#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!

The Girl Who Became a Tree

I was lucky enough to request and receive a free copy of this from Bounce. All views and opinions are my own.

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner

Those of you who’ve been around the blog for a while will know I’m a sucker for a novel in verse (incidentally, is it just me that thinks these seem to be popping up more and more? Next big trend? You heard it here first 😉) Anyway, I love ’em! So I was thrilled when the lovely Louise at Bounce sent me a copy.

Between the verse factor, the brilliantly fairytale-ish title and that ⬆️⬆️ cover art, I was pretty much sold on this before I’d even opened it! And reading it only cemented this!

Through a series of poems, we meet Daphne as she struggles to cope with the loss of her dad. Increasingly withdrawn and escaping into her phone and her local library, strange things occur when one is lost within the other. In journeying to find her phone, can Daphne find herself again too?

This is a wonderful collection of poems. And first and foremost, that is what it is. I’m finding it hard to articulate this (and let me say now when I write this – I love both, this is in no way a criticism of either) but some verse novels feel like they’re told through very deliberate, sparse chapters of narrative, all in the same style rather than a collection of poems as such. Others, rarer I find, feel like a collection poems with a story, theme or common thread running through them, and this landed firmly in the second camp.

Collectively and in sequence these poems come together to tell a very well-crafted and multi-layered story, but so many of these would read just as well picked up, opened and read at random as stand alone poems.

As such, there are many styles and sorts of poems here, and as with the best poetry collections some will bowl you over and leave you speechless, speaking straight to your heart, with others meaning more to other people – each reader having their own favourites and personal connections with different ones.

For me, A Mother’s Love reminded me so much of my own mum and me, while the word play in The Librarian really touched on my own mental health struggles.

I also liked best those with no rhyme, those dealing with nature, and those that really brought the mythical, fantastical elements of the story to life, like You Cannot Go which really grabbed me.

We see Daphne following her namesake’s path and venturing into woodland through a hole in the library, meeting a monster, becoming a tree and it was these poems, and those that told the original myth (which I was unfamiliar with) that I really loved.

The use of the natural world, and of trees in particular, in the imagery, history and characters is phenomenal. Who knew trees could be written in such versatile and emotive ways? In the same vein the use of imagery, symbolism and recurring themes throughout is so strong and effective.

It’s amazing the way technology is fused with nature in the book and I really felt immersed in this world where the two meet; bringing together that feeling of old magic, of ancient times, of tricksters and monsters and of nature’s hand in it all with iPhones and consoles and modern connections and wires and cables .

And finally, a word on the illustrations which are stunning and absolutely made this book for me. It’s an emotional, magical thing without them but with them it’s just something else. I could pore over them for hours; I love the details, the textures, the feelings, the depth.

This is a collection of poetry filled with loss, loneliness, mythology and memories which combine with layered, atmospheric imagery to create a truly modern fairytale where nature and technology collide. Brilliant.

Fri-YAy – The Black Flamingo

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

Whether or not this becomes any kind of regular thing depends both on

a) me reading some more YA like I keep saying I will

and

b) me posting anything on time or with any degree of reliability

There’s a double post today, with both this one and Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal, and after that I’d like this to be a fortnightly or, maybe more realistically, monthly post to review my YA reads.

The two books I’m kicking off with though are both brilliant ‘coming-of-age’ tales of finding out who you are and becoming comfortable with yourself.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, artwork by Anshika Khullar

I’m such a huge fan of Sarah Crossan’s novels in verse and really enjoyed Meg Grehan’s The Deepest Breath too, so I was really pleased to find a new YA verse novel, this time from Dean Atta (If anyone has any other verse novel recommendations I would love to hear them!)

The Black Flamingo is Michael’s story, told in the form of narrative style poems, illustrated effectively throughout and with gorgeous feathery pages at the start of each chapter. I know I’ve said it before but don’t let the verse put you off, especially in this case. More like carefully selected, carved and crafted prose than your typical idea of ‘poetry’ might be, this is immensely readable.

We follow Michael through the book as he grows up – from a young child coveting Barbies, being guest of honour at the girls’ sleepovers and playing “husband and wife” with the boys…to a teenager lacking in confidence, befriending “the misfit” and discovering his sexuality…to a student away from home for the first time and finding his people, his place, his voice…himself.

