Sunday 28 February 2021

New Releases: Picture Book Round-up

 Time has been short again this month with home-schooling but, as always, we have been spending lots of time reading and waiting for the postman. February has brought us lots of new delights on the picture book front and it's always great to see that, despite growing older, my children all still love to snuggle up with a new or much-loved picture book. What's even more wonderful is that my reluctant reader, at nearly 8 years old, has taken up the mantle of reading picture books to the rest of the family- something that is building her confidence and gives her a strong sense of satisfaction. 

So, without further ado, here are some of the new picture books we have been enjoying this month:

Here Be Dragons by Susannah Lloyd and Paddy Donnelly

Link to Waterstones

Published by: Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2nd Feb 2021


This is a classic example of a picture book that has illustrations telling a very different story to the text. It is a brilliantly fun tale of a hapless knight who is determined to find dragons. Look very carefully at the cover and you might spot what the knight hasn't...right under his nose!

Actually, it's the dragon's nose that this knight ends up going adventuring in. Thank goodness he remains oblivious! However, it soon becomes clear to us readers that this knight is oblivious to most things- including the fact that the princess and his trusty steed are fighting to save his soon-to-be crispy skin. There was great delight on every page as my son spotted the tell-tale clues that the knight did not. 

This story feels both traditional and original and has a strong character voice. We struggled initially with the set-up of the first page but then everything clicked into place. The entire story is built on the knight's internal monologue, making it hugely effective and enjoyable. Oh, what it is to be a knight of such determination and hopefulness and...poor eyesight?

The character is loveable, the drama is tense and the stakes are high in this story and we highly recommend it. Dragon hunting here we come! 

We've Got Talent by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, 4th Feb 2021


This bright, colourful and fun picture book has a strong message. Be who you want to be and embrace what you love. Throwing aside the constraints of stereotype, it follows the story of Olivia and Sam who are both desperate for the leading parts in the school play. But when dancer Sam is cast as the knight and confident speaker Olivia is cast as the princess, they are not happy at there a way they can both get what they want?
There's a lot of bravery and risk-taking in this story as Sam and Olivia work together to create their own happy ending. There's a great twist in the plot which didn't pan out quite as I expected, but made for an even more satisfying conclusion. 
Sam and Olivia are very relatable characters that young children should easily be able to connect with. Not only is it a story that challenges stereotype but it also models problem-solving and friendship. The illustrations by Paula Bowles are glorious and uplifting - this is a feel good read!

The Invisible by Tom Percival

Published by: Simon and Schuster, 4th Feb 2021


It doesn't seem a minute since we were reviewing the Tom Percival's charming Dream Big Little Mole but this new release has a very different feel to it. Powerful, poignant but full of hope, it is a story that sheds light on poverty, identity and belonging and explores how the people in need in our society are often ignored to the point of becoming invisible. 

When Isabel's family can't pay the rent and have to move to the bleak side of town, Isabel finds she is invisible to those around her. But when she begins to spot lots of other people who are also invisible, she decides to do something about it...

This book feels word perfect. It is simply told and yet, in the same way that the characters do in the story, the words come together to create a tale that has depth, hope and heart. Parts of it are sad and uncomfortable to read, yet the power of hope and unity prevails. It is a story that champions how an individual (notably a child) can make a change and how small changes and acts of kindness can snowball in the best possible way. Furthermore, it challenges our values and raises the timeless human issue of equality.

This is a powerful read for children and one, I believe, they will take to their hearts. Isabel has plenty to teach us and maybe, we too, can make a difference.

Goldilocks In Space by Peter Bently and Chris Jevons

Published by: Hachette, 18th Feb 2021


Hopefully the first in a new series of 'Futuristic Fairy Tales', Goldilocks in Space gives us an 'out of this world' twist on a classic.  However, although this picture book could not be more different in style, tone and genre to the one above (The Invisible), there is a definite parallel to the message: Let's value our planet and everyone on it.

When Goldilocks fancies a holiday, she sets off into space to find a planet that is just right for rest and relaxation. Easier said than done! Goldilocks soon realises she's not in for an easy ride as the planets prove to be too hot, too cold, too hard, too big... Will she ever find the right spot?

This is a just-right read for any readers who love space or fairy tales. Peter Bently combines the two perfectly in a story that zips along with the sparkle of space dust. Add Chris Jevons' vibrant and magical illustrations to the mix and you have a shooting star of a story that leaps off the shelf. The rhyme is as pacey as the journey itself and the ending is just-right too. 

This was a hit with everyone in the family- familiar but different. Perfect! Whose taking guesses on the next one? Red Robot Hood, Snow White and the Seven Cyborgs...can't wait!

Wednesday 17 February 2021

NEW RELEASE: Vi Spy by Maz Evans, illustrated by Jez Tuya

Link to publisher

Published by: Chicken House, January 2021


I have a shock announcement! I have never read the best-selling Who Let The Gods Out? series by Maz Evans. I know, I know, I should be eliminated as a teacher, blogger and supposedly avid reader. However, I have had the pleasure of reading The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife and have heard so many wonderful things about the Maz Evans herself that this was a middle grade I was super excited about. I was right to be. Spoiler:This book is BRILLIANT!

When Vi (Valentine Day) discovers that her mum is a super-spy and her estranged dad is a super-villain, her world is turned upside down. Determined to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a spy, Vi sets out to find herself a mission. But it already looks like a mission has found her. Whilst the mysterious Umbra is dead-set on revenge against her family, Vi must also navigate the challenges of divorce and new beginnings...

