Monday, 11 January 2021

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and Levi Pinfold

Link to publisher

Published: 18th February 2021

👍👍👍👍👍
 

Everyone is talking about this upcoming release. The cover is stunning and Michael Morpurgo has labelled it 'unforgettable'. Therefore, when a review copy was posted on Netgalley, I clicked to request it without a second thought.

I'm so glad I did. In three words this book is raw, wild and all about connection; connection with the planet, with the elements and April's connection with her majestic Bear.

    When April's father lands a job recording temperatures on Bear Island, the pair travel north for a solitary six months in a snowy wilderness. With the ice-caps around the island having melted, polar bears can no longer reach it and the island is practically deserted.

    But April is certain there is one polar bear still living on the island...and when she is proved right, her life changes forever. Never before has she experienced such depth of friendship. With Bear stranded and struggling to survive, can April find a solution to save him before she has to say goodbye?

This is exactly the type of book I have been hoping to share with my seven-year-old reluctant reader. Despite it's icy setting, this story will warm the cockles of your heart as well as filling it with sorrow. The poignant themes of loss and grief-something both April and Bear have experienced-are beautifully woven into the story and Hannah Gold explores them with depth and sensitivity. As much as I loved April's deep connection with Bear-which is a two-hander for most of the story-I also loved the exploration of April's difficult relationship with her father. April's dad is flawed through pain and grief and his realisation of how he has neglected his daughter is truly moving.

The character of Bear is simply glorious. Sadly, his story carries a grim ecological message to humankind and yet Gold writes it in a way that is raw and impactful but not didactic. She captures the beauty of our planet with awe-inspiring descriptions that capture the true power of nature. The writing is sensory and you can literally smell the ice and snow of Bear Island, the freezing salt of the sea and the wilderness of the mountains. I also adored all the descriptions of the food. Yum!

For a story with few characters and with many scenes featuring just April and Bear, the plot felt pacey, fresh and compelling. The story didn't end as I predicted but instead rose to a shocking and daring climax that literally had me gasping in shock. April is a wonderful protagonist; determined and strong-minded with a heart of gold and you root for her and her cause more and more with every page-turn. 

The Last Bear is a magnificent fictional story grounded in fact and truth. It carries a moving and inspirational message that every reader, young and old, will benefit from reading. However, for our next generation this story is vital. It has a heart as big as April's and Bear's and it would be wonderful to see it being used widely by teachers in the school curriculum. 

The Last Bear is available to pre-order from online bookshops and will be released on 18th February 2021. A big thankyou to HarperCollins and Netgalley for granting me a review copy.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Padraig Kenny and Edward Bettison

 

Link to publisher

Published: September 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

One of the main reasons why I enjoy writing book recommendations is because, once upon a time, probably 90% of the books I read were recommended to me. Even now, over 50% of the books we read in our house still come through recommendations (with the rest sourced from authors we have already come to love through...yes, you've guessed it, recommendations).

The Monsters of Rookhaven was no exception. Even after spending tons of time on social media and online bookshops, this author was shamefully not on my radar until I received a recommendation a couple of weeks ago. I bought it second hand and dived right in and...wow, this is a truly stunning narrative and one of the most haunting, compelling and unique reads I have come across in a long time. 

Mirabelle knows she is a monster - part of the 'family' that resides at the hidden and protected Rookhaven estate. But when the glamour that offers that protection is torn, two unexpected visitors arrive and Mirabelle discovers that friendship can come from the outside world. But not all in the outside is good. Evil is lurking and the family are in terrible danger- from a monster that is hiding in plain sight. Will Mirabelle lose everything she holds dear and even her own life?

This is a challenging, upper middle grade read and not for the faint-hearted. It has a dark, ethereal feel and is shrouded in shadow and mystery and intrigue from the get go. The set-up is unique, the writing is stunning and the characters are some of the best I've ever met. Mirabelle is strong, compassionate and unyielding, Uncle Bertram is funny and endearing and Piglet simply left me speechless. I had huge compassion for Freddie and Jem and Tom and I loved the emotional rawness that accompanied each and everyone of them.

The themes run deep in this novel but it is my no means all doom and gloom. Padraig Kenny injects some brilliant humour through the character of Uncle Bertram and through Mirabelle's dealings with Daisy and Dotty, making this story, in many ways, a parallel of the Adaams Family. Family is a key theme all through the novel as is the impact of grief and loss and cruelty. Mirabelle doesn't know who she is but, as she begins to find out, she becomes more aware of these harsh aspects of life -something Jem and Tom and Freddie are already dealing with.

