Tag Archives: Children’s Books

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!

Bookchat: Jo Simmons author of I Swapped my Brother on the Internet!

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I’m very pleased to welcome author Jo Simmons to the blog today! Jo’s latest book ‘I Swapped My Brother on the Internet!’ is her first book for Bloomsbury. Read my full review here.

Jo began her life as a journalist and her first fiction series for children, Pip Street, was inspired by her own kids’ love of funny fiction.Jo Simmons Author PicMore books followed and in addition to children’s fiction, Jo has co-written several non-fiction books for adults.  She lives in Brighton with her family and her dog.

Welcome to the blog Jo! Congratulations on the publication of your latest book! Tell us about the inspiration for the story. Back in about 2014, a friend of mine told me how her daughter was being grumpy one evening and said she wished there was a website where she could swap her mum and get a better one. It was that classic light-bulb moment. What a great idea! I knew I wanted to write that story, but with brothers, partly because I have two sons but also because I wanted to keep the drama between and about children.

9781408877753How did you decide on who Jonny would receive as a swap? Were there lots of characters in mind – I can imagine the possibilities must have been endless!! (Henry the Eighth’s ghost was particularly funny!)  I decided each failed swap had to teach Jonny something about his actual brother, Ted, and about himself, too. Gradually, Jonny would work out that Ted was the only brother he could ever have and the best one, too, for all his flaws. I also love writing daft characters, so I wanted there to be a good mix of oddballs and impossible people, to make the comedy more left field. So there’s a merboy and the boy raised by meerkats. I think I was reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel at the time, and loving it, so Henry VIII plays a big part, too!

It’s a very funny take on sibling rivalry – do you have siblings and if so, would you ever be tempted to swap them?! I have an older brother. He definitely bossed me about and teased me when we were little. The time he squashed a Dairylea Triangle against my forehead in front of our friends has gone down in family legend. I was also very loyal to him, though, and we have a great bond today. I dedicated the book to him and no, I wouldn’t be tempted to swap him. I also have two sons and, when writing the story, I was watching the older one pulling away from his little brother. He had started secondary school and was becoming more grown up and, as a result, more critical of his little sibling. Ted and Jonny mirror, to some extent, what was happening at home with my two boys.

Children often ask for something funny to read when they’re choosing a book. Why do you think humour in books for children is important? For so many reasons! Laughing comes naturally to kids so they’re really up for funny fiction; they get it! It can also tempt reluctant readers in and persuade them that reading isn’t boring or worthy. It works for reluctant parents, too. I always preferred reading funny books to my children at bedtime, after a long day. We’d do the voices and snort at the jokes and it was a lovely bonding experience. Funny fiction tends to have an energy and anarchy to it, too, which I think children relate to. It can still deal with issues important to youngsters, from fear of change to friendship troubles, but does it with a light touch. Finally, funny fiction tends to include a triad of delights – funny characters, funny language and funny situations – that entertain young readers and can put a fire under their own creative writing, too, showing them what’s possible when you’re writing for laughs.

You have written a number of books for children and also nonfiction for adults and worked as a journalist. How does the writing process and experience differ when writing for children? I find writing fiction the hardest. There is a lot that goes into even just a 10,000 word book. Dreaming up the characters, creating a decent plot, making sure it clips along – it’s surprisingly tricky. But I love writing for children above all else, especially funny fiction. There is license to be silly and imaginative, to push the bounds of possibility and create really joyful, daft characters, often based on people you know, but considerably exaggerated. It’s just great, great fun.

It must have been fun seeing your characters brought to life through illustration – tell us about working with an illustrator.  I’ve never met Nathan who illustrated I Swapped My Brother On The Internet, but we do chat together over email. My editor and I drew up a shortlist of possible scenes to be illustrated then he got to work, but it was super exciting seeing his first roughs and how he had interpreted the characters. That leap from description to illustration is thrilling, and good illustrators like Nathan always bring more to each character than the writer can alone, adding little quirky details that just make the story fly.

Are you planning on any more adventures for Jonny or working on something different? Not for Jonny, but I do have a new book out with Bloomsbury in August 2018, featuring a boy called Danny and an amazing discovery he makes on a tiny Scottish island. It’s called The Dodo Made Me Do It.

Thank you Jo for participating in bookchat! I can’t wait to read all about Danny and his adventures.banner new

 

With thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for arranging this bookchat!

New reviews: great reads for Spring!

Since starting the New Year as a ‘commuter’ many friends ask me how can I stand it?! Thankfully as a reader, I now have a whole lot more time to read – the perfect activity when you’re stuck on a train, even when there’s delays or no seats! So here’s just three of the six great books I’ve read over the last two weeks (more review to come!):

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons

I can get a new brother? On the internet?’ Jonny muttered. `Oh sweet mangoes of heaven!’ Everyone has dreamed of being able to get rid of their brother or sister at one time or another – but for Jonny, the dream is about to become a reality with SiblingSwap.com! What could be better than someone awesome to replace Ted, Jonny’s obnoxious older brother. But finding the perfect brother isn’t easy, as Jonny discovers when Sibling Swap sends him a line of increasingly bizarre replacements: first a merboy, then a brother raised by meerkats, and then the ghost of Henry the Eighth! What’s coming next?! Suddenly old Ted isn’t looking so bad. But can Jonny ever get him back?

