BLOG TOUR: Scaredy Bat by Jonathan Meres illustrated by Anders Frang

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a delightful new picture book, Scaredy Bat by Jonathan Meres, illustrated by Anders Frang published by Little Door Books.

It’s morning in the Dark, Dark Wood and Little Bat can’t sleep. He doesn’t like the light. But when Big Bat and Middle Bat call him a Scaredy Bat, there’s only one thing to do….

Meet Little Bat, a brave little chap who’s out to prove just how brave to his fellow bat friends. This delightful story turns the idea of ‘things that go bump in the night’, on its head and suddenly it’s the daylight that’s scary! Determined to show he’s not afraid of the light, Little Bat takes a leap of faith and discovers it’s not so bad after all. In fact, he discovers the Dark Wood is almost as fun in the day as it is at night!

With a gentle narrative accompanied by charming illustrations bringing nature to life, Scaredy Bat will have young readers asking for more bat-antics! Sure to be a firm favourite at bedtime – and reassure little ones that everyone gets a bit scared sometimes.

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. You can follow the rest of the tour here:

New reviews: summer book blog!

I am very pleased to share new reviews on the blog today of some of the books I’ve read over the last few months. For younger and middle grade readers, these titles are ideal for keeping children engaged and reading over the summer holidays! Happy reading!

Madam Squeaker by Pip Jones illustrated by Paula Bowles (Age5+) is a charming tale of a little mouse with a big heart. Minetta is desperate to teach the Ruling Rats a lesson about sharing; just in time a wise old Owl appears and offers her some advice.  Lovely colourful illustrations capture Minetta Mouse’s courage as she finds her voice and shows all the animals how they can share together. A Little Gems story, this is a perfect treat for very young readers. Published by Barrington Stoke.

Lottie Loves Nature: Bird Alert by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown (Age 6+) is book three is the series which is part of the Summer Reading Challenge 2021- Wild World Heroes. Once again we meet nature-mad Lottie and this time she’s watching! But share has to act fast when a hatchling falls out of it’s nest and we learn all about looking after feathered friends in the garden with handy tips and checklists. Entertaining, informative, Lottie Loves Natures is a great way to encourage young reader’s interest in the natural world and reading. Published by Five Quills.

Flyntlock Bones: The Eye of Mogrod By Derek Keilty illustrated by Mark Elvins (Age 7+) – pirates ahoy! It’s adventure time again with quick-witted Flynn and friends embarking on another mystery-solving quest.  With fearsome villains and monsters to face, alongside pirate-y behaviour, be prepared for multiple thrills and entertaining pirate fun all brought to life by brilliant illustrations. Published by Scallywag Press.

Grace-Ella: Pixie Pandemonium by Sharon Marie Jones Illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi (age 7+) is the third book in this delightful series featuring young witch Grace Ella and her cat Mr Whiskins.  This time, Grace-Ella must save the school fair and stop a mischeviuous pixie named Buddy from causing chaos!  Great fun, young readers will be enchanted. Published by Firefly Press.

An Escape in Time by Sally Nicholls illustrated by Rachael Dean (Age 7+) continues the adventures of siblings Alex and Ruby as they travel through the magic mirror in their historical family home of Applecott House to another historical destination. This time they meet French Aristocrats who have escaped the Revolution, and must find a way to help them, all the while learning more about the magic mirror, their family history and themselves. Clever plots, engaging characters and fantastic historical detail bring this story to life making the reader wish they could travel in time too! Published by Nosy Crow.

Me and the Robbersons by Sirir Kolu, translated by Ruth Urbom (Age 8+) is a quirky adventure telling the tales of a bandit family, a kidnapping and lots and lots of sweets. Full of madcap mayhem, The Robbersons inadvertently give Maise the summer holiday she’s dreamed of when they kidnap her and she’s soon embroiled in their hilarious escapades! Fun and furious, this adventure will charm the socks off those looking for a Dahl-style story. Published by Little Tiger Group.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Daniela Sosa (Age 8+) stars Zaiba, a girl who can’t wait to become the world’s greatest detective! Who is trying to scare away the new family who’ve moved into Oakwood Manor? Zaiba and her friends are determined to find the culprit in book three of this exciting, well-paced adventure series. Perfect for fans of mystery stories, with friendship and fun at the heart of each one. Published by Little Tiger Group.

We Made a Movie by Charlotte Lo (Age 8+) revisits Luna and her family on their island-home with another madcap adventure in the offing, in this thoroughly entertaining sequel. This time, Luna comes up with a brilliant plan to solve everyone’s business problems and save her home and the town of Wishnook from being turned into ‘The Las-Vegas of Scotland’! Hilarious, heart-warming and full of eccentric and endearing characters, this story is great fun! Published by Nosy Crow.

