Review: Hetty and the Battle of the Books by Anna James, illustrated by Jez Tuya

Cover image by Jez Tuya, to be published by Barrington Stoke,
7th July 2022

This is a book to make every school librarian or library advocate’s heart soar! As regular readers of my blog will know, I have loved Barrington Stoke books since discovering their titles for one of my own children almost twenty years ago. I have greatly enjoyed the books that they have commissioned from many of the top writers for children in the intervening years and Hetty and the Battle of the Books has just jumped straight to the top of my favourites list.

It is a funny, thoughtful, powerful manifesto for the necessity of having a library and a trained librarian in every school, published in fully accessible format so that it can be read and enjoyed by the very individuals to whom a library often matters the most. Anna James has wonderfully captured the voice of a quirky Year 7 pupil, Hetty, who is going through the friendship issues which occur so commonly as children progress from primary to secondary school. Her place of sanctuary is the school library, which in this story is presided over by Ms Juster, a librarian who knows how to cater for the needs of every pupil who enters her domain. When Hetty learns that the dastardly headteacher, Mr McCarthy, plans to close the library and make Ms Juster redundant, she puts her outrage into action, recruits her former friends to the cause and designs her own campaign to save the library. In a book of approximately one hundred pages the narrative crackles with a sense of urgency and is heavily laced with Hetty’s wry sense of humour. I absolutely adored the greyscale illustrations throughout by Jez Tuya, I am not aware of seeing his artwork before but I shall certainly be on the lookout for further books that he illustrates.

I urge all school librarians and literacy coordinators to purchase a copy of Hetty and the Battle of the Books for your pupils to enjoy, I think it will appeal to all readers of 8-13. In my opinion, this quote from the penultimate chapter summarises all that is magical about school libraries:

You can do your homework there as well as visit a faraway kingdom. You can research the Tudors as well as meet a Greek god, all from a beanbag. You can watch a film, or make a newspaper, or play Dungeons and Dragons. Or you can just read a good book…Because a library is a place for everyone…

Chapter 9

I am most grateful to Barrington Stoke and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC prior to publication, and I will certainly be buying a paperback copy when it is published on 7th July 2022.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Tilly and the Map of Stories by Anna James

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

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.
Cover image by Paola Escobar, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Anna James

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

” I’m looking for a book.”

This book in three words: Magic – Imagination – Stories

A couple of weeks ago I used this meme to highlight my love for Tilly and the Bookwanderers, yesterday I finished reading an eARC of Tilly and the Map of Stories, due for publication on 17th September. It’s my favourite of the series so far, although it is going to cause me nightmares the next time I have to do some book-weeding in the library! Here is my review:

The third book in the Pages & Co series is a magnificent celebration of the magic of stories and an ode to the bookshops, libraries and imaginations from which they are dispensed. The love of story erupts from this novel and inflames your heart with a desire to revisit old favourites and examine their links to the newly published. Combining 21st century London tweens with a fantasy plot that includes encounters with the Great Library of Alexandria, the Library of Congress and a jaded William Shakespeare, this book takes you on an enchanted journey through literature!

Tilly and the Map of Stories begins exactly where book two, Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales ended, with the scheming Underwood twins, Melville and Decima, continuing their dictatorial reign at the British Underlibrary; pursuing their own ends whilst deceiving their followers that they are working for the benefit of all. They have begun binding the source editions of books to prevent book wandering in them…but only a small minority of independent thinkers have the courage to question why. These dissenters of course include Archibald and Elizabeth Pages (Tilly’s grandparents), her mother Bea and a group of their close friends.

I have loved this series from the moment I began reading about Tilly and her grandparents’ bookshop Pages & Co in book one. The idea of being able to wander into the pages of favourite books and share afternoon tea with Lizzie Bennet enraptured me. The addition of librarian in-jokes about cardigans and the Dewey Decimal System just made it all the more engaging. Now with this installment, author Anna James takes us on a metaphysical adventure into the heart of Story itself, conjuring an immersive literary world in which Tilly and her best friend Oskar have to delve right to the origins of Story in their attempt to thwart the plans of the Underwoods. It opens with a customer in the bookshop finding himself unable to remember anything about the book which he intended to purchase and this grasping for memories of books is repeated with other characters. Relying on Tilly’s instinct that the curious assortment of objects she has gathered during her previous adventures are clues to the whereabouts of the legendary Archivists who guard the bookwandering world, her mother Bea despatches Tilly and Oskar to Washington DC to track them down.

I really do not want to go into too much description of the plot because it unfurls so perfectly that I cannot bear to ruin your enjoyment. The labyrinthine quest leads our heroes and thus the reader into the chain of stories where it seems only natural that after travelling on a train constructed of an eclectic mix of carriages, aptly named the Sesquipedalian, you might encounter Shakespeare arguing with Scott Fitzgerald!

Tilly and Oskar are two wonderful protagonists whose relationship has developed over the series to an acceptance of each other’s moods and almost telepathic understanding of each other’s reactions at crisis points in the narrative. Their friendship and partnership drives the narrative on as they seek the truth of the Underwoods’ abuse of book magic. As always, Tilly’s grandparents demonstrate steely determination to stand up against wrong-doing and in this novel Tilly’s mother Bea has snapped out of her dreamlike state and takes agency too.  The locations, real, historical and imaginary are brought splendidly into focus by Paola Escobar’s wondrous illustrations; I would love to spend many hours browsing Orlando’s bookstore Shakespeare’s Sisters situated in a former theatre! I also love the use of typography techniques to throw the reader off-balance at times in the story.

