Stone Underpants by Rebecca Lisle

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Illustrations by Richard Watson

stone-undies-done

“It was cold in the Stone Age

When the icy wind blew it was freezing.

‘Brrrr! My bottom!’

‘I really do need something to keep my bottom warm,’ Pod told his Dad.

‘You could make something,’ Dad said.

‘Stone is very handy.'”

Stone Underpants

Spare a thought for poor Pod at this time of year. As the weather gets colder, we can avoid a chilly bottom by cranking up the heating, pulling on an extra layer, or hunkering down with a hot chocolate for company. Pod has no such luxuries. He lives in the Stone Age. Instead, he has to experiment with different materials in order to find a suitably bottom-warming pair of pants. We join him as he tries different pairs, all with comical consequences.

Cheeky!

This cheeky book (pun fully intended) will be enjoyed by children aged three years plus who will adore both Pod and the many references to his bottom. Young readers are transported to a different world and given a good giggle whilst they’re there.

I found Stone Underpants funny and charming. This is a story that’s obviously written and drawn with love and children will get that. Richard Watson’s illustrations are superb. As with all good picture books, the art adds opportunities for discussion and gives readers the power to add their own thoughts to the story.

Rocking it for New Readers

Picture books are so important: they are our first and most crucial opportunity to encourage reading for pleasure. They need to be fun, surprising and ideally a bit bonkers too. Stone Underpants has all of these covered.

You’ll love the way it lends itself to reading aloud and how Rebecca Lisle has used a structure that will encourage children to remember elements of the story and even join in. Needless to say, this is perfect for reading time and time again. There’s a lot of fun to be had here in the sharing of Stone Underpants for grown-ups and children, whether it be at home or at school.

Stone Underpants, to put it in simple terms, rocks.

 

Thanks so much to Maverick for sending me this lovely book!


The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

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Illustrations by Chris Mould

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” Do you know how magic works?

The kind of magic that gets reindeer to fly in the sky? The kind that helps Father Christmas travel around the world in a single night? The kind that can stop time and make dreams come true?

Hope.

That’s how. 

Without hope, there would be no magic.”

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

I’ve been waiting for this for, ooh, ages. Having absolutely loved Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas last year (my review here), this book has been much-anticipated at Books-a-Go-Go. There’s always a bit of a risk building something up, but I wasn’t worried. This is, after all, Matt Haig and Chris Mould, so nothing less than gorgeousness was expected. I wasn’t disappointed.

Christmas Eve

Victorian London, a city of contrasts. At the gloomy end of things (and about as far from Queen Victoria as you can get) is our Amelia: a girl with hope in her heart but troubles on her doorstep. Her mother is very ill and they’re struggling to get by on Amelia’s wage as a chimney sweep. Then there’s the dastardly Mr Creeper waiting in the wings to send Amelia to his workhouse should the worst happen. Shudder. But Amelia believes in goodness and wishes coming true; she believes in Father Christmas.

Miles and miles away, up in Elfhelm, something is badly wrong. What began as a faint tremor develops into a catastrophe that not even the elves can fix. Everything hangs in the balance. Christmas is under threat and the magic created by children’s hope begins to fade…

Father Christmas is going to need help this time, but is it too late to rescue both Christmas and Amelia? Set over two Christmases, this is a festive feast with a big soul and a oodles of adventure. Kids aged nine years plus will love it: Matt Haig has a narrative style children will trust to take them on a wonderful journey. He’s clearly on the side of his young readers and kids expect that kind of thing but don’t always get it. For children to become hooked on fiction, they need a need to hear more of this kind of voice. It also helps if the story is great too, which this is.

Chris Mould’s fabulous illustrations bring everything to life. They are happily plentiful and bring more Christmas joy than you could shake a candy cane at. Remind me again why all books aren’t illustrated? It really does seem a shame that they aren’t, doesn’t it? Especially when they add so much.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas is, as expected, a gorgeous book with some lovely surprising touches. I’m planning to reread both together before the big day. The Girl Who Saved Christmas will hopefully be adding a little more magic to your Christmas too!

