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The Cage by Alberts Bels

The Cage by Alberts Bels

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My journey into Latvian literature continues, thanks to my friends at Latvian Literature who hooked me up with a review copy of The Cage by Alberts Bels. As problematic as it is to classify a nations output on the very few titles I’ve read (here’s my review of In The Shadow Of Death), I’m very much in love with the introspective philosophical edge that I keep finding. These are books that think very much about what they are, and what they want to say – there’s a care in every word, and The Cage is a perfect example of such. I loved it. There’s so much here to think about, to hold, to consider.

The Cage is a mystery novel set in Riga, and concerns itself with the disappearance of a local architect. And yet, as with many novels that can be summed up in such a way, it’s about everything other than that. It’s about the people in the story, their lives and loves and intersections. It’s about a society that’s tightly woven to prevent this sort of Unusual Thing happening – there’s some very deep and pointed political commentary here which gains extra resonance when you learn that The Cage was first published in 1972, during the time when Latvia was under Soviet rule. And it’s about the cages that all of these people – and us, ourselves – live in. Real, metaphorical or otherwise.

I liked this a lot. There’s some big philosphical questions here but it wears them lightly, and you’re able to savour it at a whole range of levels. If you want to figure things out you can, but if you don’t – if you just want a superbly crafted and rather fascinatingly told mystery – then you can have it. It’s the sort of book that lets you come back to it (I’m on my second reading at the moment, fascinated by the twisting edges of it – the way it dances and slides always a little bit ahead of me) and I think there will be a third. The Cage is the sort of book that can give you that. It’s very worth hunting out.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.



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In the Shadow of Death by Rūdolfs Blaumanis

In the Shadow of Death by Rūdolfs Blaumanis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


[I am very grateful to my friends at Latvian Literature for securing me a review copy of this. As ever, my opinion is my own. I’d not be writing this if it weren’t…]

First published in 1899 and based on a then contemporary newspaper account of several fisherman who were lost at sea after the ice floe they were on broke away, In The Shadow Of Death by Rūdolfs Blaumanis is pretty much the perfect short story. It is a quick read and yet, in many senses, not; I keep looking at it and wondering just how it does what it does. It’s like one of those pebbles you drop into water, the ripples echo out from it and the landscape is forever changed by its presence. A big book, a little book, a haunting book. A good book, yes.

Blaumanis is new to me and I didn’t know who he was or what to expect of him. And so, if you’re like me, here’s some facts from the edition itself. Blaumanis (1863-1908) is “noted especially for his numerous short stories and plays, and for his command of literary realism”. Later it talks about how “energised by the social issues of the day, he honed a deep sympathy for the lives of ordinary Latvians”. And that’s a really good point to link back to In The Shadow Of Death itself, it’s a story of the everyday person. The people who make the world turn – the people who carry out their jobs because they have to, and who deal with all of the dangers and difficulties that simply living may bring. This is such a tense, unnerving story because it feels so real. So immediate. So brutally matter-of-fact.

Blaumanis writes with an incredible restraint, and reminded me in many ways of Hemingway’s frank directness. There’s also a hint of Virginia Woolf in here, that nuanced, deep eye for style and structure and theme; these are characters that you get to know very briefly but intimately somehow, people made flesh and truth in a moment of a paragraph. It’s so subtle this book and so clever, so small and yet so, so big.

My thanks again to the team at Latvian Literature for hooking me up with a review copy.

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Fracture by Andrés Neuman

Fracture: A Novel by Andrés Neuman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve been making a deliberate push for a while to read more translated fiction, a reaction, I suppose, to the world we find ourselves within at the moment and the way that even the bottom of the road seems a little unknowable and a little distant. I want to connect, I think, I want to read about the cultures and the worlds that I can’t go to just yet, I want the barriers to fade away into nothing, I want to live.

And living comes through literature, specifically translated literature, the sort that takes language and gives it something new and fresh, each word paying tribute to the story it translates but also the story it wants to tell, this delicate narrative formed somewhere in between two worlds and giving me a snapshot of the world within its pages. Translation is hard, and I admire those who do it. I also want more of it, more of these books that challenge me to read outside of my experience and my worlds, and I am so grateful for those books that make me pause and realise something new, something acute and sharp and deliciously big about life.

My first such moment came in the opening chapters of Fracture, a novel I picked through nothing more than some determined searching on Netgalley, and it was a sentence that made me pause and think: so you are to be this sort of book, are you? A line, so simple, but one that shot through all of the mugginess I’ve been having whilst reading lately, a line that made me sit up and really see Fracture for what it was. For what it was going to be.

And it is good this book, it is good and big and full of being. It is about those things that connect being, those lines that form between us all and connect and pull and tease and fracture, those moments that echo for years and worlds to come.

Mr Yoshie Watanabe is a survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And when an earthquake strikes Tokyo in 2011, triggering the Fukushima nuclear disaster, his memories of those prior disasters bring him to make a decision that will change his life. During all of this, four different women share their memories of their time with Yoshie, reflecting on a life lived and loved across the globe. And through it all, the memories of conflict, of disaster – of moments that reverberate for so long, too long, not long enough.

I liked this a lot. Neumann’s writing is lyrical, artistic, and though at some points I felt it got away from him, they were few and far between. The overall impression is of a writer who knows what he wants to say about the world and how he wants to say it; these are big, moving questions and to be able to articulate them is a gift. Fracture is a big, big book that pushes the world open and lets you see it for what it is. Highly recommended.

My thanks to the publisher for approving me on Netgalley.

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Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m always interested when a book does something differently, and this really does. Orion Lost is a big, meaty science-fiction story set aboard a space-ship where everything suddenly goes wrong. And the only people who can put things right are the kids – thirteen year old Beth and her friends. Being in charge is never easy, and it’s particularly uneasy when your crew is panicking, you’re responsible for the lives of every one on board, you’re ricocheting from crisis to crisis, and the AI might actually be evil.

There’s a clear heritage here to things like Firefly, Star Wars and Star Trek, but what really appealed was how Chisholm handled his characters. They’re real people, flawed and fascinating and this is a story that you don’t want to put down. I had no expectations about this when I started it, but then I really couldn’t put it down. It’s a big, powerful, hooky read.

Also, I was pleased that it’s as big as it is – there’s a lot of story here, in a way that’s perhaps unusual for middle grade books, but it’s all there for a reason. I thought that the ending could perhaps have done with a little more and that’s again an unusual thing for this age-group. Stories sometimes strain against circumstance and genre, but this is a story that fits so very well into its situation and could even give more under the circumstances. I really do want to say something about the engines being able to take it but I’m not sure I can write that in an appropriate ‘Scottish engineer on the Enterprise’ tone of voice so just consider it as implied, thank you.

This is a really great read. I was happily surprised and I’m delighted to be; this is something fresh, unique and rather well handled indeed. And it surprised me – a lot – and I love that.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Highland Falcon Thief by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman

The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is such a lot of fun. I went into The Highland Falcon Thief thinking well, I am ancient and absolutely have no interest whatsoever in trains, and I came out and realised that I loved it. There is a scene, for example, where they fill up the train with water (this is a thing!) and it is pretty much one of the best scenes I have read for a long while. It’s breathless, visceral and genuinely good storytelling – and one that actually made me look up steam-trains on Youtube for the first time in ever.

Harrison Beck has been invited to join his Uncle Nat on the final journey of the royal steam-train: The Highland Falcon. Things go awry, as they do in all stories, and suddenly Harrison finds himself making friends and investigating the mystery of the Highland Falcon Thief. Told by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, this is such a vibrant and well-crafted story and one that gives you an incredibly rich mystery/adventure in the process. Mystventure? Forgive me, I am fond of tenuous portmanteaux.

Evocative of Robin Stephens’ delicious mysteries, with a side-order of Agatha Christie – and a little bit of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure – the Highland Falcon Thief is the perfect title for confident, independent readers. If they’re not, then it’s perfect for a bedtime read as well but be warned – you’ll have to deal with a fair few ‘just one more chapter’ requests. And, I suspect, not all of these requests will come from the child…

Vibrant, fun and just really really good storytelling, this is one of the best books I’ve read for a while. I loved it.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Children’s Picturebooks : The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles

Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling front cover

Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A revised edition of their original 2012 text, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles ‘Children Picturebooks : The Art of Visual Storytelling‘ (2019) occupies a space somewhere between academia and coffee table. It offers a general introduction to the world of picture books whilst occasionally pausing to dive deeper into the theoretical issues about them. It is a beautiful, big volume (and one with a reasonable price point, she says, conscious of the ridiculous cost of many of these things) and also one that delivers copious and rather beautiful imagery. Some of the text gets a little lost against the artwork – particularly in the case studies, I felt – but the art is often so strong that I suspect this is a rather inevitable thing. And there are some pages that are simply breathtaking, focusing on risk-taking and wonderful artwork that hasn’t yet broken through the restrictions of the general UK publishing market. Please can somebody publish an English language version of Håret til mamma? It made me stop in my tracks.

Children’s Picturebooks is a valuable foundational read, to study and use as an inspiration for creative work and research. Practicalities preclude me recommending it as a lightweight, quick read – it is a hefty, big beast of a book that covers everything from a brief history of the picture book through to non-fiction, boutique publishers, and much much more. Interleaved throughout all of this are some fascinating case-studies focusing upon the work of particular artists, writers and publishers. These are an immensely important and valuable selling point and one that make this book very interesting. It’s so important to see page dummies, initial sketches and outlines – developmental media – and hear from the creative in question. I was a little concerned at first that many of the interviewees seemed to be drawn from the same pool (no pun intended) but this broadened out as the book developed.

The academic bibliography is also incredibly useful, though I’d have also welcomed a bibliography of the picture books featured in the text. I was also conscious that this book does focus quite heavily on European / Western titles – though a distinct effort is made towards non-English language titles (particularly in the chapters detailing difficult / challenging topics), it does tend to lean towards UK specificity. This is no bad thing, but I’d have welcomed it to wear its context a little more overtly on its sleeve and also have more Dick Bruna and Shirley Hughes. Everything should have more Dick Bruna and Shirley Hughes.

So, to sum: a valuable, broad, big introduction to the world of picture books. A little picky in its approach (but then, you have to be if you’re doing something that offers an introduction to the world of picture books and don’t have three hundred million pages to do so…), but still an incredibly interesting and fascinating read, particularly if you’re new to the sector. And the artwork! Superb.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Walking Distance by Lizzy Stewart

Walking Distance

Walking Distance by Lizzy Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Existing within the city – within the world – is often no simple nor straightforward thing, particularly for a woman and Walking Distance by Lizzy Stewart is no simple nor straightforward thing. It is a complex, challenging, reflexive, and occasionally deeply wonderful meditation on life within the city. On taking the streets that “would make your parents uneasy”. On taking up space. On being.

There’s a rich heritage to this sort of thing ranging from Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin through to A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, and, I think, those eternal stories see a young woman trying to figure out who she wishes to be in the world whilst the world threatens to move on without her. I’m trying not to say ‘things like Bridget Jones’ but I am essentially saying ‘things like Bridget Jones’. Some of the spreads where Stewart looks at herself as much as the world about her are precious moments of story where her lines and colours move as much as the text itself.

I think that notion of movement is key here; this is a comic that moves, whether that’s those delicious moments of abstraction that conjure stormy skies and the Thames in the same breadth, or a panel with a figure in the distant corners of a housing estate. A woman existing, with something she is moving from and something she is going to. A woman with story, whether that’s Meryl Streep or Nola Darling. I was intrigued to see how Stewart navigated her story; this is a text that could be read as being “of woman” (in those readings that we see so often and sometimes so reductively applied to women writing about womenish things…). Stewart works hard to question that kind of globalist reading, recognising that she can not speak for other women’s experiences within the city and only her own. And yet there’s a strength in that singularity, a fascination in it that the book almost seems shy or nervous of recognising.

I think what I’m reaching for her is the notion of an echo, a ripple. A pebble dropped in the middle of an ocean. An impact made. An articulation of a moment; a parallel found. A slight, slender thread in the messy, complicated dark. A story of the individual, but also a story of us, of all of us.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler front cover

The Snail and the Whale Festive Edition by Julia Donaldson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like what Julia Donaldson does. Her partnership with Axel Scheffler has clearly been fulfilling for the two of them, though I wonder sometimes whether their other work has been consumed by The Monster We Must Not Name That Begins With G. This does happen a lot with popular authors and artists – they gain a sort of shorthand that, for many people, becomes the way to understand who they are and what they do. For Donaldson and Scheffler, that shorthand is so often the Gruffalo (especially in the libraries that I’ve worked in and the readers that I’ve worked with!) that other titles, I wonder, become a little lost in the shadows. It’s been something I’ve been thinkin about – how to embrace that popularity but also how to work to destabilise and challenge them. And so when I received a copy of The Snail and The Whale, and realised that it’s actually been a while since I’ve read a Donaldson / Scheffler offering, I wanted to use it as an opportunity – hence this review.

(Hence! oh dear! do forgive me for that!).

The Snail And The Whale was first published in 2003. It’s an old book in this shifting, quick world of children’s literature today, and has been republished due to a new adaptation of it coming out Christmas 2019. It’s also got an increasing relevance, touching as it does upon matters of ecology and global awareness, so I can see why it’s been republished. It’s a powerful story that reminds children of their agency (even the smallest voices matters!) and I very much enjoyed it. Donaldson’s text is powerful, yearning always to move on and find that next rhythm, that next beat, whilst Scheffler’s art is beautiful. It’s rich, warm and gorgeous stuff though I did have mild concerns about the physics of the whale swimming everywhere with its tail sticking out the water. (I know, I know, fun times at my house.) But! Let’s focus on what this is. It’s an environmental fable, fun and heart-warming, and rather lovely done.

But if I get another picture book come through with rubbish or non-existent endpapers, I will write a strongly worded letter to whoever’s in charge. Picture books deserve good endpapers. They are some of the richest literary earth to plough, and they shouldn’t be neglected or worse, forgotten. Sort it out, publishing.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.



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We are all Greta : Be Inspired to Save the World by Valentina Giannella, illustrated by Maneula Marazzi

We Are All Greta

We Are All Greta by Valentina Giannella

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We Are All Greta is interesting to me, as it touches on something incredibly potent and present within children’s books and yet a something that is, at present, somewhat under-explored. Some of this under-exploration can be perhaps ascribed to the nature of the publishing process. It is long, and the discussion about climate crisis is now. Translating the cultural discussions we’re having now – translating any sort of cultural discussion – into non-fiction is no easy nor uncomplicated act. We Are All Greta is an important step towards representing both a young activist within children’s non-fiction and also the story of climate change. It is not, I think, the final step in that process nor is it perfect. It is, however, a movement in the right direction.

