#20 Books of Summer 2021: Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller

I’m kicking off my #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy who writes the marvellous 746books.com blog, with a smart, entertaining and funny book aimed at the Middle Grade market: Mickey and the Trouble with Moles written by Anne Miller and illustrated by Becka Moor.

mc

I was delighted to discover that a second Mickey adventure, written with wit and whimsy by Anne Miller and wonderfully illustrated by Becka Moor, had been published last month as I adored the first in the series, Mickey and the Animal Spies. This book starts with a recap of the essential facts and can therefore be read as a standalone…although I would strongly urge you to read both!

Michaela Rose Thompson (Mickey) might appear to be an ordinary girl who dutifully attends school and gymnastics lessons and reliably takes responsibility for herself when her parents are working late on their scientific experiments. However, Mickey has an unusual aptitude for code-cracking and her undercover activities as human liaison officer to COBRA, a secret organisation of animal spies, set her apart from the crowd. This time she and her animal colleagues must delve into the rogue activities of the moles, dig into their motivation for tunnelling into the United Bank’s ‘Impossible Vault’ and try to unearth the brains behind the plan. Will Mickey’s obsession with the writings of Hildegarde L. McTavish help her crack the triple encryption and rescue a comrade before the ticking clock runs down?

If you like your spy mysteries to be filled with humour, quirky wordplay and an innovative use of seagulls as anti-surveillance accessories, this is the book for you! I would imagine that Anne Miller had enormous fun playing with the tropes of classic spy fiction to create this brilliantly amusing, engaging and satisfying story. It is the perfect length for newly confident readers to finish independently, has a great balance of whole and half-page illustrations by Becka Moor and as an added bonus contains an interactive element as readers are encouraged to crack different ciphers throughout the narrative. I enjoyed reading it enormously and know that it would have been devoured by my youngest had it been around when she was in primary school. As if things couldn’t get any better, it ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving this reader and I’m sure many others, hungry for book three!

This will be an excellent addition to classrooms, school libraries and home bookshelves for anyone of 8+, the blend of animals, spy mystery, humour and illustrations wrapped in a cracking plot making it one of those perfect books to read for pleasure.

I am very grateful to Liz Scott and Oxford Children’s Books for sending me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

10 books of summer
Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission

One summer, three months, 10 books! Thank you Cathy for hosting!

#MGTakesOnThursday: Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold

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: Nicola Penfold

Illustrator: Kate Forrester

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“It predates not only the floods and the Hunger Years, but the Decline, and even the Greedy Years before that. It’s from when the land was still healthy enough to farm, before the poisons and the saltwater got in.”

Cover art by Kate Forrester, to be published by
Little Tiger on 8 July 2021

This book in three words: Environment – Family – Metamorphosis

This is an incredibly beautiful and powerful story set in a near future coastal community on the east coast of England. The extract that I have quoted from page 11, locates the reader in the space with great economy, as it describes Crier’s Windmill which will become a pivotal location in the story. As the book opens, you join Nat and his two best friends Tally and Lucas as they set off on their bicycles for summer holiday pranks and dares amongst the sterile landscape of the solar fields and Edible Uplands factory farm. It cleverly positions young readers in a recognisable activity before the clues about this dystopian future lead to the realisation of how society could be changed following ecological disaster.

Meanwhile, sisters Pearl and Clover, live with their father and their collective grief on an oyster farm; a ramshackle structure of narrowboats and the remnants of an offshore oil rig, held together as precariously as their family, with bindings that require constant re-knotting to stop the construction coming apart. We quickly learn that siblings are not allowed in the district of Blackwater Bay, where the feared Peacekeepers remove illegal second children, issue civil disobedience points and regularly send unlucky trespassers to the prison ship which is anchored further out in the bay. A visible reminder to all that resisting the state rule will be punished.

The two existences come together when Nat’s mum, Sora, a senior scientist, is sent by the District Controller to study the farming methods pioneered on the Oyster Farm to try to enhance food production for the district. When the “landlubbers” relocate to the feared world of the water, Nat brings some uninvited guests – jars of caterpillars that he has collected from the wild thistles in the solar fields. This act of rebellion (all pollinators are claimed by Central District) sets a metamorphosis in motion that will affect more than just the lepidoptera.

