#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.

Enticing Early Readers: Zinnia Jakes and Sage Cookson Book Reviews

It is so important for newly emerging readers to have books available which instil a love of reading by combining enjoyable stories with great design; making books desirable objects. These two new series from New Frontier Publishing deliver on both counts: hugely enjoyable stories in books which have been created with extraordinary care, the covers and pages are top quality, with buff-coloured paper (which, as a parent of a dyslexic child I always value highly) and are the perfect dimensions for 6/7 year-olds to hold.

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

Front Cover: Zinnia Jakes The Crumbling Castle illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff, published by New Frontier Publishing

Take out your tea set and cake stand and feast on The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes! The cover, with its lively illustrations and silver foil highlights certainly ticks the shelf-appeal boxes. Inside newly confident readers will find a story blending baking, mystery and a sprinkle of magic. It’s a perfect recipe for an entertaining and enjoyable read!

The identity of Zinnia Jakes is known only to her Auntie Jam, best friend Addie and international food critic father. Who could possibly guess that the fabulous creations baked by Zinnia Jakes are actually the work of nine-year-old Zoe Jones? She seems to have inherited her late mother’s talent for baking and produces delectable cakes from a secret kitchen in Auntie Jam’s home, assisted by a mysteriously magical cat and occasional help from Addie.

In this, her first adventure, she is tasked with producing a medieval castle cake to act a s a show stopper at a Professor’s book launch. But with only 48 hours to conceptualise and create a structure, and a best friend and aunt who are also preparing for their own events at the Medieval Fair, not to mention transportation problems, will Zinnia be able to deliver the goods?

This is an absolutely charming story, which I can imagine being very popular with the cohort of children who flock to the Rainbow Fairies and Isadora Moon early chapter books. The chapter headings throughout are stylishly illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff. With a delicious sounding recipe for medieval gingerbread at the back it is a perfect book to enjoy during the lockdown period and beyond!

Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, written by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme

Sage Cookson is the globe-trotting, 10 year-old daughter of Basil and Ginger Cookson, the famous TV cooks and gastronomes. It is second nature to her to pack her suitcase, say goodbye to best friend Lucy and accompany her parents to the next location to film an episode of The Cooksons Cook On!

This time she is extra excited because she and Lucy have just been given their first mobile phones; they will be able to keep in touch regularly during her week away from school. The excitement builds up further when Sage discovers that the location, Newhaven Resort in Western Australia, is home to a chocolate plantation!

However, arrival at Marco’s Chocolates brings a less than sugary welcome, in fact Marco and his assistant Nancy appear positively hostile to their famous visitors. Adventure is thrown into the mix when Marco drives the family into the bush to visit his secret plantation!

This is a super introduction to adventure stories for newly confident readers, with an exciting but not too threatening plot, great pacing and a relateable young protagonist. Stylish black and white illustrations throughout the book are by Celeste Hulme. There is also a divine-looking chocolate fondant recipe at the end of the book.

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

Ten year-old Sage Cookson is off on her travels again, this time to Snowy Village in the Australian Alps. An old friend of her mother has just opened a patisserie from where her parents plan to film the next episode of The Cooksons Cook On.

Sage is equally excited by the prospect of improving her skiing technique and spending time with Julia’s teenage son Kyle, with whom she has been friends throughout her childhood. However, on arrival she is shocked by the change in Kyle’s personality, and hurt by his sullen and uncommunicative attitude. This was not the sort of frosty she had been hoping for on this trip!

When Kyle disappears with his snowboard early the next morning, Sage’s capacity for friendship will be tested in this pacy adventure. At the end of the book you will find a very tempting recipe for easy mille-feuille!

All three of these books would be lovely additions to a school or classroom library to be enjoyed by newly independent readers, and I can equally imagine young readers wanting to collect their own sets to read at home. Perfect adventures for 6/7 year-olds.

I am very grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me these books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: The Humble Mayor of Grumble by Hilary Robinson and Steven Johnson

Illustration by Steven Johnson, used with permission.

Since the earliest days humans felt the need to create stories to make sense of the world around them. Hilary Robinson has taken up the baton and written a modern-day fable to help children understand what is going on during this strange period of Covid-19 lockdown. The story, The Humble Mayor of Grumble, beautifully illustrated by Steven Johnson has been made available at no charge for use in classrooms and homes across the world. It downloads in the form of a pdf poster, which is perfect to display on a classroom whiteboard to enable a class discussion of the text.

As with anything written by Hilary Robinson, the story has been produced with great attention to detail, in a style which will reassure children now, but will also be something to look back at from a future time and remind us of this (hopefully) unique period of existence. In keeping with the style, there is no discussion of the science here, just the depiction of the virus as a “silent visitor” which changes the lives of the inhabitants of the town of Grumble.

