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.

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

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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.

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! 

31 December: Mark Powers

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Happy New Year! What better way to celebrate the final day of our calendar than with a debut author?!

mark-hi-resMark Powers has been making up ridiculous stories since primary school and is slightly shocked to find that people now pay him to do it. As a child he always daydreamed that his teddy bear went off on top secret missions when he was at school, so a team of toys recruited as spies seemed a great idea for a story. He grew up in north Wales and now lives in Manchester. Spy Toys is publishing in January 2017!

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Chocolate, more chocolate, upset stomach medicine.

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? In the Powers family, we are firm believers in the tradition of the Enormous Christmas Day Family Argument.  It usually starts over something trivial (“We’re not watching the boring Queen’s speech!”, “Why aren’t you wearing the lovely socks/tie/scarf I bought you?”, “Who made that smell?”) and ends up as a massive shouting match about who’s always been the favourite child (it’s me, of course) complete with neighbours banging on the walls and police sirens.

(Sounds like a nice ‘peaceful’ time!!)

‘What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Christmas is the perfect time for spooky stories – when it’s snowy and dark outside and you’re tucked up snugly inside with a hot drink and your feet slowly t51veqhzdbll-_sx321_bo1204203200_oasting by the fire.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? I would choose Sue Townsend (author of the brilliant Adrian Mole books, who died in 2014).  I think she would have been a fascinating and hilarious dinner companion.

Your debut book Spy Toys features amazing toys that are ‘alive’. If you could choose any of your Christmas toys from childhood to come to life which would it be? I had a toy Dalek for Christmas when I was six and it would be amazing to see it come alive and obey my commands.  It would definitely give me the edge in the Enormous Christmas Day Family Argument.

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You’ve been making up stories from a young age; if you had to make up a festive story for Christmas who would be your main character? I think I might write a story about a sad snowflake that has only five points instead of six.  Might make a good picture book.  Hands off my idea if you’re reading this, David Walliams!

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Reader’s question from the children at Inkpots Writers’ Hut; how do you start writing a story; do you type or write them by hand? I usually type them on my laptop; sometimes I make notes on my phone.

Turkey or goose? Goose.

Real or fake tree? Real.

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Christmas pudding.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of the bed.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for joining our festive Q & A! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Find out more about Mark at www.bloomsbury.com and follow him on Twitter @mpowerswriter.

You can read a review of Spy Toys on the Bookshelf.

Spy Toys is illustrated by Tim Wesson who was born somewhere in England. As a young boy he enjoyed climbing trees and drawing pictures of dogs in cars. Eventually he became an illustrator who creates children’s books. Tim doodles and paints whenever he can and likes to draw the first thing that pops into his head. He lives by the sea in Suffolk with his family.

30 December: Kat Ellis

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YA Author joins us on our penultimate day!

kat-ellisKat Ellis grew up in North Wales and studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is an active blogger and amateur photographer. Kat has had short stories published and wrote Blackfin Sky last year after trying her hand at sci-fi. Her first published novel, Blackfin Sky will also be released in the US next autumn.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Notebooks (I have a bit of a collection building… some might call it a hoard), fancy coffee (because I usually spend January trying to be a bit posh in my drinking habits, but inevitably go back to instant), and a novelty mug (to put the fancy coffee in).

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? Christmas Day for me usually involves bustling around to visit family members, but on Boxing Day – which is also my husband’s birthday – we traditionally go out for a curry, just to do something completely un-Christmassy.

(Curry on Boxing Day sounds like a great idea!)

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? Growing up, Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider was my favourite Christmas read. Last Christmas I read Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, which was snowy and wonderful, and I think this year I’ll be reading Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan for a bit of festive romance.

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? David Bowie, for sure. As well as being an amazing musician, he was also an artist, starred in films like Labyrinth – which is one of my all-time favourites, especially at Christmastime – and he just seemed like a fascinating person. I bet he’d have some good stories to share over the Christmas crackers!

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Purge is your third YA novel. Mason is often in trouble in the novel; do you think Father Christmas would visit him and if so, what would he give him? I think if Father Christmas paid Mason a visit, the only thing he’d give him is a stern telling off. Not that Mason would be bothered, mind you. He’d probably nick Father Christmas’s sleigh and go joyriding.

(*laughs out loud* Definitely belongs on the naughty list!)

You’re a keen photographer; what or who would your ideal Christmas photo feature?Living in North Wales, I have plenty of amazing scenery to photograph, so maybe a nice snowy castle or forest.

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from the children Warden Park Academy: we sometimes have to correct our creative writing. How do you feel when you have to make corrections to your work? Before I share a story with anyone else, I read it over and over, looking for mistakes and polishing it to make it as good as possible. But – and I don’t think I’m alone here – I inevitably reach a point where I can’t look at my own work objectively, and I might miss a mistake that’s obvious to someone reading it for the first time. That’s why I’m always grateful to work with editors; they offer me expert guidance to make my stories flow better, and make my writing more polished. Writing is a skill you never stop learning and honing, so it’s great when you have someone helping you to improve.

(Wonderful writing advice!)

Turkey or goose? Turkey, always.

Real or fake tree? Fake (if you’ve ever trodden on pine needles with bare feet, you’ll know why.)

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Errrrr….neither? I’m more of a sherry trifle fan.

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? Over the fireplace.

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve!

Thank you for participating in our festive Q & A! Wishing you a Happy Christmas and New Year! 

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Find out more about Kat at katelliswrites.blogspot.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @el_kat