Friday, 24 May 2019

Max's Box by Brian Wray

Max's Box
Written by Brian Wray
Illustrated by Shiloh Penfield
Publishing September 2019 by Schiffer Publishing

Max's Box is a powerful, evocative book about children, especially boys and how they are inclined to deal with their emotions, or "supposed" to deal with them.  Box them up, and carry them around.  Carrying strong emotions around, like a box tied to your wrist, can cause damage.  This is what is happening to Max.

In the beginning he was adding toys to his Box but then emotions were added and the box got bigger, harder to manage and Max lived in the shadows of it.

One simple question, asked by another child, gives Max the chance to answer honestly and the Box starts to change.  Max can now see the Box differently and can change his attitude and behaviour.

This book should be read to every child in every home.  Emotions come and go, they change us, they make us stronger, they need to be felt and then let go.  Holding on is not healthy or helpful.
Max is taught this valuable lesson by drawing balloons all over the Box, which like emotions, can be let go into the sky to float and disappear.

What an amazing book- simple colours in the first pages make the last pages pop off the page.  It really emphasises the message of letting emotions go once they are felt.

There is a valuable guide to emotions and encouraging children to feel, understand and accept them in the back of the book.  It could be used in schools during assemblies, classrooms or just at home with the special children in your life.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The Butterfly Circus by Francesca Armour-Chelu

The Butterfly Circus
Written by Francesca Armour- Chelu
Cover Illustration by Studio Helen
Published by Walker Books

Meet Tansy and Belle, the stars of The Butterfly Circus.  They fly high on the trapeze above the audience, following each other and listening to each other, as only sisters can.
Orphans, taken in and taught by the Fratellini’s, they grow up and become the main attraction.

A series of events changes the path of both girls and life becomes harder.  Belle disappears and Tansy is lost without her.  Tansy, and her shadow Rosa, discover and help each other in new ways.  Rosa teaches Tansy to be strong and to trust herself.  Tansy teaches Rosa to be brave.

The search for Belle is not an easy one, and Tansy must lose Rosa, meet new circus marvels and learn to fly again before the girls can be happily reunited. Elephants, arrogant and cruel men, and a mechanical cat make this story completely enjoyable and highly readable.  It has fast paced adventure, loving sister moments and sad goodbyes.  It also has friendship, courage and soaring moments of joy!

This is a glorious new book from an already well established author of the Fenn Halflin series.
The Golden Age of Children’s Fiction is happening in Suffolk!

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Picture Book Perfect- NetGalley titles

I loved this book from my very first glimpse of the cover.  It is another beautifully illustrated book by Lizzy Stewart.  There is a certain joy to be found in just looking at her books.

Matilda and Dad are opposites in most ways, including the fact that Matilda is almost parent like to her Dad's fun loving behaviour.  She is serious and focused, he is easily distracted.
A map to a treasure leads them off on an adventure which they soon realise is more fun together.  Their different paths are missing one thing- each other.  Matilda is missing out on the world around her and her Dad is missing Matilda who keeps him from getting lost.
A gorgeous book for Dad's and Daughters and a celebration of their wonderful relationships!
Stunning illustrations accompany the pair on their journey and there is much to discover on each page.

This is a wonderful book and I can forsee it being hugely successful!

A heart warming musical tale of families, love and the joys of working together.
Aston's musical Grandad's are teaching Aston all about their music, their instruments and the joy they get from playing in a band.  Aston wants to learn from each Grandad and is finally old enough to learn to play!  He spends time with both and learns so much from each of them.
When faced with a dilemma, Aston comes up with a brilliant plan and he creates something incredible.
Only one band can play at the school fair but both Grandads want their bands to play.  Aston feels torn and can't decide, nor can the Grandads.
A combination of both bands, a new style and loads of love bring a school fair together.

The power of love and music come together and give us this amazing story worth sharing again and again.

