Historical House: 6, Chelsea Walk

9781474948401

I was sent a copy of this to review (thank you Usborne), and was keen to see how it was, especially after enjoying other recent suffrage-inspired titles (notably Make More Noise and Things a Bright Girl Can Do).  I hadn’t realised at the time that this was a) a new edition of an older book or that b) the book was part of a series, but I’m very glad it is (part of a series that is).

Originally published as ‘Polly’s March’ as part of the Historical House series in the early ’00s, this is one of 6 books written by Linda Newbery, Ann Turnbull and Adèle Geras. Each book tells the story of a young girl living at 6 Chelsea Walk, but all at a different point in history, and each would appear to champion the following of dreams and self-belief. This is the only book I’ve read in the series (so far!) but as and when the others are re-issued (mostly later this year I think) I’ll be diving back in.

In ‘Girls for the Vote’, Polly’s best friend and upstairs neighbour Lily has just moved away and Polly’s fed up. She has no-one to play with except the (seemingly) awful Maurice from downstairs and she has no intention of spending her time with him! Resigned to spending her summer holidays bored and lonely, she gets a pleasant surprise when her new neighbours arrive, but her parents are less than thrilled…

Polly longs to be an explorer. But in 1914, women’s rights and choices are limited – something Polly learns when she befriends her new neighbours, two suffragettes.

Polly’s parents are appalled, but Polly is intrigued. The more she thinks about their cause, the more determined she becomes to join their protest march. But will she dare to defy her parents and do what she thinks is right?

As Polly meets her new upstairs neighbours, Violet and Edwina, she discovers more and more about the fight for Votes for Women: both the peaceful protests and the more forceful ones, hunger strikes and the ‘Cat and Mouse’ act, and famous women in the cause: the Pankhursts and Emily Davison.

If this book is anything to go by, this series will fill a gap perfectly, both in terms of books with strong female main characters, and in a more general sense in that it is perfect for those readers just ready to move on from ‘younger’ chapter books and onto more solid ‘MG’ territory, but not quite ready for some of the longer books or those with considerably older subject matter yet. Likewise, it will be a great way into various historical times and events – a brilliant ‘springboard’ onto other historical fiction (Emma Carroll anyone?!) or non-fiction reading.

Striking a great balance between historical facts, setting the scene realistically for the time period and the ever-relatable occurrences and emotions of everyday life, this is a quick but enjoyable read with a likeable main character. Friendship, courage and determination with a dash of early rebellion set at a turning point in history.

Advertisements

The Wild Folk

9781474934985

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Do any bookworms actually follow this advice? I know (following a recent #banterwithbooksellers over on twitter) that myself and many of my fellow booksellers definitely do not, instead “Magpie Reading” (term coined by Ceris!) – homing in on those books with beautiful/intriguing/unusual covers. And that was definitely the case with Sylvia Linsteadt’s ‘The Wild Folk’.

As soon as this appeared on my trolley for shelving, I felt that Magpie at work: the cover is gorgeous. But this is no surprise when you find out it was designed by Sandra Dieckmann, creator of ‘Leaf‘. As with the illustrations in Leaf, the cover of The Wild Folk is bursting with life, and as with Leaf, as well as being a fantastic, folklore-style adventure The Wild Folk also contains a pretty stark message about the importance of looking after our ‘wild world’.

In the land of Farallone, City boy Tin and Country girl Comfrey are guided on a quest by two young hares.

Their task is to save the mystical Wild Folk from destruction. But the Wild Folk don’t trust humans, and the children face impossible challenges and meet extraordinary creatures as they battle to save the land they love.

There is SO much I want to say about this book I don’t know where to begin. I suppose the first thing to say before I get into the story in detail is that it inevitably draws comparisons to other books/characters, particularly in the fantasy realm (there is more than a hint of Narnia with a definite Aslan-ness to the Elk of Milk and Kindness, and I’ve seen many references to Le Guin’s Earthsea…which ok, I admit, I still haven’t read…*hides in a corner*). Similarly, there are some all-too familiar scenarios here: a missing father, main characters who must learn to overcome their differences to work together and trust each other, an orphan who doesn’t remember his parents living in a home run by the strict and cruel Brothers of Albion…

But, and it’s an important ‘but’, they are unique enough, important enough to the story and well-written enough to avoid cliché, and there is enough about the story which is entirely new and original to balance out the areas that tread some familiar ground. For me, this is huge in showing the promise of a book that will not only be a thoroughly enjoyable read, but one that will stand both the test of time and multiple re-readings, and I think the Wild Folk (and it’s sequel – due in Spring ’19) will do just that.

Cleverly beginning by switching between our City-dwelling hero Tin and his (in no way mousey) Country-mouse counterpart Comfrey before gradually bringing their stories closer and closer together, until they meet and their stories merge worked incredibly well.

