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.

 

Book of the Month: Seaglass by Eloise Williams

book of the monthIt’s been so hot this summer that having a ghost story to read exploring the windswept Welsh coast was the perfect way to cool down and provide some eerie chills! I really enjoyed Eloise William’s last novel Gaslight so was delighted to receive a copy of her new book Seaglass to review.

With another gorgeous cover, this story is equally compelling and is our new Book of the Month!

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Seaglass by Eloise Williams

Lark struggles when her family and their friends go on holiday for the autumn half term. Her mother is ill, her little sister has stopped speaking and she has fallen out with her best friend.  Is a girl in a green dress following her in the fog? Or is her sister playing tricks on her? When a local woman tells her ‘the girl’ comes to take sisters, Lark is the only one who can save her family.  

Lark is angry. Angry that she’s cooped up in a car heading for a holiday which she is certain will be rubbish; angry that her little sister won’t speak anymore; angry that her mother is dying but no-one will talk about it.  She’s a thirteen-year-old full of attitude, torn between hiding her unhappiness to protect her family and shouting at anyone and anything in her way!  The holiday only gets marginally better when the others show-up – family and friends whom she has grown up with including her best friend Gwenni and her beloved eccentric grandma Mam-gu.  Alongside the family turbulence, it becomes frighteningly clear that there is a strange ghost girl roaming the woods near the holiday park and even more strange is that her little sister Snow, who doesn’t talk to anyone, seems to be communicating with her.  Add to this warnings from local residents, a night time boat ride, mysterious weather and an old ruin and you have all the ingredients for an eerie ghost story. What is the link between the strange girl and the collection of seaglass Lark and her sister have gathered?  Why does her sister draw so many pictures of the girl in the green dress?  And how can Lark save her family and herself from impending disaster?!

Seaglass is a great read, full of atmospheric descriptions of the Welsh coast and a collection of quirky characters you love – and some that you don’t!  Lark is a feisty girl struggling to come to terms with herself and her inability to control her temper but desperate to help her family.  Her determination to find out about the mysterious girl in the woods is admirable – she even uses the local library to help her! The references to Welsh history and family times gone by give a lovely depth to the whole story and Lark’s love of nature is a really nice addition to her character.  Lark’s friends and family come in all shapes and size, but their differences don’t come between them in the end because it’s family and friendship that matter. The truth about her mother’s illness is revealed and Lark has to face her fears, weaving a moving emotional showdown into the narrative. There are some very creepy moments; just enough to give you several chills and a seriously creepy doll I’d rather not think about now – but then I am a bit of a wimp about things like that!!

Seaglass is a wonderfully atmospheric, perfectly paced ghost story combined with a narrative about family and a really positive emphasis on the importance of being truthful with the ones you love. Publishing on 12th September from Firefly Press, Seaglass is definitely a book to add to your reading list – you won’t be disappointed!

Find out more at www.eloisewilliams.com

With thanks to Eloise and Firefly Press for sending me this book to review!

New reviews: Klaus Flugge Prize – A wondrous shortlist of picture books!

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I was very fortunate to be invited to review the incredible selection of books shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize.  The Prize will be awarded on 12th September to a debut illustrator of a published picture book. The five books on the shortlist will make judging the winner very difficult, such is the talent they demonstrate!

I enjoyed each of these very different titles and am delighted to share my reviews with you today.

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My Name is Not Refugee written and illustrated by Kate Milner (Barrington Stoke) is a moving and sensitively portrayed journey of a refugee inviting young readers to think how they might feel if they had to leave their homes.  A mother explains to her son the journey that lies ahead, some of it scary and some of it exciting but above all hopeful. Muted colours, use of light and shadow and blank space encourage you to stop and think and ultimately understand that refugees are just like us. The narrative is simple and each spread holds a direct thought-provoking question.  A brilliant book to prompt discussion, particularly with (but not limited too) young children, this is a great example of how picture books and illustration can be used to aid understanding of important issues.

Big Box, Little Box illustrated by Edward Underwood (Bloomsbury) written by Caryl Hart is a light-hearted tale of curiosity and an unusual friendship. If you’ve ever had a pet cat you’ll know how much they love to play inside, outside and all over the place with boxes!  The cat in this story is no different and has a wonderful time exploring all sorts of boxes, only to discover one is being in habited – by a mouse! Thankfully, the cat doesn’t respond as most cats would and a happy ending beckons.  The lyrical, rhyming narrative is perfectly reflected in the colourful images creating a really enjoyable story. I particularly love the movement and expressions of the cat! I can imagine this being a story youngsters will want to read again and again.