Gorgeous illustrations bring this story to life and I delighted in Aston and his lovely family.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Picture Book Perfect- Bedtime Stories

I have saved these two as they are perfect bedtime reads. My two enjoyed them and they both make fabulous read alouds!

One is about a special pet star and the other about a nightmare eating bear. 

My Pet Star
Written by Corrinne Averiss
Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Published by Hachette Childrens

A little girl finds a fallen star.  He needs some love and care and she has plenty to give him.  The star is given a clean, a fix and a snack.  The little girl shares stories and toys but the star doesn’t know how to play or read and sleeps until night, missing the fun day time activities the little girl enjoys. She is just happy when they are together.  

One night, the star feels strong and ready to go back to the night sky and smiles down on the little girl from his lofty height. 

This is a simple but wonderful book about friendship.  The love, care and attention needed to grow a friendship but also the understanding that it is ok to be apart.   My Pet Star is a perfect story for all children and the illustrations are gorgeous - full of heart, stars and wonder! The little girl is beautiful and her love for the star is played out on each page. A new favourite to be read again and again. 

The Night Bear
Written by Ana de Moraes 
Illustrated by Thiago de Moraes
Published by Andersen Press

Before you even begin reading this book, the end papers give you a set of instructions to create your own take away box for the night bear. Children could make it and put it out for the Night Bear.  The end papers at the back tell us what some nightmares taste like, such as a howling ghost tastes like cheese on toast! 
This is a new way to help children to deal with scary dreams.  Night Bear is hungry at night and is hunting for some scary dreams, luckily for him they taste like sausage and mash, burgers and fries and chocolate cake! 
One dream has been left out but eww, it is rainbows and unicorns....disgusting! 
Night Bear doesn’t want to waste a dream so sets off to find someone who will enjoy it! 
Most children are asleep but one boy is awake and they happily swap a dream for a nightmare.  
For children who suffer from scary dreams, this will bring a new approach to dealing with them. 
The illustrations are excellent, full of Night Bear’s character and scary monsters turned into yummy dinners! 
I love this and will certainly be reading it to children in schools! 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Picture Book Perfect- Imaginative Girls

Two sparkly covers appealed to me tonight! Two girls with brilliant imaginations, June and Sophie!

Once Upon a Unicorn Horn
Written and Illustrated by Beatrice Blue
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

June has a wonderful home, loving parents and a huge imagination.  She is a treasure seeker and on one quest she finds the best treasure of all- flying horses.  Horses taking their first flights with soft fur and sparkly tails.  All but one, sad little horse in need of encouragement and magic from June.  
They try lots of ideas but nothing works.  June goes home and explains the problem to her family who then come up with more ideas.    
A solution is found and June rushes back to help her horse, but just as disaster strikes, so to does magic! 
From that day forward, Unicorns were born! 
Horns worn in remembrance of friendship.
What greater message is there in the world? Friends make life better, more magical and more fun! 
The message is lovely and the illustrations are a joy.  I have a few favourite pages that would look great in a frame! 
This one is top of my list though.  It is hopes, dreams and wishes in one big swoosh! 

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius
Written by Morag Hood
Illustrated by Ella Okstad
Published by Simon and Schuster

Sophie has a big imagination and is extremely good at being a detective genius! Bella, her assistant, is not very good according to Sophie! 
Sophie looks the part, with her hat, cape and magnifying glass but Bella has a more simplistic approach to finding and catching baddies!
Sophie is busy interviewing, fingerprinting her toys and having well deserved snack breaks while Bella barks at nothing.  I must admit, I love books where the audience is given the clues and evidence of what is truly happening in the story, over the main character. Bella’s good deeds capture the attention of the police and the reader but Sophie is too busy to notice! Perhaps it’s best they work together next time.
Funny storyline, great imaginative characters and colourful illustrations.  What’s not to love? 