Nicola Penfold has written an exquisite story which brilliantly captures some of the pressing concerns of our age, she has crafted memorable characters and a plot that simmers with tension and edginess as the storm brews in the background. Her love of the natural world shines through the narrative which is peppered with a feast of Easter eggs in the form of the names of both human and non-human characters. She acknowledges the fact that children show far more awareness and concern about the environment and the plight of migrants than many adults; this is perfectly encapsulated by Pearl:

“You’re missing all of it because you’re not bothering to look! None of you are!”

I am sure that this book will prove to be extremely popular with upper Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 children, I can imagine it becoming a favourite whole class read, perhaps to accompany topics on global warming or food production. It is also a book that many adults would benefit from reading; a perfectly assembled plot with a thoughtful and valuable message. I loved it.

I am very grateful to Little Tiger Press and NetGalley for allowing me early access to an electronic version of this book which will be published on 8th July 2021.

Review: Skyborn by Sinéad O’Hart

Cover art by Sara Mulvanny, published by Little Tiger Press

If you want an MG story to grab you by your emotional lapels and hurl you back and forth like a trapeze artist’s swing, then buy your ticket to Cyrus Quinn’s circus, take your seat in the big top and enjoy the show!

From the opening line of the prologue I was absolutely enthralled as Ester defied her mother’s instructions and began her perilous journey upwards. As her dreams of flight segue into her son Bastjan’s story, I couldn’t tear myself away from his quest to investigate his mother’s past and return an ancient treasure to its rightful owner.

Sinéad O’Hart’s writing is lyrical, big-hearted and utterly compelling. She effortlessly brings Bastjan’s character to life on the page, the reader feels the warmth and love with which Crake, the circus strongman, provides protection and support for the young, orphaned tumbler. This is brilliantly contrasted with the cold tyranny with which Quinn treats his stepson as he tries to reverse the fortunes of his foundering business. Since the death of his star performer, Ester, who held the crowds enraptured with her Dance of the Snowflakes trapeze routine, the crowds have dwindled and Quinn will seemingly stop at nothing to replace her. But what was the secret of her aerial ability, and has her son inherited her fearless talent?

The arrival of an upper-class runaway, Alice Patten, proves the catalyst for twists and turns in the plot that build to a crescendo of explosive action. I will not go into any details for fear of ruining your enjoyment of a story with more thrills and spills than a tent full of acrobats. Suffice to say that the immaculate world-building combined with wonderfully drawn characters make this a book to be savoured, it is a hugely enjoyable work of speculative fiction combining a brilliant blend of circus, steampunk and fantasy. It will be massively enjoyed by confident readers of 9+ and would make an excellent whole class or bedtime story which I am sure that adults will enjoy as much as their young audience; just be prepared for constant pleas for “one more chapter”!

Skyborn will be published on 10th June 2021 and I am most grateful to Little Tiger Press for providing me with a pre-publication copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

#20 Books of Summer 2021 hosted by Cathy at 246 Books

10 books of summer
Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission.

I’m hastily posting before the end of the month, that I am looking forward to again taking part in the #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy who writes the marvellous 746books.com blog.

Since moving jobs at the start of this year, I will no longer have a long summer holiday in which to read therefore I am going to set myself the modest target of 10 books this summer! I have to admit that after a long day spent mostly staring at a screen, there are some evenings when I just can’t face reading for an extended period, so I definitely cannot consume books as quickly as I used too. Looking back at my post from this time last year I notice that The Mirror and the Light is making a second appearance, which is a prime example of my lack of reading time over the past 12 months! I am hoping to re-discover my reading mojo and just as importantly I shall look forward to reading the reviews that other bloggers, taking part in this challenge, will post.