Valentina Giannella sets out to create a climate change manifesto, framed about the work of Greta Thunberg. She is supportive of Greta’s activism and produces copious data to allow readers to fully understand the impact of climate change and that the activism itself is grounded on substantial scientific data. Each chapter is introduced by some remarkable art from Manuela Marazzi and you’d not go far wrong to have any of these up as a poster in your classroom. Her sense of scale and use of colour palette is impressive. I loved them.

Giannella’s text is translated from Italian, and the translation has some elements of stiffness about it. It’s all important and heartfelt stuff, but sentences such as “They have roped in parents who have had to study just as hard to produce easy-to-understand summaries for distribution in class” could have done with some restructuring. I also wondered at points who this was aimed for: this works to inspire you to save the world, and yet a vast amount of children have already engaged with climate change activisim and, indeed, are leading it. Do we need persuading if we’ve already bought into the message? I have my doubts. But then, this book is something that I’d still suggest for a library. I’d suggest it to be purchased alongside other titles and not by itself. I’d welcome suggestions for what those other titles are [please do comment below!] as I think climate change junior non-fiction is a space yet to be satisfactorily occupied.

A summation, then. We Are All Greta is a little confused but rather stunning to look at it and part of a vital, important conversation and context. It wears its heart on its sleeve and that’s something to be celebrated, even if the message itself gets a little garbled in the process.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woollvin

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woollvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hansel and Gretel but not as you know it; the kids are horrible little things and the witch, Willow, is – well, not quite what you think. I’ve known of Bethan Woolvin’s stylish work for a while and so, when I received a copy of this to reveiw from Two Hoots, I was thrilled. There’s a part of the picture book world that embraces oddness; art that longs for wilful disobedience, that aches make a line curve when it should be straight, that wants to have a colour two shades darker than you might expect, that longs to utilise shape in a way that you might never expect. That’s Woollvin’s work right there; modern, full of careful design, and deliciously, obstreperously of itself.

The idea of a disruptive fairytale isn’t that new now, and it’s something that needs to be done with a fresh spin if it’s to have any resonance. Woollvin finds that through her limited palette; the ‘note-colour’ here is orange, splurging and squishing off the page with fluorescent intensity. Hansel and Gretel wear orange, tying themselves intimately into the heart of the text, whilst Willow herself wears a grey/black triangular dress, highlighted only with the tiniest note of orange on a button and on her tights. She is sidelined, separate.

But the ending of this book addresses that sidelining with devastating effect: it was Willow’s story all along. There’s a slightly strange final spread that didn’t quite work for me – it felt a little disjointed – but overall, this is a powerful, stylistically strong text with a deliciously dark and unflinchingly honest ending.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark

The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark cover

The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


There’s something to be said for subtle, soft strangeness in the world of picture books and The Misadventures of Frederick bathes in that with utter delight. Frederick is a boy who lives inside a mansion and very rarely goes out. He’s bored, sheltered, and protected by the world by furniture and walls that are twice the size of him. One day a paper plane comes through the window – it’s an invite from Emily, a girl outside, and she wants him to come and play. Frederick’s fear of the outside world makes him decline her invitation, but Emily’s not one to be put off and persists…

It’s a weirdly wonderful book this, with a slight edge of strangeness and wonder in every inch of it. Ben Manley’s text is careful and deliciously, delicately odd – Frederick replies to Emily’s invitations in a very particular style and language and it’s perfect – and Emma Chichester Clark‘s art softens anything too strange and scary. The Misadventures of Frederick is a book of balance, however, and the juxtaposition between the inside and the outside world is something else. Inside is dark and shadowy with long and slender shafts of light cutting through windows and into rooms full of outsized furniture, and outside is full of everything. Big rich colours, bright palettes, vibrant spreads of movement and wonder, and the contrast is beautifully, wonderfully handled. There’s a point where Outside breaks into Frederick’s world, a breeze of golden, Autumnal leaves, and it’s delightful, utterly.

This is a class, class act.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Rabbit, the Dark and the Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne

The Rabbit, the Dark and the Biscuit Tin by Nicola O'Byrne book cover

The Rabbit, the Dark and the Biscuit Tin by Nicola O’Byrne (author)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m increasingly falling in love with books that are a little bit strange. I think we tend to search for the level in children’s literature; we look for the planes that can help us understand these strange small creatures in the world and, in turn, to help them understand the strange, wild world about them. The Rabbit, the Dark and the Biscuit Tin that does that with bells on but it does that whilst never forgetting that essential strangeness that is the world.

It is, essentially, a book about being afraid of the dark. Rabbit is scared of the Dark and so he captures it in a biscuit tin. The Dark explains that it isn’t scary – it is, in fact, very important to the world. And in one page, where Rabbit opens the biscuit tin, the Dark becomes nothing short of magical in an exuberant, beautifully rendered fold out.

Softly strange, deliciously weird and intensely heartfelt; this is a book that tells little ones that it’s okay to be scared of something but you must learn to understand that fear. You must learn to understand their feelings as much as your own. It’s big stuff this, asking for empathy with something as magnificently other as darkness, but Nicola O’Byrne handles it well. Her spreads sing with character; Rabbit dominates his pages with movement, life and vitality. There’s also some subtle work here about the idea of balance; Rabbit is alone and then, in the Dark, he isn’t. He meets baby fox cubs and bats and owls and a whole world that relies on the Dark to make it happen.

I’d have welcomed some more play with the endpapers here as there’s so much to go at with the topic, but even without that this is a fine, rich story that’s perfect to help a little one address nighttime fears.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year edited by Allie Esiri

Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year

Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year by Allie Esiri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully produced, this is something to wallow in. Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year does precisely what it says on the tin; three hundred and sixty five extracts from Shakespeare for every day of the year. It cover “sonnets, soliloquies, quotes and extracts” and rather delightfully pairs these with a little note of introduction for the relevant time of the year. So, for example, February 14th sees sonnet 29 “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” and a paragraph talking about how Valentine’s Day was handled in Shakespeare’s, er, day. April 1st sees a witty extract from As You Like It whilst November 5th sees Macbeth and Lady Macbeth discuss their plot to bring down the King.

It’s an honest, unflinching volume this, which covers not only the bright fame and glory of Shakespeare’s more popular work but also the darkness as well. As such, some extracts might need contextualising with parents or adults before fully being understood or even read. I suspect something like this might work rather brilliantly in an educational context, with the teacher picking and choosing the passages to support the relevant classes. That’s not to say that it won’t work well for home, especially when read in company, (because, as we can see in this video, Shakespeare gives something for every age ). It’s a book to share and talk about and discuss and argue over and fall in love with.

It’s really rather beautifully done.

I’m grateful to the publisher for a review copy.



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A Song For Summer by Eva Ibbotson

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson cover

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to begin with Eva Ibbotson and then, I realise, it’s here. A sunlit, simple day where breakfast was buttery toast and the world’s open to explore. She’s simple that way, instinctive; food features heavily, sunlight idyllic days too, feature, but also the world is also there underneath it all, ready to be discovered or ran away from. It’s a very particular sort of world populated with pastries and eccentrics, but also a peculiarly distinct ache for something that can never be easily found. Happiness. Problems being answered before they haven’t quite realised that they’re problems. People finding people. Homes being made out of ash. Hearts being made whole when they didn’t think that could ever happen.

And that is Eva Ibbotson for me, an author who brings something perfect to me when I need it; a perfection that isn’t, really, going to change the world for me or solve my problems, but a perfection that will give me time to breathe and escape and find myself all over again. She has her rhythms, of course, but in a way I long for them. A noble young woman of noble ways, irrespective of birth, will continue to be noble and resist he slow, soft, endless love she feels for an equally noble man. Noble ways will keep them apart, misunderstandings too, perhaps, before life will bring them back together. Predictable, yes, but also sometimes incredibly vital. Important. A problem solved. The world coming together, aligning.

A Song For Sumer is, in this wonderful new Macmillan edition, a book that seeks alignment. People are out of place. The world is shifting, moving towards an awful, awful war, and people are trying to find hope in it. Ellen Carr has gone to Austria where she shall keep house for an experimental school (so, intensely, always Dartington ), and she shall fall in love. You know it, I know it, there’s no point in trying to be coy. The question is who and why and where and when, and how many things shall get in their way before they realise that they are meant to be together.

It’s darker too than many of the other Ibbotson titles I’ve read; though the school remains relatively unaffected by the war, and it’s set in pre-annexation Austria, there are still moments that are breathlessly pained. Ibbotson really could write, she did write, and we are so lucky that she did.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.


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The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay book cover

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have such time for what Hilary McKay does, and The Time of Green Magic is a joy. Wild, rich, fantastical, and full of intense, palpable danger, it’s a dream. McKay is good, so good, and the day she is given the freedom of British children’s literature, the better. I am not sure if one can be given the freedom of British children’s literature, but I’d like it to be a thing. There are some authors that simply deserve such a thing.

A contemporary story, set right here, right now, and yet reaching back to the dawn of the world, The Time of Green Magic is quietly immense. It tells the story of a family learning to live with each other after their parents marry; Abi gains brothers, and Max and Louis gain a sister. It is not straightforward, as such things never are, and McKay renders it with her delicious truth. Nobody, I think, does families better. The messy, rich truth of them. The love of them. (One character experiences a ‘first crush’ in this book, and my goodness, it is beautifully, brilliantly done).

But underneath all of this is danger. Darkness. Something that’s almost incomprehensible and yet real. Things have started to happen; books have become real, darkness has gained flesh, and there’s something strange and scary happening that the children are going to figure out how to stop it before it all gets very much out of hand.

I loved this, and though I know I’m a fan of what McKay does, I loved it more because she embraces threat. Darkness. And this isn’t to say that she doesn’t do it elsewhere in her work – most notably in her beautiful, brilliant The Skylarks’ War, but it’s a different kind of darkness I think. Human. Real world. The shadows of The Time Of Green Magic are something different. Incomprehensible. Wild. Dangerous. Scary. (Brilliantly, brilliantly done).

McKay is great, this book is great, and you should read everything she does because it will teach you how just how great and good children’s books can be.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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This Is A Dog by Ross Collins

This Is a Dog by Ross Collins front cover

This Is a Dog by Ross Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to love about this vivid, bold and deeply emphatic takeover of a picture book by a dog. It is nominally ‘My First Animal Book’; a Ladybird-esque introduction to a series of animals, but that’s not good enough for the dog who makes it all about himself. This, as you may imagine, does not go down terribly well with the other animals…

Collins is a distinctive presence in the world of picture books, and this is ferociously joyful. The dog himself is one of those scrabbly everything breeds and almost bursts out of the page. He’s beautifully rendered presence, chaotic and unpredictable, and some of the spreads where he winds up the other animals are delightful.

What’s interesting about this book is that Collins plays a lot with subtext. The book begins with a fairly standard and familiar device of “This is a [insert animal name here]”, before the dog scrawls over the text – rewords it – steals it. It’s lovely, sophisticated stuff that plays nicely to the growing confidence of a child reader. It would also reward somebody able to confidently read the book ‘as it should be read’, so to speak, whilst ignoring this subtext and letting the kid figure things out for themselves. I like books that do this sort of thing – that believe in their readers – and so This Is A Dog scores highly here.

I felt, however, there were some points where it stuck the landing. I am always disappointed when a picture book does not fully embrace the transformative powers of the endpaper (particularly in a book like this which is so concerned with questioning, testing and playing with the idea of a book itself), and there were two spreads that felt a little filler. The conceit here is so good and I think it’s almost there in realising it, and in a book as good as this – as close to brilliance as it could be, these things stand out. However, I am no tiny child and I am not its intended audience. I would happily give this to a thousand readers straight away and would be intensely happy in doing so. It’s fun, bold and lovely storytelling that does something kind of wonderful. I pick up on these points that bothered me and I mention them for one reason: I can feel how close this book is to being something remarkable.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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How To Be An Astronaut And Other Space Jobs by Dr Sheila Kanani and Sol Linero

How to be an Astronaut and Other Space Jobs by Dr Sheila Kanani front cover

How to be an Astronaut and Other Space Jobs by Dr Sheila Kanani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


How To Be An Astronaut isn’t just a ‘space’ book, but rather a ‘careers but in space’ book. It’s a unique twist for a perennial topic in children’s non-fiction; space, the Romans, the Tudors and animals are kind of those constant things that keep the non-fiction section going, and it’s interesting to see something different here. Something that tries to offer a new interpretation on a rapidly changing circumstance, one that requires incredible skills and intellect, and yet something that remains inherently universal. Wondering what’s up there is an eternal childhood question. Is it God? The Care Bears? Or – what? Humans thrive on questions and, what’s more, finding answers.

Dr Sheila Kanani provides such. Space is a human endeavour, made possible by the collective work and brains of a whole world of people ranging from space chefs through to space underwriter. This isn’t just about astronauts. It’s about people who make the food extra tasty to combat the fact that your sense of taste reduces in space; it’s about the people who design the space-suits and the astrobiologists. Do you love doing experiments? Then become a SPACE SCIENTIST. How wonderful is that? This book longs for the kids to be part of it, and that’s a rather delightful message to give.

As ever with Nosy Crow, it’s beautifully and carefully managed. Sol Linero’s artwork has a deliciously vintage edge to it, managing to evoke through colour and soft, round edge, the iconic history of space travel. Skin colours vary; people use wheelchairs; and everything seems so madly accessible and possible and probable that it’s hard to resist. This is good, good stuff.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton front cover

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neena Gill’s brother has disappeared without a trace and it’s taken a toll on her family. They’re all just trying to get through another day without him, and nobody can quite do it without falling apart a little bit more. Neena’s schoolwork, her friends, and her relationships are all struggling, and her mental health is taking the toll. And, as is so often the way, she must reach the bottom before we can set out again for the top…

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill is an immensely confident YA debut and one which touches on some very powerful issues without ever being ‘I am touching on some important issues, ask me how I do that’ in the process. There’s a lot here to love, really, and much of it centres on the inherent power of the novel. Smith-Barton writes with power and heart and feeling, and sometimes she is very, very devastating. Though there were a flew slight, sticky elements in the area of characterization and a few plot moments that didn’t quite work for me, Smith-Barton’s writing allows her to get away with it. This is a strong, heartfelt, and occasionally rather brilliant book.

I think it’s important to note that The Million Pieces of Neena Gill has a very valuable afterword which includes a personal note from Smith-Barton on the creative background of the text, alongside a list of resources for people to use if they recognise any of the symptoms or experiences in the story. I believe a lot in books that use the roundness of themselves for good; we presume so much in story to help us that sometimes we forget that story is precisely that. Fictional. Otherworldly. Imagined. But a book has space for material of this nature, material to bookend and buttress and bolster the story, and it should be used. Particularly in books like this. And when it’s well done – as it is here – it’s important to recognise and applaud that.

