Tag Archives: Illustrated fiction

New reviews: summer book blog!

I am very pleased to share new reviews on the blog today of some of the books I’ve read over the last few months. For younger and middle grade readers, these titles are ideal for keeping children engaged and reading over the summer holidays! Happy reading!

Madam Squeaker by Pip Jones illustrated by Paula Bowles (Age5+) is a charming tale of a little mouse with a big heart. Minetta is desperate to teach the Ruling Rats a lesson about sharing; just in time a wise old Owl appears and offers her some advice.  Lovely colourful illustrations capture Minetta Mouse’s courage as she finds her voice and shows all the animals how they can share together. A Little Gems story, this is a perfect treat for very young readers. Published by Barrington Stoke.

Lottie Loves Nature: Bird Alert by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown (Age 6+) is book three is the series which is part of the Summer Reading Challenge 2021- Wild World Heroes. Once again we meet nature-mad Lottie and this time she’s watching! But share has to act fast when a hatchling falls out of it’s nest and we learn all about looking after feathered friends in the garden with handy tips and checklists. Entertaining, informative, Lottie Loves Natures is a great way to encourage young reader’s interest in the natural world and reading. Published by Five Quills.

Flyntlock Bones: The Eye of Mogrod By Derek Keilty illustrated by Mark Elvins (Age 7+) – pirates ahoy! It’s adventure time again with quick-witted Flynn and friends embarking on another mystery-solving quest.  With fearsome villains and monsters to face, alongside pirate-y behaviour, be prepared for multiple thrills and entertaining pirate fun all brought to life by brilliant illustrations. Published by Scallywag Press.

Grace-Ella: Pixie Pandemonium by Sharon Marie Jones Illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi (age 7+) is the third book in this delightful series featuring young witch Grace Ella and her cat Mr Whiskins.  This time, Grace-Ella must save the school fair and stop a mischeviuous pixie named Buddy from causing chaos!  Great fun, young readers will be enchanted. Published by Firefly Press.

An Escape in Time by Sally Nicholls illustrated by Rachael Dean (Age 7+) continues the adventures of siblings Alex and Ruby as they travel through the magic mirror in their historical family home of Applecott House to another historical destination. This time they meet French Aristocrats who have escaped the Revolution, and must find a way to help them, all the while learning more about the magic mirror, their family history and themselves. Clever plots, engaging characters and fantastic historical detail bring this story to life making the reader wish they could travel in time too! Published by Nosy Crow.

Me and the Robbersons by Sirir Kolu, translated by Ruth Urbom (Age 8+) is a quirky adventure telling the tales of a bandit family, a kidnapping and lots and lots of sweets. Full of madcap mayhem, The Robbersons inadvertently give Maise the summer holiday she’s dreamed of when they kidnap her and she’s soon embroiled in their hilarious escapades! Fun and furious, this adventure will charm the socks off those looking for a Dahl-style story. Published by Little Tiger Group.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Daniela Sosa (Age 8+) stars Zaiba, a girl who can’t wait to become the world’s greatest detective! Who is trying to scare away the new family who’ve moved into Oakwood Manor? Zaiba and her friends are determined to find the culprit in book three of this exciting, well-paced adventure series. Perfect for fans of mystery stories, with friendship and fun at the heart of each one. Published by Little Tiger Group.

We Made a Movie by Charlotte Lo (Age 8+) revisits Luna and her family on their island-home with another madcap adventure in the offing, in this thoroughly entertaining sequel. This time, Luna comes up with a brilliant plan to solve everyone’s business problems and save her home and the town of Wishnook from being turned into ‘The Las-Vegas of Scotland’! Hilarious, heart-warming and full of eccentric and endearing characters, this story is great fun! Published by Nosy Crow.

How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg by Emma Shevah (Age 8+) is an absolute delight of a read with characters you’d want to save the world for! With themes on friendship and acceptance we can all be inspired by and a brilliantly portrayed environmental message we can all learn from, you’ll fall in love with the first story in this series (and I’m so glad there’ll be more!). It’s also full of fascinating facts about animals and the natural world with a list of top tips about how young readers can tackle environmental issues. Published by Chicken House.

Artic Star by Tom Palmer (Age 8+) is a poignant and moving tale by an author who has proved himself again to be a master historical story-teller.  It’s 1943 and childhood friends Frank, Joseph and Stephen are about to embark on their first mission aboard a naval ship as part of an Artic Convoy sailing to Russia delivering supplies to the Soviets. You can almost taste the seawater and feel the freezing cold as they plummet into danger and face threats all around. This story won’t fail to move you and shines a light on the brave and courageous naval forces that helped the Allies win the war. Published by Barrington Stoke.

