Albie is back! And it’s AWESOME!

7 Oct


The Albie books by Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves hold a special place in my heart. My daughter has grown up with them as firm favourites and even now, as she embraces full length chapter books and reading to herself, she regularly returns to Albie’s adventures. Her face lit up when this one dropped through the letterbox. A sure sign of a winning format!

I love the Albie books because of their celebration of childhood and imagination, and for their brilliantly casual inclusion. I’ve raved before about how Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves do this and how much I love them for doing so. Because it is an important thing. They make these books so much fun for kids but at the same time they think responsibly about how they present Albie’s world to them. That makes them superheroes in my eyes.

This latest adventure sees Albie turning into a superhero in order to tidy his room in time for ice cream. How to Save a Superhero has all the qualities you expect from a superhero adventure – the villain, mild peril, the trap, the rescue and the okay-i’ll-be-good resolution. It is fast-paced, action-filled and super fun. But guess what? There are different shades of skin colour here! And the villain is female. And there’s a girl superhero. And at one point the girl rescues the boy! 

All brilliant things that make me super happy. But, once again, the children enjoying this book won’t actively notice any of those things. Because THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME and they will be far too busy dressing up as superheroes and desperately scrawling ‘I want a Flying Game Grabber and a Snooze Ray’ onto their wish lists. As it should be.

Bravo, Caryl! Bravo, Ed! High fives all round.

You can grab your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by Simon and Schuster.

The Bone Sparrow – A Refugee Story

7 Oct


Some books are important and teach you about the world and your place in it. Some books are beautiful and inspirational and leave you a changed person. This book is both. It will open your eyes, it will open your mind, and it will open your heart. This is a VERY powerful book.

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an immigration detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But the world of his imagination is far bigger than that. The night sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. The most vivid story of all is in the form of Jimmie, a scruffy, impatient girl who appears one night from the other side of the wires. Subhi and Jimmie might both find a way to freedom, as their tales unfold – but not until each of them has been braver than ever before.

This is a story about hope. It is about looking forward and standing strong for what you believe in. It is the power of storytelling and the importance of friendship. It sings when it could be crying. This is a book of truth, a book that doesn’t hide from the hardships and cruelties facing refugees but chooses to celebrate creativity and love and the strength of human kindness. Zana Fraillon has balanced it beautifully.

This is a book that shows you a world that needs changing and gives you the hope and strength to change it.

Orion Children’s Books are working in partnership with Book Aid International, and for every copy of The Bone Sparrow bought, they will donate a book to a refugee camp library.

You can get your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by the publisher.

The Beginning Woods

7 Oct


Oh this book! This book, this book. I almost want to leave the review there. Because how to tell you about this book?

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill (Pushkin Children’s Books)

The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air – just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace. Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings. To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods.

This is a book that is deep and rich and layered. It explores that messy grey area where science and imagination collide and overlap. It looks at what it means to be human, what it means to live. The power of creativity and storytelling is here. The divisive fear of Other is here. It is a book that is far bigger than it appears to be, with whisperings of the past and the feel of an instant classic. It is beautiful. I wanted to both devour it and savour each word.

Did I mention it is Malcolm McNeill’s debut?

Zoe at Playingbythebook has written a wonderful interview with him here.

You can grab your copy of The Beginning Woods here.

Source – purchased copy.

Beyond the Laughing Sky

7 Oct

A beautiful, beautiful book that lifts you out of your reality and reminds you of the wonder in the everyday and that nothing is impossible.

‘Ten year old Nashville doesn’t feel like he belongs with his family, in his town, or even in this world. He was hatched from an egg his father found on the sidewalk and has grown into something not quite boy and not quite bird. Despite the support of his loving parents and his adoring sister, Junebug, Nashville wishes more than anything that he could join his fellow birds up in the sky. After all, what’s the point of being part bird if you can’t touch the clouds?’

Reminiscent of the work of Kate DiCamillo, Beyond the Laughing Sky by Michelle Cuevas (Puffin Books) caught me with it’s perfectly balanced magical realism. This is a book that will speak to you and stay with you long after you close its cover. I picked it up when I was feeling despondent, ashamed by the world we live in and in need of some positivity. And I can’t recommend it enough. It will be the hug-in-a-book that we all need in this crazy world of ours. But mixed with that hug will be a gentle kick up the butt to get you out there and seeing past the doom and gloom to all the wonder and joy and all the things we can do to make a difference. Because after all, there aint nothing that’s impossible, sugar!

You can get your copy here.

Source – purchased copy.

The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight – and giveaway

5 Aug

I loved The Snatchabook and am a huge fan of Helen and Thomas Docherty’s work. So when I heard about The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight I knew I was in for a treat. And wow, this book is a treat!