Finally, I think it’s worthwhile noting that this isn’t an easy book. I am increasingly drawn to books about humans. People that make mistakes. People that are messy and not particularly perfect and not paragons. Neena makes bad choices. She makes poor choices. But I rooted for her. So much. And when she faced her crisis point; a moment written with some high, exquisite clarity, I felt it. Every inch of it. And that is enough to make me ignore the occasional stickiness because moments like that tell me this is an author to watch.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson and Kate Hindley

The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson front cover

The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are many things about libraries that I love* but I think story time might be the thing I love the most. It is a curious privilege to work and to watch it happen; the prams gravitating together, the parents sat with the children, a librarian leading them through reading and songs and music, and everybody singing along, and then everyone coming back next week to do it all over again. I find it rather moving, this collective expression of faith in literature and literacy, and I sometimes think that if you want to know everything about a library, you should observe their story time. It tells you everything.

Certain books work for story time, but many don’t. It’s a very specific requirement; it must be universal, accessible, aural, and then there’s that certain something that you can’t quite describe but just know it when you see it. I knew it when I read The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson and Kate Hindley. It has it in spades.

The Same But Different Too is a simple, clear text that works through all the ways that people are the same but different too. I say people when in fact, this is a story about children and animals playing and living together in a variety of beautifully captured vignettes. A girl and a dog wear similar clothes: “I am me, / and you are you” and then the rhyme completes on the next page with a cat and a girl with similar coloured hair wearing the same clothes: “We’re the same / but different too”. Can you hear that rhyme? It’s practically edible.

As the book develops, so does the rhyme: A girl plays leapfrog with the aid of a tortoise “I am playful. You are too.” and then on the next page, a girl plays hide and seek with a zebra against black and white striped wallpaper “I can’t hide as well as you.” It is simple, clean and so well done. You don’t need to dress something up, you don’t need to make it backflip and recite the alphabet underwater, you just need a good story. And this has it. The simple compare and contrast of the text is a delight. It’s just so well done.

It’s also important to note that this book is furiously, wonderfully representative. In a world where I am sent books to review with solely white characters (I fed that one back to the publisher and told them I couldn’t even begin to review it), this is wonderful. From the little boy in the wheelchair (beautifully done, by the way, and not made into a didactic thing, he’s just in a wheelchair) through to the range of ethnicities and hair-types featured, this is a lesson on how to be representative. Truthful. Good. Right.

Like I said, this is well done. Immensely. Wonderfully. My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.


* in no particular order: the summer reading challenge, grandparents reading to their children in a quiet corner, dads and mums coming in on a Saturday morning and spending the day there, communities being formed, reading groups arguing over the latest best seller, buns being scoffed at the cafe, children quivering with physical excitement over a book, very confused babies not quite having a clue what’s going on, staff members giving their whole hearts to their jobs, the lady who’s carefully working her way through every book on the shelf, etc, etc, etc…



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Lost For Words by Aoife Walsh

Lost for Words

Lost for Words by Aoife Walsh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have such a lot of time for what Aoife Walsh does, and so when I was offered a review copy of Lost For Words I leapt at the chance. Every now and then I still think about the messy, wonderful, loving and truthful families she writes (take a look at Too Close To Home for a lovely example of this) and so I couldn’t wait to read her new title. So I did, and reader? It’s lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Dallas Kelly lives in chaotic circumstances; her family are dealing with a close bereavement, a complicated living situation, there are mean girls at school, and now the local library is closing. I was talking with somebody the other week about the tendency for girls in children’s books to adore reading and the rare delight it was to find a character who wasn’t necessarily cut from the same cloth. Dallas decides to save the library for everyone who uses it – and that’s such a delightful, potent, perfect thing. Yes she reads, and loves it, but she’s not “books, books, rah, rah, rah.” She’s doing this for the people she loves and lives with.

But then again, people is what Walsh is all about. Ruby and Aiza, Dallas’ best friends, are adorable and Aiza might secretly be one of the best characters I have read for years. Dallas’ family are messy, lovable and real. They make mistakes. They grow. They live. They learn. I suspect I’m channelling one of the 90s pop songs I seem to have on repeat on Youtube at the moment, but you get the point. These are people and this is a moment in their lives. Honest. Truthful. Lived. Loved.

This is classic children’s literature, fat with heart and rich with emotion, and I love it.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.






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I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak front cover

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak is, I suspect, rather brilliant. I didn’t quite understand it for a while until all of a sudden I did; I got it, I understood, and then I was Emotionally Moved and here we are.

This is the story of a golden retriever and his family. His boy. His bacon. It’s odd; undoubtedly, and for some reason the narration reminded me a lot of The Book Thief which is quite the unusual reference for a golden retriever to evoke, but here we are.

I keep returning to that notion of presence. Here we are. Living in the moment, loving in the moment, whispering a secret to a dog that we don’t tell anybody else. I, Cosmo’s premise is a little unusual and a little bit messy sometimes, and I don’t quite know if the ending worked for me, but this isn’t really a book about that sort of thing. It’s about love and love is something that exists in the now for Cosmo and Max. Sure they have a life of stories between them, but they also have the now. That moment when they’ll do anything for each other. And Sorosiak gets that, she writes their love beautifully. It’s incredibly rich and deeply eccentric and rather, utterly, lovely at points.

Here we are. A dog, a boy, and a love that carries them both through some dark times. This is a book that covers family problems, the problems of being an elderly dog, and a sheepdog nemesis. It’s odd. It’s weird. But it’s also so delightfully distinct and packed full of fierce, endless, eternal love that I think I am fascinated by it.

I, Cosmo is out in August from Nosy Crow. My thanks to them for a review copy.

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Anna At War by Helen Peters

Anna at War by Helen Peters front cover

Anna at War by Helen Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little concerned at the start of Anna At War because I have a loathing of introductions. We are familiar enough with war-fiction; it’s no new topic for children’s literature, and Peters’ writing is so deliciously solid and fabulously readable that it does not need this. It really doesn’t.

I also need to let you know that I only get picky like this when the book is good.

Anna At War is a very good book. Admittedly, it takes a while to find its feet, but once it does we’re away. The story bowls along; Anna’s fabulous, the situation she’s in is horrible, but she’s a fighter. Strong. Powerful. Brave. Braver than I’d ever be under the circumstances. And the final few scenes of the book made me cry. Excellent. That’s all I want. Peters is a treat, and this story is just really well done.

But oh, that introduction. It just holds the story back and, in a way, tells you a little bit too much about what’s to happen. And I don’t want you to think that it’s a bad introduction, because it isn’t. Peters writes with care, kindness and truth throughout her work – but this introduction is an endnote. It’s context, a reminder of the truth that lies behind these horrors, and a warning to never let them happen again.

I know I’ve banged on about the introduction a lot, so here’s the part where I reinforce how good the rest of it is. Anna is a lovely heroine, and Anna At War is reminiscent of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Carrie’s War. It’s also interesting in how it touches on some very big issues such as spy fever and the fear of imminent invasion. As a whole these are done with a gentle bigness. Does that make sense? I’m not sure it does, but Peters can do it. She can talk about these big issues, and make them relevant. Small. Accessible. The big fears of the world expressed in a school playground.

Like I said, the good books make me picky.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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No Ballet Shoes In Syria by Catherine Bruton

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aya is eleven, Syrian, and seeking asylum in Britain. Her mum, her, and her baby brother have escaped from the war in Syria – but her father got separated from them on the way. Her whole family is suffering from the experience (and it’s handled so delicately and sensitively and well by Bruton but fyi if you’re working with children who may have undergone a similar experience), and her life is not easy. One day she comes across a ballet class, and it’s there that everything starts to change…

In her introduction to this, Bruton name-checks some of the best dance stories out there – the Sadlers Wells books by the wonderful Lorna Hill; Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild; and The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown. It’s a small thing, but incredibly important as it means that she knows her stuff. These are totemic books, in a perenially popular genre of children’s literature, and I think that No Ballet Shoes In Syria more than stands up to them. In fact, it’s out in May and I’m telling you about it now because I think it’s great. It made me cry, and it made me smile, and it feels like one of those quietly classic stories that British children’s literature does so utterly well.

It’s full of a lot of heart this, not in the least with the representation of Aya. She’s a powerful, brave character and the impact of her experience is never far from her. It’s no easy thing to write somebody suffering from trauma, let alone to render that in such a beautiful, under-stated and kind manner, but Bruton manages it extremely well. The narrative engages in a series of flashbacks, talking about her life in Syria and the slow erosion of this by war, and the contrast is starkly rendered at some points. I was particularly moved by the points where the relative privilege and comfort of Aya’s new life in Britain triggered some painful flashbacks for her. It’s also important to note that this is a book that knows its stuff; the distinction between a refugee and an asylum seeker is carefully made, and the historic parallels of Aya’s journey are sensitively and movingly explored.

This is a good book. It’s honest, kind, heartbreaking and really rather utterly lovely.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.



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A trio of board book reviews

I have a trio of board books to bring to your attention today! When I’m sent something to review, it doesn’t always get to the point of being reviewed. Sometimes we don’t click, sometimes there’s very little I can say about it, or sometimes it’s so out of my remit that I wouldn’t know where to begin. But sometimes, it’s a gorgeous pack of board books that demand attention, and this is the substance of today’s post.

The board book is a curious thing. It’s the first introduction to story for very little people, and as such needs to do a thousand things – and also survive more than one read. I’ve spoken about the quality of Nosy Crow‘s books before, and I think they really handle the early years well. I mean, I wouldn’t be talking about them here if I didn’t. 🙂 Here’s a look at a few of my recent favourites …

Where's Mrs Kangaroo by Ingela P Arrehenius front cover

Where’s Mrs Kangaroo? by Nosy Crow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming and rather lovely board book illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius, this is a treat. It’s chunky and solid and well put together, and Arrenhenius’ illustrations are a treat. They’re stylish, modern and very nicely done in such a small space. Textually, it’s very straightforward and based around a question and answer: “Where’s Mr Koala?” “Here he is!” The answer is located behind a flap of felt that’s shaped and coloured to match the scene. I’d welcome some books of this nature to start to explore alternatives to ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’, but other than that, this is a lovely, lovely thing.


Superhero Mum and Daughter by Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger front cover

Superhero mum and daughter by Timothy Knapman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I got to the final spread of this, I absolutely fell in love. I’m a sucker for exuberance in board books, particularly those that celebrate the power of mums. This is a simple story written by Timothy Knapman that celebrates a day in the life of a mum (and it’s quite an exhausting one!). She runs with her daughter to catch the bus; she plays in the playground; and she finds the lost teddy. She’s a super-mum indeed, but the conclusion rather nicely points out that this isn’t just a one-off: “Every mum’s a superhero and so is every girl!” (The illustrations here by Joe Berger are particularly wonderful; a rainbow bright, fierce explosion of love).

One thing to bear in mind is that Superhero mum and son is a gender swapped version of this story. The text and images are substantially similar, save for the gendered detail (the female protagonist shifts to a male one).

Animal Families Farm  by Jane Ormes front cover

Animal Families: Farm by Nosy Crow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much more visually distinct than many other board books out there, this is a really beautiful thing from Jane Ormes and Nosy Crow. Artistically it’s reminiscent of some powerful things – Orla Kiely; Pat Hutchins to name but two – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a simple lift the flap exercise, though instead of moving on a north-south dynamic, these flaps explore east-west (and as such, offer the opportunity to play around with developing some other skills, plus the awareness of the ‘movement’ of the book itself).

I also rather loved that it doesn’t shy away from esoteric and strange vocabulary. Not everything for this age group has to be written in a particular manner; this teaches the collective noun for donkeys (a pace!) and talks about the different names for mummy and daddy animals to be found on a farm. The illustrations throughout are lovely, and this is such a gorgeous thing.


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So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Greece by Chae Strathie, illus. Marisa Morea

So You Think You've Got It Bad? A Kid's Life in Ancient Greece

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Greece by Chae Strathie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was fun. ‘So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life In Ancient Greece’ isn’t the pithiest of titles (and indeed, a structure paralleled by others in the series such as So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Egypt) but it is a rather pithy and well-told piece of non-fiction. What’s really interesting is that this comes from a partnership between Nosy Crow and the British Museum and clearly draws upon some of the themes, objects and knowledge of that institution. It’s easy for books of this nature to become simple ‘let me pay you some money and whack my brand on the front of it’ exercises, but I suspect that this is something that wouldn’t ever happen in the Nosy Crow stable. Their books always have a really nice sense of quality and pride about them, and this is no exception.

And so to content –

Covering topics such as ‘The Home’, ‘Diet’ and ‘Fun And Games’, A Kid’s Life In Ancient Greek works through societal rules and expectations for children. I was pleased to see it include a section on ‘Life As A Spartan’ which quite tactfully introduces the hardship of this experience, and I also loved how each section had colour coded page edges – it’s the little notes like this that bind the experience together.

Tonally, it’s more reminiscent of all the all-devouring Horrible Histories series though it does shy away from full on pastiche (which is a good thing!). Instead Strathie takes a lot of pleasure in exploring history from a contemporary perspective and embracing the humour that comes from this: “In Greek Pictures warriors were sometimes depicted with no clothes on. Nakedness was a symbol of bravery in Greek art. It is not a symbol of bravery nowadays. We repeat, it is NOT a symbol of bravery nowadays.” It’s perhaps not the most historical ‘tone’ one might expect, but he does work a lot of information into this, and neatly too.

I loved discovering Marisa Morea’s illustrations. She’s got a very gentle sense of line and colour, embracing that kind of contemporary, natural edge to her work, and as such makes it all very relateable. There’s a substantial mixture of skin-tones and body shapes represented, which is something very lovely to see.

My only concerns with the volume were that I’d have welcomed more being done with the endpapers (particularly as ancient Greek art is so rich with this sort of thing), and the glossary could have done with a little more relationship to the text itself – it felt a little disjointed. Other than that, this is a smart and solid endeavour.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.



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Charlie Changes Into A Chicken by Sam Copeland

Charlie Changes Into a Chicken

Charlie Changes Into a Chicken by Sam Copeland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


There’s something rather appealing about a book that displays its intent so clearly. Charlie Changes Into A Chicken gives you everything from page one, and continues to do that on every page that follows. It’s determinedly readable (seriously the drive behind this is almost palpable), full of direct address to the reader and some very funny moments. Charlie McGuffin (the layers of meaning in THAT surname…) has developed a curious talent. At times of great personal stress, he turns into an animal – and for somebody who has a beloved brother in hospital, panicking parents, and a school bully on his tail, that’s a lot to deal with.

