Review: Everdark written by Abi Elphinstone – Dyslexia-friendly format

Cover image by Carrie May, published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

As the mother of a dyslexic child and having met many dyslexic children throughout my employment in a primary school, I fully appreciate the value of being able to show children positive role models as well as books which are enjoyable for them to read. In this newly formatted edition of Everdark we have one of the most brilliantly imaginative current children’s authors, Abi Elphinstone who is dyslexic, creating a marvellous dyslexic character, presented in an easy-to-read format. Add to that her own inspirational note at the end of the book encouraging children to believe that they are capable of extraordinary things and you realise that this is a volume you will want to offer to every dyslexic child of your acquaintance.

When I first read Everdark in its original World Book Day format I was overjoyed to find in the character of Smudge, a protagonist who used her dyslexic strengths to battle the evil harpy Morg who threatened the existence of the Unmapped Kingdoms, but was concerned that the tiny format and print would make the book inaccessible to the very readership who would benefit most from this empowering story. My original review can be read here: Everdark by Abi Elphinstone.

I am not going to review the story again but I stated at the end of my original review:

“I would like to make a plea to the publishers to please, please, please re-print this book with a bigger font, ideally open dyslexic, so that it can be easily read by an audience for whom its message will be immensely inspiring.”

You can therefore imagine my delight when I read that Simon & Schuster UK would be publishing a new edition of Everdark in a dyslexia-friendly format, and I was equally thrilled to be sent a review copy.

Although dyslexia presents in many different ways, visual stress is common in many who share this learning difference and books which reduce the stress of reading by using clear fonts, larger text, increased spacing and off-white pages are greatly valued by those who wish to encourage all youngsters to discover enjoyment of books. Additionally, what is good for dyslexic children is good for all children, and there will be many children who perhaps have not yet become voracious readers, who will find that the clear layout of this edition makes the process of reading as splendid as the immersion in a brilliantly imagined adventure.

Many children who have been enraptured by the subsequent stories in the Unmapped Chronicles series, Rumblestar and Jungledrop might have missed the original edition of Everdark, so when this second edition becomes available on 7th January 2021, I urge you to buy copies for your home, classroom or school libraries – it could be the spark that turns a dormant reader into a bookworm and opens their eyes to a world of possibilities.

I am most grateful to Eve Wersocki Morris, Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster UK for providing me with a review copy of this new edition of Everdark. You can be assured that I will be purchasing multiple copies of this book to give to young relatives.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Lost Child’s Quest by James Haddell

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.

This week, I am featuring a brilliant debut by James Haddell, which I found waiting on my doormat when I returned home from the final day of this most peculiar Autumn term; the perfect start to a school holiday.

Cover image by Clair Lansley, published by Emira Press

Author: James Haddell

Illustrator: Clair Lansley (Cover)

Publisher: Emira Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ Tia felt as though the air in her lungs had turned to ice.”

This book in three words: History – Identity – Family

When I read the glowing reviews for this debut novel by James Haddell, written by many of my favourite children’s books bloggers, I immediately placed an order and was delighted to have the book delivered in time for the Christmas holidays.

The story of ten-year-old orphan Tia Hemyke, found on the doorstep of an orphanage with thirteen treasures inside her crib, totally captivated me. This is a story about identity and family and belonging wrapped in an exciting historical quest with such skill that it will keep middle grade readers enthralled as they absorb historical detail and deeper truths.

You are plunged headfirst into Tia’s quest as a mysterious stranger, Mr Silverman, arrives at the children’s home claiming to be a friend of her late father but obviously determined to claim the silver pendant she has worn throughout her life. After a heart-racing pursuit and escape Tia thinks she has escaped his sinister intentions when she is adopted by the Trevelyan family and goes to live with them in a unique community of historians and archaeologists.

