New review: Dog on Wheels by Gillian McClure

Gillian McClure has written and illustrated wonderful picture books including We’re Going to Build a Dam, which was nominated for the UK Literacy Association (UKLA) book awards and the Kate Greenaway medal.  Dog on Wheels published by Troika Books is a lovely picture book and I instantly fell in love with the skateboarding dog Dubbin!

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Dog on Wheels by Gillian McClure

Dog pals Dubbin and Todd are going on a walk before breakfast: Dubbin on his skateboard and Todd lagging behind on paws. Not only that, but poor Todd is also carrying a huge bone which is attracting attention from another, not so nice, dog.  Can Dubbin, Todd and the bone get home safely?

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A dog with a very special skill springs off the page in this lovely picture book. Dog on Wheels stars Dubbin, a dog who can skate board, taking his friend Todd on a pre-breakfast jaunt through the town!  But Todd isn’t quite so adventurous and ends up moaning about his heavy bone – which Dubbin quite rightly says he should have left at home!  When Todd realises his bone is lost, it’s up to Dubbin, aided by his wheels, to get back the bone and both dogs to the safety of home in time for breakfast!

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The lively narrative and rhyming words create a fun story brimming with energy.  Dubbin is a great character – you’ve got to love a dog that can skateboard! Whilst Todd slows Dubbin down, Dubbin still looks out for his friend and helps Todd when he most needs it!

The lovely illustrations and text layout compliment the story and bring to life the daring Dubbin perfectly – I loved the stars that surround him wherever he skates.  Dog on Wheels is a celebration of a dog’s life – walkies on wheels! It’s a story that will make all who read it smile! Great for readers aged 3+ and a brilliant book to read aloud.

With thanks to Troika Books for sending me this book to review. Find out more about the author at www.gillianmcclure.com.

New reviews: Nature with Nosy Crow and the National Trust

The National Trust and Nosy Crow have produced some lovely books of late, with a view to encouraging children to explore nature.  And these two are no exception, both of which we took on holidays and they proved extremely useful whilst camping in the wilds of Devon and Cornwall! 

Go Wild in the Woods An Adventure Handbook by Goldie Hawk & Rachael Saunders and Out and About Night Explorer by Robin Swift and Sara Lynn Cramb are two brilliant books for children who want to know more about the outside world.  And what better time to explore than during summer? With a few weeks left of the holidays these books might just be the answer for those of you looking for something different to do!

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I really love this! The Complete Night Explorer’s Kit is a fantastic package with a cute little backpack for small hands; a map of the night sky (both hemispheres); a set of glow in the dark star stickers; a little torch and of course, a book Out and About Night ExplorerIMG_4860

We took the whole thing camping and our youngest (aged 7 almost 8) loved it! We attempted to use the night sky map but cloud cover meant we couldn’t – however we will definitely try again. The book itself is full of information about nocturnal creatures from owls to mini beasts as well as night time plant life.  There are helpful hints so you can find wildlife with suggestions such as keeping an eye out for animal poo (which of course my son found hilarious!) and how to spot animal tracks.

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The book also has some great activities whatever the season or time of day, which reinforces the fun to be had being involved with nature and how to help Great British wildlife. I particularly liked the ideas for building a hedgehog feeding place in the garden.

There are colourful illustrations throughout, a useful index, a quiz and even night time games suggestions.  All in all this is a great book for encouraging intrepid young explorers and their parents to take a closer look at the world around them!  It would make a great gift and is perfect for ages 5+ (younger children will need to share the reading with an adult or older sibling).

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com

 

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Go Wild in the Woods An Adventure Handbook is a similar idea but for older children aged 8+.  It’s a lovely pocket sized book that aims to help children stay safe in the woods, but also discover all the magic nature has to offer with advice for everything from building dens, to how to tie knots to foraging for food and cooking over a campfire!

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The book invites children to get to know the outdoors and introduces map reading skills and all important survival skills such as finding water. Think Bear Grylls!  The lovely illustrations give it a story book feel and perfectly capture the joy of discovering nature with friends and family.

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I particularly liked that there’s a really useful glossary and ultimate survival kit guide with sensible suggestions of what you might need to take when exploring in the woods. We made use of this on some of our day trips! As a young girl I was fortunate to be raised in the countryside and spent hours every day exploring, climbing trees and making camps. I would have found this book so useful then too!

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Go Wild in the Woods is a celebration of the wonder of nature with practical ideas that will help children make the most of the outdoors, whilst staying safe. And I suspect many parents and carers will appreciate the hints and tips too!  Well timed for summer, this book would be a great addition to the holiday backpack and give children loads of ideas of things to do outside.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com.

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

 

New review: Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan

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Nikki Sheehan has written fantastic books for middle grade children including Swan Boy recently nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017.  Her new novel, Goodnight, Boy, is her first for Young Adults and written in both prose and verse and is published by Rock the Boat.

Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan

The kennel has been JC’s home ever since his new adoptive father locked him inside. For hours on end, JC sits and tells his dog Boy how he came to this country: his family, the orphanage and the Haitian earthquake that swept everything away.

When his adoptive mother Melanie rescues him, life starts to feel normal again. Until JC does something bad, something that upset his new father so much that he and Boy are banished to the kennel. But as his new father gets sicker, JC realizes they have to find a way out. And so begins a stunning story of a boy, a dog and their journey to freedom.

Told in a mixture of verse and prose, Goodnight, Boy describes a life that no child should ever have to live.  Rescued from the streets of Haiti by a Haitian-American Doctor, Melanie, and taken back to the US to start a new life, JC finds himself yet again being dealt the hand of injustice with no idea when he will escape.  Stuck in the kennel with his dog Boy, it is through ‘conversation’ with Boy that JC shares his life story and we hear of the traumas he has experienced. Stolen from his family at a young age, thrown in an orphanage to be sold, enduring disease and totally unwanted; it is more than most could ever survive.  How unfair that JC now finds himself stuck in a nightmare again and with his new ‘mother’ Melanie seemingly disappeared.  Kept a prisoner by his ‘adoptive’ father, it’s impossible to know how or when he’ll escape.  But his relationship with Boy, who provides companionship, keeps JC from being completely alone.

Goodnight, Boy is quite an incredible, poignant story. The strength of the writing is demonstrated by the empathy you feel whilst reading; it’s achingly real. With pacing that gives time for moments of reflection and to draw breath, and with the mix of verse and prose Goodnight, Boy is like nothing you’ve ever read before.  There are moments of humour and the relationship between JC and Boy is utterly endearing.  You can’t help but feel JC’s sharing is actually a kind of emotional healing for him – even if he is stuck in a dog kennel.  As he talks, he works his way through the horrors of his life but also reflects on those moments of hope that have given him courage.  JC’s stream-of-consciousness show the complex nature of love, family life and remind us of the turmoil of natural disasters and the extreme poverty many people live in. His resilience is a lesson to us all. How does one boy survive such terrible times?  If you come from nothing, then there’s everything to hope for. And with a little bit of hope, perhaps anything is possible. A fantastic YA novel.

For more information visit www.nikkisheehan.co.uk/

Perfect picture books published by Pavilion!

I’m delighted to be reviewing these four very different, but all very gorgeous picture books, published by Pavilion on the blog today.  My New Room by Lisa StickleyJust like Daddy by Lucy Freegard; Little Red by Lynn Roberts-Maloney, illustrated by David Roberts and Woolf by Alex Latimer, illustrated by Patrick Latimer are a wonderful example of the amazing picture books available for children’s enjoyment today.

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In My New Room by Lisa Stickley, we meet Edith again, after her first outing in HandstandThis time Edith has a new bedroom and her toys are each helping her settle in.  Featuring wonderful characters such as Gary Guardsman, Clarissa the Cow, and Major Ted, we discover that having a new bedroom can be an exciting time for everyone – even the toys! And a big bed isn’t as daunting as you might first feel, especially if you’ve got all your special toys around you. I absolutely LOVE Lisa Stickley’s unique style; childlike illustrations with bold colours and wonderfully imagined scenes.

