Review: Awesomely Austen, Pride and Prejudice rewritten by Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans

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I was a little apprehensive when I heard that Jane Austen’s novels were being rewritten for a younger audience, but Katherine Woodfine has totally honoured the original and this is an utterly glorious addition to any school library, classroom or home bookshelf, I will certainly be buying many copies as gifts! To see one of my all time favourite novels made accessible for an MG audience gladdens my heart.

Firstly, the beautifully produced hardback edition with lovely orange-coloured endpapers featuring the main characters tells you that this is a book to be treasured. The “delightful doodles” drawn by Églantine Ceulemans perfectly illustrate and add to the understanding of the story, with Elizabeth Bennet’s “fine eyes” directing the reader towards the action wherever she appears.

Katherine Woodfine has managed to capture the charm and vivacity of Jane Austen’s masterpiece; has preserved many of the most famous original lines; and maintained the personalities of the characters whilst rewriting to make this accessible to a younger audience. The extremely long and complex sentences of the original have been simplified and Elizabeth’s motivations and thoughts are made explicit to aid comprehension. I have been reading it with a group of Year 5 pupils (aged 9 and 10) in a library club, and they have been spellbound. It is interesting to see their reaction to the reality of the lives that were expected of females in the Regency period and their recognition of Elizabeth’s single-mindedness. 

For children who are reading this alone, there are explanatory notes about Regency England and portraits of the main characters accompanied by short biographies at the front of the book. Additionally the end notes by Katherine and Églantine, the short biography of Jane Austen and historical notes on 1813 will all help to contextualise the story.

The lightness of touch demonstrated in Katherine Woodfine’s writing brings the characters alive with their original personalities intact, despite the uncomplicated language. So you are left in no doubt of Jane’s sweetness, Elizabeth’s intelligence, Mary’s misguided pride in her accomplishments, Kitty and Lydia’s silliness, Mrs Bennet ’s obsessions and Mr Bennet’s sarcasm. I could go on, because there is little doubt that every character in Pride and Prejudice has an important part to play in the plot. The complexities of the social class structure and etiquette of the age are portrayed wonderfully and Lizzie’s mortification at her family’s behaviour whilst attending the Netherfield Ball gives a glimpse into the consequences of ignoring the social mores. I was delighted to find that my favourite scenes from the original were rendered with wit and verve and I congratulate the author and everyone concerned for turning a much beloved classic into such an enjoyable MG book.

Highly recommended for readers of 9+, who will hopefully have their appetite whetted to read the original when they reach secondary school.

 

I am most grateful to toppsta.com and Hachette Children’s Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Malamander by Thomas Taylor

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Welcome to the mysterious seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea, a desolate place in the winter months where the sea mist hides a multitude of secrets! 

This book sinks its fangs and claws into you and will not release you until the final page. It is populated by a cast of wonderfully inventive characters, the descriptions of the town alongside the perfect map mean that you can picture every wind-battered location and the story has more twists and turns than an eel racing through the brine. On top of the mystery, the book is written in a playful style, breaking the fourth wall in a manner that reminded me of Lemony Snicket. The author, Thomas Taylor, has obviously had great fun with the names he has used for his cast and the buildings which feature heavily in the plot, all of which add to the enjoyment of reading.

The action begins in the Grand Nautilus Hotel where the town’s adopted son, Herbert Lemon, found as a boy in a crate of lemons, works as the hotel’s “Lost-and-Founder”. He has a small cubbyhole in the hotel’s Reception and a large basement room full of one hundred year’s worth of lost property. He is a steady, honest, reliable twelve year-old, described in his own words thus:

.“ Now, you’ve probably worked out by now that I’m not a Quick, Herbie, jump kind of guy. I mean, it’s not as if there’s much need for jumping and exclamation marks in the daily life of a lost property attendant.”

