D is for Duck by David Melling

23 Jul

‘Duck is a magician. Abracadabra! He can conjure up a bunny, a chicken and even the King of the jungle. But can he make a dragon disappear?’

David Melling is the well-loved author of the Hugless Douglas series and, our firm favourite, The Ghost Library. D is for Duck is packed with Melling’s trademark humour and brilliantly quirky characters.

I love the way Melling turns the idea of an alphabet book on it’s head and nothing is as expected. It gives the book huge appeal across age ranges and provides so much for children to discover, explore and discuss. 

Just look at this spread. 

The expressions on their faces, the use of ‘hatch’ for H, the tipping table, the desperate duck… D is for Duck would make a great starting point for children’s activities. Making their own alphabet books, discussing what will happen next or using the pictures as a starting point for their own stories. 

There is so much in this seemingly simple alphabet book. The perfect activity springboard for every classroom.

You can get your copy here.

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

Hiding Heidi by Fiona Woodcock 

8 Jul

Heidi and her friends love to play hide and seek. The trouble is, Heidi always wins. She can’t help it – she’s just too good! But Heidi soon learns that being hard to find can be hard to take, so she needs to come up with a plan…

Hiding Heidi is a beautifully designed and deceptively simple picture book. The artwork is gorgeous and the story is light and well paced. The joy here is that Fiona Woodcock hasn’t dumbed down for a younger audience, but has left room for them to explore and investigate the pictures and to have their own ideas about what is happening in each picture. 

The illustrations are packed full of printed shapes and patterns and would be wonderful inspiration for printing and shape games for children. There’s lots of scope for talks about hiding and camouflage here too. It really is a book that belongs in nurseries and infant schools alongside a stack of art supplies. 

A very impressive debut. A scrummy, beautiful book that will win the hearts of children and teachers alike.

You can get your copy from Indy-loving, tax-paying hive.co.uk here.

Source – kindly sent for review by Simon & Schuster.

How to read Paper Butterflies

8 Jul

There are some books that you can just drop into your bag and pick up whenever you can steal a minute’s peace. And then there are some that need military planning to ensure your survival as you read it. Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield (Electric Monkey, Egmont) sits squarely in the latter category. But don’t let that put you off, for this book NEEDS to be read. It is stonkingly good. You owe it to yourself to read this book. Just follow these pointers to help you through.

Be prepared! There are a few things you will need before opening Paper Butterflies. I would start by checking your freezer. Yep. You will need a book sized space in your freezer in order to lock this book away Joey-style when things get tough. And they get tough! Tissues are also highly recommended. And if you’re like me and feel the need to underline really awesome bits of writing, or stick little tabs in your books when you come across a perfect phrase, then stock up on stationary. The writing here is delicious! 

Location, location. Think about where you can safely read this book. This is not a book for public transport. Unless you like being the one people stare at as you shout at your book and become a shell of your former self before their eyes. Equally, this is not a book to be read when children are within earshot. The writing is so good and the structure so immersive, you will get sucked in and you will be rooting for these characters. I was so emotionally involved that I shouted at them, I swore out loud quite a bit and I did that thing where you read a page and can’t quite comprehend the gravity of what has just happened so you just stare at a wall for a while until you can continue. This book will destroy you. But in a really, really good way. 

It’s all about the timing. This isn’t really the kind of book that you can read a few pages at a time in snatched freedom. It deserves your full focus and attention. It demands it. It will hold you ransom and make you stay up all night and possibly require you to call in sick the next morning. You will not want to put it down.

Organise your back-up. You will probably need to talk about this book when you have finished it. The heartbreak and the plot twist and the general awesomeness need to be shared and discussed. I fully expect some kind of Paper Butterflies support group to be up and running on social media soon. It is heartbreaking. Repeatedly. But it also manages to be full of hope and love and celebration and creativity. It is smart and it will move you and make you think and look at the world in a new way. And there is nothing more you can ask a book to do for you. Bravo, Lisa Heathfield. 

The blurb:

June’s life at home with her stepmother and stepsister is a dark one – and a secret one. Not even her father knows about it. She’s trapped like a butterfly in a net. But then she meets Blister, a boy in the woods. And in him, June recognises the tiniest glimmer of hope that perhaps she can find a way to fly far, far away from home and be free. Because every creature in this world deserves their freedom …but at what price?
You can check out Lisa Heathfield’s previous book, Seed, here.

