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.

MG Takes on Thursday – The Dog Runner

#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.

I’m currently reading Across the Risen Sea by Bren Macdibble and, as with her previous books, I’m loving it. I think she has such a unique voice and such a skill for bringing climate change and environmental issues into children’s fiction in a really accessible, non-preachy and utterly immersive way. So I often lament the fact that her books just don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve here!

Which brings us to today’s post! I’ve posted before about How to Bee and I’ll likely be posting my review of Across the Risen Sea shortly, so today’s #MGTakesOnThursday seemed a good time to give some more love yo her second book, The Dog Runner.

The Dog Runner by Bren Macdibble, cover art by Joanna Hunt, published by Old Barn Books.

With food in short supply (thanks to a fungus killing off all the grasses), a home in a city that’s slowly closing down and dangerous to venture out in, a mum who’s been away working for farctoo long, a dad who hasn’t returned when he should have and a brother who’s injured, it’s up to Ella to face the perilous journey across the country alone in the hopes of finding family, food and safety.

This is such a gripping environmental adventure with family loyalties and courage close to its heart. You can read my full review here.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Down the street, where the ethanol bus ground to a stop last year and nobody bothered moving it, someone lights a fire in the ripped-off car bonnet.”

In three words:

Environment. Family. Dystopia.

Have you read any of Bren’s books?

What have you chosen for #MGTakesOnThursday this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – How to Bee

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant 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.

It was World Bee Day yesterday, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give another shout out too a bee-themed MG book I love.

There have been a fair few MG books recently with environmental messages or themes of nature and climate change, but this is one of the first I remember seeing and it’s still one of my favourites.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble, cover art by Joanna Hunt, published by Old Barn Books

I’ve cheated a bit with my favourite sentence from page 11, and I’ve chosen a whole favourite passage instead! Oops! Sorry, Mary!

Being first or second doesn’t mean you’re instant bee. Foreman has to like your style. You have to be gentle to the flowers and branches and not clumsy. With four of us done, Foreman blows his whistle and the other pests run up from their rows to hear who has won.

In three words?

Nature. Family. Drama.

You can read my full review of it here.

Have you read this?

Have you joined in with #MGTakesOnThursday?

Where the River Runs Gold

I requested and received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own.

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Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by Evan Hollingdale

I was initially dubious of this. I’d heard from a friend what it was about and it sounded remarkably similar (I’m putting that kindly) to How To Bee, a less well-known book that I loved, so I was worried that this was going to be a bit of a rip off but one that totally over-shadowed the original (Waterstones Book of the Month, more well-known author and publisher etc.)

Luckily, I needn’t have worried. While both books stem from the idea that crops, insects (particularly bees and other pollinators) and flora/fauna in general are dying out and while there are some overlaps because of this (children being used as pollinators for example) they take very different approaches and are written in very different styles, with different themes and directions.

In fact, far from hating this the way I feared I might, I really, REALLY loved it – it’s gone straight into my favourite books of the year (along with Rumblestar and Wild Folk Rising – I think while totally different from Wild Folk Rising it has that same love of nature and folklore that is present in the Stargold Chronicles, which is possibly why I feel the same way about it).

This is one of those books that’s incredibly frustrating (in a good way) as I’ve really struggled to put anything into words about it (indeed my procrastination about this review is one of the main reasons I’m currently so behind!)

Simply put, I just thought it was excellent – beautifully written with well-drawn characters you absolutely get behind and feel for, as well as complex themes and multiple layers. It was at once soothing and angering; full of a folkloric magic and disturbingly plausible; believable bleak but full of hope.

With environment, nature and climate change are at its core, there are also questions raised about power, wealth, inequality and freedom. About fairness, society and childhood. About family, friends and roots. The way it draws on nature, folk tales, cultural heritage and the arts as well as celebrating differences, talents and togetherness is inspired.

Just wonderful.

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.

Wiggly Wiggly: Playtime Rhymes

I feel like I haven’t reviewed any books for littlies for AGES! Been so busy catching up with the stack of MG/YA/Adult books I’d let build up that I just never got round to it. But now that I can stick my head above the surface of the others, it’s time to get caught up on the board/picture book side of things too! (And really, these are my favourite books to read and review!)

