New reviews: beautiful picture books to share on cold rainy days!

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On a cold damp day in winter, what better to warm your heart than two beautiful picture books from Lantana Publishing.  I can’t help but love the books championed by this publisher, sharing stories from far and wide and always showing the joy of imagination.

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 Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra van Doorn

For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather’s house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home?

A beautiful tale for a rainy day or a dark night when you’re tucked up in bed, with your imagination ready to transport you into a world of dreams! With a lyrical narrative, Sing to the Moon takes you on a journey through the Ugandan landscape bringing the culture to life and sharing all the wonderful ways you can ‘escape’ a rainy day.

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The tender relationship between a young boy and his Jjajja (grandfather) is beautifully depicted and shows just how stories – those real and imagined – can connect us all. The illustrations are a joyful imagining of the story, full of love and bringing each moment perfectly to life.

Sing to the Moon published on 11th October. Author Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born to Ugandan parents in the USA. Creative writing has always been her way to re-connect with her cultural heritage and Sleep Well, Siba and Saba was her first children’s book. Illustrator Sandra van Doorn was born in France. She decided to pursue a career in illustration so that she could spend as much of her time as possible in imaginary worlds.

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You’re Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Poonam Mistry

At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “‘Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.”

A stunning story celebrating the wonder of polar lands and the safety and love to be found in family!  A simply told narrative shares a mother’s love for her two polar bear cubs as she explains the world around them whilst they wait for the winter to end.Each page depicts a unique aspect of the polar lands and the creatures that inhabit them, with utterly unique illustrations bringing to life the wonder of the world.

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A follow up to the brilliant You’re Safe with Me, this story is another opportunity to share with young children how amazing our world is and how we must look after it – and each other.

You’re Snug with Me published on 1st November. Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British author and storyteller. She has published over 30 books and is inspired by the rich heritage of epics and folktales from India. Poonam Mistry is a British illustrator of Indian heritage with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art.

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Find out more about both these titles at www.lantanapublishing.com

With thanks to Lantana for sending me these books to review.

New reviews: autumn reading roundup!

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I will admit that finding time to write book reviews is proving tricky of late. I definitely can read more than I have time to sit down at my desk and write! Like many who blog about books, my good intentions to catch-up with review-writing get interrupted by all manner of things – work, kids, family, domestic chores, even the cat.  So here goes with a catch-up of books I’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks (and which are now winging their way to my #bookbuddy school for lots of children to enjoy)!

ClownfishClownfish by Alan Durant is a quirky tale of a boy, Dak, whose father dies and unbelievably comes back to life – in the body of a clownfish.  Dak and his dad often visited the local aquarium together and when Dak goes there to escape his grief-stricken home, he is amazed to hear the voice of his dad coming from one of the fish tanks.  As Dak navigates the days following the fallout of his father’s death, especially his mother’s grief, he takes comfort in his secret knowing he can always talk to his Dad at the aquarium.  However the lines between what is real and Dak’s desire to believe his father is still alive become blurred and Dak ultimately will have to face the truth. Clownfish is a funny and moving portrayal of grief and acceptance.  Well-paced, it sensitively deals with the very painful theme of losing a parent, alongside a funny narrative of making new friends and a campaign to save the aquarium from closure. Published by Walker Books this month, Clownfish is a Alan Durant’s 100th book and well worth reading.

boy underwaterBoy Underwater by Adam Baron and illustrated by Benji Davies is a debut novel and also deals with themes of grief and bereavement.  Told from the viewpoint of Cymbeline Igloo (what a fabulous name!) it begins with an innocent desire to learn to swim. So begins a series of events that spark a breakdown in Cymbeline’s mother’s mental health, a desire to find out the truth about his father who died and the discovery of a painful secret.  Along the way, Cymbeline loses friends, finds new ones and has to face the fact that his family are not what he thought they were.  Boy Underwater is a moving story, told with real humour and insightful observations about family and friendship.  The wide cast of characters generate real empathy and reflect the realities of choice and consequence, demonstrating how grief can cause even the best intentions to go awry.  It’s also just a great story about growing up. A really impressive middle-grade debut published by HarperCollinsBoy Underwater made me laugh and cry at the same time.

firebirdFirebird by Elizabeth Wein is a young adult novella centred on the Soviet women pilots of the Second World War. An engaging read, with a fearless heroine Nastia who is the daughter of revolutionaries, Firebird brings new insight into what wartime Russia was like.  Nastia and her comrades must not only battle the prejudice against women wanting to fight in wartime but also the attacks of the invading German army.  She perseveres and with the help of her fierce female instructor, The Chief, she soon finds herself on the frontline.  The story cleverly weaves in Russia’s most famous family, the Romanovs and shows just how far people will go to protect their Motherland.  Firebird is published by Barrington Stoke, and is a very accessible read. With a fast-paced plot, I read this in one sitting discovering an area of World War Two history I knew nothing about.

Something else I knew nothing about is a fantastic author called Bianca Pitzorno, known as Italy’s answer to Roald Dahl!  Bianca has won the Andersen Award six times, been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and has won several more children’s literature awards in Italy.  So it was with great pleasure I read two of her titles, recently published by Catnip and both translated by Laura Watkinson.

