MG Takes on Thursday – Back Home

#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

Back Home by Michelle Magorian, cover art by David Frankland, published by Puffin

I chose Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom for #MGTakesOnThursday a few weeks ago and Amy recommended this one (thank you!)

I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the author, and enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve bought a physical copy now too.

At age 7, in 1940,Rusty was evacuated to America. Fast forward five years and our story begins as she returns to England to a very different life, and when she’s sent away to boarding school things turn even bleaker as she struggles to understand and follow the seemingly endless and nonsensical rules amongst people she feels she doesn’t belong with.

This is a fantastic story for anyone who’s ever felt out if place, misunderstood or frustrated that they can’t do wrong for doing right.

It captures Rusty’s dreams worries and frustrations so well and does a brilliant job of sending out a clear message that not only can girls do anything boys can, but also that following less academic interests and strengths is a viable option in education and beyond.

I really loved Rusty and could relate to much of her confusion, disbelief and annoyance at her mother’s actions. However, reading this as an adult I also really felt for Rusty’s mum, Peggy. Do I think she made the best choices? No. But it was clear how torn she felt and how constrained she too was by the expectations and societal norms around her.

All the characters were brilliantly written – from those your heart goes out to to those you hate. Bea in particular struck a chord with me, ever the peacemaker, forward-thinking, positive and understanding she had more than a smidge of my grandma, Dot (who herself acted mediator on many an occasion between my mum and I) about her and she was definitely my favourite character because of this.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Rusty sipped the weird brown liquid. It was no use. She was never going to get used to this stuff. It tasted awful.”

This book in three words:

Do not conform.

Believathon 2 – Around the World in Eighty Days

For the last week or so of May, I have been trying to read books from the stops on the Believathon 2 journey that I didn’t visit during Believathon itself. This was my choice for Black Ice Bridge: Read a book featuring an expedition or adventure.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, audiobook read by BJ Harrison

This was one of the suggestions given for this prompt and I could think of nothing more fitting! It also fitted into my plan of listening to lots if children’s classics this year, so it seemed like a perfect choice.

And I loved it!

While I’d not read it before, I was familiar with the story thanks to…

Around the World with Willy Fog may be familiar to those of you of a similar age, but for the youngsters among you it was a cartoon adaptation of the story and I loved it. I can’t deny as I was listening to the book I couldn’t help but picture this often!

For anyone unfamiliar with the story at all – Phileas Fog, a solitary creature of habit, makes a bet that sees him trying to circumnavigate the world in eighty days.

Using almost every mode of transport you can think of (and probably a few you can’t!), encountering some truly unusual obstacles and with an unknown thorn in his side in the shape of Inspector Fix this is a gripping journey!

It’s a simply thrilling adventure with much in the way of historical and geographical detail and atmosphere*.

You can’t help but root for Phileas Fog; the excitement of his journey had me breathing sighs of relief as he makes his connection or found his way out of tight spots only to inwardly groan moments later as it became clear misfortune was looming!

There were several audio versions of this, I listened to samples of them before reluctantly plumping for this one (I wasn’t really keen on any) but as it turned out once if got into the first couple of chapters, I found the narration easy to listen to and very enjoyable. Between this and the tensions in the tale, I was snatching a few minutes whenever I could.

Put simply, this is pacy, exciting, varied and tense with an excellent ending and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

*It’s worth pointing out there are a few parts that would be questionable today with some racial/class/gender stereotyping that is very much of its time. I don’t think these should put anyone off reading this or sharing it with younger readers, just to be mindful of when it was written and the norms and views of that time.

Believathon 2 – What Katy Did

Believathon officially ended at the weekend. I (just about – only a day late!) made it to the Book Keeper’s Stronghold with the final prompt to complete my journey, but for the last week of May I’m going to try and read some of the books for the places that I didn’t visit on my quest.

I’ve already listened to two, and today’s review is for The Wonderfalls – Read a book featuring a disability.

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, audiobook read by Kate Harper

Even though I have been trying to read more children’s classics (and modern classics) this year, this wasn’t one that was on my radar at all. However it came up as a suggestion for the Wonderfalls stop on the Believathon map, so I picked it out to listen to.

