Book of the Month: Where Once We Stood by Christopher Riley and Martin Impey

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Fifty years ago today man landed on the Moon. I can only imagine just how unbelievable it must have seemed to the world at the time that we could actually walk on the Moon. It is therefore totally fitting that my latest Book of the Month celebrates that momentous occasion and is one that shares rare insight into the  historic event and the Apollo project as a whole.

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Where Once We Stood by Christopher Riley illustrated by Martin Impey captures first-hand accounts of what it really felt like to land on the Moon. Between July 1969 and December 1972 twelve men landed their spaceships on the Moon, known as the Apollo project. The author has spent a lifetime studying the Apollo project and interviewing the astronauts who walked on the Moon.  In this wonderful collaboration, each Apollo mission is explored with incredible details from the conversations Christopher Riley had with the astronauts and their families.  Martin Impey’s artwork, which has been celebrated by the astronauts themselves, is a fitting accompaniment to the insight these conversations bring.  Beautiful and otherworldly, you can almost feel the lunar experience.

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On an informative note, there’s a map of the landing sites and at various points throughout, helpful facts share some of the science behind the Moon.  Each chapter explores one of the Apollo missions, from the first footprints left by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the final ambitious expedition as astronauts drove electric cars deep into the mountains of the moon.

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It is a completely fascinating read and I found myself discovering a whole world of unknown science and exploration.  This book would be wonderful to share, a fabulous addition to your family bookshelf or school library. You could study it for hours again and again and not fail to be inspired – which I think is so important in a world where the wonder of science can be lost and exploration like something that belongs in the past.  Combining a unique series of illustrations with words spoken by the astronauts themselves, Where Once We Stood is a beautiful book that will capture the imagination of readers young and old.

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Excitingly, this book is published by a new publishing house founded by Emilie James and Martin Impey, who aim to publish high quality books about challenging subjects for readers of all ages.  This is their first publication, bringing the human face of the Moon landings to both younger readers and those who remember them from their own childhoods.  Visit www.harbourmoonpublishing.com for more information.

With thanks to the publishers for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

 

New review: Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

If you’re looking for a great summer read then look no further than the gorgeous new YA novel Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood, published on 4th July by Scholastic.  A captivating coming-of-age story set in 1930s, it will sweep you into a glorious, romantic summer haze!

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Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

In 1930s England, Bea’s parents want her married off to keep the family estate alive. but she longs for adventure. A golden summer in Italy with her bohemian Uncle opens up a whole new world, which includes Ben , a handsome, infuriating artist. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set – can they put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance? There is only one rule – they absolutely must not fall in love.

Beatrice Langton has never quite fulfilled her parents expectations of being a dutiful daughter – in fact far from it. Her fascination with nature and scientific discovery, her desire for exploration and freedom do not sit well with her parents plans for marrying her off to a rich husband, thereby saving the crumbling family estate and ancestral home of Langton Hall.  Exasperated with Beatrice’s behaviour, which in their eyes is not becoming to a young lady of 17 years, her parents think that sending her to stay with her Uncle in Italy for the summer will drum some sense into her – but they couldn’t be more wrong! For Beatrice’s Uncle, after the death of his wife, has take up with a flamboyant artist and they live a wonderfully bohemian life, with her young cousin Hero, offering an open house to artists from all over the world who want somewhere inspirational to work.  So Beatrice, or Bea as she is called by her young cousin, suddenly has a world of wonder opened up to her, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Italian countryside.

Beautifully described throughout, Under a Dancing Star, brings to life a whirlwind summer romance and is a wonderful exploration of first love.  The stifling world of British aristocracy contrasts with the exuberant world occupied by those who can live as they choose.  The looming clouds of war and references to fascism and the approaching peril invade the summer haze at times and bring a dose of reality. The price of freedom is often loss of some kind which we see in the wonderful cast of characters Bea meets including, Ben, whose mother died and who ran away from an orphanage as a young boy. But the heart of the novel is Bea’s self-discovery, her new found feelings of love which are as transformational as the butterflies she likes to study and the realisation that she can choose her future.  Under a Dancing Star really does make the perfect summer read!

Find out more at www.lauraclarewood.com and www.scholastic.co.uk. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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BLOG TOUR: Take A Chance on Me by Beth Garrod

I am so excited to be kicking off the blog tour for the new sunny, feel-good romantic comedy Take A Chance On Me by Beth Garrod, published by Scholastic.

