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.

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Young Middle Grade

Younger fiction and Young Middle Grade round-up: April 2019

Princess Of Pets: The Naughty Kitten by Paula Harrison. Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller 

img_8925Princess Bea rescues and cares for any animal in need. She finds a lost kitten in a tree, names him Tiger, and tries to trace his owner, but how can Tiger stay in the palace when he is constantly getting into trouble? Is there any way Bea can prove that Tiger has a good side?

An adventurous kitten causes mayhem as he takes risks he is not yet ready to manage. Princess Bea is the perfect story for children with an interest in pets. It shows that having animals in the house (or the palace) is about responsible ownership. Tiger may appear to be causing trouble, but actually, he’s going through a stage which is not uncommon to young cats. Any prospective owner must question themselves about how they will manage this and not blame their new animal friend. After all, if you’re really ready to share your life with a cat, kittens have to be more important than curtains.

A charming story for newly confident readers.

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The Puppy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Sophy Williams. 

When Lara and her dad find a homeless puppy, they take him in and try to help. Jet seems happy in his new home except for one thing. He never manages to settle at night. With Lara and Dad losing out on sleep, they search for ways to help Jet at night. What is it that upsets him when the lights go out?

This story was inspired by a true tale about a dog in a shelter. Only one thing would help him to sleep at night, so he needed a home which would fulfill that need. Stories like this remind us that animal care is about so much more than having a ‘pet’ to play with. When we take another animal into our homes, we agree to recognise the needs of a fellow living creature. One dog’s needs can be very different from another’s, even within the same species. It is lovely to see a story which reminds us of this.

A gentle story in a real-world setting which is perfect for young animal enthusiasts.

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The Climbers by Ali Standish. Illustrated by Ali Standish. 

All her life, Alma has been told that the trees and mountains beyond her home are dangerous, but no matter how often she is warned of the dangers, Alma wants to explore. One night, she runs into the forest and finds a bear cub with a pattern like a fallen star on his chest.

Alma and Star Bear bond and together they explore the world. Then Star Bear grows big and is sighted by the other townspeople. Afraid and angry, the people cut down the forest trees and threaten to kill Star Bear.

Alma and Star Bear run. That’s when they meet Tully and his tiger-friend Comet. 

An extraordinary story about the price of human progress and how much better we would be as a race if only we could discover some empathy. 

With children marching around the world to defend our climate, with children standing up and telling politicians that time is running out, this book could not be better timed. The talks and marches which have happened have inspired a number of adults, but unless we all stand up and make big changes to our approach time will run out. It already has for too many beautiful animal species. 

Books like this will keep the wonderful generation, the kids who have already raised their voices, actively thinking about the major issues which face our planet today. They will also inspire readers to consider the underlying issues to all the major problems we face – namely a lack of empathy and a culture which puts progress above goodness. 

This is a gentle and moving story which doesn’t shy away from difficult topics but approaches them in a way which won’t frighten young readers. The illustrations contrast the magic of nature with the dull misery of the world’s biggest towns. Sometimes pictures speak a thousand words. 

Another hit from the new Colour range from Little Tiger UK. These books aim to bridge the gap between picture books and early chapter books. 

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Revenge Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchison. Illustrated by Lee Cosgrove. 

Lisa Marie and Vernon have just recovered from the night of the living teddy bears when they are kidnapped and taken to the lair of the super-creepy villain Ursine. He’s made sure nobody else remembers the battle which took place, and he’s creating an army of teddy bears to fight his cause. Then Grizz, the evilest bear of all returns, and orders the army to fight for world domination. 

The funniest fantasy series in years just got even better. 

Anyone who has walked past that shop we’ll affectionately call Create A Ted knows it is creepy. Anyone who has been stuck inside knows it goes beyond that. Animal skins and stuffing machines and staff who grin maniacally while they jab a pretend needle into a teddy bear. It is painful. And hilarious. Barry Hutchinson has played on the creepiness behind the cuteness to huge effect. 

How can you not love a henchman called Cuddlyplump?

This is the second book in the series and shows the teddybear army mobilizing against the world. Only Lisa Marie and Vernon know what is going on, and who would believe them if they said anything? Aimed at the youngest middle-grade readers, this would make a brilliant short read for older children, and would also be hugely friendly to readers whose reading age is younger than their actual age. Sweet teddy bears these are not. This is as brilliant a fantasy series as anything in the older middle grade section. 

