New reviews: a picture book celebration!

Picture books offer brilliant opportunities to explore the world around us, how we see ourselves and how we interact with others.  Today I’m sharing a round up of some of the picture books that have made their way onto my TBR pile recently.  These books are a marvellous example of the variety of amazing illustrations that tell us stories and help us share the wonder of the world with children!

suitcaseThe Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is a thought-provoking story of overcoming fears of the unknown and showing kindness to those in need. When a strange arrives, the animals are not sure how to greet him and are even mistrustful of him.  However, they realise just in time that the stranger needs their help not hostility and so they show him true kindness and help him make a new home.  Using colour contrasts to show the impact being kind can have and bringing the animals to life with quirky illustrations, this story will teach even the youngest of readers about the value of kindness and not being afraid of what is ‘different’.  Find out more at Nosy Crow.

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Oink by David Elliot is the softly drawn story of Pig who wants to have a nice relaxing bath. But his animal friends have other ideas and soon the bath is full.  Pig resorts to an unusual way to get rid of them so he can get his rest and relaxation. This amusing tale is told through expressive illustrations, almost wordless, and is on which many will identify with (although perhaps not the method of making his friends leave the bath!).   One for all the family to enjoy. Find out more at Gecko Press.

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The Green Giant by Katie Cottle highlights the importance of nature and how we can all make the world a bit more green. When Bea visits her grandfather for a summer holiday, she discovers a green giant in the greenhouse who tells her all about how he survived the grey city.  Bea realises the wonder of nature and when she returns home with a gift from the giant, Bea makes her grey city world become more green too. A timely tale, the vibrant illustrations and simple narrative create a magical feel to the power of nature to transform and shares how we can all make our world a better place. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

william beeWilliam Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains and Boats and Planes by William Bee is the delightful second in the series celebrating the wonders of transport.  Wonderful, full-colour illustrations bring to life all manner of trains, boats and aeroplanes taking the reader on a voyage of discovery that is sure to be enjoyed again and again by young readers.  William is accompanied again by his dog Sparky and the rather brilliant team of traffic cones, who add humour throughout.  Children will be fascinated and entertained – and so will their parents! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

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Big Cat by Emma Lazell is a hilarious story about Isobel and her Grandma and their discovery of a very Big Cat in the garden. Grandma is happy to have Big Cat to stay – afterall she has many cats already! But she and Isobel soon realise this cat is not all it seems. Told through brilliant, larger-than-life illustrations and text, the chaos Big Cat causes comes leaping off the page as do the very funny reactions of Grandma’s other cats.  Sure to delight readers and be a favourite at bedtime, this is definitely one to have on the bookshelf. Find out more at Pavilion Books.

flyFly Flies by Ziggy Hanaor illustrated by Alice Bowsher is a sweet story about being happy as you are. Fly is enjoying a day of wibbly wobbly flying all over the place.  Blackbird, Seagull, Starling and Hawk insist she’s doing it wrong – but she know she’s now even though she tries to be like them.  With bold black and white illustrations, our unexpected hero’s journey of trial and error is brilliantly depicted and her final outburst is spot-on! Leaving you with a warm feeling, this story celebrates the importance of being yourself, no matter what. Find out more at Cicada Books.

its your worldIt’s Your World Now by Barry Falls is a gorgeous celebration of the world we live in!  Encouraging youngsters to be bold and fearless despite setbacks, the narrative shows them what they might do in life, what they might experience – good and bad – and how they can overcome.  Through enchanting illustrations and a lyrical rhyming narrative, it really is an ode on how to live a wonderful life and make the most of our world. In this day and age of what can seem like endless gloom and doom, this story provides a celebration of the world of possibility. A great encouragement for young and old alike! Find out more at Pavilion Books.

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

 

New reviews: Man’s best friend in books!

Man’s best friend makes a brilliant addition to the cast of many children’s books!  I realised that a whole host of stories I’ve read recently feature a dog either as a companion or as a central part of the plot. Dogs are a big part of many children’s lives and can have a unique connection with their owners.  These books may be very different in style but they all share in celebrating man’s best friend!

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Don’t Hug the Pug by Robin Jacobs illustrated by Matthew Hodson

Baby Likes to cuddle.  He is allowed to hug the rug, the jug, the bug and the slug….but NOT the pug! Why not? What could be wrong with the pug?

