A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Chris Riddell & Friends, Imagine Fest 2017

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

title

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:

Crossan and Conaghan at Waterstones Brighton.

25310356

I was somewhat excited about hearing Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan talk about their new book We Come Apart at Waterstones, Brighton and arrived about 45 minutes early in my haste to get there on time.  The seats filled quickly and the talk began, brilliantly chaired by Nikki Sheehan (author of Swanboy and Who Framed Klaris Kliff?).  It was absolutely fascinating to hear the story of how two award winning authors with such unique writing styles came together to produce what will no doubt be a bestseller.  We Come Apart, written entirely in verse, tells the story of Nicu, an immigrant from Romania and his relationship with Jess, a a fellow teenager with a troubled home life.  I’m looking forward to reading it, especially after hearing how it came together.

Brian approached Sarah with the idea of writing together and Sarah agreed; and so began an incredible process of writing mainly via What’s App! With no actual ‘plotting’ the story unfolded between them, each author taking on one of the central characters. Brian would write the story from Nicu’s point of view and Sarah would write the story from Jess’ point of view. Rather than plan the story, each author would write responding and reacting to what the other author had produced, so the process was totally organic.  With their own varied approaches to writing it was clear from the conversation that their various strengths and weaknesses blended well.  And unbelievably it took just five and a half weeks to write!  Both authors shared what they had learnt from the process of a joint writing experience. Amongst other things, Brian, to plan a bit more and Sarah, to keep the gremlins of self-doubt at bay! It also came across as a very brave thing to do, which Nikki Sheehan highlighted saying that as a writer ‘giving’ your story to anyone is like giving something or someone very precious away.

When asked if they would do it again, both agreed there wouldn’t be a sequel.  They also said they’d consider writing together again but perhaps in prose. They both have ideas of characters bubbling away so perhaps it’s a case of watch this space!  It sounded like it had been a very rewarding but also quite challenging experience and it was fascinating to hear the creativity behind it.

As a young girl, I will admit I really disliked poetry. Having studied Chaucer (the original text) to death when I was about 14, I think you could forgive me for being put off poetry for some time.  I was somewhat sceptical when I first heard about The Weight of Water and whether it would appeal to young people based on my own youthful experiences. Sarah shared how in the UK it had been a much harder ‘sell’ because of some negative attitudes to poetry.  She pointed out that young people are often more flexible than their elders and they quickly embrace different styles of writing.  Not only that, for many it appeals as it’s often a quicker read and can be easier for children with dyslexia. Sarah described writing in verse as like sewing lots of different pictures together and how you can get to the heart of the story much more quickly when you don’t have to describe every tree and every ‘high road’! Brian and Sarah both talked about how writing in verse enables the reader to use their imagination to ‘fill in’ the blanks, creating those elements of the story that are left out, in the way they choose.  In that sense, it can be incredibly powerful and also very personal.  For me, reading in verse is an amazing way to communicate a story and has gone a long way to restore my love of poetry.

I wasn’t aware that both Sarah and Brian were previously teachers and both of them talked about this and how it informs their writing. Brian spoke about how he would often be talking to the reluctant readers in the classroom so that he could engage them in even just a small amount of reading, so they could feel a sense of achievement and enjoy stories like anyone else. Not being much of a reader himself as a teenager, he can relate to those who don’t read and even now doesn’t read books with a tiny font.  Brian commented that he writes books for people, about real life and real situations and for those who don’t like this, well, they don’t have to read his books.  I can’t help but agree with this sentiment.  Life is a varied and many splendoured thing and writers can choose what they want to reflect on and the reader can choose what they want to read.  Hence why book choice is so personal – and so important.

Sarah shared that as both a teacher and a mother, she felt a sense of responsibility in being very aware of what she chooses to include in her books and that she always likes to end with even just the tiniest glimmer of hope – even if the ending isn’t a ‘happy’ one.  I can’t help but agree with this too – life is hard and full of difficulties, but it’s often our hope in each other and the future that keeps us going and it’s good for young people to believe this.

Brian and Sarah were both hugely entertaining to listen to, and I can only imagine how excited their agents and publishers were when they were told they had written together; this confirmed by the Bloomsbury representatives and Brian’s agent in the audience.

It’s what I love about the world of books and reading; people are so passionate about stories. Listening to those who write them, hearing their enthusiasm and the creativity behind the story is totally inspiring.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and if Crossan and Conaghan are visiting a Waterstones near you, make sure you go if you can!

A review of We Come Apart will follow soon!

A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

ryan_a_sky_full_of_kindness

A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

Join two birds on an epic adventure as they become parents for the first time…

The story begins with two birds who are ecstatic to discover they are going to be parents. Their fellow feathered friends are overjoyed for them, but are soon sharing their wisdom, causing the mother bird to become frightened about all the potential perils of parenting. Are they ready to have a child? Such is her fear, the wisest and oldest bird of all sends her on a journey of discovery to see if she can find some peace about what lies ahead. The journey takes her across the land and sea and she meets many other birds of all different kinds, each reassuring her through kindness that whilst the world might be big and full of danger, there are many people in it who can help when you most need it.

sky-2

This is a stunning book by the incredible artist and illustrator, Rob Ryan. The artwork alone is a sight to behold; each word and image beautifully paper cut down to the finest detail. The story itself is lyrical and flows beautifully; a tale depicting the journey towards parenthood with all its highs and lows and everything in between. Poetry and prose combine, with each word literally illustrating the magic of the childlike but utterly insightful narrative. The mother bird is determined to find out how she can allay her fears, travelling over the widest oceans and unknown lands looking for answers.

sky-3

The other birds she meets are strange and exotic, each with their own wisdom to share, each showing her kindness. The mother bird repays the kindnesses she is shown along the way and she finally realises that through being kind, brave and finding hope, she can face her fears.

sky-1

A Sky Full of Kindness is a heart warming tale about unconditional love, the hopes and fears we have for our children and ultimately shows how kindness can change the world we live in. A must-have book for everyone’s bookshelf!

Find out more about the author and illustrator at www.robryanstudio.com and on Twitter at@RobRyan_Art. A Sky Full of Kindness is published by Chronicle Books.

Review can also be found at Discover & Be.

31 December: Mark Powers

christmas-book-tree

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.

9781408870877

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!

winter-1027822_1920

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!

christmas-banner

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

christmas-book-tree

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!

purge-22-04-final-jpg

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! 

christmas-banner

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