Review: Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering by Harriet Muncaster

Cover illustration by Harriet Muncaster, published by OUP Children’s Books

Meet sparklingly wicked Victoria Stitch!

I predict that I will need more than one copy of this book when it is published in September; it is glorious in all respects and I’m sure will be in great demand. Harriet Muncaster’s brand of sumptuous illustration combined with brilliant storytelling is familiar to children who have enjoyed Isadora Moon as they became independent readers, and now as MG readers there is a darker, gothic story to enjoy!

Once you finish gazing adoringly at the cover art with its deep purple palette you fall into the realm of Wiskling Wood, home of the Wisklings; beautiful insect-sized creatures who hatch from gemstones in the Crystal Cave, possess antenna, dress with unique style and appear to display all the foibles of human behaviour! Only wisklings hatched from diamonds can ascend to the throne and this should have been Victoria’s and her twin-sister Celestine’s destiny. However, their diamond contained a flaw or “stitch” resulting in Lord Astrophel denying them the opportunity of growing up in Queen Cassiopeia’s palace. They have had to grow up together with only a series of state-appointed nannies to supervise them rather than being brought up in a loving family home.

This has built a supreme level of righteous indignation in Victoria Stitch, which she does not hesitate to display in outwardly hostile behaviour. Dressing like a princess, but all in black she insists on never leaving the tree house without her crown and petitions Lord Astrophel to be reinstated at the palace. Meanwhile Celestine accepts her destiny as a non-royal although she deeply regrets having been deprived of a loving family. She makes the most of what she has, gaining close friends and working towards her ambition of becoming a jeweller’s apprentice.

When Victoria flies off to the distant boundaries of “her kingdom” one day and meets the mysterious Ursuline she thinks that she has found a sympathetic friend; suddenly gaining access to the forbidden magic in the Book of Wiskling seems to provide the solution to her ambition and the plot takes off on a path which threatens to consume the last vestiges of sibling love. The dangers of accepting someone at face-value because they flatter you, without questioning their motives become very apparent!

I loved the complex world-building in this story; the wisklings’ homes in tree trunks; travelling on flying blooms and the society structured almost like a beehive were utterly compelling. The tension ratchets up with betrayals, suspicion and mystery which will have young readers gripped. Victoria Stitch is a fantastic new character and the reader is absolutely able to understand the motives for her demanding, diva-ish behaviour whilst recognising that her methods of achieving her dreams are less than ideal. Her twin appears to be in total contrast, the light to her dark, but as the story progresses you are given a glimpse into Celestine’s own inner turmoil. 

This is a delightful exploration of the bonds of love and loyalty, the importance of nurturing and fairness all wrapped up in a fast-paced MG mystery. The text is punctuated throughout with  beautifully intricate illustrations from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster which make the book an object of beauty and a joy to read for children of 9+ .

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a proof copy of this book in return for an honest review.

44 Tiny Secrets by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King

44 Tiny Secrets, cover image by Ashley King, published by Little Tiger

Betsy Bow-Linnet is not a coward! Unfortunately for her, she carries the knowledge that her mother considers her “A Terrible Disappointment” and regardless of the number of times that Grandad says it doesn’t matter, it is a cloud that hovers over her whenever she sits at the piano. You see, Betsy’s parents are Bella and Bertie Bow-Linnet, world-famous concert pianists and Betsy lives with them and Grandad in a grand London townhouse filled with grand pianos and ferns. Sounds very grand, doesn’t it?

Well, not for Betsy. She has had piano lessons since early childhood but her playing does not meet the levels of brilliance expected  by her parents. Even more tragically the malicious journalist Vera Brick, gossip columnist at the London Natter, broadcasts Betsy’s lack of talent after hearing her play at one of her parents’ famously glamorous and musical parties. As Betsy gloomily reflects on being a Terrible Disappointment, she receives a letter from a mysterious well-wisher, Gloria Sprightly, who claims to have heard her performance at the party and offers her a fail-safe “Method” to improve her interpretation of classical pieces. This Method involves daily practise with the eponymous 44 Tiny Secrets and builds to a crescendo of hilarity at The Royal Albert Hall!