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Picture Book Perfect- with Conservation Message

These two beautiful books are very different in look, appeal and illustrations but the end message is the same...conservation!
We are in serious need of protecting our Earth from ourselves and this message is most importantly, needing to be shared with our younger generations.  It will come to them and we want them to know what they can do to help.
Books allow us to share the message without it being too dry or too boring for children.

We start with
Somebody Swallowed Stanley
Written by Sarah Roberts
Illustrated by Hannah Peck
Published by Scholastic

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book but I loved the cover and the fact that Stanley was given a personality.  When you open the book, the illustrations immediately grab your attention and I spent a long time looking at the beautiful jellyfish.  The book has lovely rhyming text and it flows so perfectly as a read aloud.  
Stanley, the plastic bag, is floating along in the ocean, not quite a jellyfish but terrible things happen to him and he ends up feeling rather despondent.  Animals are trying to eat him as they mistake him for food.  Poor Stanley and poor animals. 
Luckily for everyone, a young boy comes along and saves the day.  He also re-uses Stanley for a better purpose, showing us how we can take small steps to save our planet.  
A wonderful message for young children brought to life in a wonderful story. 

The next book I felt was more for an older audience and the message comes from an almost mythical story.  
The Wizards and The Whale
Written by Anthinula Tori
Illustrations by Jean Tori
Published by Jean Tori Books

This stunningly illustrated book is a story about 12 wizards called upon to gather from their kingdoms to come and meet Willow the Whale.  Willow needs help from all corners of the world in order to plan how the Earth can be protected and saved. 
The wizards travel far knowing they are on an important quest and they use their practical skills, not magical, to ask for help from their friends.
With a focus on the letter ‘W’ throughout the book, there is an almost poetic nature to the text and it is lovely to share aloud.  
The illustrations are bright, colourful and each page is a masterpiece.  Reading this with a focus on illustration and the powerful message we receive from them is too good to pass up.  I have since ordered this to be used in children’s book groups in each of my trust’s 13 schools.  There is so much to gain from reading this book. 
One small part of an overall brilliant book

Let’s read these often and share the message of conservation, each doing some small part for the overall good of our planet Earth.  Treat it with care! 

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Picture Book Perfect

I have a small collection of picture books next to me and I am planning my blog week based on all of them.  There are some amazing books being published in 2019.

Tonight is...
I’m not Grumpy by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Nell & the Circus of Dreams by Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith

Nell & the Circus of Dreams
Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith
Published by OUP Children’s 

A delightfully illustrated story about Nell and her chicken called Rosebud.  As Nell deals with an ill mother, Rosebud walks in at just the right moment.  They become inseparable and Nell tells Rosebud all her hopes and dreams.  Rosebud goes missing one morning and Nell is distraught, running to find her beloved friend.  
In the quest, Nell happens upon a circus and gets drawn into the magic, fun and wonder waiting behind the curtain. 
“Nell wished that this beautiful circus of dreams could last forever.”
Was it all a dream or her imagination running wild, or was it real? It doesn’t matter as she tells her mother all about it when she reaches home with Rosebud! 
The illustrations are wonderful- full of details, bold and joyful.  Briony May Smith has brought the circus to life.  I felt uplifted with Nell in finding the circus and her beloved Rosebud.  I had some tears in my eyes as Nell’s mother welcomed her home and hugged her, what a brilliant moment. 
A beautiful story about having hopes and dreams and sharing them with friends and family. 