I loved that the novel was set during the war without being specifically about the war. Through his depictions of the village people, Kenny managed to convey the crippling sadness and devastation that crushed communities after the extensive loss of loved ones. Piglet's extraordinary passages insightfully presented the truth to the reader like a dagger to the heart - leaving a unbelievably poignant impact.

I could talk about this book all day. The Malice is both terrifying and brilliantly written but Piglet for me, remains the star of this book, and maybe of all literary characters. I didn't find the plot particularly fast-paced but yet it is completely compelling. I think the joy of this book is literally spending time with the characters and, in the words of the publisher, this book "explores difference and empathy through the eyes of characters you won't want to let go."

Kenny explores the concept of monsters in such an interesting and relevant way in this book. In our society, people we label as 'monsters' or people we are scared of because they are 'different' are often anything but monsters. Yet real monsters walk amongst us in plain sight, undetected but wrecking havoc through lies, manipulation or evil deeds. This is the crux of The Monsters of Rookhaven; to develop empathy for the so-called monsters, whilst learning to identify the real ones. It is a text essential for the curriculum and I can't quite stop thinking about it.


January releases: Picture Books full of hope, belief and the power of the imagination...

Hooray for January 7th! Not only was the day wonderfully sunny but it also marked a whole host of new children's books being released into the world - a bright array of picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult destined to lift our spirits in these difficult times. 

Some of these books we've already had the pleasure of reviewing. The Boy Who Met a Whale by Nizrana Farook offers up a thrilling Sri Lankan adventure whilst The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr takes us deep into the Welsh countryside, alongside evacuees Jimmy and Ronnie, in a enthralling story that is bound to be a future classic. Meanwhile, story godmother Amy Sparkes has conjured a spectacular magical fantasy with The House at the Edge of Magic, beautifully illustrated by Ben Mantle. These are just a few recommendations from a brilliant selection of new offerings, many of which we still have to read. 

It was a double whammy for Amy Sparkes on Thursday, as she also released her picture book, The Secret of Me, published by Studio Press and illustrated by Sandra de la Prada. 

This book sends a strong and inspiring message to young readers: Dream big and never put limits on what you can become. As we follow the children in the story, who are considering what they want to be when they are older, we are taken into the wildest realms of their imagination as they reach for the stars and explore the dreams that are special to them. 
From riding dragons to cartwheeling through stars to building homes for giants, these children harness their limitless imaginations to explore endless possibilities for their future. Each page turn offers hope and promise and sparkle-something our next generation needs to be filled with in abundance. There is a still a massive capacity for hope and aspiration and creativity and empathy in our world and it is never stronger than in little people. This book harnesses the power that children's imaginations hold beautifully; be who you want to be and never stop believing in possibilities. 
Amy Sparkes is donating 5% of author royalties from this book to Ickle Pickles - a charity which donates neonatal intensive care equipment to hospitals. 

Another picture book, released on January 7th, which harnesses the power of believing is the magical There's No Such Thing as Unicorns, written by Lucy May Rowland and illustrated by Katy Halford. As with The Secret of Me, this is a fabulously illustrated story that is written in simple but completely charming rhyme. 

When a little girl is told that there are no such things as unicorns, she sets out to prove that they exist. It's not long before her certainty starts to waver but she doesn't give up searching...was she right to believe all along?
This unicorntastic, colourful read instils a very similar message to the book above; believe in the impossible and don't let anyone tell you 'you can't' or that 'there's no such thing...' The strength of the little girl's belief has a big pay off on the final page and WOW! - what a dazzling illustration to finish on. 

Both of these stories have a lot in common. They are fun, light-hearted, imaginative, colourful, inspiring and hopeful. They are perfect for all readers who love unicorns, rainbows, magic and daydreaming...isn't that most of us? I'm hooked as much as my little ones are...

Monday, 4 January 2021

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Boy Who Met a Whale by Nizrana Farook


Published by: Nosy Crow, 7th Jan 2021

👍👍👍👍

Last year, Nizrana Farook's debut novel, The Girl Who Stole An Elephant , set on the Sri Lankan island of Serendib, won my heart with it's strong female lead, it's thrilling plot and beautiful setting. So much so that when my pre-order of The Boy Who Met a Whale dropped onto my doorstep a little bit early, I couldn't help but dive right in. 