A simple, rhyming narrative combines with larger-than-life, quirky illustrations to celebrate the natural curiosity of babies and their desire to play with things they shouldn’t! A great book to read aloud, children will love joining in with ‘Don’t hug the pug!’ and be highly amused by the rather smelly outcome!  Grown-ups will recognise the persistence of the little chap as he tries to hug the pug and is told no over and over – without success.  Pugs do have a reputation for being a bit smelly but perhaps on this occasion it’s a little undeserved! Great fun.

With thanks to Cicada Books for sending me this book to review. 

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My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindstrӧm

“Can I take Mouse for a walk?” I ask, and I’m always allowed.  We set off, very slowly. Mouse walks at a snails pace. He stops at a lampposts and fences and sniffs for a long time.  He’s old and fat with ears as thin as pancakes.  His walk is a kind of waddle and he’s always pleased to see me. 

This is such a lovely, gentle story about an old dog called Mouse and a young girl who loves to take him for a walk.  She might not own Mouse but as the story progresses you can see just how much she loves him, even if he is slow and fat and old.  And he loves her too.

Beautifully paced with charming illustrations, and leaving you with a warm heart, My Dog Mouse is perfect for anyone who has ever owned and loved a dog into old age.

With thanks to Gecko Press for sending me this book to review.

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McTavish Takes the Biscuit by Meg Rosof

When Pa Peachey decides to enter the town bake-off competition, his grand plans turn out to be far more impressive than his baking skills.  As Pa’s ambitions start to crumble, rescues dog McTavish smells disaster in the making. Can he find a way to save the Peachey family from disaster yet again?

The third outing for McTavish and the Peachey family, this is a delightful tale full of trademark humour and heart as Pa Peachey attempts to bake. I love his grand plans and even though you can feel his family’s concern – and possible embarrassment – you have to admire his ambition as he tries to bake his way to glory!  Family life is brilliantly brought to life with the Peachey children Betty, Ollie and Ava watching in dismay as their father creates chaos determined to win the bake off by creating a gingerbread sculpture of the Palace of Versailles! It is, of course, up to the wonderful McTavish to save the day and be the hero yet again.  A great fun read for all the family to enjoy!

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review. See my review of the previous book in this series McTavish Goes Wild.

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D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer

Jack can’t wait for the school trip to the D-Day landing beaches. It’s his chance to learn more about the war heroes he has always admired – brave men like his Dad, who is a Reserve soldier.  But when his dad is called up to action and things at home spiral out of control, everything Jack believes about war is thrown into question.  Finding comfort only in the presence of his loyal dog, Finn, Jack is drawn to the heart-wrenching story of one particular D-Day paratrooper.  On 6 June 1944, Emile Corteil parachuted into France with his dig, Glen – and Jack is determined to discover their fate…..

Bringing together multiple themes of conflict, remembrance, family, friendship and refugees, D-Day Dog is a totally absorbing and thought-provoking story.  It brilliantly depicts the complex nature of war and conflict, and what it really means to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life for your country.  Questions that we all at some point ask ourselves are examined through the impressive narrative – from whether it’s right that a father go to war and leave his family behind, using animals in conflict to why we should remember those who died in wartime. It’s particularly poignant when Jack realises that conflict isn’t just something that happened a long time ago – it happens now, every single day. His connection with his dog Finn becomes all the more important as he discovers what happened to wartime dog Glen. This is a really accessible read and the historical detail brings the true nature of war to life. Ultimately this story will help all who read it understand the impact of conflict and why remembrance is so important.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review. Read my review of Tom Palmer’s Armistice Runner here.

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The Dog Runner Bren MacDibble

Ella and her brother, Emery, are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, up-country, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren landscape?

Set in a future where a fungus has killed all the grass and famine has taken hold, Ella’s mother and father have gone, leaving her with her older half-brother Emery and the family’s dogs.  Their only chance of survival is get to the country and the only way they can do this quickly enough is to use a dog-sled, and two other dogs given to them by a friend. The dystopian world they live in is fraught with danger – marauding motorbike gangs steal anything of use; Ella and Emery cannot trust anyone. As the story progress, Emery is injured and they lose their strongest dog making their situation even more precarious.  Ella has to use all her bravery and strength to keep her family safe.  A fast paced plot builds the tension and a strong sense of how awfully ‘real’ this could be if we don’t look after our environment can be felt throughout.  Ella makes a brilliant heroine and the dangers she, her brother and the dogs face are palpable. I loved the relationship between the children and their dogs and the instinctive way they protect each other. The Dog Runner is a non-stop adventure which will entertain as much as it will provoke thought about the importance of looking after our planet and how we should be doing this now – not waiting until it’s too late.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review. Read my review of Bren MacDibble’s debut title How to Bee here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG TOUR: The Fire Maker by Guy Jones


