Monday, 28 March 2022

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Secrets of Stormforest by L.D.Lapinski

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Published by: Orion Children's Books, 14th April 2022
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There are risks aplenty and more worlds in danger as L.D Lapinski transports us across the multiverse in the final instalment of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series. Arriving on the 14th April, this is an epic ending to what has been a fantastical, magical and enthralling read. 

When Flick discovers the real reason why the whole multiverse is on the brink of collapse, she, Jonathan, Avery and her long-lost grandfather set out to save it in an urgent race against time. But the enemy they're up against is powerful and Flick will have to unlock the secrets of more undiscovered worlds and rely on alliances, past and present, to give herself and her friends any chance of surviving. Could this really be the end of...everything?

After having the privilege of reviewing both book 1 and book 2 in the series, this third novel doesn't disappoint. Throwing us into the thick of Flick's family history and the fragile future of the multiverse, the initial, carefree 'kid in a sweetshop' travelling days of the first book are long over. Now we are immersed in a dark and perilous journey where everything is at stake.

This is a book of revelations. The true enemy is revealed, the truth about Jonathan's father is revealed as well as further truths about Flick's own family. But the biggest reveal centres around Flick herself - who she is and what she is capable of. Whereas the story was previously shared between herself and Jonathan- highlighting his internal struggles as much as hers-this feels very much like Flick's battle as Jonathan becomes almost a secondary character, showing how much Flick has grown and how much the story has evolved. There's a lovely scene with Flick's parents and, as the age-old explanation of time standing still (or moving differently) in different worlds becomes strained to breaking point, L.D. Lapinski offers a brilliant fresh take on how to handle the constantly-disappearing-teen-who-never-comes-home issue.

As with the previous two novels, L.D Lapinski's fabulous imagination remains completely on point. I love the magical world that becomes 'the stormforest' and the extraordinary concept of the trees that live there. The plot is vividly imagined and executed with both skilful writing and timing and the true enemies are ruthless and horrifying. Again, there are themes of grief and loss, accountability and family and amid the relentless, fast-paced quest are some genuinely tender moments that give the novel its heart. 

As you would expect at the end of the trilogy, there's a big and daring climax involving both old and new characters. But one particular thing that hit me here was how much this series has come into its own. Having previously spotted parallels - in a good way- to classic literature such as Peter Pan, Oz and Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights, I didn't make any such connections this time round, simply because this series is what it is; fresh, original, exciting and one which pushes the fictional science of worlds-with its schisms and magical energy-to new boundaries. What started out as a fantastically simple concept- travelling to different worlds through a variety of suitcases- has unpacked itself into a dark, complex fantasy trilogy that has more depth than an ocean. And that is what I love about it!

A big thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a review copy. The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Secrets of Stormforest is now available to pre-order. 

The Girl Who Lost A Leopard by Nizrana Farook

The Girl Who Lost a Leopard
Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, 7th April, 2022

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Publishing on 7th April is this third fabulous novel from Nizrana Farook. Following on from The Girl Who Stole An Elephant and The Boy Who Met a Whale, this is probably my favourite of the three - and I love them all - due to its fast pace, rich setting and satisfying resolution. 

Selvi enjoys spending her days alone, climbing the mountains of her island home, Serendib, often accompanied by Lokka, a wild leopard. But when she stumbles across an illegal poaching ring, who are determined to ensnare Lokka for his extraordinary coat, Selvi must act fast if she wants to save her beloved friend. 

Struggling alone, Selvi begins to open up to her classmates. Soon she's surrounded by children who want to help. But can they get to Lokka in time and who is really responsible for his capture? 

This is the second animal adventure novel I've read this month and they are quickly becoming one my favourite genres. Just like in The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold and Levi Pinfold, The Girl Who Lost a Leopard focuses on a child's extraordinary bond with a beautiful wild creature and explores how that bond helps them deal with their internal struggles. However, whereas the pace of The Lost Whale bobs along like the tide, building to a brilliant and tense dramatic climax in the same way a whale breaches the surface of the ocean, this novel is pacier from the off, the short chapters often ending in tense cliff-hanger endings that had me gripped. 

