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.

Dragons for St George’s Day!

I thought that for St George’s Day I would give a shout-out to my favourite dragons in MG literature. So, in no particular order, here they are:

 

Dragon in LibraryIn  The Dragon in the Library  by Louie Stowell, we meet Draca, the giant sleeping dragon who resides deep under The Chatsworth Library where librarian Faith allows her young apprentice Kit, and her two best friends Alita and Josh into the secret of library dragons. I love the idea of a dragon being kept happily asleep by visiting librarians reading her stories, and the theory that profoundly shocking world events occur when dragons are awoken from their slumbers. Quite wonderfully, this book also features Dogon, a cute half-dog, half-dragon, who I sincerely wish lived in my little school library! Perfect for newly confident readers of 7+, or as a whole class story.

book dragonThe Book Dragon  by  Kell Andrews, features a dragon who remains nameless throughout the story. In this book which again celebrates the joy of reading, an important message is delivered about thinking for yourself. The town has banned books and indeed anything written on paper for fear of the Book Dragon who lives on the outskirts of town. It is said that she will appear to steal your books and then return the following night to search for more. However, when Rosehilda investigates for herself, she finds that the bookish dragon has entirely different motives and a happy solution is found to suit all parties. This picture book is ideal for children of 4+.

 

 

IMG_3401Dirk Dilly the hero of Dragon Detective: Catnapped by Gareth P Jones, fits all the tropes of a private investigator from the classic black and white movies. Sitting with his feet up on the desk of his unkempt, office with smoke unfurling from his nostrils, I can absolutely imagine him talking out of the side of his mouth with Humphrey Bogart’s voice! Of course Dirk Dilly has actually exhaled that smoke because he is a dragon! To be precise: an urban-dwelling, green-bellied, red-backed mountain dragon. Although projecting a hardened, cynical shell, his soft heart is slowly revealed as he works alongside his young client (Holly Bigsby) to unravel the mystery of the disappearing cats. A funny, exciting story for children of 8+.

 

RumblestarFrom Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone, Arlo the miniature, blue dragon who belongs to impulsive and reckless Utterly Thankless. must be one of the cutest dragons to appear in literature. Although tiny, there is no doubting Arlo’s huge heart as he demonstrates true bravery in protecting  both Utterly and Casper Tock, a nervous but ultimately heroic boy who has accidentally stumbled into the kingdom of Rumblestar. Arlo is one of many things to love in this exciting and imaginative adventure. Suitable for children of 8+.

 

 

Harry PotThere are a number of dragons to choose from in the Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling but my personal favourite is Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, hatched from an egg by Hagrid in the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Hagrid has wanted a dragon all his life and ignores the ruling, against owning them, by the Warlock’s Council of 1709 when presented with the opportunity to hatch a large black dragon egg. I love the way that JK Rowling wrote this magical creature into the story, and in so doing provided a marvellous insight into the character of Hagrid, a true giant of MG literature. The image of Hagrid bucket-feeding Norbert with a mixture of hen’s blood and brandy has remained lodged in my mind since I first read this book to my children nineteen years ago!

boy grew dragonsIf you happen to discover an unusual looking, spiky, plant with yellow and orange tendrils resembling bursts of flame in your vegetable patch, then, beware. You too might be about to grow dragons like Tomas, The Boy Who Grew Dragons written by Andy Shepherd. You’d better hope that they turn out like Flicker, the cutest little dragon ever to hatch from a dragon fruit, with his smoky little hiccups and out-of-control arrowhead tail. Of course, having a pet dragon can have drawbacks and there are plenty of comic moments to laugh at in this wonderfully entertaining book for anyone of 7/8+.

 

 

Smaug from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien the majestically avaricious dragon from The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet  by Martin Howard are rather less cute and cuddly than those previously mentioned. Both sharing an obsession with guarding a sizeable haul of treasure and behaving in a less than welcoming manner to those they suspect of coveting their hoards! Both of these fearsome reptilians stand in the way of the heroes being able to fulfil their quests. Can Bilbo Baggins and Alfie Fleet outwit their dragon foes? If you want an exciting, mythical quest read The Hobbit, if you like laughs and adventure in equal measure, read The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet!

