Thursday, 8 December 2016

STILL FALLING by Sheena Wilkinson. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull.

"The rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted..."  This quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby illustrates the themes of Sheena Wilkinson's moving story of teenage love.

Troubled Luke has been in care for several years. He moves to Esther's school - a challenge for him, as standards are much higher there and he struggles to keep up. Luke is insecure and suffers from epilepsy. Esther feels like a misfit among the girls at school. But when Luke has a fit on his first day, she is the one who knows how to help him.

Esther and Luke instantly connect, and Esther falls in love. But Luke has secrets in his past that threaten their relationship, and she can't understand what it is that troubles him, and blames herself. Both young people have a fragile self-image. Can they overcome their troubles and find a way through to love?

Sheena Wilkinson's writing has a beautiful clarity and freshness, the dialogue is convincing, and the main characters have such a strong emotional presence that it's impossible for the reader not to connect with them and care deeply about what happens to them. The adults - in particular Esther's parents and the couple who become Luke's new carers - are interesting, rounded characters in their own right. The story is perfectly paced and revealed. You won't want to put it down.

Published in 2015 by Little Island Books.  ISBN: 978-1-908195-92-0


Sunday, 4 December 2016

STONE UNDERPANTS by Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson. Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Publisher: Maverick Books
Pub year: 2016

Rebecca Lisle has written some fantastic books for young and older readers but this is his first picture book, and it's a gem.

The story is very simple.  We're in the stone age. Pod wants to go our and play with his mates but it's too cold to venture out in his birthday suit. His parents suggest he could make himself a pair of undies. He tries various materials, including leaves, feathers and wood but nothing work until he has a brainwave: stone underpants.

Rebecca tells her story in a funny, direct style that compliments Richard's bright, cartoony style. This is a great, endearing little book that will have children in giggles, and would also work well in a classroom when doing the 'stone age' as a topic.

Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Follow me on twitter @spirotta


Thursday, 1 December 2016

THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick, reviewed by Jackie Marchant

Reviewed by Jackie Marchant

With my review slot imminent, I walked my dog to the library, tied him to his usual spot outside and went in to find a book to review.  Something small, I thought, a mid-grade paperback that would fit in my little back-pack for the journey home.  I came out with the biggest, heaviest book on the children’s shelves.  A whopping hardback with gilt edges.

But how could I resist?  I’ve read both of Brian Selznick’s previous books and absolutely loved them. Yes, they are big books, but they are what reading is all about.  They are books you have to really hold to read, they are heavy and feel like, well – Books (but with a capital ‘B’).  And please don’t think the paperback would do – these books are works of art and belong in hardback.  If you’ve not come across Brian Selznick’s wonderful books before, then get ye to a library (with something suitable to carry it home in) – you have no idea what you are missing.

Like the other two (The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck in case you really don’t know, but I can’t believe that) this one is told in a mixture of illustration and text.  As ever, the illustrations are beautiful, drawing you into the wonders of the story.  Not a single word for nearly 400 pages, but an absolute pleasure to read.  And yes, illustrations do have to be read, just like words.

This is a story within a story.  It’s the story of shipwreck, of lost love, a long line of actors and a theatre.  It’s also a contemporary story of the wonders that live under your own roof, if only you could see them.  Based on a real house (18 Folgate Street), it’s about a man who buys an old house in Spitalfields and turns it into the real, living yet imaginary home of the family in the story.  It’s about the runaway nephew who seeks sanctuary here and discovers the story for himself. 

It’s a lovely book – with an added bonus.  18 Folgate Street is open to the public so you can see the inspiration behind the story for yourself.  Enjoy!


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo, reviewed by Pauline Francis

Darcy is a teenager struggling to recover from pneumonia and has been advised by a doctor to spend two to four hours outside every day. But this is no ordinary outside. Once it would have been the city streets and shopping malls of London that Darcy loves so much (but she reasons that she wouldn’t have caught pneumonia anyway if she’d stayed where she belonged).

This outside is 7,000 feet above sea level, in the winter wilds of Yellowstone National Park, US, full of hibernating bears.  This is where her father has taken a new job and moved his family from England.

 Everybody else fits in well into this new habitat. Only Darcy is weak, helpless and unsettled. Just like the bear she meets when she walks too far one day. Darcy stumbles across its cave, soaked to the skin from a fall, and this bear saves her life by keeping her warm.  Now the narrative switches between Darcy and the bear, who has been wounded and her cubs killed. The line between reality and dream is blurred.

Darcy is drawn again and again to visit the bear.

“The bear raises her arm, and I am the little cold creature that crawls into its warmth. Together we dive down into a dream world.”