So, today it’s the turn of ‘Wiggly, Wiggly’, kindly sent to me for review by Walker.

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Really, all I need to say about this book is that it’s written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell (both former Children’s Laureates and both blooming brilliant). So, there – that should be all you need. But that’s not really much of a review is it, so I’ll start by reviewing another book (bear with me!)

The rhymes inside ‘Wiggly Wiggly’ are taken from the larger collection ‘A Great Big Cuddle’.9781406373462

The main difference being Wiggly Wiggly is a book for the youngest readers. It’s a board book which means sturdy (edible) pages and a good strong cover (best tested by throwing on the floor and bashing up and down a lot) and it features the very best rhymes for joining in with from A Great Big Cuddle. But, for toddlers upwards I’d recommend getting A Great Big Cuddle instead: it’s paperback and paper pages, so it’s not as durable for tiny hands and exuberant, excitable readers, but perfect to share together as they get a bit bigger and with LOTS more rhymes to enjoy!

Regardless of whether you go for Wiggly Wiggly or A Great Big Cuddle, all of the rhymes are firmly rooted in children’s own experiences and interests: things that they can relate to (food, greetings, cuddles and puddles) and/or that will spark their imagination (animals, toys and nonsense). And, in both, Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring them all to life superbly: full of expression, colour and movement – they leap off the page, they make you pause and look, they encourage talk, movement and laughter.

The rhymes are bursting at the seams with onomatopoeia, alliteration and rhyme – perfect for experimenting with making silly noises, using nonsense words, adding sound effects or changing your expression/volume/tempo etc.

Likewise, they are made for joining in with: finger rhymes, action rhymes, moving around or role-playing rhymes – they are impossible to read without getting moving in one way or another! For the very, very youngest it’s easy to see how you can move them or move with them or use your touch and movement to make them interactive, so there’s really no excuse not to get wiggling!

But the thing I liked absolutely best of all about this as a book of action rhymes is that there’s no instructions: no diagrams or drawings showing how to move your feet/hands/body so it’s yours to take wherever you and your little one want to take it! They are (as the sub-title ‘Playtime Rhymes’ suggests) perfect for playing with and making your own.

I can’t wait to start reading this with my little one (currently still on the inside so quite hard to wiggle with effectively!) and will be ‘upgrading’ to ‘A Great Big Cuddle’ as he gets older.

The Wild Folk

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“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Do any bookworms actually follow this advice? I know (following a recent #banterwithbooksellers over on twitter) that myself and many of my fellow booksellers definitely do not, instead “Magpie Reading” (term coined by Ceris!) – homing in on those books with beautiful/intriguing/unusual covers. And that was definitely the case with Sylvia Linsteadt’s ‘The Wild Folk’.

As soon as this appeared on my trolley for shelving, I felt that Magpie at work: the cover is gorgeous. But this is no surprise when you find out it was designed by Sandra Dieckmann, creator of ‘Leaf‘. As with the illustrations in Leaf, the cover of The Wild Folk is bursting with life, and as with Leaf, as well as being a fantastic, folklore-style adventure The Wild Folk also contains a pretty stark message about the importance of looking after our ‘wild world’.

In the land of Farallone, City boy Tin and Country girl Comfrey are guided on a quest by two young hares.

Their task is to save the mystical Wild Folk from destruction. But the Wild Folk don’t trust humans, and the children face impossible challenges and meet extraordinary creatures as they battle to save the land they love.

There is SO much I want to say about this book I don’t know where to begin. I suppose the first thing to say before I get into the story in detail is that it inevitably draws comparisons to other books/characters, particularly in the fantasy realm (there is more than a hint of Narnia with a definite Aslan-ness to the Elk of Milk and Kindness, and I’ve seen many references to Le Guin’s Earthsea…which ok, I admit, I still haven’t read…*hides in a corner*). Similarly, there are some all-too familiar scenarios here: a missing father, main characters who must learn to overcome their differences to work together and trust each other, an orphan who doesn’t remember his parents living in a home run by the strict and cruel Brothers of Albion…

But, and it’s an important ‘but’, they are unique enough, important enough to the story and well-written enough to avoid cliché, and there is enough about the story which is entirely new and original to balance out the areas that tread some familiar ground. For me, this is huge in showing the promise of a book that will not only be a thoroughly enjoyable read, but one that will stand both the test of time and multiple re-readings, and I think the Wild Folk (and it’s sequel – due in Spring ’19) will do just that.

