New review: Early Learning at the British Museum with Nosy Crow

Two more gorgeous board books are now available in the collaborative series between The British Museum and Nosy Crow.  Each book is inspired by the vast British Museum collection and celebrates cultures from all over the world.  As museums across the world are celebrated on International Museum Day, these books are a great way to introduce history to young children and perhaps even follow-up with a visit to the museum itself!

First Words celebrates amazing objects and simple first words and is sure to encourage children to engage with early learning concepts.  Animals brings to life creatures of all shapes and sizes from all over the world, and will inspire curiosity in the natural world.


I think what I love about this series is the combination of history, culture and early language concepts brought together in a lovely format. There are so many fascinating objects to look at and its a great way to explore other cultures even with really young children.


As with previous books in the series, there is a useful index along with QR codes that link to more information about each object.  For children who perhaps don’t have access to the museum this is a great way of bringing history to their homes.

Read my reviews of the previous books here.

Find out more at and

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



New reviews: five great reads!

I’ve read some fantastic books over the last few weeks.  Here are my highlights of brilliant middle grade and YA reads which are available now, written by brilliant authors who know just how to get children and young people reading whether through fascinating facts, humour and adventure, teen romance or important issues.


The Secret Diary of Thomas Snoop Tudor Boy Spy by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Jamie Littler

Thomas Snoop is in training to become a spy. Entrusted with a top secret mission by the mysterious Lord Severn, right-hand man to the Tudor king, Thomas must travel to the magnificent Goldenhilt Hall – in the guise of a servant – in order to uncover traitors plotting against the crown. It will take all Thomas’s wits and cunning to uncover the traitors lurking at Goldenhilt Hall – and he must do so without being discovered himself…

I’ve read and enjoyed the previous books in this series and this new book doesn’t disappoint. With Philip Ardagh’s trademark wit and hilarity, we discover all about Tudor times through the eyes of Thomas Snoop and his diary entries. Mystery abounds as Thomas attempts to complete his mission and uncover the dastardly treacherous villains who threaten to destroy English freedom! I love Jamie Littler’s illustrating style, complimenting the narrative with humorous takes on the larger than life characters.  Historical facts appear throughout the story, making Tudor Boy Spy informative and fun! This great series introduces history in an accessible way, encouraging young readers to think what life might have been like growing up in a different time period – with the added bonus of being really funny!

Philip Ardagh has written many children’s books and is best known for his Grubtown Tales for which he won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.  Jamie Littler is an illustrator whose books include Hamish and the World Stoppers, a bestselling debut of 2015.

Find out more at

The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell illustrated by Clare Powellchoc ghost

Archie McBudge knows his lucky underpants must really work, because when he and his mum are summoned to Honeystone Hall in the remote Scottish village of Dundoodle, they find Archie has inherited not only the enormous hall, but the whole of the world-famous McBudge Confectionery Company from Great-Uncle Archibald. That’s a new home, a fortune and a lifetime’s supply of treats rolled into one! But all is not well in Dundoodle, and when Archie reads the mysterious letter his great-uncle left him, he finds himself on a quest to save his family’s company from ruin. With the help of his new friends Fliss and Billy, Archie has to try to figure out the puzzles of Honeystone before his sweet future melts away like an ice lolly in the sun!

I absolutely loved this story! Full of adventure, heart and humour I defy anyone to read this and not laugh out loud, whilst craving the wonderful fudge creations described. A fantastic balance of mystery, fantasy, devious villains and a trio of heroes, the plot keeps you guessing until the final pages. Set in the wilds of Scotland, the landscape springs to life and soon enough, Archie finds himself wading deeper into the secrets of Dundoodle. He makes a fine, hugely likeable hero ably supported by Fliss and Billy and you are rooting for them throughout. With strange creatures, relatives plotting revenge and of course, lots and lots of sugary treats, The Chocolate Factory Ghost really is a great middle grade read and definitely one of my favourites so far this year.

I read a proof copy of this book so haven’t seen the illustrations but if the cover is anything to go by I’m sure they’re fantastic! David O’Connell is a writer and illustrator from South London and works mostly in children’s books.  Claire Powell is an illustrator and designer whose short animation The Scapegoat won an award at the British Animation Film Festival 2015.

Find out more

how to bee.jpg

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

How to Bee is set in a future where there are no bees and children are employed to scramble through the fruit trees with feather wands.  Peony wants to be a bee, a hand pollinator; she’s light, she’s fast, and even though she’s a year too young, she’s going to be the best bee the farm has ever seen…except when you’re only nine years old it’s hard to get everyone around you to go along with your plan.

