New reviews: A great spooky duo from Bloomsbury Books!

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Autumn publishing from Bloomsbury kids books has been pretty impressive!  I have a pile of great early to middle grade reads, some of which I’ve already featured in the last month and some which are to come. 

Today, I’m focusing on two quite different middle grade books with a spooky feel, making them great October reads and perfect to keep children entertained over half term!

Witch Snitch

Witch Snitch A Witch Wars Adventure by Sibéal Pounder illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

It’s Tiga’s first Witchoween – when everyone celebrates how brilliant witches are! Peggy has asked Tiga and Fran to make a documentary about Sinkville’s most famous witches, with Fluffanora helping out as wardrobe director. The intrepid film crew delve into every hidden corner of Sinkville and find mouldy jam, microcats and an astonishing amount of cake, but Tiga can’t help but feel there’s something going on behind her back…

This is my first encounter with Tiga and friends and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Larger than life characters abound and as the film crew travels through Sinkville we find out all about the witches and their various ‘talents’!  Fran the fairy is quite hilarious and there’s a lot of slapstick humour involving jam and various types of goo. Thankfully with Fluffanora on hand to provide new outfits, Fran and friends don’t stay messy for long.  Tiga is convinced there’s more to this documentary than outrageous outfit swaps and witchy stories…. and she’s not wrong. She needn’t worry though – it looks like Witchoween could be the best celebration ever!

Witch Snitch is definitely a tale focused on the lighter side of magic and witches, which is perfect if you find some elements of witchcraft too spooky.  As a young girl I would have loved these tales. It’s also a celebration of friendship at heart – and fashion, sprinkles, cake and mouldy jam! I particularly liked the suggestions interspersed throughout the book for readers to really embrace the witchy fun; with instructions on everything from how to embellish a Witchoween outfit to making a jam jar party bag.  Gorgeous illustrations by Laura Ellen Andersen add to the magic and mayhem! If you have a budding fashionista at home, and want to encourage creativity as well as reading, this is a perfect book to do just that and a great, fun read.

Try one of the other books in the series:

Find out more at:

www.bloomsbury.com  www.sibealpounder.com and www.lauraellenanderson.co.uk

 

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Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestly

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Maudlin Towers. Behind the walls of this gloom-laden school, mysterious happenings and strange goings-on are afoot.  It’s up to our intrepid heroes Mildew and Sponge to take on a spot of detectivating and save the day!  Will they succeed?

Mildew and Sponge are shocked when they hear not only has one of their teachers Mr Particle died suddenly, but a precious and ancient artefact, the School Spoon has been stolen! Add to this the ghostly activities of a Viking in the ha-ha and a strange apparition in the attic – Mildew decides it’s time he and Sponge took action. With all the teachers behaving in as deranged a manner as normal, it’s a hard task ahead of them! They begin ‘detectivating’ and soon discover it really isn’t straightforward; especially when you add in the further complications of….a time machine….and of course, a werewolf!! A madcap, hilarious time-warped adventure follows, with Sponge just managing to keep up with Mildew- or is it the other way around?!

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read all year with some of the best dialogue between two protagonists ever; I laughed all the way through.  Mildew and Sponge’s characters are brilliantly brought to life through their conversation and responses.  I reviewed a proof copy of the book so am yet to see the fully illustrated version – which I suspect will bring the story leaping off the page!  But this is a taste of the residents of the school:

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Maudlin Towers is a school for the “Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Particularly Wealthy”– a somewhat unhappy, but very amusing premise. Having worked in several boarding schools myself, some of the teaching characters rang very true – especially Mr Stupendo the Games teacher. And what a name! In fact, the entire cast is full of fantastic characters with fantastic names (Hipflask anyone?!).  A clever plot including all the obstacles that time travel can create keeps you on your toes.  With action packed sequences, creepy setting, quite daft ideas and a really rather wonderful friendship, Maudlin Towers is the perfect Gothic read!

Other titles by Chris Priestly include:

Find out more at www.chrispriestleybooks.com and www.bloomsbury.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me these books to review.

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Bookchat: Alison Jay, author and illustrator

banner newThe wonder of books is that there is always something new to discover.  So when Old Barn Books who publish simply gorgeous titles, sent me two books by Alison Jay, I found a new favourite author and illustrator! How I’ve missed her all this time, I have no idea.  I absolutely love Alison’s artwork; her illustrations are beautiful as is her storytelling – whether through pictures, words or both.

