Blog Tour: Kitty and the Starlight Song, written by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Published by Oxford University Press, artwork by Jenny Løvlie

I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for the eighth book in the delightful Kitty series. These beautifully crafted stories are so much loved by young readers that I’m honoured to be introducing you to the latest adventure of junior superhero Kitty.

For anyone who has not yet met her, Kitty is an ordinary primary school child by day, but when evening falls she dons her cape and mask and the cat-like superpowers that she has inherited from her mum allow her to scamper across the city’s rooftops with her feline friends, solving problems and righting wrongs. Kitty and the Starlight Song like the other books can be read as a standalone story, although it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to resist reading more from the series once you’ve encountered Kitty on a moonlight adventure.

This story begins in the school hall, with Kitty and her class rehearsing for the school concert. In a scene which will be immediately relatable to young readers, Kitty is a bundle of nerves as her turn to sing a solo line of the song approaches. As the teacher plays her accompaniment, poor Kitty cannot find her voice and her cheeks grow hot as some of her classmates turn to stare at her silence. She returns home and shares her worries about her upcoming performance with her loyal cat Pumpkin, and resolves to practise hard over the next two days. However, her rehearsal plans are set aside when another of her feline friends Figaro is hurt as he tries to help Kitty apprehend a jewel thief. Kitty invests all of her energies in taking over the planning for Figaro’s birthday party to cheer him up and distract him from his mortification at having to wear a plastic collar! She rushes around the city gathering tasty treats, decorations and guests to create a perfect evening for her friend.

She pictured Figaro lying in the dark and feeling sad about his birthday. ‘I bet he isn’t asleep yet. Let’s get everything ready and then we can knock on the window! He’ll be so excited when he sees the decorations’

p83

Paula Harrison’s gentle storytelling is perfectly pitched for a readership in the 5-8 age range, although I have seen older children enjoying these stories too. She builds suspense and excitement but there is not so much peril that sleepless nights will ensue, indeed I would suggest that Kitty and the Starlight Song would make a lovely shared story at bedtime. Kitty and the Starlight Song is fully illustrated on every page in distinctive black, white, grey and orange by artist Jenny Løvlie. The gorgeous images, filled with detail, movement and personality complement the text perfectly and give young readers time to pause and reflect during independent reading. At just over 100 pages, Kitty and the Starlight Song is the perfect length to give newly confident readers the warm glow of satisfaction at reading a whole book alone and the design and size of the book is ideal for small hands.

If you know a Key Stage 1 or lower Key Stage 2 child who loves adventure, pets and problem solving, and you want to provide them with a story full of friendship, kindness, action and overcoming nervousness, look no further than Kitty and the Starlight Song.

My thanks to Liz Scott and Oxford University Press (Oxford Children’s) for providing me with a review copy and inviting me to join the blog tour. Do read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers throughout this week.

Cover art by Jenny Løvlie, published by OUP on 2nd September 2021

My reviews of earlier Kitty stories can be read here: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue and Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure

Review: Allies edited by Shakirah Bourne and Dana Alison Levy

Published by Dorling Kindersley 29 July 2021

This insightful collection of sixteen essays is an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to gain an understanding of the lives of individuals who might feel marginalised by their ethnicity, their religious beliefs, a disability or their sexual identity. It is pitched at a Young Adult readership but I think that the content is valuable for adults of any age. The goal of the book is to educate and enable the reader to use whatever privilege they might possess to become an ally to those who face challenges and perhaps discrimination, micro aggressions or outright bullying in their daily lives. 

I am embarrassed to admit that I had not really encountered the terms ally or micro aggression until I attended a disability workshop run by the well-known campaigner Samantha Renke earlier this year. It was listening to her daily, lived experience of the challenges that she faces negotiating a world that is not designed to enable her, that opened my eyes to the need for support or ally-ship from those of us who can encourage change. This book fulfills the same task, with contributions from authors who generously present their own experiences of either being made to feel marginalised or their attempts to fulfill the role of ally. It explains that micro-aggressions are the constant undermining comments that seem to diminish or dismiss an individual’s worth and that we cannot ignore these if we want to be an ally.

