Thursday 31 October 2019

Going to the Volcano by Andy Stanton, illustrated by Miguel Ordonez.

It's not Halloween themed but I have to write about this picture book!
For anyone familiar with Andy Stanton's middle grade, award-winning series, Mr. Gum, you'll know that as far as authors go Stanton is utterly wacky,  zanily ridiculous and nuttily bonkers. When I first read a Mr. Gum book I wondered what on earth I'd stepped into, as absolutely nothing made sense. Stick with it though and you realise that, although almost anything goes, there is reason among the madness and I now consider them to be amongst the funniest and most entertaining books I've ever read.
So when it comes to this picture book- that is what to expect. It's simple, it's repetitive and it whacked a massive grin on my face in the middle of the bookshop. Without a doubt, my kids would love it...and they do! 
So what's the plot? Basically just two adventures heading to a Volcan-O! As they travel over land and sea, gathering an eclectic group of  followers as they go, they come ever closer to the smouldering peak.

What could possibly happen when they reach it?...
There is a possibility that reading this story over and over (which I'm sure might become the case) could quickly become as irritating as an advert jingle. But if you fancy a bit of simplistic but genius daftness then this book is definitely the one to try.

Also by Andy Stanton:

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Author Spotlight: Katherine Rundall -Middle Grade Legend.
Back in June I had the pleasure of reading the highly anticipated new release from Katherine Rundall, published by Bloomsbury and aimed at middle grade readers of approximately 8-12 years.
This is the fourth Katherine Rundall book I have read and it didn't disappoint. It is a captivating and dare-devilish tale set in 1920's New York and has secured Rundall as my all-round top favourite author.
Rundell's books are for the more competent reader but what I love about her tales is that you are guaranteed to be whisked away and immersed in a beautiful, global setting. From the rooftops of Paris to the plains of Africa, from the exotic Amazon Jungle to the glamour and danger of New York, all her stories are unique, stand-a-lone and terrifically different. There is one thing that remains the same, however. Rundall's writing is both deceptively simple and deliciously bold. Her wonderful language has a light, airy feel to it that makes me feel like I'm floating in a bubble as I read...and the stories are enthralling.
In 'The Good Thieves'- a fast-paced and dynamic tale- feisty Vita and her mother arrive in New York to help her well-connected grandfather, who has been conned out of his ancestral castle by notorious gangster, Sowotore. Furious at the injustice that has been dealt to her beloved grandad, Vita searches for Sowotore on the streets of New York and finds him to be as bad and as dangerous as his reputation. With the help of some new and intriguing friends: an animal tamer, a trapeze-artist and a pickpocket, fighter Vita attempts a reckless and bold as brass plan to find the hidden jewel that will save the castle.
The description of 1920's New York alongside the thrill of a traditional circus is vivid. This book did exactly what books are supposed to do- swept me away to a far away world and kept me hooked from cover to cover. It's a rather grown-up read, however, and I would recommend it to the older end of the middle grade market.

Rooftoppers (Faber Faber 2013)
A baby who survived a shipwreck was found floating on the
English Channel in a cello, wrapped in a musical score. The uniqueness of this concept hooked me in from the start.
Records say that Sophie's mother, a talented cello player, drowned in the shipwreck but now she's not so sure. Taken in and raised by a loving stranger, Charles, and pursued by social services Sophie persuades her guardian to help her follow the single clue she has and trace her mother's cello.
Fleeing to France and hiding from officials, Sophie discovers a beautiful and secret world on the rooftops of Paris and a gang of homeless urchins who have made it their home. Daring the treacherous journey from roof to roof cross the city, can her new and feral friends lead her to her mother before it's too late?
There are similarities to 'The Good Thieves' in this story. It is daring, wild and shows a hidden side to a city and it's inhabitants. Sophie is a gentler character than Vita but equally determined and the mission is family-based and emotive. Prepare tissues for the end!
There is something very classical and magical about this book, partly because Rundall's language somehow makes you feel like you are flying across the rooftops yourself and partly because it is so unique. This was a big award winner, winning the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, the Blue Peter book awards and being shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. This was the first Katherine Rundall book I read and probably still my favourite. Slightly simpler in plot than 'The Good Thieves', a competent 8-9 year old could probably cope with this.