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The Unlucky Eleven by Phil Earle. Illustrated by Steve May. 

Everything is going wrong for Stanley and his football team The Saints this season. From injuries to misses to unfair judgments by the referee. They think they know why: the Saints have been cursed like football teams of the past. Stanley needs a plan. He presents his team with a magical, lucky kit, but will it change their fortunes?

Sometimes it only takes a shift in attitude to change our fortunes. Stanley tries everything to help his team, but finally, he realises that the team players need to change their own luck. If only he can nudge them along the way. 

A fun story which will go down well with anybody who loves football, and anybody who has ever felt that nothing is going their way. 

The Little Gems series are so attractive that, although they are friendly to children whose reading age is younger than their actual age, they will be picked up and treasured by anybody who loves a good story. They are a great size for any reader who is coming into chapter book format but isn’t yet ready for the language or page length. 

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The Big Top Mysteries: The Case Of The Missing Granny by Alexander McCall Smith. Illustrated by Sam Usher. 

The shortbread siblings star in their family’s circus show. They also have another talent. They are brilliant at solving mysteries. When audience member Tom reveals that his granny has gone missing, the Shortbread siblings step in to help. 

Does this have anything to do with Mrs Fudge and her chocolate shop? Using all their circus skills, the Shortbreads and Tom get straight into the investigation. 

The first in a new series by master mystery writer. 

Aimed at readers from 8 upwards, this would also be a lovely story for readers of early chapter books. Although the children in the story are briefly locked up, the peril is minimal and the outcome of the investigation is friendly to the youngest of readers. With murder mysteries now popular among 8 – 12 year-olds, this would be a great way for readers to join in even if they aren’t up for the blood and fear and gruesome details. 

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Narwhal Unicorn Of The Sea and Super Narwhal and Jellyjolt by Ben Clanton

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Two books. Two friends. A whole new series of awesome undersea adventures. 

Narwhal is a super-happy unicorn of the sea. Jelly is less chirpy, less cheery and full of questions. Together they make a brilliant new duo for readers who are looking for an alternative to a short chapter book. 

Each book has three stories, one fact file and a Super Waffle story which will have young readers in stitches. It’s like the same kind of story … but with a strawberry and a waffle. Any lovers of online comics, GIFS or cartoons will enjoy these. Think cartoon books for the very young. 

In Narwhal Unicorn Of The Sea, the friends meet for the first time, make friends, and form a pod (aka form a wider friendship group). Super Narwhal And Jellyjolt sees them explore their strengths and venture up to the ocean’s surface to meet a starfish. The books are numbered on the spine and I bet they will look fantastic all lined up as a little comic library. 

With simple backgrounds and expressive characters, these stories will encourage readers to draw and create cartoons of their own. 

An attractive new series for early readers. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, Barrington Stoke Ltd, Little Tiger UK and Egmont Publishing for the gifted books included in this feature. Opinions my own. 

Round-Up

Round-Up: Children’s books for Halloween.

Witch Girl by Jan Eldredge

IMG_E7056Evangeline Clement is almost thirteen and there is no sign of her familiar. She’s afraid it will never come and she will turn out to be a middling with no magical powers. Magic has been handed through her family for generations and she spends her days learning from her grandmother.

When the pair are called to an old mansion, they are confronted with a terrifying case and Evangeline finds out secrets about her family’s past.  

This has serious Princess And The Frog Vibes. Set in Louisianna, the landscape is all swamps and cypress-trees and rivers. The language, too, reminds me off The Princess And The Frog – Evangeline wears gator skin boots and lives for her Grandmama’s pecan pie. 

I liked this version of witch-craft – it was less about waving wands and more about talismans and forcing dark spirits along on their journey. The magic has been handed down for generations and I always like stories where the character learns about their family history through the adventure. 

IMG_E6915The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan

There are two types of people in Town – the ones who believe only perfect people should be allowed, and the ones who believe there is no one ‘right’. Since Perfect was liberated from the Perfectionists and renamed Town, the two groups have lived alongside each other.

Now strange things are happening in Town.

First objects go missing, then children. Violet’s friend Boy is blamed, and old questions are raised about whether certain people should be locked away for the good of others.

This was the perfect book to read ahead of Halloween – it has vibes of Dianna Wynne Jones. Town is often painfully ordinary – with committees, schools and day-to-day activities – that the stranger things, like the eye-plants which are used as a security-system – stand out.

