#MGTakesOnThursday – A Sprinkle of Sorcery

#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.

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the second book about the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and it’s a series I can’t recommend highly enough.

You can read my review of book one, A Pinch of Magic, here and their most recent adventure, A Tangle of Spells, here.

The sisters make for perfect protagonists – each markedly different to each other, squabbling in a supremely sisterly way, but all fiercely loyal and protective of each other.

Which is lucky, because when Charlie is kidnapped, it’s up to Betty and Fliss to save her.

This is an adventure story like no other – with more than a pinch of magic (see what I did there?!) this is also part ghost story, part piratical adventure, part quest.

As with all the books in this series, it draws exceptionally well on fairytale, myth and legend and their unwritten rules and tropes. Enchanted objects, an old crone who can help or hinder, wells and wishes come face to face with lost islands, fearsome pirates, maps, old sea tales and treasure hunters.

It is a story with love, loyalty and family writ large against a fast-paced, spooky, magical and hugely exciting adventure.

If you don’t know these books yet, you need to add them to your pile pronto.

My favourite quote from page 11:

“Set upon bleak, drizzly marshes and overlooked by a vast prison, Crowstone wasn’t a place people came to unless they had to.”

This book in three words:

Sisters. Pirates. Magic.

Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit

Kevin’s back!

I was a Kevin fan from the moment I read his first adventure (you can read my reviews of books one and two here and here) and his newest adventure is every bit as entertaining as its predecessors!

Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, published by Oxford University Press

If you’ve not read the previous books in this series, do. But this can be read as a standalone (or out if order if you’re really that much of a rebel). There’s a great introduction to Kevin (a roly-poly, biscuit-loving flying pony who lives on Max’s roof) at the start and then we’re straight into the action.

And, with police chases, brilliant disguises, cunning plans, an out of control biscuit machine and some very, VERY naughty Sea Monkeys, the action doesn’t let up!

There’s a biscuit thief terrorising Bumbleford…and Kevin is suspect number one (number one of one that is!) So Max and Daisy set out to clear his name by finding out who’s really behind the biscuit burgling.

As with the previous books, this is a huge slab of fast-paced, feel-good, family fun.

There’s a laugh a minute and something for everyone from the celebrity chef pushing Sprout Squashy pseudo-biscuits to a fart-powered panto pony to parental texting to horse prison to the classic poo on the head which, let’s face it, kids will LOVE.

I was absolutely DELIGHTED to see Beyonce and Neville (Ellie Fidgett’s guinea pigs) get not just a cameo but a starring role as they embark on their own daring sunflower seed heist too.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough to young readers. It’s so much fun; with pacy plots, great characters and loads of ‘sound effects’ it’s perfect to read aloud and the dynamic illustrations are packed with wit and humour too.

Best enjoyed with biscuits (of course!)

A Tangle of Spells

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. However, I also bought my own finished copy and all views and opinions are my own.

A Tangle of Spells by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the third book following the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and we join them as they move out of The Poacher’s Pocket (family home and pub) with their father and Granny, and sail across to Pendlewick to set up home there.

However, despite its sunshine-and-light exterior, something’s wrong in Pendlewick.

Between their crooked new home (adorned with salt, silver coins and secrets), The Hungry Tree that no-one dares venture near, sinister-sounding Tick Tick Forest, whispers of witches and a blanket ban on talk of magic (after all, “magic and trouble go hand in hand”) the sisters find themselves once again caught up in a web of witchcraft and danger.

I love this series.

I may have definitely left it way too long between books one and two, but it’s been wonderful to read A Sprinkle of Sorcery and A Tangle of Spells back to back (I only wish I’d gone back to reread A Pinch of Magic first!) If you’ve not yet read the others – start at the very beginning! My mini review of A Pinch of Magic is here.

It’s lovely to see how the three sisters have grown and their relationship strengthened following their previous adventures, while at the same time they haven’t changed a bit and remain the chalk-and-cheese, ever-bickering, doggedly loyal trio they’ve always been.

Each reader will no doubt have their own favourite sister; I think though that pipe-smoking, whiskey-sipping (OK, whiskey-downing) Granny has to be my favourite character throughout this series though. Tough, real and utterly believable, she’s just such a comforting presence in her own no-nonsense way.