The Girl Savage (Faber, 2011) -also published as Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms
Katherine Rundall certainly loves strong-willed female characters and, in her debut novel, Wilhemina (Will) is no exception. Allowed to run wild over the plains of Zimbabwe, her life is filled with beloved fun and freedom...that is until her cruel new guardian sells their home and sends her to an English boarding school.
Will's failure to adjust to a formal life of rules and education is choking. Pining for her native country, her home and friends she escapes onto the streets of London. Will she ever find anyone who understands her again?
This book was inspired by Rundall's own childhood in Africa and is saturated with spirit. It makes you want to turn your back on all formality and run barefoot under the hot sun - although looking out of the window at the pouring English rain, maybe not today!

The Explorer (Bloomsbury, 2018)

A slightly longer novel than the other, The Explorer is a tale of survival. When their plane goes down, four children- a boy, a girl and a brother and sister- must join forces to survive weeks of dangerous wilderness.
Their journey leads them from building dens and stealing honey from bees to rafting down an Amazon river full of electric eels and eating tarantulas. When they find an ancient ruin and meet a mysterious man with a hidden plane, will he be the key to their escape?
Again, there are some strong female characters in this story, tempered by the rather serious Fred. Five year old Max is the heart-strings of the story as he struggles to survive at such a young age. When he is taken gravely ill, the race is on to save his life...and time is running out fast.
Slightly slower paced than Rundell's other tales, this immersive story is still filled with plenty of action and has a strong climatic end. Their journey unfolds gradually, giving a sense of the endless days of being lost in the jungle. This story will appeal to all adventurers and explorers out there.

A little about Katherine Rundall
Rundall keeps a low profile as an author. She is not on social media, nor have I seen many interviews with her. However, she is a highly educated graduate of Oxford and grew up across both Africa and Europe, something which has greatly inspired her stories.  This year she published a small book naming reasons and benefits of why adults should read children's books (something, as you see, I fully support 😀). She has already gained a reputation for being a classic storyteller and I can see all her books being around on the shelves far into the future.
Also by Katherine Rundell:

The Wolf Wilder:

One Christmas Wish:

Into the Jungle : Stories for Mowgli -

This blog takes no credit for the images and facts provided. These have been taken from and Please follow the links for further reviews and information. All opinions are my own. 

Thursday 17 October 2019

Vlad the World's Worst Vampire: Midnight Fright (Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst)


It's the month to be spooky so how about snuggling up with this under flickering candlelight. Anna Wilson's delightful tale about vampire Vlad-who's brings permanent disappointment to his family's strict vampire traditions-is one of in a series of chapter books and hugely entertaining.
This is the first 'Vlad' book I have read. Although 'Midnight Fright' is not the first in the series, you don't need to have read the others to enjoy this book. The characters are easy to get to know and the story works as a stand-a-lone, whilst definitely leaving you wanting more.
What I particularly liked about this book is that it encompasses all the spookiness of a Halloween vampire tale-for example, turning into bats, drinking blood and sleeping in coffins- whilst being grounded in reality with a human school, teachers and very likeable characters. Vlad is a vampire with all the issues that a human child faces. The book deals beautifully with the themes of friendship, jealousy, pressure to conform and bullying in a gentle and heartfelt way.
When Vlad's cousin, Lupus, comes to stay from Translyvania, Vlad is mightily put out. For a start Lupus is every bit the perfect vampire and has arrived to show Vlad how things are done. But when Lupus starts interfering in Vlad's secret human life as well, the young vampire is horrified. Now everyone at human school likes his cousin best too! Will Vlad ever fit in? And can he ever equal his super duper cousin?
Anna Wilson is very real with the relationships in this book. From the beginning you can assume that Lupus and Vlad will be arch enemies but this is not the case. Lupus clearly adores his cousin and the pair develop a touching bond, despite Vlad's bubbling jealously. The power of friendship between the cousins and Minxie (Vlad's human friends) make us really care about the trio and there is also an interesting message for adults in the book about how far our expectations or chosen way of life should influence our children.
We'll definitely be reading more Vlad stories in our house- Halloween or not!