Source- purchased copy. You can get your copy from Indy-loving, tax-paying Hive.co.uk here.

Devil and the Bluebird

7 Jul

‘”Do you feel it?” The woman released her chin. Blue nodded. Like September, when the sunlight began to shift and in the middle of wildflowers she could feel the winter coming. A certainty lodged inside her, down in her feet within the cradle of her boots. Her feet knew where to go.’

‘Riley has wrestled with her own demons ever since the loss of her mother to cancer. But when she encounters a beautiful devil at her town crossroads, it’s her runaway sister’s soul she fights to save. The devil steals Blue’s voice–inherited from her musically gifted mother–in exchange for a single shot at finding Cass. Armed with her mother’s guitar, a knapsack of cherished mementos and a pair of magical boots, Blue journeys west in search of her sister. When the devil changes the terms of their deal, Blue must reevaluate her understanding of good and evil and open herself up to finding family in unexpected places.’

Books have the power to lift you out of your life and give you a sense of escape. They can also mirror life; show you the way; provide answers and hope and strength. And sometimes when the world seems to have gone completely batshit crazy, a book like that is exactly what you need. 

Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black (Amulet Books) was the book I was reading when the Brexit fallout began. And as I read it I found passages that chimed with me and echoed how I was feeling and how I wanted to go forward. It celebrates the power of creativity and self-expression. It says never give up your voice. It says you are not alone. Books are clever like that. You can find yourself in them and they can help you find a way forward. 

“Never accept a deal without knowing everything. Once you give away your voice, Bluebird, you give away your rights.”

Devil and the Bluebird is smart, quirky, beautifully written and full of wisdom. It also contains the most fantastically diverse cast of characters I have read in a long time. And all this in a debut. I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Mason-Black creates next. 
Source – kindly sent for review by Amulet Books (Abrams)

You can get your copy here

Books for Brexit fallout

7 Jul

Two books to help you talk to your kids about this crazy world we live in at the moment. The Journey by Francesca Sanna(Flying Eye Books) is a stunning picture book that tells the story of migration in a beautifully child-friendly way. 

For older children, Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth (Catnip) is an exceptional book that deals with immigration, inclusion, and what can happen when people demonise difference. 

In my eyes they are both perfect and belong in every school, every library, every home. 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

5 Jul

‘Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father – who has run away with a dental hygienist – will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton, but she has to compete with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante with her show-business background and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship – and challenge them to come to each other’s rescue in unexpected ways.’

Kate DiCamillo has a beautiful way of making storytelling feel new. Her characters are so brilliantly created; they shine from the page and hold your heart. DiCamillo manages to explore the whirlwind of emotions children feel as they grow up and learn about the world, all with the lightest touch. She really is magical.

But what I really love about this book is the way it celebrates friendship and shows the positive power of listening to, and learning about each other and allowing yourself to be a part of something bigger. This book feels like a return to the style and themes DiCamillo wrote about in Because of Winn Dixie. And there’s no greater praise than that. 

Source – bought from my lovely local indie bookshop, The Book Nook. You can order your copy here

An Intergalactic Activity Book

5 Jul

Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book by Zelda Turner and Ben Newman is an activity book with a difference. Filled with facts, activities and science experiments, this will keep kids busy for the summer holidays. 

This is a brilliant companion book to Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, with Flying Eye Books’ incredible eye for design and detail. 

The range of activities is outstanding. Whether they fancy designing a new space station, inventing alien codes, making star gazers, exploring space dust, experimenting with meteor craters, or keeping a moon journal, there is something here for every potential astronaut. 

There’s enough detail and information in Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book to appeal across a wide age range. There really is something for everyone.

You can order your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Flying Eye Books. 

The Lines on Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo

29 May

‘There’s a lot more to a wrinkle than meets the eye. Each little line carries its own story. In this heartwarming tale from award-winner Simona Ciraolo, a little girl discovers her grandmother’s precious memories as the creases from old age become wonderful wrinkles in time.’

Oh this book, this book! 

The artwork is absolutely stunning. My bad photos can’t do it justice.

It is Nana’s birthday and the family have come to visit. But why does Nana look surprised and worried and happy all at once? Each wrinkle tells a story, with a question and then a double page spread that reveals the answer.

‘Here is that morning, early one spring, when I solved a great mystery.’ 

The solved mystery is too lovely to give away here. I can’t ruin it for you. You’ll have to see for yourself. 