This book is an absolute delight, Sylvia Bishop’s elegant writing is wonderfully complemented by the coloured illustrations throughout created by Ashley King (I particularly loved the diagram of the inner mechanism of a piano and the ferns which occasionally appear in the gutters of pages). The interactions of the characters and the layering of family secrets are combined with the precision of a symphony; it entertains at surface level and then you can dig deep into the themes of  expectation, honesty and acceptance. The way that the text is broken up and the addition of green into the illustrations will make this an immensely enjoyable reading experience for readers of 8+. I cannot wait to recommend it to the many young musicians at school in September.

Thank you to Little Tiger for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

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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.

For my review of the first Kitty adventure please click here: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue

 

Thank you to OUP Children’s Publishing for my copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Review: Ballet Bunnies The New Class by Swapna Reddy

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Ballet Bunnies is a new series starring Millie a young ballerina and the magical, miniature bunny rabbits who live at the ballet school she attends. The New Class is the first in a series of six books being published by Oxford Children’s Books with this and Book 2, Let’s Dance, coming out in June 2020.

I was delighted to be sent an ARC of Ballet Bunnies The New Class, an absolute must-read for all young dancers! It is the perfect size and length for newly confident readers in Key Stage One, with gorgeous full-colour illustrations in a pastel palette throughout. The pictures of the ballerinas are immensely cute with slightly oversized heads and huge expressive eyes, perfectly designed to appeal to young readers. The series has been written by Swapna Reddy and illustrated by Binny Talib and wonderfully, it features a multi-ethnic cast of characters at the ballet school and to complete its appeal to a broad readership, a boy ballerina is featured too.  It is so important for all children to be able to see themselves in the books that they read and I’m sure that these books will find a wide, appreciative audience. I can certainly imagine a large number of children at my own school who will be pirouetting in delight after reading about Millie’s adventures. 

Six-year-old, ballet-obsessed Millie is about to fulfil her dreams by starting lessons at Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. She skips into the class with her spirits soaring, only to encounter an unfriendly comment and mean looks from another member of the class, star pupil, Amber.

Feeling despondent at her inability to perfect the pliés with the same grace as Amber, Will and Samira, Millie is left waiting for her mum to collect her at the end of the lesson. Startled by a movement behind the stage curtain she investigates and finds Dolly, Fifi, Pod and Trixie, the magical, talking and dancing miniature bunnies! What impact will her new friends have on Millie’s future at the ballet school? You will have to read this book to find out.

The story is delightfully written by Swapna Reddy (a firm favourite with me and my library users due to the hilarious Dave Pigeon series she writes as Swapna Haddow). In Ballet Bunnies her style is one of gentle encouragement as she helps young readers experience the effects that mean behaviour can have on someone’s confidence, and contrasts this with the powerful force of kindness and support. A perfect book for any child who might be feeling discouraged by a challenging task, and a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of all young dancers.

Thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy.

For my reviews of the Dave Pigeon series, please follow this link.

Review: Magical Kingdom of Birds The Snow Goose byAnne Booth

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This is a wonderfully gentle story, perfect for children from the age of six who love magical, fairy adventures and have an interest in the natural world.

Firstly, the book itself is irresistible with its seasonably scarlet cover featuring the titular snow goose, embellished with just the right amount of glitter to appeal to its intended readership. The 117 pages are beautifully illustrated by Rosie Butcher, which together with the font size make this book ideal for newly confident readers.

The story begins with Maya enjoying the company of her big sister Lauren, who has newly arrived home from university. They are preparing for Christmas, enjoying building a snow goose in the fresh snowfall and looking forward to a visit from two of Lauren’s university friends. When they go inside to warm up, Maya notices that the “Magical Kingdom of Birds” her special colouring book  is open in her bedroom, with a picture of a snow goose waiting to be coloured.

Only Maya is aware that this book, inherited from her mother, transports her to the Magical Kingdom of Birds as she colours the pictures. Once there she helps Princess Willow and a talking magpie named Patch to foil the wicked plans of Willow’s uncle, Lord Astor. This time Maya finds herself sitting beside a lake, in a wintry landscape, which is covered with magnificent white and blue geese. Princess Willow appears and explains to Maya that the geese are waiting for the Silver Snow Goose to arrive, bringing the first snows of winter, and then leading the Winter Festival before guiding the flock in their migration south. However, it appears that Lord Astor has kidnapped the Silver Snow Goose and it will take a great act of bravery to rescue him and ensure that the noisy gaggle of geese are safely lead to their winter feeding grounds.

