New reviews: a picture book celebration!

Picture books offer brilliant opportunities to explore the world around us, how we see ourselves and how we interact with others.  Today I’m sharing a round up of some of the picture books that have made their way onto my TBR pile recently.  These books are a marvellous example of the variety of amazing illustrations that tell us stories and help us share the wonder of the world with children!

suitcaseThe Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is a thought-provoking story of overcoming fears of the unknown and showing kindness to those in need. When a strange arrives, the animals are not sure how to greet him and are even mistrustful of him.  However, they realise just in time that the stranger needs their help not hostility and so they show him true kindness and help him make a new home.  Using colour contrasts to show the impact being kind can have and bringing the animals to life with quirky illustrations, this story will teach even the youngest of readers about the value of kindness and not being afraid of what is ‘different’.  Find out more at Nosy Crow.

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Oink by David Elliot is the softly drawn story of Pig who wants to have a nice relaxing bath. But his animal friends have other ideas and soon the bath is full.  Pig resorts to an unusual way to get rid of them so he can get his rest and relaxation. This amusing tale is told through expressive illustrations, almost wordless, and is on which many will identify with (although perhaps not the method of making his friends leave the bath!).   One for all the family to enjoy. Find out more at Gecko Press.

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The Green Giant by Katie Cottle highlights the importance of nature and how we can all make the world a bit more green. When Bea visits her grandfather for a summer holiday, she discovers a green giant in the greenhouse who tells her all about how he survived the grey city.  Bea realises the wonder of nature and when she returns home with a gift from the giant, Bea makes her grey city world become more green too. A timely tale, the vibrant illustrations and simple narrative create a magical feel to the power of nature to transform and shares how we can all make our world a better place. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

william beeWilliam Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains and Boats and Planes by William Bee is the delightful second in the series celebrating the wonders of transport.  Wonderful, full-colour illustrations bring to life all manner of trains, boats and aeroplanes taking the reader on a voyage of discovery that is sure to be enjoyed again and again by young readers.  William is accompanied again by his dog Sparky and the rather brilliant team of traffic cones, who add humour throughout.  Children will be fascinated and entertained – and so will their parents! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

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Big Cat by Emma Lazell is a hilarious story about Isobel and her Grandma and their discovery of a very Big Cat in the garden. Grandma is happy to have Big Cat to stay – afterall she has many cats already! But she and Isobel soon realise this cat is not all it seems. Told through brilliant, larger-than-life illustrations and text, the chaos Big Cat causes comes leaping off the page as do the very funny reactions of Grandma’s other cats.  Sure to delight readers and be a favourite at bedtime, this is definitely one to have on the bookshelf. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

flyFly Flies by Ziggy Hanaor illustrated by Alice Bowsher is a sweet story about being happy as you are. Fly is enjoying a day of wibbly wobbly flying all over the place.  Blackbird, Seagull, Starling and Hawk insist she’s doing it wrong – but she know she’s now even though she tries to be like them.  With bold black and white illustrations, our unexpected hero’s journey of trial and error is brilliantly depicted and her final outburst is spot-on! Leaving you with a warm feeling, this story celebrates the importance of being yourself, no matter what. Find out more at Cicada Books.

its your worldIt’s Your World Now by Barry Falls is a gorgeous celebration of the world we live in!  Encouraging youngsters to be bold and fearless despite setbacks, the narrative shows them what they might do in life, what they might experience – good and bad – and how they can overcome.  Through enchanting illustrations and a lyrical rhyming narrative, it really is an ode on how to live a wonderful life and make the most of our world. In this day and age of what can seem like endless gloom and doom, this story provides a celebration of the world of possibility. A great encouragement for young and old alike! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

With thanks to Cicada Books, Gecko Press, Nosy Crow and Pavilion Books for sending me these titles for review.

 

New reviews: Man’s best friend in books!

Man’s best friend makes a brilliant addition to the cast of many children’s books!  I realised that a whole host of stories I’ve read recently feature a dog either as a companion or as a central part of the plot. Dogs are a big part of many children’s lives and can have a unique connection with their owners.  These books may be very different in style but they all share in celebrating man’s best friend!

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Don’t Hug the Pug by Robin Jacobs illustrated by Matthew Hodson

Baby Likes to cuddle.  He is allowed to hug the rug, the jug, the bug and the slug….but NOT the pug! Why not? What could be wrong with the pug?

