Thursday 31 December 2020

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

Published by: Macmillan, Feb 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 21 December 2020

Thank goodness for books: How reading saved our 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

-Just continue to spread a love of books. 

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

WOLFBOY by Andy Harkness

 Published by: Bloomsbury, 18th February 2021

link to publisher


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

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

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

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

Slug in Love by Rachel Bright and Nadia Shareen

Published by: Simon and Schuster, Jan 21st 2021

Link to publisher


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

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

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

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

Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton and Katy Riddell

Published by: Firefly Press, 28th Jan 2021

link to publisher


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 3 December 2020

Arthur Wants a Balloon by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia and Erika Meza


                                                                         Link to publisher 

                                                     Published by: Trigger Publishing, October 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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