Blog Tour: Flamingo Fashion Audiobook written by Samantha Hunter, narrated by Michael Maloney

Cover Illustration by Maggy Roberts

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.

Author Samantha Hunter

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.

Advent Review: A Thing Called Snow written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image by Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Children’s Books

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.

If you love A Thing Called Snow, then I highly recommend The Tree That’s Meant To Be by Yuval Zommer which has been published in paperback this autumn.

Advent Review: Ballet Bunnies written by Swapna Reddy, illustrated by Binny Talib

I was fortunate to be sent an ARC of the first book in the Ballet Bunnies series earlier in the year and absolutely adored the story of young ballerina Millie nervously joining her new ballet class and befriending the four little rabbits who live in Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. You can read my review of Ballet Bunnies: The New Class here.

Cover art by Binny Talib, published by OUP Children’s Books

Now there are three books available, all beautifully produced in full-colour and enhanced with glittery covers, the perfect collection for any young dancer’s bookshelf. These are wonderful early chapter books to inspire confidence and enjoyment of reading in children who are taking the first steps in their independent reading journey.

Ballet Bunnies: Let’s Dance

Cover art by Binny Talib, published by OUP Children’s Books

In a scenario that will be familiar to every child (and parent) who attends dance lessons, the pupils of Miss Luisa’s School of Dance are in a state of high excitement as the day of their Gala Performance approaches. Millie’s tummy is fluttering with butterflies despite the fact that she has rehearsed until she knows every move of her dance by heart. Fortunately, the ballet bunnies are there to offer calming advice and when mean girl Amber tries to sabotage Millie’s performance, little Dolly is the hero who saves the day!

Ballet Bunnies: Millie’s Birthday

Cover art by Binny Talib, published by OUP Children’s Books

Summer term has come to an end at Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. As she helps to tidy the ballet studio Millie tells the four tiny, dancing bunnies about her impending birthday party. Sensing her apprehension about the visit of so many friends to her house, the bunnies offer to come and stay with her to help with her anxiety about the event.

This is another lovely story which encapsulates the nervousness that afflicts some shy children over an event that they are expected to be excited about. The friendship shown by the bunnies and their sensible strategies to help Millie stay calm when the party seems to be overwhelming her will reassure and delight young readers.

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s books for sending me review copies of these books which will be shared with young dancers through the school library. I think they would make a lovely Christmas gift for any young children aged 4-7.

Advent Review: The Snow Dragon written by Abi Elphinstone, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock

Cover image by Fiona Woodcock, published by Simon & Schuster UK

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am an enormous fan of anything written by Abi Elphinstone, so it should come as no surprise that this is a story I love to read as we approach Christmas! I first read a version of it in an anthology of Christmas stories owned by my daughter entitled Winter Magic, and last Christmas a hardback edition of this picture book was published. This year the paperback has been released which has prompted me to write a long overdue review.

Phoebe lives in Griselda Bone’s Home for Strays which is the very epitome of a miserable orphanage. Daydreaming, skipping and hide-and-seek are forbidden as Griselda wages her private war on childishness. As the last unclaimed child left at the orphanage it appears that Phoebe faces a bleak future of grammar and punishment with only her dancing dog Herb for company…until her snow dragon magically appears.

Urging her to “never keep an adventure waiting” he transports Phoebe on an enchanted journey during which the combination of Abi’s glorious writing and the beautifully delicate artwork by Fiona Woodcock remind us all to look at the world around us in awe and wonder. This wonderful story about hope, believing in the miraculous and never losing a sense of playfulness and joy is a perfect story to share at bedtime or with a class of primary school children. A highly recommended Advent book which you will enjoy year after year.

Halloween Treats for #MG Readers

With trick or treating cancelled this year, what better way to use that spare time than curling up with a hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows and a thoroughly entertaining book to send shivers down your spine?

There are an enormous collection of Halloween themed stories to suit every middle grade reader, so I’ve selected some of my favourite new releases plus a couple of old favourites as sometimes these are overlooked in the tide of new publications.

Click cover to link to review and chapter sample
Click cover to link to review

For newly confident readers who are looking for entertaining stories where the text is interspersed with wonderful illustrations, I highly recommend Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, a heart-warming tale of a magical black cat, and Leo’s Map of Monsters by Kris Humphrey, an exciting story of courage and ingenuity. You can read my full reviews by clicking on the book covers.

As children move on to reading longer books in lower Key Stage 2, pictures throughout the story are still important to make the reading process enjoyable. These readers are in for a treat with Harriet Muncaster’s recent book Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering, an enchanting gothic story set in a wonderfully rendered magical woodland world. The Maker of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory certainly reveals a range of gruesome and blood-thirsty creatures to make you quiver in your boots alongside a message of acceptance and the power of self-belief. Please click the book covers for my full reviews.

