Mike Falls Up is one of a series of simple, early chapter books for new readers aged 5-7, published by Little Tiger Press. Award winning author Candy Gourlay has written a story which reflects the exuberant imaginations of young children and promotes multicultural friendships, it is colourfully illustrated throughout in what I would describe as video-game-style images by Carles Ballesteros.
When we first meet Mike and his dog Bowow, they are complaining about the heat and it is clear from Mike’s attire of T-shirt, shorts, baseball cap and flip-flops, as well as his home decor and the glimpse of garden seen through the window, that he lives in a tropical or semi-tropical location. When Mama sends him out to play in the fresh air of the sun-scorched Chocolate Hills a sudden earthquake leaves a zig-zagged crack in the ground, from which emerges a mysterious note inviting Mike to “fall up” to a birthday party! Jumping into the hole in the ground grants Mike’s wish for a drop in temperature…as he emerges into a house in snowy London, much to the surprise of Kaneisha! It turns out that Kaneisha has received a similar invitation and when the two children “fall up” her chimney a topsy-turvy adventure with an awesome new friend begins.
I think that Mike Falls Up will be a welcome addition to Key Stage 1 classrooms and primary school library collections to broaden the choices on offer to children who are beginning to read independently. At 85 pages of clear print in short, simple paragraphs broken up with colourful illustrations, it is perfect to allow children the satisfaction of finishing a book on their own. Furthermore, the contrast between Mike’s exotic home and Kaneisha’s London home will, I think, resonate with many youngsters who were born overseas or frequently visit family overseas. The illustrations provide plenty of opportunities for discussion of homes and family in different parts of the world and will allow many children in our schools to see their experience represented in a book. Finally, I loved the way that this story tapped into that childhood desire to dig a hole deep enough to travel to Australia or China or wherever else in the world grabs a 5 year-old’s imagination; as I read it, a long buried memory of my brother’s deep hole under our childhood climbing frame sprang into my mind!
I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy of Mike Falls Up in exchange for my honest opinion.
It’s that time of year when I start shopping for the books that increasingly form the backbone of my Christmas shopping list. There has been another fantastic roster of new books emerging this year and we are actually spoilt for choice when entering a bookshop, so I thought I would share some of the books that have stood out for me during the past 12 months and which I will be buying and giving this festive season.
Once Upon A Silent Night by Dawn Casey and Katie Hickey is a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story inspired by a medieval carol, which would make a delightful gift for any pre-school child.
The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu is a huge-hearted festive story which absolutely brims over with Christmas cheer, warmth and humour.
The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer is an enchanting picture book which sparkles with the magic of the Northern Lights; in the author’s own words “a miracle of winter”.
Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak: a wellbeing book with a different twist, looking at what we can learn from the animal kingdom to help us navigate some of life’s uncertainties. If you know a tween or teen who has struggled with some of the challenges of the past two years, put a copy of this compassionate and life-affirming book into their hands.
How Was That Built? by Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey is quite simply a towering work of non-fiction which will make a fantastic present for curious minds of any age.
Interestingly, both of my choices in this category come from Scandinavian writers and feature unconventional stories brimming with wit and wisdom. Firstly we have the classic children’s story Pippi Lockstocking by Astrid Lindgren which has just been re-released in a glorious hardback format with new illustrations in her trademark collage-style, by Lauren Child. A beautifully designed gift for any child to treasure. Recommended for age 7+.
Newly translated into English this year, Me and the Robbersons by Finnish author Siri Kolu (translated by Ruth Urbom) was one of my most joyous middle-grade reads of the summer. An anarchic tale of sweet-toothed, highway bandits on the roads of Sweden, the humour envelopes a beautiful story of acceptance. Recommended for age 9+.
The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans and Chris Jevons is a riot of jokes, warmth and love, fully illustrated and perfect for readers who are gaining independence and don’t mind stopping every few minutes to wipe away the tears of laughter.
Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is their second hugely entertaining, illustrated, spy mystery in this series, which will test the brainpower of junior cryptographers. An excellent introduction to the world of espionage fiction.
