The Snowflake Mistake

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By Lou Treleaven & Maddie Frost

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“High, very high, almost too high to see,

an ice palace floats like a ship on the sea.”

In that ice palace lives a hard-working Snow Queen and her playful daughter Princess Ellie. Here, clouds are gathered and a special machine creates snowflakes from them. While the Queen ensures all the snowflakes come out of the machine on time, perfectly regular and identical to each other, Ellie prefers to run carefree with her feathered friends.

Snow!

Then one wintry day, the Queen has to go out on business and leaves Ellie in charge of the snowflake making machine. Ellie, however, becomes distracted from her task. When she notices grey clouds forming, she rushes to make the snowflakes by using the double speed button. Disaster strikes: the machine grinds to a shuddering halt! As the children below wait expectantly for snow, Ellie has the idea of making snowflakes by hand, cutting them from the clouds and creating each one individually.

How will the Snow Queen react to Ellie’s changes? Will Ellie make enough snowflakes in time for the children be able to play in the snow?

Enchanting

The Snowflake Mistake is an enchanting wintry treat spreading the message that it’s good to be different!  Lou Treleaven’s descriptions are so delicious, you’ll be simply longing to read them aloud. Gorgeous rhyming couplets swirl around Maddie Frosts’s ethereal skies, creating layer on layer of loveliness.

I kind of want to frame this one...

I kind of want to frame this one…

This is a really generous book: besides the scenes high in the sky, we can also see plenty going on down below. There are children dressed in bright winter woollies, curious little houses with coloured walls; there are bears, foxes and dogs too. All these extra details are waiting for readers to come along and bring them to life, to add their narratives to the main story.

The Snowflake Mistake offers a myriad of possibilities to young readers who may choose to read alone or with others, create snowflake art, even perform it as a play or create a song or a dance. Children are free to bring their own brand of creative magic- the sky’s the limit here!

For children (and adults) who can’t wait for this winter’s first snowfall, The Snowflake Mistake will bring an early sprinkling of magic.

 

Big sparkling thanks to Maverick for sending me this lovely book.


Mr Mustachio

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By Yasmin Finch & Abigail Tompkins

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” As Mr Mustachio marches down the street, his extra long, super-duper, curly-wurly moustache flies wildly in the wind, and he smiles with pride.”

Enamoured

Mr Mustachio is a funny and original picture book that the whole family will love.

Mr Mustachio has excellent taste. Who doesn’t love a man in a full length camel coat and a Cuban heel? His moustache is also quite the thing: very long and curly and something he is quite rightly proud of. As you can tell, I’m quite enamoured by him.

When the story begins, all is going well for our fuzzy friend. It’s a lovely day and he’s off for a picnic at the local park. Then disastrously, a freak roundabout accident spells the end for Mr Mustachio’s beloved soup strainer as it becomes irreparably tangled…

Tangled

Many kind souls try to help him untangle his whiskers, but without success. We have one super strong girl, two clever boys and ten tall teachers amongst the volunteers. (I love the detail in the illustration of the teachers who all wear lanyards, quite rightly.) The moustache, tragically, must be removed.

Although his moustache is a thing of the past, Mr Mustachio will not be beaten.

An alternative for his nose neighbour must be found and Mr Mustachio has lots of wonderful and hilarious ideas that are revealed in the story. What would you go for?

Inspired!

This book is a total hoot and kids are of course going to love it. Adults and children reading together will not only enjoy the story but will also have fun imagining who else might have come to help Mr Mustachio and what other crazy alternatives they can think of for his missing moustache.

I’m sure teachers will be excited by the possibilities presented here for creating imaginative ways to encourage writing for pleasure, as well as the reading for pleasure that this story will inspire.

Again, like The Libearian which I recently reviewed, this is an excellent book  for adults to have a dialogue with children about, whilst enjoying a wonderful story – how great is that?

As Mr Mustachio would say, fantabulous!

 

Thanks to Maverick for sending me this cracking book!


The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison

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Beyond Boundaries

Some authors send their readers straight into their worlds: there is no door into Tolkien’s Middle Earth, no way of gaining entrance to Le Guin’s Earthsea. The only way in is by opening the book and beginning to read.