It was fine.

I didn’t hate it like I did The Bad Beginning, but I didn’t love it either.

The titular Katy is a lively and high-spirited, rough-and-tumble type girl who one day has an accident and is then bed-ridden for quite some time. Taking inspiration from her Cousin Helen, we see how she comes to terms with this and uses it to her best advantage.

The book reminded me heavily of Little Women in a lot of ways, especially with its group of loving, loyal but very different siblings and their days and play together and the lessons it wants us to learn.

The siblings, including Katy, were all likeable enough and Aunt Izzie was what you’d expect. There were lots of stories of their daily lives which raised a smile and seeing Katy accept her situation and begin to make the best of it was a relief.

But I didn’t love it. It was a quick and enjoyable enough listen, but not one I’d return to or read more of.

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Silver Sword

Mary over at Book Craic has started a really exciting new meme #MGTakesOnThursday.

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.

Following Goodnight Mister Tom last time, this week I’ve chosen another classic and it’s another set around WWII as well, but I make no apologies because its also brilliant and also very different in theme abd style to Goodnight Mister Tom.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier, cover art by Tom Clohosy Cole, published by Puffin (a Vintage version is also available)

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Joseph began to run. The soldier ran too, swearing when he stumbled.”

Based on true stories and carefully researched, this is a classic quest narrative in many ways, but with a historical and bleakly real backdrop.

When their parents are taken by Nazis, siblings Edek, Ruth and Bronia, along with newfound friend Jan, set off from a ravaged Warsaw in search of their parents who they come to believe may be in Switzerland.

It is a long and difficult journey which clearly shows the toll war takes on civilians (especially children), their lives and their homes, but it is not without moments of joy and there is an ever-present sense of hope and determination.

I thought the characters were all very well-written and Jan in particular is complex and difficult but very likeable too.

I also really liked that the story begins with the children’s father and the perspective and additional context that brings. It’s an unusual thing to do to bring the adult’s story into it so boldly, but it’s very effective.

Overall, this is a gripping adventure, full of hardship, but also full of family, friendship, loyalty and hope.

In three words:

War. Family. Journey.

Peapod’s Picks/KLTR – Classic Collection #1

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.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Peapod has really taken to his Hungry Caterpillar toy this week, he’s been commando-ing over to get it from the shelf and playing with it loads, so of course we’ve been reading it loads too!

Our only copy was this one:

It’s absolute treasure – it was mine and my sister’s when we were little. It also still has mum’s name inside from when she used it in school teaching, which is then semi-crossed out and replaced by mine from when I did the same.

So, we will keep it and read it too, but I wanted a more durable one for him to enjoy (read: eat) too, so we bought the board book version too.

It’s been a big hit already. To say he’s turning the pages would be a huge exaggeration but it’s lovely seeing him flip through the fruits and open and close it…in between chews of course!

When we bought it, I couldn’t resist getting the finger puppet book too. And I’m really glad we did – it’s a board book too so ticks all the handling/chewing/chucking boxes and he loves the caterpillar puppet (you guessed it, mostly he loves chewing it!). I really like that it’s a simple 1-5 counting primer using the fruit from the story but with added description – juicy oranges, tart plums etc – which makes it more interesting to read and will add to its longevity.

He’s had the cloth book for a while but has been looking at that more this week too. I love how soft and light it is – nice to hold and feel, chewable, hard to damage and even more hard to damage himself with! He also really likes grabbing the caterpillar’s head on the front!

Buying this in board book format made me think about which others we should have like this too. Obviously there’ll be those books that become favourites as he grows that we might choose to get, but I’m going to get some ‘classics’ too.

Which classic (or newer!) picture books would you add to his board book collection?

Peapod’s Picks: Alfie

I’m conscious I’ve not posted a Peapod’s Picks for a few weeks now either! Best laid plans… Speaking of which, the next few weeks of Peapod’s Picks will be the books from our book advent (as long as I can get my act together and post!) For this week though, it’s an old favourite…

This week: Alfie

I loved the Alfie series when I was little and, after receiving Snow in the Garden by Shirley Hughes (review to follow during our book Advent in December!) last week, I chose An Evening at Alfie’s as our bedtime story.