‘Leo the mouse isn’t like the other knights. While they like fighting, he’d rather read a book. Leo’s parents are keen to turn him into a proper knight, so they pack him off on a mission to tame a dragon. But Leo knows that books are mightier than swords, and he tames not just the dragon, but a troll and a griffin, too – by reading them stories. With its witty rhyming text and glorious, detailed illustrations, THE KNIGHT WHO WOULDN’T FIGHT is a joyful, magical picture book about the power of stories.’

Thomas Docherty‘s art work is luminous. I love the way he uses light and colour in his illustrations and the way he highlights sections of his pictures. Just beautiful. And Helen Docherty‘s rhyming prose is always spot on and full of warmth and humour.

What I really love about this duo is the way their books are a celebration of childhood and reading for pleasure. The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight and The Snatchabook are particularly good at showing the joy of shared reading. What is not to love about a knight who spreads the love of stories and uses his books to make new friends.

To celebrate the release of The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight, I have three of Helen and Tom Docherty’s books to giveaway. One winner will have The Snatchabook, Abracazebra and The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight dropping through their letterbox. (UK and IRL only). To be in with a chance of winning, just add a comment on this blog post and I will add your name into the hat. For extra entries, feel free to share a link to this competition on social media – just make sure you add another comment on this blog post to let me know you’ve shared.

I will pick one lucky winner on Monday 8th August at 9am. Good luck!

Source- kindly sent for review by Scholastic. Thanks to Scholastic and Faye Rogers for organising this blog tour and providing copies for the giveaway.

For a brilliant analysis of The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight pop over to LibraryMouse.

Check out the upcoming stops on the blog tour:

The Secrets of Billie Bright

3 Aug

Firstly, let’s all take a moment to stare at this cover. It is clearly delicious and worthy of a few moments of celebration.

I love Susie Day’s Pea books and have been looking forward to this one ever since she first mentioned it on Twitter. Although The Secrets of Billie Bright isn’t a book about Pea, it is part of the Secrets series and is set in the same world – and includes many familiar characters and all the familiar joy. 

What I love most about Susie Day’s books is the casual inclusion. She is an expert at creating fictional worlds that truly and positively represent the diverse world kids live in today. And once again, she has aced it! 

‘Confident, sparky 11-year-old Billie loves being part of a busy, noisy, messy family: chirpy cafe-owner Dad and her three big brothers – grown-up Gabriel who’s getting married, disaster-prone Raffy, and sweet sporty Michael. She doesn’t mind being the only girl; just being the littlest. But she’s catching up, starting secondary school, leaving the little girl behind. When Miss Eagle tells her class to write a Hero Project about someone who inspires you, Billie knows exactly who to choose: her lovely mum, who died when she was little. She can’t wait to pull out her Memory Box, and hear all the old family stories. But no one seems to want to help. When Raffy angrily tells her to choose someone else, she knows something’s up. Mum left behind a secret. And when Billie unlocks it, nothing will ever be the same…’

It is so refreshing to read a book that represents the families and family events that I see and experience in real life and I am ever-thankful that Susie’s books exist for my daughter to read when she’s older. What makes me even happier is that the Pea books and the Secrets series reflect this diversity as casually and as positively as they do; that the inclusion is always secondary to the story and they never slip into becoming issue books. They are all about the things that are important to middle grade kids- the growing up and figuring out Big School and balancing friendships and deciding whether kissing is a good thing or not. Susie Day really gets what children of this age group are going through and her books are like growing up manuals. She is awesome at creating characters that you fall in love with; that are creative and intriguing and flawed and wonderful. She writes with such skill and pace and whips you along on a positive and affirming ride. 

My daughter has never been teased or treated any differently for having two mums. She is growing up in such a beautifully diverse school and inclusion is the norm for these kids. And slowly the books they are reading are catching up with their reality. Hurrah for Susie Day and for Billie Bright.  

But don’t take my word for it – read it for yourself. You can get your copy here. 

The Smell of Other People’s Houses

31 Jul

Sometimes a title just calls at you. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber and Faber) is an evocative title that immediately had me reminiscing and stitching together memories of childhood. And that is how this beautiful YA debut felt to read; like stitching together stories and dreams. It tells four intertwining coming-of-age stories, weaving together family history and strong sense of location. 

‘Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else. Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother. Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father. Alyce is staying at home to please her parents. Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers. Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves? Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s extraordinary, stunning debut is both moving, and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare and wonderful talent.’

The sense of location soars through this book and centres everything. The descriptions of Alaska’s sounds, scents and sights are vivid and lyrical and the teen voices come to life from the page. The writing sings. Huge themes like teen pregnancy, poverty and domestic abuse are dealt with lightly but thoughtfully. The Smell of Other People’s Houses is heartbreaking yet hopeful. I loved it. 

Evocative, immersive, impressive! A beautiful debut. You can get your copy here

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 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 here.