Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young middle-grade round-up – August 2018

 

youngmgaug

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.

Advertisements
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

img_4879

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.