How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg by Emma Shevah (Age 8+) is an absolute delight of a read with characters you’d want to save the world for! With themes on friendship and acceptance we can all be inspired by and a brilliantly portrayed environmental message we can all learn from, you’ll fall in love with the first story in this series (and I’m so glad there’ll be more!). It’s also full of fascinating facts about animals and the natural world with a list of top tips about how young readers can tackle environmental issues. Published by Chicken House.

Artic Star by Tom Palmer (Age 8+) is a poignant and moving tale by an author who has proved himself again to be a master historical story-teller.  It’s 1943 and childhood friends Frank, Joseph and Stephen are about to embark on their first mission aboard a naval ship as part of an Artic Convoy sailing to Russia delivering supplies to the Soviets. You can almost taste the seawater and feel the freezing cold as they plummet into danger and face threats all around. This story won’t fail to move you and shines a light on the brave and courageous naval forces that helped the Allies win the war. Published by Barrington Stoke.

The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger (Age 8+) tells the story of orphan Isobel travelling from her home in India to a remote Uncle in England.  Little does she realise life is going to take some unexpected turns as she witnesses a murder, grapples with etiquette and expectations and makes some new friends.  On board ship adventure abounds as Isobel and her fellow would-be detectives use all their deductive powers to find the culprit. Plenty of historical detail, well-drawn characters and an engaging plot will keep you hooked on every page! Published by Nosy Crow.

With thanks to the publishers for sending me these books to review – they’ll all be going to a local school as part of the Book Buddy scheme!

BLOG TOUR: Song of the Far Isles by Nicholas Bowling

Take a trip to a magical isle and be swept away by song, in this wonderful tale by Nicholas Bowling, Song of the Far Isles. It’s the final day of the blog tour and I’m sharing a musical instrument-inspired guest post from the author!

Music is the life-blood of Little Drum, one of the Far Isles, feeding the souls of all who live there – those alive and the ancestors who now exist as ‘ghasts’. Oran plays the cithara, her birth instrument, and such is her skill even at her young age, she plays as though it is part of her, inspiring and thrilling all who listen. All this is brought to a stop by the arrival of the the Duchess from the mainland, along with an order for silence – no more music. Ever. A threat to the very heart of the community, Oran is determined to save her home and life as she has always known it. So begins a quest to find the mythical instrument that might just hold the key to changing the Duchess’ mind, taking Oran and her ghast friend Alick to places they can only imagine. Beautifully told, Song of the Far Isles is lyrcial to it’s core, showing the wonder and power of music to bring life, love and liberty to all.

I’m delighted to welcome author Nicholas to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post sharing the meaning behind each of the instruments in the story. Welcome to the blog Nicholas!

The Nine Instruments of the Chorus

“While writing Song of the Far Isles, I thought a lot about why musicians choose their particular instrument – or why the instrument chooses them. I have played music long enough to know that the stereotypes of certain players (e.g. bassists: reliable, versatile, excellent lovers) are for the most part true. This led me to wonder whether there might be a sort of “zodiac” for the musicians of the Far Isles, in which a specific instrument might naturally attract, and develop, a specific set of emotional or physical attributes.

So, here they are: the Nine Instruments of the Chorus. Which one are you?

Cithara

The cithara is the first of the instruments, and the most versatile. It is unique in not having a specific partner-instrument, and will happily duet with any of the Nine. Cithara players are just the same – open-minded, open-hearted, friendly to all (even when they should be more circumspect). Cithara players are creative, imaginative, and often characterised as dreamers. They usually have an adventurous streak, and have difficulty seeing the seriousness and danger of certain situations.

Fiddle

Fiddle-players have long had to endure the age-old joke about being “too highly strung”. While it is true that they have a tendency towards worry, and do not cope well with change and disorder, they are also fiercely loving and selfless souls. They are tireless workers – often on the behalf of others – and their quick fingers make them exceptional craftsmen and women.

Barrow fiddle

Traditionally the accompaniment to funeral song, players of the barrow fiddle are, like their instruments, a thoughtful and melancholy bunch. In general they are self-sufficient and happiest in their own company, but the friendships they do form are incredibly strong. To those who know them they are loyal, trustworthy and can always be relied upon for sound advice and a sympathetic ear.