I also really like the way the three stories all draw on folktales, superstition and magic but in such very different ways. Each has a different setting, feel and twist to it… But I think this might just be my favourite yet – it is packed to the crooked rafters with witchcraft, charms, superstitions and spells.

Take the eeriest elements of your favourite fairy tales and you have the flavour of this book. It is wonderfully, darkly atmospheric and the imagination and realisation of the world and its magic are second to none; I can’t share my favourite things with you for risk of spoiling them for you, but I will just say that amongst many things here, a particularly cobweb-filled room will linger in my imagination for some time to come.

Magic aside (well, sort of, just momentarily), there is (as there is in all the books) a tangible sense of urgency, danger and tension too that will draw in the fantasy-fearing, adventure-lover and win them over too! The rescue attempt is so exciting and I loved how it took us back to the girls’ first adventure too.

The baddies are brilliant. And that is pretty much all I can say on the matter in order to avoid spoiling the story for you. But they’re malevolent and menacing in all the best ways, with a power and influence that’s terrifying.

This is a truly outstanding magical adventure. Overflowing with fairytale and folklore, hearsay and local legend, witchcraft and wiles, not to mention the fantastic Widdershins family, it had absolutely everything I could have wanted in a book and I completely devoured it.

I am BEYOND THRILLED to hear…theres going to be another Widdershins adventure and it cannot come soon enough!

Picklewitch and Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret

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

Picklewitch and Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret by Claire Barker, illustrated by Teemu Juhani, published by Faber Children’s

So, I have been getting a lot of bookpost recently. Mostly that I’ve ordered and paid for, some that I’d requested or been offered to review. But last week a mysterious book-shaped parcel arrived and I had no idea what it could be.

People – it was THE NEW PICKLEWITCH AND JACK! It was so unexpected and such a lovely surprise!

And most importantly, it more than lived up to expectations! I loved both of the first Picklewitch and Jack books (you can read my reviews of them here and here) so I had high hopes and this was every bit as warm, funny and fantastic as the first two.

If you’ve yet to meet Picklewitch then firstly, you’ve been missing out, and secondly, go back and start at book one. This would read fine as a standalone but you’d only want to read the rest immediately and you’ll get so much more from it if you see Picklewitch and Jack’s friendship develop from the beginning.

But if you’ve set your sights on starting midway through the series, maverick that you are – Jack is a quiet, clever, rule-following, fossil-collecting boy. His best friend is Picklewitch who is, to put it simply, an absolute force of nature (both literally and metaphorically).

And here, they’re off to the seaside. Well, Jack is. Picklewitch is not so sure (read: she is stubbornly certain she’s not going and sulkily demanding Jack doesn’t go either) until she hears there’ll be I Screams, then her bag is packed (by the birds. At her say so. And with Jack’s lunch sneaked in of course.)

There’s a school trip to meet a famous fossil hunter and hunt for fossils – Jack’s dream! But Picklewitch isn’t sold (read: can’t think of anything more boring than fudgenutting fizzles) and is much more interested in befriending (read: getting cake from) the Sea Wizard she spies on the beach.

But what has Scowling Margaret got hidden in her cave? And what is our famous fossil hunter really searching for?

This is another brilliant adventure from this perfectly paired and utterly lovable duo.

It’s full of holiday excitement – fossil hunting by the sea, splashing in rock pools in a rather…retro…bathing costume (I loved this!), sneaking out at midnight, messages in bottles and undersea caves; and there’s a great twist in the trip revealing both a perfectly painted baddie and a…well I can’t spoil that!

But it’s the characters that really make these books and they are in top form here.

Jack and Picklewitch both play off each other and balance each other brilliantly, and its lovely to see their friendship so strong now.

Of course, Picklewitch is the star, larger than life, and bursting from the page in Teemu Juhani’s exuberant illustrations. She fizzes with energy and unbridled mischief, and Claire Barker’s utterly joyous, totally bonkers, cleverly creative use of language is, as ever, perfect for her.

She is one of the funniest, liveliest, most lovable, well-drawn characters I know and I love her. Everyone should be just a bit more Picklewitch (even if just through taking up her favourite exclamations of excitement, declarations of disapproval and irritated insults – “WOT a fudgenut. WOT a fopdoodle. WOT a frazzler.”)

