Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Moonchild by Aisha Bushby and Rachael Dean

Publisher: Egmont, August 6th 2020

A hypnotic sea-faring adventure!

I've read a lot of middle grade books over the last couple of years and can only aspire to phenomenal talent that they showcase. When it comes to choosing a book to read, 8 to 12 year olds are spoilt for choice. 

My only gripe, as an avid reader, is having to plough through a couple of tedious, initial chapters to get into the story. Not so with Moonchild by Aisha Bushby. This story intoxicated me from the first page to the very last.

Amira and her cat jinn, Namur, have been raised at sea by Amira's sea-witch mothers. But an unsettling storm threatens the Sahar Penisula and Namur is acting strangely. When Amira unexpectedly meets Leo and his fish jinn, Samek, the two put their heads together to work out how the storm is connected to not only the hushed tales of mermaids, stormbirds and islands of brass but also to their own stories. 
Then Namur disappears and Amira and Leo embark on a breath-taking journey towards the horizon where they may have to sacrifice all they hold dear. 

This story is drenched in magic and contains all the elements that make a story great: fantastical places, sensory descriptions and stories within stories. Inspired by 1001 Arabian nights, it whisks you right to the edge of your imagination where sea-witches and mermaids dwell amongst sailing souks and moving islands. But no image is more powerful than the terrible beast which sits on the horizon.

The language is as hypnotising and encapsulating as the lull of a boat, which is where most of the story takes place. The imagery is stunning and the sounds and smells come alive on the page. Aisha Bushby brilliantly conjures a brooding mood and tone which manifests itself in Amira, the main character. 
Amira is angry and knows it! Yet she is written in a relatable way, with the anger simmering at the edges of her being. I loved that her awareness of emotions meant she had self-awareness of her own and rather than denying them, she learnt to manage them in the same way Leo learns to manage his anxiety. 

In fact, the suppression of emotion is a huge theme in Moonchild and unpins the plot in a way which will encourage readers to examine how their own feelings should be treated...after all, emotions are what makes us human, right? Then there are the themes of belonging, friendship and sacrifice...

If that wasn't enough, Aisha also delves into the fascinating legends of jinn. After recently reading Michelle Lovric's The Water's Daughter, which contains a prominent jinn (or djinn) character, I was interested in reading more portrayals of them and this doesn't disappoint. Namur, Semek and Layla are as beautifully mysterious as they are loyal and adorable in their animal form and their power creates a potent current which crackles through the plot.

The novel is beautifully presented with gorgeous illustrations by Rachael Dean. It's an all round exquisite treat and I am so happy it's only the first in the series. 

Moonchild is released tomorrow - August 6th 2020. 
Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

NEW RELEASE: Never Show a T-Rex a Book by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane Ewen

                                                                   Link to publisher
                                                  Published by: Penguin, August 6th 2020         

Our summer pre-orders are rolling in and this is one we have particularly excited about: Don't Show a T-Rex a book by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane Ewen.

I love pre-ordering books because it gives us lots of time to wonder what delights await us behind the cover and the title. In this case, my five year old's prediction was...
"Why should you never show a T-Rex a book...?
Because he or she will EAT it!!!"

Well, yes, that is definitely one possibility but we soon found out that this talented author had dreamt up far bigger reasons in her debut picture book. Ones that far surpassed our imaginations and which took the adventure in a completely different direction to the one we'd anticipated. And boy, did we love it!

So what will happen if you show a T-Rex a book? Imagining what could happen conjures up endless possibilities but as it turns out, in this story, the T-rex has far more about her than sharp teeth, a scary roar and a desire to chomp on the pages. Lets just say that the precious page-turner educates her to be the best she can be...taking her on an ambitious journey which involves libraries, classrooms and BIG changes to the law! 

The quality of this book is amazing and Diane Ewen's stunning illustrations make the story completely roarsome, proving that when your imagination runs wild only good things can happen. The book lays tribute to the wonderful power of books and to the librarians who champion that power everyday by making them accessible to the public. 

There's chaos and warmth and big, BIG dreams awaiting in this story, alongside a powerful message to young readers: there are no limits to imagination just as there are no limits to possibilities. 