Do you have a favourite Dragon? Which dragons have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

#MGTakesOnThursday Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe by Martin Howard

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Image created by Mary Simms and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by Mary Simms 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 recommend this book, or link to your review.

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Author: Martin Howard

Illustrator: Chris Mould

Publisher: OUP Children’s Publishing

 

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “You’re all bird-people here on Winspan. Very interesting,” said the Professor.”

This book in three words: Hilarious, Cosmic, Adventure

There is nothing like humour to encourage young readers to enjoy a book, and this one from Martin Howard offers more laughs per page than anything I’ve read since …The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet. Read it, but just make sure you’re not drinking at the time, unless you enjoy the prospect of tea exploding from your nostrils!

My full review can be read here. Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe

#MG Takes on Thursday

This is a new feature set up by brilliant MG Book Blogger @MaryRees at the blog Book Craic to highlight the wonderful world of Middle Grade books.

You can read all the instructions for taking part on Mary’s blog here.

Here is my first attempt at this meme.

 

 

Author: Catherine Doyle

Illustrator: Bill Bragg

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

 

Favourite line from Page 11:

“I’m already full of magic. I just have no idea how to get it out of -“

 

This book in three words:

Destiny, Magic, Courage

This is one of the most powerfully moving works of MG fiction published in recent years. Combining a love of family, sense of place, lyrical language and the coming-of-age story of a boy struggling to fulfil his destiny in a battle with an evil foe, it is a story to be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100!

You can read my review here. 

 

Well this is my first ever participation in a meme, so I wish to thank Mary for choosing to shine a light on the magic of Middle Grade. I hope that many other bloggers will join in, I look forward to reading your thoughts.

 

#MG Takes on Thursday

This is a new feature set up by brilliant MG Book Blogger @MaryRees at the blog Book Craic to highlight the wonderful world of Middle Grade books.

You can read all the instructions for taking part on Mary’s blog here.

Here is my first attempt at this meme.

 

 

Author: Catherine Doyle

Illustrator: Bill Bragg

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

 

Favourite line from Page 11:

“I’m already full of magic. I just have no idea how to get it out of -“

 

This book in three words:

Destiny, Magic, Courage

This is one of the most powerfully moving works of MG fiction published in recent years. Combining a love of family, sense of place, lyrical language and the coming-of-age story of a boy struggling to fulfil his destiny in a battle with an evil foe, it is a story to be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100!

You can read my review here. 

 

Well this is my first ever participation in a meme, so I wish to thank Mary for choosing to shine a light on the magic of Middle Grade. I hope that many other bloggers will join in, I look forward to reading your thoughts.

 

Review: Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

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I was ecstatic to be approved for an e-ARC of Jungledrop on #Netgalley and believe me, I will be buying more than one physical copy of this amazing book as soon as it hits the shops. It has totally fizzled my brain with its imaginative brilliance and left my heart quivering with joy. It is a beautiful and necessary book which will delight and entertain all readers, young and old. 

Whilst you could easily enjoy reading this book as a stand-alone adventure, you will be fully immersed in the lore of the Unmapped Chronicles if you have previously read Everdark and Rumblestar. In the latter case, you will know that ancient Phoenix magic dictates that the weather on Earth ( The Faraway ) is controlled by events in the four Unmapped Kingdoms. However, the harmonious functioning of this system is under threat from an evil harpy named Morg who wishes to control the kingdoms for her own wickedly greedy ends.

In this third instalment the future of the Faraway ( which is suffering from a year-long drought ) and Jungledrop are placed in the hands of a very unlikely pair of heroes, eleven-year-old twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble. They are descended from a wealthy German family and live in the ancestral mansion in Munich, Bickery Towers. Their repulsive parents run a business empire built on lies, the family motto is:

“Do not be afraid.

To stamp all over other people’s feelings.”

