Hope

Hope

Rhian Ivory

Firefly Press

Review by Mummy Worm

The opening to “Hope” is gripping: teenage angst at a perilous climax. Rhian Ivory encapsulates the emotional turmoil of dashed dreams perfectly and this will not only resonate with 12+ girls, but also their parents and hopefully boyfriends and brothers too!  But Hope is the eponymous character and the essence of ‘hope’ is what drives this story.

Rhain Ivory has created a potent representation of a teenager struggling with PMDD. Hope is thoroughly convincing; brittle, bruised but equally stoic – her characteristics are inspiring and her struggles engage our empathy. From its perilous introduction, through to the unravelling and rebuilding of the protagonist we root for Hope to find her place of calm and contentment. It was a real pleasure to read this novel and I was particularly drawn to the setting of Birmingham Children’s Hospital and the Singing Medicine Team. This group, formed in part by Hope’s Mum, uses music to soothe sick children. This part of the story is very clever in the layers of emotion it draws from the reader.

Another high point, amongst the many, was Ivory’s understanding of the wannabe drama student’s psyche. Hope’s best friend Callie is a glorious example and her journey through the novel is also compelling.

Rhain Ivory should be congratulated on bringing a little talked about issue to the forefront; but this is not just a novel to supplement a Personal, Social and Health Education curriculum, it is a key to opening up teenage identity for a much wider audience.

 

Buy Hope direct from Firefly or from your local independent bookshop.

We are grateful to Firefly Press for this proof copy of Hope, which we received in exchange for an honest review.

Thimble Monkey Superstar

Thimble Monkey Superstar

Jon Blake (illustrated by Martin Chatterton)

Firefly Press

Review by Nina Worm

Thimble Monkey Superstar is hilarious. It’s a book I enjoyed very much and one with an unusual and weird story. Jams and his family answer the door one day to their neighbours who ask if they will look after their guinea pig. Except it’s not a guinea pig; it’s a monkey. Daddy says this kind of weird is called ‘surreal’. Straight away, Jams’ dad doesn’t like Thimble the monkey and tries all sorts of ways to get rid of him – with no luck!

The funniest moment was when a plastic box with pooey pants inside got confused for Mum’s sandwiches. Disgusting, but really funny. Jon Blake writes these funny stories amazingly well – but what I found most interesting was that the dad in the story is an author, just like Jon Blake. I found this inspiring and wondered how many other similarities there were.

The illustrations by Martin Chatterton are astonishing – I cannot believe they are actually drawn – wow!

Thimble Monkey Superstar is nominated for the Laugh Out Loud Award 2017 (The Lollies). There is no doubt that I found the book extremely funny – I’m going to read Future Ratboy next before I decide on my vote. If you want to vote for Thimble Monkey Superstar, click here.

Daddy Worm says: This is a truly engaging book, full of hilarious slapstick episodes which invariably end with egg on Dad’s face. Thimble continually gets the upper hand and Dad is left cursing each time. As a newly independent reader, Nina thoroughly enjoyed this book; Martin Chatterton’s fabulous illustrations break up the writing which is divided into manageable chapters. She read it in about 8 days and is keen to hear of more adventures from Thimble (Thimble Holiday Havoc is coming by the end of the year).

 

Nina has been provided with the Laugh Out Loud Shortlist for ages 6-8 in return for honest reviews. You can buy Thimble Monkey Superstar from your local independent bookshop or direct from Firefly Press.

Author Q&A: Claire Fayers

Claire Fayers is the celebrated author of two books about the Accidental Pirates – ‘Voyage to Magical North’ and ‘The Journey to Dragon Island’. The first instalment is highly praised and recently made the shortlist of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual award. The much-anticipated second book in the trilogy is just available in the shops and had us spellbound from the outset.

Claire is very keen on her allotment and also enjoys skiing, flying kites and music – particularly cello and piano.

Born and raised in South Wales, Claire used to work at the Cardiff University science library; she also wrote short stories for women’s magazines before weighing anchor and writing her brilliant books for children. So avast shipmates, and greet your captain…

You’ve just launched ‘Dragon Island’. How do you feel when you release a book into the wild?

Excited. Terrified. When my first book came out last year I felt like the biggest fraud imaginable because every other author was so professional and capable, and then there was me floundering about incompetently. Now that I have two books out, I’m feeling less like a beginner, though still not quite like a proper author yet!

What are you reading at the moment?