The first of a series, and Copeland’s debut, Charlie Changes Into A Chicken is, as I say, a determined book. I like that sort of a feel to something; this wants to be read, and doesn’t want to let its readers go without a fight. Copeland embraces every technique at his disposal to keep his readers, and it’s very nicely done. Confidently, too, and that’s something that says a lot about Copeland’s knowledge and belief in his fictional creation. It’s also very funny.

Paired with Sarah Horne’s fiercely dynamic illustration, it’s a potent mix. Horne has a lovely sense of movement and dynamism to her lines; there’s not one instance of her artwork that doesn’t push right to the edge of the page.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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You’re Not A Proper Pirate, Sidney Green! by Ruth Quayle and Deborah Allwright

You're Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green! by Ruth Quayle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You’re Not A Proper Pirate, Sidney Green! is a lot of fun. I can’t imagine things not looking up after a read of this. It really is genuine, exuberant, ‘drop it all at once and have an adventure’ fun. Written by Ruth Quayle, and illustrated by Deborah Allwright, it tells the story of Sidney Green and his dog Jemima who go on adventures – but, according to Captain Shipshape and his pirate crew, Sidney and Jemima should be more concerned with being a Proper Pirate. Right now!

I always think it’s a good sign if a picture book embraces rhythm. It’s so important to understand that these books are not about being just seen – they’re about being heard. You’re Not A Proper Pirate has some delightful refrains, but also some lovely use of repetition. It’s about using all the tricks of your trade to build readers and Quayle works her story to the max to do this. It’s great. It’s also a visual treat. Some of the spreads are busy, but there’s a nice internal logic to them. You can find and work out what’s happening, and much of the credit for that must go to Allwright. She handles a spread well, and the scenes where they go to space are lovely. (Pirates in space, yep). Finally, it’s worthwhile mentioning that – as ever with Nosy Crow – You’re Not A Proper Pirate depicts a wide range of skin colours and genders. This quiet representation is something Nosy Crow books really do excel at.

I do grant that there’s a leap to be made about accepting the presence of a pirate in your local neighbourhood, let alone one who’s concerned for the pirate education of the local youth, but make the leap. Come on. It’s better if you do. This isn’t about pirates at all; it’s rather about finding adventure and imagination in the everyday – and giving yourself permission to be part of that. It’s a great lesson to learn. It’s also a pretty damn great one for adults to be reminded of as well.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Aleph by Janik Coat

Aleph

Aleph by Janik Coat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A quirky twist on the ‘first words’ format for babies and toddlers and where others may stray toward the traditional and expected, Aleph embraces the deliciously surreal. The images are big, often falling off the page, with more than a hint of those thick felt-tip pens about them, and cover everything from a circle through to a toucan. Every now and then named characters- Popov, Romi, Cyrus and Aleph – appear for their own little moment, before disappearing again. It’s a weird lovely and kind of spectacular mixture of modernism, with a distinct hint of the old masters about it. There’s more than a touch of Matisse in Coat’s handling of line and colour for example.

What I loved about this is that there’s some sort of narrative coherency – a big thing to ask of a book of this nature – but there is. Chick goes to cat goes to car and then toucan. Words echo each other aurally or thematically or sequentially. It’s not consistent – bunny / cupcake / wolf – but then, in those sequences, shape or colour picks up the narrative bat. There’s a lot of care under the surface of this, and it shows. There’s also a lot of opportunity to extend the images in diverse directions – there’s a lovely page with a baby’s dummy on it, for example – which the list of words names as ‘shhh’ rather than ‘dummy’ or something along that line.

Aleph would be a literally perfect gift to a young reader, but it’s also got a substantial appeal to those interested in the power of illustration for this age-group. It uses a rather unusual neon tone throughout, giving the whole book this quality of being barely contained within the page. I loved it. It’s distinct, it’s unusual and it’s fun.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Girl Squads by Sam Maggs

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History by Sam Maggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been looking for something like Girl Squads for a very long time. This smart, chatty and furiously honest book is a treat because, unlike so many of the others out there, Girl Squads acknowledges the truth about women’s history. It is complex, fought for, and often overwritten by a cultural system which privileges other voices. I’m trying not to write The White Western Patriarchy here, but I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.

What I loved about Girl Squads is that it’s not afraid of offering an opinion. There’s no romantic hagiographies here; history is rendered as a messy, knotty and occasionally deeply unsatisfying thing. The style is chatty, conversational, occasionally sliding a little too much towards the informal, but as a whole works perfectly. This is big sister history, told to you by somebody who wants you to think about the world and to fight for your place in it. And the women covered are remarkable. It’s split into sections covering Athlete Squads, Political and Activist Squads, Warrior Squads, Scientist Squads and Artist Squads, and covers women’s groups as diverse as The Haenyeo Divers to The Blue Stockings.

Interspersed throughout by Jenn Woodall’s sensitive and richly detailed illustrations (a small cameo to introduce each woman, and a lovely page to introduce each section), Girl Squads is a vibrant, powerful thing. It pays tribute to the complex lives of the women it celebrates and it manages to keep that complexity intact. Being female is a complex, wonderful thing. Not many books recognise that challenge or celebrate it. But Girl Squads does.

I am grateful to the publisher for a review copy.



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Glass Town Wars by Celia Rees

Glass Town WarsGlass Town Wars by Celia Rees

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished this book last night, and ever since then I’ve been trying to figure it out. I was excited to be offered a review copy from the publisher as Celia Rees is one of those great and powerful voices in children’s and young adult literature that you should always be excited for. She is a wild and wonderful writer and when I heard that she was writing something inspired by the early work of the Brontës I was thrilled.

And I am still thrilled in a way, but in that knotty sort of confused manner where you think you should be happy for something but aren’t quite sure if you are; the sort of emotion that makes you question everything about you and do actual real life brow furrowing. Celia Rees is an outstanding writer, but I don’t think this is a good book. It is furiously impenetrable at points, strangely balanced, and full of odd pacing and sudden shifts of tone. When I finished it, I stared at it and realised that I didn’t know what to think of it. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoyed it, even though I knew I loved the parts where Rees wrote about Haworth and the sisters; the intimacy and power of her work here and the way she explored the landscape of these writers was good, strong, wild writing. But I also knew that I’d struggled with the first half, got quite lost in the middle, and then bounded through the final third in as greedy and keen a read as I’ve ever done.

A contradiction, then, but a contradiction that keeps working on you after you’ve finished it. I am done with this book but it’s a book that’s not done with me. I’ve thought about it all morning, I’ve begun this review a thousand times and I’ve begun it a thousand times again. I suspect that Glass Town Wars is a story that’s not just about the book. Does that make sense? I suspect it doesn’t, but I’m going to try and explain myself. Sometimes when we experience story, we can read it and it’s done. Page turned, book closed, job done. But sometimes the story lingers and we can make connections with it in the real world. We turn it over in our thoughts, we think it through and we start to realise that the book we’ve read was just the part of a journey. It’s matured into something else.

And that’s Glass Town Wars; it’s not the best read, but the moments after it are sort of remarkable. When I reviewed Wuthering Heights, I talked about how this was a book that wanted to be read and to desperately hide away, all at once. Glass Town Wars has something of that quality, delivering a narrative of fantasy and of the Brontës which sometimes makes perfect sense and sometimes anything but. It’s a curious contradiction, this beautiful and impenetrable and longlasting thing.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley

Milly-Molly-Mandy StoriesMilly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Frequently charming and really rather beautifully done, this 90th anniversary edition of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories is a lovely thing. It’s been a long time since I read Milly-Molly-Mandy and if you’re the same, here’s a brief refresher. Written in the 1920s, MMM is a little girl who lives with her sprawling family in a pleasant little village, and she gets into several very small and rather adorable adventures. They were written and illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley who was the sister of Nina K. Brisley who illustrated the Chalet School stories – and this is something that, in a nicely worded afterword, this edition told me and I made a proper ‘I did not know that’ face. The edition includes several of the short stories collected together and as mentioned has a lovely afterword that does something quite remarkable – it speaks to the child. It’s not often you see an afterword that remembers the child audience as much as the adult, and Macmillan are to be commended for this.

The stories themselves are adorable. Simple, soft and very small adventures that even though they involve a lot of language that might not be familiar to a contemporary reader, these are stories that work because of how they feel. They are charming and gentle and simply told things, often centring around a task or an errand or a circumstance, and I did enjoy them. It doesn’t mater if some of the phrases are unknown because these are good stories. Gentle, rich and lovely stories. Lankester Brisley could write, she really could.

An important thing to note is that this book also includes a lot of full colour illustrations. These are richly rendered things, full of lush and gentle detail and rather intensely evocatively. The village and the nice white cottage with the thatched roof are all there and it’s all lovely. Harsher voices might call this sort of thing twee or outdated, but they’re idiots and we know better. The Milly-Molly-Mandy books are gorgeous, gentle things, and in a world where that sort of thing seems somewhat hard to find, they shine. They really, really do.

I am grateful to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Ink House by Rory Dobner

The Ink HouseThe Ink House by Rory Dobner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spectacularly produced, somewhat slender in the story department, and full of some rather intensely beautiful artwork, The Ink House is somewhat of a paradox. It’s beautiful, first and foremost; written and illustrated by Rory Dobner, an artist with a substantial and impressive commercial portfolio. His work hovers somewhere about the Neil Gaiman / Frances Hardinge side of things; a wild evocation of otherness, coupled with a firm belief that that otherness may in fact be true. His work is careful, and his lines are richly and subtly done, finding magic in the white space of the page and using that as a springboard towards some beautiful spreads.

Now, the paradox. This isn’t a story, at least not yet. The Ink House is a mansion built on a magical pool of ink. One a year, the artist goes off on an adventure, leaving the house free for animals to move in and have a great party. The artist comes back, the animals leave. That’s a great and eloquent frame, but I struggled with the episodic nature of the moments that hung in between. They felt a little isolated, occasionally disjointed, and I’d have welcome another eye over sentences such as “Panic ensues as the animals prepare to leave” (I’m not sure anybody prepares in a panicked fashion?)

Yet, this is beautiful. Even the line I’ve picked out comes with the most delicious spread of horses cantering through a tiled and pillared corridor in an image that made my heart sing. That’s what I mean about paradoxes; this book is full of them. Lines that don’t quite sit and work, and a story that isn’t quite there yet, but some of the best and most convincing black and white artwork that I’ve seen for a long while.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy

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Mary And Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Júlia Sardà

Mary, Who Wrote FrankensteinMary and Frankenstein by Linda Bailey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been a long time since I have read something so perfect as this, and if it doesn’t win the Kate Greenaway Medal this year, or at the very least make the shortlist, then I’ll hand in my badge. I’m not sure that I have an actual badge, so to speak, but I’m trying to work on a metaphor that tells you how great this book is and how blindingly, utterly, brilliant it does what it does, and so I’ll hope you’ll forgive me my delirium and go out and buy it straight away. Because it’s good. Honestly, it’s more than that. It’s perfect, and I’m delirious over it and I feel like I want to write a love letter to Andersen to say thank you for letting me take look at it (their edition is out in October 2018, it has the slightly different – and better – title of ‘Mary And Frankenstein’, and have I mentioned you should buy it?). This is a gift, this book, and here’s the part where I tell you why.

Written by Linda Bailey, Mary and Frankenstein explores the story of Mary Shelley. The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the creator of modern science fiction, the girl who loved Percy Bysshe Shelley, the girl who lived, Mary Shelley is a fascinating and complex figure. And in the hands of somebody lesser, her story might have suffered. It might have been reduced to one of those hagiographies we see so often at the moment in children’s literature, and it might have been sidelined for the stories of those people she lived and loved with. But Bailey doesn’t. I knew we were in good hands when I read her author’s note and saw that she’d thanked an academic for critiquing the manuscript. This is everything, my friends, because it shows somebody who takes this seriously. It is a privilege to write these sorts of books, and it is a skill to write them well. Bailey does that. She does that so well. She has a clean, simple, and deeply restrained style that delivers such calmly beautiful lines as:

“Mary’s mother was a great thinker. She wrote books to say that women should have the same rights as men. She died when Mary was only eleven days old.

Can you miss someone you’ve never known?

Mary does”

Just, let that sink in a little. The great grace of that, the restraint of that. The way it gives you everything and manages to hold itself back from giving you too much. It’s brilliantly done. And it’s smartly done. It gives children a chance to find something else out on their own, to fill in the absence with their facts and stories, to look up into the sky and tell their own story. After all, “Writers dream stories, awake and asleep.”

It’s beautiful. And it’s even more beautiful when it’s paired with the incomparable artwork of Júlia Sardà. I’d encourage you to have a look at her website and this review about the process of illustrating this little gothic masterpiece, as her artwork here is almost incomparably done. It’s immense, it’s ferociously unique and particular, and it makes me breathless. Her use of line and colour is so wonderfully done, and she has this great gift of being able to centre her images and find the humanity of them (an apt skill when we consider the topic!). There’s a lot going in in this amazing book and yet, even as the wind whips the trees or as owls fly through the sky, your eye’s drawn to Mary. Her red hair, her white face, her story. She will be heard, she will be seen, she will be told.

Oh this book, I could write for days about it…

I will teach it in my classes, and I will hand it to those who tell me that children’s books are the easy options, and I will nominate it for the Kate Greenaway and I shall will it to win every award on the planet, because it’s outstanding. It’s one of the best picture books I’ve ever read.

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Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

Dear Evan HansenDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that to understand this book, you need to understand the context of Dear Evan Hansen itself. Dear Evan Hansen is a musical that’s rather wonderful, even when you just listen to the soundtrack and have to hit Wikipedia to work out what’s going on. It’s been on Broadway for a while now, and is due in the West End in 2019.

The musical is eloquent, fiercely potent, and beautiful put together, and touches upon issues of grief, mental health, anxiety, loss, and the impact of social media in navigating all of this. These are increasingly present and potent issues in today’s society, and Dear Evan Hansen is rather outstanding in how it handles this. I like my musicals, and I like what this one does. It marks its space in the world in a particular way, and it does it with a lot of style, honesty and precision.

This book is the adaptation of the musical, commissioned by the creators, and thus something rather interesting in itself. You can see television and film being adapted easily, readily, into prose, but it’s rather less common with the musical. Much of that sings (badumtish) of the way that musicals themselves are constructed, adapting an already published text, or the difficulty one might find in say translating an iconic visual into prose, let alone the precision and honesty of young adult fiction.