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Take A Chance On Me by Beth Garrod

Meg’s first kiss was a disaster…but this summer she will have a perfect, swoony, just-like-in-the-movies kiss with a hot boy – and what better setting than the sun-drenched Greek island she’s holidaying on? But with three very different boys vying for her attention, resetting her first kiss may be more complicated than she bargained for…

Just in time for summer, this fun, feel-good story will strike a chord with young people hoping for holiday romance! Beth Garrod is the author of the Super Awkward series and has worked for broadcasters including Radio 1, Blue Peter and MTV.  She now concentrates on social impact campaigns, working with charities and broadcasters around the world to make content that can help empower young people. I am delighted to welcome Beth to the blog today for a Q & A on this first stop on the blog tour!

Describe Take a Chance on Me in five words

Can I do six?! Holiday hotties, best-mate missions, superstar surprises.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?  Well, a few years ago I visited a small Greek island for the very first time – I was so lucky. We had to catch a plane and a boat to get there, but when we arrived it was like something from a postcard! The water was like a giant warm bath, the sea and sky were the brightest blues, and everyone there was super friendly. And oh my goodness THE FOOD. The whole island was so good that it ended up being the inspiration for Meg’s surprise holiday in Take A Chance On Me.

Lots of the action in Take a Chance on Me takes place on a film set. Name your dream cast for a movie adaptation of the book. This is a hard one! Hmm… Can I dream big?

Meg – can Joey King from the Kissing Booth do it?! Or Lana Condor. Or Jessica Barden who is totally amazing. Or Amandla Stenberg.. sorry I need to stop now.

Anita (her best mate) – Manpreet Bambra from Free Rein. I love that show, and she seems super fun. Barbara Ferreira is also a total boss.

Meg’s Dad – Stephen Mangan. But he’d have to get really into health and safety. And could Jodie Comer get older to play her mum?

Billy – Maybe Ncuti Gatwa, as he brings all the laughs and all the feels in just one look. Or Lewis Capaldi, if he fancied acting?

TJ – I mean I’d love Noah Centineo to be in it, but he’s too Noah and lovely to be TJ right? Right?!

And can a young Miles Teller/ Shailene Woodley be in there too? And Marsai Martin – she’d star in the film AND keep TJ in check.

Can you share the cringiest thing that’s happened to you on holiday? Oh wow. Lots of things have happened. It’s hard to choose a winner. I think the time I did my dissertation in Ibiza on… biodiversity, was pretty excellent. Everyone else was on holiday, and glamming it up on the beach, but my uni needed video evidence I was following procedure so my friend had to document me on the beach, clutching a 1m square quadrat (a giant wooden and metal grid thing) in full high vis safety wear and non-slip shoes.

Any top tips for going on holiday with your friends? If you’re going somewhere on a plane then pack a spare swimsuit or bikini in your travel bag. I once had a case go AWOL, and let’s just say the clothes my friends lent me were all at least 4 sizes too small. It was all quite a lewk. And always have a stash of chocolate. It tastes extra good on holiday, especially if it’s fridge-chocolate. And remember a speaker. Music is a must – then you can come back and re-listen to the playlists and try and pretend you’re still there.

And something to remember if it’s your first holiday together, living with someone is harder than just hanging out, so allow everyone the space to be  a grumpy morning person, or to be sleep deprived, or a bit hot and sweaty one day. One day it’ll most likely be your turn.

Oh, and is it wrong to mention I never regret packing Marmite?

What are your favourite YA reads of 2019 so far? There have been so many! I wasn’t surprised at all that I loved Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green so so much. Just like his Noah books it had everything in that I love – big laughs, awkward moments, and a really beautiful mega-crush. Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard was another one I loved – it’s also very funny and contemporary, but with a real twist to it. Jemima Small Vs The World I adored, and wished Jemima would pop out of the pages and become real. And I’m about to go on holiday (to the non-imaginary Greek island I mentioned just before) and I can’t wait to read The Switch Up by Katy Cannon and Scar by Alice Broadway. I’ve been dying for the third book in the Ink series for ages!

Find out more about Beth at www.bethhgarrod.com.  With thanks to Scholastic for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour this week:

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New review: How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

I was instantly intrigued by this story given it was written by Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Will Smith’s ditsy cousin Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Karyn has since gone on to found and produce Sweet Blackberry an award-winning series of children’s animated films to share stories about unsung black heroes in history. How High the Moon is her debut novel for children aged 9 and up.  A sweeping tale of growing up in segregated America, it tells the story of Ella and her family and friends and will stay with you long after the final page.