The tension of this story is heightened by a severe snow storm, lasting six days, during which Darcy falls in love with Tony, her brother’s friend, who has to take shelter with them.

At first, knowing nothing about bears, I expect Darcy and the bear to help each other to get better, because Darcy feeds the injured bear secretly, making long journeys with food, which I thought would be her recuperation.

‘I felt kind of dead,’ Darcy says. ‘She made me feel more alive.’

Darcy (and me) soon learns her mistake. Tony and her family are furious when they find out what she has been doing. An injured bear in the park dependent on being fed is a danger to everybody. And Darcy is not feeling any better. The ending is both poignant and practical.

This short novel is beautifully written and contains dream-style as well as third person narrative from the bear’s point of view. Although it is instructive for the reader, it does represent the bear as a creature with feelings.

Mimi Thebo has based this story on a real bear in Yellowstone national Park – Bear 134- and her respect and love for this creature is as strong as her respect for the dilemma in which Darcy finds herself. As Darcy’s problems are resolved, she feels the bear’s strength inside her.

“A girl alone. A wounded bear. A bond to last forever.”

Dreaming the Bear is recommended for the 10+ age group.

Pauline Francis


Wednesday, 16 November 2016


Image result for chloe by emma barnesChloe’s Secret Princess Club may be about three girls who want to become princesses, but at heart, this book is really about the fun of imaginative play and friendship.

With plenty of fantasy books about, one can only be glad to find a story set so clearly within the real world of everyday family situations, and where the young characters have ordinary hopes and childish aspirations.

Also - and a personal response here – I was rather pleased to discover the book was not in a diary format, but presented in fourteen chapters with a few essential lists. The book very much reminded of Beverley Cleary’s Ramona stories, where the focus is all about the central character learning to cope with the smaller bumps of everyday life.

At first, dreamyhead Chloe Higgins keeps her Princess plans to herself. Then, when she sees that the school store-cupboard door is unlocked, she can’t help peeping inside, just in case it is a Portal to Another World and so ends up sticking her bewigged head out of the window, asking for help. Chloe is teased as “Rapunzel” but the incident leads to Chloe and two other girls forming a very Secret Club as they all have a secret wish to become princesses: princesses of the kind and graceful variety, not of the obnoxious, fame-seeking sort. Having had a daughter who loved dressing up, I felt this girlish longing was very well and positively handled within the writing.

After all,it's not an unreasonable wish because Chloe’s mum has definitely told her that “you can be anything you want to be if you believe in it and work hard” - although Mum was talking about Chloe concentrating on Mental Maths at the time!

The author Emma Barnes has created an attractive trio of characters: introducing impulsive, freckle-faced Chloe, shy Aisha, her long-time best friend, and over-achieving Eliza. She demonstrates the complexity of the modern child’s life too. Meeting up after school is not a simple task: during the week, Chloe has after-school swimming and baking, Aisha goes to classes at the mosque, and Eliza has lessons in trumpet, tap-dancing and karate as well as her Friday family supper. The easy culture mix familiar to an urban child of today is a particular strength of Emma Barnes' storytelling.
The three girls do manage to get together for their “Secret Princess Club” after-school meetings and activities in each others houses, where they enjoy creating special rules and secret handshakes as well as writing everything down in their official unicorn notebook, which eventually leads to a serious misunderstanding.

As the chapters progress, the girls try to learn the skills of being princesses, within their available context. Their dance tuition comes via a DVD of ballroom lessons, their beautiful outfits are clothes and scarves from Chloe’s mother’s wardrobe, and their rescuing of lost kittens involves taking a rather elderly cat back up the street to its neighbour. Plans rarely go quite as the girls imagine but although the adults who are around in the background of the story are sometimes upset they are usually kindly, in a busy working way. The Secret Club’s biggest worry is that Chloe’s twin brother, snooping Arthur and his best friend Mikhail will spread their secret back at school.

Although the “Princesses”-  also know as Clorinda, Araminta and Elisabetta - are playing their roles and living their challenges seriously, one senses they know the limits of their game. The book is not about big time riches or fame and most of the dressing-up involved is creative rather than hugely materialistic. The big argument, when it arrives, grows from a visit by Egyptian history experts to the school, and the three girls learning about the “Princess” Cleopatra. Despite the following arguments and anguish (and a lonely bath in asses milk) the three princesses learn more about each others real-life hopes and dreams and the need to be kinder to each other. 

“Most of all we have stuck together and had fun!”

It’s worth noting that the back of this book contains a character-linked personality quiz, a jam tart recipe and suggestions for creating you own clubs, as well as a welcome stress on the fact that a club can be about whatever a child is interested in and not necessarily princesses: a well-made point! I'm wondering if there will be another kind of Chloe Club or a return of the Princesses Club in a further book.