There’s a part of me panicking already at the thought of adapting a Gene Kelly number into text, for example, and I suspect I wouldn’t have touched this commission with a bargepole. Emmich is to be praised for taking this on, and with what he delivers, because it’s a decently rendered thing. It is, however, not the best book I’ve ever read. It could do with a little clarity at some points – particularly to those who are new to the musical – and there’s a curiously forgettable air to the prose, which slightly threw me. Dear Evan Hansen is anthemic, but I suspect this isn’t the best form for that anthem to take. (Sidebar: a part of me longs for a graphic novel version)

But, I do think you should read this and here’s the part where I tell you why.

This is a book that functions as part of a moment and should be considered within that context. I think it might have struggled being told by itself, but when you read it and recognise what it’s part of, then it’s easy to see that it’s something kind of fascinating. It’s telling a story to an audience that, perhaps, may never get to Broadway or the West End, and that in itself is something to applaud. It’s telling a story of people at their worst and best, and it’s touching on topics that so very rarely are exposed with such candour. It’s a good story. It’s a brilliant story. It’s just not that great a book.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal UnboundAmal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quietly, precisely told story, Amal Unbound is careful about itself and careful about the story it tells. It is also rather unrelenting, quietly bold and ultimately, rather powerful.

It’s the story of a Pakistani girl named Amal who, when forced into indentured servitude, has to survive against a complex, challenging and scary world. And to do so by herself, bolstered by her dreams and hope and ambitions for something other than the circumstances she finds herself in.

Narrated in the first person, Amal Unbound consists of quite short chapters that, as ever, are accessible to the younger readers in this age bracket (I’d pitch this for readers somewhere around ten+, perhaps) but also offer a lot to the more confident reader. Saeed writes in a very quiet, calm and yet rather beautiful manner. It’s eloquent and gently done stuff, and perhaps quite remarkably so when you consider the scenarios she works with. Amal’s mother suffers from post-natal depression, her father is suck into a spiral of ever-increasing debt, and Amal must learn to live in a life full of strangers and fear, far away from her dreams of becoming a teacher. And yet, Amal Unbound comes to remind us that dreams are never that far away from us if we work for them, and manages to do so without straying into Noble Adults Writing About Things For Children territory. There’s a lot in this potent little book to praise, and that’s one of the biggest. This is a book about big issues, without being consciously About Big Issues. It’s simply the raw and honest story of Amal, and a thousand other girls like her.

I’d have welcome a little more context about indentured servitude for younger readers, and perhaps some resources to inspire further thought, though Saeed’s graceful and again, precisely pitched afterword does cover some of this area. She acknowledges the influence of Malala Yousafzai on her story but also the voices of the unknown girls, and that’s a potent note that any educator can sensitively and tactfully explore further with their classes. This is a rarely told story, and it’s one I’m grateful for. I’d recommend it straight away for your September 2018 purchase lists.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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What Does An Anteater Eat? : Ross Collins

what does an anteater eatWhat Does An Anteater Eat? by Ross Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picture books are a performative thing. Every book is, in a sense, but picture books are perhaps more performative than others. They are made to be shared and talked about and enjoyed by multitudes of readers. They are made to be read aloud, to inspire funny voices, and to have their corners chewed on by babies who are figuring out this wide, wide world that they live in. I always think that it’s a good thing when you can feel this edge of performance to a picture book, where you can sense the parts you’d emphasise or the parts where you’d tease out the tension to that almost unbearable point, and I always think that it’s a good thing when you read a picture book and can hear the reaction that it would get.

What Does An Anteater Eat? is a book that’s full of that third space, that performative edge, that raw, hysterical laughter that really only little children can do and when they do it, the world laughs with them. And I felt that when I read this book, and that’s something quite remarkable. This is a relatively slender story; an anteater wakes up from a nap, is hungry, and tries to remember what he eats. He asks several other animals who provide both useful and useless answers, before happening upon an ants nest and – well, let’s just say that anteaters don’t actually eat what you think. There’s a nice little note in this about not judging on appearances, and Collins’ art is full of a vibrant, thick sense of colour. He’s an artist doing good things, and his characters sing with this sense of lovely honesty. This is lived art, primal and potent. I also do love a cover that sets itself apart from many of those on the shelves at the moment.

I’d have welcome a little more work being done with the lettering, as I always feel that simply shifting from text into italics is a relatively easy default to choose in a picture book and one which shies away from the added quality good lettering can provide, but that’s a small note for a book as potently performative as this.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Pony on the Twelfth Floor : Polly Faber, illus. Sarah Jennings

Pony on the Twelfth FloorPony on the Twelfth Floor by Polly Faber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to love about what Polly Faber does and I, for one, hope she continues to do it. I had, and continue to have, so much time for her work on the Mango and Bambang series ( which I review here), and Pony on the Twelfth Floor is an utter, rich delight. Faber is very quietly producing a canon of classy, rich and rather delicious children’s stories and they all have that classic edge of timelessness about them. They’re rather like a slice of cake that gives you everything you need, and a little bit more besides, and when you’re finished, it’s all good. Everything is good. Frankly, everything is lovely.

This is a pony story steeped in pony stories, and I will always respect those who both know and love their genre. There’s a Sweetbriar reference (!) alongside several deliciously knowing references, and really, that was enough to have me fall in love with this book. But it’s not just about jokes, and Faber knows that for this book is underpinned by heart. Kizzy wants a pony in that desperate, endless way you do when you are a certain type of person of a certain type of age. (And note, how I do not specify that age because I think it is an ageless sort of love.). But because she lives in a twelfth floor flat, in the middle of a very urban environment, it seems as if she won’t get one. That is until she sees one munching on flapjacks in the supermarket.

And that’s how it begins; a twist of circumstance, a love of the most fierce kind, and this book roars from that point onwards. Kizzy is true and real and lovingly drawn; she’s the child who used to comb the ‘win a pony’ competitions (not, says I, that I did or anything) and the child who practices cantering down the street. And none of this is rendered as something to laugh at, or something to be embarrassed by, because it’s right. There’s nothing wrong with love and faith and believing that one day the world might conspire to give you your hearts desire.

Another thing to note is the illustrations done by Sarah Jennings, because they’re lovely. They’re just the right side of Thelwell, and full of a delicious sense of humour in every line. Flapjack is distinct, and lovely, and it’s hard to not fall in love with him because you get it. You get it. Look, I know I’m burbling, but honestly I don’t care. I like this book. I love it. It’s so rich and so honest and so heartfelt, and it’s utterly well done. What a time, what a world.

My thanks to the publisher for a copy.

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Home Home : Lisa Allen-Agostini

Home HomeHome Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a point towards the end of the first chapter of Home Home where I got The Feeling. You’ll know what The Feeling is; it’s that moment when you read something, maybe a word or a sentence or a metaphor, whatever, but you know that it’s good. Your spine tingles. Something settles inside your head. The conscious recognition of skill, there, bubbling beneath the surface. The realisation that you’re in good hands.

Home Home is the story of a depressed Trinidadian teenager, Kayla, who is sent to live with her Aunt in Canada. Whilst there, Kayla must come to terms with her mental health, her new family and indeed her new home. I received it for review from the publisher and was grateful for the offer: I want to find these sorts of books and see them participating within the world, and Home Home more than holds its own. It’s worthy of attention on a thousand different levels.

My only caveat with Home Home is that it is a relatively slender piece, and as such seems to almost finish before it starts. There’s an undoubted element of frustration there that I need to acknowledge because, I suspect, were it given some more space, this could be something kind of great. At present, it feels like there’s not enough space for it to fully explore its potential but, equally, it offers a ton of potential for follow up activities and close reading exercises.

I also don’t want to deny the fact that what is in Home Home is kind of fascinating, occasionally rather beautiful, and kind of great. Home Home exists somewhere between raw, Tumblr-esque truth and a whole hearted stream of consciousness vibe. There’s power here, particular in its honest and vivid truth and the way that it sometimes tumbles together and makes itself known at the least opportune moments. It feels in fact like something that you might find tucked away on a blog somewhere by somebody who feels the need to express themselves and to feel out the edges of that expression, and in the process to find themselves. I don’t think that’s a bad legacy for a book to have.

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Little Liar : Julia Gray

Little LiarLittle Liar by Julia Gray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julia Gray is quietly producing some of the most complex and challenging books out there, and Little Liar is a spectacular addition to her canon. I’m fascinated, really, by books that do not do what you expect of them nor what you think they should, and this is one of those books that quietly and determinedly does what it has to do in its own way and pulls you in with every step it takes. I have time for books that do that, and I have such time for books that do it well.

Nora, the narrator, is a liar. She has told lies before, about many things, but one lie in particular starts to change everything. Like a pebble dropped in water, there are ripples and aftershocks that reach farther than Nora can imagine. Her new friendship with the rich, unpredictable and talented Bel is impacted; her world changes. And choices, inevitably, have to be made.

I devoured this. I’m not sure the ending quite delivered on what I wanted it to be, but then I’m not sure something like this can ever do what you want it to do because of the nature of the beast. I’m also not sure the title is the best one, and I have concerns about it being overshadowed by more visible titles. I say these sorts of things because the story here is so very good that I do not want that to happen. It’s precise, pained, and beautifully crafted, and every now and then Gray has the skill to throw in a minute that makes you genuinely gasp. And I did, and can I tell you how rare that is? To physically pause and gape at a book and have that moment of full body reaction?

Little Liar is a complex book full of complex characters and it’s often unattractive, dark and challenging. There’s a level of bravery in that because nobody can easily, nor coherently, be rooted for and nobody gives you those (so often impossible or ripe with cliche) moments of fictional happiness. But then, do you have to root for somebody in a book? You can root, perhaps, for the way that a book makes you feel; the way it may bring you to the edge of your senses and block out the world beyond it; the way that you can’t describe it in one sentence; or, perhaps, the way that you are genuinely part of this world and at a loss for what will happen next but knowing, knowing that you can’t stop reading?

I can root for that.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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What Lexie Did : Emma Shevah

What Lexie DidWhat Lexie Did by Emma Shevah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this. Shevah is one of those authors whom I’ve been aware of for a while but never got quite round to reading; suffice to say, she’s a joy and this is a solid and richly told story of family fit to put alongside the work of Hilary McKay, Jacqueline Wilson and Susie Day.

What Lexie Did‘ follows a lie that spirals out of control in that way that lies can and so often do. Lexie is best friends with her cousin, Eleni, who has a heart condition, and has looked after her all of her life. Their friendship is one of delicious intimacy and all consuming-closeness, again in that way that early girl friendships so often are, but all that is tested after Lexie tells her lie. It ends up pulling the family apart, exposing tensions between her parents and Eleni’s parents, Eleni and Lexie, Lexie and everyone, and everything goes horribly wrong. She knows she has to tell the truth – but where? When? How?

Shevah’s got this lovely richness about her work, and I was very pleased to see that she’d spent some time ensuring the honesty of writing about a Greek Cypriot family. It pays off; this is a book that’s thick with identity and loveliness. Shevah also deserves plaudits for her handling of the adults; they’re realistic and sympathetically drawn. I liked this a lot. It’s a genuine, heartfelt and rich book – and any book that has a cinnamon cake recipe at the back of it is a good book by me.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Looking After William : Eve Coy

WilliamLooking After William by Eve Coy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s very easy for me to become a little cocky when it comes to reading children’s books. I read a lot of them, and when you read a lot of anything, you become familiar to the tips and tricks that such books use. You become wise to how they do what they do, and to be frank? Sometimes you become a little bit blind. Sometimes it’s easy to read something not for what it is, but for what you think it is. It’s a trend that I’m increasingly aware of within myself and so I am thrilled and delighted by those books that challenge my preconceptions. That rear, perhaps, out of the paths that I have chosen for them and ask me to consider them anew and with fresh, eager eyes.

Looking After William is a perfect little book and I adored it. It’s told very simply, often pairing a clean sentence with a vibrant and rich double page spread, and it has this sort of timeless, rich taste to it. A lot of this is due to Coy’s quietly confident language, but also the rich, unfinished edge of her artwork. These illustrations sing with unfinished energy and movement; they’re part of the tapestry of this life, and rich with an almost infinite sense of potential. She’s not afraid of the more abstract edge either, pairing a lion tamer scene with an astronaut, and linking the two through some smart visual clues. There’s also a delightful hidden thread throughout the book, with the cat, and some thickly gorgeous endpapers.

I love books like this, because they speak. They speak out and loud and proud about what they are and this is a book about love. It’s the story of William and his Mummy; but, is in fact, told from the child’s point of view. It’s such a subtle and clever way to flip the story, and it’s one that will leave the parents nodding sympathetically at William’s exhaustion and children delighting in being in control. Books like this are good, you know? They work. They remind me what is good and right with the world.

Thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Running On Empty : SE Durrant

Running on EmptyRunning on Empty by S.E. Durrant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Running On Empty: a story of family, relationships, and of knotty moments and problems that need solving but don’t have easy solutions, a story of life, really. It’s the second novel from SE Durrant (the first, A Little Bit Of Sky, I review here). She’s an interesting writer in that she kind of slides into the heart of things and does so in a very gentle, truthful and honest manner. She’s a writer with heart, and Running On Empty is full of it.

AJ, the twelve year old lead, is having a bit of a rough time. He’s worried about his parents, who suffer from learning difficulties, and he’s trying to come to terms with the death of his grandfather, and the bills are piling up and he’s convinced that social services are at the door ready to break up his family. Throw into the mix the transition to senior school, trainers that don’t fit – not great when you’re a star runner – and there’s a whole whirl of problems all vying to make themselves felt first.

Running On Empty is somewhat stiff at first, reading a little protectively and defensively, but after a while it starts to work its subtle magic. Durrant has this great gift of finding the truth of people and of letting them be what they are, whether that brave or scared or foolish or whatever. This feels like a grounded and honest book, not in the least of the representation of AJ’s relationship with his parents. Young carer’s aren’t represented that much in children’s literature, and Durrant handles this well; never sliding towards ‘I AM WRITING ABOUT A YOUNG CARER ASK ME HOW’, but rather tenderly and sensitively sharing this story with the world.

It’s really quite something to deliver two books in a row that are as quiet and calm and as carefully crafted as these. I really do look forward to seeing what comes next from Durrant.

I am grateful to the publishers for a review copy.

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Ella On The Outside : Cath Howe

Ella on the OutsideElla on the Outside by Cath Howe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charming, subtle and incredibly – suddenly – moving, Ella On The Outside is one of those delightfully unclassifiable ‘thank god it’s in the world books that Nosy Crow does so well. It’s due out on May 3rd and I think it’s something to get on your radar now.

