Sunday 28 June 2020

The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O'Connell, illustrated by Claire Powell

Link to Goodreads

Published: Bloomsbury, 2018


If you fancy an exciting, magical read which is also guaranteed to make your mouth water then this is the tale for you. The Chocolate Factory Ghost whisks you off on a sweet-laden, treasure hunt where the ultimate treasure is the story itself.
Archie McBudge is gobsmacked when he finds out he has inherited the whole of the McBudge estate from his Great-Uncle, including his infamous chocolate factory and Honeystone Hall. But trouble lies ahead when Archie discovers the factory is in danger of  being shut down. As a magical letter leads Archie and his new friends into a spooky and startling mystery, Archie must beat his unknown enemies who are desperate to solve the clues first. 
This story, which is the first in a series of 'Dundoodle Mysteries' has more echoes of the old school Enid Blyton adventure series, The Island of Adventure, The Castle of Adventure etc, than tales such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There is something so timeless and classic about the book that it instantly conjured my childhood memories of these Blyton adventure mysteries. Yet O'Connell goes above and beyond in his writing by adding in an extra magical layer - a layer which includes flying letters, tiny dragons and winking portraits.
The plot is peppered with delicious treats all the way through; toffee jigsaws, strawberry strings, lavish hot chocolates and the infamous McBudge fudge. But alongside these sweet-tooth temptations O'Connell weaves a mysterious trail that is crackling with intrigue and lurking with sinister spies. Just who does the sneaky mobgoblin belong to and why do they want to stop Archie?
The strength of friendship which develops between the main characters, Archie, Fliss and Billy is also reminiscent of Blyton's tales. The children lead the action but take on adult villains. Rest assured though, there are watchful eyes hovering in the background.
Honeystone Hall and the Scottish village of Dundoodle offers just the right mixture of magical charm and spooky enigma. Secret tunnels, abandoned castles and creepy caves offset the cheery comfort of the McBudge factory and Clootie Dumpling's cafe. The plot has more twists and turns than the secret tunnels, leading the reader and the characters towards a surprising and satisfying ending.
This story would have sat comfortably on the shelves twenty plus years ago and hopefully will still be sitting comfortably on bookshelves in twenty plus years time. It offers a enjoyable, solidly comforting traditional family read and I look forward to curling up with the other books in the 'Dundoodle Mysteries' series in front of a roaring fire...oh and a large box of chocolates.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Asa Gilland

                                                             Link to purchase options.

Published by: Little Tiger Group, June 25th 2020

Just like the 2020 Crystal Kite Winner The Tide, Clare Helen Welsh's new release The Perfect Shelter is bursting with beauty, warmth and charm. Endeavouring to shed light on the darkest of times, it tackles the tricky and devastating subject of family illness by yet again using a metaphor young children can relate to.
In The Tide, Clare cleverly likened dementia to the constant coming and going of the sea at the beach, bringing a sense of peace and understanding to a very distressing condition. In The Perfect Shelter Clare parallels a sibling's diagnosis and treatment of cancer with the sisters' precious attempts to create a perfect shelter, even when storms threaten to tear it down.
At the exact time their den is hit by powerful weather, a younger sister finds out her sibling is sick. Suddenly her life falls apart as quickly as the shelter they created. Buffeted about by worry, fear, anger and sadness, all hope of 'shelter' seems lost. But strength, bravery and resilience triumph when she realises that 'perfect' can exist in the darkest, most challenging of times. 
Taking a painful and emotive subject and presenting in a way that offers comfort, hope and light is something Clare Helen Welsh does incredibly successfully. Such a story allows young readers to explore, question and discuss difficult concepts in a way that feels safe and relatable. It may be an issue which they are experiencing in their own life or an issue that they have no experience of yet but either way a picture books which tackle these subjects can provide a frame and context for important family dialogue. In a guest blog, posted on My Shelves are Full, Clare herself talks about her reasons for writing this book and why it means so much to her.
There is no happy end to this book. No promises that everything is going to be okay. But what it does offer is hope. Hope and love and the acknowledgement that all emotions are acceptable and understandable when life becomes troubled and uncertain and, that in the here and now, there are still perfect, golden moments to be treasured.
My seven year old daughter is currently not into books. Yet this beautifully illustrated hardback tapped into her loving, caring nature and unravelled her deep concern for the characters. 'Will she be okay?' 'Is she getting better?' 'Why is she wearing a scarf on her head?' all tumbled out of her mouth by the second read. Yet the little smile and squeeze she gave me on the final spread showed her understanding of the message. That family and love and being together is all the hope you need...

The Perfect Shelter is available to buy from today.

Monday 22 June 2020

#BLOGTOUR for Trailblazer by Elizabeth Dale, Caroline Coroa, Maverick Books

                                             Welcome to our stop on the blogtour for
                                             the true story of Lily Parr, 'the unstoppable Star 
                                                               of Women's Football.

