New review & Bookchat: Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher

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Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher from Lantana Publishing is an absolutely stunning book focusing on taking time to enjoy our world and the wonder of it all around us. ‘Time’ is something that perhaps we are all having to reevaluate at present and how we spend it is markedly different from even just a month ago. Whilst the UK publication of this book has been postponed until September (the US release goes ahead on 7th April), so relevant is this book right now I am very pleased to share my review and bookchat with author-illustrator Jo Loring-Fisher today.

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Taking Time is a beautiful poem set against the backdrop of stunning illustrations capturing just how much wonder there is in the world and encouraging us to notice it. From listening to birdsong, to watching a spider build it’s web; from staring into the eyes of someone you love to enjoying the love of your cat or dog – wonder can be found everywhere. Each spread is set in a different part of the world because no matter who or where you are, you can marvel at your surroundings, inspired by principles of mindfulness. It is a simple, calming read, evoking an idea I think we can all embrace at this difficult time. Taking Time is a book to cherish and one that inspires the reader to embrace life in all its beauty and simplicity.

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The good news is that Taking Time is available to buy direct from the publisher. I am so glad to have read it and I am equally glad to welcome Jo Loring-Fisher to the blog for a bookchat today. Welcome to the blog jo!

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What was the inspiration behind writing Taking Time? I wrote Taking Time when I was out walking the dog in my old home of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. I often write when I am walking, jotting ideas down on the Notes app on my phone, which I later email to myself. I was specifically writing a piece with Lantana Publishing in mind. I had just completed illustrating Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, for them and very much enjoyed working with them and I love their ethos. I was looking up at the trees watching birds and looking for inspiration, when the concept came to me. I knew I wanted the work to be multi-cultural and about the things that connect us as humans. We always hear about our cultural differences, but I feel there are so many more similarities than differences, between us. I like that a child in the UK could be as fascinated by a spider spinning its web, as a child in Nepal, or anywhere else, could. I didn’t start out with the intention of writing about mindfulness, it was my publisher Alice Curry, that saw this. I love that another person can see something in my work, and she was right!

How do you think it can be interpreted for everyday life, especially in the current circumstances? Although mindfulness is an innate skill in many ways, I think it has been lost because we are all under so much pressure and this, unfortunately, applies to children. Consciously bringing mindfulness to our attention in a simple way and accessible way, is important and this is my intention with Taking Time.

The circumstances in which we find ourselves right now, are quite frightening and uncertain. I like the idea that parents and carers can sit quietly with a child, look at each spread and pause to discuss the words and images and perhaps chat about how this relates to the child and children of the world. For example, what does it feel like when you bury your hand in your dog’s fur? I hope that it will do the same for the adults sharing the book as well. We all need a bit of that!

I think the skills of mindfulness are so lost to us that they can be hard to relearn, but they really are a life skill and I hope that the book will prove to be a gentle way to encourage this. When it gets a bit frenetic at home, and in the current circumstances this is going to be an issue, hopefully Taking Time will act as a guide and bring some peace. I think that there is plenty to discuss and relate to in each spread and this can spark conversations about different peoples and cultures across our wonderful world. I would love the book to be the basis of activities in the home or garden. A child could be asked to shut their eyes and try to remember their journey to school, for example. It could then be extended to an imagined place that can be described using all the senses. What does the place, real or imagined, smell like? What sounds can the child hear? What does it feel like under foot? It could be used as a springboard for art and crafts activities or an exploration in the garden or around the house. What object would the child bring with them, for example?

Do you practice mindfulness yourself and if so, how has it helped you and how do you believe it can help others? Those moments that make us stop and notice something outside of ourselves are so important. As a child, I was always the one to point out the spider spinning a web on the way to school, or a fern leaf unfurling and I am unchanged in that way. When I feel stressed or my mood is a bit low, taking a walk outside with my Spaniel, Flossie, always helps. I’m also interested in the idea of forest bathing. Immersing myself in the countryside, particularly the forest, can really help to give me clarity. Being still and becoming more and more aware of those gentle sounds around you, the wind in the tree, birds singing, the feel of a leaf as it brushes past your ear falling to the ground, are wonderful things to connect with. It isn’t quite so easy in the city, but any green space can be beneficial.

