National Non-Fiction November – a celebration of books!

nnfnIn celebration of National Non Fiction November, I’m sharing some fantastic non-fiction titles on the blog today that demonstrate brilliantly why children’s non-fiction is so popular and deserves to be celebrated! From super series to one off wonders, children and adults alike will be enthralled by them all.

 

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Be Your Best Self – Life Skills for Unstoppable Kids by Danielle Brown and Nathan Kai celebrates being confident in your own skin and provides lots of tips and techniques on how to be successful, achieve your dreams and generally be brilliant! Written by double Paralympic gold medallist Danielle Brown, and the youngest self-development published author, Nathan Kai who is also a member of MENSA, you know the advice is going to be good. There are chapters devoted to each area that impact development for example – goal setting, self-confidence and role models. It also looks at bullying, kindness and how to keep going when the going gets tough – all very real issues for children and young people today. Straightforward advice is brought to life with colourful illustrations throughout and both authors share their own experiences to enable readers to really relate to it. This well-written and beautifully presented book would make a great gift for youngsters to encourage and motivate them to be the best they can be!

“To Be Your Best Self means loving who you are, feeling confident in your own skin and achieving the things you want to do.”

Find out more at www.buttonbooks.co.uk

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A Million Dots by Sven Volker is a quirky picture book that does exactly what the title says – brings a million dots to life! A clever concept where doubling the numbers from one to one million happens over the 40 pages of the book, with a pullout at the back to accommodate all the dots! Recognisable objects illustrate numbers to begin with– such as trees, peas, raindrops and even freckles – until there are too many to fit on the page. As ther number increases the dots get smaller and smaller. A remarkable visualisation of numbers, A Millions Dots makes a great book to share and I can imagine some young readers would want to count them all too!

Find out more www.cicadabooks.co.uk

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Odd Science: Brilliant Bodies by James Olstein is the fourth instalment in this fantastic series which so far has covered inventions, the animal kingdom and space. Full of fascinating facts accompanied by the now trademark gorgeous design and illustration, readers can explore the human body and find out weird and wacky truths about the way our bodies work.  Did you know that every 7-10 years, a human skeleton renews the cells inside itself completely?! Or that the human nose can sniff out the difference between at least a trillion different odours?! With so many interesting things to discover, Brilliant Bodies is a wonderful addition to this series which presents science in a fun and easy to digest format. Not only do these books look really nice on the bookshelf (I’m a sucker for great design!) but they’re educational and entertaining too!

Find out more at www.pavilionbooks.com

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Encyclopedia of Grannies by Éric Veillé is a delightful book full of word play and humour all about grandmas. Lively illustrations shine a light on the wonderful world of grannies and the things they get up to; this is a book for the family to enjoy.  Have you ever wondered why grannies tell us to speak up? Or why they have creases on their faces? How old are they really?! I thoroughly enjoyed this encyclopedia which is full of wit and wisdom and may have some unexpected answers to these questions! Encyclopedia of Grannies would make a brilliant gift to give grandma – so she can share it with her grandchildren!

Find out more at www.geckopress.com

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Darwin’s Voyage of Discovery by Jake Williams is a beautiful book celebrating one of the most remarkable journeys in history.  Enter the world of Charles Darwin and travel on his ship, The Beagle, as you find out all about what inspired our knowledge of the natural world. Overflowing with insight, this book features the story of the voyage but also shares fascinating facts about wildlife and nature too. There’s even a detailed look at the ship itself and the equipment Charles took, as well as hearing about the Captain and the crew.  Beautifully illustrated with wonderful presentation this book is a must for children who are interested in history, science and nature and would make a perfect gift.

Find out more at www.pavilionbooks.com

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So you think you’ve got it bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Rome by Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea brings life in Ancient Rome leaping off the page is the third book in this series developed in consultation with experts from The British Museum. Lively illustrations accompany the informative narrative, shedding light on just how children lived in Roman times and featuring all manner of things from what they wore, to what they ate and what school was like. Gladiators even make an appearance!  Entertaining sound bites and engaging design will keep young readers enthralled as they delve into the past. This is a great addition to any bookshelf and in particular for those studying Ancient Rome, this book makes a great starting point.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com

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Atlas of Amazing Birds by Matt Sewell is a glorious book full to the brim with the world’s most amazing birds. The author and illustrator is a well-respected wildlife artist and writer who has brought together this wonderful selection and beautifully crafted all the illustrations to depict birds in all their glory! Alongside witty and informative descriptions, you can read all about just how unique birds are and how each has its own quirky behaviour, ‘song’ and habits.  You will also discover birds you’ve never heard of (Painted Bunting, Resplendent quetzal, Corncrake were certainly new to me!). There are spreads on each continent visited explaining which birds come from which area. All in all it’s a truly wonderful atlas and if you’re not a bird lover, you will be after reading this. As the author says, ‘remember to always look up and around as you never what you are going to see’!