The book is universally relatable in many ways – family dynamics and the effects our family relationships can have on us, both positive and negative; the uncertainty, confusion and constant navel-gazing of teenage years; friendships, fallings out, first crushes, fitting in (or not) and those first steps away from home.

It certainly spoke to me and brought back many experiences and emotions from when I was growing up (and as a white, heterosexual woman in her thirties I am definitely not its target audience!)

But, it’s clear that for some, this book will be so much more than that – a beacon of hope, bringing with it reassurance and a message of strength, unity and positivity.

Michael deals with homophobia and racism – in upfront, deliberate ways, but more often (and as I suspect is more commonly the case in reality) in latent, almost unintentional, ingrained and learned ways – as well as old-fashioned, unhelpful and stereotypical views of gender, yet he finds his way through this and gains self confidence and belief.

I loved the way drag (along with friendship and learning from his mistakes) was in the end what helped Michael find his confidence and his voice and, in more ways than one, his identity. I really liked the way we saw drag explained, given depth and taken seriously as a performance too.

With themes of ethnicity, sexuality and gender as well as family and friendships addressed believably, powerfully and with a great deal of insight, sensitivity and warmth this is a must-read for so many young readers (and older ones like me will find plenty to enjoy, relate to and feel about this too). I loved this and can’t wait to read more from Dean Atta.

Toffee

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.

Toffee by Sarah Crossan

I read Moonrise by Sarah Crossan back in 2018 and was convinced I’d reviewed it but can find no trace of said review so can only assume I didn’t…which is a shame because I loved it! So I was really pleased to be given a copy of her most recent book, Toffee to review.

Runaway Allison ends up at Marla’s. Marla is a strsnger; an elderly lady with dementia who sees Allison and thinks she’s a friend from her past, Toffee. Lucy is a local girl of Allison’s age who ‘befriends’ her at the beach.

However, as the story progresses we quickly see that friendship isn’t always found in the most obvious of places.

Like Moonrise (and I believe her other books which I REEAALLY need to read!), Toffee is written in verse, which is more accessible than it sounds (seriously, if you are not a poetry person – or don’t think you are – don’t let this put you off!). It’s also incredibly effective.

Sarah Crossan has managed to get so much into what, on the surface, is relatively sparse text. It feels distilled to its purest, neatest form – no word is unnecessary, every line packs a punch.

The characters have depth and complexity. The plot is layered and gradually spins out to the past and back to the present. And oh, the emotion in this book – your heart will ache.

We are presented with Allison’s history in short, sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet (often both) slices, allowing us to understand her and her caginess, and fill with warmth as she slowly and carefully begins to open up.

Similarly, we are given glimpses into Marla’s past and it’s a joyous yet cautionary tale about the way we treat/think of old people as we see her dancing and making both lewd and shrewd comments. It’s also an incredibly realistic and sad depiction of the way dementia takes over – the way Marla’s confusion and frustration are shown is so utterly believable.

This is a heartbreaking, tender and bitterly sad story tinged with moments of joy and hope. Our main characters face myriad hurts, betrayals and losses in various ways and are both, in their own ways, locked inside themselves. It is wonderful to see them break through to each other in small ways.

The more minor characters – Allison’s Dad and Marla’s son, Lucy and Kelly-Anne – in the book nevertheless feel fully fleshed and each has their own issues, presented cleverly to the reader. Although I was in no doubt about how I felt about them, I was nevertheless intrigued by them.

Although this is a YA book, I can see it appealing to adults too. There are – in the characters, the themes and the individual poems – elements which will spesk to different readers on different levels and which will resonate in different ways with them.

Personally, for example, ‘I Did Not Kill My Mother Immediately’ broke me (and it did utterly, utterly break me) in a way it wouldn’t have before I had Peapod. And I found ‘Unkissed’ unbearably sad, but I think if I read it as a teen it probably wouldn’t have touched me so much.

That isn’t to say teens wouldn’t understand it or relate, just that I suspect the poems that grabbed me from it now would not be the ones that would have spoken to me when I was younger and vice-versa. It would make a wonderful book to discuss cross-generationally.

