Wednesday 31 March 2021

Charlie and the Dog Who Came to Stay by Dr. Ruth Spence and Kimiya Pahlevan


Link to publisher

Published by: Cherish Publishing (a division of Trigger Publishing), January 2021


After being a primary school teacher for sixteen years, children's health and well-being is something which remains close to my heart. With the Covid-19 pandemic adding to the rising crisis concerning children's mental health, Dr. Ruth Spence, a research psychologist, has penned this beautiful picture book in order to raise awareness of childhood depression and to provide a resource that supports discussion around this topic.

Charlie is happy and content until she moves house. Now she's made a new friend - a big, black dog- who isn't very good for her. With Charlie unable to live her life to the full, her mum tries to help her find ways to keep the dog under control. Can Charlie find happiness again? 

After being given the privilege of reviewing Superheroes Don't Get Scared and Arthur Wants a Balloon, both of which are published by mental health publisher, Trigger Publishing, I knew this book was going to offer something incredibly special to readers. I was right. Simply written and beautifully illustrated, Dr. Ruth Spence personifies depression as a big, black dog- overpowering and strong- and acknowledges that dark feelings are alive and very real. The introduction of Charlie's mum, halfway through the book, also conveys the important message to young readers that depression is something they need help with and cannot tackle alone. 

The simplicity of this book makes it accessible and relatable to young children. As with the two books I've mentioned above, it doesn't belittle the enormity of dealing with depression by offering a solution. What it does do, however, is encourage young readers to reach out, to talk about their feelings and to ask for help. At the back of the book, simple exercises have been provided to try and elicit discussion with children around the topic of mental health. 

The most important take-away for readers of this book is that the big, black dog does not go away.  With help and support, Charlie learns to control it enough to go back to doing the things she loves. She is also left with the confidence of knowing that if the dog grows big again, she has the power to do something about it. Knowing that this book can help equip our own children to follow in Charlie's footsteps, makes it a very powerful read indeed.

A big thank you for Cherish Publishing for giving me the chance to review this text, which is available to buy now. 

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Upcoming Release: Wee? It wasn't me! by Clare Helen Welsh and Nicola O'Byrne


Link to publisher

Published by: Pan Macmillan, 1st April 2021


When Poo! Is that you? arrived in our house last July, Lenny the Lemur, with his hilarious expressions and endearing character, was an instant hit. And now he's back in Wee? It Wasn't Me! Hooray!

When Lenny ventures to Alaska on holiday, it isn't long before he slips in a puddle of piddle. But which animal is responsible for it? Lenny is not going to stop until he finds out but will he get more than he bargained for?

This beautifully illustrated narrative non-fiction book is the perfect sequel to Poo! Is That You? It follows a very similar format to the first in the series, but is set in an exciting new location with a whole host of exciting new characters. Nicola O'Byrne's illustrations of the Alaskan scenery are exquisite and every animal jumps off the page. (Let's just hope their pee doesn't.)

Once again, Lenny's character shines through as he leads us through an entertaining and informative story about the different ways animal's wee. It's funny and yucky with a great twist at the end. Clare Helen Welsh brings the story to life with strong alliteration and delicious repetition. Wee? It wasn't me! Then who was it? It seems Lenny is about to find out...Eek!

There's some great facts at the back of the book in addition to the very interesting facts that are littered throughout the story. It is perfect for any reader who loves animals, the great outdoors and, of course, the ever popular toilet humour. However, instead of the joke being on him this time, it seems that Lenny might just get the last laugh...

Who knows where he may pop up next!

Lenny's hilarious antics are available to pre-order and is out in the world on 1st April.

Friday 19 March 2021

NEW RELEASE: The Magic Crayon by Amy Sparkes and Ali Pye

                                                    Link to publisher

                                                    Published by: Penguin, 18th March, 2021 


Following the release of The Secret of Me in January, Amy Sparkes brings us another magical picture book that, once again, celebrates the incredible power of imagination. The Magic Crayon is a delightful, fantasy adventure story that bounces along in perfect rhyme.

When Chloe's brother is mean to her, Chloe decides to get her own back by using her magical, silvery crayon. But things quickly get out of hand and now Chloe must use her crayon to journey across a fairytale land to rescue him. But Jack's captor is not keen on letting him go. Can Chloe use her magic crayon to solve one final problem?

