Tag Archives: Middle grade

BLOG TOUR: The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth

Tigers? Time Travel? Tropical forests? Three intrepid adventurers? What more could you ask for in historical middle grade adventure?! It’s my absolute pleasure to be hosting a guest post for the final stop on the blog tour for this fantastic new book, The Time Traveller and the Tiger, written by Tania Unsworth, published by Zephr Books.

Cover Art: Helen Crawford-White

Elsie is not looking forward to the long summer holidays with her creaky, old Uncle John. But then the unimaginable happens as Time unravels and Elsie tumbles back to 1940s India to meet her Uncle John as a young boy on a tiger hunt. Can Elsie change the future by stopping him from doing what he’s already told her is a wrong he can never right? Face to face with the mightiest and most majestic predator in the jungle, Elsie is in awe of the tiger’s beauty. She’s on a mission to have the adventure of a lifetime, save the tiger and change the future.

I love tigers and I love time-travel stories so this story caught my eye immediately. I’m also always taken by 1940s India – my grandfather served with the Ghurkas in the Second World War and my mother was born in India whilst he was there. In addition, my great-grandfather was Mountbatten’s Chief Medical Adviser so I’m always fascinated by hearing stories of India. This was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on this wonderful adventure. Alongside themes of friendship and bravery, the story doesn’t shy away from the reality of animal poaching and prejudice that existed and encourages the reader to think seriously about conservation. Elsie, John and Mandeep are a wonderful cast of characters, each with their own fears to face creating a multi-layered story of thrilling adventure. Brilliantly brought to life, the Indian forests are teeming with atmosphere and the tiger is utterly majestic, particularly as we see the world through his eyes at key moments throughout.

I’m delighted to welcome author Tania Unsworth to the blog today to share her thoughts on using description in children’s books. Welcome to the blog Tania!

The Time Traveller and the Tiger is an adventure story set in the forests of Central India, and the minute I finished the first draft, I knew I had a problem. Although the characters and plot were coming along nicely, I’d hardly described the setting at all. It felt fake – like the painted backdrop on a stage. I’d read books and looked at pictures, but I simply didn’t have enough information. So, I decided to spend a week visiting a tiger reserve in India. And that was when I ran into my second problem.

Now, I had too much information. I came back with a notebook crammed with facts and figures and breathless accounts of everything from the light of dawn to the stars at night. And because I’d fallen in love with the place, I wanted to put all this description into my book.

Usually, I’m quite sparing with description. I tend not to describe what my characters look like, for example, because I think part of the pleasure for readers comes from creating their own pictures. At the same time, some description is needed in children’s fiction. And it’s often for a different reason than in fiction for adults. Adult readers might automatically get a visual image when they read the words ‘a mountain chalet’ say, or ‘the boardroom of a large corporation’. But chances are, most children won’t have a good sense of what these places actually look like, because almost everything is new to them.

On the other hand, long descriptions are risky in children’s books. They can slow reading progress and get in the way of the story. As Joan Aitken points out in her guide The Way to Write for Children, “if you do nothing but describe…although it will be a pleasure for you, and to some of your readers, others will automatically skip all your best descriptions, and the plot will creep at a snail’s pace.”

I decided that if I wanted to include a lot of description in my book, I would have to weave it in using stealth. Through dialogue, for example. Elsie – my main character – knows nothing about the Indian forest. That was an opportunity to have my other characters, John and Mandeep, point things out and give her descriptive snippets of information. Wherever possible, I tried to convey the appearance of things through action. Instead of describing a giant spider web, I had Elsie run into one. Rather than telling the reader what termite mounds look like, I made Elsie mistake them for weirdly caped figures in the dark.

I made a rule that I wouldn’t describe anything unless the description added directly to the story. To create atmosphere, say. The grasping, knotted tendrils of a banyan tree echoing the sinister machinations of a group of trophy hunters. Or to show character motivation and personality. Light coming through the trees reminds Mandeep of a temple, revealing the depth of his love for the forest…

Of course, I didn’t always stick to that rule. Sometimes I couldn’t resist just…describing. But by making the setting less of a backdrop, and more of an active participant in the story, I hoped readers wouldn’t be slowed in their gallop to the end.

I’d love to know if you think I succeeded!”

Find out out more at www.headofzeus.com and www.taniaunsworth.com/. With thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

It’s the final stop on the blog tour for The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher, a fabulous finale to the Clockwork Crow series published by Firefly Press. Today, I’m sharing a guest post by Catherine focusing on writing the third book in this brilliant trilogy.

The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher

With an invisible girl, a parliament of owls and a pen that writes by itself, the journey to the garden of the Midnight Swan might be Seren’s most dangerous adventure yet. Can she, Tomos and the Crow complete their quest and get back where they belong?

