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.

 

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.

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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.

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.

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivoryrhian2_0

It’s starting again…

Blaze has to draw people’s future to survive, with threats of the workhouse and witch trials hanging over him. Noah tried all he can to stop drawing but the more he fights, the more it takes over. He just wants to pass for normal in his new school.  As he gets closer to Beth, will he give himself away?

One boy hiding in the past, one in the present. Can their futures set them free?

Growing up can be a challenge at the best of times but when you’re someone with a ‘gift’, it makes life even harder. Both fifteen years old, Noah and Blaze can ‘draw’ the future, predicting what might lie ahead for the person they draw for.

Blaze, in an age where witchcraft is recognised but feared, knows he can use his ‘gift’ to protect himself.  And after the death of his mother, Blaze has no choice but predict the future in return for shelter and food. He is constantly overshadowed with the threat of being discovered and sent to the workhouse – or worse.

Noah, lives 100 years later, where such things as being ‘psychic’ mark you out as a ‘freak’, and whilst not a death sentence, make ‘normal’ life almost impossible.  Consumed by guilt believing his drawings have only brought harm, Noah is terrified someone will get hurt again.  Noah’s parents are desperate for him to stop drawing, hoping that yet another new home and school will be the answer. When Noah makes friends with Beth, he feels he might be on the road to a fresh start; but his hope is short-lived when the drawing starts again….

In the The Boy Who Drew The Future, Rhian Ivory takes all the best components of storytelling and blends them to create a novel which is gripping, eerie and immersive. A thoroughly enjoyable story, I read it in one sitting. This a great book for those who might be more reluctant readers and gives some wonderful historical insight as well as reflecting the lives of teenagers today.

Told alternately from both Noah’s and Blaze’s points of view, the narrative switches smoothly from the present to the past.  Both worlds are brilliantly described – the poverty and destitution of the 1800s; and the challenge of being a teenager in the modern world with all that entails from friends to school to family problems.  Empathy is instant for both characters in their respective predicaments and as the plot progresses, it is clear the outcome is inevitably entwined. The tension mounts and Noah can barely resist confiding in Beth with whom romance is blossoming, much to the irritation of their fellow classmates. Blaze, a soulful boy with only his precious dog for companionship, veers ever closer to danger and has no one to help him. Both boys must face their worst fears and overcome them. Reaching an exciting climax, we discover that perhaps it’s not our ‘gifts’ that define us but how we use them that does.

The Boy Who Drew The Future received a well deserved Carnegie Medal 2017 nomination.

author-photo-by-jo-cotterill

Find out more about Rhian Ivory at www.fireflypress.co.uk and follow her on Twitter  @Rhian_Ivory

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

 

Mr Tweed’s Busy Day by Jim Stoten

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day written & illustrated by Jim Stoten

When Mr Tweed sets out on his afternoon stroll, he soon finds some friends in need of help. Can you come to their aid and find what they are looking for? 

Mr Tweed is a dog who wears a suit and a very tall hat and who loves to help people.  The story begins with Mr Tweed going for his usual afternoon walk and coming across various friends who are in some kind of predicament, each having lost something which could be anything from balloons to pineapples!  The reader then must help find what has been lost in the spread on the next page, with the number of things to find increasing each time.

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I love that this book combines reading with a seek and find element, as well as counting. It may draw comparisons with other well known seek and find books, but what I liked about this was there is a great story narrative to follow.  For those children who are more reluctant to pick up a book, this is a perfect combination of words and images as well as the ‘game’ element of finding the lost things.

The fantastic characters include Colin Rocodile, Mrs Fluffycuddle and Little Penny Paws, to name a few.  The illustrations themselves are quirky, inventive, colourful and full of detail with lots of different animal characters as well as humans.  They reminded me of the Busy World of Richard Scarry, which I loved when I was young. I am sure children will love Mr Tweed and will enjoy the challenge of locating the missing items!

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And with the added moral of being kind and helping people, this is a great book to have on the shelf.

You can read an interview with the author and illustrator Jim Stoten on the Reading Zone. And find out more at www.jimtheillustrator.co.uk. or on Twitter @jimtillustrator

With thanks to Flying Eye Books for sending me this book to review.