Find out more at www.pavilionbooks.com

With thanks to Pavilion Press, Cicada Books, Gecko Press, Nosy Crow and Button Books for sending me these books to review.

 

Reviews, reviews and more reviews! A big blog catch-up.

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How many books can you fit on one blog? I’ve read so many great books over the summer months into autumn– newly published and yet to be published- it’s hard to know where to start, but here are just some of the titles I’ve really enjoyed reading.

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The Doughnut of Doom by Elys Dolan brings us a new kind of super villain in a picture book tale reminiscent of all the best kinds of monster movies. Think King Kong with a slightly stickier coating! Great characters in the shape of different types of talking food – from peanut butter sandwiches to fried eggs to chilli peppers – bring the action to life and create a veritable feast of a story. Hilarious from the first page, The Doughnut of Doom will liven up bedtime reading and spark the imagination of young readers with its lively a narrative and even livelier illustrations.

Available now published by Nosy Crow age 2+

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Gallery of Cats by Ruth Brown is a gorgeous collection of pictures reminiscent of famous masterpieces, with a twist. Each picture features a cat with the characteristics of the painter, described in the accompanying narrative.  The story begins with Tom, a young boy visiting an art gallery and stumbling upon this very unusual exhibition and as he visits each picture the cat featured jumps down to join him on his tour.  Clever and humorous, Gallery of Cats is a fantastic introduction to the world of art and a lovely story to share.

Available now published by Scallywag Press for age 3+

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The Girl and the Dinosaur by Hollie Hughes and Sarah Massini is a captivating picture book sharing the wonder of the imagination and dreams.  A little girl discovers old dinosaurs bones on a beach and at bedtime wishes with all her heart that the dinosaur will come to life. And it does, taking her on the most marvellous adventure to a secret place where only children play in their dreams!  It’s a lovely tale, beautifully illustrated and captures the magic of children’s imagination.

Available now published by Bloomsbury for age 3+

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Beaver’s Big Adventure A Journey Home by Magnus Weightman is a gorgeous book exploring all kinds of animal homes brought to life in delightful, detailed illustrations. The story tells of Beaver embarking on his big dream to explore the world. From the big city to the forest, Beaver meets all kinds of animals living in different nests, underground burrows and even termite mountains. With illustrations reminiscent of the Busy World of Richard Scarry, this is a fantastic book to explore over and again, each time discovering something new.

Available from 1st October published by Five Quills for age 3+

Kitty by Paula Harrison illustrated by Jenny Lovie is a brand new six-book series introducing superhero-in-training Kitty.  Gorgeous colourful illustrations capture the action, as Kitty braves the night time to solve mysteries and recover stolen treasure in the first two adventures, Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue and Kitty and the Tiger Treasure.  These books are sure to be a hit with young readers, as they meet Kitty and her Cat Crew, including her number one companion Pumpkin the ginger cat!  Themes of bravery and friendship will capture the imagination of all who read Kitty’s adventures and with a Super Cat Facts section at the back of each book, cat lovers in particular will enjoy!

Available now published by Oxford University Press, for age 5+

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The Bakery of Happiness by Ian Beck is a heart-warming (and tummy tempting) story set in a bakery in the beautiful streets of Paris. It’s a sweet story of love and friendship that will surprise and delight all who read it, evoking the feel of a classic romance and the smells of wonderful baking!  The magic of Paul du Pains’ bakery is clear as every customer who enters, leaves feeling happier than before. But the magic doesn’t come from the fabulous cakes and breads he bakes – it comes from Marie, his marvellous assistant who serves each customer and has a voice to brighten even the most miserable person’s day. How will Paul restore the magic to his shop when Marie leaves for the opera? With lovely illustrations, The Bakery of Happiness will remind all who read it to take a chance on friendship and love as soon as it appears.

