Picture Book and Play – There is No Dragon in this Story

Picture Book And Play is a weekly post in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

It was Peapod’s Dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and Peapod’s gift ‘for’ him were some Castle building blocks, so our downstairs toy shelf has been set up for all things castles and knights and dragons and princesses since then, along with some books to tie into it all.

One Peapod has really taken a shine to is There is No Dragon in this Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright.

It’s one I really love too, so I’ve been really pleased to see him enjoying it so much!

Poor old Dragon is fed up of being the bad guy, so he sets off in search of a story he can save the day in instead!

But no one needs a dragon in their story…until some rickly feathers, one giant sneeze and a blown out sun later, a fire-breathing friend might be just what they’re looking for.

Starring all your favourite fairy tale characters alongside a very loveable dragon, with expressive, repetitive phrases that are a joy for grown ups to read aloud and little ones to join in with.

Peapod loves it when we ‘be’ Dragon asking to be in the story and let him reply as the characters, with a brilliantly pitched “No, no! That’s not how it goes! There are no dragons in this story!” and he makes an impressive giant, putting on his best deep voice for “fee fi foe” – ing with!

He wanted to act the story out this week, so he began gathering figures then we read through the book and made a list of what else we needed, before gathering it together and setting it up.

I do love a story sack or invitation to play, and sometimes I’ll do these, but usually we find the props we need together; it’s a good way to get some writing in and I find it helps with both his engagement, imagination and independence. Also – less advance prep needed from me!

All set up, we acted it out and used a dark cloth to cover everything when the sun goes out. Peapod loved peeking under it and having it put on him to be in the dark.

However, our cloth kept knocking all the characters over so we popped them under his tri-climb instead – perfect!

We also made our own dragon and Peapod had a great time roaring him round the house!

Have you read this book?

What have you been reading or playing this week?

Grow

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Grow by Luke Palmer, cover art by unknown, published by Firefly Press

There are a growing number of books exploring race and racism and/or extremism. For the most part, these are set in fairly multi-cultural areas and tell the stories at those suffering from prejudice, from racist behaviour and attitudes. And rightly so – they are important stories which need to be heard.

However, I was intrigued by this one coming at the issue from a slightly different angle. Set in a predominantly white British area, Grow is Josh’s story. Struggling to cope after his dad’s death in a terrorist attack, he finds himself targeted by white supremacists and is slowly sucked into a terrifying world of bullying, intimidation and fear.

The characters were really well drawn and I thought the way we are able to gradually learn more about their backgrounds and individual stories was so skilfully done, and so much of this opened up a plethora of other discussions and themes too.

At no point do you feel for the white supremacists targeting Josh, but the book does allow us to consider what has brought them to this point.

Likewise, Dana’s story is so hard to read, but so important and so sensitively told – both implicit and hard-hitting at the same time. The way it ties into the main plot works well too.

This was a really compelling but difficult read; there were so many points at which I was desperate for Josh to realise what’s going on/do something about it but it’s all too clear he won’t/can’t because of how angry or scared or stuck or ashamed he feels.

Indeed, Josh’s emotions were brilliantly depicted and never has the phrase emotional roller-coaster felt so apt.

On the surface Josh is coping well with his dad’s death, but underneath the grief is still raw and he’s unable to process it. Easily turned to anger and blame, we see him spiral through negative emotions which are fuel to the white supremacists’ grooming fire.

His growing realisation that what he’s involved with is wrong is perhaps the hardest to read – the sense of having nowhere to turn, of desperately wanting it to stop but feeling powerless and/or too scared to try to stop it.

And with good reason – there is real menace from the gang he finds himself caught up with, and the way they find a way into Josh’s life is insidious – it’s clear to see just how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen.

This is a bit pf a slow burner, but it’s characters are deep and the plot believable because of it. There’s a great twist at the end too. While I did see it coming, it took me a long time and I thought it was clever and brings an added level of tension to the closing chapters.

I also really liked the way nature and growth were used, through Dana and Josh’s Grandad’s gardening, both symbolically to reflect Josh’s journey, but also for the wider message of the benefits nature and the outdoors can have.

Overall, this is a moving book that will make you think. With themes of grief, loss, mental health, racism and pressure as well as thought-provoking social commentary, it’s one that should have a place in every secondary school library.

