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 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
I’ve enjoyed some great books from the TBR pile over the last month. Here are five of my recommended reads this month featuring magical adventures, suitably wintry landscapes, a haunting war time tale and a funny blend of story and science.
The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in a freezing Victorian train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is heading for a new life in the remote country house of Plas-y-Fran. But when she gets there the happy Christmas she hoped for turns out to be an illusion. Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth, a magical snow globe and her own indomitable courage, Sereb sets off on a perilous midnight journey into an enchanted world of snow and stars to bring happiness back to Pas-y-Fran.
A wonderful adventure story, The Clockwork Crow has mystery, magic and a marvellous heroine! Seren is no stranger to hardship having been raised in an orphanage, but just when she thinks her life will finally get easier, she is thrown headlong into a mystery adventure. Seren’s new home is full of sadness and she is determined to find out why with the help – albeit somewhat reluctantly – of her new friend, a talking mechanical bird. A page-turning narrative keeps you in suspense right till the end, with a few sinister and darkly magical moments that make you hold your breath. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the characters featured in it – especially Seren’s cantankerous companion! The Clockwork Crow is well-deserving of it’s recent short listing for the Blue Peter Book Award and a great new fantasy story to add to your bookshelf.
Find out more at www.fireflypress.co.uk. With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.
The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods
Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of setting sail with her ship’s captain father for a life of excitement on the wild waves. She has read stories of a magical creature – the Nardoo – who swims through the stars at night, and stows away on a whaling boat the Plucky Leopard for an adventure full of myths and marvel among the ice-caps. But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep….
This is a captivating story about kindness and courage, family and fortune, all rolled into one marvellous adventure. Oona makes a delightful heroine who you instantly warm too especially when you realise what a hard life she has had as the unwanted daughter of a family with seven children. She takes matters into her own hands as she stows away on her father’s ship and her pluck and courage are not disappointed as the adventure begins. Wonderful descriptions bring a thrilling and magical world instantly to life with beautiful illustrations by Anuska Allepuz. Reminiscent of a classic fairytale where the heroine never gives up hope and finally finds where she belongs, and where the villains get their comeuppance, The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is a story to be treasured.
Find out more www.scholastic.co.uk. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.
White Feather by Catherine and David McPhail
The First World War is over, but for Tony there is little to celebrate. His brother never returned from no man’s land. To make it worse, Charlie died not as hero but was executed as a coward. Grief-stricken Tony refuses to believe that his brother was a traitor and he is pushed to the edge in his dark quest to uncover the horrifying truth.
White Feather is a haunting reminder of the horror faced by all those involved in World War One. Published in time for the Armistice centenary, this powerful middle-grade story portrays the journey of Tony as he desperately seeks the truth about his brother. His mother refuses to accept Charlie’s death and her mental health deteriorates. As Tony begins to uncover the truth, it is clear the impact of the war reaches even beyond his imagination and experience. White Feather deals with many issues of the war – conflict, grief, desertion, shell shock – and challenges readers to think from a wider view about who was affected and how far reaching the consequences of war can be. An accessible read, the simple narrative will help everyone who reads it understand why it is so important we remember the sacrifices made by so many, not just for the centenary but for always.
Find out more www.barringtonstoke.co.uk. With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.
Frostfire by Jamie Smith
Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home. In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths …
Frostfire is a fabulous fantasy debut creating an utterly believable world with a brave new heroine at its heart. Bonding with a frostsliver is the highest honour that only a few of the Aderasti people are chosen for. The frostsilver becomes a symbiotic part of the chosen person and opens their eyes to the power of the frost fire. We meet Sabira as she takes her first step toward her destiny but it’s not as straightforward as it seems. Through flashbacks we discover she has already lost her brother to the mountain and that the world she knows is on the verge of collapse. As the story unfolds, it is clear the dangers are not just on the mountain but inside it too and Sabira must prove her worth using all her strengths to overcome them. A thrilling adventure, told with heart and creating a frightening and beautiful world of ice, snow and mysterious sentient beings, Frostfire will keep you hooked until the final page.
Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.
Al’s Awesome Science Blast Off by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown
It’s the twins’ birthday and Al is researching new ways to blast off his time-machine capsule into space. Trouble is, his experiments with balloons, marshmallow catapults and bottle rockets are just a little bit messy! Soon, the birthday party has taken on a rather explosive twist and trouble is brewing with Al’s nosy neighbours.
This is the third book in the science-based series featuring Al and his twin sister Lottie and Einstein the dog. A brilliant blend of science and story, these books are a great way to introduce scientific concepts to young readers as well as keep them entertained with hilarious stories. Blast Off features a whole host of characters, from the twins’ friends to Precious the neighbour’s unfortunate cat, who gets caught up in the fun, and her owners Mr and Mrs Good. Laugh-out-loud moments are brought to life by James Brown’s fantastic illustrations as Al investigates how rockets actually work. Throughout there are ideas to help readers explore and try out the experiments themselves. I love that Al is never put off by the mishaps and mayhem he creates- as he says “I’m a scientist and scientists NEVER give up!”. A great fun read to add to this fantastic science adventure series.
You can read guest blogs by the author and illustrator of this series here.
Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk. With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review.
On a cold damp day in winter, what better way 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Find out more about both these titles at www.lantanapublishing.com
With thanks to Lantana for sending me these books to review.
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)!
Clownfish 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 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 HarperCollins, Boy Underwater made me laugh and cry at the same time.
Firebird 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.
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.
The 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!
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.
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.
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!
Sleep by Kate Prendergast, published 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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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
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!