New reviews: last reviews of 2018!

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This week’s reads include five great titles to add to your TBR shelf.  Three fantastic middle grade accessible reads published by Barrington Stoke and two moving middle- grade wartime dramas; one set in World War One (published by Scholastic) and one focused on World War Two (published by Firefly Press).  These great books form the last of my book reviews for 2018 as I’ll be taking a book review break over December – but still reading of course!

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Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson

When orphan Matthew Henson ran away from his violent stepmother to find a new life in the big city, no one could have predicted that he would become the first man to reach the North Pole.  A little luck and a lot of hard work led to a life of adventure on the high seas and in the Arctic, but back home in America his achievements were ignored due to the colour of his skin. 

Based on a remarkable true story, Race to the Frozen North sheds light on the amazing achievements of Matthew Henson and his lifetime’s journey to the North Pole. I had never heard of him before reading this story – and I expect I am not alone in this. The prejudice he faced prevented him being recognised as the first man to the North Pole and he lived with this knowledge for many years until times began to change and he finally received a Polar Expedition Medal. But in many ways Matthew’s achievements go way beyond reaching the North Pole – he overcame hatred, poverty, endless prejudice and fear to achieve his dream of living a life of adventure. The friendships he did make through hard work and a desire to learn were strong and true. Brilliantly told, Race to the Frozen North is a story all would benefit from reading, celebrating an incredible unsung hero.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

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Flight by Vanessa Harbour

Austria 1945.  After losing his family, Jakob shelters with Herr Engel in a rural stables, where they hide the precious Lipizzanner stallions they know Hitler wants to steal.  When a German officer comes looking for Jakob and finds the horses, Jakob and his guardian know they must get the stallions to safety, but the only way is straight through Nazi territory. Joined by Kizzy, an orphan Roma girl, the three must guide the horses across the perilous Austrian mountains.  Will they reach safety? What will be waiting for them the other side?

The opening scene of Flight immediately sets the tone of this wartime story – tense, heart breaking, and full of bravery. Jakob’s care for the beautiful Lipizzanner horses and his determination to save them even in the face of murderous Nazis, is truly admirable.  His relationship with his guardian, the grouchy but kind Herr Engel, is touching and the introduction of a third character, Kizzy, creates a brilliant dynamic to the relationships at the heart of the story.  Wartime dramas such as Flight show how awful the brutal regime that stole the freedom of so many really was, but also captures the bravery and hope that kept the Nazis from succeeding.  A really gripping read that doesn’t stint on the dangers faced by Jakob, Herr Engel and Kizzy, Flight will keep you hooked till the final page.

Find out more www.fireflypress.co.uk

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Anty Hero by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Tom Percival

Ant might seem to have an odd attraction to insects, and it’s weird that he doesn’t know anything about footie, but these aren’t the strangest things about him by a long way. What really sets him apart is what’s hiding behind the ginormous sunglasses that he refuses to ever take off.  When his science teacher catches a glimpse behind the oversized green lenses, Ant is in grave danger. Can his friends Zac and Tulisa, along with an army of tiny helpers, save the day?

Quirky and original, Anty Hero is an engaging story featuring an unusual hero and bugs galore, with great black and white illustrations capturing the action. When Zac realises he’s not the weirdest kid in school any more he’s a bit relieved but also finds a friend in the new boy, Ant.  However, his relief is short lived when Ant accidentally reveals his true identity in a science lesson. So begins a daring rescue to save Ant from their somewhat maniacal science teacher Mr Dawkins and his son – the class bully – Ray.  Zac and fellow classmate Tulisa, find they’re braver than they realise and that friends come in all shapes and sizes in this funny, bug-filled tale!

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

 

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Evie’s War by Holly Webb

On the cusp of World War one, in the seaside town of Whitby, Evie and her family are touched by tragedy when Evie’s younger brother Alexander dies unexpectedly. But when the threat of war turns into a reality and Evie’s older brother David enlists in the army, their mother is truly heartbroken. And as the family does their best to contribute to the war effort, they also struggle with the sacrifices each of them are forced to make. 

