As the leaves fall and the evenings draw in, you couldn’t wish for a more perfect autumnal book to share with a young reader than the latest Midnight adventure. Once again Michelle Harrison has conjured a perfect rhyming adventure for magical cat Midnight and the gorgeous and fun-filled illustrations by Elissa Elwick, rendered in rich browns and orange make this an absolute treasure for young readers.
I love the autumn garden setting, with Trixie, Doodle the dog and Midnight, playing at being spies, pirates, prisoners and astronauts whilst Dad and Nan sweep the leaves and tidy the garden ready for winter. When mischievous Midnight twitches her whiskers to conjure a fabulous, friendly, flying, leaf dragon the friends don’t realise that the spell has been witnessed by an individual in desperate need of a magical boost. The gentle and sensible messages about not talking to strangers and what to do if you get lost, are perfectly pitched for the intended readership and the resolution of the story was perfect in my eyes. This is another of those books which presents newly independent readers with an enjoyable reading experience, enabling them to find a sense of achievement in reading short blocks of text, short chapters and a thoroughly engaging story.
If you are a school librarian, a Key Stage 1 or even Year 3 teacher or a relative or carer of a child of 6-8, then treat them this Halloween to a copy of Midnight Magic Witch Trap. It’s sweeter than a toffee apple and a whole lot more satisfying!
I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for my gifted review copy in return for my honest opinion.
This second book in the Woodland Magic series is every bit as delightful as the first, which I previously reviewed here: Woodland Magic Fox Cub Rescue. It again features Cora and Jax as the two main protagonists, with them trying once more to become fully trained Keepers but struggling to stick to the task they have been set!
If you have not read the first book in the series, don’t worry because in the first chapter author Julie Sykes includes a brief recap on the role of the tiny Keepers who live in the centre of Whispering Woods and venture into the Big Outside to tidy up and rewild when the Ruffins are not around. With their cobweb bags full of seeds, they venture out into the human-inhabited world before dawn and after dusk, sprinkling the barren earth with wild seeds and a touch of woodland magic to restore the balance of nature. They are always on the lookout for natural treasures to take back to the head Keeper for use in their community, thereby making young readers stop and observe the beauty of the natural world through their eyes:
They were black and white with a shimmery line of blue.
This is Cora’s observation of the magpie feathers she has found.
When Cora and Jax are tasked with creating a hedgehog highway through the garden fences of a newly built housing estate, the race is on to finish the task before the workmen return to their bulldozers and tractors. What will they do when a young deer bounces out of the woods and gets into trouble in a deep trench?
I love the concept and execution of these stories. Deer in Danger, like its predecessor provides a gentle discovery of the natural environment that can be so easy to take for granted. The Keepers’ veneration of nature makes readers see flower petals, British wildlife and the natural landscape through fresh eyes. Cora and Jax, as well as their friends Trix and Nis are recognisably cheeky, curious and lovable characters who have to fight the urge to mess around in order to complete the important work they are tasked with. They demonstrate great teamwork and support for each other in this engaging and heartwarming story. At just over 100 pages, printed in a slightly enlarged font and illustrated throughout with Katy Riddell’s beautiful greyscale artwork, Woodland Magic Deer in Danger is a perfect book to encourage emerging young readers to complete an independent read and thus gain satisfaction in their new found skill. Highly recommended for children of 7-9 years of age.
I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson and Piccadilly Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
The ninth adventure for Kitty, the girl with cat-like superpowers, has leapt onto the bookshelves! It takes our young superhero-in-training out of her usual urban surroundings and into the countryside for a fresh challenge. As always, the new book in the series is a joy to behold, the cover with its trademark black, orange and grey colour scheme with foil highlights, gives a clear indication of the delights to be found within. Jenny Løvlie’s unique illustrations appear throughout the story, allowing young readers the chance to pause and examine the exquisite details, as they take their early steps on the journey of becoming readers.
The story opens with Kitty and her best friend Ozzy using their super senses to explore a woodland as they seek the perfect spot for their families to pitch their tents for a camping holiday. Ozzy, like Kitty, is a young superhero and his owl-like superpowers of long distance vision and the ability to glide silently between the trees with his feathered cape are the perfect complement to Kitty’s cat-senses and agility. Their excitement in discovering the natural delights of the woodland will be familiar to all young readers who have had the opportunity to play in a natural environment. I loved the touch of humour introduced by Kitty’s pet, Pumpkin, showing some discomfort at being in a natural environment rather than the familiar cityscape that she is used to.