How to Bee is a compelling middle grade story set in a dystopian future that feels all too plausible. You can feel the heat, dust and humidity of the Australian farm on which the story is set and sadly imagine a world where bees no longer exist and pollination has to be done by hand. Featuring a bold and fierce heroine named Peony, who’s bravery is admirable in the face of true adversity,  How to Bee is a fast-moving story, full of heart rending moments. Taken unwillingly from her home, Peony’s struggles are frequent but she doesn’t lose heart and her determination to get back to her Grandfather and sister is palpable. Even in the most unpleasant of situations, Peony keeps her desire for freedom in sight, making friends in the most unexpected of places. It’s a story full of hope and courage, thankfully (spoiler alert) with a happy ending; but also a stark warning for those who ignore the plight of the diminishing bee population. After reading How to Bee, when you next see bees buzzing around the garden you’ll look at them with new eyes and Peony’s story will stay with you long after the final page.

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand and now lives in Melbourne. How to Bee has been shortlisted for several awards and is Bren’s first children’s novel to be available in the UK.

Find out more 

Truly Wildly Deeply by Jenny McLachlantruly wildy deeply.jpg

Freedom matters to Annie. She has cerebral palsy and she’s had to fight hard to get the world to see her for who she truly is.  Annie is starting college.She can’t wait. No more school, no more uniform and no one telling her what to do. Its the start of a new adventure and Annie’s not going to let anyone or anything get in the way of that…

There’s something wonderful about coming back to a character you love. This story features the fabulous feisty Annie from Stargazing for Beginners – and she’s even better this time around! We meet her just as she’s going to college, determined to make her own way as ever despite her disability. Annie is a force to be reckoned with but she experiences the perils of teenage life just like anyone else. Making new friends, finding her way round a new campus, dealing with family and of course, finding romance. We see new insight into what makes Annie tick and meet the absolutely wonderful character of Fab, in whom Annie may have met her match. Truly Wildly Deeply is a gorgeous tale with a gorgeous heroine, who springs to life, inspires with her everyday courage and brings a smile to your face with her wit and wisdom! It’s a fantastic story by one of my favourite writers for young people – read it; you won’t be disappointed!

Jenny McLachlan worked as an English teacher before becoming a full-time writer in 2014. She has written fantastic books for young people including the Ladybirdz series and Stargazing for Beginners.

Find out more

tenderTender by Eve Ainsworth

Marty and Daisy spend their lives pretending. Marty pretends his Mum’s grip on reality isn’t slipping by the day.  Daisy pretends her parents aren’t exhausting themselves while they look after her brother. They both pretend they’re fine. That everything is fine.  But the thing about pretending is, at some point, it has to stop. And then what?

Another gritty, but ultimately uplifting story from Eve Ainsworth, who writes with such insight into the problems some young people experience today. The two protagonists face extreme difficulties in their lives, both affected by a family member suffering from debilitating illness. Daisy adores her brother but his health problems take their toll on everything in her life no matter how hard she tries to cope. Marty doesn’t want any help looking after his Mum and he certainly doesn’t want to attend some youth group for people ‘like him’.  When Daisy and Marty meet, as well as dealing with everyday teenage troubles, the cracks in their ability to deal with things at home start to show.  You can totally understand why they are drawn to each other and as the story unfolds, they find hope in new friendship.  Tender is a compelling read, with characters you really care about. Supported by an Arts Council award, the novel focuses on important issues that many will relate to, raising the profile of problems around at mental health and young carers.  I read it in one sitting and would highly recommend this YA read.

Eve Ainsworth has written several YA novels focused on issues affecting young people. Her work in pastoral care in schools has given her a real insight to the needs of teenagers and a desire to raise awareness of the things that matter to them.

Find out more at

With thanks to Bloomsbury, Nosy Crow, Old Barn Books, and Scholastic for sending me these books to review!

New review: Peace Lily by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey

On International Nurses Day, it’s the perfect time to share this beautiful picture book.  Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey is the fourth and final picture book in their WW1 picture book series for children, published in the year of the Armistice Centenary marking the end of fighting. The book was published on International Women’s Day (8th March 2018) paying tribute to the contribution of women to the war effort.  


Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey

Ever since she was small, Lily wanted to be a nurse.  Her dream becomes real when she takes the brave decision to follow her childhood friends to the battlefield of Western France. Will she ever see them again?