Available now published by Barrington Stoke for ages 5-8 

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White Fox by Chen Jiatong illustrated by Viola Wang is the first modern middle-grade children’s fiction series to be translated into English from Chinese. The series brings to life the adventures of an orphaned white fox cub, Dilah, who longs to be human.  Myth and magic combine as Dilah embarks on a quest guided by a magical moonstone, which will show him to a treasure that is said to transform animals into humans! An incredible adventure ensues, and Dilah makes new friends and discovers dangerous enemies as he seeks the treasure. Readers will be enthralled by the twists and turns of Dilah’s quest and desperate to find out what happens next to the young fox and his friends. A great read, White Fox is a fantastic introduction to Chinese children’s fiction.

Available now published by Chicken House for age 9+

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Teen Witch by Katy Birchill is fun, teen fiction at its best. Morgan Charmley is about to start a ‘normal’ school at the age of 13. But how will she fit in? Because Morgan is a witch and although she can control her powers, she can also cast a spell with a click of her fingers. And even though she’s passed the Young Witch Exam (after the eight time of taking it) the trials and tribulations of every day school life are somewhat challenging – especially when her witch familiar, Merlin, decides to turn himself into a tarantula on her first day at school. Join in the fun as Morgan deals with this and other incidents, and tries to fit in, inadvertently befriending a warlock.  Great fun!

Available now published by Scholastic for age 11+

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Anna at War by Helen Peters is a brilliant wartime adventure about a young German Jewish girl who finds herself sent away to safety in England.  Leaving her parents is hard enough but then Anna finds herself caught up in a web of spies, betrayal and intrigue as well as dealing with being a German in England whilst the war rages on.  Anna tries not to lose hope for her family and as the plot thickens she realises there are other ways to fight the Nazi’s. Great storytelling shows Anna’s bravery and the narrative is full of heart, capturing wartime efforts and shedding light on the experiences of German Jews. There’s a really beautiful moment towards the end of the story; you’ll need your tissues. Anna at War is a compelling, well-balanced read that will tug at the heart strings and the themes of conflict, courage and wartime displacement are all relevant for today.

Available now published by Nosy Crow for age 8+

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Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse by Jennifer Killick is the fantastic third book in this series about Alex, Jess and their very quirky superpowers. This time the action takes place in a local Zumba class, with Alex’s mum and grandma placed firmly in the danger zone as it appears the evil Montogomery McMonaghan is up to his usual dastardly tricks. Of course it’s up to Alex and Jess and their crew of unusual helpers including Bob the goldfish and Dexter the pigeon to solve the mystery. They meet some new and surprising characters along the way and face some really hairy moments keeping you on the edge of your seat! Alex and Jess are two of my favourite characters in middle-grade fiction today; I love that despite all the bonkers antics – or perhaps because of – they always discover something new about themselves and have a better friendship at the end of each tale.   Great fun, full of humour and totally entertaining, Alex Sparrow never disappoints!

Available now published by Firefly Press age 9+

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Bloomsbury, Firefly Press, Five Quills, Nosy Crow, Oxford University Press, Scallywag Press and Scholastic for sending me these books to review.

 

New reviews: picture books for brightening up the bookshelf!

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Today I’m sharing my reviews of some really delightful quirky picture books, perfect to brighten up any young readers bookshelf and brilliant for sharing.  Step into a world of dinosaurs, cheeky rabbits and magical umbrellas to name a few – you won’t be disappointed!

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The Truth about Dinosaurs by award-winning author and illustrator, Guido Van Genechten, is a wonderful picture book all about dinosaurs – but with a twist! Learn all about what chickens and dinosaurs have in common told from the chicken’s perspective as he takes us on a tour of his family tree. Travel back millions of years and see how dinosaurs evolved and actually really are related to one of our favourite farm yard birds. This is a great fun read, full of fascinating facts and lively colourful illustrations bringing the world of dinosaurs (and chickens!) to life!

Find out more www.fivequills.co.uk

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The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin is a gorgeous story about a very friendly lion, who lives in a zoo in France. Every day he greets the inhabitants of the town as they walk past his enclosure and they always smile and say hello.  But one day when his gate is left open and he decides to take a stroll, all the town folk no longer smile and wave – they run the other way! Except for young Francois who knows just what to do.  The Happy Lion is a lovely tale with wonderful artwork about understanding who you are and finding friends, and is sure to be a firm favourite with a new generation of readers of all ages! A re-issue of a popular classic, The Happy Lion won the inaugural German’s Children’s Book Prize in 1956.