Others provide a portal, some means of gaining entrance; usually a deliberate action by the protagonist, if not at first then afterwards. Lucy may have stumbled into Narnia during a game of hide and seek, but each time after she wanted to visit. Pullman’s Will Parry sees his parallel world and makes a decision to enter and Rowling’s Harry Potter is shown the various ways into the wizarding community of Britain.

Whether travelling by rabbit hole or wardrobe, tornado or train, there is a reassurance from the outset that as we are clear about the way in, we may also feel in some way secure about a way out. We are relatively free to enjoy the excitement and dangers of another world with a degree of detachment.

When you set out to read The Other Alice, you’re granted no such protection…

The Other Alice

In The Other Alice, Michelle Harrison’s other world isn’t sought or visited via a handy entrance; instead it comes to us unannounced and most definitely without invitation. The boundaries of truth and fiction become wonderfully hazy. Magic doesn’t seem like the stuff of fantasy stories anymore, but real and ancient and quite possible. Harrison has a knack of making magic and fantasy so close and so conceivable that it feels risky. Be careful what you wish for; it might just come true.

The Museum of Unfinished Stories

The Other Alice is narrated by Mitch, who is telling us a memory of his childhood. Looking back, he tells us about his older sister Alice who loves writing stories to the point of obsession. Mitch has grown up hearing Alice’s brilliant creations and so is understandably a huge fan of stories and riddles himself.

When Alice vanishes without a trace, it is Mitch who must unravel the mystery and save his sister. By discovering and then using her secret book ‘The Museum of Unfinished Stories’, he begins to reveal the full extent of the problem. This is no ordinary book. How can it be when its characters have seemingly stepped off the page and are walking around Mitch’s home town, including a girl who looks just like Alice?

The thing about book characters is that there are both heroes and villains. With chunks of the ‘The Museum of Unfinished Mysteries’ missing, Mitch cannot hope to decipher alone which is which. By taking a risk and placing his trust in some of his sister’s creations, he begins to solve the riddle…

The Other Alice is one of the best written and most beguiling books I’ve read this year, with hands-down the most intriguing and arresting plot-line. For readers aged 11 years plus, this is a mind-blowing meta-fiction read that will have you reliving the story in your head and looking twice at the people you see in the street. Total immersive brilliance.


The New Libearian

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By Alison Donald & Alex Willmore

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“A hush fell over the library.

Storytime was about to begin.”

The New Libearian by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore is a gorgeous picture book, suitable for children of three years plus (and adults of any age).

As The New Libearian begins, the hush that falls over the library is a wonderful one. It’s brought about by children in anticipation of the story they are waiting for, rather than by the stereotyped librarian of the past with their finger to their lips. Waiting on squishy bean-bags for their story time, the children fidget impatiently. Mrs Merryweather the librarian is late and they are worried that something isn’t right. Led by the intrepid Dee, they decide to go in search of her.

The children’s (and the reader’s) journey through the library is a thrilling one. We follow the bookshelves through galaxies, into oceans and along runways. Alien creatures peep over the stacks and huge creaking galleons set sail along the aisles. Beanstalks burst through the floor and slippery Octopus tentacles curl into Kids’ Corner. Throughout The New Libearian, books spring into life, their contents spilling off the shelves and onto the carpets.

This is a wonderful and obviously true observation of libraries that the author and illustrator have got spot on. We adults know that books, both fiction and non-fiction, will take us into new and exciting worlds. Here it’s lovely to see that truth presented to children, and in such magical terms.

And then there’s the bear. He shrugs, he nods, he chews the books. He stands slightly pigeon-toed and is entirely adorable. Every story should have one. He also gives adults reading The New Libearian out loud the chance to roar and growl very loudly, which is always a pleasure!

The New Libearian is a proper picture book: both the story and pictures work together brilliantly and will delight young children. Alex Willmore’s illustrations are glorious. I love the slightly retro colour palette and styling of the characters, especially the magnificent Mrs Merryweather who, rest assured, is going to be fine. It reads beautifully, and in addition to this there’s a dialogue to be had here with youngsters who will want to share their opinions and read between the lines to solve the mystery.

Pictures are narrative and descriptive, so children who aren’t yet readers or have a limited knowledge of English will get plenty from it to without necessarily having a full understanding of all the words. Young readers will be keen to point out bear clues everywhere as they follow the children’s journey through the shelves. From the recipe book for honey, the sticky desk and the big bear paw prints to follow, there is plenty to talk about. But do you know what children are going to say most of all? Two things:

Can we read it again?

and

When can we go to a library?

and how can that not be a good thing?

