12 Days of Christmas Blog Tour: Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher

Cover illustration by Sam Usher, published by Nosy Crow

I was delighted to be invited to join the 12 Days of Christmas blog tour as it was such an enjoyable experience last year and I do urge you to read the recommendations by my fantastic fellow bloggers on the tour.

This time around I am revisiting one of my all-time favourite picture books, Refuge. It was first published in 2015 and resonates as powerfully now as it did then. The marriage of Anne Booth’s thoughtful retelling of the Nativity story with Sam Usher’s artwork is utter perfection, drawing parallels between the ancient story and the plight of so many in the present day.

Before the title page, the clue to the narrator is given in a spread depicting a small donkey tethered outside a small dwelling, set against a huge golden sky. The book begins with a stark sentence on a spread which shows three small figures travelling across a vast landscape:

The man led me, and I carried the woman all the way to Bethlehem…

page 2

Subsequent pages reveal the traditional story of the birth of a baby, and visitations by shepherds and kings. However, the story is extended beyond that normally enacted in a school nativity, with the new family fleeing from a dream of danger, under cover of darkness. The flight into Egypt is recounted with simple words and compelling illustrations which encourage you to pause and reflect on the whole picture; a universal, poignant tale of love and hope. The descriptions of the parents kissing their new baby before wrapping him up for a journey into the unknown to flee the danger that threatens them is quite heartbreaking when you appreciate that this situation faces so many families in the world today. The washed out greys and blues of Sam Usher’s art invoke a sense of exhaustion but every time I open this book I am moved by the use of gold and deep yellows to express hope and kindness and love.

The repeated phrase “the kindness of strangers” reminds us of the essence of Christmas and I feel that Anne Booth, in writing this book without specifically naming Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, must have intended to make us consider the many families who need our love and kindness. I think that it is a wonderful book that could be shared with children of any age within a primary school setting or amongst families at home. It is a book to prompt valuable discussion and quiet reflection and I think that its universal theme makes it appropriate for everyone. I love this book and I hope that you will too.

Make sure that you check out the remainder of the recommendations by following the blog schedule, there’s something for everyone. Merry Christmas!

Image created by Kate Heap @kateheap1

2022 Halloween Recommendations

image created using Canva

As in previous years I have put together a shortlist of books that I have read this year which would make excellent treats for young readers this half-term holiday as we approach Halloween 2022.

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend by Valerie Thomas, illustrated by Korky Paul

Always a delight for children of 5-7, the Winnie and Wilbur series are wonderful books to share with a young child. The stories are fun, Winnie is probably the most colourful and accident-prone witch in children’s fiction and there is so much to see and talk about in every one of Korky Paul’s brilliant colour spreads.

Midnight Magic: The Witch Trap by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

Bursting with autumn colour, the latest rhyming adventure of magical black cat, Midnight, is perfect for newly independent readers of 6+.

Diary of an Accidental Witch: Ghostly Getaway by Perdita and Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders

In the latest outing for Bea Black, she and her friends take off from Little Spellshire’s School of Extraordinary Arts to participate in a school trip to Cadabra Castle, allegedly haunted by the ghost of High Master Maggitty Crawe! This wonderfully funny story has been designed with extra care to increase accessibility for dyslexic readers.

The October Witches by Jennifer Claessen

Magical, feminist refashioning of the Arthurian legend. A pacy story of witchy family feuds, perfect for readers of 9+.

Ghost Scouts series written and illustrated by Taylor Dolan

A funny, fully illustrated series of books set in a fabulously spooky summer camp, deep in the swamps of the southern states of America. A certain Halloween treat for readers of 9+.

The Mummy’s Curse by M.A. Bennett

Ever wondered about the origins of the curse of King Tut? Well this rollicking time-travel adventure will take you back to the discovery of his tomb, 100 years ago and reveal all. A spine-tingling adventure, perfect for confident readers of 9+

Shadowghast by Thomas Taylor, illustrated by George Ermos

Experience your first Halloween in Eerie-on-Sea with Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma as they uncover the secrets of the spooky seaside town’s Ghastly Night! Fantastically paced and plotted adventure for readers of 9+.

