#MGTakesOnThursday: Me and the Robbersons by Siri Kolu, translated by Ruth Urbom

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!

All fans of MG fiction are invited to join in, just follow these steps:

  • 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.
Proof copy cover, publication due on 10th June 2021 by Little Tiger Press

Author: Siri Kolu

Translator: Ruth Urbom

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“It’ll cause quite a buzz at the Summer Shindig when we rock up with a prisoner,” added Golden Pete from his beach chair.

This book in three words: Honour Among Thieves!

Realising that I have read shockingly few MG books which have been translated from other languages, I was delighted to be sent a proof copy of Me and the Robbersons which will be published by Little Tiger Press in June.

Ten-year-old Maisie Meadows Vainisto is a trailblazer; the first prisoner ever in the history of Finnish highway robbery!

This prize-winning story by Finnish author Siri Kolu recounts Maisie’s summer of adventure with a family of sweet-toothed road-pirates, the eponymous Robbersons. After unexpectedly being plucked from her family’s car by bandit leader Wild Karl, she begins the escapade as one more piece of loot in the back of the Robbersons’ wildly swerving and speeding van as it leaves the familiar highway and heads off into the unknown. 

Maisie’s transition from another boring summer with her own dull family to embracing the life-style of her captors is apparent from her first breakfast when she overcomes her repulsion at their lack of cutlery and manners and enjoys not just the hand-stolen and hand-cooked food but also the companionship and family interaction so lacking in her own home. As a reader you join with her in embracing the Robbersons, who only steal what they need, disdain money and live by their own code of honour. Maisie’s habit of jotting observations in her notebook is welcomed by Wild Karl in the hope that her analysis will facilitate a new signature crime that will enhance the family’s reputation at the Summer Shindig; a glorious bandit celebration of the year’s highlights!

The cast of characters is marvellous. Fearsome matriarch Hilda, the reckless, daredevil transit van driver with a golden heart; Wild Karl, out of shape with wildly braided hair behaving like a reincarnation of a Viking raider; his devoted best friend Golden Pete, blessed with gold teeth with which to intimidate the gang’s victims and Karl and Hilda’s children, Hellie and Charlie. Hellie is clearly ambitious to take over the family business with her athletic ability, stealth and impressive knife-throwing skills whilst younger brother Charlie must content himself with a potato-peeler for a weapon! As the crew zig-zag through their crime spree, each of the van’s passengers reveal their personalities and motives to Maisie.

This story grabbed me as surely as a highwayman’s hold on his ill-gotten gains. It pulsates with humour, tenderness and outright anarchy with a plot that accelerates, weaves and spins like a high-octane car chase. I can best describe it as a modern day mash-up of Pippi Longstocking and Robin Hood and I would love to see it filmed by Taika Waititi. It is wonderful to see a hugely enjoyable European-authored book about to be made available for a UK readership, particularly at this point in time. Siri Kolu’s original text has been translated into English by Ruth Urbom and I certainly hope that there will be future publications available from this partnership.

I highly recommend this story to readers of 9+ who love off-beat, wacky humour mixed with adventure. It is due for publication on June 10th 2021 and I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for sending me a proof copy to review.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House written by Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa

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. Additionally, 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 art by Daniela Sosa, Published by Little Tiger Press

Author: Annabelle Sami

Illustrator: Daniela Sosa

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: ‘But even if these events aren’t caused by a ghost, we simply have to investigate’.

This book in three words: Inclusive – Detective – Mystery

Agent Zaiba and her team of young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency are back for their third adventure and this time there may be supernatural forces at work!

Who or what is behind the spooky events at Oakwood Manor, where vases crash to the floor splintering into thousands of shards, plates fly from the kitchen shelves and expensive jewellery vanishes into thin air? With talk in the village of ghostly hauntings or wicked jinn persecuting the new owners of the ancient manor house, it is up to Zaiba and her cool-headed team of junior investigators to discover the true culprit.

In a gripping plot filled with strange disappearances, secret passages and a cast of suspicious grown-ups, young readers will be engrossed in trying to sift the clues from the red herrings. This story fits all the conventions of the “cosy crime” genre, from the setting in a grand manor house surrounded by ancient woodland, to a house party taking place on a storm-ruffled evening attended by a collection of guests exhibiting perplexing behaviour. The short, dialogue-filled chapters generate excitement and tension but in a style and tone perfectly suited to readers of 9+. The addition of Daniela Sousa’s lovely artwork highlights key points in the story and gives young readers a chance to break from the text and mull over their deductions and theories.