 

Many thanks to Maverick for sending me little wonderful book.

 

 


Letter to Pluto by Lou Treleaven

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Letter to Pluto by Lou Treleaven is part of the Maverick Books Junior Fiction range and my final review for you of a lovely collection coming out this Autumn. All three books are ideal for six to nine year olds who are beginning to explore fiction texts.

Half the battle with young readers is convincing them to keep reading, to place a trust in an author who makes them want to read on. Letter to Pluto will, I think, do just that.

Letter to Pluto

When Jon’s teacher Mrs Hall introduces a penpal project at school, he is none too impressed. The situation is only worsened when he discovers he is writing to a girl! However this isn’t a problem for long, as Jon gets to know more about penpal Straxi and her home planet Pluto. He begins to enjoy the project, finding it more exciting than he ever imagined.

Presented as a series of letters between Jon and Straxi, Letter to Pluto is a lively and engaging futuristic adventure. Lou Treleaven’s excellent illustrations are happily dotted around most pages which just goes to prove that, as we know, all the best letters include drawings.

Cheesy Grin

Letter to Pluto is one of those books that just says fun to you as soon as you open it. It certainly put a big, cheesy smile on my face. It’s varied in content and introduces to children an abundance of ways to read and write: as well as the lovely letters we have menus, cookbooks, nature notes for Pluto’s native bird the Blue-Headed Skwitch (a bird well worth seeing if you’re ever in the area), newspaper clips, envelopes, and much more besides. Could this possibly be the solution for kids who think reading is boring?

Keep Reading!

As a teacher, it brings to mind LOADS of children I’ve taught over the years who would love it, of differing ages and abilities, but all in need of a book like this. Lou Treleaven’s Jon is really genuinely funny and children will like and relate to him. Some of his comments had me laughing out loud, as they will for kids too.

The great thing about Letter to Pluto is that it will work hard throughout the primary age range. There’s nothing to stop children in Years Five and Six enjoying this story too.

We need more books like Letter to Pluto that not only encourage children to read in the first place, but also light the spark that makes them want to read more. Priceless.

 

Big thanks to Maverick for sending me this lovely book.


The Unicorns of Blossom Wood by Catherine Coe

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unicorns blossom

The Unicorns of Blossom Wood are here to add a little sparkle to children’s bookshelves this autumn. Catherine Coe has added three new titles to her Blossom Wood series, including Festival Time and Believe in Magic. These books follow the scenario of  The Owls of Blossom Wood where the children are transformed into owls, but this time we’re galloping rather than flying!

With a whole lot of imagination packed in to less than 100 pages, children will be transfixed by the adventures of cousins Cora, Isabelle and Lei. The girls are brought together for a camping holiday in England and upon exploring the area they find an entrance to a magical world where they become unicorns and many wonderful things happen.

All three girls come from different backgrounds and the author quickly establishes individual personalities for them. As they explore Blossom Wood, they find are they all different there too and have their own magical gifts. Essentially for young imagineers, both books begin based in reality and with peers. This allows plenty of scope for children to kick off their own unicorn adventures together, wherever they are.

For kids aged six years plus who enjoy playing make-believe, these books are great value for money. Each contains an illustrated story (around 80 pages) plus a range of extra activities such as quizzes, maps, games and fact files, making it a really fun and accessible choice for newer readers.

The variety of activities in the books also brings opportunities here for children to read socially. They can easily share the fun with friends or siblings. This is always a special thing, as reading is so often seen as an activity that must always be solitary and silent, which not all children are naturally comfortable with. The Unicorns of Blossom Wood give their young readers a choice of how to read and I love that.

The Unicorns of Blossom Wood are an enchanting series to inspire young readers.

 

Big thanks to Scholastic for sending me these lovely books.

 


Re-reading for Pleasure and Purpose

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“My child only ever reads *insert book or series here*. How can I get them to read something different?”

Any primary teacher will tell you that there are some questions regarding children’s attitudes to reading that never seem to go away. One that I’ve spent a lot of time considering is the issue adults- both parents and teachers- have when a child is repeat reading the same book or series of books. The concern is that the child treads water academically, consequently restricting their breadth of experience. More often than not I’ve found the questioning adult already has a solution: to interest the child in a new book of a similar theme. The hope is that I, as the teacher, can suggest the right one.