Sea Horn

Brash and brassy, players of the sea horn are perhaps the most confident of musicians. They are born leaders. They love to be in the company of others, and others love to be around them – not least to catch their jokes and stories. Typically, sea horn players have incredible amounts of energy, and are known to be spontaneous to the point of recklessness. Underestimate their mood swings at your peril…

Bombard

Bombard players are renowned for being deeply affectionate and soulful sorts (the bombard is often known by its colloquial name, “the lover’s pipe”). They want nothing more than to please other people, and the courtship of a bombardist can be a wearisome thing. They are, like fiddle players, incredibly hard workers – although, unlike fiddle players, they are also impossibly disorganised. Always best to give a bombard player one task at a time.

Reed Pipe

Reed pipers are often hard to pin down – never happy to settle in one place, or at one task, for too long. They have a reputation for being flighty, changeable and unreliable, but at the same time there is no one with quicker wits. Many a time has an over-confident sea horn player found themselves on the sharp end of a reed piper’s tongue. And their feet are quicker still – with the smallest and lightest of the instruments, they are the best dancers on the Four Seas.

Bagpipes

Bagpipers are some of the most gregarious musicians in the Far Isles – great talkers, great storytellers, and (as the stereotype goes) great eaters and drinkers. Only cithara players can compete with their friendliness. They are known for their patience and compassion, and are nearly impossible to rouse to anger. On the rare occasions when they give in to their emotions, however, best set sail for another island…

Bodhran

The role of the drum is to hold a song together, so it is unsurprising that bodhran players are the most steadfast and reliable of islanders. They say what they mean, and they mean what they say. A drummer is often called upon to settle disputes between more “passionate” instruments – in fact, they can be so diplomatic and even-handed that they seem to lack any feelings at all. Do not be fooled by this. Under a bodhran player’s thick skin is a warm heart and a wicked sense of humour. 

Handpan

The handpan Is perhaps the oddest instrument in the Far Isles – somewhere between percussion and a tonal instrument – and handpan players are, without exception, eccentric folk. Their minds seem to work in ways that other musicians cannot fathom, which means they often befriend each other (or just talk to themselves). But beyond their outward strangeness they are fiercely intelligent, perceptive, and imaginative. They often see solutions to problems where everyone else has failed.”

SONG OF THE FAR ISLES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House) Follow Nicholas on twitter @thenickbowling and find out more at chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out all the stops on the tour:

WINNER ANNOUCNED – 2021 Branford Boase Award

I’m delighted to share the news that Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen of Puffin have won the 2021 BRANFORD BOASE AWARD for the author and editor of an outstanding debut novel for children.

Last year I was honoured to participate on the judging panel for the Branford Boase Award so I can well imagine the challenge faced by the 2021 judges as they read through the impressive shortlist to pick a winner!

Founded in 2000, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It has long been my favourite award for children’s books and is regarded as one of the most important, with an impressive record in picking out star authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Marcus Sedgwick, M.G. Leonard and Frances Hardinge. Winning editors include J K Rowling’s editor Barry Cunningham, Philip Pullman’s editor David Fickling and Fiona Kennedy, publisher of Michelle Paver, Marcus Sedgwick and Sally Gardner.

Struan Murray is the winner of the 2021 Branford Boase Award for the year’s outstanding debut novel for children for his ambitious, beautifully written fantasy adventure Orphans of the Tide, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac. Set in the last city of a drowned world, the book opens with a dead whale washing in with the tide, only for a living boy to climb out. The City’s religious authorities believe his body to house The Enemy, the god they hold responsible for putting the world in its watery grave but Ellie, a young inventor, is convinced he’s innocent. The award is shared with Murray’s editor, Ben Horslen, of Puffin.

The 2021 shortlist was particularly strong. Described as ‘a showcase for all that children’s literature can be’ it featured powerful contemporary stories, a wildly energetic comedy adventure, an ‘own voices’ novel starring a young girl with autism, a dark story of witches and witchcraft in the 17th century, and the first verse novel to feature in the award’s history. 

Orphans of the Tide was the only fantasy adventure on the list and impressed all the judges with its originality, Murray’s control of the story and the beauty of his writing. Judge Liz Hyder, author of Bearmouth and winner of the 2020 Branford Boase Award winner says of Orphans of the Tide, ‘This book utterly stole my heart. Exquisitely written, it’s a phenomenal page-turner with characters that leap off the page and straight into your imagination. Orphans of the Tide explores lots of big themes – environmental issues, friendship and xenophobia to name but a few – all wrapped up in an utterly compelling tale told by a master storyteller. Struan is an exceptional talent and I can’t wait to read everything else he ever writes.’