Their avaricious upbringing has resulted in two children who behave like monsters but deep down feel unloved and lonely. Somehow the ancient phoenix magic has unaccountably chosen them to change the course of history! As they dash into an antiques shop, owned by Casper Tock, the fizz of magic from a long-hidden phoenix tear propels them on a journey of the heart which will determine the destiny of two worlds.

“When magic sets it’s sights on someone, it’s remarkably hard to wriggle free”

There are countless things to love about this story.

  • The brilliantly imagined land of Jungledrop, a glow-in-the-dark rainforest filled with exotically named flora and fauna. This lush landscape is cruelly scarred by burnt and barren enclaves where the greed of Morg has inflicted dark magic, and the descriptions are redolent of familiar scenes from documentaries about the devastation being caused to rainforests all over our planet. 
  • The unique, funny and inspired naming of characters: Tedious Niggle, the ghostly ticket inspectre; Heckle the “emotionally intrusive” yellow parrot; Total Shambles, the slow, ungainly but heroic swiftwing; Doogie Herbalsneeze the jungle apothecary and unicycle-riding unmapper Iggy Blether.
  • The exciting plot with its quest to discover the Forbidden Fern, the suspense and uncertainty over each of the twins’ true intent during the adventure and the perfectly described, complex emotional undercurrents.

Abi Elphinstone has an incredible talent for taking her readers on a heart-stopping journey through gloriously immersive worlds and dropping profoundly moving passages into the middle of jaw-dropping action. Her combination of playfulness, visual storytelling, obvious respect for her readership and genuine ability to include a positive message in her stories make them an essential addition to every bookshelf.

I shall finish with a quote which had me welling up, and which I will be putting on permanent display in the school library:

“To be kind is to be strong. And, if you’re strong enough to pull down a wall around your heart, you can fight with the strength of a warrior because then you will have learnt to love!”

 

Thank you #NetGalley and S&S Children’s UK for allowing me early access to JungleDrop

Review: The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley

The Wild Way Home

This book is an extraordinary feast for the senses. A story about the power of family, it also feels like a celebration of the ancient woodland of the British Isles, with a deep love of nature permeating every description of a majestic tree or the instinctive behaviour of a forest animal. The language resonates with nature-related similes;  examples include the description of footprints in the sandy riverbank: “bird prints, like little letters in another language.” ancient flowers are “massive and speckled and wrong, like tongue-out faces with wavering tentacles.” Meat cooked in the smoke of a fire is “so tender I hardly have to chew and it’s delicious, like ham would be if ham was less pink and more wild.”

 Charlie Merriam loves Mandel Forest which stands at the edge of his home and town, and knows every inch of it, having played there with his two best friends, Lamont and Beaky since their early childhoods. On the eve of his twelfth birthday Charlie finds a deer’s tooth on the forest floor which he picks up to add to his “Mandel Museum”. The following day Charlie goes to visit his much longed-for, newborn baby brother Dara only to find that his parents are devastated as Dara faces a life-saving heart operation. Unable to cope with the anguish, Charlie runs to the forest, from where he glimpses the multiple windows of the distant hospital looking like a fly’s compound eye, each seeing things from a slightly different perspective. 

This is appropriate to Charlie’s sense of disorientation, when, after squeezing the deer tooth tightly in his hand he finds himself in altered surroundings. Although the familiar landmarks are recognisable, the forest seems wilder and the colours and sounds have taken on a greater intensity. Then he spots the body, face down in the stream…

Somehow, Charlie has time-slipped back to the stone-age! As he forges a relationship with Harby, the stone-age boy he rescues from the stream, he begins to realise that both of them are running from emotions too powerful to deal with. The primitive instincts for survival, for companionship, home and family are all explored.

The sense of a landscape linking the distant past with the present day is beautifully imagined in this emotional story, with the ancient Spirit Stone standing as the totemic link between past and present. The tale also conjured for me an evocation of a more carefree past when children spent their summers playing outside and roaming independently rather than being glued to a screen or tracked by worried parents through their digital devices. 