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How  High the Moon by Karyn Parsons

“Boston was nothing like South Carolina. Up there, colored folks could go anywhere they wanted. Folks didn’t wait for church to dress in their fancy clothes. Fancy was just life. Mama was a city girl . . . and now I was going to be one too.”

It’s 1944, and in a small, Southern, segregated town, eleven-year-old Ella spends her summers running wild with her cousins and friends. But life isn’t always so sunny. The deep racial tension that simmers beneath their town’s peaceful facade never quite goes away, and Ella misses her mama – a beautiful jazz singer, who lives in Boston. So when an invitation arrives to come to Boston for a visit Ella is ecstatic – and the trip proves life-changing in more ways than one. For the first time, Ella sees what life outside of segregation is like, and begins to dream of a very different future. But her happiness is shattered when she returns home to the news that her classmate has been arrested for the murder of two white girls – and nothing will ever be the same again.

A moving and beautifully written historical tale drawing you into a world of racial tension, family bonds and friendship. It is told through the voices of the various central characters –11 year old Ella, desperate to find her place in the world; Henry, Ella’s steadfast best friend and Mryna, an orphan girl taken in by Ella’s grandparents who experiences first love with classmate George.  Ella has a love-hate relationship with Myrna and is often in conflict with her. When Ella goes to Boston to stay with her mother she hopes to find the truth about her father – who judging by Ella’s skin-colour and the prejudice she is often on the receiving end of, was white.  However, Ella finds her mother unwilling to share any more than this and unwilling to give up her lifestyle of late-night performing to be a stay-at-home mother. Ella finds a surprising ally in her mother’s roommate, Helen, but the time comes when she must return home. The story takes a heart-rending turn when George, Myrna’s boyfriend is accused of murder, turning their world upside down and causing increased racial tension with the threat of lynch-mobs never far away.

There are so many facets to this brilliant story and it weaves a believable but haunting narrative. Ella is a brave heroine, with a voice that must be heard. The character building is excellent and you can’t help but feel Ella, her friends and family really existed, pulling empathy from the reader from the first page. Sadly, the story of George is based on truth – George Stinney Jr was 14 years old when he was excused of murdering two white girls and executed for murder. Seventy years later he was exonerated and his trial and sentence declared a sham.

I never fail to be horrified by man’s inhumanity to man and shedding light on the racial tensions in 1940s Deep South, and what it was really like to live during this time is important. Particularly in the current climate where racial inequality still exists; this book will build empathy and understanding and would be most suitable for older primary children and also good for those students studying this period of history.  How High the Moon is brilliant and brave storytelling and is deservedly described as future classic.

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Find out more www.penguin.co.uk. With thanks to Puffin for sending me this book to review.

Guest post: The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest

Today on the blog I’m sharing my review of The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest (published by Scholastic on 4th July) and a guest post from the author.

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The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest

Coral Glen sees the world around her through a rainbow of colours not visible to others – a day full of adventure is Treasure Island Gold but one with a maths test is Stormy Canyon Grey. When her beloved grandma dies, Coral can’t conjure the colour to match how heartbroken she is.  She meets a mysterious boy who offers to help her say a last goodbye to her Gran – in exchange, Coral must stop an evil spirit from escaping the graveyard, and go on a daring adventure full of witches, ghosts and other things lurking beneath the surface of her not-so-ordinary town. 

A totally original idea and brilliant storytelling combine to make The True Colours of Coral Glen by Juliette Forrest a heart-warming tale full of magic. Coral’s ability to see the world in rainbow of colours brings to life the world around her in a way no one else can understand – except her grandmother who is no longer there. Coral thinks it’s all her fault so when she meets a ghost-boy, Lyart, in the graveyard after her grandmother’s funeral she accepts his offer of help and begins the seemingly impossible task set by him. Coral’s world takes on a new array of colours as she learns to cast spells, meets witches and talking animals and takes on the evil Muckle Red. At the heart of the tale is Coral’s grief at the loss of her grandmother and how she bravely overcomes her feelings of sadness and guilt, with the help of her new friends. The True Colours of Coral Glen is a story full of imagination, encouraging us to see the wonder of the world in all its colours, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’m delighted to welcome to the author, Juliette Forrest to the blog today with a brilliant guest post! 

