Monday 30 September 2019

The Girl who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
Published by Usborne Books

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I managed to take a sneaky hour to curl up on the sofa and finish The Girl who Speaks Bear. This is a book I was incredibly excited about after being swept away by Sophie's debut novel The House with Chicken Legs...and it most certainly didn't disappoint.
There are strong echoes of The House with Chicken Legs in this novel. Both are based on Sophie's love of Russian and Slavic folktales and, to my delight, a Yaga house (not Marinka's but another one that links directly to The House with Chicken Legs) features heavily in the plot. This instantly gave the book a familiar and nostalgic feel, as I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the Yaga houses at the end of Sophie's first novel. It also carves out Sophie Anderson's identity as an exceptionally talented re-teller of the folktales she has always adored. The world she writes about is all intrinsically linked by magical tendrils and Sophie's passion.
In this tale, Yanka is comparable to Marinka. Both have a mysterious past which they must discover in order to make choices about their future. Yanka feels she doesn't fit in to the human world, whereas Marinka is desperate to belong to it (rather than being destined to guide the dead). Both stories explore the coming of age, when a teenager draws away from their family in order to experience a wider world and find out who they really are.
The Girl who Speaks Bear couldn't be more magical if it tried. The snow and ice landscape, alongside a menagerie of talking animals, re-conjured echoes of Narnia for me and then took the magic further-to fiery volcanoes, a three-headed dragon, bears and long-forgotten curses. Throughout the main story, characters re-tell some of the most beautiful folktales and legends I have ever heard. They crackle with magic and imagination to the point where they are, undoubtedly, the best storytelling I have ever read. These short tales feed into Yanka's story perfectly and, very cleverly, allow us to find out about her past in a non-linear way. They also add to the mystery of the story. Which parts of these tales are true? How do they all connect together to reveal the full tale of Yanka's ancestry.
Yanka is not alone in her journey. Throughout the novel she is joined by an eclectic mix of both animal and human friends, all of which have their own strengths and struggles. The theme of 'being a herd' is prominent and I love how Sophie Anderson highlights how everyone, big or small, has something invaluable to contribute to a group or community. Community versus isolation is another recurring theme.
In summary, Sophie incorporates all the magical things we love- from flying ships to dragons to plucky princesses with icy, stardust arrows-and weaves them into a tale that is wholly unique, captivating and memorable. If you are looking to be transported into an ultimate fairytale, then this is the book for you!

This blog takes no credit for the images used. Please follow the link to 'Goodreads' which provides further reviews and lists all available retailers.

Thursday 26 September 2019

From Picture Books to Chapter Books-Making the Leap. (Part 1)

I was an avid reader as a child. Funnily enough, I don't have many memories of my early reading journey, other than hearing a few classic picture books at school and having a few stories at home. I certainly don't remember being surrounded by endless colourful picture books, although reading in our family was always encouraged. I remember my dad's shelves being lined with a selection of thick, highbrow and rather academic books that I often attempted to read. It seemed I was curious and hungry for stories.
And so, by the age of six- the age my middle daughter is now-I was reading pretty fluently and curled up every night with a book in my hand. This is where my memory really kicks in. I remember sharing a bunk-bed with my cousin (another hungry reader) and snuggling under the duvet with an strong supply of Enid Blyton:The Magic Faraway Tree turned into The Wishing Chair which turned into The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and The Fantastic Four. Then came the Roald Dahl books and The Chronicles of Narnia.                                                           

Childhood favourites (link below)

Now, thirty years later, I am here with my own children and attempting to make the leap from picture books (which will always be everywhere in our house) to chapter books. And, surprisingly, it's not going as smoothly as I thought.
Over the last nine years with the arrival of our three little ones, our house has gradually turned into a library. What better excuse to indulge my love of children's books but to buy and borrow books for our children. They have literally come from everywhere -the library, discount book stores, car boot sales and charity shops - and the range is far reaching. From Peppa Pig to The Gruffalo to Barry the Fish with Fingers to Winnie the Witch. You name it and we've probably got it!