Ella is the new girl at school and things are going as well as you might expect under the circumstances. She’s trying to fit in, not really managing, and there’s this big secret that she’s not allowed to tell anybody. When she’s made friends with by Lydia (and I phrase that most deliberately thus), the school’s number one, things seem to work out but they really don’t. Lydia wants to know what Ella’s secret is and nothing’s going to stop her from finding out. And the worst sort of secrets are the ones which, inevitably, make themselves heard.

There’s a lot of heart in this, and Cath Howe’s writing is perfectly pitched. It captures that confusion of trying to do the right thing, trying to fit in, whilst all along not being sure what that right thing is. It’s a horribly familiar sentiment whatever age you are, and Howe gets the horrible edge of it so well. She also manages to get those moments of connection perfectly judged, those moments when you meet somebody who might normal and might be nice and might actually just turn out to be a friend after all of the drama has worked itself out.

Ella On The Outside also touches on some important issues, namely parental responsibility, the influence of prison on families, and mental wellbeing. Howe handles these well, and gracefully; I am increasingly looking for authors who present adults as adults within children’s literature, flawed and honest and real and scared, and this is a massive mark in this book’s favour.

I am grateful to the publisher for a review copy.

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Max the Detective Cat – The Disappearing Diva : Sarah Todd Taylor

Max the Theatre Cat and the Disappearing DivaMax the Detective Cat and the Disappearing Diva by Sarah Todd Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s been a spate of detectives in the world of children’s books over the last few years. There hasn’t, however, been a detective with four legs and a white tail. This is Max the Detective Cat who lives in the Theatre Royal and solves mysteries. There’s bold, and then there’s making your lead protagonist somebody who can’t communicate with humans bold. I’m pleased to say that, for the most part, Sarah Todd Taylor pulls it off.

There’s a little bit of scene setting at the start to get Max into position, as it were, and once that’s achieved, this book races off and merrily does its thing. And it does race. It’s sparingly put together in some nicely accessible chapters that are beautifully illustrated by Nicola Kinnear. I’d have welcome a tiny bit of variety with the images that open each chapter; there’s a mouse running across the stage and they are beautifully rendered but represent a bit of a lost opportunity with the storytelling (what would happen, for example, if the mouse’s position changed slightly as the book went on?). But I do also acknowledge that I am greedy with books like this because when they’re this enjoyable, you want more. Always.

I was a little concerned at how the resolution might be handled with the whole, you know, cats not being able to communicate intricate details of mysteries to humans thing, but it’s surprisingly convincing. I have to give Taylor a lot of credit in making this work, and making it work so plausibly. Her language is clean and direct, with a few very nice moments of character development for Max. There’s more to come from this series and I really do look forward to reading them.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Weaver : Qian Shi

The WeaverThe Weaver by Qian Shi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to love in this debut picture book from Qian Shi, not in the least her fine and delicate artwork that sings of heart and love. The titular weaver is Stanley the spider who collects things and keeps them in his web. One day, his collection is washed away…

Where this book shines is in the artwork. There’s a sort of animated edge to Shi’s work, that roundness of line and that vibrancy of colour that makes many of these pages into something quite special. I’m always partial to a book that does something with endpapers, and even more partial with a book that does something good with endpapers, and these are subtle and wonderfully handled here. I’m also very fond of the balance here between double page spreads and multiple beats on the same page: this is a book which is almost filmic in its structure, with the storyboard of images and text working together so very nicely.

The story itself is simple, teaching children that they can hold onto the memory of something even when the thing itself is not there. There’s an obvious applicability towards grief and loss towards such a narrative, but this is also maybe a book to trot out when the favourite toy goes missing or when a big life change is about to occur. Shi’s text is sensitive, gently paced and restrained, knowing when to step back and let that fine and heartfelt artwork shine through. A charming, rather beautiful and rather evocative book.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Jack Fortune and the Search for the Hidden Valley : Sue Purkiss

Jack Fortune: And the Search for the Hidden ValleyJack Fortune: And the Search for the Hidden Valley by Sue Purkiss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My eye was caught by the premise of this one. Jack is an orphaned boy and, after one prank too far, his Aunt washes her hands of him. Jack is sent to be with his Uncle, an exploring botanist, and the two of them are off to the Himalayas to find the rare blue rhododendron. But, as such things always are in books, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Jack Fortune and The Search For The Hidden Valley is a very enjoyable thing. Occasionally some of Purkiss’ prose feels a little conscious, and I’d welcome some clarity to the structure of the novel at points, the weight of the adventure carries her through. This is a really unusual setup for a book – not the adventure elements, but the botany subtext – and I think that’s a very welcome thing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that merges botany with a Boy’s Own adventure, and the little historical note for context at the back of the book is nicely done.

Set in eighteenth century England, and touching on issues of colonisation and British rule, there’s also an option for a lot of related discussion. Jack’s interactions with the locals are nicely done, if a little too briefly, and I’d welcome this sort of discussion being pushed forward in the sequels – I suspect there may be a sequel. It feels as though there should be. I’d like there to be one. There’s something so delicious about the premise, and Purkiss’ clear love of the genre, that one book really isn’t enough.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Stone Bird : Jenny McCartney, illus. Patrick Benson

The Stone BirdThe Stone Bird by Jenny McCartney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to understand The Stone Bird. When I first received it for review, I read it and didn’t quite connect with it. There was something not there for me, and so The Stone Bird slid to the pile of books that I don’t review, and it stayed there for a while. It was only recently when I revisited this pile, for I dislike not being able to write about books, and reread The Stone Bird that I realised I’d missed something. Whether that was me, or it, I’m still not sure, but I’m here and writing this review because this is an intriguing and very quietly powerful book. I suspect, perhaps, that quietness may lead it to be overlooked at first. It’s not a noisy story, and Patrick Benson’s illustrations, though wonderful, are a gently poised thing.

But quiet books matter, as much as the noisy ones, and the more I studied the pages of The Stone Bird, I began to understand the place in the world for this book. It’s a rainy day book; the sort that might get pushed under a cushion at first, but then suddenly catches your eye and is read and sings with that reading. It’s a long journey book, a thick summer evening book, a nestle into your life and never let go book. It is both sad and wonderful, elegiac and hopeful, poetic and soft, and I took a long time to realise that.

The story itself is one of apparent simplicity: Eliza has a pebble from the beach, and she knows the truth of it. It is no pebble, but an egg, and one night it hatches… There are some loose edges to McCartney’s language which I welcome; this shouldn’t be a story about precision and definite resolutions. Patrick Benson, illustrator of the blessed Owl Babies approaches this story with a quiet sensitivity. His work never rears off the page but rather lulls the reader in. It’s soft, rich, shimmering artwork that plays with edge and frame, and somehow manages to catch the thick heat of a summer’s day. It is a powerful, beautiful work and I am so glad that The Stone Bird gave me a second chance.

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A Spoonful of Murder : Robin Stevens

A Spoonful of Murder (Murder Most Unladylike Mystery, #6)A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There was a point in reading this when the back of my neck started to tingle. It’s not often that happens, but when it does, it’s the sort of thing you need to pay attention to. And I think you’ve experienced it too; that little sensation that you are reading something that is kind of superlatively wonderful, and your whole body has realised it. A literary spider sense if you will. The voice that forms afterwards and whispers: this is good.

I had that with A Spoonful Of Murder. I had it in spades. Most specifically I had it with pages 98-103, if you’d like me to be very specific, but this book is just a delight from start to end. I am a fan of Stevens’ work. I adored Murder Most Unladylike ( my review is here), and its sequels have been nothing but a vibrant joy. I even wrote about Murder Most Unladylike in my thesis and will bore you to death for hours on its nuanced representation of transgressive girlhood; and I love A Spoonful Of Murder with all my heart.

I really, really do. One of the things I love about my job is that I get to push good books at people. Not, I hasten to add, literally. I do not stand on street corners pushing books. I talk to people in my libraries and I share with them the books that are just classy and good and brilliant things. Stevens is at the top of her game here, because she takes risks and makes them work in a quite wonderful fashion. This isn’t the same old same old framework, resting on its laurels. Hazel and Daisy are in Hong Kong and there’s a murder and a kidnap to solve.

The relocation means that, for once, it’s Daisy who’s out of her depth and trying to figure out the ways of the world. It’s deliciously done, without ever disempowering her, and can I tell you how difficult an act that is? To write and to never, ever, not even once, devalue nor disempower character? It’s a rare, rare thing and one that is kind of beautiful and wonderful to read. It also speaks a lot about Stevens’ trust in this series and her work. She doesn’t mess this up, not once. Hazel is wonderful throughout, providing an introduction to her home city of Hong Kong and the intricacies of dim sum even as she’s wrestling with the thought that she is, herself, a suspect.

Good books make me happy. Good series make me even happier. Stevens manages to make each of these accessible to new readers, but also to old, and every single paragraph is just a joyful and gorgeous thing. It’s books like this that make me run out of superlatives.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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The Belles : Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles (The Belles #1)The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t usually step towards fantasy, but The Belles caught my eye. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, tasked with ‘controlling’ Beauty in the gray and dammed world of Orléans. It is only through appointments with a Belle, that people can be transformed and made beautiful. Yet, upon arriving at the royal court, Camellia and her sisters come to realise that everything is not as they dreamt it would be. Beauty, and the search for it, can be deadly. And a girl who can control that may be asked to make some impossible choices.

That’s a good hook right there; a premise that sings towards some vital discussions, and places The Belles at a very vital intersection in Young Adult literature. This is the book that, for example, (Modelland by Tyra Banks) was trying so very hard to be. Beauty, and the commodification of that, the corruption of that, is something that needs to be bought out of the shadows and subject to critique. As The Belles shows, and as Barbara Kruger might say, your body is a battleground.

So The Belles hits notes that needs to be hit, and it hits them well. It took me a while to get into this, though I suspect that’s partially my unfamiliarity with the genre but it is worth mentioning. In contrast, however, the final third or so was a powerful reading experience with some severe, scarring scenes. As Clayton remarks in the afterword, this is a story that’s been gestating with her for quite some time and you can sense that. There’s a lot of rich detail work and it’s convincing. There’s no loose space in this world; it all makes sense and combines to deliver something that, ultimately, is a powerful and kind of brilliant read. The second half of this book is a genuinely great read. I suspect the first half is too, but it just took me a long time to get into it.

A final thing is worth mentioning. You know how certain books become very conscious of their first part in a series and end with a madly infuriating cliffhanger? Well, the Belles does end with a cliffhanger but it manages to get away with it because I actually cared. Funny how good writing does that to you.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Egyptomania : Emma Giuliani and Carole Saturno

EgyptomaniaEgyptomania by Carole Saturno

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Something very good has been happening in children’s non-fiction over the past few years. This is something to add to that realm of good things. Big, bold and rather deliciously put together, Egyptomania is a look at several key aspects of Ancient Egypt. Where this book differs is that it’s a hybrid of fact and papercraft; nearly every page has a fold out or a tag to explore further.

It’s a beautiful book. Giuliani’s artwork is wonderful; clean, big and rather wonderful, ranging over topics such as temples, pharoahs and the ever-appealing mummification rituals. The mummification page in fact is one of the best in this book, and allows the reader to quite literally peel back the layers of the mummy and discover the processes which have helped to create it. It’s very nicely done, and one of those spreads that makes you realise the benefit of papercraft in a non-fiction book like this.

I would have welcomed a slightly more robust paper quality here, but I do recognise that there’s a balance to be made between the level of engineering that’s gone into making this work and the final price point. Having said that however, in the hands of a careful reader this book’s a gem. It’s distinct, it’s interesting, and it’s genuinely very beautifully done.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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The Murderer’s Ape : Jakob Wegelius

The Murderer's ApeThe Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The titular Murderer’s Ape is Sally Jones and she’s also our narrator for this gently told story of murder, double-crosses and false imprisonment. It’s an interesting note to take for such a dramatic series of topics but then again, Sally Jones is an interesting figure. She’s the best friend of the Chief, and together they run a cargo boat. She’s the engineer, who lives with humans, and although she doesn’t speak she can understand everything that they say. The Chief and Sally Jones take on a job and it ends badly; the Chief is accused of murder, and Sally is forced to go on the run. Can she clear his name? Can she survive?

I read the hardcover edition from Pushkin Press (my thanks to them for the review copy), and it is a beautiful edition. I bang on a lot about the importance of design when it comes to books and this is perfectly and distinctly done. A book can look good, but one that looks good and distinct? That’s important, and it’s nicely done here.

Quietly and lengthily told, The Murderer’s Ape isn’t, perhaps, the quickest of books. It took me a while to read, but it wasn’t a traumatic process in the slightest. Narrated by Sally Jones, this is a quiet tale of peril and trauma that skates the edge of some nasty topics (anarchism, forced imprisonment, the idle rich, revolutionaries, and abusive relationships) whilst never quite wholly engaging with them. Some of this distance comes from Sally’s position of remove, never quite accepted for who she is except for when she’s with her friends, and the overall effect is rather one of gentle disturbance.

That’s not to say that this book doesn’t pose some big questions. Far from it. Sally is constantly required to assert her presence in a world that is not wholly comfortable with her, and that question of negotiated identity is something very important to children’s and young adult literature. The best of these books allow our protagonists to find out who they are and, more to the point, who they can be. Sally is aided and abetted on her quest by a variety of characters who illustrate both the good and bad sides of humanity. It’s up to Sally to decide how to live, and to survive.

For me, The Murderer’s Ape sits somewhere on the lower edge of Young Adult, and on the higher edge of Middle Grade literature, and that is something I welcome very much. This is a book which should be placed into the hands of those who want meaty content, but may be, perhaps, unable to deal with the darkest edge of what young adult can (and indeed, should!) provide. The short and precise chapters, told in Sally’s clean and clear prose also would fit very nice as a bedtime read. There are eighty so it may be a lengthy process, but then again there’s nothing wrong with a slow read and in fact, it’s something that might prove quite appropriate to this rich and classic tale.

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Why We Took The Car : Wolfgang Herrndorf

Why We Took the CarWhy We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After spending time as a writer in residence for a road, I’ve been increasingly interested in the role of ‘roads’ in children’s and young adult literature. Young adult literature, in fact, has a perfect sort of marriage with the metaphor of the road, where the open road promises freedom, independence and self-determination, and it’s a sense of liberty which is always in sharp contrast to that which exists at home. Furiously well known in its original German, Why We Took The Car is a translated novel that sometime burns with brilliance and sometimes widely misses the mark. It’s a book of dualities where sadness battles with raw and fierce happiness, and nothing sometimes battles with everything. I think it is occasionally rather perfect. Sometimes it is not. But then again, that’s the sort of delicious thing about roadtrip novels; there are moments, as with every journey, that the getting there matters as much as the destination itself. The journey might be quieter, duller, but it’s still so very important.