The setting of her new home at Stormhaven Castle, a small peninsula on the coast, with its ancient castle keep, small hamlet, progressive school and whitewashed cottages is beautifully rendered and utterly magical. I am sure that I will not be the only reader who would love to spend time there! As Tia gets to know her adoptive family and adjusts to having an irrepressible older sister, Meghan, and a new best friend in Pasco, she learns to trust and to share her secrets with people who can help her in searching for her own history. In the words of Mrs Trevelyan:

“Our understanding of who we are depends on our understanding of where we have come from.”

Tia’s unusual silver pendant appears to have some sort of power within the ancient castle and when she reveals the twelve accompanying silver discs to her parents, an investigation into the Arthurian legend of The Thirteen Treasures leads the children into a magical unlocking of long buried mysteries.

I highly recommend this book to anyone of 9+ as, first and foremost, an exciting and entertaining historical mystery. On a deeper level there is so much to reflect on about the meaning of family and the value of kindness and love. As a whole class shared story it lends itself perfectly to the study of Anglo-Saxons in the primary school history curriculum especially as author James Haddell has included some incredibly thoughtful activities related to each chapter at the end of the book. An awesome debut and I am hoping that a second story will follow soon!

#MGTakesOnThursday: Advent Review – Frost Castle Adventure by Fleur Hitchcock

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 Tom Clohosy Cole, published by Nosy Crow

This week, I am featuring the fourth book in the Clifftoppers adventure series, The Frost Castle Adventure, which seems highly appropriate for this time of year.

Author: Fleur Hitchcock

Illustrator: Tom Clohosy Cole (Cover) and R.S. McKay (map)

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ It’s just that the weather’s much worse than it was at home and ten, when I came over the hill, I lost control and you saw what happened…”

This is the moment when the Clifftopper children meet actress Martha Darcy-Court in the middle of a snowy field!

This book in three words: Snowy – Winter – Mystery

This is the fourth book in which we join cousins Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh as they spend part of their school holidays staying with their grandparents at Clifftoppers Farm. They have arrived in the period between Christmas and New Year and are looking forward to a week filled with snowball fights, sledging and hot chocolates. However, their first afternoon together outside in the snow almost ends in tragedy when an out-of-control car smashes through a hedge and comes close to colliding with Chloe.

The driver is a young and very famous actress, who has travelled down to Frost Castle as a favour to an old family friend, where she will act in the annual New Year performance. The children find themselves roped in as stagehands and embroiled in a mystery revolving around an inherited pendant, which may or may not be cursed and the castle’s resident ghost Anne, Lady of Frost Castle who is rumoured to appear only at New Year! In a classic closed house scenario, with the snow storm closing in, the tension piles up higher than the drifting snow as the cousins race through secret corridors and spiral staircases in pursuit of a jewel thief.

This book, along with the rest of the series is a perfect read for anyone of 8+ searching for a fast-paced story to read independently. It is the perfect length to give newly confident readers the important sense that they can complete a book alone as they will be driven along by the short chapters, relatable child protagonists and desire to unravel the mystery.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Advent Review – Winter Magic Anthology edited by Abi Elphinstone

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.

This week, I am featuring an anthology of winter-themed stories curated by one of my favourite MG authors and featuring many of the writers whose books I have reviewed here during the last two years.

Cover image by

Curator: Abi Elphinstone

Illustrator: Thomas Flintham

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“It felt real, just as the cobblestones and the snowflakes did.”

This is from a story entitled A Night at the Frost Fair by Emma Carroll.

This book in three words: Snowy – Magical – Winter

This book contains eleven short stories by some of the most magnificent writers of children’s fiction. The first story is written by the Queen of Historical Fiction, Emma Carroll and features a magical time-slip adventure as Maya finds herself transported back in time to a Frost Fair whilst sitting in a taxi held up by a snowy traffic jam on London Bridge. She tracks down the mystery which has been perplexing her beloved grandmother in a heart-stoppingly thrilling chase across the icy river. In the course of the adventure Maya finds a deep family connection and saves her grandmother from the misery of a regimented care home.

This collection really does contain something to suit every taste, from unexpected adventures on a school skiing holiday; to magical fantasies set in snow-filled landscapes; strange events set in motion by an avalanche on a remote Scottish road; an elegant and delightful ballet story set in St Petersburg at the premiere of The Nutcracker ballet and poetry. All are filled with messages of hope and love and depending on my mood, my favourite changes each time I dip into this wonderful selection.