This highly original novel is hilarious from start to finish and will EXPLODE the mundanity of your lockdown. It offers fast-paced action, tension, excitement, giggles on every page and characters that are as vibrant as the first daffodils of spring. The cast is incredible-from Vi herself to spunky nan to Siren, the femme fatale with serious BO. If there was an award for the best named characters, Vi Spy would win it hands down: Valentine Day, Easter Day, Independence's just fabulous. What I loved most, however, was that the quieter characters, Russell Sprout and Mr. Sprout, were still allowed to shine as much as the rest of the cast and were valued for who they were and what they brought to the high octane, highly chaotic mission. 

Vi makes for a great main character. She's determined, confused and has a strong sense of right and wrong. However, the way she struggles with what she should do compared to what she wants to do is completely relatable. Her scenes with Tom, Sally and Russell show her inner struggles brilliantly and yet, away from their influence, she is not afraid to take matters into her own hands - watch out for the scene at the arcade. However, it's her burgeoning relationship with Russell that really endeared her to me- oh and with her nan, of course.

As well as having a gripping, dynamic and laugh-out-loud plot, Maz Evans deftly tackles big themes in this book. While the OAPs are living it large, Vi is struggling to adjust to her new blended family whilst playing piggy in the middle to her parent's acrimonious divorce. Meanwhile, poor Russell is repeatedly let down by his mother whilst trying to dodge the school bullies. There's a big pay-off at the end for Vi's family though and it is lovely to see their new family set-up portrayed in a strong and positive way.

Every chapter of this story offers a fantastic balance between the ordinary, the weird and the wacky and the completely outlandish. From dodging homework and Mum's cooking to cannon-firing mobility scooters to a two-headed villain to a bat that is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, there is no guesses what's coming on the next page. What I will take a guess at though is that Vi Spy will be back for a sequel (well it better be!) but not soon enough...

Sunday 7 February 2021

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans


Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 13th May 2021


Feeling angry? Got BIG FEELINGS? Hardly surprising at the moment, is it? But with our little ones struggling just as much, finding book characters who not only reflect their feelings but who can help address them are invaluable.

Meet Scarlett Fife. Nine-year-old Scarlett feels that a lot of things in her life are unfair. But when her anger starts to make things explode, Scarlett begins to worry. Can she find a way to let her anger out with causing chaos...or even better, stay calm? 

This book is perfect for fans of Charlie Changes Into a Chicken. Not only is it funny, full of warmth and hugely relatable, it tackles the important and big emotion that affects us all - ANGER! Through humour and heart, Maz Evans explores how it is perfectly okay and completely normal to feel angry but it's how we manage it that matters...something that never comes easy!

Scarlett is a great character surrounded by other great characters. I love her real take on the things that annoy her-rightly so-and her strength of character. Maisie is a great best friend, Scarlett's aunties' are full of hilarious wisdom and William U and his simpering mother would make anyone want to explode. I also particularly love the sensitive portrayal of Scarlett's mum and the nod to the endless juggling of parenting life. 

The physical explosions are huge fun! There are definite echoes of Matilda with Scarlett's exploding power and Ms Pitt-Bull (another strong character) and yet the story feels fresh and contemporary. The only problem is, it's not being released until May. So get pre-ordering or explode with excitement...

A big thank you to Netgalley and Hachette for allowing me the chance to read and review. The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife is now available to pre-order. 

Wednesday 3 February 2021

New release: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B Alston


Published by: Egmont, January 2021


Welcome to Amari and the Night Brothers - a new supernatural adventure series that sparkles as brightly as its glittery, silver-sprayed edges. I'd heard a lot about this book and it is a CRACKER of a read; magical, enthralling and riddled with twists and turns...

When she is invited to join the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari Peters has a lot to prove. Not only is she a black girl from the Projects, she is also an magician - and magicians are the enemy of the supernatural world. 
But Amari Peters has a purpose. Her brother, Quinton, is missing and, if she doesn't find a way to pass three try-outs and get the bureau to accept her, then she may never find out what has happened to him...

Amari and the Night Brothers crackles with magic and supernatural energy. B.B Alston brings to life a fully imagined world of hidden cities, danger, wonder and every supernatural creature you can think of. As we follow Amari-a wonderful main character whose determination and strength grows with every page turn-into the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, we are taken into a summer camp that we'll never forget. 

For a 'chosen one' fantasy novel, this book has familiarities with the big names that have come before it; Amari is different to everyone else, hardly anyone wants her to succeed and the bureau is a place filled with fear and prejudice. However, despite having seen all these elements before, B.B Alston makes Amari's story feel fresh and unique. There truly is a magical quality to it that I just couldn't put my finger on and I think it is bound up in the feelings it evoked in me. 

Amari is a special character. Her love for her brother, Quinton, gives her a strong and powerful motivation but many readers will be able to relate to her alienation. A big theme in the novel is illusion - the idea that we can be fooled and manipulated into believing different realities. Despite Amari learning she is an illusionist herself, it is interesting to see how much her character falls foul of illusion. There are lots of sharp turns in this plot!

Friendship is another theme which features strongly in this novel. I loved Amari's friendship with Elsie and there are a whole host of fabulous characters to discover - the talking lifts were a real high point for me. There is bags of high octane action and a villain who will send chills down your spine. There is a real sense of danger and threat-the hybrids are terrifying-but also some wonderfully endearing moments too! (Look out for Jayden.)

This series is going to be big! There's a film already on the way and it is thoroughly deserved. Amari and the Night Brothers is a spectacular debut and I can't wait for more...

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