So here are our travellers: Mike, our narrator, who is a boy who doesn’t fit in, and a new boy at his school called Tschick. Tschick doesn’t fit in either, being an emigre from Russia, and also possessed of problems of his own. A slow twist of circumstances and parental absences lead Tschick to give Mike a dare. It’s time to go on a road trip. Tschick has a stolen Lada, Mike has some money, and the open road’s calling them…

Messy, wild, eccentric, this is a book that burns on the edge of the world. I liked it a lot. It’s scrappy at points, and very definitely not perfect, but then again there’s a point to be made that a teenage narrator who’s just had the trip of his life wouldn’t ever be especially coherent. Yet that’s not to say that there isn’t potency here; there’s an encounter with a family that is one of the best and most brilliantly unexpected things I’ve read with a long while, and the final movement of the book itself is kind of awe-inspiring. I think that’s the best way I can describe Why We Took The Car; sometimes it is perfect, and sometimes it is not. Such is life. And sometimes, you don’t know that, until you go out and live it.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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An A to Z of Monsters and Magical Beings : Rob Hodgson and Aidan Onn

An A to Z of Monsters and Magical Beings by Rob Hodgson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like this. A joint production by Rob Hodgson, and Aidan Onn, it was Hodgson’s artwork that originally caught my eye, with its exuberant and definite renderings of creatures ranging from the Sphinx through to the Werewolf and the Kraken. Hodgson delivers such rich and deliciously dark work, that manages to juxtapose a childish aesthetic with some gorgeous little touches. Let me explain a little more about that phrase of ‘childish aesthetic’ as I think it’s one that’s worthwhile to explore here. The visual literacies of children fascinate me because they are marked with a sort of infinite potential. A line on a page could be a pony, a house, or a comment on post-modernism. And yes, some of that has to do with the development of motor skills, but it also has to do with the fact that children can work in this sort of creative world of infinite potential. It’s the same with writing, and any other creative practice; we learn to work within frames. And that’s a good thing, because when we subsequently break them and remake them, we are better than what we were before. Learn the rules. Break the rules. But don’t forget to embrace that period of before, where a horse can have three heads or an antelope can sit down for tea. And that’s what I mean with Hodgson’s work, he kind of goes ‘here’s a blue minotaur’ or ‘here’s a pink Kraken’, and you believe it because it is delivered with such emphatic affirmation. It’s great.

One thing to note is that this a book that deserves a better cover than the one it has. The world of children’s picture books is a busy one, and this cover isn’t ideal. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork that reoccurs in the book itself as the illustration to the ‘Troll’ page, but when people describe it as dull and dark to me then that’s feedback I need to note and recognise. Admittedly you’ll not see many picture books which go for the dark blue palette of this cover, and there’s an argument for it standing out for that reason, but equally there’s a question to be asked about the cover when it comes to reprints. A similar question could be asked about the unexploited space of the endpapers at that point.

So, to sum, there are parts of this book that are under-exploited, but there are points that fiercely and satisfyingly hit the spots. I can imagine this going down well with a primary audience (expect lots of shrieks), and also as part of some dark and deliciously wintry creative writing and imaginative artwork sessions. I can also imagine it pairing very well with something like Bernard by Rob Jones.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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My Miniature Library

My Miniature Library: 30 Tiny Books to Make, Read and TreasureMy Miniature Library: 30 Tiny Books to Make, Read and Treasure by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s been a bit of a delay in my reviewing of this because, to be frank, I’ve been too busy screaming with joy over it. Every. Single. Time. I’m not one for craft, really, as I have the adeptness of a lemon when it comes to such things, but My Miniature Library is adorable. And accessible! And a conceit so delightful that it almost beggars belief!

Presented in a robust box, the contents of My Miniature Library make up thirty small books – both classic and less well known, alongside several blanks to create your own book. These books can be subsequently displayed on a small bookshelf, which can be then situated against the backdrop of the box which, on the interior, is patterned with a wall scene and carefully laid floor (seriously, if you’re not squeaking with joy at this point then we need to talk). The tiny books themselves are madly delightful. I’m not sure why such extremes of scale are, but these are beautiful. The instructions are clear; super little people might need help with the more fiddly aspects, but this teaches bookbinding! sequential literacies! how to make your own book! how to become madly possessive over beautiful things!

God , I love this. It’s adorable. Buy it for the young people in your life and then borrow it.

(And by borrow, I mean buy them another and keep one for yourself).

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Stardust : Jeanne Willis & Briony May Smith

StardustStardust by Jeanne Willis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s talk about confidence.

Confidence is hard for big people, let alone little people, to maintain, let alone figure out if they even have it in the first place. The world is an intimidating space and circumstance conspires to place people in intimidating positions. Whether that’s your first day at school, a birthday party where you don’t know anybody, or simply walking past some bigger and scarier children at the park, life as a child is hard. And it’s easy to want to make this easier, it’s easy to want to wrap up a child and say – look, stop, this is not your life. Not yet. You don’t have to feel like this, because I am not going to let that happen. I won’t let you feel that way, not yet, not ever.

Let’s talk about realism.

It’s going to happen. At some point, your child or the children you look after or see in the bus, will feel intimidated by life and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. Life is life is life. One of the biggest things that children’s book do is help in such circumstances. And when these books are shared in loving situations, savoured slowly and closely, that’s when you help your child deal with those moments that you’d maybe rather they didn’t have to deal with. You give them models of behaviour, of potential reactions to model, and to maybe think about when they’re in the nursery and having to deal with the world by themselves.

Let’s talk about Stardust. I don’t need to tell you about the quality of Nosy Crow books at this point; just remember that they can handle books well. And that’s so important because a beautiful book tells you that what is inside is important. A child, especially those who are developing their literacies, might not be able to fully verbalise why, but they’ll get that this is an important thing.

Stardust is the story of a young girl who feels overshadowed by her sister. Her sister’s the best at everything, and the younger sister never quite manages to be number one. But one night, her grandfather tells her a story about how the whole world is made of stardust, and how she’s always been a star in his eyes. The lesson obviously sticks, because the final spread sees the now grown up girl on her way to the moon as an astronaut. This final image, my friends, is a kicker.

Briony May Smith’s artwork is joyful. It’s very calm and quiet; round, thick lines, with the constant evocation of something other in that dark sky, blues and blacks and dotted with pinprick sharp stars. She’s got something of a serene quality to the spreads too, a sort of timelessness that’s not going to allow this book to date. I really loved one spread in particular which depicts big sisters and little sisters across the world, using a variety of skin tones, cultures and costumes, yet all of them connected by the quiet consistency of line and shade. It’s subtle and yet delightful. My only sadness with this book is that it needs endpapers; there’s space for something exuberant here, particularly after that end note of the book, and without them, there’s an unfinished note in the music of the book.

So let’s talk about confidence again. What Stardust does is it models a situation of empowerment for the reader; the grandfather who believes in her, and the little girl who grows up, becomes an astronaut and flies to the moon. It is powerful stuff, and it’s perfect for anyone who feels a little wobbly with life. Adult, child, dog, cat, whatever, whoever. This is generous, powerful work and it’s hard to not be moved by it.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Moon : Britta Teckentrup

Moon: A Peek-Through Picture BookMoon: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever wondered why the moon shines in the night-time sky?

There’s something to be said about the idea of grace in picture books. It’s an airy idea to grasp, particularly when rendered in the flatness of paper and print, but it’s something that, in the best picture boos, is most definitely present. Moon is very much that; it’s a delight. Airy, magical, and graceful , it moves around the world, tracing a series of night time scenes set under a silvery waxing, waning and full moon.

And it is graceful, because it’s such a restrained book. The palette is one of shadows, of muted and restricted colours, greens and blues and blacks, a landscape lit up under the light of the moon, and then a sudden flare of colour. There’s a scene that I love, amongst many, where the moon looks down at penguins, and there’s so much life on the page, that even though the palette is carefully, beautifully, modulated, the spread sings. Do you see what I mean about that idea of grace? The balance here between the pattern of the penguins, that downward shift of the land, and the remote, precise, glory of that slender moon. It’s an eloquent spread precisely because of that balance; so genuine, so gently done.

IMG_20170808_093553745

One of the other notable elements of this book is the use of cut outs. The moon itself  is a cut out space in the page which varies as you read through the book, ultimately moving through a full lunar cycle. It’s subtle work, and manages to move the book into something where you don’t just turn the pages, you go back and forth, loooking at the moon that was and the moon that shall be. I get fulsome about books like this (I know, surprise!) but that’s because they do what they do so well and picture books build readers, and this book burns to be read under the light of a full moon at bedtime.

IMG_20170808_093616002

This edition is due out on September 7th, and I’m telling you about it now because I think it’s one to get on pre-order, and into your budgetary / lesson / teaching plans. I also think it would be an utter delight for anyone going on a camping holiday, or anybody who’s a little bit afraid of the dark. Where Moon shines (badumtish) is in how it creates this sense of connection; the moon itself may appear slightly differently to everyone but it is the same moon. We’re all on the same planet and oh, isn’t it beautiful.

IMG_20170808_093538789 (1)

My thanks to Little Tiger for the review copy. Yes, I screamed a little over-excitedly when I got it.

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I Dare You : Reece Wykes

I Dare YouI Dare You by Reece Wykes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a picture book and honestly? I get a little twitchy when I’m away from them. I get a little nervous, as though a part of me is missing and it’s a part that can only be completed by delightful endpapers and books that give you the world in a handful of words. Picture books are the buttress of our literacies and they make us who we are.

And I Dare You by Reece Wykes is rather, utterly gorgeous. It’s the tale of two bored gorillas playing a game of dares. The game starts in relatively innocuous circumstances before slowly building up as the dares became even more and more outrageous until the final dare – one which I won’t spoil for you here -is posed. It’s a beautiful and wonderfully handled moment that spirals off into somewhere delightfully suggestive in the final endpapers. (A brief note: books that give different front and back endpapers, that little bit behind the cover and before the ‘story’ itself, are perfect. These are immense spaces and Wykes uses them quite perfectly).

There’s a lot to love about this dry, dark, funny book and it comes from both the text and the imagery – as all good picture books should. Textually; there’s a dominant motif of ‘I DARE YOU…’ which begs for the exuberant chant of storytime. There’s also a useful point to be made in I Dare You about the risks of taking dares too seriously and though it’s not explicitly made (thank God), the lesson is very much there. This is one to have around to prompt conversation and to consider; and that’s something very important indeed.

Where I Dare You also shines is in the vibrancy of the art work; it’s a nicely restricted palette of muted greens and the blankness of the page that lets the colour of the two gorillas – blue and orange – sing in cntrast. The gorillas, though, my goodness. Great stylised, suggestive lines – the fluidity of their arms – as they slide subtly into greater and more outlandish dares, always subtly catching each other’s eyes and making sure that they’re noticed. Cleverness isn’t easy in picture books; quiet cleverness is even harder. These gorillas sing with skill. This book is such an unexpected, offbeat joy and the ending is perfect. It’s a lot to ask to pack so much into so little and yet I Dare You does it with spades. And Gorillas.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Piglettes : Clémentine Beauvais

PiglettesPiglettes by Clémentine Beauvais

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m always a little wary when I get offered a book to review that’s been written by somebody I know in real life. One of the things that I’m very deliberate on is that when I review, it comes from a place of honesty. And sometimes, I get concerned that that place might be affected by the people I know and because I am British and genetically trained for introversion, I get a bit conscious of that and so, every now and then, dither. So, I shall dither no more and simply tell you this: I’m lucky enough to know Clémentine in real life and she is as generous a scholar as she is as wonderful a writer. Piglettes is a joy and it is ferocious and particular and vivid and wonderful. It is a wonderful, wonderful book and it should be very much on your radar, my bookish friends.

Mireille, Astrid and Hakima have won a competition that nobody really wants to win. They are officially the three ugliest girls in their school and, because this is a competition that happens entirely online, there’s nothing that the school can do about it. It is something that the girls have to deal with on their own – or, together. The three of them band together in their adversity and decide that they’re going to cycle to Paris and gatecrash a garden party ran by the French president – a party that each girl has their own particular reasons for being there. It’s a trip powered by sausages, cheese, and cycles and it is glorious. I loved this. I loved it so much. There are moments in it that had me in raptures and moments that had me in tears; Beauvais writes with such nuance that this book gives you everything. Cheese. Lessons on body image. Friendship. Love. Sausages. It is a delight.

One of the big things about this bok is also how it treats some deep psychological issues. It’s easy to see it all about the sparking wit and humour of the narrator, Mireille, but there’s such a depth to it. Her wit and her humour comes because that’s how she’s learnt to survive and, in a few painfully beautiful asides, this becomes revealed as she wills her fellow ‘piglettes’ to not cry and show how upset they are. It’s painful, it’s gorgeous, it’s beautiful. And my god, the food in this book is something else. There is a special place in my heart for young adult books that dance with joy over sausage recipes. What an utter treat this book is. I want to wrap my arms around it and never let it go.

My (immense) thanks to Pushkin for a review copy. It’s due out in July. I suggest you make a note in your diary.

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My Name is Not Refugee : Kate Milner

My name is not RefugeeMy name is not Refugee by Kate Milner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this increasingly complex and difficult world we live in, I’ve been looking for books that help to explain and support younger readers. They have often proven of immense value to myself and the dual appeal of texts like this to both adult and child cannot be ignored. Step towards children’s books if you’re struggling to find answers; there’s something to be said for the pure poetics and the stylistic truths that can exist in this space.

I was delighted to come across My Name Is Not Refugee, a picture book which tells the story of an unnamed mother and son who need to leave their home. As we go along their journey, the text occasionally turns towards the reader and asks a direct question of them: “Can you speak more than one language?” or “What would you take?” It’s a simple technique and yet an incredibly potent one. Books like this thrive not only on the story that they provide but also on the discussion they provoke. I was very pleased to discover an excellent teacher’s resource kit for My Name Is Not Refugee and would direct you there as a matter of haste.

Milner’s great strength comes in her restraint; the text is poised and quiet, simply rendering the events with a sort of matter of fact air. Being a refugee is scary but also “quite exciting too”, yet she doesn’t hold back from showing the moments beyond those words. Some of the most powerful spreads in the book show great scenes beyond the text; swathes of tents in the distant, or a host of people sleeping on mats on the floor. What makes these even more beautiful is how Milner uses white space; many of the images are wrapped in white space, and so become evocative, painful little moments. It’s the detail, really, of a big journey that’s almost too big to understand, and it’s gracefully done.