Find out more at www.scallywagpress.co.uk

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Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is a delightful story celebrating the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.  Albert’s birthday is rather dull until the moment Grandma Z sweeps in and takes him on an extraordinary adventure. Showing Albert how to find excitement even in the most ordinary of things, Grandma Z creates a birthday never to forget. Illustrations leap off the page bringing their adventures to life and drawing you in to the excitement. A perfect story for reminding us of the wonder of the world and just how special our grandparents can be, Grandma Z is full of joy!

Find out more from www.scribblekidsbooks.com

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Nits by Stephanie Blake is a vibrant and cheeky story featuring Simon the rabbit – and some rather pesky nits! Simon is totally in love with the new girl Lou, but she doesn’t notice him – that is until she comes into school with nits! Suddenly she needs a friend and Simon is ready to help with a hug and a kiss. Full of fun, Nits is guaranteed to entertain young children – and tackles the rather itchy subject of nits in a light-hearted way.

Find out more at www.geckopress.com

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Umbrella by Elena Arevalo Melville is a lovely tale about a magical umbrella. Clara is feeling rather sad as she has no one to play with at the park. She picks up an old umbrella and to her surprise it comes to life! Beautiful muted illustrations capture the magic as, from that moment on, Clara is introduced to a world where anything is possible  – from helping old Mr Roberts climb trees again to stopping the Moodies from crying. The umbrella has the answer for everything where kindness is concerned and we see that friends come in all shapes and sizes. Young readers will want to experience the magic of the umbrella again and again – and see the ordinary become extraordinary! Umbrella is endorsed by Amnesty International because it celebrates our rights to express ourselves and to choose our own friends.

Find out more at www.scallywagpress.co.uk

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Iced Out by C K Smouha and Isabelle Bunnell is lively picture book featuring the antics of Wilfred the Walrus and Neville the Narwhal as they try and fit in amongst a class of not very friendly seals.  In a story even young children will identify with, Wilfred and Neville are not popular because they’re different – that is until Betty Beluga arrives! Betty changes everything and even though she impresses everyone with all her talents – especially Wilfred and Neville- she isn’t bothered about being popular. She helps Wilfred and Neville see that being different doesn’t matter and they become firm friends.  Bright and expressive illustrations capture the narrative in this engaging tale about friendship and being happy with who you are.  Great fun!

Find out more at www.cicadabooks.co.uk

With thanks to Cicada Books, Five Quills, Gecko Press, Scallywag and Scribble for sending me these books to review.

New reviews: Brilliant books from Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke publish really great books. That about sums it up! If you want stories that are engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking and totally accessible, then these are for you. And written by award-winning children’s writers and illustrators to boot!  Read on for my pick of their recent releases, great to engage those children and young people who aren’t avid readers – as well as brilliant quick reads for those who are.

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Special Delivery by Jonathan Meres with illustrations by Hannah Coulson is a touching tale of helping others and forging friendships across the generations.  Frank wants a new bike, so in order to save some money towards buying one he helps his sister with her paper round. And that’s how he meets an old lady who loves cowboys. Frank thinks she’s really cool and when he finds her in the park, a bit lost and confused, he decides to help her find home.  Little does he know his kindness will be repaid and the promise of a new bike won’t seem so far away! Sensitively handling the difficult subject of dementia for younger readers, this is a heart-warming story that will bring a smile to your face.

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The Unlucky Eleven by Phil Earle illustrated by Steve May introduces the hilarious antics of the Saints football team.  Due to their excruciatingly poor form, the team think they are cursed and do everything they can to beat it. Unfortunately their attempts lead to more embarrassment and even injury! It’s up to Stanley to save the day and help his team-mates believe in themselves. Perfectly capturing the world of football, friendship and superstition around sports this is a great fun read for football fans young and old.

These two titles are from the Little Gems range which brings together the best children’s authors and illustrators and clever design to create super readable stories, for children aged 5-8.

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The Spectacular Revenge of Suzi Sims by Vivian French illustrated by Julia Patton features a sports day drama as Suzi’s excitement about sports day is cut short.   Suzi gets off on the wrong foot with Mrs Grit, a supply teacher. Mrs Grit and Suzi’s rival, Barbie, turn Suzi’s life upside down where everything goes wrong and it seems sports day dreams of success are fading fast. Brilliantly bringing to life the perils of school from dealing with class rivals, unfair punishments and worst of all, a horrible supply teacher, young readers will relate to and thoroughly enjoy this story!

