BLOG TOUR: The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

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I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage. A brilliant story set against the backdrop of 1940s UFO sightings and featuring a wonderful cast of quirky characters, it’s packed full of Melissa’s trademark warmth and wit.  You can read my full review here. Melissa is a writer and therapist for children and families and today joins the blog to share a wonderful post with her thoughts on the healing power of stories. Welcome to the blog Melissa!

Story for Healing Hearts and Souls

By Melissa Savage 

In today’s everchanging world, anxiety is an increasingly prevalent diagnosis happening in our children. Which is why developing coping skills is more important today than ever before. How do we develop adaptive coping skills to traverse life’s difficulties and even more important make positive change in the world around us? There are many ways, one of which is through story. Story is who we are and how we heal. It is how we process being human on our journey through life and it always has been.

As a former child and family therapist, I’ve always been a proponent of bibliotherapy as a tool to use with children of all ages. It is the use of story for insight, growth and healing. I think as parents and protectors of children our first instinct is to shield them from all the negative things that go on in the world. However, in this information age, shielding them has become a somewhat impossible task. They live in a world that is anything but predictable or controllable or even stable or safe at times. How do we prepare our children at an appropriate age level, yet continue to protect them from what they are not ready to know? Stories can provide a safe environment to learn the challenges of finding solutions to our problems, coping with change or even standing by someone else who may be going through it. And story can inspire us.

In third grade I ordered a novel from the Scholastic book order form in school. It was called Don’t Hurt Laurie and it was a book about child abuse. I didn’t know about child abuse up until that point and the book reached me to my soul. In fourth grade I became a tutor for young children in our elementary school and in sixth grade I became a peer counselor. It was this story that also inspired me to become a child and family therapist later in life where I specialized in trauma and abuse of children.

I believe that through the safety of story, children can be exposed to life lessons in such a way that they are given the opportunity to gain insights, build coping skills, assist others and even be inspired to make a difference in the world. I see this concept being grasped by teachers, librarians and the publishing industry as well. Both Random House Children’s Books and Scholastic Books have developed resources for teachers to help enhance the learning experience when sharing issue driven books with the young reader. Whether it’s book clubs, book trailers and even empathy bingo, these resources are aimed at acceptance, insight into the differences of others, healing from loss, standing up to bullying and many other issues kids face.

I wish we lived in a time in which children didn’t need to know the things they do, however, they are exposed more now than ever. And it’s up to us to make sure they have the best tools in their toolbelt to endure, overcome and even be inspired to create positive change in the world around them.

THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and melissadsavage.com

Follow Melissa Savage on twitter @melissadsavage 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Book of the Month: The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

book of the monthHere is the first Book of the Month for 2019! Set against the backdrop of the famous UFO Roswell site, The Truth about Martians, is a heart-warming tale of discovery exploring loss, friendship, family and – what else – aliens! I absolutely loved this quirky and original tale by Melissa Savage, author of the critically acclaimed Bigfoot Tobin & Me. 

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The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage

Mylo knows there’s no such thing as Martians – at least until a flying saucer crash-lands near his home. And then he starts to hear a voice, asking for help. Desperate to be as brave as his older bother Obie – who passed away over a year ago – Mylo investigates the crash.  What he ends up discovering is more about friendship and the universe than he ever could have imagined.

Mylo’s life was turned upside down when his brother Obie died.  His Mum and Dad just aren’t the same and he is plagued by nightmares, with grief constantly threatening to overwhelm him.  Mylo’s best friend Dibs is thankfully a great distraction,  often staying over to escape his own difficult home life. Together, they are obsessed with comics and science-fiction, in particular Superman and discussing potential impending Martian invasion.  So when a real life UFO crash lands in the farm down the road, they know its up to them to investigate.  Mylo cannot ignore the voice calling for help, little realising that the decisions he now makes will change all their lives.

The Truth about Martians is not so much a story about discovering aliens; it’s a story about discovering your courage and the power of friendship.  Mylo is a great character with a truly believable voice.  His friendship with Dibs is so full of warmth it’s palpable, brought to life with humourous dialogue and pure heart.  Despite their various difficult family issues, they are typical boys complete with smelly feet jokes; bravado (Dibs); admiration for summer visitor Gracie Delgado (Mylo) and shared irritation with older boys, Diego and Spuds.  This convincing cast of characters and the fast-paced plot create a thoroughly engaging story.  Mylo doesn’t just find out the truth about Martians; he finds the truth about himself as he comes to terms with the loss of his older brother. He also realises that his best friend Dibs really needs his help and that people are not always what they seem.  Mylo discovers he has the power to help heal not just himself but those he loves – and help a Martian in distress. Courage isn’t always obvious and being brave doesn’t always look like Superman; The Truth about Martians highlights this sentiment brilliantly and leaves you feeling totally uplifted.