In Bee & Me, the story of a little girls’ friendship with a bee is told through pictures. We go on a wonderful journey of discovery, not just of finding new friends but also of seeing the importance of bees to nature. The detail in the drawings is stunning and totally immersive, making you feel you too could fly on the back of a bee!  We learn how crucial these tiny creatures are to our world, and at the end of the story there’s a helpful guide on how we can ‘Bee Aware’.

Looking for Yesterday is quite simply one of the most beautiful picture books I have encountered and it pulls gently at your heart strings.  A little boy wants to get back to yesterday, for that was the best day ever. Touching on thoughts of time and space, the boy tries all sorts of things to get back to the past.  But his grandfather has other ideas and gently shows him how every day gives the opportunity for new adventures! For anyone who has ever been blessed enough to have an inspirational person in their lives, you will appreciate the nostalgia explored in this story; whilst memories are so important, it’s today that matters most!  I just loved it.

I am thrilled to introduce Alison to the blog for a Bookchat today.  Thank you so much for joining us Alison!

Congratulations on the publication of Looking for Yesterday – an absolutely beautiful story. I love the nostalgia of the story but also the message of making the most of today. Can you tell us the why you wrote it? The idea for Looking for Yesterday came to me after listening to a radio programme about the universe and stars. They also talked about wormholes and time travel. I really don’t understand quantum physics but the theory that it might be possible to travel backwards or forwards in time I think is fascinating to both adults and children.

You capture the relationship between Boy and his Grandad so well. Was this inspired by your own family? I never met either of my Grandads unfortunately,  but the Grandad in Looking for Yesterday is a bit like my Dad. He was an engineer and worked for an aeronautical company for a few years. He didn’t ride a classic motor bike but he was always busy making and mending things, including  old cars . The boy in the book is like my brother Mark as a child: he loved everything to do with space and the universe. He was given a telescope one Christmas  when he was about 8 years old and is still fascinated with the universe. He  read The Theory of Everything a few years ago and was even lucky enough to meet Professor Steven Hawking very briefly.

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Your illustrations have a beautiful timeless quality to them. How has your distinctive style developed over time and what has influenced you, if anything/one?My style has developed quite a lot since my college days. I used to work in a much simpler childlike way. I used to make strange 3D figures out of paper and glue. I would paint them then make background sets so they could be photographed. I also worked in pen and ink. When I left college I was told the work was not commercial enough to be published, so after working for a few years in animation studios I gradually developed a new style with paint and varnish and started to get commissions in the new style. I love all sorts of different artists from Breughel to Jean-Michel Basquiat and lots of others in between. I think probably,  like most illustrators and artists, I have developed my style from lots of different influences which sort of melt down and hopefully produce a style which is unique to the individual.

Speaking of time (!) if you could go back to ‘yesterday’ where would you go and why? I think if I could go back to any time in history it would just be to meet members of my family that are long gone. It would be interesting to meet them  but I would just pop back for a few hours. I think I wouldn’t want to stay. I am happy living today. It is more exciting not knowing what is going to happen which is what the book tries to say.

Bee & Me made me want to have a pet bee and plant a garden full of bee friendly flowers! It’s a gorgeous story – I love all the tiny detail in your illustrations. Do you find it easier to tell the story with or without words? Yes, much easier without words. I find writing very difficult. I think my wordless books are more like storyboards for films which probably comes from my days working in animation. In Bee and Me I had the chance to add all the  different peoples lives going on in the windows of the tower blocks. I put a writer, an artist, a cake-maker and lots more. It was really fun to make up little narratives and how things changed through the seasons.

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You have illustrated some wonderful stories. If you could choose to illustrate any story ever written (!), which would it be and why? I have always loved James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, so I would really like to illustrate that book. I have a mad love of painting absurdly large fruit and vegetables for some reason. I also like painting insects even though I am the first to scream if something crawls on me.

What do you most enjoy about telling stories through illustration? I think I love that you can communicate narratives, ideas and emotions with or without words. Visual art  is  very immediate but  with lots of detail it can take a bit longer to look and find other narratives within the pictures. I like the idea that the child or adult notices little things they missed at first. I think it make you want to keep looking through the book  again and again to find new  little stories .

Finally, if you could tell a budding illustrator/author just one thing to help them what would it be? I think my advice would be to find the subject matter and way of working you enjoy most. It will always show in the work and the enjoyment will keep you going for ever.

Thank you Alison for giving us an insight into your work and sharing your inspiration with us.

