#MGTakesOnThursday – Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble

#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 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.

Today I’ve gone slightly off-piste again with a poetry collection that’s perfect for primary rather than an MG novel. I couldn’t not choose this though as it should be in every school, if not in every classroom!

Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble – Magical Poems, chosen by Paul Cookson, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon, published by Bloomsbury

Accompanied by fun illustrations with plenty of appeal, there is truly something for everyone in this magical poetry collection.

Old ones, new ones. Funny ones, thoughtful ones. Spooky ones, sparkly ones. Long ones, short ones. Rhyming, rhythmic and repetitive ones.

Magic words, spells and potions. Fairies, unicorns, dragons, ghosts and monsters. A smattering of nonsense, pop culture and legend, and a huge dollop of possibility, word play and imagination.

Perfect for reading for pleasure or to select specific poems to use as a writing stimulus in class – made up magic words; spells, recipes and potions; descriptive work on settings or creatures, even maths problems and puzzles thanks to Paul Cookson’s Mathematically, Telepathically Magical (which brought back fond memories of primary school for me and likely will for other older readers who remember this magic maths ‘trick’ doing the rounds!)

I started listing my favourites but it became ridiculously long! So I have chosen 3 (it seemed a fittingly magical number!)

The Witch by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge p50

Night Soup (a simple recipe) by James Carter p66-67

Crossing the Bounds by Jaz Stutley p68

This book in three words

Magic. Poetry. Imagination.

My favourite quote from pg 11

I have included the full poem featured on page 11, Whizzo McWizard’s Amazing Creations by Paul Cookson, which is a brilliant springboard into inventions and creations that is full of possibility and the excitement of trying, building, testing and making. If this doesn’t gave you and your kids thinking up your own amazing creations I’d be shocked!

MG Takes on Thursday – Strangeworlds

#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.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D.Lapinski, cover art by designer Samuel Perrett and illustrator Natalie Smillie, published by Hachette

I know everyone else read this forever ago. It has sat in my TBR patiently being the next read then for one reason and another having to wait just one book longer for so long. But I’ve finally read it and loved it, so it seemed a good time to remind those of you who have read it of how ace it is and bring it to the attention of anyone who may have missed it!

I’ll be honest, this was one of those books I always intended to read and desperately wanted to like, but really wasn’t sure I would…well I needn’t have worried! I loved it.

The world building and magic system are incredibly imaginative and unique.

The characters are very likeable and feel fresh and a bit different while still being relatable and recognisable.

And the way the adventure twists, the pace increases, the tension grows and the plot, as they say, thickens is excellent.

Flick has just moved house. Before we go any further, I want to take a moment to say I was really impressed with the portrayal of Flick’s family. There was a depth and realism often missing in MG as parents are divided between doting, absent/disinterested or dead.

Her parents are absent in a lot of ways – they work early morning/late night shifts and she has a baby brother who of course requires a great deal of their time, but she is loved and cared for; they attend her parent’s evenings and plays, do things as a family and worry about her. It felt really refreshing to see real parents that kids will relate to.

But I digress… they’ve just moved house and Flick is exploring her new surroundings when she finds a very strange, old travel agency.

Inexplicably drawn to it, her yearning for adventure is about to be more than fulfilled as what she’s stumbled upon turns out to be a rather more magical travel agency than most.

With suitcases leading to different worlds, this begins as a hugely enjoyable exploration of some fantastic places. With bouncy floors, food fights, tree houses and a sweet shop that makes Wonka’s look dull these worlds are an absolute treat to visit.

Fans of Abi Elphinstone’s Unmapped Chronicles or Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor – you need this in your life. Every bit as wonderfully imaginative.

However, there is also a mystery to solve, a tentative friendship to form and a world(s) to save.

This does start slowly. But it really works. It picks up pace like a snowball down a hill, with more and more being revealed as we go. By the end, there’s vanishings, captures, escapes and injuries, and we’re left on tenterhooks with time of the essence, blind faith, hope and luck getting us through.

An inventive, exciting and wondrous adventure. I cannot wait for the next book!