Middle grade readers have an amazing range of detective mysteries to choose from these days, I find myself quite envious! (In my childhood the choice was Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie). The Agent Zaiba books have hugely broad appeal because they are so effortlessly inclusive of everyone. This inclusivity is embodied in the main protagonist Zaiba, who, in each story welcomes new recruits into her detective agency with appreciation for the unique talents that they bring to her team. In Zaiba’s character Annabelle Sami has created a wonderful role model for young readers; demonstrating the benefit of teamwork, openness to all possibilities, positive encouragement and leading by example. All of these empowering messages are encased in an entertaining mystery story – what more could you ask for?

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House will be published on 1st April 2021. If you can’t wait until then to join Zaiba’s team of investigators, check out the first two books in the series:

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Missing Diamonds

and

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Poison Plot

I am grateful to Little Tiger Press for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans, illustrated by Chris Jevons

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.
Illustration by Chris Jevons, published by Hachette Children’s Group

Author: Maz Evans

Illustrator: Chris Jevons

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Then Miss Hugg went very quiet and William U got Mr Nibbles and I got some BIG FEELINGS about it”

This book in three words: Fun – Feelings – Family

I know that we have not yet reached the end of March but I already feel sure that this will be one of my books of the year when December arrives. Anyone who has spent any time reading with children will know that a funny book will keep them engaged, entertained and contribute to a love of reading and stories.  When that book is written with such skill that it delivers a laugh in practically every paragraph and, underneath the laughter, contains some powerful life lessons, it becomes a treasure in every classroom, library and home.

Scarlett Fife is instantly relatable, an almost-ten-year-old girl with the sorts of worries that any school child will recognise, including wanting to win sufficient “positivity points” to gain the ultimate classroom reward, fending off one particular classmate’s unpleasant behaviour and worrying about losing her best friend to the popular “new girl”. On top of that, her engineer mother is exhausted from working extra hours “to make ends meet” because her stepdad Jakub has been dismissed by his racist boss. This results in the sort of oversights which are huge to a school child like forgetting to send in Scarlett’s spending money and lunch order for a school trip.

However, Scarlett’s biggest worry is her tendency to experience BIG FEELINGS and subsequent temper loss. She describes the way the anger bubbles up inside her tummy until it explodes out of her in language that will ring a bell of recognition with many. We are led to understand that this trait has frequently landed her in trouble, and now Mum has laid down the ultimate Mumishment! If Scarlett loses her temper again she will have her long anticipated trip to Super Mega Awesome Sicky Fun World theme park cancelled. Thus Scarlett must try to contain her anger throughout the provoking situations she faces…with hilariously explosive consequences.

She can rely on her best friend Maisie for sensible words at crucial moments, although Maisie’s use of Latin expressions was the cause of much merriment from this reader. The level of humour in this book is outstanding, with jokes and asides which will have adults and children in fits of giggles. William U, the source of many of Scarlett’s enraged moments is blessed with the Chinook of helicopter parents, who constantly excuses his bad behaviour with an imaginative list of syndromes and Scarlett’s definition of an executive head teacher made me snort with laughter!

I do not want to give away too many plot details for fear of ruining your enjoyment of this story but instead will say that I loved it on so many levels. Firstly the uproarious humour. I honestly laughed out loud at many situations, word plays and misunderstandings scattered throughout the plot. This really is a book which will be enjoyed as much by adults who might read it aloud as the children who are listening or reading it independently. Which brings me to my second point; it is another wonderful example of illustrated fiction which makes the reading process relaxing and enjoyable for those children who are still on their way to mastering the process of reading independently. 

Then there is the representation which flows so naturally throughout the book and ensures that many children will see their own experience or that of their classmates on display. Scarlett’s parents have an amicable divorce ensuring that Scarlett feels loved and valued, but she herself compares this to a classmate whose parents do not have this mature relationship. Scarlett’s stepdad Jakub is Polish and her real Dad has only one arm and hardly ever uses his “Prosecco” arm. Much of the plot is built around the upcoming wedding of Scarlett’s Auntie Rosa, a high-powered lawyer to Auntie Amara, a creative therapist. As prejudices to some of these characters are mulled over by the childlike fair-mindedness of Scarlett’s voice, readers can see the obvious message that everyone should be valued for who they are.

