#MGTakesOnThursday: The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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.
cover image by Axel Scheffler, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This week I am highlighting the pinnacle of #MG writing, a collection of short stories and illustrations featuring more than one hundred children’s writers and illustrators, the brainchild of Katherine Rundell. NHS Charities together will benefit from sales of this book.

Editor: Katherine Rundell 

Illustrator: This book features illustrations from many of the most popular illustrators of children’s books

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: The short story on which starts on page 11 just happens to be written by one of my absolute favourite writers, Frank Cottrell Boyce. It is a wonderful allegory about finding the light in the midst of the gloom.

“Once, Sunny asked her mum, ‘My name – Sunny – what does it even mean?’ “

This book in three words: Endlessly Hopeful Possibilities

This book is the brainchild of Katherine Rundell and was first published online during lockdown. It is now available in a glorious hardback edition, with beautiful gold foiling on the cover and endpapers designed by former Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child. It is the perfect gift for any child and a joy to share in school classrooms and libraries.

It begins with a very short essay about hope and the power of stories and books to help rekindle and nurture hope in all of us, written in her usual elegant, wise and precise style by Katherine Rundell. Following this there are contributions from over 100 children’s book authors and illustrators, divided into themed categories. You can quite happily sit and read the entire book cover-to-cover, or just dip in and out of the section headings or alternatively seek out the contributions from your favourite authors first. There is genuinely something to appeal to everyone, no matter what their taste, mood or circumstances.

It is a perfect book for every teacher or librarian to have on their desk; each reading is at most 500 words long, so could be read in those changeover moments, or these days, the hand washing or wiping down the equipment stages of each day. There are true stories, poems, wild flights of imagination, beautifully illustrated quotes on the theme of hope, fascinating facts about the natural world and some pieces specifically reflecting on the period of lockdown. I found the item by Jackie Morris to be extremely evocative of the early weeks of lockdown when the treadmill of everyday routine was paused and there was actually time to observe the natural world.

Of the items I have read aloud, highlights include:

Anthony Horowitz’s poem, Hope, which has delighted boys who until now saw him solely as a writer of action-packed spy adventures.

M.G. Leonard’s reflections on the dung beetle, always a topic of interest to many primary school children. This piece is packed with scientific and ecological knowledge perfectly explained to satisfy an inquisitive young audience.

Isabel Thomas’ true story of the hungriest caterpillar and the importance of taking the time to observe and ask questions. This is a lovely item to read to Children in Years 5 and 6, before or after a science lesson.

Finally, if you want to hear a room-full of youngsters in fits of giggles, read them Lockdown Cat Haircut by Sharon Davey.

Whenever I get a chance to browse, I find myself constantly drawn to the picture by Alex T Smith, illustrating Audrey Hepburn’s quote: To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

This is a book which will plant a seed of hope in anyone who wishes to spend time with it.

I am grateful to Toppsta and Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a review copy of this beautiful book.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on the brilliant Book Craic blog.

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 recomment this book, or link to your review.

Author: Katherine Rundell

Illustrator: Cover art based on design by Antigone-konstantinidou.com

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Favourite sentence from Page 11: This is part of a description of Charles Maxim: “But he had kindness where other people had lungs, and politeness in his fingertips.”

This book in three words: Kindness – Paris – Adventure

Again this week I am using this feature to revisit a book published a few years ago (in 2013) which I absolutely love and consider to be a modern-day classic! My original review of Rooftoppers written last year can be read here.

Review: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

Good Thieves

I am always slightly worried when I review a new book by Katherine Rundell that I won’t be able to do justice to her talent, but here are my thoughts on The Good Thieves.

Although I bought this book on publication day, I saved reading it until I was actually away on holiday so that I could enjoy it without distractions. It certainly rewarded the wait!

Firstly, it is an absolute page-turner, hooking the reader from the opening line

“Vita set her jaw and nodded at the city in greeting, as a boxer greets an opponent before a fight”

and refusing to let you go until Vita has executed her bold plan. She arrives in 1920s New York, with her mother to discover that her beloved and recently bereaved grandpa has been cheated out of the ancestral home,  Hudson Castle, by Mr Sorrotore – a mafiosi figure. As the opening line suggests, Vita is a fighter and sets out into the unfamiliar city to confront the villain and demand restitution. Of course, such a direct approach from a child has no effect other than to anger Mr Sorrotore, so Vita must employ other means to reclaim the castle and its contents.

 In the course of planning her heist, to steal back the rightful belongings of her family, Vita enlists a team comprising Arkady (a circus performer with a gift for training animals), Sam (a trapeze artist) and Silk (a pick-pocket who has fended for herself since childhood). They combine their skills with Vita’s deadly aim and gift for planning, to take on the villainous gang.

The author effortlessly portrays the contrast between the glamorous, brightly-lit, night-life of the wealthy inhabitants of the city and the dark, dangerous underside where some of the wealth is generated. The writing fizzes and sparkles with wit and energy, and as usual there is no hint of a cliche anywhere. Instead the unique style rewards the readers with original descriptions. For example, a seagull, “gave the scandalised cry of an angry duchess” when hit by one of Vita’s stones! (If you are a long-time fan of Katherine Rundell, you will find the statutory “Belgium joke” on page 63).

I love the way that Katherine Rundell is able to capture a child’s sense of outrage at injustice, and their determination to take agency to put right a wrong. I think that many young readers will recognise this aspect of themselves as they enjoy this hugely entertaining adventure, which for me brought back memories of the classic Emil and The Detectives. The descriptions of Vita’s refusal to allow her physical disability to hold her back are inspirational and the overall feeling of love and hope make this story a rewarding one. Finally, I should mention the gloriously stylish cover and interior illustrations by Matt Saunders, which further enhance the quality of this book.