When my dad found out his third grandchild was a boy, he leapt from his chair and punched the air. Why? Because he finally had someone to play football with.
Sadly he never got the chance to see that it would be his oldest granddaughter, not his grandson, who would become the football player of the family. 
Such assumptions are tackled head on in 'Trailblazer' - a new release from Maverick Books which tells the life story of Lily Parr, a female footballer as fast and furious on the pitch as any male opponent and who became a trailblazer for women's football.
Lily Parr, what a star! A world class female footballer!
Born in 1905, Lily grew up playing football in the street with her brothers. By the time she was 14, her exceptional skills were turning heads and she took a factory job which also offered her a position on their female football team. But Lily and her team discovered that the path to success was not going to be an easy one... Refusing to give up on her goals, Lily kicked out against adversity to become one of the most celebrated female football player in history. 
Chocked full of dynamic illustrations, interesting football facts and a timeline, Trailblazer is the perfect narrative non-fiction book for football fans. It charts the complex journey of women's football whilst showing that it's popularity goes much farther back than recent years. 
Yet, it is not only a story about football. It is a story about tenacity, perseverance and determination. A tale of tackling prejudice, of overcoming challenges and of the importance of fighting for equality. This is a message that is clearly still as relevant today as any past period in history. Whether young readers have goals related to football or not, this story, told beautifully by established author Elizabeth Dale, encourages them to reach for the stars and endeavour to be the best they can be. The introduction to Lily's startling tale sums this up beautifully:
'This book is for all who have fought prejudice to fulfil their true potential and continue to do so.'
Such an empowering message, wrapped up in an engaging and amazing true life story, makes this book a fantastic addition to any bookshelf. It champions not only the brilliant team spirit of football but also the importance of history, of youth and of nurturing individual talent, whatever gender you happen to be. 
Trailblazer is released on Monday 28th June and is available to pre-order through the following links:

Tuesday 9 June 2020

#BLOGTOUR for The Bum That Barked by Elisa Peacock and Rowena Aitken

WELCOME to the next stop of the blog tour for 'The Bum That Barked' - a debut picture book written by Elisa Peacock, illustrated by Rowena Aitken and published by Tiny Tree Books. We are delighted to be hosting them today and hope that you enjoy our review of the book.

Released: June 11th 2020

Toilet humour is marmite! However, when it comes to bogeys, burps, bums, farts-you name it-my four year old son loves it.
So imagine his absolute delight when he opened the cover of this new release and discovered a talking bum with a life and a dream of its own.

Bean the dog is shocked when his derriere starts talking to him one day. Bongo Bum has aspirations of being a singer but is too scared to reveal himself to the world and so ropes in Bean to help him. Their secret double act quickly shoots them to stardom but when Bean turns to comfort eating to soothe his stage fright, Bongo Bum may have no control over what tune he blasts out.

Bursting with glitz and glamour, this razzmatazz tale is a bonkers and humorous antidote to these troubled times, yet delivers an important message about teamwork, friendship and embracing who you truly are. Flamboyant and fabulous, it speaks to the inner diva in all of us and encourages readers to showcase talent and reach for the stars. After all, if a talking bum can do it then surely so can we!

Of course, the road to success is never easy. If Bongo Bum and Bean are going to make it, they're both going to have to face their fears and harness their nerves. And when things don't go to plan? They pick themselves up and carry on! 

If you're happy with yourself then others tend to jump on board. 
I recommend jumping on board with this book as it's message goes deeper than simple toilet humour. Step into the pages and be dazzled.  Just be careful you're not blown away in the process...