The poem encourages the reader to take in the wonder of the world and reminds us how precious life is – even in the small things – how do you think life will change following this period? I really hope that the world as a whole can learn from this experience. My hope is that we will rediscover a more contented and grounded way of life and one which doesn’t exploit the riches of the natural world, or the most vulnerable. I feel that things have been spinning out of control and that this could be a wake-up call, we need to slow down and live more lightly on this planet. I truly hope and pray that we learn from it and a change is brought about in individuals and communities.

Can you tell us a bit about your illustration process? Do the words or pictures come first? Sometimes an idea comes to me as words first and other times it’s images that take the lead. When I’m working the images out, I might jot down a very rough sketch. These are then turned into thumbnails-tiny illustrations that allow you to put together your ideas and help you to see how the spreads will work as a whole. Some images come to me very easily and remain pretty much unchanged, and other times I am unsure of how they will be until I work on them. It was like this with the Ecuador image, where I had a rough idea, but the finished image came to me as I was putting it together. I draw my characters and scan them in to the computer. I’ve made lots of textures using paint and printmaking, and I use them to collage over the drawings using Photoshop.

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What new projects are you working on and how will you be spending your time whilst required to stay at home? In the next few months I have two more books being published, one with Otter-Barry Books and another with Frances Lincoln, so I have been working very hard on them. I’d like to say I’m going to take it a bit easier, but I have new projects that I’m working on and that’s exciting. We have moved fairly recently, so I plan to tackle the garden over the coming months and create some beds to grow vegetables. We had a ready-made veg plot in our previous garden, so I’ve got used to the cycle of planting, picking and cooking the food I’ve grown, and I love it!

What would your top suggestions be to help parents and carers encourage their child’s creativity at home? I have four children, three of whom are adults now, and two pursuing careers in the creative industries. Books played a big role in their upbringing and I know they have been very inspired by this. I have taught art to children and adults, and what I have discovered time and time again, is the notion that each and every mark must be just right and just so and recognisable. I’ve overheard parents correcting their children while they’re drawing something and even take over from them. This creates fear and acts as a barrier to the creative process and really puts children off even trying to draw and very often this lasts into adulthood. I’d say leave children alone to experiment and have fun. Don’t worry if they make a mess (make sure there is lots of newspaper down) and don’t expect the drawing to look like an actual, real thing! Encourage and praise. Tissue paper ‘painting’ is fun, this involves laying pieces of tissue paper down on paper and painting water onto it. Once the paper has dried it can be removed and leaves beautiful, brightly coloured prints. Coloured pencils are also a less messy way for a child to enjoy image making. More than anything, praise children and don’t criticise what they have produced.

With thanks to Jo Loring-Fisher for participating in this bookchat! Find out more at www.joloringfisher.com and follow on Twitter: @JoLoringFisher

Author biography

As a child Jo’s favourite pastime was drawing and writing stories. She grew up in Sussex, close to Ashdown Forest where Winnie-the-pooh was written and felt that forest’s magic! Jo now lives in the beautiful city of Bath with my husband, and two younger daughters. The natural world inspires her greatly, but she also loves to people watch and living in a city gives her lots of opportunities to do just that! Jo says: “Being passionate about art and children’s books, it is wonderful to be able to spend my time combining the two. As a mum of four, I have spent many an hour sharing my love of books with my children and have witnessed the impact this has had on them.”

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to read and review.

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New review: Planet SOS by Marie G.Rhode

A brand new book published by What on Earth Books on 2nd April, brings to life the global environmental crisis for young eco-warriors in a whole new way! Planet SOS: 22 Modern Monsters Threatening Our Environment by Marie G.Rhode shines a light on the biggest issues facing the environment and what young readers can do to help!

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Amazing illustrations and high quality production make this a really stunning book to behold! Mythical monsters are given new names and used to represent some of the biggest threats to the planet such as the Smogosaurus, who fills the air with toxic fumes and the Trash Kong, who thrives on rubbish and waste and the Atmosdragon who is causing global warming.