Meanwhile, Grimm by Mike Nicholson turns a spooky tale of dreadful occurrences at a haunted hotel into a very modern expose of the “fake news” phenomenon. The Scottish town of Aberfintry is blighted by the presence of crumbling Hotel Grimm, perched on the side of Scrab Hill and seeming to cause the untimely demise of anyone foolish enough to spend the night. Needless to say the town’s teenaged marketing sensation, Rory McKenna is less than delighted when he is commissioned by Granville Grimm to design a marketing campaign for the spooky eyesore! Can he uncover the mystery surrounding the hotel and fight the local prejudice whipped up by the editor of a small town newspaper? This is an enjoyable and entertaining story which is very timely as we highlight the impact of fake news in information literacy lessons. At the moment you can actually purchase signed copies directly from the author Mike Nicholson at his website here.

Click book cover to link to review

The Apprentice Witch trilogy by James Nicol are all thoroughly entertaining stories, combining a wonderfully realised magical world with the most kind-hearted and accident prone young witch you could hope to meet. Read all three to immerse yourself in Arianwyn’s quest to vanquish the dark magic which threatens her world.

For those children in upper Key Stage 2, I have picked a selection to provide a substantial read and plenty to think about.

Click cover to link to review

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor is the second in his Eerie-on-Sea series and has enough perilous episodes and wickedly sarcastic humour to keep you engrossed through a long winter evening.

Click cover to link to review

The Hungry Ghost by HS Norup does a marvellous job of combining SE Asian tradition with a modern day story of blended families and loss. It is one of my favourite new releases of 2020 and educated me in a culture and tradition which I had not encountered before. The juxtaposition of the ancient Hungry Ghost festival with a bustling, modern setting in which a displaced teenager encounters a ghostly presence is perfectly crafted by a brilliant writer.

Click cover to link to review

Finally, one of my all time favourite books – I have probably purchased more than 10 copies of this to give away since it was published in 2016, the one pictured is my own signed copy, that’s how much I love it! Strange Star is Emma Carroll’s brilliant imagining of the story behind the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It is a perfect gothic novel, ideally pitched for Year 6 and 7 readers who are very likely to be studying Frankenstein in Year 7 or 8 at secondary school.

Draw the curtains, put some logs on the fire and enjoy … if you dare!

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a 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.
cover image by Axel Scheffler, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This week I am highlighting the pinnacle of #MG writing, a collection of short stories and illustrations featuring more than one hundred children’s writers and illustrators, the brainchild of Katherine Rundell. NHS Charities together will benefit from sales of this book.

Editor: Katherine Rundell 

Illustrator: This book features illustrations from many of the most popular illustrators of children’s books

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: The short story on which starts on page 11 just happens to be written by one of my absolute favourite writers, Frank Cottrell Boyce. It is a wonderful allegory about finding the light in the midst of the gloom.

“Once, Sunny asked her mum, ‘My name – Sunny – what does it even mean?’ “

This book in three words: Endlessly Hopeful Possibilities

This book is the brainchild of Katherine Rundell and was first published online during lockdown. It is now available in a glorious hardback edition, with beautiful gold foiling on the cover and endpapers designed by former Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child. It is the perfect gift for any child and a joy to share in school classrooms and libraries.

It begins with a very short essay about hope and the power of stories and books to help rekindle and nurture hope in all of us, written in her usual elegant, wise and precise style by Katherine Rundell. Following this there are contributions from over 100 children’s book authors and illustrators, divided into themed categories. You can quite happily sit and read the entire book cover-to-cover, or just dip in and out of the section headings or alternatively seek out the contributions from your favourite authors first. There is genuinely something to appeal to everyone, no matter what their taste, mood or circumstances.

It is a perfect book for every teacher or librarian to have on their desk; each reading is at most 500 words long, so could be read in those changeover moments, or these days, the hand washing or wiping down the equipment stages of each day. There are true stories, poems, wild flights of imagination, beautifully illustrated quotes on the theme of hope, fascinating facts about the natural world and some pieces specifically reflecting on the period of lockdown. I found the item by Jackie Morris to be extremely evocative of the early weeks of lockdown when the treadmill of everyday routine was paused and there was actually time to observe the natural world.

Of the items I have read aloud, highlights include:

Anthony Horowitz’s poem, Hope, which has delighted boys who until now saw him solely as a writer of action-packed spy adventures.

M.G. Leonard’s reflections on the dung beetle, always a topic of interest to many primary school children. This piece is packed with scientific and ecological knowledge perfectly explained to satisfy an inquisitive young audience.

Isabel Thomas’ true story of the hungriest caterpillar and the importance of taking the time to observe and ask questions. This is a lovely item to read to Children in Years 5 and 6, before or after a science lesson.

