Sunday 27 December 2020




From the start of January 2021,  Awfully Big Reviews

will become part of the Awfully Big Blog Adventure blog itself, 

and appear within the posts there.


This linked blog will remain as the 


 and can be searched for past titles and recommendations.


Many thanks to all who have contributed

to ABR in the past

- and wishing you all plenty of good books and reading times

for the future!



Penny Dolan, ABR Admin.



Tuesday 15 December 2020

A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby Reviewed by Chitra Soundar

 When I was growing up, I was among the first generation of Indians learning about computers. I loved playing computer games and trying to get hold of gameboys and other gadgets which we couldn't afford. Often borrowed or just watching others do it, it was one of those things that I've always been in the peripherals are. I'm also a child of comic books - India is big on comics and most of the epics I learnt about - more than the stories told at home, I was reading them as comics. 

As a writer visiting schools, I often create workshops around games and stories - where characters can enter the realm of games or into the world of their favourite TV programmes to enthuse those kids who are more into gaming than into reading. 

So when I picked up Aisha Bushby's A Pocketful of Stars, I was so happy to read about the contemporary setup of games and animation stories and the friendship (and rivalries) of girls. But this story took me by surprise - the layers of emotions added into it. From a divorce of parents, to blended heritages, to theatre and drama, the story threads through difficult subjects in realistic and yet magical ways.

Then the magic - the way the game and the reality blends, and how the analogy of the relationship plays out in this game and in real life - this was beautifully done, no doubt, painstakingly crafted. 

The book's emotional punches are never pulled right until the end and when I was reading the last few chapters on a train, I found myself crying on the tube perhaps adding to the myth of "emotional immigrant".  I was so gutted by the end and yet so happy to have read the story and gone on this journey. 

The book is great to read as a class or by children on their own - but beyond the magic and games, the story will offer discussions, perhaps will open pathways of dialogue between friends, between parents and children - about relationships, guilts and our identities. 

If you have not read this book yet, what are you waiting for? 

Listen to Aisha Bushby read a little from this book here. 

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published, award-winning author of over 40 books for children. She is also an oral storyteller and writer of theatre and TV for children. Her stories are inspired by folktales from India, Hindu mythology and her travels around the world. Find out more at Follow her on Twitter @csoundar


Wednesday 9 December 2020

Waiting for Wolf by Sandra Dieckmann, review by Lynda Waterhouse

 Shaun Tan describes this beautiful story as ‘A heartfelt fable about the pain of grief, and the joy of its revelation.’ If these wise words were not enough to encourage me to open the book, then the quote from Daniel Johnson’s lyrics worked their magic.

‘The colours are bright, bright as ever.

The red is strong, the blue is true.

Some things last a long time.

Some things last a lifetime.

I had seen Daniel Johnson perform at the Union Chapel; taken there by a good friend. A few years later, just like Wolf, my friend had disappeared from our lives.   

So, this is how the story goes:

Fox and his old friend Wolf spend a perfect day together at their favourite spot by the lake. They talk and laugh and swim together in the bright sunshine. Towards the end of this perfect day, Wolf places a big, grey paw on Fox’s shoulder and says, ‘Tomorrow I will be starlight.’

The next day Wolf is nowhere to be found. Fox searches everywhere and still she waits for Wolf.

He said he was going to be starlight,

So maybe he’s up there in the sky.’

As night falls Fox heads up the mountains that surround the lake and calls out for Wolf. She is in search of the brightest star. She pulls the ‘shining star blanket’ around her and cries in the darkness. This is the moment that she knows that Wolf is never coming back. Through her tears she recalls Wolf’s words; ‘Life really is beautiful.’ From that moment ‘all the things they had done together came flooding back in bright colours.’  Fox now understands that Wolf is gone but all their happy memories would be with her always. She is able to carry on.

The world is surrounded by swirly, jagged mountains that we first meet in a cool green on the endpapers. There is also a bird that will appear throughout the story to support Fox. By the end of the story the landscape is flooded by light and sunshine. The illustrations reveal the emotional journey. The image of Fox wrapped in the velvety star blanket is heart wrenching but is followed by an image of a little red paw in the sunshine which moves us beyond the grief and sadness. Fox is not alone. There is the little bird and also a mouse for friendship and support, and of course there are happy memories.

The impact of this story lasts a long time.