So if you LOVE dinosaurs but maybe aren't so keen on books, get this one! It may just change your mind. In fact:

Never EVER show a five year old this book...
because he'll never put it down!

Never Show a T-Rex a Book is out this Thursday! Hoorah!      

Monday, 3 August 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: Turns Out I'm An Evil Alien Emperor by Lou Treleaven

                                                                  Link to publisher website
                                                      Publisher: Maverick Publishing, August 2020

Sci-fi stories have a huge fan base and when my five year old son saw the cover of both this novel and the prequel, Turns Out I'm An Alien, his eyes popped out of his head in excitement. Okay, so he's not quite old enough for these middle grade novels, written by Lou Treleaven and published by Maverick Publishing, but he's told me in no uncertain terms that he's keeping the books until he is!
For me, however, science fiction is not my go to genre. Complex plots, which often involve travelling light years across time and space, tend to leave my brain in a spin. However, I can honestly say that this Turns Out I'm An Alien series has made me fall back in love with space and all things extra-terrestrial. I loved them!
Book 1
Jasper thinks he is just a normal foster kid until his foster parents, Mary and Bill, finally reveal he is an alien - and an alien prince at that. Kidnapped from the Planet Gloop as a baby, he was rescued and brought to Earth. But the evil Andromedan emperor has control of Gloop and is now closing in on Earth. It's time for Jasper to find out who...and what...he really is so he can save both his home and his family...times two!

Book 2
Being back to normal doesn't last long for Jasper. From the moment his sister, Holly, drags him to a Harry Handsome pop concert, he knows something is amiss. Harry may be an alien secret agent for the evil Andromedan emperor but why is he brainwashing all his fans? Jasper and Holly have no choice but to journey to the galaxy of Andromeda to find out just the emperor's plans are for the popstar but they are not prepared for what they find. Will Harry Handsome be responsible for Earth falling into the hands of evil and will they ever stop the emperor's greedy plans?

Both stories, artfully written, draw you in from the off. The plots are pacy, fun and full of satirical humour. Jasper is a likeable main character (or rather main alien) with a unique and slimy heritage that allows him to shape-shift into the most unlikely of creatures. Like me, Jasper doesn't have a clue about alien life, but is whizzed off on a slimetastic, deliciously gross journey through a universe that should feel complex but doesn't. Lou Treleaven's world-building is visual, 3D but beautifully simple. The evil emperor of the Andromedan galaxy wants to take over all other galaxies and Jasper needs to stop him. The End. But the comical and imaginative detail that is put into these worlds makes the novel; slime, mines, a Big Green Space Busting-Machine and a spiky purple ball of an emperor- what's not to love?
I adored the humour in the books. The sharp dialogue between Jasper and his sister was spot on and the parallels to the real world were hilarious. I loved Asbi's supermarket and Harry Handsome, the vain and sickly sweet popstar who turns out to be crucial to the plot in the most ingenius way. The shape-shifting is both gross and strangely satisfying and the villain is full of dark comedy. Fluffy provides the essential 'cute space pet' status and all is set for a riotous and epic adventure.
I also loved the family dynamics which ran throughout the novels. The families are anything but conventional but are nonetheless filled with love. Jasper may have to come to terms with having two different families in two different galaxies (and from two different species) but varying family set-ups will not be alien to many young readers and the relationships between Jasper and Holly, Bill and Mary and his birth parents are touching. Even the biological changes that Jasper goes through with his shape-shifting may seem rather extreme but will be relatable to the pre-teen age. 
I highly recommend this series, which is left open-ended and set to continue. It completely won me over with its outer-space comedy, its pace (across space), and the outer-this-world, squelchy plot. 
A shooting star of a novel!