A simple, rhyming narrative combines with larger-than-life, quirky illustrations to celebrate the natural curiosity of babies and their desire to play with things they shouldn’t! A great book to read aloud, children will love joining in with ‘Don’t hug the pug!’ and be highly amused by the rather smelly outcome!  Grown-ups will recognise the persistence of the little chap as he tries to hug the pug and is told no over and over – without success.  Pugs do have a reputation for being a bit smelly but perhaps on this occasion it’s a little undeserved! Great fun.

With thanks to Cicada Books for sending me this book to review. 

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My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindstrӧm

“Can I take Mouse for a walk?” I ask, and I’m always allowed.  We set off, very slowly. Mouse walks at a snails pace. He stops at a lampposts and fences and sniffs for a long time.  He’s old and fat with ears as thin as pancakes.  His walk is a kind of waddle and he’s always pleased to see me. 

This is such a lovely, gentle story about an old dog called Mouse and a young girl who loves to take him for a walk.  She might not own Mouse but as the story progresses you can see just how much she loves him, even if he is slow and fat and old.  And he loves her too.

Beautifully paced with charming illustrations, and leaving you with a warm heart, My Dog Mouse is perfect for anyone who has ever owned and loved a dog into old age.

With thanks to Gecko Press for sending me this book to review.

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McTavish Takes the Biscuit by Meg Rosof

When Pa Peachey decides to enter the town bake-off competition, his grand plans turn out to be far more impressive than his baking skills.  As Pa’s ambitions start to crumble, rescues dog McTavish smells disaster in the making. Can he find a way to save the Peachey family from disaster yet again?

The third outing for McTavish and the Peachey family, this is a delightful tale full of trademark humour and heart as Pa Peachey attempts to bake. I love his grand plans and even though you can feel his family’s concern – and possible embarrassment – you have to admire his ambition as he tries to bake his way to glory!  Family life is brilliantly brought to life with the Peachey children Betty, Ollie and Ava watching in dismay as their father creates chaos determined to win the bake off by creating a gingerbread sculpture of the Palace of Versailles! It is, of course, up to the wonderful McTavish to save the day and be the hero yet again.  A great fun read for all the family to enjoy!

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review. See my review of the previous book in this series McTavish Goes Wild.

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D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer

Jack can’t wait for the school trip to the D-Day landing beaches. It’s his chance to learn more about the war heroes he has always admired – brave men like his Dad, who is a Reserve soldier.  But when his dad is called up to action and things at home spiral out of control, everything Jack believes about war is thrown into question.  Finding comfort only in the presence of his loyal dog, Finn, Jack is drawn to the heart-wrenching story of one particular D-Day paratrooper.  On 6 June 1944, Emile Corteil parachuted into France with his dig, Glen – and Jack is determined to discover their fate…..

Bringing together multiple themes of conflict, remembrance, family, friendship and refugees, D-Day Dog is a totally absorbing and thought-provoking story.  It brilliantly depicts the complex nature of war and conflict, and what it really means to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life for your country.  Questions that we all at some point ask ourselves are examined through the impressive narrative – from whether it’s right that a father go to war and leave his family behind, using animals in conflict to why we should remember those who died in wartime. It’s particularly poignant when Jack realises that conflict isn’t just something that happened a long time ago – it happens now, every single day. His connection with his dog Finn becomes all the more important as he discovers what happened to wartime dog Glen. This is a really accessible read and the historical detail brings the true nature of war to life. Ultimately this story will help all who read it understand the impact of conflict and why remembrance is so important.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review. Read my review of Tom Palmer’s Armistice Runner here.

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The Dog Runner Bren MacDibble

Ella and her brother, Emery, are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, up-country, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren landscape?

Set in a future where a fungus has killed all the grass and famine has taken hold, Ella’s mother and father have gone, leaving her with her older half-brother Emery and the family’s dogs.  Their only chance of survival is get to the country and the only way they can do this quickly enough is to use a dog-sled, and two other dogs given to them by a friend. The dystopian world they live in is fraught with danger – marauding motorbike gangs steal anything of use; Ella and Emery cannot trust anyone. As the story progress, Emery is injured and they lose their strongest dog making their situation even more precarious.  Ella has to use all her bravery and strength to keep her family safe.  A fast paced plot builds the tension and a strong sense of how awfully ‘real’ this could be if we don’t look after our environment can be felt throughout.  Ella makes a brilliant heroine and the dangers she, her brother and the dogs face are palpable. I loved the relationship between the children and their dogs and the instinctive way they protect each other. The Dog Runner is a non-stop adventure which will entertain as much as it will provoke thought about the importance of looking after our planet and how we should be doing this now – not waiting until it’s too late.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review. Read my review of Bren MacDibble’s debut title How to Bee here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the Month: Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

book of the monthMo Lottie and the Junkers is the first in a new middle grade series written by Jennifer Killick, author of the Alex Sparrow series. Published by Firefly Press, this series introduces us to an unlikely detective duo who readers will love! I absolutely love Jennifer Killick’s books – fun, accessible, original, just the right amount of thoughtfulness and really great characters – this new title is no exception and that’s why it’s Book of the Month!