The importance of watching other authors by Juliette Forrest

Juliette Forrest high-resMy first author event took place last year. I was on stage at Hay Festival with two other well-known writers. I had been fortunate enough to attend an Industry Lab by Scottish Book Trust, which was run to help authors navigate their way through events. Thank heavens for Scottish Book Trust is all I can say, otherwise, I would have been utterly clueless. I pitched up at Hay Festival and braced myself for the unexpected. The festival was such an amazing experience and by far the best bit was being able to observe other writers. By the end of the day, I knew I needed to be more knowledgeable on writing tips for dyslexic kids, it was wise to have a selection of pens in case the only one you owned died on you, and that kids went wild for a badge or a bookmark. I also found out the messages scribbled inside books should be kept short, so people didn’t lose the will to live in the queue, it was prudent not to use your real signature, and even though I’m awful at multi-tasking, it was polite to engage in some chat whilst signing. And not to bat an eyelid when a parent gives you a name that is so unbelievable, you think they are pulling your leg.

A lot of the time I’m asked where I get my inspiration from. It even happened to me immediately after finishing a talk on where I get my inspiration from. Although remaining polite, I recapped briefly over a few of the things I’d previously mentioned, and the child appeared satisfied with my answer. Not long after this, I went to see a top author who was being grilled by schoolkids. He was asked a whole string of similar questions, in quick succession. The writer took his time and made sure he gave a different answer to each child, making them feel as though they’d asked the most interesting question in the world. Here was a true professional at work and I learned so much more about how to handle myself as an author that day.

I think it’s difficult for new writers being flung into the strange and unpredictable world of events. Especially, if you’re like me; shy with occasional dry mouth. I’m happy to report that I’m finding my feet and love working with kids. I’m asking for feedback after every talk or workshop, so I can keep on improving, and so far the comments have been extremely complimentary. If you’ve got all this looming ahead of you and the thought is making you queasy – just remember to be yourself. And try to see as many authors at work as you can. By learning from them, you can be sure your event will always have a happy ending.

Juliette Forrest’s first novel, Twister, was a Sunday Times Book of the Week, the Guardian’s ‘must-read’ kid’s book of the summer and won Calderdale Book of the Year 2019. Her second book, The True Colours of Coral Glen, was released on 4th July. She is in her element delivering workshops and talks for schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. 

Find out more at www.julietteforrest.co.uk and www.scholastic.co.uk. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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Branford Boase Award 2019 – winner announced!

BBA_LogoI was delighted to attend the 20th Branford Boase Award ceremony last evening. The Branford Boase Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. It also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of outstanding author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It is regarded as one of the most important children’s book awards, thanks to its impressive record in identifying authors with special talent at the start of their careers: previous winners include Frances Hardinge, Marcus Sedgwick, Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet.

It really is my favourite award for authors chosen by a panel – how incredible to be recognised for the first novel you have written and how wonderful that the person who is most involved in your writing – your editor – is also recognised?! I felt privileged to be there. There was a huge buzz of excitement in the room, which was filled with past winners and an array of people from the world of children’s books.  It must have been a near-on impossible task to chose a winner from the brilliant shortlist of books which reflected the amazing talent currently to be found in writers for children and young people.  To a room waiting on tenterhooks, the winner was announced as Muhammad Khan for his YA novel I Am Thunder and his editor Lucy Pearse. Mitch Johnson presented Muhammad Khan with a cheque for £1,000 and Muhammad and Lucy Pearse both received a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.

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Published by Macmillan, the novel deals with a gritty topic –  the radicalisation of a young Muslim girl growing up in London, the choices she is presented with, and how she develops the confidence to make her own decisions. The author, a Maths teacher, was prompted to write the book by the news that three Bethnal Green schoolgirls had flown to Syria to join the Islamic State group. Like his character Muzna, Muhammad Khan grew up in South London, and his parents are first generation immigrants from Pakistan. Like her, he always knew he wanted to be a writer, though his family were determined he should be an engineer. But he says that Muzna is primarily based on his young students. In fact: “virtually every character in the book has a real-life counterpart”. On a shortlist that celebrates vibrant new voices and original stories, the Branford Boase Award judges were full of admiration for Muhammad Khan’s ability to create convincing characters, and for the way he combines politics, identity and a universal coming of age narrative. Indeed, they agreed that he doesn’t put a foot wrong in the telling of his story.

Mitch Johnson, last year’s Branford Boase Award winner says of the book: “The sensitivity with which Khan handles such a volatile and emotive subject is astounding, and his ability to create a story that is both gripping and tender is hugely impressive.”