MG Takes on Thursday – Songs of Magic

#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 again this week (is there even a week when I don’t?!) and I’ve picked two books:

A Darkness of Dragons and A Vanishing of Griffins, Books one and two in the Songs of Magic trilogy by SA Patrick. Cover art by George Ermos. Published by Usborne.

I had A Darkness of Dragons waiting for an embarrassing amount of time. The only good thing about this is the fact that it meant I could go straight onto A Vanishing of Griffins when I finished it. (Only now I’m left desperate for book three with at least a year to wait!)

I love (almost) any book which draws on fairy or folk tales, so I was really drawn to the way this used the story of the Pied Piper as its base. And it works so well – all at once we have a brilliant take on a classic tale; a fantastically dark, powerful and mysterious villain; and a unique and believable magic system.

Our main characters – Patch, Wren and Barver – make an interesting and loveable central trio who find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly thrown together, but quickly develop strong bonds and an unshakeable loyalty.

Together, they set out to find and stop the villainous Piper, but each with their own journey to make too. The way in which their individual stories unfold and develop is woven into the main plot expertly, and with so many twists and unexpected turns, just when you think they’ve reached their goal, another obstacle appears, another mission is required or another chain of events set in motion.

No quest would be complete without a whole host of interesting characters met along the way, and that is certainly the case here – from noble to untrustworthy to those you can’t quite place; from sorcerers to witches to pipers in hiding and cut-throat pirates; from respectful and respectable elders to power-hungry leaders to, of course, a seemingly unstoppable enemy.

This is a fantastic adventure series, with breathtaking journeys through some well-imagined and depicted places (I am especially intrigued about where our story will pick up in book three!) Full of magic, friendship and excitement – highly recommended!

My favourite quote from page 11 (of A Darkness of Dragons) :

He thought for a moment, but all that came was that terrible, dark wall through the forest, one step after another with no end. His eyes widened.” I don’t even remember my own name!”

These books in three words:

Magic. Quest. Adventure.

Peapod’s Picks – What About Me Said the Flea?

“What About Me?” said the Flea by Lily Murray and Richard Merritt, published by Buster Books

I was a huge fan of Dinosaur Department Store (read our review here) , the first book from this duo, so I was very excited to see they had a new collaboration out and it’s every bit as warm, witty and wonderful as the first!

Sofia (or ‘Fia as she’s known in our house!) is trying to decide who should star in her story. The usual suspects – lion, unicorn, dinosaur, penguins, bears etc – all make their cases (and are such fun to read aloud trying out different voices!) but there’s a noise in the background that’s bugging our budding author – what on earth could it be?!

This is one of those brilliantly executed examples of the joy and excitement that comes from the reader knowing more than our protagonist, and the fun of the visual humour that comes with that!

We see it’s poor old Flea trying to plea for a part in the tale and we all loved spotting him on each page as Sofia remains oblivious.

And then of course, there’s the resolution which is PERFECT! A slightly dark and very funny touch saves it from being mawkish or obvious whilst allowing our friend Flea to get the ending he deserves. And that is all I’ll say on the matter!

The text absolutely bounces along – fast-paced, full of energy, fun and perfectly flowing.

There’s always a danger with rhyming texts that there’ll be an awkward rhyme jammed in somewhere, a close-but-not quite pairing, a syllable or sound just off, and this danger is doubled when cramming in the action and humour of a book like this, but we don’t need to worry. Lily Murray is a pro.

Everything fits just so and rolls off the tongue; there’s a confidence and an exactness to her text which makes her one of my favourite rhyming-picture-book authors around. Donaldson – take note.

And then of course, there’s Richard Murray’s illustrations which are lively, expressive and vibrant and absolutely packed with visual humour and detail – Lion’s fashion show spread is a personal favourite and I know Peapod loves the chaos the dinosaur causes!

This has fast become a favourite in our house abd I can’t wait for more from this pair.

Peapod’s Picks – New Easter Picture Books

We were lucky enough to receive free copies of these from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.

With Easter round the corner, we were very pleased to receive two new picture books from Hachette perfect for this time of year!

Free-Range Freddy by Rachel Bright and Izzy Evans

A rhyming, rhythmic paean to wildness and non-conformity that hops, pops and bops along with energy and pace.

New chick Freddy causes chaos on the farm with his movement, noise and mess…but despite their initial displeasure the other animals grow to love it and soon embrace their wild sides too.