One of the aspects that I most appreciated is the tone of gentle encouragement, and forgiveness throughout. It can be very difficult to keep up with the evolving language around ethnicity or sexuality if you are not immersed in the study of it and several of the essays acknowledge that it is easy to inadvertently use the wrong words. The advice is to listen carefully to anyone who corrects you, apologise for any unintended offence caused by your words and continue to progress on your quest to be an ally. I found this to be very reassuring as I try and sometimes fail to get the language correct. In the opening essay, Dana’s Absolutely Perfect Fail-Safe No Mistakes Guaranteed Way to be an Ally, Dana Alison Levy states:

“Being a good ally without making mistakes is like eating popcorn without dropping any on the floor: it’s possible, but let’s be honest, it rarely happens.”

p.10

My takeaways from this book were that a mindset of openness, civility, empathy and kindness are required from us all to help every member of our society feel valued and that we can all learn from and support each other. I feel indebted to the sixteen authors who were prepared to open up about their experiences to help us all develop empathy and I really like the essay (and illustrated story) format that allows you to dip in and out and refresh your mind whenever necessary. At the end of the book there is a comprehensive list of further resources to explore, suggested by each of the contributors. I think that this will be a valuable resource for anyone who wishes to play their part in making society and their workplace kinder and more inclusive and I would recommend it to all workplace, academic and public libraries.

I am grateful to the publisher Dorling Kindersley and NetGalley for allowing me access to an electronic version of this book for review purposes.

Review: Secrets and Spies written by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Luke Brookes

Cover art by Luke Brookes, published by Little Tiger Press

This colourful exploration of the undercover world of espionage is an exciting non-fiction book aimed at middle grade readers, published today by Little Tiger Press.

The artwork by Luke Brooks perfectly complements the subject, with its cinematic, comic book style. The cover image absolutely encapsulates the spy’s life in the shadows! The text by Anita Ganeri, a well-known author of children’s non-fiction is presented in small block paragraphs on the full colour pages in a very clear font, perfect for children’s to read and comprehend in small chunks.

The book begins with the early chapters covering the history of spying, dating right back to the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt and India. Prominent personalities in the history of spying are discussed. Some widely read children might have already heard of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s famous spymaster and will be interested to find out about the coding genius behind much of his success, a brilliant linguist called Thomas Phelippes. As the chronology progresses to World War II you will learn about prominent female spies such as Noor Inayat Khan (code-named Madeleine) the first female radio operator sent into occupied France and Violette Szabo who also carried out secret and dangerous missions in France. I think that children will appreciate the mixtures of styles, with purely factual pages sometimes giving way to imaginary newspaper stories reporting a case of the spy’s dark arts or the graphic novel-like biography of Harriet Tubman. I was particularly enthralled by the descriptions of different codes and ciphers as well as the modern cryptography on which we increasingly rely.

This comprehensive book will delight the most inquisitive child (as well as teens and adults) and could be used in so many curriculum activities (history, maths, geography, computing) that I would highly recommend it to primary school libraries and upper key stage 2 classrooms. I know from my own experience that a large number of primary school children are fans of MG spy fiction and I am sure that they would love to discover more about the world of covert operations and classified information. For children who love the adventures of Agent Zaiba, Mickey and the Animal Spies, Taylor & Rose Secret Agents, Ruby Redfort, The Mysterious Benedict Society or Alex Rider, this book is sure to be a mesmerising read.

Review: How Was That Built? written by Roma Agrawal, illustrated by Katie Hickey

Cover illustration by Katie Hickey, published by Bloomsbury 16 September 2021

Today I bring you a review of a stunning non-fiction title, due to be published on 16th September, and I can already say that this will be one of my top five books of 2021! It continues Bloomsbury Publishing’s recent trend of re-working adult non-fiction into a format suitable for both children and also adults who might not have the time to read the heavier text content of the adult version. The author, Roma Agrawal, is a structural engineer who is well known for her contribution to the promotion of the engineering profession and her communication skills make this book soar as high as the skyscrapers she constructs. Her engaging explanations of engineering and construction techniques are perfectly complemented by Katie Hickey’s beautifully precise illustrations. This allows the text to be formatted into bite sized chunks which are easily digestible for younger readers as they are able to read and easily refer to the relevant diagrams.

The language is technical, Roma never patronises her young readers, but explanations are given relating complex engineering principles to scenarios which are easily understood. For example the stresses on a supporting beam are compared to trying to bend a carrot, just one example of suggested activities that can be carried out at home or in the classroom. The book fully explores the multi-disciplinary nature of engineering and construction, within its covers you will learn about architecture, chemistry, computing, geography, geology, mathematics and physics, and their relationship to engineering.