With only 4% of all the children’s books published in the UK last year featuring a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) character (CLPE Reflecting Realities) ,  Muhammad was determined to give his students a voice through his character. Muzna’s life as a young Muslim woman is vividly described, while her teenage experience is something that everyone will relate to, whatever their background. On winning the award Khan said: “I am absolutely thrilled and humbled by the news that I am Thunder has won the prestigious Branford Boase Award. It’s a real pinch-yourself moment! The competition was tremendous, each book magnificent in its own right. Lucy Pearse worked tirelessly and with passion to help me polish I Am Thunder so it’s especially nice to share this incredible accolade with her. Thank you!”

Winning editor Lucy Pearse said: ‘It was a real honour to see I Am Thunder included on this incredible shortlist, and a complete pinch-yourself moment for it to be selected as the winner.  Muhammad deserves this award so much – it is a brave and important book and he has worked enormously hard – and I feel privileged to have been part of its publishing story. Each book on this shortlist is a spectacular achievement and I feel very lucky to be working among such talented authors and editors.’  

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Julia Eccleshare, Chair of judges

Chair of the judges, Julia Eccleshare, children’s director Hay Festival, said, “2019 is the 20th anniversary of the Branford Boase Award. It has celebrated wonderful books and authors over the years, and we are very proud of all that it has achieved in highlighting new writers and the editors who help them develop their potential.  We’re delighted that I Am Thunder has won this year.  Muhammad Khan is giving voice to those we haven’t heard from enough and his story will ring true with readers of any background.  As demonstrated so brilliantly in her book Fire, Bed and Bone, Henrietta Branford also gave voice to those whose stories need to be told, and was happy to pose questions about politics and society in thrilling adventure stories.  We look forward to reading more by Muhammad, and all the writers on this shortlist, and to twenty more years celebrating the exciting new talent in children’s books.”

Born in Balham, Muhammad Khan studied engineering, but then trained as a teacher. After publication of I Am Thunder in 2018, he studied for an MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. He is now teaching maths at a secondary school in Sutton.  His second novel, Kick the Moon, was published in January 2019.

Lucy Pearse began her career assisting children’s agents and quickly moved over to the publishing side as a PA and then an editorial assistant. She has been working as an editor at Macmillan Children’s Books for nearly four years, was selected as a Bookseller Rising Star in 2018 and promoted to Senior Commissioning Editor for the 6+ team in 2019, working on illustrated young fiction, middle-grade and YA.

Young winners of the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition, which runs alongside the Branford Boase Award, were also present at the award ceremony and presented with their certificates and prizes by Mitch Johnson.

With thanks to the Branford Boase Award for inviting me to attend!

Find out more at www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk

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New review: The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

On the blog today, a review of a series of books that have been on my radar for months, but it wasn’t until Book #3 arrived in the post that I took the opportunity to read them all! TheWorldquake series is set in a dystopian future where modern technology has been destroyed.  The non-magical world exists alongside the magical world, with opposing sides working to defeat the other. The story centres on Effie Truelove and her friends navigating their way through magic school and trying to save the universe! 

The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

There are three titles in this brilliant fantasy middle grade series – Dragons Green, The Chosen Ones and Galloglass. Bursting with magic, the story follows Effie and her friends as they discover their magical powers, explore the Otherworld and battle against the Diberi who are intent on destroying the universe. Effie learns all about magic from her grandfather Griffin Truelove but even he couldn’t prepare her for what lies ahead.  When he disappears, he leaves her his library of very special books – which are more than just books; they hold the answers to everything (which of course made me love the story even more!).

It’s hard to sum up this fantastic series in just a short paragraph – there is so much in it and whilst Effie is the central character the supporting cast add plenty of dynamic to the twisting and turning plot. There’s human interest throughout such as dealing with step-parents, boring lessons, difficult teachers and finding friendships alongside the many fantasy elements of the narrative. As Effie and her friends discover their ‘kharacter’ – their unique magical personality and abilities – the plot thickens and nothing is as it seems. The magical realm beckons and Effie delves deeper into the Otherworld to find where she truly belongs. The Diberi threaten at every turn and at times, even Effie’s own father seems to be against her.

Each book builds the mystery creating a magical world you can’t wait to dive into again. With thrilling action and lots of humour, heart and heroism the Worldquake series will have you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.worldquake.co.uk .With thanks to Canongate for sending me these books to review.