The Haunted Hills by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell

The wild landscape of the Peak District is the setting for this tale of grief, loss and guilt. As a family’s attempts to recover from a fatal accident is interwoven with the legend of a local ghost. A sensitive, beautifully written story for readers of 11+.

The Billow Maiden by James Dixon, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell

Another sensitively crafted tale, this is set on a remote Scottish island where a young teen is being sheltered by her uncle and aunt while her mother recovers from what appears to be a mental health crisis. This story is interwoven with the discovery of a terrifying mythical creature in one of the island’s caves. The Norse legend combined with modern setting are perfect for readers of 11+.

Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

Boy meets ghost in this brilliantly written and imagined coming of age story, set in and around Toronto. This is a book which will absolutely transport readers of 11+ into an alternative reality where ghosts battle for dominance over humans in a setting which will be unusual and educational for many UK based readers.

Picture Book Reviews: Tatty Mouse – Rock Star and Super Racer by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley

Cover images by Mandy Stanley
Published by Catch a Star

It is always such a treat to receive new titles from Catch a Star, they produce books which have been designed, written, illustrated and produced with meticulous care to appeal to toddlers and pre-school children. With immaculate timing, the gifted partnership of author Hilary Robinson and illustrator Mandy Stanley have created a new series featuring Tatty Mouse. She is the perfect character for our new age of austerity and up-cycling to increase sustainability.

When Tatty Mouse wants to participate in an activity, she doesn’t let a lack of equipment get in her way. Instead she turns to her instruction books, her tool kit, paints, glue, tape and discarded household objects and creates whatever she needs; whether it’s a musical instrument or a go-cart! Hilary Robinson’s sparse text tells the stories perfectly, with humour inserted through speech bubbles and added interactive interest in the form of “can you find” callouts which are cleverly designed in a recycling-style logo. Mandy Stanley’s artwork is absolutely stunning, the images pop off the page with the 3-D effects gloriously enhanced by the lift-the-flaps element of the books. Tatty Mouse is an adorable character, with her expressive face, dungarees and tool belt accessorised with what looks like a home-made necklace.

In both Tatty Mouse Rock Star and Tatty Mouse Super Racer, every page is packed with interest and vibrates with colour which will stimulate so many opportunities for conversation and vocabulary building when shared with young children. The pages and flaps are constructed from thick, high quality card that will bear up to repeated reading which is fortunate as I am sure that these books are going to be extremely popular with their target audience. It is so important to generate a love of books in children at the earliest opportunity and if you are the carer of a pre-school child, I absolutely recommend the Tatty Mouse books to begin their book adventures.

I am grateful to publishers Catch A Star for sending me review copies of these books in return for my honest opinion.

If you enjoy Tatty Mouse, I also recommend the Gregory Goose series by the same creative partnership: Gregory Goose is on the Loose in the Jungle, Gregory Goose is on the Loose on the Moon, Gregory Goose is on the Loose up the Mountain and Gregory Goose is on the Loose at the Fair.

Books I’ve read from the Gadgeteers Summer Reading Challenge 2022 List

A selection of books from the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge 2022

One of my favourite activities when my children were young was to visit the public library during the summer holidays to take part in the annual summer reading challenge. I love the way that this initiative has grown over the intervening years and with my science head on, I was delighted to see the Gadgeteers theme for summer 2022. Noticing a number of books that I’ve previously read and reviewed on the list, I thought that I’d post a summary of my reviews in case they help anyone to make their first choices.

Picture Books: here is the official list

One More Try written by Naomi Jones and illustrated by James Jones. Cute shapes demonstrate the principles of perseverance, resilience and tessellation.