The children’s super-senses and desire to help animals in need are called into action when Kitty discovers an injured wildcat who has lost her kittens. This leads to a thrilling night time adventure which will entertain a readership of 6+, featuring just the right level of peril to make the story exciting without being too scary. Themes of kindness, gentleness, acceptance of difference and appreciation of nature run lightly through the narrative. I am in awe of the way that Paula Harrison has managed to keep this series so fresh, producing a selection of stories which always surprise and delight, and which I am sure many children must treasure on their bookshelves.
It is so important to be able to offer children enticing book choices to encourage reading for pleasure and Kitty and the Woodland Wildcat, with its perfect sizing for small hands, ideal length, nicely sized font and thoroughly enjoyable storyline is an essential for Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 classrooms.
If you enjoy this book and would like to read others from the series, I have reviewed some of the others previously on the blog:
Mike Falls Up is one of a series of simple, early chapter books for new readers aged 5-7, published by Little Tiger Press. Award winning author Candy Gourlay has written a story which reflects the exuberant imaginations of young children and promotes multicultural friendships, it is colourfully illustrated throughout in what I would describe as video-game-style images by Carles Ballesteros.
When we first meet Mike and his dog Bowow, they are complaining about the heat and it is clear from Mike’s attire of T-shirt, shorts, baseball cap and flip-flops, as well as his home decor and the glimpse of garden seen through the window, that he lives in a tropical or semi-tropical location. When Mama sends him out to play in the fresh air of the sun-scorched Chocolate Hills a sudden earthquake leaves a zig-zagged crack in the ground, from which emerges a mysterious note inviting Mike to “fall up” to a birthday party! Jumping into the hole in the ground grants Mike’s wish for a drop in temperature…as he emerges into a house in snowy London, much to the surprise of Kaneisha! It turns out that Kaneisha has received a similar invitation and when the two children “fall up” her chimney a topsy-turvy adventure with an awesome new friend begins.
I think that Mike Falls Up will be a welcome addition to Key Stage 1 classrooms and primary school library collections to broaden the choices on offer to children who are beginning to read independently. At 85 pages of clear print in short, simple paragraphs broken up with colourful illustrations, it is perfect to allow children the satisfaction of finishing a book on their own. Furthermore, the contrast between Mike’s exotic home and Kaneisha’s London home will, I think, resonate with many youngsters who were born overseas or frequently visit family overseas. The illustrations provide plenty of opportunities for discussion of homes and family in different parts of the world and will allow many children in our schools to see their experience represented in a book. Finally, I loved the way that this story tapped into that childhood desire to dig a hole deep enough to travel to Australia or China or wherever else in the world grabs a 5 year-old’s imagination; as I read it, a long buried memory of my brother’s deep hole under our childhood climbing frame sprang into my mind!
I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy of Mike Falls Up in exchange for my honest opinion.
Regular readers of my blog will know how much value I place on books which give young readers the chance to become confident with their independent reading and at the same time discover the pure enjoyment to be found within the covers of a book.
The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes is a series of early chapter books, written by Brenda Gurr with lovely illustrated chapter headers created by Nancy Leschnikoff, perfect for children of 7-9 years-of-age. This third book in the series, The Super Spy is my favourite yet, the enticing cover image providing a perfect illustration of the combination of delights to be found inside.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Zoe Jones appears to be an ordinary nine-year old schoolgirl…but she harbours a secret identity, for she is in fact none other than legendary baker Zinnia Jakes! Helping her to conceal her undercover baking persona are Aunt Jam, with whom she lives when her father is away on overseas food critic duties, best friend Addie and magical cat Coco! (I have my own theory about Coco and wonder if Brenda Gurr will reveal more about this fabulous feline in future books).
Zoe and Addie along with all their classmates are hugely excited about the class sleepover in the school library:
They were going to sleep in the library, surrounded by hundreds of books and stories galore…Zoe was certain she would have sweet dreams that night!
