Tag Archives: Middle Grade Fiction

New reviews: last reviews of 2018!

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This week’s reads include five great titles to add to your TBR shelf.  Three fantastic middle grade accessible reads published by Barrington Stoke and two moving middle- grade wartime dramas; one set in World War One (published by Scholastic) and one focused on World War Two (published by Firefly Press).  These great books form the last of my book reviews for 2018 as I’ll be taking a book review break over December – but still reading of course!

race to the frozen north

 

Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson

When orphan Matthew Henson ran away from his violent stepmother to find a new life in the big city, no one could have predicted that he would become the first man to reach the North Pole.  A little luck and a lot of hard work led to a life of adventure on the high seas and in the Arctic, but back home in America his achievements were ignored due to the colour of his skin. 

Based on a remarkable true story, Race to the Frozen North sheds light on the amazing achievements of Matthew Henson and his lifetime’s journey to the North Pole. I had never heard of him before reading this story – and I expect I am not alone in this. The prejudice he faced prevented him being recognised as the first man to the North Pole and he lived with this knowledge for many years until times began to change and he finally received a Polar Expedition Medal. But in many ways Matthew’s achievements go way beyond reaching the North Pole – he overcame hatred, poverty, endless prejudice and fear to achieve his dream of living a life of adventure. The friendships he did make through hard work and a desire to learn were strong and true. Brilliantly told, Race to the Frozen North is a story all would benefit from reading, celebrating an incredible unsung hero.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

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Flight by Vanessa Harbour

Austria 1945.  After losing his family, Jakob shelters with Herr Engel in a rural stables, where they hide the precious Lipizzanner stallions they know Hitler wants to steal.  When a German officer comes looking for Jakob and finds the horses, Jakob and his guardian know they must get the stallions to safety, but the only way is straight through Nazi territory. Joined by Kizzy, an orphan Roma girl, the three must guide the horses across the perilous Austrian mountains.  Will they reach safety? What will be waiting for them the other side?

The opening scene of Flight immediately sets the tone of this wartime story – tense, heart breaking, and full of bravery. Jakob’s care for the beautiful Lipizzanner horses and his determination to save them even in the face of murderous Nazis, is truly admirable.  His relationship with his guardian, the grouchy but kind Herr Engel, is touching and the introduction of a third character, Kizzy, creates a brilliant dynamic to the relationships at the heart of the story.  Wartime dramas such as Flight show how awful the brutal regime that stole the freedom of so many really was, but also captures the bravery and hope that kept the Nazis from succeeding.  A really gripping read that doesn’t stint on the dangers faced by Jakob, Herr Engel and Kizzy, Flight will keep you hooked till the final page.

Find out more www.fireflypress.co.uk

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Anty Hero by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Tom Percival

Ant might seem to have an odd attraction to insects, and it’s weird that he doesn’t know anything about footie, but these aren’t the strangest things about him by a long way. What really sets him apart is what’s hiding behind the ginormous sunglasses that he refuses to ever take off.  When his science teacher catches a glimpse behind the oversized green lenses, Ant is in grave danger. Can his friends Zac and Tulisa, along with an army of tiny helpers, save the day?

Quirky and original, Anty Hero is an engaging story featuring an unusual hero and bugs galore, with great black and white illustrations capturing the action. When Zac realises he’s not the weirdest kid in school any more he’s a bit relieved but also finds a friend in the new boy, Ant.  However, his relief is short lived when Ant accidentally reveals his true identity in a science lesson. So begins a daring rescue to save Ant from their somewhat maniacal science teacher Mr Dawkins and his son – the class bully – Ray.  Zac and fellow classmate Tulisa, find they’re braver than they realise and that friends come in all shapes and sizes in this funny, bug-filled tale!

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

 

evies war

Evie’s War by Holly Webb

On the cusp of World War one, in the seaside town of Whitby, Evie and her family are touched by tragedy when Evie’s younger brother Alexander dies unexpectedly. But when the threat of war turns into a reality and Evie’s older brother David enlists in the army, their mother is truly heartbroken. And as the family does their best to contribute to the war effort, they also struggle with the sacrifices each of them are forced to make. 

Brilliant storytelling shows the true heartache and difficulties faced by one family throughout World War 1.  Instantly creating empathy in the reader from the very first page and as the story unfolds, Evie’s War deals with so many different aspects of the impact of war, from death and bereavement to separation of family, food shortages, cowardice, bombings, to the use of animals in war.  It also is a story of growing up, starting a new school, making friends and coping with a grieving mother.  Evie makes a warm and strong central character, for whom you feel much sympathy as she navigates life, supporting her younger sister Kitty and helping look after the family home, in particular her dogs Max and Brandy.  You’ll need a box of tissues when you read this book which is both heart-breaking and uplifting.  Published in time for the Armistice Centenary, Evie’s War will help children understand the true heartache and horrors of war at the same time as reassuring them of the power of family, love and hope.

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

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The Dog that Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies illustrated by Mike Byrne

Christmas is a nightmare for Jake. He hates the bright lights, all the noise and the disruption to his routine. But everything changes when he finds a lost dog. He names her Susan and adopts as his own. Jake and Susan form a special bond that helps him cope with the things that usually stress him out. With Susan around maybe there’s a chance that this Christmas will be one the whole family can enjoy.

A really touching story that highlights Christmas isn’t always as welcome as we might think for some children.  Jake is a child on the autism spectrum and finds lots of things difficult to cope with, but especially when there are lots of changes. So instead of being excited about the lights, the tree and more freedom, Jake hates it.  The story shows just how hard this is for his whole family and when Jake finds a special friend in the shape of Susan the stray dog, they are all delighted that he feels so much better.  But when his real owners come to take her home, Jake is back to being totally unsettled with everything.  I won’t spoil the ending, but The Dog that Saved Christmas really does make you think – and shows how magical the relationship between a dog and their owner can be.  Therapy dogs are becoming more common in many schools because they can have such an amazingly positive impact on the children they work with – and of course this is felt by the families of those children too.  The Dog that Saved Christmas is a really warm-hearted tale featuring lovely illustrations and sharing an important message of inclusivity and understanding.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Firefly Press and Scholastic for sending me these books to review! 

 

Book of the Month: The Afterwards by A.F.Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

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The Afterwards by A.F.Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

Fact: Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is.  It is what it will always be.  Ember and Ness.  Then Ness dies.  It is sudden and unexpected and leaves Ember completely empty. How can this be?  When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back.  Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They help. They rescue each other. They never give up. Ember and Ness. That don’t change.. 

Sometimes you read a book and it is really hard to put into words what it has made you think, how it has made you feel and the way it has touched your heart.  This is absolutely the case with The Afterwards for me.  Moving, compelling, original, scary, humourous, dark and utterly poignant. A.F.Harrold has a way of writing that is totally thought-provoking whether it be a poem, a recalled memory, a funny story or this – a beautiful portrayal of death and grief.

If you have ever lost someone you love you will know the pain this causes, the hurt and disbelief and the thought that somehow you must be able to find them or get to them in some way.  Just to have one more conversation, one more final hug, one more moment with this person who was yours.  The Afterwards brings this and more to life, through a wonderful alignment of words, the power of story and incredible illustrations by Emily Gravett.  This isn’t just a book for children; this is a book for anyone who has ever lost someone that they love. It is a must read and the most memorable book I have read in a very long time.

With huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to read and review.  Find out more at www.bloomsbury.com

 

 

 

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: 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.