She encapsulates the gradual realisation, that many have experienced, of gratitude for the natural world and the simpler joys of life that we have been too busy to appreciate for many years. Without the after-school sports, dancing, drama and music activities we have turned to gardening, feeding the birds, appreciating the wildlife and whilst indoors, baking or drawing or being creative in a multitude of ways. Her words express a yearning that we will be able to hold onto these pleasures and maintain the environmental improvements once life returns to an approximation of normal.

I hope that when this fable is read in future years we won’t need to be reminded to be grateful to the selfless essential workers who have kept us going by providing the services we require and I applaud her inclusive list of the workers we clap for on a Thursday evening.

I think The Humble Mayor of Grumble is a wonderful addition to the free resources that are being generously provided for children. I love it and only wish that we had a genuine “humble mayor” running the show; that is the beauty of great children’s literature – it shows us the world as it should and could be.

You can download your FREE copy of The Humble Mayor of Grumble here.

To find out more about Hilary Robinson and her wonderful children’s books, you can visit the Hilary Robinson website here.

You can view some of Steven Johnson’s amazing illustrations for children’s books on his website here.

For previous reviews of Hilary Robinson titles on this blog, click here for Jasper Viking Dog and Space Dog and here for Gregory Goose Board Books.

Review: Winnie and Wilbur books by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Winnie Bug Safari

In The Bug Safari Winnie the Witch and her big black cat Wilbur are enjoying the most magnificent picnic in the garden when fallen scone crumbs cause a rustling in the undergrowth and an organised column of ants arrived to claim their prize. A host of other insects fascinate Winnie, who impetuously decides that in order to get a better look she should shrink herself and Wilbur to insect proportions.

The resulting perilous adventure will entrance young readers and listeners, as Winnie and Wilbur dodge multiple hazards in their quest to return to their normal size! The vibrant illustrations overflow with detail about the insect kingdom, the bugs almost rivalling Winnie in their multi-coloured costumes.

This is a book to be opened flat on the carpet and surrounded by young children who will find almost countless wonders to marvel at – oh for the days before social distancing. I recently used the book as a prompt to going on a garden bug hunt for a videoed Google classroom segment, and there are many other counting and sorting activities which could stem from this beautiful book.

Screenshot 2020-05-19 at 19.54.56

Delightfully, the wonderful folk at OUP Children’s have issued Winnie and Wilbur Stay at Home as a free e-book for anyone to download during lockdown. You can access it from the link here.

This book is an absolute hoot, with Winnie’s attempts at joining in with an online exercise session being my highlight (probably because it’s rather similar to certain attempts in my house)!

Children will recognise all the adjustments to activities that they have had to make, reflected in Winnie and Wilbur’s household. This book shows them how to find the joy in singing songs whilst hand-washing, covering the house in rainbows and simply enjoying stories. Winnie really is an utterly joyous character with her multi-coloured fashion choices and accessories and this book is overflowing with good humour to put a smile on the faces of children and adults staying inside to keep the country safe.

With thanks to OUP Children’s Books for my copy of Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Kitty skygarden

 

This is the third magical Adventure for Kitty, a little girl who has inherited her mum’s cat-like superpowers and one day aims to follow in her mum’s paw prints to become a superhero!

For the time being she is happy to pull on her supercat costume, with its billowing, black cape, and skip over the night-time rooftops with her many feline friends, enjoying gentle adventures from which they all learn essential life lessons.

At the start of this story, Kitty and her rescue-cat Pumpkin are visited by their friend Pixie, who arrives to tell them about a magical rooftop garden she has heard about. Kitty is seeking inspiration for a school project so the three of them set out on a night time expedition across the town, with Kitty using her enhanced sense of smell to locate the plant-filled wonderland of the Sky Garden. When they arrive her two cat companions go crazy in a capnip plant until they are scolded by an old tortoiseshell cat named Diggory. He is the guardian of the Sky Garden who explains the number of years of work that his owner, Mrs Lovell, has invested into creating this living paradise. After suitable apologies the three explorers are allowed to investigate the wonders of the garden and Kitty finds inspiration for her school garden design.

However, Pixie cannot keep the news of this incredibly beautiful space to herself, and by spreading the news far and wide causes unexpected trouble. Kitty will require all her reserves of skill and intelligence to try to rectify the damage!

This is a wonderful book for newly confident readers, and would equally make a lovely shared experience for younger, emerging readers. The story is beautifully crafted by Paula Harrison, nurturing a sense of respect for the hard work and property of others and encouraging thoughtfulness, all wrapped in an exciting adventure. The illustrations by Jenny Løvlie are wondrously striking in a palette of black, white and orange. There is so much intricate detail to explore and talk about that this book will invite hours of exploration. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone aged 4+, I am looking forward to sharing it through the school library and imagine that many children will be tempted to collect the entire series for their own bookshelves.

For my review of the first Kitty adventure please click here: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue

 

Thank you to OUP Children’s Publishing for my copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Review: Ballet Bunnies The New Class by Swapna Reddy

ballet bunnies

 

Ballet Bunnies is a new series starring Millie a young ballerina and the magical, miniature bunny rabbits who live at the ballet school she attends. The New Class is the first in a series of six books being published by Oxford Children’s Books with this and Book 2, Let’s Dance, coming out in June 2020.