‘This is the best picnic I have ever had by the seaside.’

Not a beautiful sunny day with ice creams and sand castles, but a gaggle of giggles with wind-whipped hair and threatening skies. 

 I love that Ciraolo hasn’t gone for the obvious examples and instead, each memory is full of imagination and the magic of youth. 

The book shouts quality and is full of the high production values we have all come to expect from Flying Eye Books. It is thick-paged and tactile and beautifully designed. It even smells good.

A delicious book to share with children – and a beautiful gift from grandchild to grandparent. It celebrates life and the living of it and I absolutely love it. 

Source – kindly sent for review by Flying Eye Books

Writers give hope to future author

14 May

A year 6 boy dreams of becoming an author but SATs week threatens to squash him with rigid theory testing and endless pressure. Across social media, authors rally round to offer encouragement and advice. Authors prove themselves to be very awesome folk!

On Friday morning I sent this message out to Twitter and Facebook friends:

‘Friend’s yr6 pupil in bits over SATs bc he wants to be an author. Any authors out there with message of hope? I’ll collate & send. Pls share’

Well what a response! Authors really don’t like the SATs! And they really do like being kind and supportive and encouraging and creative. The messages I’ve received for him have been so fab that I want to share them with everyone. For anyone going through SATs or feeling squashed by our current education system, or needing a bit of a boost. 

I’ve put together a storify of the responses from Twitter. There is such a lot of love and hope here. 

Writers give hope to future authors – storify

The Facebook replies are at the end of this post and are equally full of joy and hope. I will be printing everything off and passing it on to the future author on Monday. A huge thank you to everyone who took time to show him that he can be whatever he wants to be. Want to add your message of support? Add it in the comments and I’ll pass them on.

Here are just a few of the books by the fab authors who responded. Imagine the confidence boost he will get from seeing all these examples of achievement by authors who don’t give a damn about the SATs. 

And here are the very delicious messages of support from Facebook. 

Keris Stainton– Oh gosh. Well, I’ve had nine books published and I got 40% on the online test (and guessed probably half of the answers). You really don’t need to know the technical terms to be an author. Imagination is so much more important.

Anne Booth – Tell him no agent or publisher has ever asked for my exam results in anything – the only thing they care about are the stories I write – and that will be the same for him. Tell him to keep reading good stories and learning his craft of writing, and to keep listening to other people’s stories, and to pay attention to and value his own life, his experiences, his sensations, his feelings and thoughts, and file everything away – even his fear of SATs – because the great thing is that a writer can transform every experience, good or bad. Tell him to get a notebook and pen and write in the notebook every day (or often anyway – he is not to get stressed about it!)- and tell him Good Luck!
Chloe Hope – I’m a playwright (and author of one book!) and I got 3/10 qs correct… And they were guesses! As Keris said, you don’t need to know the names technical terms to use them. My advice would be to spend as much time playing 🎉🎈 as possible to get creativity and imagination flowing. Far more important than tests 😜

Keren David – SATs and exams in general have nothing to do with being a writer. I failed my A levels but have had a career as a journalist and author. Government ministers know NOTHING about writing.

Liz Dexter – I’m a writer and editor and I have scored poorly on those SATS tests. As an ex-librarian I’ll say this: in real life, you don’t need to know everything off by heart, you need to know where the rules are kept and how to look them up. You don’t need to know the posh words for thins, you need to keep using words. Keep writing and if you have trouble with the grammar stuff in your career, your editor will make the mistakes go away without you needing to stress over them. Keep reading, keep writing.

Polly Faber – SATs have as little relation with being an author as dehydrated kale does to a packet of crisps. Personally I found the physical act of writing hard as a child. It was proper labour forming letters and words with a pencil and I was the last allowed to go ‘joined up’ or use a pen. But I was always telling stories- or perhaps more accurately playing stories- great complicated adventures out in the playground with my mates. That’s authoring too. So blow your nose and a raspberry at those stupid exams kiddo and get back out there. And imagine stuff. That’s all you need.

Susie Day – I think everyone’s said it all brilliantly already, but just to add to the chorus: I got 40% in an online version of the English SATS, all by guessing – and my tenth book comes out this year. I did English at Oxford too! And I didn’t need to know what a modal whateveritis is there either, because they were interested in the kind of big wide ideas that can’t easily be marked as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Life is not about ticks and crosses and percentages – not in Year 6, not ever. I’m so sorry that some adults who ought to know better have let him down by making him sit through horrible tests that mean nothing. And I hope he has an awesome summer doing much more important things like making stuff up and mucking about, which is what I spend my grown-up time doing. (Incidentally, Pea’s Book of Big Dreams has literally this situation in it: Pea does appallingly on an English test, assumes she can’t be a writer and is distraught, at the end the teacher reveals that the test was designed to be impossible – might not be to his taste of course!)

