The ‘Unrateables’

I know there is great debate within the blogosphere on the posting of negative reviews. Personally, I choose not to. I’d prefer to spend my time writing about books I enjoyed and sharing the book love.

However, that sometimes leaves me with a bit of a ‘grey area’, with books I like to think of as ‘Unrateables’. (This is not, I promise, a back-handed compliment!)

You see, another thing I see quite often (on twitter and the like) are children’s books being given rubbish reviews (on a****n, goodreads etc) because “it’s childish” or “it’s ok for kids”…well, um, yeah…its a *children’s* book.

Which leads me to my quandary (we got there in the end), which is that usually when I read the kids books I choose to read (MG for the most part) I love them as me, an adult.

However, sometimes I read books that I didn’t particularly fall in love with, but that I know are absolutely spot on for their intended audience (kids) and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend at work etc to young readers.

Books that are well pitched and written for that age. Books that often tackle thorny subjects or feelings incredibly well and at just the right level. Books that balance serious stories with humour or fantasy or a pinch of the unlikely. But books that don’t grab me on a personal level.

Today’s books are two like this. The Boy at The Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf and The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.

He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets.

But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help.

This book is a great way of opening up discussion about war, refugees and – more generally – differences, prejudices, fairness, right and wrong.

I thought the way we were introduced to Ahmet, and the way we see his integration into the classroom and relationships with others unfold was brilliantly written and paced.

Ahmet’s situation is described perfectly – there are some very difficult themes written about, but all are addressed sensitively and age-appropriately, and the author uses small, everyday things to really make it understandable and bring the message home (I thought the pomegranate storyline was lovely).

Likewise, the bullies at school not only introduce another, likely more familiar issue, but also cleverly highlights both how refugees are treated and mirrors the larger issues in the book.

A book which makes helping others – against the odds, in the face of obstacles and when we have no real reason to – seem obvious.

With strong themes of friendship and loyalty, and including a fast-paced, very funny adventure, this takes on some heartbreaking issues but with humour and a heart-warming touch.

Present day: Semira and her mother were brought to England by a man who has complete control. Always moving on, always afraid of being caught, she longs for freedom.

1891: Hen’s trapped in a life of behaving like a lady. But her Aunt Kitty is opening her eyes to a whole new world. A world of animal rights, and votes for women, and riding bicycles!

When Semira discovers Hen’s diary, she finds the inspiration to be brave and to fight for her place in the world.

Semira and her mum have had to flee their country, and the way not just this but the surrounding issues – the reasons they fled, the way they had to do it, the control and power someone else now has over them, the constant moving – are explored sensitively and age-appropriately.

This Victorian narrative – that we see through Hen’s diary, found by Semira – likewise highlights issues of that time too, not least some very sexist and prejudiced attitudes, but also the very beginnings of change and a glimmer of hope.

The use of birds and cycling to draw parallels between the two times, and between the characters really drew them together as well as creating powerful metaphors for the feelings of being trapped and free was very cleverly done. And of course, there was the link between Semira and Hen. Both feeling trapped and powerless, both find the courage to do something about it – Hen drawing on the spirit of her Aunt Kitty and friends, Semira on turn drawing on Hen.

Another thing I thought was very clever about the telling of Semira’s story was the way it drew on things both good and bad – ice cream, cycling, birds and homework; being an outsider, domestic abuse and bullying – that helped draw the characters together in spite of outward differences, and which in turn will help readers from all backgrounds relate to, empathise with and understand them.

Empowering and inspiring, this is a book filled with brave, determined and strong female characters. It is a book of solidarity, trust and friendship. It is a book about helping others, but also allowing others to help you. It is a book about standing up for your beliefs and for each other. It is a book full of hope, power and action in the face of adversity. It is a book about finally flying free.

 

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WWW Wednesday 20/2/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Monsters by Sharon Dogar.

I’m still chipping away at Monsters. I have mixed feelings on this one but I definitely want to see it through to the end.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m nearing the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audiobooks too…which is disastrous as Prisoner of Azkaban isn’t available for another 2 weeks…! As you can tell. I’m still really enjoying these!

What have you just finished reading?

Flights of Fancy – Children’s Laureates

I thought this was a lovely book – perfect for aspiring writers, illustrators, creatives everywhere. I’ll post a full review this week.

Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Amy at Golden Books Girl recommended this and I’m so pleased she did as I might not have picked it up otherwise and I loved it. With a remote, rural, historical setting it felt do well rooted and it was such a joy to read – I really liked the writing style. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’ll definitely be listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as soon as its available. In the meantime I might give something else a go but I’m not sure what yet…

I’m just about to start The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis too which I have high hopes for.

Have you read any of the books here?

What are you reading at the moment?

Top Ten Tuesday…

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’ve seen this on a few blogs now and thought it would be fun to join in. This week it’s ten books…

… I love that have fewer than 2000 Goodreads ratings.

The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

“I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.”

Hilarious and highly original.

There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

“There is a turn of turtles.”

A narrative of collective nouns (and stunning illustrations!).

Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woollvin

“Because Willow was not ALWAYS a good witch.”

A witty take on the classic take with fantastically expressive and stylish illustrations. Read more here

Pea-Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

“I am the small green pea, you are the tender pod.”

A beautiful, lyrical message of kindness in trying times.

The Murderer’s Ape by Jacob Wegelius

Sally Jones is not only a loyal friend, she’s also an extraordinary individual. She’s also an ape…

A dark, dry and utterly unique book. There’s nothing else like it.

The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay

When the Great War breaks out, their lives are forever changed.

A classic in the making. A tale of growing up, family and war that is much more than the sum of its parts. Read more here.

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear (Five Realms book 1) by Kieran Larwood. Illustrated by David Wyatt.

The terrifying Gorm are on the rampage, and no-one and nowhere is safe.

An original and immersive adventure cleverly told with wonderfully atmospheric and detailed illustrations. Read more here.

Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth. Illustrated by Rob Biddulph

There are two words that are banned in Tibet…Dalai Lama.

Transports you across the Himalayas on a perilous but picturesque journey. Read more here.

Sea (Huntress Trilogy #1) by Sarah Driver

In the sky, fire spirits dance and ripple, but a deathly cold is creeping across Triannuka.

A brilliant start to a fantasy series with incredible world building and a wonderful use of language. Read more here.

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Hope can set you free.

Heart-breaking, but uplifting. Difficult but important. Everyone should read this.

Swimming Against The Storm

Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth.

Illustrated by Rob Biddulph.

I’ve written before about how much I love Jess Butterworth’s books (and the absolutely stunning artwork Rob Biddulph produces to accompany them), and her newest is no exception!

Twelve-year-old Eliza and her sister Avery have lived their entire lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana But now, with sea levels rising, their home is at risk of being swept away.

Determined to save the land, they go searching in the swamp for the dangerous, wolf-like loup-garou, sure that if they find one, the government will have to protect its habitat – and their community.

But with a tropical storm approaching, soon it’s not just their home at risk, but their lives as well…

My favourite thing about both Jess’ previous books was the description and world-building. With each book, she transports you right to the heart of a place and its people, and Swimming Against the Storm is no different. I felt I was really getting to know the lives, culture and traditions of Avery and her community.

Likewise, as the children venture into the swamp hunting for the loup-garou, I was surrounded by marshes, mosquitoes, humidity, greens, browns and plants – not to mention all the alligators!

The landscape here (as in her other books) is a rich tapestry built up of the characters experiences and knowledge of their home.

The characters themselves are likeable and well-written and the dynamics between them are relatable and familiar – from siblings and close friendships and the tests growing up puts on these to wider family and community relationships.

The children’s journey through the swamp land as the book unfolds is rough, raw and ragged – a real adventure which sounds every bit as mentally and physically demanding as it would be – this is no scout expedition through the local woods.

With themes of friendship and growing up, the environment and social responsibility, I love how the book balances the emotions of the characters (Avery in particular) and real environmental issues with action, humour and adventure. And the way the issues in the book are explored is incredibly well-written to both inform and engage younger readers.

A midnight hunt through a swamp for a mythical creature in the midst of a storm – this is one exciting, nerve-wracking and perilous escapade, not to mention a true test of friendship!

With a flavour of Stand By Me and a dash of Disney’s The Rescuers* (there’s two films I never thought I’d be saying in the same sentence!), this is yet another brilliant book from one of my favourite MG authors.

*you may or may not get this – it could just be me 😂

Swimming Against the Storm is released in April. I received this copy in exchange for an honest review.

WWW Wednesday 9/1/19

Ooh, I’ve just noticed today is a palindrome date!

Anyway, on to WWW Wednesday, hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Swimming Against the Storm by Jess Butterworth and illustrated by Rob Biddulph.

My copy is an ARC (a rather bath-and-bag-eared one too!) If you want to see the gorgeous real cover, have a nosy at The Reader Teacher’s Cover Reveal post!

I have been so excited about this, as I loved Jess’ other two books, and Rob Biddulph always makes them look as beautiful as the stories themselves.