I love how the theme of diversity and acceptance was handled. It encourages the reader to think for themselves, to empathise with others and never to follow others blindly.

 

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Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad is the world’s least-scary vampire. He’s afraid of spiders, he’s afraid of the dark and he’s especially afraid of looking like a failure next to cousin Lupus.

Lupus upholds all the Vampire traditions, like drinking blood. He keeps a raven near him at all times and he has mastered all the flying skills. Nobody seems to notice that he is rude and horrible. Nobody except Vlad.

Is Lupus really as perfect as he seems? Is there any chance he could be friends with Vlad?

This is a lovely series, perfect for newly-readers, and would make a lovely bedtime story. The events of the story are much like any book about friendship and family, except the family happens to have fangs. And ravens. This would be a great Halloween read for children who don’t like scares but love a touch of the gothic world.

 

Night Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchinson and Lee Cosgrove

Zombie Bears! Ghost Bears! Witch Bears! Alien Bears!

Lisa-Marie is adjusting to having a step-parent and living with her new step-brother Veron. Vernon can be nice but he won’t stand up for his new step-sister.

When Lisa-Marie makes a witch bear at Create-A-Ted, she gets more than she bargained for. Henrietta is alive and she is dangerous. In fact, there is a whole army of Halloween-bears on the loose, led by the terrifying Grizz.

If Lisa-Marie is going to stop them from destroying humankind, she’ll need help from her new step-brother Vernon.

The premise of this story is hilarious. A shop where children pick a bear-skin, add stuffing then provide the bear with a heart. What’s creepy about that?! Someone has clearly spent an hour too long in Create-A-Ted.

This story shows that ideas come from observation. I reckon children will love this spooky twist on their favourite shop.

I love that the humour is accessible to adults as well as children. Books of this length are often read aloud and it makes a difference to the child’s experience when the adults are laughing along too.

 

Dirty Bertie – Frights And Bites by David Roberts or Alan MacDonald

Fangs! Scream! Zombie!

Experience three whole volumes of Dirty Bertie in one book. Know someone who loves Dennis the Menace and Horrid Henry? You need to introduce them to Bertie. He’s silly, he’s full of terrible ideas and best of all, he embraces all things disgusting.

The three books in this compilation are divided into stories which are about forty pages long. There are nine stories between the three books, which means plenty of silliness and troublesome events.

I love how the stories have recurring features. They quite often end with Bertie in some kind of bother – whether his head is stuck in the railings or he is running away, you can be sure the story will end on a memorable note.

These are perfect for newly confident readers. Finishing the short stories offers a high level of reward and there are plenty of hilarious illustrations.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK, Stripes Books and Usborne Publishing for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

What are you reading this Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young middle-grade round-up – August 2018

 

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The Hounds Of Penhallow Hall by Holly Webb and Jason Cockroft

Penhallow Hall is full of ghostly dogs, waiting to wake up and share their stories. Polly is excited when she wakes up the ghost of a terrier called Patch. Can Polly help Patch remember what happened to his boy Jake? Did Jake run into trouble from the terrible Highwaymen of the 1700s?

This is one of the loveliest quick reads I have encountered in a long time. This series would be brilliant for introducing children to different time periods. We learn so much by empathising with a character. Young readers will turn the pages to find out whether Patch and Jake are reunited, and I adore the canine guardian of all the ghost dogs, Rex.

I recommend this series to people of any age who love time-slip. Think Green-Knowe with dogs. It may only take a couple of hours to read but this is brilliant storytelling. Although this is part of a series it could be read as a stand-alone.

Jason Cockroft’s illustrations bring the historical hall and forest to life. I feel as if I have been there. This is a dream author-illustrator pair.

 

Star Friends – Nightshade by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Maia and her friends are back for another adventure. Star Friends follows a group of children who have a special bond with magical animals. Together they protect the world from Dark Magic.

The woodland plants are dying because someone is creating potions with dark magic. Meanwhile, the girls are divided by new-girl Essie and her clique, and the grown-ups have all become seriously competitive. Can the girls put aside their differences and find the source of the dark magic?

The story in Star Friends continues from one book to the next so if you are new to the series I would recommend starting at book one. I can see this series being very popular with 7 – 9 year-olds. Tween girls can develop a real interest in friendship groups and life-stages. This story explores current-age friendships while looking at the girls’ future ambitions and goals. This installment looks at popularity and competitiveness.

A series with the magic of Harry Potter and the cute-factor Animal Ark.