But here there’s also the excellent Scowling Margaret. Brilliantly depicted by both Claire and Teemu (ahem, and Picklewitch – “A proper old mugswoggler and hobbledehoy she is.”) she’s everything a Sea Wizard should be and the scene in her cave after Picklewitch has invited herself for tea cake is genius in its silences, small talk and solid slabs of cake.

I love this illustration – it’s just so full of character and has such a story all on its own.

If you couldn’t tell already I thought this addition to one of my favourite series was the absolute kipper’s knickers. Engaging, energetic and laugh out loud funny – everyone needs Picklewitch and Jack in their lives.

Peapod’s Picks – Seaside Stroll

Seaside Stroll by Charles Trevino, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga, published by Charlesbridge

I bought today’s book mostly for me rather than Peapod, after Simon (@smithsmm) tweeted about it a couple of weeks ago.

I loved the exuberance of the illustrations, and the sheer joy on the little girl’s face as she splashes in the surf just grabbed me. Maribel Lechuga has captured perfectly that face-lighting, saucer-eyed, utterly involved childish delight. I had to have this for that single cover illustration alone.

Luckily, the rest of the book is just as wonderful. And even better, Peapod agrees. He read it as soon as we opened it and we’ve been re-reading since.

Poetically told in a rhythmic, alliterative style this is the story of a little girl’s day at the beach. What makes it more magical and unusual though is that it’s winter. She’s bundled up and stops to play with the snow in the dunes on the way; I could feel that biting, fresh cold of a clear, bright winter’s day.

This is truly a book for all the senses. After much chasing of gulls, splashing in the sea spray, sidestepping up to crabs and treasure hunting amongst the natural debris washed in, our little girl drops her doll in a rock pool.

After she gets soaked retrieving it, it’s time to return home for shower, snuggles, story, sleep.

Both the words and images are perfectly chosen. At the beach, they are exhilarating and full of life – movement, energy, feelings… As we return home, they become warmer, slower, sleepier, quieter…

Peapod loves the ‘everyday drama’ of the girl dropping her doll in the pool; it’s one of those perfect choices of a picture book main event – instantly relatable and imaginable to any young reader.

And I don’t think there’s a parent or toddler who can’t relate to the soggy tired child at the end – all played out, wet clothes peeled off, getting warm and cosy again. Peapod loves that she falls asleep on the sofa and has to be carried to bed.

It makes me want to get us straight to the beach for our own day of swooping and spinning and digging and running and splashing and laughing. But unfortunately we’ll have to live it through the book for now, for that since we’re not close enough to go to one at the moment (thanks covid).

But, of course we’ve had to act it out! Peapod was even determined we had a book about a crab like the girl for the bit on the sofa! Luckily I grabbed Chris Haughton’s Don’t Worry, Little Crab which was a perfect match!

I can’t do justice to this book at all. It is just gorgeous and really spoke to me. Full of warmth, life and laughter it is a book which celebrates the everyday, the pleasure to be taken from getting outdoors (even in winter!), the special something between parent and child.

The language is gorgeous, the images stunning, the story classic. It’s a balm and a tonic. We absolutely LOVE it.

#MGTakesOnThursday – Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow

#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.

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat, published by Simon & Schuster


A heart-warming tale of adjusting to family change, and navigating a parent coming out as gay.

The friendships and family relationships in the book are strong and caring, which is lovely to read. Even the relationship between Archie’s mum and dad feels realistic but hopeful, as they argue and fight and cry and try to figure it all out, but nevertheless try to support each other and mostly, however awkwardly, support Archie.

This is not just a book which celebrates diversity (which it does, with bells on) but normalises it. For those children who find themselves here when they’ve not seen themselves in books before, there’s so much reassurance, positivity and affirmation.

For those to whom this is unfamiliar, it’s a great way to see the lives and experiences of others. To stop them seeming so ‘other’. To see the similarities not the differences.

The reactions of those around Archie – his best friends and babysitter for example – and maybe even more interestingly, his reaction to their (non)reactions, are great in the way they show such acceptance.

I’ll be honest though, I sometimes found the main characters’ actions and perceived knowledge or ‘worldliness’ (or lack of) a bit off and I didn’t love them. But, I didn’t dislike them either, and I did really like all the adult characters, who I found more believable. I suspect the younger readers this is aimed at would get on with them better and it’s definitely just a personal thing, and not something which would stop me from highly recommending the book overall.

