picture books have been approached in ways that don’t necessarily make easy bedtime reading. Extraordinary! is the antidote. The book for younger readers who aren’t yet ready to hear about the damage inflicted on the world by humans. It reminds us how special and beautiful our planet is by drawing on the known. The everyday. 

Author Penny Harrison has kindly written a post about her favourite things to do outdoors and I am honoured to host it. Thank you to Penny Harrison for your time, and to the stars at New Frontier Publishing for organising this opportunity. 

 

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Things To Do Outdoors by author Penny Harrison

Growing up on a cattle farm, in central-western New South Wales, Australia, it was easy to develop a strong connection to the outside world. Even when I moved to the city, in later years, I always sought out the nearest park, found a favourite tree to read under, or planted some cheery daffodils in a pot by my back door.

Many of my books aim to inspire a similar love of nature in children. But in Extraordinary, I wanted to do more. I wanted to instil a sense of mindfulness in readers, encouraging them to experience the ever-changing natural world with all their senses, to notice the little things, and to cherish these moments.

Here are some of my favourite things to do outdoors:

 

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  • Make a nature mobile. Forage in the garden or park for pine cones, feathers, stones, seedpods and vines that you can bend into small shapes (circles, stars, hearts). Tie a variety of items to different pieces of string, then hang them from two sticks bound together to form an x-shape. Arrange them so the mobile is balanced.

 

  • Start your own nature journal. Use your magnifying glass to zoom in on a flower or bug; then sketch it, and add colour and labels. Include tracings/rubbings of leaves and drawings of the different flowers you find (press some between the pages, using heavy books). Look for beetles, lizards, worms, or caterpillars to draw. Give them names and make up stories or poems about them. Go on a nature walk and record everything you notice.

 

  • Sit outside and make a map of your garden, park or neighbourhood. Draw in all the little details that mean something to you (eg. a flower bed that butterflies love to visit, your favourite climbing tree, the best patch of grass for daydreaming/cloudgazing, the spot where the best tomatoes grow, the house next door with the fairy lights in the tree).

 

  • Turn yourself into a witch or wizard for the day and make your own potions and spells from nature. Gather flower petals, seeds, dirt, leaves and other natural ingredients to stir in a pot. Give your spells names and don’t forget to make up your own magic words. For some extra pizzazz, you could add a little baking soda and food colouring to your potion, then a splash of vinegar for a fizzing, enchanting illusion!

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  • Make your backyard or balcony a friendly place for birds, bugs and other creatures that might visit. Decorate an old milk carton and turn it into a bird feeder. Leave out bowls of water for birds and small creatures on hot days. Make a bug hotel by creating a tight bundle of twigs, bark and and dried seedpods and flowers to hang. Plant a patch (or pot) of flowers rich in pollen to attract butterflies and bees (try lavender, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos). And have a go at growing some of your favourite vegetables.

 

  • Go hunting for fairies in your garden or neighbourhood park. Make flower wreaths, crowns and wands to entice them out. Find a hollowed-out tree or stump to turn into a miniature mailbox and leave natural treasures and notes for your fairy friends. Put together your own ‘fairy garden’ in a shallow bowl or pot, complete with moss, pebble walking path, a pond and a fairy house made from pieces of wood (this is where your hot glue gun comes in handy!)

 

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My copy of Extraordinary! was sent as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Board Book · Round-Up

Board Book Round-Up – February 2020.

Board Book Round-Up – February 2020.

 

Baby Goat and Baby Kitten. Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang.

Animal behaviours.

img_1245Wake up, explore, play, and end the day with some baby animals. These beautiful board books incorporate finger puppets of baby animals so that different behaviours can be acted out as the text is read.

These books introduce the idea that other animals sound and act differently, but that maybe they are not so dissimilar to ourselves. Little animals wake up, they interact with their mothers, play, eat and explore just like little people. Building this empathy will help the reader to treat other animals with respect and kindness, and to decrease fear when meeting these creatures in the real world.

These books are also incredibly cute. I had never been sold on puppet books when I saw them in bookshops. Then I tried the puppet out. It works just as well as puppetry in other forms. The illustrations provide a landscape for the play.

These would make a lovely gift for a new baby.

Baby’s Very First Faces. Illustrated by Jo Lodge.

High contrast pages. Mirror.

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New babies love to look at faces. They also love high-contrast pictures.

This book has been designed with the very tiniest readers in mind. Make no mistake – we can learn reading beahviours long before we speak a sentence. Reading isn’t just about vocabulary. It is about communication and fun and knowing that there is a secure space at the end of every day. Reading is about so very much more than words and this book reminds us of that.

With striking black-and-yellow designs and crinkly sounding pages, this book is strong on sensory experience.

The three words inside here – Daddy, Mummy, and Baby, are words that lots of children learn earliest of all. This is, of course, only one family model – if it helps at all, the words are on separate pages, so it is possible to pick out the ones most relevant to the young reader in question.

The soft pages also encourage lots of cuddling-up and lots of practice in turning pages.

 

Bake A Rainbow Cake! by Amirash Kassem.

Colours. Baking terminology.

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Cut it. Fill it. Frost it. Sprinkle it.

Run through the process of baking a rainbow cake. With tabs and wheels and colourful illustrations, this is the perfect book not only to practice the colours of the rainbow but to introduce words and concepts associated with baking.

Little people are great bakers. Sure, there are things they can’t do, like use a knife or put trays into the oven, but all that mixing? And sprinkling? And using their hands to roll things into shape? The sooner small people get into the kitchen – under supervision – the better.

This is a wonderful book to run through what the experience of baking might look like. It has a great play factor. Turning a wheel to add food colouring. Pulling a tab to see cakes rise. There is plenty of scope for adult – mini-reader talk, which will introduce even more wonderful vocabulary.

This is the first board book I have seen about baking, and it is fabulous.

Fun At The Fair by Ingela P Arrhenius.

Motion. Location-specific vocabulary. 

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Welcome to the funfair. 

The roller coaster goes up then down. The wheel spins round and round. There’s so much for small people to watch at a fair, long before they are big enough to go on the rides. 

Fairs are great for talking about motion. Spinning. Sliding. Up and down. Twirling around. Not to mention what they do for the imagination. Where on earth do such magical places come from? What might happen when the wheel reaches the top? Where does the little train go when it disappears inside the tunnel? 

The design of this book imitates the experience of visiting a location in real life. Instead of seeing things one at a time, the pages are all different shapes and sizes. As one thing is in the foreground, others can be seen in the distance. 

A beautiful addition to the series. 

 

Let’s Go series (On A Ferry and On A Rocket) by Rosalyn Albert and Natalia Moore.

Vehicles and new settings.

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All aboard. Let’s Go!

Climb on board different vehicles and get set for adventure. Sail up to the moon in a rocket, or ride the waves and watch out for dolphins from the deck of a ferry.

This beautiful series not only introduces new vehicles, but it also introduces new locations. It is also one of the few times I have seen children of all genders and skin tones at the helm of big and exciting vehicles. Too often, the books feature a single blonde boy wearing glasses and dungarees. Possibly with a cheeky grin. There is such a child in this series, but there are six children in total and the representation is far broader than normal. Research shows that children form ideas about gender limitations by the age of two. Two change this, we need books like these that challenge stereotypes and prove that everyone can grow up to command ferries and rockets.

Two children share each adventure, so this is also a great series to promote friendship and working together.

With heaps of excitement and positive message, this belongs on every nursery bookshelf.

 

 

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! by Todd Tuell. Illustrated by Tad Carpenter.

Movement. Sibling relations.

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The popular picture book is now available in board book form. 

Little ninja is very busy. He runs. He climbs. He chops. Little ninja never stops. As the words follow his adventures, the pictures tell the emotional narrative. This little ninja is watched by a small brother. At first, the little brother is ignored. Then Ninja’s activities cause upset. As he makes it up, he finds out that his little brother is, in fact, the perfect partner. The story ends with the pair dressed up together, kicking, jumping, and chopping. 