The storytelling is gentle with a light touch of humour; just the right tone for turning what can seem like a life-changing event into a joyful one.  All the toys have to adapt and find their new place in the room, but they’re all there just waiting to welcome Edith and make her feel at home.  This is a really lovely story and a great addition to your picture book collection!  Find out more at www.lisastickleystudio.com

 

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Just Like Daddy by Lucy Freegard is one of the best picture books I’ve read celebrating the relationship between a child and their Daddy.  I’m certain this will have made it’s way into lots of Daddies hands over the last weekend for Father’s Day!  Full of charm and warmth, the story reminds us of the very special relationship between a father and child and all the magic and fun they have together.  Whether on the fair rides, reading stories or even tug of war, this little one is going to be just like daddy – brave and fearless! And not only this, Daddy will always love his child – even through the tantrums and the tears.

I loved that we’re reminded how fleeting those early years moments can be and how precious memories are for parents and their children. Colourful and lively illustrations bring the story to life and capture  how wonderful a Daddy can be – and how much love a child can have for their parent!  Find out more at www.lucyfreegard.com.

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Little Red retold by Lynn Roberts-Maloney, illustrated David Roberts

I absolutely adore this series of re-imagined fairytales, each set in a different time period including Sleeping Beauty set in the 1950s. Little Red is, of course, a version of Little Red Riding Hood with incredible illustrations giving a wonderful twist to the tale, featuring artwork and characters inspired by the 18th Century. A little chap called Thomas takes the central role of Little Red.  He lives with his parents who preside over the local inn and who make the most amazing ginger beer, enjoyed by an interesting mix of visitors! Little Red sets off to visit his Grandma and the tale unfolds, taking a few unexpected turns along the way.   Detailed images beautifully depict quite a scary forest, with scary inhabitants, giving a darker flavour  to the story perhaps more akin to the original fairy tale.  However, there are also humorous moments that lighten the mood and of course, ensure the wolf does get his comeuppance – but not how you might expect!

Little Red is a great way to introduce younger readers to fairy tales but with more artistic flair and interest – and perhaps even a lesson in what life might have looked like in the 18th Century! Find out more at www.pavilionbooks.com.

 

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Woolf by Alex Latimer, illustrated by Patrick Latimer

A wonderful story with a simple narrative; a perfect parable for acceptance, tolerance and diversity. The tale starts with a he-sheep and a she-wolf finding love together. They have a son who loves his home and is happy being both sheep and wolf.  But as he grows up he realises how different he is to the flock of sheep and pack of wolves he meets. Trying to fit in, Woolf pretends to both wolves and sheep he’s in disguise, but his plan only works for a short time and he gets bored of just being one thing.  Woolf is more than this but instead of making him happy, it makes him sad.  Finally his parents help him see that he is special and unique, and thus encouraged Woolf finds new friends who accept him for who he is.

Woolf is a fantastic picture book  for demonstrating the difficulties we face fitting in sometimes, and how with a little bit of love and encouragement we can overcome them. Given the stark differences between wolf and sheep, children will instantly recognise the problem this could create and identify with Woolf trying to find friendship, and the lengths he goes to, to fit in.  The narrative springs to life through great illustrations, capturing Woolf’s character perfectly as he plays the part of both a wolf and a sheep.  With a positive message about accepting yourself just as you are, this is a great picture book to have in the classroom and at home. Find out more at www.alexlatimer.co.za

 

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

New Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is the author of books for both children and adults.  Born in America, but now resident in the UK, Stephanie has always been an avid reader enjoying stories such as Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice as a young girl. I absolutely loved her stories about Kat Stephenson set in Regency England and I am pleased to say The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart published by Bloomsbury didn’t disappoint!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest kind of dragon, and she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw. She’s still the fiercest creature in these mountains though – and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is walk on two feet to the human city, find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time . won’t she?

Aventurine is bored – bored of being stuck in the mountain for another thirty years until her parents say she’s old enough to go out into the world and hunt for herself. So strong are her dreams of freedom, she ignores her mother’s advice that her scales “haven’t hardened enough to withstand a wolf’s bite” and she leaves the safety of the mountain.  Aventurine can’t wait to prove her family wrong, return triumphantly with food and find her true calling (so she can stop her sister and brother driving her mad!). However, little does she realise the challenge that lies ahead of her and as she trips her way down the mountainside, a new smell reaches her nose: CHOCOLATE. Her desire to taste this is her downfall; Aventurine finds herself on two legs instead of four; a twelve year old girl with no wings and certainly no fierce dragon teeth to help her.  She must now find a way to survive, assuage her desire for chocolate and prove just how fierce she still is….