The Crackledawn Dragon by Abbie Elphinstone is the conclusion to her Unmapped Kingdoms trilogy. It is a story brimming with kindness, playfulness and sheer, unbound imaginative brilliance which will delight readers of 9+
The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is a deeply moving story set during WWII and told from the perspective of both English and German characters. The elegant imagery of swallows flits through this story of the importance of seemingly small acts of kindness. A thoughtful read for anyone of 11+.
Three books, all set on islands situated off the Irish coast were amongst my favourite MG titles this year, so I’ve given them a category of their own!
Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a treasure chest of heart, humour and hope; a wonderful story which will entertain all the family. Perfect for reading aloud when the generations are gathered together over the festive period.
The Stormkeepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle concludes the thrilling and lyrical trilogy of the battle for the soul of wild Arranmore Island.
Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller is unlike anything I have ever read in all my (many) years as a reader. I actually haven’t written my full review yet as I am still trying to process the insight that author Lisa Fuller has generously provided into her cultural beliefs. I did find some aspects quite frightening, so would certainly say that this is a book for over 16s and not those of a nervous disposition but I’m sure it will also be of great interest to adults who wish to gain some understanding of the culture and spiritual beliefs of First Nations Australians.
I am Winter by Denise Brown is a beautifully written, gritty, and compelling whodunnit perfect for readers of 15+ .
For anyone heading out to a bookshop or the library this weekend, here’s a brief guide to a range of books for primary and early secondary school children to enjoy on these dark autumn evenings! There are many others out there, but these are all stories that I have read over the past year, although some might have been published prior to 2021.
The Winnie and Wilbur series is laugh-out-loud funny as Winnie constantly gets herself into a fix when her magic goes wrong! This story will transport youngsters back to warm summer days as Winnie finds herself in the middle of insect mayhem! Suitable for age 4+
Fun, rhyming adventure with a magical kitten. An early reading book with delightful illustrations, short chapters, warmth and humour. The first in a series that will captivate youngsters of 5+
Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding – Harriet Muncaster
Isadora Moon, half fairy-half vampire, is bursting with excitement at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at Aunt Crystal’s wedding, but will the day survive naughty cousin Mirabelle’s magical interventions? This gorgeously illustrated, short-chapter story is engaging and entertaining and additionally contains recipes and craft activity ideas. Perfect for ages 6-8.
With comic book style graphics throughout by Nathan Reed, lovely characters and sharp plotting, the Sam Wu series totally fulfils the “read for pleasure” criteria that encourage a love of reading. As Sam embarks on a camping trip, he is not sure what to be most afraid of…aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or just THE DARK! Recommended for ages 7+
Nine year old Leo learns that his Assignment for the next two years is to become a Guardian and protect his fenced, medieval-style village from the monsters that roam the land beyond TheWall! An exciting, illustrated, short-chapter series that will appeal to Beast Quest fans of 7+
The third adventure in this MG Mystery Series sees Justice Jones investigating the disappearance of a classmate against a backdrop of the ghostly presence of Grace Highbury haunting the corridors and grounds of Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Cracking mystery adventure for readers of 8+
The Monster in the Lake – Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu
The second adventure of young wizard Kit, brilliantly illustrated by Davide Ortu, sees her and her friends investigating the strangely disrupted magic in the local town. All clues point to the lake…but what is lurking in its depths and can the three friends put things right? Packed with fun for readers of 8+
Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst
Vlad’s mother, Mortemia, constantly tells him that he is a disgrace to the Impaler family name…what will she do if she finds out that he has been secretly attending human school and has even made a best friend there? A funny and charming story that shows young readers that being an excellent best friend is more important than being a perfect vampire! Suitable for readers of 8+
The third outing for Agent Zaiba and her young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency finds the team investigating mysterious and ghostly occurrences at Oakwood Manor. Can Zaiba’s team uncover the real culprit and dispel the rumours of ghostly Jinn? Readers of 9+ will enjoy this “cosy crime” investigation.
A glittering and magical tale featuring life-like and friendly ghost characters, making it suitable for readers of 9+. Superb plotting, immersive descriptions and a lovely tale about family in all its forms.
Sumptuously illustrated and brilliant storytelling from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster are sure to engage readers of 9+ in this tale of magical “Wiskling” twin sisters, Celestine and Victoria Stitch. A story of forbidden magic, envy, betrayal and ultimately the bonds of sibling love.