This picture book has a truly magical feel to it. The story sparkles as bright as Chloe's silver crayon and thanks to the stunning illustrations by Ali Pye, the settings and characters come to life before your very eyes. It is perfect for anyone who loves traditional tales but watch out for those imaginative twists that prove that anything can happen in stories. 

The Magic Crayon is not just about revisiting fairytales, though. Nestled at the heart of it is the very real and relatable relationship between two siblings. Jack and Chloe beautifully portray the complex and unique bond that siblings share; one where anger and pranks and blame are interwoven with a deep, protective love that means they'll do anything to help each other...maybe even kiss a frog! Just don't expect the peace to last for long...

Guaranteed, this story will put a smile on your face, give you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your chest and make the air around you crackle with magic. It's the perfect mix of traditional and original - creativity at it's best. Just keep an eye on what your little ones choose to draw after reading this. Who knows when they might come to life!

The Magic Crayon is available to buy now. A big thanks to Amy Sparkes and Penguin for allowing me a review copy.

Sunday 14 March 2021

Shipwreck Island by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac


Link to publisher

Published by: Penguin, 3rd February 2021


The sign of a good novel is surely one you can't put down. Another sign must be that, when the postman brings the sequel to that novel, you drop everything and dive right in. 

That was me with Shipwreck Island, the much awaited follow-up to Orphans of the Tide, which won the Bath Children's Novel Award in 2017.

Ellie and Seth have escaped The Inquisition in The City and sailed the ocean to find a new home. When they arrive on a tropical island ruled by a highly-praised queen, it seems their wishes may have come true. But under the surface trouble is brewing and it's clear that the past is not going to let them go...

When I read and reviewed Orphans of the Tide, I was under the impression it was a stand alone novel and felt the ending hadn't quite been wrapped up. What a good job it wasn't! The sequel is as breath-taking as the first and it was wonderful to return to Ellie and Seth's world. 

For me, the big draw of this series is that both Ellie and Seth are loveable but complex characters with the weight of the world- or the Enemy- on their shoulders. Ellie distinct personality, strength of mind and love of inventing has meant she has taken her place as one of my favourite protagonists in children's literature, alongside the likes of Lyra Belaqua and Katniss Everdeen. However, although not as present as in the first novel, it is The Enemy that steals the show. Deliciously smug and manipulative, this is a villain like no other I have come across and Ellie's internal battle to rid herself of him is both enjoyable and gripping.

If Ellie's relationship with Seth and The Enemy isn't challenging enough, her new friendship with Kate brings a whole extra dimension to this story. Kate is another complex character, tricky to pin down and keeps readers guessing right to the end of the novel. I also loved feisty Viola and the cleverly created character of Molworth brings a touch of humour and lightness to a heavy storyline. 

There are some hard-hitting themes in this novel. Friendship, loyalty, love, loss and the power of choice is explored alongside temptation, manipulation and the battle for power and control. Rich versus poor also features heavily as well as truth versus lies. Murray unravels a nail-biting plot with perfect skill and timing. As with Orphans of the Tide, the narrative is broken up with diary extracts, creating intrigue and an extra layer to what is already fantastic storytelling. 

There are very few comparison texts I can liken this series to. It is stand-out because of it's uniqueness, strong concept and brilliant execution. Suitable for upper middle grade, teen and competent readers, this is perfect for readers who like grit, thrilling adventure and a touch of menace. Prepare to be enthralled...

Friday 12 March 2021

UPCOMING RELEASE: Noah's Gold by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Steven Lenton

Link to publisher

Published by: Pan MacMillan, May 13th 2021


 Courtesy of @Netgalley, I have been lucky enough to get my mitts on the new release by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Yay! One look at this brilliant front cover by Steven Lenton and I was sold on Noah's Gold. But, I was little prepared for the stand-out adventure that awaited me inside...

When eleven year old Noah sneaks onto his sister's geography trip, he has no idea that the six of them are about to be left stranded on a strange and uninhabited island. With little food and no working phones (due to Noah breaking the internet), the gang must work out a way to get home. 

But when Noah finds a treasure map that leads them to gold, it is clear that the adventure has only just begun...

