Review: Everdark written by Abi Elphinstone – Dyslexia-friendly format

Cover image by Carrie May, published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

As the mother of a dyslexic child and having met many dyslexic children throughout my employment in a primary school, I fully appreciate the value of being able to show children positive role models as well as books which are enjoyable for them to read. In this newly formatted edition of Everdark we have one of the most brilliantly imaginative current children’s authors, Abi Elphinstone who is dyslexic, creating a marvellous dyslexic character, presented in an easy-to-read format. Add to that her own inspirational note at the end of the book encouraging children to believe that they are capable of extraordinary things and you realise that this is a volume you will want to offer to every dyslexic child of your acquaintance.

When I first read Everdark in its original World Book Day format I was overjoyed to find in the character of Smudge, a protagonist who used her dyslexic strengths to battle the evil harpy Morg who threatened the existence of the Unmapped Kingdoms, but was concerned that the tiny format and print would make the book inaccessible to the very readership who would benefit most from this empowering story. My original review can be read here: Everdark by Abi Elphinstone.

I am not going to review the story again but I stated at the end of my original review:

“I would like to make a plea to the publishers to please, please, please re-print this book with a bigger font, ideally open dyslexic, so that it can be easily read by an audience for whom its message will be immensely inspiring.”

You can therefore imagine my delight when I read that Simon & Schuster UK would be publishing a new edition of Everdark in a dyslexia-friendly format, and I was equally thrilled to be sent a review copy.

Although dyslexia presents in many different ways, visual stress is common in many who share this learning difference and books which reduce the stress of reading by using clear fonts, larger text, increased spacing and off-white pages are greatly valued by those who wish to encourage all youngsters to discover enjoyment of books. Additionally, what is good for dyslexic children is good for all children, and there will be many children who perhaps have not yet become voracious readers, who will find that the clear layout of this edition makes the process of reading as splendid as the immersion in a brilliantly imagined adventure.

Many children who have been enraptured by the subsequent stories in the Unmapped Chronicles series, Rumblestar and Jungledrop might have missed the original edition of Everdark, so when this second edition becomes available on 7th January 2021, I urge you to buy copies for your home, classroom or school libraries – it could be the spark that turns a dormant reader into a bookworm and opens their eyes to a world of possibilities.

I am most grateful to Eve Wersocki Morris, Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster UK for providing me with a review copy of this new edition of Everdark. You can be assured that I will be purchasing multiple copies of this book to give to young relatives.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Advent Review – Winter Magic Anthology edited by Abi Elphinstone

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.

This week, I am featuring an anthology of winter-themed stories curated by one of my favourite MG authors and featuring many of the writers whose books I have reviewed here during the last two years.

Cover image by

Curator: Abi Elphinstone

Illustrator: Thomas Flintham

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“It felt real, just as the cobblestones and the snowflakes did.”

This is from a story entitled A Night at the Frost Fair by Emma Carroll.

This book in three words: Snowy – Magical – Winter

This book contains eleven short stories by some of the most magnificent writers of children’s fiction. The first story is written by the Queen of Historical Fiction, Emma Carroll and features a magical time-slip adventure as Maya finds herself transported back in time to a Frost Fair whilst sitting in a taxi held up by a snowy traffic jam on London Bridge. She tracks down the mystery which has been perplexing her beloved grandmother in a heart-stoppingly thrilling chase across the icy river. In the course of the adventure Maya finds a deep family connection and saves her grandmother from the misery of a regimented care home.

This collection really does contain something to suit every taste, from unexpected adventures on a school skiing holiday; to magical fantasies set in snow-filled landscapes; strange events set in motion by an avalanche on a remote Scottish road; an elegant and delightful ballet story set in St Petersburg at the premiere of The Nutcracker ballet and poetry. All are filled with messages of hope and love and depending on my mood, my favourite changes each time I dip into this wonderful selection.

This is the fourth December during which I have had the pleasure to read Winter Magic and I look forward to returning to it for many years to come. I hope that you too find a story to enjoy from this enchanting anthology.

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

jungledrop-9781471173684_lg

I was ecstatic to be approved for an e-ARC of Jungledrop on #Netgalley and believe me, I will be buying more than one physical copy of this amazing book as soon as it hits the shops. It has totally fizzled my brain with its imaginative brilliance and left my heart quivering with joy. It is a beautiful and necessary book which will delight and entertain all readers, young and old. 