Beautifully written, depicting a magical Victorian setting with characters we’ve come to know and love, The Midnight Swan is both gripping and heart-warming. The kind of adventure I would have gobbled up as a child (metaphorically speaking of course!), you’ll be transported back into Seren and Tomos’ world as they race against time to save their schoolteacher friend, the Clockwork Crow. In addition to facing the eerily terrifying Tylwyth Teg, Seren must contend with her worries of being sent back to the orphanage too. Perhaps being taken by the faery folk wouldn’t be so bad…?

Today on the blog, author Catherine Fisher shares insight into writing the final book of the trilogy. Welcome to the blog Catherine!


The Midnight Swan is the third in the Clockwork Crow series, about the adventures of Seren, an orphan in Victorian Wales, and her tetchy, vain friend, the Crow. The series has been huge fun to write. I have enjoyed mixing in all the things I like best- a big old house, lakes and woods, magic and folklore, strange other worlds and the silvery faery beings of Wales, The Tylwyth Teg. I wanted it to be firmly rooted in Wales. So I have used Welsh names and fragments of the language, as well as some of our folklore. The house of Plas-y-Fran is imaginary, but based on a house I know well, where I used to go to school, especially the creaky upstairs corridors and the staircase with its portraits that look down on Seren.


Each book is set in a different season, the first in winter and the second in autumn. The Midnight Swan is set at Midsummer, when the days are long and hot, and the nights short and magical. The last book is always the trickiest of the three to write. That’s because if readers enjoyed the first two, they are looking forward to this one a lot and I don’t want to disappoint them! Also the third book has to wrap the story up in a satisfying way and have everyone living happily ever after. In this book, Seren and Tomas and the Crow must find a way to break the spell that keeps him as a moth- eaten bird and find a way to restore his human shape. And Seren has to come to finally be accepted as part of the Jones family and lose her fears of being sent back to the orphanage.


Also the book has to have its own exciting adventure! So we have a Midsummer Ball, a stolen Box with a strange message on the lid, a pen that writes by itself and an invisible girl. Seren and the Crow journey to the Garden of the Midnight Swan, and on the way they meet all sorts of animals, problems and dangers. Who is following them? And can they get back in time to stop the Tylwyth Teg invading the Ball? Above all, will the Midnight Swan help them break the spell? I hope it’s a thrilling, funny and satisfying end to the series, and that you love reading it.”

Find out more at https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/midnight-swan/

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

BLOG TOUR: Elsetime by Eve McDonnell – review and guest post

I’m very excited to be participating in the blog tour today for Elsetime by debut Irish author Eve McDonnell, published by Everything With Words, a wonderful historical time-slip novel with a delightful cast of characters. Today I’m sharing my review and a guest post from the author.

It’s January 6th 1928, the day before the Great Flood. There’s a snowstorm and the river is about to burst its banks – fourteen lives will be lost. Can Glory, an orphan with only one hand, her time-travelling friend Needle and their pet crow change the future? Is there anyone among all those people entombed in that snow-shrouded town who will listen? Warning: Time travel isn’t something you should try unless you are prepared to face the consequences.

I’m a huge fan of time travel historical adventures and Elsetime lives up to expectations! It’s exciting, engaging, thrilling and has a fantastic twist at the end which I loved. Add to this characters you care about; the feisty and determined Glory and kind and courageous Needle, not forgetting Magpie the pet crow (!), it’s a recipe for success. Historical detail creates a believable world which I was happy to dive into as the plot thickened. Inspired by true events, Elsetime is a fantastic story of adventure and bravery with goodness at its heart – a great read.

I’m really pleased to welcome author Eve McDonnell to the blog today to share the inspiration behind the story!

ElsetimeThe Great Flood of London 1928

“One of my favourite past-times is treasure hunting – searching the pebbles and mud alongside a river or the sea for something sparkling: an old button once part of a queen’s gown, perhaps, or a key to a mythical treasure chest, or a war medal from a hero who saved countless lives. It’s no wonder a hobby so rich in possible stories was the inspiration for Elsetime with its tale of a young mudlark called Needle, searching the foreshore for treasures he could sell. Glory, an impetuous jeweller’s apprentice sprung to mind too, and I imagined her taking those muddy finds and transforming them into treasures to behold under the eyes of her strict mistress, Mrs Quick. They had to be from the 1920s, my imagination assured, but I wasn’t, at that stage, quite sure what was going to happen to my new-found friends.

