New review: Greta Zargo by A.F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

It’s always exciting to read the first book in a new series – but even more so when the book is by A F Harrold, a fantastic writer of books and poems.  Greta Zargo doesn’t disappoint with a mystery to solve, lots of silliness, some helpful anecdotes and immensely likeable characters,  it really is just a great book for children to read.

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Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

Greta Zargo doesn’t know it, but she is the only one who can save planet earth from the death robots coming to destroy it! But right now, she’s a bit busy finding out who stole all the cakes! Warning: this book contains robots, peanuts, squirrels, trousers, an eleven-year-old spelling mistake, baths and, yes, lots of cake!

There’s not much for an intrepid would-be junior reporter to, well, report on, in Upper Lowerbridge, to create an award-winning, summer holiday story.  So Greta Zargo has to settle for finding a cake-thief, little realising that the real scoop is the planet-conquering robots making their way towards earth.  Greta’s no ordinary eleven-year old having been orphaned and left to fend for herself since the age of eight. She is determined to discover the culprit, working her way through a list of suspects – some of whom are not impressed to find themselves being questioned!  Meanwhile, the strange silvery robots approach, intent on finding The Great Zargo to ask if they can have planet earth in order to add data to the Harknow-Bumfurly-Histlock Big Book of Galactic Facts.  A small spelling error puts Greta unwittingly in place to save Earth from a terrible fate.  Will she succeed?

Fun and full of imagination, Greta Zargo is a fantastic sci-fi mystery adventure.  The two narratives of cake thievery and death-defying space robots run alongside each other brilliantly; aided by quirky and humorous anecdotal notes at the side of the page. Greta is a feisty character, with admirable determination, encouraged by her very eccentric and rather wonderful Aunt Tabitha, who I loved. Greta’s journalistic efforts are put to the test by an amusing cast of characters – including a giant squirrel!  The space sequences are hugely imaginative and full of impressive technical jargon and madcap space names. Although comical, it’s somewhat bittersweet as various weird and wonderful aliens inadvertently allow the complete destruction of their planets – perhaps a lesson for us all.   Illustrations throughout capture the quirkiness of the tale and help to create a really engaging, warm-hearted story.  I won’t give away the ending, but how refreshing  – how very polite death robots can be…!

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Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and http://joetoddstanton.com/

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review

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New review: Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock

It’s National Cat Day and soon to be Halloween, so a good time to celebrate this lovely picture book.  Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye, brings to life the magic of night time as well as the perils of being a little too inquisitive. A friendly witch, a beautiful moonlit sky, a cat full of curiosity and some furry friends create an enchanting night time adventure published by Nosy Crow.

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Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye

Have you met Miss Moon? Tonight the class are going on a nature walk. Bat, Owl and Mouse listen carefully as Miss Moon tells them they must take care NOT to wander off.  But Cat has spotted something interesting….

This is a very sweet tale featuring a curious little cat and her classmates, all of whom are eager to learn about nature.  They spot lots of lovely things in the night sky and all around during their nature walk. Readers will love spotting what each character finds and joining in by seeing what else they can find. But Cat is just a little too curious and inattentive and ends up lost in the woods on her own!

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Thankfully it’s not long before she is reunited with Miss Moon and her friends, once they’ve discovered a trail of clues to her whereabouts.   The story is complemented with lovely muted illustrations; the forest illuminated by the moonlit night and the wonder of nature brought to life on each page. With a gentle narrative and some very sweet characters, Cat Learns to Listen is a charming story with an important message about listening at its heart.

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You can read more about Miss Moon, Cat and her friends at Moonlight school in Simon Puttock’s other stories:

Find out more at www.simonputtock.com  and www.alipye.com

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

 

 

New Review: Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Who could resist the adventures of a courageous Pug dog?!  Safari Pug is the third book in The Adventures of Pug series by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans.  It continues the trend of fantastic storytelling, set by the Pug’s first adventure Captain Pug, which was shortlisted for the Watersones Children’s Book Prize!

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Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Pug doesn’t want to meet a LION. But LADY MIRANDA insists. They’ve packed a picnic and now they’re off on a SAFARI ADVENTURE….but what if wild animals like PUGS for lunch?

Another fabulous adventure for Pug this time featuring some very wild animals – and a villainous television celebrity!  Pug isn’t too sure about visiting the safari park, but as usual Lady Miranda thinks its a wonderful idea….So they all pack into the sedan chair and with the running footmen, soon arrive ready to see the wild animals. Their fun however, is interrupted by a very snooty and unpleasant TV presenter, Arlene Von Bling (what a great dastardly name!), who seems to have more than just seeing the animals on her mind – especially when it comes to the unique white lion cub… Adventure ensues and it’s up to Pug to help save everyone – not just from the jaws of the lions but the clutches of Arlene Von Bling!

