New review: The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton illustrated by Angela Barrett

I first came across Jessie Burton in my book group when The Miniaturist was chosen as our book to read just after it was published.  The success of this, her first novel, speaks for itself – a number one bestseller, translated into 38 languages and adapted into a television drama; it’s an amazing read. I was therefore hugely excited when I heard that she had written her first children’s books which will be published by Bloomsbury on 27th September.

I was instantly drawn to the idea of this story, having read The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm as a young girl.  A modern take on this classic story was instantly appealing – especially on reading a quote from the blurb: “We’re not sticks of dynamite,” said Frida. “We’re simply excellent girls.” What a brilliant statement! The book is illustrated by Angela Barrett, who is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest illustrators. I read a proof copy, so haven’t seen the fully illustrated version but the glimpses of the artwork I have seen are beautiful.

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The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

For her twelve daughters, Queen Laurelia’s death in a motor car accident is a disaster beyond losing a mother.  Their father, King Alberto, cannot bear the idea of the princesses ever being in danger and decides his daughters must be kept safe at all costs.  Those costs include their lessons, their possessions and, most importantly, their freedom. But the eldest, Princess Frida, will not bend to his will without a fight and she still has one possession her father can’t take: the power of her imagination. And so, with little but wits and ingenuity to rely on, Frida and her sisters begin their fight to be allowed to live.

The twelve princesses of Kalia are stricken with grief, as their world falls apart after their mother’s death. Instead of finding comfort in their father, King Alberto, they find a man broken by grief unwilling to listen to their voices. Princess Frida can see the King’s grief is damaging the kingdom and she challenges her father, to no avail.  Imprisoned in the palace in a room with no windows, no sunlight and none of their precious possessions, with only a portrait of their late mother to look at, the twelve sisters see no escape.

Late one night they discover a marvellous secret – a hidden door that leads them on the most magical journey of discovery through wondrous caves, over a deep lagoon, through forests and finally into a tree palace. Surrounded by exotic animals including a magnificent lioness, the princesses can hardly believe their eyes.  That night they find their faith is restored and from then on they can become brave and fearless again, feeling alive, dancing each night away in their secret wonderland.  It is only when their father keeps having to replace their shoes that he suspects something and uses all his cleverness to outwit his daughters. Princess Frida refuses to reveal their secret and driven mad with rage the King banishes her, proclaiming that whosoever can find the truth about his daughters will replace him as King!

I don’t want to spoil the story so I can only assure you it is a marvellous and fitting ending! I read this in one sitting, positively hooked on the fabulous fairytale world created.  The Restless Girls is a wonderful reminder of the power of imagination to restore hope, full of character and brilliant observation throughout.  Whilst the feisty and fierce Princess Frida may take centre stage, each princess has her own unique qualities and personality that shines through.  They are after all just girls, as well as being princesses, which is brilliantly illustrated by a sparkling narrative full of love, wit and wisdom. The Restless Girls is absolutely one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read this year; enough fairytale nostalgia to warm the heart, but with a modern edge that brings the tale right up to date.  This is a really wonderful story to encourage all who read it to speak up for themselves, cherish their siblings and not allow anything or anyone to hold them back!

Find out more at www.jessieburton.co.uk and @jesskatbee .  You can also watch a trailer of Jessie Burton introducing this gorgeous book here.

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With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review!

New review: Charlie Star by Terry Milne

A delightful dachshund called Charlie is the star of a lovely new picture book published in hardback earlier last week by Old Barn Books, written and illustrated by Terry Milne, who was born and raised in South Africa.  She has illustrated books with authors including Martin Waddell and Vivian French. Her daughter’s struggles with anxiety and repetitive behaviour led Terry to write and illustrate this story as a reassurance to children everywhere who might experience the same struggles.

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“Charlie did everything the same, every day. He was afraid something terrible would happen if he didn’t.” When an emergency disrupts his routine, anxious Charlie discovers that change can be a good thing and open the way to something wonderful!

Charlie Star is a lovely story about a dachshund with a difference – he is a very anxious dog! On reading his story, you immediately want to pick him up and comfort him and reassure him everything is okay- even whilst he’s busy lining up his toys and doing tricks as part of his daily rituals.

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Charlie is frightened that if he doesn’t do these things, everything will go wrong and like many people, uses these routines to keep his anxiety at bay.  A simple narrative, accompanied by lively illustrations brings to life all of Charlie’s habits.  As you would expect, life has a way of reminding us we are not in control and when Charlie’s friend gets stuck, even he has to be brave, forget his routines and join the rescue.

