Tag Archives: Book review

BLOG TOUR: Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril by Jeff Norton illustrated by Jeff Crosby

Hold onto your hats! It’s Day One of the blog tour for a rollicking adventure with the Dino Knights, the first in a new series by Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby published by Scallywag Press. I’m delighted to be sharing a guest post from the author focused on writing for reluctant readers.

In a medieval land where dinosaurs still roam, lowly stable boy Henry Fairchild joins the brave Dino Knights and rides into adventure on the back of a T-Rex. A fast paced action-adventure series about bravery, friendship, and being your best self.

Dinosaurs, daring deeds and dastardly danger – what more could you want! There are going to be young readers up and down the land wanting to join the Dino Knights as they discover the Kingdom of Panterra and the Knights who bravely protect their beloved land. Such a brilliant concept and totally engaging, the story is fast-paced, full of fun and just the right amount of peril. Henry makes a heart-felt hero and is supported by a brilliant cast of characters brought to life in detailed illustrations. Readers will love the handy character guide at the start of the book and no doubt be choosing who their favourite is – and then at the end, a dinosaur guide adds even more detail to the different dinos featured in the tale. All in all, a great start to what is sure to be a hit! Bring on the next battle!

Welcome to the blog Jeff!

Writing for reluctant readers

“The truth is, I didn’t really like reading very much when I was young. I found it hard to concentrate on a book and for a long time I didn’t find anything that captured my imagination as much as the incredible films and television on offer. I was a child of Star Wars and Transformers, definitely a visual thinker, but never found the equivalent joy in books that I did on the screen.

We didn’t have the term “reluctant reader” when I was young, but I was aware that I was a much slower reader than most of the kids in my class and certainly far behind the girls. This can be a downward spiral because when you’re not good at something, you tend not to want to pursue it. And then you don’t practice, so you don’t improve. It’s a phenomenon common to any pursuit (be it sport, music, or indeed, reading) and when I talk to teachers and librarians, it is something that plagues many emerging readers, especially boys. So, how to break the cycle?

There isn’t one easy fix, but I can share my own personal experience, one that’s resonated with students I’ve met in school visits and with teachers. For me, it starts with finding a book that’s both interesting and compelling. For me, that book was the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ interactive novels. These were hugely popular in the 1980s (and I later went on to produce the animated movie based on the series, but that’s a story for another day) and they were essentially structured as branching narratives that the reader could direct. They were written in the second person where “You” were the hero of the story and your choices (turn to page 125 to go the jungle, turn to page 140 to climb the mountain) dictated how the story unfolded. Many choices would lead to a gruesome demise!

They were probably written at a level below where I should have been reading, but because I was likely about 18 months behind my peers, they were perfect for me. Easy enough to get into, but filled with excitement and cliff-hangers to hold my attention. I started with one and kept going. The benefit of a series is that once you find one, you can read more and more. It’s comforting to a young reader to read something similar but a little bit different. I think this helps to explain the success of Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest. I’ve written Dino Knights to be a series and hopefully it will be the kind of book that a young reader starts with and wants to stay with through many books.

For me, reading the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novels was practice. I was practicing at reading. It became habitual and the more I read, the better reader I became. After a while, I was able to make the leap to a new set of books as I was a confident enough reader that I could truly call it “reading for pleasure.” And that’s the inflection point to find for an emerging reading. We’ve got to find the book or book series that gives the reader the confidence and capability to get to a reading level where they can start enjoying the book instead of slogging through the prose.

Now, the key is that the book will be different for every child. And that’s why I believe so strongly that every school needs a dedicated librarian. The role of the librarian isn’t just to be the keeper of the books, but to be the key that can help unlock the reader. A good librarian will be able to work with a child and find the book that reverses the downward spiral and set the inflection point towards a virtuous circle of reading one book then another and then another; with the child growing in confidence and ability with each successive read.

When I visit schools, I tell the children that I’m still a very slow reader and have to concentrate very hard to enjoy a book. I find it gives them comfort to know that even an author still struggles with reading and that it’s not something that’s instantly easy. Just like mastering an instrument, or learning fancy football moves, it’s something that takes time and practice. If we work with children who are reluctant readers, and find them the on-ramp for reading through the right book, then I think we can raise a generation of confident readers that find books just as compelling as the best of films, tv, and video games.

As an author, it’s my goal to have my books become part of that unlocking; hopefully Dino Knights will compel some young readers to discover their joy of reading….on the back of a dinosaur!”

DINO KNIGHTS by Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby is out now in paperback (£6.99, Scallywag Press)

Follow Jeff Norton and Jeff Crosby: Twitter @thejeffnorton @jeffmcrosby Instagram @thejeffnorton @jeffmcrosby. With thanks to Scallywag Press for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour.

Follow the rest of the tour:

GUEST POST: The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

What if you could save lives? What if, with just the touch of your hand, you could stop an animal, or even a person, dying? You’d do it, wouldn’t you? But what if it meant you got older each time? Older and older….until you had no time left yourself. Would you do it then?

When this book came through the post, I knew instantly I would love it. Sometimes, a story just captures a little space in your imagination, before you’ve even read it. Lonny Quicke did that for me. Wonderfully written, authentic and engaging characters, and a compelling plot, I read The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum, in one sitting.

At the heart of the story is Lonny, an ordinary boy with the extra-ordinary power of a lifeling. A power which enables him to heal or give life to the dying – at a great cost to himself. Such are the risks, Lonny and his family live in the forest, away from the town of Farstoke, to keep him safe – can you imagine what would happen if people knew? But of course, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long, especially when there are family to take care of and mouths to feed – and an extraordinary boy who longs to live an ordinary life. A narrative rich with folklore and stories, life or death choices will take on new meaning when you read this book and you’ll find yourself wondering, what would you do?

