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.

 

 

 

 

New reviews: three great additions to your bookshelf!

IMG-3344This week I have enjoyed reading these three great middle grade reads featuring time travel, magic and funny moments galore!  A Chase in Time by Sally Nichols is a time slip novel with great characters and a fast paced plot.  A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck is a wonderful adventure with a brave heroine and Just Jack by Kate Scott features a lovely young chap trying to fit in.  All three books would make great additions to your bookshelf, whether at home or in school.

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A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls

Alex Pilgrim is always up for adventure, so he’s super- pleased when he and his sister Ruby, fall through their aunt’s mirror into 1912.  Racing around in a scarily dangerous car, being permanently grubby and even catching a criminal or two is great fun! Now they just need to find a way home….

A thoroughly enjoyable time-slip adventure, A Chase in Time is a great read with a good mix of humour, excitement and danger. Spending a school holiday at their aunt’s family home, which is full of wonderful heirlooms from around the world, Alex and Ruby discover the mirror that has stood in the hall for years is a time portal. A dramatic start to the story means that Alex and Ruby must get to grips with time travel and solve the mystery of the missing Newberry Cup –  which will not only help their family in 1912 but will also save their aunt’s magnificent home in their own time! Full of historical detail and some wonderful, humourous observations about how different life was in 1912, there are moments of poignant reflection as Alex and Ruby realise that in a few short years the first world war will begin.  The lovely cast of characters have very English eccentricities, enlivening the engaging plot. I particularly enjoyed the romance between Alex and Ruby’s distant relatives Atherton and Miss Flynn.  Add to this some fantastic illustrations you have all the ingredients for a great read!

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

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A Tangle of Magic by Valija Zinck

Penelope has always been…well….different. For one thing, she has grey hair, even though she’s only ten.  But when she wakes up to find her hair has turned the brightest, wildest, most BRILLIANT shade of red, she realises magic has entered her life. Strange and amazing things start to happen. Could it all have something to do with her father, who disappeared years ago? Penelope won’t stop until she finds the tangled, magical truth about who she really is….

A Tangle of Magic is a quirky, magical and inventive tale with gorgeous cover art. Stories about magic are great fun, especially when they centre on the discovery of hidden magical powers and this story is no exception! It features a determined and feisty heroine Penelope, who knows she’s different. Living with her Mum and Grandma and Coco the cat, she couldn’t possibly have realised just how different until her hair turns red, marking the beginning of an extraordinary adventure.  Hearing others thoughts before they say them, having conversations with the road (yes, the road!) and even learning to fly, Penelope discovers she’s got magical blood. Her mother had always hidden this from her, hoping to keep her safe, but she finally tells Penelope her father had magical powers. Helped by her Grandma giving her a secret book of spells and one of her best friends unwittingly giving her clues to her father’s whereabouts, Penelope sets out to discover not just the truth about her father, but the truth about herself too.  With some exciting plots twists and gentle humour, Penelope makes a charming heroine who you are rooting for throughout.  Themes of friendship and family bring together an engaging narrative that middle grade readers will enjoy.

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Just Jack by Kate Scott

Jack knows all about trying to fit in. Since Dad left, Jack and his Mum have moved house five times.  But it’s hard work pretending to be someone he isn’t and Jack misses having a friend.  Until Tyler comes along, Tyler is clever, funny and inventive. And he might help Jack figure out how to be…Just Jack.

Jack is about to start School Six and with his Sherlock Code at the ready, he is determined to fit in but not stand out.  Surrounded by unpacking and mess at home with his Mum, Jack sets his sights on making sure he doesn’t get too close to anyone just in case they have to move again.  However, Jack hasn’t banked on the appearance of full-of-life Tyler bounding into the classroom, who he realises could be his ideal friend.  Told with sensitivity and humour, the story explores how Jack deals with making new friends, confronting the pain of his parents divorce and finally being true to himself.  He is an instantly lovable chap and you can’t help but be moved by his observations and the situation he finds himself in.  Many young readers will identify with the difficulties of friendship and family described and the cast of characters who bring the story to life. A perfect balance of humour and heart, Just Jack is a truly enjoyable and moving read, with great illustrations by Alex Gunn.

With thanks to Kate Scott for sending me this book to review. Just Jack is published by Piccadilly Press.

 

New review: Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mickael El Fathi

On the blog today, I’m delighted to share my review of a beautiful new book Peace and Me which celebrates the work of  Nobel Peace Prize winners and will be published later this month. The book from Lantana Publishing is written by Ali Winter, an experienced anthologist who is passionate about seeking out lessertold stories from around the world and illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi, an acclaimed French-Moroccan children’s book illustrator who helps children travel the world through his illustrations.

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This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf. Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

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From the first page this book is fascinating, beautiful and moving in equal measure.  It begins with a spread focused on Alfred Nobel and how the Nobel Prize came to be.  What follows are double-page spreads on some of the winners of the Peace Prize, charting their contribution to world peace and reflecting on what they did to be of “greatest benefit to mankind”.

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Some of the names are very familiar, some are not, but what they all have in common is their selfless and determined efforts to help their fellow man.  As a children’s book, there is just the right amount of information on each person and enough detail to bring them to life.  The narrative is accompanied by visually stunning artwork – I would be fascinated to hear how these beautiful illustrations were created.

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The book is endorsed by Amnesty International because “it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.” Each story reminds us that one person can make a difference. What a wonderful lesson to pass on to children and what a wonderful reminder to everyone that passion and perseverance and indeed, peace, can exist even in today’s turbulent times.  Peace and Me is a book to treasure, to share with young and old and to encourage us to consider what peace means to each of us.

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Peace and Me publishes on 21st September.

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review!