The Little Pirate Queen written by Sally Anne Garland. An inspiring tale of a little girl who has learnt to create something from the resources she has at hand, can be read on a literal or metaphorical level and I think therefore appropriate for any class within a primary school.

Early Reader Books: here is the official list

Marv and the Dino Attack by Alex Falase-Koya, illustrated by Paula Bowles. A superhero powered by kindness and imagination saves the day at the Natural History Museum.

Middle Grade Books: here is the official list

Beetles for Breakfast written by Madeleine Finlay and illustrated by Jisu Choi. A stylishly illustrated exploration of the application of biology to solve some of the problems our planet will face over the coming decades. An absolute feast for the brain!

Sabotage on the Solar Express written by MG Leonard and Samuel Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli. Futuristic fuel cells, scientific sabotage and a runaway train in the red heart of Australia all contribute to an edge-of-the-seat, runaway train detective adventure.

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest written by Vashti Hardy, illustrated by George Ermos. A thoroughly engaging and entertaining mystery for readers aged 8+, with scientific exploration and discovery at its core. Illustrations throughout make this a great choice for children who are emerging readers.

Escape Room written by Christopher Edge and illustrated by David Dean. A fast-paced, immersive adventure with mathematics and artificial intelligence driving the plot.

I hope that you all enjoy these marvellous stories which introduce STEM principles, and find many more books at your local public library, to entertain and engage you in new ideas over the summer holiday.

#PrideMonthReview: The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures by Jodie Lancet-Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry

Cover image by Lydia Corry, published by OUP, June 2022

This was the most perfect book to read on a hot, sunny June day which radiated the same warmth and colour found within this picture book. Published to coincide with the June Pride celebrations, this story imaginatively promotes acceptance of unique identities, representing a family with two dads as the backdrop to a funny, engaging tale. The interplay of Lydia Corry’s beautiful artwork and Jodie Lancet-Grant’s creative storytelling will bring smiles of delight to readers young and old(er).

From the first page we are introduced to a town populated by a wide variety of magical and non-magical creatures. The text names some of these; dragons, fairies, mermaids and centaurs and children will enjoy spotting many more depicted amongst the humans on the bustling street (I loved seeing the pirate mums from the previous book by this partnership). We are told that whenever anyone in town feels poorly, they know to consult Ava and her dads, Daddy and Papa. I loved the illustrations of “trainee doctor” Ava, with her stethoscope, too long labcoat and expressive face. Alongside the narrative which portrays her inquisitive, kind and observant nature as well as determination to uncover the cause of a unicorn’s tummy-ache, she is a heart-warming poster girl for a career in medicine, in the opinion of this health librarian! The spread where Ava is struck by the answer to her medical mystery is an absolute masterpiece of “show, don’t tell” and strikes right to the heart of this book’s message of celebrating difference.

The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures bursts with a kaleidoscope of colour, energy and kindness and whilst promoting a message of inclusivity, is first and foremost an entertaining and throughly engaging story. Family life is portrayed in scenes such as bedtime story time familiar to all, and shows that whilst there are all kinds of families, they have more similarities than differences. I highly recommend this picture book to be shared with children of 3 -6 years of age and I will certainly be adding it to my recommended reading list for health-related books.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and OUP for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Picture Book Review: Herman Needs a Home by Lucy Noguera, illustrated by Emma Latham

Cover illustration by Emma Latham, published by Brilliant Monsters Books, 8th June 2022

I was honoured to be sent an early review copy of this thoughtfully entertaining picture book, written by Lucy Noguera, who came to my attention last year as a debut Middle Grade author. Her new title for a younger audience is published on World Ocean Day and blends humour, immersive storytelling and ecological themes in the heart-warming tale of Herman the hermit crab.