Fire Maker

The Fire Maker by Guy Jones

Alex loves magic – its glamour, tricks and illusions. He’s good at it, too: he’s reached the semi-finals of a prestigious competition for young magicians. But when he stumbles into strange Mr Olmos’s back garden while running from his former best friend, Alex sees something he can’t explain: three tiny flames floating in the air. Fire magic. Real magic. Soon, Alex and Mr Olmos are swept up in a great adventure of secrets, genies and an ancient, bitter rivalry …

From the first page The Fire Maker is a fantastic, bursting-with-magic, totally engaging story! It is with great pleasure I am hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Guy Jones’ second middle grade standalone novel, published by Chicken House. With themes of trickery, trust and ambition and an unforgettable friendship, The Fire Maker is sure to achieve the critical acclaim of his first book The Ice Garden. 

I was completely hooked on this new tale – it’s impossible not to love with the central characters in The Fire Maker. Eleven year old Alex, a magician in the making, and his strange, and somewhat unusual elderly friend Mr Olmos are a perfect combination. This story is a real page-turner with magic at it’s heart and themes of friendship and family making it totally relatable for young readers.  I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to the blog today with a guest post sharing his thoughts on the experience of writing his second novel:

The Sophomore Slump

Guy Jones Photo lowres“A confession. I am bad at answering questions about my books. Sometimes it’s the fault of the questioner. For example, there is no good answer to the poser ‘what kind of book is it?’ But mostly the problem lies with my own awkwardness, embarrassment and congenital inability to talk about my writing without feeling like a complete tool.

But, in the lead up to the publication of my new book, The Fire Maker, I’ve been asked the same thing over and over, by all kinds of people, and it’s got me thinking. The question is this… Was it more difficult to write the second one?

I think that’s a loaded sentence. I think it comes with an implicit knowledge of what Americans call the sophomore slump – that is, when someone’s second effort singularly fails to live up to the standards of the first. Its most famous manifestation is the ‘difficult second album’ so many bands encounter, but you can find it everywhere, from art to sport to scientific discovery. Look no further than the progression from Crocodile Dundee (Rotten Tomatoes critics rating – 87% fresh), to Crocodile Dundee 2 (11% fresh.) Ouch.

So, am I worried about meeting the same fate as Mick Dundee? Well, yes, obviously. Suddenly there are expectations to measure up to – my own, my publisher’s, and those of the readers kind enough to tell me they enjoyed The Ice Garden. But, to be honest, like many writers I am often brought up short by the thought of ‘oh my god, what if this is terrible?’ That’s not a second book thing, that’s just a thing. And, besides, there are just as many successful follow ups as there are flops. The Dawn of the Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gremlins 2 (yes, really) all knock the originals into a cocked hat.

For me, the second go was easier in some ways. I could neatly sidestep, or at least stagger around, some of the traps I’d encountered in writing my first book. In fact, it was a lovely feeling to spot mistakes coming and give them a swerve (only to run into a whole bunch of exciting new ones of course). On top of that, having a timetable from my publisher was brilliant for focusing the mind. You can’t write yourself in circles when you’re on a deadline.

But the second book did bring one main difficulty, and that was in choosing an idea to start with. The first time around I could wait until the idea that had been brewing at the back of my mind was ready to go. This time around however there was time pressure, and I had to start pouring when it was still weak and watery. I had to plunge headlong into writing something and hope to god I didn’t get two-thirds of the way through only to discover it was a stinker.

So, was it more difficult to write the second one? Yes it was, in lots of ways. And no, it wasn’t in others. Every book is difficult on its own terms. But the excitement of the second book for me was in wanting to live up to expectations. And I very much hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Find out more at Chicken House  and follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80 

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Picture Book Bonanza!

I absolutely love picture books. What better way to introduce children to the wonder of storytelling than through incredible illustrations pictured alongside brilliant narratives? The best picture books can be fun and light-hearted celebrating the world around us, but can also leave you with something to think about.  Picture books can very often open the door to conversations around empathy and understanding and help children see themselves and how they can relate to others. So here’s my round up of some newly published and soon to be published picture books for Spring!

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When a Dragon Comes to Stay by Caryl Hart and Rosalind Beardshaw

 

When dragon comes to stay, will she behave herself? Why of course she will. Obviously she knows she must share her toys, eat daintily and skip happily upstairs at bathtime.  Well….not quite. Like all toddlers this little dragon finds good manners a tiny bit tricky. Luckily she has some friends to help her.

