Across the Risen Sea

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

Across the Risen Sea by Bren Macdibble

I have been hooked on Bren’s books ever since reading How to Bee in 2018 (you can read my reviews of them here and here!) So I was thrilled when Louise from Bounce was able to get me an early copy of her newest book Across the Risen Sea (thank you, Louise!)

Like the two books before it, Across the Risen Sea has strong environmental themes, this time set in a world in which climate change has seen the seas rise and cause devastation to the land and the way we live.

Neoma, Jag and their close-knit community live gentle lives on their small island, using minimal technology and salvaging what they can from now uninhabitable buildings in the risen sea.

They are a fairly self-sufficient community, trading with other nearby islands when needed, but otherwise keeping to themselves. So when three strangers from the mysterious Valley of the Sun turn up one day, chopping down trees without so much as a hello, and installing a power source and strange flashing light hackles are raised and brows are furrowed.

As they try to find out what the light is, Neoma and Jag find themselves at the centre of a sudden and shocking discovery. When Jag is then taken by the Valley of the Sun, Neoma sets off on a perilous journey across the risen sea to bring him back.

This is a thoroughly gripping and utterly thrilling adventure with a main character who’s everything you’d want her to be and everything you’d expect from Bren’s books! Feisty and impulsive, but loyal and courageous with a real sense of fairness, Neoma will do whatever it takes to get her friend back, protect her home and stand up for what’s right.

Her dealings with ‘Uncle Croc’ are wonderful to read with just the right balance of fear, humour and unpredictability. Indeed, the Croc was one if my favourite things in the story.

And her encounters with a very large shark and the meanest pirate I’ve ever read about were gripping, nail-biting stuff.

Powerful and angry, I could feel the shark nudging the boat, flicking its tails, circling closer. A true force of nature, it made for heart-stopping reading.

And Pirate Bradshaw was the smartest, quickest, gnarliest and above all meanest pirate you can imagine. All knives and more lives than a cat – what a character she was!

Neoma’s destination, The Valley of the Sun, is shrouded in mystery and when she reaches it, it’s a thrill to explore it! A really marvellous and imaginative bit of world-building!

This was an exciting and dramatic rescue mission, a story of friendship, sticking together and community.

It was also, as Bren’s books always are, a gentle reminder to look after our world, a warning that we could lose it all just like that.

There is much to consider as we see the differing views and uses of technology and resources across different places in the book, as well as the way Neoma’s community no longer use money, reverting to trading, bartering and collaboration.

There is also a strong message about how we deal with disagreements and differing opinions, ways of life and ideas. Marta from Neoma’s village could certainly teach our politicians a thing or two about respect, tolerance and understanding!

Another fantastic book from one of my favourite authors of recent years, bringing together climate change, community and courage in a thoroughly enjoyable adventure across the risen sea.

Peapod’s Picks/KLTR – New Picture Books

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

This week it’s also time for another #KLTR post, hosted by Book Bairn, Acorn Books and Laura’s Lovely Blog.

We’ve had an influx of brilliant new picture books over the last week or two, so we’re sharing those today.

With the exception of Samuel Drew, which was a gifted copy we requested from Tate, we bought all of these. In both cases, opinions are all honest and all our own!

Abigail by Catherine Rayner One of our last library books was Catherine Rayner’s Ernest. I loved the illustrations and design (you can read my review here) so when I spotted Abigail at the back of the book, I knew we had to buy both!Abigail is a lovely book about counting, loving to count, finding it tricky, and helping your friends. It’s one of those ‘there’s a message but not in neon lights’ books – it’s mostly just a lovely story about a giraffe who loves to count!

As with Ernest, the illustrations are beautiful, ‘splodgy’ watercolours and I really liked the numbers dancing over the pages too – perfect for little ones learning to count/recognise numbers themselves.Peapod’s dad preferred this to Ernest, but Ernest still just tips it for me! Peapod was very happy with both, but did seem to take a shine to Abigail in the pictures so 2-1 to her I think!