The connecting link between all of Nizrana Farook's novels is the setting. The fictional island of Serendib, part of Sri Lanka, hosts all three stories and yet each time we are exposed to a completely different part of the island- the city, the coast and now the jungle covered mountains- making each one feel fresh and different. The plot has more twists and turns than a mountain path and the twist at the end is particularly brilliant. Selvi proves herself to be another strong and determined female lead but I also love her vulnerability and her burgeoning friendships prove particularly touching. 

As with The Lost Whale, the novel emcompasses a serious ecological message without being didactic and the discussion Selvi has with her teacher and classmates about poaching is one of my favourite scenes in the book. There's also themes of friendship, family, loyalty, morality, made all the more beautiful by Lokka's blazing presence. It's heartwarming, nail-biting but, best of all, empowering and I can't wait to see it on the shelves in April. 

A big thanks to Netgalley and Nosy Crow for allowing me a review copy. The Girl Who Lost a Leopard is now available to pre-order. 

Thursday, 24 March 2022

BLOG TOUR: Perfectly Weird, Perfectly You by Dr. Camilla Pang, illustrated by Laurène Boglio

Hello and welcome to our stop on the blog tour of Perfectly Weird, Perfectly You - a non-fiction guide to growing up that explores abstract, difficult-to-understand concepts, such as emotions and peer pressure, by comparing them to concrete science. 

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Published by: Wren and Rook Books, Hachette, 17th March 2022

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On a personal level, this new release by Dr. Camilla Pang has come at exactly the right time for our family and one of the reasons why I jumped at the chance to be involved with the blog tour. With an eleven-year-old autistic daughter approaching puberty, I have no idea how to even begin explaining the complexities of growing up to her. And yet, through this insightful and wonderfully illustrated piece of non-fiction, Dr. Camilla Pang has shared her own experience of how she coped with this metamorphis as someone who received an diagnosis of autism, aged 8.

By applying what she couldn't understand to what she could - science - Pang forged a survival guide to growing up, allowing herself to embrace who she was, which in turn, of course, leads to a much higher chance of finding happiness. And, as readers will discover, embracing who we are includes the process of accepting all the 'weird' quirks and foibles that makes us unique, but which are actually perfectly normal.

Chapter of the books include:

Perfectly calm: How to manage your emotions like the weather. 

Perfectly digital: Can computers teach us how to think?

Perfectly new: How animal migration helps us to cope with change.

The font and format of the book is easily accessible and chunked into bitesize paragraphs that will allow readers to dip in and out without feeling daunted. I love Camilla Pang's introduction to herself at the start of the book and the relatable way she talks about her diagnosis, harnessing autism as 'her superpower' and highlighting both the positives and the challenges that arise from being neurodivergent. But the most fascinating aspect of the book, which I was enthralled by and which I can't wait to discuss with all of my children, are the analogies Pang makes between consistent science (the type of science that is all around us and helps us make sense of the world) and abstract human behaviours. For example:

Why does a human always turn the volume up when their favourite song comes on the radio?- Well, why does a plant always turn towards the sunlight?

Why are some people drawn to others in a positive or negative way?- Well, let's think about the forces of gravity and magnetism and also how various metals react with different liquids and gases. Some get on and some don't!

Each chapter of the book, led by Camilla Pang's own narrative voice, explores these analogies in more depth. Each one is explained beautifully and simply and made me realise how much I, as a neurotypical reader, relate to what is being described and how much I use my own analogies in day to day life to interpret, rationalise and understand things that confuse me. It is an absolutely fascinating read for any young reader, especially those struggling with the complexities of growing and maturing and those changeable human relationships. 

