Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher

Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher with illustrations by Eglantine CeulemansMarge

Yo ho ho, me hearties, Marge is Back! This time there’s a baby on the loose. Meet Zara, the naughty little cousin who never sleeps and loves to steal treasure. Marge thinks she’s a pirate and maybe she’s right. 

But will the imaginative babysitter be on her best behaviour? And can Jemima save the day at her Uncle’s wedding?

Jemima and Jake are delighted that their colourful, larger-than-life (but small in stature) babysitter, Marge, is coming to look after to them. But they’re less than delighted that their baby cousin Zara will be there too.  She does nothing but cause trouble, making playtime hazardous and far less enjoyable.  However, with Marge in charge, they soon realise that perhaps there is hope for fun even with Zara getting in the way and generally causing mayhem.  From playing pirates in the garden to swimming in the local pool and even at a wedding, Marge soon shows them who is boss! Even with Marge’s eccentric ways, everything that needs to be done gets done and more importantly to them, Jemima and Jake have a great time!

Featuring three stories in one, Marge and the Pirate Baby is a great read, perfect for younger middle grade children.  The second in the series and told from the point of view of Jemima, the eldest child in the Button family, expect some laugh-out-loud moments and wonderful surprises.  Who wouldn’t love a babysitter who insists she has links to royalty and rainbow coloured hair?!  Marge is quite possibly the best babysitter ever – helping the children build camps and giving them ice cream before lunch, with lots of freedom to be themselves but making sure they do as they’re supposed to. I love her eccentricities and madcap way of doing things.  Marge shares her experiences as a pirate, an intrepid explorer and member of the royal household throughout, inspiring her young charges. Isla Fisher perfectly captures the mayhem that can surround looking after children –as well as the delight children feel when a grown-up behaves in an unexpected way!  And the illustrations brilliantly bring to life marvellous Marge and her young charges.

These stories cleverly reflect real situations that children can feel worried or nervous about like learning to dive and being a bridesmaid, with Marge coming to the rescue and giving just the right encouragement when needed.  Young readers will be inspired to be brave, look out for each other and perhaps not be so quick to judge a situation. I love the fact the Button parents think Marge is a totally ‘normal’ babysitter, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think every family should have a Marge! I would thoroughly recommend these stories; great for reading aloud or enjoying independently.

Find out more at www.piccadillypress.co.uk and www.eglantineceulemans.com.

With thanks to Piccadilly Press for sending me this book.

 

Spring Forward! Special feature coming soon…

Oh the irony of waking up to awful wet weather on the official First Day of Spring! It doesn’t feel much like spring today, so to provide a bit of spring time inspiration, I’m pleased to announce a new special feature coming soon!

Spring time quote

‘Just in time for Spring  will celebrate new authors, new books and general all round inspiration in children’s books. With participation from some wonderful children’s writers and publishers, I’ll be interviewing the people who bring to life new worlds and new characters, finding out all about their new projects. It all starts in the next few weeks, so watch this space!

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Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma by Jane Clarke & Loretta Schauer

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma

by Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer

It’s a Fairytale emergency! Granny’s gone missing….Has the Big Bad Wolf kidnapped her or even gobbled her up? Quick, call Sky Private Eye! Cupcakes, clues Sky Private Eyeand rescues are this fairy tale detective’s speciality, but can Sky and Little Red Riding Hood uncover the clues fast enough to save Granny.

This is one of a lovely series featuring Sky Private Eye and various fairytale characters. In this book, Sky (along with her dog Snuffles) is called to investigate when Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny disappears. With the help of Sky’s special cupcakes and some clever detective work, they discover Granny hasn’t gone missing but she IS in danger of being gobbled up!  Sky and Little Red Riding Hood use all their ingenuity to help rescue Granny and make sure the Wolf never bothers them again.

Sky Private Eye 2

Sky Private Eye is a thoroughly enjoyable read, bringing to life classic fairytale characters in a new and brilliant way. A very accessible font and clear narrative makes this a great book for fledgling readers to try themselves, as well as being a good story to read aloud.

The wonderful illustrations are lively, colourful and perfectly capture the tone of the story – fun with just enough thrills but not too scary!Sky Private Eye 1  I loved the use of magic baking to help save the day and readers can try their hand at baking these brilliant cakes using the recipe at the back of the book.  All in all, it’s a great story to have on your bookshelf and sure to be a hit with aspiring bakers and fairytale fans alike.

I’m looking forward to reading Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit featuring the Gingerbread Boy!

Find out more at www.jane-clarke.co.uk and www.lorettaschauer.com or www.fivequills.co.uk

Review also available at Discover & BeThanks to Catherine Ward PR and Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

To keep or to keep? Moving house, moving books.

I’ve just moved home. That in itself might be enough to fill some with dread; the thought of moving, packing your life and its contents in to boxes and transferring it all to another place is a little daunting.