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Gamer by Chris Bradford is a thrilling adventure and the first in the Virtual Kombat series.  Set in a dystopian future, where people escape their despair into the world of Virtual Kombat, Scott is a street kid with big dreams. Like everyone else around him, he wants to join Virtual Kombat and get off the streets for good. When it seems his dream to comes true, he can’t believe his luck.  A gripping narrative captures the peril of this story as Scott realises Virtual Kombat is not what he thought – the pain is real and so is the danger – perhaps it’s not just a game after all. A great choice for all those young gamers out there, rereleased with a new cover, the story doesn’t hold back and readers will be hooked from the first page.

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Eagle Warrior by Gill Lewis is a beautifully written tale focusing on endangered wildlife and conservation.  When a golden eagle is found settled near her family farm, Bobbie is determined to protect it – especially when it becomes clear the eagle is in danger.  The challenge before her is made even more difficult when it seems Bobbie will be sent to boarding school, she does not want to leave her beautiful moorland home. A family row ensues with Bobbie stuck in the middle. Utterly thought-provoking and believable, the story highlights man’s disregard for wildlife even in the face of the most magnificent of species and how standing up to this can make all the difference to conservation. It’s a lesson Bobbie’s whole family learn from and the result is a new found respect for the place they call home – and each other.  The author has pledged her PLR royalties derived from this book to Wild Justice, a new organisation challenging the legalities of wildlife law.

These titles are from the middle grade category.  These books are also written by the best children’s authors and are designed to be engaging quick reads – perfect for emerging, reluctant and dyslexic readers. Clever editing and design tricks ensure stories are totally accessible.

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Because of You by Eve Ainsworth is a timely and relevant story dealing with issues around cyber-bullying and merging families.  Teens will undoubtedly identify with Poppy and the challenges she faces as her mum’s new boyfriend moves in, along with his daughter Kayla.  The reality of family break-ups and new beginnings is palpable as Poppy’s voice shares the heartbreak and frustration she feels. Coupled with spiralling problems at school, let down by friends and family, it’s a huge relief (for the reader too!) when Poppy realises she has people on her side – people who care about her and believe in her.  Both heart-rending and heart-warming this story shines a light on the pain of divorce and cyber bullying.  Hope is never far away once you recognise the importance of being honest as a family.

This is a teen title, taken from a range which offers fantastic stories to engage teen readers, often about gritty and relevant topics. Even the most reluctant of teen readers will be drawn to these well-written and accessible books.

Find out more about the brilliant books available from Barrington Stoke here. With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me these books to review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New review: The Worldquake series by Scarlett Thomas

On the blog today, a review of a series of books that have been on my radar for months, but it wasn’t until Book #3 arrived in the post that I took the opportunity to read them all! TheWorldquake series is set in a dystopian future where modern technology has been destroyed.  The non-magical world exists alongside the magical world, with opposing sides working to defeat the other. The story centres on Effie Truelove and her friends navigating their way through magic school and trying to save the universe! 

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There are three titles in this brilliant fantasy middle grade series – Dragons Green, The Chosen Ones and Galloglass. Bursting with magic, the story follows Effie and her friends as they discover their magical powers, explore the Otherworld and battle against the Diberi who are intent on destroying the universe. Effie learns all about magic from her grandfather Griffin Truelove but even he couldn’t prepare her for what lies ahead.  When he disappears, he leaves her his library of very special books – which are more than just books; they hold the answers to everything (which of course made me love the story even more!).

It’s hard to sum up this fantastic series in just a short paragraph – there is so much in it and whilst Effie is the central character the supporting cast add plenty of dynamic to the twisting and turning plot. There’s human interest throughout such as dealing with step-parents, boring lessons, difficult teachers and finding friendships alongside the many fantasy elements of the narrative. As Effie and her friends discover their ‘kharacter’ – their unique magical personality and abilities – the plot thickens and nothing is as it seems. The magical realm beckons and Effie delves deeper into the Otherworld to find where she truly belongs. The Diberi threaten at every turn and at times, even Effie’s own father seems to be against her.

Each book builds the mystery creating a magical world you can’t wait to dive into again. With thrilling action and lots of humour, heart and heroism the Worldquake series will have you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.worldquake.co.uk .With thanks to Canongate for sending me these books to review. 

New reviews: great books for June!