Alongside classic style illustrations, there’s a lovely use of language – from from its well-flowing rhyme to onomatopoeiac shrieks, squawks, cricks and cracks to some wonderful choices of vocabulary (bulbous, floppled, wobbled) this is great to read aloud and listen to.

With a message that every child needs to hear sometimes, this is lots of fun and Freddy’s spirited ways will appeal to children everywhere!

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Easter by Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson

Everyone’s favourite hungry unicorn is back! And no easter egg is safe!

It’s Easter and Princess Oola and friends are excitedly hunting for eggs…only they can’t find any. Not one. What (or should we say who!) could have happened to them all?!

The Easter Bunny can’t make more so the friends work together to decorate and hide some…but when they forget where they’re hidden is there anyone who could help sniff them out?!

Taking him from disgrace to hero, Oscar’s insatiable appetite and ability to sniff out chocolate at a hundred paces is a deliciously daft slice of Easter fun.

As a fan of both the first Oscar book and chocolate, Peapod loved this! He thought seeing Oscar munch all the eggs was very funny and was totally taken by the Easter bunny and pirates too.

On that note – the pirates were an inspired touch! Who doesn’t immediately think of pirates at Easter?! They were such silly fun and – like the rest of this brilliantly bright, bold book – illustrated perfectly.

How could you not love a book that can combine the Easter bunny, a chocoholic unicorn, pirates burying, losing and digging for treasure, a princess and more…?! An egg-cellent Easter treat!

Picture Book and Play – Easter Bunnies!

Picture Book And Play is a weekly post in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

As Easter approaches, Peapod and I have begun some Easter themed activities, starting with our Easter cards.

I totally cheated for this one and found it on a good old g**gle search.

I have tried to find the original source to credit here, but I’m just on an endless Pinterest-Google cycle so just please know: this isn’t my own idea and I’m not being asked to use it, but I did love it. If it’s yours, shout and I’ll credit you 🙂

We had a good laugh getting the footprints done and it was a great sensory experience for Peapod!

And once we’d done the spaced out ones for the cards, he had a great time stomping round (with me holding on!) shouting “fee fi fo fum…smell blood man…be dead…grind bones make my bread!” so a bit of a bookish bonus there too!

That said, between tickly brushes, slippery paint and a wriggly toddler I’m glad there were two of us on hand to help…and even then it wasn’t without mishap 😬! Definitely one to do on the grass outside next time!

We also did a quick bunny craft which he really surprised me with.

I put out bunny templates, cotton wool balls, pritt stick, sticky eyes and scissors and, honestly, I was expecting two bits of cotton wool half-heartedly stuck to it with several mismatched eyes and probably a severed head.

But (obviously with guidance!) he carefully covered the whole bunny, stuck some eyes on in about the right place (miraculously with no help) and (with me turning the card and doing the inside fiddly bits) followed the lines to cut it out too.

He even chose to do another independently…although that did end up de-furred and with eyes on its ears some time later!!

We’ve also got some bunny painting to do at the weekend to use up the last often footprint paint! We’re going to use cotton wool to splodge, stamp and probably spread the paint over our bunnies for some colourful Easter pics!

Of course, with all these Easter bunnies on the go, we had to get some of our best bunny books out to read too.

We read Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit by Lorna Scobie which I’ve reviewed before here and absolutely love.

(Incidentally – I was made up that our copy of Lorna’s new book ‘Duck, Duck, Dad?’ arrived the other day but had to resist the temptation to read it as it’s Peapod’s present for his dad’s birthday so we’ll review after that!)

Next up was Hooray for Hoppy! by Tim Hopgood, another enduring favourite we’ve read for the last couple of years at this time. Read more here.

And finally, Hop Little Bunnies by Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes, which again we have reviewed before but remains a favourite.

Peapod very much enjoyed dancing his newly made bunny around the room singing “hop little bunny” too!

And just because we couldn’t possibly get to them all yesterday, here’s some more of our favourite bunny books that we’ve got in our basket at the moment!

Have you got any favourite bunny books?

Will you be making any Easter cards or crafts?

What have you been reading or playing this week?

Picture Book and Play – Room on the Broom

Picture Book And Play is a weekly post in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

It’s a short post this week (and regular readers will be disappointed to hear there’s not a tractor or digger in sight) with just a quick, fun look at an absolute classic that there are MILLIONS (OK, maybe not millions but a lot) of activities you could link to it.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, published by Macmillan

This is a favourite here of both mine and Peapod’s, and one which is a Halloween staple – for us at home when I used to teach and at storytimes in work! You can read more of our thoughts on it here.