Wren and Rook Books produce brilliant non-fiction for children and this is no exception. Not only will I be drawing on it to approach these tricky topics with my daughter, I'll be sharing it with my other children, nephews, cousins, friend's children and the adults too!

Perfectly Weird, Perfectly You was published on 17th March 2022 and is available to buy now. A big thanks to Hachette for asking me to be part of the blog tour. 



Tuesday, 22 March 2022

The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold

 


Published by: HarperCollins, 31st March 2022
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A year ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing The Last Bear via Netgalley and - WOW! - what a read it was. Now winner of the 'Best Story' in The Blue Peter Book Awards 2022, the stunning novel, with its beautiful design and powerful message has moved readers of all ages, leaving a lasting impact. 

Could it be possible, then, for the author and illustrator to weave the same extraordinary magic again? Well, the answer, for me, is absolutely yes. For a year later, The Lost Whale has moved me in exactly the same way and possibly even more than The Last Bear did and is another example of hauntingly brilliant storytelling. 

When Rio arrives in California to stay with a grandmother he barely knows, he feels alienated, angry and alone. His mother is in hospital in England and he doesn't know how to save her. But when Rio meets Marina and her father, his world changes. For out there on the ocean, there's an exhilaration and freedom he's never experienced before and the most beautiful creatures he's ever seen...whales!

But after Rio establishes a special connection with the grey whale, White Beak, he's distraught to discover she's gone missing. Using his unique gift of communication, can he track her down and save her in the same way he wants to save his mum?

As with The Last Bear, this is also a story about connection; connection with the planet, connection with the beautiful creatures on the planet and connection with other humans. Just like April lost her connection with her father, Rio has lost the connection with his mum, taking her out of his reach. Through Rio's anger, loneliness and grief, Hannah Gold poignantly explores issues of mental health and what it is to be a young carer and cleverly aligns his emotion with the plight of the planet and White Beak.

Hannah Gold's storytelling is wonderfully skilful and yet she makes it look effortless. The short chapters keeps the story bobbing along blissfully, building to a high-action, high-stakes ending. Complimenting Rio's raw emotions is the lovely steady and confident Marina who, along with her father, nurtures her new friend with genuine warmth. I particularly loved that there was more adult involvement in this novel and Rio's relationship with his awkward grandmother is a heartwarming thread to watch out for. Also, while there was a slight fantasy edge to The Last Bear in terms of April's relationship with Bear, this novels feels very much grounded in reality, although Rio's gift is what makes him particularly unique as a character. 

The message of the novel is as sharp and impactful as in The Last Bear. There is a strong eco warning about the state of the planet's oceans, the extensive dangers posed to its creatures and the consequences we are facing. Yet, again, this message doesn't feel didactic because, through Rio's story, Hannah Gold makes us care! Witnessing a whale's battle first hand is a powerful thing and yet, within the story and in the end notes, Hannah promotes the positive ways we can help - both collectively and individually. But there are other takeaways from the novel too as Hannah Gold explores Rio's internal change, with the help of his family and friends, towards responsibility and acceptance and liberation from the chains that bind him. 

Whether or not you've read The Last Bear, this isn't a novel to miss. It's equally as raw, wild and powerful but also as warm as the Californian sunshine that beats down on the story, enticing us to escape onto the ocean. The illustrations are stunning and readers are in for a real treat of an adventure. 

The Lost Whale is available to pre-order and out to buy on 31st March 2022. A big thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for allowing me a review copy. 




Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup by Andy Sagar

 

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 17th March 2022

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Boiling the kettle and settling down with a cosy cuppa to read felt particularly apt as I began the first book in this new fantasy MG series. For, just when you think you've read everything to do with witches, here comes Yesterday Crumb - a tea witch in the making - with a story that will blow you away but which also feels like a 'hug in a mug'.

Yesterday Crumb has grown up in a circus cage, ridiculed for her fox ears with no idea who she is. But when a witch's familiar breaks her out, Yesterday discovers not only that she's a strangeling, but that the evil Mr. Weep wants to destroy her new life. 

Taken in by a magical tea witch Miss. Dumpling, Yesterday starts to explore her powers. But with Mr. Weep's hold over her growing stronger and her witch's license in danger of being refused, Yesterday must summon a storm and fight for her life. 

This is magical fantasy at its best and a wonderful new take on a witch story. Andy Sagar's imagination is second to none, the characters are gorgeous and the tea and cake is...well, simply sublime! For me, the plot combined a nod to some of the best stories in children's literature - The Snow Queen, The Wizard of Oz, The House with Chicken Legs and even Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy - with something truly fresh and orginal. Dwimmerly End feels like a cosy, safe version of Hansel and Gretel's gingerbread house and Miss. Dumpling is possibly my new favourite character of all time. 

The story is charm personified but not too sugary sweet. Like a lot of Yesterday's brews, it has a bitter edge to it which makes the plot compelling and addictive. Yesterday is endearing and timid but, as she comes to the boil (in Miss. Dumpling's words), she unleashes a daring dark side with a tornado of power. The word building is wonderful and again mixes cosy fluffiness with shadow and shade, heartbreak and grief. In my personal opinion, though, it is the magical tea brewing which is the star of the show and the USP that will make me first in the queue to refill my teacup the moment the sequel comes out. 

So if you're looking for a marvellous, magical tale that balances comforting charm with danger and adventure, then this is the book for you. Brew the tea, cut the cake and snuggle down for a real treat!

Yesterday Crumb is released in the UK tomorrow, March 17th 2022. A huge thanks to Netgalley and Hachette for allowing me a review copy. 

Friday, 11 March 2022

Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm by Laura Ellen Anderson

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 Published by: Farshore Books, 3rd March 2022
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Heavens Above! There ought to be a thunderclap announcing the arrival of the second book in this BRILLIANT series. Rainbow Grey is DEFINITELY the book I wanted to read as a child. With cloud creatures, magical eyes and a black-and-white-haired villain to rival Cruella de Vil, Laura Ellen Anderson has one of the most magical imaginations I've ever encountered... 

Rainbow Grey is getting used to life as the only rainbow weatherling in the Weatherlands. But a storm is brewing. Cloud creatures are disappearing and, despite the blame pointing towards Ray herself, some mysterious magical eyes suggest that a darker force is at work. Surely Tornadia Twist, the worst rogue that's ever lived. can't be behind it...can she?

There simply aren't enough advectives to describe this book. It's joyful, vibrant, magical and floofy (my favourite new word) and yet dastardly too. There's scorching stakes, a whirlwind of drama, lightening bolt revelations and slowly melting mysteries. Then there are the characters (think World Book Day costumes). Ray is a stand-out heroine, as colourful as her hair and as beautiful on the inside as a rainbow is on the outside, but it's the whole ensemble that makes the book shine like the most glorious summer's day. Without Droplett's constant puddle porting and Snowden's endless drizzle-pickle sandwiches, the Weatherlands would be rather more overcast. Oh, and then there's hilarious, adorable but clever Nim, shining star La Blaze and the arrival of a love-to-hate baddy.

The story is certainly as unpredictable as the British weather. You might think you have the plot all mapped out but it's twistier than a tornado itself. And, just like the British weather can experience a whole host of weathers in one day, this has ALL the feels: laughter, tears, surprise - just watch out for La Blaze's shining moment for it might catch you offguard like an unexpected downpour. 

As well as being highly entertaining and fun, there are some big themes running throughout this book: friendship, prejudice, being yourself, bravery and sacrifice all feature heavily and are handled brilliantly. One thing's for certain, you'll be so busy talking about this new adventure, you'll have no time to discuss the weather...well...not the British weather anyway.

Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm is out now and available to buy online and from your local independent retailer. 


Saturday, 5 March 2022

March releases to put a spring in your step...

Every Bunny Is a Yoga Bunny by Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright
Published by: Nosy Crow, 3rd March
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Yoga is a popular pastime in our house. With three wriggly, jiggly children, 7 bouncy bunnies, 5 flappy chickens and one squirmy puppy, a sense of calm can be hard to come by and it seems that Yo-Yo feels the same:

Yo-Yo is a fidgety bunny, a bouncy bunny and she just can't sit still. Even Grandpa's yoga classes aren't helping. But when Yo-Yo finds herself lost in a deep, shadowy forest, will Grandpa's yoga help her find her way home?

With stunning illustrations by Deborah Allwright, this is a book that both parents of little ones and little ones themselves will be able to relate to. Keeping those legs and bottoms still is soooo hard, even when you're trying to concentrate. But with a little bit of practise, yoga can really help to focus those busy minds and bodies.

Yo-Yo's energetic and engaging story introduces young readers to some lovely simple poses and breathing techniques which are revisited at the end of the book in a step-by-step instruction guide. There's a gorgeous bedtime ending which follows a challenging dilemma where Yo-Yo is able to apply her learning. It really is the perfect book to help stretch bodies, calm minds and bring families together, whether that's before bedtime or at any time during a busy day where there's a need to take five. It's a massive hit with my three, who actively ask to do yoga and if Yo-Yo can do it...then surely they can too!

The Story Shop: Blast Off! by Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Published by: Little Tiger Press, 3rd March 2022
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This new series from awesome author, Tracey Corderoy, is a story-lover's treat. Taking a similar format to Corderoy's other chapter books, The Grunt and the Grouch, Hubble Bubble and Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, it contains three fabulous stories in one and yet cleverly follows one character's story shop adventure.

When a bold mouse visits Wilbur and Fred's story shop, he chooses an adventure that is out of this world. Blasting off into space, accompanied by Fred, he has a cheesy encounter on the moon, almost loses his tail in a game of Tiddlywonks and causes carnage on Planet Cog. Can Fred get him out of trouble before his adventure ends badly?

This series is a glorious celebration of imagination. With an endless array of themed story choices, there will hopefully be sequels galore where readers will never get bored. What story adventure would you choose?

The world-building , characters and illustrations are brilliant and engaging. Mouse's over confident attitude is hilarious whilst Fred brings everything back down to earth. The story plots are bold, bright and as captivating as a shooting star and, with each story being split into 3-4 chapters, they are the perfect length for emerging readers. 

Anyone who loves story will love this series. It's crazy, it's cool and this one is super spacey. But what will the next one be? Roarsome? Arrrggggggsome? You'll have to wait to find out. 


Libby and the Parisian Puzzle by Jo Clarke, illustrated by Becka Moor
Published by: Firefly Press, 3rd March 2022
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Another of my much-anticipated reads of 2022 was Libby and the Parisian Puzzle written by Book Lover Jo. Set in a travelling school-yes, a travelling school!-this is a classic mystery story with an around-the-world twist.

When Libby joins her aunt's travelling school in Paris, she feels both excited and nervous. But, just as she is settling in, her aunt is arrested on suspicion of stealing jewels! Desperate to clear her aunt's name, Libby and her new friend Connie set out to find the real culprit...

This is a cleverly plotted mystery that's pitched perfectly towards younger middle grade detectives. Sitting alongside other young detective novels such as Anisha: Accidental Detective and Agent Zaiba Investigates, each are brilliant but feel different in their own right.  Jo Clarke's concept of a travelling school instantly appeals and there is a lovely flavour of Paris running through the novel: famous sights, delicious French patisserie and some simple French language. What's even more exciting is that subsequent novels in the series will immediately take on the vibe of future settings. 

Libby is a great main character. Her love of photography alongside her inquisitive nature makes her a natural detective and I love how she brings the more dubious Connie on board as her sidekick. Connie's role also develops brilliantly throughout the novel and she is definitely a dark-horse character I want to see more of. I also really like the presence of Libby's aunt and how the core of the story centres around the school. This means that while the travelling element reminds me very much of the older Adventures on Trains series, it maintains a cosy, familiar feel that provides a warm reassurance for 7-9s. 