I loved this book. My heart still hurts to think about it now. A beautifully, tender tale, cleverly crafted and concentrated in its telling.

Everything, All At Once

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.

Everything, All At Once by Steven Camden

A collection of poetry for – I’d say – late KS2 upwards. It opens with the transition from primary to secondary and then takes us through daily life in your typical high school in verse.

There’s lessons and lunchtime, students and teachers, gossip and friendship, learning and not.

There’s humour and tenderness, hustle and bustle, moments of solitude, emotion and masks.

It’s a brilliant collection that took me right back to my time at secondary school. So many of the poems drew a wry smile of recognition or the emotional tug of bring seen and understood.

And even in those poems which didn’t speak to me directly, I could bring to mind characters – either real from my school days or conjured from the poem alone.

In the best way, they are the Ahlbergs’ Please Mrs Butler/I Heard it in the Playground kids grown up. They are evocative, funny and written with incredible understanding and tenacity – a brilliant collection.

A First Book of Animals

I requested and received a copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

Polar bears playing on the ice, tigers hunting in the jungle, fireflies twinkling in the evening sky and nightingales singing in the heart of the woods – there are animals everywhere. From blue whales to bumblebee bats and everything in between, A First Book of Animals takes you all over the planet to visit all kinds of different creatures.

This is a beautiful book of poetry, with many of the poems also containing many animal facts, making it a perfect book for animal lovers old and young.

Split into categories such as ‘Big and Small’, ‘Colours and Shapes’ or ‘Animal Homes’, the poems are thematically grouped within the book and contain a range of facts and styles.

There are short, easy to join in with and repetitive poems, like ‘Why Are Zevras Stripy?’ There are verses with wonderful word choice and/or rhyme detailing facts and characteristics of a particular animal, such as Chameleon Song.

There are comparative poems, such as ‘Song of the Biggest and the Smallest Bird’ and there are poems which work with the illustrations to teach us something, like the wonderful ‘Dragonfly Babies’ whose words create a vivid impression of the growth, emergence and behaviours of the tiny dragonflies and whose illustration serves to help visualise this and show young readers how this would look.

Likewise, there are poems who give nothing more than an impression of the animal, less fact and more feeling, accompanied by illustrations who capture the look and character of the animal perfectly, giving more than enough information without the text – Whale Shark, for example.

Which leads me to pause for a moment to simply admire the illustrations. They are in turn textured, light, colourful, dark, rich, playful, layered, bright… each is wonderful, realistic and detailed and in perfect keeping with both the animal it portrays and the text it accompanies.

In short, both the words and pictures are stunning. The poems are hugely accessible – with fantastic feeling and varied vocabulary, but not overly long or wordy, they’re perfect for children of all ages. Likewise the range of styles is brilliant for showcasing to young readers poetry’s versatility.

This is a gorgeous book that we are loving dipping in and out of at random each day. I can’t recommend this enough for both home and school.

Poetry Thursdays: Fierce Fairytales

So, a couple of weeks ago, on National Poetry Day, I posted about how much I enjoy poetry, but rarely choose to read it. This evolved into the idea of making my Thursday posts (weekly when I can, fortnightly when life takes over!) poetry posts.

In strangely serendipitous timing, I had just started reading ‘Fierce Fairytales’ by Nikita Gill, which I was sent by Trapeze in exchange for an honest review.

Drawn in by the fairytale theme (anything linked to a fairytale gets me!) and that gorgeous cover by Tomas Almeida, I hadn’t realised when I requested it was that the majority of the book is poetry (though some ‘chapters’ do take the form of prose).

9781409181590

Step into this world of empowering, reimagined fairytales where the stereotypes of obliging lovers, violent men and girls that need rescuing are transformed.

Opening it to find poetry inside was a lovely surprise – what an original way to examine these characters and tales. And ‘examine’ I think is the key word there: for that is what this feels like – rather than a reimagining (although there are reimagined versions of tales in there), it’s more analysis, speculation and possibility: why did the characters act like they did? What if this had happened instead? Could it be possible that the way we were told it was not quite how it was? What lessons can we learn from them?

