New reviews: more marvellous middle grades!

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I’ve said many times I love the variety of middle grade fiction – and this week is no different!  Heroes and heroines growing up in various guises, lands near and far, these three books will enthrall middles grade readers and remind them they can all face their fears whether it be accepting yourself as you are, meeting your Maasai family or capturing treacherous princesses!

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Giant by Kate Scott

“I’m Anzo. In case you don’t know, in ancient German Anzo means ‘giant’. The problem is, I am definitely not a giant.  Things need to change. And that means growing taller. Because if I can grow as tall as the rest of my family. I might feel more like one of them.  Extra ordinary. Not ordinary.”

Anzo is very small. So small in fact people often mistake him for a Tadpole (Year 1) and he’s a Frog (Year 6) and they also call him ‘Peanut’ but that’s not the worst of it. He also has to put up with being tormented by the class bully and being ignored by his perpetually busy parents.  It sounds like a rather sad story, but Giant is far from it. We meet Anzo just as his brilliantly bossy best friend Elise is taking action to help him grow, through positive mental attitude training – and it works! However, Anzo finds that what he always wanted is not exactly what he always wanted.

Told with warm-hearted humour and touching insight, we discover Anzo is on the road to growing up in more ways than one. I loved his character and that his interest in comics and illustration is what keeps him going and ultimately helps him find himself.  Anzo parents and uncles, who are all building a restaurant business together, were frankly quite irritating – and quite bonkers – which made you root for Anzo all the more! The scenes with Miss Bentley, one of his teachers, had me laughing so much I had to stop reading (I was on a packed  train receiving very strange looks from fellow commuters!) Kate Scott has a knack for make tricky situations funny in exactly the right way and writing characters you care about and can relate too.  After all, we all want to be ‘noticed’ by the people we love and the best way to do this is by being ourselves.  Featuring quirky illustrations by Alex Gunn, Giant is simply a great story.

Find out more at www.piccadillypress.co.uk 

Follow Kate Scott @KateScottWriter 

With thanks to Kate Scott for sending me this book to review.

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Warrior Boy by Virginia Clay

London schoolboy Ben is heading for Kenya to meet his Maasai  family. But how is an outsider like him going to fit in? When he meets his cousin Kip, he discovers they share more than he thought – if only Ben can keep up . . .Together, the boys must survive the African savannah: hunt for food, defend elephants from poachers – and even face the king of the beasts. Does Ben have what it takes to be a twenty-first-century warrior?

When Ben finds himself winging his way to Africa in half term, its more than just a short holiday – it’s a journey of discovery. Having never known his father who died before he was born, Ben has never met his father’s family who are members of the Maasai tribe. He joins his documentary film-maker mother on a trip to Kenya, marking the start of an ancient ritual where boy must become man and where he must overcome his worst fears.  Full of wonderful detail of the African savannah and a narrative that has a bit of everything – adventure, heartache, thrills, mystery- this is one of my favourite stories of the year.  The unique and stunning setting; seeing Ben embrace his Maasai heritage and the race against time to uncover a poaching ring all serve to create a thrilling plot. Warrior Boy is a real pager turner with themes of resilience, overcoming and bravery – a fantastic middle grade read with gorgeous cover art by Kerry Hyndman.  It was shortlisted for the Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition and is Virginia Clay’s debut novel, inspired by her time living and working in Kenya teaching English to Maasai children.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com/authors/virginia-clay/ 

Follow Virginia Clay @VClayAuthor

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Seeker of the Crown by Ruth Lauren

Can Valor restore the rightful ruler to the throne?  Valor thought her troubles were over. She free her sister from prison, proved her innocence and reunited their family.  But the treacherous Princess Anastasia is still missing and after the crown.  And just as Valor is tasked with a dangerous secret mission to find her, Queen Ana vanishes without a trace.  To prevent a war and to keep traitors from the throne, Valor needs to user her wits and the help of her friends to discover the secrets of icy Demidova before its too late. 

A thrilling adventure, this is the second book in the Prisoner of Ice and Snow series.  If you haven’t read the first book, find out more in my review here. In Seeker of the Crown, it’s just one month after the dazzling rescue of Sasha by her twin sister, Valor.  But things in Demidova go from bad to worse as the treacherous Anastasia will stop at nothing to get the throne – even kidnapping her own mother! Valor, her sister and her friends must use all their ingenuity to counteract the evil plot that has infected the entire Royal Family.  With thrills a-plenty, edge-of-your seat action, this non-stop adventure takes you right to the heart of the snow swept landscape and the political treason that seems unstoppable.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the cast of characters again and was hooked on the twists and turns throughout.  With the door left open for another book, the Seeker of the Crown is equally as good as the first book and Valor continues to shine as a worthy heroine.