In contrast, bedraggled Violet Parma, bursts through Herbie’s basement window in the middle of a storm, swiftly pursued by the monstrous Boathook Man. She is on a quest to search for her lost parents who left her at the hotel twelve years previously and disappeared, leaving only their shoes on the pier and their luggage in the room with their infant. Fearless and determined in pursuit of clues to her past, Violet is reckless, spontaneous and perceptive.

As the partnership of these two protagonists develops throughout the adventure Herbie’s character exhibits hidden courage, he finds his inner strength and their loyalty to each other is heartwarming. On their mission they encounter Lady Kraken, the ancient hotel proprietor with her fantastic cameraluna; Jenny Hanniver owner of the Eerie Book Dispensary and a Mermonkey; Mrs Fossil of the Flotsamporium; Dr Thalassi who keeps his surgery in the ancient fort-museum; slimy Mr Mollusc; terrifying Boathook Man and famed local writer Sebastian Eels. As hints are dropped and confidences prised from the town’s inhabitants it becomes increasingly difficult to know who can be trusted.

It appears that each of the town’s inhabitants has some connection to the legend of the Malamander, a mythical sea creature said to haunt the wreck of the HMS Leviathan, which reveals itself in the mouth of the bay at low tide. As secrets are uncovered the veil of suspicion as to who might have been responsible for the disappearance of Violet’s parents shifts as unpredictably as the rolling sea mist. The tension is almost unbearable and drives the reader to pursue clues as intently as Violet and Herbie. 

I cannot say any more about the plot as I fear I will give away spoilers, but I can honestly say that this is a hugely entertaining and gripping story which I highly recommend to anyone from 10 years-old and upwards. As an added bonus, you will learn the technical terms for creatures which become dormant in the summer and for fossilised dinosaur poo! I believe that the second book in the series is due to be published in May 2020, and I certainly will not be leaving it lost in the middle of a TBR stack as I did with this one!

Brilliant Board Books!

This post concentrates on vibrant new arrivals for the very youngest book “readers” which will provide perfect material for book sharing opportunities and are produced with such quality and care, by the Little Stars imprint, that they will be enjoyed repeatedly by the toddler in your life.

Let’s Go! On a Ferry and Let’s Go! On a Rocket, written by Rosalyn Albert, illustrated by Natalia Moore.

Firstly, two books from the “Let’s Go” series written by Rosalyn Albert and illustrated by Natalia Moore. These two books reflect the author’s obvious passion for travel in engaging tales featuring different forms of transport. The stories are written in rhyming text, introducing technical vocabulary in a fun and gentle way. The quality of the writing is glorious, so as the children travel in the ferry they describe it thus “We skim like pebbles over waves.” Natalia Moore’s lively illustrations perfectly complement the text. You can almost feel the sea-spray on your face as you travel “On a Ferry” and who wouldn’t want to travel “On a Rocket” to meet the friendly, bug-eyed aliens.

GREGORY GOOSE is on the loose! In the Jungle and GREGORY GOOSE is on the loose! On the Moon written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Mandy Stanley

 

 

 

In this series of travel-related books, Hilary Robinson’s creation Gregory Goose ventures to far-flung destinations where he loves to hide himself amongst the local inhabitants, providing young children with the challenge to find him on each page. The bright and bold illustrations by Mandy Stanley invite hours of observation as they bring the quest to life. The jungle creatures have such expressive faces, whilst the vegetation seems to burst from the page with life. As intrepid Gregory ventures beyond earth’s atmosphere in a colourful space craft there are multi-hued planets and cute aliens to gaze upon as young readers search for Gregory. I love the way that these books introduce the youngest children to different habitats hopefully setting them on a life-long quest for knowledge.

 

I am very grateful to New Frontier and Little Steps Publishing for sending me copies of these titles in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Cure for a Crime by Roopa Farooki

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This fast-paced new entry into the MG detective fiction world certainly provides a story to wake you from your post-Christmas snooze and propel you headlong into the New Year.