This is an exciting and thought-provoking tale, with some deeply emotional moments and some episodes of heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping, jeopardy. I would recommend it for readers in Year 6 and beyond, perfect for readers who have loved The Last Wild trilogy by Piers Torday, The Explorer by Katherine Rundell  or Stig of the Dump by Clive King.

I am grateful to Bloomsbury Kids UK for approving me to read an e-ARC of this story on #NetGalley

Blog Tour: Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe by Martin Howard, illustrated by Chris Mould

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With a loud toot on Betsy’s horn, I welcome you to my stop on the blog tour, where I am honoured to join a troupe of wonderful children’s book bloggers, to bring you Alfie Fleet’s latest adventure.

The amazing and frankly alarmingly inventive imagination of Martin Howard has taken off on another fantastic journey through the lesser-known planets, and here he explains a little of his creative philosophy! Over to you, Mart…

So, here we are again. Hullo, and it’s good to be back at V’s View From the Bookshelves with everyone’s favourite reviewer, our fabulous host – the one and only Von Price! Let’s give her a big hand …

*Wait for standing ovation*

Von Price, everybody. Isn’t she great? Love the book bloggers. Heart-shape. OK, settle down, we’ve a lot to get through. So, I’m back to bang the drum for the second instalment of Alfie Fleet’s fantastical adventures. He’s off to a fresh bunch of planets, which I’m sure Von will tell you all about in the review. Meanwhile, she’s asked me to talk about how I came up with the idea and why I write funny books.

This could be a looooong piece. Sure you don’t want to talk about biscuits? Biscuits are an author thing, right?

No?

OK then.

Let’s dispense with the how first, ‘cos that’s nice and quick. I came up with the idea of stone circles being used as portals to different places for a book called The Wickedest Witch, which was published about ten years ago. (It’s a good ‘un, by the way. Beeeyootiful illustrations. And still in print – hint, hint.) Years later, one summer afternoon, I was sitting in the garden and my train of thought took a sudden detour. It went something like this: “Pom pom pomty pom. Bees. Ooo, lovely flowers. Pom pom … hey Martypants, you should write about an interstellar cartography club using stone circles to map other planets.” I’ve no idea where it came from but that’s how Alfie was born. A few weeks later I came up with Professor Bowell-Mouvemont (or Major Bowell-Mouvemont as he was originally called). The name made me giggle and, as a writer, if you can make yourself laugh you’re halfway there …

So that’s how. Why I write funny books – that’s a much bigger question.

Hmm. Chin stroking moment. I suppose, when we get right down to the nitty of the gritty, I write funny books because funny seems to be my factory setting. My brain automatically goes for the funny side of any situation, which makes me a hoot at funerals. Now, I’m not saying I’m the world’s most hilarious person (I’m actually pretty annoying and humour is in the smile of the beholder, a lot of people don’t get mine) but I LOVE laughing, and making other people laugh is just about the best feeling in the world. I once made a friend laugh so hard she actually, properly, wet herself. And not just a little bit but a catastrophic loss of bladder control. People were putting animals on boats.

It was the proudest moment of my life.

So, I don’t think I had much choice. I once tried writing a serious YA horror novel. Total disaster. I had a cool, sassy hero lined up. He wore a nifty coat. Plus, I spent ages working out a gasp-worthy, didn’t-see-that-coming plot. In the first chapter he started telling gags. By the end I may as well have had vampires wearing false noses and bonking their victims over the head with rubber chickens.

At that point, I discovered it was funny writing or no writing.

Beyond the fact that I love it so much though, I strongly believe that comedy is much more important than people realise, and especially for children.

Uh-oh, serious bit alert.

Humour makes a massive impact in young peoples’ lives. This we know for an actual fact. I’ve lost count of the school librarians who have told me how much they rely on funny books to turn reluctant readers into eager readers – with all the life benefits that entails – and science tells us that laughter is beneficial on every level: physically, mentally and emotionally. Funny writers – even *yikes* David Walliams – are helping children grow up well-balanced, healthier and better educated.