I’m Not Grumpy
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Published by Little Tiger

A hilarious start to a heart warming story as baby Badger’s bottom is blocking the entrance to Mouse’s house.  Mouse grumbles throughout the story, although he is adamant he is not grumpy.  It seems he has a reputation for being grumpy throughout the woods and animals avoid him.  Could this be part of the problem? 
 Mouse, reluctantly, but kindly takes Badger through the woods home to his mother.  They meet animals who help along the way and guide Mouse and Badger in the right direction.  Mother Badger appears at just the right moment and thanks all the animals for finding her baby.
Mouse is no longer grumpy and he finally has some friends! What a wonderful happy ending.
I do love a happy ending, especially when it involves new friends and a new outlook on life!
The illustrations are so lovely and they bring the innocence of the story to life! The cover illustration of Mouse is fabulous and I could stare at him all day. Such expression and the perfect scarf for a little, grumpy mouse! 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

You Won’t Believe This by Adam Baron

Wow! I have read Boy Underwater and You won’t believe this in the same week and they are both amazing.

In Boy Underwater we meet Cymbeline Igloo and learn about his past, his family and his friends.  He is an amazing boy and I might be his biggest fan.  He is loyal, kind and loving! He accepts people for who they are and is true to himself.  Even though he must feel overwhelmed with all he is dealing with there is more to come and it is full of twists and turns as we discover the truth.

In You Won’t Believe This, Cymbeline is back with best friend Veronique and there are mysteries to solve in school.  Terrible things are happening to their favourite teacher and no one knows who is daring to be so cruel.  Cymbeline and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of the crime but they struggle to find any evidence.  On top of the events at school, Nanai, Veronique’s grandmother, is very ill and has stopped eating,  Cymbeline has a knack for seeing patterns and anomalies in both events and believes there is more to learn.

We follow Cymbeline through day to day life while he tries to solve the mysteries and I was continuously impressed with his skills in finding information, interviewing suspects and eventually figuring things out!  This book is wonderful- full of interesting characters and a brilliant story line.  There are also fun surprises along the way.

I was enthralled by both stories and think Cymbeline is an excellent character.  Both stories are very firmly at the top of my favourites list.
It was excellent to be able to read them so close together and I felt as though I really got to know Cymbeline, Veronique, Nanai and Cymbeline’s mum.

Add this book to your wish lists, it is superb!

Picture Book Perfect!

There are so many wonderful picture book titles being published at the moment and I am thrilled to get the opportunity to read and review them.  I am a massive fan of picture books.

Today I have spent some time poring over the two titles below.  They are both brilliant books with stunning illustrations.

Mighty Min by Melissa Castrillon
Published by Scholastic
The cover of this book is stunning and made me immediately reach for it.
 I was so pleased I did for the illustrations continue to be as amazing inside. Not only the illustrations are wonderful- the story is too. Mighty Min listens to daring and brave tales told by her four mighty aunts each night.  Will Min ever have a tale to tell of her very own? 
One night Min gets taken by a bird but there is a surprising twist- the bird needs help and so do the other animals in the garden.  Min is just the right size to help out. The tag line on the front cover "You're never too small to be mighty" is a perfect mantra for all children growing up.  Be you, be kind and be brave! Mighty Min finally has her own tale to tell and it is one I could hear again and again.
A feminist twist on Thumbelina, perfect for this new generation of readers!

Ducktective Quack and the Cake Crime Wave by Claire Freedman and Mike Byrne
Published by Macmillan Children's

Wonderful rhyming text accompany bright, fun illustrations that bring a cake crime wave to life!
Someone is stealing all the cakes in town and Ducktective Quack is on the case.  This fun story allows you to look for clues and see if you can guess the thief along the way. There are clues on each page and I loved examining the evidence along with Ducktective Quack. 
I love this book and it is a perfect read aloud for all ages. Some will enjoy looking at the pictures, while others will love the rhyming story.  Something for everyone in this book!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Mr Dog and the Seal Deal, Ben Fogle

I read Mr Dog and the Rabbit Habit a short time ago and immediately fell in love with this adventurous dog.  He has an endearing love for helping animals, regardless of the trouble he may get into.  His heart is always in the right place and somehow he always manages to get it right!
This newest title is a brilliant introduction for younger readers into the serious state of pollution in our oceans and waterways. We need to educate the next generations on how they can help and make better choices.
Ben Fogle is also giving these new chapter book readers a brilliant foray into meeting new animals and learning about their habitats, food needs and abilities.  A book that is enjoyable and teaches new information is a fine balance to master.