My list contains a mixture of MG and adult books, physical and e-books. One, Purple Hibiscus, is a re-read as it is this month’s choice for one of my book groups, and the solitary non-fiction title, The Book About Getting Older reflects my new job in an NHS library. Several of the MG books have been sent to me for review by publishers and one was a very kind gift from a blogger friend, Rachael, bellisdoesbooks.wordpress.com which I feel terribly guilty for still having in my TBR stack.

7 physical books from my TBR
3 e-books, 2 of which are book group choices

So, here it is; one summer, three months, 10 books! Thank you Cathy for hosting!

#MGTakesOnThursday: Me and the Robbersons by Siri Kolu, translated by Ruth Urbom

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!

All fans of MG fiction are invited to join in, just follow these steps:

  • 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.
Proof copy cover, publication due on 10th June 2021 by Little Tiger Press

Author: Siri Kolu

Translator: Ruth Urbom

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“It’ll cause quite a buzz at the Summer Shindig when we rock up with a prisoner,” added Golden Pete from his beach chair.

This book in three words: Honour Among Thieves!

Realising that I have read shockingly few MG books which have been translated from other languages, I was delighted to be sent a proof copy of Me and the Robbersons which will be published by Little Tiger Press in June.

Ten-year-old Maisie Meadows Vainisto is a trailblazer; the first prisoner ever in the history of Finnish highway robbery!

This prize-winning story by Finnish author Siri Kolu recounts Maisie’s summer of adventure with a family of sweet-toothed road-pirates, the eponymous Robbersons. After unexpectedly being plucked from her family’s car by bandit leader Wild Karl, she begins the escapade as one more piece of loot in the back of the Robbersons’ wildly swerving and speeding van as it leaves the familiar highway and heads off into the unknown. 

Maisie’s transition from another boring summer with her own dull family to embracing the life-style of her captors is apparent from her first breakfast when she overcomes her repulsion at their lack of cutlery and manners and enjoys not just the hand-stolen and hand-cooked food but also the companionship and family interaction so lacking in her own home. As a reader you join with her in embracing the Robbersons, who only steal what they need, disdain money and live by their own code of honour. Maisie’s habit of jotting observations in her notebook is welcomed by Wild Karl in the hope that her analysis will facilitate a new signature crime that will enhance the family’s reputation at the Summer Shindig; a glorious bandit celebration of the year’s highlights!

The cast of characters is marvellous. Fearsome matriarch Hilda, the reckless, daredevil transit van driver with a golden heart; Wild Karl, out of shape with wildly braided hair behaving like a reincarnation of a Viking raider; his devoted best friend Golden Pete, blessed with gold teeth with which to intimidate the gang’s victims and Karl and Hilda’s children, Hellie and Charlie. Hellie is clearly ambitious to take over the family business with her athletic ability, stealth and impressive knife-throwing skills whilst younger brother Charlie must content himself with a potato-peeler for a weapon! As the crew zig-zag through their crime spree, each of the van’s passengers reveal their personalities and motives to Maisie.

This story grabbed me as surely as a highwayman’s hold on his ill-gotten gains. It pulsates with humour, tenderness and outright anarchy with a plot that accelerates, weaves and spins like a high-octane car chase. I can best describe it as a modern day mash-up of Pippi Longstocking and Robin Hood and I would love to see it filmed by Taika Waititi. It is wonderful to see a hugely enjoyable European-authored book about to be made available for a UK readership, particularly at this point in time. Siri Kolu’s original text has been translated into English by Ruth Urbom and I certainly hope that there will be future publications available from this partnership.

I highly recommend this story to readers of 9+ who love off-beat, wacky humour mixed with adventure. It is due for publication on June 10th 2021 and I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for sending me a proof copy to review.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House written by Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa

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. Additionally, 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 art by Daniela Sosa, Published by Little Tiger Press

Author: Annabelle Sami

Illustrator: Daniela Sosa

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: ‘But even if these events aren’t caused by a ghost, we simply have to investigate’.

This book in three words: Inclusive – Detective – Mystery

Agent Zaiba and her team of young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency are back for their third adventure and this time there may be supernatural forces at work!

Who or what is behind the spooky events at Oakwood Manor, where vases crash to the floor splintering into thousands of shards, plates fly from the kitchen shelves and expensive jewellery vanishes into thin air? With talk in the village of ghostly hauntings or wicked jinn persecuting the new owners of the ancient manor house, it is up to Zaiba and her cool-headed team of junior investigators to discover the true culprit.

In a gripping plot filled with strange disappearances, secret passages and a cast of suspicious grown-ups, young readers will be engrossed in trying to sift the clues from the red herrings. This story fits all the conventions of the “cosy crime” genre, from the setting in a grand manor house surrounded by ancient woodland, to a house party taking place on a storm-ruffled evening attended by a collection of guests exhibiting perplexing behaviour. The short, dialogue-filled chapters generate excitement and tension but in a style and tone perfectly suited to readers of 9+. The addition of Daniela Sousa’s lovely artwork highlights key points in the story and gives young readers a chance to break from the text and mull over their deductions and theories.

Middle grade readers have an amazing range of detective mysteries to choose from these days, I find myself quite envious! (In my childhood the choice was Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie). The Agent Zaiba books have hugely broad appeal because they are so effortlessly inclusive of everyone. This inclusivity is embodied in the main protagonist Zaiba, who, in each story welcomes new recruits into her detective agency with appreciation for the unique talents that they bring to her team. In Zaiba’s character Annabelle Sami has created a wonderful role model for young readers; demonstrating the benefit of teamwork, openness to all possibilities, positive encouragement and leading by example. All of these empowering messages are encased in an entertaining mystery story – what more could you ask for?

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House will be published on 1st April 2021. If you can’t wait until then to join Zaiba’s team of investigators, check out the first two books in the series:

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Missing Diamonds

and

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Poison Plot

I am grateful to Little Tiger Press for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

#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: Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates written by Angie Lake, illustrated by Ellie O’Shea

Cover art by Ellie O’Shea, published by Sweet Cherry Publishing

Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates: The Mystery of the Disgusting School Dinners

The first book in  this exciting new series for emerging readers is called The Case of the Disgusting School Dinners and is perfectly written and designed to appeal to readers ranging from confident 7 year olds to those older KS2 readers who are still looking for the perfect book to set them off on a lifetime of reading pleasure. Printed on buff-coloured paper with playful use of different fonts and fully illustrated throughout, this is a book which makes reading an enjoyable experience for those children who might find densely-formatted text rather off-putting. I applaud the publisher Sweet Cherry Press for producing these books which can act as a gateway for emergent readers.

Of course, all the clever formatting in the world won’t keep a child engaged unless the characterisation and story are equally enticing…and in Mina Mistry we have a bright new star earning her shiny detective badge! Mina Snotbridge is a smart, observant and ingenious mixed-race child, with a caucasian father and Indian mother. She tells us that she chooses to use her mum’s maiden name as her secret, undercover detective name because it sounds like mystery and it’s just a whole lot better than her dad’s surname! I love the way that the story has been organised as Mina’s case notes and log entries so that the information is condensed in a style entirely consistent with a detective story, keeping the plot moving at a good pace.

Mina’s best friend, Holly Loafer, is obsessed with planning her future career as a pop star and chasing after the only boy at school with a sense of style, Gareth Trumpshaw! They might seem like complete opposites personality-wise, but they prove that complementary skills lead to great teamwork. Granny Meera is another larger-than-life character, running her catering business Cooking con Fusion, with recipes such as onion-bahjis-in-the-hole and full English breakfast samosas. As Mina helps Granny Meera to prepare some fusion snacks to sell at the school fun run the realisation dawns that the sugar and fat-laden school lunches do not reflect the healthy eating messages that the school is trumpeting. With her detective antenna on full alert Mina enters investigation mode and formulates a plan to discover why the school cook Mrs Mudge is serving up meals designed to rot teeth and pile on the pounds!

