Non-Fiction Review: Breaking News by Nick Sheridan

To be published by Simon & Schuster on 23rd December 2021

This super-readable exploration of the “News” will appeal to all aspiring journalists and young consumers of information alike. Although humorously written, Nick Sheridan’s guide to the world of journalism covers a range of important topics such as how to check the veracity of facts, the ethics of posting consumer generated news content and how to determine whether a story is newsworthy.

The book is divided into short chapters, each wittily illustrated and utilising a range of fonts and shout-outs to highlight key points. As you would expect from a successful journalist, Nick Sheridan’s writing is thoroughly engaging, he presents information concisely and in language that KS2 and KS3 readers will relate to and be entertained by. In fact, I can envisage so many ways in which this book could be used in schools. From History lessons, to Careers Guidance by way of Literacy ( journalistic writing) and Digital Literacy; there is content here that teachers could very easily incorporate into lessons and that children could read to expand their knowledge.

I really liked the author’s use of practical examples which encourage his audience to interact with the book rather than just being a passive consumer of the information he presents. Hopefully they will then put these skills into use when reading “news” items, especially on social media but even within the mainstream media to check for bias and misinformation or fake news. If this generation of children and young people can be educated to see through media manipulation and bias, hopefully they can make decisions based on facts rather than falsehoods. 

If you want to know the difference between top lines and headlines, the meaning of MoJo and UCG, how to write a news item using the inverted pyramid or some sensible advice about how to deal with online trolls, you will find the answers in Breaking News. There is a useful glossary at the end of the book and web addresses for a list of excellent fact – checking sites. I would recommend that all primary and secondary schools purchase this useful and engaging book for their libraries and classrooms.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for early access to an electronic copy prior to publication on 23rd December 2021.

Books for Christmas Gifts 2021

It’s that time of year when I start shopping for the books that increasingly form the backbone of my Christmas shopping list. There has been another fantastic roster of new books emerging this year and we are actually spoilt for choice when entering a bookshop, so I thought I would share some of the books that have stood out for me during the past 12 months and which I will be buying and giving this festive season.

Christmas/Festive Themed

Christmas/Festive themed books 2021

Once Upon A Silent Night by Dawn Casey and Katie Hickey is a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story inspired by a medieval carol, which would make a delightful gift for any pre-school child.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu is a huge-hearted festive story which absolutely brims over with Christmas cheer, warmth and humour.

The Lights that Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer is an enchanting picture book which sparkles with the magic of the Northern Lights; in the author’s own words “a miracle of winter”.

Non-fiction

Non-fiction published in 2021 by David Fickling Books and Bloomsbury

Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak: a wellbeing book with a different twist, looking at what we can learn from the animal kingdom to help us navigate some of life’s uncertainties. If you know a tween or teen who has struggled with some of the challenges of the past two years, put a copy of this compassionate and life-affirming book into their hands.

How Was That Built? by Roma Agrawal and Katie Hickey is quite simply a towering work of non-fiction which will make a fantastic present for curious minds of any age.

Translated Fiction

Interestingly, both of my choices in this category come from Scandinavian writers and feature unconventional stories brimming with wit and wisdom. Firstly we have the classic children’s story Pippi Lockstocking by Astrid Lindgren which has just been re-released in a glorious hardback format with new illustrations in her trademark collage-style, by Lauren Child. A beautifully designed gift for any child to treasure. Recommended for age 7+.

Newly translated into English this year, Me and the Robbersons by Finnish author Siri Kolu (translated by Ruth Urbom) was one of my most joyous middle-grade reads of the summer. An anarchic tale of sweet-toothed, highway bandits on the roads of Sweden, the humour envelopes a beautiful story of acceptance. Recommended for age 9+.

MG Fiction

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans and Chris Jevons is a riot of jokes, warmth and love, fully illustrated and perfect for readers who are gaining independence and don’t mind stopping every few minutes to wipe away the tears of laughter.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles by Anne Miller and Becka Moor is their second hugely entertaining, illustrated, spy mystery in this series, which will test the brainpower of junior cryptographers. An excellent introduction to the world of espionage fiction.

The Crackledawn Dragon by Abbie Elphinstone is the conclusion to her Unmapped Kingdoms trilogy. It is a story brimming with kindness, playfulness and sheer, unbound imaginative brilliance which will delight readers of 9+

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is a deeply moving story set during WWII and told from the perspective of both English and German characters. The elegant imagery of swallows flits through this story of the importance of seemingly small acts of kindness. A thoughtful read for anyone of 11+.