When Razi discovers washed up stranger, Zheng, on the beach, he and his sister Shifa are plunged into an unexpected and dangerous adventure. Zheng, a boy full of incredible stories, claims he knows the whereabouts of a valuable, stolen dagger. But when he is captured by two unsavoury characters, who are also hot on the trail of the dagger, Razi and Shifa head out into the ocean to help. Very soon they run into trouble. Is there any creature out there who can save them?

This novel is a sizzle of sunshine in a currently dark world. As with The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, Nizrana Farook immerses the reader into a fast-paced adventure from the word go. In this story, the danger is palpable and there are barely any breaks in the tension as Razi, Shifa and Zheng lurch from one disaster to the next. From the very first page, the storytelling is enthralling and I loved how the high stakes are balanced with gorgeous descriptions of the whales, the turtle and the stunning coastal beauty of Serendib- all of which are play a crucial role in the adventure. 

Strong themes are explored in this story: the moral code of right and wrong, the concept of family, the challenge of facing fears and the impact of grief. Razi and Shifa are struggling to come to terms with the death of their father whilst Zheng is struggling to come to terms with the death of his beloved captain. This greatly affects the decisions they make throughout the novel and strengthens the special bond which forms between the three of them.

I found the villains, Marco and Cook, instantly aggressive and intimidating. This took me back to my childhood days of reading 'The Famous Five' and 'The Secret Seven' where the 'baddies' often took the form of surly, ruthless adults. In fact, with islets and boats and picnics and treasure maps, this whole adventure resonated warm echoes of these much loved tales, but with a truly glorious setting that will make you want to dive into turquoise seas and soak up the sun. 

The Boy Who Met a Whale is released on 7th January - a short, sharp, snappy, stunning read.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: Murder on the Safari Star by M.G Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli


Published by: Macmillan, Feb 2021

👍👍👍👍👍

Holiday times are always a special time for reading and what better way to kickstart my Christmas with a review copy of the third 'Adventures on Trains' novel, courtesy of Netgalley. 

The 'Adventures of Trains' series, launched early this year, has to be one of my reading highlights of 2020. Both The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on the Californian Comet offered everything I loved in a book as a child and still love today - an easy read full of fun characters, thrilling mystery, adventure and high stakes. It is essentially 'Poirot' for kids with the extra dynamic of always being set on a train. 

Although we are not specifically train fans in our family, 'Adventures on Trains' will undoubtedly peak your interest in the fascinating world of locomotives. M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman bring their love and enthusiasm of trains passionately to life in these stories, making them as much of a central focus as the mystery itself. Beautifully illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, these exquisite, trundling beasts are bound to find a place in your heart alongside the main characters.

The dynamics of this story stay very much the same as in the previous two books. Hal, an enthusiastic sketcher turned skilful detective, accompanies his laidback, travel writer Uncle on a journey through Africa. However, the stakes are raised significantly higher than the previous two books when an actual murder is committed and Hal, alongside his new friend Winston and mongoose Chipo, becomes determined to solve it. 

This is without a doubt my favourite of the three 'Adventures on Trains' series and, with the other two being pretty fabulous, that is testament to the strength of the writing and plotting. I loved the vibrancy of the whole setting, the uncluttered cast and pace and the twisty, turny plot that had plenty of surprises but was not overly complicated. 

This story, in my opinion, doesn't feel as busy as the other two. Although there are plenty of moments of tension, I really felt like I was chugging through the African wilderness on a rather empty train. The cast were brilliant as always, particularly Beryl, and there were some strong, impactful messages intertwined into the narrative. Hal's determination to use his talent at sketching to help solve the case provides another unique hook to a series that is already steaming full speed ahead into roaring success. This is a simply brilliant series and when I put the book down at about 4.30 am on Christmas morning (I had woken in the night for an hour determined to finish it) I felt disappointed that another adventure was over and I would have to leave the characters until Book 4, Danger at Dead Man's Pass, is published in September 2021.

A big thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan for making my Christmas by giving me the chance to review. Murder on the Safari Star is now available to pre-order and I highly recommend you check this series out.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Thank goodness for books: How reading saved our 2020!

 Firstly, to all the readers of this blog; Merry Christmas! Despite ongoing challenges, we wish you all a wonderful Christmas and are full of hope for a better 2020.

Secondly, massive apologies for being quieter on the review front lately. With my little readers back at school whilst I try and catch up on my own writing, things have felt busy. But rest assured we have still been reading. Sadly, there are far too many fabulous books out there and too little time for me to review them all but let's just say, 'WOW!' - 2020 may have been a year we won't want to remember but what a year it's been for children's literature. 