The introductory book to the Unmapped Chronicles series sets up an immersive world run by magic, controlled by an imaginative range of magical creatures which has come under threat from the corrupting dark magic of Morg, an evil harpy. A series that will absorb and delight readers of 9+
“When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” Eerie-on-Sea is literally cracking apart in the second instalment of this brilliant series and it’s up to Herbert Lemon and his loyal friend Violet Parma to investigate the fearsome monster, Gargantis, who is stirring out in the bay! Fast moving, ferocious plotting fro anyone of 9+
Spookily atmospheric story set in a country manor house in the summer of 1914, this novella from Emma Carroll is published in dyslexia-friendly format by specialist publisher Barrington Stoke. Perfect for readers from 10 through to secondary school age.
An incredible story that blends Chinese tradition with modern day sensibilities. Set in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, this beautiful story weaves Western and Eastern attitudes to grieving and treasuring memories of the dead and is a powerfully moving read for anyone of 10/11+
An imagined tale of the creation of the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley in 1816. The plot moves between Somerset village life and the grand surroundings of the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva; epic storytelling, fabulous characters and a feminist slant make this my all-time favourite Emma Carroll title, recommended for anyone of 10+
Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll
Yes, I know this is the third Emma Carroll book on my list, but as well as being labelled “The Queen of Historical Fiction” Emma really does have a talent for gothic atmosphere. In her debut novel she produced a ghost story, which at one point in the tale, genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I would not give this to anyone of a nervous disposition, but for KS3 readers of 11+ it is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.
Dracula – retold by Fiona MacDonald, ills by Penko Gelev
Finding myself pushed for time to complete a reading of the original novel by Bram Stoker for one of my book groups, I reached for this graphic novel version from one of my children’s bookcases. It is an accessible introduction to the Dracula story, which certainly remains faithful to the major plot points and atmosphere of the source text. Perfect for teens, dyslexic readers and adults who leave insufficient time to fully read classic novels!
Regular readers of my blog will know how much value I place on books which give young readers the chance to become confident with their independent reading and at the same time discover the pure enjoyment to be found within the covers of a book.
The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes is a series of early chapter books, written by Brenda Gurr with lovely illustrated chapter headers created by Nancy Leschnikoff, perfect for children of 7-9 years-of-age. This third book in the series, The Super Spy is my favourite yet, the enticing cover image providing a perfect illustration of the combination of delights to be found inside.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Zoe Jones appears to be an ordinary nine-year old schoolgirl…but she harbours a secret identity, for she is in fact none other than legendary baker Zinnia Jakes! Helping her to conceal her undercover baking persona are Aunt Jam, with whom she lives when her father is away on overseas food critic duties, best friend Addie and magical cat Coco! (I have my own theory about Coco and wonder if Brenda Gurr will reveal more about this fabulous feline in future books).
Zoe and Addie along with all their classmates are hugely excited about the class sleepover in the school library:
They were going to sleep in the library, surrounded by hundreds of books and stories galore…Zoe was certain she would have sweet dreams that night!
Additionally, Zinnia Jakes has been tasked with baking one of her fabulous creations for the Parents’ Association spy-themed party which will be held in the school hall on the same night! As Zoe and Addie research the history of spying at the local museum and work on the cake design their own espionage skills lead to the discovery that there will be spy-traps to outwit if they are to continue their modus operandi of mysterious Zinnia Jakes’ deliveries!
This story packs many mouth-watering ingredients into its 100 pages. There is an exciting and fast-moving plot; an enjoyable sense of peril; a friendship based on thoughtfulness and kindness; a lovely exploration of research, planning and creativity; a celebration of museums; the best range of cooking-based metaphors and similes I’ve ever seen and the sprinkling of magic and humour supplied by Coco’s antics. What’s more, once you’ve enjoyed the story there is a recipe so that you can try baking your own Super Spy cake!
I absolutely recommend Zinnia Jakes The Superspy as an addition to home and school bookshelves for independent readers of 7-9 and think that it would also work well as a class or group read, perhaps linked to a DT or cooking project. Publisher New Frontier has provided teacher notes which include the hidden picture cake recipe on this link. Check out the other books in the Zinnia Jakes series too; you can read my review of The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes Book 1 here.
I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing UK for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Prepare for mischief and mayhem as a very special magical cat makes a second appearance on a bookshelf near you!