Featuring super-bright, sassy twin sisters, Ali and Tulip, a grandmother (Nan-Nan) with hidden depths and a pair of frenemy twin brothers, Jay and Zac, the story takes off at a relentless pace and never lets up.

Ali and Tulip’s mother is a junior doctor, and as such, the twins expect her to be exhausted. However, since the instalment of her new boyfriend Brian Sturgeon into their home, mum’s zombie like state is so uncharacteristic that the girls decide to investigate. When their school teacher Mr Ofu exhibits the same symptoms as Mum, and they spot Brian Sturgeon on the school site, the two sets of twins team up to find out what the sneaky Professor, who describes himself as “Britain’s top brain surgeon” is up to.

As they navigate their way around London, the hospital where their mum works, and through school these sisters are never short of a smart reply, excuse or action to smooth their way. A unique aspect of this adventure is that the author, Roopa Farooki, herself a doctor, has infused the story with medical knowledge. The girls exhibit their life-saving skills and the appendix (very appropriate!) contains extracts from their Mini-Medix blog to further add detail. This is completely in character with Tulip’s personality and feels like an intrinsic part of her story.

As for Nan-Nan, she is a force of nature, who does not let her use of an electric wheelchair ( embellished with go-faster stripes) hinder her activities. She is the only character who can anticipate the off-grid activities of her grandchildren, always arrives at the perfect moment and has as many whip-smart replies as any teenager! She also shares the twin’s dislike of Sturgeon the Surgeon but initially tells Ali and Tulip that their mum is depressed rather than having been infected by some diabolical scheme run by the slimy boyfriend. However, once her hidden depths are revealed she puts her former “skills” to work in assisting them uncover the mystery.

This book is perfect for fans of Ruby Redford, Murder Most Unladylike and Alex Rider. Equally appealing to boys and girls, featuring a multi-ethnic cast of characters and strongly showcasing the practical applications of science as well as overflowing with useful facts it is a joy to read. I certainly hope that there will be further MG adventures from the talented Roopa Farooki to come.

I would recommend it for upper KS2 children because one plot twist featuring reproductive medicine will possibly require some discussion which younger children probably will not understand.

 

I am grateful to Kate Scott and OUP Children’s Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book.

Review: Codebusters by Dan Metcalf

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This book is an entertaining, easy read which opens a door to cryptography for a Key Stage 2 readership. It is produced by Bloomsbury’s Black Cats imprint, a set of fast-paced stories with illustrations throughout, designed to appeal to even reluctant readers.

Jackson Hilbert has to move schools, to Bletchley Grange, mid-term and decides to re-invent himself as “Jax” a popular footballer rather than the maths geek he was viewed as at his last school. However, he just can’t stop his competitive edge getting the better of him in a prime number challenge in his first maths class, and following a little code-cracking he is recruited by the “codebusters”!

Before his first week at Bletchley Grange is over, he is embroiled in deciphering a trail of clues alongside Jasper Newton, Michelle Chang and Charlie Babbage, to discover the whereabouts of a stolen school trophy. With guidance from the super-intelligent Captain Sir Alastair Horacio Turing PhD, this team of smart kids pool their talents to take on the challenges that the mysterious ”Elgar” has set for them.

I love the way that the author, Dan Metcalf, has played with the names of his characters and introduced ideas such as the Caesar cipher, which could spark an interest in the discipline of cyber-security in young readers. For those intrigued by secret codes, more information and some fun worksheets can be found on the author’s website: danmetcalf.co.uk I would certainly recommend this book as an entertaining read for children of 8+ and a great cross-curricular resource for accompanying aspects of the Key Stage 2 computing curriculum.

Review: The Great Reindeer Disaster by Kate Saunders

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I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this humorous festive tale during the holiday season, as it would make an excellent bedtime story or present for a newly confident reader.

The Trubshaw family, mum (Judy), dad (David), Jake (10) and Sadie (7) are enjoying the first day of their summer holiday in Devon when Percy, a small reindeer falls from a hijacked sleigh and becomes wedged in their chimney! From this moment events take a surreal turn as the family are accidentally sucked up by Percy’s transporter beam and find themselves relocated to the planet Yule-1 where Santa (or F.C.) runs his year-round Christmas operations.