The interplay of text, playful font effects and glorious illustration by Emma Latham, make this book an absolute delight, and I only wish that I lived close enough to share it with the youngest relative immediately. As Herman and his little sister Hiro embark on a quest to find a new, larger shell for Herman, accompanied by an enthusiastic group of hermit crab friends, every page glows with interest. The little crustaceans’ faces are cutely appealing and express a range of emotions which young children will easily comprehend. The beach and rockpool habitats are rendered so beautifully that you can almost feel the warm sand between your toes and smell the salty tang in the air. This is a story that pulses with life and prompts early thinking about the inter-dependence of life on our planet.

I love the way that the quest veers away from the happy swapping of seashells between different sized crabs to the fruitless search for Herman’s new home amongst the discarded piles of waste on the beach. The darkening of the colour palette combined with the increasingly sad and bewildered faces perfectly convey the sense that all is not well, and open the opportunity for conversations with young children about the problems that careless discarding of waste can cause for marine life. A range of manufactured products that contribute to ecological disruption are highlighted in a thoroughly engaging way for children as Herman tries to make his home in all manner of garbage. At the end of the story there is a page of facts about hermit crabs and ideas about ways we can all help to protect the environment.  I also must give a shout out to the end papers which have the most beautiful images of pastel-coloured seashells, so enticing that my fingers twitched to pick one up and hold it to my ear.

I cannot recommend Herman Needs a Home highly enough as a perfect book to share with children of 3 – 6 years of age, it would make an ideal summer gift to share either at home, in nurseries, pre-schools or Early Years classrooms. Like all the best picture books, there is a wealth of information to explore on every page and the charming story will likely encourage youngsters to join in with repeated readings. For anyone lucky enough to be visiting a beach this summer, Herman’s story will hopefully make us all think about the impact we have on our surroundings and encourage us to take care of a habitat that is home to so many natural wonders.

Spring/Summer 2022 picture books from Catch A Star and Little Steps

Catch A Star and Little Steps are the imprints of New Frontier Publishing dedicated to producing top quality books for babies, toddlers and early years children. I am always delighted when they send me a package of books to review as I know that I will find titles that are carefully designed to engage these age groups, present positive messages and provide vocabulary building opportunities and awareness of the world.

Clementine’s Bath

Cover illustration by Annie White, published by Catch A Star,
April 2022

This rhyming, beautifully illustrated story will appeal to children aged 3-6 whether they have a pet dog or not. Clementine, as drawn by Annie White, looks like an adorable family pet, with a coat as crinkly and soft-looking as a favourite teddy bear. On the first spread she is seen enjoying the scents from the garden flowers…but there, lurking in the lower right hand corner is a little hint of the assault on the senses to come! Yes, Clementine finds and overturned dustbin and delights in rolling around in the rubbish, meaning that she will need to be bathed.

I am looking forward to sharing this charming book with the youngest relative. There is so much energy portrayed in Annie White’s beautiful artwork as the multi-generational family try to catch Clementine and she tries to hide in various places around the house and garden. Her final journey to the bath is laugh-out-loud fun! At the end of the story there is an utterly delightful plan of the house and garden, showing the story journey. I haven’t seen this used in a book for this audience before and I think it is a brilliant idea which I can see being used by Key Stage 1 teachers as part of the early geography curriculum.

Clementine’s Treasure

Cover illustration by Anne White, published by Catch A Star,
May 2022

This is a perfect picture book to share with little ones over the Platinum Jubilee weekend. As in the previous Clementine title, Annie White’s engaging, rhyming text is accompanied by her warm, stylish illustrations. This time Clementine is confused by the energy going into cleaning the house and baking a huge, celebratory afternoon tea. The activity is explained when the glamorous Queen arrives, only to have her prize jewel swiped by Clementine who rushes out to the garden to play with her glittery new toy. When the Queen pauses her cupcake consumption long enough to notice the missing necklace, the entire family search their home, inside and out…finally finding it in a location that will make young children roar with laughter!