I was delighted to be sent an ARC of Ballet Bunnies The New Class, an absolute must-read for all young dancers! It is the perfect size and length for newly confident readers in Key Stage One, with gorgeous full-colour illustrations in a pastel palette throughout. The pictures of the ballerinas are immensely cute with slightly oversized heads and huge expressive eyes, perfectly designed to appeal to young readers. The series has been written by Swapna Reddy and illustrated by Binny Talib and wonderfully, it features a multi-ethnic cast of characters at the ballet school and to complete its appeal to a broad readership, a boy ballerina is featured too.  It is so important for all children to be able to see themselves in the books that they read and I’m sure that these books will find a wide, appreciative audience. I can certainly imagine a large number of children at my own school who will be pirouetting in delight after reading about Millie’s adventures. 

Six-year-old, ballet-obsessed Millie is about to fulfil her dreams by starting lessons at Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. She skips into the class with her spirits soaring, only to encounter an unfriendly comment and mean looks from another member of the class, star pupil, Amber.

Feeling despondent at her inability to perfect the pliés with the same grace as Amber, Will and Samira, Millie is left waiting for her mum to collect her at the end of the lesson. Startled by a movement behind the stage curtain she investigates and finds Dolly, Fifi, Pod and Trixie, the magical, talking and dancing miniature bunnies! What impact will her new friends have on Millie’s future at the ballet school? You will have to read this book to find out.

The story is delightfully written by Swapna Reddy (a firm favourite with me and my library users due to the hilarious Dave Pigeon series she writes as Swapna Haddow). In Ballet Bunnies her style is one of gentle encouragement as she helps young readers experience the effects that mean behaviour can have on someone’s confidence, and contrasts this with the powerful force of kindness and support. A perfect book for any child who might be feeling discouraged by a challenging task, and a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of all young dancers.

Thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy.

For my reviews of the Dave Pigeon series, please follow this link.

Review:Jasper Dog Books by Hilary Robinson

What a joy to discover the utterly charming, funny and informative Jasper series! These books have colourful and engaging covers, are illustrated throughout with delightful black and white drawings, and most wonderfully have been printed on off-white paper using the Open Dyslexic font. I am passionate about finding books which make reading pleasurable for dyslexic readers and firmly believe that what is good for dyslexics is good for all readers. Some young dyslexic readers have told me that they found the spacing between lines to be really helpful in allowing them to read these books easily.

 

Review: Jasper Space Dog by Hilary Robinson

IMG_3439

The first book in the series was published in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. It is cleverly structured as a series of letters written between eight-and-a-half year old Charlie Tanner, on behalf of his dog Jasper, to a rocket scientist Dr Isabella Starr (girl power ). Jasper would like to become a space dog! He already has his moon boots and enjoys strutting around the local park in them, but he requires Charlie to ask a rib-tickling range of questions on his behalf before he ventures to the moon. This is such an engaging device as Jasper’s questions definitely reflect the hugely imaginative ideas that spring from the minds of young children. As I read the increasingly funny questions with a big smile I was delighted that the eminent scientist’s replies to Charlie acknowledged the humour in the enquiries, especially the suggestion to explore explosive chocolate as rocket fuel.

So much care has been taken in the compilation of this book, right down to the final chapters summarising the information discovered so far and then expanding on factual information about moon expeditions. Books which entertain and educate seamlessly are to be greatly valued and I highly recommend this to all schools and to any family looking for a book to engage a reluctant reader and help them discover the joy of books.

 

Jasper Viking Dog by Hilary Robinson

IMG_3438

The second book in the Jasper series follows the same pattern as book one, this time Charlie’s letters are addressed to Astrid the Curator of the local Viking Museum. Jasper has heard that actors are required for the Viking exhibits and believing that he might have Viking roots would like to volunteer as a Viking dog! The humorous letters from Charlie yet again had me snorting with laughter, in particular Jasper’s rapid increase in age, as he convinces himself that he is indeed a Viking dog, and his theory that his friend Bruce descends from a line of Viking Berserker dogs! Each of Charlie’s outlandish questions are answered with great attention to detail by Astrid, thus presenting a host of fascinating Viking facts in easy to assimilate chunks.

Another highlight of these books is the care taken (by Lewis James, under the mentorship of experienced children’s book illustrator, Mandy Stanley) to design the illustrations.  Throughout the text there are intricately detailed drawings of artefacts or appealing cartoon-ish representations of Charlie and Jasper’s ideas, perfectly placed for children whose eyes need a break from reading at regular intervals. The illustrations in these books are .

I hugely recommend these books to any school classroom or library collection, and only wish they had been available when a certain member of my own family was of primary-school-age.

 

My copies of Jasper Space Dog and Jasper Viking Dog were gifted to me from the publisher, I am planning to order further copies for the library collection.