What a lovely rhyming story this is! Bright, colourful illustrations bring dragon and her friends to life, perfectly capturing the perils of life as a toddler and show just what good behaviour looks like. Great to read aloud and have young readers joining in this is sure to be a hit at bedtime. And grown ups who want to encourage good manners will love it too!

Available now, find out more at www.nosycrow.com,  www.carylhart.com and www.rosalindbeardshaw.com

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Wish by Chris Saunders

Rabbit has never caught a wish before, then one magical day he catches three! But what amazing things should he wish for? With the help of his best friends Mouse, Fox and Bear, Rabbit discovers that thinking of others can sometimes bring the greatest reward of all.

This is an absolutely gorgeous book with an emotive story about the wonder of friendship and kindness. Muted, atmospheric illustrations with touches of colour, create a beautiful landscape where Rabbit discovers the true power of a wish. It also celebrates the possibilities of adventure and the hopes and dreams we all have. A lovely story to share, Wish would be a great way to start conversations around empathy and being kind, but also a really lovely story to leave in children’s imaginations as they drift off to sleep at bedtime!

Available now, find out more at www.quartoknows.com

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The Astro Naughty Naughty Baddies by Mark Sperring and David Tazzyman

54321 Blast off! The Naughty Naughty Baddies are zooming off the the moon. Kerzoom! Will our fiendish fraudsters come undone with their mischievous plans to capture some aliens? Mwa-ha-ha!

Another adventure featuring the Naughty Baddies that will have children and adults giggling along with glee!  And these baddies are very naughty indeed, doing anything they can think of to come up with mischief and mayhem – even if it means trying to fool the President.  Larger than life, brilliant illustrations bring the deliciously devious baddies to life and children will love the intergalactic theme. And grown-ups will be relieved that the naughtiness gets its comeuppance! A great fun read for families to share.

Available now, find out more at www.bloomsbury.com and www.davidtazzyman.com

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Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

Mira doesn’t like her hair, it curls at the front. it curls at the back. It curls everywhere! She wants it to be straight and smooth, just like her Mama’s. But then something unpredictable happens…and Mira will never look at her Mama’s hair the same way again!

A fabulous story which many will identify with – there’s nothing worse than a bad hair day -especially if it’s every day! Humourous depictions of Mira trying to straighten her curly hair, which seems to have a life of its own, will bring a smile to your face. A simple narrative and vibrant illustrations with a stunning Arabic backdrop bring the story to life as Mira discovers that her Mama’s hair is just like hers so she doesn’t feel so bad anymore. Delightful to share, this story will encourage young readers to celebrate their uniqueness!

Publishing in April, find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com and www.rebecaluciani.es

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Crime Squirrel Investigators The Naughty Nut Thief

Rosie can’t believe it! Who’s eaten all of her delicious hazelnuts? She’s determined to find the naughty nut thief and ask Charlie to help her.  Can the two Crime Squirrel Investigators solve the case?

A fun mystery adventure for young readers, this story creates a wonderful woodland world with delightful characters. Rosie and Charlie use all their wits to solve the mystery but Charlie has a secret which he finds very hard to share. A story to entertain and get children thinking in more ways than one; they can discover more about woodland creatures, use the clues to help find the culprit and learn about being truthful and saying sorry. An all round great read!

Available in May find out more about this story and Little Door books at www.bouncemarketing.co.uk

I Don’t Want to be Small by Laura Ellen Andersen

I don't want to be small

This little boy is fed up with being so little. He wants to be as tall as his friends and his big brother. But when he loses his teddy bear up a tree, not even his new tall friend can get it back for him. Maybe with a little bit of help they can reach the bear together …

With all the ingredients for a perfect picture book, I Don’t Want to be Small is a fantastic story sure to delight young readers! With brilliant illustrations featuring Laura Ellen Andersen’s trademark style, you instantly empathise with the little boy’s plight as he shares his frustration at being small.  There’s just the right amount of humour and heart, and a very satisfying ending as he makes a new friend and finds out being small isn’t so bad after all.  I loved it!

Publishing in May, find out more at www.bloomsbury.com and www.lauraellenanderson.co.uk

With thanks to Nosy Crow, words and pictures, Bloomsbury, Lantana and Little Door Books for sending me these lovely titles to review.

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Happy Book Birthday! Great books for younger readers!

Happy Book Birthday – and Happy World Book Day! It’s publication day for these three titles and I don’t think as an author or illustrator you could ask for a better day to have your book published!  Stripes Publishing are releasing these great books for young readers aged 6 and up. 