The beautiful, expressive illustrations of a multi-generational family, their cheeky canine and assorted chickens, provide so much interest for young children. Again, there is a super story map at the end, so that children can track the action of the narrative and Catch A Star have provided teacher notes here.

Little Days Out: At the Pool

Cover illustration by Sally Garland, published by Catch A Star

A top quality lift-the-flap board book in bright, primary colours, At the Pool is the perfect title to share with babies and toddlers as the weather warms and trips to the pool become a possibility. The happy, positive illustrations by Sally Garland depict all the common scenes you would expect from a visit to the swimming pool, from the reception desk, to the changing rooms, the pool itself and finally the cafe for a post-swim snack. The simple clear text outlining baby’s first pool visit with her Dad and big brother introduces new vocabulary and the “flaps” are perfectly designed and robust enough to provide hours of fun. I highly recommend this to nurseries, pre-schools and parents/carers of children from 6 months of age.

Meadow & Marley’s Magical Mix

Cover illustration by Natalie Creed, published by Little Steps, 1st June 2022

Meadow and Marley are on a mission to understand their heritage in this wonderful picture book written by Katie Mantwa George, who is herself of mixed South African and British heritage. It is a truly empowering story of twins Meadow and Marley who use a trip to the outdoor food market with their mum and aunt to try to discover why the family are constantly asked where they are from. It is such a clever concept to use a situation that will be familiar to most young children to explore multi-culturalism, and the explanation of their “magical mix” by mum is a beautiful summary and celebration of a mixed heritage. The gorgeous artwork by Natalie Creed highlights the positive benefits to us all that stem from a society that is inclusive of all nationalities and combinations of nationalities, including happy smiling depictions of adults and children of many ethnicities, and a mouth-watering selection of cuisines.

This is a fantastic book to share with children of 3-6 years of age, everyone can see themselves represented within the pages, and definitely one that school’s could add to their Empathy Day reading lists.

I am most grateful to Catch A Star and Little Steps Publishing for sending me review copies of this picture book selection, in return for my honest opinion.

Picture Books Review: Spring 2022 arrivals from OUP

Cover image by James Jones, published by OUP May 2022

One More Try is the second picture book from the partnership of Naomi and James Jones. Naomi writes the stories and James illustrates them, although after attending a very enjoyable online book launch for this title, it sounds as if the collaborative process is a whole family affair, with input from their two young children too! This direct understanding of what appeals to children is certainly apparent in this strikingly interactive picture book.

Combining an introduction to the language and properties of shapes with the subtext of resilience and perseverance is a winning combination in this story of Circle, who notices the squares and hexagons building a tower and wants to build one too. However, the circles, diamonds and triangles discover that forming themselves into a tower is far trickier than the other shapes make it look. They try all kinds of strategies to find a solution; eventually Circle looks at the problem in a different way and with a beautifully subtle shift from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional shapes, a solution is found.

This book is sure to be hugely popular in pre-schools and early years classrooms and would be perfect for parents and carers to share with young children, I certainly look forward to sharing my copy with the youngest relative. The shapes designed by James Jones are completely engaging with their textures, colours and expressions enticing the reader to try to lift them from the page. The simple text from Naomi Jones is delightfully playful, encouraging an interaction with maths that is experimental and fun and, without a hint of dogmatism encourages youngsters to never give up. I highly recommend One More Try to be shared with all children of 3-6 years of age.

Cover image by Korky Paul, published by OUP March 2022

The latest book in the Winnie and Wilbur series, written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul, recounts the story of Winnie and Wilbur’s first meeting. In a situation that will be familiar to many children, Winnie the witch feels lonely after moving to a new house and decides that she needs company. Her first step is to invite her three sisters to stay and at first they enjoy spending time together. Sadly, the family squabbles begin and after a spectacular and brilliantly illustrated fight between the sisters’ cats, the happy family reunion comes to an end. Winnie then explores a number of unsuitable friendships before the arrival of a stray cat resolves her problem, and the rest, as fans of the series will know, is history!

