The White Fox

The White Fox

Jackie Morris

Barrington Stoke

Sol is lonely. An Alaskan boy in Seattle is a target. He looks different. He behaves differently. He’s lost his mother, his father works so hard they have no time to talk and his grandparents are back in his Inuit homeland. It takes the intervention of an arctic fox, a stowaway now roaming the docks to bring the family back together. Sol befriends the creature, feeds it and nurtures it and it is decided that he and his dad should return the fox to its natural habitat. In doing so, father and son spend several days together on a journey that takes them home and brings them closer together. Back at the grandparents’ house, the fox continues to support Sol to reconnect with nature, his homeland and his late mother.

You may have heard of the Welsh term ‘hiraeth’. There is no direct English translation, but those who have tried describe it as a homesickness tinged with grief and longing. It seems that Sol has that ‘hiraeth’ – away from his home and grieving his mother and the life they have left behind. The subject matter is a bit of a leap for 8 year old Nina – a serious book with a heartfelt, important message about staying connected, belonging and family ties. However, the illustrations are “extraordinary and absolutely incredible” (as you might expect) and the gentle, poetic prose typeset in Barrington Stoke’s ‘super readable’ style meant that the book was achievable and engaging for her.

This is a highly atmospheric book; beautifully told and beautifully illustrated. A joy for father and daughter to share together and yet another triumph for Jackie Morris.

 

Thimble Holiday Havoc

Thimble Holiday Havoc

Jon Blake

Illustrated by Martin Chatterton

Firefly Press

Earlier this year, we reviewed the #lollies2017 nominated Thimble Monkey Superstar by the industrious Jon Blake. It proved a big hit with Nina, making a lasting impression with its genuinely laugh-out-loud episodes of hilarity. Well, Thimble is back and this time he’s going on holiday with the hapless Douglas Dawson and his family.

The Dawsons take part in a ‘house swap’, driving over to France with Thimble in tow. Thimble barely steps onto the continent before catastrophes and calamities strike. It’s clanger after clanger as the mischievous, manic monkey causes devastation in the rural village.

Nina found ‘Holiday Havoc’ even more hilarious than Monkey Thimble Superstar; in fact it’s bigger and better in many ways. It is quite literally a bigger book and seems to be written for a slightly older readership – recommended for 7 to 9 year olds. It is also extremely funny as the madcap humour and “crazy stuff” (Nina’s words) is ratcheted up a few notches: Thimble gets his hands on some superglue and does his worst; he manages to turn dad’s trousers into hot pants when he gets hold of the scissors; and you really don’t want to know the mayhem that is caused when Thimble finds the drill.

The Thimble stories are an absolute delight; fresh and funny, anarchic and inventive – they’re brilliant for reading aloud and totally accessible for newly independent readers. The illustrations by Martin Chatterton really bring the story to life. Both books now come highly recommended – Nina gives five stars or 10/10 (“whichever is higher”) and has already voted Thimble in the Laugh Out Loud Awards.

Thimble Holiday Havoc is published by firefly press and can be purchased online or at your local independent book shop.

We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing us with a review copy of the book.

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

Zillah Bethell

Piccadilly Press

Zillah Bethell’s first book for children, A Whisper of Horses, was one of the Telegraph’s ‘Books of 2016’ and received high praise. Her writing is often described as evocative, vibrant and inventive so when The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare popped through my letterbox, I couldn’t wait to get started.

Extraordinary, is most definitely, the word. Although Roget would also suggest wonderful, remarkable and exceptional.

For me, the thrill of the book was in the not knowing. The plot is intriguing and unpredictable, so I am keen not to impart too many details. What I can tell you, is that 11-year-old Auden Dare’s perspective on life is influenced by the fact that he cannot see in colour. It’s a rare condition and it adds to the sense that Auden Dare is the underdog – useless at football, a weirdo in school, a target for bullies. Set in the future, there is also a war raging across the world due to water shortages – it doesn’t rain, everyone is filthy; water is very expensive and is rationed and controlled by the Water Authority Board.

Auden’s mother inherits a small bungalow in Cambridge from her brother who passes away suddenly and mysteriously. When they move to the new town, Auden begins to investigate the circumstances of Uncle Jonah’s death and meets a genuine friend in Vivi Rookmini. When they discover that Professor Jonah Bloom may have been working on a cure for Auden’s condition, the adventure begins. When they unearth a secret in Uncle Jonah’s garden shed, things really kick off!

Told in the first person, Auden’s 11 year old persona is entirely convincing – witty, self-deprecating and relaxed. He’s also rather fragile; he brushes most things off easily but is hurt when people show a lack of understanding of his condition.  On top of that, when a malicious rumour about his father spreads, it tips him to breaking point. But he has a friend and the relationship between Auden and Vivi is beautifully written – full of vibrancy and understanding.

Zillah Bethell’s writing is terrifically engaging, confident and highly entertaining. I found it nigh-on impossible to guess the ending which was met with tears of joy. A thoroughly enjoyable read, I was totally involved throughout – in turn laughing out loud, and biting my nails; wincing with every threat and grinning inside with every glimmer of hope.

As I approached the end of the novel, I was reminded of something the Dalai Lama has said in an address to the world’s youth. He said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Whilst children should be happy and have fun in the here and now, they must not lose sight of their place in the world. Afterall, our individual interests ultimately depend on the global situation.”

