A Mouse Called Julian

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

With traces of The Mouse and The Lion fable, this is like The Gruffalo’s Big Bad Mouse grown up – older, cooler, wiser…and luckier! – but still trying to avoid bring eaten by owl and fox.

But here any similarity ends, this is most definitely not a wannabe Gruffalo in any way at all. It’s something quite unique and would be perfect to whip out in response to the ‘you’re too old for picture books’ line. I can see this being very popular with all ages, but feel that it would be especially popular with those just on what is traditionally ‘the way out’ of picture books, around 6-8.

The illustration style is very different to most picture books, having more in the way of a comic or anime style, which I can see appealing greatly, especially to older children.

Equally appealing is the visual humour and expression which fill the pictures. There is also great detail to them, with plenty to pore over; my favourite spreads were the underground ones where I did just this.

The story itself is a clever and amusing tale of friendship which avoids the sometimes smushy ground such stories tread by keeping the animals very true to nature, the humour deadpan and the telling matter of fact.

I also like that, while Julian may adjust his viewpoint slightly, he remains happy in his own company – there’s no great turn around. He doesn’t suddenly ‘realise’ a life of quiet and solitude is not the way its done and become a more sociable mouse. Rather, he retains his personality but finds that a spot of company and friendship occasionally is a welcome change. I found this a refreshing and more inclusive take on friendship than is often the case – it was nice to see the quiet life validated.

Add to this an unexpected twist in the tale and it becomes a real winner, which fans of Barnett and Klassen especially are sure to appreciate.

Advertisements

Gingerbread

I requested and received an advance copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

Ever since I read ‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ a few years ago I’ve been a huge fan of Helen Oyeyemi’s books, so when I saw this was coming out I was VERY excited!

And when this beautiful book arrived in the post (the cover is by Neil Lang and I think it’s stunning) I was itching to get going with it!

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories…Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

As many of you will know, I’m not the quickest reader at the best of times and even slower since trying to fit it in around Peapod, so despite my enthusiasm and best efforts it took me an age to finish! But it was worth the long journey…

…and a journey it was – from modern day life through fairytale farms in non-existent countries, through ‘looking-glass’ cities with dark, gingerbread underbellies, and back to the familiar, albeit slightly warped!

This book is impossible to pin down and almost as hard to describe.

It’s a family saga but not like any you’ve ever read before, with an extremely eclectic cast.

It’s sort of magical realism but it’s a very matter of fact magic, if indeed it’s magic at all.

It’s a sharply observed commentary on society, politics, prejudice, feminism, class and more…But one that’s hidden in talking dolls, changelings in wells and not-haunted houses.

It’s like Margaret Astwood collided with Haruki Murakami in a fairytale world.

Deftly written with a lyrical beauty that’s laced through with a sharp wit, this book demonstrates a detailed knowledge, and love of, fairytales and their tropes as well as a shrewd understanding of people – of cliques, of types, of behaviours and, especially, of women and families.

I can’t lie, it’s not an easy read. There’s often a complaint that books don’t flow; if anything this flows so freely that it takes a bit of concentration to try and follow its weird and winding ways.

That said, I was snatching a page or two here and there where I could – I think if I could have read it in larger chunks, I would have followed much easier.

So if I have one piece of advice in regards to this book it is – Read It. But read it when you have time to really read it – lose yourself in it, allow yourself to luxuriate in it, indulge.

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?

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.

38088271

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!

Dragon Post

I’ve mentioned before how much I loved stories about dragons as a child, (ok, both my mum and I still do). I also LOVE post – real, through the letterbox, not a bill type post – my friend and I even started sending each other letters because it’s so nice to receive one!

So when I received this book from. Walker (thank you 😊) I was beyond excited…

With ‘real’ letters to open and read; a warm and funny storyline; characterful, expressive illustrations; and, of course, an incredibly loveable dragon (who just can’t help the trouble he’s causing!) this is such a wonderful book.

The main story and illustrations are simply told and engaging with a visual humour that will appeal to everyone, from the very young up.

Meanwhile the letters are longer, more detailed and contain more sophisticated sentences, word play and humour – ideal for older readers who still love picture books (who doesn’t?!)

There is so much to love about this book and its perfect for poring over together at home, but I suspect will be equally popular in the classroom – there is SO MUCH you can do with this book. From instructions for looking after unusual pets to all kinds of letter writing to editing for mistakes, not to mention the animal welfare/habitat tangent you could take, or the wealth of exciting dragon activities that would tie in with it.

One of my favourite picture books of recent months – I loved it!

Poetry Thursdays: Fierce Fairytales

So, a couple of weeks ago, on National Poetry Day, I posted about how much I enjoy poetry, but rarely choose to read it. This evolved into the idea of making my Thursday posts (weekly when I can, fortnightly when life takes over!) poetry posts.

In strangely serendipitous timing, I had just started reading ‘Fierce Fairytales’ by Nikita Gill, which I was sent by Trapeze in exchange for an honest review.

Drawn in by the fairytale theme (anything linked to a fairytale gets me!) and that gorgeous cover by Tomas Almeida, I hadn’t realised when I requested it was that the majority of the book is poetry (though some ‘chapters’ do take the form of prose).

9781409181590

Step into this world of empowering, reimagined fairytales where the stereotypes of obliging lovers, violent men and girls that need rescuing are transformed.

Opening it to find poetry inside was a lovely surprise – what an original way to examine these characters and tales. And ‘examine’ I think is the key word there: for that is what this feels like – rather than a reimagining (although there are reimagined versions of tales in there), it’s more analysis, speculation and possibility: why did the characters act like they did? What if this had happened instead? Could it be possible that the way we were told it was not quite how it was? What lessons can we learn from them?

The book features everyone from from Jack and his magic beans to Cinderella to Peter Pan to Red Riding Hood – each with a new angle or twist; but standing alongside them are the villains cast against them – each giving their side to the story, their reasons and their own misfortunes.

Tradition and perception are challenged with humour, defiance and reason. There is rage in these words, but there is also hope. There is caution, but also inspiration.

If I was being harsh my only minor issue was that I felt some of the later poems in the book were rather repetitive or contrived in their links to the fairytale themes. Personally, I’d have rather had a slimmed down collection with a strong, specific fairytale link, as many of these had, and seen some of the others that linked more broadly to the feminist/mental health/societal themes in a separate collection.

But that’s just me, and I still loved it overall.

However, whether grouped here or separated, within these poems you will find one that speaks to you (most likely more than one) – maybe, like Baba Yaga, you are ageing ungracefully and proud; maybe you’ve encountered your own Prince Charming (spoiler: this is no Disney romance); maybe, like so many of the characters here, you know the power of words to build or destroy:

“They used to burn witches because of stories. A story is no small thing.”

(Belladonna)

Personal favourites included Cry Wolf, The Hatter, The Woods Reincarnated and The Miller’s Daughter. But the one I love best of all, so much so I’d like it printed and framed is the opening poem, Once Upon a Time:

Are you a fairytale fan?

Have you read this – what did you think?

What do you think of the poem I’ve shared here from it?