Structurally, the book demonstrates different engineering techniques in the context of a specific building. The challenges of the construction, the materials and equipment used, the geological or geographical hurdles are all examined and a human face is put on the stories with mini biographies of engineering pioneers. For example, The Shard on which Roma worked is used to talk about the challenges of building very tall buildings. The Thames tunnel demonstrates tunnelling techniques; the Sapporo dome is used to talk about constructions with moving parts and the culturally-sensitive Te Matau Ā Pohe bridge shows how to design in an earthquake zone. I have always been fascinated by arches and domes in ancient buildings that I have visited on city breaks and therefore appreciated the explanation of how to build a dome, as illustrated by The Pantheon, a breathtaking building constructed nearly 2000 years ago.

Additionally, there are fascinating pages about construction materials, their evolution and some of the prominent names in their development. Who could have imagined that cement, glass or bricks could be so interesting? The horizon scanning in the section about future building materials also provides interesting facts about biomimicry and robotics.

Text by Roma Agrawal, illustrations by Katie Hickey, published by Bloomsbury Publishing

The challenges of building on ice or under the sea provide two of my favourite sections in the book. The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station looks like something my children would have constructed from Lego, but has had to factor in so many different elements to cope with the harsh climate of the ice shelf. The undersea Ithaa Restaurant in the Maldives looks utterly fantastic in Katie Hickey’s artwork. Finally, the book ends with an Engineers’ Gallery in which female engineers and engineers from multi-cultural backgrounds are featured, continuing the author’s mission to promote her discipline more widely.

Roma Agrawal is likely to encourage many more young people to consider a career in engineering through this wonderful book. Additionally, she enlightens many more of us in the complexities behind our built environment. I know that I will look with more educated eyes the next time I find myself sightseeing or in a city surrounded by high rise buildings.

I would urge all schools to get hold of a copy of this book. It answers so many of the questions that curious children ask and I can imagine it being hugely popular with the group of children who prefer non-fiction to fiction. It will be a brilliant resource for DT projects, especially the annual bridge building construction sessions. Although it is primarily aimed at Key Stage 2, I wish it had been available when one of my own children worked on an engineering project in Key Stage 4 as it would have provided excellent background information on which to build! If you want to buy a book as a gift for an inquisitive child, make it this one!

I am very grateful to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me a copy of How Was That Built? in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: What it’s Like to be a Bird written by Tim Birkhead, illustrated by Catherine Rayner

Cover illustration by Catherine Rayner, published by Bloomsbury, 19-08-2021

A fantastic example of non-fiction aimed at children, What it’s Like to be a Bird is written by renowned ornithologist and Professor of Zoology, Tim Birkhead and illustrated by CILIP Greenaway Medal-winning artist Catherine Rayner. The combination of real science presented in colourful, eye-catching large format is as engaging as it is educational. The cover gives a clear example of the delightful illustrations, brimming with personality, to be found within, and every detail of this book from its size, hardcover and beautiful endpapers painted with speckled bird’s eggs speaks to its quality.

After an introduction which taps into the desire to fly that most of us have experienced at some time, each double page focuses on one aspect of bird behaviour as illustrated by a particular species. After initially pointing out that there are some similarities between birds and humans, the rest of the book highlights the diversity to be found in the class of birds and the range of adaptations displayed by birds which have enabled them to inhabit all the continents of the globe. The spreads are fully illustrated in Catherine Rayner’s sumptuous muted watercolours, with the text arranged in paragraphs blended with playful font effects.

As each bird is examined, its extraordinary skills and behavioural patterns are recounted in story-like prose which is easily understandable but does not talk down to young readers. Scientific vocabulary is used and explained precisely. The sections have titles that might be found in a chapter book; The Hunter Who Listens, Falling from the Skies and Sledging for Beginners are some examples. The book is therefore equally suited to being read aloud by an adult to share with children, or read and understood independently by Key Stage 2 or even advanced Key Stage 1 readers. Within the pages you will learn which bird has the most light-sensitive eyes of any animal species; which bird loses half of its body weight whilst waiting for its egg to hatch and which bird flies non-stop for eight days on its migratory journey between Alaska and New Zealand. Tim Birkhead shares his expertise with a light touch, comparing the incredible skills exhibited by the birds with everyday objects and phenomena with which children can easily relate. In my opinion, this is a marvellous gift to present to children; first rate information in a format that they can easily comprehend.