Finally, through the different voices of wise adults, Scarlett comes to understand that anger is natural, can in some cases be used to positive effect and that there are strategies she can use to deal with her feelings rather than having to bottle them up inside.

This is a marvellous book, bursting with joy and good sense and celebrating love in its many forms. I am sure that it will become a much-loved addition to your classroom, library or home and I certainly hope that there will be more books featuring Scarlett Fife.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Books for access to an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Mort the Meek written by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

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.

Author: Rachel Delahaye

Illustrator: George Ermos

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ But the crowd wanted to LIVE, so not one of them said or did anything.”

This book in three words: Outrageously gruesome humour!

Imagine being the only pacifist living on Brutalia, ‘an island of terrifying ugliness’ ruled over by a fearsome and pitiless King and Queen. Then imagine being not just a pacifist but the nephew of the island’s overworked executioner. Take one more step along this imaginary path and picture yourself being forced, by the Queen, into taking over your uncle’s role at the execution of your best friend!

If your curiosity has been tweaked at this point, you really need to read Mort the Meek, the darkly hilarious tale of a boy facing an impossible situation in a land where hope and friendship seem doomed. Will Mort, the island’s solitary pacifist, be able to walk the walk of the most brutal brute in Brutalia? His powers of resolve, ingenuity and cunning will be put to the test in a series of fearsome challenges as he tries to remain true to his principles without losing his head! 

Rachel Delahaye has packed this story with unlikely occurrences, fabulous wordplay and the kind of slapstick, gruesome violence that makes young readers snort with laughter. When Mort meets a friend named Ono and discovers that some of the inhabitants of Brutalia are prepared to defy the wicked rulers’ decrees, he glimpses a small possibility of hope amongst the hidden marigold fields.

Featuring a running commentary at the start of each chapter by the island’s ravenous ravens which is not for those of a weak stomach, this is a subversively comic tale about standing up for your beliefs, being unafraid to be different and the importance of friendship. The illustrations throughout by George Ermos perfectly capture the unhinged details of daily life in Brutalia. The sentence that I selected at the top of this post reminds us that bad things happen when collectively we are afraid to speak out and Mort’s story shows that even small, solitary voices speaking out for what is right can bring about change.

You can find teaching notes, created by Scott Evans, to accompany this book on the Little Tiger Press website.

Mort the Meek is published on 4th March 2021 and I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy ahead of publication.

#ReadingIrelandMonth21: The Storm Keepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury 04/03/2021

The wonderful blogger Cathy at 746Books.com is hosting #readingirelandmonth21 and for my first contribution I present a review of The Storm Keepers’ Battle, a brilliant #MiddleGrade fantasy set on a small island off the West Coast of Ireland and written by a hugely talented Irish author, Catherine Doyle. I hope that you enjoy this post and do check out the many others posted under the #readingirelandmonth21 banner.

The final instalment of Catherine Doyle’s Storm Keeper trilogy is one of my most anticipated books of 2021 and I was delighted to be approved to read an eARC on NetGalley.

The story continues days after Fionn Boyle’s confrontation with the dark force that threatens his ancestral island home of Arranmore, a wild, storm-battered and beautiful island off the west coast of Ireland, related in book two, The Lost Tide Warriors. 

‘Fionn Boyle was sure of two things:

One, he was full of an ancient, rippling magic that could explode from him at any moment. Two, he had absolutely no idea how to control it.’

This story is MG Fantasy at its finest. A cast of brave and loyal friends who support Fionn through his doubts and difficulties; a sarcastic older sister who comes through for her brother when it really counts; a terrifyingly evil foe and hugely importantly, the island itself. For me it is the sense of place which makes this book and indeed the entire trilogy stand out. The deep magic which pervades Arranmore, with its hauntingly magical locations such as the Whispering Tree, Cowans Lake and even Morrigan’s lair on Black Point Rock all appear utterly authentic and resonate with bone-deep ancestry and connection to the land. I think this can only be achieved by a masterful author who knows and feels that same connection to place.  On the island of Arranmore…

‘If it sounds impossible, then it’s probably true’

As evil sorceress Morrigan sends out her brothers, Brendon the Brutal and Aldric the Silent to capture new recruits for her army of soul stealers, the inhabitants of Arranmore led by Fionn and his family and friends battle against time to locate their own sorcerer, Dagda, to lead the fight against her. The story captures twelve-year-old Fionn’s battle against his own self-doubt and sense of inadequacy for the role which has been thrust upon him. The humorous teen banter between Fionn, his sister Tara and friends Sam and Shelby, contrasting with their fierce loyalty to each other in the heat of battle is deeply moving. The closing chapters of the story held me enraptured as I sat up far too late into the night to finish the book.