For small readers, this book is a brilliant way of introducing vocabulary around movement. It is also good for talking about friendly relationships – with siblings and with other children. 

The rhyme is as fast-paced as Ninja’s actions. It would be fun – in the correct space – to read it and allow small readers to act out some of the movements. 

High-flying, jumping, kicking fantastic fun. 

 

Noisy Farm by Rod Campbell.

Farm terminology. Animal names. 

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It’s daybreak at the farm. Soon all the farm animals are waking up and making different noises. What other sounds can be heard around the farm? Lift the flaps to find out what else is going on around the farm. 

Tiny people have such a lot to learn – and they learn with all of their senses. Noises,  smells and tastes can be just as new and confusing as anything they see. This book is perfect for introducing small people to the things they might see and hear in the countryside, and especially around a farm. It is also perfect for introducing animal names. 

A potentially unknown and frightening location is made friendly with the inclusion of baby animals. The message throughout the book is that animals have parents and babies too. 

This book is such a classic that I remember it from my own infancy. There is a gentleness to the narrative and illustrations that helps the young reader to feel comfortable with the idea of other animals. 

 

 

 

Who Loves Books? by Lizi Boyd.

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Who loves books? Is it you?

On a sunny day, Squirrel sails her boat along the bank handing out books. She has lots of takers. All the way along the bank, little animals appear to make use of her floating library. All except Raccoon, who sneaks along the bank keeping track of the boat. This not only creates a fabulous hide and seek game, but it builds in some suspense as we are kept waiting to learn whether Raccoon will, eventually, get a book to read. 

The design is beautiful. With full-size and half-size pages, it is possible to create different layouts – to match the stream on the bottom half of the spreads with different backgrounds. 

The colour palette, with its summery greens and light pastel blues, is perfect for a calming shared read. 

A lovely way to share some positivity and excitement about books with tiny readers. 

 

Thanks to Abrams And Chronicle Kids, Catch A Star, and Macmillan Children’s Books for gifting the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner.

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About The Bat Book. 

What is a bat? What do bats look like, and what do they eat, and how do they fly? Whereabouts in the world do bats live? 

This fantastic volume answers every question a reader could have about bats. Additionally, it is informative about the threat bats face today from deforestation, demolition of old buildings, and pesticides. A helpful section at the back advises readers on how to keep a bat-friendly garden. 

With pages divided into short sections – the text is in chunks from a couple of simple sentences to a paragraph – this book is perfect for less confident readers, and for children under 7. The bold, close-up pictures make it easy to visualise the topic in question. 

I was lucky enough to be given a chance to put some questions to author and illustrator Charlotte Milner. Her responses tell us not only about bats but about her approach to nature writing. 

Thanks to Charlotte Milner for your time and answers. 

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Q&A with author of The Bat Book Charlotte Milner. 

Q: Your books deal with environmental conservation issues and facts about the natural world. Please can you tell us about your approach to the subject?
A: My aim with each of the books is to inspire a love of nature by offering children an understanding of the amazing ways that animals survive within the context of different ecosystems.
When we understand how plants and animals interact with each other, we can understand why certain problems like climate change or habitat loss have an effect on them and what can be done to help. I try to make the books as simple and as visual as I can, and I hope that the books can be used as a tool for parents and children to have a conversation about conservation issues while enjoying learning about animals.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about bats?
A: I think generally a lot of people see bats as either being scary or as vermin, I’ve heard them being described as ‘flying mice’ before. But bats are not even closely genetically related to rodents, they belong to their own order, Chiroptera, and as the only mammals that can fly, there really are no other animals like them. While it is important never to touch a bat, they are also no more likely to carry a disease than other wild animals.
As a common Halloween symbol, I can also understand why people might think of bats as spooky but bats keep to themselves and are unlikely to fly anywhere near a human. As nocturnal animals, most of the time we don’t even know they are around. I hope that The Bat Book will give a more in-depth understanding of how bats live, and how, as pollinators and important seed dispersers, they have a really important ecological role.
Q: What sort of experiences did you have with bats whilst researching the book?
A; I went on a fantastic bat walk in Hyde Park. I’d really recommend a bat walk, it’s a great way to see the different bat species that live around you, which you might not have even known were there. You also get to use a bat detector, which is a very exciting gadget that detects the high-pitched calls of bats and translates them into sounds we can hear. This is a really useful for understanding echolocation- the way that bats use sound to ‘see’ what is around them so accurately that they can catch tiny-fast flying insects.
 