I will be hosting a stop on the blog tour for The Truth about Martians this week. See below for details about the tour starting tomorrow!

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Follow Melissa Savage on Twitter @melissadsavage 

The Truth about Martians by Melissa Savage is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House) recommended for children aged 9+.

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

 

 

BLOG TOUR: Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange – Guest Post

 

ocbs blog tour bannerI’m so excited to be hosting this stop on the blog tour for the brilliant second novel by Lucy Strange, Our Castle by the Sea. In a thrilling adventure set in wartime Britain, Lucy brings to life unforgettable characters against the backdrop of World War 2 and the mysterious Daughters of Stone.  You can read my full review here.  I am delighted to welcome Lucy to the blog today with a fantastic guest post reflecting on how parents are made absent in children’s literature. Welcome to the blog Lucy!

The Significant Absence of Parents in Children’s Literature by Lucy Strange

our castle by the seaIn order for children in fiction to be brave and free and have endlessly exciting escapades, it is often necessary to get their parents out of the way. In my new book, Our Castle by the Sea, the absence of Petra’s parents is at the very heart of her story. Growing up in a lighthouse with her mother, father and big sister Mags, twelve-year-old Petra has never had to face anything more frightening than the storms that sweep across the Channel and Pa’s stories about sea-monsters. But it is 1939 and the Second World War has just begun. As the local community turns against Petra’s family, accusing Mutti of spying for the enemy, and Pa and Mags become caught up in dark secrets of their own, Petra is suddenly plunged into a new lonely world in which no one can be trusted.

From the tragic to the surreal, from locking them up to bumping them off, children’s writers have found a wealth of different ways to remove the parents from the larger part of their narratives so that the protagonists can pursue their adventures unencumbered by bedtimes, naughty steps and reminders to brush their teeth.

1. Orphaned The classic choice. Being orphaned not only removes the parental safety net for a young protagonist but it also creates sympathy for their plight from the very first page. Notable orphans in children’s literature include Harry Potter, Sophie in The BFG, the Baudelaire siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Anne (of Green Gables), Bod in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (and the inspiration for his character, Mowgli), and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, to name but a few. A particularly strange and surreal favourite here has to be James (of Giant Peach fame), whose parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros.

2. Holidays! Enid Blyton’s Famous Five were forever heading off for the entire summer armed only with their wits, a box of matches and a bulging picnic hamper. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have caught quite so many thieves and kidnappers if they’d been cooped up with Mother and Father in a Center Parcs chalet. I loved these stories when I was young – probably largely because of the extraordinary feelings of freedom and adventure they evoked.

3. Boarding school This situation offers a protagonist a degree of structure and safety along with some independence, and plenty of opportunities for rule-breaking (pranks on teachers, midnight feasts and battling three-headed monsters in secret dungeons). Malory Towers was always a favourite of mine, along with Delderton Hall in Eva Ibbotson’s beautiful book The Dragonfly Pool, Deepdean in Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series, and of course we can’t forget our beloved Hogwarts. I would argue that Louis Sachar’s brilliant book Holes also fits into this category – though Stanley is sent to a juvenile disciplinary facility rather than a boarding school, the setting works in a worryingly similar way . . .

4. Dreams From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, dreams allow our young heroes and heroines to escape from reality (and their families) into a strange new world in which just about anything could happen. Magical portals such as wardrobes, Faraway Trees, Wishing Chairs and Phantom Tollbooths offer the same opportunities for adventures into other, more surreal and dangerous realms.

5. The Great Outdoors Oh, for the old-fashioned freedoms of a childhood spent sailing across lakes, getting lost in the woods and falling into quarries… The books of Arthur Ransome spring to mind, but also E Nesbit’s lovely classics involving bands of intrepid siblings who spend their days roaming around the countryside, such as The Railway Children or Five Children and It.

6. Evacuees With the Second World War as a backdrop, a child being sent away to live with complete strangers provides the starting point for many powerful and extraordinary stories, such as Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, and The Magic Bed Knob by Mary Norton (adapted into the musical film Bedknobs and Broomsticks). More recently, Emma Carroll’s wonderful Letters from the Lighthouse follows the story of young Second World War evacuees who set about untangling a rather wonderful mystery surrounding the lighthouse to which they are billeted (you can’t beat a lighthouse story, folks!).