Friday, 31 July 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: I can ROAR like a Dinosaur by Karl Newson and Ross Collins

Published: August 2020, Macmillan

Mouse is back in her third fabulous picture book and she's as bold and as bonkers as ever!
Mouse is a dinosaur with a roarsome roar...or is she? Her roar seems to have vanished! Never fear, for she has a 'How to Roar like a Dinosaur' book. Now she is teaching all the other animals how to roar - but only she can do it best. Hang on a minute! There may be someone helping her...who on earth could it be? Mmmm! And anyway, what if Mouse is not a dinosaur after all...?
In Philip Ardagh's words (taken from the front cover) Mouse is definitely 'the most awesome mouse since the Gruffalo' with a personality as big as any dinosaur that ever roamed the planet. Her determination to be whoever she wants to be leads readers through another riotous story filled with endless fun and bafflement. 
Mouse will not be confined to who or what her friends say she is. Teeny-tiny? Not on your nelly! Her failure to roar leaves her concerned for simply a nanosecond. Then what does she do? Get help of course! 
Rolling through life oblivious to the truth that surrounds her is Mouse's bag. It's her own truths she's concerned with. And when you feel big and powerful in yourself then the scariest creatures just seem like...well...mice (or something equally small fry).
Once again, Ross Collins nails Mouse's expressions as well as those of 'the silly old bunch' she hangs out with. Coupled with some wide open, drooling jaws, we have a story dripping with humour, fun and just a little bit of fear -mine not Mouse's. The dialogue is as hilarious as the interaction between characters and I can imagine all little readers, including my five year old, following the steps to roar like a dinosaur.
After all, if Mouse can do it, surely we all can to!

I Can ROAR Like a Dinosaur is available to pre-order now and is released on the 6th August. 

Thursday, 30 July 2020

The Water's Daughter by Michelle Lovric

Published: July 2020, Hachette Children's Group

Not being familiar with Michelle Lovric as an author, I was instantly drawn to this book by the blurb on the back. An historical novel set in Venice featuring a main character with 'history fingers' ticked all my boxes. Add into the mix some missing boys, an abandoned palace with a sinister reputation for eating them and a deluge of never-ending rain and I was hooked. Within the first couple of pages, I knew this was going to be a sizzler. 
Little did I know that the description above was a fraction of delights hidden within the pages. Forget my prediction that this would be a mystery novel, solved by a girl who can see history with a mere touch of her fingertips. This is a dazzling tale of djinns, mermaids, talking statues and pirates woven through the history of two exquisite settings: Venice and Arabia. 
 When another boy goes missing near 'The Palace that Eats Boys', Aurelia Bon tries to use her history fingers to uncover the secrets of her mysterious ancestral home. Instead, she finds a palace inside a palace, an Arabian castle trapped for centuries by a careless, lovesick djinn, Ghazalah
Desperate to escape the fate she has bestowed upon herself, Ghazalah wreaks havoc on the city she despises. But there are worse dangers in store for Venice - Barbary pirates led by the legendary Irish Duchess! Now it is up to Aurelia, the water's daughter, to ally with the mermaids and parley for peace. 
This novel galumphs along at breakneck speed into a plot that encompasses all the magical elements you could ever wish for. Lovric's sensory descriptions bring both Venetian and Arabian history vividly to life brick by brick, and intertwines them in a deliciously inventive way. The twists and turns are as  unpredictable as Ghazalah's magic and as breath-taking as Aurelia's talent. 
There were times when I wondered whether the plot was too busy to allow us to spend enough time with each character, who were all highly original and complex. Dear Valerio was endearing and constant and provided a much needed anchor to the other wilder personalities, who clashed beautifully with sparky and fiery backchat. I adored that Aurelia, Ghazalah, Simoneto Ghezzo and the Irish Duchess were all hugely flawed and had bags of agency, allowing them to make disastrous decisions again and again. Yet, none of these characters, even the villains, were cast aside. Lovric allowed the reader to see the past intricacies of each personality in the same way she allowed the characters themselves to grow in self-awareness, aiding their chance at possible redemption. 
The historical element of the story was fascinating. Never before was I aware of the ancient relationship between Arabia and Venice. Lovric covers exceptional ground in a very short space of time, weaving hard facts through myths and legends and religious beliefs, then adding a large dose of magical fantasy for extra sparkle. 
All the information is fascinating. From the Arabian and Venetian architecture to the tough truths of slavery to the stereotype-busting descriptions of the Djinn - this is an eye-opening read which makes me want to travel and learn and explore. It holds up mistakes made in history and mistakes made on a personal level and explores the impact they have on other humans, other nations and on the people that make them in the first place. The result is a novel that has more cleverly-crafted layers than the number of pages. 
This is a magical, historical fantasy with a dark heart based in truth. It's intense, tackles serious issues and yet never stops being enjoyable. The humorous dialogue is a highlight, as are the feisty, self-absorbed characters and the shimmer of the Arabian sun shines through the rain, leaving us with hope in the future and with hope in mankind. 
An absolute scorcher!

Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review. 

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Octopus Shocktopus by Peter Bently. Illustrated by Steven Lenton

                                                            Link to Goodreads
                                                            Published: July 2020, Nosy Crow

A giant octopus living on top of your house? How absurd I hear you say! Yet, in the brilliantly upbeat rhyming book the initial shock of the surprise visitor soon becomes the new normal. And, by the time you finish this book you'll be wanting one on your roof too!
When an octopus makes itself at home on a coastal village rooftop, there are mixed reactions from the villagers. It looks like things are not going to work out well until the neighbourhood children discover what a great playmate an octopus can be. Soon, the octopus' eight tentacles become invaluable to everybody...until the octopus disappears as suddenly as it arrives. Will their friend ever come back? And if it does, will their be another shock in store?
This was an instant hit with all of my three children. A colourful octopus on a roof, perfectly portrayed by Steven Lenton's fantastically detailed illustrations, was a concept too irresistible to miss out on. Peter Bently's flawless, fast-paced rhythm sweeps you up as fast as an octopus' tentacle and whizzes you through an exhilarating narration of a story that is as delightful as it is unique.
The simplicity of the plot is genius. In a time of uncertainty and upheaval, it promotes the importance of friendship, community and difference whilst remaining purely light-hearted. I love the endless charm of it, the change in seasons and the dazzling centre page where the octopus is showcased in all its glory. The ending is again very simple but hugely effective and the detail on the final page of illustrations is so enchanting it leaves the reader with a couple of very important questions...what colour octopus do you want on your roof and what will its hobby be?
From a fishing and kite-flying octopus to the single baking squid, this book will encourage you to cast aside any worries and participate in five minutes of shared, carefree reading. It will make you feel as light as the breeze and as giddy as a day at the funfair. After all, anything is possible, right?

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: DOSH by Rashmi Sirdeshpande

Published by: Wren and Rook (part of Hachette Children's Group)
Released: August 2020

Link to Pre-order

For years in my role as a primary teacher, I championed any opportunity to teach children real life skills. Now, as a mum of three children who really seem to think that money grows on trees, I'm more in favour of it than ever.
Then along comes this book! Hallelujah! DOSH is a fascinating and informative read which dives straight into the nitty gritty of what money is, the history of money, how to earn, grow and save money and, of course, how to spend it...SENSIBLY!
Rashmi Sirdeshpande handles the complex nature of currency, cash and credit cards beautifully. Her writing is clear, to the point and includes age appropriate examples of how things work. The tone is encouraging, positive and straight-forward, plus there is no hint of any patronising - young people are capable of being entrepreneurs and there are examples to prove it!
If you're looking for a practical, mathematical book which will teach children the value of coins and how to calculate prices, change etc then this isn't it. This non-fiction narrative, aimed at children aged 8-12, delves much deeper into how currencies have developed globally over time, how they have evolved and are still evolving at a frightening pace. It talks about wages, business, investments and budgeting whilst challenging readers to think about both the benefits and pitfalls of money and what money means to them. Will handling money with care and respect enable you to live a prosperous life? Quite possibly! Will it buy you happiness and contentment?...probably not
This is a book that young people need to read! Combined with their hunger to learn and their thirst for independence, it will teach them financial skills that will hopefully last a lifetime and which many an adult, including myself, will wish they'd had access to when they were school-age. It's inspirational and it talks sense! Does it cover complex concepts? You bet! I have to admit that my head span somewhat when Rashmi Sirdeshpande started explaining 'Bitcoin', 'computer mining' and 'cryptocurrencies'. But, this is the future and the future belongs to our next generation of budding money-makers...and I have every faith that they can get to grips with it far faster than I ever will.
So, if you know a brilliant young businessperson or just want to teach your child to save and budget, then I highly recommend this fact-filled, corker of a might just be the best investment they've ever made!
Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review. 

Moonchild by Aisha Bushby and Rachael Dean

                                                                   Link to Waterstones Link to Publisher: Egmont, August 6th 2020...