Q: Please can you share your favourite facts about bats? (I think if you can share just the one, that would be great as these are featuring in a different blog post I think!)
A: My favourite bat fact has to be that bats pollinate over 500 species of plant, including plants that grow tropical fruits such as bananas. Many of the plants that bats visit for nectar from have evolved to attract their nocturnal pollinators. The flowers will often bloom at night, and have white petals to stand out in the dark. Unlike the sweet-smelling flowers that bees love, bat-pollinated flowers often have a rotten smell that attracts bats during the night-time.
 
Q: How can humans help bats? What can everybody do to make the world a friendlier place for bats?
A: Yes they can! The main problem that bats face is habitat loss which means that there aren’t enough places for bats to roost and find food. If you have a garden you can make it more wildlife-friendly by adding certain plants. Plants such as borage, cornflower, night-scented stock and evening primrose release their scent in the night-time which attracts moths and flies that bats love to eat. Putting a bat box up is also great for giving bats a place to roost.
 
Q: Any hints about which areas of the natural world you are currently writing about?
A: I’m having a lot of fun writing the next book which is all about a part of the world that feels a million miles away from my London home. It’s a place where there are endless animal species to write about that have all evolved in the most fascinating ways to survive in an environment that is wildly dense!
The Bat Book is available from Dorling Kindersley Books. RRP. £12.99.
Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson PR for organising this promotional blog tour. 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.

coffee table book · Non-Fiction

Review: Silk Roads (ed by Susan Whitfield).

Review: Silk Roads (ed by Susan Whitfield).

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Silk Roads is extraordinary in its scope. It is comprised of short essays from academic contributors. For the reader, this offers multiple perspectives and creates a book to dip into and savour.

There was no Silk Road. This is the first point made in the introduction. Silk Roads is a romanticised term used to describe the trade and interaction across Afro-Eurasia between roughly 200 BCD and 1400 CE. The term Silk Roads came into play during the Victorian Era.

What becomes clear from the earliest sections is that this period of trade and interaction between different civilizations challenges us to accept the limitations of one source of knowledge. This is seen especially clearly in one of the book’s early essays called Mapping The Silk Roads by Peter Whitfield. Ptolemy’s world map, described by Whitfield as a touchstone for modern European Cartography was later proved inaccurate and remapped using the knowledge of Chinese historians.

Rather than dividing the book by time period or country, the essays are divided by landscape – Steppe, Mountains And Highlands, Deserts And Oases, Rivers And Plains, and Seas And Skies. To keep the reader grounded, detailed and labelled maps are printed regularly throughout the book. 

As a newcomer to the subject, I couldn’t have asked for more. This is not an easy subject to begin studying because it encompasses not only a vast area of land and space of time, but it also takes into account conflicting and often absent histories. A recurring theme throughout the essays was that history is dominated by the written record, but that by looking more closely at cultures whose voices have been overwritten, a richer and more nuanced understanding can be gained. What worked for me as a novice to the subject was that the different essays touched on such different aspects that the book demonstrated the scope of this history.

Photography both historical and modern, of land and of artefacts, is included throughout the book. These visual references help situate the reader and to give a sense of what life might have looked like during different eras. From textiles to architecture, coins and pottery and implements of war, the clear and detailed images make it possible to browse the book as one might browse a museum exhibition. Full page photographs of different landscapes draw the reader in and make the geography real.