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds by Horatio Clare. It’s a terrific read, funny and adventurous whilst dealing with some very serious issues about family, friendship and the environment. And it had a German time-travelling spider – what more could you want?

Where and when do you write?

I have an office at home with a desk that I bought off ebay with my first advance payment. I do most of my writing in the mornings and keep the afternoons free for editing, admin and watering my allotment. This year I’ve been meeting a friend for writing sessions twice a week. We go to a local coffee shop where we sit in near silence and drink vast amounts of coffee, hunched over laptops for two hours. It is fantastic for productivity.

Who or what inspires you?

My books are firmly inspired by the stories I loved as a child. I read voraciously – sci-fi, fantasy, myth and legend, adventure and comedy. And then there were the films with special effects by Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts is my all-time favourite.) The best inspiration happens when completely random ideas collide and turn into something quite unexpected. When I’m starting to write a new book, I spend a few hours making a list of everything I’d like to include, then I try to connect them. Like pirates, librarians and penguins.

What is your favourite children’s book of all time?

Such a difficult question! My favourite book changes daily depending on my mood, the weather and what I’m currently reading. But, as a prototype of all those books I’ve ever loved, I’m going with Enid Blyton’s wishing chair stories. They have adventure, danger, humour, magic, travel to strange places, and the hero is even called Peter. I can still remember my teacher reading the books to us in primary school, one chapter a day, and I was always desperate to know what happened next.

How long did it take you to write Dragon Island?

It took about six months to write the first draft, then another six months on edits to produce the final version. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a book. Voyage to Magical North took about four years, but of course I didn’t have a deadline then.

The Accidental Pirates have some peculiar names. How do you choose character names?

I started with Cassie O’Pia and thought if I was going to mangle constellations I might as well see if there were any others I could use, so I bought The Dummies Guide to Astronomy and went through the index. It gave me Marfak West (a star in the Cassiopeia constellation) and Aldebran Boswell (the star Aldebaran, but I kept mistyping it.) And, of course Orion and the Onion.

Some of the pirates have names that are awful puns – Trudi Storme, for example. And I chose other names as the punchlines to awful jokes – apologies to Tim Burre and Ewan Hughes.

Character names are very important: wherever I get them from, they have to feel right and fit the personality of the character.

How important is Wales and being Welsh to your writing? Does it have any influence?

It’s very important. The off-beat humour, the love of a good song, dragons! I love the way Welsh legends and folktales are often tied to places – Llyn y Fan Fach, Beddgelert, Caer Idris – and I tried to do the same thing in my books. The people of Dragon Island have a legend of Orion, but it’s grown out of the landscape of the island and is very different to the legend of Orion the mariner from book one.

I haven’t set any books in real-life Wales yet, but my next book is set in a fictional town on the border of Wales and England, so I’m getting closer.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they support you (or are they a hindrance)?

They’re only a hindrance when I have to drop everything to read their books, which happens often. Seriously, children’s authors are a wonderful, supportive group and I’ve made many friends in Wales and beyond.

We understand that you will be releasing another book before the third pirate book, which sounds like it may be for slightly older readers. Was it a conscious decision to do something different? (and what more can you tell us about that book?)

It was a decision made with my editors. I have a third pirate book in my head but I also had an idea for something very different and my editors loved it, so we decided I should write that one first. It’s a Victorian mystery, set in the fictional town of Wyse, the only town in Britain where fairy magic still works. Twelve-year-old Ava and her brother go there to work, and they soon find themselves in the middle of a very sinsiter plot. The story has the humour of the pirate books, but it’s a touch darker, with some very creepy villains and a sarcastic talking book of prophecy.

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I used to work in the science library at Cardiff University and I had planned to get my professional qualifications and become a subject librarian. It was a great place to work and I’m still friends will all my ex-colleagues. If I hadn’t got my book deal I’d still be there.

What’s your best pirate joke?

What’s the pirate capital of Wales?  Carrrrrrrdiff!

 

The Voyage to Dragon Island is published by Macmillan Children’s Books and is available online or in your local bookshop.

“This is a great series for readers of nine or ten who want fun, page-turning fantasy adventure!” Barnes & Noble

“With an ocean full of danger, dragons, dinosaurs, plenty of knockabout humour, some brilliant plot twists, heartwarming friendships and a brilliant bunch of pirates, you really wouldn’t want to miss the boat!” Lancashire Post

“At the heart of this riotous book there are life-affirming messages of resilience, self-belief and friendship. We loved it!” Family Bookworms

The House on March Lane

The House on March Lane

Michelle Briscombe

Candy Jar Books

Journey to Dragon Island

The Accidental Pirates: Journey to Dragon Island

Claire Fayers

Macmillan

This book is a romp! A raucous and rapturous, riotous romp. It is full of mirth, brimming with humour and has more adventure than you thought possible!

Following on from the successful first instalment, ‘The Voyage to Magical North’, Brine Seaborne and her accidental pirate crew set off on The Onion in search of dragons and to discover her true home. The crew is quite a large one, and if you haven’t read the first book, you may want to start there to ensure you’re familiar with everyone. Amongst them, you’ll meet anxious Peter, who can do magic, a special almost spiritual kind of magic, but is nervous that it will all go wrong (because it has done in the past); and you’ll meet Tom, a librarian with many wise words.

The plot moves quickly and is full of twists and turns; sometimes coming in quick succession, and always keeping you on your toes. There is a ghost; there are dragons, dinosaurs, volcanos, and at one point they fall off the end of the world. This really is life or death stuff, but it’s imbued throughout with a great deal of fun and Claire Fayers stays in total control as she steers us through quicksand, flesh-eating vines and that terrifying volcano.

The characters are extremely likeable and despite the fantastical situations, their emotions and relationships are very real. At the heart of the book there are life-affirming messages of resilience, self-belief and friendship, as the crew work together to discover Brine’s true heritage.

A brilliant comic-mystery-adventure that leaves us yearning for the final book in the trilogy.

Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners

Grace Ella: Spells for Beginners

Sharon Marie Jones

Illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi

Dragonfly

Reviewed by Nina Worm

Grace-Ella is a super amazing and very imaginative book. It is full of fun and I really loved it. Grace-Ella finds out that she is a witch and she starts to learn how to do lots of spells properly. I would love to be able to do magic spells – I’d especially like to be able to fly so that I can get away more quickly in a game of tag!

Grace-Ella has some good friends in the book, Bedwyr and Fflur, and they share Grace-Ella’s adventures. My favourite part of the book was when the friends were getting ready for the Halloween party and Grace-Ella was using her magic to make everyone’s costumes extra realistic. Unfortunately, Amelia is also in the book. She is a nasty, sneaky, boastful, show-off bully who does unkind things and never ever gets caught. But you’ll be glad to know that she does get what she deserves in the end!

I think this book would be great for Year 2 and up and there definitely needs to be more books about Grace-Ella. Maybe – Grace-Ella: Spells for Juniors?

Daddy Worm says: There’s not a lot I can add to Nina’s review – as you can tell she really enjoyed it and was uber-keen to read. The short chapters interspersed with a few illustrations by Adriana Puglisi really encouraged her to read on her own with a lot of success. She has also now started to read short passages in her head – so thank you Sharon Marie Jones for the encouragement, and we look forward to more magical adventures in the future.

Dragon’s Green

Dragon’s Green

Scarlett Thomas

Canongate

Reviewed by Mummy Worm

Dragon’s Green: Worldquake Book One has all the hallmarks of a new children’s favourite series. I did get lost in this book, I truly did and my family had to make their own tea and Daddy put everyone to bed.

When I emerged, I wanted to go back in. The more I read, the more I believed in magic and Scarlett Thomas has turned her pen into a “wonde” and created a spellbinding, playful and rich new fantasy.

Turning the pages, Scarlett Thomas draws you into a world, like yet unlike our own. The Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled and Strange is wonderful and its many floors, rooms and secrets beg comparisons with Hogwarts. Character, place and object names allude to Thomas’ sources of inspiration, and time spent exploring these creations and their various histories imbue the narrative with a rare sense of authenticity. There are layers upon layers of plot on offer here; yet it is a maze a young reader can navigate, with the delight of knowing there are many more corridors to explore as this is the first in a series.

Young readers should find a soulmate among the newly “epiphanised” (a great term for the sudden discovery of magical abilities!) No character is quite conventional enough to be stereotyped and I love the fact that Max, who anywhere else would be the geeky guy who saves the day, has the potential to veer into the darker side and join the evil Diberi. The main character, known as Effie, really is a True Hero and as such will appeal to boys and girls alike.

There is much for us adults to enjoy here too with humorous pen portraits such as Effie’s English teacher – a Dahl-esque, macabre character, but also heroic as a teacher in her choice of literature! Also, the very British dragon who has his catalogue choice of fashionable princess for breakfast, taken from the local “Princess School” and subverts all fairy tale stereotypes.