Julia Williams – Tell him most of the writers I know can’t do those questions, including me. They have nothing to do with writing. He should continue to read and read, and use his imagination, and make up stories anyway he can. That’s what we all do:-)

Shelley Harris – Tell him from me: I’m a novelist AND former English teacher. I got that way by loving books and loving writing – nobody’s ever taught me what a subordinating conjunction is (and I’ve never taught anyone what it is, either!). X

Jo Fox – I was the above teacher’s student and can confirm that I was never taught what a subordinating conjunction is…thankfully. I also have a degree in English. I still couldn’t tell you what one is…

Jo Bloom – I share Shelley Harris editor at WN. I got 3/10. I found the test ridiculously hard. The tests bear ABSOLUTELY NO RELATION to creativity. Tell him to get writing stories and keep writing. He mustn’t give up now, just as he’s about to begin. I failed an A level, then dropped out of uni, then, years later, went back to college in the evenings and have an MA distinction in politics. The point is – the road isn’t always straight but in the main, tenacity and stamina will count for a lot more than any tests and exams.

Virginia Moffatt – Writing is about playing with language not memorising obscure grammar rules. A test at 11 is no measure of his ability to write. The best way to respond to it is to write to his heart’s content this weekend.

Caryl Hart – I have no idea what a subordinate conjunctive is, or if it even exists. We learn grammar intuitively by reading and writing and listening. You don’t need to know what things are called. Nor do you need to know about writing technique. The best writing comes from the heart. It does not follow set patterns or formulae. Being an author is about getting hold of your feelings and putting them down in writing. It is not about naming parts of sentences or knowing what a gerund is (I have no idea what a gerund is). I’m not saying grammar is irrelevant, it’s important to write grammatically, but if you read plenty, you will learn grammar without even trying. So. Don’t stress about SATS. I have a degree and no one has ever asked to see my certificate! Your writing will speak for itself. The best way to become an author is to BE an author. So yeah.

Can you end an essay with “So yeah”? Well I just did and I’ve got loads of books published. So. Yeah. YEAH!!

Jo Baker – Hello; I’m a novelist, and I have a PhD in English Literature and I don’t know the stuff they are testing for in SATs. And you know what? It has not caused me any probelms whatsoever. If he just keeps reading books he loves that’ll see him through. wishing him good luck with his writing!

Hurrah for the power of social media to spread positivity and hope. A huge thank you to everyone involved. You’re all heroes!

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

29 Apr

I have been feeling a bit despondent lately, with schools being forced into becoming academies, junior doctors having to strike, and our government voting to abandon thousands of refugee children. It can be hard to find the good.

So I did what any sane person does in this situation and I turned to my books for hope and refuge. A trip to my local bookshop was in order. And I found this gem. 

‘What if? Why not? Could it be? When a fortune-teller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchenne knows the questions that he must ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortune-teller’s mysterious answer (An elephant! An elephant will lead you there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it is true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be told by Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes – hope and belonging, desire and compassion – with the lightness of a magician’s touch.’

This book restored by faith in the world, as books so often can. The Magician’s Elephant is a patchwork quilt of characters, linked together by chance meetings, and united by their cause. 

The writing is, of course, sublime. The blurb above mentions her lightness of touch and that is absolutely true of DiCamillo’s writing. It is almost as if she’s not telling you the story at all but suggesting it, offering it, giving you the space to find yourself within it. 

Like this:

‘Leo Matienne cleared his throat, once, and then again. He opened his mouth and spoke two simple words. He said, “What if?”

The magician raised his head then and looked at the policeman. “What if?” he said. “‘What if?’ is a question that belongs to magic.”

“Yes,” said Leo, “to magic and also to the world in which we live every day. So: what if? What if you merely tried?”‘

DiCamillo is saying, “here, believe again.” 

And I did. 

You can get your copy here

Kate DiCamillo’s latest book, Raymie Nightingale was released by Walker Books earlier this month and has just moved right to the top of my wish list.

Source – bought from the delicious Book Nook, Hove.


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