MG Review: Diary of an Accidental Witch – Flying High by Perdita & Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders

Cover art Katie Saunders, published by Little Tiger Press February 2022

Saturday 29th January

10:30am: Ripped open freshly delivered package to find the second book in the Diary of an Accidental Witch series written by mother and daughter partnership Perdita and Honor Cargill. Admired glorious cover artwork by Katie Saunders, loving the froggy-cabbagy-green colour scheme, and rushed through first quarter of the book. Note to self – remember to include in review just how perfectly the balance between: diary entries, to do lists, school notices, broomstick skills instruction sheets and pen-and-ink artwork works as a device to move the story forward and make reading a pleasurable process.

4:00pm: Returned to book after a day of family stuff, and decidedly non-magical household chores, desperate to find out how accidental witch, Bea Black, will get on in the Winter Solstice Grand Tournament and what costume she will choose for Little Spellshire’s Winter Solstice Tournament.

Sunday 30th January

4:00pm

Peace and quiet, at last! Time to delve back into my book. Well, the quiet bit didn’t last long as I laughed out loud at the “Extraordinaries” (witches) trying to master the arts of “Ordinary” sports in preparation for the inter-school Sports Day. Katie Saunders’ distinctive illustrations of Bea trying to teach her friends, Winnie, Amara, Fabi and Puck how to hurdle, sprint and compete in an egg and spoon race, adding to the joy on every page. Beginning to feel at little queasy at the ingredients being added to the Motion Potion.

Monday 31st January

9:00pm

Time to wrap up the final pages of the story. Greatly impressed at the conclusive events at the Sports Day and resolution of conflicting friendship priorities in Bea’s life. If you ask me, this book is a brilliant addition to the choices available for children of 8+. The illustrated diary format makes it a pleasurable and manageable read for children who are gaining reading stamina, or for anyone with dyslexia, as the text is nicely broken into chunks and uses a lovely clear font. I do appreciate the thought that has gone into producing a book which makes reading enjoyable for children for whom it is not always an easy process. The combination of magic, real life and humour is perfectly pitched to entertain Key Stage 2 children and the message of inclusion and celebrating difference is perfectly wrapped into the plot. I would definitely recommend adding Diary of an Accidental Witch to school, KS2 classroom and home reading choices.

Saturday 5th February

10:00am

Actually found time to sit at the laptop and type up my diary review! Must remember to say a big thank you to Little Tiger Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Early Chapter Book Review: Mike Falls Up by Candy Gourlay, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros

Cover illustration by Carles Ballesteros, published by Little Tiger Press 6th January 2022

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.

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: Star by Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies

Image created by Mary Simms, book cover illustration by Britta Teckentrup, published by Little Tiger Press

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: Holly Webb

Illustrator: cover Britta Teckentrup, internal Jo Anne Davies

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

If it doesn’t start before you go to bed tonight, you will wake up to a white world tomorrow, I’m certain.

Baba talking about expected snowfall, on p11

This book in three words: Tiger – Snow – Determination

This book contains all the elements of a perfect tale to enrapture a middle grade readership; bravery, determination and adventure in a wintry landscape with a sprinkling of magic and huge downfalls of snow! The black and white illustrations throughout give children at the younger end of the MG readership a chance to linger over details and contribute to the satisfaction of independent reading.

Anna is staying the night at her Russian grandmother’s (Baba’s) flat in London, excitedly anticipating the snowfall that the heavy clouds have been promising all afternoon. When her Baba promises Anna that she will wake to a snowy landscape, Anna does not realise quite how different her world will look in the morning!

Shortly before going to bed she watches a news report about a tiger on the loose, close to where her cousins live in Russia. She falls asleep clutching a small wooden tiger which her uncle has carved for Baba and when she awakes the following morning, she has magically inhabited the body of her cousin Annushka and shares breakfast with her cousins, aunt and uncle in their snowbound Russian house! The talk of the village is the sighting of a tiger which seems to have strayed towards the human settlement from the neighbouring forest. Children are warned to stick close together on their way to and from school, but during a game Anna/Annushka is separated from her cousins and has a close encounter with the tiger, which she realises is a young and frightened, underfed cub.

The sensation of locking eyes with a scared, wild, creature makes Anna determined to help it, despite the sensible and kind wisdom presented by her father about the dangers of feeding a wild predator. Can she rely on his advice to wait for the people from the wildlife sanctuary to come and take the apparently orphaned cub away for re-wilding, or will she need to act to prevent the village hunters or even poachers seal the cub’s fate? You will have to read this exciting, heart-warming adventure, set in a frozen, snow-covered landscape to find out. Holly Webb has an incredible talent for weaving beautiful stories around animals and pitching them with the perfect level of peril and tension for young MG readers. I highly recommend Star for animal-loving children of 8+.

I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for my review copy of Star in exchange for my honest opinion.

If you enjoy this story and wish to read another wintry, sparkling and magical adventure by Holly Webb, why not try Frost, a time-slip adventure set in London?

Review: Secrets and Spies written by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Luke Brookes

Cover art by Luke Brookes, published by Little Tiger Press

This colourful exploration of the undercover world of espionage is an exciting non-fiction book aimed at middle grade readers, published today by Little Tiger Press.

The artwork by Luke Brooks perfectly complements the subject, with its cinematic, comic book style. The cover image absolutely encapsulates the spy’s life in the shadows! The text by Anita Ganeri, a well-known author of children’s non-fiction is presented in small block paragraphs on the full colour pages in a very clear font, perfect for children’s to read and comprehend in small chunks.

The book begins with the early chapters covering the history of spying, dating right back to the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt and India. Prominent personalities in the history of spying are discussed. Some widely read children might have already heard of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s famous spymaster and will be interested to find out about the coding genius behind much of his success, a brilliant linguist called Thomas Phelippes. As the chronology progresses to World War II you will learn about prominent female spies such as Noor Inayat Khan (code-named Madeleine) the first female radio operator sent into occupied France and Violette Szabo who also carried out secret and dangerous missions in France. I think that children will appreciate the mixtures of styles, with purely factual pages sometimes giving way to imaginary newspaper stories reporting a case of the spy’s dark arts or the graphic novel-like biography of Harriet Tubman. I was particularly enthralled by the descriptions of different codes and ciphers as well as the modern cryptography on which we increasingly rely.

This comprehensive book will delight the most inquisitive child (as well as teens and adults) and could be used in so many curriculum activities (history, maths, geography, computing) that I would highly recommend it to primary school libraries and upper key stage 2 classrooms. I know from my own experience that a large number of primary school children are fans of MG spy fiction and I am sure that they would love to discover more about the world of covert operations and classified information. For children who love the adventures of Agent Zaiba, Mickey and the Animal Spies, Taylor & Rose Secret Agents, Ruby Redfort, The Mysterious Benedict Society or Alex Rider, this book is sure to be a mesmerising read.