Brilliant storytelling shows the true heartache and difficulties faced by one family throughout World War 1.  Instantly creating empathy in the reader from the very first page and as the story unfolds, Evie’s War deals with so many different aspects of the impact of war, from death and bereavement to separation of family, food shortages, cowardice, bombings, to the use of animals in war.  It also is a story of growing up, starting a new school, making friends and coping with a grieving mother.  Evie makes a warm and strong central character, for whom you feel much sympathy as she navigates life, supporting her younger sister Kitty and helping look after the family home, in particular her dogs Max and Brandy.  You’ll need a box of tissues when you read this book which is both heart-breaking and uplifting.  Published in time for the Armistice Centenary, Evie’s War will help children understand the true heartache and horrors of war at the same time as reassuring them of the power of family, love and hope.

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

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The Dog that Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies illustrated by Mike Byrne

Christmas is a nightmare for Jake. He hates the bright lights, all the noise and the disruption to his routine. But everything changes when he finds a lost dog. He names her Susan and adopts as his own. Jake and Susan form a special bond that helps him cope with the things that usually stress him out. With Susan around maybe there’s a chance that this Christmas will be one the whole family can enjoy.

A really touching story that highlights Christmas isn’t always as welcome as we might think for some children.  Jake is a child on the autism spectrum and finds lots of things difficult to cope with, but especially when there are lots of changes. So instead of being excited about the lights, the tree and more freedom, Jake hates it.  The story shows just how hard this is for his whole family and when Jake finds a special friend in the shape of Susan the stray dog, they are all delighted that he feels so much better.  But when his real owners come to take her home, Jake is back to being totally unsettled with everything.  I won’t spoil the ending, but The Dog that Saved Christmas really does make you think – and shows how magical the relationship between a dog and their owner can be.  Therapy dogs are becoming more common in many schools because they can have such an amazingly positive impact on the children they work with – and of course this is felt by the families of those children too.  The Dog that Saved Christmas is a really warm-hearted tale featuring lovely illustrations and sharing an important message of inclusivity and understanding.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Firefly Press and Scholastic for sending me these books to review! 

 

New reviews: November reads big book blog

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I’ve enjoyed some great books from the TBR pile over the last month.  Here are five of my recommended reads this month featuring magical adventures, suitably wintry landscapes, a haunting war time tale and a funny blend of story and science.

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The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in a freezing Victorian train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is heading for a new life in the remote country house of Plas-y-Fran. But when she gets there the happy Christmas she hoped for turns out to be an illusion.  Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth,  a magical snow globe and her own indomitable courage, Sereb sets off on a perilous midnight journey into an enchanted world of snow and stars to bring happiness back to Pas-y-Fran.

A wonderful adventure story, The Clockwork Crow has mystery, magic and a marvellous heroine! Seren is no stranger to hardship having been raised in an orphanage, but just when she thinks her life will finally get easier, she is thrown headlong into a mystery adventure.  Seren’s new home is full of sadness and she is determined to find out why with the help – albeit somewhat reluctantly – of her new friend, a talking mechanical bird.  A page-turning narrative keeps you in suspense right till the end, with a few sinister and darkly magical moments that make you hold your breath.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the characters featured in it – especially Seren’s cantankerous companion! The Clockwork Crow is well-deserving of it’s recent short listing for the Blue Peter Book Award and a great new fantasy story to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.fireflypress.co.uk. With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

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The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of setting sail with her ship’s captain father for a life of excitement on the wild waves.  She has read stories of a magical creature – the Nardoo – who swims through the stars at night, and stows away on a whaling boat the Plucky Leopard for an adventure full of myths and marvel among the ice-caps.  But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep….

This is a captivating story about kindness and courage, family and fortune, all rolled into one marvellous adventure.  Oona makes a delightful heroine who you instantly warm too especially when you realise what a hard life she has had as the unwanted daughter of a family with seven children. She takes matters into her own hands as she stows away on her father’s ship and her pluck and courage are not disappointed as the adventure begins. Wonderful descriptions bring a thrilling and magical world instantly to life with beautiful illustrations by Anuska Allepuz. Reminiscent of a classic fairytale where the heroine never gives up hope and finally finds where she belongs, and where the villains get their comeuppance, The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is a story to be treasured.