It only came up this week because Peapod randomly mentioned it, but it ended up tying in really well with our off-the-cuff outdoor play on Monday; I’d put Peapod’s water play things out with some flowers and herbs that seen better days, along with his scissors, spoons etc. for some mixing, pouring, cutting…

Obviously there’s so much to get out of this – capacity, hand-eye coordination, sensory exploration, find motor skills, experimentation…

But as we played, it became the witch’s cauldron as she makes her spell for the new broom.

We improvised with a tulip for Frog’s lily, found a pinecone for Cat and a twig for Bird. No bones to be seen though (luckily!) so Dog had to make do with a tulip stem!

And of course after all that we needed a truly magnificent broom…!

So we spent the rest of the afternoon flying round on sweeping brushes and acting out the story, with Peapod dramatically throwing the rush down “Broom snapped in pieces!” and running around on it “Whoooosh! Gone!” and me, for my part, roaring that I’d eat him with chips. Good times.

We had his Room on the Broom jigsaws out again too, and there’s obviously loads more you can do with this book (off the top of my head witch, wand and broomstick crafts; loose parts spells, treasure hunts, dragon painting, natural objects in playdough…) but this was just a spontaneous fun afternoon that unintentionally ended up being based on the book!

If nothing else, surely that highlights the power of stories for children – we’ve not read this since October, but five months later Peapod instigated an afternoon of play from it.

Do you love Room on the Broom as much as we do?!

Which picture books have you been reading this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Edge of the Ocean

#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.

Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by L. D. Lapinski, cover art by Natalie Smillie, published by Hachette Children’s

The first Strangeworlds book was magnificent and sucked me right in (you can read my review here) so I was very excited to read book two!

If you’ve not read book one, start there! If you have you surely won’t need me to convince you to grab book two, but just in case you need a nudge…

I admit, it did take a couple of chapters to reorient myself, but once I did, I devoured this in just a couple of sittings; I could not put it down.

Flick and Jonathan are back and as brilliant a pairing as ever! The addition of Jonathan’s cousin Avery adds another dimension and plenty of interest, and their friendship continues to go from strength to strength in the most hilarious, awkward and heartfelt ways.

Jonathan is one of my favourite characters, not just in this series but in children’s fiction and to see him sailing the seas, swashbuckling and soaked to the skin raised many a smile.

He’s written with such a fabulous dry wit and I have to say that it’s a testament to LD Lapinski’s writing that in the midst of a rollicking, riotous pirate adventure one of my favourite scenes was Jonathan in the veg aisle at Tesco.

On a more serious note, there’s developments from the first book that will have a lump in your throat as often as a laugh and the balance struck is perfect.

Flick for her part has just managed to escape her lifelong grounding and it’s a good thing too, as Strangeworlds are summoned to The Break – a flat, watery world which is vanishing fast.

And so begins a fast-paced, action-packed piratical adventure like no other!

Faced with a lost suitcase, warring pirate crews and mysterious mer-folk they know nothing about, the Strangeworlds crew set about trying to save the inhabitants of The Break (whilst still being home in time for tea).

I said in my review of the first book that the world-building and imagination were top notch and that remains the case here too. To somehow make the fantastic so believable and tangible is no mean feat.

The characters Flick, Jonathan and Avery meet are brilliant too – the pirates tough, robust and wily; the merfolk vividly imagined and depicted.

Packed with excitement, twists, turns and magic (not forgetting the mortal danger, double-crossing and world-hopping), this is a high seas adventure like no other! Absolutely brilliant – I need book three immediately!

My favourite quote from page 211 (sorry Mary, I’m cheating):

“‘Are there any rules for talking to mer-folk?’ Avery asked.

This book in three words:

Pirates. Magic. Excitement.

Have you read the Strangeworlds books? Will you be picking this one up?

The Swallows’ Flight

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review, but will be buying the finished copy too! All views and opinions are my own.

The Swallows Flight by Hilary McKay, cover art by Dawn Cooper, published by Macmillan

Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War shot into my favourite books ever when I read it back in 2018, so I was incredibly excited to hear there’d be a follow up, and even more thrilled to be able to read an advance copy on netgalley.

Let me tell you now – it has more than earned a place alongside Skylarks in my all time faves, being every bit as wonderful, and has cemented my opinion of Hilary McKay as one of my most highly-rated writers for children today.