What a delightful story!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart instantly reminds you of the magic of stories and the brilliant adventures they can take you on. Aventurine is a wonderful heroine, ably supported by a fantastic and lively cast of characters. I particularly enjoyed Silke, the street-wise girl who has the same feisty spirit as Aventurine and offers her much needed friendship; and Marina the bad-tempered Chocolatier who takes Aventurine on as an apprentice, truly seeing her passion for chocolate.

Not only does Aventurine have to deal with the complexities of ‘being human’ she has to negotiate her way through the multi-cultural town of Drachenburg, which is full of snobbery, devious officials and of course, fear of dragons!  Her adventure is told with much humour and there are some highly entertaining moments where her dragon responses take over. You also learn the intricacy involved in making chocolate; I loved the scenes describing the creation of various sweet treats; you can almost taste them! There are lessons to be learnt and challenges to be faced through all of which you are rooting for Aventurine to succeed. In making the biggest mistake of her life, she finds her true calling as well as some firm friends and a second family.  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the perfect blend of fantasy and adventure; and of course the wonder of chocolate. You won’t want to put this book down!

Find out more at www.stephanieburgis.com  and follow Stephanie on Twitter @stephanieburgis.  With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book to review.

New review: A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias

Sometimes you read a book and when you reach the final page, you realise the story has found its way into your soul.  Heart-wrenching, beautiful and so well written A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias is undoubtedly one of those stories and stays with you long after the final page.

It is the fourth book written by Sarah; a YA novel published by Troika Books. Her first job after leaving Oxford university was with the BBC where she was involved in a documentary called The Nazi Hunter, based on the life and work of Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor who spent much of his life tracking down war criminals. A Berlin exhibition, Hitler and the Germans, Nation and Crime, further inspired her to research the wartime persecution of the Romani people, and to write A Berlin Love Song.

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A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias

Max is a German schoolboy, when he first meets Lili, a trapeze artist from a travelling circus that performs every year in Berlin.  Lili is a Romani and her life and customs are very different from those of Max and his family. Their friendship turns into love, but love between a German and a Romani is definitely forbidden. As Max is conscripted into the SS and war tears them apart, can their love survive?

The story starts in present day, where Max, now an old man, is finally writing down his precious memories from long ago.  We are drawn into a narrative telling the tale of how he, an ordinary German boy, and Lili, a beautiful Romani girl, fall in love.  Theirs is a love that is a meeting of souls; a love that cannot be ignored; “a kind of madness”.  Alongside this, we are shown the impending doom of the rise of the Nazis; the impact the looming war has on everyday life and ultimately how families are ripped apart. Max’s father refuses to conform to the Hitler regime; Lili’s father won’t acknowledge the threat posed by the Nazis to the Roma.  But with the persecution of many groups identified as “gypsy scum” along with the Jews, and with the terrible punishment for those Germans refusing to respond to Hitler’s call, both Max and Lili’s families have no choice but to face the unavoidable.  It is clear that Max and Lili will be unable to choose which ‘side’ they are on; their paths are inevitable.

A Berlin Love Song is a beautiful love story and a brilliant but terrible reflection of the ‘forgotten holocaust’ – the persecution of the Roma and Sinti people during World War 2. The thread of love that runs through the narrative keeps hope alive and whilst the inevitability of the war unfolds, we see that even the most physically broken of people survive in spirit. The stark realities of war are portrayed through the eyes of Max and Lili and through the very different experiences of their families.  It never ceases to fill me with horror the atrocities that took place in World War 2 and the characters are so real in this story, it feels like a true to life account.