Island Adventures

Three books, all set on islands situated off the Irish coast were amongst my favourite MG titles this year, so I’ve given them a category of their own!

Noah’s Gold by Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a treasure chest of heart, humour and hope; a wonderful story which will entertain all the family. Perfect for reading aloud when the generations are gathered together over the festive period.

The Stormkeepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle concludes the thrilling and lyrical trilogy of the battle for the soul of wild Arranmore Island.

The Way to Impossible Island by Sophie Kirtley is a life-affirming, time-slip novel about overcoming fears and challenging expectations.

Young Adult Fiction

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller is unlike anything I have ever read in all my (many) years as a reader. I actually haven’t written my full review yet as I am still trying to process the insight that author Lisa Fuller has generously provided into her cultural beliefs. I did find some aspects quite frightening, so would certainly say that this is a book for over 16s and not those of a nervous disposition but I’m sure it will also be of great interest to adults who wish to gain some understanding of the culture and spiritual beliefs of First Nations Australians.

I am Winter by Denise Brown is a beautifully written, gritty, and compelling whodunnit perfect for readers of 15+ .

Halloween 2021

Books featuring ghosts, magic, monsters, vampires and witches for readers of 4 -14

For anyone heading out to a bookshop or the library this weekend, here’s a brief guide to a range of books for primary and early secondary school children to enjoy on these dark autumn evenings! There are many others out there, but these are all stories that I have read over the past year, although some might have been published prior to 2021.

Winnie and Wilbur and the Bug Safari – Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The Winnie and Wilbur series is laugh-out-loud funny as Winnie constantly gets herself into a fix when her magic goes wrong! This story will transport youngsters back to warm summer days as Winnie finds herself in the middle of insect mayhem! Suitable for age 4+

Midnight Magic – Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Fun, rhyming adventure with a magical kitten. An early reading book with delightful illustrations, short chapters, warmth and humour. The first in a series that will captivate youngsters of 5+

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding – Harriet Muncaster

Isadora Moon, half fairy-half vampire, is bursting with excitement at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at Aunt Crystal’s wedding, but will the day survive naughty cousin Mirabelle’s magical interventions? This gorgeously illustrated, short-chapter story is engaging and entertaining and additionally contains recipes and craft activity ideas. Perfect for ages 6-8.

Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of the Dark – Katie and Kevin Tsang, ills Nathan Reed

With comic book style graphics throughout by Nathan Reed, lovely characters and sharp plotting, the Sam Wu series totally fulfils the “read for pleasure” criteria that encourage a love of reading. As Sam embarks on a camping trip, he is not sure what to be most afraid of…aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or just THE DARK! Recommended for ages 7+

Leo’s Map of Monsters – Kris Humphrey and Pete Williamson

Nine year old Leo learns that his Assignment for the next two years is to become a Guardian and protect his fenced, medieval-style village from the monsters that roam the land beyond TheWall! An exciting, illustrated, short-chapter series that will appeal to Beast Quest fans of 7+

A Girl Called Justice: The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths

The third adventure in this MG Mystery Series sees Justice Jones investigating the disappearance of a classmate against a backdrop of the ghostly presence of Grace Highbury haunting the corridors and grounds of Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Cracking mystery adventure for readers of 8+

The Monster in the Lake – Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu

The second adventure of young wizard Kit, brilliantly illustrated by Davide Ortu, sees her and her friends investigating the strangely disrupted magic in the local town. All clues point to the lake…but what is lurking in its depths and can the three friends put things right? Packed with fun for readers of 8+

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad’s mother, Mortemia, constantly tells him that he is a disgrace to the Impaler family name…what will she do if she finds out that he has been secretly attending human school and has even made a best friend there? A funny and charming story that shows young readers that being an excellent best friend is more important than being a perfect vampire! Suitable for readers of 8+

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House – Annabelle Sami and Daniela Sosa

The third outing for Agent Zaiba and her young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency finds the team investigating mysterious and ghostly occurrences at Oakwood Manor. Can Zaiba’s team uncover the real culprit and dispel the rumours of ghostly Jinn? Readers of 9+ will enjoy this “cosy crime” investigation.

Lightning Falls – Amy Wilson, ills Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

A glittering and magical tale featuring life-like and friendly ghost characters, making it suitable for readers of 9+. Superb plotting, immersive descriptions and a lovely tale about family in all its forms.

Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering – Harriet Muncaster

Sumptuously illustrated and brilliant storytelling from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster are sure to engage readers of 9+ in this tale of magical “Wiskling” twin sisters, Celestine and Victoria Stitch. A story of forbidden magic, envy, betrayal and ultimately the bonds of sibling love.

Everdark – Abi Elphinstone

The introductory book to the Unmapped Chronicles series sets up an immersive world run by magic, controlled by an imaginative range of magical creatures which has come under threat from the corrupting dark magic of Morg, an evil harpy. A series that will absorb and delight readers of 9+

Gargantis – Thomas Taylor, ills George Ermos

“When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” Eerie-on-Sea is literally cracking apart in the second instalment of this brilliant series and it’s up to Herbert Lemon and his loyal friend Violet Parma to investigate the fearsome monster, Gargantis, who is stirring out in the bay! Fast moving, ferocious plotting fro anyone of 9+

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, ills Kaja Kajfež

Spookily atmospheric story set in a country manor house in the summer of 1914, this novella from Emma Carroll is published in dyslexia-friendly format by specialist publisher Barrington Stoke. Perfect for readers from 10 through to secondary school age.

The Hungry Ghost – HS Norup

An incredible story that blends Chinese tradition with modern day sensibilities. Set in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, this beautiful story weaves Western and Eastern attitudes to grieving and treasuring memories of the dead and is a powerfully moving read for anyone of 10/11+

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

An imagined tale of the creation of the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley in 1816. The plot moves between Somerset village life and the grand surroundings of the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva; epic storytelling, fabulous characters and a feminist slant make this my all-time favourite Emma Carroll title, recommended for anyone of 10+

Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll

Yes, I know this is the third Emma Carroll book on my list, but as well as being labelled “The Queen of Historical Fiction” Emma really does have a talent for gothic atmosphere. In her debut novel she produced a ghost story, which at one point in the tale, genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I would not give this to anyone of a nervous disposition, but for KS3 readers of 11+ it is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.

Dracula – retold by Fiona MacDonald, ills by Penko Gelev

Finding myself pushed for time to complete a reading of the original novel by Bram Stoker for one of my book groups, I reached for this graphic novel version from one of my children’s bookcases. It is an accessible introduction to the Dracula story, which certainly remains faithful to the major plot points and atmosphere of the source text. Perfect for teens, dyslexic readers and adults who leave insufficient time to fully read classic novels!

Review: The Crackledawn Dragon by Abi Elphinstone

Cover image by George Ermos, published by Simon & Schuster UK

Devoted readers of the Unmapped Chronicles, of whom I am one, have become accustomed to the detailed and whimsical introduction to each new book in the series. Its presence at the start of The Crackledawn Dragon, means that this book can be read and enjoyed as a standalone although it is the conclusion to the series. Fortunately, Abi Elphinstone is not one of the grown-ups who she tells us are “far too busy to believe in magic.” She doesn’t just believe in it, she creates it with abandon, infuses it with wisdom and wonder and spins it into gloriously enchanting stories which leave a glow of pure delight when read.

Zebedee Bolt is the hero of this plot, a boy with three remarkable talents; running away from foster families, succumbing to spectacularly drenching outbursts of sobbing and a natural flair for music! Although he would like to emulate his hero, a TV survival expert known as The Tank, it seems unlikely that this dream will be realised. As we meet him at the start of the story he has run away from his latest foster parents, the Orderly-Queues (yes, the witty names are here in abundance) and is hiding out in an abandoned New York theatre when a kind social worker ( who fans will recognise from Jungledrop) finds him and reassures him that: “One day you will realise that you matter.”

Unfortunately, Morg the evil harpy is also hiding out under the theatre and uses her wily cunning to manipulate Zeb into bringing her the remaining Phoenix tears which will supply the magic she needs to break into the kingdom of Crackledawn. The insidious power of false promises and the deals that individuals can make with themselves to justify their actions or even inaction in the face of wrongdoing is very subtly explored through the interaction of Morg and Zeb during the first part of the story. 