With fantastic illustrations from Becka Moor, this novel twists and turns through the streets of Paris and keeps readers guessing until the final minute. Yet, there are enough seeded clues to begin piecing the puzzle together. It's a great start to what promises to be a fabulous series.


The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery, illustrated by Laura CatalΓ‘n

Published by: Puffin, 3rd March 2022
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The first thing to say about Lee Newbury's debut novel, which is a Waterstones Book of the Month for March, is that the cover is simply stunning. Seeing it in the flesh took my breath away and the fiery orange colour scheme implies there's a cracker of a story inside. There really is! The Last Firefox is a joyful, wonderfully written adventure that will set your heart alight. 

Charlie Challinor finds it really hard to be bold and now he's about to start secondary school and become a big brother, life is feeling rather scary. But when he is unexpectedly charged with looking after a fox from another world, Charlie is forced to dig deep to find his bravery. Because this isn't just any fox, it's the last firefox and he has a sinister hunter on his tail. Can Charlie find a way to protect his flammable friend and find his own inner fire?

The hilarious opening to this novel sets the tone for what is ultimately a gentle, charming and genuinely heart-warming adventure. But it should come with a warning: Cadno the firefox will steal your heart! Perfect for both animal and adventure lovers, this is a tale of family, friendship and love that just happens to be  mixed with a crumbling castle, a magical portal and a very ominous villain. Yet, I loved how the magical element didn't take over. Charlie's world and Charlie's experiences remain central to the plot and, as a shy, underconfident child myself, I really resonated with his character. 

Without giving too much away, the story builds towards a great fiery finale with elements that reminded me a little bit of The Gruffalo's Child. There's also some cleverly plotted humour throughout, such as one of Charlie's dads being a firefighter (brilliantly apt) and Lippy's hamster food. It's cosy, cuddly, dark and sinister all at the same time but most of all this novel emanates as much light as Cadno himself-the sparks of which are bound to spread through readers of all ages and inspire their love of reading. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Winter Wrap-up

Another month has gone in a blur and the stirrings of spring are around us. As we say goodbye to winter, here are more of the books that have been keeping us entertained through the colder months. 

Frank and Bert by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Link to publisher

Published by: Nosy Crow, 3rd Feb 2022

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The author of The Suitcase released a new picture book this month with loveable characters, an important message and a relatable game of hide-and-seek. Perfect for both children at the younger and older end of the picture book market, this endearing tale of friendship definitely warmed up our hearts this winter. 

Frank and Bert love to play hide-and-seek but Bert isn't as good at playing as he thinks he is. As Frank takes the winner's crown yet again, he makes a decision. Does winning really matter...?

With fun illustrations enhancing the story on every page, this is a book young children will want to read again and again whilst providing comedy value for any adult reader who has ever played hide-and-seek with a toddler. Bert's size may be a hindrance but, with Frank as a friend, he's got every chance of  success...and he may just have a cheeky trick up his sleeve too. 

This is a great text to use in an early year's classroom. As well as a strong PHSE theme, the additional counting element links to the maths curriculum. There's some clues to unravel and some knitting to try out. You never know, it might just win you the game...or not!


Mayor Bunny's Chocolate Town by Elys Dolan

Link to BookNookBookshop
Published by: Oxford University Press, 3rd Feb 2022
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Brilliantly funny, this character-led sequel to Mr. Bunny's Chocolate Factory literally made us laugh-out-loud. With bunnies and chickens and chocolate and elections, you might be fooled into thinking that it's an Easter themed book. Fret not! Although this would make a cracking seasonal story, it's message is perfect for any time of year. 

Vote Bunny! Mr. Bunny wants to be mayor and the first item on his agenda is making a whole town out of chocolate. But rival chicken, Debbie, thinks that's a crackpot idea. Who will win the vote? And will Coop Town end up in meltdown?