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This is a really gentle story highlighting the way anxiety can take over, but also cleverly shows that change is not as scary as we think and in fact, can lead to wonderful things.

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With a lovely ending highlighting the value of friendship, Charlie Star is a sweet story which is sure to be a hit with young readers.  It would also work really well as a story to encourage discussion of anxiety and the issues around it.

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Find out more at Old Barn Books.

With thanks to Old Barn for sending me a copy of this book to review.

 

 

 

 

New reviews: three great additions to your bookshelf!

IMG-3344This week I have enjoyed reading these three great middle grade reads featuring time travel, magic and funny moments galore!  A Chase in Time by Sally Nichols is a time slip novel with great characters and a fast paced plot.  A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck is a wonderful adventure with a brave heroine and Just Jack by Kate Scott features a lovely young chap trying to fit in.  All three books would make great additions to your bookshelf, whether at home or in school.

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A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls

Alex Pilgrim is always up for adventure, so he’s super- pleased when he and his sister Ruby, fall through their aunt’s mirror into 1912.  Racing around in a scarily dangerous car, being permanently grubby and even catching a criminal or two is great fun! Now they just need to find a way home….

A thoroughly enjoyable time-slip adventure, A Chase in Time is a great read with a good mix of humour, excitement and danger. Spending a school holiday at their aunt’s family home, which is full of wonderful heirlooms from around the world, Alex and Ruby discover the mirror that has stood in the hall for years is a time portal. A dramatic start to the story means that Alex and Ruby must get to grips with time travel and solve the mystery of the missing Newberry Cup –  which will not only help their family in 1912 but will also save their aunt’s magnificent home in their own time! Full of historical detail and some wonderful, humourous observations about how different life was in 1912, there are moments of poignant reflection as Alex and Ruby realise that in a few short years the first world war will begin.  The lovely cast of characters have very English eccentricities, enlivening the engaging plot. I particularly enjoyed the romance between Alex and Ruby’s distant relatives Atherton and Miss Flynn.  Add to this some fantastic illustrations you have all the ingredients for a great read!

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

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A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck

Penelope has always been…well….different. For one thing, she has grey hair, even though she’s only ten.  But when she wakes up to find her hair has turned the brightest, wildest, most BRILLIANT shade of red, she realises magic has entered her life. Strange and amazing things start to happen. Could it all have something to do with her father, who disappeared years ago? Penelope won’t stop until she finds the tangled, magical truth about who she really is….

A Tangle of Magic is a quirky, magical and inventive tale with gorgeous cover art. Stories about magic are great fun, especially when they centre on the discovery of hidden magical powers and this story is no exception! It features a determined and feisty heroine Penelope, who knows she’s different. Living with her Mum and Grandma and Coco the cat, she couldn’t possibly have realised just how different until her hair turns red, marking the beginning of an extraordinary adventure.  Hearing others thoughts before they say them, having conversations with the road (yes, the road!) and even learning to fly, Penelope discovers she’s got magical blood. Her mother had always hidden this from her, hoping to keep her safe, but she finally tells Penelope her father had magical powers. Helped by her Grandma giving her a secret book of spells and one of her best friends unwittingly giving her clues to her father’s whereabouts, Penelope sets out to discover not just the truth about her father, but the truth about herself too.  With some exciting plots twists and gentle humour, Penelope makes a charming heroine who you are rooting for throughout.  Themes of friendship and family bring together an engaging narrative that middle grade readers will enjoy.

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

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Just Jack by Kate Scott

Jack knows all about trying to fit in. Since Dad left, Jack and his Mum have moved house five times.  But it’s hard work pretending to be someone he isn’t and Jack misses having a friend.  Until Tyler comes along, Tyler is clever, funny and inventive. And he might help Jack figure out how to be…Just Jack.

Jack is about to start School Six and with his Sherlock Code at the ready, he is determined to fit in but not stand out.  Surrounded by unpacking and mess at home with his Mum, Jack sets his sights on making sure he doesn’t get too close to anyone just in case they have to move again.  However, Jack hasn’t banked on the appearance of full-of-life Tyler bounding into the classroom, who he realises could be his ideal friend.  Told with sensitivity and humour, the story explores how Jack deals with making new friends, confronting the pain of his parents divorce and finally being true to himself.  He is an instantly lovable chap and you can’t help but be moved by his observations and the situation he finds himself in.  Many young readers will identify with the difficulties of friendship and family described and the cast of characters who bring the story to life. A perfect balance of humour and heart, Just Jack is a truly enjoyable and moving read, with great illustrations by Alex Gunn.