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For more information visit www.oldbarnbooks.com.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

 

 

Guest blog: Mixing Fact and Fiction by Jane Clarke

I’m delighted to welcome Jane Clarke to the blog today, author of Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments, a brilliant new series of science-based adventures for younger readers.  Whether they are budding scientists or maybe are just curious about how the world works, this series is sure to entertain them. Full of great characters (I particularly love Einstein the dog!), wonderful illustrations by James Brown and of course, super science experiments that can easily be tried at home, Al’s Awesome Science is a fantastic blend of fact and fiction. Jane, an award winning author of over 80 children’s books, is sharing today how she achieves this.  Welcome to the blog Jane!

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“In the Al’s Awesome Science books, I aim to write a great story, filled with fun science facts and experiments, that’s an entertaining read regardless of how much the reader knows about the subject. Continue reading

Book of the Month: Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School by Barry Hutchison

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Our Book of the Month this October is the brilliant first book in a new series Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School written by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Rob Biddulph and published by Nosy Crow.  Barry Hutchison is an award-winning children’s author and screenwriter. A lifelong fan of funny books, Barry loves making readers laugh with his unique brand of comedy and is particularly passionate about encouraging reluctant boys to pick up a book. I can guarantee Spectre Collectors will do just that and what’s more will no doubt entertain all those who read it!

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Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School

by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Denzel is having no luck with his maths homework. First, it’s too difficult, then there’s a terrifying mess of smoky black tendrils that wants to kill him, then two teenagers explode through his window holding guns and throwing magic. They are the Spectre Collectors, and spooky is their speciality.  Realising that Denzel has a special gift, they sweep him off to their headquarters for training. Tested with awesome weapons and ancient magic, Denzel realises just how little he knows. But there’s a serious problem on its way from the Spectral Realm, so Denzel has a lot to learn. FAST.

Denzel is an ordinary 13 year old. Or so he thought.  After seeing a ghost in his bedroom, all manner of mad things start to happen. Attacked by ghosts and recused by two seemingly crazy teenagers, Boyle and Samara, soon Denzel finds himself in the hands of the Spectre Collectors.  It’s no surprise that things aren’t what they seem when dealing with the supernatural, but Denzel’s unique powers give him an insight no-one else believes.  His quirky best friend Smithy can’t help him and although he wants to believe he has a vital role to play, Denzel feels something just isn’t right. Especially when Director Quinn, the head of the organisation shows how ruthless she is. Denzel soon finds it’s not just the ghosts he’s got to worry about!

Spectre Collectors: Too Ghoul for School is a fantastic adventure with twists galore and a great cast of characters guaranteed to keep readers entertained. The story has real heart too – Denzel loses his parents and finds out just what friendship really means, whilst trying to save the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the action sequences, some of which were laugh out loud funny.  With gadgets galore and some maniacal monsters, it’s a brilliant mix of magic, mayhem and some amazing modern technology. Denzel and his friend Smithy make a great double act, with some hilarious dialogue and are hugely likeable.  The story has an imaginative plot, clever twists and a fast paced narrative which will have readers hooked.  A really entertaining middle grade book with great artwork by Rob Biddulph, Spectre Collectors is sure to be a hit – and makes a suitably spooky autumn read!

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Find out more at www.barryhutchison.com and www.robbiddulph.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

New review: Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Just in time for National Poetry Day, I’m delighted to be reviewing the fantastic book, Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex, author and illustrator of many picture books and novels.

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We all know nothing rhymes with orange. But how does that make Orange feel? Well, left out! When a parade of fruit gets together to sing a song about how wonderful they are – and the song happens to rhyme – Orange can’t help but feel like it’s impossible for him to ever fit in.   

As soon as I read about this book I knew I’d love it – and I do!  It’s a wonderful parable of how in order to fit in, we sometimes need a bit of help and for that to happen others need to make space and maybe adjust a little.

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It starts as an amusing poem celebrating the wonderful and varied fruit, but as Orange gets more downhearted and desperate to fit it, the rhymes get a little more ridiculous.  As Drew Daywalt said (author of The Day the Crayons Quit) “any picture book that can work in Friedrich Nietzsche and lycanthropic pears is a winner”.

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Even Orange can’t work out what’s going on, asking questions throughout, creating an emotional commentary alongside the fruit parade poem.  Finally, it’s a very intuitive Apple who realises certain fruit are “feeling rotten because they’ve been forgotten” and works out just how to help Orange fit in.  I won’t spoil it, but it’s genius in its childlike simplicity!