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad

The first Sophie Johnson book (Unicorn Expert) was brilliant and this one is just as good, packed with wit and visual humour.

Here, Sophie has turned her hand to detective work, with the help of her “not very good” assistant, Bella the dog, who is “no help at all”.

True to form, Sophie wearily tries to show Bella the tips and tricks of the trade as she attempts to investigate a lion’s missing tail. Meanwhile, in the illustrations we see Bella is, of course, busy solving the crime and catching the criminals.

As with the first book, Sophie will bring a smile to everyone’s lips – children will love her and adults will recognise her! These books are an absolute joy – full of a dry humour and with text and illustrations working in perfect harmony. I can’t wait to see what Sophie gets up to next!

Samuel Drew Hasn’t a Clue by Gabby Dawnay and Alex Barrow

We were kindly sent this to review and it’s lovely. Samuel Drew has a parcel and everyone wants to know what’s inside!

Written with a lovely, rhythmic rhyme, this feels very reminiscent of Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy, while at the same time being completely unique in its style and subject.

As Samuel Drew walks along the street with his parcel, various animals see and sniff and follow in the hopes of finding something tasty inside! What’s clever is the way their guesses actually reflect what’s happening in the shops they pass.

Likewise when we reached the end, the last page suggests there are clues right through the book as to what is actually inside (hence the title I suppose!!) They’re well hidden, merging into the scenes of everyday life seamlessly, so I’m not sure you’d guess before it’s revealed (but maybe I’m just not a very good guesser!) We (and yes, I do mean Peapod’s dad and I) had lots of fun poring back over the pages looking for hints once we knew what it was though.

And that is one of the best things about this book – the details and the opportunities for looking at, hunting, finding and spotting in, observing and talking about the pictures.

And the pictures are great, I really liked the style. With a flat, almost childlike, papercut pencil look about them, they reminded me of David McKee’s wonderful Mr Benn illustrations. And they are if course, full of detail. I really liked the high street setting too – there’ll be plenty that’s familiar in this walk by the shops and park, but with a butchers, fishmongers and florists on the street there might be something new for many children too.

Penguinaut by Marcie Collins and Emma Yarlett

A lovely tale of friendship, being brave and following your dreams. Orville the penguin’s friends all have BIG, exciting adventures, but he is only small. He doesn’t let that put him off though as he works through failures and setbacks to achieve his goal of flying to the moon and having the BIGGEST adventure yet.

The illustrations have a touch of Oliver Jeffers about them, indeed there is a feel of his Up and Down throughout, but this is no bad thing (I love Oliver Jeffers!) and it very much goes in its own direction too.

They are full of energy and movement and the way the font style, size and layout is designed to enhance all the sound effects and onomatopoeiac descriptions is really effective and engaging.

I’m looking forward to our Penguinaut Read and Make session over the summer, I think it’ll go down really well as a read aloud book and as a stimulus for our rocket making!

I Really Want to Win by Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti

This is another of the books I’ve chosen to read at one of the summer storytime at work and I’m really looking forward to it. We read their first book, I Really Want the Cake, and it was really popular so I’m hoping for a similar reaction to this one!

And I’m sure I won’t be disappointed! With the same fantastic pace rhythm and rhyme and expressive illustrations as the first book, our young protagonist is back; this time it’s Sports Day and she’s determined to win! But things don’t quite go to plan…

A hilarious, relatable story of a young girl who really wants to be the best (and is in fact pretty confident she is…at least at first), this is also a gentle, non-threatening way to explore losing, having different strengths and skills, supporting each other and process over result.

I loved this just as much as the first book and really hope she’ll be back for more adventures. Also, I’m loving the reappearance of the cake – brilliant!

Have you read any of these?

What picture books have you enjoyed recently?

The Dog Runner

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

I absolutely loved Bren MacDibble’s first book How to Bee (you can read my review here) so I was really excited about this one. And I was right to be.