 

Shine – Chloe Takes Centre Stage by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

 Chloe is desperate to go to The Shine School for the Performing Arts. It is only when she gets in that she realises she won’t be the only funny, confident and talented student. How do you stand out at a school where everyone is talented? Chloe goes overboard to make people laugh but her jokes backfire when the teachers complain about her behaviour. Will Chole ever fit in at The Shine?

This would be a lovely story to introduce the subject of secondary school transfer two or three years ahead of time. It would also be a nice book for talking about behaviour and friendships. Secondary school transfer can be difficult and low self-confidence or social skills can quickly turn it into a nightmare.

It was lovely that one of the characters didn’t make it into The Shine but plans to achieve her ambitions via a different path. No child should feel like a failure at eleven. Children need to see that success can come at the end of infinite different paths.

 

Pet Defenders – Invasion Of The Giant Nits by Gareth P. Jones and Steve May

Earth has been invaded. Gadget genius Annascratch and her army of NITS (Nano Inventive Trained Soldiers) have invaded Earth and it is up Pet Defenders Biskit and Mitzy to stop them. Aided by Agent Daley they set out on their mission, but the NITS keep getting bigger. Do they have a weakness? Can the Pet Defenders find it before it is too late?

Animals, aliens, gadgets and burp-jokes combine into a laugh-out-loud funny adventure. The humans are totally unaware that their pets are fighting dangerous invaders so the reader feels as if they have been let in on the secret. I can see lots of children being unable to resist this combination of action, humour and favourite animals. I loved the lead pair and their discussions about animal fiction (Why are cats always cast as the baddies? Why is it never a dog?)

Steve May’s illustrations are brilliant. Any child who likes drawing their own monsters or robots will be inspired by these creations.

Funny books are the way forward.

 

St Grizzle’s School For Girls – Gremlins And Pesky Guests by Karen McCombie and Becka Moor. 

Headteacher Lulu reckons it is time for the pupils at St Grizzle’s to make friends with the children at Twittering primary. When a flood temporarily closes Twittering School, Lulu invites them to stay at St Grizzle’s. Mr Puddock and the pupils at Twittering primary are not so keen to make friends. Their school is as modern-looking as St Grizzle’s is old-fashioned. The pupils at Twittering primary wear uniforms and follow the rules whereas life at St Grizzle’s is just a little chaotic. Can the two schools come to a truce?

This is at the longer end of young-MG and combines humour with a warm-hearted story. It also gets a big thumbs-up in terms of representation. The children are as diverse as children in a modern-day primary. Do you remember wishing you could go to a fictional school? I imagine kids will be tickled by the slightly madcap way of life at St Grizzle’s. 

The illustrations capture the story perfectly. They are the sort of pictures you get lost in, looking for details. I found myself reading the illustrations as much as I did the story. 

The narration is chatty and casual and something happens on every single page. This hit series has already gathered lots of fans who will be delighted to see it back for another story. 

 

legendofkevinThe Legend Of Kevin by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Max has always wanted a pet but he lives in a top-floor flat. Not having a pet makes Max sad. Then Kevin arrives. Kevin is a flying pony who blows to Bumbleford during a storm. During the same storm, Bumbleford is flooded. All sorts of strange things happen when the sea monkeys and mermaids move in. Can Max and Kevin set things right?

How can anybody resist this book? One look at Kevin’s cute little face and I was sold. Sarah McIntyre’s drawings always make me want to reach for a pencil and I imagine they will have the same effect on young readers. They are so imaginative and sweet and full of energy.

This is imaginative and gentle and would make a lovely bedtime story.

 

Dino Wars – The Trials Of Terror by Dan Metcalf and Aaron Blechadinowars2

Adam Caine and his friends have found two Dilotron Crystals so far, but they need two more to deactivate the deadly Coda Program. One might be at the heart of Pteratopolis, the city of the pterosaurs. Will siblings Adam and Chloe be able to work together to get it?

Dystopia can be suitable for very young readers. Dan Metcalf has proved this with Dino Wars, a series set in a future in which humans and dinosaurs live together and a reactivated bio-weapon threatens to wipe out all dinosaur life. This is the second book in the series. Adam is having issues with leadership. It was his fault the weapon was reactivated so he must be responsible for saving the dinosaurs.. right? His sister Chole doesn’t reckon so and she is going to challenge him all the way.