So much of my feelings about Swallows echo those I had about Skylarks, with much of what I wrote there standing true for this book also.

And, somewhat inevitably, there will be many comparisons and parallels drawn between the two as I write this review as I loved the way the books link and follow on from each other.

Written as a companion novel to Skylarks, The Swallows’ Flight could easily be read without having read the former. However, I’d urge anyone planning to read Swallows to first read Skylarks; not only because it’s an absolutely outstanding book, but also because it really does add to Swallows to have read it.

It’s in the little references to past events, in the clever parallels and symbolism in the writing and, of course, in the characters.

We see several familiar characters return (later in life) alongside their families and I absolutely loved being able to rejoin some of the characters who I felt I’d got to know so well and who brought me so much joy to read in Skylarks.

I don’t know how much of a spoiler it is to say who reappears, so I’ll keep my lips tightly sealed other than to say that Grandfather in particular was the absolute star of the show here for me. His dry wit, stubbornness and, yes, his penchant for a drink allow for some wonderful comic moments (if these books ever became films and he wasn’t played by Richard E Grant it’d be an outrage).

But he also made for a very thought-provoking character, as I reflected on Skylarks as I read. And interestingly, it was him that helped other characters develop in some ways too, notably Kate, one of the new faces in the family and another of my favourite characters.

There’s a feel of I Capture the Castle’s Cassandra as she quietly notes down all her family and friends’ comings and goings, seemingly from the sidelines, as she is repeatedly overlooked and underestimated. But she’s stronger than she seems and I loved seeing her blossom in this.

I also loved her younger brother Charlie and new friend Ruby Amaryllis (and the story behind her birth and naming which was pitch-perfect for what we know of her mum already and for what we see of Ruby herself as she grows).

In fact it’s safe to say that all of the characters are an absolute joy to read; Hilary McKay is a writer who understands family dynamics and can bring her characters to life like no other. As in Skylarks, it is their depth and credibility their relationships and growth and our investment in them that really makes the book.

With Skylarks set around the First World War, Swallows takes us to a Europe on the brink of war once more, as World War Two approaches.

And this leads us to two more new characters I loved – Hans and Erik. They are an absolutely adorable double act, best friends with grand plans to run the zoo and nearby coffee stall. They are a delight to read – warm and loving and with that true spirit of carefree youth – and they complement the rest of the cast of characters superbly.

And, of course, they’re German.

I love the way that Swallows not only uses the multiple perspectives Skylarks does, but also the way it switches between Hans and Erik in Berlin and the families in England.

It created such tension and really added something to the way we see the war, encouraging the reader to consider it from all angles and helped us to learn more about its effects on ‘both sides’, with everyone just ‘doing what they can’.

As with Skylarks, this at no point shies away from the uncertainties and tragedies of war, nor its staggering, inconceivable scenes and events (Dunkirk for example), but they are always written about with such incredible deftness and sensitivity; its almost understated in its approach and hits so much harder because of it.

Quietly powerful, perceptive, funny and full of heart, this is a book to savour and to treasure.

As soon as its out (27th May – get it ordered!) it will be joining Skylarks on my shelf as a book that I will turn to for comfort, for escape…and for a chance to spend time once more with characters who now feel like old friends.

The Fountains of Silence

I was so thrilled to be offered a free copy of this to review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

Let me preface this review with a warning – this was one of those books I utterly loved, so apologies in advance for fangirling, waxing lyrical and/or going off on personal tangents. I will try to rein it in.

But if it really is a case of TLDR, ultimately my message here is this – you must read this book. Historical, heartbreaking and hopeful it is a story of love, loss and loyalty; of secrets, of strength and of silence.

For those of you prepared to wade in with me, I hope I can do some justice to this fantastic book…

I read Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea in 2017, when it won the Carnegie medal, and it blew me away. So when I was offered the chance to read her most recent book (also on the Carnegie longlist this year) and take part in this blog tour for it, I absolutely jumped at the chance.

Fountains of Silence is set in Madrid,1957. The Spanish Civil War is over, but Franco’s dictatorship most certainly is not.

After twenty years almost entirely cut off from other nations, Spain is just beginning to reopen its doors to outsiders, notably Americans with money. The Hilton Castellana opens, formerly a palace and now the place to be for travelling businessmen, politicians, musicians and stars.