With thanks to Kate Scott for sending me this book to review. Just Jack is published by Piccadilly Press.

 

New review: Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mickael El Fathi

On the blog today, I’m delighted to share my review of a beautiful new book Peace and Me which celebrates the work of  Nobel Peace Prize winners and will be published later this month. The book from Lantana Publishing is written by Ali Winter, an experienced anthologist who is passionate about seeking out lessertold stories from around the world and illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi, an acclaimed French-Moroccan children’s book illustrator who helps children travel the world through his illustrations.

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This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf. Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

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From the first page this book is fascinating, beautiful and moving in equal measure.  It begins with a spread focused on Alfred Nobel and how the Nobel Prize came to be.  What follows are double-page spreads on some of the winners of the Peace Prize, charting their contribution to world peace and reflecting on what they did to be of “greatest benefit to mankind”.

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Some of the names are very familiar, some are not, but what they all have in common is their selfless and determined efforts to help their fellow man.  As a children’s book, there is just the right amount of information on each person and enough detail to bring them to life.  The narrative is accompanied by visually stunning artwork – I would be fascinated to hear how these beautiful illustrations were created.

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The book is endorsed by Amnesty International because “it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.” Each story reminds us that one person can make a difference. What a wonderful lesson to pass on to children and what a wonderful reminder to everyone that passion and perseverance and indeed, peace, can exist even in today’s turbulent times.  Peace and Me is a book to treasure, to share with young and old and to encourage us to consider what peace means to each of us.

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Peace and Me publishes on 21st September.

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

Book of the Month: Seaglass by Eloise Williams

book of the monthIt’s been so hot this summer that having a ghost story to read exploring the windswept Welsh coast was the perfect way to cool down and provide some eerie chills! I really enjoyed Eloise William’s last novel Gaslight so was delighted to receive a copy of her new book Seaglass to review.

With another gorgeous cover, this story is equally compelling and is our new Book of the Month!

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Seaglass by Eloise Williams

Lark struggles when her family and their friends go on holiday for the autumn half term. Her mother is ill, her little sister has stopped speaking and she has fallen out with her best friend.  Is a girl in a green dress following her in the fog? Or is her sister playing tricks on her? When a local woman tells her ‘the girl’ comes to take sisters, Lark is the only one who can save her family.  

Lark is angry. Angry that she’s cooped up in a car heading for a holiday which she is certain will be rubbish; angry that her little sister won’t speak anymore; angry that her mother is dying but no-one will talk about it.  She’s a thirteen-year-old full of attitude, torn between hiding her unhappiness to protect her family and shouting at anyone and anything in her way!  The holiday only gets marginally better when the others show-up – family and friends whom she has grown up with including her best friend Gwenni and her beloved eccentric grandma Mam-gu.  Alongside the family turbulence, it becomes frighteningly clear that there is a strange ghost girl roaming the woods near the holiday park and even more strange is that her little sister Snow, who doesn’t talk to anyone, seems to be communicating with her.  Add to this warnings from local residents, a night time boat ride, mysterious weather and an old ruin and you have all the ingredients for an eerie ghost story. What is the link between the strange girl and the collection of seaglass Lark and her sister have gathered?  Why does her sister draw so many pictures of the girl in the green dress?  And how can Lark save her family and herself from impending disaster?!

Seaglass is a great read, full of atmospheric descriptions of the Welsh coast and a collection of quirky characters you love – and some that you don’t!  Lark is a feisty girl struggling to come to terms with herself and her inability to control her temper but desperate to help her family.  Her determination to find out about the mysterious girl in the woods is admirable – she even uses the local library to help her! The references to Welsh history and family times gone by give a lovely depth to the whole story and Lark’s love of nature is a really nice addition to her character.  Lark’s friends and family come in all shapes and size, but their differences don’t come between them in the end because it’s family and friendship that matter. The truth about her mother’s illness is revealed and Lark has to face her fears, weaving a moving emotional showdown into the narrative. There are some very creepy moments; just enough to give you several chills and a seriously creepy doll I’d rather not think about now – but then I am a bit of a wimp about things like that!!

Seaglass is a wonderfully atmospheric, perfectly paced ghost story combined with a narrative about family and a really positive emphasis on the importance of being truthful with the ones you love. Publishing on 12th September from Firefly Press, Seaglass is definitely a book to add to your reading list – you won’t be disappointed!