Like all great dystopia the children see signs of ruined civilization all around them – ruined cars and huge rubbish dumps. It is so important for children to start questioning how they treat the world from an early age and dystopia is way into these issues. The stories are suitable for very young children. While they touch on deep issues the primary goal is to save the good dinosaurs.

These adventures will leave children desperate for the next installment.

 

A big thanks to Stripes Publishing, Maverick Arts Publishing and Oxford University Press for sending copies of the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

Round-Up · Young Adult Reviews

Round-Up: 6 wonderful historical YA titles

 

I’m loving historical YA right now. Books take me to places I can’t visit, from the smoggy streets of Victorian London to the dining room of an inter-war mansion. I love films too, but scenes can be fleeting. Only a book gives me the time I need to savour the details.  They also help us to empathise with people from the past. 

There is a great selection of historical YA right now. I thought I would share some of these titles with you. bird

Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett

Mary is no longer a maid. Hiding behind her alter-ego of Persephone Lavelle, she becomes a muse to painters and a regular at the high society events of Victorian London. 

When her identity is exposed, Mary flees to Venice with her friend Kitty. There she encounters a man who offers her the world – at the cost of her friendship with Kitty.

Unveiling Venus continues the story started in Following Ophelia. I love the continuation of Persephone’s story, and how the story focuses so much on her friendship with Kitty. Sophia Bennett’s world-building is sublime. If you’re looking for historical fiction which takes you right into an era, put this series high on your list. 

 

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Olivia was born in the workhouse and raised on the streets of London. When she is taken in by a wealthy uncle, she finds it hard to leave behind her thieving ways. She also refuses to forget the children living in London’s streets and slums. 

Olivia meets Jack, the boy once known as the Artful Dodger. Jack too has risen to higher places. He sees it as an opportunity to rob the people of high society. 

The pair must decide whether to turn their backs on their comfortable lives in favour of love. 

This is on my TBR. I am interested to see a retelling of Oliva Twist with a female protagonist. I hope there will be some interesting heist scenes before the lead pair figure out what they want in life. 

 

The Goose Road by Rowena House

 

1916. 14 year-old Angélique poromises to keep the family farm running until her brother returns from the war. To keep her promise, she will have to embark on a journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. 

I’ve been looking forward to The Goose Road for months now, and have it on good authority that it is the sort of book that you want to last forever. The idea of a young girl travelling with a flock of geese stuck with me. Maybe it is because I live in an area where migratory geese winter. They fly over the house twice a day for half a year, and I stop what I am doing to look up every singe time. 

 

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

News of a mermaid who lives on shore reaches P.T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire. The mermaid becomes part of his museum. Leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was. 

P.T. Barnum was a real-life figure. His story was recently told in The Greatest Showman On Earth. I am interested to see how Christina Henry portrays him. It sounds as if this story focuses on the unheard voices of the people in Barnum’s ‘museum’.  

 

The Electrical Venus by Julie Mayhew

Mim and Alex have been raised in a traveling show. Money is tight and Mim is afraid she will be thrown out on to the street. Mim and Alex start plotting to overcome their problems, a plot which is interrupted by the arrival of Dr Sebastian Fox. Fox uses electricity to give Mim a new identity. He bills her as the girl whose kisses are truly electrifying. Now Mim is in the spotlight as men queue up to buy one of her electrifying kisses. 

I adore books set in Circuses and performing communities. This book shows history in its gory reality. Think poverty and guts and stench. This makes an interesting juxtaposition with Alex and Mim’s story of love and self-discovery. 

I found the narrative a bit unusual. It is told in alternating sections, some of which are addressed to animals – a parrot and a pig. This made more sense when I found out the story originated as a radio play. It took me a little while to get used to the unusual voice. 

 

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Aspiring writer Lou has always wondered about the grand house which has stood empty for years. When the owners arrive home for the summer, Lou is swept into a world of cocktail-parties and glamour beyond her dreams. As she grows closer to the Cardews, she becomes aware of a darkness at the heart of the family. 

This is on my TBR. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. As a teenager I loved big house stories. Anything with a Du Maurier vibe and I was there. I’m looking forward to reading A Sky Painted Gold. This is one my younger self would have adored. 

 

Do you have any favourite historical fiction? What is on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below

Louise Nettleton

Chat · Lifestyle

7 things which brighten my February

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The tinsel is back in the loft but we’ve still got six weeks of winter. How does that even work out? Like many bloggers this week I am asking myself what is the point of February? Dark mornings. Dull skies. Rain. Endless rain.