The Answer Is You Shouldn’t…

I’ve found this to be something of a poisoned chalice. Introducing children to their next favourite book or finding something to excite a reluctant reader is a wonderful thing, but what about when the child has already found that perfect match? That’s not something I would ever want to dismiss. Sometimes, the only book a child wants to read is the one they’ve just finished.

I get this; I read like this as a child and to some extent if my ‘to read’ pile runs low, I will happily revert to type. When I was eight I would greedily borrow Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr from the mobile library every week. Likewise, the Alice in Wonderland audio book from Earlsdon Library. At home, even though I’d inherited a stack of varied Enid Blytons from my brothers, I was only ever really interested in the boarding school books. The Famous Five never got a look in. I would read my way through Darryl Rivers’ school career up to the point where she is leaving for university and feel so sad that it was all over that I would immediately return to the very first term again.

I didn’t see a problem with repeated reading back then, and to be honest I still don’t. What we read is our personal choice. Once we question someone else’s personal choice, no matter how solid we may think our intentions are, we interrupt a crucial process.

Margaret Meek considers how children read in the brilliant How Texts Teach What Readers Learn.  This was written in 1987 and is so good that Meek’s thoughts are certainly still pertinent today. I’d recommend school leaders take a couple of hours to read through this short but mighty book for insight and inspiration. When considering the issue of repeated reading, Meek makes the excellent point that maybe we, the adults, are actually less not more skilled than children in making reading decisions. That more often than not, we are the ones who read only what we’re comfortable with and never happily take risks.

To illustrate this point, I was reminded of a conversation recently had with an ex-colleague who loves reading. She explained her favourite genre: she reads books where the plots were set in American High Schools, based around sports- ideally hockey- and involving a friends to lovers story line which is written in the first person. Pretty specific, and that’s fair enough, because as an adult she has the benefit of complete and utter control over the contents of her own kindle. Be honest, most of us do this to some extent: we stick to type.

Children, on the other hand, are constantly being introduced to new genres. More than that, they are expected to read, absorb, comprehend and even emulate texts in style, week in week out as part of their ongoing learning. Maybe they’re the adventurous ones. Maybe adults should question whether they are really the right ones to be making all the decisions about children’s independent reading habits.

What are the benefits of repeated reading? Simply this: children need to read the same thing again and again.

Truly no one reads the same book twice.

The first read might tell a child what happens, but it’s by reading for the second, third, tenth time where true discovery can take place. The practice of reading becomes easier, new words are understood and noted, sub-text is revealed too. Multiple meanings may even emerge. The child begins to get into the author’s head, to really comprehend fully the whole spirit of the book. In short, they are undertaking the sort of immersion teachers dream of, but doing it all on their own and quite naturally from an early age.

Literacy leaders won’t need me to point out how this could impact across the board when assessing reading, including the holy grail of developing inference. This is something that can be gained by reading picture books right through to Middle Grade titles. We mustn’t make the mistake of underestimating the power of something as seemingly simple as Rosie’s Walk or The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

For me it’s all about celebrating independence and trusting a child to make their own decisions. For schools running reading schemes, it shows clear progression from a mind-set that reading is about completing all the levels to one where reading is about pleasure. Now that’s something worth having a conversation about. Have that conversation. Ask the children what they love about the books they go back to time and time again. You never know, you might learn something.


Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

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” Another harpoon smashed through Dragonfly’s hull, and whirring saw blades cut through the steel ribs, ripping cracks in the ships tin chest. In a jagged screech, the cracks were wrenched into a doorway, and two silhouetted figures appeared. Their silver eyes glinted in the light. The thinner of the figures raised a stick with a skull handle, then John felt a blinding shaft of pain, and everything went black…”

Breath-Taking

When Lily’s father John Hartman disappears following a terrible crash in his airship, it quickly becomes clear that not all those around her have her best interests at heart. John, a famous inventor, has it seems attracted the attention of some very unsavoury people who are closing in on her, hellbent on finding something of her dad’s- but what?

Lily is plunged into a completely different world. Thank goodness she has new friend Robert, son of the local clockmaker, and also dear Malkin, a mechanical fox made for her by her father, there by her side in this breath-taking and original adventure.