Find out more at www.eloisewilliams.com

With thanks to Eloise and Firefly Press for sending me this book to review!

New reviews: Klaus Flugge Prize – A wondrous shortlist of picture books!

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I was very fortunate to be invited to review the incredible selection of books shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize.  The Prize will be awarded on 12th September to a debut illustrator of a published picture book. The five books on the shortlist will make judging the winner very difficult, such is the talent they demonstrate!

I enjoyed each of these very different titles and am delighted to share my reviews with you today.

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My Name is Not Refugee written and illustrated by Kate Milner (Barrington Stoke) is a moving and sensitively portrayed journey of a refugee inviting young readers to think how they might feel if they had to leave their homes.  A mother explains to her son the journey that lies ahead, some of it scary and some of it exciting but above all hopeful. Muted colours, use of light and shadow and blank space encourage you to stop and think and ultimately understand that refugees are just like us. The narrative is simple and each spread holds a direct thought-provoking question.  A brilliant book to prompt discussion, particularly with (but not limited too) young children, this is a great example of how picture books and illustration can be used to aid understanding of important issues.

Big Box, Little Box illustrated by Edward Underwood (Bloomsbury) written by Caryl Hart is a light-hearted tale of curiosity and an unusual friendship. If you’ve ever had a pet cat you’ll know how much they love to play inside, outside and all over the place with boxes!  The cat in this story is no different and has a wonderful time exploring all sorts of boxes, only to discover one is being in habited – by a mouse! Thankfully, the cat doesn’t respond as most cats would and a happy ending beckons.  The lyrical, rhyming narrative is perfectly reflected in the colourful images creating a really enjoyable story. I particularly love the movement and expressions of the cat! I can imagine this being a story youngsters will want to read again and again.

The Night Box illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont) written by Louise Grieg is an enchanting tale of day turning into night.  Little Max holds the key to the Night Box and as Day starts to wind down, it’s time to open the box! Night spreads across the land and out come the woodland animals, stars in the sky and of course, peaceful sleep.  This is such an evocative tale you can almost feel night time cover you!  Gorgeous illustrations, reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers in style, beautifully portray all the elements of night time from the animals to stars to the drip of a tap!  Warm colours wrap around you like a blanket and bring to life the peace that can be felt at night time.  This would be a wonderful story to allay young children’s fear of the dark and show them just how magical it can be.

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover written and illustrated by Markus Motum (Walker) tells the incredible journey of a real life mission to Mars.  A fine example of the amazing non-fiction books available for children today, Curiosity is full of fascinating facts that will have young readers on the edge of their seats. Told from the robot’s point of view, the narrative brilliantly sparks the imagination around the wonder of the universe. Amazing and detailed illustrations share the world of space exploration and show just how advanced it has become, with double page spreads that highlight just how vast the solar system is. A completely fascinating story and visually stunning book, this is a fantastic way to encourage youngsters to be curious about their world and beyond!

The Real Boat illustrated by Victoria Semykina, (Templar) written by Marina Aromshtam is a wonderful tale about a tiny paper boat venturing to the big wide ocean.  The paper boat wants to be a real boat and believes if he can get to the ocean his wish will come true.  He journeys along the river and meets many other boats along the way, from rowing boats to tug boats, fishing boats and once at the ocean, vast steam ships. The dangers of the seas overwhelm him, but even as he sinks to the ocean floor, all is not lost and a perfect and happy ending is reached. Beautiful, intricate illustrations bring the wonderful world of boats to life and portray just how vast and precious our waterways and oceans are. Full of heart, the narrative also shares insight into the many and varied activities around boats and water. I love the little boat’s wonder at the world around him and his fearlessness in realising his dream.  This is a lovely picture book story to share and the longer length makes it a really satisfying read.

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I couldn’t pick a winner; they’re all brilliant! The judging panel has a difficult task ahead; the panel comprises Children’s Laureate and acclaimed illustrator Lauren Child; Francesca Sanna, 2017 Klaus Flugge Prize winner; leading art director Goldy Broad; and Charlotte Colwill, head of children’s books at Foyles, selected a shortlist of five.  The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 12th September 2018 and will receive a cheque for £5,000.