7. Dotty Old Aunts Who Can be Hoodwinked Some children’s authors choose to pack off their young heroes to stay with helpfully neglectful relatives whose lack of supervision allows them to get up to all sorts of high jinks. Tom, of Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, is staying with his aunt and uncle while quarantined with potential measles, and Minty in Helen Cresswell’s fabulous Moondial lives with her aunt while her mother is in hospital following a car accident. Perhaps aunts are actually the secret to time travel, as both these protagonists end up discovering magical portals into the past . . .

8. Invisible Parents In the Mary Poppins books by P L Travers, the parents, though present, are not really fulfilling the role of parents, so that there is room for a magical nanny to step into the breach. Roald Dahl’s Matilda also has two perfectly healthy parents, but they are so grotesquely unlikeable that we are delighted when at last they abandon our fabulous heroine, leaving her to be adopted by the heavenly Miss Honey. Sick and pre-occupied parents also fit within this category, such as those in Eloise Williams’ thrilling new ghost story Seaglass.

9. A Mission There are some things that a youngster must do alone, like fighting to the death in a gladiatorial reality show . . . The Hunger Games trilogy has been hugely successful, but lots of other children’s literature features a protagonist on an inspiring lone-quest, such as Tanya Landman’s immensely powerful Buffalo Soldier or Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s beautiful, lyrical myth, The Girl of Ink and Stars.

10. And finally… A World Without Parents! Padraig Kenny’s brilliant debut Tin, features a loveable cast of mechanicals who want nothing more than to be ‘proper’ children with real souls and families of their own. Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series features a post-apocalyptic world in which all adults have become infected with a horrible zombie-fying disease, so that the children are very much in charge of their own survival. For some young readers, an adult-free world may sound like paradise, but whether it ends up like Neverland or like Lord of the Flies depends, I imagine, on the nature of the children in question . . .

our castle by the sea

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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New review: Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

Happy New Year! Here is my first review for 2019 of the highly-anticipated second novel by Lucy Strange. Our Castle by the Sea is set during the second world war, evoking all the danger experienced by those who lived through it. The story is also a celebration of the bonds of family showing despite what we might face, family matters most.

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Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange 

England is at war. Growing up in a lighthouse, twelve-year-old Pet’s world has been one of storms, secret tunnels and stories about sea monsters.  But now the clifftops are a terrifying battleground, and her family is torn apart.  This is the story of a girl who is small, afraid and unnoticed.  A girl who freezes with fear at the enemy planes ripping through the skies overhead. A girl who is somehow destined to become part of the strange, ancient legend of the Daughters of Stone…..

Our Castle by the Sea is a brilliantly told and thrilling wartime adventure told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Pet, a young girl who lives in a lighthouse with her father, her German-born mother and her older sister, Mags.  Their idyllic life is changed forever when war breaks out and sets off a chain of events none could have foreseen. With Mutti, Pet’s mother, sent to an internment camp, Pa in a permanent state of stress, the police investigating mysterious packages and Mags disappearing at strange hours of the day, Pet is forced to face her fears alone.

The story weaves a startlingly believable tale of the misfortune faced due to their family’s German heritage and the dangerous but important role of a lighthouse keeper in wartime.  The narrative highlights the fate of foreign citizens and wartime internment, childhood evacuation, as well as the trouble caused by traitorous wartime spies. The family bond portrayed is very moving and Pet becomes a force to be reckoned with, overcoming her fears and facing terrible danger, to find the truth about her parents and discover what secrets her sister Mags is keeping. Set against the backdrop of the mysterious legend of the Daughters of Stone, the ancient standing stones that guard the coastline, Our Castle by the Sea is a really gripping read told with great heart.  A perfect book to start your New Year reading with!

I am delighted to be participating in the blog tour this week and hosting a guest post by the author Lucy Strange.  See below for details of the tour starting today!

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Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com. 

Our Castle by the Sea is recommended for children aged 9+.

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

our castle by the sea

New reviews: last reviews of 2018!

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This week’s reads include five great titles to add to your TBR shelf.  Three fantastic middle grade accessible reads published by Barrington Stoke and two moving middle- grade wartime dramas; one set in World War One (published by Scholastic) and one focused on World War Two (published by Firefly Press).  These great books form the last of my book reviews for 2018 as I’ll be taking a book review break over December – but still reading of course!