Silk Roads is a book to treasure. One to read slowly and return to regularly. It is visually stunning and the text and the photographs together build a rounded overview of the subject. The recurring themes about interaction between cultures and overlapping histories make us think about broader ethical issues and overall it is a beautiful and informative volume.

 

Thanks to Thames And Hudson for my copy of Silk Roads. 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.

illustrated · Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

Review: 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty by Katie Viggers.

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Count from one through to twenty with the help of some animal friends. 

1 fox in a pair of socks. 

2 gorrillas looking in mirrors. 

On we go through llamas in pyjamas, dogs with frogs and moles making holes, all the way to 20 birds who have the last words. Counting animals works on so many different levels. It helps the reader to visualise and compare different quantities, it allows them to compare on quantity to another and it encourages them to look at realistic drawings of animals. 

At the end of the book, over two double page spreads, the animals are lined up together in rows. This helps the reader to understand some basic numerical princples. For example, there is only one fox, but there is one gorilla and another one gorilla, and that makes two. Children encounter numbers in different contexts. The number 2 bus, for example, uses the number as a label but it is only one bus. This is a nominal use of the number 2. It can be terribly confusing to understand that the number two can also be broken down into 2×1 or 1+1. The number 2 can represent a quantity. 

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Chanting the names of numbers is only the beginning. By looking at the illustrations, readers will gain a deeper understanding of numbers as a quantity. 

For all the whimsy of the rhymes, the illustrations show animals in realistic poses. Certainly, most foxes don’t wear socks but aside from the knee-high stripey socks the illustration is realistic and clearly informed by observation. Later on in the book, different species of dog, cat and bird are clearly labelled. As well as introducing readers to basic numeracy, this increases their vocabulary about the natural world. This gives an added advantage. Books like this are read over and over across a number of years – say from toddlerhood through to the end of Infant’s School. The adult reader is less likely to get bored if they enjoy the artwork. 

A beautiful and intelligently designed introduction to animals and numbers .

 

Thanks to Laurence King Publishing for my copy of 1 to 20 Animals Aplenty. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Boundless Sky by Amanda Addison & Manuela Adreani.

Review: Boundless Sky by Amanda Addison & Manuela Adreani.

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Bird sets off from Alfie’s garden, and flies over the fields. The children wave and smile, knowing that Bird will be back in the spring. 

Bird flies over the blue sea and over the mountains, and eventually she comes to the dessert where Leila gives her a drink of water. 

Following a Summer in Africa, bird sets off to repeat the journey in the opposite direction, but when she reaches the dessert, Leila is nowhere to be seen. It seems that bird is not the only one making a migration. 

A sensitive and beautiful story that reminds us to care for those on the move.

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The story builds up slowly, with beautiful pictures that allow the reader to fall in love with bird. Just like the children who wave and smile in the early pictures, we want bird to reach her destination safe and sound. Meeting Leila in her original home is a simple yet brilliant touch. It reminds readers of Leila’s humanity. She has a home and it wasn’t always troubled. Given the things children might have heard about displaced people, it is vital that they understand that nobody is defined solely as a migrant or a refugee. 

When we learn that Leila is missing, the illustrations give us cause for concern. Why is that home turned over? Where has everybody gone? This story builds empathy in subtle ways long before it shows Leila’s own journey across the sea. 

This book might help children who have been in Leila’s situation to think about their own journey. It is also especially good at helping other readers to empathise with Leila. To show concern and care. To agree that they would welcome Leila, as they welcome Bird, as their neighbour. The final line of the book, welcome everyone, summarises its themes. 

The illustrations are drawn against a background of wide open sky. The skies set the tone of each page, from the gentle autumn breezes at the start to the terrible storms at sea. This would be a lovely book to use for thinking about how weather can be used to convey tone in a picture or a story. 

It is impossible not to be moved by this gentle picture book. A true read for empathy that needs to be read far and wide. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my copy. Opinions 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.