Find out more www.scholastic.co.ukWith thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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White Feather by Catherine and David McPhail

The First World War is over, but for Tony there is little to celebrate. His brother never returned from no man’s land. To make it worse, Charlie died not as hero but was executed as a coward. Grief-stricken Tony refuses to believe that his brother was a traitor and he is pushed to the edge in his dark quest to uncover the horrifying truth.

White Feather is a haunting reminder of the horror faced by all those involved in World War One. Published in time for the Armistice centenary, this powerful middle-grade story portrays the journey of Tony as he desperately seeks the truth about his brother.  His mother refuses to accept Charlie’s death and her mental health deteriorates.  As Tony begins to uncover the truth, it is clear the impact of the war reaches even beyond his imagination and experience.  White Feather deals with many issues of the war – conflict, grief, desertion, shell shock – and challenges readers to think from a wider view about who was affected and how far reaching the consequences of war can be.  An accessible read, the simple narrative will help everyone who reads it understand why it is so important we remember the sacrifices made by so many, not just for the centenary but for always.

Find out more www.barringtonstoke.co.ukWith thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

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Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home. In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths …

Frostfire is a fabulous fantasy debut creating an utterly believable world with a brave new heroine at its heart. Bonding with a frostsliver is the highest honour that only a few of the Aderasti people are chosen for. The frostsilver becomes a symbiotic part of the chosen person and opens their eyes to the power of the frost fire.  We meet Sabira as she takes her first step toward her destiny but it’s not as straightforward as it seems.  Through flashbacks we discover she has already lost her brother to the mountain and that the world she knows is on the verge of collapse.  As the story unfolds, it is clear the dangers are not just on the mountain but inside it too and Sabira must prove her worth using all her strengths to overcome them.  A thrilling adventure, told with heart and creating a frightening and beautiful world of ice, snow and mysterious sentient beings, Frostfire will keep you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Al’s Awesome Science Blast Off by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown

It’s the twins’ birthday and Al is researching new ways to blast off his time-machine capsule into space. Trouble is, his experiments with balloons, marshmallow catapults and bottle rockets are just a little bit messy! Soon, the birthday party has taken on a rather explosive twist and trouble is brewing with Al’s nosy neighbours.

This is the third book in the science-based series featuring Al and his twin sister Lottie and Einstein the dog. A brilliant blend of science and story, these books are a great way to introduce scientific concepts to young readers as well as keep them entertained with hilarious stories.  Blast Off features a whole host of characters, from the twins’ friends to Precious the neighbour’s unfortunate cat, who gets caught up in the fun, and her owners Mr and Mrs Good.  Laugh-out-loud moments are brought to life by James Brown’s fantastic illustrations as Al investigates how rockets actually work.  Throughout there are ideas to help readers explore and try out the experiments themselves. I love that Al is never put off by the mishaps and mayhem he creates- as he says “I’m a scientist and scientists NEVER give up!”.  A great fun read to add to this fantastic science adventure series.

You can read guest blogs by the author and illustrator of this series here.

Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk. With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

 

 

New reviews: beautiful picture books to share on cold rainy days!

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On a cold damp day in winter, what better to warm your heart than two beautiful picture books from Lantana Publishing.  I can’t help but love the books championed by this publisher, sharing stories from far and wide and always showing the joy of imagination.

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 Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra van Doorn

For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather’s house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home?

A beautiful tale for a rainy day or a dark night when you’re tucked up in bed, with your imagination ready to transport you into a world of dreams! With a lyrical narrative, Sing to the Moon takes you on a journey through the Ugandan landscape bringing the culture to life and sharing all the wonderful ways you can ‘escape’ a rainy day.

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The tender relationship between a young boy and his Jjajja (grandfather) is beautifully depicted and shows just how stories – those real and imagined – can connect us all. The illustrations are a joyful imagining of the story, full of love and bringing each moment perfectly to life.