I can’t actually believe we’re almost half way through the year.  June sees another raft of fabulous new books publishing for children. Here are four great new titles which published just this week. 

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The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

Charlie, a notorious cheese thief, is a mouse on a mission. Ever since he was little, he had got in spots of bother with the law. He had pinched Parmesan, crept off with Camembert and robbed Roquefort! Charlie is planning his biggest mission yet – to steal a cheesy sculpture from The Museum of Art! After a hair-raising break-in – creeping past cameras, dodging guards and avoiding gates – he reaches his stinky prize. But Officer Rita is soon on the case. Will Charlie get away with it this time?

The Big Stink is a gorgeous picture book about a rather naughty but very loveable mouse who takes his love of cheese a bit too far! He’s stolen every kind of cheese but it’s going to take major planning to ensure his heist of The Stinker is successful. You can’t help but feel sorry for Charlie mouse as his obsession gets the better of him and he’s caught out by a brilliant detective cat.  Delightful illustrations bring this witty story to life and cement Lucy Freegard’s reputation as a fantastic storyteller in both words and pictures.

With thanks to Pavilion for sending me this book to review. Find out more at www.lucyfreegard.com

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The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell illustrated by Davide Ortu

Kit can’t STAND reading. She’d MUCH rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the library one day by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery – and soon it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library … and the world.

The Dragon in the Library is a fabulous story perfect for young middle grade readers who love magic and aren’t afraid of dragons! The adventures of Kit and her two friends leap off the page, as Kit discovers she’s actually a young wizard and that books are magic portals that can transport you literally into a story.  The library and all its books suddenly aren’t as dull as Kit had always thought- adventure beckons! And then there’s the evil villain who oozes bad-ness and is determined to steal the magic; it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the day. Brilliant black and white illustrations throughout bring the story to life. With relatable characters, a very cool librarian and a wonderful underlying theme of the magic of books, The Dragon in the Library has all the ingredients for a fantastic adventure-  what more could you want?!

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

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The Unexpected Find by Toby Ibbotson

When a storm hits a small and sleepy town, it ravages every living thing. But storms don’t just destroy, they uncover. And when a young boy discovers a mysterious object that has lay hidden beneath a centuries-old tree, he instantly knows that it’s special. What he doesn’t know is that his unexpected find will unite him with a girl searching for her missing father and trigger a series of events that will see them travelling across Europe under the most unusual circumstances.

The Unexpected Find is a beautifully written story about a unique journey of discovery for older middle grade readers.  Introducing very different characters in William, a wonderful young boy with Asperger’s who has found a mysterious object under an upturned tree; Judy, a determined girl who is searching for her missing father and Mr Balderson, a totally endearing, one-eyed, cross dresser who becomes their guide and takes everything in his stride. Their unexpected journey takes them all the way to Norway, ending up on a quiet farm where they meet the somewhat brooding Stefan and his grandmother.  Themes of family, friendship and seeking asylum – in all manner of ways – are central to the tale which simmers with unanswered questions right till the end.  Totally original, and utterly absorbing as each character makes new discoveries and is able to find their answers in the most beautiful but unlikely setting. The Unexpected Find is a story for anyone who wants to read something a bit different and indeed, discover the unexpected.

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

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The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

Fresh off the boat from England, Vita Marlowe has a job to do. Her beloved grandfather Jack has been cheated out of his home and possessions by a notorious conman with Mafia connections. Seeing Jack’s spirit is broken, Vita is desperate to make him happy again, so she devises a plan to outwit his enemies and recover his home. She finds a young pickpocket, working the streets of the city. And, nearby, two boys with highly unusual skills and secrets of their own are about to be pulled into her lawless, death-defying plan.

The Good Thieves is a thrilling middle grade heist full of heart and heroism.  The story transports you to 1920s New York in all its glory with the excitement of future possibilities alongside corruption and danger – it’s truly palpable. Young heroine Vita is on a mission for justice for her grandfather who has been cheated out of his home and fortune by a dangerous conman.  Armed only with incredible throwing skills, borne out of a childhood blighted by polio which left her with a damaged foot, and a natural affinity for making plans, Vita seeks the help of three fellow misfits to carry out the heist.  Her love for her grandfather gives her fierce determination and ensures a real depth to the narrative. The incredible plot has so much to admire, full of twists and with just the right amount of threat to keep you on the edge of your seat, The Good Thieves is storytelling at it’s best.