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Mo, Lottie and the Junkers by Jennifer Killick

Mo Appleby’s ordered life is turned upside down when he and his mum move in with his new stepdad and stepsisters, Lottie and Sadie. The home he left behind is just across the street, and there’s something not quite right about the new occupant. Other strange new people keep popping into his life, too: a bonkers lollipop man and a boy called Jax, who seems to understand Mo better than anyone else, especially Lottie. Who are the weird new people in their town? Do they have any involvement in the disappearance of Mo’s dad many years ago? And why does the ice cream taste so good? Lottie is determined to find out exactly what’s going on, even if it makes Mo mad, and even if it leads them both into serious danger…

Mo, Lottie and the Junkers is a totally engaging and highly amusing sci-fi-come-detective story featuring a brilliant duo in Mo and Lottie, who provide hilarious narration. With tons of original and eccentric ideas throughout the narrative you can’t help but be drawn in to the mystery.  Who on earth are the junkers? Why is the lollipop man behaving so strangely? Why can’t they stop thinking about the ice-cream van? There is definitely something odd going on – and odd is something Mo knows all about. He’s a wonderfully eccentric character who likes to collects lost property and try to return it to its owners, amongst other things. Mo enjoys peace and quiet and having his own space.  His new stepsisters on the other hand are loud, nosy and drive him mad which makes for some very amusing sibling scenarios.

Against this back drop of getting to grips with a new family home and a blended family set-up, Mo and Lottie join together and do their best to find the truth and solve the mystery. They face danger with bravery and determination and each helps the other deal with their various frailties and fears.  It’s great to see the warmth and friendship they develop as the story progresses, balanced perfectly with sibling irritation! With some brilliant plot twists, you couldn’t predict what’s coming and the very gruesome discoveries they make.  Be prepared for some mad moments, nasty villains and edge of your seat action.  A great read for middle grade, Mo, Lottie and the Junkers should be on all your bookshelves!

Find out more www.jenniferkillick.com and follow Jennifer on Twitter 

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me a proof copy of this book to review. 

 

 

New review: Pog by Padraig Kenny

Pog is the highly anticipated new middle-grade novel from the author of Tin, Pádriag Kenny. Published by Chicken House, Pog was chosen as Independent Bookseller’s Book of the Month for April. Featuring a unique magical creature and a heartfelt adventure, Pog brings to life a fantastical world and vibrant characters and is sure to achieve the same critical acclaim of the author’s first novel.

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Pog by Pádriag Kenny

David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here … magical creatures, like tiny, hairy Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker, which insists there’s a way he can bring his mother back …

Totally quirky from the first page, Pog brings to life a brave new hero and a heartfelt story of loss, love and family.  Moving in to their ancestral home surrounded by an old and dark forest, Penny and David are reeling from the death of their mother, with their father on the brink of breakdown.  The atmosphere of grief is palpable and little do they realise there are dark creatures just waiting to feed on their sadness.  Thankfully Pog, a Lumpkin and member of the First Folk and protector, lives in the attic. He’s a funny little creature whose task it is to protect The Necessary, the portal to another world through which dark creatures threaten to invade. With the ever-increasing danger lurking and David being tricked into thinking he can get his mother back, Pog has his work cut out in protecting the family, capturing the creatures that have already escaped through the portal and making sure The Necessary is forever closed.  This adventure’s finale will have readers holding their breath!