And so, what are the results of filling our house with all these gorgeous stories?  Pure magic, that's what! With a little organisation (we have book tidies in most rooms and move the stories around to encourage wider reading) I have three children who are hooked on picture books and who can listen to audio stories for hours in the car and still ask for more. I have an autistic daughter who cannot read well at all and yet can recite the whole rhyming text of Room on The Broom and Hairy McClary and Zachary Quack. and I also have an eye-rolling husband who tells me off for having books everywhere and yet, despite struggling his whole life with dyslexia and avoiding reading at all costs, turned to me one day with our eldest on his lap and said 'I love reading with the kids! These books are ace.'
But time is moving us on and, although my 8 year old daughter still needs a diet of picture books, sound books, sensory and audio books, my other two - aged 6 and 4- are ready for more.
More I can give them!  I dug out my precious copies of the shorter Roald Dahl books and began to read. They were an instant hit. I  knew the text inside out and could confidently do the voices to keep them engaged. The Twits, George's Marvellous Medicine and James and the Giant Peach went down a storm. But then what?..and here's where I noticed a change.
My four year old son- lively and boisterous- was gripped by these stories and started to show an interest in more. But my six year old daughter-who is a competent reader and writer for her age- started to trail off. If the pace or action in the story dipped at any point, I noticed she would turn away and start talking over me, playing with her toys or busying herself with other things. I encouraged her to choose a book in the bookshop that she could read on her own at bedtime. She loved doing this and chose two, only to lose interest the moment we got home. Without the lure of picture book illustrations and the enjoyable rhythm and rhyme of the text, she has begun to lose interest in the books and turn to the TV and I-pad for her instant fix.
I have one rule about books in our house. I want to foster a pure enjoyment of reading. There is never any pressure to read and they always have the choice of reading whatever they want. I encourage them to read their school books (or whatever book after school) but never force! And the reading material: picture books, chapter books, magazines and non-fiction books are accessible whenever they want it. If she wants to carry on enjoying the picture books then fine, no problem. But in my own head, as a parent and a teacher, I wonder how I move her on in her reading fluency and help her reach her maximum potential without applying any pressure? How do I get the black and white books to compete with the other sources of entertainment without being dictatorial?
For the moment I have continued to read chapter books at bedtime. My son-just turned four and in reception-is the one I thought would struggle most with reading. Yet he sits on my lap every night and becomes absorbed in the stories. He even asked me one morning before school if I could carry on reading a certain chapter book because he "couldn't wait to find out what happens." He can't yet read at all himself but his love of listening to stories has really surprised (and thrilled me). Yet my daughter still chooses not to listen - and she's not made to if she doesn't want to.
This has lead me down a path of researching the latest and most recommended chapter books on the market (I love early chapter books as much as picture books!). Again, surprisingly it's been harder than I thought to find ones that really connect in the same way as the Roald Dahl books. Although the few we have tried have been enjoyable, none of them have evoked the same reaction in my boy as Roald Dahl's humour and they haven't held my daughter's attention at all!
So in part two of this post I plan to review the modern chapter books we have tried to date. In the meantime, any suggestions for a successful transition from picture book to chapter book will be gratefully received, as will any recommendations.

This blog takes now credit for any images used. The images have been taken from Goodreads and all links are below:
The Enchanted Wood:
Barry the Fish with Fingers:
George's Marvellous Medicine:

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Toilet humour: Yes or No? (Part 1)

Love them or hate them, you can guarantee that toilet humour books will get kids (yes, boys and girls shrieking with laughter and clamouring "Just one more time..."

If you're anything like my husband, you'll be right in the thick of it, eeking out the laughs and maximising the fun of the story by holding an obligatory competition to see who can make the longest and rudest toilet noise (and even bringing Alexa in on the act).

On the other hand, if you're anything like my mother, you'll be holding the book disdainfully away from you and threatening to stop reading at the next page turn if things get any worse, which of course makes it even more hysterically funny for the kids.