Thrilling

Cogheart, suitable for children of ten years plus, is a steam-powered triumph, an ingenious and fresh take on adventuring in Victorian England. Readers should get ready for danger and imminent peril in a world of automatons and airships. Think Christmas Day Doctor Who special, only much, much better, as Bunzl’s beautiful writing is as soulful as it is thrilling. I must admit to experiencing the full emotional rollercoaster here, and along with some fairly hefty breath holding, I might have got something in my eye once or twice whilst reading…

Fantastic New Voice

Both heroes and villains make Cogheart a really special book. The villains, especially Roach and Mould, are every bit as terrifying as you’d want them to be. Lily is easy to root for: brave, spirited and happily very much a young girl. Robert, I love. He’s so human and normal, completely real and every bit a hero. Malkin: well he’s a mechanical fox. This is an addition of great glory that leaves me wondering why children’s literature hasn’t given us one of these sooner? For this Peter Bunzl, I thank you enormously.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl introduces a fantastic new voice for children’s literature, up there with M.G Leonard’s Beetle Boy and joining other great story tellers such as Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman. Check it out now and love it forever.


Grandma Bendy & the Great Snake Escape by Izy Penguin

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“Everyone held their breath, terrified of where the snake would land.

The snake twirled in the air and began to fall back down to the floor where… it bounced.

And bounced

and bounced

all around the room.”

Fresh and Funny

Maverick Books are launching their brand new junior fiction range for kids aged 6-9 years in October and this is my second of three posts introducing the range.

Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape by Izy Penguin is fresh and funny, a proper little gem for younger readers. From the very first page I was really feeling the fun.

Children are going to love the style here: Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape is incredibly varied in content and each page is trimmed with Izy Penguin’s lovely illustrations. A great choice for any children waiting to have their eyes opened to the wonder of books. I particularly liked the fabulously illustrated introduction of characters, the double page map of the town of Pumperton (the eagle-eyed amongst you will spot on the town sign that it’s twinned with Bottumburper and Le Pongue- ooh la la!) and the selection of funny headlines from the local paper.

Snake!

It’s the first day back at school in 4B and time for show and tell. Mike Grimace* the school bully has brought in a snake which has only gone and escaped! Lucy has somehow been blamed for this and the whole town of Pumperton are going crackers with the snake fears. It’s up to Lucy, her brother Max and outstanding family elder Grandma Bendy to catch the snake and sort everything out. Children will be keen to read on and find out what happens next.

Giggling Your Socks Off

Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape is an ideal individual reader, but teachers- this is also the sort of book to read to your class, especially if you’re introducing fiction genres. Funny books are a great place to start, especially ones that can be completed quickly. There are plenty of opportunities to discuss where the snake could’ve gone, lots of funny and interesting characters, and a whole heap of silly stuff going on that will have kids giggling their socks off.

* There are a range of excellent names in Grandma Bendy and the Great Snake Escape. Also see shopkeeper Val Crowe and family dog Spag Bol.

 

Big thanks to Maverick Books for sending me this copy!

 

 

 


Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan

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” That morning I have no clue what’s happened. No inkling. No foreboding. Not a sausage. I must be the opposite of psychic, cos I’m actually almost happy.”

Suitable for readers of 13 years plus, Eden Summer is Liz Flanagan’s debut novel and an absolute must for your summer ‘to read’ pile, whether you’re a YA or a NSYA (Not So Young Adult).

School in September, GCSE year. The day has started well for Jess but is all that’s about to change. She’s about to find out that best friend Eden has been missing since last night and it feels like she is the last to find out.

So unfolds an irresistibly thrilling read, the story of Jess and Eden’s precarious summer and the background building up to it: a web of circumstance and secrets, cause and effect. Sufficed to say, that was me out of all avoidable human contact for the next two to three hundred pages as I ran with Jess, questioning her world and doing everything possible to find Eden and return her home.

The setting of the quirky town amongst hills, moorland and rivers is perfect; Jess and Eden couldn’t be anywhere else and you won’t want to be either. The past plays a vital role here and both girls have had a hard time in the build up to Eden’s disappearance, it’s fair to say more than most. Liz Flanagan brings the girls and their contexts to us with care and authenticity.

Perception and identity are expertly handled throughout the book and this for me is where my thoughts return to post reading. This makes me think Eden Summer would be a walloping good choice for a book group discussion as there’s an awful lot to talk about and reflect on, as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable read.

For those who are after a book to fall deeply into (and who in their right mind isn’t?), you owe it to yourself to check out Eden Summer.