I think because Ben Fogle is an animal lover, explorer and adventurer, these books and Mr Dog’s adventures come naturally to him.  I want to imagine they started as stories he shared with his children and have grown into a lovable series of books.

The illustrations by Nikolas Ilic bring Mr Dog, Dizzy and Lulu to life and the dangers of plastics can also be appreciated by younger children.  The image of the plastic ring being cut from the duck’s neck as a perfect example!

Mr Dog is lovable and adventurous and I hope to read many more of his adventures.  Who might he meet next and where will his adventures take him? Find out in Book 3!

Mr Dog and The Rabbit Habit, Ben Fogle
I have mixed feelings about celebrity authors, but this book fell on the good side of my opinion!

Ben Fogle is one of our favourite celebrities due to the work he does with animals, and his interest in the natural world.

I love the title of this book and the cover illustrations are bold, bright and attract the reader straight away. Steve Cole has truly brought Mr Dog to life and he is very handsome!   I would be recommending this book to 6 + readers.

Mr Dog is a fantastic character, he takes things so literally and does things without a lot of thought.  His instincts are as true as his heart and I bet he will soon become a favourite pooch in many houses. Mr Dog is an elegant name for a brave dog and as he solves mysteries and rescues animals, he truly lives up to his name.  His fancy neckerchief certainly adds to his elegance.

I love that he can speak rabbit and cat, and from the preview of a second in the series, I wonder what other “languages” he can speak! I look forward to having another adventure with Mr Dog.

I think this will become a hugely popular new series of books for younger readers.  The plot is easy to follow and the vocabulary is rich and will enhance their language skills as they read.

Well done Ben Fogle.  Not all celebrities can make the crossover to writing but this is a brilliant book and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Garden of Lost Secrets by A.M. Howell

Staying on the theme of books set in World War I, A.M. Howell delivers a delightful debut about secrets, mystery and bravery.  I love that this is set in Suffolk, where I am living and that I can visit Ickworth House, which served as inspiration for the novel.

Clara is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle in the Suffolk countryside while her father convalesces after being gassed in the war.  Sadly, they are not the happy, loving family she was hoping for and a sharp slap leaves her untrusting of her aunt.

As Clara adapts to her aunt and uncle, she becomes suspicious of activities around the estate they live on.  A mysterious boy appears at night, fruit is disappearing from the hothouses and what is Aunt Elizabeth hiding in the locked room?

It is up to Clara to solve each mystery, and although her heart is in the right place, more often than not, her actions lead to trouble.

We learn so much about heartache, loss and grieving with Clara as she learns about the secrets being kept. We learn about bravery and determination in the actions of Clara and her new friend Will.

This book brought back happy memories of reading classics such as The Secret Garden in my childhood. There is a classic feel to the way the story unfolds, the interactions with the characters and the references to life during World War I.  The rural setting and the hothouses and gardens are lovely and worth a visit if you are ever in Suffolk!

A brilliant debut and one I would highly recommend!
I am looking forward to meeting Ann-Marie in June when she visits a couple of the schools in my trust!

A new classic in the making!

Evie’s War by Holly Webb

A chilly Spring bank holiday weekend and I can be found happily sat under a blanket enjoying the last pages of this incredible story.

I am a huge fan of books set during World War I or II and learning about how families survived in such horrifying circumstances. Rationing, telegrams, loss and patriotism at its best.  I always think about whether I could be as strong, brave and determined as the characters, especially those in Evie’s War.

Already suffering from a loss, Evie’s family quickly come to terms with the start of war.  It seems far away until a series of events brings it closer to home.  Emotions are high, people are scared and sacrifices must be made by all.  All citizens are encouraged to do their bit for the war effort and Evie and Kitty sell sweets, knit warm clothes and say goodbye to a beloved family pet who is needed at the front.  Their Dad takes on a night job and older brother David enlists years before he is of age.