Find out more www.ruthlauren.com 

Follow Ruth Lauren @Ruth__Lauren

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review

 

 

 

 

New review: Gaspard the Fox by Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

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You may well have heard the story of Gaspard the fox. Author and broadcaster Zeb Soanes first encountered the real-life Gaspard at his home in London.  The fox was injured and Zeb fed her till she recovered – forming such a bond that Gaspard became a regular visitor appearing at the sound of Zeb’s bicycle and even bringing her cubs to visit. Since then the fox now has her own Twitter page with over 5,500 followers.  Which is probably one of the more random facts I’ve shared on my blog!

If you haven’t heard of Gaspard then I’m sorry I haven’t shared this book sooner, having been given a copy by the publishers Graffegg a while ago.  We usually only glimpse foxes at night; they can seem ethereal and perhaps a little bit scary.  But they really are beautiful animals and this story brings that to life in a joyful urban adventure, featuring illustrations by award-winning illustrator James Mayhew.

Gaspard the Fox by Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

Come with Gaspard the Fox as he sets out one summer evening in search of super.  One his travels he meets Peter the cat and Finty the dog who help him navigate the local canal with its colourful boats and people – some friendlier than others!

This is such a lovely story! Gorgeous illustrations bring each character to life and you cannot help but fall in love with Gaspard, Peter and Finty.  A well-paced narrative shares each moment of Gaspard’s evening walk to find supper.  Despite some of the tricky scrapes Gaspard gets into –crashing into bins, falling in the river, being chased away by people – he makes two brilliant new friends.

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Peter the cat is rather wonderful persona; just as you imagine a cat to be.  Finty is a clever little dog full of excitement.  But it’s Gaspard who really wins your heart and when he finally finds his supper through the kindness of the man on the bicycle, you find a big warm smile on your face.  Children will absolutely love this gentle story of urban adventure and next time they see a fox will wish it was Gaspard himself!  I am looking forward to his next adventure!

Find out more at www.zebsoanes.com and www.jamesmayhew.co.uk

With thanks to Grafegg for my copy of this lovely book!

New review: The British Museum Board Books – two new titles!

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I have long been a fan of this lovely series, Early Learning at the Museum, celebrating the wonder of the world for younger readers through pairing amazing objects from The British Museum and simple first words.  With two new titles published this summer, Around the World and Nature, there are even more opportunities to share fascinating artefacts with little ones and build their curiosity.

Around the World focuses on objects from different countries from Europe to Asia to Africa to the Americas.   Nature features beautiful photographic images that will engage inquisitive toddlers with early learning concepts. I found myself captivated by the incredible array of items, each bringing to life a unique culture and the wonder of the natural world.

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As with previous titles each book features a helpful index with explanations about the objects in the book and QR codes to help you find out more from The British Museum website.  I really think this is a lovely series to celebrate everything unique about culture and encourage families with very young children to take an interest in the world around them, through books they all can enjoy.

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Find out more at The British Museum and Nosy Crow.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review!

New review: The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton illustrated by Angela Barrett

I first came across Jessie Burton in my book group when The Miniaturist was chosen as our book to read just after it was published.  The success of this, her first novel, speaks for itself – a number one bestseller, translated into 38 languages and adapted into a television drama; it’s an amazing read. I was therefore hugely excited when I heard that she had written her first children’s books which will be published by Bloomsbury on 27th September.

I was instantly drawn to the idea of this story, having read The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm as a young girl.  A modern take on this classic story was instantly appealing – especially on reading a quote from the blurb: “We’re not sticks of dynamite,” said Frida. “We’re simply excellent girls.” What a brilliant statement! The book is illustrated by Angela Barrett, who is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest illustrators. I read a proof copy, so haven’t seen the fully illustrated version but the glimpses of the artwork I have seen are beautiful.

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The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

For her twelve daughters, Queen Laurelia’s death in a motor car accident is a disaster beyond losing a mother.  Their father, King Alberto, cannot bear the idea of the princesses ever being in danger and decides his daughters must be kept safe at all costs.  Those costs include their lessons, their possessions and, most importantly, their freedom. But the eldest, Princess Frida, will not bend to his will without a fight and she still has one possession her father can’t take: the power of her imagination. And so, with little but wits and ingenuity to rely on, Frida and her sisters begin their fight to be allowed to live.