Pog’s antics are often very humorous and provide a good balance to the sadness of the tale, reminding us that there is always hope. The tension builds throughout and there are some truly moving moments between the family as they all try and come to terms with their grief, which are handled very sensitively and feel very real. The forest and its creepy inhabitants are also thoroughly believable – I don’t ever want to meet a bloodworm or a greebeldy! Pog’s bravery unites both Penny and David – his story is that of a true hero and will delight all readers.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com  and follow the author on Twitter

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

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New review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

After the success of the brilliant Brightstorm, it is no surprise that Vashti Hardy’s latest novel Wildspark published by Scholastic, has been much anticipated. And with good reason – it’s brilliant!  Featuring all the best elements of a great children’s sci-fi fantasy novel – awe inspiring imagination, incredible characters, unexpected plot twists and a truly believable world – middle grade readers will dive into Medlock and not want to come back! Vashti Hardy is a copywriter with an MA in Creative Writing and an alumna of and mentor at the Golden Egg Academy

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Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

Prue is a young farm girl whose older brother, Francis, had a natural talent for engineering. But after his untimely death, the family have been shattered by grief. Everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm. A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have found a way to bring spirits of the dead back into the world, capturing their energy and powering animal-like machines (the Personifates). Unaware that Francis has died, the Ghost Guild wants him to join them as an apprentice. Prue poses as “Frances” and goes to Medlock to learn the craft – but she’s on a mission of her own, to bring her brother back home. And to find Francis, she needs to find a way to help the ghost machines remember the people they used to be. But if she succeeds, the whole society could fall apart.

If you lost someone you loved and thought there might be a way to get them back, would you do anything you could to try? Even if it meant going against your parents’ wishes and deceiving all those around you? That is the idea at the heart of this fantastic story – and the challenges that trying to reverse the inevitability of death causes. Bursting at the seams with thrilling adventure and a truly thought-provoking narrative, Wildspark will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  As the story unfolds, we discover Prue is a feisty and determined heroine, applying her engineering knowledge – and a whole lot of new skills she learns as an apprentice – to find her brother.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty about the future of Personifates and growing debate about their rights as ‘humans’, Prue must use all her ingenuity and quite a bit of deception to enable her to succeed.  Thankfully she finds support from her new found friends and fellow apprentices – Agapantha and Edwin – who is the first ever Personifate apprentice. Together they navigate the challenges of being apprentices, boarding school and meeting their training mentors. But it is clear that Prue’s desire for discovery will come at a very high price and she and her friends face all manner of dangers in order to overcome the terror that is constantly lurking.

Featuring a truly imaginative world full of breath-taking scenery, wondrous inventions and the most marvellous array of characters you could hope to meet, Wildspark is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I hope there will be a sequel!

Find out more at www.vashtihardy.com and follow Vashti on Twitter.

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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New review: We Won an Island by Charlotte Lo

On the blog today is my review of the middle-grade debut from Charlotte Lo, We Won An Island, published by Nosy Crow. With it’s bright, colourful cover and brilliant concept for a fun-filled story, I was immediately taken back to childhood summer adventures where everything is possible!

Charlotte wrote her first story when she was six years old, on a square of bumpy kitchen towel. Now with a masters degree in Writing for Young People behind her, Charlotte is set for success with this lovely tale – and I’m keeping my eye out for competitions to win an island!We-Won-an-Island-491909-1-360x553.jpg

We Won an Island by Charlotte Lo

When Luna’s family win an island, Luna thinks it will solve everything AND she can finally get a donkey! But things don’t go entirely to plan – no one expects Luna’s younger brother to win a Sheep Pageant, for example – and the secret festival they hold soon spirals out of control. But the island is beautiful, and the family are happy, and maybe Luna will get her donkey after all…

We Won an Island has an instantly appealing storyline – who wouldn’t want to win their very own island and have fun-filled adventures complete with goats, secret festivals and quirky characters?! With a larger than life family at it’s heart, the story starts with their life in a precarious state as they are about to be evicted from their home. Grandma has recently passed away, Dad is lost in grief and Mum is doing all she can to support the three children; Luna, Margot and Fabien.

Luckily, ten-year-old Luna takes matters into her own hands and enters a competition to win an island from an eccentric billionaire – and they win! All their problems seemed to be solved – Mum can start her yoga retreats, Luna can have a donkey sanctuary and surely Dad will start to feel better with so much to look forward to? Except of course life is never quite that simple and as the family navigate their new world – from meeting the ‘neighbours’ to exploring the island to cleaning up the huge mansion that is to be their home, there are lots of laughs, tears and hilarity along the way. Especially when the three children organise a ‘secret’ music festival to fund their ambitious island plans!  We Won an Island is an enjoyable, quirky and fun read creating a truly warm picture of the ups and downs of family life.

Find out more at www.charlotteloauthor.co.uk and follow Charlotte on Twitter.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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STOP PRESS! Branford Boase Award 2019 Shortlist announced!

BBA_LogoI am so excited to share the Branford Boase Award shortlist on the blog today! This Award celebrates the most promising book for seven year-olds and upwards written by a first-time novelist and also highlights the importance of the editor in the development of new authors. The Branford Boase Award is synonymous with brilliant writing and editing talent and is a very special award.