This is the fourth December during which I have had the pleasure to read Winter Magic and I look forward to returning to it for many years to come. I hope that you too find a story to enjoy from this enchanting anthology.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Scoop McLaren: Waves of Mystery by Helen Castles

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 Beatriz Castro, published by New Frontier Publishing UK

This week, as we shiver in our northern-hemisphere open-doored classrooms, I thought we could all escape down under to the sunny, seaside town of Higgity Harbour, where the surf’s up and mystery lurks below the surface! Just look at that glorious, sunshine-yellow cover illustrated by Beatriz Castro and imagine the sound of the waves hitting the shore.

Author: Helen Castles 

Illustrator: Beatriz Castro

Publisher: New Frontier Publishing UK

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“I’ve got a funny feeling and my funny feelings are rarely wrong.”

This book in three words: Sunny – Surfing – Mystery

This is the second mystery for Scoop McLaren, the editor of her own online newspaper, Click! and, along with best friend Evie Andrews a formidable problem-solving detective. Her instincts for suspicious behaviour are aroused by a series of events befalling surfing ace Fletcher Stein as he prepares for the semi-final of the Monster Wave Supreme Grommet Title on Higgity Harbour’s Five Mile Beach.

As Scoop and Evie launch their investigation they are confronted by the uber-competitive parents of Fletch’s rivals, sabotage attempts, shady competition judges, sinister strangers hanging around the normally peaceful coastal town…and even the long-forgotten curse of a pirate who used to ply his trade along the coast! The plot moves along at a great pace, peppered with text messages and secret coded communications between the two young detectives. The supporting cast of characters throw plenty of red-herrings into the story and the quaint small town, suffused with a sense of nostalgia, is almost a character in its own right.

One of the aspects of the Scoop McLaren books that I have enjoyed most as an adult is the very positive portrayal of father-daughter relationships by author Helen Castles, I think this is quite rare amongst the many MG books that I have read. Scoop’s mum lives in Spain where she trains animals to appear in movies, so Scoop lives with her dad, Ted McLaren who edits the town’s traditional newspaper and clearly acts as a wonderful role model and mentor to his daughter. Evie’s dad is the town policeman, and his love for his daughter is palpable, especially as the plot takes a perilous turn.

I am sure that young readers will enjoy the action-packed mystery, picking up some surfing terminology and inspiration ready for the next time they are able to hit the beaches. If publication had not been delayed by Covid-19, Waves of Mystery would have been my perfect summertime read, but as it arrives on our shores with the chilly north wind I suggest snuggling up on the sofa with it and dreaming of next summer! Highly recommended for boys and girls of 8+.

Do also read the first book in the series, reviewed here: Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor

I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing UK for sending me a review copy of this ray of sunshine!

Halloween Treats for #MG Readers

With trick or treating cancelled this year, what better way to use that spare time than curling up with a hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows and a thoroughly entertaining book to send shivers down your spine?

There are an enormous collection of Halloween themed stories to suit every middle grade reader, so I’ve selected some of my favourite new releases plus a couple of old favourites as sometimes these are overlooked in the tide of new publications.

Click cover to link to review and chapter sample
Click cover to link to review

For newly confident readers who are looking for entertaining stories where the text is interspersed with wonderful illustrations, I highly recommend Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, a heart-warming tale of a magical black cat, and Leo’s Map of Monsters by Kris Humphrey, an exciting story of courage and ingenuity. You can read my full reviews by clicking on the book covers.

As children move on to reading longer books in lower Key Stage 2, pictures throughout the story are still important to make the reading process enjoyable. These readers are in for a treat with Harriet Muncaster’s recent book Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering, an enchanting gothic story set in a wonderfully rendered magical woodland world. The Maker of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory certainly reveals a range of gruesome and blood-thirsty creatures to make you quiver in your boots alongside a message of acceptance and the power of self-belief. Please click the book covers for my full reviews.