I’m sure many of us have been there – wishing we could somehow magically change our brother or sister who is driving us mad! But perhaps we haven’t all had our wish come true like Jonny. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a brilliantly funny tale of getting more than you bargained for – especially when using the internet – and finding out the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With a thoroughly likeable hero in Jonny and a whole host of hilarious characters, readers will laugh out loud as Jonny works his way through the Sibling Swap replacements – none of whom quite live up to his expectations.  I particularly enjoyed Henry VII’s ghost as a potential new sibling!! Fast paced and full of gags (anyone heard of the Hanging Pants of Doom?!) and with fun, fantastic and lively illustrations, I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a great read for middle grade children.  And with the added bonus of a positive message about not taking your sibling for granted, this could the answer to solving some of those sibling arguments!

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is published Bloomsbury.

Find out more www.bloomsbury.com and www.nathanreedillustration.com

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh g34227670rade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair becomes fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette’s syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too. Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

A totally enjoyable and at times very moving YA story of friendship, romance, love, family, teenage angst, loss and growing up.  A Taxonomy of Love covers a multitude of experiences reflecting the many and varied struggles that shape our lives.  Spencer is a brave character whose struggles with Tourette’s are well portrayed, creating instant empathy and giving the reader an insight into living with a neurological condition. I loved his use of taxonomy to try and make sense of things. Hope has a wonderful zest for life, which is abruptly altered by unexpected tragedy. Her subsequent self-destruct is painful to observe.   The ‘Will they? Won’t they? thread keeps you hooked – there is joy amidst the heartache and I loved the ending (no spoilers!). Through prose, letters and text conversations over six years, A Taxonomy of Love brings to life the relationship between the two protagonists, Spencer and Hope and their wider family relationships, creating people you care about, are rooting for and feel like you really know.

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A Taxonomy of Love is published by Abrams and Chronicle.

Find out more  rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.co.uk and www.abramsandchronicle.co.uk

 

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Eloise Undercover by Sarah Baker

The door to the library banged open. I looked around for a place to hide, but it was too late. An angry German voice barked an order. Boots clicked on the wooden floor of the corridor as he shouted at someone behind him. He there was a terrible silence. He was here.

It’s 1944 in Nazi-Occupied France.  Eloise’s world is in turmoil and her father is missing. In a world at war who can she trust? What secrets will she discover in the search for her father?

Eloise Undercover is a thrilling middle grade tale of survival, daring deeds and above all, hope in dark times. Living under Nazi occupation brings with it the stark realities of the war; these are dealt with in an age appropriate way, whilst not being made light of. The story features the fantastic location of Maison de Noyer from Sarah Baker’s previous novel Through the Mirror Door (see my review here) which I thought really clever; I love the idea of a house experiencing so much history through the ages. Twelve year old Eloise is a wonderful heroine who has a huge amount of courage and determination. With her father and friends gone, Eloise’s grandmother Amma is the only person left to care for her; but Amma has secrets of her own. Once Eloise uncovers the truth behind her father’s disappearance – that he was in fact part of the resistance – she insists she too can help fight against the Nazis and the adventures begin in earnest. With edge-of-your-seat action, clever plot twists and a cast of characters who embody both the brave and cruel sides of war, Eloise Undercover is a really great read, bringing history to life and reminding us of the importance of hope, trust and friendship.

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Eloise Undercover is published by Catnip Publishing.

Find out more www.bysarahbaker.com and www.bouncemarketing.co.uk

With thanks to Bloomsbury, Abrams and Chronicle and Catnip for sending me these books to review.

Guest blog: Mixing Fact and Fiction by Jane Clarke

I’m delighted to welcome Jane Clarke to the blog today, author of Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments, a brilliant new series of science-based adventures for younger readers.  Whether they are budding scientists or maybe are just curious about how the world works, this series is sure to entertain them. Full of great characters (I particularly love Einstein the dog!), wonderful illustrations by James Brown and of course, super science experiments that can easily be tried at home, Al’s Awesome Science is a fantastic blend of fact and fiction. Jane, an award winning author of over 80 children’s books, is sharing today how she achieves this.  Welcome to the blog Jane!

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“In the Al’s Awesome Science books, I aim to write a great story, filled with fun science facts and experiments, that’s an entertaining read regardless of how much the reader knows about the subject. Continue reading

New review: Early Learning with The British Museum and Nosy Crow

 

The partnership continues between The British Museum and Nosy Crow with three fantastic new books in their series of books for 0-12 year olds.  The British Museum is the country’s leading visitor attraction and the second most visited museum in the world.  The books draw on the British Museum’s unparalleled, vast and fascinating collection of objects and Nosy Crow’s expertise as the Independent Children’s publisher of the Year 2017, to create a collection of titles that represent and celebrate cultures from around the world!

Colours and Opposites are the two new titles in their board books series, where inquisitive toddlers can enjoy learning all the colours of the rainbow and contrasting opposites alongside seeing wonderful photographic images highlighting cultures from around the world.

There is a useful index in each book, detailing all the artefacts shown, giving little ones and grown-ups the chance to explore and learn more.

Featuring everything from illustrations by Beatrix Potter to a mask made of coconut from Bangladesh, I love the celebration of history and culture giving a wonderful opportunity to inspire even the youngest of minds. I also think older sibling’s, parents and carers will enjoy the tour through history!

Mixed-Up Masterpieces Funny Faces is a fun photographic mix-up book, featuring faces from the museum’s collection.  With puzzles to solve matching up the correct faces and then hours of fun mixing them all up again, there’s hundreds of hilarious combinations!

The faces used are incredible real masks from around the world, with an index at the back of the book telling you about each one. Again this is a book that will inspire curiosity in the many and varied cultures around the world and bring history to life – something all the family can enjoy.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com and www.britishmuseum.org

Read my reviews of the first two books in the series here.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.