Additionally, Zinnia Jakes has been tasked with baking one of her fabulous creations for the Parents’ Association spy-themed party which will be held in the school hall on the same night! As Zoe and Addie research the history of spying at the local museum and work on the cake design their own espionage skills lead to the discovery that there will be spy-traps to outwit if they are to continue their modus operandi of mysterious Zinnia Jakes’ deliveries!
This story packs many mouth-watering ingredients into its 100 pages. There is an exciting and fast-moving plot; an enjoyable sense of peril; a friendship based on thoughtfulness and kindness; a lovely exploration of research, planning and creativity; a celebration of museums; the best range of cooking-based metaphors and similes I’ve ever seen and the sprinkling of magic and humour supplied by Coco’s antics. What’s more, once you’ve enjoyed the story there is a recipe so that you can try baking your own Super Spy cake!
I absolutely recommend Zinnia Jakes The Superspy as an addition to home and school bookshelves for independent readers of 7-9 and think that it would also work well as a class or group read, perhaps linked to a DT or cooking project. Publisher New Frontier has provided teacher notes which include the hidden picture cake recipe on this link. Check out the other books in the Zinnia Jakes series too; you can read my review of The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes Book 1 here.
I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing UK for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Prepare for mischief and mayhem as a very special magical cat makes a second appearance on a bookshelf near you!
Midnight made her debut appearance in October 2020 and she leaps back into action just in time for this year’s Halloween celebrations. Once more Michelle Harrison has written a sparkling, delightful story in rhyming text which bounces along with an enchanting rhythm. Young readers will be captivated with the combination of short, easy to read, blocks of text interspersed with Elissa Elwick’s charming illustrations. It is so important for children who are just discovering independent reading to be presented with appealing, enticing books that invite them to read for enjoyment, and this book does exactly that with its endearing characters, hilarious story and short illustrated chapters.
Midnight’s sense of fun results in her conjuring up a “copycat” reflection of herself in the bathroom mirror, an impish doppelgänger who can cause all kinds of havoc in the reflected world without causing any trouble in the real world. It looks like a case of “mischief perfection” until the combination of excitable dog Doodle and enchanted broom Twiggy manage to send the mirror crashing to the floor! Once the copycat escapes into the real world there is nothing that Midnight, Trixie, Dad or Gran can do to stop the escalating chaos!
Young children will love the increasingly anarchic behaviour of the copycat and the extreme measures that Trixie and Midnight deploy as they try to catch the troublesome terror. In scenes which are reminiscent of children’s classic The Cat in the Hat, it appears that every part of Trixie’s home will be reduced to disorder! As for my favourite part of the book – it can only be the sight of Dad ironing the white school shirt at breakfast time; that’s true magic!
I highly recommend Mirror Mischief as an addition to your home and school bookshelves, it is a hugely enjoyable story for 6-9 year olds and would make a much better Halloween present than much of the orange plastic currently filling the supermarket shelves!
If you enjoy Mirror Mischief, do look out for the first Midnight Magic story too.
I am very grateful to Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.
I was fortunate to be sent an ARC of the first book in the Ballet Bunnies series earlier in the year and absolutely adored the story of young ballerina Millie nervously joining her new ballet class and befriending the four little rabbits who live in Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. You can read my review of Ballet Bunnies: The New Class here.
Now there are three books available, all beautifully produced in full-colour and enhanced with glittery covers, the perfect collection for any young dancer’s bookshelf. These are wonderful early chapter books to inspire confidence and enjoyment of reading in children who are taking the first steps in their independent reading journey.
Ballet Bunnies: Let’s Dance
In a scenario that will be familiar to every child (and parent) who attends dance lessons, the pupils of Miss Luisa’s School of Dance are in a state of high excitement as the day of their Gala Performance approaches. Millie’s tummy is fluttering with butterflies despite the fact that she has rehearsed until she knows every move of her dance by heart. Fortunately, the ballet bunnies are there to offer calming advice and when mean girl Amber tries to sabotage Millie’s performance, little Dolly is the hero who saves the day!
Ballet Bunnies: Millie’s Birthday
Summer term has come to an end at Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. As she helps to tidy the ballet studio Millie tells the four tiny, dancing bunnies about her impending birthday party. Sensing her apprehension about the visit of so many friends to her house, the bunnies offer to come and stay with her to help with her anxiety about the event.
