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.

book of the month

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!

Continue reading

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.

National-Trust-The-Secret-Diary-of-Thomas-Snoop-Tudor-Boy-Spy-355601-1

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!

Continue reading

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-children

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

New review: Make More Noise!

Repro_MakeMoreNoise_cvr.indd

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.

Repro_MakeMoreNoise_cvr.indd

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

copy

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

copy

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 www.oldbarnbooks.com With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review and Liz Scott for organising this guest blog.