We talk about seasons as if they are places we arrive at, fixed destinations when in fact the world is always turning. February is part of that cycle and it seems a pity that so many people want to put it on fast-forward. When I look past the rain there is really quite a lot to love about February. There lies the trick. The sun may not be shining right now but that doesn’t mean we create our own warmth.

This list is by no means exhaustive but here are some of the little things which brighten my world. What’s making your day brighter?bird

String lights: One reason January and February hit people hard is the post-Christmas blues. As winter rolls in we string up tinsel and fairy lights. Our houses twinkle and glitter throughout December. Why is it tradition to take those lights down in the darkest weeks of the year? 

String lights are cheap and cheerful and they bring back some of that festive glow. Suggestion: add string lights to a glass jar.

img_4807Book Post: Publishing people. I love you regardless of whether you send me post. You turn manuscripts into stories, you turn stories into masterpieces and you create something which genuinely makes the world a better place. You’re fantastic guys. BUT. When book post lands in my letter box it brightens my day. Every. Single. Time.

Migratory Geese: I live near a salt marsh. From October through to Spring we share our local area with migratory geese. Twice a day they fly past my house – on their way to feed and as they come in for the evening roost. Right now the geese are gathering ready for migration. This afternoon the sky filled with geese and it was the most beautiful sight.

img_3882Kitty Snuggles: Maisie comes to me when the house is quiet. She’s a Heffalump of a cat who rolls around when she wants a tickle. Willow is Little Miss Dainty Paws. She is a hunter, a burrower. Her favourite thing is to crawl beneath a blanket or dressing gown and snuggle right up to her chosen human. There is no doubt my girls play a big part in my life.

img_4881Cosy Boots: I don’t care what they look like on my feet. My booties are like a hug for my calves and feet. Cosy anything sounds about right. Onesies, leggings and bobble hats are all welcome here.

Bath stuffs: The Body Shop outlet sold off Christmas bubble bath in bundles. I kid you not. Our bathroom is all about frosted plum and vanilla chai. They smell so nice it is a wonder we ever emerge from our bubbly kingdoms.

 

Monty Don:  As much as I love the Solway it isn’t the sunniest place in the world. No worries – Monty Don is bringing paradise gardens right to my living room. Did you know pavilions came into being because nomadic people based them on tents? Dream fodder. 

 

What is brightening your world? Perhaps you enjoy the long, dark nights? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Chat · Round-Up

Event Round-Up: Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan Author Talk

img_4910‘All I had was this character’ says Brian Conaghan regarding the origins of his collaboration with Sarah Crossan. Both writers had launched successful debuts and been nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Awards. Prose poetry novels were unheard  in UKYA before Sarah Crossan debuted with The Weight Of Water. She was told it wouldn’t sell, but it has now sold in multiple countries. When Brian Conaghan wanted to put his new character into a prose poetry novel, he knew Sarah Crossan was the person to consult.

What were their priorities? Sarah Crossan spoke of the need for a similar work-ethic. They were working in a tight time frame, so she needed to be certain the work would be done.

The novel developed in a series of online conversations. During the writing stage, Crossan wrote Jess’s parts, and Conaghan wrote Nicu’s. While editing the authors worked together. The ending was planned in one session. Crossan spoke about the different ways the ending could have evolved, but said the priority was for both characters to grow and develop as a result of their experiences.

Crossan spoke about the pressures of writing an ‘Own Voices’ character. Both authors wanted the voices to be authentic, and agreed that it is important to be sensitive to the fact that they have not lived ‘the real experience’. Conaghan spoke about his experiences as a teacher, saying he wanted to give voice to the children he worked with who were not represented in fiction. He also spoke about the ability to empathise with the outsider experience – he has not lived Nicu’s life, but has experiences which enable him to empathise with Nicu and create his character.

How do they write about difficult themes? Crossan stressed the importance of universally img_4908relatable themes, referring particularly to Moonrise, her latest YA work. Moonrise is about a character on death row, an experience which only a small number of people can relate to, but the story is also about death and dying which is a universally relatable experience.

Advice for writers included accepting rejection and a strong work ethic, and not being afraid to make mistakes and show other people your work.

Thank you to Newcastle University School of English and Seven Stories for the opportunity to hear from Conaghan and Crossan at this free event. For those of you who are not aware, Seven Stories is the national centre for children’s literature. It hosts great exhibitions and events, and houses the largest archive of children’s fiction in the UK.