Then, I found a newspaper clipping. It told of a real-life tragic event: The Great Flood of London in 1928. At its epicentre was Needle’s haunt – the stretch of foreshore alongside the Tate Gallery (now known as the Tate Britain). I needed to know more, and my research began.

Nearly ninety-three years ago, at the source of the Thames, families enjoyed a snowy Christmas akin to picture-perfect postcards. But, quick as a wink, the snow thawed, sending torrents of water along streams and brooks that fed the Thames. A deluge of rain in the days that followed raised the level of the great river higher and higher as it twisted and turned its way towards the bustling centre of London and out towards the sea.

Photo Credit: Daily Mirror 1928

As Londoners partied away the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or snuggled their loved ones into bed in old basement flats, the raging river met its match: a powerful storm in the North Sea. At the turn of the tide, waves swelled so high at the mouth of the Thames, beyond anything they had ever seen. Seawater tunnelled its way up the river, clashing with the deluge of snowmelt and rainwater. X marked the spot where the river narrowed and its depth deepened following foolish dredging to allow passage to larger ships. Not long after midnight, the embankment walls near the Tate Gallery gave way.

Freezing cold water raced down stone steps and into the homes of poor basement dwellers, trapping them before they even knew their fate. Muddy water inundated the basement galleries of the Tate Gallery, destroying many fine pieces of art, including several priceless Turner paintings and drawings. Big Ben was surrounded, the Underground submerged. The moat at the Tower of London filled for the first time in nearly a century. Fourteen souls lost their lives that night and, as my research deepened, so too did my shock and sadness when I read the names listed on that Daily Mirror 1928 newspaper clipping. One name stood out: Mrs Quick – a name I had already chosen for the owner of The Frippery & Fandangle Jewellery Emporium where Glory worked. As I stared down at her name, it felt like a message from the past. Though Elsetime and its characters are merely figments of my imagination, I knew one thing for sure: the Great Flood would star in this story of mudlarks, mysterious crows and jeweller’s apprentices – it was a story I had to tell.”

Find out more at www.everythingwithwords.com.

With thanks to Everything With Words for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

New review: Wilde by Eloise Williams

Moving to live with her aunt, Wilde is afraid that strange things are happening around her. She just wants to fit in at her new school, but in rehearsals for a school play telling the legend of a witch called Winter, ‘The Witch’ starts leaving pupils frightening letters cursing them. Can Wilde find out what’s happening before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outsider?

Wilde by Eloise Williams is a wonderful contemporary tale with magic at its heart. Drawing a picture of a feisty but fearful girl, Wilde is a unique character but like many young girls, struggling to be herself and desperate to fit in. Witch Point is where her mother grew-up and the mystery throughout is tangible as strange occurrences bring Wilde closer to the truth, with the legend surrounding the town seeming to come eerily to life. Alongside this, the narrative brilliantly captures school life, the perils of friendship and the importance of courage and kindness. Drama is not just reserved for the school play and as events come to head, the plot thickens page by page! Wilde is a lesson for us all in acceptance and embracing who we really are – a great contemporary adventure.

Eloise Williams has written other great middle-grade books including Gaslight and Seaglass. Find out more https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/wilde/

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

New review: The Accidental Wizard by Kimberly Pauley illustrated by Jason Cockcroft

Twig is the last surviving apprentice of the great wizard Ripplemintz, which, as a job, is just as terrifying as it sounds. Oh Ripplemintz always means well, but for a wizard of such high regard he really does make an awful lot of mistakes. And who’s always left to clear them up? That’s right – Twig. So when Ripplemitz’s most powerful spell is let loose on the world, off Twig goes to catch it. And catch it he does, except… not quite in the way that he intended. Because, instead of catching it in an enchanted jar, Twig sort of… well… catches it in… HIMSELF.

The Accidental Wizard by Kimberly Pauley introduces the reluctant Wizard Twig, along with a menagerie of hilarious characters that captivate throughout. With more magical mayhem than you can shake a stick at, middle-grade readers will be quickly drawn into a world of riotous adventure, competing wizards, greedy citizens who all want their moment of magic and at it’s heart, an unlikely friendship between a wizard, a hag and a gnome (who has the best name – Glimfinkle!). I also particularly liked the chapter titles (for example ‘In Which Something Doesn’t Blow-Up’) and the proof copy I read had wonderful illustrations giving a taste of artwork to come by Jason Cockcroft. Reminiscent of classic magical adventures and bags of fun, The Accidental Wizard carves a well-deserved space for itself in this genre and I’m sure children will want to visit The Kingdoms again and again – ably guided by the lovely map at the beginning!

Find out more about the author http://www.kimberlypauley.com/the-accidental-wizard/ and at www.scholastic.co.uk.

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.