Struan Murray says, ‘I am so honoured and thrilled to have won. This award is extremely special as it celebrates not only the author but the editor too, and understands and recognises that writing is a collaborative process that wouldn’t be possible without the commitment, imagination and skill of the editor. Working with Ben has stretched me as a writer and his insight contributed so much to the world of Orphans of the Tide that I couldn’t imagine it without him.’

Ben Horslen said: ‘… The author-editor relationship lies at the very heart of our industry, and to have an award that celebrates and showcases that relationship is a very special thing indeed. To be nominated is a career highlight that every editor hopes for. To win is simply a dream come true.’

Children’s literature expert and chair of the judges Julia Eccleshare says, ‘The Branford Boase Award has always celebrated the special role new writers play in expanding the scope of what children read. New voices telling new stories add to the already rich seam of children’s books: in the hands of skillful storytellers they are vital in giving a fictional commentary on current emotional, social and political issues. This year’s shortlist includes books that show just how exciting, diverse and fresh storytelling for all ages of children can be. The level of talent among the new writers is extraordinary as is their determination to ensure all children can find themselves in a story. Congratulations to Struan and Ben and to all the authors and editors on the shortlist.’

The 2021 winners of the Branford Boase Award were announced by Liz Hyder on this evening as part of a public event presented by the LoveReading LitFest. The event featured contributions from all the shortlisted authors plus previous winners and culminated in a discussion with Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen.  Struan Murray receives a cheque for £1,000 and Struan and Ben both receive engraved trophies. Find out more at www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk.

BLOG TOUR: Bad Panda by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

It’s DAY FIVE of the Bad Panda blog tour – and I’m afraid you just can’t help falling in love with super-fluffly Lin and her partner-in-crime, Fu – no doubt much to Lin’s disgust! Bad Panda is the first in a fantastically funny new series from the duo who created Dave Pigeon, author Swapna Haddow and illustrator, Sheena Dempsey. Lin is the ‘bad’ panda in the story but she’s so super fluffy and cute everyone loves her, no matter how badly she behaves, as she tries to escape the zoo and get home to her favourite person – her bad brother, Face-Like-A-Bag-Of-Potatoes. Combining hilarious narrative, with lively illustrations that perfectly capture the humour, Bad Panda is the ideal tonic if you need cheering up or if you just enjoy laughing-out-loud!

Today I’m sharing an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how Swapna got to know pandas and gain real insight by working as a panda-keeper for a day!

Behind the Scenes of Bad Panda – with Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

“You are in for a treat. Swapna and Sheena are sharing behind-the-scenes pictures and secrets of their new book Bad Panda.

The Bad Panda story was originally inspired by a trip Swapna took to China with her in-laws in 2017. Her mother in law arranged for the family to be panda keepers for a day at the Chengdu Panda Base and Swapna describes this as the absolute highlight of the trip.

She and her family arrived at the panda base where they heard about the rescued pandas Most had lost their homes due to deforestation and some were orphaned. And right now there are only about 2000 pandas in the wild, which makes them vulnerable of extinction so these centres do vital work in protecting pandas.

Swapna spent the day cleaning up the panda paddocks, sweeping up their poos, smashing up bamboo stems ready for meal times and making steamed panda cake which is a treat of corn, soybean, rice and egg.

And of course, she spent many hours watching the gentle giants go about their day.

When she got home she had heaps of ideas for a new panda story and both she and Sheena co-created Bad Panda.

Sheena says designing characters is one of her favourite aspects of illustration and before she started making the rough drawings for Bad Panda, she wanted to create some model sheets that she could refer to easily for each of the main characters – these model sheets were inspired by those the Disney animators make where they draw their characters from different angles and with different expressions.

Lin was the trickiest character to get right. Sheena struggled to make her cute and appealing, while also making her look like the rotter of a grotter of a panda she truly is. She worked with her art director Emma Eldridge on getting the fluff around her head just right, as well as making her proportions very toddler-like with a big head on a small body.

Fu was a much easier bamboo to crack than Lin. Sheena describes his body shape as ‘kind of like an egg on legs, with a flyaway quiff on the top of his head’.

Sheena wanted to make the antagonist King Cobra pretty vicious-looking and she didn’t hold back. He looks every bit the deadly cobra he is.

Bad Panda is partly told in graphic novel format, with 37 pages of its pages told with panels and speech bubbles. This was a really exciting way to tell Lin’s story through pictures. Sheena did a lot of research into the mechanics of making comics as she had never drawn any before and she even started her own webcomic called Penguin Chronicles for practice.”

With thanks to Faber for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Find out more at www.faber.co.uk and don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour: