#MGTakesOnThursday – Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Today I’ve gone slightly off-piste again with a poetry collection that’s perfect for primary rather than an MG novel. I couldn’t not choose this though as it should be in every school, if not in every classroom!

Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble – Magical Poems, chosen by Paul Cookson, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon, published by Bloomsbury

Accompanied by fun illustrations with plenty of appeal, there is truly something for everyone in this magical poetry collection.

Old ones, new ones. Funny ones, thoughtful ones. Spooky ones, sparkly ones. Long ones, short ones. Rhyming, rhythmic and repetitive ones.

Magic words, spells and potions. Fairies, unicorns, dragons, ghosts and monsters. A smattering of nonsense, pop culture and legend, and a huge dollop of possibility, word play and imagination.

Perfect for reading for pleasure or to select specific poems to use as a writing stimulus in class – made up magic words; spells, recipes and potions; descriptive work on settings or creatures, even maths problems and puzzles thanks to Paul Cookson’s Mathematically, Telepathically Magical (which brought back fond memories of primary school for me and likely will for other older readers who remember this magic maths ‘trick’ doing the rounds!)

I started listing my favourites but it became ridiculously long! So I have chosen 3 (it seemed a fittingly magical number!)

The Witch by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge p50

Night Soup (a simple recipe) by James Carter p66-67

Crossing the Bounds by Jaz Stutley p68

This book in three words

Magic. Poetry. Imagination.

My favourite quote from pg 11

I have included the full poem featured on page 11, Whizzo McWizard’s Amazing Creations by Paul Cookson, which is a brilliant springboard into inventions and creations that is full of possibility and the excitement of trying, building, testing and making. If this doesn’t gave you and your kids thinking up your own amazing creations I’d be shocked!

MG Takes on Thursday – Strangeworlds

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D.Lapinski, cover art by designer Samuel Perrett and illustrator Natalie Smillie, published by Hachette

I know everyone else read this forever ago. It has sat in my TBR patiently being the next read then for one reason and another having to wait just one book longer for so long. But I’ve finally read it and loved it, so it seemed a good time to remind those of you who have read it of how ace it is and bring it to the attention of anyone who may have missed it!

I’ll be honest, this was one of those books I always intended to read and desperately wanted to like, but really wasn’t sure I would…well I needn’t have worried! I loved it.

The world building and magic system are incredibly imaginative and unique.

The characters are very likeable and feel fresh and a bit different while still being relatable and recognisable.

And the way the adventure twists, the pace increases, the tension grows and the plot, as they say, thickens is excellent.

Flick has just moved house. Before we go any further, I want to take a moment to say I was really impressed with the portrayal of Flick’s family. There was a depth and realism often missing in MG as parents are divided between doting, absent/disinterested or dead.

Her parents are absent in a lot of ways – they work early morning/late night shifts and she has a baby brother who of course requires a great deal of their time, but she is loved and cared for; they attend her parent’s evenings and plays, do things as a family and worry about her. It felt really refreshing to see real parents that kids will relate to.

But I digress… they’ve just moved house and Flick is exploring her new surroundings when she finds a very strange, old travel agency.

Inexplicably drawn to it, her yearning for adventure is about to be more than fulfilled as what she’s stumbled upon turns out to be a rather more magical travel agency than most.

With suitcases leading to different worlds, this begins as a hugely enjoyable exploration of some fantastic places. With bouncy floors, food fights, tree houses and a sweet shop that makes Wonka’s look dull these worlds are an absolute treat to visit.

Fans of Abi Elphinstone’s Unmapped Chronicles or Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor – you need this in your life. Every bit as wonderfully imaginative.

However, there is also a mystery to solve, a tentative friendship to form and a world(s) to save.

This does start slowly. But it really works. It picks up pace like a snowball down a hill, with more and more being revealed as we go. By the end, there’s vanishings, captures, escapes and injuries, and we’re left on tenterhooks with time of the essence, blind faith, hope and luck getting us through.

An inventive, exciting and wondrous adventure. I cannot wait for the next book!

My favourite quote from page 11:

“‘Don’t Lose Your Luggage,’ Jonathan snapped. ‘That’s Rule Number One…'”

This book in three words:

Magic. Travel. Adventure.

#MGTakesOnThursday – Skunk and Badger

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Scholastic

Anyone who knows me will surely know by now what a huge Jon Klassen fan I am, so I can’t lie when I say I picked this up based solely on his illustrations.

But I’m so glad I did, as I absolutely loved it. It’s one of those books that’s a bit quirky and refuses to sit neatly in any kind of category – age, genre or otherwise – and I love it all the more for that.

Badger is a creature of habit, living an almost reclusive life in the house Aunt Luna has kindly let him stay in to pursue his career in rocks. The living room is his Rock Room, given over to the study of them, and Badger is happy in his rather set and solitary ways.

Until Skunk arrives.

Skunk is everything Badger isn’t – outgoing, friendly and wanting to experience everything. He throws Badger’s world upside down with his deliciously extravagant breakfasts (no more cold cereal and milk), chicken parties in the Rock Room, philosophical bedtime stories (so clever!) and general upheaval!

Badger is sure that Skunk can’t stay (although those breakfasts are delicious, and the stories are good, and the chickens are actually a likeable bunch…) and things come to a head.

Lets just say, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

This is a simply wonderful story with everything from chickens to quantum physics, roasted peppers to Shakespeare and a truly fantastic chicken-run bookshop (that only features briefly but that I would love to see a whole book set in!).

And of course, the illustrations are fantastic. Unmistakably Klassen, they complement this completely unique book superbly. Even the endpapers are lovely. It’s a truly beautifully presented gift of a book.

As well as being a perfect bedtime read, Badger and Skunk would make a lovely, quirky KS2 class read. Short enough to squeeze in easily but with plenty of meat on its bones for talking about, sowing a seed or pondering.

My favourite quote from page 11:

“Badger raced in front of Skunk and said what needed to be said: ‘Oh, you’re that Skunk! Come in, come in! It’s so good to finally meet you!”

This book in three words(ish)

Unlikely friendships, comfort zones…& chickens!

#MGTakesOnThursday…sort of…!

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

So, “#MGTakesOnThursday…sort of?” I hear you ask. Well, I’m cheating this week. Mary, I’m sorry! But I’ve gone rogue (but only this one week, I promise!)

Because this week I haven’t chosen an MG book at all. I’ve chosen…*whispers*…a picture book.

This is a great picture book for any age and younger children will love it of course, BUT it’s one I think has so much potential for use in KS2 so I’m throwing it in here like the maverick that I am! (Promise to follow the rules again next week!)

The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Two Hoots

This book cracked me up. Written in the form of notes and letters between the titular Frederick and free spirit Emily who sees him in his window one day and sends a paper aeroplane up to invite him out to play.

Unfortunately, Frederick is reminded by his mother of the misfortune that struck last time he went for ice cream so he reluctantly, and ever so eloquently, turns Emily down.

Emily is persistent though. Each day, she embarks on a glorious new outdoor adventure – exploring, climbing, swimming – and invites poor cooped up Frederick to accompany her.

Each day, he sends a beautifully written reply declining her offer, reflecting on the calamaties of the past.

And the ending is simply superb! Predictable yet not, it is a fittingly funny end to a super story!

The illustrations are fantastic – delicately detailed and full of the pleasure getting out in the open can bring. I loved how Frederick’s indoor play cleverly mirrors Emily’s escapades outside, but with strikingly different colour palettes and Frederick’s expression and body language vs Emily’s making clear that its really not the same thing!

The use of colour and the way it gradually creeps into Frederick’s pages is very clever, as is the way we see the wild slowly infiltrating Frederick’s refusals and drawing him in (or should that be out?!)

And the expression and emotion in the images is deftly drawn too – from disappointment to joy, wistfulness to abandon.

So, why am I showing you this instead of a typical ‘middle grade’ book?

Because I think as much as younger readers will enjoy this, it’s older readers who’ll really get it. And there is so much to be done with this, for younger readers too, but also for older.

The language for a start.

Frederick’s letters are a scream – fantastically formal and flowery, they are the perfect contrast to Emily’s brief, informal notes. Both would be brilliant to use for looking at letter writing (or email or communication in general!) and the difference between formal and informal tones, as well as for descriptive writing.

Getting kids to write their own formal rsvps with funny or dramatic reasons would be great.

There’s also the paper aeroplanes – get in an afternoon of plane making, paper folding, trial and error, test and hypothesise, measuring, timing and team work.

Then of course there’s the outdoor elements. OK, you probably can’t take them out for a dip in a local lake but take the opportunity to have an outdoor adventure or two – den building, orienteering, scavenger hunting…

This book in three words:

Clever. Funny. Outdoorsy.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

I’d love to know if any of you decide to use or read this book with older children.

Normal service will resume next week!

MG Takes on Thursday – My Name is Mina

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

My Name is Mina by David Almond, cover art by Jon Carling, published by Hachette.

I recently re-read Skellig, a children’s classic that comes up on school reading lists year after year. I’d liked it well enough first time round, but failed to see what all the mega-fuss was about.

This time I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it much more, got so much more from it and am left awaiting another read/listen in the future where I suspect I’ll discover even more.

But the thing that struck me both times was Mina.

Mina was without doubt my favourite thing about the book. Her and her mum. So when I finished listening to Skellig, I decided to read I Am Mina, which tells her story leading up to the point where she begins to befriend Michael in Skellig.

Written as Mina’s journal, it is a book of wonder and an important reminder not to lose the sense of awe, imagination and possibility we have as children.

Charlie Sanderson feels like the perfect voice for Mina so I highly recommend the audio version, but I have also bought the physical book as it is definitely one I’ll want to revisit.

The physical copy is designed as if it is Mina’s journal, with different fonts, sizes and layouts, which really adds to its appeal too. As do Mina’s ‘Extraordinary Activities’ – little tasks? ideas? prompts? to have a go at something she’s done herself.

My favourite sentence from page 11

“Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bat’s and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.”

And in this book, this is exactly what they do.

This book spoke straight to my heart. Bringing back memories, emotions and pangs of empathy for Mina from my own teen years as well as giving rise to feelings of such sympathy and respect for her in losing her father and grandfather.

Mina is at once self-confident and introverted, self-assured and beating herself up, opinionated and unsure, gentle and angry, but ultimately she is hopeful and a lesson to us all.

Everyone should read this book.

This book in three words

Honest. Inspiring. Wonderful.

MG Takes on Thursday – The Dog Runner

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

I’m currently reading Across the Risen Sea by Bren Macdibble and, as with her previous books, I’m loving it. I think she has such a unique voice and such a skill for bringing climate change and environmental issues into children’s fiction in a really accessible, non-preachy and utterly immersive way. So I often lament the fact that her books just don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve here!

Which brings us to today’s post! I’ve posted before about How to Bee and I’ll likely be posting my review of Across the Risen Sea shortly, so today’s #MGTakesOnThursday seemed a good time to give some more love yo her second book, The Dog Runner.

The Dog Runner by Bren Macdibble, cover art by Joanna Hunt, published by Old Barn Books.

With food in short supply (thanks to a fungus killing off all the grasses), a home in a city that’s slowly closing down and dangerous to venture out in, a mum who’s been away working for farctoo long, a dad who hasn’t returned when he should have and a brother who’s injured, it’s up to Ella to face the perilous journey across the country alone in the hopes of finding family, food and safety.

This is such a gripping environmental adventure with family loyalties and courage close to its heart. You can read my full review here.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Down the street, where the ethanol bus ground to a stop last year and nobody bothered moving it, someone lights a fire in the ripped-off car bonnet.”

In three words:

Environment. Family. Dystopia.

Have you read any of Bren’s books?

What have you chosen for #MGTakesOnThursday this week?

MG Takes on Thursday – NSquared

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

I’m cheating ever so slightly this week with two books (think of it like a 2 for 1 offer?!):

High Rise Mystery and Mic Drop by Sharna Jackson, cover art by Wumzum, published by Knights Of

I first met Nic and Norva in High Rise Mystery when I was helping with shortlisting for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (my money is still on this to win!) and I’ve just finished their latest investigation, Mic Drop.

Set in a high-rise housing estate, The Tri, this is a brilliant new murder mystery series that will keep you guessing until the end.

In book one, Nic and Norva investigate the mysterious death of art tutor Hugo and Mic Drop sees another murder on the Tri, this time of former resident turned pop superstar TrojKat.

I was hooked on both, continually second guessing myself and changing my mind about ‘whodunnit’!

Nik and Norva are a great duo, each bringing their own personality and strengths to the mystery, and their chalk-and-cheese characters bring lots of humour and attitude to the books. Siblings everywhere will relate!

The urban, high-rise setting adds a touch of reality to it, as does the dialogue, and these books really stands out from other children’s crime and mystery novels. Fresh, diverse and modern, they will be instantly accessible to many young readers who will recognise their own homes, areas and neighbours in the books.

Fans of Murder Most Unladylike looking for another detective duo to get hooked on should look no further – it’s MMU but brought bang up to date!

My favourite sentence from page 11 of Mic Drop:

“Norva shot me a look, and gripped Katarzyna’s hand tighter.”

In three words:

Modern murder mysteries.

MG Takes on Thursday

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, cover art by Kay Wilson, published by Knights Of

I finally read this after absolutely everyone raved about it! Honestly, my personal reaction was maybe a bit more lukewarm BUT I can see how important a book it is and I will definitely be recommending it highly in work, so I decided to use this post to show why I’ll be recommending a book even though I didn’t particularly love it.

This book takes on themes of difference, bullying, friendship – all of which are both important and popular issues in children’s fiction.

The book makes it clear to its readers that difference is positive; that being yourself and having few friends is better than pretending to be someone else and being popular. It makes it clear it can be difficult, but also that it’s worth it to be yourself.