The story begins with young Lily being born and spending her days growing up with her friends Ben and Ray, enjoying the countryside and playing games in the brook.  Beautiful illustrations portray the sunshine and happiness; who could imagine the dark clouds of war looming?  But when war does arrive, Lily has to say goodbye to her friends as they go off to fight and she is soon compelled to join the war effort herself as a nurse.

Told in a lyrical rhyming narrative, we quickly see the stark realities of the battlefields and how brave Lily must be to help the wounded soldiers. Working in a field hospital, the conditions are dire with bombed out buildings all around. And then suddenly Lily realises her dear friend Ben is one of the wounded, and keeps a bedside vigil until he is better.  Nursing him back to health, the war finally ends and Ray, Ben and Lily are reunited at home.  The final scene thankfully tells of a very happy ending, radiantly depicted through Martin Impey’s illustrations.

Peace Lily is a lovely picture book sensitively telling the story of a young girl, her friends and their bravery in the face of war.  Muted pastel illustrations with hints of colour throughout perfectly capture the heart of the narrative.  This would be a wonderful story to read aloud, gently introducing young children aged 4 and above to the ideas around conflict.  Written in rhyme as a tribute to the war poets, Peace Lily and indeed the other titles in the series, are an important and moving commemoration and will help ensure younger generations never forget the sacrifices made by so many.  The story also recognises the huge contribution by women in wartime, nursing those fighting for our freedom.

“Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, it requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work.”

Florence Nightingale 1820-1910

Find out more at

With thanks to Strauss House Productions for sending me this book to review.




Branford Boase Book Award 2018 – shortlist announced!

BBA_LogoThe Branford Boase Book Award is an absolutely wonderful celebration of writing and is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. However, not only does it honour brilliant authors but also the super-talented editors who work with them.  It really is a special award and having been a supporter of it over the last few years I’m delighted to share the shortlist on the blog. Social media is buzzing with congratulations for the nominees and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing the books over the coming weeks!

The Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of the outstanding and prize-winning author Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, editorial director and one of the founders of Walker Books. They worked together on a number of Henrietta’s novels, a partnership they greatly enjoyed. Both Henrietta and Wendy died of cancer in 1999.  The Award is the joint idea of Julia Eccleshare and Anne Marley. Julia is chair of PLR and director of the Hay Festival children’s programme as well as a regular contributor to Radio 4’s Front Row and Open Book programmes. Anne is now co-director of Authors Aloud UK and was Head of Children’s, Youth & Schools Services for Hampshire Library & Information Service for many years.

Seven different publishers are represented on the shortlist including independents Usborne and David Fickling Books and brand new list Zephyr. Now in its nineteenth year the Branford Boase Award is recognised as one of the most important awards in children’s books with a hugely impressive record in identifying authors with special talent at the start of their careers. Previous winners and shortlisted authors include Siobhan DowdMeg RosoffMal PeetPhilip ReeveFrank Cottrell Boyce and Patrick NessCosta Book Award winner Frances Hardinge won with her debut novel Fly By Night in 2006.

The shortlist for the 2018 award is as follows:

 branford 1

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Head of Zeus: Zephyr)

branford 2

The Starman and Me by Sharon Cohen, edited by Sarah Lambert (Quercus Children’s Books)

branford 3

Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin, edited by Leah Thaxton (Faber)

branford 4

Knighthood for Beginners by Elys Dolan, edited by Clare Whitston and Elv Moody (Oxford)

branford 5

Kick by Mitch Johnson, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne)

branford 6

Potter’s Boy by Tony Mitton, edited by Anthony Hinton (David Fickling Books)

branford 7

The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, edited by Gill Evans (Walker Books)

It’s a fantastic shortlist and judging will not be easy! This year the judges are Urmi Merchant of children’s bookshop Pickled Pepper BooksHelen Swinyard, librarian at Heartlands High School and founder of theHaringey Children’s Book Award; author and reviewer Philip Womack; and M.G. (Maya) Leonard, author of Beetle Boy, winner of the 2017 Branford Boase Award. The panel is chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival.

Julia Eccleshare says: “Each year the Branford Boase Award discovers authors with outstanding talent and promise: this year is no exception. The BBA also celebrates the lively state of children’s publishing in the UK and we were excited that no less than 26 different publishers entered books with seven making the shortlist. By concentrating on the most exciting new voices, the Branford Boase consistently highlights trends in contemporary children’s fiction: our 2018 judges were struck by the huge predominance on the longlist of domestic dramas. Children’s adventure it seems has become internal, the setting no longer the outside world but frequently the family, with narrative tension and action arising from issues such as mental health and individual trauma. Nonetheless, our seven shortlisted books have new stories to tell and vibrant new voices to tell them.”