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The good news is that young eco-heroes can help by learning about these threats and then taking action! Each spread focuses on one threat and has a Monster Card showing what we can do to beat it, from reducing our carbon footprint to eating vegetables! Fold-out guides and a world map along with a glossary, index and source notes keep young readers fully armed with knowledge about how to save the planet.  Imaginative and informative, Planet SOS is a fantastic book full of inspiration and practical ideas – a great addition to any boookshelf.

About the author
On finishing her architectural studies in Sweden, Marie G. Rohde entered a children’s books competition and began a new and unexpected chapter in her life. This book is the result of a lifelong interest in myths and environmental issues. Marie G. Rohde lives in Barcelona.

With thanks to What On Earth Books for sending me this book to read and review. 

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BLOG TOUR: The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd

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Welcome to DAY THREE of the blog tour celebrating publication of The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley written by Amber Lee Dodd, published by Scholastic!  I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop and sharing a spooky post from the author herself, featuring the story of an infamous historical curse.

Why, I hear you ask? Well a curse is at the heart of The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley, a fantastic family adventure story with a magical twist.

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The Bradley family are constantly escaping from a centuries old curse which means that every home they have ever lived in is destroyed – floods, fire, earthquakes – all manner of destruction. They have just moved to their thirteenth house and although the threat of the curse looms ever closer, Noah is desperate not to have to leave this new home – where he finally feels like a ‘normal’ boy and that he could have a happy life. However, at the sign of a black cat, Noah knows the curse is once again about to strike– can he find a way to break it with the help of his brother and new neighbour, Neena?

I’ve been a fan of Amber Lee Dodd since her brilliant first book, We Are Giants, so I was very excited to read this, her latest title.  It doesn’t disappoint – I was hooked from the first page! Totally engaging, The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley is an original story with a clever plot, that has so much for readers to relate too. There are so many great characters and I adored Noah and his brother Billy and the bond they share. Noah’s care and concern for Billy, who is deaf, is heart-warming. The narrative captures just how important it is to have a place called home and how difficult it can be to constantly move house, change schools and have to make new friends.  Noah struggles with his own desires to fit in, even at the expense of true friendship, but as the story progress we see him realise that fitting in shouldn’t be that hard if people will accept you for who you are.  References throughout to Noah’s love of nature and the situations he finds himself in reflecting animal behaviour bring an added dimension to the story. Add to this the magical elements of a frightening family curse and you have a wonderful tale of family, friendship, bravery and adventure!  Definitely one for the bookshelf!

Today, author Amber Lee Dodd is sharing the story of her favourite historical curse. Welcome to the blog Amber!

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“One of my favourite historical curses is the curse of the Pharaohs. It’s said that the well-known curse brings down illness, bad luck and death upon any who disturb the tombs. The curse was so well feared that inscriptions were carved into some Royal Egyptian tombs reading,

“Cursed be those that disturb the rest of Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease which no doctor can diagnose.”

Even stranger is the real-life story of the six archaeologists who died shortly after opening King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Followed by five more deaths in ten years of people who first visited the tomb, or where involved in disturbing the King. All the mysterious deaths were of course due to natural causes, misadventures and even murder! But that hasn’t stopped people wondering if the curse was real. Spooky!”

Amber Lee Dodd grew up in Portsmouth, where she rode the waltzers, swam in the winter sea and lost her wellies in the marshes. She has worked as a Learning Support Worker in schools with disabled students, and is passionate about incorporating disability representation in her books for children. Amber struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and dyspraxia at school and on discovering stories, found her very own magic power – telling stories!

Find out more at www.amberleedodd.com. With thanks to Scholastic 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 blog tour:

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Bookchat: Bug Belly written and illustrated by Paul Morton

Congratulations to author-illustrator, Paul Morton, whose debut funny fiction series is published today by Five Quills! It’s a huge pleasure to feature Bug Belly on the blog today – a book that will make you smile from the very first page.  Delightful and engaging throughout, the story introduces a new children’s character in the shape of a fabulous and funny frog, Bug Belly! And Paul Morton joins us on the blog today to share some of the inspiration behind the story.