This is a perfect finale to one of the best Middle Grade series that I have read and I highly recommend it to all confident readers of 10+

I am grateful to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for granting me access to an eARC ahead of publication and I will be buying a physical copy, hoping that I can find a signed one on sale, to join the other two in the series on my bookshelf.

Image created by Cathy at 746Books and used with permission

Review: Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates written by Angie Lake, illustrated by Ellie O’Shea

Cover art by Ellie O’Shea, published by Sweet Cherry Publishing

Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates: The Mystery of the Disgusting School Dinners

The first book in  this exciting new series for emerging readers is called The Case of the Disgusting School Dinners and is perfectly written and designed to appeal to readers ranging from confident 7 year olds to those older KS2 readers who are still looking for the perfect book to set them off on a lifetime of reading pleasure. Printed on buff-coloured paper with playful use of different fonts and fully illustrated throughout, this is a book which makes reading an enjoyable experience for those children who might find densely-formatted text rather off-putting. I applaud the publisher Sweet Cherry Press for producing these books which can act as a gateway for emergent readers.

Of course, all the clever formatting in the world won’t keep a child engaged unless the characterisation and story are equally enticing…and in Mina Mistry we have a bright new star earning her shiny detective badge! Mina Snotbridge is a smart, observant and ingenious mixed-race child, with a caucasian father and Indian mother. She tells us that she chooses to use her mum’s maiden name as her secret, undercover detective name because it sounds like mystery and it’s just a whole lot better than her dad’s surname! I love the way that the story has been organised as Mina’s case notes and log entries so that the information is condensed in a style entirely consistent with a detective story, keeping the plot moving at a good pace.

Mina’s best friend, Holly Loafer, is obsessed with planning her future career as a pop star and chasing after the only boy at school with a sense of style, Gareth Trumpshaw! They might seem like complete opposites personality-wise, but they prove that complementary skills lead to great teamwork. Granny Meera is another larger-than-life character, running her catering business Cooking con Fusion, with recipes such as onion-bahjis-in-the-hole and full English breakfast samosas. As Mina helps Granny Meera to prepare some fusion snacks to sell at the school fun run the realisation dawns that the sugar and fat-laden school lunches do not reflect the healthy eating messages that the school is trumpeting. With her detective antenna on full alert Mina enters investigation mode and formulates a plan to discover why the school cook Mrs Mudge is serving up meals designed to rot teeth and pile on the pounds!

Author Angie Lake has created an excellent story to introduce young readers to the delights of the detective mystery genre and the story has been wonderfully illustrated throughout by Ellie O’Shea. Mina is an engaging character, the plot is entirely recognisable and relatable to its intended audience and the story contains a perfect blend of intrigue and humour. Much thought has gone into the design of this book, from the glossy cover, to the sprayed edge pages and the easy-to-read content. This is exactly the sort of book to give children the positive experience of finishing and enjoying a story and introducing them to the tropes of a genre of which they can find many more examples, once their reading motivation has been engaged.

The great news is that book 2 in the series has already been published and there are hopefully more to come!

Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates: The Case of the Disappearing Pets

Cover art by Ellie O’Shea, published by Sweet Cherry Publishing

The second book in the Mina Mistry series has the same playful tone and great design as the first story, this time packaged in a glossy lilac cover with matching sprayed edges. This time the investigation takes place during Showcase Your Pets Week at Mina’s school, a hilarious set up with children bringing in such delights as shoe-boxes full of garden snails and over-accessorised hamsters! However, it doesn’t take long before a spate of pet-thefts breaks out. Holly’s hamster, Harriet; Danny’s toad, Superdog and the entire animal population of the town’s pet shop. When Mina decides that PC McApple needs assistance to crack the case she enrols her classmates to track down the pet thieves.

With a plot full of model train sets, night-time expeditions through the town’s sewers, cosmetics research and an animal sanctuary, this is an entertaining story presented in an easy-to-read format. Alongside the fun of the investigation the story gives young readers the chance to think about the way that pets are treated and basic ethical questions about business. I recommend to anyone of 7+.