To find out more about Vlad'd adventures, follow the link to 'Goodreads' for further reviews and online retailers.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Seasonal round-up: Haunting Halloween reads

It's that time of year again! Darker nights, shadows and spooks. So why not fill up those cauldron with sweets, carve out those pumpkins and settle down for some seasonal tales.
These are some of our favourite Halloween stories - both new and old.

Beast Feast by Emma Yarlett      👍👍👍👍👍

This is the first Emma Yarlett book I have read and, to me, it's picture writing at it's best. A Halloween classic in the making, this story is told by the monster on the cover, who is holding his 'Dinner'.
Monster writes to his friends and invites them to share his 'Dinner' by having a feast. His equally hungry monster friends respond via a series of letters, each one making clear how they expect their 'Dinner' to be served. Can he meet their demands? Or is he getting a little too close to his feast?
Funny, original and charming, this is an alternative to the more traditional 'spooky' tale. The monsters and colour schemes creates a great Halloween atmosphere and Emma Yarlett makes the story seem so deceptively and deliciously simple. Why didn't I think of writing this??!! Because, I clearly don't have Emma's brilliant talent.
Other books by Emma Yarlett (which I am now determined to read):
Dragon Post
Nibbles: The Monster Hunt
Nibbles: The Book Monster
    Poppy Pickle
   Orion and the dark

Christopher Pumpkin by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet. Illustrated by Nick East


This delightful story offers a more traditional Halloween tale with witches, haunted houses and pumpkins. Told in rhyme, this lives up to Sue Hendra's other brilliant stories.
When a witch brings her pumpkins to life so they can help her prepare for Halloween, she doesn't expect to create Christopher Pumpkin. Challenging gender stereotypes, Christopher isn't like the other 'scary' pumpkins. Instead, he loves pink parties, balloons and cupcakes. But when the witch threatens to turn him into soup he if can't be scary, Christopher must create a frightful plan.
For any little ones out there who get a bit intimidated by spooky tales, this has a wonderfully pink, sparkly end. Christopher is one of the most charming characters I have ever met and I would love to meet him again. The story humorously shows how we all are different and how important it is to be yourself.

What's in the Witches Kitchen? by Nick Sharratt  👍👍👍👍👍
Trick or treat? This interactive Halloween story still remains champion in our house.
Quick! The witch is out! It's time to explore her kitchen. But, depending on what you choose, what lies in store could be a trick or a treat...
and be careful the witch doesn't come back!
Children will love lifting the flaps over and over again to reveal the Halloween surprises. Oh and by the way, they rhyme.
Would you rather have strawberry tea or goblin's wee?
A delight year after year, our Halloween just would not be the same without it.

And now to some series reads:
Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg 👍👍👍👍
This timeless classic goes back to when I was at school and I can still remember the spooky feeling it gave me now. These books are funny but atmospheric with repetitive, rhythmic language that my children enjoy just as much as I did. The pairing wouldn't work as well without the ever-present dog who adds incredibly fun.
Nothing rivals these books in terms of uniqueness. The stories are all set in the iconic 'dark, dark night' and the characters create 'spookiness' in a fun and familiar way.
There is now a whole series of Funnybones stories. On reading the whole collection, I did find that they became a bit repetitive and tiresome to read. I didn't say that to children that, of course. They regularly pick them out at bedtime and especially delight when the skeletons are reduced to a pile of muddled bones-which happens often.
Flippin' good family fun.

Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Winnie lives in a completely black house. Problem is, her black cat Wilbur is also completely black and it's causing a problem. The answer? To turn Wilbur into a range of wonderfully bright colours. But these colours are causing problems too and Wilbur is not a happy cat! Will this loveable witch ever find the perfect solution?
Winnie and Wilbur make the perfect pairing. Across the series of stories they embark on a wide range of hapless adventures, all of which feel unique. Look out for the especially brilliant, Happy Birthday, Winnie, Winnie and Wilbur meet Santa, The Amazing Pumpkin (my favourite). These titles are still being released and my kids have never turned down a Winnie story!
The biggest draw to the Winnie and Wilbur books is, not only the loveable characters, but the illustrations. Korky Paul's attention to detail is fantastic and my daughter loves spotting familiar faces among the crowds. Also hugely popular in our house is the accompanying Winnie the Witch Search and Find Book, which includes a scene from each of the original series stories, with creative things to find on each page. Unfortunately, I can no longer find a link to buy this book new but there is currently a Winnie the Witch Sticker Book and Doodle Book.
Winnie and Wilbur are such colourful characters that these stories crossed over to the chapter book market. A whole series of Winnie chapter books, penned by Laura Owen (who is actually Pippa Goodhart) has opened an exciting new door to fans as they move onto the next phase of their reading journey. Watch out for a review in our chapter book section.