Meanwhile, Grimm by Mike Nicholson turns a spooky tale of dreadful occurrences at a haunted hotel into a very modern expose of the “fake news” phenomenon. The Scottish town of Aberfintry is blighted by the presence of crumbling Hotel Grimm, perched on the side of Scrab Hill and seeming to cause the untimely demise of anyone foolish enough to spend the night. Needless to say the town’s teenaged marketing sensation, Rory McKenna is less than delighted when he is commissioned by Granville Grimm to design a marketing campaign for the spooky eyesore! Can he uncover the mystery surrounding the hotel and fight the local prejudice whipped up by the editor of a small town newspaper? This is an enjoyable and entertaining story which is very timely as we highlight the impact of fake news in information literacy lessons. At the moment you can actually purchase signed copies directly from the author Mike Nicholson at his website here.

Click book cover to link to review

The Apprentice Witch trilogy by James Nicol are all thoroughly entertaining stories, combining a wonderfully realised magical world with the most kind-hearted and accident prone young witch you could hope to meet. Read all three to immerse yourself in Arianwyn’s quest to vanquish the dark magic which threatens her world.

For those children in upper Key Stage 2, I have picked a selection to provide a substantial read and plenty to think about.

Click cover to link to review

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor is the second in his Eerie-on-Sea series and has enough perilous episodes and wickedly sarcastic humour to keep you engrossed through a long winter evening.

Click cover to link to review

The Hungry Ghost by HS Norup does a marvellous job of combining SE Asian tradition with a modern day story of blended families and loss. It is one of my favourite new releases of 2020 and educated me in a culture and tradition which I had not encountered before. The juxtaposition of the ancient Hungry Ghost festival with a bustling, modern setting in which a displaced teenager encounters a ghostly presence is perfectly crafted by a brilliant writer.

Click cover to link to review

Finally, one of my all time favourite books – I have probably purchased more than 10 copies of this to give away since it was published in 2016, the one pictured is my own signed copy, that’s how much I love it! Strange Star is Emma Carroll’s brilliant imagining of the story behind the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It is a perfect gothic novel, ideally pitched for Year 6 and 7 readers who are very likely to be studying Frankenstein in Year 7 or 8 at secondary school.

Draw the curtains, put some logs on the fire and enjoy … if you dare!

#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: The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q Raúf

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.
Published by Hachette Children’s Group

Author: Onjali Q Raúf

Illustrator: I have this as an eARC from Netgalley and cannot find an illustrator’s name

Publisher: Orion/Hachette Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: (The story is told in the voice of ten-year-old Hector, who at the beginning is revelling in his role of school bully and family outcast)

“After class, I headed straight to detention, and sat in my usual chair in the corner of the classroom “

This book in three words: Homelessness – Bullying – Redemption

How many of us rush to judgement based on the behaviour of the people we meet rather than stopping to think about the reason for their behaviour and spending time to try to understand and help them? In her third MG novel, Onjali Raúf shines her compassionate light on homelessness, showing the true humanity of individual lives and gently encouraging her readers to see the person rather than a social problem defined by a collective noun “the homeless”. As with her previous two novels, her message is suffused through a thoroughly engaging story, which I read deep into the night as I was compelled to finish it in one sitting.

In a clever contrast the two main characters Hector and Thomas represent two forms of homelessness. Thomas, the archetypal picture that we think of; unwashed, shabby clothes, sleeping on a park bench in an old sleeping bag, against Hector who is from an affluent family but with parents largely absent on international jobs. He feels that he is a disappointment to his high-achieving family and with the nanny largely preoccupied with his younger brother, his life consists of cheese toasties, late-night video games and travelling into central London, unsupervised, to skateboard. If home is the place where we are nurtured by people who love us and who we love in return, then at the start of this story I would consider Hector to be homeless.

