Graphic Novel Review ~ Barry Loser: Total Winner, written and illustrated by Jim Smith

Cover art by Jim Smith, published by Farshore, May 2022

For the past ten years the Barry Loser series of books have been incredibly popular with primary school children who love the combination of zany humour, illustrations and easy-to -read text. What better fusion could there be to entice youngsters who might not yet have discovered the pure joy of reading for pleasure? Here’s the answer…to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this award-winning series, Farshore have taken the hapless hero into the increasingly popular format of the full-colour, graphic novel! What’s more Barry Loser has decided to transform himself into a winner!

If you are new to Barry’s world, don’t worry, a guide to his family, friends and rivals is included at the start which will bring you up to speed. This is followed by five short stories, loaded with the type of humour that has many 7+ year-olds in uncontrollable fits of giggles; expect jokes and illustrations on themes of snot, poo and uncompromising pets! I think that classroom and school libraries will need to order several copies as there is sure to be a long line of children on the waiting list for this title.

A feature that I loved at the end of the book is Jim Smith’s step-by-step guide to drawing Barry Loser and his aloof pet cat, French Fries. As someone who doesn’t have an artistic bone in my body, I know that I would have loved this guidance as a child, and just to prove that Jim’s instructions are fail-safe I will even offer you a sight of my first attempt to draw French Fries!

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson and Farshore for my review copy of Barry Loser: Total Winner in exchange for my honest opinion.

Books for Christmas Gifts 2021

It’s that time of year when I start shopping for the books that increasingly form the backbone of my Christmas shopping list. There has been another fantastic roster of new books emerging this year and we are actually spoilt for choice when entering a bookshop, so I thought I would share some of the books that have stood out for me during the past 12 months and which I will be buying and giving this festive season.

Christmas/Festive Themed

Christmas/Festive themed books 2021

Once Upon A Silent Night by Dawn Casey and Katie Hickey is a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story inspired by a medieval carol, which would make a delightful gift for any pre-school child.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu is a huge-hearted festive story which absolutely brims over with Christmas cheer, warmth and humour.

The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer is an enchanting picture book which sparkles with the magic of the Northern Lights; in the author’s own words “a miracle of winter”.

Non-fiction

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

Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak: a wellbeing book with a different twist, looking at what we can learn from the animal kingdom to help us navigate some of life’s uncertainties. If you know a tween or teen who has struggled with some of the challenges of the past two years, put a copy of this compassionate and life-affirming book into their hands.

How Was That Built? by Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey is quite simply a towering work of non-fiction which will make a fantastic present for curious minds of any age.

Translated Fiction

Interestingly, both of my choices in this category come from Scandinavian writers and feature unconventional stories brimming with wit and wisdom. Firstly we have the classic children’s story Pippi Lockstocking by Astrid Lindgren which has just been re-released in a glorious hardback format with new illustrations in her trademark collage-style, by Lauren Child. A beautifully designed gift for any child to treasure. Recommended for age 7+.

Newly translated into English this year, Me and the Robbersons by Finnish author Siri Kolu (translated by Ruth Urbom) was one of my most joyous middle-grade reads of the summer. An anarchic tale of sweet-toothed, highway bandits on the roads of Sweden, the humour envelopes a beautiful story of acceptance. Recommended for age 9+.

MG Fiction

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans and Chris Jevons is a riot of jokes, warmth and love, fully illustrated and perfect for readers who are gaining independence and don’t mind stopping every few minutes to wipe away the tears of laughter.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is their second hugely entertaining, illustrated, spy mystery in this series, which will test the brainpower of junior cryptographers. An excellent introduction to the world of espionage fiction.

The Crackledawn Dragon by Abbie Elphinstone is the conclusion to her Unmapped Kingdoms trilogy. It is a story brimming with kindness, playfulness and sheer, unbound imaginative brilliance which will delight readers of 9+

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is a deeply moving story set during WWII and told from the perspective of both English and German characters. The elegant imagery of swallows flits through this story of the importance of seemingly small acts of kindness. A thoughtful read for anyone of 11+.

Island Adventures

Three books, all set on islands situated off the Irish coast were amongst my favourite MG titles this year, so I’ve given them a category of their own!

Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a treasure chest of heart, humour and hope; a wonderful story which will entertain all the family. Perfect for reading aloud when the generations are gathered together over the festive period.

The Stormkeepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle concludes the thrilling and lyrical trilogy of the battle for the soul of wild Arranmore Island.

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

Young Adult Fiction

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller is unlike anything I have ever read in all my (many) years as a reader. I actually haven’t written my full review yet as I am still trying to process the insight that author Lisa Fuller has generously provided into her cultural beliefs. I did find some aspects quite frightening, so would certainly say that this is a book for over 16s and not those of a nervous disposition but I’m sure it will also be of great interest to adults who wish to gain some understanding of the culture and spiritual beliefs of First Nations Australians.

I am Winter by Denise Brown is a beautifully written, gritty, and compelling whodunnit perfect for readers of 15+ .

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu

Cover illustration by Selom Sunu, published by Farshore an imprint of Harper Collins, October 2021.
MG Takes On Thursday graphic by Mary Simms.

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: Mel Taylor-Bessent

Illustrator: Selom Sunu

Publisher: Farshore

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

A world filled with snowfall and sunshine, flashing fairy lights, and constant jingling bells.

p11

This book in three words: Christmas Every Day!

Imagine being part of a family who celebrate every day as if it were Christmas, and see it as their mission in life to spread festive cheer to everyone they encounter! This is exactly the life that Holly and her family, the Carrolls, enjoy, at their home in the countryside. Her Dad, Nick, has never let go of the joyous feeling that arriving from Jamaica in the middle of a snowstorm brought him, and now spends his time inventing merrynifiscent Christmas creations. Mum, Snow, designs a fabulous range of Christmas aprons and homeschools Holly with festive fervour; symmetry lessons using lights and decorations on a tree sounds like a magnificent maths lesson to me! Meanwhile, we await baby Ivy’s first word to see if it will be one of her big sister’s concatenations.

However, when the Carrolls leap at the opportunity to buy a house on the third most Christmassy road in the world, Sleigh Ride Avenue, their lives are upturned quicker than a six-year-old’s stocking on Christmas morning! Firstly, their exuberant arrival is frowned upon by miserable neighbour Hugh Berg, referred to as Mr Bleurgh by Holly. Then there is the small matter of a lack of fireplace to contend with. However, the biggest challenge for Holly is her adjustment to the social and cultural norms of a Year 5 classroom.

Author, Mel Taylor-Bessent, captures the comedic potential of Holly’s enthusiastic embrace of anything festive brilliantly and descriptions of her arrival in the classroom, throwing handfuls of snowflake confetti, offering to sing a carol to her classmates and inability to refrain from shouting out her approval for the class book, will have readers giggling with appreciation. Her enthusiasm is so infectious that even the quiet loner of the class, Archer, seems to be warming to the task of making a joint presentation for the roles of class representatives with her.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares Holly’s zeal. Her yuletide accessorising of school uniform is frowned upon by the head teacher, some of her class cohort are less than complimentary about her “backpack of cheer” and apparently Mr Bleurgh is raising a petition to have the Carrolls removed from Sleigh Ride Avenue. When Archer appears to turn his back on their burgeoning friendship, Holly loses her Christmas cheer and has to reassess her behaviour as she ponders what to do in order to fit in with her new surroundings and whether she can bring cheer to the person who needs it the most. Will she follow her muse, Reggie the donkey-who-thinks-he’s-a-reindeer, and continue to spread goodwill? You will have to read The Christmas Carrolls to find out!

This is such a big-hearted story that it will make a wonderful addition to anyone’s festive story collection. It would be a wonderful whole class read to enjoy during December, likely to instil the Christmas Eve feeling of “everyone still and listening…and magic in the air”. Additionally, the joyfully expressive illustrations throughout, by Selom Sunu, make it a perfect independent read for anyone of 8/9+. It is really no surprise that Mel Taylor-Bessent, who has done so much to promote the love of reading for primary school children should have authored such an exhilarating and inclusive story. It really doesn’t matter how you celebrate the festive season, the underlying messages of gratitude, enjoying the moment and doing your best to make someone else feel happy are universal, and packaged in this beautiful book are bound to spread cheer. The sense of bonhomie seems to burst from the pages and as for the descriptions of festively fragranced food, I am reaching for my 30 year-old copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas a month earlier than usual! This is a Christmas cracker that does not disappoint.