Overall, a wonderful MG adventure which I will be recommending to all upper KS2 pupils. For adults wishing to read aloud in class or as a bedtime story, be prepared for pleas of “one more chapter”!
This #Book13 of my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books. I have enjoyed taking part in the challenge for the first time this year as it has encouraged me to blog more regularly and has introduced me to a new community of fantastic book bloggers. I am sorry that I won’t meet my target of 20 reviews, but this is partly due to the fact that I’ve read a number of “grown-up” books and even a rare YA novel this summer, but limit my blog to MG and Early Years reviews.

Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell


In anticipation of a new Katherine Rundell novel being released soon, I have been re-reading my book collection by one of my absolute favourite writers…

I was first introduced to this incredible book by my, then 10 year-old, daughter who kept reading sentences to me because they so delighted her that she wanted to share them. Since then it has remained one of my favourite books, I have recommended it to many children (and adults) and will be reading extracts at the forthcoming Pyjamarama day at school. The beauty and originality of the writing makes it an absolute pleasure to read aloud.

The main protagonist, Sophie, is an orphan – “with hair the colour of lightning”, discovered in a floating cello case in the English Channel  following a shipwreck. She is rescued from the sea by an observant, eccentric, intellectual Englishman called Charles Maxim, who brings her up in his book-filled home despite the objections of the authorities. When they are threatened with separation, they flee to Paris, where Sophie is convinced that she will find her mother…and her rooftop adventures begin.

From a young age, whenever Sophie is overwhelmed by buried memories of the sea closing in, she has the urge to climb up high to safety. On arrival in Paris, she makes her way through the filthy skylight of her attic room and discovers Matteo and a completely new strata of life.

This is an exquisitely written book, filled with wit and wisdom. Sophie is an unforgettable character, following her heart and undeterred by unhelpful bureaucrats in her quest to discover the whereabouts of her mother. The image of children having a perspective on the adult world by looking down on them from hidden perches above is very powerful. However, it is the feeling of kindness that permeates this story, personified in the character of Charles Maxim, which makes this one of my most cherished books. A perfect bedtime story, class reader or solo read for anyone of 8/9+.


If you love this book, look out for other books by this wonderful writer: The Wolf Wilder, The Explorer

Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

wolf wilder


I think that one of the qualities of a great book is that it lives on in your mind long after you have finished reading it. The knowledge that a new title by Katherine Rundell is due to be published next month has prompted me to review my favourite children’s book from 2015 for those of you who have not yet read it. The Wolf Wilder completely entranced me from its opening line: “Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.” right up to the final page. This modern fairy tale of courage and wisdom has all the makings of a classic, and is a book you are likely to return to many times.

Feo and her mother live in a wooden house in the snowy Russian forest where they un-tame wolves thrown out by their aristocratic owners when they tire of keeping them as house pets. One night the cruel, malicious General Rakov, the commander of the Tsar’s Imperial Army bursts into their home and sets in motion an epic adventure. It will lead Feo on a journey through the harshest winter, accompanied by her wolves and a new-found friend, in an attempt to rescue her mother from the Tsar’s prison in St Petersburg.

The quality of Katherine Rundell’s writing is magical, you can almost feel the frost biting into your own fingers as you turn the pages of this wonderful book, where every word seems to be chosen with absolute precision. This story is a perfect balance of page-turning plot, beautiful imagery and uncompromising morality.  Highly recommended to all Upper KS2 readers.

If you enjoy this book, look out for the following titles by this wonderful writer: Rooftoppers, The Explorer

Book Review: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell


From the moment that I read it’s opening sentence:

“Like a man-made magic wish, the aeroplane began to rise”

I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary book. Once again Katherine Rundell has written a gripping adventure which at times makes you read so fast that you forget to breathe, but simultaneously compels you to skid to a halt to re-read her beautifully constructed sentences. It would appear that she will never resort to a cliched description when her seemingly endless imagination can create images such as a distant father being described as “wrapped tightly in his pinstripe days.”

I don’t want to include any plot spoilers, but the story concerns four children who find themselves plunged into the depths of the Amazon jungle following a plane crash. The children are wonderfully believable and I think young readers will readily identify with them.  Fred, the oldest of the four, shoulders the responsibility of leading them out of the jungle. Fierce and determined Con (short for Constantia, but she’ll kill you if you use her full name) hides her feelings behind an armour of sarcastic comments. Lila devotes most of her energy towards caring for her little brother Max and frankly, Max would try the patience of a saint!

The first part of the novel focuses on the children’s desperate quest to survive, whilst the latter part sees their personalities develop and broadens to cover themes of courage, ecology and love. The descriptions of the “food” consumed by the children are sufficiently grotesque to delight any child and churn the stomach of most adults!

This is a book that I would have loved to read aloud to my own children (had it been available when they were 8 or 9)and I would think that many parents will love the chance to read it to their children. I can imagine it becoming a hugely popular class reader and I’m sure that every school library will require several copies! Confident readers tend to enjoy reading the more gruesome passages aloud to any available adult in my experience!  Additionally, the cover art and black and white illustrations throughout by Hannah Horn just add an extra layer of beauty to this exquisite book.

Katherine Rundell’s writing is set apart by her ability to observe the beauty in places and people and her apparent urgency to communicate the importance of wholehearted engagement with the world to her readers. She manages to do this with such a light touch that her stories are thoroughly enjoyable and never appear preachy. I would certainly add The Explorer to my top 10 children’s books list.

If you enjoy this book as much as I did, look out for:

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Stories for Mowgli by Katherine Rundell