The twelve princesses of Kalia are stricken with grief, as their world falls apart after their mother’s death. Instead of finding comfort in their father, King Alberto, they find a man broken by grief unwilling to listen to their voices. Princess Frida can see the King’s grief is damaging the kingdom and she challenges her father, to no avail.  Imprisoned in the palace in a room with no windows, no sunlight and none of their precious possessions, with only a portrait of their late mother to look at, the twelve sisters see no escape.

Late one night they discover a marvellous secret – a hidden door that leads them on the most magical journey of discovery through wondrous caves, over a deep lagoon, through forests and finally into a tree palace. Surrounded by exotic animals including a magnificent lioness, the princesses can hardly believe their eyes.  That night they find their faith is restored and from then on they can become brave and fearless again, feeling alive, dancing each night away in their secret wonderland.  It is only when their father keeps having to replace their shoes that he suspects something and uses all his cleverness to outwit his daughters. Princess Frida refuses to reveal their secret and driven mad with rage the King banishes her, proclaiming that whosoever can find the truth about his daughters will replace him as King!

I don’t want to spoil the story so I can only assure you it is a marvellous and fitting ending! I read this in one sitting, positively hooked on the fabulous fairytale world created.  The Restless Girls is a wonderful reminder of the power of imagination to restore hope, full of character and brilliant observation throughout.  Whilst the feisty and fierce Princess Frida may take centre stage, each princess has her own unique qualities and personality that shines through.  They are after all just girls, as well as being princesses, which is brilliantly illustrated by a sparkling narrative full of love, wit and wisdom. The Restless Girls is absolutely one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read this year; enough fairytale nostalgia to warm the heart, but with a modern edge that brings the tale right up to date.  This is a really wonderful story to encourage all who read it to speak up for themselves, cherish their siblings and not allow anything or anyone to hold them back!

Find out more at www.jessieburton.co.uk and @jesskatbee .  You can also watch a trailer of Jessie Burton introducing this gorgeous book here.

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With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review!

New review: Charlie Star by Terry Milne

A delightful dachshund called Charlie is the star of a lovely new picture book published in hardback earlier last week by Old Barn Books, written and illustrated by Terry Milne, who was born and raised in South Africa.  She has illustrated books with authors including Martin Waddell and Vivian French. Her daughter’s struggles with anxiety and repetitive behaviour led Terry to write and illustrate this story as a reassurance to children everywhere who might experience the same struggles.

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“Charlie did everything the same, every day. He was afraid something terrible would happen if he didn’t.” When an emergency disrupts his routine, anxious Charlie discovers that change can be a good thing and open the way to something wonderful!

Charlie Star is a lovely story about a dachshund with a difference – he is a very anxious dog! On reading his story, you immediately want to pick him up and comfort him and reassure him everything is okay- even whilst he’s busy lining up his toys and doing tricks as part of his daily rituals.

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Charlie is frightened that if he doesn’t do these things, everything will go wrong and like many people, uses these routines to keep his anxiety at bay.  A simple narrative, accompanied by lively illustrations brings to life all of Charlie’s habits.  As you would expect, life has a way of reminding us we are not in control and when Charlie’s friend gets stuck, even he has to be brave, forget his routines and join the rescue.

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This is a really gentle story highlighting the way anxiety can take over, but also cleverly shows that change is not as scary as we think and in fact, can lead to wonderful things.

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With a lovely ending highlighting the value of friendship, Charlie Star is a sweet story which is sure to be a hit with young readers.  It would also work really well as a story to encourage discussion of anxiety and the issues around it.

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Find out more at Old Barn Books.

With thanks to Old Barn for sending me a copy of this book to review.

 

 

 

 

New reviews: three great additions to your bookshelf!

IMG-3344This week I have enjoyed reading these three great middle grade reads featuring time travel, magic and funny moments galore!  A Chase in Time by Sally Nichols is a time slip novel with great characters and a fast paced plot.  A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck is a wonderful adventure with a brave heroine and Just Jack by Kate Scott features a lovely young chap trying to fit in.  All three books would make great additions to your bookshelf, whether at home or in school.

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A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls

Alex Pilgrim is always up for adventure, so he’s super- pleased when he and his sister Ruby, fall through their aunt’s mirror into 1912.  Racing around in a scarily dangerous car, being permanently grubby and even catching a criminal or two is great fun! Now they just need to find a way home….