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The illustrations are a combination of photographs, text and drawing, bringing to life a vibrant cast of characters – the fruit we know and love. Young and old alike will enjoy this fruity tale, a good book to read aloud creating instant empathy. Original and with a great message celebrating difference, Nothing Rhymes with Orange is a wonderful book to help celebrate National Poetry Day!

Find out more at www.adamrex.com

With thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for sending me this book to review.

New review: Early Learning with The British Museum and Nosy Crow

 

The partnership continues between The British Museum and Nosy Crow with three fantastic new books in their series of books for 0-12 year olds.  The British Museum is the country’s leading visitor attraction and the second most visited museum in the world.  The books draw on the British Museum’s unparalleled, vast and fascinating collection of objects and Nosy Crow’s expertise as the Independent Children’s publisher of the Year 2017, to create a collection of titles that represent and celebrate cultures from around the world!

Colours and Opposites are the two new titles in their board books series, where inquisitive toddlers can enjoy learning all the colours of the rainbow and contrasting opposites alongside seeing wonderful photographic images highlighting cultures from around the world.

There is a useful index in each book, detailing all the artefacts shown, giving little ones and grown-ups the chance to explore and learn more.

Featuring everything from illustrations by Beatrix Potter to a mask made of coconut from Bangladesh, I love the celebration of history and culture giving a wonderful opportunity to inspire even the youngest of minds. I also think older sibling’s, parents and carers will enjoy the tour through history!

Mixed-Up Masterpieces Funny Faces is a fun photographic mix-up book, featuring faces from the museum’s collection.  With puzzles to solve matching up the correct faces and then hours of fun mixing them all up again, there’s hundreds of hilarious combinations!

The faces used are incredible real masks from around the world, with an index at the back of the book telling you about each one. Again this is a book that will inspire curiosity in the many and varied cultures around the world and bring history to life – something all the family can enjoy.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com and www.britishmuseum.org

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.

New Review: You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! by Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Em Lynas writes stories and poems for children aged 5 to 12 years. You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is her fantastic debut novel, published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Jamie Littler. A perfect combination of lively narrative and marvellous illustrations that bounce off the page, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read!

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You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! By Em Lynas illustrated by Jamie Littler

Daisy Wart is NOT a witch! She is an ACTRESS!  And actresses do NOT go to witch school! So when she finds herself at Toadspit Towers, sleeping in a swinging cauldron (surprisingly comfortable) and eating gloop (unsurprisingly disgusting), she vows to escape at all costs.  But how can she get past the TOADSPIT TERRORS that lurk in the corridors? And what if she REALLY IS a witch? Maybe even the WITCHIEST WITCH of them all?

Daisy Wart is furious when her Granny leaves her at Toadspit Towers boarding school for witches. Adamant that she is not a witch and determined to escape, so she can prove her thespian abilities in her school play, Daisy hatches an escape plan. And another, and another….all of which are doomed to fail! Stuck in a dormitory with the irritating Dominique, Best and Brightest Witch in the school, the longer Daisy spends at Toadspit, the more the mystery surrounding her ancestry unfolds.  Not only this, the school has a few mysteries of its own and it seems Daisy’s escape is tied up with the fate of Toadspit. With two new friends to help her, Daisy gathers all her courage and ingenuity to once and for all prove she is not a witch….!

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! is a fantastic story, full of humour and original, fun magical details that will delight readers.  I particularly liked the school reward system – magical ticks giving students the ability to ‘buy’ treats (I’d love to be able to do this at my school!) A lively cast of characters include Mrs Toadspit the resident ghost and headmistress; Mrs Thorn, a teacher with looks that cold ‘shrivel’; Jess and Shalini, Daisy’s friends; and of course a variety of magical creatures from hooting owls, carnivorous plants to magical wooden cats! I particularly enjoyed Ms Lobelia the singing/gardening expert (wonderfully drawn by Jamie Littler).

Daisy who is a loveable but somewhat feisty girl has to quickly learn how to fit in at her new school and make friends, something many readers will identify with – although I don’t imagine many readers sleep in swinging cauldrons! Jamie Littler’s fantastic Illustrations bring to life the humour and magic of the story and as the plot thickens, there are some brilliantly described edge of your seat moments. There is a slightly unexpectedly gruesome moment as the story climaxes to watch out for with younger readers, but I’m sure You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School! will be a hit with all who read it and they’ll be clamouring for the next in the series!

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Find out more at www.emlynas.weebly.com.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review!