But imagine: if you’re a reader; a book person, the reality is, moving house will always be more difficult with the added requirement of a book moving lorry! So I couldn’t really ignore the fact I needed to make some space and cull my book collection. I’m used to culls; as a school librarian, I’ve often gone through book stock and weeded out the old, out of date or unused books taking up valuable shelf space. But it’s not quite the same when you’re going through your own books. You tend not to have a collection policy driven by curriculum and budgets (well maybe budgets sometimes….!).

So how do you manage your own personal book collection? I knew I’d have to get rid of some books that was a fact, but which ones? How to differentiate between keeping something I actually needed versus something I wanted versus something I loved? Why do we keep books we’ve read? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely a re-reader and have many books I couldn’t possibly part with because I’ve read them so many times they’re a part of who I am. And sometimes such is their sentimental value you couldn’t imagine your bookshelf without them.

As I went through the piles of books I own, there were some I’d literally had all my life. Books from my childhood – old favourites like Winnie the Pooh, Enid Blyton, Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, The Garden Gang. Keep.

 

Then books belonging to my children when they were young – Thomas the Tank Engine, Mr Men, You Choose and some of those random books someone once gave them which they decided was their absolute favourite but you couldn’t stand – especially when you had to read it a million times! Keep of course. A beautiful collection of classics given to me by my father – about 20 leather bound books – well keep them obviously. So far, so good….hmmm, about ten boxes later full of books to transport (and you can’t overfill boxes of books or you can’t lift them!).

I will admit that when a book is presented truly beautifully then yes, I will keep it because it looks nice! Call me shallow, but I’m a sucker for beautiful illustrations, book jackets and brilliant designs.  They always tend to be the really massive, heavy and totally awkward-to-pack books – one per box..!  One of the most random books I decided to keep was a big book about the Millenium Dome which I used when I wrote my dissertation at University.  Do I want to read it again? No, but I can’t get rid of it – it reminds me of perseverance!

Childhood links aside, why else do we keep books we’ve read? I discovered that there were quite a few I could donate to charity without feeling too sad. Even though I’d enjoyed them, I knew I’d never read them again and whilst they were important to me at the time, I’m a different person now so I don’t need them anymore. Or maybe they weren’t a significant read? Sometimes a book comes along at a certain time of your life and such is its significance, you connect with it so totally, it becomes part of your memory in the same way that human experiences do. The story is inextricably linked to that time in your life, and forever will be. It’s not necessarily award winning or literary genius, but just something that impacts on your soul. Or such is the image it creates in your mind you escape in your imagination to somewhere you never dreamed of and you have to keep the book that took you there. Sometimes the emotional response a book engenders is so heart-warming, so funny, or so tear inducing you want to hold on to that emotion forever, even if it’s sad. These are ones to keep. And of course, sometimes a book is significant because it reminds you of a person who has been important in your life – a role model, a loved one, a teacher or a friend.

And then there’s the books that sit in the TBR pile – books you’ve got you’ve always wanted to read but not quite found the time. I’ve loads of them. So they have to stay. I’ve also got the many books I use for the travelling book case and Bookchat. These are really important to help the children I speak to discover a love for reading.

Books are a reflection of a person’s soul.  What I might love, you might hate. Or we might both be able to share the same feeling of joy and connection through a particular story. That’s what I love about reading.

I did manage to clear some space and felt a bit sad for about five minutes – I then realised that the best thing about have a book clear out…. once you’ve done it you’ve got shelf space for lots of lovely new books!!!

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan25310356

Nicu is so not Jess’ type.  He’s all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. Appearances matter to Jess. She has a lot to hide.

Nicu shouldn’t even be looking at Jess. His parents are planning his marriage to a girl he’s never met back home in Romania. But he wants to work hard, do better, stay here. As they grow closer, their secrets surface like bruises. And as the world around them grows more hostile, the only safe place Jess and Nicu have is with each other.

Nicu and Jess may be at the same school but couldn’t be further apart when it comes to their backgrounds. Or at least that’s how it seems. Nicu is an immigrant but also a Roma Gypsy and the actions of the school bullies towards him are vile. Equally vile is the treatment of Jess and her mother by Jess’ step-father, a daily trauma Jess is desperate to hide and desperate to escape from.  Jess and Nicu meet properly when they end up on a community service programme.  For Nicu, it’s almost love at first sight when he sees Jess; for Jess, can she really be friends with someone who’s always a target for her mates’ bullying?  Both have secrets they want to hide. As their paths collide, what at first seemed marked differences soon become the threads that hold them together.  Nicu and Jess’ momentary solace in each other is short-lived and their troubles soon spill over to interfere with their plans of escape.  With prejudice, hate and fear driving those around them, how can Nicu and Jess protect themselves and each other from the inevitable outcome?

