BLOG TOUR: Grace-Ella: Witch Camp by Sharon Marie-Jones

Today is my stop on the blog tour for an absolutely delightful story, Grace Ella: Witch-Camp by Sharon Marie-Jones, illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi. Published by Firely Press, this is the second book in the Grace Ella series which I’m sure will have been eagerly awaited by young readers everywhere! I’m really pleased to be able to share with you some fantastic teaching resources written by the author for this new story – see link below to download!

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Grace Ella: Witch Camp by Sharon Marie-Jones

Grace-Ella is nervous and excited to go to Witch Camp, with her cat Mr Whiskins, of course. She is put in a cabin with Dilys, Mati and Aisha. Grace-Ella likes them all. But when Dilys’s broomstick flying goes very wrong, and Mati convinces them breaking the rules and going into the woods at night is the only way to help her, Grace-Ella finds herself on a real adventure. Will she be able to save her friends? 

Grace Ella is so excited about going Witch Camp and when she hears about the award for best coven given at the end of Camp, she and her new friends are determined to win. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan and that’s when the adventures start! Grace Ella’s Witch Camp is not that different from ordinary holiday camps – apart from the magic of course! And that’s what is so great about this story; young readers will be able to identify with the challenges Grace Ella and her friends face, as they discover the consequences of breaking the rules and just what friendship is all about. Charming from the first page, this is exactly the kind of story I would have loved as a young girl, with lovely illustrations throughout. Enough excitement to keep you on your toes, plenty of friendship and fun and of course, magical moments galore!

I’m delighted to share on the blog today some exclusive teaching resources to support Grace Ella: Witch Camp. Download them here:

Witch Camp Teaching Resources

Find out more and follow Sharon Marie Jones on Twitter @sharonmariej. Discover Grace Ella’s first adventure, Spells for Beginners here.

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour for more magical fun:

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BLOG TOUR: Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner

I recall a time when Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander was permanently on loan from the school library, with a reservation list as long as your arm.  I would not be surprised if the same is to be true of her fantastic new novel for middle grade readers Invisible in a Bright Light published by Zephyr Books and I am delighted to be participating in the blog tour today!

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It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles. Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else. When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste’s past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.

Celeste knows something is not quite right and can’t seem to remember exactly who she is and where she has come from. Distant voices and strange memories of a man in an emerald green suit haunt her as the truth is slowly reveavled. Her current reality of being a theatre rat just doesn’t ring true and even those she loves are not themselves. What is the mystery behind the glorious chandelier that adorns the ceiling of the opera house? And why won’t anyone accept that Celeste’s name is not Maria?

A stunning narrative reveals a compelling and dark fairy-tale of love, family and magic set against the backdrop of the opera. Full of startling discoveries, bold characters and family bonds that even time itself cannot break, this story will draw you in one page at a time. The theatrical world of opera is brought wonderfully to life and Celeste’s determination to win what seems the most impossible game is palapable. Beautifully described, I read this in one sitting finding myself totally absorbed and thoroughly enjoying each twist and turn right to the satisfying ending.  This novel really stands out in the crowd; Invisible in a Bright Light will captivate it’s audience from beginning to end.

The story behind the novel
As a young costume designer working at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen, Sally Gardener glimpsed a chandelier which hung majestically from the dome of the opera house into the auditorium. One wintry day, she visited the dome that looked out across the rooftops of Copenhagen and found an old lady living there, whose job it was to polish the chandelier until it gleamed. Sally felt as if she had stepped into a fairy tale and the experience left an indelible mark on her imagination. Inspired by this and by her love of ghost ships, theatre and fairy tale, Invisible in a Bright Light is a story she has
been waiting to write for a long time. It reunites Sally with her favourite middle grade audience and recreates the splendour and dark magic of her award-winning debut novel I, Coriander.

Find out more at www.sallygardner.co.uk and @TheSallyGardner

With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: Mother Tongue by Patricia Ford

MT Blog Tour CORRECTEDI absolutely loved The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde, the first in this post-apocalyptic series (read my review here) so when I heard there was a standalone sequel, Mother Tongue, I was delighted to read it and participate in this blog tour.  Today, I’ll be sharing my review and a timely guest post from the author focusing on the issues at the heart of this upper middle-grade novel. Published by Little Island BooksMother Tongue continues the story of Letta’s fight against injustice in a world unrecognisable after a climate disaster.  Language is a weapon and hope and creativity the only defence in this dystopian novel that feels all too real.  

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Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde

After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.  The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art. Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life. 

Whilst it is quite possible to read Mother Tongue as a standalone novel, the book brilliantly follows on from the narrative of the first story and reaffirms the role Letta, the Wordsmith, must play in restoring freedom to her world.  John Noa might be gone, but the new leader of Ark is even more fearsome and will stop at nothing to control the people through taking their words. But Letta, equally determined and incredibly brave, knows that in order to save the people, she must fight for their words – their voice. Whilst she has much to lose, the tension-building plot shows Letta’s true heroism as she battles injustice alongside her fellow ‘Desecrators’.  Totally enthralling, Mother Tongue invites you to return to a world where the horror of climate change has been realised but despite the despair, the hope of humanity lives on in Letta and her friends. A truly riveting read, you download an extract here.