It is obvious that I adore Tilly and the Map of Stories and I think it is a book that many adults will relish reading to their own children or to a class of children. Confident readers of 10+ will love immersing themselves in the adventure on which Tilly and Oskar embark and hopefully will engage with some of the philosophical themes: the importance of imagination and collective memory, the need to share stories for the benefit of all and the necessity to question authority when it designs rules that only enhance the experience of a few.

I am most grateful to NetGalley and Harper Collins Children’s Books for allowing me access to an eARC in exchange for an honest review. I will certainly be purchasing a physical copy as soon as the book is published later this month as this is one of my MG highlights of the year so far.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

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 Paola Escobar, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

Author: Anna James

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Tilly had never been very far outside London, but she felt like a seasoned traveller within the pages of books: she had raced across the rooftops of Paris, learned to ride a broomstick and seen the Northern Lights from the deck of a ship. “

I just love the way that this quote encapsulates one of the joys of reading as well as referencing three of my favourite books published for children. It sets up the themes of this fantastic bookish adventure perfectly.

This book in three words: Books – Fantasy – Adventure

I am prompted to celebrate the first of the Pages & Co adventures by Anna James this week as I am overjoyed to have been approved for an eARC of the third book in the series, Tilly and the Map of Stories. For anyone immersed in the world of children’s literature this is a must-read; haven’t we all dreamt of being able to enter the world of our favourite books and speak to the characters who formed our early love of literature?

I think that Anna James’ writing is utterly wonderful and she absolutely captures the joy of becoming lost in a book, I highly recommend Tilly and the Bookwanderers to all confident readers, young and old, and encourage adults to read it aloud as a class reader or bedtime story to anyone of 9+.

My reviews of Tilly and the Bookwanderers and Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James can be read here.

Review: Pages & Co, Books 1 and 2 by Anna James

The receipt of a review copy of the second Pages & Co book made me realise that I had neglected to review the brilliant first book in the series, so here’s a double review post…

Pages & Co 1: Tilly and the BookWanderers

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If, like me, you love getting lost in a good book, this is the perfect read.

Matilda (Tilly) Pages has lived her 11 years in the bookshop owned by her grandparents, Elsie and Archie, who have taken care of her since her mother disappeared when she was a baby. Tilly is struggling to fit into friendship groups at secondary school and wishes that real-life relationships were as straightforward to navigate as those she finds in books; a trait that I’m sure many readers will recognise. Rather than hanging out with a group of  gossiping and giggling girls, Tilly would rather find a comfortable sofa in a secluded corner of the, marvellously imagined, Pages & Co bookshop and seek solace in the company of literary creations.

Her bookish traits are clearly inherited from her family and as the story progresses Tilly realises that the three Pages are all being visited in the shop by their favourite characters from books. The vivacious Lizzie Bennett, who apparently bears a striking resemblance to Tilly’s absent mother; Sherlock Holmes who is allowed to smoke his pipe in the shop, and Alice (from Wonderland) as well as “Anne-with-an-e” from Green Gables.

When Oskar, a classmate who lives in the bakery across the road, gets dragged off to Avonlea with Tilly and Anne, Grandad realises that it is time to take action. He accompanies Tilly and Oskar to the Underlibrary of the British Library, where the Librarian, the brilliantly named Amelia Whisper begins to explain bookwandering!

I won’t give any plot spoilers, but this magical adventure encapsulates everything that a book lover dreams of. I am sure that I am not the only bookworm who longs for the ability to read so deeply that the walls between fiction and reality are broken down, allowing interaction with favourite characters.

I adored the description of the stomach-lurching sensation the bookwanderers experience as they are pulled into books; I think I might have experienced it myself with the re-telling of the Ladybird Peter and Jane books which transported me a long, long way back in time to revisit my 5 year-old self! A glorious celebration of the joy of books and reading, this really is an essential addition to every school library.

 

Pages & Co 2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

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This is the second in the Pages & Co adventures and the story again begins in the north London bookshop, owned by Tilly’s grandparents. Christmas is approaching, and with it a sense of apprehension as Tilly worries about her mother and the strange turn of events at the Underlibrary where Amelia Whisper has been fired, only to be replaced as Librarian by the slippery character of Melville Underwood. Melville has mysteriously reappeared from the realm of fairy tales into which he wandered many years earlier, both Archie and Elsie Pages, along with Amelia Whisper, clearly distrust his explanation of his lost years and his lost sister. For any adults reading this book aloud, the political machinations at the Underlibrary might look uncomfortably familiar! The author brilliantly manipulates the mood from apprehension to impending doom.

As the mood in London darkens, Tilly and her best friend Oskar are due to travel to Paris to stay with Oskar’s father. Before they leave London they are warned by the adults not to try any book wandering while they are away, and especially not to travel into any fairy tales which are wild and unpredictable places! Will they obey the adults, or will Tilly’s curiosity and Oskar’s loyalty to her mean that they take matters into their own hands and explore the “structural discord within fairytales”? You will have to read this brilliantly imagined tale, to find out! 

The exuberant writing by Anna James in these books swept me into the stories and fully captured my imagination. Accompanying the brilliance of the text, the illustrations by Paola Escobar, on the covers and throughout the book, and the playful use of font effects make these books visually as well as imaginatively arresting.

Highly recommended for all bookworms of 10+ 

With thanks to Toppsta.com and HarperCollins Children’s Books for my review copy of Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales, which is now in the hands of a library borrower!