Midnight made her debut appearance in October 2020 and she leaps back into action just in time for this year’s Halloween celebrations. Once more Michelle Harrison has written a sparkling, delightful story in rhyming text which bounces along with an enchanting rhythm. Young readers will be captivated with the combination of short, easy to read, blocks of text interspersed with Elissa Elwick’s charming illustrations. It is so important for children who are just discovering independent reading to be presented with appealing, enticing books that invite them to read for enjoyment, and this book does exactly that with its endearing characters, hilarious story and short illustrated chapters.
Midnight’s sense of fun results in her conjuring up a “copycat” reflection of herself in the bathroom mirror, an impish doppelgänger who can cause all kinds of havoc in the reflected world without causing any trouble in the real world. It looks like a case of “mischief perfection” until the combination of excitable dog Doodle and enchanted broom Twiggy manage to send the mirror crashing to the floor! Once the copycat escapes into the real world there is nothing that Midnight, Trixie, Dad or Gran can do to stop the escalating chaos!
Young children will love the increasingly anarchic behaviour of the copycat and the extreme measures that Trixie and Midnight deploy as they try to catch the troublesome terror. In scenes which are reminiscent of children’s classic The Cat in the Hat, it appears that every part of Trixie’s home will be reduced to disorder! As for my favourite part of the book – it can only be the sight of Dad ironing the white school shirt at breakfast time; that’s true magic!
I highly recommend Mirror Mischief as an addition to your home and school bookshelves, it is a hugely enjoyable story for 6-9 year olds and would make a much better Halloween present than much of the orange plastic currently filling the supermarket shelves!
If you enjoy Mirror Mischief, do look out for the first Midnight Magic story too.
I am very grateful to Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.
I absolutely love this gently humorous and endearing adventure written by debut author Lucy Noguera! It features a Key Stage 2 boy Ernie, who is facing some major upheavals in his young life. He is mourning the loss of his father and faces further change with a move from the countryside to London so that his mum can start working again as a doctor and the family can live closer to their gran. Whilst his mum and teenage sister Ivy are excited about the relocation, Ernie is having a much harder time adjusting.
Imagine his surprise and delight when he investigates the scuffling noises emerging from the battered leather suitcase that serves as his memory box, whilst he is unpacking in his new bedroom, and finds a tiny, satsuma-sized dog! Before his father’s death they had been planning to buy a puppy, so Ernie is understandably overjoyed with his pocket-sized companion. However, there are stresses involved too. The landlord has a strict “no pets” policy, and when Swop sneaks into Ernie’s lunchbox and accompanies him to school there are a multitude of embarrassing and awkward situations to be faced!
This book is special for a number of reasons. (At risk of sounding like Mrs Merton)…I was first attracted by its dyslexia-friendly format, clear font, off-white high-quality paper so that text does not confusingly bleed through and illustrations by Laura Ireland which give a young reader reflection time. As well as being accessible to children with dyslexic difficulties, the short chapters and fast paced plot make this an ideal book for newly emerging readers.
The story itself highlights many aspects of the need to ally with those individuals who might otherwise feel excluded, incorporated perfectly into the context of the story so that readers will not feel they are being preached at. Ernie’s teenage sister, Ivy, is deaf and communicates with sign language and lip reading. She is portrayed as a lively, outgoing character, always in the centre of things due to the necessity to clearly see people’s faces as they are speaking to her. This is such a positive example of an individual turning what might be seen as a disability into a positive factor in her life. Just as importantly, there are two characters in Ernie’s new class who demonstrate the kind, empathetic behaviour that all of us would like to encounter in our daily lives. Rafa, who befriends Ernie during his first calamitous lunch break and Clemmie who senses Ernie’s discomfort on his first day and positively intervenes to stop the unthinking sniggers of other classmates. Both are wonderful and age-appropriate examples of kindness for this story’s readership.
In case that all makes the book sound very “worthy” please be assured that it is also a humorous, entertaining and enjoyable story of a boy and his unbelievably cute dog. There are many laugh out loud moments as Swop causes chaos at school, some containing the delights of tiny dog accidents, which are guaranteed to appeal to the sense of humour of many young readers! I think that this story will be very popular for children of 6-9 years of age and I am certainly looking forward to the sequel which will be set at The Natural History Museum!