The Night Box illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont) written by Louise Grieg is an enchanting tale of day turning into night.  Little Max holds the key to the Night Box and as Day starts to wind down, it’s time to open the box! Night spreads across the land and out come the woodland animals, stars in the sky and of course, peaceful sleep.  This is such an evocative tale you can almost feel night time cover you!  Gorgeous illustrations, reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers in style, beautifully portray all the elements of night time from the animals to stars to the drip of a tap!  Warm colours wrap around you like a blanket and bring to life the peace that can be felt at night time.  This would be a wonderful story to allay young children’s fear of the dark and show them just how magical it can be.

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover written and illustrated by Markus Motum (Walker) tells the incredible journey of a real life mission to Mars.  A fine example of the amazing non-fiction books available for children today, Curiosity is full of fascinating facts that will have young readers on the edge of their seats. Told from the robot’s point of view, the narrative brilliantly sparks the imagination around the wonder of the universe. Amazing and detailed illustrations share the world of space exploration and show just how advanced it has become, with double page spreads that highlight just how vast the solar system is. A completely fascinating story and visually stunning book, this is a fantastic way to encourage youngsters to be curious about their world and beyond!

The Real Boat illustrated by Victoria Semykina, (Templar) written by Marina Aromshtam is a wonderful tale about a tiny paper boat venturing to the big wide ocean.  The paper boat wants to be a real boat and believes if he can get to the ocean his wish will come true.  He journeys along the river and meets many other boats along the way, from rowing boats to tug boats, fishing boats and once at the ocean, vast steam ships. The dangers of the seas overwhelm him, but even as he sinks to the ocean floor, all is not lost and a perfect and happy ending is reached. Beautiful, intricate illustrations bring the wonderful world of boats to life and portray just how vast and precious our waterways and oceans are. Full of heart, the narrative also shares insight into the many and varied activities around boats and water. I love the little boat’s wonder at the world around him and his fearlessness in realising his dream.  This is a lovely picture book story to share and the longer length makes it a really satisfying read.

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I couldn’t pick a winner; they’re all brilliant! The judging panel has a difficult task ahead; the panel comprises Children’s Laureate and acclaimed illustrator Lauren Child; Francesca Sanna, 2017 Klaus Flugge Prize winner; leading art director Goldy Broad; and Charlotte Colwill, head of children’s books at Foyles, selected a shortlist of five.  The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 12th September 2018 and will receive a cheque for £5,000.

With thanks to the award organisers for sending me these books to review! For more information visit www.klausfluggeprize.co.uk

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New review: Tomorrow written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan

Tomorrow written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan, was published this week by Lantana Publishing.  Lantana publish stunning books by authors and illustrators from around the world and this is their first picture book in translation, marking a milestone for the company.  Nadine Kaadan is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator from Syria now living in London. She has published books in many countries and her mission is to encourage a reading culture in the Arab world.

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Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan

Yazan no longer goes to the park to play, and he no longer sees his friend who lives next door. Everything around him is changing. His parents sit in front of the television with the news turned up LOUD and Yazan’s little red bike leans forgotten against the wall. Will he ever be able to go outside and play?

A strikingly illustrated story, Tomorrow tells of a boy who can no longer play outside due to the war torn streets outside his home. Yazan’s mother and father are understandably so absorbed in watching for news of the war, they forget that their son needs to play.  His mother in particular is so fraught with worry she no longer paints her beautiful pictures.  But when Yazan takes matters into his own hands, desperate to play on his bike, he faces imminent danger and the discovery that there is no one left to play with and everything is different.  His father comes to find him, but doesn’t even shout – which surely makes Yazan even more confused.  Finally his mother explains what is happening and to make his days brighter, paints a beautiful picture across his bedroom wall so that even if only in his imagination, he can play outside.

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Tomorrow is a moving story, both beautiful and bittersweet demonstrating how a war can affect every day life even down to ruining playtime. Captured through cleverly eye catching illustrations and a simple narrative, you are drawn in to this scary world where nothing is as it was before.  Glimpses of colour reflect the hope of tomorrow being the day when everything returns to normal. The story demonstrates a unique expression of love between mother and son and that war and fighting cannot take away the imagination and creativity that lives in us all.

Tomorrow would be a good way to introduce issues around conflict with children.  The war in Syria that still rages on; not all those affected leave their homes as refugees and there are families still living with day to day fighting – even when it’s not making news headlines.  Accompanied at the end by a note to readers from the author that describes the reason for this story, it won’t fail to leave you with a sadness for all those caught up in conflict and hope for tomorrow being a better day.

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

Find out more at www.nadinekaadan.com

 

 

New reviews: Brilliant Barrington Stoke books!

I have long been a fan of Barrington Stoke who publish super-readable books for children and young people. Each book has brilliant features which make them more accessible particularly to children with dyslexia or visual stress. In both my working and home life I’m well aware of the challenges being a reluctant or struggling reader presents, so it’s great to have something to offer those might who need a more accessible read. Bringing together award winning authors and illustrators, Barrington Stoke publish a whole range of brilliant stories and the three I’ve read recently are no exception.