So, what I’m saying is that we’re basically saints, like lovely, lovely angels making the world a better place one fart gag at a time. I mean, obviously we get paid from time to time, but it’s righteous work and it drives me bonkers that funny children’s books are sometimes seen as less important than serious books like Barry Tortoise Finds Out We’re All Going to Die. For that reason, me and Rachel Delahaye – a writer who is much, much funnier than me – recently set up a blog called Snort! We hope it will grow into a place where funny books are given the attention they deserve.

In the meantime, I’m hugely – enormously – proud to have maybe helped make a tiny difference in one or two children’s lives just by writing barmy stuff about eccentric professors wearing corsets.  Every so often I’ll get a letter from a child saying how much they enjoyed something I’ve written, and how much it made them laugh. For me, more than glory or riches beyond imagination, that is the reward of being a funny children’s writer. That said, if you have any glory or riches-beyond-imagination hanging about, I wouldn’t say no.

Mwah for now

Martxx

PS: for the record – a chocolate finger, if you have one.

PPS: Chocolate finger. SNORT!

Review Time!

Thank you for that Mart, and I wouldn’t say no to a little portion of glory and riches myself, or a full packet of chocolate fingers if you have any spare! Onto the review…

Firstly, let’s take a moment to marvel at the glorious cover art by Chris Mould, and let me assure you that his black and white illustrated pages will provide much amusement and enlightenment throughout the book.

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It’s possible that your holiday plans this year might be disrupted, but do not worry – Alfie Fleet is back, and he wants to offer you the holiday of a lifetime!

If you read The Cosmic Adventures of Alfie Fleet you will remember that Alfie and his mum moved into Number Four, Wigless Square with Professor Bowell-Mouvement and Derek, the Under-sixteens Unnecessary Violence Champion from the planet Outlandish, where they were planning to start The Unusual Travel Agency (UTA). We rejoin Alfie as he and the Professor embark on a whistle-stop tour of their proposed destinations, putting the final touches to their information leaflets  and ensuring that sufficient travel brochures are left at each hostelry on the tour.

Unfortunately, the planet Bewayre not only proves to be a greenly-unwelcoming place, but also provides some unexpected and unwelcome guests to Wigless Square, in the form of five ragged, crusty and extremely grubby individuals who look like survivors from a Tudor disaster movie! The leader of this pack of adventurers is Sir Willikin Nanbiter, a deeply unpleasant character, former President of the Unusual Cartography Club from 1542 – 1546 (time passes very slowly on Bewayre compared to Earth). He is accompanied by his hideously snobbish wife Lady Gardenia; brow-beaten son Flem; a donkey and two rotten henchmen named Bernard Stiltskin and Incontinence Pance. Using the ancient rules of the UCC they vote the Professor out of office, reclaim control of the UCC and set about destroying the UTA.

Alfie must use every ounce of ingenuity he possesses, to lead the Professor, Derek and Flem, along with trusty Betsy the scooter, on a quest to discover the long-lost members of the UCC to outvote Sir Nanbiter. Searching far and wide for stone circles through which they can travel across the universe, their main objective is Catsic the Henge. He was last heard of on the Planet Frimp, a vast collection of tropical islands where our intrepid heroes discover that they have been pursued across 36 worlds by Nanbiter’s henchmen! Cue a fearsome pirate battle and subsequent ship-wreck.

This book is an absolute hoot from beginning to end. From the hugely inventive planets and their inhabitants (Winspan: looks like a half-chewed tennis ball and has such low gravitational pull that the population own strap-on wings) to the running gags based on the Professor’s constant confusion of words, and the profusion of toilet jokes, it will appeal to the most reluctant of readers. Of course, under the hugely entertaining jokes, there are themes of loyalty, trust and bravery as Alfie strives to meet the expectations placed upon him. The quest zips along at a great pace, with laughs and peril often combined to great effect – the gruesome duties that Alfie encounters whilst crewing on the Jewel of the Breezy Seas had me choking on my coffee!

Will Alfie fulfil his destiny and bring peace and harmony to the universe? Read this book and expect your face and sides to ache with laughter as you find out! Toot!Toot!

 

Thank you Mart and OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy and for inviting me aboard Betsy for the blog tour.