Finally, if you want to hear a room-full of youngsters in fits of giggles, read them Lockdown Cat Haircut by Sharon Davey.

Whenever I get a chance to browse, I find myself constantly drawn to the picture by Alex T Smith, illustrating Audrey Hepburn’s quote: To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

This is a book which will plant a seed of hope in anyone who wishes to spend time with it.

I am grateful to Toppsta and Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a review copy of this beautiful book.

#BlogTour: Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

cover image by Elissa Elwick, published by Little Tiger Press

A magically mischievous kitten, a kind young girl and a purposeful broomstick make Midnight Magic a story that young readers will joyously pounce upon! 

I am delighted to join the blog tour for this enchanting tale today, and honoured to share these beautiful images from Chapter One with you, with many thanks to Little Tiger Press. Enjoy!

Review

Michelle Harrison’s first book for younger readers displays all of her enchanting storytelling skills, wrapped up in rhythmically rhyming text and encased in a package that will grace any bookshelf. I am not judging a book by its cover, but oh my goodness, the sumptuous purple and gold detail is supremely beguiling, as you can clearly see from the images above! Elissa Elwick’s illustrations are charming and expressive and fully encapsulate the fun and warmth of the story.

Before you begin reading, make sure that you have a hot beverage and tempting snack on hand because you won’t want to put this down once you start.

A cat gives birth to two cute and cuddly kittens,  followed, on the stroke of midnight by a third, jet-black sibling. Appropriately-named Midnight is unlike her brother and sister, Foxy and Snowdrop, having a tendency to breathe purple smoke, cause inanimate objects to move and generally cause chaos. For this, she is not popular with her family and in an ultimate act of betrayal she is abandoned and must seek out a new home…

Friendship and joyous adventure abound when she is taken in by Trixie, her rather apprehensive father and incorrigibly adventurous Nan. Weaving bedtime story imagery with a twitch of Midnight’s magical tail the story whisks readers away on an enchanted night time journey.

This is the ultimate magical Halloween read for children in the 6-9 bracket, a heart warming and rib-tickling tale of friendship and fun. It is perfect for newly confident readers to read alone and will also be a lovely bedtime story for younger children. If you are using the story in school, you can access teaching resources created by Scott Evans @MrEPrimary, here.

I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for an invitation to join the blog tour and a review copy of Midnight Magic. Do check out the other stops on the tour for interviews, features and further chapter extracts.

Review: Dragon Detective Sky High! by Gareth P Jones, illustrated by Scott Brown

Cover image by Scott Brown, published by Little Tiger Publishing

The third Dragon Detective mystery, Sky High! soars into the bookstores on 1st October and I am most grateful to Little Tiger Group for sending me an early copy of the latest in a series in which I am more heavily invested than a dragon in its stash of gold!

Dirk Dilly, the orange-squash-swigging, four-metre-long, red-backed, green-bellied, urban-based, Mountain Dragon Private Investigator has been hired by Mr. Strettingdon-Smythe, the curator of a London art gallery. His mission: to investigate why and how important pieces are going missing without any evidence left behind on the electronic surveillance equipment. He is distracted from this investigation by the clumsy and destructive arrival in his office of Alba Longs, a Spanish Sea Dragon with an aversion to the ‘humano’ world, who insists that he helps her discover the whereabouts of her ‘vamoosed’ sister Delphina.

Meanwhile, Holly Bigsby, Dirk’s twelve-year-old investigative partner needs his help to discover what the world’s seventh-richest man, Brant Buchanan, founder of Global Sands and prospective employer of her step-mother is planning. He is obviously using Mrs Bigsby to acquire the top secret weapon hidden away by her previous colleagues in government but what is his target and with whom is he working?

This book is infused with the smart-talking, action-packed, cynical-PI with a heart of gold vibes you encounter in an old film noir. There are more double crosses than on a piece of third form homework (no offence intended third formers) and never before in the history of MG literature has the hyphen key been in greater demand! As with the earlier Dragon Detective books, there are laugh out loud cameos provided by hapless crooks Arthur and Reginald as well as my personal favourite, Alba finding the “shell” of a tin of beans a little too crunchy for her taste. Chemistry teachers everywhere will be dancing with joy that the process of sublimation will be so well understood by future students thanks to the unique properties of sky dragons! With action spanning the diameter of the globe, from inner core to skyscraper rooftops, readers will be left gasping for air as surely as a dragon who has swallowed a mouthful of liquid fire!

Whilst you await publication on 1st October there is time to catch up on the previous two books in the series; you can read my reviews here: Dragon Detective: Catnapped! and Dragon Detective: School’s Out!

I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Publishing for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Frost by Holly Webb

As the nights draw in and the temperature starts to drop, Frost is the perfect book to warm the depths of your heart; a magical time-slip adventure featuring a journey to the London Frost Fair of 1683. Holly Webb’s storytelling sparkles and gleams like the reflected winter sunshine on a frosty path.