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McTavish Goes Wild by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Grace Easton tells the story of the Peachey family and their delightful rescue dog McTavish. A wonderful spin on who is rescuing who, McTavish knows what’s best for the family and exactly where they should take their summer holiday. Like any family, each member has his or her preference but McTavish with brilliant doggy intelligence leads them on a fantastic journey of discovery through the countryside. This really is a delightful tale; I had a smile on my face the whole way through. Wonderfully observed and with lovely quirky illustrations, we see the Peachey family face the annual dilemma of how to keep everyone happy on holiday.  Thankfully McTavish is on hand to help. I would love a dog like him to solve family disputes and remind everyone what’s important!  This is the second book to feature McTavish and is aimed at children aged 8-12 years.

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Hari and his Electric Feet by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Sam Usher is a magical story aimed at 8-12 year olds, featuring Hari and his unique dancing talent. Discovering he can dance is one thing but when Hari and his good friend Mr Ram realise just how infectious it is, a wonderful adventure ensues. From the local street sellers to the farm animals to fighting politicians, everyone comes under Hari’s spell with lively illustrations capturing the movement. I love the idea of dance bringing such joy to people so much so that it even helps bring about world peace! Hari is a gorgeous character and you almost want to join in with his electric feet. If only world politics were that simple….

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Mariella Queen of the Skies by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Katy Halford tells the brilliant adventures of nine year old Mariella and her quest to escape bedtime. Full of inspired ideas and inventions she won’t rest till she has conquered sleep. Mariella discovers how to fly away from night time and spends her time visiting far off places and thinking of fabulous inventions. But it’s only when her ideas run out she realises that sleep is more important than she thought! Taking the familiar battle of avoiding bedtime, this story captures the imagination and wins hearts with a magnificent heroine in Mariella. And also reminds us sleep is essential no matter how smart you are and how many ideas you have! Featuring lovely colourful illustrations, this is one of the Little Gems series aimed at children aged 5-8 years.

Whether you’re looking for an accessible read or just a great story these books are a must-have addition to every bookshelf and library.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me these wonderful books to review. 

 

Book of the Month: Kat Wolfe Investigates by Lauren St John

book of the monthOur Book of the Month is the first instalment in a fantastic new adventure series by Lauren St John,  the award winning author of The White Giraffe series, Laura Marlin Mysteries and One Dollar Horse series.  Published by Macmillan, it’s a great middle grade read and perfect for budding young detectives and animal lovers!

Kat Wolfe loves her new home in idyllic Bluebell Bay, especially as it comes with a resident wildcat. But when she starts pet-Kat wolfesitting for pocket money, she finds that beneath the town’s perfect surface lie some dark and dangerous secrets . . . After a pet owner vanishes from his clifftop mansion, Kat turns to her new friend, Harper Lamb, for help. What began as mystery-solving holiday fun quickly turns deadly for Wolfe and Lamb. Can they count on their unruly animals to save their lives?

Kat Wolfe Investigates begins with Kat and her mother, Dr Wolfe taking the decision to move from their London home after a break-in.  When they arrive in their new idyllic home on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, it couldn’t be more perfect with a beautiful cottage, busy veterinary surgery for Dr Wolfe to run and a wildcat, Tiny, for Kat to try her cat-whispering talents on. Kat begins to make friends, starting a pet sitting agency and meeting computer-whizz Harper Lamb who is laid up with a broken leg and needs Kat to look after her horse.  The plot thickens and it soon becomes clear all is not as it seems with disappearances, mysterious messages and worrying behaviour all around. Kat and Harper set-up their very own detective agency to get to the bottom of things, little realising the deadly dangerous plot they are about to become embroiled in….

Lauren St John’s writing always reminds me of the stories I read when I was young – in particular the Enid Blyton Adventure series and the Nancy Drew Mysteries. This is true of Kat Wolfe Investigates, a story with a great sense of adventure, transporting you to that place of excitement when you can’t wait to find out what happens next!   Kat Wolfe makes a great heroine – persistent, loyal and caring.  Add to this a droll fellow detective in Harper; lots of animal characters from capuchin monkeys to overweight dogs to vicious wildcats; the odd human here and there, and you have a wonderful array of possible heroes and villains! It’s a well-paced plot with some lovely moments where Kat shows her truly caring nature. The mother and daughter bond between Kat and Dr Wolfe is great to read.  There are suitably tense action scenes with an edge-of-your-seat finale and a lovely satisfying ending which leaves the door open for the next adventure. I can’t wait to read it!

Find out more at www.laurenstjohn.com and www.panmacmillan.com

With thanks to Macmillan for a proof copy of this book to review.

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