Author Angie Lake has created an excellent story to introduce young readers to the delights of the detective mystery genre and the story has been wonderfully illustrated throughout by Ellie O’Shea. Mina is an engaging character, the plot is entirely recognisable and relatable to its intended audience and the story contains a perfect blend of intrigue and humour. Much thought has gone into the design of this book, from the glossy cover, to the sprayed edge pages and the easy-to-read content. This is exactly the sort of book to give children the positive experience of finishing and enjoying a story and introducing them to the tropes of a genre of which they can find many more examples, once their reading motivation has been engaged.

The great news is that book 2 in the series has already been published and there are hopefully more to come!

Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates: The Case of the Disappearing Pets

Cover art by Ellie O’Shea, published by Sweet Cherry Publishing

The second book in the Mina Mistry series has the same playful tone and great design as the first story, this time packaged in a glossy lilac cover with matching sprayed edges. This time the investigation takes place during Showcase Your Pets Week at Mina’s school, a hilarious set up with children bringing in such delights as shoe-boxes full of garden snails and over-accessorised hamsters! However, it doesn’t take long before a spate of pet-thefts breaks out. Holly’s hamster, Harriet; Danny’s toad, Superdog and the entire animal population of the town’s pet shop. When Mina decides that PC McApple needs assistance to crack the case she enrols her classmates to track down the pet thieves.

With a plot full of model train sets, night-time expeditions through the town’s sewers, cosmetics research and an animal sanctuary, this is an entertaining story presented in an easy-to-read format. Alongside the fun of the investigation the story gives young readers the chance to think about the way that pets are treated and basic ethical questions about business. I recommend to anyone of 7+.

The publishers have produced a wonderful pack of engaging activities for each of the Mina Mistry books. You can find the resources for Book 1 here and the resources for Book 2 here.

I am most grateful to Sweet Cherry Publishing for my review copies of the Mina Mistry books in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Perfect Parent Project by Stewart Foster

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: Stewart Foster

Illustrator: Unfortunately this information is not available on my electronic copy

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ It’s good to have a friend. They make you feel like you belong, and they understand how you feel “.

This book in three words: Family – Friendship – Belonging

This week I have chosen a book which was published on the day that this year’s #ReadForEmpathy booklists were published by the wonderful organisation Empathy Lab. The Perfect Parent Project is a book full of warmth and insight which made me stop and think deeply about the emotions and experiences of foster children. I have read that author Stewart Foster has drawn on his own experience as a foster parent to write this story which I think deserves to be on everyone’s reading list to promote empathy.

Sam “small c, big c” McCann yearns for perfect parents. Parents who will give him real hugs, drive him to school in a BMW M5 and take him on holiday to Disneyland! You see, Sam is a foster child and has lived with eleven different foster families since he was handed over to the agency by his mother when she was no longer able to cope with looking after him. 

In this first person narrative, Stewart Foster gives readers a heart-breaking and heart-warming insight into the lives of foster children and foster families through the immensely loveable character of Sam. The protagonists are written with such authority and authenticity that you are entirely swept up in Sam’s quest to find a family and a home in which he will belong; a home where his photo will be included amongst the family portraits, where he will be given a door key, and he won’t be sent to a respite centre whilst the foster family have a holiday. 

Unfortunately his experiences to date have left him with no desire to make friends or get involved with school activities and a reluctance to trust adults, as he lives with the expectation of moving homes and schools just as he starts to feel settled anywhere. He currently has one close friend, Leah, who has remembered him from his brief attendance at her primary school and together they devise a scheme to find Sam a new home – the Perfect Parent Project! This involves the delivery of hundreds of printed leaflets to sufficiently up-market houses, based on Sam’s rather materialistic criteria for the ideal parents!

As the quest develops, Sam becomes more deeply entangled in a web of deceit which drives a wedge between him and his caring foster family, threatens his friendship with Leah and puts his involvement in the school production of Bugsy Malone in jeopardy. 

This is a deeply moving and thought-provoking book and the story is told with such balance and nuance that you empathise with all parties: Sam; Leah having to deal with her own family break-up; as well as with Sam’s foster parents; and Reilly his adorable six-year-old foster brother. The author skilfully takes young readers on Sam’s journey of realisation that perfect families are those who care for each other, spend time together, encourage each other, and create a sense of belonging. 