The Branford Boase Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. Uniquely, it also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent.  It is twenty years since the Branford Boase Award was founded to commemorate author Henrietta Branford and influential Walker Books editor Wendy Boase who worked together and both died of cancer in 1999.  The Award, sponsored by Walker Books, is now recognised as one of the most important in children’s books. Over its 20 year history, winners and shortlisted authors reads like a who’s who of children’s writers! Siobhan Dowd, Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Philip Reeve, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Frances Hardinge, Patrick Ness and Marcus Sedgwick to name a few.

fire bed and boneThis year to mark the 20th anniversary of the Branford Boase Award, Walker Books have reissued Henrietta Branford’s novel Fire, Bed and Bone. Marcus Sedgwick, who won the Branford Boase Award in 2001, says: “Fire, Bed and Bone is one of those very short books that is nevertheless powerful and moving; one of those books which oozes confidence from the first line to the last. Its prose is robust and rhythmic; flawless in its execution, showing just what complex themes and stories one can address in a ‘book for children”

You could be in with a chance to get your hands on one of FIVE copies of this brilliant story – head over to Twitter and enter my giveaway!

Running alongside the Branford Boase Award, the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition encourages writing talent in under 18s. The Award is the joint idea of Julia Eccleshare and Anne Marley. Julia is chair of PLR and director of the Hay Festival children’s programme. Anne was a co-director of Authors Aloud UK and was Head of Children’s, Youth & Schools Services for Hampshire Library & Information Service for many years.  Last year’s winners were Mitch Johnson and his editors Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker with Kick (Usborne).

The Shortlist!

The shortlist for the 2019 award features the Blue Peter Book Award winner; a book that made the Costa shortlist; and a book in the running for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal. I do not envy the judges their task in selecting a winner from this fantastic list of titles!

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The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne) A beautifully told, original take on the tale of Baba Yaga this timeless story of death and grief and the zest for life stars a sentient house with chicken legs

The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne) When a magical train drives through her hallway it’s the start of an extraordinary adventure for science-loving Suzy, one that will take her to some very strange places.

Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon, edited by Sarah Stewart (Usborne) A contemporary love story starring Rosie, who is 16 and has Down’s syndrome; and Jack, who attends the same college in a specialist unit. When Jack is sent away, Rosie is determined to see him again, whatever it takes.

The Goose Road by Rowena House, edited by Mara Bergman (Walker Books) Set in France during the First World War, this novel tells of Angelique and her belief that her brother Pascal will return from the trenches to take over the family farm.  She is determined to keep the farm and the herd of geese he loves so much safe for him.

I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, edited by Lucy Pearse (Macmillan) Bright but shy Muzna is the sixteen-year-old only child of Pakistani parents now settled in Britain. Her father wants her to become a doctor whereas she can only think about her writing. The story changes course when Muzna gets dangerously over-involved in a manipulative terrorist cell.

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen, edited by Sarah Stewart and Kendra Levin (Usborne) When Sarah’s mother is shot dead, there’s no time to grieve. A Jew in Nazi Germany, she uses her talent as an actress to become a school-girl spy, though she’s keenly aware that her life counts very little to her spy-master.

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf, edited by Lena McCauley (Orion Children’s Books) The arrival of a new boy in class, who doesn’t speak, or smile, and disappears at break times, intrigues the narrator of this book and when she finds out that his family are lost somewhere in Europe, she and her friends decide to help.

The judging panel this year is: Sanchita Basu De Sarkar, Children’s Bookshop, Muswell Hill; Ellen Krajewski, librarian, Hemel Hempstead School, Hertfordshire; Louise Johns-Shepherd, CLPE ; and Mitch Johnson, author of Kick, winner of the 2018 Branford Boase Award. The panel is chaired by Julia Eccleshare.

Julia Eccleshare says: “In its twenty-year history, the Branford Boase Award has given a crucial early career boost to the most exciting and important young authors, and prompted publishers to seek out new talent. What’s more, it continues to reflect the shape and preoccupations of contemporary children’s literature: this year’s shortlist is weighted towards fiction for readers aged 8 – 11, but themes explored include resilience, identity and a sense of self. We are proud of every one of its twenty shortlists and happy that so many years after their deaths, Wendy Boase and Henrietta Branford are celebrated in such a positive way.”

Huge congratulations to all the authors and editors on the shortlist!

For more information about the award, including a full list of past winners, and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition visit www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk.

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