#MGTakesOnThursday: The Closest Thing To Flying written by Gill Lewis

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.

One of the many reasons that I love this meme created by Mary Rees is that it presents the opportunity to revisit great books published in previous years, which can so easily be overlooked as blogs generally focus on new releases. This week I am looking at a book first published in 2019, which presents a perfect combination of historical fiction and present day refugee story, The Closest Thing to Flying.

Cover image by Paola Escobar, published by OUP Children’s Books

Author: Gill Lewis

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ The ink had bled into the cloth, but Semira could read the words, The Feather Diaries.”

This book in three words: Courage – Kindness – Empowerment

This beautifully written novel combines the story of Henrietta the twelve-year-old daughter of a wealthy feather merchant in Victorian London with the modern day experience of Semira, a twelve year-old refugee from Eritrea as she tries to find a better life for herself and her mother in London. Such is the skill of Gill Lewis, that she has crafted a powerful and deeply moving story which has remained with me long after first reading it.

The tale opens with Semira impulsively buying an old-fashioned hat, along with its accompanying hatbox, from a London street market when the bird ornamenting the hat elicits a deep-seated memory. Closer inspection of her purchase back “home” in the single room she shares with her mother in a house run by Robel, a people-trafficker, reveals the bird to be a real stuffed specimen and the discovery of the diary written by Henrietta Waterman in the 1890s, referred to in the quote from page 11 above.

Hen’s diary unfurls a story of escape from the confines of Victorian society’s expectations of female behaviour as Hen is taken under the wing of her rebellious Aunt Katherine (Kitty) and becomes involved in the women’s suffrage movement and the foundation of the RSPB. Her realisation of the horrors inflicted by her father as he exploits wildlife for profit reveal the provenance of the Abyssinian lovebird on the hat, and her courage in breaking with etiquette in order to ride a bicycle both help to embolden Semira.

Meanwhile, Semira has to face another new school and the continued agony of seeing her noble mother isolated and controlled by Robel. This aspect of the story is written very sensitively so that children of 10+ can understand what it must feel like to go without food, not be allowed access to the internet and have your life completely controlled by someone, without the details ever becoming too overwhelming for this age group. Older readers will be able to infer much more, such is the perfection of the writing.

The school setting provides some lovely additional characters. Holly and Chloe, on the surface the sort of “cool” girls that Semira would usually avoid, are the two buddies who show her the ropes and develop into kind friends, and Patrick who is bullied for being different and is a fellow lunchtime “library refugee”. As the friendship with Patrick develops and the recognition that he and his mother had to flee from the imprisonment of domestic abuse (again handled very sensitively), an escape route beckons for Semira and her mother.

I love the structure of the story with chapters alternating between Semira’s struggles in modern day London and extracts from Henrietta’s diary, which emboldens Semira to take action against her predicament. Throughout, the motif of the caged bird, plucked from its homeland and exploited by greedy capitalists is used to great effect, as is cycling as a metaphor for flying free from the shackles in which some people are trapped.

I think this is one of the finest examples of a story which is both an incredibly satisfying and enjoyable read as well as providing so many lessons in empathy without ever seeming sanctimonious. It places you in the shoes of others for a short time and helps you understand the hardships they suffer and also demonstrates how the recognition of the suffering of others followed by kindness and mentoring, can make such a huge difference to individual lives. This is certainly a book which should be available in every school or upper KS2 classroom library.

#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.

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

Author: Anna James

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Tilly had never been very far outside London, but she felt like a seasoned traveller within the pages of books: she had raced across the rooftops of Paris, learned to ride a broomstick and seen the Northern Lights from the deck of a ship. “

I just love the way that this quote encapsulates one of the joys of reading as well as referencing three of my favourite books published for children. It sets up the themes of this fantastic bookish adventure perfectly.

This book in three words: Books – Fantasy – Adventure

I am prompted to celebrate the first of the Pages & Co adventures by Anna James this week as I am overjoyed to have been approved for an eARC of the third book in the series, Tilly and the Map of Stories. For anyone immersed in the world of children’s literature this is a must-read; haven’t we all dreamt of being able to enter the world of our favourite books and speak to the characters who formed our early love of literature?