With our 'to be read' pile growing ever bigger, not smaller, I've been contemplating what reading has meant to us as a family this year. With the stress of home-schooling (what a battle that was!) and not being able to get out and about much, books have been our shared go to for a bit of peace and unity as well as a base for learning. Together we have shared many new picture books and chapter books- the highlight of our summer being the postman bringing us a new one every week. It seems that most of our tight budget has been spent on new books this year, but boy has it been worth it. 

For me, on a personal level, reading MG and YA books has been a means of escape, of joy and of comfort. I've read new releases, gone back to the classics and tried to read widely across genres. With 2020 offering little respite, a ten minute window to read with a cup of tea has been the one thing that has allowed me to breathe and reset. I've ventured into high fantasy adventures, thrilling mysteries and  tear-jerkers. I've read eye-opening accounts of the world-past and present- and have met characters that will stay with me forever and books that will no doubt be future classics. 

I thought about listing on this blog post all those books from different age-groups that I recommend. However, I'm not going to do that for fear of missing out brilliant books that I've not yet read or books that may resonate stronger with you than they did with me. To be honest, I don't think I've read a book that I haven't enjoyed this year but this is reading is a subjective journey and the aim of this blog is to review and recommend titles that we have read and enjoyed but not, by any means, make it an exclusive list. 

We'd love you to browse through our reviewed titles but ultimately reading is your own journey or one to be shared and enjoyed with your family. I've often wondered whether I made the right decision calling this blog, 'The Breadcrumb Forest'. It's a bit of a mouthful and a bit way out. However, more than ever, I feel that for us, books have provided a trail of crumbs that have allowed us to find a way through this unprecedented year. What have I done when I've dreaded facing yet another monotonous day - gone back to a previously loved text that has offered me comfort in previous tricky times. What have I done when the kids have been unsettled- read their favourites over and over. Plus, as I said above, we have also found new texts that will stay with us forever. Yet these might be very different texts to the ones that will stay with you forever. 

Books leave a trail of marks on your life. They help children learn, develop and grapple with emotions. They help them to develop empathy and see the world through different eyes. They allow us to escape into magical worlds. We wouldn't be without them for the world.

2021

So with 2021 on the doorstep what lies ahead for us in the New Year?  Below are our aims for this blog going forward.

-With so many pre-orders lined up, we plan to read, read and read some more at the same time as smashing that already sky-high tbr pile.

-We want to provide lots more inspiration for readers with our recommendations and reviews.

-We want to reach out more and hear/talk about what YOU and your young readers are reading and enjoying. 

-Just continue to spread a love of books. 

And, if you want a sneak peek of what's coming up in early 2021, then have a look at these titles below that we have been able to review courtesy of Netgalley.


WOLFBOY by Andy Harkness

 Published by: Bloomsbury, 18th February 2021

link to publisher

👍👍👍👍

Full of deliciously, dark humour, this picture book explores how the monster within us can appear when we are hungry. 

Wolfboy is hungry! But there are no rabbits in sight. Getting increasingly huffy and drooly and growly, he treks through bogs and meadows to find them. Will Wolfboy track them down and finally get a good meal?

This repetitive text, full of wonderful language, has echoes of 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt'. Each page builds tension brilliantly, leading the reader towards a climatic and humorous twist at the end. The text is simple but effective in structure and will no doubt be one demanded by children over again. Wolfboy is adorable, even on an empty stomach and I loved how his electric blue colour stood out on every page against the dark, intimidating background. 

This is picture book writing at it's finest; clever and simplistic with a fun twist and every word a delight. We reckon little ones will gobble this up and be left wanting more. 


Slug in Love by Rachel Bright and Nadia Shareen

Published by: Simon and Schuster, Jan 21st 2021

Link to publisher

👍👍👍👍

With 'Slug in Love' Rachel Bright gives us another wonderfully simple, yet heart-warming text, perfect for the younger end of the picture book market. 

Doug needs a hug. But who wants to hug a slug? As Doug slides on, will he ever find someone to love him?

This text is simpler than Rachel Bright's other rhyming animals stories but no less delightful. However unappealing it is to hug Doug, this story proves that there is love out there for everyone - sometimes in the most unexpected of places- and that all Doug has to do is be himself. 

