Swimming Against The Storm

Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth.

Illustrated by Rob Biddulph.

I’ve written before about how much I love Jess Butterworth’s books (and the absolutely stunning artwork Rob Biddulph produces to accompany them), and her newest is no exception!

Twelve-year-old Eliza and her sister Avery have lived their entire lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana But now, with sea levels rising, their home is at risk of being swept away.

Determined to save the land, they go searching in the swamp for the dangerous, wolf-like loup-garou, sure that if they find one, the government will have to protect its habitat – and their community.

But with a tropical storm approaching, soon it’s not just their home at risk, but their lives as well…

My favourite thing about both Jess’ previous books was the description and world-building. With each book, she transports you right to the heart of a place and its people, and Swimming Against the Storm is no different. I felt I was really getting to know the lives, culture and traditions of Avery and her community.

Likewise, as the children venture into the swamp hunting for the loup-garou, I was surrounded by marshes, mosquitoes, humidity, greens, browns and plants – not to mention all the alligators!

The landscape here (as in her other books) is a rich tapestry built up of the characters experiences and knowledge of their home.

The characters themselves are likeable and well-written and the dynamics between them are relatable and familiar – from siblings and close friendships and the tests growing up puts on these to wider family and community relationships.

The children’s journey through the swamp land as the book unfolds is rough, raw and ragged – a real adventure which sounds every bit as mentally and physically demanding as it would be – this is no scout expedition through the local woods.

With themes of friendship and growing up, the environment and social responsibility, I love how the book balances the emotions of the characters (Avery in particular) and real environmental issues with action, humour and adventure. And the way the issues in the book are explored is incredibly well-written to both inform and engage younger readers.

A midnight hunt through a swamp for a mythical creature in the midst of a storm – this is one exciting, nerve-wracking and perilous escapade, not to mention a true test of friendship!

With a flavour of Stand By Me and a dash of Disney’s The Rescuers* (there’s two films I never thought I’d be saying in the same sentence!), this is yet another brilliant book from one of my favourite MG authors.

*you may or may not get this – it could just be me 😂

Swimming Against the Storm is released in April. I received this copy in exchange for an honest review.

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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?

New Year’s Resolutions Book Tag

I often read tags like this and think they’d be fun to do but never do them, so they’ll be sporadic but as and when I can I’ll be throwing them into the mix!

Today’s is taken from Golden Books Girl, Amy – you can see her answers here!


1. An Author You’d Like To Read That You’ve Never Read

So many! There are a lot of authors/books I feel I should have read but haven’t – this is a big reason I’m going to try and read more classics this year! From a recent conversation though, I’ll say MG Leonard.

2. A New Book You’d Like To Read

There’s lots of books out this year I’m excited for – the new Five Realms (Podkin) book by Kieran Larwood, the second Wild Folk book by Sylvia Linsteadt for starters. New Jess Butterworth and Abi Elphinstone…

But the book I’m most excited about is Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen! (You can read my thoughts on the first two books in the trilogy here).

3. A Classic You’d Like To Read

One of my reading goals this year is to read more classics, both adult and children’s (I’m looking forward to the children’s more!).

I have the new Lauren Child illustrated Mary Poppins so I think I’ll start with that. I also have Patrick Ness’ ‘And The Ocean Was Our Sky’ which is a new take on Moby Dick, so I’d quite like to read the two together.

4. A Book You’d Like To Re-Read

I’ve been meaning to re-read the Harry Potter books for AGES! So those! I’d like to re-read Discworld (and read those I’ve not read) too – I can’t see that happening this year, but who knows!

5. A Book You’ve Had For Ages and Want To Read

So many! The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden or Alice by Christina Henry maybe. Or, I haven’t had it for ages but Marcus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay has been on the shelf for longer than I’d have liked.

6. A Big Book You’d Like To Read

Hmm. I’m not sure about this one. Can I say Bridge of Clay twice?! Or I have Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Labyrinth of the Spirits waiting too.

7. An Author You’ve Previously Read and Would Like To Read More Of

I’d like to read the rest of the Murder Most Unladylike Series by Robin Stevens, as well as the Emma Carroll books I’ve not yet read.

8. A Book You Got For Christmas and Would Like To Read

I didn’t get any 😭😭 No one wants to buy a bookseller books! I do have some book vouchers to spend though – I’ll be getting a hardback set of Harry Potter.

9. A Series You Want To Read From Start to Finish

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Shadow and Bone. I read her fairytale collection ‘The Language of Thorns’ and loved it but haven’t read her novels yet.

10. A Series You Want To Finish That You’ve Already Started

The Ink trilogy by Alice Broadway.

11. Do You Set Reading Goals? If So, How Many Books Do You Want To Read in 2018?

Yes, although I don’t get too worked up about meeting them – it’s always nice to reach my target but I won’t binge or speed read to do it. Ultimately, I’d rather enjoy a book than rush through it. This year I’m hoping for at least 75. I’d like to reach 100 but we’ll see!

12. Any Other Reading Goals?

You can read my post on this year’s reading goals here.

Have you read or are you looking forward to reading any of the same books as me? What are you hoping to read this year?

Peapod’s Picks 4/1/19

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (usually for his bedtime story) each week plus a more in depth review of at least one of them – this week Claude All At Sea by Alex T. Smith.

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

What did we read this week?

The start of the week saw the end of December, and the last of our Christmas books (you can see all the books we read here).