I think that Anna James’ writing is utterly wonderful and she absolutely captures the joy of becoming lost in a book, I highly recommend Tilly and the Bookwanderers to all confident readers, young and old, and encourage adults to read it aloud as a class reader or bedtime story to anyone of 9+.

My reviews of Tilly and the Bookwanderers and Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James can be read here.

Review: Pages & Co, Books 1 and 2 by Anna James

The receipt of a review copy of the second Pages & Co book made me realise that I had neglected to review the brilliant first book in the series, so here’s a double review post…

Pages & Co 1: Tilly and the BookWanderers

img_2759.jpg

If, like me, you love getting lost in a good book, this is the perfect read.

Matilda (Tilly) Pages has lived her 11 years in the bookshop owned by her grandparents, Elsie and Archie, who have taken care of her since her mother disappeared when she was a baby. Tilly is struggling to fit into friendship groups at secondary school and wishes that real-life relationships were as straightforward to navigate as those she finds in books; a trait that I’m sure many readers will recognise. Rather than hanging out with a group of  gossiping and giggling girls, Tilly would rather find a comfortable sofa in a secluded corner of the, marvellously imagined, Pages & Co bookshop and seek solace in the company of literary creations.

Her bookish traits are clearly inherited from her family and as the story progresses Tilly realises that the three Pages are all being visited in the shop by their favourite characters from books. The vivacious Lizzie Bennett, who apparently bears a striking resemblance to Tilly’s absent mother; Sherlock Holmes who is allowed to smoke his pipe in the shop, and Alice (from Wonderland) as well as “Anne-with-an-e” from Green Gables.

When Oskar, a classmate who lives in the bakery across the road, gets dragged off to Avonlea with Tilly and Anne, Grandad realises that it is time to take action. He accompanies Tilly and Oskar to the Underlibrary of the British Library, where the Librarian, the brilliantly named Amelia Whisper begins to explain bookwandering!

I won’t give any plot spoilers, but this magical adventure encapsulates everything that a book lover dreams of. I am sure that I am not the only bookworm who longs for the ability to read so deeply that the walls between fiction and reality are broken down, allowing interaction with favourite characters.

I adored the description of the stomach-lurching sensation the bookwanderers experience as they are pulled into books; I think I might have experienced it myself with the re-telling of the Ladybird Peter and Jane books which transported me a long, long way back in time to revisit my 5 year-old self! A glorious celebration of the joy of books and reading, this really is an essential addition to every school library.

 

Pages & Co 2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

img_2843.jpg

This is the second in the Pages & Co adventures and the story again begins in the north London bookshop, owned by Tilly’s grandparents. Christmas is approaching, and with it a sense of apprehension as Tilly worries about her mother and the strange turn of events at the Underlibrary where Amelia Whisper has been fired, only to be replaced as Librarian by the slippery character of Melville Underwood. Melville has mysteriously reappeared from the realm of fairy tales into which he wandered many years earlier, both Archie and Elsie Pages, along with Amelia Whisper, clearly distrust his explanation of his lost years and his lost sister. For any adults reading this book aloud, the political machinations at the Underlibrary might look uncomfortably familiar! The author brilliantly manipulates the mood from apprehension to impending doom.

As the mood in London darkens, Tilly and her best friend Oskar are due to travel to Paris to stay with Oskar’s father. Before they leave London they are warned by the adults not to try any book wandering while they are away, and especially not to travel into any fairy tales which are wild and unpredictable places! Will they obey the adults, or will Tilly’s curiosity and Oskar’s loyalty to her mean that they take matters into their own hands and explore the “structural discord within fairytales”? You will have to read this brilliantly imagined tale, to find out! 

The exuberant writing by Anna James in these books swept me into the stories and fully captured my imagination. Accompanying the brilliance of the text, the illustrations by Paola Escobar, on the covers and throughout the book, and the playful use of font effects make these books visually as well as imaginatively arresting.

Highly recommended for all bookworms of 10+ 

With thanks to Toppsta.com and HarperCollins Children’s Books for my review copy of Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales, which is now in the hands of a library borrower!