The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger (Age 8+) tells the story of orphan Isobel travelling from her home in India to a remote Uncle in England.  Little does she realise life is going to take some unexpected turns as she witnesses a murder, grapples with etiquette and expectations and makes some new friends.  On board ship adventure abounds as Isobel and her fellow would-be detectives use all their deductive powers to find the culprit. Plenty of historical detail, well-drawn characters and an engaging plot will keep you hooked on every page! Published by Nosy Crow.

With thanks to the publishers for sending me these books to review – they’ll all be going to a local school as part of the Book Buddy scheme!

BLOG TOUR: Bad Panda by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

It’s DAY FIVE of the Bad Panda blog tour – and I’m afraid you just can’t help falling in love with super-fluffly Lin and her partner-in-crime, Fu – no doubt much to Lin’s disgust! Bad Panda is the first in a fantastically funny new series from the duo who created Dave Pigeon, author Swapna Haddow and illustrator, Sheena Dempsey. Lin is the ‘bad’ panda in the story but she’s so super fluffy and cute everyone loves her, no matter how badly she behaves, as she tries to escape the zoo and get home to her favourite person – her bad brother, Face-Like-A-Bag-Of-Potatoes. Combining hilarious narrative, with lively illustrations that perfectly capture the humour, Bad Panda is the ideal tonic if you need cheering up or if you just enjoy laughing-out-loud!

Today I’m sharing an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how Swapna got to know pandas and gain real insight by working as a panda-keeper for a day!

Behind the Scenes of Bad Panda – with Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

“You are in for a treat. Swapna and Sheena are sharing behind-the-scenes pictures and secrets of their new book Bad Panda.

The Bad Panda story was originally inspired by a trip Swapna took to China with her in-laws in 2017. Her mother in law arranged for the family to be panda keepers for a day at the Chengdu Panda Base and Swapna describes this as the absolute highlight of the trip.

She and her family arrived at the panda base where they heard about the rescued pandas Most had lost their homes due to deforestation and some were orphaned. And right now there are only about 2000 pandas in the wild, which makes them vulnerable of extinction so these centres do vital work in protecting pandas.

Swapna spent the day cleaning up the panda paddocks, sweeping up their poos, smashing up bamboo stems ready for meal times and making steamed panda cake which is a treat of corn, soybean, rice and egg.

And of course, she spent many hours watching the gentle giants go about their day.

When she got home she had heaps of ideas for a new panda story and both she and Sheena co-created Bad Panda.

Sheena says designing characters is one of her favourite aspects of illustration and before she started making the rough drawings for Bad Panda, she wanted to create some model sheets that she could refer to easily for each of the main characters – these model sheets were inspired by those the Disney animators make where they draw their characters from different angles and with different expressions.

Lin was the trickiest character to get right. Sheena struggled to make her cute and appealing, while also making her look like the rotter of a grotter of a panda she truly is. She worked with her art director Emma Eldridge on getting the fluff around her head just right, as well as making her proportions very toddler-like with a big head on a small body.

Fu was a much easier bamboo to crack than Lin. Sheena describes his body shape as ‘kind of like an egg on legs, with a flyaway quiff on the top of his head’.

Sheena wanted to make the antagonist King Cobra pretty vicious-looking and she didn’t hold back. He looks every bit the deadly cobra he is.

Bad Panda is partly told in graphic novel format, with 37 pages of its pages told with panels and speech bubbles. This was a really exciting way to tell Lin’s story through pictures. Sheena did a lot of research into the mechanics of making comics as she had never drawn any before and she even started her own webcomic called Penguin Chronicles for practice.”

With thanks to Faber for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Find out more at www.faber.co.uk and don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: Bug Belly Froggy Rescue by Paul Morton

It’s time for another Bug Belly adventure on the final day of the blog tour for Paul Morton’s second book in the Bug Belly series, Froggy Rescue published by Five Quills. Featuring the fabulous frog Bug Belly, this time on a rescue mission to save a froglet from a magpie’s nest! Read on for a bookchat Q & A with author illustrator Paul Morton

Uncle Bug Belly says frogs can FLY. But CAN they REALLY? Bug Belly and the froglets are about to find our in this dangerous rescue adventure.

Another lively, fun-filled adventure by talented author illustrated, Paul Morton, Bug Belly Froggy Rescue brings the inventive froggy and friends leaping to life! Once again Bug Belly’s rumbling tummy gets him into trouble and he fails to save one of his froglets from being snatched by a magpie. However, being the brilliantly inventive frog that he is, Bug Belly soon comes up with a daring rescue plan which involves an intrepid trek across the forest. On the way, Bug Belly and the froglets have to face all manner of dangers including not becoming fancy froggy fritters to owls and snakes! As ever Bug Belly finds ingenious ways to save them all – think rabbit poo amongst other things.