In our house it's me that holds the murky middle ground when it comes to this category of picture books. Would I rather they choose something else to enjoy before bedtime? At the beginning of our reading journey, I would have said yes. Now, I'm not so sure. For one, there's something wonderful about seeing three siblings giggling and bonding over a book, however outlandish. Secondly, they often provide exactly what I need- a right good laugh! And, if I can enjoy that laugh with my children, when I spend so much time playing the harassed mediator then so much the better.

I think the key question when it comes to toilet humour books, as with any book, is does it tell a good story alongside the jokes? The examples I have included below explore this further.

I've been told several times on the book community grapevine, that some (but certainly not all) publishers are actively looking for or commissioning authors to write toilet humour books. This really interested me as usually picture books need to hold some appeal to adult readers, as well as the child, in order to persuade them to buy the book. Could this mean then that a child's enthusiasm for this type of book can overrule adult preference? Or are most adult purchasers firmly in the camp of my husband? Or is it that they, like me, are swept up by their child's excitement for a story and give in to buying it, knowing that it will probably provide us with a secret giggle?

Whatever the reason, toilet humour clearly sells. Below are some of the toilet humour tales that have floated into our house across the last few years:

The Dinosaur that Pooped series by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter


There's no getting away from it! The toilet humour in this series is about as in your face as you can get and the winner of our household toilet humour awards. Starting with The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas, it soon became an explosively (pun intended) successful series penned by the just as successful McFly band members. 
The fact that the tales are told in rhyme add to the rollicking fun of each story. The rhythm and language set up the scenes to give the punchline maximum impact. Mention The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas to my autistic daughter and she is bound to give a delighted giggle before reciting her favourite lines:
"And last but not least and never forgotten, Granny plopped out of the dinosaur's bottom."  
(At this point my mum would leave the room.)
If you let go of  appropriateness and give yourself up to the story, this series undoubtedly provides a lot of laughs. Each tale is entertaining, despite following a similar pattern. The Christmas one is  disgustingly hilarious and the one we (yes, even me) look forward to pulling out the Christmas box every year.
What does niggle me though, particularly as aspiring writer of rhyming stories, is the number of times half rhymes, and sometimes a blatant non-rhyme slips into these tales. Obviously, exceptions are made for high ranking and highly profitable authors, but in places it just feels sloppy.
Do my kids notice? No! Does it spoil the outrageous naughtiness of the story? No! But it is noticeable to the reader. Nonetheless, these stories are marmite and I have to admit that I am now a converted fan.

The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently and Mei Matsuoka


There are no other words for it other than naughty and hilarious! This toilet humour book, again told beautifully in rhyme, is one of a kind and, according to Peter Bently himself, was inspired by a short, jokey folktale.
Unlike the Dinosaur that Pooped series above, I think this story could work just as well in prose as in verse. The plot is so unique that once read it will never be forgotten. It even made my mum chuckle!
The toilet humour in this book is still naughty but more subtle that other toilet humour books. There's no great piles of poo and mess, just neat little bottom o's that, unfortunately, get muddled at the dog's summer ball. 
This was Peter Bently's third published book and he has gone on to become a full-time children's writer known particularly for humorous rhyming stories (although he also writes across other genres too). Check out his new toilet humour book below.

Princesses don't Parp! by Peter Bently and Eric Heyman


Uh-oh! It seems everyone at the palace has a parping problem but not the princess of course! With a Royal Visitor is on his way, the princess is desperate to cover up the embarrassing secret before it literally leaks out.
This, again, is a more in-your-face toilet humour book than the one above but is pure light-hearted, laugh-out-loud entertainment for those that are up for leaping in and letting go. Be prepared to parp, poot and trump your way through every brilliantly illustrated page.

Dog Did It! by Lynne Garner and Mike Brownlow


A simple tale about a little troll whose love of  worm porridge makes him stinky. Not wanting to give up his favourite food, he devises a plan to blame the smell on his dog.
There is a play on the old Aesops Fable, Peter and the Wolf in this story about telling fibs and getting caught out in the end. However, it is done in a very light-hearted and fun way.
The structure is simple and suitable for younger children and this is the first book included in this post that is written in prose. What made this book different (and gave us the most laughs) was the outlandish words Garner uses for 'fart'. There is no parp, toot or trumpet in sight but rather 'smelly blampfs' and 'flappy whoofs'.
There is no wider story to carry this tale along. It is purely about a smelly troll that blames it on the dog. This made it feel a bit forced. It's a toilet humour book for the sake of toilet humour and not added in because it makes another story funnier. Still, both the stories and illustrations are cute and we will definitely remember this one for the unique language.