As the story opens, Hector, the ten-year-old school bully is in the middle of his latest cry for attention, dropping toy snakes into the school lunch soup pan. He is part of a toxic trio of friends, with Will and Katie constantly encouraging him to acts of increasingly poor behaviour, which he performs to gain their approval. This culminates with him starting to harass Thomas, an old, homeless gentleman who lives in the town park, eventually destroying his meagre belongings. 

His final act of vandalism is witnessed by Mei-Li, a classmate who he despises for being their “teacher’s pet” and a “brainiac”. Whilst the other school children cower in terror or bribe Hector with their sweets or pocket money, she is unafraid to stand up to him and forces him to apologise to Thomas and eventually to help out at the soup kitchen where she volunteers alongside her father.

Meanwhile the news headlines are gripped by a series of thefts of valuable public statues from central London, including the famous Paddington Bear from the mainline train terminus. The thief leaves behind coded signs in yellow paint, these symbols are known only to the homeless community and thus suspicion falls upon an entire group of innocent people. When Hector witnesses a theft in Piccadilly Circus one evening and casts suspicion on the wrong man, he finds himself in the midst of a race against time to uncover the true villains.

This story is thoroughly entertaining as a detective mystery puzzle, with the ingenuity and teamwork of Thomas, Hector, Mei-Li and Catwoman combining to an exciting denouement at a major London landmark. In the accepted way of MG fiction the thread of redemption and hope is woven through the tale, leaving readers with the ambition to look for the good inside everyone and the belief that transformation can take place in the everyday events of life. Once again Onjali Raúf has written a beautiful story which makes us think again at the over-looked in our society. Highly recommended for all readers of 9+.

I am grateful to #NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Books for granting me access to an eARC of this wonderful story.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Armoured Goretusk by Kris Humphrey

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.

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: Kris Humphrey

Illustrator: Pete Williamson

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Then, there came a knock at the door “

This book in three words: Monsters – Mystery – Ingenuity

This week I thought I would focus on a book aimed at the younger end of the MG readership, the first in a new series published by Oxford University Press: Leo’s Map of Monsters. In this first episode The Armoured Goretusk we are introduced to Leo on the morning of his ninth birthday. Like all the children of his Medieval-looking village he will be given an envelope with his Assignment for the next two years, and fully expects to join his friend Jacob at the Records Office.

However, he is surprised to find a page labelled Top Secret inside the envelope and even more astonished by the visit of the village chief, Gilda, to the small house he shares with his mother and sister. Gilda leads him through a secret passage to the Guardian’s Hut, where he learns that the Wall surrounding his village is not to protect villagers from wolves and bears… but monsters!

The Guardian, Henrick,  is nursing a badly injured leg and therefore sends Leo out into the forest armed with a slingshot, a bag of stones and an enchanted map. Assisted by a small flying Leatherwing named Starla and relying on his own ingenuity, Leo must track the Armoured Goretusk and return it to its herd in the marshland of the Festian Swamps before it attacks the village Wall. 

Kris Humphrey has created an utterly believable world and a relatable main protagonist in Leo, who requires trial and error to get things right which is a great piece of modelling for children who are learning to be resilient. I also liked the way that the story raises questions about what might be going on beneath the narrative. The beautifully expressive illustrations by Pete Williamson add another layer of meaning and I certainly have questions about the shifty look in Henrick’s eyes as he obscures Leo’s view of the collection of Hawkupine quills in his hut! There is a map at the start of the book (always a plus for me) where readers can track Leo’s adventure as it unfolds. Additionally, the illustrations give the impression that they have been drawn in charcoal which ties in neatly with Leo’s birthday present.

 I think that this book will be very appealing to the legions of Beast Quest fans. It has an ideally-sized font for newly confident readers and at 141 pages is the perfect length for those readers that I have seen a blogger I greatly respect refer to as “dormant” – this could be a book to spark the fire of reading for pleasure. Top Trumps-style fact files at the end will, I think, appeal to readers who tend to opt for non-fiction over fiction. There is also a sneak peek at the beginning of the next book in the series, The Spit Fang Lizard which will be eagerly anticipated by those who enjoy this story.

