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.

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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?

The Afterwards

I’d seen and heard all sorts of good things about this on twitter before I received a copy from Bloomsbury for review (imagine my excitement at finding it was signed too!).

However, as is so often the case, I’d heard how great it was but didn’t actually know anything about it! Normally, I’d find out a bit about it before deciding to read it or not but in this case Emily Gravett decided for me! I’m such a fan of her picture books that I wanted to read this if only for the illustrations!

And I wasn’t wrong to – they are both very like some of her picture book work in some ways and much more detailed and with an older feel in others, which is as it should be for an older children’s book.

Her use of both incredibly detailed pencil sketches and bright colour images not only mirrored and matched the storyline but really enhanced it, adding extra atmosphere and bringing home what was happening.

The illustration felt really fresh and modern, whilst retaining a traditional method and style. The girls and Harry felt expressive and real and the cat in particular was (in my mind) a perfect representation of his character in the story.

Ah yes, the story:

Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is. It is what will always be. Ember and Ness. Then Ness dies.
When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back. Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They rescue each other. They help. They never give up.

 

This is ultimately a story about death – loss, grief, letting go and moving on; I can see it being a great book for a lot of children dealing with these things, with many aspects of death (finding out about it, the funeral, getting on with life) tackled head on, but in a very age-appropriate way.

I would say that due to the nature of the story – the mysterious afterworld and the way that works – it would probably be better for slightly more mature readers who’d be able to easily separate the fantasy elements of the story from the more real aspects.

However, this is also what makes it a universally good read with a wider appeal. Sensitively written, it takes an incredibly tough, real situation and everyday life and combines it with fantasy to create a story which is at once familiar and otherworldly. For those who are in, or have been in, Ember (or Graham)’s situation coping with loss, there’s plenty of subtly delivered advice and comfort; for those who (fortunately) have not had to deal with this, there’s a supernatural story firmly rooted in familiar settings, making this ideal for fans of a range of MG fiction – from Lisa Thomson’s ‘The Light Jar’ to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’, for example.

I thought the relationships in the story were one of its strongest points – very believable and easy to relate to, with characters it was easy to warm to. Both the relationship between Ember and her dad, Harry, and her friendship between Ness and Ember were very well depicted, in both the text and illustrations, with little details giving them added depth and credibility.

Characters such as the cat and Ms Todd gave the book an extra dimension and the fact that their roles are left obscure and undefined I thought was very clever in giving the reader something to ponder and draw their own conclusions from. However, I would have liked a more definite conclusion to Uncle Graham’s role in the story, but that’s just me!

The real world felt, well, real – familiar and relatable in both text and image, while the mysterious, grey afterworld Ember follows Ness to is just that – an eerie place that’s easy to imagine but feels goosebumps-strange. The way it mirrors the real world in a warped sort of way was very clever: similar enough to keep the focus on the characters as they come to terms with their loss without getting lost in fantasy world-building, whilst being strange enough to provide interest, mystery and space away from that reality.

Overall, I thought this was an imaginative, personal and touching take on a difficult topic (I especially liked the way the scene was set in the prologue), which strikes a delicate balance between real life and fantasy. Harrold and Gravett have previously collaborated on ‘The Imaginary’, which I’ll be keen to read after this.

The Beasts of Grimheart

When the first Five Realms book, The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, was announced as Children’s Book of the Month way back in June 2017 I wasn’t sure. But, as it was Book of the Month, I read it anyway and I am SO GLAD I did!

I was absolutely hooked from the get go and book two, The Gifts of Dark Hollow, was just as good (so good that I forgot to take it to work with me mid-read so bought it again on my lunch break as I couldn’t wait to keep reading!) and left me waiting with bated breath for this one:

As with the first two, both the cover (Fernando López Juárez) and interior (David Wyatt) illustrations are stunning and perfectly matched to the book. The cover had me so excited about what this installment would bring and felt so in keeping with the story so far, while David Wyatt’s soft pencil sketches inside are full of detail and atmosphere.

The story itself picks up where The Gifts of Dark Hollow left us:

The bard and and his young apprentice Rue are taken to Spinestone, the temple warren of the bonedancers. It is here that the bard is ordered to retell the tale that has got him in so much trouble . . . and so to the next instalment in the astonishing tale of Podkin One-Ear . . . Podkin, Paz and Pook once again find their home under threat, but this time they are ready to fight!