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It’s Uncle Bug Belly’s turn to babysit! The taddies and the froglets can’t wait to PLAY. But when Uncle Bug Belly’s tummy goes URGLE-GURGLE GLUMP everyone knows it spells trouble!

Imaginative and full of lively, humourous illustrations, the first book in the series entitled Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble, follows Bug Belly’s adventures as he babysits a whole pondful of tadpoles and young froglets. Full of great ideas to keep them entertained, all is going swimmingly (!) when Bug Belly’s hungry tummy gets the better of him and disaster strikes.  However, not to be beaten by the threat of a dried up pond, a greedy fish, bird AND snake, Bug Belly comes up with an ingenious plan to save the day.  Young readers will love following the adventures and seeing how Bug Belly doesn’t give up even when all seems lost. There are even diagrams to highlight all Bug Belly’s fantastic ideas; a great addition to the story and perhaps inspiration for budding young inventors!  Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble is a wonderful addition to the world of illustrated fiction and I can’t wait to see what Bug Belly does next!

I’m very pleased to welcome Paul Morton to the blog today for a bookchat – welcome to the blog Paul!

Tell us a bit about your new book, Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble. The book is the first in a new series of young fiction titles, aimed at readers age 5-8 – both for children who still enjoy being read to as well as those venturing out on their own. Bug Belly is an ingenious, inventive and super fun froggy uncle to lots of little tadpoles and froglets in Top Pond. In this first story, he’s supposed to be babysitting all the taddies, but his hungry belly distracts him and causes a bit of a disaster, resulting in all the water draining from the pond. Bug Belly must race against the clock to save all the tadpoles. He loves a challenge, though, and comes up with an inventive plan to save the day, with the help of three young frogs, Splish, Splash and Splodge. It’s action packed, fun and exciting!

What do you hope readers will enjoy about the book? I hope they will enjoy the humour and action in the story, and I’ve included lots of illustrations throughout the book to introduce the characters, highlight the action and show the funny scenarios Bug Belly finds himself in. The text is great for reading aloud, too, so I hope will be shared in classrooms as well as at home. I recently did a school event which I really enjoyed – sharing tips on writing and firing children’s imaginations, and I hope to do many more of those in the future. I’ve created lots of activity sheets and resources to engage children with the series, so they can have a lot of fun exploring the stories in different ways.

How did you first come up with the idea for Bug Belly? I was playing a game with my nephew. Bug Belly is a rubber frog he has that had lost its squeaker, so insects could be stuffed into its tummy. I thought, ‘there’s a great idea for a children’s book!’ I’ve always been interested in animals, though, and have drawn many frog characters in my career as an illustrator and graphic designer. As a child I owned a green super-bouncy ball, that I kept in my pocket and pretended was a frog that could jump! Now, I’m lucky enough now to have a pond in my garden that is full of frogspawn, tadpoles and frogs every year!

How did you develop Bug Belly’s character, and the stories for this book series? I started by imagining some busy scenes from the story, for example the one where Bug Belly is planning to bag more bugs for his breakfast. I began wondering about all of the gadgets that Bug Belly might use to help him catch the bugs, and I developed his kit bag which you’ll see drawings of in the book – and developed various scenes from there which I stitched together into what I hope is an exciting story.

How do you plan and develop the illustrations for your books? First, I draw the main scenes as rough pencil sketches in my various notebooks and sketchbooks. Then I draw them in more detail on A4 sheets, before scanning them into my computer to add the colour digitally. In total, I produced around 1,000 drawings for Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble! One of the biggest challenges was all the individual tadpoles! I drew 2,000 of those for this book!

What can we expect in future Bug Belly stories? More fast paced fun and even trickier challenges for Bug Belly. Book two is being developed at the moment and involves a daring rescue mission to save one of the little froglets. Obviously I don’t want to give too much away but the story will feature sneaky snake and other predators, oh – and flying frogs!!