The winner of the 2018 Branford Boase Award will be announced on Wednesday 4th July at a ceremony in London. The winning author receives a cheque for £1,000 and both author and editor receive a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.

Good luck to all those nominated and watch this space for reviews coming soon!


For more information about the award, including a full list of past winners, and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition visit .

New review: Make More Noise!


Make More Noise! features short stories by ten fabulous female authors.  It is a celebration of inspirational girls and women in honour of the centenary anniversary of women’s suffrage.  Published by Nosy Crow, to mark the passing of the Representation of the People Act in February 1918, some of the stories are inspired by real events and real people, some are totally imagined; but they all hold freedom and equality at their heart.  Written by some of our most favourite female authors there are contributions from M. G Leonard, Patrice Lawrence, Katherine Woodfine and Kiran Millwood Hargrave who comments: “I’m honoured to be contributing to an anthology that celebrates girls in all their complexity and world-changing power.”

The thing about reading short stories is that you want more and you want to know what happens to the characters – a sign of really great storytelling! Where do they end up? Do they manage to achieve their goals? Do they defeat their persecutors? Do they finally get the freedom they so desire?  That was certainly the case for me reading these stories. With settings ranging from the East End slums in the 1800s to an unusual ghost story to an intrepid bike ride around the world, each story holds a unique insight into the lives of girls and women through the ages.

I particularly enjoyed Tea and Jam by Katharine Woodfine with a lovely character Eveline trying to do her best to be good at her job of house maid and “not get ideas above her station”.  However when she discovers that there are libraries where books are free and there are activities to help you continue your education, the idea of freedom is suddenly much more appealing.  I wonder whether she got there in the end?!  I also enjoyed The Green-Hearted Girl by Kiran Millwood Hargrave which brought to life a beautiful, fantastical world created by a great flood where tree people inhabit the branches of every kind of tree.  Again, I wanted to know what happened next and whether the green hearted-girl was able to unite the treeple!

Each of the stories in this collection has a unique perspective on freedom and the bravery of women and girls to achieve equality and stand up for themselves whether on a personal level or contributing to a national cause.  Make More Noise! is a brilliant book to introduce the ideas behind women’s suffrage to a new generation and to celebrate the sacrifices that were made a hundred years ago so women can vote today.


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

Guest blog: Margrete Lamond on The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear


The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Heather Vallance is a quirky, bittersweet tale of friendship.  It stands out for its slightly darker tone and not necessarily happy ‘ending’ rather like one of Aesop’s fables – but perhaps give a more lifelike picture of how some friendships really can be.  In this story accompanied by stunning charcoal illustrations, Fox and Bear fall out, with Fox being a cunning trickster and Bear falling for his ploys – again and again. Bear realises he too can play the trickster and he sets about to teach Fox a lesson. Hare and Rooster join in with their opinions on Fox’s trickery giving Bear even more desire to get back at Fox.  But as you might imagine, Bear doesn’t feel quite so good afterwards and wonders if he made the right decision…..

Children are often far more intelligent and resilient than they’re given credit for and I can imagine many heartfelt and heated opinions if you read this aloud to your class. The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear takes off the rose-tinted glasses and shows how sometimes ‘friends’ can be mean, sometimes they can let us down and sometimes we can let our friends down. Perhaps the point about being friends is accepting friendship won’t always be perfect and that forgiveness is central to ensure its longevity.  Margrete Lamond

Today to share more insight into to the inspiration behind this story, I’m really pleased to welcome to the blog author Margrete Lamond, who I am sure will have you reaching for your copy to re read or ordering one from the bookshop immediately! Welcome to the blog Margrete!

“The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear is an aggregate of several Norwegian folk-tales. It is also a mash-up of scenarios, an introduction of unrelated characters and relationships, and a reinvention of the motivations of the main players Bear, Fox, Rooster and Hare. Each borrowed tale, and each character, has been twisted, moulded, pummelled and reshaped. Even so, the original sources remain clear.