The publishers have produced a wonderful pack of engaging activities for each of the Mina Mistry books. You can find the resources for Book 1 here and the resources for Book 2 here.

I am most grateful to Sweet Cherry Publishing for my review copies of the Mina Mistry books in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Diagnosis Danger by Roopa Farooki

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 art by Mike Lowery, published by Oxford University Press

Author: Roopa Farooki

Illustrator: Mike Lowery

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

‘ Where’s all your stuff?’ asked Jay, noticing that the girls didn’t have the regulation burst-to-the-seams plastic bags.

This book in three words: Twins – Trouble – Deception

The double detectives are back and ready to take you on a second heart-stopping, life-or-death medical mystery!

Diagnosis Danger begins two weeks after the end of Tulip and Ali’s first mystery,  The Cure for a Crime; you could read this book as a standalone but I would recommend that you read the books in order to fully appreciate the story.

When Ali and Tulip are around adventure is sure to follow and this book plunges you straight into the drama from the moment you open the cover. At first it is just Ali losing her cool as the girls walk home from school with neighbouring twins Jay and Zac. She has been looking forward to her first ever overseas holiday during half-term, but their hard-working, brain surgeon mother phones to cancel the trip at the last minute due to work pressures. The quote from page 11 illustrates the contrast in the family lives of both sets of twins: Jay and Zac are fed home-cooked, vegetarian, gluten-free meals by parents who treasure every cardboard creation, whilst Tulip and Ali live on fast food and don’t bother bringing art projects home because their mum is constantly working or exhausted.  As Ali stamps and shouts her displeasure and Tulip, aided by Zac and Jay, tries to calm her, rescue in the shape of their friend Momo’s minicab arrives on the scene.

However, before you can utter the words popliteal artery, Momo is stabbed by a heavily disguised passenger as she exits his cab. Ali and Tulip jump into action with the medical knowledge they have assimilated and stop the bleeding from his leg, accompanying Momo to Accident and Emergency at their mum’s hospital. After some funny banter between their mum and a vascular surgeon (electricians versus plumbers) they are eventually collected by their wonderful Nan-Nan, my favourite character in this series, a former secret service operative who has lost both of her legs at some point in her colourful career. Nan-Nan is now a member of an undercover operation known as SWAT (Senior Water Aerobics Team) and clearly has suspicions about who the disguised assailant might be. She declares her intention to take the girls away for half-term …although the destination is rather less glamorous than her grand-daughters hoped for.

Rounding up their feral cat Witch, they head to Catty’s Cattery, supposedly a luxury hotel for feline guests which turns out to be a rundown, dilapidated holiday camp, full of extremely ill pensioners who are fed on out-of-date junk food. Nan-Nan has recruited her smart, wisecracking pair of juvenile detectives to join her on an undercover investigation into the mysterious cash injections being received by the deeply unpleasant owner of this establishment.

This story rattles along at a frantic pace with the fast-talking  twins, their irrepressible grandmother  and loyal friends sifting through the clues to unearth the sinister criminal activities at Catty’s Cattery. Along the way, author Roopa Farooki ( a real-life doctor)  cleverly highlights the plight of many elderly people who cannot afford the costs of care in their old age and may be open to abuse and neglect.  I also admire this book for presenting a positive portrayal of a wheelchair user; Nan-Nan’s can-do attitude is laced with humour and bravery. Tulip and Ali are dynamic and inspiring tween characters and the Mini-Medix Blog appendix to the story provides unique scientific and medical content. If you are looking for an entertaining and educational MG Mystery for children of 10+ who love science then make an appointment with a Double Detectives Medical Mystery!

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for providing my review copy of this book. 

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Perfect Parent Project by Stewart Foster

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.

Author: Stewart Foster

Illustrator: Unfortunately this information is not available on my electronic copy

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ It’s good to have a friend. They make you feel like you belong, and they understand how you feel “.

This book in three words: Family – Friendship – Belonging

This week I have chosen a book which was published on the day that this year’s #ReadForEmpathy booklists were published by the wonderful organisation Empathy Lab. The Perfect Parent Project is a book full of warmth and insight which made me stop and think deeply about the emotions and experiences of foster children. I have read that author Stewart Foster has drawn on his own experience as a foster parent to write this story which I think deserves to be on everyone’s reading list to promote empathy.