As the adventure unfolds, the courage and teamwork of the geese is explored and an incredible amount of knowledge about these awesome birds is provided quite seamlessly as a natural part of the story. The loyalty and community spirit of the birds is inspirational to Maya and the lesson “to find your own way and listen to your heart” is presented in a non-preachy way. I loved the fact that Maya’s physical disability does not prevent her showing courage and contributing her skills and ingenuity to the rescue mission.

At the end of the book there is a factual section presenting a great amount of interesting information about snow geese; this is followed by an introductory chapter to another Magical Kingdom of Birds adventure, The Silent Songbirds.

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story and highly recommend it to readers of 6+.

 

With thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review: Planet Stan by Elaine Wickson

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Meet Stan, a boy obsessed with the solar system and owner of quite possibly the most annoying little brother in the entire universe! When he is not having to avoid the plague of snails that Fred has housed under his bed, or sidestep placing his feet in toothpaste- filled slippers, Stan likes to draw detailed maps of the planets or describe his life in pie-charts, his best friend Liam calls him Graph Vader!

The book begins with a trip to the local museum, where Fred adores the T-Rex skeleton, known as Rory, so much that he colours its toenails with his crayons. Fortunately, Stanley always carries wet wipes when he is left in charge of Fred, and averts disaster with the grumpy curator. Unfortunately, the museum plans to replace Rory with a different exhibit, which causes multiple meltdowns from Fred. The story follows Fred’s attempts to protest the removal of Rory in parallel with Stan’s attempts to win a real telescope with his science-fair presentation team.

This book is a delight to read with its short chapters, illustrated throughout with Stan’s unique pie charts, Venn diagrams and bar charts. The illustrator, Chris Judge, has created some amazing diagrams to visualise the crazy details of Stan’s existence, for example:

 

In the age of data visualisation I think that this book is a wonderful way to introduce children to these concepts. Additionally, the humour will greatly appeal to MG readers with the numerous sticky situations caused by Fred. Finally, Stan is a really sympathetic character for whom you root in his ongoing battle to produce a presentable science competition entry in the face of a continuous onslaught of snot, spilled drinks and low flying spaghetti bolognese! An excellent addition to any Key Stage 2 classroom or school library and one which I highly recommend to all readers of 8+!

If you love Planet Stan, then look out for Action Stan!

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The second book in the “Stan” series again charts the chaotic family life of Stan and his permanently sticky little brother Fred.

Fred’s new obsession is a TV adventurer named Flint Danger, and he claims that like his hero, “danger is in my DNA”. He decides to test this by signing up for the school camping trip to Whispering Woods, and Stan – lured by the prospect of light-pollution-free star-gazing recklessly volunteers as a mentor. Oh, how he will come to regret that decision!

A hilariously action and mud-packed adventure ensues which will have readers laughing and turning the pages with relish. As with Planet Stan, the fun and fact-filled text is accompanied by a marvellous range of illustrated graphs and charts created by Chris Judge.

I think that this is a wonderful series of books which will be enjoyed by anyone in Key Stage 2, and I can’t wait for the next instalment of Stan’s escapades.

 

 

Review: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison

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Kitty is an energetic, graceful and adventurous girl. She wishes more than anything to be a superhero like her mum – but there is a slight problem. Kitty is afraid of the dark! While her mum dresses in her black cat superhero outfit each night and uses her abilities to see in the dark, sense danger, climb walls and balance perfectly on rooftops, Kitty wants to feel safe and secure, snuggled up in her bed.

Then, one night a cat called Figaro arrives at her bedroom window, searching for her mother, to help with an emergency in the old clock tower. Amazed to find that she can communicate with a cat and not wishing to disappoint him, Kitty remembers her mother’s words:

Don’t let fear hold you back. You’re braver than you think!”

and takes a leap in the dark!

This story, the first in the Kitty series, is an utter delight and a perfect book for emerging readers. The striking cover design (by Jenny Lovlie) in black, orange and white is continued throughout the book, making this a memorable reading experience. The story itself is perfectly pitched for upper Key Stage 1/lower Key Stage 2 children with an exciting plot and an inspiring message of finding the ability to rise to challenges, especially when someone shows their belief in you. I think that Kitty will be immensely popular with fans of Isadora Moon, Amelia Fang and the Rainbow Fairies books, as well as with all cat-lovers.

One final interesting touch in this already appealing book is the collection of super facts about cats at the end of the story. I am looking forward to adding this to the library shelves at school, and predict that it will jump into the hands of willing readers very rapidly!

 

My thanks to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue to review.