I am so pleased to welcome author Kirsty to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post about the songs behind the story (yes, that’s right – songs – you’ll have to read the book now!). Welcome to the blog Kirsty!

Songs in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is a lifeling, able to restore life to dying creatures with just the touch of his hand. Halfway through the story Lonny finds himself at street festival, surrounded by songs he knows but doesn’t remember learning and ‘stories that are nearly the same as the ones I’ve known forever.’ I incorporated four songs into the book at this point, to help build the festival atmosphere:

A Frog he would a-Wooing Go – A traditional folk song telling the story of a courting frog, understood to be satirising the highly political royal courtships of the 16th century.

My Grandfather’s Clock – Written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, this song tells the story of an old man and his longcase clock. It’s said to be the source of the term ‘grandfather clock’, and the music sets a steady tick, tock pace throughout.

Oranges and Lemons – Each line of this traditional nursery rhyme represents the distinctive chime of a particular set of London church bells, except for the last few lines which depict a grisly death.

Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! – A folk song of unknown origins which has an intriguing mix of biblical, astronomical and possibly even pagan references.

The thing I find most interesting about these songs is that, as I wrote the book, they just appeared in my head, asking to be included. And when I examined them I realised they were ideal. Mr Frog, for example, disobeys a parent and goes out when he’s been told not to – just like Lonny. My Grandfather’s Clock and Oranges and Lemons have clear themes of time, life and death – all key themes in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke. And Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! contains the line ‘Two! Two! The lily-white boys, all dressed up in green hi-ho!’ – which could easily be a description of Lonny and his brother at the festival. These songs, then, were lyrically perfect – but they also seemed to embody the essence of the book. With the exception of My Grandfather’s Clock, they all manifest themselves in many different versions, changing through time and place. This is exactly what I wanted to explore in Lonny Quicke about stories – that they change, depending on who is telling them and what message that particular storyteller is trying to get across. On top of that, all four songs have a timeless, folkloric quality. It’s as if they’ve been around forever. Again, this is exactly what I wanted to achieve with my lifeling folklore in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke.

So the words and tunes that filled my childhood world – all the songs I’d been immersed in as I grew up – have become so much part of me that the right ones just rose out of my subconscious when I needed them. And these four songs of time and life, which I’ve always known but don’t remember learning, are perfect.”

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com. With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review and to Kirsty Applebaum for contributing this guest post.

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY: The Screen Thief by Helen and Thomas Docherty

I am absolutely thrilled to be hosting the final stop on the blog tour for the fantastic new picture book from Helen and Thomas Docherty, The Screen Thief published by Alison Green Books. You couldn’t ask for a better story to encourage everyone to put down their screens and discover that there’s so much more to life!

The Screen Thief by Helen and Thomas Docherty

When the Snaffle arrives in the city, she just wants to play. But nobody notices her: they’re all too busy staring at their screens. The Snaffle discovers that she likes screens, too -as a snack! She quickly chomps down every last phone, tablet and TV in the city. People are horrified -until they realise that life is much more fun when you actually play together.

A delightful, rhyming narrative and colourful, inviting illustrations combine to bring the Snaffle and her adventures to life, in this timely story about the over-use of screens in our lives. Not only does it remind us there’s more to life than what’s on screen, it also wonderfully captures the power of friendship, playtime, and being together. The Snaffle is a cute and quirky character and I love the double page spread towards the end showing the myraid of brilliant things we could be doing if we simply put down our screens. You really can’t fault this lovely picture book – in fact, I might have to buy a copy for everyone I know!

To the mark the end of The Screen Thief blog tour, I am running a giveaway – you can enter on Twitter (and then put down your screen in case you get snaffled..!)

With thanks to Harriet Dunlea and the team for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Find out more about The Screen Thief here. Catch up with the rest of the tour here:

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

BLOG TOUR: Pinkie and Boo by Chae Strathie illustrated by Francis Martin

Today, I’m rounding off the wonderful blog tour for Pinkie and Boo by Chae Strathie illustrated by Francis Martin, published by Little Door Books. Introducing a feisty young girl and her toy monkey, this story is bound to delight readers young and old alike!

Pinkie loves being the smallest in her family, but the arrival of a baby means everything is about to change. It seems like the tiny new addition to the family will get all the attention . . . and Pinkie isn’t happy about that. To cheer her up Mum and Dad give her a lovely toy monkey called Boo. But it turns out there’s much more to him than meets the eye – at least in Pinkie’s imagination. Their outrageous efforts to regain some attention lead to a whole lot of mess and mayhem, but everything works out happily in the end.

What a delightful story! Full of humour and insight into the very real scenario of the arrival of a new sibling – one that many will relate to. Pinkie is understandably worried about the new baby and her vivid imagination (involving seagulls and wizards) only serves to make her more so!  When Boo the toy monkey arrives, he stuns Pinkie by coming to life – but she’s so pleased to have someone to share her problems with. Boo suggests all sorts of ways to make things better- making special drinks with all manner of ingredients from the fridge; drawing special pictures on the walls (oh dear..) and collecting all Dad’s best flowers from the garden!

The humorous narrative brilliantly brings to life this ever-so-tricky situation accompanied by lively, bold illustrations that capture the chaos and the determined Pinkie’s frustration. Empathy abounds as Mum and Dad discover the mess – but thankfully make things right for Pinkie and Boo. An entertaining read and a great story to reassure families expecting a new sibling, I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Pinkie and Boo!

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me this book to review.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour: