The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day
Review by Noah (age 10) with Mummy Worm
Terrifying and terrific science educates as much as it entertains.
A few weeks ago we took Christopher Edge on a very long car journey. It was one of the most interesting car journeys we’ve ever been on – one which expanded our minds and took us to other dimensions. We’d heard so much about his ‘science’ novels, and the Albie Bright audiobook was out-of-this-world amazing. Imagine our keenness and delight, when we were invited to review Edge’s new story, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.
10 year old Noah was drawn in by the ‘familiar world’ story of gifted Maisie, also 10, struggling to make sense of her relationship with her big sister. He was more fascinated by the terrifying science bits and keen to share his new found understanding of “dark matter” with his confused Mother (who decided to read the book for herself to understand what her very intelligent-sounding son was going on about!) Mum enjoyed feeling (temporarily) super-intelligent too and anticipates some impressed stares from her Mummy friends as she and Noah discuss the authenticity of the plot’s ability to anchor familiarity in its setting, whilst at the same time enabling the space-time distortion to feel weirdly authentic.
There comes a point in the story, a very powerful and crucial point, where the mystery begins to unravel and things start to change, heading towards a resolution – this is Noah’s favourite part. The vivid descriptions of optical illusions such as Escher’s never ending staircase chill as much as they thrill. The alternate universe and the superb and frighteningly convincing explanation of events make this a unique book from a unique author – Noah has never read anything like it, nor has Mum, hence its huge appeal. This really is a book you must pick up and you won’t want to put down.
With its challenging concept, engaging plot, endearing narrator and satisfying conclusion, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is a “boss read”. Noah would recommend it especially to anyone in Year 6 or Year 7 who enjoys thrilling heavenly stories!
We were part of the Maisie Day Blog Tour – you can read a Q and A with Christopher here.
Reviewed by Mummy Worm
For me, reading is escapism. The world around disappears and I’m immersed in the world created by the author. It took a few pages longer than usual to sink into Lucy Christopher’s Storm-Wake but this is no criticism. The lyrical phraseology sparked more curiosity and my attention was held by the language as much as the narrative. Storm-Wake is a visceral experience. It is nothing short of magic when you smell, taste, see the hallucinogenic effects of the island’s stormflowers!
Delightful homage to Shakespeare’s Tempest rolls in and out of Christopher’s novel. I enjoyed the reimagining of Miranda as Moss, especially her relationship with bewitched Callan and the island (which is as alive as its inhabitants). Pa was an equally fascinating reimagining of Prospero. Moss’ battle with whether to admire and love, or resent and fear the man who raised her, grounds her transformation from compliant little girl to questioning teenager most effectively. Secrets, mysteries and magic spiral through each page of narrative but the familiar detail of the modern world and the brutal reality of Moss’ early childhood – and eventually the arrival of the two boys – reveal that the dream-like island is a trap and not a refuge. Escape will be far from easy.
So I “cried to dream again” after finishing Storm-Wake and anticipate further readings will enchant as much as the first.
Storm-Wake is Lucy Christopher’s fourth novel published with Chicken House. Born in Wales, but widely-travelled, she lives in Cardiff and is Senior Lecturer on the MA in Writing for Young People course at Bath Spa University. She is a Branford Boase Award winner and has been shortlisted for the Costa and Waterstones Book prizes. You can follow Lucy on Twitter and find more information at her website.
With this post, we aim to make a list of the children’s authors from Wales that we have enjoyed throughout 2017. As it’s Advent, we’ve gone for 24 – one for each window of your calendar. This is not a definitive list of the best authors from Wales – the omission of Dylan Thomas may make that obvious. These are authors that the whole family of bookworms have enjoyed: authors who have given us great pleasure; fits of the giggles; something to think about; episodes of escape; and moments to treasure.
Let’s clear up our criteria at the outset. If you want to play rugby for Wales then there are three ways to qualify: firstly, through birth; secondly because parents or grandparents have been born in Wales; and thirdly, through residency – you must have lived in Wales for three successive years. This is the same criteria we have used for Welsh authors.
In this post, we do not necessarily discuss authors who have written about Wales or have set their books in Wales – that can be dealt with in another post!
In alphabetical order, here’s our list (click on author name to visit their own website or Twitter profile):
As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, Dan Anthony has written extensively for children including working on CBBC’s Story of Tracy Beaker and S4C’s The Baaas. He was born in Cardiff, lives in Penarth, and his radio plays have been performed on Radio Wales, Radio 4 and Radio 2.
Zillah was born in Papua New Guinea and came to the UK when she was 8. A graduate of Wadham College, Oxford, she settled in South Wales and has published two fantastic novels aimed at the #mglit market – ‘A Whisper of Horses’ and ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’ both published by Piccadilly Press.
An experienced author with over 60 published books, Jon has lived in Cardiff for over 30 years. His most popular book is a picture book illustrated by Axel Scheffler, You’re a Hero Daley B. In the past year he has received acclaim for Thimble Monkey Superstar, his Laugh Out Loud Award shortlisted comic caper.
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Monmouthshire with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. Her Bloomsbury-published ‘The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart’ is a favourite in our house and we can’t wait for ‘The Girl with the Dragon Heart’ coming next year.
Horatio Clare @HoratioClare
Horatio Clare grew up on a hill farm in the mountains of South Powys. He studied English at the University of York. He has written extensively as a journalist and travel writer and had a best-seller ‘Running for the Hills’ in which he described his childhood experiences. He has continued to write books for adults and in 2015 won the Branford Boase Award for Debut Children’s Book of the Year, after publishing ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’ with Firefly Press. ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds’ was published this year.
Nicola Davies was born in Birmingham and worked as a zoologist and TV Presenter before settling in Powys to write. Many of her books are rooted in her scientific training and are essential additions to any library. These successful narrative non-fiction books cover, amongst other things, the diversity of living things, microbes, owls and bears. Recent picture books published by Walker and Graffeg have delved more deeply into the human condition providing opportunities for children to reflect on refugees, grief and trauma.
Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff in 1916 and raised in the countryside around Cardiff. His infamous recount of The Great Mouse Plot featuring Mrs Pratchett’s sweet shop is believed to have been inspired by his childhood in Cardiff (though no-one’s really sure how much truth is in the episode). He also referred to many fond memories of Wales, including holidays in Tenby. It is known that he found Dylan Thomas to be “marvellous” and may have been urged to build his own writing hut having visited The Boathouse in Laugharne. Of course, Miss Honey also recites ‘In Country Sleep’ to Matilda.
Helen’s family is from Wales, and she now lives in Swansea with illustrator husband Thomas. Having studied languages, and taught oversees, she also has a Masters in Film and Television Production. She loved writing as a child and returned to it in 2010. Her high-quality picture books, often illustrated with Thomas Docherty, are well-loved by children throughout the Foundation Phase (toddlers to age 7), with ‘The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight’ being nominated for several awards. These books should feature in every home and school library.
Jonny spent his childhood in North Wales and recently returned to the ‘wet and windy hills’. After studying illustration at college he wrote his first picture book ‘The Pirate Cruncher’ which was published in 2009. Subsequently, he helped design the characters for Aardman’s stop-motion movie ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’. More picture books followed with a focus on pirates, dinosaurs and space. He also produced a full set of brilliant designs for the Harry Potter covers in 2014.
Claire was born in Cardiff and used to work in the science library of Cardiff University. She has two books published with MacMillan Children’s – both part of ‘The Accidental Pirates’ trilogy and are ideal for children in Year 4 (age 8 upwards). In 2018, we can look forward to a slightly different tale – Unwise Magic.
Catherine Fisher was born in Newport, and her fantasy books are aimed at Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Having worked as a teacher, lecturer and archaeologist it is no surprise that her books are often set in Wales and are heavily influenced by Arthurian legends, old myths and the Mabinogion.
Giancarlo Gemin was born in Cardiff , of Italian parents, and now lives in London. Both of his novels have won the Tir-na-n-Og Award for children’s writing set in Wales and his latest, Sweet Pizza, is a glorious exploration of community life in the South Wales valleys.
Rhian Ivory @Rhian_Ivory
A proud Welshwoman, Rhian was born in Swansea, speaks Welsh as her first language and studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University. She published 4 novels with Bloomsbury under her maiden name, Rhian Tracey, before taking a break. She returned as Rhian Ivory in 2015 with ‘The Boy Who Drew The Future’, a tense and compelling read about two boys who draw things that come true. More recently, her YA novel ‘Hope’ was also published by Firefly.
Emma Levey lives in Cardiff and has illustrated several picture books including ‘Where is The Bear?’, authored by Camilla De la Bedoyere. She is the author of ‘Hattie Peck’ and ‘Hattie Peck The Journey Home’. This gorgeously fun and friendly character is one of Kit Worm’s favourite books of all time, so watch this space as we look forward to lots more from Emma.
Siân Lewis is the most prolific author on this list, having published over 250 books. In 2015, she was given the Mary Vaughan Jones Award for her special contribution to children’s literature in Wales. She has published a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, and this year with Rily Publications released The Story of King Arthur in English and Welsh versions.
Born in North Wales and now based in Aberystwyth Sharon Marie Jones was a primary school teacher for 13 years. In 2016, she published Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners with Firefly Press, a charming and captivating story about friendship, fun and magic.
Recently awarded the Hay Festival Medal for his contribution to storytelling, Daniel Morden was born in Cwmbran. Focussing on the oral traditions of storytelling, Daniel travels the world delighting audiences with his tales – many from Wales. He has published several anthologies of legends, two of which have won the Tir-na-n-Og Award.
Jackie Morris lives on the wild Pembrokeshire coast. Before settling there, she had lived in Evesham and London. She is inspired by “our” environment; particularly the birds (peregrines, goldfinch, buzzards), seals, foxes and landscapes surrounding her home. She says “I am a stranger here, a foreigner. And yet I am at home.” Her beautifully illustrated international bestselling books have wide appeal, and are mostly published by Frances Lincoln, Graffeg and Otter-Barry. Jackie exhibits her artwork in galleries nationwide.
Jenny Nimmo has lived in Wales for most of her life, having married Welsh artist David Wynn Millward in 1974. Her stories are rooted in Welsh mythology and she is also inspired by the landscapes of Wales. She appeals to Junior age children (age 7 and up) and has plenty to occupy them – from the award winning Snow Spider trilogy, to the Charlie Bone octalogy (yes, that’s a series of 8 books!).
Philip Pullman spent ten years of his childhood in Llanbedr Ardudwy, near Harlech. This may not be enough to claim him for our own, except that he has referred to Wales as being an inspiration to his writing. “I knew I wanted to write books and I got those ambitions, that sensibility, from the time I spent in Wales.” He’s written some books that have become quite famous (!) and are devoured by children in Year 4 upwards (age 8).
Hailing from Llanelli, Wendy White was inspired by her local library to become an author. Her books for children are available from Gwasg Gomer and have a Welsh theme. Welsh Cakes and Custard won the Tir-na-n-Og Award in 2014 and this year’s St David’s Day is Cancelled is a joyous tale for 7-9 year olds. Wendy writes under a pseudonym, Sara Gethin, for adults.
Eloise Williams lives in West Wales. She has worked on stage as a singer and an actress after graduating from the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. She has two books, both set in Wales and both from the Firefly publishing house. Gaslight, a Victorian thriller is currently causing a stir across the country and is best suited to Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Eloise was a Literature Wales bursary winner.
Justine Windsor @justinewindsor
Justine Windsor is a previously shortlisted author of The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition. She currently lives and works in London and this year saw the publication of her debut middle grade crime capers ‘Goodly and Grave’. A third installment, also with Harper Collins is due in 2018.
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.
We are grateful to Firefly Press for this proof copy of Hope, which we received in exchange for an honest review.
The House on March Lane
Candy Jar Books
This is a book for a cosy evening when you nestle in the corner of a plump sofa, with your favourite mug of cocoa. As the evening settles, you open The House on March Lane and step into young Harriet’s world. It is 1836 and you are excited for Harriet who awaits her returning Papa.
The time shifts to present day and the glories of the reclamation and salvage yard and warehouse. A breath of the supernatural sends shivers early on but modern day teen Flora is dismissive. We meet Flora’s friend Archie, whose back story is tragic, but whose stoicism is credible and instantly admirable. Briscombe is not afraid to create characters with edge or indeed narrative with threat and these are features we see more of as the plot thickens.
Allusions to Darwin’s voyages and potential finds create a sense of authenticity (I feel compelled to see if Darwin did find this… – but I won’t spoil it!) and the author does not hold back with some very brutal details. But overall there is a good deal of gentleness to the story and the reader will feel affection for both the historic characters and the present day. The shifts continue for much of the book, but the more you read, the more convincing the settings and the mystery contained within them become. Michelle Briscombe weaves the characters in and through time and place, object and friendships. The ghostliness of the warehouse certainly had me on tenterhooks!
This novel is a successful mystery. The young teen detectives from both eras are rounded enough to make you root for them. They make some huge mistakes sometimes with dire consequences, but their investigations are plausible and readers from 10 up will be pleased to read the next in the series. I for one, am now keen to visit my local reclamation centre to search through the tiles and see whether objects really do harbour spirits!
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.
Ruth Morgan’s Alien Rain is one of the most engrossing novels I have read recently. I begin by apologising to Nina Worm who was late to gymnastics because Mummy Worm was determined to finish this enthralling page-turner!
Bree Aurora, the teenage heroine, lives in Cardiff, Mars. Yes, a cool address and the descriptions of this sci-fi setting are original, convincing (I love the name drops and associations of Cardiff suburbs!) and visually stunning in the choice of detail. Bree has a gift for Empathy, which is one of the “soft subjects” in her top ranking school, and is the last person expected to be chosen for the prestigious trip to Earth. Humanity, as we know it, has been eradicated but the details of this final war are kept tantalisingly hidden until late in the novel.
Love-hate relationships simmer through the plot with ingenious machinery, apocalyptic Salvador Dali-esque imagery and physical and emotional journeys aplenty. There is something for everyone here, certainly Science Fiction in the truest sense, but at the core is a teenager who discovers self worth. There are pages where Morgan alludes to the horror genre and grips you in an icy embrace with the terror of the unknown. Just as convincing and one of my lasting impressions is the awe and wonder of the beauty of Mother Earth, “with its scary out-of-control lushness and fecundity” and Bree’s longing to be accepted on “this mystifying, rich and diverse planet”. The brilliance of this novel is that you journey not only through space but also through time and are left with a greater appreciation of our natural history – as well as an intense desire to spend longer in the “Origins of Earth” section of the Cardiff Museum!
There is so much more to praise here and I hope that Ruth Morgan has more in store for us. My advice to anyone looking for a Sci-Fi adventure is to step out and get themselves soaked in “Alien Rain”.
We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.