My favourite quote from page 11:

“‘Don’t Lose Your Luggage,’ Jonathan snapped. ‘That’s Rule Number One…'”

This book in three words:

Magic. Travel. Adventure.

#MGTakesOnThursday – Skunk and Badger

#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.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Scholastic

Anyone who knows me will surely know by now what a huge Jon Klassen fan I am, so I can’t lie when I say I picked this up based solely on his illustrations.

But I’m so glad I did, as I absolutely loved it. It’s one of those books that’s a bit quirky and refuses to sit neatly in any kind of category – age, genre or otherwise – and I love it all the more for that.

Badger is a creature of habit, living an almost reclusive life in the house Aunt Luna has kindly let him stay in to pursue his career in rocks. The living room is his Rock Room, given over to the study of them, and Badger is happy in his rather set and solitary ways.

Until Skunk arrives.

Skunk is everything Badger isn’t – outgoing, friendly and wanting to experience everything. He throws Badger’s world upside down with his deliciously extravagant breakfasts (no more cold cereal and milk), chicken parties in the Rock Room, philosophical bedtime stories (so clever!) and general upheaval!

Badger is sure that Skunk can’t stay (although those breakfasts are delicious, and the stories are good, and the chickens are actually a likeable bunch…) and things come to a head.

Lets just say, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

This is a simply wonderful story with everything from chickens to quantum physics, roasted peppers to Shakespeare and a truly fantastic chicken-run bookshop (that only features briefly but that I would love to see a whole book set in!).

And of course, the illustrations are fantastic. Unmistakably Klassen, they complement this completely unique book superbly. Even the endpapers are lovely. It’s a truly beautifully presented gift of a book.

As well as being a perfect bedtime read, Badger and Skunk would make a lovely, quirky KS2 class read. Short enough to squeeze in easily but with plenty of meat on its bones for talking about, sowing a seed or pondering.

My favourite quote from page 11:

“Badger raced in front of Skunk and said what needed to be said: ‘Oh, you’re that Skunk! Come in, come in! It’s so good to finally meet you!”

This book in three words(ish)

Unlikely friendships, comfort zones…& chickens!

#MGTakesOnThursday…sort of…!

#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.

So, “#MGTakesOnThursday…sort of?” I hear you ask. Well, I’m cheating this week. Mary, I’m sorry! But I’ve gone rogue (but only this one week, I promise!)

Because this week I haven’t chosen an MG book at all. I’ve chosen…*whispers*…a picture book.

This is a great picture book for any age and younger children will love it of course, BUT it’s one I think has so much potential for use in KS2 so I’m throwing it in here like the maverick that I am! (Promise to follow the rules again next week!)

The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Two Hoots

This book cracked me up. Written in the form of notes and letters between the titular Frederick and free spirit Emily who sees him in his window one day and sends a paper aeroplane up to invite him out to play.

Unfortunately, Frederick is reminded by his mother of the misfortune that struck last time he went for ice cream so he reluctantly, and ever so eloquently, turns Emily down.

Emily is persistent though. Each day, she embarks on a glorious new outdoor adventure – exploring, climbing, swimming – and invites poor cooped up Frederick to accompany her.

Each day, he sends a beautifully written reply declining her offer, reflecting on the calamaties of the past.

And the ending is simply superb! Predictable yet not, it is a fittingly funny end to a super story!

The illustrations are fantastic – delicately detailed and full of the pleasure getting out in the open can bring. I loved how Frederick’s indoor play cleverly mirrors Emily’s escapades outside, but with strikingly different colour palettes and Frederick’s expression and body language vs Emily’s making clear that its really not the same thing!

The use of colour and the way it gradually creeps into Frederick’s pages is very clever, as is the way we see the wild slowly infiltrating Frederick’s refusals and drawing him in (or should that be out?!)

And the expression and emotion in the images is deftly drawn too – from disappointment to joy, wistfulness to abandon.

So, why am I showing you this instead of a typical ‘middle grade’ book?

Because I think as much as younger readers will enjoy this, it’s older readers who’ll really get it. And there is so much to be done with this, for younger readers too, but also for older.