With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review and inviting me to host a bookchat! Bug Belly by Paul Morton publishes today (Five Quills), £6.99 paperback.

Sample chapters, activity sheet downloads and lots of other resources available from www.bugbelly.com

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Book of the Month: Sock Story by C K Smouha illustrated by Eleonora Marton

book of the monthSock Story by C K Smouha and Eleonora Marton, is a delightfully funny and light-hearted tale of a pair of socks and what happens during their weekly visit to the washing machine! Published by Cicada Books to critical acclaim in hardback last September, Sock Story is available in paperback this month.

 

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Sock Story by C K Smouha and Eleonora Marton

It’s Phil and Dale’s favourite time of the week – the wash! But when the two socks get separated, Dale must face the prospect of life on his own…

You’ll never look at your odd socks in the same way after reading this story!  I have a bag of odd socks just in case the missing one turns up (which does occasionally happen believe it or not) and I’m definitely not going to get rid of them now….Sock Story brings laundry to life in a lively, humourous tale which is sure to delight young readers (and parents and carers too).

Phil and Dale are a pair of socks and whilst enjoying their usual wash-time acrobatics -attracting eye rolls from the other clothes in the wash with them – Phil gets stuck at the bottom of the machine and Dale is all alone.  Not even a friendly shirt can help him feel better and you can’t help but smile as Dale considers all he is good for now as an odd sock – being a sock puppet or a golf club cosy!

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Colourful, lively crayon illustrations capture the fun throughout, as Dale finally finds Phil – who no longer looks like he did before (as grown-ups will know, clothes can turn a different colour if left in the machine on the wrong wash..!). But Dale must remember all the wonderful things that really make them a pair as he and Phil enjoy the wash together again!  Sock Story is a really great way to spark a conversation on things we have in common, outside of the way we look and will provide lots of laughter at story time.

C K Smouha is the author of Iced Out – review here.

With thanks to Cicada Books for sending me this book to review.

 

‘Wash Those Hands…a nurse’s lament…’ a poem and a song

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My mother was a nurse (now retired) and one of her great maxim’s was the importance of washing your hands. As a Matron, hand-washing was one of the first things she trained new staff in to ensure it was done properly.  And at home, her reminders could often be heard around the house – so much so that her many grandsons (9) and grandaughter and even her children (4 – me included) would often roll their eyes – with much affection – at the ‘make sure you’ve washed your hands’ coming from grandma!

My father, a writer and producer, wrote a poem about six years ago as an ode to my mother, which he named ‘Wash Those Hands… a nurse’s lament’ and then turned said poem into a little song with the help of his composer.  After much conversation over the last few weeks, we thought it might be useful to share this for all those working with children and trying to find something to inspire them to keep washing those hands. Happy reading – singing – and hand washing!

 

‘Wash Those Hands…a nurse’s lament..’

by James Verner

Wash Wash Wash those hands
Never let a dirty moment pass
Wash wash wash those hands
Keep them clean all day

Wash them ’fore eating
After the shopping
Round fingers and thumbs
Bugs and germs will drain away
Each time you wash those hands

Wash those hands so-ooo care-fully
Morning Noon and Night
Wash them shake them dry ’em
Get them clean that’s right
Hey you, please do it with all your might

Wash Wash Wash those hands
Never let a dirty moment pass
Without – wash wash wash those hands
Keep them clean all day- to-oooday

Go on splash about a bit!

© James Verner

 

 

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MAMMOTH World Book Day book review blog!

I will admit to having been rather caught up reading through the fabulous Branford Boase Longlist 2020 (no complaints – I’m over the moon to be on the judging panel this year!), hence a lack of reviews of the other brilliant books I’ve read over the last few months. What better day to catch up than on World Book Day, when we’re all sharing stories? ! Read on for a wonderful array of children’s books – Happy World Book Day!   

Picture Books

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Hop on board and take a trip through the train tunnels of ten cities around the world! Discover what makes each subway system unique and then see if you can spot the things hiding in the pictures.  From a pillar box in London to a bento box in Tokyo, you’ll learn about cities and trains from all corners of the planet.

