Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

Review: No Longer Alone by Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen.

No Longer Alone

The young protagonist of this story is used to being spoken about. People say how quiet she is. And shy. How she doesn’t like to run about. Everyone gets it wrong. Sometimes it is easier to talk and talk when nobody else is listening and to run riot through the landscapes of her imagination. People don’t understand that the other things are what she did before. 

Before she felt alone. 

Together with her Dad and her little sisters, the young girl in this story explores her feelings and emotions, and bit by bit they start to heal. To find a new normal. Nothing will ever replace the loved one they have lost, but together they start to feel less alone. 

A beautiful book which explores the thoughts and feelings of a grieving child. 

The extraordinary thing about this story is how it shows grief through things which are apparently normal. That is what happens when we lose people we love. We have to act out the old things, the things we did before, and it can feel frustrating and hurtful that the everyday itinerary has changed so very little when everything has changed so much. How can it be possible to get up without that special person to say good morning? Many picture books about grief show the huge, the overwhelming, but No Longer Alone captures that unfairness and wonder of life going on. 

First, our protagonist finds it impossible. She has been left alone and however normal and quiet she looks, there’s a whole world going on inside her head. Then she talks and talks with her family, and together they manage to feel together again. 

This is a story about a child who has lost a parent, although the relations aren’t made clear until the end. This is a clever way of examining feelings of grief which might be universal. It also encourages readers to empathise and question what might be going on. When I was a child, stories about grief were pretty much labeled on the front. They were rarely read to children who weren’t going through it at the time. This encouraged a generation to think of grief as something which belonged in a neat box. Beautiful books like No Longer Alone encourage everyone to know and recognise and empathise with those emotions. 

Certain images have become stock pictures for grief – calm landscapes, pale flowers, and the tide far out from the beach. No Longer Alone turns this on its head. There may be landscapes and oceans but they are brimming with all the energy of a young child’s imagination. There are different types of noise, as the girl in this story is well aware, and it is only when she opens up about her feelings that things become truly still. 

A beautiful, poetic look at grief which has taken the time to imagine and reflect the real experience. This book will encourage readers to empathise with those who are grieving and to go deeper than how things appear on the surface. 

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing for my copy of No Longer Alone. Opinions my own. 

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Billy And The Dragon by Nadia Shireen.

Review: Billy And The Dragon by Nadia Shireen.

Billy And The Dragon

It’s party time! Billy and Fatcat are back, and this time they’re off to a fancy dress party. Fatcat isn’t keen on the dressing up part but is persuaded to put on a dragon suit. Everything is going well until a real dragon swoops down and seizes Fatcat. 

Billy and her friends set out on a rescue mission. They fly up to the top of tall trees, climb mountains and befriend fluffy white rabbits on their quest to see Fatcat safely home. Is it possible he will be OK? Will this all end in a slice of birthday cake?

Another delightful story about Billy And Fatcat from the author of Billy And The Beast. 

Resourceful, adventurous Billy and her grouchy (but adorable) sidekick Fatcat may be my new favourite picture book duo. Certainly, these stories have all the ingredients of memorable picture books. They have strong plots, a fearless main character, and happy endings which don’t feel in any way like a cheat or a letdown. They understand – like The Gruffalo, like Peter Rabbit, that young readers have a higher tolerance for peril than many adults realise. 

Fatcat too is a gem. His disgruntled expression is somewhat reassuring. Small children know well that nursery rhymes and unicorns and jelly and ice-cream can get plain annoying. Tantrums and frustration and rejecting perfectly good things are all part of a stable early childhood and we need more disgruntled characters in their literature. 

Wonderful skies in pink, orange, purple, red and blue add a hint of darkness without being too scary. The quest is broken with moments of light relief too, like Billy’s colourful bunch of balloons and the random chat with a fluffy bunny rabbit. The gang of adorable woodland creatures, too, add humour. Whoever heard of noble knights who looked so cute? 

Billy is a fantastic heroine who represents many young girls. She is bright, resourceful and loyal to her friends. I would recommend her in a second to anyone looking to balance out the princesses with young heroines. It is so important for girls to have strong role models. 

Another hit from Nadia Shireen. I hope Billy and Fatcat will be back for further adventures and I look forward to cheering them on. 

 

Thanks to Penguin Books UK for my copy of Billy And The Dragon. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Peril En Pointe by Helen Lipscombe.

Review: Peril En Pointe by Helen Lipscombe.