The magical storytelling of Kate Saunders weaves a funny and exciting tale combining the European folk-tale of Krampus with a modern plot about computer-hacking and its impact on the global operation to deliver Christmas. There are delightful touches such as the all-female reindeer squadron known as the “Janiacs” with their love of Jane Austen and uniforms featuring velvet flying bonnets, alongside the “Jambusters” led by Dasher, the elite reindeer squadron with their large RAF-style moustaches!

When Dasher is kidnapped by the unholy alliance of Krampus and a rogue reindeer known as Nerkins, Jake and Percy set off bravely to mount a rescue. However, the real heroine of the story is Sadie who demonstrates the redemptive power of kindness and forgiveness.

The illustrations throughout by Neal Layton add to the appeal of this entertaining story which is perfectly pitched for anyone aged 5+ and a joy for adults to read aloud.

 

I am very grateful to toppsta.com and Faber Children’s Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Christmas Crackers – Five Beautiful Picture Books!

As December arrives I present a selection of newly published, seasonal picture books to entertain young children as the big day approaches!

Santa’s High Tech Christmas written by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Angela Perrini

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A totally enjoyable, rhyming, seasonal tale, beautifully illustrated in muted tones by Angela Perrini. Santa has gone high-tech, loading his present list onto a techno-pad, which is great … until he drops his gadget and the screen goes blank! Fortunately, there is a digitally literate young girl, waiting at her window, who is able to help him out.

A charming story, sure to be enjoyed by children and adults alike in the weeks before the stockings are filled!

The Night Before Christmas written by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Helene Magisson

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I can’t imagine that there is anyone for whom the Christmas season is not improved by a re-reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem. In this newly published edition the illustrations by Helene Magisson feature the jolliest of Saint Nicks, snowy landscapes and a marvellous set of stockings awaiting a special visitor.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field, illustrated by Peter Garnavas

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How about introducing young readers to the characters from Pride and Prejudice through a seasonal tale where families come together to participate in “Stir-up Sunday”? In this case the well loved classical characters have been transposed to appropriate animals, Mr Darcy is a top-hatted duck, whilst Mr Collins is a poorly behaved cat! This book would make an excellent illustration of the changing traditions of Christmas throughout history, as it presents the making of the family Christmas pudding (which had been re-introduced by George I) and demonstrates the importance of charitable behaviour at Christmas as Mr Darcy allows Mr Collins into the house to participate in the festivities.

Santa’s Tight Squeeze by Alex Field, illustrated by Karen Erasmus

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I’m sure that a few of us will recognise the situation in which poor Santa finds himself, one too many treats in the run-up to Christmas Day and suddenly you can’t quite fit into something! Only in his case it isn’t a party frock, it’s a chimney pot!

As his travels down various chimneys become ever more troublesome, Santa realises that he needs to change his behaviour, so he begins sharing the delicious treats with his friends. The illustrations by Karen Erasmus beautifully illuminate the story, and small children will enjoy spotting famous landmarks as Santa travels the world.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise by Mark Carthew, illustrated by Simon Prescott

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A heart warming, rhyming Christmas story filled with the warmth of friendship and kindness. This sumptuously illustrated book follows two mice, Marvin and Marigold as they decorate Marigold’s Christmas tree; the discovery of each decoration evoking happy memories of Christmases past. A gorgeous treat to share with young children during the Advent season.

 

My thanks to New Frontier Publishing for this selection of Christmas treats to review.

 

Review: McTavish on the Move by Meg Rosoff

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This is the perfect book for anyone who longs for a loyal and super-smart pet dog, or anyone who enjoys realistic family stories or for any child who might be anxious about a house or school move.

In case you have not read any other books in this series, McTavish is a rescue dog, who knows that it is his duty to rescue the Peachey family – Ma, Pa, Ollie, Ava and Betty from danger or harm. He is the perfect pet!

