Tag Archives: Book review

When Poems Fall From the Sky by Zaro Weil, illustrated by Junli Song

When Poems Fall From the Sky is a stunning new collection of poems and the first title to publish since Zaro Weil and Junli Song won the coveted CLiPPA prize with their stunning poetry anthology, Cherry Moon.

In exquisitely illustrated full colour pages, trees, birds, animals, rivers, flowers, mountains and insects each share their own magical stories. And the stories they tell, the ‘poems’ that fall from the sky, subtly and powerfully illuminate our hope and collective role as guardians of our earth. Directly inspired by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Zaro spent time in the Gardens while writing the collection, spotting gum-drop flowers, listening to bird song, following tiny sun glints and smelling the deep-down earth pulsing its wild mysteries under her feet.

Gina Fullerlove, Head of Publishing at Kew said: “We are delighted to be associated with this beautiful little book inspired by our Gardens. Connecting with and understanding nature is ever more important in these times and this collection provides an enchanting way for children and adults to do just this.”

Zaro Weil commented: “It has been an incomparable thrill to write this collection in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Not only because, like the rest of the world, I stand in awe of Kew’s scientific exploration and guardianship of the natural world, but because I believe that science and poetry are simply meant for each other and that our particularly human appreciation of the natural world is, at heart, poetic. ”

This collection of poems, raps, rhymes, haiku and little plays couldn’t be more timely as readers are encouraged to marvel and wonder at the natural world, and in thought-provoking verse and prose, consider how nature is our friend and should be cherished. Oh Happy Day – A Fig and Wasp Play (A Mother Nature Production), celebrates the incredible pollinating partnership of figs and wasps. Tree’s Story captures the wonder of trees and their power to hold memory – simply stunning. Bug Parade is an absolute delight and I defy anyone who reads this not to look at insects and creepy crawlies differently once they’ve read it! I could list them all but there’s isn’t room – and far better you read the book and discover these brilliant poems yourself!

Each and every poem is clearly crafted with love for nature, showing the joy to be found simply in watching and listening to the world around us. A book to cherish and share, Where Poems Fall From the Sky is an enchanting collection and will inspire all those who read it.

Find out more here. With thanks to Troika Books for sending me this book to review. You can see an interview with Zaro Weil live online on National Poetry Day with Mr Dilly – free to register.

BLOG TOUR: Scaredy Bat by Jonathan Meres illustrated by Anders Frang

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a delightful new picture book, Scaredy Bat by Jonathan Meres, illustrated by Anders Frang published by Little Door Books.

It’s morning in the Dark, Dark Wood and Little Bat can’t sleep. He doesn’t like the light. But when Big Bat and Middle Bat call him a Scaredy Bat, there’s only one thing to do….

Meet Little Bat, a brave little chap who’s out to prove just how brave to his fellow bat friends. This delightful story turns the idea of ‘things that go bump in the night’, on its head and suddenly it’s the daylight that’s scary! Determined to show he’s not afraid of the light, Little Bat takes a leap of faith and discovers it’s not so bad after all. In fact, he discovers the Dark Wood is almost as fun in the day as it is at night!

With a gentle narrative accompanied by charming illustrations bringing nature to life, Scaredy Bat will have young readers asking for more bat-antics! Sure to be a firm favourite at bedtime – and reassure little ones that everyone gets a bit scared sometimes.

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. You can follow the rest of the tour here:

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: