Binny for Short – Hilary McKay

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Attention please…! You must all read this book:


I am newly converted to Hilary McKay’s outstanding writing. She has such a gift for observation, understanding, warmth and wit in her writing. This is a book that feels like coming home.

‘Binny’s life has been difficult since her father died and her dreadful old Aunt Violet disposed of her beloved dog, Max. Her world changed then, to a city flat with not enough space for her Mum, her big sister Clem and her small brother James. Definitely no room for a pet.

Then one day Aunt Violet dies, leaving a small cottage in Cornwall to Binny and her family. Binny finds herself in a new world once more, full of sunshine and freedom and Gareth, the enemy-next-door and the ideal companion for dangerous dares. But Max is still lost in the past, and it seems impossible that she’ll ever find him again…’

Binny is a character that readers can aspire to be like. All of McKay’s characters are so beautifully realised that they jump from the page and follow you around. They get into your head and pull you in to their story, their lives. And then, without your realising it, your lives have become intertwined and you look up from the book, unsure as to what is real and what is written.

McKay is a truly gifted storyteller and she invites you inside the world of Binny and her family through a brilliantly delivered dual narrative. One layer tells the story of Binny and her new enemy, Gareth, as they attempt to pull out a huge barbed fishing net tangled amongst rocks.
The second layer provides the background, the family history and the build up to their mission.

McKay’s writing is pared down to perfection with sentences that surprise with their exactness:
‘For Binny it had happened the way some people become friends. Totally. Inevitable from the beginning, like the shape of a shell.
Only it wasn’t friends; it was enemies.
Binny had known at once that she was looking at her enemy, and the boy had known it too. The understanding was like a swift brightness between them.’

The best children’s writers can place themselves inside the mind of a child. They can remember and imagine what it feels like to be a child, the everyday thoughts, worries, dreams and actions. McKay has the fantastic ability to master this across a wide age range. James, six, is portrayed beautifully. His dreams and inspirations, his ideas and imagination feel plucked straight from the mind of a creative six year old boy. Binny is adventurous and headstrong and big sister Clem is full of determination and self belief, and McKay excels at Gareth’s anger and hurt, his fear and bravado.

McKay really *knows* children. She writes about the things that affect children and play on their minds. And that makes her books so perfect for child readers. They can see themselves in these books. They can read about characters believably going through the same experiences as them. And they can see these characters come out the other side, they can watch them develop and learn and grow alongside them. By including positive images of older children, teenagers and adults, McKay is filling her books with role models and inspiration. I can’t wait for Binny in Secret to be published so I can catch up with them all again

You can get your copy of Binny for Short here.

Try the Casson family stories too. The first book, Saffy’s Angel is stunning.

Source – kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.

Opal Plumstead by Jacqueline Wilson

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I’m going to let you in on a secret… This is the first Jacqueline Wilson book I have ever read. Gasp! My year 6 book group were horrified when they found out, and spent a year howling at me and plying me with recommendations. Somehow I still remained a JW virgin until this book came along. But what a way to start! Tying in beautifully with the centenary of the Great War, this is Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book. And it had me hooked from the very first page!


Opal Plumstead is the Matilda for this generation. A book I wish had been available to me when I was growing up. I longed for a book like this where I could see characters who thought like me, and learn about a world I could be a part of. Books are such magical tools in this way – they show us who we are and who we could become. They inspire, comfort, open the mind and create hopes and dreams. Opal Plumstead offers the reader all of this, and more.

Opal Plumstead is a scholarship girl. She is always top of the class but wants more from life than the prescribed future of marriage or a career in teaching. She is intelligent, self aware and proud of her individuality and dreams of university. When her family’s circumstances change she is forced to leave her school and her dreams behind to work in a sweet factory. Opal has to take on new responsibilities and find her way in a world of older, more street-wise girls. But through this new working life Opal meets Mrs Roberts, the factory’s owner, and is whisked into the women’s rights movement, meeting Mrs Pankhurst and her fellow Suffragettes. Perhaps Opal will have a bright future ahead of her after all?

On one level Opal Plumstead does what the Enid Blyton books did for me as a child – introducing children to a whole new era of language and culture and history. But Opal Plumstead does so much more than describe a character in a historical setting. It introduces the reader to inequalities of the past in a highly accessible way, enabling them to compare their own lives and make connections with social and political situations in the world they live in now. Opal Plumstead‘s themes introduce the reader to feminism, the realities of poverty, injustice, corporate greed, the economic class system and social politics, as well as more domestic ideas such as the reversal of the parent/child relationship, the need for positive role models, unhappy adult relationships and a new generation’s hope to do things differently.

Opal Plumstead, along with her sister, Cassie, are fantastic characters for children to relate to and emulate. Readers will be able to find shared characteristics; see themselves and confirm who they are and who they could become. Opal feels misunderstood by her teachers and her family and longs to find a soulmate who she can share her dreams and ideas with. Opal and Cassie have strong self awareness and know who they respect (and who they don’t). Despite set backs and circumstances that are thrown at them, they stay true to their beliefs and follow their dreams with passion and integrity. As Cassie says, “I’m the heroine in my own life and I’ve got to live it the way I want”. Isn’t that what we hope for in any role model?

Opal Plumstead is a thoroughly enjoyable read with a storyline that had me in turns hiding behind my hands waiting for the inevitable disaster and sitting up into the small hours racing through to the end. But more than that, it’s an important book that will show a new generation of children that they can look at the world they live in and make it better.

I am officially converted. *orders 99 books*.

Published on 9/10/14 pre-order your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Random House

I want to see myself in my books – eczema/allergies/skin conditions

19 Sep

A dear friend asked me if I knew of any books that would help her 2 year old son understand his eczema and allergies, something to show him that he is not alone or ‘different’. He has severe allergies and as a family they are still learning what his triggers are and how best to deal with it all. It would really help him and his siblings if they could see him represented in books and understand that other children have the same problems.

So with a little help from my friends I pulled together this collection of beauties:

Hop a Little, Jump a Little by Child’s Play Books, illustrated by Annie Kubler.



I love this for its casual inclusion. It isn’t ‘about’ allergies or eczema, or children that are ‘different’. It is about very young children being children. But the pictures have such diversity and allow children to see themselves in their books. Children with allergies/skin conditions/birthmarks will recognise themselves in the picture above. The illustration shows bandages peeping out beneath clothing and red patches on skin, but it’s subtle. It allows children to recognise themselves in the illustration but it’s not what that child *is*. Brilliant!

Recycling! by Child’s Play, illustrated by Jess Stockham is part of the Helping Hands series.

A brilliant series of inclusive books that blur the line between fiction and non fiction, the Helping Hands books use conversational text to explore tasks that children can help adults with as a natural extension of pretend play. They work beautifully as jumping boards for discussion and play and are perfectly pitched for inquisitive young children.

Recycling! shows twins helping with lots of different recycling tasks. The illustrations of the children are wonderfully gender neutral, allowing children to place themselves in the story. For my friend’s son there is an illustration of a child with eczema or a birthmark.


Doctor is another Child’s Play book illustrated by Jess Stockham. This one is from the First Time series of books which, like the Helping Hands series, uses conversational text to explore experiences children will come across for the first time. In Doctor there is a double page spread showing a child with eczema.


Casual inclusion is so important for children – that moment of recognition when they see themselves in their book and feel that sense of inclusion and of being valued. But books that are more overt and ‘about’ an issue can be helpful too, and are often sought after by adults trying to help a child’s understanding of an issue they are dealing with.

Emmy’s Eczema by Jack Hughes (Hachette) aims to fill this gap.


Emmy has eczema, which makes her skin really itchy. She knows she shouldn’t scratch, but sometimes she just can’t help it. One day, she scratches so much she makes her skin really sore. Can her friends help her?

I think this book will help my friend’s son feel less alone and will also help his older sister. The dinosaurs have to work together to support Emmy and remind her not to scratch. They journey together to help her find the flowers to make a cream that relieves the itching. The sense of teamwork and support in this story is one that I’m sure will resonate with my friend and her family. I can imagine them all cuddling up to read it together and discussing how it relates to their own lives.


For older children, The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster and Maryann Cocca-Leffler is a fantastic book that celebrates difference and shows children adapting their daily routines to support a new classmate with a peanut allergy.


Simon loves peanut butter. But Grant, the new kid at school, is allergic to it – he can’t even sit near anyone eating it. Grant sits all by himself at lunchtime until Simon comes up with a great idea: turn part of the cafeteria into “The Peanut-Free Cafe” and make it a fun place! Soon the other kids are leaving their peanut-butter sandwiches at home so they can eat in the cafe with Grant. But it’s not so easy for Simon. Can he give up his very favourite food?

Telling this story from the point of view of a classmate makes it a book that encourages awareness and support for children with peanut (and all) allergies. It also shows Simon – a very fussy eater – being brave and trying new foods so he can join the Peanut-Free Cafe and support his new friend. A great book for friends and families of children with allergies, this is a book that will work equally well in the classroom.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins) is another picture book that celebrates difference.

Marshall Armstrong is new to the school. He looks different, he acts differently and he eats different food. But it doesn’t take long for Marshall to prove that you don’t have to follow the crowd to be the most popular kid in the playground. When he invites the children from his class to his house for a party, they learn that Marshall Armstrong is fun and friendly and they have a great time trying new things.

A quirky and humorous book that celebrates the differences that make us unique, Marshall Armstrong will bring a smile to anyone who feels a bit different.

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions and pointed me in the right direction. If anyone has any more recommendations, please do add them in the comments below – we’d love to hear your ideas!

It’s working!!!!!


Source – all copies bought from these lovely people:
Child’s Play
Letterbox Library
Hive stores

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor

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I am happy to be kicking off the blog tour for a book set to inspire the scientists and engineers of the future.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs is a force of nature. A whirlwind of a book that whips through story and science alike. It is a wonderful combination of fact and fiction with an engaging and adventurous storyline that carries the reader through – without realising they are learning much more than they would in science class.


Frank Einstein loves figuring out how the world works by creating household contraptions that are part science, part imagination, and totally unusual. In Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor, after an uneventful experiment in his lab, a lightning storm and flash of electricity bring Frank’s inventions – the robots Klink and Klank – to life! Not exactly the ideal lab partners, the wisecracking Klink and the overly expressive Klank nonetheless help Frank attempt to perfect his Antimatter Motor . . . until Frank’s arch nemesis, T. Edison, steals Klink and Klank for his evil doomsday plan!

I love the way Scieszka and Biggs have included so much ‘actual real life science’ in a non-intrusive way. It is perfectly blended with energy and humour, the perfect combination for inspiring children and encouraging them to question the way things work and how they, too, can experiment with science. The illustrations and labelled diagrams, the zany adventures, the explanations of scientific terms and random science jokes at the end of the book- all add together to create a highly entertaining manual for the scientists and engineers of the future.

Frank Einstein is a book that will catch children’s attention. Frank is a character bursting with ideas and passion. He wants to ‘master all science’. He says; ‘The word comes from the Latin for knowledge. We want all science. All knowledge.’ He proceeds to excitedly pace around the room, classifying science and creating a six point plan of research that covers matter, energy, humans, life, the earth and the universe.
Now *that* is passion! That is ambition and a thirst for knowledge! Imagine what he could achieve if he had a lab team that matched his passion and knowledge….

The lab dream team
Frank Einstein – chosen for his wide-ranging scientific knowledge, his ambition and thirst for learning.
Aristotle – He was, essentially, the first scientist and, as Frank Einstein’s inspiration, deserves his place at the lab bench.
Hermione Granger – her bravery and determination, intelligence and exemplary research skills make her the perfect choice.
E. Lilian Todd – the designer of the first airplane at a time when female engineers were unheard of, Todd would give the group the level-headed focus and inspiration to succeed against the odds.
Mortimer Keene – quite a character, but one that matches Frank’s energy and ambition with an added dose of cunning and mild peril.
Rosie Revere – all good teams should be supporting the next generation. Rosie’s ambition and engineering dreams make her the perfect addition.

Who would you include in your lab dream team?!

Jon Scieszka will be in the UK on a national tour in October – with events at Bath and Cheltenham Literature Festival, plus a panel discussion with Louise Rennison and Jim Smith at Waterstones Piccadilly, an event at Seven Stories and a range of school and library events.

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor is out now and you can buy your copy here.

You can follow the blog tour and see what Frank has inspired over at Wondrous Reads tomorrow.


Rosie Revere, Engineer

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Hurrah!!!! A book that shows a female engineer! In fact, Rosie Revere, Engineer (Abrams) provides two stonkingly good role models for children and celebrates the history of women engineers and aviation pioneers. Shortlisted for the Little Rebels award 2014, it is a book that has the potential to empower children and change their future.

Shy Rosie Revere dreams of becoming an engineer. She collects treasures for her engineer’s stash and alone in her room she creates gadgets and machines from all her broken bits and pieces. Worried about being laughed at and failing, Rosie keeps her inventions to herself. Until great-great-aunt Rose comes to stay.


Great-great-aunt Rose built planes during the war and inspires Rosie to invent something bigger and more daring than ever before.


By handing down her notebook of role models throughout history, and sharing that all-important life lesson of persistence, Great-great-aunt Rose teaches Rosie (and the reader) to always follow dreams and never give up.


Andrea Beaty’s inspirational story full of diverse characters, positive role models and stereotype-squashing, is matched perfectly with David Roberts’ absolutely gorgeous illustrations. This book deserves to become a feminist modern classic.

Imagine a young girl who is fascinated by science and loves to design and invent and create. Imagine this book in her hands. Empowering, much?? In a world where gender stereotyping is still sadly rife, young children need all the positive role models and gender-stereotype-free messages that they can get. Bravo to all behind Rosie Revere, Engineer!

As an added bonus, the hardback copy reveals this under the dust jacket. Beautiful!


Source – bought from Letterbox Library to inspire and empower my own little engineer. You can get your copy here

Your Hand in My Hand

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Your Hand in My Hand by Mark Sperring and Britta Teckentrup is deliciously scrummy! I wish I could photograph every page and share the delightful illustrations with you. Or pop round to every single one of your homes to give you a look. Instead, I’ll share a glimpse and you can all go out and find a copy to coo over and stroke a bit.


Your Hand in My Hand takes the reader for a lyrical stroll through the seasons, following these two loveable mice.


Each double spread shows them sharing the wonders of nature and enjoying their time together, dancing along a path, gazing in wonder at rainbows, cuddling up together against the cold. These are illustrations sure to tug on parental heart-strings everywhere. They perfectly describe the closeness and shared wonder of the adult/child relationship.

Wearing just a red scarf, the adult mouse could represent any adult of any gender, making this book representative of any adult/child relationship and relevant to any family set up. Hurrah!

Mark Sperring’s text is a gentle joy matched perfectly with Britta Teckentrup’s contemporary art. This is a book that will continue to please with so much to point out and share in the illustrations. A wonderful cuddle-up-together story, Your Hand in My Hand is an absolute delight.

I’m going to be passing this on to a mum-to-be who is preparing for her own hand in hand adventures.
You can buy your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Orchard Books.

Rainbow Library number 5!

11 Sep

Woo hoooo! I’ve set up a fifth Rainbow Library!

This one is a little different. It’s for C.A.T.S. club – the local community after school club which provides a breakfast, after school and holiday play scheme for children aged 3-14 years from all the surrounding schools. Quite an age range to provide for!

C.A.T.S. club is all about having fun and the staff are dedicated and passionate about what they do. With some children using the breakfast club from 7:30, then attending school and returning for the afternoon club until 5:45, it can be a long and tiring day. The staff at C.A.T.S. work hard to give their afternoon club a home from home feel. There are always lots of activities on offer, and toys and games for the children to play with independently, as well as a comfortable area for children to sit and watch a DVD or read a book.
And this is where the Rainbow Library comes in.

A big box of new and exciting books that they can look through and read, that will be updated every term. I want to make sure that there’s always something new for the children to look at, as well as a staple supply of favourites that they can return to again and again. I’ve tried to include a range of fiction and non fiction and to add books that will appeal to everyone in the wide age range they cater for. I’m also going to be adding a big box of comics for them to enjoy.

Yesterday was C.A.T.S club’s 13th birthday. Great timing for a sparkly new library!

Special thanks to Clara Vulliamy and Sam Lloyd for their generous donations, and to all the publishers and book creators who so kindly send me books to add to the libraries. I couldn’t do it without your generous support.

Colour with Splosh

10 Sep

Books that try to teach children colours often end up as dull and lifeless ‘point and say’ books with no storyline or hook for the reader. Colour with Splosh feels entirely different.


David Melling has created a real character in loveable Splosh. The book invites the reader to join in Splosh’s game of hide and seek and children will be squealing with laughter and shouting out to poor unaware Splosh as his friends hide right in front of his eyes.


I love the way Melling has included colour as part of the story, and the gorgeous way he has introduced disguise and humour. Melling is a master of portraying expression through his illustration. These pictures will delight young children and the adults sharing with them.

Children learn through play and Colour with Splosh is a fantastic example of encouraging children to laugh and sneaking some learning in without them even noticing. How can children not learn their colours with a book as brilliant as this?
Bravo, Sir Melling! You have done well here!

You can buy your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s books.

Back to the books

6 Sep

I love Autumn! It’s like a cosy spring – woolly jumpers and hot chocolates, beautiful colours and transformations in nature and the sense of fresh starts and new beginnings. I have had a fantastic summer and feel like we have squeezed in every ounce of fun. But now Mollie is back at school and I am back to the books.

I essentially took the summer holidays off so I have a lot of review books piling up to be stroked and sniffed and cooed over. I also have the Rainbow Libraries to spruce up and set off for the new school year.

Before the summer I had four Rainbow Libraries up and running and one in the pipeline. Now I have four up and running, another three being set up and a further one under discussion! I am really excited about these new developments but it means I have to turn this:


Into shiny new libraries in the next two weeks. Gulp!
I have enlisted help and ordered more coffee!
Wish me luck – updates to follow!

Ps – I completed my summer challenge and moved out about forty books. If I ignore the fact that more than that came in through one way or another, it still counts… right???

Nicola Davies’ Top Ten Nature Picture Books – with giveaway

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The 2014 Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour (in association with the Scottish Book Trust) takes the very best UK and international authors directly into schools across Scotland and the UK to inspire a love of reading, writing and illustration. This is an idea that fills me with joy. It’s so important for children to be exposed to varied writing and illustration, and to meet the creators of all the wonderful books out there is a hugely enriching experience.

For the latest part of the tour, zoologist and children’s author Nicola Davies will be visiting Argyll and Bute this September to inspire and excite pupils. Well-known as one of the original presenters of the BBC children’s wildlife programme, The Really Wild Show, Nicola has more recently made her name as a children’s author. She has written both fiction and non-fiction books for children aged 7-11 based on her experiences of watching and studying animals. Her titles include Whale Boy (shortlisted for Blue Peter Award 2014), The Lion Who Stole My Arm (Portsmouth Book Prize 2014), The Promise (English Society Award 2014) and (my personal favourite) A First Book of Nature. Nicola will be treating young bookworms in Argyll and Bute to a series of free events in September as part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. Imagine the future readers, writers, illustrators and conservationists Nicola could be inspiring and encouraging.
Imagine, imagine, imagine.

To celebrate Nicola sharing her love with the readers, writers, illustrators and nature lovers of tomorrow, I am giving away a copy of Nicola’s beautiful picture book The Promise Illustrated by Laura Carlin.

The Promise tells the story of a broken world, hard and grey and mean. A girl, who has been made hard and mean by her environment, steals a bag from an old lady. The lady lets her take the bag but only if she promises to plant the contents. The promise lifts the girl’s heart and changes her life as she sets about planting acorns and bringing beauty, love, laughter and kindness back to the world.

I really do love this book and have heartily recommended it to parents, librarians and teachers. It’s a beautiful celebration of the natural world and a reminder of our relationship with it.
You can win a copy by reading Nicola’s top ten picture books about nature and sharing your favourite nature book in the comments box. It doesn’t have to be one of Nicola’s choices – recommend your own favourite. (Extra entries for tweeting a link to this post/sharing on Facebook/telling everyone at work and every parent at the school gate – but please do let me know you’ve done so in the comments here so I know to add your extra entry)

Over to Nicola.


T. Rex by Vivian French
Not just about dinosaurs but about the science of how we know about them. Includes crucial information about science that all children should know – that there’s lots we don’t know, and that everyone can be part of filling in the gaps.

Wild by Emily Hughes
Simple, charming and beguiling. A book about making friends with foxes and the value of being yourself.

The Birdwatchers by Simon James
This story about a little girl and her Grandpa captures the meanings that the natural world has for us and how it helps us to make human relationships too.

Something About A Bear by Jackie Morris
A lyrical tour of all the world’s bear species, with gorgeous illustrations that show you readers that the word ‘bear’ means a lot more than a teddy. (Also the BEST end papers of any book, ever).

Can We Save The Tiger? by Martin Jenkins
The complex and challenging problems of conservation beautifully explained for young readers with exquisite illustrations.

Insect Detective by Steve Voake
Every child loves creepy crawlies given the chance to seek them out. This book captures the pure delight of investigating the natural world and will start young biologists on their way.

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
A magical piece of fiction about a child who finds a baby whale washed up on the beach and takes it home to love in the bath. But the message about the place of animals being in the wild is true, and beautifully delivered.

Fly Traps Plants That Bite Back by Martin Jenkins
There are so few books about plants for children and this is a gem. Martin’s energy and enthusiasm (which I’ve known since we were both 19) shines through and communicates the strange fascination of these other worldly plants.

What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom
Darwin’s adventures as a young man and the start of his big world changing theories accessibly explained and wonderfully illustrated in this incredibly enjoyable book.

Yucky Worms by Vivian French
I loved worms as a kid and was fascinated by their underground lives. This book would have answered all my questions and shown me that it was absolutely all right to be interested in the small creatures whose lives seem unimportant but are quite the reverse.

Thank you, Nicola! I love hearing people talk about their favourite books and sucking up their recommendations. Some book ordering may have just occurred!

And now over to you.. What is your favourite picture book about nature? Competition ends Thursday 11th and winner announced Friday 12th September.

For more information about the 2014 Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour visit or follow @booksontour

The winner, taken from the list as follows…
Catherine (tweet entry)
Catherine (pin entry)

Number 1 – Sarah! Congratulations :)


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