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

All of these books are now available to buy from any good bookshop.

 

 

 

 

BLOG TOUR: Starfell by Dominique Valente

Starfell Jacket lowresToday I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour for Starfell by Dominique Valente. I’m delighted to welcome Dominique to the blog with a guest post on writing – even when you are feeling least inspired. Many will identify with the dreaded writers block, but Dominique has some great tips for getting past it.

Starfell is Dominique’s debut middle grade fantasy series published by HarperCollins and I can safely say it’s absolutely gorgeous! I spent a large amount of time smiling at the wonderful storytelling and thinking about how my younger self would have been totally enthralled.  The first book entitled Willow Moss and the Lost Day introduces a likeable young witch called Willow, who feels less than special even with her special powers. Whilst she might be able to find all sorts of lost things, compared to her beautiful sisters and mother, it’s all rather boring. If it weren’t for Willow’s eccentric grandmother, also a witch and whom Willow adores, life would be very dull.  As we soon discover, all that is about to change when the most powerful witch in Starfell arrives on her doorstep, asking for help.  So begins the most marvellous – and dangerous – magical quest where Willow finds that even the most unlikely of powers can save the world.

Starfell is the most enchanting story with a perfect balance of magic, heart and imagination.  Willow and the friends she makes are a delightful cast of characters and Starfell feels like it could be just over the hill, so good is the world-building – although watch out for the trolls, wizards and Brothers of Wol! There’s also plenty of humour largely from Oswin, Willow’s somewhat begrudging sidekick; a sort of cat in a carpet-bag! Full of positive messages around believing in yourself and being selfless in the face of great difficulty, Starfell will have you hooked from the first page. Brought to life by Sarah Warburton’s brilliant illustrations, this book sings inside and out!

Read on for fantastic writing tips from the author herself, perhaps showing just how she created Starfell magic!

Writing with the handbrake up by Dominique Valente

dom“When I first discovered my love for writing I’d sit down for hours happily creating a magical world, never once wondering what an end reader would think. And then I started writing for a living. Having to expose my thoughts and ideas for someone to judge or correct, was tough. I’m not going to lie. But it was good for me. I learn the hard way, which isn’t good – and so often, the only way I improve is with tough love.

And while that has helped with making my writing more polished – and I now pay a lot more attention to things like grammar and structure. (There’s nothing quite like a newsroom and an editor who will call out your mistake in front of all of your colleagues to make you pull up your socks, fast!) It can take a bite out of your confidence, particularly if you allow it more room than it deserves.

It’s a bit like writing with the handbrake up. You’re able to write but it’s hard going because you’re having to try ignore that annoying voice – the one that tells you that you aren’t good enough, smart enough … and still haven’t grasped the comma at the age of thirty (just me?) . That voice is not always there. Some days the words come easy and I delight in every one. But others the FEAR arrives and it’s like wading against a current.

When that happens, this is what I do to get myself through it:

Write first thing in the morning, just after I wake. There’s something about an early morning start, before my brain has fully woken up that really helps. You’re still in that sleepy state and the self-doubt hasn’t had a chance to truly kick in, so by the time you’re fully wake you’ve already knocked out a few hundred words and you’re already half-way there…

Writing sprints. I set a timer and write for as long as I set it – usually ten minutes. There’s something about the ticking timer that focuses the brain not on the fear of a writing a bad story but on the fear of not putting down all the words, which really works. I learnt this great tip from the author Sarah Painter, and her excellent book on the subject of fear and self-doubt – Stop Worrying, Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

Just keep going. If the scene doesn’t work, I just work around it – I can always come back and fix it later. Or with a little distance I might find that actually that scene is great. It happens. The trick is to keep moving forward. The Jodi Picoult quote: ‘You can’t edit a blank page’ is so true. I’ve put that up on my chalkboard more than once, because I sometimes need a daily reminder of this.

Write the story for yourself first. I used to follow Stephen King’s advice which is to write for an ideal reader in mind – now I just write the story I want to read. For me it’s about creating something that I enjoy, I figure if I’m bored or moved or excited – maybe someone else will be too, and if not, at least I had fun doing it. For a while, when I was journalist and was trying so hard to write for someone else, I forgot about the joy – and that’s where the magic really lies.”

STARFELL: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente out now in hardback (£12.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Follow Dominique on twitter @domrosevalente, #Starfell

 With thanks to Laura and HarperCollins for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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