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Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson

When orphan Matthew Henson ran away from his violent stepmother to find a new life in the big city, no one could have predicted that he would become the first man to reach the North Pole.  A little luck and a lot of hard work led to a life of adventure on the high seas and in the Arctic, but back home in America his achievements were ignored due to the colour of his skin. 

Based on a remarkable true story, Race to the Frozen North sheds light on the amazing achievements of Matthew Henson and his lifetime’s journey to the North Pole. I had never heard of him before reading this story – and I expect I am not alone in this. The prejudice he faced prevented him being recognised as the first man to the North Pole and he lived with this knowledge for many years until times began to change and he finally received a Polar Expedition Medal. But in many ways Matthew’s achievements go way beyond reaching the North Pole – he overcame hatred, poverty, endless prejudice and fear to achieve his dream of living a life of adventure. The friendships he did make through hard work and a desire to learn were strong and true. Brilliantly told, Race to the Frozen North is a story all would benefit from reading, celebrating an incredible unsung hero.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

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Flight by Vanessa Harbour

Austria 1945.  After losing his family, Jakob shelters with Herr Engel in a rural stables, where they hide the precious Lipizzanner stallions they know Hitler wants to steal.  When a German officer comes looking for Jakob and finds the horses, Jakob and his guardian know they must get the stallions to safety, but the only way is straight through Nazi territory. Joined by Kizzy, an orphan Roma girl, the three must guide the horses across the perilous Austrian mountains.  Will they reach safety? What will be waiting for them the other side?

The opening scene of Flight immediately sets the tone of this wartime story – tense, heart breaking, and full of bravery. Jakob’s care for the beautiful Lipizzanner horses and his determination to save them even in the face of murderous Nazis, is truly admirable.  His relationship with his guardian, the grouchy but kind Herr Engel, is touching and the introduction of a third character, Kizzy, creates a brilliant dynamic to the relationships at the heart of the story.  Wartime dramas such as Flight show how awful the brutal regime that stole the freedom of so many really was, but also captures the bravery and hope that kept the Nazis from succeeding.  A really gripping read that doesn’t stint on the dangers faced by Jakob, Herr Engel and Kizzy, Flight will keep you hooked till the final page.

Find out more www.fireflypress.co.uk

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Anty Hero by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Tom Percival

Ant might seem to have an odd attraction to insects, and it’s weird that he doesn’t know anything about footie, but these aren’t the strangest things about him by a long way. What really sets him apart is what’s hiding behind the ginormous sunglasses that he refuses to ever take off.  When his science teacher catches a glimpse behind the oversized green lenses, Ant is in grave danger. Can his friends Zac and Tulisa, along with an army of tiny helpers, save the day?

Quirky and original, Anty Hero is an engaging story featuring an unusual hero and bugs galore, with great black and white illustrations capturing the action. When Zac realises he’s not the weirdest kid in school any more he’s a bit relieved but also finds a friend in the new boy, Ant.  However, his relief is short lived when Ant accidentally reveals his true identity in a science lesson. So begins a daring rescue to save Ant from their somewhat maniacal science teacher Mr Dawkins and his son – the class bully – Ray.  Zac and fellow classmate Tulisa, find they’re braver than they realise and that friends come in all shapes and sizes in this funny, bug-filled tale!

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

 

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Evie’s War by Holly Webb

On the cusp of World War one, in the seaside town of Whitby, Evie and her family are touched by tragedy when Evie’s younger brother Alexander dies unexpectedly. But when the threat of war turns into a reality and Evie’s older brother David enlists in the army, their mother is truly heartbroken. And as the family does their best to contribute to the war effort, they also struggle with the sacrifices each of them are forced to make. 

Brilliant storytelling shows the true heartache and difficulties faced by one family throughout World War 1.  Instantly creating empathy in the reader from the very first page and as the story unfolds, Evie’s War deals with so many different aspects of the impact of war, from death and bereavement to separation of family, food shortages, cowardice, bombings, to the use of animals in war.  It also is a story of growing up, starting a new school, making friends and coping with a grieving mother.  Evie makes a warm and strong central character, for whom you feel much sympathy as she navigates life, supporting her younger sister Kitty and helping look after the family home, in particular her dogs Max and Brandy.  You’ll need a box of tissues when you read this book which is both heart-breaking and uplifting.  Published in time for the Armistice Centenary, Evie’s War will help children understand the true heartache and horrors of war at the same time as reassuring them of the power of family, love and hope.

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

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The Dog that Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies illustrated by Mike Byrne

Christmas is a nightmare for Jake. He hates the bright lights, all the noise and the disruption to his routine. But everything changes when he finds a lost dog. He names her Susan and adopts as his own. Jake and Susan form a special bond that helps him cope with the things that usually stress him out. With Susan around maybe there’s a chance that this Christmas will be one the whole family can enjoy.

