Author Archives: thebookactivist

About thebookactivist

Celebrating children & young people’s reading through all sorts of book-ish activities.

A Very Victorian Christmas Booklist!

The first of two Victorian-inspired blogs this week, I’m delighted to be sharing a very special festive collection of book reviews today in celebration of the launch of Mr Dilly’s A Very Victorian Christmas online show for primary schools. A festive treat for the whole school community, the show features themes of the Nativity and festive favourite, A Christmas Carol, as well as amazing insight into some of our most treasured Christmas traditions that became popular in Victorian times and remain so today! You’ll meet Charles Dickens, Prince Albert, the Innkeeper, Shepherd and more as the magical Christmas treat unfolds! View the trailer here.

The following stories feature Victorian settings or themes (including a re-imagining of a Christmas classic) and would make a marvellous addition to your festive bookshelf!

A Christmas in Time by Sally Nicholls illustrated by Rachael Dean is another fun-filled, festive time-slip adventure with Alex and Ruby, the twins who keep falling through the mirror in their Aunt’s house into a different historical period. Each time they must solve a problem for a long-distant member of their family so they can then return home. Lively characters, authentic Victorian historical setting and lots of fun bring the story leaping to life and I love the insight into how Victorian families celebrated Christmas – not so very different to our own celebrations! Great fun, you’ll be counting down till the next in the series! Published by Nosy Crow

The Girl who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig, illustrated by Chris Mould is a magical tale featuring a wonderful cast of characters -including a cameo from Charles Dickens and a brilliant scene with Queen Victoria ! Amelia Wishart is the ‘girl’ in question and after her mother dies, she is sent to the Workhouse, where her hope in everything slowly slips away. But it’s hope that powers Christmas and Father Christmas knows he must save Amelia so that with her help, Christmas can be saved. Full of festive magic and all the things we love about the festive season – from elves to gingerbread men, the story brilliantly shows the importance of hope and how it keeps the magic in our world alive! Published by Canongate Books

Tinsel: The Girls Who Invented Christmas by Sibeal Pounder brings more festive heroines to life in a story celebrating friendship and Christmas in equal measure, and giving a twist on the origin tale of Santa Claus. Blanche Claus is homeless on the streets of Victorian London when she receives her first ever Christmas gift – a magical bauble. So begins a madcap adventure that will see Blanche making new friends and finding magic she couldn’t have possibly imagined! So much so, Blanche wants to share her festive dreams and wishes with all children. Sleigh rides, the North Pole, elves (or Carols…), mince pies – there’s more Christmas than you can shake a stick at, turned on it’s head with laugh-out-loud results and lots of love. Tinsel is bound to be a festive favourite for years to come! Published by Bloomsbury.

The Miracle on Ebenezer Street by Catherine Doyle is a gorgeous modern reimagining of Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol – hence including it in this list! We meet George, who isn’t allowed to celebrate Christmas since his mother died on Christmas Eve. Life is rather grey until he stumbles upon a magical shop with a magical snow-globe – and embarks on a transformational adventure that will rescue him and his father from despair. With journeys to past, present and future, and some fantastical characters including an elf on the shelf, this story positively beams the magic of Christmas across the pages and will tug at your heart-strings AND warm your heart. Published by Puffin Books.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a must for a Victorian Christmas booklist – or any festive booklist for that matter! And there are, as you can imagine, more than a few versions of this incredible story. I’ve included three of my favourites today. Barrington Stoke publish a dyslexia-friendly, unabridged edition of this timeless story, in a format accessible to all readers. Pavilion Books publish an absolutely beautiful version illustrated by Quentin Blake and Puffin Books publish a lovely classic edition.

It’s Victorian London and Ebenezer Scrooge is a lost soul – not that he knows it. Scrooge is a bitter, and quite honestly, unpleasant old man, who cares more for money than anyone or anything. No-one feels this more than his long-suffering clerk, Bob Cratchit and his determined nephew, Fred who every year invites Scrooge for Christmas – only to be told the festive season is nothing more than ‘Bah Humbug’! But this all changes when Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his old business partner Marley, who warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits who will show him the true meaning of Christmas. The most wonderful Christmas tale, A Christmas Carol embodies the spirit, heart and soul of Christmas and really does bring hope and joy to all who read it.

Find out more about Mr Dilly’s A Very Victorian Christmas show and book online today!

New reviews: Fabulous Fantasy Fiction (with a bit of sci-fi too!)

I realised as I was planning some middle-grade reviews, that a whole host of them were fantasy and or sci-fi based. So today I’m sharing five of the best I’ve read in recent weeks, available now (and would make great gifts for the middle-grade readers in your life!)

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen has an intriguing title and equally intriguing plot. A debut middle-grade novel and the first in a new series, this is an exciting race-against-time adventure telling the story of Kip Bramley and the Quicksmiths College of Strange Energy. Kip receives an invitation to join the College and finds himself drawn into a world of chasing riddles and solving puzzles to find the mysterious Ark of Ideas. Dark forces are working against Kip and his friends, with a combination of science and magic creating a thrilling adventure. The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith is totally inventive and utterly entertaining, and is very likely to be the next BIG series on your bookshelf! Published by Firefly Press with a dedicated website at www.quicksmiths.com

The Griffin Gate by Vashti Hardy has all the hallmarks of Vashti’s signature steampunk, fantasy style and atmospheric illustrations by Natalie Smillie. Featuring the story of Grace, whose family are wardens of the Griffin map invented by her Grandmother, and use it’s teleport technology to protect the people of Moreland. Grace, a brave and determined heroine, can’t join them on their missions yet as she is too young but one day, responds to a distress call and finds herself transported to a remote village, where treachery seems afoot! With her mechanical bird Watson by her side, Grace courageously embraces the adventure and readers are treated to an exciting tale, full of fantastic characters, set in a world they’ll wish they could visit! Published by Barrington Stoke, this is first in the series and a dyslexia-friendly, accessible read.

The Thing in Black Hole Lake by Dashe Roberts is the second book in this fast-paced sci-fi series, set against the backdrop of the strange town of Sticky Pines. After the events of The Bigwoof Conspiracy the two central characters, Lucy and Milo, are no longer friends. But this doesn’t stop them being drawn into another sinister adventure together, when Milo discovers a frightening creature at Black Hole Lake whilst on a trip with his father. With Lucy continuing to investigate the strange history of Sticky Pines and Milo trying to find out just what lurks beneath the water, they’re bound to need each other’s help! The question is, will they realise how important friends really are and rekindle their friendship? A perfect balance of weird, scary and mysterious with lots of humour to lighten the mood, this adventure will have you laughing out loud and gripping the edge of your seat! Move over Mulder and Scully, the new kids are on the block! Published by Nosy Crow.

Donut the Destroyer by Sarah Graley and Stef Purenins is a lively graphic novel with an unlikely heroine at its heart, who lives in a world where everyone is born with a special ability which they can choose to use for good or evil. Donut is an unlikely heroine, because she’s is born into an infamous family of villains – the Destroyers! But unlike the rest of her family, she wants to use her powers for good, much to the annoyance of her best friend, Ivy. And when Donut enrols in the Lionheart School for Heroes, Ivy is determined to persuade Donut to change her mind – no matter what. Even if it means using her villain powers against Donut and her new friends! Fun, full of humour and super-heroic deeds with some nasty villains thrown in, this is a great read for graphic novel and fantasy fans and will leave you with a big smile on your face. Published by Scholastic.

My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak is the brilliant, heart-warming tale of Leonard, a 300 year old alien who mistakenly ends up in the body of a cat. He should have been a park ranger! All aliens from his home galaxy get the opportunity to spend a month in the body of an Earth creature. But something goes wrong and Leonard ends up as a cat. Miles from where he needs to be to get home, Leonard is adopted by a young girl, Olive, who is a little lost herself. Together, they embark on a journey of discovery and soon find out what is means to be human, the reality of true friendship and just how precious life is, even when you feel (or are) out of place! Leonard is a wonderful protagonist and his cat-behaviour is absolutely spot-on. A delightful, funny and well-observed story, My Life As A Cat has wonderfully positive messages about what home really means. Published by Nosy Crow.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Firefly Press, Nosy Crow and Scholastic for sending me these books to read and review. They will be going to very good homes via my local food bank.

New review: After the War by Tom Palmer

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, I wanted to share my review of After the War by Tom Palmer. One thing I now ready myself for when I read a book by Tom Palmer is the huge emotion his storytelling evokes. After the War is a brilliantly written story, published by Barrington Stoke and set in Summer 1945, inspired by the true story of the Windermere boys.

Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover. But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?

After the War is moving from the very first page – even the Foreword is an absolute eyeopener, written by Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project. I had never heard of the Windermere Boys nor the Project, which seeks to share the stories of the children who were brought to the Lake District following their release from captivity in concentration camps during the Second World War. It is instantly clear After the War is well-researched and depicts the real-life events with great sensitivity. The three central characters are all inspired by the true stories of survivors.