This is another lovely story which encapsulates the nervousness that afflicts some shy children over an event that they are expected to be excited about. The friendship shown by the bunnies and their sensible strategies to help Millie stay calm when the party seems to be overwhelming her will reassure and delight young readers.
I am most grateful to OUP Children’s books for sending me review copies of these books which will be shared with young dancers through the school library. I think they would make a lovely Christmas gift for any young children aged 4-7.
I don’t know if it is just a coincidence, but since lockdown happened in March I have received a number of books to review which feature baking as a main theme, an activity which many children have had the opportunity to practise during the months at home. I thought I would round up these tasty titles here.
Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: Dancing With Doughnuts, written by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G Griffiths
I especially love this short chapter book for its portrayal of the title character Freddie Bonbon as not just a star baker but also the kindest and most thoughtful individual you could hope to meet. When we first encounter Freddie he is removing one last batch of cinnamon buns from the oven before shutting up his bakery for the day. The buns are to be a gift for the folk of Belville who are auditioning for the town’s final Summer Talent Show before local impresarios Max and Margie Motion retire. Freddie, who suffers terrible stage-fright himself, is going along to support his many friends, especially his ballroom-dancing bakery manager Amira.
A humorous, warm and accident-strewn plot ensues in a book ideally suited to newly confident readers to read alone. The text is in an easily readable font size, broken up by hilariously expressive illustrations drawn by Alex G Griffiths featuring a multi-ethnic cast of characters, as well as interesting typography effects. With cakes, dancing and a deliciously scheming villain in the character of rival baker Bernard this is a book which will be equally enjoyed by boys and girls of age 6+.
The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes, written by Brenda Gurr, illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
Zinnia Jakes is an undercover baker! Her cakes are famous in her hometown for their fabulous intricacy, but nobody knows that they are baked by a nine-year-old girl based in a secret kitchen in her Auntie Jam’s house. This delightful story mixes magic, mystery and baking in a recipe that will delight young readers of 6+. You can read a more detailed review from an earlier blog post here.
Sage Cookson’s Great Escape and Sage Cookson’s Snow Day, written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Celeste Hulme
Sage Cookson is the daughter of two famous TV cooks and food experts. She is used to a lifestyle that blends school with jetting off to accompany them on broadcasting assignments, which lead to exciting adventures.
These books contain a tempting mix of food-related content with perfectly presented peril and excitement, enticingly packaged for a readership of 6/7+. You can read an earlier blog post with a more detailed review here.
Polly Profiterole’s Little Town written by Maggie May Gordon and illustrated by Margarita Levina
The youngest children are also catered for in this banquet of baking-based books by this quirky tale of extreme baker Polly Profiterole who decides to cook up the buildings required to breathe life into her sleepy little town! An absolute feast for the youngest imaginations, you can read my more detailed review in a former post here.
It is so important for newly emerging readers to have books available which instil a love of reading by combining enjoyable stories with great design; making books desirable objects. These two new series from New Frontier Publishing deliver on both counts: hugely enjoyable stories in books which have been created with extraordinary care, the covers and pages are top quality, with buff-coloured paper (which, as a parent of a dyslexic child I always value highly) and are the perfect dimensions for 6/7 year-olds to hold.
The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes written by Brenda Gurr, illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
Take out your tea set and cake stand and feast on The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes! The cover, with its lively illustrations and silver foil highlights certainly ticks the shelf-appeal boxes. Inside newly confident readers will find a story blending baking, mystery and a sprinkle of magic. It’s a perfect recipe for an entertaining and enjoyable read!
The identity of Zinnia Jakes is known only to her Auntie Jam, best friend Addie and international food critic father. Who could possibly guess that the fabulous creations baked by Zinnia Jakes are actually the work of nine-year-old Zoe Jones? She seems to have inherited her late mother’s talent for baking and produces delectable cakes from a secret kitchen in Auntie Jam’s home, assisted by a mysteriously magical cat and occasional help from Addie.
In this, her first adventure, she is tasked with producing a medieval castle cake to act a s a show stopper at a Professor’s book launch. But with only 48 hours to conceptualise and create a structure, and a best friend and aunt who are also preparing for their own events at the Medieval Fair, not to mention transportation problems, will Zinnia be able to deliver the goods?
