#MGTakesOnThursday: Mort the Meek written by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

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.

Author: Rachel Delahaye

Illustrator: George Ermos

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ But the crowd wanted to LIVE, so not one of them said or did anything.”

This book in three words: Outrageously gruesome humour!

Imagine being the only pacifist living on Brutalia, ‘an island of terrifying ugliness’ ruled over by a fearsome and pitiless King and Queen. Then imagine being not just a pacifist but the nephew of the island’s overworked executioner. Take one more step along this imaginary path and picture yourself being forced, by the Queen, into taking over your uncle’s role at the execution of your best friend!

If your curiosity has been tweaked at this point, you really need to read Mort the Meek, the darkly hilarious tale of a boy facing an impossible situation in a land where hope and friendship seem doomed. Will Mort, the island’s solitary pacifist, be able to walk the walk of the most brutal brute in Brutalia? His powers of resolve, ingenuity and cunning will be put to the test in a series of fearsome challenges as he tries to remain true to his principles without losing his head! 

Rachel Delahaye has packed this story with unlikely occurrences, fabulous wordplay and the kind of slapstick, gruesome violence that makes young readers snort with laughter. When Mort meets a friend named Ono and discovers that some of the inhabitants of Brutalia are prepared to defy the wicked rulers’ decrees, he glimpses a small possibility of hope amongst the hidden marigold fields.

Featuring a running commentary at the start of each chapter by the island’s ravenous ravens which is not for those of a weak stomach, this is a subversively comic tale about standing up for your beliefs, being unafraid to be different and the importance of friendship. The illustrations throughout by George Ermos perfectly capture the unhinged details of daily life in Brutalia. The sentence that I selected at the top of this post reminds us that bad things happen when collectively we are afraid to speak out and Mort’s story shows that even small, solitary voices speaking out for what is right can bring about change.

You can find teaching notes, created by Scott Evans, to accompany this book on the Little Tiger Press website.

Mort the Meek is published on 4th March 2021 and I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy ahead of publication.

#ReadingIrelandMonth21: The Storm Keepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury 04/03/2021

The wonderful blogger Cathy at 746Books.com is hosting #readingirelandmonth21 and for my first contribution I present a review of The Storm Keepers’ Battle, a brilliant #MiddleGrade fantasy set on a small island off the West Coast of Ireland and written by a hugely talented Irish author, Catherine Doyle. I hope that you enjoy this post and do check out the many others posted under the #readingirelandmonth21 banner.

The final instalment of Catherine Doyle’s Storm Keeper trilogy is one of my most anticipated books of 2021 and I was delighted to be approved to read an eARC on NetGalley.

The story continues days after Fionn Boyle’s confrontation with the dark force that threatens his ancestral island home of Arranmore, a wild, storm-battered and beautiful island off the west coast of Ireland, related in book two, The Lost Tide Warriors. 

‘Fionn Boyle was sure of two things:

One, he was full of an ancient, rippling magic that could explode from him at any moment. Two, he had absolutely no idea how to control it.’

This story is MG Fantasy at its finest. A cast of brave and loyal friends who support Fionn through his doubts and difficulties; a sarcastic older sister who comes through for her brother when it really counts; a terrifyingly evil foe and hugely importantly, the island itself. For me it is the sense of place which makes this book and indeed the entire trilogy stand out. The deep magic which pervades Arranmore, with its hauntingly magical locations such as the Whispering Tree, Cowans Lake and even Morrigan’s lair on Black Point Rock all appear utterly authentic and resonate with bone-deep ancestry and connection to the land. I think this can only be achieved by a masterful author who knows and feels that same connection to place.  On the island of Arranmore…

‘If it sounds impossible, then it’s probably true’

As evil sorceress Morrigan sends out her brothers, Brendon the Brutal and Aldric the Silent to capture new recruits for her army of soul stealers, the inhabitants of Arranmore led by Fionn and his family and friends battle against time to locate their own sorcerer, Dagda, to lead the fight against her. The story captures twelve-year-old Fionn’s battle against his own self-doubt and sense of inadequacy for the role which has been thrust upon him. The humorous teen banter between Fionn, his sister Tara and friends Sam and Shelby, contrasting with their fierce loyalty to each other in the heat of battle is deeply moving. The closing chapters of the story held me enraptured as I sat up far too late into the night to finish the book.

This is a perfect finale to one of the best Middle Grade series that I have read and I highly recommend it to all confident readers of 10+

I am grateful to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for granting me access to an eARC ahead of publication and I will be buying a physical copy, hoping that I can find a signed one on sale, to join the other two in the series on my bookshelf.

Image created by Cathy at 746Books and used with permission

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.

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!

#BlogTour: Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

cover image by Elissa Elwick, published by Little Tiger Press

A magically mischievous kitten, a kind young girl and a purposeful broomstick make Midnight Magic a story that young readers will joyously pounce upon! 

I am delighted to join the blog tour for this enchanting tale today, and honoured to share these beautiful images from Chapter One with you, with many thanks to Little Tiger Press. Enjoy!

Review

Michelle Harrison’s first book for younger readers displays all of her enchanting storytelling skills, wrapped up in rhythmically rhyming text and encased in a package that will grace any bookshelf. I am not judging a book by its cover, but oh my goodness, the sumptuous purple and gold detail is supremely beguiling, as you can clearly see from the images above! Elissa Elwick’s illustrations are charming and expressive and fully encapsulate the fun and warmth of the story.

Before you begin reading, make sure that you have a hot beverage and tempting snack on hand because you won’t want to put this down once you start.

A cat gives birth to two cute and cuddly kittens,  followed, on the stroke of midnight by a third, jet-black sibling. Appropriately-named Midnight is unlike her brother and sister, Foxy and Snowdrop, having a tendency to breathe purple smoke, cause inanimate objects to move and generally cause chaos. For this, she is not popular with her family and in an ultimate act of betrayal she is abandoned and must seek out a new home…

Friendship and joyous adventure abound when she is taken in by Trixie, her rather apprehensive father and incorrigibly adventurous Nan. Weaving bedtime story imagery with a twitch of Midnight’s magical tail the story whisks readers away on an enchanted night time journey.

This is the ultimate magical Halloween read for children in the 6-9 bracket, a heart warming and rib-tickling tale of friendship and fun. It is perfect for newly confident readers to read alone and will also be a lovely bedtime story for younger children. If you are using the story in school, you can access teaching resources created by Scott Evans @MrEPrimary, here.

I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for an invitation to join the blog tour and a review copy of Midnight Magic. Do check out the other stops on the tour for interviews, features and further chapter extracts.

#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.

Review: Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering by Harriet Muncaster

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

Meet sparklingly wicked Victoria Stitch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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