Underground by Uijung Kim is a gorgeous celebration of subway systems from around the world.  Aimed at young readers and a great non-fiction book to share, Underground is a brilliantly combined lift-the-flap and search-and-find book. Full of bright, contemporary and colourful illustrations, it gives fantastic insight into what you might find on subways from New York City to Seoul to Paris and London.  I absolutely loved the artwork and can imagine young readers (and their parents and carers!) would spend hours pouring over each spread again and again.

Uijung Kim is a Korean illustrator living and working in New York. Her gorgeous cartoon-style is deeply rooted in Korean culture. For more information about Uijung Kim, please visit her website.

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

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Sneakers for cheetahs, scarves for giraffes and perfumed pants for skunks – Moose and Mr Brown can design anything for anyone.  But can they track down Monty, Moose’s missing brother? He got on the wrong plane leaving Alaska and hasn’t been seen since…

The Adventures of Moose and Mr Brown by Paul Smith illustrations by Sam Usher is a lovely tale telling the story of Moose, Mr Brown and the search for Moose’s brother Monty who seems to have disappeared.  Adventure ensues as Mr Brown and Moose travel the globe looking for Monty, all the while solving lots of design problems – like scarves for giraffes, dungerees for kangeroos and even a bib for a spitting cobra.  It’s a full of fun and heart warming story, brought to life with lively, detailed illustrations capturing all the ideas and inspiration throughout. A great story to read aloud and share.

Paul Smith is one of Britain’s foremost designers. He is renowned for his creative spirit, which combines tradition and modernity. Sam Usher is well known for his multi-award shortlisted book Can You See Sassoon?  and popular seasonal picture book series – SnowRainStorm and Sun. Find out more at www.paulsmith.com and www.samusher.com.

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

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A wolf who makes chocolates? When a new chocolate shop opens in town, Mrs Chicken and the animals are very suspicious. It must be a trap – that Ferocious Wolf is surely scheming to eat them all up! Or is he….?

The Ferocious Chocolate Wolf by Lizzie Finlay is a delightful story about a wolf who just wants to share his love of chocolate – and is not interested in eating any animals at all! An engaging narrative and lovely illustrations tell how Ferocious the Wolf opens his own chocolate shop full of treats and only one brave piggy will be his customer.  Piggy is so excited by the yummy chocolates that he offers to help Ferocious get some more customers.  With a wonderful sentiment about friendship and acceptance, The Chocolate Wolf will delight young readers as one by one the animals discover Ferocious really doesn’t live up to his name and really does make wonderful chocolates!

Lizzie Finlay is a best-selling author-illustrator. Her debut book ‘Dandylion’, won the Dundee Picture Book Award and was shortlisted for the NASEN Children’s Book Award. Find out more at www.tallbean.co.uk

With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

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When Handa has a sleepover with her friend Akeyo, the girls are allowed to spend the night in a little hut near the house. They’re excited to be on their own, but as they get ready for bed, Handa feels more and more nervous. She keeps hearing things – strange snorts, chitter chattering, a big thud……

Handa’s Noisy Night by Eileen Browne follows more of Handa’s adventures, over 25 years after her first story Handa’s Surprise was published . Rich and vibrant artwork brings to life the simple and very humorous story, as Handa has a sleepover in a hut with her friend Akeyo and they hear lots of strange noises in the night.  Every time there is a squeak, snort or rustle, Akeyo explains it’s one of her family members, putting Handa’s mind at rest– but it’s not! It’s a wonderful array of incredible wildlife going about their nightly business, as each spread shows exactly what it going on, despite Akeyo’s explanation. You will smile throughout as you join Handa and friends again and introduce young readers to the wonder of Kenyan wildlife and the excitement and nerves of sleeping in a different place!

Eileen Browne is the author and illustrator of Handa’s Surprise and Handa’s Hen, the two previous best-selling books featuring Handa. Eileen worked as a teacher and youth worker before becoming and author/illustrator. Find out more at www.walker.co.uk.

With thanks to Walker Books for sending me this book to review.