While they are very different in a lot of respects, there are many similarities between them and their unique style and voice helps them stand out from other MG offerings.

Both are set in a not too distant dystopian future in which fictional (but entirely plausible) environmental crisis have come to pass. In this case, a fungus has spread across Australia killing all the grasses, wheats, grains…food is in increasingly short supply. This is both a love letter to nature and a wake up call to examine our behaviours and the things we take for granted in our everyday lives.

Both have the most wonderful main characters – Peony in How to Bee remains one of my favourite MCs in recent children’s reads. Here we follow Ella and her step brother, Emery, as they embark on a dangerous journey out of the city.

Ella’s mum has been deemed ‘Essential Personnel’ and can’t come home, as she’s needed by the government to help keep the power running. Their dad hasn’t come back after heading out into the city a few days ago, and while the plan had been to wait til they were all together to head up country, now Emery and Ella must go it alone. Well, almost, they have their dogs too.

Those of you who know me or who have been reading for a while will know I’m not the biggest lover of animal stories. But, while animals are integral to these books, there’s enough realism to avoid sentimentality. There is recognition that the animals are animals, with animal instincts, natures and behaviours. There’s no attempt to soften this or personify, sweeten or dumb them down. The dogs here are loved fiercely, but respected too. There’s a wonderful contrast to the dogs we see playing and piling on the children at the start of the book and the way they behave at various points later on. Bren Macdibble shows a great understanding of them and they feel real.

Ultimately, these are books with the environment at their heart and animals in their telling but people at their core.

Both have a strong family theme, with both taking on different aspects of modern family life. In The Dog Runner, the relationships within Ella and Emery’s step-family are explored. What I loved was the subtlety and realism with which this was done – there are no stereotypes; no outright dislike, jealousy or bad feeling. What there are much more complex feelings – of missing one half of your family while with the other, of liking and respecting a step-parent, but still battling that inner ‘you’re not my real parent’, of getting used to an already-there sibling you’ve just started living with, of finding how it all it fits together and making it work. Ella and Emery’s relationship is especially wonderful – they are a loving brother and sister, again no stereotypical, step-family snarking, they are loyal and caring and protective of one another.

Which is good, because on this journey they need to be. It’s lovely to see how reassuring and calming Emery is towards Ella as she struggles with worry, doubt and fear. Likewise, it’s great to see Ella have the chance to prove (to herself as much as anyone else) how courageous, strong and decisive she too can be when needed. They are a brilliant example of a balanced, realistic and, above all, close sibling team.

As with How To Bee, Bren MacDibble’s love of nature really comes through in the setting and the description of Ella and Emery’s journey. It is vivid – I felt the heat of the midday sun, the dust, the scratchy shrubs, the cool night air. All of it is superbly described and takes you right into the Australian landscape.

This is a gritty and tense adventure which takes on environmental issues with the urgency they deserve – there is threat writ large throughout in more ways than one. Pacy and full of danger, this is also a book which shouts of the importance of loyalty, family and self-belief. I loved it and I can’t wait to see what Bren Macdibble writes next.

Mini Monday 21/1/19

This week’s Mini Monday* features four picture books – two we were kindly sent (thank you, Bounce) and two we bought and read this week.

*I’m only halfway through and it’s turning out to be less mini, more mega – sorry!

First up, our free review copies:

The Lost Horse by Mark Nicholas

At a gallery in the city, the sculpture of a horse has disappeared. Meanwhile, in a village outside the city lives Lyra all alone…until one day a horse appears at her window!

This is a book I wasn’t sure about – little girl dreams of horse isn’t a story I’d normally go for! But the illustrations drew me in, with a unique style and unusual palette, they are detailed and expressive and complement the story well.

I also thought the ‘mystery’ of the missing horse sculpture, the two different starting points and the way the story was resolved (no spoilers here!) gave this extra depth and made it much more than a girl-dreams-of-horse story.

