The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

Christopher Edge

Nosy Crow

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!

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for sending a copy of The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Christopher Edge on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover.

We were part of the Maisie Day Blog Tour – you can read a Q and A with Christopher here.

Mamgu’s Camper Van

Mamgu’s Camper Van and the Knights in Shining Armour

Wendy White

Gomer Press

A charming short story from the writer of St David’s Day is Cancelled

Review by Nina (Age 8)

St David’s Day is Cancelled is my favourite book. Ever. So I was really happy when I heard that Wendy White had written a new book. Mamgu’s Camper Van is lots of fun; it’s short and I read it in an hour.

Mamgu and Betsi Wyn get the camper van out of hibernation but it doesn’t seem to be working properly! They finally get it going and take it out for a spin to a castle. It’s a heartwarming adventure story that children in Year 2 and Year 3 will love. I think Mum should read it to Kit (my little brother), because he would love it too.

I really liked all the Welsh words that Wendy White used – castell, diolch, da iawn, Ych a fi! – it gave the book a definite Welsh feel! I also loved the pictures: Helen Flook’s illustrations made the story come to life – the colourful front cover is especially good.

I would recommend this book for children up to 8 years old and am looking forward to reading more by Wendy White soon.

 

Thanks to Gwasg Gomer for sending us a copy of Mamgu’s Camper Van. You can buy it direct from Gomer or, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Wendy White on Twitter, as well as the illustrator Helen Flook.

A Whisper of Horses

A Whisper of Horses

Zillah Bethell

Piccadilly Press

Reviewed by Simon (Daddy Worm)

Last year, I fell head over heels in love with The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Zillah Bethell’s second MG-flavoured book with Piccadilly Press. Bethell is a master of storytelling; her narrative style is effortless; the plot lines are inventive and clever; her characters feel so authentic they could be members of your extended family. A Whisper of Horses was her first novel for children and was given a paperback release in January.

At this moment in time, it’s not possible for me to like another book more than Auden Dare, but A Whisper of Horses is another fantastic read. Similar to Auden Dare, it’s also set in the future. I’m not sure if Bethell approves of her books being called “dystopian” (adj. relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one); I believe in America they refer to them as “futuristic adventure fantasy” – possibly a more fitting description although Bethell’s imagined future is run by a controlling government adept in propaganda. The future in ‘Horses’ is certainly environmentally degraded: there have been big changes in the landscapes caused by poisonous gases – the sky is a different colour and many indigenous plants have been killed. The language has evolved too – the names of places mutated into strange phonetic versions of towns, cities, rivers and landmarks we think we know. Serendipity, our main character, lives in the walled city of Lahn Dan where a caste system is strictly enforced and controlled by The Ministry.

Before her mother died, Seren was given a clue to the existence of horses (thought now to be extinct) and she vows to escape the city and embark on a quest across ‘Grey Britain’ in search of these beautiful and elusive creatures. The now clichéd quote from Arthur Ashe about the journey being more important than the destination rings true as Serendipity’s road-trip brings new friends, learning, peril, understanding, resilience, realisation. And these virtues are bestowed on the reader too as one finds oneself questioning society, class, the role of technology and democracy. This is not a journey without danger – this is a pursuit as Serendipity is hunted by the lawmakers who are desperate to stop her from achieving her goal – but why?

A Whisper of Horses is a thoroughly enjoyable read with an enthralling story and one that makes you ponder and contemplate too. I particularly enjoyed the relationships in Auden Dare and the same is true here – Seren’s friendship with Tab, her companion on the journey, is rich and warm and discerning.

So this seems to be no cure for my Zillah Bethell fascination (bethellitis?), and I’ve left it some time before posting this review to be sure that I’m compos mentis. Bethell is such a glorious writer I want to stand on top of my space-age pod-home and shout it out to this oppressed and inhumane world.

 

Thanks to Zillah for sending a copy of A Whisper of Horses. You can buy it 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 shown.

Storm Wake

Storm-Wake

Lucy Christopher

Chicken House

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.

We are extremely grateful to Lucy for the copy of Storm-Wake which was given in exchange for this review. You can buy Storm-Wake on Hive, or better still, at your local independent bookshop.

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs

Sophie Anderson

Usborne

My house has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we’ve been living.

The House with Chicken Legs has been garnering lots of praise since proof copies found its way into the hands of readers just before Christmas. Booklover Jo called it “the most accomplished debut”, whilst The Bookseller described it as “utterly magical and highly original” and countless enthusiastic authors including Claire Fayers, Stephanie Burgis and Kiran Millwood Hargrave have used words such as “spellbinding”, “beautiful” and “full of heart”.

So can 10 year old Noah add any superlatives to the list? Well he’d like to start with “fascinating, gripping and really cool!” At the heart of his fascination is the Chicken House itself, borne of the Russian folktale of Baba Yaga but reimagined for the 21st Century. The Yaga House is a house that can walk, changing location whenever it wants to, without warning. Noah tells me it can also grow things – “really cool” does this justice! The Yaga House has a purpose though – it holds the gate through which the dead must walk in order to complete the circle of life. Baba Yaga, our heroine’s grandmother, makes food for the dead to give them a good sendoff.

This lifestyle is far from ideal for Marinka, a complex lead character who comes across as bold and daring but has insecurities. She feels like she’s trapped in the house with no future and no friends; she has no opportunities to build relationships or put down roots because the house keeps moving on. But she is destined to be a Yaga herself and is struggling to accept this destiny. The rebellion of youth does not sit well with this transient life.

Swansea-raised Anderson has written a lyrical and emotional debut; rooted in folklore but completely contemporary. As Marinka struggles with the circle of her own life, we get to explore human themes of friendship, purpose, contentment, life and death. Noah says “It sounds like it’s going to be a gloomy book about death but actually it’s not – you can really empathise with Marinka.”

The book should be in shops come May 3rd and if Sophie Anderson is interested in more praise, then she should know that Noah has placed The House with Chicken Legs next to Sky Song (Abi Elphinstone) in his top reads of 2018 so far.

 

Thank you to Usborne for providing a review copy of the book in exchange for this review.

You can buy The House with Chicken Legs from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

Follow Sophie Anderson on Twitter or visit her website which includes some super resources to go with the book.

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.