Robo-Snot by Amy Sparkes and Paul Cherrill


We're moving to the upper end in this hilarious and colourful (mainly green) rhyming tale. 
When Little Robot starts to sneeze, he's introduced to the world of snot. But there's no where for it to go and he doesn't know what to do with it.
This story teaches children a valuable lesson on the correct way to deal with snot but takes us on a wildly entertaining adventure in doing so. Just when you think the story is going to wrap up, Amy Sparkes cranks it up, adding another exciting twist and turn to Little Robot's journey.
This book leaps off the shelves to children. The colours, the robot, the snot and the title would have both my son and my daughters clamouring for it instantly.  (My girls have enjoyed all the above toilet humour stories as equally as my son has, and he was as equally into the princess story as they were.) It is a story you can enjoy at any age if you're not too squeamish, although you might want to bring a tissue!

This blog does not take any credit for any images or quotations used in the post. All images have been taken from and linked to 'Goodreads' website, who provide a wider range of reviews and links to available online retailers. 

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Dracula Spectacular by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle


With Halloween on the horizon, this charming, rhyming tale from Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle is totally worth the wait. Centred around the Dracula family, Lucy weaves a magical and atmospheric story with a little hint of spookiness combined with a whole host of snazzy dressing.
The youngest Dracula is struggling with vampire life and is drawn to a different kind of living. Exploring themes of kindness, being different, acceptance and friendship, this tale was thoroughly entertaining whilst also being able to touch the heartstrings.
Both Lucy's sparkling rhyme and the fabulous illustrations by Ben Mantle lifted the story to give it maximum impact. The cover sold the book to me in a heartbeat and attracted all three of my children's attention, so much so they all took turns to look at it at bedtime. After all, who wouldn't want a rainbow cape? 
Set against the broodingly gloomy background Dracula's final outfit was a wow moment for my us all, including my clothes-mad autistic daughter.
Problem is, it's now on her Christmas list...

Dracula Spectacular is released tomorrow- September 19th 2019

Sunday 15 September 2019

PB Review: Catch that Cough! by Bonnie Bridgman and Louise Forshaw


Step into any primary school in September and you'll no doubt catch the obligatory 'return to school' cough and cold that spreads through classrooms as fast as a breezy autumnal wind.
Any chance we can stop the spread? How about reading 'Catch that Cough!' by debut author Bonnie Bridgman and illustrated by the very talented Louise Forshaw.
'Catch that Cough' is a delightful tale of an escaping cough that causes mischievous mayhem...and it certainly does not want to be caught! Ideal as both a bedtime read and to enjoy in the classroom, it teaches (not just youngsters) the best way to catch your cough.
Bonnie has hit on a unique topic for her first, and thoroughly entertaining, picture book. There is not a rabbit, mouse or bear in sight. Instead, this cute, cloud-like cough captured the heart of both me and my son with it's antics. Spot it's sneaky shenanigans around the kitchen and it's merriment in the garden with Louise's clever detail. And, much to my son's delight, 'Catch that Cough' has become an overnight household catchphrase.
"Catch that Cough! Quick! Who knows what mischief it might get up to if you let it escape!"
'Catch that Cough' was released at the beginning of September and is available to buy online and from all good book stores. For more information on the book launch and what it's like to become a published children's author, check out Bonnie's blog:
I can't wait to hear more tales!

Wednesday 11 September 2019

September releases I can't wait to read...

My budget for books is small! I always overspend but, this month, it's well and truly been BLOWN! September sees the release of new books from some of my favourite authors that I just can't wait to get my hands on...

The Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times by Cressida Cowell (MG)

I have to confess that I had never read Cressida Cowell before The Wizards of Once. The How to Train Your Dragon series has shamefully passed me by, maybe because, due to being so busy, I am reluctant to find myself drawn into a lengthy series that I don't want to emerge from. However, this trio of middle grade books, written by the current Waterstones Children's Laureate, offers us mind-blowing imagination and a unique adventure into a world of Magic and Iron.
Xar is the son of a powerful enchanter and Wish is the daughter of an Iron Warrior Queen. The two worlds are divided but, when Xar and Wish meet, they collide with startling force. But they are not alone, for rumours say that the Witches are rising again.
Both The Wizards of Once and Twice Magic blew me away, firstly because of the fantastically gripping and atmospheric plot, but, secondly, because of the way the story is told. Cressida Cowell  allows a mysterious narrator to tell this story. This gives it a wonderfully unique voice that speaks right into the hearts and minds of the readers. There is a wonderful air of respect and inclusion for the reader, which I think children will really respond to. They are given advice and wisdom with out any hint of being patronised. I love Cowell's ability to sum up life's mysteries and complexities in single sentences, which ring out as clear as a bell.
Knock the Times, the third Wizard of Once book, is out on September 19th.

Dracula Spectacular by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle

I would have bought this book purely on the cover art alone but the fact that it is a new picture book by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle means we are counting the days until it's release on September 19th. Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle won us over with Little Red Reading Hood, a firm favourite that comes out on pretty much every car journey. Have you seen my blankie? is another of Lucy's charming rhyming tales as well as Catch that Egg, Jake Bakes a Monster Cake and Gecko Echo.
Our favourite Lucy Rowland tales are the ones with echoes of fairytales. However, a Halloween themed book that includes a rainbow Dracula is bound to get families excited. I doubt Lucy'srhyming talent will disappoint- I think we are in for a treat.

The Girl who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

I can't speak about The Girl who Speaks Bear without first talking about Sophie Anderson's debut novel, The House with Chicken Legs. In my first blog post, I talked about finding those breadcrumb books that speak to your soul and leave an imprint on the rest of your life. This book is one of those books. 
For the first time in a long time I was tempted to hide under the covers and read through the night (and if it had been the weekend, I certainly would have).
The story of Marinka is beautiful and haunting. Based on the Slavic folklore and Russian fairytales about Baba Yaga, it centres around a house with chicken legs which guides the dead to the next life. Death is not an easy subject but Marinka's tale is moving and compelling. Just stunning!

Released on September 5th 2019, The Girl who Speaks Bear is an entirely new story also inspired by Slavic folklore. Yanka's story is interspersed with traditional takes, giving it the promise of a truly magical read. 

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This is Kiran Millwood Hargrave's first foray into the YA market. Telling the story of Dracula's brides, it looks like the perfect Halloween read for older readers.
I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Kiran Millwood Hargrave's middle grade books but it was The Island at the end of Everything that placed her amongst my new favourite authors. In the same ilk as Anderson's The House with Chicken Legs, this read was soulful and moving. It beautifully portrays the strength of a parental bond and explores how beauty can mask discrimination, prejudice and

These are only a few of the brilliant books available this month-the ones I have eagerly awaited and pre-ordered. I'm certainly like a kid in a sweetshop this September and can't wait for the packages to start hitting the doormat. Happy reading!

Sunday 8 September 2019

Seasonal Round-up: Cosying up to Autumn

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love the seasons. And Cornwall is certainly a perfect place to enjoy them. Being rural, Autumn for me always invites images of cosiness, golden sunlight, leafy winds and harvesting berries.
It is also a time for bringing out our box of annual autumnal reads.
Forget Halloween until a later post. Books centred around or set in autumn offer some of my favourite illustrations of all time, probably because they support my idyllic view of the season. They also tell fabulous tales...and if a pumpkin is involved, then I'm in.
Below are a round-up of some of my favourite autumnal picture books. Your list may reach wider and be completely different. We'd love to hear about them.