This would be a great book to read and use in primary classes across the curriculum, but especially to link with art/gallery visits and stories.

The Lost Property Office by Emily Rand

A little girl leaves her Teddy on the train. Luckily she and Grandpa come up with a plan to get him back!

I really warmed to the characters in this – they felt like real people, as did all the people in the background. In a similar way to Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books (though very different in style) this conjured very familiar places and faces very naturally and convincingly.

It was also good to see a BAME family as main CHARACTERS without that being a focal point of the book, and to see an urban setting too.

My absolute favourite thing about this though was the illustrations, which I loved. With a collage style, they were full of colour, shape and texture. And on each of the spreads (especially the ‘lost property’ ones), there’s so many different things to spot, find, talk about and notice – it’ll never get boring! One of those books you’ll see something new in every time.

Top marks for this one, we really enjoyed it and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more written or illustrated by Emily Rand.

And onto the books we bought…

Octopants by Suzy Senior and illustrated by Claire Powell

There’s all-in-ones for urchins and slipper socks for eels, but will Octopus ever be able to find a pair of pants?

I hadn’t heard of this one, but it caught my eye on a trip into work last week, so we picked it up straight away – it had an octopus and pants, what’s not to like?!

Delightfully silly, bright and fun, this rhyming story was thoroughly enjoyable, with lots of laughs and a pleasing twist at the end.

I’ll be buying more copies as presents for friends’ little ones as I know it’ll go down a treat with them too.

We Eat Bananas by Katie Abey

9781408899212

All the animals are eating their favourite foods in their own hilarious way. We Eat Bananas invites children to choose their favourite foods and how they like to eat them across 12 spreads, packed with animals eating bananas, soup, sandwiches, sausages, ice cream, vegetables, spaghetti and more.

I wrote here about how much I loved Katie Abey’s first offering ‘We Wear Pants’ (yes, I have a thing about pants stories…) so when I spotted this on the table after storytime the other day I positively jumped for joy. We snapped it up!

Just as funny and fun as the first, and filled to bursting with animals doing all manner of unusual things as they cook up their favourite foods. And, as with the previous book, there is SO MUCH to spot, find, match, answer and talk about on each page, with speech bubbles, captions, questions and puns galore (plus a parp-ing penguin!) The cheeky monkey who refuses to do what everyone else is doing is back on each page too!

I also really like that there is both fast food and fruit, pancakes and peas – this is truly a balanced diet of a book, embracing the treats as much as the good for you stuff, making it perfect for fussy eaters to talk about food in a really fun and open way.

Both this and We Wear Pants are books to visit and revisit over and over again, there’ll always be more to find, spot, laugh at and talk about. I absolutely love this series and really hope there’ll be more where these came from.

Peapod hasn’t quite got past the cover yet – he wouldn’t let me open it to look at so fascinated was he!

Have you read any of these with your little ones?

Which picture books have you read recently?

WWW Wednesday 2/1/19

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday is ‘WWW Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

The Missing Barbegazi by H. A. Norup (cover design by Anna Morrison)

I started this on the day the story itself starts,though I didn’t quite have the same snowy mountain setting as the book! But it is a great read for winter and one I’m really enjoying!

What have you just finished reading?

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson (cover illustration by Rachel Vale)

I finished reading this on Christmas Day (I think this is the first Christmas Day I’ve managed to read since I was little! It was lovely, even if I did have to read stood up!)

Imaginative, magical and exciting – I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m still marvelling at the Snowglobes and the setting – at the worlds within a world within a world. Such a unique idea and brilliantly described – so tangible and memorable. It made me want to go in and explore them!

What are you planning on reading next?

As ever – I don’t know! I posted here about my reading goals for this year, so part of me wants to get off to a flying start on that with a classic or some non fiction. But I have both Angie Thomas and Jess Butterworth’s new ones calling too. Not to mention the huge TBR pile…

What do you think – what should I choose? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?