This book is the perfect example of an author-illustrator who can combine text and illustrations to create something truly special. The visuals are stunning, the text is sharp and hilarious and every page is a feast for the eyes. The plot is fabulously entertaining and with so many speech bubbles, it is impossible to get bored - the reading experience is different every time!

Although little ones will love the characters and the visuals, the plot, message and length of this story might be more suited to the higher end of the picture book market. It's a great introduction to democracy and decision making, an ingenious platform for children to express their ideas and opinions and also brilliant for discussing the concept of 'playing fair'. It's a bigger treat than chocolate!

Greta and the Ghost Hunters by Sam Copeland, illustrated by Sarah Horne

Link to publisher 

Published by: Penguin, Jan 2022

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With the hugely successful Charlie Changes Into A Chicken series already in the bag, followed by the fantastically funny Uma and the Answer to Almost Everything last year, this new release from Sam Copeland was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2022. It doesn't disappoint. This laugh-out-loud novel is not only 'dead funny', it also has the tremendous heart that we've come to expect from Sam Copeland’s novels. 

When Greta is knocked down by a car and almost dies, her life changes instantaneously. Now, she can not only see ghosts, she can speak to them. But the ghosts in her house are in danger of being exorcised and if Greta can stop that from happening, will the ghosts help Greta stop her grandmother from being put in a home?

Firstly, the characters in this novel are brilliant! Greta is a strong-minded yet shaken protagonist who has a truly touching relationship with her grandmother. Grandpa Woebegone’s sarcastic tongue had me in stitches and Percy melted my heart. Then there are Greta's outrageous family and the hilarious narrator, whose gives us our daily dose of toilet humour by recounting his explosive historical antics.

As always, Sam Copeland has the incredible ability to make readers snort with laughter one minute and wipe away tears the next. Woven into the slapstick humour are the hugely important and mammoth themes of death, grief, anxiety and family. For me, the winning and most poignant line is delivered by Percy…but I won’t spoil it for you. Just take my word for it that, at the end of the novel, this crazy yet endearing household will feel like family. Coupled with the fabulous and comedic illustrations from Sarah Horne, this is a book that has earned a lasting place on my bookshelf. I laughed, I cried…and er…some characters died!

Vi Spy: Never Say Whatever Again by Maz Evans, illustrated by Jez Tuya

Published by: Chicken House, Feb 2022

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On a similar comedic playing field to the novel above, the second in the series of Vi Spy, written by comedy legend, Maz Evans, was released at the beginning of February. Published by Chicken House, this is a stonker of a spy novel and a gazillion times funnier than 007!

Valentine Day has a lot on her plate! She's failing at spy school, her family is in crisis and her evil nemesis is still at large. It looks like she's going to have to enlist some help if she going to get to the bottom of who Umbra really is...but are her suspicions correct?

There's certainly nothing subtle about this novel. It's big, bold, brash and nothing short of brilliant. The fabulous characters- from the strong minded Easter Day, to the rather whiffy Siren to the new girl, Missy Fit- are spoofy and hilarious but, boy, do you want them on your side! Then there's the high-stake plot, the devastating mistakes, Vi's determination-it's a thriller from start to finish!

The humour is smash-you-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer type funny. There's body odour and farts, cheesy gags, snappy dialogue and a shedload of awesome satire. My favourite without a doubt was the portrayal of Missy Fit's stationery brand and Rod and his scooter is just comedy gold. Yet, as with Sam Copeland's Greta and the Ghost Hunters, Maz Evans explores complex issues with tenderness and heart: relationships, family, identity, success - all the things your average reader has to deal with, whether they are a wannabee spy or not. And yet, it's such a shame that funny books don't seem to get the recognition they deserve because this is seriously skilled writing and one of the most entertaining series I've read in a long time.  

MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS FOR AUTUMN...

Autumn has started with a bang this year. Following on from a whole summer of reading, these novels have prevented me from getting the back-...