This is an absolutely charming story, which I can imagine being very popular with the cohort of children who flock to the Rainbow Fairies and Isadora Moon early chapter books. The chapter headings throughout are stylishly illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff. With a delicious sounding recipe for medieval gingerbread at the back it is a perfect book to enjoy during the lockdown period and beyond!
Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, written by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme
Sage Cookson is the globe-trotting, 10 year-old daughter of Basil and Ginger Cookson, the famous TV cooks and gastronomes. It is second nature to her to pack her suitcase, say goodbye to best friend Lucy and accompany her parents to the next location to film an episode of The Cooksons Cook On!
This time she is extra excited because she and Lucy have just been given their first mobile phones; they will be able to keep in touch regularly during her week away from school. The excitement builds up further when Sage discovers that the location, Newhaven Resort in Western Australia, is home to a chocolate plantation!
However, arrival at Marco’s Chocolates brings a less than sugary welcome, in fact Marco and his assistant Nancy appear positively hostile to their famous visitors. Adventure is thrown into the mix when Marco drives the family into the bush to visit his secret plantation!
This is a super introduction to adventure stories for newly confident readers, with an exciting but not too threatening plot, great pacing and a relateable young protagonist. Stylish black and white illustrations throughout the book are by Celeste Hulme. There is also a divine-looking chocolate fondant recipe at the end of the book.
Sage Cookson’s Snow Day, written by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme
Ten year-old Sage Cookson is off on her travels again, this time to Snowy Village in the Australian Alps. An old friend of her mother has just opened a patisserie from where her parents plan to film the next episode of The Cooksons Cook On.
Sage is equally excited by the prospect of improving her skiing technique and spending time with Julia’s teenage son Kyle, with whom she has been friends throughout her childhood. However, on arrival she is shocked by the change in Kyle’s personality, and hurt by his sullen and uncommunicative attitude. This was not the sort of frosty she had been hoping for on this trip!
When Kyle disappears with his snowboard early the next morning, Sage’s capacity for friendship will be tested in this pacy adventure. At the end of the book you will find a very tempting recipe for easy mille-feuille!
All three of these books would be lovely additions to a school or classroom library to be enjoyed by newly independent readers, and I can equally imagine young readers wanting to collect their own sets to read at home. Perfect adventures for 6/7 year-olds.
I am very grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me these books in exchange for my honest opinion.
This is the third magical Adventure for Kitty, a little girl who has inherited her mum’s cat-like superpowers and one day aims to follow in her mum’s paw prints to become a superhero!
For the time being she is happy to pull on her supercat costume, with its billowing, black cape, and skip over the night-time rooftops with her many feline friends, enjoying gentle adventures from which they all learn essential life lessons.
At the start of this story, Kitty and her rescue-cat Pumpkin are visited by their friend Pixie, who arrives to tell them about a magical rooftop garden she has heard about. Kitty is seeking inspiration for a school project so the three of them set out on a night time expedition across the town, with Kitty using her enhanced sense of smell to locate the plant-filled wonderland of the Sky Garden. When they arrive her two cat companions go crazy in a capnip plant until they are scolded by an old tortoiseshell cat named Diggory. He is the guardian of the Sky Garden who explains the number of years of work that his owner, Mrs Lovell, has invested into creating this living paradise. After suitable apologies the three explorers are allowed to investigate the wonders of the garden and Kitty finds inspiration for her school garden design.
However, Pixie cannot keep the news of this incredibly beautiful space to herself, and by spreading the news far and wide causes unexpected trouble. Kitty will require all her reserves of skill and intelligence to try to rectify the damage!
This is a wonderful book for newly confident readers, and would equally make a lovely shared experience for younger, emerging readers. The story is beautifully crafted by Paula Harrison, nurturing a sense of respect for the hard work and property of others and encouraging thoughtfulness, all wrapped in an exciting adventure. The illustrations by Jenny Løvlie are wondrously striking in a palette of black, white and orange. There is so much intricate detail to explore and talk about that this book will invite hours of exploration.
I highly recommend this book to anyone aged 4+, I am looking forward to sharing it through the school library and imagine that many children will be tempted to collect the entire series for their own bookshelves.