Sing to the Moon published on 11th October. Author Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born to Ugandan parents in the USA. Creative writing has always been her way to re-connect with her cultural heritage and Sleep Well, Siba and Saba was her first children’s book. Illustrator Sandra van Doorn was born in France. She decided to pursue a career in illustration so that she could spend as much of her time as possible in imaginary worlds.

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You’re Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Poonam Mistry

At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “‘Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.”

A stunning story celebrating the wonder of polar lands and the safety and love to be found in family!  A simply told narrative shares a mother’s love for her two polar bear cubs as she explains the world around them whilst they wait for the winter to end.Each page depicts a unique aspect of the polar lands and the creatures that inhabit them, with utterly unique illustrations bringing to life the wonder of the world.

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A follow up to the brilliant You’re Safe with Me, this story is another opportunity to share with young children how amazing our world is and how we must look after it – and each other.

You’re Snug with Me published on 1st November. Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British author and storyteller. She has published over 30 books and is inspired by the rich heritage of epics and folktales from India. Poonam Mistry is a British illustrator of Indian heritage with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art.

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Find out more about both these titles at www.lantanapublishing.com

With thanks to Lantana for sending me these books to review.

New reviews: autumn reading roundup!

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I will admit that finding time to write book reviews is proving tricky of late. I definitely can read more than I have time to sit down at my desk and write! Like many who blog about books, my good intentions to catch-up with review-writing get interrupted by all manner of things – work, kids, family, domestic chores, even the cat.  So here goes with a catch-up of books I’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks (and which are now winging their way to my #bookbuddy school for lots of children to enjoy)!

ClownfishClownfish by Alan Durant is a quirky tale of a boy, Dak, whose father dies and unbelievably comes back to life – in the body of a clownfish.  Dak and his dad often visited the local aquarium together and when Dak goes there to escape his grief-stricken home, he is amazed to hear the voice of his dad coming from one of the fish tanks.  As Dak navigates the days following the fallout of his father’s death, especially his mother’s grief, he takes comfort in his secret knowing he can always talk to his Dad at the aquarium.  However the lines between what is real and Dak’s desire to believe his father is still alive become blurred and Dak ultimately will have to face the truth. Clownfish is a funny and moving portrayal of grief and acceptance.  Well-paced, it sensitively deals with the very painful theme of losing a parent, alongside a funny narrative of making new friends and a campaign to save the aquarium from closure. Published by Walker Books this month, Clownfish is a Alan Durant’s 100th book and well worth reading.

boy underwaterBoy Underwater by Adam Baron and illustrated by Benji Davies is a debut novel and also deals with themes of grief and bereavement.  Told from the viewpoint of Cymbeline Igloo (what a fabulous name!) it begins with an innocent desire to learn to swim. So begins a series of events that spark a breakdown in Cymbeline’s mother’s mental health, a desire to find out the truth about his father who died and the discovery of a painful secret.  Along the way, Cymbeline loses friends, finds new ones and has to face the fact that his family are not what he thought they were.  Boy Underwater is a moving story, told with real humour and insightful observations about family and friendship.  The wide cast of characters generate real empathy and reflect the realities of choice and consequence, demonstrating how grief can cause even the best intentions to go awry.  It’s also just a great story about growing up. A really impressive middle-grade debut published by HarperCollinsBoy Underwater made me laugh and cry at the same time.

firebirdFirebird by Elizabeth Wein is a young adult novella centred on the Soviet women pilots of the Second World War. An engaging read, with a fearless heroine Nastia who is the daughter of revolutionaries, Firebird brings new insight into what wartime Russia was like.  Nastia and her comrades must not only battle the prejudice against women wanting to fight in wartime but also the attacks of the invading German army.  She perseveres and with the help of her fierce female instructor, The Chief, she soon finds herself on the frontline.  The story cleverly weaves in Russia’s most famous family, the Romanovs and shows just how far people will go to protect their Motherland.  Firebird is published by Barrington Stoke, and is a very accessible read. With a fast-paced plot, I read this in one sitting discovering an area of World War Two history I knew nothing about.