I absolutely love the Winnie and Wilbur series because Valerie Thomas’ stories are such fun to share with young children and the intricately detailed illustrations by Korky Paul present so much rich material for children to linger over. These books spark a huge range of opportunities for conversation and this one in particular could be used to prompt chat about loneliness (which has been shown to have increased since the COVID-19 lockdowns began) and the qualities needed to form a good friendship. There is a QR code on the inside back cover which

You can read my reviews of two more Winnie and Wilbur books here.

I am very grateful to Oxford University Press for sending me copies of these two picture books in return for my honest opinion.

Perfect Picture Books JoJo’s Jump and Karma and Koo, from Little Steps Publishing

Published by Little Steps Publishing, illustrations by Natalie Merheb and Emma Stuart

I love receiving book post from Little Steps Publishing because I know that I will always find books of the highest quality within the package. Their new releases for January 2022 live up to the usual high standards; enjoyable and meaningful stories with beautiful illustrations, designed to appeal to the youngest book consumers.

Cover illustration by Natalie Merheb

JoJo’s Jump is written in simple rhyming couplets by Stephanie Mason and promotes the message of self-belief and the benefit of a positive learning mindset through the character of a young pony, JoJo. It is such a clever device to use an animal character as the protagonist, allowing all children to absorb the positive messages as they feel empathy with a character with universal appeal. Jojo is depicted in Natalie Merheb’s colourful illustrations as a gorgeous young pony with a “soft chestnut coat” and long golden tail and mane. As she grows and begins her equestrian training she is supported by a cast of super cute animal friends: Bob the fluffy white bunny; Fiona the friendly frog and Peggy the curly haired sheep. The full coloured spreads and spots on every page are bursting with farmyard flora and fauna for young children to explore and talk about.

I really loved the fact that Jojo does not succeed on her first attempt to jump a fence and has the be encouraged to find the inner resolve to have another go. This is such an important lesson for children to learn and I suspect will be readily absorbed as the story of JoJo’s Jump is enjoyed over and over again. Highly recommended for all children of 3-6, whether at home, nursery early years classrooms or in the library.

You can find teachers’ notes and activities to accompany JoJo’s Jump on the Little Steps website here

Cover illustration by Emma Stuart

Karma and Koo, written by Jacquie Lait and illustrated by Emma Stuart would be the most perfect book to share as a bedtime story, especially in the middle of winter! It features two adorable penguins, a mother and child, and begins with the child penguin asking who the “Koo” is, mentioned in the name of mother’s shop. Mother tells her child to search for Koo within the shop, which sparks and imaginative quest through the contents of a large wooden toy box contained at the back of the lovely, old-fashioned shop. The watercolour paintings by Emma Stuart are divine, the little penguin has such an expressive face, and the imaginative exploration through its toy box is depicted with details which I am sure will draw young children into the story.

The combination of soothing rhyme and rhythm and a story spilling over with love and warmth makes Karma and Koo the ideal book for snuggling up and sharing with any child of 2-5. I would have loved to have had this as part of the bedtime books box when my own children were small, I am sure it would have been worn out with re-reading!

The publisher has provided teaching notes and activities to accompany Karma and Koo here.

I am most grateful to Little Steps publishing for providing me with review copies of JoJo’s Jump and Karma & Koo in exchange for my honest opinion.

Books for Christmas Gifts 2021

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.

Christmas/Festive Themed

Christmas/Festive themed books 2021

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”.


Non-fiction published in 2021 by David Fickling Books and Bloomsbury

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.

Translated Fiction

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+.

MG Fiction

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+.

Island Adventures

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.

The Way to Impossible Island by Sophie Kirtley is a life-affirming, time-slip novel about overcoming fears and challenging expectations.

Young Adult Fiction

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+ .