Category Archives: Book review

New reviews: Picture book roundup!

There is something quite wonderful about picture books. Is it the combination of amazing words and illustrations? The fact that picture books can convey the most important of emotions and concerns in the most simple way? Or perhaps the sheer joy of the stories that are brought to life on each spread? Or all of the above?! Today I’m sharing my thoughts on a brilliant selection of picture books I’ve received over the last few months, out now or coming soon.

Some people have dresses for every occasion but Afiya needs only one. Her dress records the memories of her childhood, from roses in bloom to pigeons in flight, from tigers at the zoo to October leaves falling. A whimsical celebration of a young girl’s childhood, igniting our curiosity and awe at the little wonders of the everyday

A Story About Afiya by James Berry illustrated by Anna Cunha is a gorgeous picture book sharing the joy of childhood and the wonder of discovery. We follow Afiya as she explores her world and each day finds a new memory ‘imprinted’ on her dress. At night her dress is washed clean, ready for a new memory the next day.

Delightfully simple, beautifully described and stunningly illustrated, this is a precious story to treasure. Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com

You might think that when you sleep the world sleeps with you, but all through the night others are busy. Firefighters wait for the bell to ring, nurses and doctors look after their patients, postal workers sort letters and parcels. Mums and Dads are up feeding their babies…and out in the wild, owls, bats and foxes search for food.

While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson and illustrated by John Broadley will spark the imaginations and bring to life a world of activity children might not realise existed! Utterly fascinating with mesmerising illustrations, watch wildlife as they come out to play and forage for food, alongside the busy people working to keep our lives running.

Particularly poignant at this time, this is a great book to bring new perspective on the world we live in and celebrate the people who help us. Find out more at www.pavilionbooks.com

The next time you look up the night sky, if you stare really hard; you might be lucky enough to see the sparkling metal planet with all its robots and all their robo-babies. A story about the many ways in which babies arrive into their families, including IVF, donor conception, surrogacy and adoption.

Robo-Babies by Laura Gallagher illustrated by Nicci Martin celebrates the many and varied journeys too parenthood. Heart-warming and informative, young children of all backgrounds will see in simple terms the many different ways a child can be brought into this world, with love at the heart of each family.

Brilliantly accessible with lively and colourful illustrations, this is a fantastic picture book with an important and inclusive message at its heart. Find out more at www.owletpress.com

We have explored every corner of our planet, and yet a whole undiscovered universe of microbes hides within our bodies…. Scientists are only just beginning to understand the connections between microbes and health. Follow the digestive process and learn about this fascinating frontier and the vast ecosystem that lives inside you!

Gut Garden : A Journey into the Wonderful World of your Microbiome by Katie Brosnan is quite simply an amazing insight into our insides! Readers young and old will be fascinated by the ecosystem that exists within the human body and how microbes are such an important part of it – from the digestive process to helping cure diseases. It’s no surprise this brilliant book has been nominated for three awards!

An essential part of our health and well-being, every child (and adult!) should visit the Gut Garden! Find out more www.cicadabooks.co.uk

Disaster strikes! Everyone is in a panic. Can Benny save the day? Will he have to press his bright red button? Benny’s new adventure sees all the robots having to work together when more aliens arrive on their planet. 

One Button Benny and the Gigantic Catastrophe by Alan Windram illustrated by Chloe Holwill-Hunter sees the return of charming and cheeky robot, Benny. This time Benny has to rescue everyone’s kidnapped pet cats, pressing his big red button and visiting an alien planet in the process! With help from his friends, Benny saves the day just in time to enter Sparky his pet cat, into the Cool Cat Competition. Can you guess who wins?!

A lively adventure, full of fun with delightful illustrations capturing the action, children will want to read this again and again. Find out more at www.littledoorbooks.co.uk.

Fia longs to go to the mysterious island, where the air is thick with secrets. One night a moonbeam stretches across the bay and leads her there. She rides on the back of a gilded butterfly, dances up the stars in the sky and down to the bed of the sea….