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Extract:

‘OK, fairies – one more for luck.’ Mr Lamont squints into his phone. ‘Can the Lilac Fairy move to the front? And Golden Vine, you to the back. Milly, did you hear me? That’s it – a bit further back. Smashing. Everyone smile for the camera. Let’s hear you say “Scarlet Slipper”.’
‘Scarlet Slipper!’
‘Smiley face, Milly. And again . . .’

(Peril En Pointe by Helen Lipscombe. P1.) 

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Synopsis:

First Milly messes up the dance of her life. Then her famous ballerina mother vanishes into mid-air.

After the fiasco at the Scarlet Slipper Ballet Prize event, Milly thinks she has hung up her pointe-shoes for good. Then she receives a mysterious letter telling her she has received a place at Swan House ballet school.

Beneath the tutus and tiaras, Swan House is also a school for spies.

Milly learns about her mother’s time at the school and realises exactly how much danger she is in, but how can Milly help when she can’t even get through her lessons without disaster? And why has she been made lead ballerina in the latest round of the Scarlet Slippers?

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Review:

Who says ballerinas are dainty? They are super fit, trained in languages and they travel the world, which makes them brilliantly placed to be spies. And this is the ballet spy story of your dreams. Think past grudges, secret weapons and lots and lots of dance practice.

Mysteries and detective stories are a favourite genre of mine and this story has incredible series potential. Swan House is a brilliant setting which places equal importance on the two main aspects of its curriculum. It is also an old building with a rich history, and it is home to some technical geniuses as well as to the pupils themselves.

Milly’s storyline is all about jealousy and doubt. Her best friend Willow is a bully and a liar, but she has always received heaps of praise and attention from Milly’s mother. Over the years Milly has struggled to outshine Willow and this rivalry destroys Milly’s confidence until she hangs her shoes up for good. With ballet being notoriously competitive, this was a brilliant storyline.

The first case centres on the school itself, although locations outside the school include a prestigious shop in Covent Garden and Milly’s London home. Pupils from rival schools are invited in to compete in the best fictional school tournament since The Goblet Of Fire. There was a hint of Durmstrang in the distinctive and memorable natures of each school and this will appeal to Potter fans for the nostalgia as well as the story.  

I am certainly enchanted by this new world and look forward to seeing where Milly goes next. Her future spy missions could take her almost anywhere, and I hope she keeps the ballet shoes close to her side.  

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books And Laura Smythe PR for my copy of Peril En Pointe. Opinions my own.

Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Reflections and rambles:

Summer arrived with mild and indifferent weather. WriteMentor got real as I reached halfway through a major redraft and realised I had no idea how to go forward. Talk about cresting a hill to find a mountain. My blogging and creating mojo has been low, although admitting this to people made me aware just how normal these moments are and how they are almost always signals that it is time for self-care.

Out came some old favourite novels and I was soon scribbling away about techniques I wanted to apply to my own work.

That’s June. Sounds underwhelming but sometimes we learn more from those months than we realise.

There was one special moment. I was standing in the front garden and noticed the wildflowers which spring up around this time. They were vibrating. Looking closer, I saw huge numbers of bees gathering pollen. Bee after bee after bee. With numbers of bees in crisis and the environment generally in crisis, it was lovely to see nature hanging on in there. If we allow the wild spaces to thrive, and replace what has been destroyed over the past decades, nature will come back.

What have you been up to this June? Literary or otherwise, I want to hear it.

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Review Round-Up:

 

 

The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Spies In St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu. 

Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

When It Rains by Rassi Narika

There’s A Spider In My Soup by Megan Brewis

The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña

The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

I thought I saw a … series by Lydia Nichols

The Unworry Book by Alice James

Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum

 

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In other bookish news I … 

 

Watched the Mortal Engines film. 

The series I always wanted filmed and a bar of Dairy Milk Oreo. Happy night in. 

I had concerns about Peter Jackson as director (because the second Hobbit film is 2% derived from the book and 98% spinning it out. And even the road to Mordor can’t be that long) but the plot is relatively faithful to the original and any changes haven’t affected the pace. 

Every single character felt real to the story, especially Anna Fang and Shrike.

Tom and Hester look my age, and it took me until the end of the film to figure out that no, they really weren’t suggesting that actors close to thirty could play teens. In the original series, Tom and Hester are teenagers in the first book and adults in the remaining three. The film series cuts out the years between and presumably alters the timeline. 

The traction cities were everything I had ever dreamed of, and they way details from Old London [or London as we know it] have been incorporated into the great moving beast of a city is quite spectacular. Although I have wanted these films for more years than I can count, I am pleased they were delayed. Any attempt to create them with earlier CGI would have made them redundant pretty quickly.  