There is both a painful realism and a firm reassurance here and in the way in which bullying is addressed in the story.

I suspect many readers will see themselves in Addie (and maybe others will pause to question their own behaviours) as we see the brutally real way both children and her teacher treat her – in both obvious, directly hurtful ways and more passive and sly ways, as well as through inaction.

In particular I thought the way we saw Miss Murphy’s almost matter of fact cruelty, prejudice and impatience with Addie, and the way her behaviour also meant that the other children saw her treatment and views of Addie as acceptable was very powerful.

I hope this book will not only prove comforting, informative and/or strengthening to its readers, but that it will also help those who need it to recognise that what might be happening to them is not okay and help them to find help.

The book also celebrates a supportive, close family, with all its ups and downs, and explores what real friendship looks like.

Addie is autistic and the book also helps us to see what the world can be like for her, whilst also making clear that it’s not necessarily the same for others who are autistic, although it shows that some things are common. I think this is a great way for readers to try to understand more about this and to enable them to put themselves in another’s shoes.

The way in which Addie draws parallels with the witch hunts of the past is very clever too, and I especially liked the character of Addie’s older sister Keedie.

Did this book absolutely grab me and speak to me and make me want to press it onto everyone gabbling excitedly about it? No.

Is it a book I think is important, moving, helpful and interesting that covers themes children both want to and need to read about. Absolutely.

My favourite sentence from page 11

“She asks me no questions. She let’s go when I do.”

This book in three words:

Difference is good.

MG Takes on Thursday – Back Home

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week I’ve chosen

Back Home by Michelle Magorian, cover art by David Frankland, published by Puffin

I chose Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom for #MGTakesOnThursday a few weeks ago and Amy recommended this one (thank you!)

I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the author, and enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve bought a physical copy now too.

At age 7, in 1940,Rusty was evacuated to America. Fast forward five years and our story begins as she returns to England to a very different life, and when she’s sent away to boarding school things turn even bleaker as she struggles to understand and follow the seemingly endless and nonsensical rules amongst people she feels she doesn’t belong with.

This is a fantastic story for anyone who’s ever felt out if place, misunderstood or frustrated that they can’t do wrong for doing right.

It captures Rusty’s dreams worries and frustrations so well and does a brilliant job of sending out a clear message that not only can girls do anything boys can, but also that following less academic interests and strengths is a viable option in education and beyond.

I really loved Rusty and could relate to much of her confusion, disbelief and annoyance at her mother’s actions. However, reading this as an adult I also really felt for Rusty’s mum, Peggy. Do I think she made the best choices? No. But it was clear how torn she felt and how constrained she too was by the expectations and societal norms around her.

All the characters were brilliantly written – from those your heart goes out to to those you hate. Bea in particular struck a chord with me, ever the peacemaker, forward-thinking, positive and understanding she had more than a smidge of my grandma, Dot (who herself acted mediator on many an occasion between my mum and I) about her and she was definitely my favourite character because of this.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Rusty sipped the weird brown liquid. It was no use. She was never going to get used to this stuff. It tasted awful.”

This book in three words:

Do not conform.

#MGTakesOnThursday – The House of Hidden Wonders

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling, artwork by Hannah Peck, published by Little Tiger

Zinnie, Sadie and Nell may not be biologically related but they are fiercely loyal and loving sisters living in the underbelly of Edinburgh’s old town in Victorian era.

Times are tough and it’s hard to make ends meet, but they get by thanks largely to Zinnie’s work helping a young Arthur Conan Doyle by being his eyes ears and voice on the rougher side of town.

It’s as they endeavour to solve a particularly strange and unpleasant mystery that our adventure begins and what an adventure it is!

Firmly rooted in historical fact, with characters based on real people (and there’s a fascinating note on these at the end) there’s ghosts, séances, murder and robbery afoot.

Zinnie is determined to not only get to the bottom of the missing ears that started it all, but also uncover the truth about other crimes which threaten to split the sisters up and which are an even bigger danger to their newest sibling, Aelfine.

Aelfine has Down’s syndrome and, while I have no direct experience, I thought the way she was shown to be bright and capable, and the way Zinnie challenged others’ ideas to the contrary was excellent.

Overall, this is a thrilling, historical mystery full of daring and bravery, with strong female characters and even stronger bonds.

My favourite sentence from page 11 the start of chapter 2:

“Zinnie shrugged. She was hardly going to tell him that they’d had to steal it from the window of a pawnbroker’s shop.”

(I don’t have the physical copy as I bought the ebook, so I don’t have a page 11 to look at! Instead I thought I’d pick a sentence from the first page of the second chapter as that felt like it would be a similar point of the book.)

This book in three words:

Intrigue. Sisterhood. Ghosts.