Pumpkin Soup, A Pipkin of Pepper and Delicious! by Helen Cooper
Helen Cooper is an author/illustrator who has delivered some of the most well known, classic picture books. However, this trilogy of tales are my personal favourites by far.
A cat, squirrel and a small duck with a big personality make for an argumentative but humorous trio as they fight over how to make their beloved pumpkin soup. Soon duck has disappeared into the forest...will he ever be found so peace can be restored?
The story is entertaining and the pictures, especially of the pumpkin patch, are glorious. But  all three of these books gain extra heart and humour from the side commentary and actions of the bugs. 
Just where has all that soup gone?

The soup needs seasoning and so cat, duck and mouse are off to the big city. Trust headstrong duck to cause trouble.
The bond between the trio, despite the squabbling, is lovable and relatable. The characters have character and it's endearing. The story gets across the vastness of the big city, the fear of being lost and the comfort of being found. It's a warm hug of a book.
I thought the artwork in Pumpkin Soup was wonderful but the colours of the big city leap off the page. I loved it so much I tried to replicate the technique with my class and we had great fun.
Turns out though, as adventurous as the big city is...there's no place like home. 

The final instalment of this trilogy takes us out of autumn and into a season where there are no pumpkins left in the patch! However, although lighter and brighter, there is still an autumnal feel about it, probably as pumpkins are still heavily mentioned. The bugs come into their own in this story, adding masses of humour.
Duck is throwing a tantrum and will not give any other soup a chance. Parents of fussy eaters will sympathise with the frustrations of the cat and squirrel and the lengths they go to to placate him. My children love to tut at the 'unreasonable' behaviour of duck without ever twigging the irony. 
Will he ever be fooled into liking a soup other than pumpkin?

The Scarecrow's Wedding by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

There's no pumpkin in sight in this story but it is a tale about one of my other favourite things...scarecrows. This is a charming, rhyming story of Betty O'Barley and Harry O' Hay, two scarecrows who fall in love. But when Harry sets out on a quest and doesn't return, another scarecrow steps into the mix.
This story attracted some controversy when it was published as the plot involves a cigar. As a result, I never used it as a school text. However, I think the message is clear and it has never personally worried me. Two years ago this story was used by The Lost Gardens of Heligan to create an interactive trail of fun during the Easter Holidays. The giant spreads were completely immersive. It was the best event they have ever done.

Tree by Britta Teckentrup

This author/illustrator takes this tree on it's annual journey through all the seasons. The simple but charming rhyme accompanies a triumph of illustrations (the autumn spreads are, of course, the best) with a host of adorable forest animals. A great way to teach little ones about the yearly cycle, this book also has a grown-up edge to its design, making it, hopefully, a hit with adult readers too.

Guess how much I love you in the Autumn by Sam McBratney and Anita Jerum
As charming as the other books in the series, this tale includes the excitement of the autumn wind without losing it's gentle and calm narration. Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare's bond encourages the readers to also bond over a snuggly, buggly bedtime read. 

This round-up of stories have been enjoyed every year in our house since the children were little. But we are always on the look-out for new favourites. Feel free to share your autumnal reads with us and look out for the next blog post on this month's awaited releases.

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted.  If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail and it will be promptly removed.

Friday 6 September 2019

MG review- The Land of Roar: Jenny Mclachlan and Ben Mantle



The Land of Roar is stunning, soaring adventure that took my breath away as though I were on the back of a dragon. It was a fantastic read to end the summer holidays, although I felt so fired up after reading it that I rather wish I'd read it at the beginning.
I am already a big fan of Ben Mantle, as an illustrator of some of my favourite picture books, but this is the first book of Jenny Mclachlan's that I have read, probably because this one is aimed at the Middle Grade age-range. The book was way down my reading list but, somehow, sneaked it's way to my top spot with the dynamic cover art and attention it was getting on social media.    
Roar is a child's magical imagination gone to town. It's a place where anything goes but everything works. A ninja wizard, dragons, scarecrows, unicorns, stallions and mermaids at first seemed like an over-enthusiastic mix. No way! It's a paradise of exhilaration and adventure that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Anchoring it all together is the central character, Arthur (who tells the story in the first person) and the troubled, humorous and  poignant relationships he has with those he loves: Arthur and Rose, Arthur and Grandad, Arthur and Win. Win's humour is a great balance to Rose's angst and Crowky makes for a brilliant, unique and surprisingly sinister baddie. 
The Land of Roar gave me personal echoes of Peter Pan. It highlights the importance of believing and being true to yourself. I can't wait for the next instalment!