I’d been reminded of the wonderful way she depicts the little hiccups and triumphs, the daily events that make up family life and the little details of our everyday surroundings and happenings.

So we read An Evening at Alfie’s, where Alfie hears a drip drip drip and discovers a leak from a pipe while Maureen’s babysitting. When we finished, Peapod’s Dad said “Hmm. Well, that was an unusual one wasn’t it?” When I asked what he meant, he replied “Well, nothing happened.” which totally threw me.

To me, these stories are nostalgia and warmth; gentle tales full of the familiar. There’s no dragons or monsters or robots here. Nothing here of the ridiculous, crazy or wild. Here are children playing, shopping, having baths, going to parties, getting new shoes, losing toys – the events that are seemingly, well, uneventful but that are a child’s world.

But to his Dad, who’d clearly never read them as a child, they were books about the mundane, lacking excitement or adventure. He didn’t dislike it as such, just found it a little dull. I’m hoping to convert him…!

Have you read the Alfie books (or indeed any of Shirley Hughes’ others)? What do you think of them?

The Lost Magician

I was offered a copy of The Lost Magician for review (thanks to Hachette Kids) and how could I resist with a cover like that?! Courtesy of Ben Mantle, it has a wonderfully magical feel and is a perfect match for the story inside.

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An ode to the world of Narnia:

1945. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet.

I didn’t know about the connections to Narnia when I got this, but as I started reading I was taken back to the first time I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the countless times I stepped into my grandma’s wardrobe (complete with *fake* fur coat) hoping it would lead me through to a snow-covered Narnia (and imagining it had when it invariably didn’t!).

As in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the story centres around four siblings who unwittingly find themselves key to saving the land they’ve stumbled upon.

As with the original four, here too are four very distinct personalities and everyone will have a different favourite. Personally, I loved Larry and Grey Bear. Evelyn will go down well as a female science fanatic, and Simon’s dyslexia (undiagnosed because of the time period) proves an interesting perspective and its nice to see it represented in a book about books.

Cleverly reimagined, this uses the Narnia stories as its base and leaps off into an entirely new world, albeit one with a war raging – mirroring the one the children have left behind and posing some interesting thoughts, ideas and talking points on that theme.

First we meet the Reads (pronounced ‘red’) and Unreads. The Reads are storybook characters, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little buzz of excitement as some very well-known and well-loved characters were described, introduced and alluded to.

However, trying to destroy the Reads are the Unreads, led by the White Queen inspired Jana (and yes, she is every bit as icy cold and merciless!) The Unreads represent facts, truth, information and data. Brilliantly imagined and described, they turn what could easily have become a nostalgia-fest right into something original and altogether less cosy, with futuristic robots, vehicles and buildings. They provide a great balance to the comforting idea of the Reads.

And ultimately, that is a key theme of the book – balance and compromise; of needing and benefiting from differences – as is the idea that stories are not just entertainment and diversion, but that despite seeming to be the complete opposite of fact, they too teach us things, help us to learn and develop and bring about change and progress.

Books, adventure, battles and magic – it’s an exciting and modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!

WWW Wednesday 3/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

Last time, I snuck an extra W in there too with what Peapod and I had read that week, but I’ve decided to do a regular “Peapod’s Picks” post each Friday instead – picture books/board books new and old!

This week’s WWW, then:

What are you currently reading?

I’ve only just opened this, so no idea about it yet, though it begins with a poem that I thought was beautiful so it’s a promising start…

What have you just finished reading?

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I finished The Lost Magician by Piers Torday. I’ve been meaning to read his ‘Wild’ books for quite some time and still not got round to them, but if this is anything to go by the hype surrounding them is justified!

It’s a fantastic, modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!

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Talking of modern takes on classic books, I’ve also read this beautiful modern version of ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ which was one of my favourite fairy tales growing up.

Full reviews of both will follow…

What are you planning on reading next?

These are the most pressing of my TBR pile:

But I also have this which I’ve been waiting months for…

Which would you choose?

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?