On Tuesday, we read Claude. Then, on Wednesday, Daddy chose ‘Laura’s Star’ by Klaus Baumgart and yesterday we read The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith(after ‘From Baby to Bronte’ read The Worm and the Bird earlier in the week and reminded me of her books!)

Claude All At Sea by Alex T. Smith

This was one of Peapod’s Christmas presents. And it was a total surprise (after all, who buys the bookseller books?!) which made it even better! I (I mean *he*) was thrilled! Even more so when I found out it was signed!

So, what better way to kick off the new year and a return to non-Christmas books than with this one?!

Firstly, Claude as a character is totally brilliant – expressive, funny and just quite happily doing his thing. With a beret full of useful stuff and trusty sidekick Sir Bobblysock, Claude can cope with anything that comes his way!

Which is just as well, because being swept out to sea in your bath then eaten by a sea monster called Kevin (oh, the warning signs 😂) is quite something!

The illustration is full of life too – no mean feat when only using a restricted palette in this way. But there’s texture, movement and a big, bold character to it all which rather captured ‘Peapod’s attention!

It’s an imaginative, pacy and above all FUN read that somehow manages to be creative, funny and matter of fact. We very much enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to reading the other Claude books with ‘Peapod’ when he’s bigger!

Have you or your little ones read any of these?

Which stories have you read at bedtime this week?

WWW Wednesday 12/12/18

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

What are you currently reading?

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson. I’ve only just started it, but I’m loving her writing style and the magic in the book. Plus, I just love the whole idea of the snowglobes.

What have you just finished reading?

I’ve finally read Wundersmith! Jessica Townsend’s follow up to the brilliant Nevermoor is just as imaginative and ‘wunder’-full (couldn’t resist!) as the first and I’m. Now impatiently waiting for book 3! Full review to follow.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m stuck! On the one hand I still have a gazillion MG books I really want to read waiting for me to get to them – The Train to Impossible Places, Sky Circus, The Missing Barbegazi and so, so, SO many others.

On the other hand, I have some brilliant YA and adult books clamouring to be read to – Angie Thomas’ new one, On the Come Up, and Marcus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay especially.

And on the other hand again (yeah, three hands. And what of it?!), I keep promising myself a re-read of Harry Potter and what better time than Christmas?!

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

The Afterwards

I’d seen and heard all sorts of good things about this on twitter before I received a copy from Bloomsbury for review (imagine my excitement at finding it was signed too!).

However, as is so often the case, I’d heard how great it was but didn’t actually know anything about it! Normally, I’d find out a bit about it before deciding to read it or not but in this case Emily Gravett decided for me! I’m such a fan of her picture books that I wanted to read this if only for the illustrations!

And I wasn’t wrong to – they are both very like some of her picture book work in some ways and much more detailed and with an older feel in others, which is as it should be for an older children’s book.

Her use of both incredibly detailed pencil sketches and bright colour images not only mirrored and matched the storyline but really enhanced it, adding extra atmosphere and bringing home what was happening.

The illustration felt really fresh and modern, whilst retaining a traditional method and style. The girls and Harry felt expressive and real and the cat in particular was (in my mind) a perfect representation of his character in the story.

Ah yes, the story:

Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is. It is what will always be. Ember and Ness. Then Ness dies.
When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back. Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They rescue each other. They help. They never give up.

 

This is ultimately a story about death – loss, grief, letting go and moving on; I can see it being a great book for a lot of children dealing with these things, with many aspects of death (finding out about it, the funeral, getting on with life) tackled head on, but in a very age-appropriate way.

I would say that due to the nature of the story – the mysterious afterworld and the way that works – it would probably be better for slightly more mature readers who’d be able to easily separate the fantasy elements of the story from the more real aspects.

However, this is also what makes it a universally good read with a wider appeal. Sensitively written, it takes an incredibly tough, real situation and everyday life and combines it with fantasy to create a story which is at once familiar and otherworldly. For those who are in, or have been in, Ember (or Graham)’s situation coping with loss, there’s plenty of subtly delivered advice and comfort; for those who (fortunately) have not had to deal with this, there’s a supernatural story firmly rooted in familiar settings, making this ideal for fans of a range of MG fiction – from Lisa Thomson’s ‘The Light Jar’ to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’, for example.

I thought the relationships in the story were one of its strongest points – very believable and easy to relate to, with characters it was easy to warm to. Both the relationship between Ember and her dad, Harry, and her friendship between Ness and Ember were very well depicted, in both the text and illustrations, with little details giving them added depth and credibility.

Characters such as the cat and Ms Todd gave the book an extra dimension and the fact that their roles are left obscure and undefined I thought was very clever in giving the reader something to ponder and draw their own conclusions from. However, I would have liked a more definite conclusion to Uncle Graham’s role in the story, but that’s just me!

The real world felt, well, real – familiar and relatable in both text and image, while the mysterious, grey afterworld Ember follows Ness to is just that – an eerie place that’s easy to imagine but feels goosebumps-strange. The way it mirrors the real world in a warped sort of way was very clever: similar enough to keep the focus on the characters as they come to terms with their loss without getting lost in fantasy world-building, whilst being strange enough to provide interest, mystery and space away from that reality.

Overall, I thought this was an imaginative, personal and touching take on a difficult topic (I especially liked the way the scene was set in the prologue), which strikes a delicate balance between real life and fantasy. Harrold and Gravett have previously collaborated on ‘The Imaginary’, which I’ll be keen to read after this.

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!