It is also a delight to see the books brought to a new generation of readers. 

 

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Bought a storage trolley for my review books.

In the immortal words of the Toy Story crew: NEW TOY.

 

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Just keep writing, just keep writing …

Dived into Writer’s HQ

At the very end of May, I had some exciting news. I was chosen for a Six Month Writer’s HQ bursary, which gives me access to online courses and writing forums.

I haven’t explored these as thoroughly as I would have expected, for various reasons, but I have logged in most evenings for a nose. Everything I’ve learned so far has helped my writing, and the material tells it like it is.  The team behind the courses understand that writing is a hard slog, that sometimes we just need to let it out, but at the end of the day, the only thing that makes it happen is maintained effort. And the odd biscuit.

I’m looking forward to getting into the serious business of working with Plotstormers and Plotstormers 2 to construct a new plot and to pull the two I have into the best shape possible.

 

What have you been up to this June? Any books stand out especially? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to link to your June round-up post or reflections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

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

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

The Same But Different Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: There’s A Spider In My Soup by Megan Brewis

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Little Spider is warned about the dangers of swinging from the web. Cats, light bulbs and clumsy feet are all mentioned. There’s only one problem. Swinging from the web is so fun that Little Spider can’t stop. One day, when everyone is asleep, she ignores all the rules and swings out into the wide world … to land in a bowl of soup. 

It should be a disaster, but taking a risk isn’t always dangerous. The soup-based adventure leads to new friendships, and soon all the spiders are following Little Spider’s lead. 

Little Spider could have been eaten up. Or drowned. That’s the fact, and it is worth pointing that out to young readers. How do we know when it is safe to take a risk and when it is just plain not a good idea? Danger is a difficult subject to discuss with young readers, however, a climate where children are afraid to push themselves and explore is unhealthy too. This is a brilliant story to open conversations about danger and risk. After all, diving from a higher board at the swimming pool is a very different risk to jumping out into the traffic. Risking a grazed knee is a different thing to multiple fractures. Understanding that, as we get bigger, we sometimes have to trust our own instincts is a huge lesson.

The spiders are delightful, and not the least bit hairy or scary. Of course, I’m a spider-lover and have been since childhood, but as illustrated spiders go these are gentle enough that the story could be shared even with people who are phobic. 

 Calm backgrounds are used as a canvas for multiple patterns and colours. Different objects have their own patterns and the result is a collage picture which feels like a snapshot of a normal kitchen. 

An adventure which encourages readers to trust their instincts and to talk about different types of danger, and a wonderful spider-based story. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of There’s A Spider In My Soup. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

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Why does it rain? There are so many things you can’t do when it rains. 

Kira watches miserably as rain pours down the windowsill. It isn’t fair. She’ll have to wear her heaviest clothing, there won’t be anybody outside to play with and if she takes her books outside they will get squished to a pulp. She’s certain there can’t be anything good about rainy days. Then her friends Ana and Ilo come to play, and what started out as a boring day turns into a wet weather adventure. 

A beautiful story about perspective and finding an upside to bad weather. 

Jumping in puddles, watching duckling splashing about and seeing everybody’s bright umbrellas from a high-up window. The rain has a bad reputation, and to little children especially it can mean getting stuck indoors. Remember wet break? Or being called inside to avoid catching a chill? Sometimes I think the dangers of rain are a myth handed down from one generation to another. There is so much to do and see on a mild or even moderately wet day, and allowing children to play in the rain sets them up to carry on in all weathers later in life. 

A gentle narrative begins with questions, building a sense of disappointment, which is slowly replaced with wonder and happiness. This isn’t a story about overawing discoveries, but about the inner joy which can come from spending time observing nature and the outdoors with a group of friends. As well as being a great book to share with young readers, it would make a lovely introduction to study of the early Romantic poets whose ideas about joy and the outdoors were in line with this story. 

Pale watercolour and line illustrations evoke the rain as much as the words. It seems in places as if the rainwater has dripped on to the page, but instead of spoiling it, it has created beautiful textures. Bursts of bright colour such as the umbrellas and raincoats bring joy into the pale pictures. 

This story was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul. Reading children’s books in translation is a joy, and I think it is pivotal for readers to see words and ideas from other cultures from an early age. Even something as simple as seeing different words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ opens up the concept of other cultures and languages and encourages young readers to ask big questions about what lives might be like in a country other than their own. 

A beautiful book which captures that early childhood interest in the outdoors, and openness to new ideas. 

 

Thanks to The Emma Press for my gifted copy of When It Rains. Opinions my own.