Whilst you could easily enjoy reading this book as a stand-alone adventure, you will be fully immersed in the lore of the Unmapped Chronicles if you have previously read Everdark and Rumblestar. In the latter case, you will know that ancient Phoenix magic dictates that the weather on Earth ( The Faraway ) is controlled by events in the four Unmapped Kingdoms. However, the harmonious functioning of this system is under threat from an evil harpy named Morg who wishes to control the kingdoms for her own wickedly greedy ends.

In this third instalment the future of the Faraway ( which is suffering from a year-long drought ) and Jungledrop are placed in the hands of a very unlikely pair of heroes, eleven-year-old twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble. They are descended from a wealthy German family and live in the ancestral mansion in Munich, Bickery Towers. Their repulsive parents run a business empire built on lies, the family motto is:

“Do not be afraid.

To stamp all over other people’s feelings.”

Their avaricious upbringing has resulted in two children who behave like monsters but deep down feel unloved and lonely. Somehow the ancient phoenix magic has unaccountably chosen them to change the course of history! As they dash into an antiques shop, owned by Casper Tock, the fizz of magic from a long-hidden phoenix tear propels them on a journey of the heart which will determine the destiny of two worlds.

“When magic sets it’s sights on someone, it’s remarkably hard to wriggle free”

There are countless things to love about this story.

  • The brilliantly imagined land of Jungledrop, a glow-in-the-dark rainforest filled with exotically named flora and fauna. This lush landscape is cruelly scarred by burnt and barren enclaves where the greed of Morg has inflicted dark magic, and the descriptions are redolent of familiar scenes from documentaries about the devastation being caused to rainforests all over our planet. 
  • The unique, funny and inspired naming of characters: Tedious Niggle, the ghostly ticket inspectre; Heckle the “emotionally intrusive” yellow parrot; Total Shambles, the slow, ungainly but heroic swiftwing; Doogie Herbalsneeze the jungle apothecary and unicycle-riding unmapper Iggy Blether.
  • The exciting plot with its quest to discover the Forbidden Fern, the suspense and uncertainty over each of the twins’ true intent during the adventure and the perfectly described, complex emotional undercurrents.

Abi Elphinstone has an incredible talent for taking her readers on a heart-stopping journey through gloriously immersive worlds and dropping profoundly moving passages into the middle of jaw-dropping action. Her combination of playfulness, visual storytelling, obvious respect for her readership and genuine ability to include a positive message in her stories make them an essential addition to every bookshelf.

I shall finish with a quote which had me welling up, and which I will be putting on permanent display in the school library:

“To be kind is to be strong. And, if you’re strong enough to pull down a wall around your heart, you can fight with the strength of a warrior because then you will have learnt to love!”

 

Thank you #NetGalley and S&S Children’s UK for allowing me early access to JungleDrop

Review: Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

Rumblestar

You can judge a book by its cover! The dazzling cover illustration by Carrie May, with its title picked out in gold, reflects the brilliance of this author’s imagination, as once again we are invited into an alternative reality created by Abi Elphinstone.

From the opening lines of the prologue I was gripped by the magnificent story-telling. Firstly a quick re-capping of the events of “Everdark” and then into the Rumblestar adventure where we are introduced to timid, bullied Casper Tock, who gets through life relying on timetables and “to do” lists. He has become expert in hiding from the entitled bullies at his boarding school, but slipping inside the case of a grandfather clock one afternoon causes an “ Extremely Unpredictable Event” to occur!

He finds himself arrested by a small, impulsive girl called Utterly Thankless and taken to Rumblestar where the “marvels” containing all the wondrous ingredients required to write the weather scrolls for The Faraway (earth) are being destroyed by dark forces. When Utterly realises that she has mistakenly identified Casper as the criminal, the two of them have to escape the castle accompanied only by Arlo, a miniature dragon, in order to save Rumblestar from the “Midnights” controlled by Morg the Harpy. Their epic adventure leads to encounters with cloud giants, drizzle hags, snow trolls and storm ogres as they seek to destroy the sinister Midnights who are threatening the very existence of Rumblestar and all the Unmapped Kingdoms and consequently The Faraway.

As their quest unfolds these two hugely appealing protagonists have to overcome their deepest fears and exhibit inner reserves of bravery and selflessness, aided by some of the magical creatures they encounter. The change in their characters seems entirely organic and believable as their friendship develops.

This is honestly my “Book of the Year” so far and I can’t wait to put it into the hands of our many Abi Elphinstone fans in the school library! Her ability to conjure imaginative worlds, populated by incredible, but simultaneously believable, characters knows no bounds. You can guarantee that reading this book will bring hours of pleasure, and cause you to reflect on the true meaning of wealth, the destructive nature of greed and the hope that is conjured when people behave courageously.