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This is the story of a bird that fits in your hand flying halfway round the world looking for a place to nest. This is the story of a young girl from northern Africa fleeing halfway round the world looking for a place of peace.  This is the story of Bird. This is the story of Leila. This is the story of a chance encounter and a long journey home.

Boundless Sky by Amanda Addison and Manuela Adreani is a simply stunning story representing the journey of a refugee. The story uses the migration of a beautiful swallow to depict just how far refugees travel to get to safety, how long and dangerous the journey can be, and how the help and welcome of others is so needed. Two young children thousands of miles apart are brought together, with the bird showing how this happens. Beautifully illustrated and truly tugging at your heart strings, Boundless Sky evokes empathy and understanding and is one of the best stories I’ve read showing the plight of refugees in a totally original way.

Amanda Addison holds an MA in Writing the Visual and lectures in Art and Creative Writing and has previously been long-listed for the Commonword and Virginia Prize. Manuela Adreani is a children’s book illustrator from Italy whose books have been published worldwide. She has previously been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Find out more at www.amandaaddison.com and www.manuelaadreani.blogspot.com

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review.

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My mum works really hard and knows lots of fun things to do that don’t cost money. But when there’s nothing left in the cupboards we have to go to the foodbank. Maybe one day things will be different….

It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner is an utterly moving story focusing on a mother and daughter who live in poverty and have to rely on the kindness of others.  It’s a simple narrative with muted illustrations bringing to life what it means to live without enough money to buy food.  You can see the mother’s sacrifice on her face; the ‘maybe one day’ hope that she shares with her daughter to keep them going is heart-wrenching – and heart-warming. But there is hope and this story shines a light on the brilliant work those who run food banks do and, sadly, how important and much needed they are.

Kate Milner is an award-winning author-illustrator whose previous title My Name is Not Refugee won the Klaus Flugge Prize. Find out more about at www.katemilner.com

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

 

Illustrated Fiction

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One summer’s day we started a business called Funerals Ltd, to help all the poor dead animals in the world. Esther did the digging, I wrote the poems, and Esther’s little brother, Puttie, cried.

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulk Nilsson illustrated by Eva Eriksson is the sweetest story about three children who decide someone must bury all the world’s poor dead animals. Originally published as a picture book, this illustrated chapter book version shows a child’s perspective of death through play. Light-hearted but not without depth, the gorgeous illustrations complement the simple narrative and dry humour, giving a glimpse into how children view death and mourning.  A beautifully presented book for every bookshelf.

Ulf Nilsson is a celebrated award-winning children’s writer from Sweden and wrote the internationally acclaimed series Detective Gordon for children. Eva Eriksson is one of the world’s great illustrators having one the Astrid Lindgren Prize and been nominated regularly for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

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

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When Mum goes away for the week, Jams, Dad and Thimble the monkey are left with just thirty quid for the groceries. Dad makes a shopping list, but when Thimble gets hold of the supermarket trolley, everything goes bananas. Soon the intrepid trio are so desperate they will do anything for money … anything! Will Dad end up selling his soul to make ends meet, or can Jams and his monkey pal save the day?

Thimble Wonga Bonkers by Jon Blake and illustrated Martin Chatterton reunites readers with Jams and his friend Thimble the monkey in another hilarious instalment of this addictive, award-winning series.  The now-trademark humour and one liners skip along with the story, and readers will laugh out loud as Jams’ hapless Dad and Thimble need rescuing after many unfortunate incidents. A story guaranteed to make you smile and with great illustrations bringing the adventures – or should I say ‘misadventures’ – to life!

Jon Blake lives in Cardiff and two children, one of whom he based Jams’ character on, and has been writing since 1984 – books, TV and radio scripts.  Martin Chatterton has illustrated many books in the UK and Australia, including some of the Middle School books with James Patterson. Find out more at www.jonblake.co.uk and www.worldofchatterton.com.

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

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It’s Ella’s first day at her new school and she wants to find a friend. But it’s really hard. The girls aren’t interested in her and she doesn’t have the courage to just join in … When she finds a book about making friends Ella decides to try out the tips it recommends. With five excellent ideas up her sleeve, Ella will be friends with the girls in no time … Right?