I’m delighted to welcome author Patricia Forde to the blog with a thought-provoking guest post on what extinction really means.

“Extinction is the saddest word of all.

So says John Noa, ruler of Ark in my novel The Wordsmith.  And he should know. As both The Wordsmith and its companion novel Mother Tongue are set in the future, Noa is in a position to judge. This story takes place after The Melting when almost all of the world has been swallowed by the sea. Rising tides have taken people, technology and almost all hope from Earth. For the small group of people who survive and live in Ark, there is plenty of time to consider the mess that humans created, on their home planet.

When I was growing up, dinosaurs were extinct. That was about the only time I heard that word being used. While doing research for my novels,  I did a lot of research about climate change and its effect on this planet. Scientists tell us that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals. This is the sixth wave of extinction in the last half-billion years. Extinction, we are told, in a natural phenomenon. It occurs at a rate of about one to five species per year.

When I read that, I had to pause to take a breath. That many?

Then I read on.

Today we are losing species at up to 1,000 times that rate with many species becoming extinct every day. That’s why they are calling it an Extinction Crisis. Did you know that there are two subspecies of giraffe on the endangered list? Illegal hunting and the disappearance of habitat has been blamed. Translated, that means that humans are to blame.

The blue whale is in danger because she eats mostly krill and requires massive amounts of it. Unfortunately, we humans have developed a taste for krill. Increasing demands for krill oil by humans could sound the death knell for the poor whale.

It’s the inter-connectivity of nature that we are ignoring. Take insects. Small, often scary and very quiet generally. We interact with insects usually with a rolled up newspaper or a cocktail of deadly chemicals but they are our waste management team. At life end, plants and animals of all sizes, from daisy to dinosaur, leave dead organic matter that has to be cleared away.  Bring on millions of munching insects and the processes of decomposition and decay, so critical to life on Earth, can get started. We wouldn’t last long without them.

Way back in 1987 renowned Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson wrote:

The truth is that we need invertebrates but they don’t need us … if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could live more than a few months.

How did we miss that? As I write we are living under a storm alert and it’s all people can talk about.  Will  trees come down? Will the lights go out?  Will there be enough bread to last 48 hours? But when a renowned scientist says that if we keep killing insects we could all be wiped out in a few months – no! We didn’t hear that.

We moved from the city to a house in the country in 2004.  Our house is surrounded by trees. We were under constant attack from midges the first years we were here.  Every summer, as soon as the weather warmed up and the barbeque was taken out, in came swarms of midges. Neighbours assured us that they would be devoured by the bats who lived in the old shed at the back of our site. For the last two summers we’ve had hot weather and no midges. I can’t say I’ve missed them but I liked the bats and now I’m wondering what they fed on this summer and where the midges have gone?

That’s how extinction works, I suppose. First they come for the midges, then it’s the bats, and before you know it, the giraffe is on the endangered list.

Extinction is the saddest word but there’s still time to turn things around. According to National Geographic, there were only 2,000 sea otters extant in 1911, due to years of hunting this lovely creature for its fur. Today, globally, the figure has rebounded to 100,000. We have stronger laws and greater protection enacted in the North Pacific to thank for this miracle. So we can do it. It’s not too late. But to quote Greta Thunberg – the house is on fire.

We didn’t listen in 1987. Are we listening now?”

Find out more about Patricia Forde at www.patriciaforde.com  and find her on Twitter @PatriciaForde1; on Instagram @TrishForde1.

With thanks to Little Island Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour:

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BLOG TOUR: WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh

IMG-7800Extraordinary by name and extraordinary by nature, WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, is both gorgeous to look at and fascinating to read – what a fantastic idea for a book!  Celebrating the lives of remarkable animals who have had an impact on history, the book features every type of animal you can imagine from a mystery-solving cat to a sign-language speaking gorilla to the rarest creature in the world – a tortoise. Some of the animal stories you may of heard of (A Streetcat Named Bob, Greyfriars Bobby) but prepare to be amazed as you discover their stories and just how they made history. Beautifully presented, bright and olourful illustrations alongside photographs, bring the wild lives springing to life. Each spread has a wealth of information to be enjoyed again and again. My Dad picked it up and thought it was one of the most “beautiful ideas for a children’s book” and “utterly fascinating” – high praise indeed!

Ahead of World Animal Day on Friday 4th October, it’s with great pleasure I welcome author Ben Lerwill to the blog today, talking about his Top Five stories from WildLives, which is his first children’s book. Welcome to the blog Ben!

Ben’s Top Five Stories from WildLives

“Whittling down a shortlist can be a nightmare, particularly for someone as indecisive as me. WildLives tells the stories of 50 individual animals through history, from Laika the space dog to Dolly the cloned sheep, but this number could easily have been 100. Deciding which stories to include, and which to leave out, was tough.