A thoroughly enjoyable time-slip adventure, A Chase in Time is a great read with a good mix of humour, excitement and danger. Spending a school holiday at their aunt’s family home, which is full of wonderful heirlooms from around the world, Alex and Ruby discover the mirror that has stood in the hall for years is a time portal. A dramatic start to the story means that Alex and Ruby must get to grips with time travel and solve the mystery of the missing Newberry Cup –  which will not only help their family in 1912 but will also save their aunt’s magnificent home in their own time! Full of historical detail and some wonderful, humourous observations about how different life was in 1912, there are moments of poignant reflection as Alex and Ruby realise that in a few short years the first world war will begin.  The lovely cast of characters have very English eccentricities, enlivening the engaging plot. I particularly enjoyed the romance between Alex and Ruby’s distant relatives Atherton and Miss Flynn.  Add to this some fantastic illustrations you have all the ingredients for a great read!

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

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A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck

Penelope has always been…well….different. For one thing, she has grey hair, even though she’s only ten.  But when she wakes up to find her hair has turned the brightest, wildest, most BRILLIANT shade of red, she realises magic has entered her life. Strange and amazing things start to happen. Could it all have something to do with her father, who disappeared years ago? Penelope won’t stop until she finds the tangled, magical truth about who she really is….

A Tangle of Magic is a quirky, magical and inventive tale with gorgeous cover art. Stories about magic are great fun, especially when they centre on the discovery of hidden magical powers and this story is no exception! It features a determined and feisty heroine Penelope, who knows she’s different. Living with her Mum and Grandma and Coco the cat, she couldn’t possibly have realised just how different until her hair turns red, marking the beginning of an extraordinary adventure.  Hearing others thoughts before they say them, having conversations with the road (yes, the road!) and even learning to fly, Penelope discovers she’s got magical blood. Her mother had always hidden this from her, hoping to keep her safe, but she finally tells Penelope her father had magical powers. Helped by her Grandma giving her a secret book of spells and one of her best friends unwittingly giving her clues to her father’s whereabouts, Penelope sets out to discover not just the truth about her father, but the truth about herself too.  With some exciting plots twists and gentle humour, Penelope makes a charming heroine who you are rooting for throughout.  Themes of friendship and family bring together an engaging narrative that middle grade readers will enjoy.

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Just Jack by Kate Scott

Jack knows all about trying to fit in. Since Dad left, Jack and his Mum have moved house five times.  But it’s hard work pretending to be someone he isn’t and Jack misses having a friend.  Until Tyler comes along, Tyler is clever, funny and inventive. And he might help Jack figure out how to be…Just Jack.

Jack is about to start School Six and with his Sherlock Code at the ready, he is determined to fit in but not stand out.  Surrounded by unpacking and mess at home with his Mum, Jack sets his sights on making sure he doesn’t get too close to anyone just in case they have to move again.  However, Jack hasn’t banked on the appearance of full-of-life Tyler bounding into the classroom, who he realises could be his ideal friend.  Told with sensitivity and humour, the story explores how Jack deals with making new friends, confronting the pain of his parents divorce and finally being true to himself.  He is an instantly lovable chap and you can’t help but be moved by his observations and the situation he finds himself in.  Many young readers will identify with the difficulties of friendship and family described and the cast of characters who bring the story to life. A perfect balance of humour and heart, Just Jack is a truly enjoyable and moving read, with great illustrations by Alex Gunn.

With thanks to Kate Scott for sending me this book to review. Just Jack is published by Piccadilly Press.

 

New review: Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mickael El Fathi

On the blog today, I’m delighted to share my review of a beautiful new book Peace and Me which celebrates the work of  Nobel Peace Prize winners and will be published later this month. The book from Lantana Publishing is written by Ali Winter, an experienced anthologist who is passionate about seeking out lessertold stories from around the world and illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi, an acclaimed French-Moroccan children’s book illustrator who helps children travel the world through his illustrations.

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This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf. Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

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From the first page this book is fascinating, beautiful and moving in equal measure.  It begins with a spread focused on Alfred Nobel and how the Nobel Prize came to be.  What follows are double-page spreads on some of the winners of the Peace Prize, charting their contribution to world peace and reflecting on what they did to be of “greatest benefit to mankind”.

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Some of the names are very familiar, some are not, but what they all have in common is their selfless and determined efforts to help their fellow man.  As a children’s book, there is just the right amount of information on each person and enough detail to bring them to life.  The narrative is accompanied by visually stunning artwork – I would be fascinated to hear how these beautiful illustrations were created.

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The book is endorsed by Amnesty International because “it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.” Each story reminds us that one person can make a difference. What a wonderful lesson to pass on to children and what a wonderful reminder to everyone that passion and perseverance and indeed, peace, can exist even in today’s turbulent times.  Peace and Me is a book to treasure, to share with young and old and to encourage us to consider what peace means to each of us.

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Peace and Me publishes on 21st September.

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review!