The Secret Princess Club has an appealing real-life charm and offers an amusing and comforting story, whether as a bedtime book for a young reader or shared on the sofa with a grown-up, possibly stirring tales of their own childhood games.

As Chloe’s mother says: “A bit of imagination is a wonderful thing.”
And there is a hamster.
And a frog. 

Image result for chloe by emma barnes
Penny Dolan.


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Second time around, but worth it! Adèle Geras

This review was posted a while ago on another website to which I contribute, together with Linda Newbery and Celia Rees. It's Writers Review and you can follow it on Twitter @writersreview1 

I felt that this book was so unusual that it deserved to be brought to everyone's attention more than once. It's a picture book for adults, and as such quite a rare beast. I am also putting up this review again because I reckon it's the perfect Christmas present for a FAMILY: the kind of family where generations come together to enjoy sharing a beautiful thing. I also think any classroom would benefit from having a copy on its shelves. There's so much to look at, pore over, enjoy again and again.

It might LOOK expensive at £25.00 but just consider  the other things you might buy at such a sum....and the answer is: not very much at all and nothing I can think of which will give such pleasure nor last as long.  Keats said it best: A thing of beauty is a joy for ever. 

Here's the review! And hope it's not too early to wish everyone a very  Merry Christmas and lots of good things in 2017.


I came home one day from a trip to London to find a huge parcel waiting for me. It was this book: THE QUIET MUSIC OF GENTLY FALLING SNOW, written and illustrated by Jackie Morris,  the very well known artist and writer of many wondrous books for children. The volume  measures 37cms by 28cms. It's a   a picture book for adults and I believe it would be good if there were more of these published, because we don't stop appreciating beauty when we leave our childhood behind.  It's published by  Welsh publisher,  Graffeg, and they've done Morris proud. It costs £25 which seems to me to be excellent value. 

The book has an  usual genesis. Since the year 2000, a charity called HELP FOR MUSICIANS UK has commissioned Jackie Morris to create a Christmas card for them. All of the cards are reproduced at the back of the book. This book knits and crafts those cards together into a single volume made up of many stories, weaving their threads (a favourite word of Morris's) into a beautiful tale (or tales)  of loss and love and music. Because of the origin of the cards, the stories are about music; its creation, its destruction; its fragilities and strengths. Morris's love of music comes over in every story and there's a sort of counterpoint that runs through them.  

Morris has added pictures as well as stories. The creatures who inhabit these tales are ones we know she loves from her other books: bears, swans, hares and birds. The ingredients of fairy tales (towers, snow, forests, ships, trees) fill the narrative, skilfully woven into something singular and strange. Reading the book is very much like listening to different songs, different tunes drifting into your consciousness.They're described as lullabies for grown ups and that's very accurate. The narratives are loose and flowing. The characters appear and reappear and disappear and the animals change and become creatures different from the ones we first thought we'd met. The rhythm of the prose sets out to lull the reader and succeeds in doing exactly this. 

The instruments, depicted many times in the wonderful paintings on every page, are fiddles, flutes, lutes and drums. Anyone interested in identifying them can spend many happy hours looking at each double page spread and seeing what can be found in each one. 

The pear tree in the  'partridge in a pear tree' illustration is also the Singing Ringing Tree which goes on to create forests which it takes seven weeks to walk through. That seven is of course another link with the world of the fairy tales.

This book would make a most beautiful Christmas present for any adult who enjoys fairytales, music, and above all, rich and gloriously coloured illustrations which depict people, creatures and places which are buried in our imagination and which, thanks to Morris, we can pretend are real.  She has moved the fantastical from the realm of our dreams and into the light of our real world.

Hardback published by GRAFFEG
ISBN: 9781910862650


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Three Little Monkeys by Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

This is an absolute joy of a book, created by teacher/student and friends pair, Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark.  Quentin Blake has written the story, and Emma Chichester Clark done the illustrations.  If ever a pair of people understood picture book fun, it is those two, and they have clearly enjoyed themselves enormously in creating this big beautiful book.

Hilda Snibbs has three little monkeys called  Tim, Sam and Lulu, and they are not always very good.

They make wonderfully terrible messes in her home, and she isn't pleased ... but when, one day, she comes home and the house is tidy and the three little monkeys not in evidence, she is distraught.

Until she find them again.

This is, of course, a parent and children sort of relationship played out in a fun and lovely way.  I know very well that if I'd had this book twenty years ago I would have substituted the names Annie, Mary and Susie for those three little monkeys, and my three daughters would have loved 'being' those naughty lovely characters!
Highly, highly recommended.