With thanks to the award organisers for sending me these books to review! For more information visit www.klausfluggeprize.co.uk

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New reviews: Tom Fletcher’s Book Club 2018: a bundle of brilliant summer reads!

tom fletcher logoTom Fletcher’s Book Club is a wonderful initiative aimed at encouraging a love of reading for pleasure and to help families discover exciting children’s books. Launched in early summer, the Book Club brings together ten titles selected by Tom, a member of the hugely successful band McFly, a parent himself and a best-selling children’s author.  Helping parents encourage their children to get into reading is a cause close to my heart, so I was delighted to be invited to read and review this fantastic collection of books. There is something wonderful about receiving a large box of books through the post – especially when they arrive in a set of gorgeous WHSmith stationery boxes!

I have a soft spot for WHSmith; my local branch being the first place I ever bought a book and where I used to spend many an afternoon browsing the bookshelves planning which book I was going to spend my pocket money on next!  Here I discovered Mrs Pepperpot, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume and then Flowers in the Attic, Maeve Binchy and many others.  Today, there are so many fantastic titles on offer with so many brilliant authors writing for children, it can be really hard to know what to choose – for both children and their parents.  Tom’s Book Club provides a great antidote to not knowing where to start and sets children on the path to discovering brilliant books, all the while giving much needed support to parents and teachers including online resources, reviews and author interviews.

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Instantly attractive, with colourful jackets and a range of genres, the books are a brilliant selection of some of the most talented authors and illustrators in children’s books today. Some already familiar to me and some I hadn’t yet read, today I’m sharing a brief review  of each title – all available from WHSmith and as a bundle with a helpful discount.

The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell illustrated by Clare Powell I loved this story – full of adventure, magic, sweets and much more. A brilliant combination of fun and fantasy with some great characters, the mystery of Honeystone Hall is great entertainment. Review available here.

Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow illustrated by Sheena Dempsey I literally laughed out loud at this delightful and daft tale of two pigeons.  They are quite simply hilarious, doing their best to escape the clutches of a very mean cat. Expect lots of comedy, some feather-brained ideas (pardon the pun!) and some delicious baking!

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt illustrated by Ross Collins One of my earliest reviews, this tale tells of bloodthirsty pirate, strange creatures, dear little nose-picking Mabel and of course, treasure.  It’s a rip-roaring adventure and will have readers gasping and giggling at the same time!

The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steve Butler illustrated by Steven Lenton A marvellous, madcap adventure with a very likeable hero and a weird and wonderful cast of characters you want to see to believe!  If creepy critters, ghoulish goblins and hungry garden lawns are your thing, this is the perfect book for you – I shall definitely be looking for this hotel next time I’m in Brighton!

I Swapped my Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons illustrated by Nathan Reed Ah we’ve all been there – that terrible moment where you wish away your irritating sibling! But you should be careful what you wish for as Jonny discovers on receiving an unusual array of ‘swaps’ for his brother, creating mayhem, chaos and lots and lots of laughs in this very funny tale of sibling rivalry gone awry! Review available here.

The Travels of Ermine Trouble in New York by Jennifer Gray illustrated by Elisa Paganelli  You have to love the gorgeous Ermine the very determined and full-of-character travelling stoat!  And you’ll love her fabulous New York adventure complete with sight-seeing, diamond thieves and a near-miss with hungry alligators.  Young readers will be eagerly awaiting her next adventure and will delight in making their own travel scrapbook as featured at the end of the book.

Iguana Boy by James Bishop and illustrated by Rikin Parekh Superheroes lookout – you’re about to be upstaged by Iguana Boy!  It may not be the coolest superpower but talking to iguanas can be surprisingly useful – especially when you have to save the world.  This story is full of madcap ideas and very funny moments with comic strip humour readers will love.

Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis A detective agency with an over-confident detective who never quite gets it right? A polar bear sidekick? Brilliantly drawn quirky illustrations?  It’s a recipe for success and this story features hilarious observations throughout making Timmy Failure a very funny and at some points quite touching read.

My Magical Life by Zach King illustrated by Beverly Arce My Magical Life features Zach, a boy with yet to be discovered magical powers facing all the perils of secondary school. Hugely colourful with zany cartoon illustrations the story keeps you thoroughly entertained. I didn’t read it with the app, but am sure this will be a hit with young readers, especially those who are more reluctant to put down their screens and pick up a book.

The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton The most incredible (and slightly bonkers) treehouse ever to exist is brilliantly brought to life in this story. Inventive with everything you could possibly imagine happening at once, the story is bursting with adventure, larger than life characters and lively illustrations leaping off the page.

Find out more about Tom Fletcher’s Book Club 2018 #TomsBookClub

With thanks to the organisers for sending me these fantastic books to review.