A really touching story that highlights Christmas isn’t always as welcome as we might think for some children.  Jake is a child on the autism spectrum and finds lots of things difficult to cope with, but especially when there are lots of changes. So instead of being excited about the lights, the tree and more freedom, Jake hates it.  The story shows just how hard this is for his whole family and when Jake finds a special friend in the shape of Susan the stray dog, they are all delighted that he feels so much better.  But when his real owners come to take her home, Jake is back to being totally unsettled with everything.  I won’t spoil the ending, but The Dog that Saved Christmas really does make you think – and shows how magical the relationship between a dog and their owner can be.  Therapy dogs are becoming more common in many schools because they can have such an amazingly positive impact on the children they work with – and of course this is felt by the families of those children too.  The Dog that Saved Christmas is a really warm-hearted tale featuring lovely illustrations and sharing an important message of inclusivity and understanding.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Firefly Press and Scholastic for sending me these books to review! 

 

Guest blog: The Heart of Humour by author Kate Scott

I am delighted to welcome to the blog author Kate Scott, whose books Giant and Just Jack are two fabulous examples of funny books for children. Both stories explore important themes through humour and are hugely entertaining, but full of heart.  Kate is sharing today why she thinks funny books are one of the best ways to engage children in stories.

The Heart of Humour

“At the start of Just Jack, we find out that Jack has moved five times over the last two years. The regular upheavals are mostly due to of his mother’s work but the additional unspoken reason (until the book’s conclusion) is that they are both coping with the fallout of a divorce. Jack’s mum, in wanting to be ‘free’, doesn’t realise that she’s trapped Jack in an emotional prison. Jack is forced to reinvent himself after each move to ensure he fits in at each new school. He’s also convinced himself that there is no point in trying to make real friends because he’ll only have to lose them, just as he’s lost his dad. And deep down, Jack feels responsible for the divorce and is perhaps punishing himself subconsciously for (as he sees it) failing to keep his family together.

I wanted the story to comfort any children who have ever felt responsible for the actions of adults – or who feel that being themselves is not enough. I wanted every child to finish the story feeling more self-confident and to know that having – and being – a true friend is one of the most satisfying gifts we can give and receive. But the book aims to be accessible to a wide variety of children whether or not they’ve experienced the issues involved and, above all, to engage and entertain.

In my attempt to achieve this, the approach I used was humour. I chose humour because it’s one of the best coping mechanisms open to us as we navigate our way through life. I chose humour because if you preach to a child you lose them at the first word, but if you make them laugh they’ll be with you to the final page. And finally, I chose humour because laughing is fun.

Children’s books need voices of all kinds to meet the myriad needs and wants of their readers. But when searching out the books to give a child who has gone through a painful event, the stories they see themselves reflected in don’t have to be (entirely) serious. They can provoke a variety of emotions and reactions, including that of laughter. Laughing can help us put problems into perspective and to bear them better. Through laughter, we can convey some of the most important lessons we will ever learn. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through writing Giant and Just Jack, writing heart with humour is a very serious business indeed . . .”

Find out more about Kate at www.evewhite.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @KateScottWriter 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the Month: The Afterwards by A.F.Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

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The Afterwards by A.F.Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

Fact: Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is.  It is what it will always be.  Ember and Ness.  Then Ness dies.  It is sudden and unexpected and leaves Ember completely empty. How can this be?  When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back.  Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They help. They rescue each other. They never give up. Ember and Ness. That don’t change.. 

Sometimes you read a book and it is really hard to put into words what it has made you think, how it has made you feel and the way it has touched your heart.  This is absolutely the case with The Afterwards for me.  Moving, compelling, original, scary, humourous, dark and utterly poignant. A.F.Harrold has a way of writing that is totally thought-provoking whether it be a poem, a recalled memory, a funny story or this – a beautiful portrayal of death and grief.

If you have ever lost someone you love you will know the pain this causes, the hurt and disbelief and the thought that somehow you must be able to find them or get to them in some way.  Just to have one more conversation, one more final hug, one more moment with this person who was yours.  The Afterwards brings this and more to life, through a wonderful alignment of words, the power of story and incredible illustrations by Emily Gravett.  This isn’t just a book for children; this is a book for anyone who has ever lost someone that they love. It is a must read and the most memorable book I have read in a very long time.

With huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to read and review.  Find out more at www.bloomsbury.com