Bug Belly Froggy Rescue is as entertaining and exciting as the first adventure and young readers are sure to enjoy the story and the lively illustrations! I’m delighted to welcome Paul Morton to the blog for a bookchat Q & A.

What’s your typical working day like?  This is going to sound really lazy, especially when I have friends and colleagues producing books whilst they have full time teaching jobs for example. If I have any illustration commissioned work booked in I will spend maybe 3 or 4 hours on the Mac in my studio at home. I might mountain bike in the afternoon. Do some writing in the garden summerhouse (it used to be in cafes) and I like staying up late to work if the muse takes me. I work best in a quiet house at anything up to 2.30am.

How have the last 15 months been? As an author, have you found ways to connect with readers? I managed one single school visit the week before the first lockdown. Since then I have joined the Book Pen Pals scheme, where authors are paired up with schools, and they swap recommendations and craft ideas and stories. I have absolutely loved this. My 3 schools at the moment, in Darlington, Derby and Bradford have all been enthusiastic with their replies, completing Bug Belly crafts and recommending new books to me that they have been reading in class. I’ve have virtually visited a couple of them on Zoom and that was really fun too. I’m hoping to get out and about to more schools, bookshops and libraries as soon as it’s practical and safe to do so.

How did it feel to see Bug Belly included in the Summer Reading Challenge last year? Initially a great surprise and then I felt so proud that my first published book was chosen amongst some other great titles. It was a pity the scheme wasn’t able to run to its full potential due to the pandemic, but still a great feeling.

Are you working on other book projects at the moment? In addition to working on 2 or 3 further Bug Belly storylines I have two picture books at various stages of development. I’m looking forward to bringing those to submission. They are very different from Bug Belly, though both of them happen to feature a frog in the storyline!

Were you a keen reader as a child? If so, what kind of books did you enjoy? I must say that I don’t remember that many reading books from my childhood. The ones I can recall are all from school time. The Borrowers, Water Babies and a favourite was Stig of the Dump. At home and in holidays it was always comics, and as a treat I would buy 3 or 4 Batman comics with my pocket money.

And now? what do you like to read as an adult? Lots of ‘How to” books on creating children’s stories. Favourite books at the moment are still Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. David Almond. John Fowles. Unless we are on holiday I don’t seem to find the time or patience to read a longer adult novel so it’s picture books and early readers that I devour at home.

Which other authors and/or illustrators do you admire? I’m currently in the middle of writing a piece for the SCBWI Words and Pictures magazine about Brian Wildsmith. I’ve always loved the vibrancy and immediacy of his colours and images. I knew he was also from South Yorkshire but in my research I discovered that not only did he move to the same small village just outside Barnsley but we actually lived on the same road. Me at no. 89, the Wildsmiths at no. 22. Amazing! We were 27 years part though, so it’s not like I could have bumped into him. Currently I love the books of Benji Davies, Jim Field, Oliver Jeffers, Mo O’Hara and all the King Coo titles by Adam Stower.

Finally, what do you hope readers will take from your books?  A sense of fun and enjoyment from having been on a mini exciting adventure and left with a hunger to read about more Bug Belly antics. I have plenty more planned, so I hope so.

Bug Belly: Froggy Rescue by Paul Morton is published by Five Quills, £6.99 paperback – out now. Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk / www.bugbelly.com. With thanks to Five Quills and Catherine Ward for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour for more Bug Belly fun!

BLOG TOUR: Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes

On the blog today, it’s time for an adventure with a story that sparks the imagination and will delight young readers, on Day Ten of the blog tour for Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes. Indie-publisher, Little Door Books, have found a real gem with this, their first chapter book for early-readers and the first of what is sure to be a very popular series.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Dave C. Flanagan illustrated by Will Hughes

Harry never went to sleep. Not EVER. In fact, Harry had been wide-awake since the day he was born. His Mum and Dad and the people in the town had tried everything to help him, but nothing seemed to work. Just when they had runout of ideas, Uncle Pete the explorer arrived on their doorstep and came up with a very special plan.

This charming, original tale is a perfectly pitched story for younger readers, as Uncle Pete arrives just in the nick of time to solve the problem for Harry and his mum and Dad. Eccentric and entertaining, Uncle Pete has some interesting habits – like eating lots of baked beans (and I mean LOTS) and growing potatoes and giant strawberries to make chips and jam. But he always makes sure he has lots of clean underpants on his adventures!

With lots of humour, you can’t help but smile as Uncle Pete sets about on the most marvellous journey in a rickety bi-plane, with the help of a tiny, talking mouse – rather aptly named TM. As Uncle Pete says “anything is possible”, and so it is as their quest takes them to a far-away land, through magical skies to find the starlit-filled cure for Harry. Young readers will love the imaginative narrative brought brilliantly to life with quirky illustrations and they’ll all be wanting to join Uncle Pete and TM on their next adventure! (of which there is a sneak-peek at the end of the book Uncle Pete and the Forest of Lost Things).