Thankfully there are moments throughout that restore your faith in humanity.  The Roma people are beautifully brought to life – the colour, the freedom, the music and above all the spirit of the people leap off the page.  Added to this the wonderful descriptions of Lili’s home and livelihood, Circus Petalo, it is no wonder Max falls for her.  Set alongside the stifling household of his own family, Lili is a breath of fresh air.  Max’s household have very different opinions about Hitler and the Nazis; the claustrophobia and the fear of this situation are palpable and there is a sense Max finds an escape through his love for Lili. Meanwhile, the threats to Lili’s family grow ever closer and the sense of foreboding increases in intensity with every page.

A Berlin Love Song is well-paced and the juxtaposition of the romance alongside the complexities of war keep the reader captivated throughout.  Whilst desperately sad in places, the story holds the joy of love and the strength found in family at its heart. A very appropriate metaphor for our time.

Find out more at www.troikabooks.com or www.sarahmatthias.co.uk.

Thanks to Troika Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

 

Guest review: Outdoor fun and nutty nature; what’s not to like?!

On this beautiful sunny day, it seems very apt to be posting about two brilliant new books by Andy Seed that celebrate nature and the world of fun that can be had outdoors.  And to tell you all about them in a guest post is my husband, Mr Dilly. When these arrived via bookpost he was quick to grab them from the TBR pile. Such was his enjoyment of them he wanted to share it with everyone, so welcome Mr Dilly and thank you for joining the blog today!

“Thank you for having me! When I was a child, I spent a lot of time playing with my friends and family – outside. Be it with cobbled together ‘guns’ and re-enacting famous battle scenes from bits of wood my dad had left lying around; riding our bikes down all kinds of slopes and frequently crashing headfirst into things; sledging down icy slopes on bits of polythene sheeting until our backsides were frozen, not really thinking of the barbed wire fence promising imminent injury at the bottom of our triumphant sledge runs!

I’m sure some of these things will spark similar memories from most of a certain age. Talking to my father, his childhood wasn’t much different in the sense that so much time was spent playing outside. That’s been the way for generations. For today’s age the lure of screens seems to have put an end to much of this, a huge shame, as staying inside and playing with what is essentially someone else’s imagination and not our own is not our ‘natural’ game.

So on the back of this comes two books from Andy Seed that I can’t recommend enough, ‘The Anti Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things To Do‘ (illustrated by Scott Garrett, published by Bloomsbury) and ‘Nutty Nature Facts and Jokes’ (illustrated by Sarah Horne, published by Nosy Crow in association with The National Trust). The perfect antidote to anyone who thinks playing outside is boring and sees nothing fun in nature. Full of ideas, fun facts, jokes and complemented with fantastic illustrations they are a great way to entertain the kids (and yourself!).

‘The Anti Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things To Do‘  has games galore to play outdoors.’ Blind Man’s Splash ‘ sounds great fun, and will be happening in my household when things warm up a bit…blindfolds and water pistols: what’s not to like?! Then there are things to make such as giant bubbles, which I did with my nephew, niece and son, just pure fascination and joy from them as they all competed to make the biggest bubble! There are so many activities and ideas all put together in fun and accessible way for all the family no matter what their age. Next up for my family…build a bivouac…yes I had no idea what one was either!

‘Nutty Nature Facts and Jokes’.  Well all I can say is me and my 7 year old son sat down to read this and ended up in floods of tears of laughter – his favourite joke? “How do you keep flies out of the kitchen? Put a bucket of poo in the living room’. Childish right? But that’s the point, and what an antidote to much of the other imagery floating about and aimed supposedly at kids nowadays. This book was just hilarious in parts, fascinating as well, with so many interesting facts alongside the jokes. Easy to pick up and flick though for children aged 5 onward – I say onward because I have considerable years on that and found it fantastic! On that note, I leave you with another joke: ‘Famous people who love nature – Elvis Parsley’….Elvis has left the building, and so should you; take the kids and buy these books and then get outside. You won’t regret it!”

Thank you Mr Dilly.  I will add that, to see anyone (but of course especially family) enjoying books in the way mine enjoyed these two books is quite simply a joy!  

Find out more at www.andyseed.com, www.sarahhorne.co.uk and www.garrettworld.co.uk

With thanks to Bloomsbury and Nosy Crow for sending these great books for review.