It is, like the first two books, told through the tales of this travelling bard, which is inspired and works wonderfully. The majority of the book is his telling of Podkin’s ‘legendary’ adventure, we are simultaneously told his story through odd chapters set in the present day.

The old characters are back and there are some interesting new faces too – I particularly liked meeting the Guardians, I thought they were so imaginatively described and Pook’s counterpart Pocka made for lots of fun (I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t seen the last of him just yet either…) I loved reading more about the Bonedancers too and David Wyatt’s illustration of them was spot on.

The relationship between the three siblings – Podkin, Paz and Pook – has always been well-depicted with plenty of humour and warmth, and it is lovely to see how Podkin, particularly, is growing and changing with each book. And, of course, there’s the rest of the old gang too. There’s a part of the book that describes the rabbits from Dark Hollow as:

“…a tatty lot…made up of all sorts… Every colour of fur, every length of hair and shape of ears… It would be easy to look down on them… But Podkin believed they had something no other tribe had… Every rabbit was welcome at Dark Hollow, no questions asked.”

and, alongside the strong, positive message of inclusion and togetherness that is evident both here and throughout the books in general, it’s this quality that endears the group to me – Crom, Brigid, Mish and Mash…not to mention Podkin, Paz and Pook of course!

The world-building in the series as a whole is fantastic, and this instalment is no exception. I’m always completely transported to the centre of the action, whether that be a warm and busy warren, the bonedancer’s temple or the heart of the forest.

There’s a particularly well-written battle which pulls no punches and makes no attempt to hide the sorrows and losses of war. It’s quite a skill to depict a battle in this way – on the one hand exciting and nail-bitingly tense, on the other senseless, confusing and sad, and all the while remaining firmly age-appropriate

This series has it all – magic, adventure and folklore, as well as danger, humour and hope by the bucketload. If you haven’t read it yet, start with book one (The Legend of Podkin One Ear)- you’ll be clamouring for more as soon as you’ve finished! And if you have read the first two, you’ll be as enthralled as ever by book three. Personally, I’m already getting impatient for book four!

Thanks to Faber Children’s for my copy.

The Lost Magician

I was offered a copy of The Lost Magician for review (thanks to Hachette Kids) and how could I resist with a cover like that?! Courtesy of Ben Mantle, it has a wonderfully magical feel and is a perfect match for the story inside.

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An ode to the world of Narnia:

1945. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet.

I didn’t know about the connections to Narnia when I got this, but as I started reading I was taken back to the first time I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the countless times I stepped into my grandma’s wardrobe (complete with *fake* fur coat) hoping it would lead me through to a snow-covered Narnia (and imagining it had when it invariably didn’t!).

As in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the story centres around four siblings who unwittingly find themselves key to saving the land they’ve stumbled upon.

As with the original four, here too are four very distinct personalities and everyone will have a different favourite. Personally, I loved Larry and Grey Bear. Evelyn will go down well as a female science fanatic, and Simon’s dyslexia (undiagnosed because of the time period) proves an interesting perspective and its nice to see it represented in a book about books.

Cleverly reimagined, this uses the Narnia stories as its base and leaps off into an entirely new world, albeit one with a war raging – mirroring the one the children have left behind and posing some interesting thoughts, ideas and talking points on that theme.

First we meet the Reads (pronounced ‘red’) and Unreads. The Reads are storybook characters, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little buzz of excitement as some very well-known and well-loved characters were described, introduced and alluded to.

However, trying to destroy the Reads are the Unreads, led by the White Queen inspired Jana (and yes, she is every bit as icy cold and merciless!) The Unreads represent facts, truth, information and data. Brilliantly imagined and described, they turn what could easily have become a nostalgia-fest right into something original and altogether less cosy, with futuristic robots, vehicles and buildings. They provide a great balance to the comforting idea of the Reads.

And ultimately, that is a key theme of the book – balance and compromise; of needing and benefiting from differences – as is the idea that stories are not just entertainment and diversion, but that despite seeming to be the complete opposite of fact, they too teach us things, help us to learn and develop and bring about change and progress.

Books, adventure, battles and magic – it’s an exciting and modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!