Cleverly beginning by switching between our City-dwelling hero Tin and his (in no way mousey) Country-mouse counterpart Comfrey before gradually bringing their stories closer and closer together, until they meet and their stories merge worked incredibly well.

Firstly, this provided an opportunity to really get to know our main characters – both Tin and Comfrey, and Myrtle and Mallow: the two leverets sent to aid them on their quest. All are incredibly likeable without being at all flat, and very much bringing their own qualities, personalities and voices to the story.

It also served brilliantly to delve into the background of City and Country and show the differences in lifestyle and beliefs between the places. As with the characters, each place has a distinct feel to it and each world is built wonderfully (as are the various places the children travel through around Farallone on their quest): there is a dark and grimy, almost steam-punk feel to the City which contrasts superbly with the wholesome, old-fashioned feel of the Country.

Through this, it is impossible to ignore the messages that run through the book, both environmental and social: the devastating effect ‘Fake News'(to use some much more modern terminology!), segregation and fear of differences can have, not to mention the devastating effect humans can – and do – have on the wild. With City, Country and Wild folk all mistrusting and judging each other, pre-conceived ideas and must be addressed in order to save Farallone.

The book has more than a touch of folklore and fairytale magic to it (it has a map, which is always a promising start!). Upon encountering the word ‘tatterdemalion’ (what a wonderful word it is too!) I needed to look it up and found that Linsteadt also has an adult novel with the same title which is also firmly rooted in myth and legend: she clearly has a passion for it and a writing style that is more than up to the task if The Wild Folk is anything to go by (watch this space for a review of Tatterdemalion at some point!).

There is the story of Farallone itself – the legend which provides the backbone of the book, then there are smaller tales-within-the-tale passed down through generations of country/wild folk. The story itself encompasses many characters and events which feel like they’ve stepped straight out of a folk tale or fable – The Greentwins are a case in point – as well as deliberate re-imaginings: the chapter on the Baba Ithá was one of my favourite parts in the whole book – loved it, LOVED IT, LOVED IT!

Highly recommended for older MG readers (or those who enjoy a longer, more challenging read), as well as adults and older readers who enjoy a healthy dose of folklore in their reading, this is a highly original, incredibly well-drawn fantasy adventure. With Grizzly Witches, underground networks and mechanical spiders, Fools and their Oddities and a stunning setting brilliantly described this is a fantastic story not to be missed.

Thanks to Usborne for my review copy.

Leaf

Leaf (Paperback)

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, the other animals fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous – and his odd habit of collecting leaves only adds to their distrust.

Then one day, they watch as he attempts to fly over the water with wings made of colourful leaves… trying to get back home. Perhaps he isn’t so different after all?

One of my favourites on the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize illustrated Book Prize Shortlist this year, Leaf is a simply stunning picture book fully showcasing the lush vibrancy of the natural world in its gorgeously leafy pages.

The story itself is equally touching, with an immensely relevant message of togetherness, hope and friendship in these crazy times we seem to have found ourselves in: a message to not only look after our struggling planet, but our struggling neighbours here on it, no matter how different we may at first seem.

The speech bubbles, actions and disagreements of the animals living in the woods Polar Bear finds himself in add plenty of extra talking points, particularly for use across the primary age range and would wonderfully complement any work being done on either conservation/refugees/immigrants/differences/prejudice amongst other things.

This is a fantastically important and enjoyable story with massive visual appeal across the ages. A must-read.

Our ‘Leaf’ creations at storytime!

Sandra Dieckmann’s eagerly awaited (by me anyway!) next picture book ‘The Dog That Ate the World’ is due out in July.