Yossi, Leo and Mordecai all experienced horrors we can only imagine. This is contrasted with the immense kindness and generosity of the people of the Lake District who look after them when they arrive in Cumbria. The boys have to learn to trust again, having been so appallingly treated by the Nazis. They also have to start to look to the future, each with their own ideas of what they want to do. Yossi is desperate for news of his missing father who he last saw in the Camp – and when the Red Cross arrive to offer help in reuniting families, Yossi leaps at the chance to see if his father can be found. He cannot think about anything until he knows where his father is. Mordecai finds solace in his Jewish faith, contemplating living in a Jewish community in Leeds and Leo thinks the best place for them is Palestine, where Jews won’t be persecuted.

The narrative intertwines the boys’ experiences with the those of the local people, including a family whose son has not yet returned from fighting. Even though they are suffering, they still help support the Windermere Boys. There are also glimpses of the treatment of the boys by the Nazis at the outbreak of war and during their time in the Camps. Whilst not gratuitous in any way, the stark reality of the holocaust and the conflict as a whole is clear. I never cease to be stunned and appalled by man’s inhumanity to man – and especially to children. In one scene as the boys get used to their new surroundings, Yossi refuses to get up, asking why should he bother after so much has happened to him and his loved ones. It’s only when he recalls his father’s words “…if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think they were right: that we are not human.”, that he realises that getting up every day was an act of defiance in the face of their persecutors – and still is.

As Yossi, Mordecai and Leo recover, they slowly being to trust again and see hope for the future, helped by the hard work of those looking after them. The beautiful setting of the Lake District provides a stunning backdrop to the harsh reality they have left behind – and must have been part of the healing process for all those who survived. Beautifully told, After the War is an opportunity to celebrate the bravery and courage and determination of those who survived persecution by the Nazis. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the kindness of the people of Windermere as they helped hundreds of children recover from the horrors of the holocaust.

But most importantly, this story is an act of Remembrance – both in its creation and for everyone that reads it. We cannot ever forget the service and sacrifice of wartime heroes and ordinary people, who secured our freedom and restored hope to so many.

Find out more www.tompalmer.co.uk and www.barringtonstoke.co.uk. With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

New review: You Are Positively Awesome written and illustrated by Stacie Swift

In celebration of National Non-Fiction Month, I’m sharing my review of this delightful book full of good vibes and self-care suggestions. You Are Positively Awesome written and illustrated by Stacie Swift is a gorgeous guide to feeling good about yourself. Not only is it full of brilliant ideas to combat those days when we feel a bit rubbish, there’s also space for readers to jot down their own thoughts and self-motivating notes.

Full of colour and simple, lively illustrations, you cannot fail to feel good after reading through all the words of wisdom and self-care. Affirmations and practical suggestions provide helpful guidance in how to find your way through life’s ups and downs. At a time when the world is all over the place, and children might be feeling the strain, You Are Positively Awesome is the ideal encouragement – something we can all benefit from! Covering everything from why self-care is important, to that it’s okay to say no and how to be kind, there is a good idea for every day of the week.

Published by Pavilion, this book would make a great gift for independent readers and would also be perfect for sharing with younger readers, to help them make sense of how they’re feeling and learn how to be kind to themselves. And grown-ups will benefit too!

Find out more at www.stacieswift.com and www.pavilionbooks.com.

With thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me this title to review.

New review: The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding

Julia Golding has written a whole host of books for children and young adults. The Cat Royal series and Companions Quartet in particular were scarcely ever on the shelves in the school library, such was their popularity! When I heard about her latest middle-grade novel, The Tigers in the Towers published by Lion Hudson, I was intrigued to read it.

Sahira’s family are travelling to England to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the Tower of London when tragedy strikes and sickness steals Sahira’s parents from her on the journey. Heartbroken and alone in a miserable and dangerous orphanage in London, Sahira is determined to protect her tigers. But to do so she must set out on an adventure and use all her powers of persuasion to engage the help of some new friends along the way. Can the quest to find her tigers a safe home, lead Sahira to find her own place of hope and belonging in this strange and foreign land?

Julia writes fantastic historical fiction and this is no exception. From the first page, you are drawn into nineteenth century London, with all its sights, sounds and smells! Sahira is a courageous soul, whose determination to protect her tigers is admirable. She faces barriers on all sides – from the cruel Mr Pence who runs the orphanage to the sons of the local crime family, bullies Tommy and Alf Newton, as well as being in a foreign country and carrying the grief of losing her parents. With every page we discover more about Sahira’s childhood in India, her English father’s heritage and the family who seem to have disowned her. Historical references and cameo appearances, including Charles Darwin and Robert Peel, add to the colourful cast of characters and bring to life a fascinating period of history. Weaved into the story are themes of grief, prejudice, equality, animal conservation and friendship and there is much we can learn from Sahira’s experiences. Tiger in the Towers reads like a classic and is definitely one to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.goldinggateway.com. With thanks to Lion Hudson for sending me this book to read and review.