Firstly, this provided an opportunity to really get to know our main characters – both Tin and Comfrey, and Myrtle and Mallow: the two leverets sent to aid them on their quest. All are incredibly likeable without being at all flat, and very much bringing their own qualities, personalities and voices to the story.

It also served brilliantly to delve into the background of City and Country and show the differences in lifestyle and beliefs between the places. As with the characters, each place has a distinct feel to it and each world is built wonderfully (as are the various places the children travel through around Farallone on their quest): there is a dark and grimy, almost steam-punk feel to the City which contrasts superbly with the wholesome, old-fashioned feel of the Country.

Through this, it is impossible to ignore the messages that run through the book, both environmental and social: the devastating effect ‘Fake News'(to use some much more modern terminology!), segregation and fear of differences can have, not to mention the devastating effect humans can – and do – have on the wild. With City, Country and Wild folk all mistrusting and judging each other, pre-conceived ideas and must be addressed in order to save Farallone.

The book has more than a touch of folklore and fairytale magic to it (it has a map, which is always a promising start!). Upon encountering the word ‘tatterdemalion’ (what a wonderful word it is too!) I needed to look it up and found that Linsteadt also has an adult novel with the same title which is also firmly rooted in myth and legend: she clearly has a passion for it and a writing style that is more than up to the task if The Wild Folk is anything to go by (watch this space for a review of Tatterdemalion at some point!).

There is the story of Farallone itself – the legend which provides the backbone of the book, then there are smaller tales-within-the-tale passed down through generations of country/wild folk. The story itself encompasses many characters and events which feel like they’ve stepped straight out of a folk tale or fable – The Greentwins are a case in point – as well as deliberate re-imaginings: the chapter on the Baba Ithá was one of my favourite parts in the whole book – loved it, LOVED IT, LOVED IT!

Highly recommended for older MG readers (or those who enjoy a longer, more challenging read), as well as adults and older readers who enjoy a healthy dose of folklore in their reading, this is a highly original, incredibly well-drawn fantasy adventure. With Grizzly Witches, underground networks and mechanical spiders, Fools and their Oddities and a stunning setting brilliantly described this is a fantastic story not to be missed.

Thanks to Usborne for my review copy.

Leaf

Leaf (Paperback)

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, the other animals fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous – and his odd habit of collecting leaves only adds to their distrust.

Then one day, they watch as he attempts to fly over the water with wings made of colourful leaves… trying to get back home. Perhaps he isn’t so different after all?

One of my favourites on the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize illustrated Book Prize Shortlist this year, Leaf is a simply stunning picture book fully showcasing the lush vibrancy of the natural world in its gorgeously leafy pages.

The story itself is equally touching, with an immensely relevant message of togetherness, hope and friendship in these crazy times we seem to have found ourselves in: a message to not only look after our struggling planet, but our struggling neighbours here on it, no matter how different we may at first seem.

The speech bubbles, actions and disagreements of the animals living in the woods Polar Bear finds himself in add plenty of extra talking points, particularly for use across the primary age range and would wonderfully complement any work being done on either conservation/refugees/immigrants/differences/prejudice amongst other things.

This is a fantastically important and enjoyable story with massive visual appeal across the ages. A must-read.

Our ‘Leaf’ creations at storytime!

Sandra Dieckmann’s eagerly awaited (by me anyway!) next picture book ‘The Dog That Ate the World’ is due out in July.

White Rabbit, Red Wolf

9781406378177

I received an ARC of this AAAGGGES ago from Walker Books (thank you/sorry it’s taken me forever to read!) and it’s been one of those that has, unfairly, kept finding its way to the bottom of my TBR pile ever since. Partly because despite the fact that my ‘resolution’ to read more YA books this year HAS happened, they’re still very rarely the books at the top of the pile and are quite often the ones I put off in favour of others, and partly because I read thrillers even less often (ie almost never). “Why on earth ask for an ARC of this YA thriller then?” I hear you cry – well, curiosity and mental illness mainly…it intrigued me:

A taut thriller about murder, maths and the mind.

Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend.

However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength.

 

So, “murder, maths and the mind” then. Let’s start with the mind:

Books, especially YA books, with mental health themes seem to be having something of ‘a moment’. This is no bad thing. But how well mental health issues are represented in them is very much a mixed bag (as much down to personal experience, taste and circumstance as it is down to the writing itself) so I still approach them with as much caution as interest.

Luckily, this one – for me – got it just right. While it touches on several issues, OCD and anxiety are the main culprits here and the book opens in the midst of one of several severe panic attacks mentioned in the book. Pollock is unflinching in his descriptions of both the actions, feelings and thoughts whirling through these, without them feeling gratuitous, over the top or unrealistic. The post-attack moments in particular felt very well-written and familiar, and it was refreshing to see Peter struggling BUT MANAGING to overcome his anxiety in order to do things, which is far more often the case than the other way round. It’s one of those silent/invisible illnesses for a reason: most of the battles with it go on simultaneously with everyday life; it’s happening while you carry on doing the things that cause it, and this book shows that so well.

The way Peter’s anxiety/paranoia plays into the plot is truly brilliant and, again – for me, is what lifts this book out of the hundreds of YA-books-about-mental-health and into the few YA-books-with-great-plots-that-involve-a-character-with-mental-health-issues (catchy, right?) Because first and foremost, this is a fast-paced thriller with more twists and turns than a drunken game of twister.

Which leads us to the murder:

And on this, I will say very little! It comes out of the blue and just as Peter is left shocked and second-guessing what’s happened, so are we. Peter doubts everything he is being told, using maths to analyse, rationalise and ‘logic’ his way through it all, and I quickly joined him (not on the maths front!) in not knowing what to believe, who could be trusted or what was truth and what was lies. It’s brilliantly unpredictable: leading you one way, convinced you’ve got it this time…only to throw up a dead end, a fork in the road or a u-turn again when you least expect it.

The characters are as complex as the plot (there’s nothing clear cut about this book!) which is a welcome change from some of the stereotypes and rather 2D personalities often encountered. They all have clear back-stories and a real sense of depth, and benefit from being a relatively small cast with few bit players.

And, as it suggests in the ‘blurb’, there is also a fairly large dollop of maths in the book. I am most emphatically not mathematically minded, but personally I didn’t find this an issue. Yes, there were references that went a bit over my head. Yes, there were times when I had to re-read to follow a particular mathematical train of thought. And, yes, there were mentions of mathematical figures and theories that I’d never heard of. Did it matter? No. Or yes, but only in a good way. They were worth the effort when it was needed, making me stop and think, and could be taken at face value as an added detail or interesting detail when not essential to the plot.

This has clearly been a very thoroughly researched book, which shows great attention to detail and a sensitive but honest approach to mental health, while remaining at it’s heart an entirely original, cleverly constructed, quick-moving thriller.

I’ve even passed it on to my other half, who has never read YA, as I’m convinced he’ll love it too – I’ll edit this post with the verdict once it’s in!

 

Between Tick and Tock

‘Between Tick and Tock’ is the new book from Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay. They first collaborated on‘The Night Box’, which was one of my favourite picture books in this year’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Illustrated Books Shortlist (what a mouthful!), so when I saw they had another book due out and – even better! – when I got my hands on a copy to review, I was thrilled! (Thanks Egmont!)

9781405286596

High above the bustle of the city are eyes that watch and hands that know – it’s time to pause the clock.

When Liesel spots the city wearing a frown, she decides it’s time to stop the clock and lend a helping hand.

While the city sleeps, she carries out little acts of kindness to breathe colour, life and happiness back into the city.

This is one of those picture books that really is for everyone. The cadence and phrasing of the text (there are some absolutely beautiful turns of phrase in here) combined with the expression and detail in the images surrounding it give the book the feel of an illustrated poem rather than the traditional story-style found in most picture books giving it wide-ranging appeal.

Introducing its setting and themes – a busy day in the grey, rushing, crowded-but-isolated city – beautifully with the ‘characters’ Lost, Lonely and Stuck in the first couple of pages, this is a book that will resonate with many an adult who’s lived/worked in the city (even those of us, like me, who love it!) The situations we meet them in will be equally recognisable for younger readers – playing alone, a lost teddy, an argument from people who don’t want to share.

The illustrations alone offer SO much to pore over, talk about and consider – from a whole host of different people (and their body language and facial expressions) to familiar settings and situations (and the comparisons and “what if’s” that can be drawn from them), and that’s not to mention Liesel’s ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ (for want of a better description) and the fantastic vocabulary in the text. While it’s an ideal book to share one-to-one, I also think this has so much potential for use in school settings, right across the Key Stages.

A breath of fresh air through a grey city day – this is a gentle meander through the city as time stands still and a reminder to pause and really notice what’s around us now and then in the midst of hectic lives.

Here be dragons…

When I was little I loved stories about dragons, notably Margaret Greaves’ ‘Charlie, Emma and the Dragon…’ series and June Counsell’s ‘Dragon in Class 4 series’.