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll👍👍👍👍👍
Perfect for younger readers, these comic strip style stories are both fun, adorable and just a little bit wacky. Meg, Mog and Owl are always up to something! From being rescued from a desert island to trekking up a foggy mountain and meeting a yeti to hatching dinosaur eggs, it always turns out alright in the end. Well usually!
I love the way how Mog and Owl communicate through speech bubbles and sound effects and how Meg's spells often go horribly wrong.
Don't miss out on sharing this treat with your little ones. I don't think they ever lose their appeal whatever age you are!

I could spend hours reviewing all the Halloween stories we have read. But this is a round-up of our top favourites! Can't wait for more next year! Happy October reading :)

Christopher Pumpkin:
What's in the Witch's Kitchen:
Funny Bones:
Winnie the Witch:
Meg and Mog

Tuesday 8 October 2019

From Picture Books to Chapter Books (Part 2)

If you read my last blog post then you'll know that for the last six months or so I have being trying to make the transition from picture books to chapter books with my little ones. Although picture books will always be an unwavering feature in our family home, the time feels right for some deeper, more complex stories. 
Easy? I thought so.
Actually, the journey hasn't been that simple (see blog post 1) but I have had incredible fun (has anyone ever told you I love chapter books) scouring the current books on the market that will measure up to the success of the shorter Roald Dahl tales that captivated my six year old daughter and four year old son. In fact, I had forgotten what a captivating and genius storyteller Dahl is.
His audio books have also gone down a storm in the car and, of course there are the TV adaptations that we have watched after reading the stories.

But what next? I tried to dig out some of my old favourites. Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, brings back vivid childhood memories and feelings for me as it was one of the few books my mum read to me. I found it in a charity shop and was delighted. My daughter wasn't! We barely got through the first story before I was met with a resounding NO! Clearly, my nostalgic, old-fashioned reads were not on her menu. Fair enough!

So, next, we ventured into picture book/chapter book cross-over. Tracey Corderoy is a brilliant example of an author who does this with a lot of her books and she is also a personal favourite picture book author. All three of my children loved the ickiness of The Grunt and the 
Grouch and I got really excited when I realised it had been developed into a chapter book. 

The Grunt and the Grouch, Beastly Feast by Tracey Corderoy
These junior fiction books are split into three different stories - one of which is the same as cover and then there are two others. These books are great and promise all the gooiness and yuckiness that the picture book offers. It was an instant hit with my four year old son and my eight year old daughter, who were attracted by all the icky sound effects I created, but my six year old was slightly less enthusiastic. I don't think this is because anything is lacking in the stories. They move at a terrific pace and are full of gruesome action. I think it is more the change in set-up from a picture book to a chapter book. It's
less looking and more listening and this is a harder skill when there are so many other distractions. Listening to audio stories in the car has massively helped here and my daughter is as vocal as the others at requesting these as soon as they have clambered into their seats. In fact, we have a rule now that we can only listen to the audio chapter book if all three children are present, so that the others don't miss any.
The Grunt and the Grouch are great universal characters and bounce off each other so well. They're also great at causing trouble and what children don't like hearing about characters causing mayhem? Hehe.

Hubble, Bubble, Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger


Following the same format as The Grunt and the Grouch, this series of picture books has now crossed over into junior fiction books -with each one having three separate stories that are split up into chapters.
This series is right up my six year old's street. From witches to spells to the colour scheme of the book, it is everything she enjoys and because the picture book was such a hit, I invested in a whole set of the chapter books.
However, I have to confess I have found these a little disappointing.
Despite the covers being hugely attractive with the rainbow colours, we found the stories rather repetitive and a little bit flat.
The premise is that Pandora is embarrassed by her magical Granny and begs her not to do spells (well most of the time). This doesn't really change throughout the stories, although the seasons, settings and scenarios do change and offer a tempting variety. From fright night to bake off to winter, there is bound to be a story that appeals. They just didn't hold my daughter's attention and she very quickly stopped asking for them.
As I have said above, I am a huge fan of Tracey Corderoy, especially her rhyming picture books. The Grunt and the Grouch picture book is non-rhyming but hilarious (the book begins and ends with a double spread picture of all the icky things on the Grunt's shelf and they love it!). The Hubble Bubble chapter books have five star reviews on Amazon and so we might return to them and give them another go. I would also be interested to see how Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton's latest cross-over series, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam is received in our house. As we have yet to try the chapter books, watch this space...

