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?

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Picklewitch and Jack

As part of my quest to read more younger chapter books as well as ‘MG’, I requested a copy of this from Faber (who very kindly obliged – thank you!) and it’s safe to say I’m thrilled I did as it’s become one of my favourite books of the year.

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Picklewitch lives in a tree at the bottom of the garden. She has a nose for naughtiness, a mind for mischief and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox and all-round-goody-two-shoes Jack (who’s just moved in) she’s about to choose him as her new best friend… Jack is in for a whole lot of trouble!

I can’t tell you how much I love this book. Rather than reminding me of any specific book from when I was little, it brought back the feeling I got from reading the very best of them. The ones I loved. That indescribable buzz of a book that just seems to have got everything spot on.

The language for a start. Not too simple or patronising, nor over the top, it’s just right for younger readers The descriptions are wonderfully atmospheric and lively, conjuring up thunderstorms and wild gardens, trying to sleep in a spooky old house and, of course, delicious cakes. The way in which the blossoming friendship between Jack and Picklewitch is described – its complications, and Jack’s frustration and confusion in particular are depicted brilliantly.

The pace is perfectly matched to Picklewitch’s particular brand of chaos – the rollercoaster-like build and scream of it each time Jack moves from feeling relieved to realising something’s not quite right to…uh-oh! And all the while, cleverly dropping in the growing realisation that Picklewitch might be trouble with a capital T but she’s also desperate to be a friend with a capital F.

Which brings us to the characters. It would be easy to dislike a character like Jack – always well behaved, incredibly clever and something of a perfectionist – he has the potential to be boring at best and irritating at worst. Luckily, he’s neither, and his uncertainty about the not-so-black-and-white world of friendship and his earnest efforts to address it are very endearing too.

And then, of course, there’s Picklewitch. Even her name is fantastic – just say it and try not to smile. A tornado of trouble with an enormous heart, an insatiable appetite for cake and confidence enough for two, she is simply wonderful. Everyone should have a Picklewitch in their life.

The glossary of Picklewitch words, as well as her jokes and spells added in at the end of the story was joyous too!

And if all that wasn’t enough on its own, Teemu Juhani’s busy, fun and full illustrations capture the essence of Picklewitch and the feel of the story splendidly.

There will never be a shortage of witch books, especially for this age group, but this truly stands out from the crowd – a madcap tale of friendship and fun – it really is the kipper’s knickers!

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

Hubert Horatio: How to Raise Your Grown Ups

I first read about Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent almost 15 years ago when the picture book above was released.

I was (and still am) a huge Lauren Child fan – her books felt (and still feel) like something different: the illustrations, style and design; the vocabulary, language and phrasing.

So when I heard there was going to be a longer book featuring Hubert Horatio I was very excited. I was lucky enough to receive my copy from HarperCollins in exchange for this honest review.

Fans of Lauren Child will undoubtedly love this, but there’s plenty for newcomers to her work too. Likewise, there is plenty to appeal to both young readers and parents (and everyone in between!)

Hubert’s role as the sensible, clever and responsible child in a hopelessly well-meaning but incapable family, the ways he’s saved his own life on countless occasions and his ongoing feud with Elliot Snidgecombe in the overgrown zip-wired, trip-wired garden next door will appeal to youngsters, while the complications of family trees, family visits…in fact family in general and Hubert’s pragmatic approach to his will generate many a smile from parents.

One of the things I always love about Lauren Child’s books is that she doesn’t talk down to her readers: nothing is simplified or omitted because of a potential reader’s age; the vocabulary selected is always interesting, challenging and very playful.

Likewise, the look of the book is unmistakably hers, with the detailed images and layout serving just as large a role in telling the story as the text. It has her trademark collage style, with numbers, text, print and drawing colliding to provide lively, stylish and varied pages – the images and design alone could hold my interest without reading a word, she is one of my favourite illustrators.

A universally appealing book that is funny, clever and a real visual treat – one for all the family! I look forward to the next installment!

Mini Monday: 5/11/18

mini mondays

Mini Mondays are my attempt to get everything reviewed even while drowning in nappies, washing and milk! Shorter than usual but hopefully still enough to give a flavour of the books!

This week I’ve been playing catch up with short ‘early reader’ chapter books.

These are often the books that fall by the wayside in my attempts to read as much as possible for work. This year, I made an effort to read more Teen/YA and – while I could probably read more of those still – next year my aim is to read more of these ‘first’ chapter books.

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Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees by Tony De Saulles

Following Bee Boy: Clash of the Killer Queens  – which never fails to give me this earworm: https://youtu.be/1Ti2P_z5IPw

Meet Melvin, a boy who keeps bees on the roof of his tower block (incidentally, I love that he lives in a flat) and occasionally turns into one! It’s up to him, best friend Priti and new boy Berty to solve the mystery of a strange sickness that’s hit their fellow pupils.

This series cleverly turns facts about bees and the environmental issues affecting them into the centre of a funny, fast-paced plot.

With a fun yellow and black themed cartoon-like design, there’s a dastardly uncle, giant plants, cunning spies, bucket loads of bodily fluids and, of course, killer zom’bees’! This is a fun-filled, action-packed adventure kids will love.

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic

The incredibly popular Isadora Moon is back in a new wintry adventure, in her characteristic sparkly pink and black design.

With a nod to The Snowman, Isadora builds a Snow Boy from magic snow – he comes to life and they have a lovely time until he starts to melt!

With fairy ice palaces, magic snow, ice skating, a frozen feast and a flying snow-sleigh this is a book with plenty of winter magic to capture the imagination!

As an added bonus, there’s recipes, crafts, quizzes and more at the back of the book too – plenty to do over the Christmas holidays!

The Legend of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I’ve saved the best for last! I LOVED this and can’t wait to read more from this pair.

Kevin is a roly poly flying pony and Sarah McIntyre has brought him to life brilliantly – he’s quite the character. Plus, his favourite food is biscuits so he’s obviously a good sort!

This is full of fun – a slightly silly adventure written with a dry, almost matter of fact tone that makes it immensely readable and enjoyable.

When a flood hits Max’s town, its up to him and his new friend Kevin to save the day!

With stylish mermaids and an underwater hair salon, stinky sea monkeys and a near miss with a shark, shopping in swimming trunks and sea-faring guinea pigs, not to mention the headteacher stuck on the school roof there is imagination, absurdity and laughs by the bucket load.

Kids will love this, but adults reading it with them will too thanks to the voice and style of the writing. The illustrations are full of life and detail – the mermaids in the hair salon is a brilliant example of just how much of a story can be told through its images – and in a story of this level particularly, quality illustrations that can do that are vital. These are more than up to the job.

I am really hoping we’ll see more of Beyonce and Neville in the future too!

Have you read any of these?

Which other ‘early’ chapter books would you recommend? 

Here be dragons…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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