A must-read for everyone over 10 years-old!.

With thanks to Toppsta.com  who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Everdark by Abi Elphinstone

Everdark

When you set sail in an Abi Elphinstone book there is no looking back; you are swept along on a whirlpool of imagination that will leave you reeling.

This short book, published for World Book Day, is the start of a new series: The Unmapped Chronicles. It takes you into a brilliantly realised world, where all the magic that nourishes the Unmapped Kingdoms, and eventually flows into our world (The Faraway) emanates from a Phoenix. Every five hundred years the Phoenix dies to be replaced by a new Phoenix,  but at the start of this story it becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong with “The Rising”. Dark magic releases nightdaggers which turn the Unmappers in the kingdom of Crackledawn into paralysed shadows, except for one solitary eleven-year-old, on whom the fate of the Unmapped Kingdoms and consequently, The Faraway, now rests…

The unlikely heroine of this tale is Smudge “whose mind had a sideways quality to it”. She is a figure of ridicule at school and doesn’t seem to fit the mould of the Sunraiders and Sunsmiths of her kingdom. She is a character with whom the reader immediately empathises, and in my opinion is destined to become an inspiration for dyslexic children. She does not hesitate to pursue the sinister winged figure  that she spotted flying across the moon in place of the Phoenix, and rushes down to the harbour to set sail for Lonecrag to catch the harpy. As she jumps aboard the dhow formerly owned by the legendary explorer Nefarious Flood, she is joined by an enchanted white-faced monkey named Bartholomew, the unexpected hero of the story.

Together they embark on a gripping adventure, featuring sea witches, ogre-eels, rock goblins, silver whales and enchanted forests. Smudge’s friendship with Bartholomew develops as they confront mortal peril. The encouragement that she receives from her simian shipmate enables her to draw on all of her “curiosity, courage and self-belief” in confronting her evil foes.

I adored this book with its message to “believe in the what ifs and the just maybes of the world.” I recommend it to all children of 9 and above, and I cannot wait to read the next installment in the series: Rumblestar.

 

I would like to make a plea to the  publishers to please, please, please re-print this book with a bigger font, ideally open dyslexic, so that it can be easily read by an audience for whom its message will be immensely inspiring.

Book Review: Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

skysong

As we had an unexpected day off school due to the snow, I decided to re-read one of my favourite books from last year and review it for the library.

Welcome to a magical adventure, set in a snowy kingdom on the edge of the world…

Erkenwald lies beyond the reach of the trustiest maps and owes its existence to the Frost Horn, blown by the North Star, which spread its magic to enable the kingdom to be populated by the three tribes; The Feather Tribe, The Fur Tribe and The Tusk Tribe. These peoples lived in harmony until  darkness was spread by the Ice Queen aided by her trusty shaman Slither. Now the fate of the kingdom rests with a twelve-year-old girl Eska; we first meet her, imprisoned in a music box in Winterfang, the Ice Queen’s palace where she refuses to release her voice to the evil queen.

Flint is a brave, inventive and impetuous member of the Fur Tribe who live in Deeproots, the biggest forest in the kingdom. Accompanied by his pet fox club Pebble, he arrives at Winterfang one night, determined to rescue his Ma, against the orders of his brother Tomkin, the leader of his tribe. As he scales the walls of the palace he comes face to face with Eska and at first tries to ignore her pleas for rescue as she cannot tell him “what tribe” she is from. However, persuaded by Pebble, Flint opens the music box prison and from this point becomes reluctantly entwined in Eska’s quest to prevent the Ice Queen from swallowing every voice in Erkenwald before the midnight sun rises!

They are accompanied on their mission by Balapan, a fierce, strong and protective golden eagle with a mystical connection to Eska, as well as Blu, Flint’s eight-year-old sister who is looked down on by some tribe members because she is different. One of the loveliest aspects of this book for me is the love and kindness that Flint shows to Blu and his gradual realisation that Eska is someone he should believe in due to her immediate acceptance of Blu.

There is a wonderful quote from Flint about halfway through the story,

“ I don’t think people stop evil by staying hidden. I think they stop it by standing out.”

which encapsulates this story for me. I am not going to discuss any more plot details for fear of spoiling it for you. However, I urge you to borrow this book and marvel as Abi Elphinstone wraps you in her magical writing. You may find that you want to buy your own copy as it’s a book you wish to read more than once!

This is an incredible piece of story telling, which is likely to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. It is an immensely hopeful tale about the power of believing, the importance of trust, loyalty, acceptance of people’s differences and the courage to use your voice. Quite simply wonderful!