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’
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.
Welcome to the first stop on the blog tour for Little Gordon Grape, a Christian children’s storybook written by an author of faith.
This story was first written over 20 years ago by Arnold Dixon, who is a Methodist Minister, and the son of Windrush generation West Indian parents. It is now published in paperback as he feels that the time is right to bring his tale of hope to the current generation of children. It is simply written, to appeal to children in the early years and reflects the author’s firmly held Christian belief that even when events don’t seem to be going the way you wish, God is always there and you have a place and a purpose in life. In a few short pages of text Little Gordon Grape provides the allegory for a tale of ministry, an individual picked out from the depth of his misery, to spread a message of hope and love to those around him.
The book contains full page, watercolour illustrations, Gordon himself is portrayed with huge cartoonish eyes to appeal to a young audience.
This book is likely to appeal to Christian families, church schools and nurseries, Sunday Schools and the book boxes that many churches provide for families to borrow from during the service; it will be a welcome addition to their religious collection. It has clearly been written by someone with a sincere Christian faith, who wishes to spread the message of hope, faith and love to a wider audience.
I am grateful to Helen at LiterallyPR for providing me with a copy of Little Gordon Grape in exchange for an honest review and for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Do check out the other blogs on the tour to learn more about the life-changing adventure of Little Gordon Grape.
I think that the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of great quality digital resources for children’s well-being and literacy. This debut rhyming story by Samantha Hunter is being released first as an audio book and it certainly ticks all the criteria that I seek in an audiobook aimed at a young audience.
Firstly, the opening music on the audiobook sets the mood so perfectly, preparing children for a fun and enjoyable experience. The story itself is imaginative, humorous and charming, equally appealing to boys and girls. It is a beautifully crafted rhyming tale of two fashionista flamingos who decide that their fellow inhabitants of the African plains are just too drab and in need of a makeover!
The language is beguiling and will introduce many young listeners to rich vocabulary and ideas which help to build the hinterland of knowledge so important for learning, as well as exciting children about words and rhythm and rhyme. I particularly love the rhyming of Copacabana with Savannah! Of course the amusing animal makeovers lead to all kinds of chaos revealing the important message at the heart of the story that:
“You’re perfect the way that you are.”
Finally, the narration by Michael Maloney ( from The Crown) is utterly delightful. His range of expression and accents is astonishing and brings the story to life in captivating fashion. I can imagine young children mimicking his pronunciation of many lines of the story thus engendering a love of words and playful interaction with language which ignites a joy in stories.
I hope that schools and families will add Flamingo Fashion to their electronic collections. At 5 minutes in length it is perfect for those transition points in the day when a jaunt to a kooky boutique on the African savannah will lift the spirits.
There is a website from which the story can be purchased and which also contains fun, practical activities for children based on Flamingo Fashion, you can access it by clicking this link. Profits from the sale of the audiobook go to LitWorld a children’s literacy charity.
My thanks to Helen at LiterallyPR for inviting me to join the blog tour and sending me the audiobook. Do check out the other stops on the blog tour hosted by my fellow children’s book enthusiasts.
This spellbinding book is absolutely perfect for sharing with young children at this time of year and will give hours of pleasure to both children and adults as they experience the joy of first snowfall through the characters of arctic fox and hare.
These two animals have developed a friendship since their birth in the spring and now as they face their first winter in a frozen landscape they are intrigued by the idea of snow. As they walk through their forest habitat they question the animals they meet, slowly building up a vocabulary to describe snow. Their joy when they finally experience the white, cold, fluffy, sparkly miracle absolutely leaps off the page and reflects that of all children of my acquaintance.
Yuval Zommer’s love of the natural world is present in every one of his books. In this one I love the way that the colour palette changes to reflect the atmospheric conditions, starting with warm oranges and browns which are gradually replaced by cold blues, greys and white. Children will learn so much from observing the details of the plants and animals depicted in the amazing artwork contained within this book. It again demonstrates the immense value in beautifully crafted picture books which can be read or looked at for pure pleasure and which educate by stealth.
An absolute delight, I recommend it to everyone – teachers, librarians and families.
I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a review copy. I have already purchased a second copy to gift to a young relative.