I can’t resist retelling a folk tale. Retelling, for me, is the ultimate writerly indulgence. The bones of the story have been established and much of the brain-grinding groundwork has already been done. All I need do is sit down and play with language, sentences, patterns and rhythms and sounds, invest the story with an uneasy voice, suggest a disturbing undertow and – O ultimate joy – craft an ambiguous ending. Not to mention play around with the hopes, desires and motivations of the characters. All this, without once having to agonise over fundamental plotting. Tweaking, yes. Retelling, yes. Giving the original tales a thoroughgoing structural edit, yes. Starting with a blank page, no.

At this level of indulgence – where I sport in a sandbox full of toys I didn’t pay for – any folk tale is fun to retell, no matter how well-known, well worn, or even worn out it may be. I will happily find ways to retell Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Little Hare 2015), for example, so that the protagonists’ motivations are a little more twisted and the endings a little more dissonant than the originals were intended to be. But I am most happy when I play with tales that are less well-known. Lesser-known tales offer adventures into the complete unknown, into scenarios that often are decidedly peculiar, and acquaint us with erratic, eccentric and psychopathic characters whose behaviours require not a little agility of invention to render them narratively plausible, at least to the contemporary reader.

Most importantly of all, lesser-known traditional tales offer ranges and nuances of emotion rarely encountered in the accepted folk-tale canon. Self-delusion, psychosis, braggadocio, falsehood, vaulting ambition, errant foolishness, unassuageable guilt … such riches for those who care to dig them out! When Einstein declared that if we wanted more intelligent children we should read them more fairy tales, he must surely have been talking about this breadth and depth and richness of emotional experience that traditional tales offer.

It was in this vein of seeking emotional breadth that I sourced the stories for The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear. They are decidedly gritty, if not downright harsh and violent. The bad guys sometimes win, the good guys are sometimes bad, and the really bad guys are really bad in cruel, underhanded and unpunished ways. These elements remain in my retelling. They are perhaps even highlighted, as a result of being woven into a theme of psychological danger in friendship. I’ve deliberately drawn a dark, dark world, but also hope I have suggested the warmth of sun gleaming through the clouds. Bear’s deep and simple wisdom, Fox’s contrition and fundamental loyalty, the unspoken love that reverberates between them even in estrangement … each of these, and more, suggests that even in our own confusing world, forgiveness, love and loyalty offer ongoing understanding and hope.”

Margrete Lamond © 2018


Margrete Lamond is a publisher of Little Hare Books in Australia, author of many modern re-tellings of traditional tales.  She is passionate believer in quality artwork in books for young readers.

Heather Vallance is a studio artist who has taught in remote communities in Australia and regional schools and galleries.

If you would like to find out more visit With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review and Liz Scott for organising this guest blog.

Book of the Month: Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo by Laura James

book of the monthWhat a gorgeous book!  I opened the package from Bloomsbury and out fell this fabulous illustrated chapter book.  You can’t help but fall in love with Fabio the flamingo, a brand new character from author Laura James (who writes the Adventures of Pug series) with fabulous illustrations by Emily Fox!


Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo by Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox

Fabio, the world’s greatest flamingo detective, just wants to sit on the veranda of the Hotel Royale and drink pink lemonade, not judge the local talent show.  But when Julia the jazz-singing hippo disappears from the stage, Fabio knows he’s been served a tall, refreshing glass of crime.

This first story in the series sees Fabio the flamingo on the case of finding a missing hippo of all things.  Having been roped into judging the local talent contest, Fabio uses his detective skills to find out just who is behind the disappearance, all the while hearing the many and varied talents of the local residents of Lake Laloozee!  Aided by his somewhat hapless assistant, a giraffe called Gilbert who loves to be helpful and put on a disguise, Fabio cleverly weaves his way through the suspects to find out who kidnapped the star-songstress Julia.  It seems nearly everyone has a motive, but Fabio is not one to give up easily and notices everything – after all he’s the world’s greatest flamingo detective!

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which had echoes of many of my favourite detective novels.  A convincing setting; a fantastic cast of characters from moody hotel owner Smith the vulture to the fabulous jazz band trio of crocodiles Kevin, Delilah and Tiny Bob; and plenty of suspects – this read like an Agatha Christie for kids! The imaginative plot will keep young readers guessing and laughing out loud; especially where Gilbert the Giraffe is concerned.  I absolutely loved the artwork and three colour illustrations throughout, bringing to life the animals and their various personalities. Fabio, of course, is the favourite – who knew a flamingo could be so suave and sophisticated?! The culprit is of course caught but it’s a suitably happy ending with the world’s greatest detective in charge! I absolutely cannot wait for the next adventure and am sure this series will be a hit with young readers far and wide.



Find out more at and

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