Chris Riddell & Friends, Imagine Fest 2017

Chris Riddell & Friends, Southbank Centre Imagine Fest, 9th Feb 2017

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It was half term for many schools in London last week coinciding with the Southbank Centre Imagine Children’s Festival which ran from 9-19 February.  A unique festival run by children for children, the Southbank Centre works with local primary schools to put together an amazing array of events to entertain and inspire.  Just one of these events was the Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell & Friends presenting live illustration, readings and a glimpse into the inspiration behind their work.
The friends in question were Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series; Liz Pichon, author of the Tom Gates series and author and illustrator Posy Simmonds. Add to this a special surprise guest in the shape of Neil Gaiman and it was going to be a very special hour!
Chris began with some live illustrating,  drawing members of the audience as they sat waiting for the event to start! They were lucky enough to be given said illustrations to take home. He then introduced his guests through drawing them and shared his own excitement at having then join him on stage. Each guest was given fifteen minutes or so to share some of their writing and illustrating history, how they got started, and where the ideas for their hugely successful books came from. We even got to see some of their early childhood works, including scrapbooks which were fascinating.
All of them had sound advice for the young aspiring writers and artists in the audience. Which in a nutshell was: don’t let anyone tell you you won’t amount to anything or achieve anything through the art of telling stories in words and or pictures. And don’t let anyone hold you back by saying you’re no good at drawing or no good at writing (even if you have dyslexia, which Liz Pichon does).  Sat next to me was a young girl of about 13 who sat drawing in her sketchbook as she listened – inspiration in action.
Particularly special and perhaps a once in a lifetime moment, was Neil Gaiman reading aloud from Fortunately the Milk whilst Chris Riddell illustrated live on screen. Neil also shared his poem Witch Work with illustrations Chris had drawn earlier. Wow.
It was an utterly inspiring event – a wonderful celebration of stories and illustration. It never ceases to amaze me how a person can put pen to paper a draw the most incredible characters and create the most wonderful stories.
Find out more:

Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray

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Jonny isn’t like ‘normal’ teenagers.

EVERY DAY he wakes up in hospital kept alive by machine. EVERY DAY he wonders if this is the day they’ll find a donor match for his heart. EVERY DAY he wonders if this is the day he’ll die.

EVERY DAY Niamh fights with her “PERFECT” brother Leo. EVERY SINGLE DAY Leo wins. EVERY DAY Niamh dreams of a life without Leo. But ALL that changes on the day of the accident the day EVERYTHING falls apart. This is a story about facing the future no matter how frightening. This is a story about healing your heart, no matter how much it hurts. 

Jonny has been in hospital for longer than he cares to remember, living in the shadow of a heart condition.  His hopes for finding a donor for a heart transplant diminish as each day passes, only just kept alive by his fellow hospital friend Em, and his adoring parents.  Jonny dreams of living a ‘normal’ teenage life, whatever that might be.  In contrast, Niamh is desperate to escape her ‘normal’ life, living in the shadow of her twin brother to whom she has always felt inferior.  Playing the role of the black sheep teenager of the family is destructive, but somehow Niamh can’t help herself.  And then a terrible accident changes the course of both Niamh and Jonny’s lives forever, taking them down a path of grief, friendship and love.  With a new heart Jonny can now lead the life he has always dreamt of.  Without her brother’s constant presence in her life, Niamh can truly be her own person.  But it soon becomes clear that even when you get what you want, you still have a long way to go before you can be truly happy.

Instructions for a Second Hand Heart is not your average YA romance story. Jonny and Niamh present as two very different characters each facing huge change and difficulties in their lives. What makes this story unique and emotionally challenging is how they are brought together and it is well worth reading even if you aren’t a ‘romance’ fan.  Jonny cannot stop thinking about the person who saved his life and Niamh cannot stop thinking about her brother.  If it wasn’t for both of them, would Leo still be alive?  The narrative weaves a clever plot in which Jonny discovers more and more about his donor and Niamh discovers that perhaps her life was not as bad as she thought.  The harsh reality of this being neither one of them can change the situation they are in; they have to decide how to face it.

Told alternately from Jonny and Niamh’s points of view, the story is easy to follow and keeps you hooked from the first page. You feel great empathy for both characters as well as the wider cast featuring their family, friends and the medical staff. With a focus on long-term illness, the importance of organ-donation is also high-lighted. The story explores the anguish of families facing extreme illness, loss, grief and how you manage to keep going even when all seems lost. It reflects the heartache of first time love, true friendship and how teenagers deal with the many and varied situations they face. The author brilliantly shows the reality of the both Niamh’s and Jonny’s situations and how they are not only dealing with their own emotion and heartbreak; they also have to cope with their parents’ frustration and suffering.

Be warned: Instructions for a Second Hand Heart is not for the faint-hearted!  I loved this story and you’ll need a box of tissues and a day to recover from the emotional rollercoaster, but it’s worth it.

Find out more about the author at www.tamsynmurray.co.uk and on Twitter @TamsynTweetie

With thanks to Tamsyn Murray for sending me this book via a Twitter giveaway!