There is lovely word play and repetition throughout this story which will allow little ones to join in and fill in the blanks. The illustrations by Nadia Shireen are delightful and bring a whole extra layer of fun to the text. It's super satisfying to see Doug get his happy end with an unlikely candidate and this will be a great story to share for Valentine's Day. Let's just hope that by the time this book is released, we are able to share in the hugs. 


Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton and Katy Riddell

Published by: Firefly Press, 28th Jan 2021

link to publisher

👍👍👍👍👍

I have absolutely adored Firefly Press books this year and this delightful book of poetry is no exception. Featuring a range of beautiful poems that are designed to be read aloud, this took me back to the days when my grandad wrote and read poetry to me, something which inspired a life long love of verse. 

This book is as delightful as the front cover. The poems, full of warmth, wit and astute observations, range from a giant painting the lines on a road, to spiders (this one had the same effect on me as my grandad's Spider in the Bath), to the beautiful birds and beasts of nature. There's even a super flattering, hilarious one of a sibling sleeping. Katy Riddell's illustrations bring each of Alex Wharton's poems to life in a delightfully engaging way. This is a must have for the classroom and the bedroom. 

I adore how each poem in this book conjures different images and emotions. There are serious poems, poems that capture the stunning beauty of nature, humorous poems (I loved Mr. MadeWrong) and poems full of imagination and magic. I particularly loved Trapper Boy and how Alex Wharton captures the thoughts of a young boy from the past, forced to work underground. 

The thread that unites all the verses in this book is that they feel very much like they are written for children from a child's perspective in a child's world. From teachers to toys to bubble men to animals to giants, they capture a child's imagination, inquisitiveness and fascination of the world around them and should peak their interest in any of the things they are not familiar with. 

I've struggled over the years to find poetry books that will appeal to my pupils and my children. I worry that poetry is often forgotten nowadays or have lost it's place in a child's bookcase. This is one I would highly recommend for any family or class. It is a joyous, literary delight!

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Arthur Wants a Balloon by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia and Erika Meza

 

                                                                         Link to publisher 

                                                     Published by: Trigger Publishing, October 2020

                                                                           👍👍👍👍

After my three kids all loved Superheroes Don't Get Scared by Kate Thompson and Clare Elsom, which was also published by Trigger Publishing, we were absolutely delighted to be asked to review Arthur Wants a Balloon. As with all Trigger Publishing books, this is a picture book which aims to open up discussions about mental health and well being- in this case, a parent with depression. 

Arthur Wants a Balloon more than anything but his gloomy dad just walks on by. As days pass by, Arthur wonders what is the matter and, more importantly, whether he can make his dad smile again, even for a moment.

This is a beautifully written, beautifully illustrated picture book that will encourage children to develop their understanding and empathy towards the feelings of others. With Arthur's mum in hospital and his dad being unable to smile, this young lad has a lot to contend with. For Arthur, having a colourful balloon to brighten his day is his main focus. However, as the story progresses he realises that his dad needs a balloon more than he does and, through compassion and kindness, Arthur realises what he truly wants. 

There are some wonderful analogies and techniques used in this book to help young readers tackle the abstract concept of feelings. For example, Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia effectively incorporates the weather to mirror both Arthur and his dad's feelings. As the characters' emotions darken, so do the elements. But all is certainly not lost, for where there is hope there is always...a rainbow.

Myself and my son also loved the effectiveness of the illustrations. My son was instantly drawn to the fact that only the balloons and Arthur's wellies are presented in full colour until the end, making them them stand out all the way through. The mood and atmosphere of the story is greatly enhanced by the fact that everything else is illustrated in a drab tone, which of course symbolises the depression. The simplicity of these balloons represent so much to Arthur in the story; hope and light and love amid a dark world. 

Arthur Wants a Balloon does not offer a solution for parental depression- because of course there are no easy answers. What is does show, through the balloons, however is that small acts of kindness can go a long way. Arthur wants a balloon and then gives the whole bunch away! Why? Because throughout the book he has grown in understanding and empathy and has found a pathway forward. Hopefully, thanks to his poignant, heartfelt story, young readers facing similar challenges will relate enough to find their own pathway forward and be able to open up and discuss their own feelings and others. 

Arthur Wants a Balloon is available to order from Trigger Publishing and other major retailers. A big thank you to Trigger Publishing for giving us the chance to review.


UPCOMING RELEASE: The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and Levi Pinfold

Link to publisher Published: 18th February 2021 👍👍👍👍👍   Everyone is talking about this upcoming release. The cover is stunning and Mich...