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Lavinia and the Magic Ring – which is brilliantly illustrated by none other than Quentin Blake – is the tale of a young orphan Lavinia who, in reward for her kindness, is bestowed with a magical ring that can turn anything and everything into poo! It may not sound like the best power in the world, but Lavinia works out how to use it to find herself a home in a very posh hotel, beautiful food to eat and new clothes to wear.  Magic indeed! However, like many who find themselves in possession of great power, Lavinia starts to get a little bit too clever and when she inadvertently turns herself into poo, she quickly learns her lesson and remembers not to be selfish.  As you can imagine, with poo involved there are some hilarious moments that will have young readers chuckling and holding their noses! Accompanied by Quentin Blake’s magical illustrations,  Lavinia and the Magic Ring is a fun and feisty modern day fairytale with a positive message for all who read it.

littlest witchThe Littlest Witch is a charming tale of a mad-cap family and their discovery that the youngest daughter, Sybilla, is in fact a witch.  Which wouldn’t be a problem given the chaos of their family life, were it not for the witch-hunting Alfonso who needs to marry a witch in order to claim his huge inheritance.  A variety of fantastic characters feature including Sybilla’s six sisters, the nanny Diomira and her heroic nephew Zac, a cat called Mephisto and Shut-Up the parrot to name a few! Alfonso’s ambitions get the better of him and he finally kidnaps baby Sybilla, trapping her in basement.  But he forgets she is a witch and he also doesn’t count on her unconventional family! I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say,  Alfonso gets his just desserts and there is a happy ending in store for all!  Lively illustrations by Mark Beech bring all the adventure to life. The Littlest Witch is everything a good story should be; full of character, funny and entertaining with a little bit of chaos thrown in!

With thanks to Walker Books, HarperCollins, Barrington Stoke and Catnip for sending me these books to review!

New reviews: Fantastic Non-Fiction!

It’s National Non-Fiction November and a great time to share the amazing non-fiction books that bring the world we live in to life! Perfect for readers young and old to share, learn about all manner of brilliant subjects and just enjoy fantastic books.

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The National Trust Children’s Almanac 2019  by Anna Wilson illustrated by Elly Jahnz  is a beautifully written and illustrated month-by-month journey through the seasons.  Featuring everything from animal behaviour guides to seasonal recipes to activity ideas, this is a really delightful book to inspire even the most reluctant of young explorers to step outside. The author has taken great trouble to bring lots of interesting information together and show ways of being creative.  Accompanied by bright and colourful artwork, this is also a wonderful debut book for illustrator Elly Jahnz.

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I absolutely loved the activities, helpful top tips and that readers can make notes if they want to at the end of the book.  Each month includes special days to note at the start and highlights anniversaries of historical events such as the first moon landing or the Great Fire of London. The Children’s Alamanac would make a perfect gift and wonderful book to share, encouraging family outings and ways to discover new things about the world around us. Published as part of Nosy Crow’s ongoing partnership with The National Trust,  this is definitely one to add to the Christmas list!

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com and www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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Sleep by Kate Prendergastpublished by Old Barn Books, is a beautiful picture book looking at the sleeping habits of animals through stunning illustrations and simple facts.  I can’t imagine anyone seeing the book’s front cover and not wanting to pick it up! With a gentle narrative, each page describes how the animals sleep, some with extra footnotes to add different facts. The illustrations are quite amazing bringing to life the sleeping inhabitants of the book and showing their various habitats.

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Young readers will love identifying the different animals and habitats. The last spread introduces the idea of dreaming and in the final pages there are additional fascinating facts with web links to connect to online information should you wish to find out more.

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This is a really lovely book to introduce the animal kingdom to young readers and perhaps great to read at bedtime, encouraging even the most restless of little ones that everyone goes to sleep!

Find out more at www.kateprendergast.co.uk

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Secret Science The Amazing World Beyond Your Eyes by Dara O’Briain illustrated by Dan Bramall explores the incredible science behind everyday life with Dara O’Briain’s trademark humour, bringing to life even the most complicated scientific facts from molecules to neurotransmitters.

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If you’ve ever enjoyed Dara O’Briain’s stand up shows, then you’ll know the hilarious observations he makes and his brilliant use of emphasis. This translates brilliantly for kids into a very funny and totally inspired book.  Secret Science will have you laughing out loud as you discover all manner of weird and wonderful facts about things such as KILLER RAYS FROM SPACE (the Sun) to the ‘sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia’ (BRAIN FREEZE).

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Lively illustrations and larger than life graphics capture both the science and the humour perfectly showing us that it really is everywhere and ensuring readers will be utterly fascinated – as well as hugely entertained.  Published by Scholastic, Secret Science is great for all the family and a wonderful initiation in all things science!

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

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Absolutely Everything A History of East, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and things too numerous to mention by Christopher Lloyd is a beautifully presented book taking readers aged 9 and up on a journey through everything from the beginning of time to the present day.  Each chapter covers a specific time period  but connects the various eras within that time frame rather than separating them.  I enjoyed the inviting narrative style which enables you to see how history, science and nature connect. This is definitely a book for confident readers but one that could be shared and enjoyed by the whole family.  It has an index and a glossary so you can navigate more easily. Colourful and bold illustrations, alongside images of historical artefacts and locations bring many of the fascinating facts to life. It is a really informative book, that will challenge young historians to think differently.

The publication of Absolutely Everything is part of a wider campaign to connect knowledge and raise awareness of the value of a more cross-curricular approach to teaching and learning.  Having invited Christopher Lloyd to perform his What on Earth workshops in schools I have worked in, his passion for this is evident and I loved how he brought history, science, technology, literature and sport to life in just one hour!  As did the children!  Christopher’s belief is that “only by connecting knowledge back together again can children learn to think out of the box, develop critical thinking skills and become their own self-learning systems.”

Find out more at www.whatonearthbooks.com

With thanks to Old Barn Books, Nosy Crow, Scholastic and What on Earth Books for sending me this titles to review!