Sam “small c, big c” McCann yearns for perfect parents. Parents who will give him real hugs, drive him to school in a BMW M5 and take him on holiday to Disneyland! You see, Sam is a foster child and has lived with eleven different foster families since he was handed over to the agency by his mother when she was no longer able to cope with looking after him. 

In this first person narrative, Stewart Foster gives readers a heart-breaking and heart-warming insight into the lives of foster children and foster families through the immensely loveable character of Sam. The protagonists are written with such authority and authenticity that you are entirely swept up in Sam’s quest to find a family and a home in which he will belong; a home where his photo will be included amongst the family portraits, where he will be given a door key, and he won’t be sent to a respite centre whilst the foster family have a holiday. 

Unfortunately his experiences to date have left him with no desire to make friends or get involved with school activities and a reluctance to trust adults, as he lives with the expectation of moving homes and schools just as he starts to feel settled anywhere. He currently has one close friend, Leah, who has remembered him from his brief attendance at her primary school and together they devise a scheme to find Sam a new home – the Perfect Parent Project! This involves the delivery of hundreds of printed leaflets to sufficiently up-market houses, based on Sam’s rather materialistic criteria for the ideal parents!

As the quest develops, Sam becomes more deeply entangled in a web of deceit which drives a wedge between him and his caring foster family, threatens his friendship with Leah and puts his involvement in the school production of Bugsy Malone in jeopardy. 

This is a deeply moving and thought-provoking book and the story is told with such balance and nuance that you empathise with all parties: Sam; Leah having to deal with her own family break-up; as well as with Sam’s foster parents; and Reilly his adorable six-year-old foster brother. The author skilfully takes young readers on Sam’s journey of realisation that perfect families are those who care for each other, spend time together, encourage each other, and create a sense of belonging. 

After Sam is returned home by a police officer at one point in the story, he explains:

“ She didn’t know what it’s like to want something so much that you ache forever inside”.

This is one of many memorable moments in The Perfect Parent Project that I know will remain in my heart. Others include the image of Reilly, leaning down from the top bunk bed to chat every evening causing Sam to nick-name him “the jellyfish” and the point when Sam stops referring to his foster parents as Reilly’s mum and dad. I often feel that we can learn so much about acceptance from young children and in the character of Reilly we are given a true lesson in what it means to accept someone for who they are – I am determined to “be more Reilly” after reading this wonderful story.

I am most grateful to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me access to an eARC of The Perfect Parent Project. It is now available to purchase and I highly recommend it to anyone of 9+.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Kaja Kajfež

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 art by Kaja Kajfež, published by Barrington Stoke

Author: Emma Carroll

Illustrator: Kaja Kajfež

Publisher: Barrington Stoke

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ Who’d hit their brother so hard as to break his leg, eh?”

This book in three words: Friendship – Prescience – Upheaval

A new book from “the Queen of Historical fiction” Emma Carroll is always worth celebrating and I was delighted to find that one of my favourite authors had been commissioned to write for dyslexia-friendly publisher Barrington Stoke. Readers who have followed my blog will know that I am passionate about books that encourage dyslexic readers. I was first introduced to the publisher Barrington Stoke by a marvellous specialist dyslexia tutor who worked with one of my own children many years ago. I am so pleased that they now publish books by highly regarded children’s authors so that dyslexic children can benefit from reading the wonderful fiction that these authors produce; not feel any sense of stigma that they are reading “different” books; and be given a gateway to perhaps tackling longer books or possibly listening to audiobooks by the best writers for children.

This novella is set in the summer of 1914, before the outbreak of the First World War and although not a first person narrative, it is very much told from the point of view of Fran, daughter to the head gardener of a fine country property named Longbarrow House, owned by Mrs Walker. Emma Carroll has the extraordinary ability to capture the essence of her protagonist’s personalities in a few lines of dialogue and you soon realise that Fran is a curious mixture of no-nonsense, hardworking, emotionally-intelligent working class child who has an imaginative side which is open to the possibility of ghostly occurrences. She feels inferior to the noisy, fussy, rich grandchildren who arrive from their boarding schools for the summer holidays preferring to keep out of their way and avoid the teasing of the young twins and the superior attitude of Leo, the eldest.

However, when Leo’s leg is badly broken by a cricket bat and Fran finds herself assigned to be his companion for the summer, an unlikely friendship and some supernatural manifestations develop. The illustrations by Kaja Kajfež throughout the book not only give readers a chance to pause but also add to the spooky atmosphere.