But just beyond the parties, cocktails, glamour and wealth lies a Spain devastated by the fascist regime.
Poverty reigns. Women are powerless – no passports, no property, no bank accounts, no say. Republican ‘reds’, or more likely their left-behind children, live in silence, desperation and fear.

And from these two worlds come our main characters, Daniel – son of a wealthy Texan oil tycoon, and Ana – a maid at the Hilton whose family feel the effects of the civil war and Franco’s regime daily.

However, rather than focusing solely on their narratives, Ruta skilfully uses multiple perspectives to bring together the stories of those around Ana and Daniel too, thereby delivering a much broader, deeper and more complex view of the experiences and difficulties faced by the many different people caught up in Franco’s regime.

I loved the characters in this (even poor misunderstood Nick, who I really didn’t like much at first but really warmed to and who became one of my favourites by the end!) I rooted for them so deeply.

Their stories are so cleverly and effectively woven together, and I loved how it was predominantly through their interactions and encounters that we really saw the stark contrast between life for Daniel and for Ana and her family.

Daniel’s misjudged trip to Ana’s home in Vallecas, for example is one of my standout moments in the book. It has stuck with me so intensely since reading and I continue to think about it for so many reasons; because of Daniel’s doing the unthinkable and turning up there with his gifts of expensive wine and chocolates, but primarily for the portrait it painted of Vallecas itself and the people who lived there.

It felt so real; I felt like I was there, seeing it firsthand. Indeed, this is true of the book as a whole, and one of my favourite things about it was the use of Daniel’s photography to tell the story. I’ve always loved photography as an art form and I’m a sucker for a photo exhibition, so this worked so well for me.

(On a personal level, it also took me back to my days in Madrid, when, almost crippled with social anxiety and rarely leaving my flat if it meant going alone, I would spend nearly an entire day psyching myself up to go out to an exhibition. It was always photography that would get me there.)

Some of the shots he takes are so powerful – the nun, the Crows, his father… – and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Robert Capa, who is indeed referenced in the book. The images felt so vividly painted, and when Ana adds captions to them this only adds to their impact (and even more so the way in which she does this and the events that follow). I could see them, taped up on that hotel wall as clearly as if I’d walked round them in exhibition.

The setting and Ruta’s ability to take us there, is second to none. I was absolutely transported.

I was lucky enough to listen to Ruta talk about her writing, and she talks of trying to visit the places she’s writing about, to get a feel for them, and this really comes across.

I lived in Madrid for three years and, despite being set many decades earlier, this really took me back there – the shutters going down for siesta, the streets and the places and their feel, the food, the lives, the culture… Immersive, evocative and, for me personally, very nostalgic too.

As well as the places themselves, Ruta also talked about the many artefacts she used to help recreate that time and place, and the sheer joy she conveyed as she talked about the items and artefacts she’d found in her research for this was nothing short of infectious.

“… because I have the items…I can touch them and feel them, hopefully I can describe them in a way to readers that is more of a sensory experience…you want to immerse the reader…”

Ruta Sepetys

And immersive it is. It’s not always an easy read, as it confronts the suffering of the Spanish people then – the barbaric homes for orphaned republican children, the oppression, the empty coffins and stolen babies, the sheer imbalance of power, the censorship, the fear and the secrets – but it does feel incredibly authentic.

And the complex and believable characters and the way we see Spain through their eyes had a lot to do with that. From loyal and obedient Puri as she begins to question what she’s bought into for so long, to hardened Fuga furious at the secret he uncovers and the suffering around him, to Ana’s feelings of fear and being caged, limited, trapped.

When I heard Ruta speak, she talked of the people she’d met during her research, both incidentally and as part of her interviews, and I think this comes across so strongly in the book.

In the main characters, yes, but equally in the absolutely stellar supporting cast and in those we pass just briefly – the girl with no shoes or the old lady in Vallecas, Lorenza, the crowd at the amateur bull fight (and indeed in Fuga himself), Paco Lobo and Buttons (two of my favourite characters, despite being ‘bit parts’ – I loved hearing on the zoom call where Buttons had come from, and I would love to see Paco Lobo heading up a book of his own!)

It’s safe to say this isn’t an easy book at times, there is great hardship, great sadness and great suffering here. But there is also great community, great hope and great resilience.

Full of grit and courage, this is a powerful and moving story, helping to bring to light some of the very real stories which for so long were shrouded in silence. I can’t recommend it enough.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour too!