Marge in Charge by Isla Fisher
So we've tried my nostalgic reads and cross-over books but what are the celebrities up to? These books are often well publicised and that is how I heard about Isla Fisher's series, Marge in Charge. I was a fan of hers when she was in the Australian soap, Home and Away, and after hearing her talk about the books with passion on the television, I decided to try them out on my little ones.
I'm so glad I did.
Jemima and Jakey's world is chaotically turned upside down when they meet their new babysister Marge. Marge is tiny, has rainbow hair, royal connections and has done everything you can possibly imagine- well so she says. Throwing Mum's rulebook out the window, Marge leads sensible Jemima and mischievous Jakey on brilliantly wild and wacky adventures.
The character of Marge is genius. She is a rainbow rocket pocket who comes alive with bags of humorous dialogue and wacky warmth. She contradicts the often 'serious' adult characters in children's fiction and offers rip-roaring entertainment that challenges Jemima's need to be sensible. The stories are incredibly fast-paced and hugely dynamic.
Marge is Charge was a success and even though my daughter oftern pretended not to be listening...she was!
There are currently four books in this series, each book containing three separate stories. Marge and the Pirate Baby and Marge and the Great Train Rescue are equally as funny. (Look out for the wedding story as that is a personal favourite!) However, for me, the fourth book, Marge and the Secret Tunnel didn't live up to the standard of the first three. The pace seemed to drop, the adventures were a bit more mundane and attention waned. It felt like it was written differently-maybe in a rush-and didn't hold the same level of sparkle.
Is Marge getting tired? I really hope not, for when she is on form these books are brilliant.

The Naughtiest Unicorn by Pip Bird and David O'Connell


We came across this series, published by Egmont, when my daughter was sneakily searching on Amazon for mermaid and unicorn stuff and brought this to my attention, knowing that if it's a book then she might just be allowed it. Thrilled that she was finally taking an interest in chapter books and dazzled by the rainbow/unicorn cover, I indulged her and we started the book the next day. 
What could be more fun than going to school and having your very own unicorn to bond with? Nothing in my book, but Mira gets more than she bargained for when she ends up with 'unusual' unicorn, Dave. Dave has a mind of his own and a mind that will do anything for doughnuts. Mira might just have her work cut out before she can go on a quest.
There was some lovely diversity in this book and the usual sibling rivalry was countered by the strong theme of friendship. Dave provides bags of comic humour and, in the end, it was my son who fell in love with this book. (Apparently, for my daughter the read did not match the thrill of the purchase!) At four years old he drank in every detail and recounted them, delighted that in the interactive quiz at the end, 'Which unicorn are you?", he came out as Dave. Must be the shared love of doughnuts!
My one quibble was that the complex time difference between worlds seemed unnecessary. It worked for Narnia but I'm not sure it worked here. Going off to unicorn school in the holidays sounded perfect but having days at unicorn school squeezed into one 'normal' day seemed odd, especially as it was only mentioned at the start of the book.
However, we loved this glitter-mad tale. Glitter-picking in a glitter glade is enough to convince me to read more of this series and my son is already asking for more of loveable Dave. What more can my daughter want?

I'm not quite sure but, as we continue our journey from picture book to chapter book, I know I'm having a whale of a time and we've had some fantastic fun among the reading. There's nothing more frustrating than getting excited about a book only for them to turn their back at the end of the first page. But, no pressure! We'll give it a bit longer then move on to something else. Old, new, name it, we'll try it.

This blog takes no credit for images of book covers posted on this site. All links to the images and books mentioned are below and taken from Goodreads. 

Our Latest Middle-Grade reads

Oof! It's been well over a month, if not two, since we last posted a review - sorry about that! But even when life gets busy (really bus...