The language for a start.

Frederick’s letters are a scream – fantastically formal and flowery, they are the perfect contrast to Emily’s brief, informal notes. Both would be brilliant to use for looking at letter writing (or email or communication in general!) and the difference between formal and informal tones, as well as for descriptive writing.

Getting kids to write their own formal rsvps with funny or dramatic reasons would be great.

There’s also the paper aeroplanes – get in an afternoon of plane making, paper folding, trial and error, test and hypothesise, measuring, timing and team work.

Then of course there’s the outdoor elements. OK, you probably can’t take them out for a dip in a local lake but take the opportunity to have an outdoor adventure or two – den building, orienteering, scavenger hunting…

This book in three words:

Clever. Funny. Outdoorsy.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

I’d love to know if any of you decide to use or read this book with older children.

Normal service will resume next week!

MG Takes on Thursday – My Name is Mina

#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.

My Name is Mina by David Almond, cover art by Jon Carling, published by Hachette.

I recently re-read Skellig, a children’s classic that comes up on school reading lists year after year. I’d liked it well enough first time round, but failed to see what all the mega-fuss was about.

This time I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it much more, got so much more from it and am left awaiting another read/listen in the future where I suspect I’ll discover even more.

But the thing that struck me both times was Mina.

Mina was without doubt my favourite thing about the book. Her and her mum. So when I finished listening to Skellig, I decided to read I Am Mina, which tells her story leading up to the point where she begins to befriend Michael in Skellig.

Written as Mina’s journal, it is a book of wonder and an important reminder not to lose the sense of awe, imagination and possibility we have as children.

Charlie Sanderson feels like the perfect voice for Mina so I highly recommend the audio version, but I have also bought the physical book as it is definitely one I’ll want to revisit.

The physical copy is designed as if it is Mina’s journal, with different fonts, sizes and layouts, which really adds to its appeal too. As do Mina’s ‘Extraordinary Activities’ – little tasks? ideas? prompts? to have a go at something she’s done herself.

My favourite sentence from page 11

“Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bat’s and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.”

And in this book, this is exactly what they do.

This book spoke straight to my heart. Bringing back memories, emotions and pangs of empathy for Mina from my own teen years as well as giving rise to feelings of such sympathy and respect for her in losing her father and grandfather.

Mina is at once self-confident and introverted, self-assured and beating herself up, opinionated and unsure, gentle and angry, but ultimately she is hopeful and a lesson to us all.

Everyone should read this book.

This book in three words

Honest. Inspiring. Wonderful.

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.

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Girl of Ink and Stars

#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.

Today I’ve chosen one of the first MG books I read as a grown up (or certainly for a very long time). When I left teaching and stumbled into my job as a bookseller I had a good knowledge of picture books but not as much recent knowledge of older children’s fiction.

This was one of the first MG books I picked up – it was our Children’s Book Prize winner and it wasn’t hard to see why; it is definitely at least partially what got me hooked on MG!

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, cover design by Helen Crawford-White

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Governor Adori had rebuilt it from stone, twice as big, because if his daughter was going, it had to look grander.”

This is such a gorgeous book – both visually, with its stunning cover, maps and page decor and in its lush, myth-rich island narrative.

I love maps in books, again both visually and in their use, so the main character being a cartographer’s daughter desperate but unable to follow in his footsteps really appealed.

Amidst some dark goings on on their island, Isabella’s best friend, Lupe, disappears. Undeterred by the fact that the majority of the island – and anything beyond it – are out of bounds, she sets off to find her with an old map, myths and the stars as her guide.

A tale of friendship, family, loyalty and love woven with threads of folklore, history, politics and power. Embedded in a rich and mysterious setting, both dark and beautiful in turns, this is an absolute must-read MG book for me and one those of you who know me and my tastes will be utterly unsurprised to hear I love!

Writing this has also made me think it’s time for a re-read…

In three four words (sorry Mary!): maps, magic, myths mystery.

#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?

#MGTakesOnThursday – TrooFriend

Mary over at Book Craic has started a really exciting new meme (I think that’s the right word!) #MGTakesOnThursday.