I absolutely love this book and know that I would have loved it as a child; I can still remember my primary school Year 3 teacher who signed our whole class up to be young ornithologists, constructed a bird table outside our classroom window and instilled a life-long love of birds. Whilst my knowledge and interest back then was based on observation of the natives of Hampshire (I clearly remember the excitement when a nuthatch clambered up the bird table) I would have been fascinated to learn about the symbiotic relationship between honey guides and humans, the local accents of macaw parrots and the carrying-pouches hidden under a male sungrebe’s wings. As with all the best children’s books, I learned something new from reading it, an amazing fact about the robin which I will leave you to discover for yourself. I highly recommend this book as an addition for all school libraries and classroom bookshelves. It would also make a beautiful gift for any primary school aged child, a fountain of knowledge that they will enjoy referring to time and again.

I am most grateful to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

#20BooksofSummer21: #5 Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

10 books of summer
Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission.

So, here it is; one summer, three months and a challenge created by Cathy (@cathy746books) at 746books.com to make a dent in the toppling TBR stack. I have opted for the 10 books challenge due to time constraints! Thank you Cathy for hosting!

Published by 4th Estate

My fifth book in this summer’s challenge is actually a re-read as it was chosen by one of my book groups as our July title. Purple Hibiscus was the debut novel of acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and is a deeply moving, coming-of-age story, recounted through the voice of fifteen-year-old Kambili.

Kambili and her older brother Jaja, live in a luxurious house in the Nigerian town of Enugu. Their father Eugene is powerful and wealthy, the owner of factories and a newspaper and on first appearances their lifestyle: private school, chauffeur, large house filled with modern conveniences, abundant food and servants would appear to be enviable. However, the tone of tension in Kambili’s voice, her constant watchfulness and desire to say the right thing to make her father proud, betray the falsehood of this assumption.

Eugene controls every aspect of his family’s existence, the children’s lives are scheduled by the minute, they are expected to come top of the class without excuses, and when they anger him through a wrong look or word he punishes them with horrific domestic abuse. His wife is also subjected to the most extreme violence whenever she does not meet his standards of perfection. Eugene himself is controlled by his adherence to the Catholic faith in which he was educated as a schoolboy from the missionary school he attended. He credits his western education and faith in God with his success and now entirely rejects the beliefs of his ancestors, to the extent that he will not visit his own father or allow his children to visit him due to his perception of his “heathen” ways. When the family return to their compound in the ancestral village for Christmas, a time when Eugene provides food and money for the entire village, he callously sends his driver to deliver a small sum of money to his frail father and the children are allowed only a few minutes in the company of their grandfather.

Into this fearful and silent home comes a catalyst for change in the form of Eugene’s widowed sister, Aunty Ifeoma and her three loud and opinionated children; Amaka, Obiora and Chima. Auntie Ifeoma is a strong and educated woman, a lecturer at the University in Nsukka, who encourages her children to think for themselves, debate current affairs and who would rather live in relative poverty than bow to her brother’s demands. The contrast in her joyful practise of Catholicism mixed with Igbo hymns and traditions is in stark contrast to her brother’s dogmatism and rule through fear. You realise just how alien this is to Kambili when she is shocked by the sound of her cousins’ laughter, so absent from her own experience:

“She laughed so easily, so often. They all did, even little Chima.”

As the children come to realise that there is another way to live and a military coup threatens Eugene’s power base, events are set in place which are shocking and revolutionary for all protagonists.

I can only describe Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing as pellucid. Without the need for long paragraphs of descriptive prose she takes you to the heart of the luxurious, walled compound in which Kambili’s family are imprisoned, the ancestral village where they discover their roots and the cramped apartment on the university compound where they discover the ability to live free of restraints like the purple hibiscus in Auntie Ifeoma’s garden. The character’s are all fully realised and even Eugene is not portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. There are passages which are absolutely harrowing but overall I found the book to be utterly compelling both times that I have read it, and I have subsequently read all of this author’s later novels.

#20BooksofSummer21: Book #4 The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay

10 books of summer
Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission.

So, here it is; one summer, three months and a challenge created by Cathy (@cathy746books) at 746books.com to make a dent in the toppling TBR stack. This year, I have opted for the 10 books challenge due to time constraints! Thank you Cathy for hosting!

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

My fourth book of the summer has been sitting on my TBR stack since I won it in a Twitter giveaway at the end of June. I knew that I would have to wait until I was on annual leave to read it, as I was certain that once I picked it up, I would have to finish it in one sitting. It is the follow up to The Skylarks’ War, one of my favourite books published in the last few years, an exquisite family saga set during the First World War. The Swallows’ Flight continues the story of some of the characters from Skylarks’ over the years 1931 until 1946, as well as introducing fascinating new characters, including Erik and Hans, two young Berliners.