Thursday 5 September 2019

Doing it the Hansel and Gretel way:Finding a path through a forest of tales.

I dread to think how many trees have been cut down to feed my story addiction. In my lifetime, I must have read no less than a forest of books (many I borrow or buy second hand). But how do we know which tales to choose? Which are the right books for us? And how do we know that we haven't missed the one?
Brilliantly, but also unfortunately, books are published at a much faster rate than I can read. There are masses of stories that will never fall into my hands. And yet the power of finding a good book, one that speaks to our soul, is as significant as finding a breadcrumb when you are lost (I know the breadcrumbs were actually eaten but they sound far more magical than stones).
Out of all the stories that were read or introduced to me as a child, all of which I'm sure I really enjoyed at the time, only a few have stayed with me. Looking back, they have become a breadcrumb trail through my past- one that offers me guidance, security and comfort. They have shaped my journey and personality.
Here are a few and I'm sure there are no surprises:
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton -my always and forever favourite.
Ted and Dolly's Magic Carpet Ride by Richard Fowler
The Tiger who came to Tea by Judith Kerr.
The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 But now, with so much choice at my fingertips, how do I find a new set of breadcrumbs to guide me through the forest of books that still await me out in the world?
Here are a few paths I have tried.

1) Stick to what you know
 If you like animal stories, then googling for these will probably become a first port of call. Dynamic adventure tales? Then search for those. This could mean that you become attached to a particular theme, series or author. Most of my reading life has been taken up with series reading. From The Famous Five to Sweet Valley Twins, Harry Potter, The Northern Lights Trilogy and they have all been fantastically enjoyable. Very often with a series, the characters become life-long friends, you have the security of knowing the format, if not the twists and turns and the journey becomes exciting but familiar.
 2) Front covers
Front cover art is phenomenally powerful in selling a book and, particularly when browsing in a book shop, the cover is what sells one book over another. I adore a beautiful book cover and kudos to the fantastic illustrators and publishers out there.
Books that I have ordered,or pre-ordered, partly or mainly because of the cover art in recent months are: Dracula Spectacular by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle, The Land of Roar also by Ben Mantle and Jenny McLachlan and The Way Past Winter by Kiran Milwood Hargrave.

3)Recommendations and reviews
Social media and word of mouth is a wonderful and powerful thing. This is, now, definitely the most common way that I find my next book. A book that is frequently mentioned in my newsfeed and has five star reviews is bound to get my attention, especially if the author is known to me and the cover stands out. Current reads on my list, which have got there solely because of reviews and recommendations are Princess BMX by Marie Basting and Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. It is certainly a great way to support and learn about up and coming debut authors and keep up with the latest and most popular reads.

But I still can't help wonder about the books I'm missing out on. The ones that may be more quietly-spoken, alternative or ones that don't have the backing of a big social media campaign. Maybe, from time to time,  I need to venture off what is becoming a well-trodden path and search more deeply in the undergrowth. For example, if someone rubbishes their latest read, why not try it out to see if you see it differently. You don't have to finish it. Or have a rummage in the library, a charity shop or second-hand bookshop. Find your usual genre and then choose the book opposite instead. How about non-fiction. Non-fiction is boring? Not the ones that I've read recently. Or, check out a publishers latest list and then choose the one that isn't first to jump out.

Reading books is a fantastic thing to do. For both adults and children, it helps us to learn about the world, see things in new ways and from different viewpoints and draws us into worlds other than our own. And, of course, it should be comforting, exhilarating and enjoyable. But, there is nothing wrong in challenging yourself to find something new, a hidden gem. Just keep an open mind-  don't ever be scared to stray off the path of recommendation. You never know, you may just stumble on an alternative breadcrumb route that brings you home changed!

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