I have wanted to read a Frank Cottrell Boyce novel for years but have to admit that I was not quite prepared for the random brilliance of this story. From deserted islands to internet cables to phone boxes to gold bullion to rabbits, I felt so discombobulated by the setting and events that I had no idea what was going to happen on the next page. This, of course, is exactly how I would feel if, like Noah, I was left stranded on an island where strange things are occurring and no explanations are on offer. 

The story is simply hilarious. Told by Noah in letter form, it allows us to look at the world through the lens of an eleven year old child. Suddenly, I was back in school uniform, remembering how it felt to be on the edge of a tight-knit group and fantasising about being one of The Famous Five. There are certainly echoes of those stories here and I also felt memories of 'Lord of the Flies' rising to the surface and yet, what I loved most about this novel was how the children, despite their individual differences, remained tight to the end. 

This has everything you could want in an adventure story. Minibuses rolling off cliffs, shark rides, thieves, low-flying planes and really high stakes. Mix in a daily menu, letters to mum and dad and bags and bags of humorous dialogue and you have a gold bullion of a story - gleaming and shiny. However, among the laughs and adventure there is some real heart and thought-provoking themes. I loved the how Eve's stand-offish behaviour with her brother unravelled into something really special and our modern world dependence on the internet was explored in the most original way I could ever imagine. 

This is skilful writing and imagination at its best. It takes all the good ingredients of a traditional 'treasure island' story and twists it into something surprising and original. It's a perfect read for anyone who loves adventure and humour...and very inventive menus. 

Noah's Gold is available to pre-order and is released on 13th May 2021. A huge thanks to Netgalley and Pan MacMillan for allowing me a review copy. 

Tuesday 9 March 2021

BLOG TOUR: The Tale of the Whale

Happy Hump Day and welcome to our stop of the blog of The Tale of the Whale, written by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra and published by Scallywag Press.

                'Where land becomes sky
                 and the sky becomes sea,

                I first saw the whale and
                the whale first saw me...'

This beautifully illustrated, lyrical story began it's journey to publication by winning the Writing Magazine Picture Book Prize in 2018. Below, in today's guest post, author Karen Swann takes us through her typical day as a writer.


A typical day

Someone asked me recently about my typical day as an author, and honest to goodness there really isn’t one! I’m not very disciplined as a writer – I have a busy family life and I write as and when I have time and my brain takes me there! Often, it’s the quiet times, such as the middle of the night or when I first wake up in the morning, that the ideas that are swimming around in my head get to come to the front and clamour to be heard. I have notebooks everywhere (especially by my bed) and I’m afraid I jot things down in a very haphazard way. Ideas for books are scattered through both my current work and a gazillion notebooks. I note things down straight away when they come to me – sometimes a rhyming couplet or a title or a random character, but I have to get the idea down there and then. It would be good to be organised enough to keep them all in one place, but I also know that if the ideas dry up, I just need to have a flick through some old notebooks, and I’ll find some really random stuff (which I’ll probably not be able to make head nor tail of!)

I do have a desk, an old Victorian scrub top table, where I like to write, with a big old larder cupboard beside it that holds my ever-growing collection of picture books. It’s really important to read widely, especially in the area you wish to write, and I do have to confess to a slight picture book addiction. I have an assortment of ‘things’ on the windowsill next to me, little bits that I’ve collected that appear in my stories. I love to get inspiration visually. I can get lost down a rabbit hole looking at Pinterest and illustrators work online – a great place to get ideas for characters or worlds. Currently though, I’m sharing the house again with my family, as they work from home, a puppy and a building site next door! Not the quiet I long for!

Ultimately though, when I do get the time or a quiet spot to write, I like to write about things that are important to me or I feel a strong connection to. The Tale of the Whale is about the environment and about caring for our world and the way we live within it, something I feel strongly about. I also have quite a musical brain and stories often come to me with an element of musicality to them. I chose a waltzing rhythm for The Tale of the Whale to reflect the patterns of waves of the ocean. That was how the whale gave it to me at a time when I had some quiet to listen. And you don’t not listen to a humpback whale!

The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, 

illustrated by Padmacandra (right)           

 is out now in hardback (£12.99, Scallywag Press)

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