We Come Apart  is a brilliantly told story reflecting the somewhat grim reality of life as an immigrant and as a delinquent teen. Gritty and full of emotion the two central characters, Jess and Nicu, keep you utterly hooked. Having worked in schools for ten years, I have come across teenagers like them; they were totally believable. I found Nicu utterly endearing, very sweet and funny.  Being a Roma gypsy, an outcast in his own society too, he seems more hardened to prejudice than some and perhaps this is why he still wants to stay in London despite being treated so badly here. Or perhaps it’s just the lesser of two evils; the other being an arranged marriage in his home country.  Jess is someone your heart aches for; a ‘messed-up’ teen in the eyes of the world – but who wouldn’t be with such a despicable step-father to deal with?  I’ve met teenagers like her who just can’t seem to move forward, don’t want to be ‘helped’ and who act so tough but on the inside are quietly screaming. She is difficult to warm to, seeming somewhat cold-hearted, but when you understand her situation your empathy for her grows.

The authors brilliantly capture teenage angst, the differences that drive many teenagers to make bad choices and how situations can escalate as a result of these choices.  The thread of humour running through the narrative thankfully lightens the mood. But the sense of calamity surrounding Nicu and Jess’ blossoming romance is apparent from the start, making the good moments they share all the more meaningful.  It also makes the hope they find in each other more significant.   Written in verse, We Come Apart may well be an ‘easier’, shorter read, but the authors ensure every single word counts in order to create the empathy and understanding so clearly felt whilst reading it. This story is all too relevant today, tackling issues of abuse, racial bullying, knife-crime and teenage delinquency. Definitely one for YA readers, and indeed adults, it should be read to understand how prejudice of all kinds can affect young people and the danger of making assumptions about those around us.  Just because our own lives may not be touched by prejudice or abuse does not mean we should stand back and do nothing about those whose lives are.

Find out more at www.bloomsbury.com or on Twitter @BrianConaghan  or @SarahCrossan

I was delighted to purchase this copy of We Come Apart at the launch evening at Waterstones in Brighton. Thank you to Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for signing it for me.

A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell

A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchella-dangerous-crossing-cover

Ghalib doesn’t want to leave his home. But Syria has become too dangerous, and his family has no choice but to flee. Together they start out on a terrible journey that leads them through dark and dangerous places. Ghalib comes under fire, is caught in a tear-gas attack, experiences the wretched and hopeless life of a refugee camp, and he still has to face the perils of a voyage in a boat that is far from seaworthy. 

Ghalib lives in war-torn Syria with his older sister Bushra, younger disabled brother Aylan and his parents, Baba and Umi and grandmother, Tata. They are part of a tight-knit community but increasingly it becomes clear that they can no longer ignore the ever growing danger caused by the war.  Air strikes and explosions are part of their everyday lives and when Ghalib is injured, nearly killed in a barrel bomb attack, it is the final straw for Baba and Umi.  This, coupled with the hint that their daughter may soon join the army to fight, spurs them on to leave, taking little with them other than the clothes on their backs and gold jewellery with which to barter.  Weighed down with an elderly grandmother and little Aylan, who only just manages to keep up, the journey is slow and fraught with peril.

Ghalib does what he can to help and be brave, but as they get further from home it is clear there is a long, hazardous road ahead.  Escaping a near miss under sniper fire; finding food and water and surviving explosions are just some of the challenges they face.  At the border, Ghalib becomes separated from his family and has to fend for himself, coping with his injuries alone and not knowing who to trust. His journey becomes even more fraught but he finds safety of sorts in a refugee camp.  It is only the appearance of his refugee friend Safaa and her brother Amin that keeps his hopes alive and once reunited with his family, the final, most perilous part of their journey draws near.

A Dangerous Crossing puts into words the horrendous events many Syrians just like Ghalib are going through even as I write this review.  Where do you begin to describe the absolute devastation and human suffering? It’s hard to imagine how it must feel to experience a war, let alone have to leave your home, your possessions, your friends, everything you’ve ever known, to escape.  And escape to what? An unknown future where you could be killed, turned away, starve, lose yourself completely.  This book opens the reader’s eyes to the plight of the Syrian refugees and shows us exactly how it might feel, what could happen and perhaps most importantly, how the human spirit survives even in the most dire of circumstances.

The narrative explores so many things: family relationships and how they change under such pressures; friendships across ethnicity; the degrading treatment of refugees; the extreme kindness of those who want to help; the dangers refugee children face; loss of loved ones; human exploitation; the absolute terror of war and desperation of those wanting to escape it. Central to all this is the love and hope that can be found even in the face of death and destruction, when there is no time to grieve and no telling what the future holds.

I defy anyone not look at the news reports with different eyes after reading this book. A Dangerous Crossing is well written, with a strong cast of characters and good balance of action with more emotional scenes to suit all readers. It would be a great book to use as a class reader in schools for children aged 9+, to explore the refugee crisis and prompt discussion and understanding, as well as all important empathy.

Find out more at www.littleisland.ie and on Twitter @JMitchellwriter

Thank you to Little Island for sending me this book to review.