ISBN 978-1-444-94659

Hodder Children’s Books


Monday 30 November 2020

THE ISLAND THAT DIDN'T EXIST by Joe Wilson Reviewed by Sharon Tregenza


Rixon is thrust into a dangerous situation and finds himself fighting for his life against a multimillionaire tech mogul on his super yacht.
Twelve year old Rixon is excited when he discovers his great-uncle has left him an island in his will. But the excitement turns to confusion when he finds that the mysterious island can only be found by using a special magnifying glass on an ancient map. Does this place really exist? Rixon sets out to find the answer and the mystery deepens when he meets the four children hidden there - away from the world and society. 

This book is a gripping story for Middle Grade readers. A fast-paced mix of mystery, humour and adventure with a thrilling denouement. I highly recommend it. 


Wednesday 25 November 2020

THE FATED SKY by Henrietta Branford. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull

    Described by the publisher as "an epic journey of love and survival", this short historical novel spans almost a lifetime.

    Ran is a teenage girl in Viking Norway. Her family live by fishing and the few animals they keep. They have no slaves and only one servant. Ran has an uneasy relationship with her widowed mother, though she loves her grandmother, Amma.

    The story begins when a stranger comes to their home. Vigut is handsome, strong and assertive. Ran discovers later that he is a man from her mother's past. Her mother had wanted to marry him, but he was poor, and the marriage was not allowed by her family. Right from the start, the mood of the story is ominous. Ran notices that Vigut's horse is not well cared for and shows marks of beating. This man is trouble.

    Vigut travels with Ran and her mother to distant Sessing for the seasonal sacrifice to Odin. It soon becomes clear that Vigut plans to seize Sessing from its owner Finnulf. On the long cold journey the travellers are attacked by wolves, and Ran's mother is mortally wounded. She dies soon after they arrive, leaving Ran in danger, both from Vigut and from the terrifying wise-woman Gullveig. But it's also at Sessing that Ran meets Toki, the man she will come to love, and with whom she will travel to a new life and new adventures.

    Although only 150 pages long, this is an epic story, full of action. It deserves to be read both for its historical drama and for the convincing portrayal of family relationships and of a young girl's troubled emotions. It has certainly made me want to seek out Henrietta Branford's other books.

First published by Hodder in 1996. Now available second-hand from Amazon.

Suitable for ages 12+


Friday 20 November 2020

Where's Baby Elephant? by Ali Khodai, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart


This is one of those books of simple brilliance that makes you think, why didn't I think of that?! With the flap-opening and animal appeal of classic Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, Where's Baby Elephant poses its one question, and lets the child unfold again and again until Baby Elephant is found.

Each big spread made of card shows some animals ... then opens to almost magically transform into other animals ... then opens again to perform the same pleasing trick. See how it works -

This is another wonderful, and different, book from Tiny Owl publishers.  Do click through to visit their website full of interest and teaching ideas. And, if you are able to contribute, Tiny Owl are crowdfunding for their survival, having not been given the government grant they applied for. 


Monday 16 November 2020

YOUTHQUAKE by Tom Adams, Illus by Sarah Walsh - reviewed by Damian Harvey

YOUTHQUAKE - 50 Children and Young People Who Shook the World celebrates the achievements of young people from around the world. It focuses on a wide range of girls and boys / young men and women from different cultures and backgrounds, as well as different periods in history. 

The author, Tom Adams has selected young people that have made a name for themselves in their own field - be it sports, science, music etc but who have also made an impact one way or another with what they have done and achieved. It's good that the chosen figures span a long period in history  - the earliest being Pocahontas (b.1596) and Blaise Pascal (b. 1623). The most recent are Greta Thunberg (b.2003) and Marley Dias (b.2005). The figures in between comprise a mixture of familiar and not so familiar figures, some, like Mozart, are obvious choices whereas others, like Bjork or Emma Watson come as a pleasant and welcome surprise. Many, though not all, of the people included have also had to overcome some sort of difficulty or set back in their lives yet have still made a huge impact.   

The book is is usefully divided into sections - Think & Invent, Create & Dream, Hope & Believe, Lead & Triumph, and Change & Conquer. Each of the 50 young people have been given a double page spread which includes brief biography giving details of their lives and achievements up to the things they have done to Shake the World. Each spread is brightly illustrated by Sarah Walsh and many include photographs too.
This is a great book that highlights the achievements of young people everywhere whilst also sending a positive and encouraging message to all young readers that they too can achieve whatever they want if they are determined enough - no matter what setbacks they might face and no matter how underprivileged they may feel. The inclusion of so many modern day achievers helps make the book more current and attractive to young readers whilst also showing that not all great achievements were made in the past. A great addition any book shelf.