Something else I knew nothing about is a fantastic author called Bianca Pitzorno, known as Italy’s answer to Roald Dahl!  Bianca has won the Andersen Award six times, been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and has won several more children’s literature awards in Italy.  So it was with great pleasure I read two of her titles, recently published by Catnip and both translated by Laura Watkinson.

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Lavinia and the Magic Ring – which is brilliantly illustrated by none other than Quentin Blake – is the tale of a young orphan Lavinia who, in reward for her kindness, is bestowed with a magical ring that can turn anything and everything into poo! It may not sound like the best power in the world, but Lavinia works out how to use it to find herself a home in a very posh hotel, beautiful food to eat and new clothes to wear.  Magic indeed! However, like many who find themselves in possession of great power, Lavinia starts to get a little bit too clever and when she inadvertently turns herself into poo, she quickly learns her lesson and remembers not to be selfish.  As you can imagine, with poo involved there are some hilarious moments that will have young readers chuckling and holding their noses! Accompanied by Quentin Blake’s magical illustrations,  Lavinia and the Magic Ring is a fun and feisty modern day fairytale with a positive message for all who read it.

littlest witchThe Littlest Witch is a charming tale of a mad-cap family and their discovery that the youngest daughter, Sybilla, is in fact a witch.  Which wouldn’t be a problem given the chaos of their family life, were it not for the witch-hunting Alfonso who needs to marry a witch in order to claim his huge inheritance.  A variety of fantastic characters feature including Sybilla’s six sisters, the nanny Diomira and her heroic nephew Zac, a cat called Mephisto and Shut-Up the parrot to name a few! Alfonso’s ambitions get the better of him and he finally kidnaps baby Sybilla, trapping her in basement.  But he forgets she is a witch and he also doesn’t count on her unconventional family! I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say,  Alfonso gets his just desserts and there is a happy ending in store for all!  Lively illustrations by Mark Beech bring all the adventure to life. The Littlest Witch is everything a good story should be; full of character, funny and entertaining with a little bit of chaos thrown in!

With thanks to Walker Books, HarperCollins, Barrington Stoke and Catnip for sending me these books to review!

New reviews: time for some spooky reads!

bat-2819516_1920It’s that time of year where the nights are getting darker, the leaves are falling from the trees and there’s something spooky lurking in the air!  With so many great titles to choose from featuring frights, creepy creatures and ghostly forms, readers are spoilt for choice for spooky reads this autumn. Here are just some of the great middle grade reads available in time for Halloween- read them if you dare!

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Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson illustrated by Kathryn Durst

Misery Manor is home to the Impalers – the bravest vampire family that ever lived.  Except for Vlad – he’s not brave at all. He’s even a bit sacred of the dark!  Vlad’s annoying cousin is visiting.  He’s brilliant at all the vampire skills – turning into a bat, flying and mind control.  And he’s popular at school.  Is there ANYTHING that Vlad can do better than Lupus?

Making friends and fitting in can be hard enough, but when you’re the world’s worst vampire it’s even harder!  In another funny adventure for Vlad the Vampire featuring situations many young readers will recognise, this story reveals that people are not always what they seem and that being confident might just be easier than it looks.  Vlad finds that if he can just believe in himself a bit more with a bit of help from unexpected places, the things he’s always wanted to do might come naturally.  Comical illustrations, lots of laughs and the ups and downs of school life make this a great fun read, perfect for young readers.

Find out more at www.littletiger.co.uk

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Witch Girl by Jane Eldredge

Evangeline Clement spends her days learning the ways of magic from her witch grandmother. When they are called to a creepy old mansion to solve an unusual case, Evangeline encounters an enemy unlike any of the terrifying monsters she has faced before… and a secret about her own family that will shake her to the tips of her silver-toed boots.Beware! This is a story to read with the lights on!