After Sam is returned home by a police officer at one point in the story, he explains:

“ She didn’t know what it’s like to want something so much that you ache forever inside”.

This is one of many memorable moments in The Perfect Parent Project that I know will remain in my heart. Others include the image of Reilly, leaning down from the top bunk bed to chat every evening causing Sam to nick-name him “the jellyfish” and the point when Sam stops referring to his foster parents as Reilly’s mum and dad. I often feel that we can learn so much about acceptance from young children and in the character of Reilly we are given a true lesson in what it means to accept someone for who they are – I am determined to “be more Reilly” after reading this wonderful story.

I am most grateful to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me access to an eARC of The Perfect Parent Project. It is now available to purchase and I highly recommend it to anyone of 9+.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Kaja Kajfež

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 art by Kaja Kajfež, published by Barrington Stoke

Author: Emma Carroll

Illustrator: Kaja Kajfež

Publisher: Barrington Stoke

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ Who’d hit their brother so hard as to break his leg, eh?”

This book in three words: Friendship – Prescience – Upheaval

A new book from “the Queen of Historical fiction” Emma Carroll is always worth celebrating and I was delighted to find that one of my favourite authors had been commissioned to write for dyslexia-friendly publisher Barrington Stoke. Readers who have followed my blog will know that I am passionate about books that encourage dyslexic readers. I was first introduced to the publisher Barrington Stoke by a marvellous specialist dyslexia tutor who worked with one of my own children many years ago. I am so pleased that they now publish books by highly regarded children’s authors so that dyslexic children can benefit from reading the wonderful fiction that these authors produce; not feel any sense of stigma that they are reading “different” books; and be given a gateway to perhaps tackling longer books or possibly listening to audiobooks by the best writers for children.

This novella is set in the summer of 1914, before the outbreak of the First World War and although not a first person narrative, it is very much told from the point of view of Fran, daughter to the head gardener of a fine country property named Longbarrow House, owned by Mrs Walker. Emma Carroll has the extraordinary ability to capture the essence of her protagonist’s personalities in a few lines of dialogue and you soon realise that Fran is a curious mixture of no-nonsense, hardworking, emotionally-intelligent working class child who has an imaginative side which is open to the possibility of ghostly occurrences. She feels inferior to the noisy, fussy, rich grandchildren who arrive from their boarding schools for the summer holidays preferring to keep out of their way and avoid the teasing of the young twins and the superior attitude of Leo, the eldest.

However, when Leo’s leg is badly broken by a cricket bat and Fran finds herself assigned to be his companion for the summer, an unlikely friendship and some supernatural manifestations develop. The illustrations by Kaja Kajfež throughout the book not only give readers a chance to pause but also add to the spooky atmosphere.

Despite writing a short book, which gives less confident readers the optimum chance to finish it and feel the accompanying sense of achievement, Emma Carroll has crafted a perfect treasure of a story. The tension mounts throughout the narrative as Fran and Leo investigate the archaeological landscape whilst rumours of impending war swirl in the background. The depicted change in normal social relationships predicts the upheaval and change about to be inflicted on the norms of society by the declaration of war with Germany. I would highly recommend this story to all readers of 9+ and for those who are discovering Emma Carroll for the first time and perhaps want to try something slightly more challenging next, I would suggest Skychasers, The Snow Sister, her book of short stories When We Were Warriors before moving onto Letters from the Lighthouse, Secrets of A Sun King and my all-time favourite Strange Star.

Finally, I would just like to give a shoutout to The Rocketship Bookshop from whom I was able to purchase a signed copy of this book. It is so vital that we bookworms do our best to support independent bookshops to help them survive in these uncertain times. I usually try to buy books from an independent bookshop in my own town, but as my daughter owns all of Emma’s books in signed format I was desperate to continue adding to her collection. Not only did this lovely bookseller supply me with the perfect copy, they also wrapped it beautifully as you can see from the picture above! (I am not an affiliate of this bookshop, I just want to give praise where it is due.)