It will be obvious from the dates that this novel is set in the years leading up to, as well as during, WWII. Award-winning writer Hilary McKay tells her story from the perspectives of both German and English characters, showing the legacy of the First World War on the lives of families from both sides and the way in which youngsters, who are only a couple of years older than the readers of the story, were then swept up into the battles of WWII. The elegant imagery of the swallows that flits through the story from the very first page is utter perfection, as they dart like arrows, fly in their colonies and attempt hazardous journeys to return to their old nesting places year after year. Foreshadowing does not come much better than this. The lasting importance of seemingly small acts of kindness is apparent, as is the necessity of remaining true to yourself despite the circumstances in which you find yourself. The book is written sensitively for a KS3 audience but does not shy away from dealing with the heart-breaking realities of war; be prepared to shed a few tears in the latter section.

I love the way that Hilary McKay’s writing allows time and space for character development. She gifts young readers with a gentle unfolding of plot through the most perfectly observed characterisation and dialogue. There is not a line wasted, every incident and description makes its contribution to the final resolution. Her presentation of family dynamics is so precise that you find yourself living alongside her protagonists and utterly believing in their reality. In this novel, the dual narratives of the Second World War seen through teenage experiences in both England and Germany is perfectly judged to help tweens and teens empathise with children caught up in events over which they have no control.

I think that The Swallows’ Flight will be greatly enjoyed by mature readers in Year 6 as well as KS3 readers. It’s actually an ideal book to put into the hands of an 11-14 year old before the summer holidays end, so that they will have the chance to immerse themselves in this thoughtful, poignant and powerful novel and have room to reflect on its themes of loyalty and following your heart. In my opinion, this book and its prequel will be future classics; the perfect crafting of plot and character ensure that they live on in the heart and mind long after you have closed the final page. I cannot praise this book highly enough!

I am most grateful to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me a proof copy of The Swallows’ Flight after I entered a giveaway competition on Twitter.

Review: The Crackledawn Dragon by Abi Elphinstone

Cover image by George Ermos, published by Simon & Schuster UK

Devoted readers of the Unmapped Chronicles, of whom I am one, have become accustomed to the detailed and whimsical introduction to each new book in the series. Its presence at the start of The Crackledawn Dragon, means that this book can be read and enjoyed as a standalone although it is the conclusion to the series. Fortunately, Abi Elphinstone is not one of the grown-ups who she tells us are “far too busy to believe in magic.” She doesn’t just believe in it, she creates it with abandon, infuses it with wisdom and wonder and spins it into gloriously enchanting stories which leave a glow of pure delight when read.

Zebedee Bolt is the hero of this plot, a boy with three remarkable talents; running away from foster families, succumbing to spectacularly drenching outbursts of sobbing and a natural flair for music! Although he would like to emulate his hero, a TV survival expert known as The Tank, it seems unlikely that this dream will be realised. As we meet him at the start of the story he has run away from his latest foster parents, the Orderly-Queues (yes, the witty names are here in abundance) and is hiding out in an abandoned New York theatre when a kind social worker ( who fans will recognise from Jungledrop) finds him and reassures him that: “One day you will realise that you matter.”

Unfortunately, Morg the evil harpy is also hiding out under the theatre and uses her wily cunning to manipulate Zeb into bringing her the remaining Phoenix tears which will supply the magic she needs to break into the kingdom of Crackledawn. The insidious power of false promises and the deals that individuals can make with themselves to justify their actions or even inaction in the face of wrongdoing is very subtly explored through the interaction of Morg and Zeb during the first part of the story. 

Once they burst into Crackledawn, readers are propelled through the sparkling blue waters on the deck of Darktongue, Morg’s ship of shadows. Zeb discovers that his mission is to ride on Morg’s bone dragon all the way to the sun, protected only by the Stargold Wings, to retrieve the lost Ember Scroll so that Morg can write herself into permanent power over the Unmapped Kingdoms. When this plan goes awry, Zeb is rescued by a young Sunraider called Oonie, whose blindness has made her fearsomely independent as she sails the waters of Crackledawn aboard the enchanted dhow, The Kerfuffle. I will not give away any more plot details as readers will want to discover the story for themselves. Suffice to say that the twists and turns leave you breathless as you marvel at the array of magical creatures; in this case I was most taken with a hurtle turtle, which I would love to employ to do my own housework! As always the names sparkle with invention, my favourites in this book being an exuberantly maternal chameleon named Mrs Fickletint, closely followed by the merglimmer, Perpetual Faff! Oh, and there is humour in abundance, with laugh out loud moments to lighten the tension, such as Mrs Fickletint scolding Dollop the goblin for his suggestion of treetop yoga when the end of the world is imminent!