*For the record: this was taken on holiday and that snazzy 80’s bedding wasn’t mine!*

done (174)

I wrote story after story about them too – as evidenced by one of my earliest, more gruesome tales below…!

dragon

Thanks to fairytale and legend, dragons possess a mystery, magic wildness, which along with their supposed size, scales, fire, flight and non-existence make them ideal for stories of all kinds. Typically cast as the villains in fairy-tales, (incidentally see There Is No Dragon in This Story by Lou Carter which deserves and will get a review of its own at some point, but which in short is a fab and refreshing take on the dragon-as-bad-guy-in-fairy-tales picture book featuring all our best-loved fairy tale characters) or old, wise, usually dangerous types in fantasy adventures, they are also absolutely perfect for younger children’s chaos-ensues-when… type chapter books. Which brings us nicely to today’s book:

9781848126497

“When Tomas discovers a strange, old tree at the bottom of his grandpa’s garden, he doesn’t think much of it. But he takes the funny fruit from the tree back into the house – and gets the shock of his life when a tiny dragon hatches! The tree is a dragonfruit tree, and Tomas has just got his very own dragon, Flicker. Tomas soon finds out that life with Flicker is great fun, but also very…unpredictable!”

Following in the footsteps of some of the aforementioned dragon-ish chapter books I read and loved as a child, this has all the hallmarks of a great younger read: familiar settings of school and home; characters who are recognisable (family members and friends, with that not-very-nice school ‘bully’ and grouchy next-door neighbour for balance) and most importantly – that chaos I was talking about earlier!

Imagine the uproar a dragon could cause, especially one you’re trying to hide, and especially when you know they have exploding poo, a tendency to fly off and flame-breathing skills they’ve yet to master!

Combine the two and it makes for a riot of a read: familiar scenarios are turned into hilariously sticky situations by the appearance of a flame or poo or two (flying books, kitchen carnage, scorched shorts) and that’s when there’s only one dragon! Luckily for his friends, who also want a dragon (quite frankly, who wouldn’t?!), more dragonfruit start appearing on the tree, but if one dragon causes this much trouble, what will happen if more hatch…?!

A brilliant start to what promises to be a fantastic new series for younger readers. Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations are fresh, lively and more than up to the job of capturing the warmth, havoc and humour of the text. Recommended for fellow dragon-lovers everywhere!

 

 

All aboard…The Night Train

I’ve had this song in my head for days! And it’s all thanks to this little gem of a book:

secret of the night train

I know I may be a bit late to the Sylvia Bishop party – I still haven’t got round to reading her books for younger readers ‘The Bookshop Girl‘ and ‘Erica’s Elephant‘ (probably because my ‘resolution’ to read more younger children’s fiction, those between picture books and MG, still hasn’t really got off the ground! Maybe these books will kickstart that?!) But I loved the look and the sound of this one straight away and reading Sylvia’s description of her trip on the night train cemented the deal on Bookloverjo’s blog, so I was very glad to have the chance to read and review the copy Scholastic sent me (thank you!)

One small girl. An unexpected detective. A handful of suspects.

All aboard the night train, where no-one is what they seem.

As Max takes off on a thrilling journey across Europe by train, can she unravel the mystery of a priceless missing diamond and find a way to bring the jewel thief to justice?

Off to visit her Great Aunt Elodie in Istanbul, Max sets off by train and unwittingly stumbles into the role of detective as she finds that the suspect (and diamond!) from a recent burglary are thought to be on board the train! Each chapter of the book is set on the next stage of her journey and sees us whisked from Paris through Munich, Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul.

I loved the time we ‘spent’ in Budapest particularly: the description of the place combined with the humour of Max’s investigative attempts were pitch-perfect and had me smiling right through. And this is common throughout the book. The way in which each destination is described is so cleverly done: this is not a book full of flowery, scene-setting paragraphs but I felt I’d just stepped off the train with Max at every stop: each place given a distinct character, geography and culture with just a few well-chosen details dropped into the story or Max’s first impressions of places and without it interrupting the flow or the pace of the story.

Max is an immediately likeable character and with a voice that feels very believable and just right for her age: while she falls into role as sleuth, she is not suddenly an expert nor bursting with confidence, she’s still slightly unsure and a careful thinker. Similarly, she is curious: yearning for an adventure to break the everyday routine and dreaming of seeing the world, but when on her way is still as apprehensive as any child leaving home for the first time would be.

From Sister Marguerite and her Mary-Poppins’-bag-like-habit to the clumsy Robert to the frightfully bolshy and rude Ester and knitting ‘hulk’ Klaus, all of the characters have a touch of the eccentric and absurd about them. But they all have back-stories and well-drawn personalities which make them much more than caricatures and, while retaining a huge dollop of humour, become just as enjoyable to read and root for (or against!) as Max is.

The story itself is fast-paced, witty and a carefully balanced mix of slapstick (the scene at Marek, Marek es Ruszy springs to mind!), twist-and-turn-filled adventure, mad-cap plans and suspects with secrets to hide. It whizzes along and keeps you guessing along with Max about who the culprit could be (some parts are more easy to work out than others, but it doesn’t spoil the fun!) With perfectly suited, lively illustrations that are equally full of character from Marco Guadalupi, this is a very enjoyable read!