Once they burst into Crackledawn, readers are propelled through the sparkling blue waters on the deck of Darktongue, Morg’s ship of shadows. Zeb discovers that his mission is to ride on Morg’s bone dragon all the way to the sun, protected only by the Stargold Wings, to retrieve the lost Ember Scroll so that Morg can write herself into permanent power over the Unmapped Kingdoms. When this plan goes awry, Zeb is rescued by a young Sunraider called Oonie, whose blindness has made her fearsomely independent as she sails the waters of Crackledawn aboard the enchanted dhow, The Kerfuffle. I will not give away any more plot details as readers will want to discover the story for themselves. Suffice to say that the twists and turns leave you breathless as you marvel at the array of magical creatures; in this case I was most taken with a hurtle turtle, which I would love to employ to do my own housework! As always the names sparkle with invention, my favourites in this book being an exuberantly maternal chameleon named Mrs Fickletint, closely followed by the merglimmer, Perpetual Faff! Oh, and there is humour in abundance, with laugh out loud moments to lighten the tension, such as Mrs Fickletint scolding Dollop the goblin for his suggestion of treetop yoga when the end of the world is imminent!

Abi is such a brilliant writer. You can tell that she totally understands children’s yearning for fantastical adventures, and this she conjures with great panache. On top of this she layers validation, reassurance and love; her characters exhibit flaws and doubts but learn the power of trust and friendship throughout the arc of the story. Then into this already heady mix she stirs in contemporary themes; most obviously the environmental crisis and more subtly, the way in which those with disappointed hopes can be taken in by the empty promises of individuals who wish to use them for their own nefarious purposes. Most of all, it is a story, like an unopenable purse… filled with hope.

I am grateful to Simon & Schuster for allowing me access to an electronic version of the book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have subsequently purchased a physical copy and highly recommend this book to everyone of 9+.

If you have not already read them, I do encourage you to read the other books in the series:

Everdark, which I have reviewed here and here the second review is for the dyslexia-friendly version, Rumblestar and Jungledrop.

#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+.

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.

Advent Review: The Snow Dragon written by Abi Elphinstone, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock

Cover image by Fiona Woodcock, published by Simon & Schuster UK

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am an enormous fan of anything written by Abi Elphinstone, so it should come as no surprise that this is a story I love to read as we approach Christmas! I first read a version of it in an anthology of Christmas stories owned by my daughter entitled Winter Magic, and last Christmas a hardback edition of this picture book was published. This year the paperback has been released which has prompted me to write a long overdue review.

Phoebe lives in Griselda Bone’s Home for Strays which is the very epitome of a miserable orphanage. Daydreaming, skipping and hide-and-seek are forbidden as Griselda wages her private war on childishness. As the last unclaimed child left at the orphanage it appears that Phoebe faces a bleak future of grammar and punishment with only her dancing dog Herb for company…until her snow dragon magically appears.

Urging her to “never keep an adventure waiting” he transports Phoebe on an enchanted journey during which the combination of Abi’s glorious writing and the beautifully delicate artwork by Fiona Woodcock remind us all to look at the world around us in awe and wonder. This wonderful story about hope, believing in the miraculous and never losing a sense of playfulness and joy is a perfect story to share at bedtime or with a class of primary school children. A highly recommended Advent book which you will enjoy year after year.

Review: Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Dragon Mountain Book Cover, published by Simon and Schuster Children’s UK

This first step into older MG fiction by the talented husband and wife team who write the hugely popular Sam Wu books is a thrilling adventure set in the mountainous landscape of China.

It opens with a teenage Californian surfing champion, Billy Chan, reluctantly arriving in China to attend a Mandarin culture and language summer camp. He finds that he is in the company of a group of talented teenagers who have all been nominated by their teachers or coaches to attend this unique camp and anxiety creeps in that his patchy Mandarin skills will leave him performing badly compared to the other kids. After a bone-rattling and stomach-churning drive up into the mountainous camp, Billy is pretty convinced that he would rather be back home surfing in the warm sea. However, he starts to form a bond with Irish lad, Dylan O’Donnell and is pleased that he is placed in the same cabin as him by the ancient Chinese camp leader Lao-Jin (Old Gold). On the first night, in the light of the campfire, Old Gold recounts the ancient myth of Dragon Mountain: the battle for supremacy between good and evil dragons and the source of the “River of Blood”.

The next morning the students are divided into teams of four. Billy and Dylan are placed together. Their additional team members are the outrageously confident Charlotte Bell, not just the holder of the Little Miss of the South title for four years, but also two-time ju-jitsu under-14 world champion, and the quiet, shy, dreamer Ling-Fei the adopted granddaughter of Old Gold. Each team of four is given a challenge to retrieve a specific item on the first morning and informed that the winning team will earn extra privileges throughout their time at camp. This is all the incentive that highly competitive Charlotte needs and she leaves her team in no doubt that they must win!