This story starts with Ma and the children being extremely worried by Pa’s unusual behaviour – he is acting happy for the first time that anyone can remember. The author, Meg Rosoff, brilliantly captures the family’s discomfort and confusion at Pa’s change in attitude, caused by the prospect of his new job. This will involve moving to a new house, which most of the family are quite happy about. However, Betty the youngest member of the family is apprehensive about starting at a new school and it is up to the wonderful McTavish to make things right.

From an adult perspective, this is a delightful and humorous family story, produced with Barrington Stoke’s usual care and attention, an enjoyable read for anyone in Key Stage 2 and particularly suitable for dyslexic readers with its off-white paper and clear font. The family members are all fully-developed characters and the family interactions are beautifully observed. There is a gentle message contained within the humour for any child who might be nervous about moving house or joining a new school, with the addition of Betty’s rules for making friends being a lovely touch.

I am very grateful to have been sent a review copy by Toppsta and Barrington Stoke..

Review: The Caveman Next Door by Tom Tinn-Disbury

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This quirky and original story is the debut book as both author and illustrator for Tom Tinn-Disbury who has previously illustrated children’s books written by others.

A warmly humorous tale, it recounts the difficulties of fitting into the modern world for Ogg, the caveman next door. Fortunately for Ogg he has a willing helper and friend in Penny, who does all she can to help the discombobulated Ogg to adapt to his new surroundings. It is a classic “what if” book which taps in perfectly to the imaginative thoughts of an audience of 3 to 6 year-olds, highlighting exactly the sort of differences that young children seem to notice, for example Ogg doesn’t have TV or wear socks! My favourite part of the book is when Penny decides to commence her mission to help Ogg at the library “it was her favourite place”. Unfortunately the librarian gets very annoyed when Ogg starts eating the books, the illustration of the librarian hopping with annoyance made me snort with laughter (I must try to get a print)!

Ogg s misadventures continue in hilarious style as he travels around the town with Penny, but the next day Penny discovers Ogg s talent for illustration, when she sees his cave paintings. She takes him into school as her “show-and-tell” which turns out to the benefit of everyone.

A funny and engaging book which explores themes of kindness, patience and taking the time to discover someone’s hidden talent. It is a beautifully produced hardback with an attractive font and colourful, quirky illustrations with plenty of detail for young readers to explore. Highly recommended for ages 3-6. 

 

My thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review:Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? by Kitty Black

Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? written by Kitty Black and illustrated by Laura Wood

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Meet Wilfred, he’s a wolf, but not a scary one! On the front cover of this adorable hardback book he appears, holding a sunflower and a red marker pen, with which he has clearly added the words “quite nice” to a more traditional title. Open to the first page and you will find Wilfred hosting a tea party in his garden, serving delicious looking cakes and biscuits to chickens, sheep and a duck; animals that you would expect to find on his menu! Meanwhile, two mean-looking wolves are glaring at him over his garden fence.

Poor Wilfred, as the story progresses it is very apparent that he does not fit in with the rest of his pack…he’s “even a VEGETARIAN!” The Leader of the pack is determined that Wilfred will learn to be a proper wolf and join an attack on the sheep. However, Wifred has other ideas, and along with his friend Mildred he devises a plan!

This picture book is absolutely wonderful in the way that it subverts the traditional “Big Bad Wolf” fairy-tales. The illustrations by Laura Wood are beautiful in their earthy colour palette, with so much detail to observe and discuss on every page. I love the contrast between Wilfred in his buttoned-up shirt and bow tie, and the rest of the wolf pack with their bandanas, eye-patches and ripped jeans! In very few words the author, Kitty Black, has conjured an incredibly enjoyable story imbued with the message that is ok to be different and to be true to who you are, perfectly pitched for a young audience.

I think this will be a very enjoyable story to share with children aged 4-7, and I am grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me a review copy.