Safari Pug is a great fun read, full of lively bright illustrations, that is sure to delight emerging independent readers.  I love the characters – there’s the faithful but possibly a bit long-suffering Pug, reluctantly going along with his mistress Lady Miranda’s eccentric ideas; Lady Miranda herself -very sweet but inadvertently getting them all into scrapes; the running footmen Will and Liam, who courageously transport Lady Miranda and Pug in a sedan chair on their adventures – surely the best and only way to travel?! I’ve also read and enjoyed Pug’s previous adventure Cowboy Pug – and my five year old niece is a huge fan of the stories!  Full of humour, the narrative is perfectly brought to life by Eglantine Ceulemans’ colourful illustrations. The Adventures of Pug celebrate a thoroughly endearing friendship and encourage even the most reluctant explorer to be brave and discover the big wide world!

 

Find out more at www.laurajamesauthor.com and www.eglantineceulemans.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review.

 

Bookchat: Kate Poels, the Children’s Book Award Co-ordinator

banner newThe Children’s Book Award, run by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish.  It has always been a source of great excitement for the children I’ve worked with because they know their votes actually count!  So I’m really pleased to host a guest post today by Kate Poels, co-ordinator of the award, to tell us how it works and how she came to be involved. Thanks for joining us Kate!

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“I was delighted to be asked by the brilliant Book Activist to write a guest piece for the blog.  I am a huge admirer of the work done in schools and for parents and carers by the Book Activist and feel that anything that brings books to children is a huge bonus!

My background has always been with children.  I started out training as a nurse at Great Ormond Street and then decided to take a degree in Primary Education to work as a teacher instead.  I now have two sprouting girls of my own and so I have seen the world of children from many different angles.  The thing that always strikes me is how important a love of books can be.  The power a good story has to bring comfort, humour, reality, solace, escapism, inspiration, other worlds, different viewpoints and so much more into the life of a child.  Whether it be a very sick child in hospital, a child with problems at home, somebody struggling with bullying or a little one with a huge imagination who wants to hear new things and tread new paths.  I have seen first-hand how these children need books in their lives.

My passion for children’s literature led me to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups a few years ago.  It is a fantastic organisation, fuelled solely by volunteers, that works on a national level to bring children and books together.  I now work on a local level with them and have also attended several of their fabulous industry-filled conferences.

As a member of the FCBG my children have had the opportunity to take part in the voting process for the Children’s Book Award.  This award is unique as it is the only one in the country voted for entirely by children.  If you are over 18 then your vote doesn’t count for anything…but if you are still young enough then every vote cast goes into a big boiling pot along with roughly 150,000 other votes and together they create the top 50 books of the year.  These are then whittled down to the top 10 comprising of 4 picture books for Younger Children, 3 stories for Younger Readers and 3 stories for Older Readers.

Then the results are once again handed back to the children who decide which of these shortlisted titles deserve their votes.  They alone choose who the winners of each category are and which book will be the overall winner. And they do a fantastic job every year.  Sometimes favourite, well-known authors take the crown (this year Michaels Morpurgo and Foreman won with their book ‘An Eagle In The Snow,’) but other times they discover new gems that go on to be firm favourites.  Previous winners have included JK Rowling, Kes Gray and Jacqueline Wilson to name a few.

Earlier this year I was asked if I would consider co-coordinating the award and I was thrilled to be able to get involved.  We are in the process of taking the award forward with a fresh new website (childrensbookaward.org.uk) as well as stronger online presence.

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Our member children, families and schools are all busy voting for this year’s favourites and in February we will be finding out who they have chosen as their picks of the year.  Then the voting opens for anyone in the UK to take part, as long as you are under 18 of course! The shortlist will be announced and children can use our website to vote for their favourites.  You can pre-register now to be the first to hear the shortlist!

It is such a brilliant thing to be part of and so many of our winning authors have told us that for them it is the most important award of the year.   And that is all down to the people who vote…..their intended readers… the children!

If you would like to find out more then please follow @CBAcoordinator on Twitter or The Federation of Children’s Book Groups on Facebook. Also drop by our resource-filled website and see how you could get involved.”

Find out more about this wonderful celebration of children’s books at www.childrensbookaward.org.uk

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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!

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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…

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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