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Tilly and the Map of Stories by Anna James

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

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.
Cover image by Paola Escobar, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Anna James

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

” I’m looking for a book.”

This book in three words: Magic – Imagination – Stories

A couple of weeks ago I used this meme to highlight my love for Tilly and the Bookwanderers, yesterday I finished reading an eARC of Tilly and the Map of Stories, due for publication on 17th September. It’s my favourite of the series so far, although it is going to cause me nightmares the next time I have to do some book-weeding in the library! Here is my review:

The third book in the Pages & Co series is a magnificent celebration of the magic of stories and an ode to the bookshops, libraries and imaginations from which they are dispensed. The love of story erupts from this novel and inflames your heart with a desire to revisit old favourites and examine their links to the newly published. Combining 21st century London tweens with a fantasy plot that includes encounters with the Great Library of Alexandria, the Library of Congress and a jaded William Shakespeare, this book takes you on an enchanted journey through literature!

Tilly and the Map of Stories begins exactly where book two, Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales ended, with the scheming Underwood twins, Melville and Decima, continuing their dictatorial reign at the British Underlibrary; pursuing their own ends whilst deceiving their followers that they are working for the benefit of all. They have begun binding the source editions of books to prevent book wandering in them…but only a small minority of independent thinkers have the courage to question why. These dissenters of course include Archibald and Elizabeth Pages (Tilly’s grandparents), her mother Bea and a group of their close friends.

I have loved this series from the moment I began reading about Tilly and her grandparents’ bookshop Pages & Co in book one. The idea of being able to wander into the pages of favourite books and share afternoon tea with Lizzie Bennet enraptured me. The addition of librarian in-jokes about cardigans and the Dewey Decimal System just made it all the more engaging. Now with this installment, author Anna James takes us on a metaphysical adventure into the heart of Story itself, conjuring an immersive literary world in which Tilly and her best friend Oskar have to delve right to the origins of Story in their attempt to thwart the plans of the Underwoods. It opens with a customer in the bookshop finding himself unable to remember anything about the book which he intended to purchase and this grasping for memories of books is repeated with other characters. Relying on Tilly’s instinct that the curious assortment of objects she has gathered during her previous adventures are clues to the whereabouts of the legendary Archivists who guard the bookwandering world, her mother Bea despatches Tilly and Oskar to Washington DC to track them down.

I really do not want to go into too much description of the plot because it unfurls so perfectly that I cannot bear to ruin your enjoyment. The labyrinthine quest leads our heroes and thus the reader into the chain of stories where it seems only natural that after travelling on a train constructed of an eclectic mix of carriages, aptly named the Sesquipedalian, you might encounter Shakespeare arguing with Scott Fitzgerald!

Tilly and Oskar are two wonderful protagonists whose relationship has developed over the series to an acceptance of each other’s moods and almost telepathic understanding of each other’s reactions at crisis points in the narrative. Their friendship and partnership drives the narrative on as they seek the truth of the Underwoods’ abuse of book magic. As always, Tilly’s grandparents demonstrate steely determination to stand up against wrong-doing and in this novel Tilly’s mother Bea has snapped out of her dreamlike state and takes agency too.  The locations, real, historical and imaginary are brought splendidly into focus by Paola Escobar’s wondrous illustrations; I would love to spend many hours browsing Orlando’s bookstore Shakespeare’s Sisters situated in a former theatre! I also love the use of typography techniques to throw the reader off-balance at times in the story.

It is obvious that I adore Tilly and the Map of Stories and I think it is a book that many adults will relish reading to their own children or to a class of children. Confident readers of 10+ will love immersing themselves in the adventure on which Tilly and Oskar embark and hopefully will engage with some of the philosophical themes: the importance of imagination and collective memory, the need to share stories for the benefit of all and the necessity to question authority when it designs rules that only enhance the experience of a few.

I am most grateful to NetGalley and Harper Collins Children’s Books for allowing me access to an eARC in exchange for an honest review. I will certainly be purchasing a physical copy as soon as the book is published later this month as this is one of my MG highlights of the year so far.