The way it balances humour and real life will make it hugely appealing to young readers and its LGBTQ+ themes and the way it explores them openly, sensitively and with such joy and positivity makes it a really important book to get into young readers’ hands.

And I absolutely LOVED the descriptions of pride and the pride family reuniting the following year.

Peapod ‘enjoying’ his first Manchester Pride with our Pride family in 2019!

We go to Manchester pride every year, with an ever expanding pride family made up of so many people we’ve met there year to year, and now our children too. So these descriptions of Pride and how special it is felt so real and brought joy to my heart (it also has me yearning for our next gay Christmas!)


The beginnings of our Pride family at our first Pride together in 2009 and meeting up ahead of our most recent one ten years later (though our numbers have grown since then!)

My favourite quote from page 11 331

I’m cheating a bit this week (sorry Mary!) and I’ve chosen one of my favourite quotes about Pride as these were the parts of the book I really loved best.

Pride is all about family, both the ones you’re given and the ones you make.”


This book in three words:

Pride. Family. Positivity.

Melt

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

Melt by Ele Fountain, cover art by unknown, published by Pushkin

This isn’t actually out til April, but hit that pre-order button as it’s one you won’t want to miss!

I always enjoy Ele’s books (you can read my reviews of Boy 87 and Lost here and here.) I’m always impressed with her ability to pack so much into such relatively short adventures (surely she’s got to do Barrington Stoke at some point??)

Quick reads they may be but the characters have depth, the settings are immersive and the plots are full of tension and heart-stopping moments. Melt was no exception.

And like her other books, there’s an environmental awareness and a touch of social commentary running through it, as we come face to face with eroded traditions and dying ways of life, melting ice caps and vanishing animals, and unscrupulous companies with greed at their heart.

As ever though, these are brilliantly threaded through the story – they enhance and give roots to the adventure rather than eclipsing it. As do the themes of friendship, family and learning from other times, places and people that we see explored too.

Set in the Arctic Circle and told from the dual narratives of Bea and Yutu, who find themselves unexpectedly thrown together to brave both elements and enemies, this is a thrilling story of survival.

Yutu lives with his grandma in a remote Arctic village. He’s desperate to follow in family tradition and hunt so sneaks away one weekend to prove himself capable. But the ice has been melting faster than he knew and with a sudden blizzard on the way, he finds himself in trouble…

Bea meanwhile lives in a busy town but has few friends thanks to always being on the move with her dad’s job. She joins her dad, who is a geologist for a big oil company, on a work trip to the area near Yutu’s home but when they arrive things are not quite what they seem and danger is waiting…

And so Bea and Yutu find themselves helping each other, on the run in perilous conditions.

I loved the way Bea and Yutu helped each other, learned from each other, gave each other confidence and courage and ultimately, of course, became friends. But I think Yutu’s grandmother, Miki, was my favourite character. And on both sides, it was nice to see present, supportive adults around.

The Arctic setting is stunningly portrayed, it is beautiful but equally unforgiving and the cold settled into my bones as I read. It was the perfect setting for this tense, fast-paced and thought-provoking thriller.

Peapod’s Picks – This is the Bear

After Christmas, I ordered ‘This is the Bear’ by Sarah Hayes and Helen Craig for Peapod because of his love of the binmen in Dogger’s Christmas.

At first, he LOVED it and we read it repeatedly. So I ordered the collection with all four books in.

Then he point blank refused to read it all of a sudden: “Don’t like that one!” It transpired this was because he disliked the bin men driving off and not stopping fir the little boy!

No amount of cajoling and persuasion – “they just can’t hear him..!” – could convince him otherwise.

Luckily, when the collection arrived he immediately wanted to read the others, which has switched him back on to the original too!

We’ve been reading them all ever since.

They’re a lovely collection, instantly relatable for toddlers with their central characters of a boy, his dog and his teddy (Fred) who has wonderfully teddy-bear-ish adventures (he falls in a bin, he gets left behind, he has a picnic…)

Written in simple, rhythmic Rhyme, with a gentle humour, these are a joy to read and perfect for both reading aloud, and for emerging readers with their clear, large print.

Peapod’s current favourite is ‘This is the Bear and the Bad Girl‘. It’s like a perfect example of what children’s fiction needs – loveable main characters and a ‘wicked villain’ in the girl who steals Fred, a brilliant mix of slapstick trips, falls and puddings-on-head and – of course – a happy ending!