 

Huge spangly thanks to Canongate for sending me this lovely book.


The Last Beginning by Lauren James

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The Last Beginning

The Last Beginning is Lauren James’ YA sequel to last year’s time travelling treat The Next Together. To read one without the other would be foolish and to be quite honest if you haven’t read The Next Together yet, then why not? Get a flavour for it by checking out my review here.

Previously…

The Last Beginning properly introduces teenager Clove, daughter of Matt and Kate from the first book. Clove was previously promised to be of great significance to events as they continue to unfurl forwards and backwards in time. Readers looking forward to finding out the full impact of this will not be disappointed.

Epic

I can’t reveal too much in this review as the pleasure in reading here is to be carried along for the ride. Know this though: there is further time travel in The Last Beginning, and some familiar settings and characters will be revisited. This time however, Clove brings a different dimension to events as she works to understand her parents’ destiny.

James narrates us through an absolutely epic plot line (I can’t begin to imagine how all-consuming it must have been to plan) but makes it feel somehow plausible. And that’s the thing, the feeling that creates an irresistible world to be carried into.

Get Prepared

If to read a book is to participate in an event- which I think it is- then prepare for a hell of a journey. This is an active read with anticipation and retrospection on a grand scale. Fans of The Next Together will enjoy the thrill of new characters and old, different perspectives and establishing fresh connections along the way.

To read in itself is to time travel so The Last Beginning is easily more than the sum of its parts. A fabulous book to read, discuss and just have a darned good think about! Personally, I can’t wait to see what Lauren James* does in the future.

 

Huge thanks to Walker Books for sending me this fabulous book.

* Rather chuffed to find out Lauren is also a former Bablake pupil like me, although at different points in the past!

 


Potion Commotion by Peter Bently & Sernur Isik

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potion-commotion

” The brew had gone barmy!

What hullaballoo!

Soon the whole cottage 

was filled up with goo.”

Halloween Hullaballoo

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book containing the word ‘hullaballoo’ must be held in great esteem, so I am delighted to be sharing one with you today. Potion Commotion, written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Sernur Isik, is an explosion of joy and delight for younger readers delivered in time for Halloween.

Free Spirit

Betty’s mum is off to the shops. Before she goes she warns Betty to stay indoors as there’s a dragon about and also tells her that once she returns she’ll cook a nice stew for dinner. However, as an independently minded young thing (with lots of marvellous free-spirited curly hair), Betty decides cooking looks easy and has a go at making the stew herself. As Betty and her mum are witches, anything could happen…

Potion Commotion!

Children will adore Betty and her adventuring as she creates the stew (pleasingly free-form), then loses control of it as it grows and grows and gushes through the town, and finally as she comes face to face with the dragon her mum warned her about. The story is told as a poem so it’s a pleasure to read either alone or out loud, as you wish. Reading aloud does allow opportunity for doing a dragon impression though- something I’d strongly recommend you don’t pass up on.

The artwork packs a punch and every page brings another burst of colour- just the thing to light up these dark nights. The pictures add to the narrative, as all the best picture books do, and you’ll be spotting new details with every read.

Potion Commotion: more fun than fireworks and definitely a favourite for Halloween!

 

Big thanks to Scholastic for sending me this lovely book.

 

 

 


Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker

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“Suddenly, there was a groan from over by the bedroom door and my eyes shot wide. I stared at the door handle, waiting for it to turn like in all the ghost stories I used to read. But another groan made me realise it wasn’t coming from the door; it was coming from the wardrobe. I gulped. The wardrobe creaked open a little wider, as if by invitation, and  I scrambled back on the cot till I felt the wall. I clutched the blankets tight around me. 

‘Help!’ I screamed.

But again no one came.”

Through the Mirror Door

I do love a scary book, but don’t find pleasure in reading anything so terrifying that I couldn’t give to a child in my class. There’s far more subtly and fascination for me in a story we can share with the whole family than there is in one that’s for ‘grown ups’ only.