The book features everyone from from Jack and his magic beans to Cinderella to Peter Pan to Red Riding Hood – each with a new angle or twist; but standing alongside them are the villains cast against them – each giving their side to the story, their reasons and their own misfortunes.

Tradition and perception are challenged with humour, defiance and reason. There is rage in these words, but there is also hope. There is caution, but also inspiration.

If I was being harsh my only minor issue was that I felt some of the later poems in the book were rather repetitive or contrived in their links to the fairytale themes. Personally, I’d have rather had a slimmed down collection with a strong, specific fairytale link, as many of these had, and seen some of the others that linked more broadly to the feminist/mental health/societal themes in a separate collection.

But that’s just me, and I still loved it overall.

However, whether grouped here or separated, within these poems you will find one that speaks to you (most likely more than one) – maybe, like Baba Yaga, you are ageing ungracefully and proud; maybe you’ve encountered your own Prince Charming (spoiler: this is no Disney romance); maybe, like so many of the characters here, you know the power of words to build or destroy:

“They used to burn witches because of stories. A story is no small thing.”

(Belladonna)

Personal favourites included Cry Wolf, The Hatter, The Woods Reincarnated and The Miller’s Daughter. But the one I love best of all, so much so I’d like it printed and framed is the opening poem, Once Upon a Time:

Are you a fairytale fan?

Have you read this – what did you think?

What do you think of the poem I’ve shared here from it?

WWW Wednesday 10/10/18

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

It’ll be a short one this week as I’ve not managed much reading at all. I don’t know where this week has gone!

What are you currently reading?

I pre ordered this, having been ridiculously excited about it since it was announced. I picked it up early, at the end of September. And up until today, I still hadn’t started it! I think I’d built it up so much I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to begin! So, I’m taking the plunge today…

What have you just finished reading?

I didn’t know what to expect from this and hadn’t realised at all when I requested it that it was predominantly poetry, but it was a pleasant surprise – especially in light of my recent decision to read more poetry and dedicate Thursdays’ posts to it.

I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit like a book of two halves and I definitely preferred the first half. The latter part of the book did feel a bit ‘filler’, but on the whole it was a really creative and interesting take on the fairytale-retelling that seem very popular at the moment.

Full review to follow.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m probably going to go on an MG spree, but as I’ve only just opened The Way Past Winter, I’m not sure yet, so instead of what I’ll read next, I’m asking/answering

What books were added to your TBR this week?

I received an absolutely bumper bookpost parcel from OUP this week and am very excited to dive into these, especially the Michael Morpurgo Myths and Legends.

I also received these gems from Harper Collins – I’m especially looking forward to Hubert Horatio.

I ordered both of these after seeing them on Read It Daddy and they both look fab!

And this is a treat to myself! I absolutely love it when a book has a map in it, so I just couldn’t resist!

Did you get any exciting book deliveries/purchases this week?

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

Hello Old Friend

Today is National Poetry Day.

We have a funny old relationship, poetry and I. Like a friend you realise you’ve not seen in ages – you make an effort to meet up and have a ball. There’s stories shared – laughter, tears drama, the everyday & the big events. There’s disbelief that it’s been so long and promises to do it again soon. Then suddenly a year has passed and you realise you’ve not seen them in ages…

You see, I never read poetry. But I do really like it.

But I never quite know what to read or when – how to choose? Read as a collection, as a whole book like a novel? Or one a day – but when in the day? And which one?

When I started this post, it was going to be something else but as I started writing, it changed and a plan evolved:

I’m going to tackle my long distance love affair with poetry on here. Instead of an annual National Poetry Day (well, ok, as well as) I’ll have a weekly one (Thursday Verse-day?! That’s awful – ideas for a catchy title welcome!)

Each Thursday, I’ll share a poem and/or post something poetry related.

I’m hoping you’ll join in – feel free to share a poem yourself and link back here, or comment on the one I share!

To kick off, I’ll share this one by Sharon Owens. It’s been shared a fair bit on twitter which is where it caught my eye. I especially liked the last 3 lines. What do you think of it?

How do you feel about poetry – do you read it? Do you have any favourite poems or poets?