Find your way through the fantastic forest of children's stories with this book review blog of picture books, junior fiction and middle grade publications.
Wednesday, 31 August 2022
NEW RELEASE: Wolves in Helicopters by Sarah Tagholm and Paddy Donnelly
Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire by Sarah Todd Taylor
Published by: Nosy Crow, 4th Aug 2022
As an aspiring writer, I'm often told, 'Write the story you wanted to read as a child'. The problem is, I don't always know what that is until I've seen it. But now I've seen it! Just like with Laura Ellen Anderson's Rainbow Grey, Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire is a story I would have gobbled up as a child faster than Alice's patisseries. I mean, what more could you want than a good old mystery whisked together with some mouth-watering baking?
'Baker by day, spy by night', Alice Eclair leads a busy double life. When a mysterious message sets Alice a mission on board France's most glamorous train, the teenage sleuth must combine her baking and her spy skills to complete the daring and dangerous task. But who should she trust...NO ONE!
Perfect for fans of the Adventures on Trains series, baking fanatics and young detectives, this novel is pacy, punchy and totally enthralling, moving faster than the train Alice is on itself. After falling in love with the gorgeous front cover, designed by Beatriz Castro, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Was it a chapter book? A story for lower middle grades? Whatever it was, it looked inviting enough to jump right to the top of my huge TBR pile.
However, the actual story inside the pages blew me away. If you're expecting a light-hearted frothy story, think again. Yes, there is froth and icing and shimmery stars, but the tale Sarah Todd Taylor has plotted is fun yet hard-hitting, with a serious nod to the work spies did during World War II and the lives that were balanced on a knife edge, depending on who got the upper hand. This is slightly more than a fictional spy novel and I felt that, through her history lesson, Sarah Todd Taylor truly opened my eyes to the real risks of being a spy, placing it, for me, in the middle-grade age-range. I loved Alice's strong, determined character and it was really refreshing to see a brilliantly capable female spy in the making.
So, if you love danger, daringness and the temptation of something delicious, this series is definitely one to devour. With a narrative that's twistier and turnier than train tracks and surprises that will jolt you out of your seat, the secret is out -IT'S BRILLIANT!
Tuesday, 30 August 2022
UPCOMING RELEASE Sticky Pines: The Valley of the Strange by Dashe Roberts
Published by: Nosy Crow, 1st September 2022
"Perfect for the younger siblings of Stranger Things fans.'
I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. Dashe Roberts' writing, especially her characters' snappy banter, is as addictive as a tray of sugary doughtnuts and you just can't help bingeing on it. The plot is compelling and highly original, giving us a whole new take on alien life, and there's a whole 80's vibe running through the story, making it both comparable but very different to Stranger Things. If you're fans of both then you're in for a double treat!
In this instalment you can expect high stakes and lots of drama all infused with an hilarious touch. It's serious yet spoofy, it's dramatic but goofy. Milo has designs on Lucy, Gus is adorable and Lucy is on a mission! Yet beneath it all lies the familiar but hard-hitting message about the destructive and ignorant nature of the human race. Lucy's determined to be the difference, however, and despite her bulldozing behaviour equalling Mr. Fisher's at times, you have to admire her spunky, out-spoken, go-getting attitude - at least she's on the right side... or is she? Milo's certainly not sure and he's about to get caught in the crossfire!
So could there be even better news than the third book being available to buy from 1st September? Yes, there can! Because, despite us being used things coming in threes, it appears that Sticky Pines is going to go beyond being a trilogy, meaning there's more to come. And you just know it's going to be GOOD!
A huge thank you to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for allowing me a review copy. The Valley of the Strange is released this Thursday 1st September 2022.
Monday, 29 August 2022
Our Summer Round-Up of Picture Books (including what's coming up!)
While I've been reading novels all summer, bedtime with our little readers have been all about picture books. Even at 11, 9 and 7, my three still love a picture book and refuse to settle without one. What I've loved about this summer, though, is that all three of them have also (independently) been devouring books of their choosing; chapter books, non-fiction books, graphic novels, and yet still want that shared storytime at the end of the day. Thanks to these new releases, we certainly haven't been short of new material...
Sid's Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina AugustinavichLink to publisher
Published by: Maverick Publishing, 28th July 2022
WOW! What a treat! We've been waiting for this one ever since it was announced. With its hooky title and bold front cover, Sid's Big Fib seemed to be promising us an in-your-face story filled with bucketloads of fun and chaos, and that is exactly what we got!