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Dirty Bertie: Spider! by Alan MacDonald, illustrated by David Roberts

One of the most popular book characters, Dirty Bertie, is back with three new stories perfect for newly independent readers.  Featuring a new pet spider, his Gran’s awful knitting and digging for treasure children will delight in Bertie’s latest adventures. Fantastic illustrations bring to life the rather revolting habits of young Bertie, along with his classmates and long-suffering parents.  Dirty Bertie is great way to introduce young readers to the fun that can be found in a book!

Find out more at www.alanmacdonald-author.co.uk and www.davidrobertsillustration.com

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Little Lion Rescue by Rachel Delahaye

Little Lion Rescue is the first book in a gorgeous new series following the adventures of Fliss as she saves wild animals in danger.  During a school trip to the zoo, Fliss is magically whisked away to the Serengeti, where she meets a real little lion cub and helps reunite the cub with the lion pride, encountering some amazing animals and birds on the way.  Young readers will love the experiencing the Serengeti, learning all about the different species and the environment in which they live.  With Little Dolphin Rescue and Little Penguin Rescue next in the series, this is sure to be a hit transporting readers to amazing new places.

Find out more at www.racheldelahaye.com

Vlad Spook

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire: Spook-tacular Surprise! by Anna Wilson illustrated by Kathryn Dunst

Another adventure for Vlad makes it’s entrance today and he’s now got his Bat License (remember cousin Lupus?!). But this isn’t enough for his rather fussy mother, who thinks he should have super strength too.  Vlad can’t seem to please her and then things get really tricky as his true identity is revealed at school. But perhaps it’s even more of a shock for his vampire parents as they discover the truth about Vlad’s human friendships.  Thankfully Vlad has some good friends around him to help and just when he needs it, the school play comes to his rescue! These stories are a brilliant take on school life and it’s trials and tribulations. With lively illustrations throughout, readers are bound to relate to Vlad’s conundrums and delight in his successes.

Find out more www.littletiger.co.uk

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for sending me these books to review. 

 

New review: Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo

With a beautiful feather-covered book jacket, Call Me Alastair caught my attention in more ways than one. I’ve never read a book where one of the central protagonists is a parrot! An impressive literary middle grade debut by American author, Cory Leonardo and published by ScholasticCall Me Alastair will tug at your heart strings.

 

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Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo

Born in the back of a pet store, Alastair the parrot dreams of escape. But when his sister Aggie is purchased by a big-hearted boy, and Alastair is adopted by a lonely widow, his hopes for the future crash-land. In between anxiously plucking his feathers, chewing a few books, and finding his own poetic voice, Alastair plots his way back to Aggie and their flight to freedom.

Call Me Alastair is a moving and quirky tale, unlike anything I’ve read before.  Told through the eyes of three characters: Alastair, the literary parrot who has never known freedom and is fiercely protective of his sister; Fritz a twelve year old boy who helps in the pet store and recently lost his grandfather; and Bertie, a feisty widow trying to find purpose after the death of her husband. Each character is struggling to find their freedom – whether this be literally, in Alastair’s case, or freedom from grief and loneliness.  Alastair has a habit of eating books, and often ‘regurgitates’ these literary snacks in the form of poetry, reflecting much about his state of mind as he comes to terms with being separated from his sister. Fritz’s voice is heard through a medical log, sharing his desire to be a doctor and giving glimpses into the daily grind of life and being a bit different.  And Bertie’s story comes through the beautiful letters she writes to her husband of many years who has passed away; whilst trying hard to maintain a jovial attitude, it is clear just how much she misses him.  Their stories intertwine and each helps the other find acceptance and friendship.

The lingering narrative draws you in, tugging at your heart, creating empathy and understanding in a truly unexpected way. There is also light-hearted humour – particularly from the other residents of the pet shop who have many and varied views; a brilliant insight into what the world of domestic pets might be like! You can’t help but love Alastair, despite his crankiness and moments of melancholy; after all wouldn’t we all feel like that if we were separated from the one we love most in the world?  Fritz is just the most gorgeous boy, full of love and care and trying hard to make amends for things that just aren’t his fault. And Bertie, well, I just wanted to give her a great big hug and be her friend.

Call Me Alastair is a story to make time for; a wonderfully written tale of three very different characters who inadvertently help each other see they are not alone in the world.  Help and happiness can come from the most unexpected places but that is often one of the joys of life. I think Call Me Alastair demonstrates this beautifully.

Find out more at www.coryleonardo.com and www.scholastic.co.uk

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

Call me alastair

 

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

dog

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!