So far, this is no exception and I’m really enjoying it – full review will follow when I’m done!

What have you just finished reading?

There’s a Yeti in the Playground by Pamela Butchart and illustrated by Thomas Flintham.

My first full read of one of the stories about Izzy and her friends, but it won’t be my last – so funny! You can read my review of it here.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m pretty sure it’ll be ‘On The Come Up’ by Angie Thomas – another one I’ve got very high hopes for!

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

Mini Monday: 7/1/19

Kicking off 2019 with three snowy books (maybe it will bring the actual snow!)*

*The last of these reviews is a tweaked and slightly expanded version of one from WWW Wednesday last week – you can always skip it if you saw it first time round!

First up…

There’s a Yeti in the Playground by Pamela Butchart

Illustrated by Thomas Flintham

It’s snowing and Izzy and friends are hoping they’ll all be sent home early. But then they hear weird noises in the playground, and find a big footprint in the snow… And that’s when they know! There’s a YETI in the playground and it’s HUNGRY!

The young readers in work LOVE these books and it’s easy to see why with plots, plans and action aplenty – not to mention huge dollops of humour that adults will love too.

As a former infant teacher, so much of this made me properly laugh out loud – both supremely silly and totally believable at the same time! Anyone who’s ever been in a school will find plenty of familiar faces, recognisable rules and everyday events here, but bigger, bolder and funnier!

Snow, survival skills and being stuck in school – not to mention a seriously stinky scent! This is observational humour at its best – larger than life and laugh out loud!

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy.

The Missing Barbegazi by H. S. Norup

Cover design by Anna Morrison

Tessa knows that the Barbegazi exist because her beloved grandfather told her about them. So she sets out to prove to her family and friends that her grandfather wasn’t just a confused old man. But Tessa realises that uncovering the truth carries great responsibilities.

This was set on the ski slopes of Austria and is a great example of an author really knowing and loving their setting. It’s clearly well-loved territory, fondly described with little touches of the familiar that help to paint the picture for those of us who have never touched a ski!

Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that it was written from both Tessa and Gawion’s perspectives and the addition of the pages from the guide to Alpine elves was a really interesting and unusual way to add background information and detail.

With themes of friendship, loss and trust as well as protecting the environment and knowing when to keep a secret, this is a story of unlikely allegiances, cunning plots to foil the bad guy, wintry landscapes and daring late night escapades this is a great adventure, perfect for fans of Lauren St John’s Kat Wolfe Investigates or Jess Butterworth’s When The Mountains Roared.

Thanks to Pushkin for my copy.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

Cover illustration by Rachel Vale

Clementine discovers a mysterious house full of snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician. One of these is Dylan, a boy who teases her in the real world but who is now desperate for her help.

So Clem embarks on a mission to release Dylan and the other magicians, unknowingly unleashing a struggle for power that will put not only her family, but the future of magic itself in danger.

I finished reading this on Christmas Day. I think this is the first Christmas Day I’ve managed to read since I was little! It was lovely (even if I did have to read stood up!) and the magical feel of this book was perfectly suited to it!

I really enjoyed the characters of Ganymede, Io and Clem especially and the way strong emotions are portrayed and played out through the magic of the book worked really well.

But what I really loved were the magical elements of the book and the world building – so imaginative and exciting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m still marvelling at the Snowglobes and the setting – at the worlds within a world within a world. The whole concept was such a unique idea and brilliantly described – so tangible and memorable. It made me want to go in and explore!

Thanks to Macmillan for my copy.

Have you read any of these – what did you think?

What are your favourite wintry or snowy books?

WWW Wednesday 2/1/19

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday is ‘WWW Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

The Missing Barbegazi by H. A. Norup (cover design by Anna Morrison)

I started this on the day the story itself starts,though I didn’t quite have the same snowy mountain setting as the book! But it is a great read for winter and one I’m really enjoying!

What have you just finished reading?

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson (cover illustration by Rachel Vale)

I finished reading this on Christmas Day (I think this is the first Christmas Day I’ve managed to read since I was little! It was lovely, even if I did have to read stood up!)

Imaginative, magical and exciting – I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m still marvelling at the Snowglobes and the setting – at the worlds within a world within a world. Such a unique idea and brilliantly described – so tangible and memorable. It made me want to go in and explore them!

What are you planning on reading next?

As ever – I don’t know! I posted here about my reading goals for this year, so part of me wants to get off to a flying start on that with a classic or some non fiction. But I have both Angie Thomas and Jess Butterworth’s new ones calling too. Not to mention the huge TBR pile…

What do you think – what should I choose? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?