From the creepy forests of the bayou to a haunted mansion, myriad mythical beasts and monsters, Witch Girl is an atmospheric read full of twists and turns. The story will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering just what is round the corner next as heroine Evangeline does battle with werewolves, banshees and under the bed monsters. It really reminded me of the best of the Scooby Doo Mysteries (minus some of the Scooby/Shaggy silliness!) with shadowy characters and mystery galore.  Evangeline and her Grandmother show just what family loyalty and courage mean when facing their worst fears. Properly creepy action scenes and scary moments are very well described; this really is one to read with the lights on!

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

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Night of the Living Ted by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Lee Cosgrove

Zombie bears! Ghost bears! Witch bears! Alien Bears! An army of evil teddy bears is on the loose! Can Lisa-Marie and her big brother Vernon stop squabbling long enough to battle the bears and save humankind? It’s time a little less conversation and a lot more action!

Be warned: you might look at your teddy bears a little differently after reading this story…..! This is the first title in a new series where buying a bear from the Create-a-ted workshop turns into the worst possible nightmare. Lisa-Marie and her step-brother must overcome their disbelief as one by one their teddy-bears turn into living evil-doers who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal of world domination! Full of laughs, wit and family wisdom and a rather brilliant, heroic bear called Elvis – I mean Bearvis – the nefarious plot of the evil bears must be foiled before everyone is turned into terrifying teddies! A great fun read perfect for readers who love fast-paced adventures – with some very funny references that grown-ups will enjoy too.

Find out more at www.littletiger.co.uk

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Still Water by Chris Priestly

A lonely girl, a cruel bully, a terrible secret…Evacuated from London at the outbreak of war, Rosie is taken in by kind Mrs Taylor and her daughter Mary. But all is not as it seems. Mary resents and bullies Rosie, and Mrs Taylor is hiding a dark secret.  When Rosie comes across a strange girl swimming in a local pond, she hopes they will become friends.  But instead her appearance leads to a horrifying revelation that will have terrifying consequences. 

Chris Priestly is not called the master of horror for laughs! In this chilling story, Rosie, like hundreds of other children, is having to cope with being evacuated to the countryside to escape the wartime bombing.  She promises her mother she’ll be brave but doesn’t quite realise how brave she will have to be.  The countryside might be pretty but it hides dark secrets and as Rose discovers the truth, the inevitable consequences are indeed terrifying.  Ghostly apparitions, tales of witches being drowned and a girl out for revenge create a spine-tingling narrative.  The conclusion leaves you feeling justice may have been done, but equally sad for all those who have suffered.  A suitably spooky read for autumn, this is great for fans of ghost stories!

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

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Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.) When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts. Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . 

Published this summer, it seems a good time of year to recommend this book featuring ghosts galore!  I picked up a copy of this book at the School Libraries Group Conference, from a basket of plastic severed fingers….gross…However, the story was worth the gross-ness and is full of Will Mabbitt’s trademark wit.  Bringing to life (sort of!) all manner of dead and undead creepy creatures, this adventure will keep readers thoroughly entertained and rooting for Jake as he inadvertently starts off a deadly chain of events in the Underworld!  There are lots of scares but these are well-balanced with laugh out loud humour and the world created is really believable. A great series to start at this time of year, with fantastic illustrations by Chris Mould.

Find out more at www.hachettechildrens.co.uk

With thanks to Stripes, Scholastic, Barrington Stoke and Hachette for giving me these books to review.

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New review: The British Museum Board Books – two new titles!

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I have long been a fan of this lovely series, Early Learning at the Museum, celebrating the wonder of the world for younger readers through pairing amazing objects from The British Museum and simple first words.  With two new titles published this summer, Around the World and Nature, there are even more opportunities to share fascinating artefacts with little ones and build their curiosity.

Around the World focuses on objects from different countries from Europe to Asia to Africa to the Americas.   Nature features beautiful photographic images that will engage inquisitive toddlers with early learning concepts. I found myself captivated by the incredible array of items, each bringing to life a unique culture and the wonder of the natural world.

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As with previous titles each book features a helpful index with explanations about the objects in the book and QR codes to help you find out more from The British Museum website.  I really think this is a lovely series to celebrate everything unique about culture and encourage families with very young children to take an interest in the world around them, through books they all can enjoy.

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Find out more at The British Museum and Nosy Crow.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books 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.