To The Island by Patricia Forde illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli is a beautiful lyrical tale, full of imagination and wonder. Gorgeous illustrations and a charming narrative take you on a magical journey to the island of Hy Brasil, where the world is full of incredible creatures. Join Fia as her dream comes true and she has the most marvellous adventure through the night sky.

You can’t help but feel Hy Brasil is out there somewhere and if we just believe, our imaginations will take us there! A delightful bedtime story, find out more at www.littleisland.ie.

Feeling tired after a busy day? But you can’t sleep? Then Snooze is the perfect book for you! It will explain how to get the best sleep ever.

Snooze by Eilidh Muldoon tells the story of Owl who just can’t get to sleep. This is a humourous take on a problem many will be familiar with, as Owl’s efforts are hampered by a menagerie of noisy animals. A well-paced narrative and lively expressive illustrations combine to create lots of empathy for poor Owl!

Snooze is sure to bring a smile to young readers as well as help them get a good night’s sleep. Find out more at www.littledoorbooks.co.uk.

That fabulous, fluttering fairy, wherever can she be? Join our intrepid family to find out! In this wonderful adventure, readers will enjoy trying to find the hiding fairy, while meeting magical, endangered wildlife in the way.

We’re off to Find a Fairy by Eloise White illustrated by Cory Reid is a lovely story celebrating the magic that can be found in the countryside that surrounds us. Featuring some of our favourite insects and animals from British wildlife, the fairy may elude the family but there’s still wonder in the woods and meadows! This is one of a trio of picture books that encompass incidental diversity, with the family including mixed race and disabled characters. Children will love joining in with the rhyming narrative and spotting the wildlife in the beautifully drawn illustrations. Publishing on 20th October, find out more at www.owletpress.com

With thanks to all the publishers who sent me these books to read and review. They will be donated to a local foodbank I work with to feed minds as well as tummies!

BLOG TOUR: The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth

Tigers? Time Travel? Tropical forests? Three intrepid adventurers? What more could you ask for in historical middle grade adventure?! It’s my absolute pleasure to be hosting a guest post for the final stop on the blog tour for this fantastic new book, The Time Traveller and the Tiger, written by Tania Unsworth, published by Zephr Books.

Cover Art: Helen Crawford-White

Elsie is not looking forward to the long summer holidays with her creaky, old Uncle John. But then the unimaginable happens as Time unravels and Elsie tumbles back to 1940s India to meet her Uncle John as a young boy on a tiger hunt. Can Elsie change the future by stopping him from doing what he’s already told her is a wrong he can never right? Face to face with the mightiest and most majestic predator in the jungle, Elsie is in awe of the tiger’s beauty. She’s on a mission to have the adventure of a lifetime, save the tiger and change the future.

I love tigers and I love time-travel stories so this story caught my eye immediately. I’m also always taken by 1940s India – my grandfather served with the Ghurkas in the Second World War and my mother was born in India whilst he was there. In addition, my great-grandfather was Mountbatten’s Chief Medical Adviser so I’m always fascinated by hearing stories of India. This was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on this wonderful adventure. Alongside themes of friendship and bravery, the story doesn’t shy away from the reality of animal poaching and prejudice that existed and encourages the reader to think seriously about conservation. Elsie, John and Mandeep are a wonderful cast of characters, each with their own fears to face creating a multi-layered story of thrilling adventure. Brilliantly brought to life, the Indian forests are teeming with atmosphere and the tiger is utterly majestic, particularly as we see the world through his eyes at key moments throughout.

I’m delighted to welcome author Tania Unsworth to the blog today to share her thoughts on using description in children’s books. Welcome to the blog Tania!

The Time Traveller and the Tiger is an adventure story set in the forests of Central India, and the minute I finished the first draft, I knew I had a problem. Although the characters and plot were coming along nicely, I’d hardly described the setting at all. It felt fake – like the painted backdrop on a stage. I’d read books and looked at pictures, but I simply didn’t have enough information. So, I decided to spend a week visiting a tiger reserve in India. And that was when I ran into my second problem.

Now, I had too much information. I came back with a notebook crammed with facts and figures and breathless accounts of everything from the light of dawn to the stars at night. And because I’d fallen in love with the place, I wanted to put all this description into my book.

Usually, I’m quite sparing with description. I tend not to describe what my characters look like, for example, because I think part of the pleasure for readers comes from creating their own pictures. At the same time, some description is needed in children’s fiction. And it’s often for a different reason than in fiction for adults. Adult readers might automatically get a visual image when they read the words ‘a mountain chalet’ say, or ‘the boardroom of a large corporation’. But chances are, most children won’t have a good sense of what these places actually look like, because almost everything is new to them.

On the other hand, long descriptions are risky in children’s books. They can slow reading progress and get in the way of the story. As Joan Aitken points out in her guide The Way to Write for Children, “if you do nothing but describe…although it will be a pleasure for you, and to some of your readers, others will automatically skip all your best descriptions, and the plot will creep at a snail’s pace.”

I decided that if I wanted to include a lot of description in my book, I would have to weave it in using stealth. Through dialogue, for example. Elsie – my main character – knows nothing about the Indian forest. That was an opportunity to have my other characters, John and Mandeep, point things out and give her descriptive snippets of information. Wherever possible, I tried to convey the appearance of things through action. Instead of describing a giant spider web, I had Elsie run into one. Rather than telling the reader what termite mounds look like, I made Elsie mistake them for weirdly caped figures in the dark.

I made a rule that I wouldn’t describe anything unless the description added directly to the story. To create atmosphere, say. The grasping, knotted tendrils of a banyan tree echoing the sinister machinations of a group of trophy hunters. Or to show character motivation and personality. Light coming through the trees reminds Mandeep of a temple, revealing the depth of his love for the forest…

Of course, I didn’t always stick to that rule. Sometimes I couldn’t resist just…describing. But by making the setting less of a backdrop, and more of an active participant in the story, I hoped readers wouldn’t be slowed in their gallop to the end.

I’d love to know if you think I succeeded!”

Find out out more at www.headofzeus.com and www.taniaunsworth.com/. With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Elsetime by Eve McDonnell – review and guest post

I’m very excited to be participating in the blog tour today for Elsetime by debut Irish author Eve McDonnell, published by Everything With Words, a wonderful historical time-slip novel with a delightful cast of characters. Today I’m sharing my review and a guest post from the author.

It’s January 6th 1928, the day before the Great Flood. There’s a snowstorm and the river is about to burst its banks – fourteen lives will be lost. Can Glory, an orphan with only one hand, her time-travelling friend Needle and their pet crow change the future? Is there anyone among all those people entombed in that snow-shrouded town who will listen? Warning: Time travel isn’t something you should try unless you are prepared to face the consequences.

I’m a huge fan of time travel historical adventures and Elsetime lives up to expectations! It’s exciting, engaging, thrilling and has a fantastic twist at the end which I loved. Add to this characters you care about; the feisty and determined Glory and kind and courageous Needle, not forgetting Magpie the pet crow (!), it’s a recipe for success. Historical detail creates a believable world which I was happy to dive into as the plot thickened. Inspired by true events, Elsetime is a fantastic story of adventure and bravery with goodness at its heart – a great read.

I’m really pleased to welcome author Eve McDonnell to the blog today to share the inspiration behind the story!

ElsetimeThe Great Flood of London 1928

“One of my favourite past-times is treasure hunting – searching the pebbles and mud alongside a river or the sea for something sparkling: an old button once part of a queen’s gown, perhaps, or a key to a mythical treasure chest, or a war medal from a hero who saved countless lives. It’s no wonder a hobby so rich in possible stories was the inspiration for Elsetime with its tale of a young mudlark called Needle, searching the foreshore for treasures he could sell. Glory, an impetuous jeweller’s apprentice sprung to mind too, and I imagined her taking those muddy finds and transforming them into treasures to behold under the eyes of her strict mistress, Mrs Quick. They had to be from the 1920s, my imagination assured, but I wasn’t, at that stage, quite sure what was going to happen to my new-found friends.

Then, I found a newspaper clipping. It told of a real-life tragic event: The Great Flood of London in 1928. At its epicentre was Needle’s haunt – the stretch of foreshore alongside the Tate Gallery (now known as the Tate Britain). I needed to know more, and my research began.