There’s a lot to love about this incredibly deft and sensitively told picture book. Bring this towards little people who are asking questions – and bring it towards those little people who aren’t. My Name Is Not Refugee has this great, great range of appeal and I have a lot of time for it, I really do.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Things A Bright Girl Can Do : Sally Nicholls

Things a Bright Girl Can DoThings a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been sitting on this review for a week or so, in that gloriously selfish phase of having read a Good Book but not wanting to talk about it. Sometimes I want to wallow in that sensation and just hold it tight to myself, that feeling of having read something transformative, big, honest and real. The events of the past few days have, however, reminded me of the importance of talking about this sort of thing and so here I am; earlier than I intended, because this book is not due out until September, but I think now’s the right time to tell you about it.

Sally Nicholls is a joy. She has this great gift of story; and so I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Things A Bright Girl Can Do. It’s Suffragettes, it’s history, it’s bravery, it’s love. It’s gorgeous, really, and it made me so utterly possessive of it. It follows the stories of three different girls as they work to realise their political and personal views. They fall in love, out of love, and the relationships which underpin this novel are beautiful and sensitively told. Honestly too; there’s no easy racing off into the sunset here, everything has to be earned.

I loved this book. It’s so determined and genuine, and Nicholls tells the story with such a straightforward honesty that it’s hard to not get sucked in. It’s a perspective that I haven’t read enough of and so I also welcome this. To add to that, I’m also very grateful for the rise of overtly political and politicised young adult fiction. Things A Bright Girl Can Do doesn’t sugarcoat the process of becoming politically active, but it does render it as an absolutely vital experience.

And it believes in teenagers, young people. It believes in their chance and their ability to make a difference. Get this on pre-order now, and when it comes shelve it with something like Troublemakers, and let them work their respective magics.

As I said at the start of this review, I didn’t really want to talk about Things A Bright Girl Can Do because I was selfish over it. Possessive. But here’s the thing, that’s what a good book gives you. You have that moment with it and then you realise that, as great and vital as that moment is, it’s time to share it with the world because you can’t let a book that’s as good as this go unheard.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Troublemakers : Catherine Barter

TroublemakersTroublemakers by Catherine Barter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to write this review. I loved Troublemakers but I didn’t know how to write about it. It’s a curious thing, sort of not quite what I expected it to be and somehow more than that. It’s a big book. It’s thick and edible and layered with a thousand different notes, and all of them hook into you and don’t let you go. I loved it. I don’t know how to write about it, so maybe I’ll try and give you something different than my normal reviews.

But let’s begin with the blurb. Alena lives with her half-brother, Danny, and his boyfriend, in the east end of London. She has never known her mother who died when she was a baby. Danny and Nick are her family. Danny, though, has taken a job with a local politician who’s aiming to be London Mayor; somebody is terrorising the local area by leaving bombs in supermarkets, and Alena’s suddenly desperate to know more about her past. Her family.

This is a coming of age story, and it’s a yell into the world, that moment when you walk to the edge of the beach, dip your toes in the sea and yell out into the blue beyond that you are here that you matter that you exist. Troublemakers is an affirmation; a defiance, but it’s also somehow more than that. It’s like Sunday Lunch with the people you love, those lunches where you know everything almost a moment before it happens because you know these people. It’s about family, forgiveness, foolishness, love. The shape of people. The mistakes of people. The love. The cup of tea, the feet up on the sofa, the recognition of what makes you you. It’s a little bit Jenny Downham, a little bit Annabel Pitcher, but it’s very much itself. It’s feelings, and fear and friendships. Coffee. Hope. Hate. Joy.

I still don’t know how to write about this book, but oh I know how to write about what it made me feel.

My thanks to Andersen for a review copy.

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Pigeon P.I : Meg McLaren

Pigeon P.I.Pigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to picture books, I always, always have to talk about the complexity of them. They are hard beasts to get right, they are even harder beasts to do well. Pigeon P.I is something quite oddly wonderful, a sort of mashup of gumshoe detective drama with a lot of bird puns and something quite delightful in the process. Forgive me for simply reciting the blurb in whole but I think it does the business better than anything I can

CASE No. 621 – Feathered friends are going missing all over town, but private investigator Murray likes the quiet life … until a little bird tells him a story the famous Pigeon P.I cannot ignore.

There’s such a lot to enjoy in this book from the wry beginning of “Business was slow / just the way I liked it” through to the exuberant flurry of detail that dots nearly every page and in substantial amounts. Some of the more specific puns may require explaining (“Privet Eye – Gardening Solutions”) but it’s a delight to pick them out and this is a book that will sing with repeated reading (“Two beaks are better than one”). As Murray starts to work his way through the case, he comes into contact with a range of individuals – plucky canaries, furtive pigeons, and the reveal of the eventual kingpin is a delight. It’s a soaring, intense, bold double spread and one that stamps the book with such a moment that you can’t help but stop and drink it in.

I’d definitely place this a little towards the older edge of picture books, somewhere around Elys Dolan and Sarah Bee because of the dense detail and puns. It’s such a smart and witty book, and it’s one that gives different endpapers! Endpapers are so important! The reader gets a guide to investigation at the start of the book – take quiet snacks, and not ‘quiet but impractical’ snacks such as jelly; whilst the end of the book has tips on advanced detection featuring Duck Tracy and Sherstork Holmes. A delight. A bold, mad, glorious delight.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Evie’s Ghost : Helen Peters

Evie's GhostEvie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a story to tell you about this. I was chatting with one of my lovely librarian colleagues about the books I was going to review and mentioned ‘Evie’s Ghost’. It turned out that her daughter had adored Peters’ The Secret Hen House Theatre and had gone so far as to buy a copy of it for a friend for her birthday. Now that says a lot for me. I love children’s books, but I’m not a child. A recommendation from those ‘on the ground’, as it were, is an important and wonderful thing. I value them. Immensely. And so when I came to read Evie’s Ghost I was so pleased to see that Peters was worth it. This book, a sort of Tom’s Midnight Garden meets Charlotte Sometimes, is charming. Intensely.

Evie has been sent off to stay with her godmother whilst her mother has gone off on honeymoon with her new husband. Bearing in mind that Evie doesn’t know her godmother, at all, it’s all a bit awkward. However, the first night in the spare room changes everything. Evie goes to bed in the present-day and wakes up in 1814. She’s a housemaid, forced to scrub and clean and do thousand tasks whilst being painfully encouraged with the odd clip around the ear. But she’s gone back in time for a reason. Something awful is about to happen in this house and it’s up to Evie to solve it…

One of the great things about Peters’ writing is that she manages to juxtapose the everyday with the fantastical. You believe Evie’s journey between times, and you recognise her reaction. The sensibilities of a modern child, with running water and amenities, is neatly juxtaposed against the historical context of 1814 where quite a few things are different. There’s a lot of history and period terminology looped in this, and it’s handled really well. It’s a charming, pacy, rich adventure story. I rave a lot about the books that Nosy Crow produces but they have an eye for story. That transferable, rich, layered sense of story. Evie’s Ghost is such a solid and rich story. I read a lot for this age, and I’m always intrigued by those stories that catch me by surprise. This did, and I loved it. I also really welcomed how Peters … (view spoiler)

I love how I’m coming across some smart and genuine time-slip stories at the moment. Maybe this is the next thing? If they’re all as good and as well told as this, then I’ll be very happy.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy. Evie’s Ghost is out at the start of April.

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The Jamie Drake Equation : Christopher Edge

The Jamie Drake EquationThe Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to love about The Jamie Drake Equation. It’s not only a book that twists something quite classic and contemporary together, delivering a science fiction story driven by smartphones and astronaut dads, but it also sensitively and truthfully deals with what it’s like to be the family that’s left behind. How would it feel to see your Dad in space? And, more to the point, how does it feel and what can you do when something goes wrong?

The Jamie Drake Equation is presented beautifully. It is a good looking book, and it looks exciting. The lettering and the stars all hang suspended in the sky, and they shine. There’s something here instantly for those who are interested in space; everything about this book’s front cover is telling you to look upwards and towards the sky and the stars. The title is a constellation itself, the letters drawn between star points and oh, it’s clever and smart stuff.

Edge writes with an engaging and delightful competence. The Jamie Drake Equation is a spectacularly accessible read which, somehow, manages to juxtapose Fibonacci sequences with aliens with the realisation that whatever shape your family may take, it is still your family. I loved this. It’s so kind, and so well-structured, and just a great, fiercely satisfying read. Edge has it with these stories, he really does.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Fish Boy : Chloe Daykin

Fish BoyFish Boy by Chloe Daykin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to love about this determined novel from Daykin. Fish Boy, her first book for middle grade readers, sings of something very peculiar and very distinct. Billy Shiel is a boy with a lot on his mind. Some of that centres on his mother’s mysterious illness, some of that centres on his troubles at school where he’s not really managing to cope and so he swims in the sea and listens to David Attenborough and somehow, manages to keep going. Just. But then everything changes when a new boy starts at school and a mackerel swims up to Billy and starts to talk to him…

It’s a delightful book to sum up because it is so resolutely what it is. The episodes between Billy and the mackerel sing of something so resolutely other and unknown that there’s a temptation to tie it off with a precise explanation. This, I’m pleased to note, is something Daykin resists and I applaud that. The world has space for mystery and for doubt and this book sings of that edge in between knowing and unknowing. Fact. Fiction. Sometimes it’s very hard to parse the world when you’re under a lot of pressure. It’s even harder to do that when you’re dealing with unknown and unnamed illnesses, as Billy and his family are.

I like this. I like Daykin’s fragmentary and determinedly restrained prose. It’s shard-like at points; jagged, bare-boned paragraphs that consist of maybe one word or two and even then, you’re not sure you wholly know who’s speaking or where the language is coming from. Magic. Mystery. Mackerels. Even writing that makes me smile. Give Fish Boy to those readers who love David Almond but also Micheal Morpurgo where he’s at his more magical. There’s something rather beautiful about this stubborn, pointed, eccentric and utterly vivid novel. I really hope it swims.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Dragon’s Green : Scarlett Thomas

Dragon's GreenDragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dragon’s Green is a really intriguing book and one that I sort of thought I wouldn’t like and then really rather did. It reaches in a thousand different directions, some more successfully than others, and when it hits, it’s utterly wonderful.

So, a plot precis: Euphemia Truelove, pupil of a school for the Gifted And Strange, is set to inherit a very unusual library from her very unusual grandfather. And alongside that inheritence come problems of a very deep and dark nature that can only be solved with some friends, some magical boons, and a lot of bravery. It’s the first novel of a series and, perhaps even more praise-worthily, manages to deliver a self-contained story that doesn’t have one of those hideous ‘tune in next time’ cliff-hangers.

There’s a place for this sort of novel within children’s and young adult literature and I’m pleased that Thomas is filling it. I get asked quite a lot about books to read after Harry Potter and despite a lot of effort (again, some better than others), there’s never really been anything to fill that gap. Dragon’s Green inhabits that ‘next’ space really nicely and in doing so, delivers something that speaks to both Harry Potter but also to Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson. And they’re not authors to invoke lightly, but Dragon’s Green, when it connects and when it hits its moments full on, invokes those connections and does it with spades.

I like this. I like the complexity of it, and I like how straightfoward Thomas is in delivering it and I love how much she trusts her characters to do the things that they need to do. It’s not a perfect novel. There’s a saggy middle which loses its way somewhat, and there’s a few moments which needed a bit of rereading in order to fully understand. But, even having said that (and it is something that definitely needs to be acknowledged) I didn’t stop reading this wonderfully distinct and convincing novel. I didn’t want to stop reading it at all. There’s the kernels of something very good here.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Inside, Outside, Upside, Down : Yasmeen Ismail

Inside, Outside, Upside DownInside, Outside, Upside Down by Yasmeen Ismail

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to like about this charming sequence of activity books from Ismail and I think a lot of centres on the value of an unfinished line. Take a look, next time you’re somewhere bookish, at a similar book, maybe one of those colouring in things that are everywhere. Take a look at how they construct an image. I’ll guess that it’s definite, solid, unbroken line. The sort of line you colour firmly within the boundaries of. Those lines are great and gorgeous and serve an incredibly relevant function in that context but Ismail’s lines are different. They have space in them; air, and don’t quite touch at the end, or run over a line, or leave a little gap before bouncing out into the whiteness of the page beyond. And that’s important in a book like this, aimed at those who have a little bit of dexterity in drawing, a little bit of ability to colour (4yrs+), because it allows mistakes. It allows ownership. It allows and it facilitates drawing to fall out of the gaps and spill across and over things. It’s a simple thing, but it’s smartly done and it recurs in the other book in the series I had a look at: Push, Pull, Empty, Full. Ismail gets line. She gets the freedom of it and what it can tell a reader, even when they don’t know that it’s talking to it.

Content wise, Inside, Outside, Upside Down is a joy. Three characters, Duck, Bear and Rabbit, explore a range of situations involving paired words and opposites over a series of double page spreads. In one example, Bear holds his bag right side up and the reader is asked to colour Bear’s bag. The pairing image, on the right hand side of the page, sees Bear’s bag upside down and the reader asked to ‘draw what’s falling out’. There are some quite complex thought processes here which is why it reaches a little bit towards the older age of the demographic. But oh, Ismail’s use of line and the slightly offbeat questions and challenges towards the reader are so very definitely worth it. What a smart and kind book this is.

I am grateful to the publisher for a review copy of this title.

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The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen : Hope Nicholson

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book HistoryThe Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Due out in May, this is one of those books that I want to write about now and talk about now because it’s great. Simple as that; I have been looking for books and for writers that historicise their work from a female and a feminist perspective because, so often, that is a perspective that is lacking. And it’s a perspective that I’ve not come across that much in comics and so, because of all of that, and the characters that this text covers, and the sheer welcome presence of it, that I review it and tell you to get it on order and get it on request and to find a hole in your budget for it now.

Nicholson writes with a lot of love for her subject and isn’t afraid to pull and poke at the holes within it. There are always problems in beloved things; nothing is not perfect and there’s a skill in being able to love and to address the problematics within your subject. Nicholson doesn’t shy away from addressing these and I was struck most powerfully by this with her discussion of Witchblade. Witchblade is a comic I’ve always struggled with visually and Nicholson both reassured me with this perspective whilst helping me to understand the aesthetic more. And I like this; I like people that make me think twice about something.

So yes, this is an early review, but it’s a review that I’ve sat on for about two weeks now and that I don’t want to sit on any more. This is an important and relevant book that talks about heroines ranging from Squirrel Girl through to Xavin through to The Wing. Nicholson ranges widely and freely around her topic and I like that a lot. I like this book, can you tell? There’s a place for it in the world, and I’d like it to inhabit it quite solidly. As Nicholson herself writes, strong female protagonists “belong in comics [and] they’ve been there all along.”

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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