Based on true events in 1914, the setting is Whitby and this was the scene of a bomb attack.  This event was weaved into the story almost as though Evie and Kitty were really there.  The relationship between the sisters is realistic and heart warming.  They love each other but can also squabble, as most siblings can attest to.  Times are hard for the family and they all must make sacrifices and deal with the blows that war inevitably brings.

I loved that parts of this book were written as letters to and from brother David at the front line.  It adds a truthful dimension to the story and allows the reader to connect to David although he is absent from day to day life.

Evie is a lovely heroine, full of spirit and determination.  She breaks the rules but for the greater good. Her heart is always in the right place!

Beautifully written, as we have come to expect from Holly Webb, this is a delight from start to finish.


Thursday, 2 May 2019

Anna at War by Helen Peters

Anna at War
Helen Peters
Nosy Crow
Publishing in July 2019

I was so lucky to have received a proof copy of this delightful book.  I am a huge fan of stories set in WWII and I had a strong feeling that I would love Anna.  I didn't know just how amazing this story would be or how quickly I would lose myself in the journey Anna takes across war torn Europe.

We first meet Anna as an old woman telling her grandson Daniel about her life during the war.
The same week she tells her story, a letter arrives from MI5 saying that her files will soon be released.  From that point onward I was completely enthralled and couldn't wait to see what this woman had lived through.

Anna and her family are Jewish living in Nazi occupied Germany and one evening she is woken up by Nazis storming her home and taking her father away.  Life is tough and Anna misses the way life used to be.  Things do not get any better for Anna as her parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her to England on Kindertransport.

I have always been fascinated by Kindertransport and the evacuation of so many children.  Hope for these children out of devastation.  Uprooted and living in a foreign country, away from those they love most.  I am not sure I would have been strong enough to endure that journey. 

Anna is one of the older children in her compartment and she is forced to take care of a baby and the younger children.  She proves herself to be kind, compassionate, reliable and determined.  Qualities she will continue to draw upon once she arrives in England.

War follows Anna across Europe and she is forced to make some tough decisions and to put her life at risk, several times.

There is so much excitement, bravery and nail biting moments throughout this book and I dare anyone not to be impressed with Anna.

Anna is amazing.  Brave, determined and heroic.  A true heroine of her own story.

I loved this book and would encourage anyone to read it and lose yourself in the adventures of Anna.

Boot, Small Robot Big Adventure by Shane Hegarty and Ben Mantle

This is a charming story about finding out where you come from, where you belong and who your true friends are!
Boot is a discarded, broken robot about to be ground into pieces.  Finding an inner strength, he survives and goes on the run from a robot hating man named Flint.  Flint wants to destroy robots so they won't take his job.

Along the journey Boot meets some friendly robots who live in hiding in an amusement arcade.  They are no longer the newest, best or shiniest robots and have been replaced over time.

Noke, Red and Poochy join Boot on his quest to find his way home to a little girl called Beth.  With only 2 and a half memories, it is a difficult journey to know where to go.  Noke is nearly out of battery, Red could burst into flames at any moment and Poochy lands on his head a lot.....but they prove themselves to be loyal and daring friends.

This is a wonderful story of a broken robot with a big heart.  Boot is funny, loyal and brave.

I look forward to seeing the illustrations that will join the text- if the cover is anything to go by, they will be amazing.  This is a great chapter book for those young readers wanting more than just a picture book.

With a further 2 books in the series planned I look forward to seeing what adventures Boot, Noke, Red and Poochy have, and what new robots we may meet along the way.  Although watch out for Flint as I don't think we have seen the last of him!

Five New Favourites

I have read so many amazing books recently!  My TBR pile is growing daily and I am loving this Golden Age of Children's Fiction. ...