Nearly ninety-three years ago, at the source of the Thames, families enjoyed a snowy Christmas akin to picture-perfect postcards. But, quick as a wink, the snow thawed, sending torrents of water along streams and brooks that fed the Thames. A deluge of rain in the days that followed raised the level of the great river higher and higher as it twisted and turned its way towards the bustling centre of London and out towards the sea.

Photo Credit: Daily Mirror 1928

As Londoners partied away the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or snuggled their loved ones into bed in old basement flats, the raging river met its match: a powerful storm in the North Sea. At the turn of the tide, waves swelled so high at the mouth of the Thames, beyond anything they had ever seen. Seawater tunnelled its way up the river, clashing with the deluge of snowmelt and rainwater. X marked the spot where the river narrowed and its depth deepened following foolish dredging to allow passage to larger ships. Not long after midnight, the embankment walls near the Tate Gallery gave way.

Freezing cold water raced down stone steps and into the homes of poor basement dwellers, trapping them before they even knew their fate. Muddy water inundated the basement galleries of the Tate Gallery, destroying many fine pieces of art, including several priceless Turner paintings and drawings. Big Ben was surrounded, the Underground submerged. The moat at the Tower of London filled for the first time in nearly a century. Fourteen souls lost their lives that night and, as my research deepened, so too did my shock and sadness when I read the names listed on that Daily Mirror 1928 newspaper clipping. One name stood out: Mrs Quick – a name I had already chosen for the owner of The Frippery & Fandangle Jewellery Emporium where Glory worked. As I stared down at her name, it felt like a message from the past. Though Elsetime and its characters are merely figments of my imagination, I knew one thing for sure: the Great Flood would star in this story of mudlarks, mysterious crows and jeweller’s apprentices – it was a story I had to tell.”

Find out more at www.everythingwithwords.com.

With thanks to Everything With Words 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:

New review: Wilde by Eloise Williams

Moving to live with her aunt, Wilde is afraid that strange things are happening around her. She just wants to fit in at her new school, but in rehearsals for a school play telling the legend of a witch called Winter, ‘The Witch’ starts leaving pupils frightening letters cursing them. Can Wilde find out what’s happening before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outsider?

Wilde by Eloise Williams is a wonderful contemporary tale with magic at its heart. Drawing a picture of a feisty but fearful girl, Wilde is a unique character but like many young girls, struggling to be herself and desperate to fit in. Witch Point is where her mother grew-up and the mystery throughout is tangible as strange occurrences bring Wilde closer to the truth, with the legend surrounding the town seeming to come eerily to life. Alongside this, the narrative brilliantly captures school life, the perils of friendship and the importance of courage and kindness. Drama is not just reserved for the school play and as events come to head, the plot thickens page by page! Wilde is a lesson for us all in acceptance and embracing who we really are – a great contemporary adventure.

Eloise Williams has written other great middle-grade books including Gaslight and Seaglass. Find out more https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/wilde/

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

New review: Talking to the Moon by S.E.Durrant

Iris’s grandmother, Mimi, is all at sea. She’s started wearing her clothes inside out, serving jam on scrambled eggs and talking to the moon.  As Mimi’s life becomes more muddled up and a mystery from the past surfaces. Iris and her friend Mason must search for answers: Who was Coral? What happened to her?

Talking to the Moon by S.E.Durrant is a gorgeous story of family and friendship. With a delightful cast of eccentric characters, this warm-hearted tale handles the difficult subject of dementia and the everyday chaos of family life with a perfect balance of humour and great care. Two year old siblings, a stressed out Mum and a hard working Dad are enough for anyone to deal with! Staying with Mimi provides the ideal escape for Iris and the quirky lifestyle painted contrasts brilliantly with her family home. Iris is immediately likeable, her love for Mimi admirable and her desire to protect Mimi with lists to remind her of all manner of daily tasks utterly moving. The engaging thread of mystery running throughout keeps you guessing and whilst the reality Iris is facing is clear, there is always hope and always love.  A really lovely read.

S.E Durrant has written other great middle-grade reads including the brilliant Little Bits of Sky; you can read my review here. Find out more at www.nosycrow.com.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.