Five Ways to Make a Friend by Gillian Cross illustrated by Sarah Horne brings to life a touching tale of friendship and the challenges of starting a new school.  Readers will identify with Ella, a sweet girl, desperate to make new friends but not seeing the real like-minded soul right in front of her.  Ella’s trial and error approach is captured in lively illustrations and you can’t help but cheer as she finally understands she has indeed made a new friend without even realising!

Gillian Cross is an award-winning author best known for the Demon Headmaster series.  Sarah Horne is a regular illustrator of children’s books, with a fun and funky illustrating style. Find out more at www.gillian-cross.co.uk and www.thescribblegirl.wordpress.com

 With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

Middle Grade

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Otto lives in the frozen city of Hodeldorf, gripped by eternal winter. When his mother goes missing one icy morning, Otto vows to find her – joining forces with the Tattercoats, a gang of brave orphans. Now they must journey into a dark forest on a heart-racing adventure that will chill you to the bone. Witches lurk. Sun dragons lie sleeping. Endless winter shivers. Will you enter the lost forest – or would you rather stay safe at home?

Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things by Matilda Woods is set in a wintry landscape, with all sorts of magical people and creatures ready to delight the imagination. Middle-grade readers will love exploring the Forest of Lost things, as Otto goes in search of his mother, closely followed by his fellow Tattercoats, Nim and Blink. Adventure awaits, reminiscent of classic fairytales and Narnian magic, with enchanting characters – both good and bad – to keep readers hooked.   A wonderful story and magical place to escape to!

Matilda Woods is both a writer and a youth social worker, based in Australia. Her previous books, The Boy the Bird and the Coffin Maker and The Girl The Cat and the Navigator. Find out more www.matildawoods.com.

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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Demelza loves science – she loves it so much that she stays up late to work on her inventions. But she soon discovers she’s also inherited a distinctly unscientific skill: Spectre Detecting. Like her grandmother, she can summon the ghosts of the dead. When Grandma Maeve is kidnapped, Demelza and her pasty-faced best friend, Percy, must leap into action to solve the deadly mystery …

Demelza and the Spectre Detectors by Holly Rivers is the first in a fantastically spooky and scientific series which will spark the imaginations of all who read it.  Demelza is a feisty and fun character, who adores inventions and finds out she has inherited her beloved Grandma Maeve’s talent as a Spectre Dectector.  The supernatural meets science as Demelza learns more about her new talent. An original idea and a fresh take on grief and losing those you love, alongside a bundle of mystery and mayhem make for a thoroughly engaging read!

Holly Rivers is famously known for playing Drusilla Paddock in ITV’s original Worst Witch series. She now concentrates on writing, travelling and leading creative workshops for children. Follow Holly on Twitter @HollyRivers_Lit

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Liberty Johansen is going to change the way we look at the night sky. Most people see the old constellations, the things they’ve been told to see. But Liberty sees new patterns, pictures, and possibilities. She’s an exception. Some other exceptions: Her dad, who gave her the stars. Who moved out months ago and hasn’t talked to her since. Her mom, who’s happier since he left, even though everyone thinks she should be sad and lonely. And her sister, who won’t go outside their house. Liberty feels like her whole world is falling from space. Can she map a new life for herself and her family before they spin too far out of reach?

The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King focuses on a family going through divorce and depression and is both funny and sad.  These issues affect many children and this story is sensitively written and hugely insightful, capturing the reality of family breakdown alongside everyday teen existence.  In Liberty, we see the fallout of divorce and its impact on all her relationships. But also we see the importance and empowerment of seeking help and speaking about how you are feeling. She is a compelling character and empathy for her grows with each page. There is no cure for divorce, and it hurts; but there is hope for healing – it just takes time.  A well-written story which will stay with you long after the final page.

Amy Sarig King has written many critically acclaimed and prize winning young adult novels. Find out more at www.as-king.com

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

Find out more about World Book Day at www.worldbookday.com

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