Young south Londoner, Cassie, leads a solitary existence with a constant feeling of being left behind. Mum is pre-occupied with baby brother Lucas and she is considered too much of a baby to be allowed to join big brother William and his friends in their football games. One summer afternoon, whilst examining the foxgloves growing in the scrubby wasteland outside her apartment block she senses a movement and spots an inquisitive fox cub. His glorious red coat, white tipped tail and cute face enrapture her and she soon becomes bewitched by the family of four cubs, although Frost as she has named the first one to appear, is always  her favourite. Dismissing the accepted wisdom that urban foxes are dangerous pests, Cassie spends her summer holiday observing and feeding the cubs. When her school-term commences she feeds them the leftovers from her lunchbox, not realising that her secret is being observed by elderly neighbour Mrs Morris!

Cassie is shown to be a generous, warm-hearted girl. She continues to feed the hungry cubs as the seasons change and the weather turns wintry, despite being told off for doing so after Mrs Morris reports on her for encouraging vermin. Additionally, she assists Mrs Morris after finding her in distress due to the broken down elevator, leading to an unlikely friendship and an education about the history of Southwark. Her relationship with Frost develops to such an extent that when she is roused from her bed by howling on the night of the first heavy snowfall, she follows her vulpine friend into a magical adventure!

I am sure that this story will be very popular with a wide range of children of age 7 and upwards; fans of animal stories as well as fans of historical fiction ( I will be highly recommending it to all the Emma Carroll and Michael Morpurgo fans of my acquaintance). The wonderfully detailed illustrations throughout add to its charm and give newly independent readers regular resting places. It is such a heart-warming tale of kindness and friendship that I urge you to buy a copy when it is released in paperback format on 1 October and perhaps gift it to a child you love as a half-term treat or a Christmas present. As an added bonus you are able to read a sample chapter of Luna, another magical animal adventure from Holly Webb at the end of this book!

I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for sending me a copy of this book to review in exchange for an honest opinion.

Recently Published Delicious Treats for Young Readers

I don’t know if it is just a coincidence, but since lockdown happened in March I have received a number of books to review which feature baking as a main theme, an activity which many children have had the opportunity to practise during the months at home. I thought I would round up these tasty titles here.

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: Dancing With Doughnuts, written by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G Griffiths

Cover image by Alex G Griffiths, published by OUP Children’s Books

I especially love this short chapter book for its portrayal of the title character Freddie Bonbon as not just a star baker but also the kindest and most thoughtful individual you could hope to meet. When we first encounter Freddie he is removing one last batch of cinnamon buns from the oven before shutting up his bakery for the day. The buns are to be a gift for the folk of Belville who are auditioning for the town’s final Summer Talent Show before local impresarios Max and Margie Motion retire. Freddie, who suffers terrible stage-fright himself, is going along to support his many friends, especially his ballroom-dancing bakery manager Amira.

A humorous, warm and accident-strewn plot ensues in a book ideally suited to newly confident readers to read alone. The text is in an easily readable font size, broken up by hilariously expressive illustrations drawn by Alex G Griffiths featuring a multi-ethnic cast of characters, as well as interesting typography effects. With cakes, dancing and a deliciously scheming villain in the character of rival baker Bernard this is a book which will be equally enjoyed by boys and girls of age 6+.

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes, written by Brenda Gurr, illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff

Cover image by Nancy Leschnikoff, published by New Frontier Publishing

Zinnia Jakes is an undercover baker! Her cakes are famous in her hometown for their fabulous intricacy, but nobody knows that they are baked by a nine-year-old girl based in a secret kitchen in her Auntie Jam’s house. This delightful story mixes magic, mystery and baking in a recipe that will delight young readers of 6+. You can read a more detailed review from an earlier blog post here.

Sage Cookson’s Great Escape and Sage Cookson’s Snow Day, written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Celeste Hulme

Cover image by Celeste Hulme, published by New Frontier Publishing
Cover image by Celeste Hulme, published by New Frontier Publishing

Sage Cookson is the daughter of two famous TV cooks and food experts. She is used to a lifestyle that blends school with jetting off to accompany them on broadcasting assignments, which lead to exciting adventures.

These books contain a tempting mix of food-related content with perfectly presented peril and excitement, enticingly packaged for a readership of 6/7+. You can read an earlier blog post with a more detailed review here.

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town written by Maggie May Gordon and illustrated by Margarita Levina

Cover image by Margarita Levina, published by New Frontier Publishing

The youngest children are also catered for in this banquet of baking-based books by this quirky tale of extreme baker Polly Profiterole who decides to cook up the buildings required to breathe life into her sleepy little town! An absolute feast for the youngest imaginations, you can read my more detailed review in a former post here.