However, when they are confronted by a fierce tiger as well as an earthquake after taking a forbidden shortcut through a bamboo plantation, they find themselves caught up in a magical adventure that they could not have imagined.

The combination of contemporary teenagers bound up into a mythical fantasy is deftly handled, with the teens reacting in believable ways to the incredible scenario of bonding with dragons in a battle to save both the human and dragon realms from devastation caused by the evil dragon “The Great One” whose ambition is to rule over both kingdoms. This malicious dragon is aided by his followers, The Noxious or Nox-wings, an army of dark dragons.

Bravery, loyalty, strength and truth are the values in the hearts of the four teenage protagonists which have bound them to their dragons and alongside their dragon-bestowed powers, arm them for a battle with a fearsome enemy. 

I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I won’t go into any further details about the plot. This is a fast-paced fantasy adventure, likely to be devoured in a couple of days by confident upper key stage 2 readers; the plot grips you more tightly than a dragon’s claws. Equally it would be a great story for a teacher or librarian to read aloud…but be prepared for demands from the children for “one more chapter!” The book ends on an absolute cliff-hanger and I certainly hope I don’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next!

Highly recommended for fans of Harry Potter, Septimus Heap and  Percy Jackson.

I am most grateful to #NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children’s Books for allowing me access to an e-ARC of Dragon Mountain. The book will be published on 3 September 2020.

Review: Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

jungledrop-9781471173684_lg

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: Check Mates by Stewart Foster

Check Mates

Once again, I have to thank the members of #PrimarySchoolBookClub for introducing me to the work of an amazing author, Stewart Foster. I loved this book and found its storyline and central relationship utterly compelling.

Felix Schopp is in his first year at secondary school,  we are introduced to him in the isolation room, or as Felix terms it, “the staring at the wall club”. Felix is a regular visitor to this room as his ADHD means that he cannot help himself from getting into trouble for being disruptive in class. He cannot concentrate on anything for even a short time, he is unable to sit still, he asks inappropriate questions and becomes frustrated with himself when he cannot read a passage or answer questions.

The story is recounted in the first person by Felix so that we are offered an insight into the thoughts and frustrations of a child with ADHD. Felix is an immensely sympathetic character and he is aware that “People think I don’t care, but I do, it’s just that I can’t help what I say or the funny expression they say I have on my face.”

His teachers are exasperated, his over-worked parents are annoyed with him and his grandfather embarrasses him daily by collecting him from school in a pink car! When his mother suggests that he should spend more time with his granddad, it seems that Felix’s life could not get any worse.   

Granddad is another perfectly realised character. He seems to have sunk into depression since the death of his wife the previous year, which to Felix manifests as sitting grumpily on the sofa, hardly ever leaving the house, keeping the curtains drawn all day, preserving the memory of his late wife by holding onto all the pink objects she owned but never actually discussing his emotional turmoil caused by her loss. It is clear that Felix adored his emotionally available grandma and misses her hugely and feels sympathy for his granddad whilst being confused at his reluctance to mention the “d” word.

The book takes flight when Granddad decides that he will teach Felix how to play chess, in the hope that it will improve Felix’s powers of concentration and additionally to share his great love of the game with his grandson. The slow change in their relationship is acutely observed and absolutely grips at your heartstrings. On top of this the two school friends Jake and Rebecca are completely authentic and their often conflicting influences on Felix add another level of brilliance to this book.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in any more detail for fear of spoilers; it does contain descriptions of chess games but I don’t think this would detract from your enjoyment of the story even if you had never played chess yourself. Throughout the story you feel that an unexpected twist is building, but when it comes I think you will be surprised.

I was greatly impressed with Stewart Foster’s writing style. Short chapters, full of short sentences and lots of dialogue, reflecting Felix’s short attention span. This makes the book a fast-paced read, and is likely to add to its appeal to those readers who don’t enjoy struggling through long, complex sentences. It also manages to weave a great deal of humour in amongst all the emotion. One line I particularly loved was Felix’s observation after playing a very irritating opponent: “I bet the Mechanical Turk never ate Doritos.” I was genuinely moved by the powerful, emotional bond between Felix and Granddad and by this story’s message that we all need someone to really believe in us, to spur us on to succeed. Highly recommended for readers of 10+.

If you loved the central theme of this book, then try The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, if you are fascinated by chess and developments in AI, try Deep Thinking  By Gary Kasparov.

the cardturnerDeep Thinking

 

 

 

 

This is #Book6 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746Books.