My Halloween recommendation this year is a real beauty. A book to fire the imagination, connect you to characters and introduce worlds that will widen your eyes. Come on in…

Angela’s Worlds

Life has been cruel to Angela. When we first meet her she is on the verge of  further upheaval: leaving her current children’s home will either result in her starting again in another one, or there’s a chance she might be taken in by her mum’s sister and her family. This is all part of an ongoing nightmare that started for Angela on the night her own family was torn apart by tragedy, leaving her alone in the world.

Now this: an extended holiday in a dilapidated house in rural France with her aunt, uncle and cousins. And if she behaves herself, she may even get to live with them at the end of it. Not the greatest outcome for our Angela. Vile, spoilt cousins, an ineffectual uncle and an aunt who in another existence would certainly be sorted into Slytherin.

Secrets

However, there’s more than enough going on in the crumbling French manor house to keep Angela occupied, as secrets are revealed and a story from the past begins to unwind.

Besides the story itself, which is deliciously enticing and great fun to read, my favourite aspect of Through the Mirror Door is the brilliant way Sarah Baker has twisted two worlds together: Angela’s desperate real-life situation and those she has to deal with, combined with the otherworldly existence she discovers in France. I love the fragility of the portal that takes her there, and that it creates a situation for the reader where we are wonderfully uncertain as to what the next chapter will reveal. For me, it’s feels like Jacqueline Wilson meets Edgar Allen Poe, and that is a truly wonderful thing!

Perfect for Darker Nights!

I’m really looking forward to introducing this book to the Year Six children at school who will be thrilled by both the intriguing plot and the more spine-tingling touches. I don’t know about you, but this is exactly the kind of thing I want to read as the darker nights set in!

 


Finding Black Beauty by Lou Kuenzler

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“Ignorance is as harmful as cruelty, despite whatever intentions the person has.”

Finding Black Beauty

Finding Black Beauty by Lou Kuenzler is a sensitive and moving retelling of Anna Sewell’s Victorian novel Black Beauty. Suitable for readers aged ten years plus, this is a wonderful take on a classic family favourite.

Josie

Some of you may remember Joe from the original story: an inexperienced but well-meaning stable lad who bonds with Black Beauty. This time Joe is our central character and by changing the perspective of the story, Lou Kuenzler opens up a whole new spectrum of meaning for readers. Joe, we learn, is inexperienced for good reason: he is actually a young girl called Josie disguised out of necessity in order to escape a miserable future.

Having lost her father in a hunting accident, Josie’s world is turned upside down by terrible and sudden grief. As her mother left years ago preferring city life, Josie is effectively an orphan. Then when vile cousin Eustace inherits her home, everything she has ever known is removed piece by piece, the last straw being her beloved pony Merrylegs.

Driven by her love of horses, Josie decides to take charge of her destiny. By cutting off her hair and borrowing suitable clothes, she begins to carry out a plan. She stows away in the cart taking Merrylegs to his new home, hoping to find work there as a stable boy. Here she first meets Beauty and a bond is formed. Josie’s love for the horse reimagines Sewell’s emotional roller coaster through new eyes. The results are humbling. This is such a beautiful book. I was totally captivated by it and I think barely breathed for the last hundred pages. Did I cry? Of course I did! Prepare for this; you will need tissues.

Already a Classic

Impeccably researched and written as a perfect complement to the original, it’s as if Kuenzler has walked amongst the original players. She draws astute parallels between Beauty and Josie that bring them closer together. Both have lost close family in hunting accidents early in life and both were separated from their mothers before they should’ve been, although for different reasons. There’s no doubt they belong together, but will that be possible?

In the original text, Anna Sewell told the story from Beauty’s perspective: an emotive and effective way to tell a beautiful story with priority given in telling to animal welfare. In Finding Black Beauty none of this power is lost, rather it’s given extra strength by the parallels it draws in how Josie’s destiny too is shaped by those around her. To fully appreciate the dual perspective and how both books compliment each other, I’d highly recommend that this is read alongside the original. Scholastic are currently offering the original free when buying this sequel here.

Finding Black Beauty: already a classic in my eyes.