It is easy to believe that, as Effie discovers, the most precious items in the entire universe are stored on shelves in a library. This is another to add to that collection.

St. David’s Day is Cancelled

St David’s Day is Cancelled

Wendy White

Gwasg Gomer

Reviewed by Nina Worm

This is an awesome, very funny book about my favourite time of the year – St. David’s Day. I can’t imagine what would happen if St. David’s Day was cancelled in my school – but that’s exactly what happens in this book.

Seren Wen is in charge of her school newspaper team and they find out that Mrs Right, the headteacher is going to cancel the special day. Should they try and make her change her mind? Or do they need to come up with a different plan?
My favourite characters in the book are Sir and Rev. Right. Sir is very greedy and will eat anything – with funny consequences; and Rev. Right makes all the children giggle because he has a set of false teeth that fall out when he gets excited!

I recommend this book to children in Year 2, 3 and 4 – the illustrations by Huw Aaron are really good too. St David’s Day is Cancelled is now my most favourite book (before this it was Mr Cleghorn’s Seal by Judith Kerr).

Daddy Worm says: Nina thoroughly enjoyed this delightfully entertaining Welsh-centric tale. It spoke to her directly with 2 of her most favourite things – school and St. David’s Day. It’s an engaging and humorous story that she treasured reading. Descriptions of characters are very amusing – particularly Rev. Right (I could hear the groans when it was announced that the dismal reverend would be giving a special talk on the history of Wales instead of the St. David’s Day concert). I’m convinced she’ll be asking to re-read this again very soon.

 

A copy of St David’s Day is Cancelled was provided by Gwasg Gomer in exchange for an honest review.

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds

Horatio Clare / Illustrated by Jane Matthews

Firefly Press

I love sharing books with Noah. We read together at bedtime, snuggled on beanbags in his bedroom. Last year, we read Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, Horatio Clare’s first foray into children’s stories; a deeply affecting and skillfully crafted novel with touches of fantasy and lots of heart. It instantly became a favourite book for both of us and we have been anticipating the arrival of these ladybirds for a while, and there was absolutely no way I was going to let him read it without me.

Aubrey can talk to animals, but that’s a moot point. At the start of his Easter holidays, he is shrunken to the size of a ten pence coin and is visited by a spider asking him to save the world. You see, a family of ladybirds has arrived from overseas – they are not like the domestic ladybirds and are not welcomed. What starts as a small argument between ladybirds (“They’re not from round here. They’re big and weird. Go back to where you came from!”) develops into an extremely unattractive fracas involving all the animals of Rushing Wood.

There are big themes at work here, with issues of tolerance and respect at the core. I can’t help but revel in the irony that Clare uses animals to teach lessons about humanity. Aubrey discovers that insects on the continent are being poisoned by farming methods, which in turn affects the food chain – “If you don’t help us the insects will vanish. The plants won’t grow and the animals won’t eat. And humans are animals too.” This is termed ‘The Great Hunger’ and is the reason the spider asks Aubrey to save the world.

You may be thinking that this all sounds very hardgoing, but Clare handles it all with a lightness of touch and great humour: From hapless spy Mr Ferraby the neighbour who reports back to his incredulous wife, to the inspired footnotes dotted throughout the book which support our understanding but also take the reader down surreal cul-de-sac*. The plethora of insects, birds and mammals who make up the cast of this novel are also great fun with their stereotype personas.

There is brilliant storytelling too – from the heart-stopping descriptions of Aubrey clinging to the back of Hirundo the swallow as he tries to outsmart the high speed aerial manoeuvres (and talons) of a Hobby, to the impassioned speech of French human child Pascale.

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds is a fantastic book. Nine year old Noah “absolutely loved it” because it was full of awesome adventure and has slotted it next to Terrible Yoot in his Top Ten books. Undoubtedly, The Ladybirds will have a wider appeal than Yoot, bringing it to the attention of a bigger audience. That audience will understand that Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds is a book about the universal truths of love, compassion and kindness – to each other, to the environment and to the animals.

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot can be purchased from your local independent bookshop, or online.

We are grateful to Firefly Press who provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

FOOTNOTE

*This is the correct plural of cul-de-sac, coming from the French, literally meaning “bottom of the bag”. Some dictionaries allow cul-de-sacs but this is madness. In this case, it is used metaphorically to express an action that is an impasse**.

**Impasse describes a situation in which progress is impossible.