Abi is such a brilliant writer. You can tell that she totally understands children’s yearning for fantastical adventures, and this she conjures with great panache. On top of this she layers validation, reassurance and love; her characters exhibit flaws and doubts but learn the power of trust and friendship throughout the arc of the story. Then into this already heady mix she stirs in contemporary themes; most obviously the environmental crisis and more subtly, the way in which those with disappointed hopes can be taken in by the empty promises of individuals who wish to use them for their own nefarious purposes. Most of all, it is a story, like an unopenable purse… filled with hope.

I am grateful to Simon & Schuster for allowing me access to an electronic version of the book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have subsequently purchased a physical copy and highly recommend this book to everyone of 9+.

If you have not already read them, I do encourage you to read the other books in the series:

Everdark, which I have reviewed here and here the second review is for the dyslexia-friendly version, Rumblestar and Jungledrop.

PictureBook Review: The Happy Mask written by Aimee Chan, illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover art by Angela Perrini, published by Little Steps Publishing

This beautifully written and illustrated book explores the issues caused by mask-wearing for the youngest members of society. It is very hard to imagine the emotional impact that having to wear a mask, or being surrounded by mask-wearing grown-ups has had on children who have spent the majority of their lives living under Covid-19 restrictions. I am sure that many will relate to Maggie, the protagonist of this story. She is bored at home, wishes that she could be at school with her friends instead of being “shushed” by her dad when he is on a business call and most of all, does not want to wear her mask. It makes her face itchy and she thinks that people in masks look mean! Fortunately, Maggie’s dad comes up with a simple solution, he draws a huge smile onto Maggie’s mask and from that moment, Maggie walks around the town spreading happiness.

Aimee Chan has a wonderful talent for capturing a child’s perspective and pinning it to the page in carefully chosen description and dialogue. Her simple but impactful text is brilliantly accompanied by Angela Perrini’s glorious artwork. The full-page spreads in this book depict a multi-ethnic and multi-age cast of characters going about their daily tasks wearing the ubiquitous medical masks. I love the blend of facial close-ups, bird’s-eye-view and semi-deserted streetscapes in her illustrations.

This is another essential book for school and nursery classrooms, one in which children can identify their own experiences and begin to discuss and make sense of them.

If you enjoy The Happy Mask, do look out for My Grandma is 100, by the same author-illustrator partnership, which cleverly shows up in an advertisement in one of the illustrations and is an equally lovely story to share with pre-school and early years children.

My thanks to Little Steps Publishing for sending me a copy of The Happy Mask to review.

Review: Harriet’s Expanding Heart written by Rachel Brace, illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover art by Angela Perrini, published by Little Steps Publishing

The importance of giving children the vocabulary they need to express their feelings has been recognised in this wonderful book authored by Rachel Brace. As a psychologist, Rachel works with families experiencing the pain of divorce and she has brought her expertise to this story. It tells the tale of Harriet, who has “two homes, two parents, two different bedrooms, one school and a pet cat named Ginger.”

Although her parents have split up, Harriet leads a contented and calm life, understanding the different routines in her two different homes but equally comfortable in both. However, when her Dad sits down to tell her that his special friend Emily and her son Cooper will be moving into his house Harriet sees her orderly life being turned upside-down. Suddenly the words that describe her become negative: “worried, uncertain, apprehensive and anxious.” The accompanying illustration on this page starkly emphasises the sudden change in Harriet’s outlook; the change from a palette of warm colours to an entire page which looks as if it has been scribbled all over with a black pencil, with Harriet huddled in a defensive and miserable pose in one corner leaves the reader in no doubt about the impact this news has on the young protagonist.

Angela Perrini’s ability to portray Harriet’s emotions through her artwork is breath-taking. The other image in the book which will stick in my mind is one of Harriet, again huddled in the lower left of the frame, as she sits inside her Dad’s house, towered over by her step-mum’s possessions.

In gentle, clear language the story proceeds to acknowledge that these feelings are perfectly natural in this situation and offers reassurance that Harriet’s parents still love her as much as ever and that she can take her time to adjust to being part of a step-family. This is a great resource for step-families with young children and even has a selection of clear and practical tips for parents at the end of the book. I highly recommend this book as a useful addition to school and nursery well-being collections for children of 4-7 years old.

I am grateful to Little Steps Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.