Sunday 7 June 2020

The Great Dodo Comeback by Fiona Sandiford and Clare Elsom

Link to Goodreads

Published by: Usbourne, May  2020


The front cover and the word 'Dodo' sold this novel to me in a heartbeat. I clicked on pre-order the second I saw it and, boy, was I not disappointed. This lower middle grade novel offers everything the cover and title promises and is an absolutely adorable read.
Leni lives in Mauritius, a beautiful and idyllic country famed for it's rare, tropical birds and the infamous extinct Dodo. Desperate to be an avian vet, Leni is thrilled when two chalk and cheese scientists arrive at her home determined to de-extinct the species. But their progress is threatened by greedy Sugar King, Benny Shoober and his cronies. Furious that his plans for sugar-cane domination are being thwarted by eco-warriors, he vows to re-extinct the dodo before it can even be de-extinct. 
After reading a lot of magical lower middle grade novels recently, this brilliantly original concept (how has no one written about Dodo's before?) felt fresh and grounded but equally inventive. The setting is as sunny and inviting as it looks on the cover and the plot is as clear and dazzling as Mauritian waters, told in a warm, straight forward style.
 Leni makes for a charming main character; cheerful, enthusiastic and anchored by her love of birds. Her steadiness compliments the rather chaotic scientists who arrive on the island- Professor Flowers and Professor Scissorson. These two work superbly as a duo and make a clever and unusual dynamic - two adult characters who bring so much to the plot but fail to overshadow Leni, who sits firmly centre stage. The fact that Leni is the only child character in the book added to the uniqueness of this story and yet it worked an absolute treat.
Benny Shoober and his wife, Giavanna, make for a horrible but humorous villainous couple. Benny, although quite stereotypical for a rich, greedy baddy, stands out against his plantation of sugar-canes with brilliant description and dialogue and Clare Elsom's fabulous depiction of him. Her glorious illustrations throughout this novel enhance the joy of this reading experience as she brings the characters to life on the page. Her sketches of the adorable baby dodo chicks are no exception and they are the star ending to this tale.
The plot unravels at a satisfying and steady pace- not too fast and not too slow. The main action points such as searching in the La Grotte de Vulcan, the interference of Shoober's henchmen, PawPaw and Beanbag, the hatching of the egg and the dramatic showdown at Shoober's sugar mansion are intertwined with charming and funny scenes centred around the beach huts where the scientists work and feud, much to Leni's fascination...and exasperation. There are clear links to the premise of Jurassic Park but with one hundred percent more charm than threat of being eaten. However, that doesn't mean that this story doesn't have an action packed end!
Overall, this is a delightful, upbeat read which drenched me with the warm feeling of sunshine. It will appeal especially to bird lovers and scientists in the making but...who can resist the charm of the dodo?

Saturday 6 June 2020

Why Diversity is Crucial in Children's Books

Two weeks ago I received the best kind of Saturday morning post. A bundle of books from Tiny Owl Publishing which I've had my eye on for a while. The bundle of books was entitled 'One Story, Many Voices' and included five stories from around the world- all of which were utterly beautiful and totally captivating.

Little did I know about the incident which was about to unfold on the other side of the world. An incident which would lead to protests and discussions around an issue which sadly doesn't seem to have progressed at all. The issue of race and culture.
As I watched the disturbing events unfold and observed discussions on social media about how to begin educating young children about race, my mind wandered yet again to the power of books. If 'Black Lives Matter' so 'All Lives Matter' then surely all stories matter? And to be able to tell their stories, then EVERYONE need to have a voice.
Diversity in children's publishing has been a hotly debated topic since I returned to writing three years ago and no doubt for many years before. It has been criticised for not being broad enough, for not allowing people from ALL backgrounds to see themselves represented in the pages of a book. As a result, there has been a real drive to provide opportunities for BAME authors (Black, Asian and Minority Ethic) to get their voices heard. For example the Penguin WriteNow scheme aims to find and nurture voices which are under-represented on the page and The Golden Egg Academy run a Quarto Translation/Golden Egg Academy Diversity Award to encourage diversity in books and publishing. WriteMentor offered a scholarship to the highest placed BAME author in their Children's Novel Award, Madeleine Milburn are offering a six month mentorship with a place reserved for under-represented writers and Nosy Crow are currently offering open fiction submissions for BAME authors.
Growing up in a multicultural area of the UK means that I have vivid memories of stories from around the world being told at school. This was a really positive thing and yet, after sixteen years of teaching in Cornwall, I am embarrassed to say that multicultural texts and diverse texts are not readily available to use. Despite the above schemes and programmes, they are also not easy to locate in bookshops. Ask me to recommend such texts and my mind goes blank, except for perhaps for the well known Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne and famous Hindu stories such as Rama and Sita.
Current, contemporary stories which reflect diversity are even harder to find. I'm not saying they are not there but it takes a lot more digging to find them. This takes me back to my interest in Tiny Owl publishing, their motto 'Picture books for everyone!" and the philosophy behind their business which is again, that everyone should be represented on the page.
                                                  Read Tiny Owl's story
Tiny Owl state on their home page that "stories are bridges to new experiences". I would go even further and say that stories are also bridges to tolerance, empathy, understanding and equality. More importantly, this needs to be modelled and taught to young children from day one but books can be crucial in helping to support this, especially in an isolated areas such as Cornwall. How can I prevent the values and attitudes which I want to instil into my children from being hampered by their lack of experience of diversity? That's a difficult question to answer but books are high on my list of tackling this issue. Promoting books like those Tiny Owl publish is vital and we need to make them more readily available.

Tiny Owl released this statement on Twitter: Link to statement

"We at Tiny Owl stand in solidarity with those who reject racism, inequality & violence. ALL of our stories reflect on how they can play an important role in children's lives to make the future more just, tolerant, understanding & inclusive. We pledge to be part of this change."

I pledge to be part of it too. After seeing the beauty of these bundle of stories, which reflect the world around us, I have to ask the question, "What are we scared of?"

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