Peapod is outraged by the fact that, not only does she steal Fred, but “girl not say sorry!” at the end. And this is partly what I love too – there’s a happy reunion for Fred and his boy, so all is well, but there’s no saccharine apology and making friends, no seeing the error of her ways etc. and I am all about a good baddie!

Fred and the boy waiting for their puddings in the cafe, shortly before a chase round the house as we act this out for the millionth time!

This is the Bear and the Scary Night sees Fred left in the park one afternoon, snatched by an owl, dropped in a pond and rescued by a kind local musician – adventure for little readers at its finest!

This is the Bear and the Picnic Lunch sees the boy planning a picnic, but the weather and his wonderfully mischievous dog (another fab character who is ever so naughty, but has a heart of gold hidden under his tough exterior!) have other plans. Our little picnic lover is a big fan!

I love that Peapod loves these books. My sister and I loved them growing up and it’s so lovely to be reading them again and seeing how much joy they bring Peapod too!

Have you read these books?

Which picture books have you been reading this week?

Picture Book and Play – Pizza!

Picture Book & Play is a new 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.

If you and your little ones do similar bookish play, we’d love you to join in with Picture Book & Play and to let us know what you’ve been reading and playing too!

Last week, we made spaghetti after reading Spaghetti Hunters; here, we’ve done the opposite after eating done tasty pizza…

As a treat, we had a home made “pizza picnic” (we always eat at our table!) which Peapod loved, and it set us off onto all things pizza-related for a good week or two!

After helping his dad with the dough for our pizzas, Peapod continued to explore some – rolling, squashing, stretching and prodding it. This was particularly nice for us to see as for a really long time he wouldn’t go near dough or playdough!

The next day we made some super simple, basic dough (2 cups flour, 1 cup warm water, some veg oil, food colouring for the ‘tomato dough’ yes, there’s better recipes for longer-lasting, brighter-coloured, ‘better’ dough, but this is mega easy and quick and does the job just fine!), I put some ‘toppings’ in a tray (buttons, beads, pompoms, dried chickpeas and pasta) and he spent most of the day, and a good deal of the days following making us ‘delicious’ mini pizzas!

He also had a great time making pizzas in his shop and is still, three weeks on, selling us pizza from his “pizza shop”.

We made some of the pizzas for his shop out of paper using different shsped/coloured paper for different toppings. It was a good way to use shape language and Peapod loved cutting some of the pieces abd using the glue to carefully position them all too.

And of course, we couldn’t do all this and not have some pizza-picture books too! Though I’ll be honest, I struggled to think of many! Luckily we had these two, both of which are loads of fun…

We’ve reviewed Secret Agent Elephant by Eoin Mclaughlin and Ross Collins, featuring a mini-pizza loving spy, here.

Hoot Owl by Sean Taylor is a brilliantly deadpan, linguistically lovely and very, very funny tale of a very hungry owl on the hunt… If you don’t know it, you should definitely give it a read!

Do you have any pizza-themed picture book recommendations.

What have you been reading and playing this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Good Thieves

#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.

This week I’ve chosen a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages but only just got round to. It’s really been one of those “how have I let it go so long before reading this?” reads too, so I wanted to share it with you!

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Matt Saunders, Cover Art by Marie-Alice Harel, audiobook read by Margaret Cabourn-Smith, published by Bloomsbury

I’d forgotten how much I love Katherine Rundell’s books, but this drew me straight in and reminded me if what a brilliant writer she is; surely one of the finest MG authors around today.

She has such a way with words, especially in the way she makes it do thoroughly readable but also uses such carefully selected, effective and exciting language. Her stories leap from the page and this is no exception.

A brilliantly fast-paced heist featuring a classic ‘odd ball gang’ comprising a knife-thrower, animal tamer, acrobat and pick pocket; the group fizz with energy – feisty and strong, with a hefty dose of attitude.

Similarly, the setting of gritty, grimy, glamorous and downright dangerous prohibition era New York oozes cool and demands drama.

This is a wild and exciting ride in which the action never lets up. I can’t recommend it enough!

And I should also add that I listened to the audiobook which was fantastically narrated too, so I’d highly recommend that as well if audiobooks are your thing!

My favourite sentence from page 11:

A strange man with two guard dogs came out of the caretaker’s cottage and pointed a rifle at him.

This book in three words:

Action. Attitude. Adventure.