Despite writing a short book, which gives less confident readers the optimum chance to finish it and feel the accompanying sense of achievement, Emma Carroll has crafted a perfect treasure of a story. The tension mounts throughout the narrative as Fran and Leo investigate the archaeological landscape whilst rumours of impending war swirl in the background. The depicted change in normal social relationships predicts the upheaval and change about to be inflicted on the norms of society by the declaration of war with Germany. I would highly recommend this story to all readers of 9+ and for those who are discovering Emma Carroll for the first time and perhaps want to try something slightly more challenging next, I would suggest Skychasers, The Snow Sister, her book of short stories When We Were Warriors before moving onto Letters from the Lighthouse, Secrets of A Sun King and my all-time favourite Strange Star.

Finally, I would just like to give a shoutout to The Rocketship Bookshop from whom I was able to purchase a signed copy of this book. It is so vital that we bookworms do our best to support independent bookshops to help them survive in these uncertain times. I usually try to buy books from an independent bookshop in my own town, but as my daughter owns all of Emma’s books in signed format I was desperate to continue adding to her collection. Not only did this lovely bookseller supply me with the perfect copy, they also wrapped it beautifully as you can see from the picture above! (I am not an affiliate of this bookshop, I just want to give praise where it is due.)

#MGTakesOnThursday: Murder on the Safari Star written by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

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 Elisa Paganelli, published by Macmillan Children’s Books on 4th February 2021

Authors: M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Illustrator: Elisa Paganelli

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ Would you like us to arrange a crime for you to solve on board?”

This book in three words: Safari – Murder – Family

Murder on the Safari Star is about to steam onto the shelves of your local bookseller or library so get hold of a copy and book your ticket for the adventure of a lifetime. 

This is the third in the Adventures on Trains series from the writing partnership of MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman; I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all three and this is my favourite so far! The combination of the stunning southern African setting, the nods to Agatha Christie plots and the astounding artwork throughout the book all added to my immersion in the adventure and enjoyment of this book.

For those of you who haven’t read The Highland Falcon Thief or Kidnap on the California Comet, the series features Nathaniel Bradshaw (Uncle Nat) a widely respected travel writer and his nephew Harrison (Hal) who has an incredible talent for art, swiftly capturing scenes in his ever-present sketchbook, which help him analyse his observations and detect crimes.

This time around Uncle Nat has invited Hal to accompany him on a journey from Pretoria in South Africa to the Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Hal gets to see the wildlife that he was hoping to sketch, some of it at rather closer quarters than he anticipated…and once more finds himself unweaving a web of intrigue.

Before the journey even begins Hal spies a suspicious exchange of money between railway owner Luther Ackerman and a stranger, and from that moment the reader is caught up in Hal’s mission to spot clues and inconsistencies in his interactions with the glorious cast of fellow travellers. These include tweedy, novellist Beryl Brash, handsome actor Patrice Mbatha, entrepreneur and women’s rights activist Portia Ramaboa, a devoted Japanese couple Dr and Mrs Sasaki,  a retired South African police detective Erik Lovejoy and a super-rich American family. When the deeply unpopular, brash, bullying billionaire Mervyn Crosby is found dead in his luxury cabin, everyone falls under suspicion and Hal discovers that murder is not the only crime aboard his latest train journey.

I am a huge fan of mystery novels and this series has swiftly become one of my favourites. Hal is such a likeable character, he is shy and quiet but his remarkable observation skills and talent for art help him organise his thoughts and spot details missed by adults. The books brilliantly incorporate Hal’s sketches, with the actual artwork being expertly rendered by awesome illustrator Elisa Paganelli. Whenever Hal sets off on a journey he makes friends who become allies in his crime-solving activities, in this case it is Winston Tsotsobe and his cute yellow mongoose Chipo, he has joined the train with his mother Liana, a zoologist and safari guide. As children are swept along in the adventure they just can’t help absorbing knowledge of geography, the natural world and conservation which I consider to be a great way to learn. There is also an interesting theme of “family” in this story and the way that families shape us and our behaviour which I think could lead to some interesting discussions with upper Key Stage 2 children. 

While we are once again stuck at home I highly recommend taking a journey aboard the Safari Star to anyone of 8+.

I am most grateful to publisher Macmillan Children’s Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the eARC of Murder on the Safari Star, the book will be published on 4th February 2021.