You can watch the author reading the story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NJkkIbZ8Mg and find out more at www.littledoorbooks.co.uk.

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Visit the rest of the tour:

Bookchat: Bug Belly written and illustrated by Paul Morton

Congratulations to author-illustrator, Paul Morton, whose debut funny fiction series is published today by Five Quills! It’s a huge pleasure to feature Bug Belly on the blog today – a book that will make you smile from the very first page.  Delightful and engaging throughout, the story introduces a new children’s character in the shape of a fabulous and funny frog, Bug Belly! And Paul Morton joins us on the blog today to share some of the inspiration behind the story.

Bug Belly cover

It’s Uncle Bug Belly’s turn to babysit! The taddies and the froglets can’t wait to PLAY. But when Uncle Bug Belly’s tummy goes URGLE-GURGLE GLUMP everyone knows it spells trouble!

Imaginative and full of lively, humourous illustrations, the first book in the series entitled Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble, follows Bug Belly’s adventures as he babysits a whole pondful of tadpoles and young froglets. Full of great ideas to keep them entertained, all is going swimmingly (!) when Bug Belly’s hungry tummy gets the better of him and disaster strikes.  However, not to be beaten by the threat of a dried up pond, a greedy fish, bird AND snake, Bug Belly comes up with an ingenious plan to save the day.  Young readers will love following the adventures and seeing how Bug Belly doesn’t give up even when all seems lost. There are even diagrams to highlight all Bug Belly’s fantastic ideas; a great addition to the story and perhaps inspiration for budding young inventors!  Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble is a wonderful addition to the world of illustrated fiction and I can’t wait to see what Bug Belly does next!

I’m very pleased to welcome Paul Morton to the blog today for a bookchat – welcome to the blog Paul!

Tell us a bit about your new book, Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble. The book is the first in a new series of young fiction titles, aimed at readers age 5-8 – both for children who still enjoy being read to as well as those venturing out on their own. Bug Belly is an ingenious, inventive and super fun froggy uncle to lots of little tadpoles and froglets in Top Pond. In this first story, he’s supposed to be babysitting all the taddies, but his hungry belly distracts him and causes a bit of a disaster, resulting in all the water draining from the pond. Bug Belly must race against the clock to save all the tadpoles. He loves a challenge, though, and comes up with an inventive plan to save the day, with the help of three young frogs, Splish, Splash and Splodge. It’s action packed, fun and exciting!

What do you hope readers will enjoy about the book? I hope they will enjoy the humour and action in the story, and I’ve included lots of illustrations throughout the book to introduce the characters, highlight the action and show the funny scenarios Bug Belly finds himself in. The text is great for reading aloud, too, so I hope will be shared in classrooms as well as at home. I recently did a school event which I really enjoyed – sharing tips on writing and firing children’s imaginations, and I hope to do many more of those in the future. I’ve created lots of activity sheets and resources to engage children with the series, so they can have a lot of fun exploring the stories in different ways.

How did you first come up with the idea for Bug Belly? I was playing a game with my nephew. Bug Belly is a rubber frog he has that had lost its squeaker, so insects could be stuffed into its tummy. I thought, ‘there’s a great idea for a children’s book!’ I’ve always been interested in animals, though, and have drawn many frog characters in my career as an illustrator and graphic designer. As a child I owned a green super-bouncy ball, that I kept in my pocket and pretended was a frog that could jump! Now, I’m lucky enough now to have a pond in my garden that is full of frogspawn, tadpoles and frogs every year!

How did you develop Bug Belly’s character, and the stories for this book series? I started by imagining some busy scenes from the story, for example the one where Bug Belly is planning to bag more bugs for his breakfast. I began wondering about all of the gadgets that Bug Belly might use to help him catch the bugs, and I developed his kit bag which you’ll see drawings of in the book – and developed various scenes from there which I stitched together into what I hope is an exciting story.

How do you plan and develop the illustrations for your books? First, I draw the main scenes as rough pencil sketches in my various notebooks and sketchbooks. Then I draw them in more detail on A4 sheets, before scanning them into my computer to add the colour digitally. In total, I produced around 1,000 drawings for Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble! One of the biggest challenges was all the individual tadpoles! I drew 2,000 of those for this book!

What can we expect in future Bug Belly stories? More fast paced fun and even trickier challenges for Bug Belly. Book two is being developed at the moment and involves a daring rescue mission to save one of the little froglets. Obviously I don’t want to give too much away but the story will feature sneaky snake and other predators, oh – and flying frogs!!

With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review and inviting me to host a bookchat! Bug Belly by Paul Morton publishes today (Five Quills), £6.99 paperback.

Sample chapters, activity sheet downloads and lots of other resources available from www.bugbelly.com

Bug Belly cover