  • 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 on from last week’s post which finally got my review of the hilarious Freddie Yates posted, I thought I’d use this week to highlight another book I read a while ago but have been lax in reviewing…

TrooFriend by Kirsty Applebaum, art by Sam Kalda, published by Nosy Crow.

I loved The Middler by this author and while TrooFriend didn’t leave me with quite such a book hangover, it was nevertheless a very clever and very enjoyable read that I would be recommending to many young readers if work was open at the moment!

Like The Middler, it takes on a potentially dark and difficult subject area not typically seen in children’s fiction and makes it not just appropriate, but appealing, relatable and interesting for a younger age.

Set in a fictional but plausible not-too-distant future, Sarah is given a Troofriend by her parents. The Troofriend is an android designed to be given to children as a ‘safe’ friend – one that will not bully, harm, lie, covet, steal or envy – a perfect friend in fact. But reports start to come in that the robots are developing real feelings and putting their owners at risk of harm.

Not only does this open up many questions about rights, freedoms, morality, parenting, values and actions but it also deftly and realistically explores issues of friendship that will be familiar to many (if not all) in one way or another – the desire to belong, to be popular and fit in; falling out with best friends and the challenges of making new friends.

I thought the way we saw Ivy gradually becoming sentient was so clever and having the reader see what was happening ahead of but not instead of the characters was very effective. Likewise, I thought the way we grow to really feel for Ivy was equally well done.

Overall, this was a quick but original and cleverly written read that blended contemporary MG with sci-fi ideas seamlessly.

In three words?

Technology. Friendship. Philosophical.

My favourite sentence from page 11

Yes, Shirley-Mum. My name is Ivy. Sarah named me. I like my name very much.

MG Takes On Thursday – Freddie Yates

Mary over at Book Craic has started a really exciting new meme (I think that’s the right word!) #MGTakesOnThursday.

  • 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 wasn’t going to join in til next week, but it’s just about still Thursday and I’ve been meaning to review this for ages (I finished it at the start of February!!) so, I have a bedtime deadline and I’m getting my first #MGTakesOnThursday post in today with…

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, illustrated by Rob Biddulph, published by Usborne.

Re-reading page 11 to pick out a quote has reminded me of just how funny this book is. I laughed all the way through it, including many proper laugh-out-loud chuckles on a busy tram.

And this highlights one of my favourite things about the book (as an adult reader). There is absolutely LOADS that kids will find hilarious in this – exploding toilets, cooked clothes, (accidental) superhero-clad escapes from ‘The Gaffer’ and Sheila the miracle sheep, not to mention an impromptu mission on a bike across Wales. BUT there is also loads of humour that, whilst it emphatically doesn’t exclude or mock the young characters (or readers), adult readers will find very funny too.

The shrewd, but incredibly warm observational humour in the book meant it came as no surprise to me that Jenny Pearson teaches!

And it’s this that led to the quote I eventually picked from page 11:

“On the last day of Year Six we sang a really shouty version of “One More Step Along the World I Go” in our leavers assembly.”

As an ex-primary teacher this cracked me up.

The boys in question are a wonderful trio and their friendship a wonderful thing. It’s touching and they don’t half bring a smile, but the dynamic and their characters feel so realistic too – I just loved these three!

By contrast, the daft, madcap and increasingly ridiculous adventures the boys end up on are anything but believable. BUT the family situations that lead them there are – loss, a blended family, biological/non-biological parents and weight, alongside the big change of leaving primary school and moving up, are all dealt with both credibly and sensitively.

I especially liked that the boys all came from really loving homes too though, so while things weren’t perfect it remained positive and didn’t start to feel too desperate, or alternatively, exaggerated or stereotypical.

I don’t really ‘do’ contemporary, but this was just great and really shows the power of humour for helping to confront, make sense of and deal with difficult situations. Brilliantly written with huge heart, understanding and warmth, I hope we’ll see more from Jenny as books like this are a huge asset to any children’s bookshelf.

In three words?

Family. Friendship. Funny.*

*I very nearly just wrote ‘Funny’ three times.