It's Monday morning and Sid and his friend, Lulu are trying to outdo each other's weekend activities. But when a fib slips out of Sid's mouth, it soon escalates beyond his control. Can he put things right?
As a former primary teacher, I really enjoyed the fact that this story is based around child banter in the playground. The weekend scenarios are hilarious and Roo Parkin nails Sid's perspective as he tries to compete with his friends.
Keeping up the pretence of a fib is hard work and readers will see the comical lengths Sid has to go to to maintain his snowballing lie. Hidden underneath the humour, of course, is the clear, but not didactic, message of the importance of telling the truth and the text comes to a neat full-circle conclusion. The illustrations by Irina Augustinavich are fantastic and this has now become a firm favourite amongst our other bright, quirky and cleverly funny picture books from Maverick Publishing.
Never Let a Diplodocus Draw by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane EwenLink to publisher
As above, the arrival of this pre-order caused great excitement. The third in the series of 'Never Let a [Dinosaur]'... this is probably our favourite so far (and we've loved all of them).
Never Let a Diplodocus Draw. Who knows what could happen? Things might spiral out of control...and then what? Where might it all end? Why not turn the pages and find out...
Celebrating the power of imagination and the importance of having dreams and aspirations, this 'what if' book teaches young readers never to impose limitations upon themselves. Each book in the series pays homage to the gift of education and dreaming big and focuses on the exciting things that can happen as a result.
What we particularly loved about this story was the celebration of creativity and the infectiousness of it. My son chuckled at the colours and the splats and revelled in the characters' freedom to be able to explore, experiment and make a mess that was valid and valued. Mix in the fact that, of course, the genius aspect of the series is that the main character just happens to be a dinosaur and you have a winner of story. The illustrations are incredible with lots of extras to spot - particularly look out for characters you may have met before - and we're already on the edge of our seats wondering if this is the last we'll see of this dream series and dream creators.
The Elephant Detectives by Ged AdamsonLink to publisher
Published by: Nosy Crow, July 2022
Highly entertaining, this story stole our hearts with its charm and general gorgeousness. Gentle and yet totally endearing, can you help the elephant detectives solve the case of the missing elephant?
When Alan's elephant goes missing, he's relieved to bump into Edie, an elephant detective. Convinced she knows where the elephant has gone, they search everywhere; from doughnut shops to a museum, but without any success. Will the elephant ever turn up? And why is Edie so keen to help?
With the entertaining illustrations telling an alternative story to the text, this book is a great opportunity for little ones to become detectives themselves and stay one step ahead of the characters. We loved how the elephant facts were interpreted by Edie and twisted into a highly original adventure. There's a lovely nod to how important a child's relationship with a pet or animal can be and also to the importance of friendship. It left us with a warm, fuzzy feeling and a smile on our faces!
One Tiny Dot by Lucy Rowland and Gwen MillwardLink to Waterstones
With vibrant and fun illustrations, depicting the lovely life the dogs have at the dog shelter, this is a more upbeat retelling than the original that sparkles with magic and creativity. 'Pawfect' for both fans of fairy tales and for animal-lovers, the themes of friendship and family tug at the heartstrings like a dog pulls on a lead. The ending is heart-warming and Cinders and his four-legged friends steal the show from the start. The fairy dogmother is a vision to behold - just look at that pink! - and the story will have you wanting to take a trip to the local dog shelter. If only all dogs had their own fairy dogmother...
UPCOMING RELEASE:We Are The Shapes by Kevin JennerLink to publisher
Sunday, 14 August 2022
Our Summer Round-Up Of Middle Grade Books (including what's coming up!)
Summer! And what a scorcher! Although there's never much time to review in the holidays, our reading time definitely increases. With lazy lie-ins, sleepy stories in the shade and trips to the library to complete the summer reading challenge, we've been whizzing through the pages. I've even been lucky enough, courtesy of NetGalley, to get my hands on some brilliant upcoming releases...
Fight Back by A.M DassuLink to publisher
Published by: Scholastic, June 2022
Following the success of Boy, Everywhere, A.M Dassu has released her second novel, Fight Back - a powerful story about identity and fighting hate and discrimination.
When Aaliyah and her friends are caught up in a terrorist attack at a local pop concert, fear grips both her and her community. It's not long before Muslims are being blamed for the event and Aaliyah herself becomes the target of abuse.
Determined to fight back, Aaliyah makes the decision to wear a hijab at school. But when the school responds by banning all religious symbols, will she find support to continue her fight?
With an easy-to-read, accessible voice, this is a fantastic read for teens, young adults and adults alike. Although a fictional novel, it's clearly based on real-life events, giving a moving and deeply thought-provoking insight into the devastating impact of terrorism and the division, fear and hate it creates within a community.
What I particularly love about this novel is that it is firmly grounded in the life of a teen and full of school, friendship, older siblings and banter. And yet, amid all this, Aaliyah is grappling, not only with the horrors of the terrorist attack, but with the verbal and physical attacks she experiences on a personal level. With tensions running high, family, friendships and the stability of the whole community are threatened. This is the story of one girl's fight to make a difference.
A.M Dassu's writing makes you feel all the emotions, whilst opening readers' eyes to the truth of the world. It calls for change in the most important way - by showing, not telling, the story of a character we care about and who bridges the gap between fiction and reality. It's enlightening, empowering and needs to be in every library, school library and classroom!
Published by: Walker Books, April 2022
Another brilliant read for upper middle-grade and teen readers is The Great Fox Illusion by Justyn Edwards. The first of a series, this is the story of Flick Lions, a young magician taking part in a TV show to win the prize of a lifetime...
The Great Fox is dead and now Flick Lions has been chosen to compete in a TV series to win his legacy. But solving puzzles and revealing the secrets behind magic tricks to win the prize is not what Flick is interested in. The Great Fox destroyed her family and she will go to any lengths to uncover the truth and put things right.
Hooked in just by the title, this debut novel really got my attention when I read an extract in WRD magazine. Not only does it appeal to readers who love mystery and sleuth stories, it also goes one step further by giving us the USP of magic tricks and illusions. Who doesn't want to know the secrets behind these - well, apart from Flick? But the fun doesn't stop there. Set in a mysterious, old house full of endless secrets, with the addictive feel of a reality show, Justyn Edwards has really pulled it out the bag in terms of pace, plot and puzzles. It's Now You See Me ( a brilliant adult film) for children in book form and utterly mesmerising.
Flick is a great character. Slightly stand-offish at the start, I quickly warmed to her as we learn about her internal struggles and the high stakes that are involved in her bid to find the truth. Charlie creates a lovely balance to her reserve (as well as being totally loveable) and the mix of villains - both adult and child - works brilliantly. It was also great to see an amputee take centre stage as the main character and there are some poignant moments as Flick manages this.
For me, this ticks every box for a series. It's imaginative, packed full of puzzles and geniously put together. I absolutely can't wait for the next one...
UPCOMING RELEASE: Ember Shadows and the Fates of Mount Never by Rebecca KingLink to publisher
This story is classic in feel. There are strong parallels to Narnia with a land cursed by an evil ruler and yet the story and the world-building is very different in feel. Amy is a headstrong, outspoken and not always likeable main character and yet her inability to listen, her ability to speak the truth and her steely courage makes her a strong, feminine lead in a world of men.
I really enjoyed the different landscapes in the novel. From forest, to castle, to fang lands, to swamps, the settings keep the story pacy and compelling. I found the unsual presense of adults in the novel - the Fianna warriors who are comparable to Aragorn and the elves in Lord of the Rings - really interesting and, for me, this brought to the fore something I haven't seen in a while in a fantasy story. Oscar and Culaan make for a great side story and I love how the relationship between Amy and Oscar develops.
The dual narrative between Amy and Liam works well. It offers us an intriguing insight into the world of the villain - a terrifying mage - and offers clever foreshadowing to the twist at the end. If you love fairy tales, magical worlds and epic quests then this is the book for you.
More Middle Grade Fantasies to get excited about...
Spellstone by Ross Montgomery Link to publisher Published by: Walker Books, 4th May 2023 👍👍👍👍👍 Middle grade fantasy is on fire at the m...
EEK! It's time for my favourite blog post of the year, our spooky Halloween Round-Up for 2021, including my very own debut picture book.Wow! We had so much fun writing last year's spooky round-up but this year the bookshop shelves seems to have exploded with even more f...
While I've been reading novels all summer, bedtime with our little readers have been all about picture books. Even at 11, 9 and 7, my th...
Summer! And what a scorcher! Although there's never much time to review in the holidays, our reading time definitely increases. With laz...