But I’m delighted with the list of animals that made the final book. In researching their lives, I learned something new from every single one of them. I also love the fact that, collectively, they make up a real Noah’s Ark of different creatures from around the world. Smaller animals include a Skye Terrier, a homing pigeon and two chinstrap penguins, while weighing in at the other extreme are a life-saving elephant, a headline-making giraffe and an itinerant hippo.

Pointing to my overall favourites is almost impossible – I’m indecisive, as I may have mentioned – but I’m particularly fond of these five tales. 

Clever Hans

This is a real favourite with my kids. Clever Hans was a horse who lived in Germany at the end of the 19th century. His owner claimed to have taught him how to solve sums, which sounds preposterous, but the horse achieved so much fame that he drew the attention of the European aristocracy.  His uncanny power was to be able to listen to a maths problem, then stamp his hoof the correct number of times in response. Although, as it turns out, there was rather more to the story than that…

David Greybeard

When researcher Jane Goodall was sent out to the Tanzanian jungle in 1960, we still knew precious little about chimpanzees. Little by little, she earned the animals’ trust, and was eventually able to revolutionise our understanding of this utterly extraordinary species. The chimpanzee that made the difference was David Greybeard, who was bold enough to show the rest of his troop that Jane posed no threat. A great ape in more ways than one.

Moko

I love dolphins. They’re intelligent, inquisitive and inscrutable. Moko was a dolphin living off the coast of New Zealand who got into the habit of visiting the same bay, where he would dart around people in the water. But the heart of his story focuses on the day that two pygmy sperm whales got stranded in the shallows – as onlookers watched, Moko carefully and deliberately led the whales back to the safety of the ocean. It’s a beautiful tale.

Pickles

I’m a bit of a sports obsessive, so I was delighted to be able to include Pickles, the collie dog who found the World Cup when it went missing before the 1966 tournament. Exactly who stole the trophy still has detectives scratching their heads to this day, but what we do know is that without the intervention of our four-legged sleuth, Sir Bobby Moore may never have had a trophy to lift. Pickles is one of seven dogs in the book – and there’s always something heart-warming about a heroic canine.

Christian

As a boy, I remember watching incredible footage of a wild lion leaping on top of two men, not in attack mode but in affection, slobbering them with licks and cuffing them with massive paws. Christian was bought – or rather rescued – from the Harrods’ pet department in 1969 and, after spending his formative years in London, was later assimilated into the Kenyan wilderness. His reunion with his one-time owners, on the African savannah, leaves me smiling every time I think about it.”

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Wild Lives by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, is out now, published by Nosy Crow £16.99 hardback.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for inviting me to host this guestpost and sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

Bookchat: Q & A with Jennie Poh illustrator of The Pirate Tree

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The Pirate Tree written by Brigita Orel and illustrated by Jennie Poh is a tale of imagination and friendship, published by Lantana Publishing. It’s a beautiful picture book about Sam, who plays in a gnarled old tree which sometimes turns into a pirate ship! Sam is its fearless captain who one day sees another sailor, Agu from Nigeria, approach and must decide whether to let this stranger join the game.

A simple narrative combines with distinctive illustrations depicting the bond of friendship that forms, as Sam discovers Agu knows some very interesting things about treasure and boats. Suddenly their differences fade, and their joy in playing pirates takes over.  A great story to share, The Pirate Tree is a celebration of freindship and the joy of imaginative play.

I’m very pleased to welcome illustrator Jennie Poh to the blog today with a quick bookchat about her work. Jennie was born in England and grew up in Malaysia. She studied Fine Art at The Surrey Institute of Art & Design as well as Fashion Illustration at Central St. Martins.

How do you start illustrating once you have the narrative of the story in front of you? After a couple of reads through the manuscript I’m given a brief description of the characters by the publisher and author. I then play around with a lot of sketches, with this it was the ‘pirate tree’ different shapes and textures as this was going to heavily feature in the story. Once I was happy with this I did some development work with Agu and Sam.

What media have you used to create the pictures for The Pirate TreeI mainly work digitally, ‘Photoshop’ but scan in textures myslef and I make my own digital brushes to create a less digital feel to my colour work. Welcome to the blog Jennie!

The illustrations are gorgeous – I particularly love the expressions on the characters faces – including the fish. How do you go about capturing expression?  Thank you! I really loved illustrating these little fish. I think I try and pull these faces/expressions myself and do my best to put that down on paper. 

What stories do you recall from childhood that perhaps influence your work today? I read a lot of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton and always adored The Chronicles of Narnia. I think any illustrations that were enchanting, or heavily featured nature influened me as a child which has spilled through to my work.

Can you tell us about any new picture book projects you are working on? I’m currently working on a story about a biracial girl who is dealing with many questions about her heritage. I think this is a wonderful concept to work with.

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With thanks to Jennie Poh for participating in this Q & A and Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review.