If someone shows their true colours, then they reveal their real self. The true colours of Auden Dare are that of a young man with determined self-confidence and warm-heartedness; a boy of compassion and truth – the epitome of humanity – and there’s something quite extraordinary about that.

 

 

Thanks to Piccadilly Press for sending me a review copy of The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare (it’s available in the shops now).

You can buy The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Zillah Bethell on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover.

Sky Dancer

Sky Dancer

Gill Lewis

Oxford University Press

So here’s the thing…

I read Sky Dancer over the summer holiday and absolutely loved it. In fact, I loved it so much I’ve been worrying about doing it justice in a review. So let’s make it clear – Sky Dancer is a fabulous read – an emotionally gripping, totally uplifting, captivating story with an important environmental theme.

The novel deals with the pressing issue of decreasing numbers of hen harriers. This is largely due to the ‘management’ of estates and moors to preserve the numbers of grouse for the shooting season. Lewis deals with the issue fairly, without preaching, and both sides of the argument have convincing vehicles in the believable characters of the village of Hartstone. Having said this, you’re left in no doubt as to the author’s own opinion on the matter.

Whilst this issue is important and a very powerful aspect of the book’s appeal, the real joy of the novel is in the characters that dwell within the 270 pages. Joe loves the moors and the wildlife, and is happy spending his days wandering the heathers and rocks. However, since the death of his father he has wrestled both with his conscience and his elder brother as he struggles to stand up for what he believes. He has to come to terms with his own ideology which often conflicts with that of his family and his heritage. To add to the entanglement, his best friend is the daughter of the landowner, his teacher was responsible for sending his father to jail and his mother is struggling to support her fractured family. These relationships are so engrossing and entirely credible – a real affirmation of the prowess of Lewis as an author.

The real strength of Sky Dancer is in the confident and convincing storytelling, and the gritty and authentic characters with whom we can easily empathise. The writing has a classic feel, like Morpurgo or Ransome; yet this is clearly a modern-day adventure and Lewis’ prose is inspiriting and heartening. Here is a story about finding yourself, finding your voice and having the courage to speak out.

I absolutely loved it. Get yourself a copy.

 

Thanks to OUP for sending me a review copy of Sky Dancer (it’s available in the shops from October 5th 2017).

You can buy Sky Dancer from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

Do check out the reviews by Zoe Toft, and Dara McAnulty for further opinion.

Follow Gill Lewis on Twitter and why not follow RSPB Sky Dancer too?

Eyes of Me

Through The Eyes of Me

Jon Roberts

Illustrations: Hannah Rounding

Graffeg

Through The Eyes of Me is an adorable, heartwarming celebration of a child with autism. Written by Jon Roberts and inspired by his daughter, we learn of the everyday pleasures and quirks of four year old Kya. Broader than this, it is a celebration of the individual and what makes us who we are.

The picture book is brimming with delightfully playful illustrations by Hannah Rounding who expertly conveys Kya’s world with charm and love. Author Jon Roberts talks more about the book in this video:

I shared the book with Nina (age 8) who empathised greatly with Kya and recognised the characteristics of autism before it was made clear. She has friends in school who are diagnosed with autism and knows individuals who share some of Kya’s dislikes – particularly loud noises and strangely textured food. She also recognised that she was like Kya in some ways and we were able to have a conversation about similarities and differences between individuals.

The book warrants endorsement by an autism charity – Jon Roberts’ text encourages empathy and understanding and the book should be available everywhere it might educate, inform and help as broad an audience as possible.

Goodly and Grave

Goodly and Grave in a Deadly Case of Murder

Justine Windsor

Harper Collins

In the first Goodly and Grave, we are introduced to the characters and learn how Lucy Goodly and Lord Grave become the unlikeliest of crime-cracking partners. It’s a fast-paced, madcap adventure full of warmth and humour (as well as plenty of weird and wonderful plot twists and more than a splash of mayhem). Oh and they have magical powers. I guess the books would appeal to children around the age of 7 to 10; and as a teacher I couldn’t wait to share this book with my Year 4 class, who lapped it up, laughed out loud and were eager to learn of a sequel.

So for the second book, we follow Lucy’s adventures as she joins Magicians Against the Abuse of Magic (MAAM), hosted by Lord Grave. Soil is being stolen from freshly-dug burial grounds and it’s up to Lucy, Bertie (Lord Grave’s son), Smell the cat and the rest of the cast of Grave Hall to piece together the mystery.

As you may suspect from the title, this second book has a darker and more sinister tone; episodes in graveyards at midnight, a disreputable inn, and the creation of powerful creatures that can be used to carry out your will. Not to mention the murders. This is all great news for the plot which zips along with plenty of momentum and a number of surprising turns. The whodunnit element will be guessed early on by the mature reader, but that doesn’t detract from the entertaining chase.

Throughout, Justine Windsor continues to add detail to the magical world she has created. Lucy is constantly learning of new powers and magical phenomenon as the book (and the series) develops. Windsor’s writing is full of verve and seems effortless; I really admire the vocabulary choices which will challenge and inspire the young reader.

 

Illustrations by Becka Moor really support the identity of the book – hilarious depictions of zombie giraffes are one of the highlights and there are plenty of other comedic episodes. Becka has done a great job in anchoring a victorian ambience to the book, particularly through the Penny Dreadfuls, picture frames, character costumes and endpapers.

This all adds up to a very amusing, slightly eccentric and thoroughly entertaining read. Recommended.

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.

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.