Thanks so much to Scholastic for sending me this book and giving me the opportunity to be part of this book tour.

 


The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

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Missing!

Apologies first. I would usually start a post with a quote from the book. Also, I wish this were a better picture. Unfortunately, I can’t include a quote or take a less blurry photo because my copy of The Apprentice Witch was last seen doing the rounds of my Year Six class about two weeks ago. I don’t expect to see it any time soon, or possibly ever. But the approval of ten year old children is a wonderful thing and better than any review I can write!

Arianwyn

When Arianwyn fails her witch’s evaluation- the only one of her cohort to do so- all she wants to do is run away as fast as possible. However, as this isn’t really an option, Arianwyn waits while her fate is decided by her grandmother (a respected elder) and Director Coot, head of the Civil Witchcraft Authority. Arianwyn will, it seems, become an apprentice witch with the chance to be re-evaluated in six months time. In the meantime, she will be posted to Lull: a remote village on the outskirts of the great wood crying out for a village witch, qualified or otherwise. And so her new chapter begins and a new world is introduced to lucky readers aged 9 years plus.

Book Induced Insomnia

The Apprentice Witch is a riveting read and hopefully just the beginning of our visits to Arianwyn’s world. This is a great story with so much for the reader to discover, and with the tantalising promise of adventure still to come. It simply bursts with magic, excitement, and the best and most varied cast of characters I’ve read for a very long time. I was totally absorbed and read into the early hours with that wonderful feeling of inability to put the book down and go to sleep.

Children will find this an easy book to connect with. There’s a compelling warmth and a lot of love coming through here that make it all the more special for the reader.

In thinking this I was reminded of the words of Ursula Le Guin, another splendid fantasy writer:

“The book is what is real, You read it, you and it form a relationship, perhaps a trivial one, perhaps a deep and lasting one. As you read it word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation.”

The Apprentice Witch invites children to experience a wonderful world as it unfolds and develops and that feels very real to me. A book bound to inspire a life long love of fantasy fiction.

 

 


The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan

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Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet's nose in this picture. Chocolate & dogs shouldn't really mix...

Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet’s nose in this picture. Well spotted!

” ‘In six days there will be no more chocolate in the world…ever!’

That’s what it said on The Seven Show.

Jelly had nearly reached the next level of Zombie Puppy Dash, but hearing this made her plunge the pink puppy into a huge tank of zombie dog food.”

The Great Chocoplot

The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan is a real winner for children seven years plus who like their stories on the lively side.

Both truly funny and imaginatively written, it’s going to tick the boxes for so many readers out there, and maybe even create a few new ones. This is another example of the kind of cracking (sorry) books coming from Chicken House at the minute and if you haven’t already, you should check out their range. Immediately. Well, in a minute.

Chocopocalypse!

After the announcement on The Seven Show that the chocopocalypse is quickly approaching, Jelly (yes I know, it is an awesome name isn’t it?) and her Gran put their heads together to try and get to the bottom of it. Obviously, plot-wise, there aren’t many things as potentially devastating as no more chocolate ever, but with Gran and Jelly on our side we unravel a wonderful mystery of global impact played out with local heart.

We take Jelly to our hearts straight away. On the surface she’s a regular girl from an ordinary family living in a normal town just like yours, but we all know really that there’s no such thing as ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’ and everyone is unique and special. Jelly is sparky, clever and a joy to read about.

Shout Out to all the Grandparents

A big shout out has to go to Gran: a caravan-dwelling, headphone-wearing, scientific icon for our times in my opinion, and Jelly loves her. I also loved Grandad, who we don’t meet as he is no longer with us, but who is described in such a beautiful way. I like this. It’s a little detail that will mean a lot to a lot of children.

Kids who’ve previously enjoyed the stories of Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Roald Dahl and David Walliams are going to click with The Great Chocoplot straight away; others will be drawn in by Sandra Navarro’s fabulous cover and will stay for the ride. A true Books-a-Go-Go book of glory and a feast of fun for young ‘uns everywhere!

 


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!