Strange Star by Emma Carroll

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Strange Star

It’s a gloomy old Saturday here in the West Mids and I’m wishing I was still reading Strange Star by Emma Carroll. If you haven’t already, I’d get yourselves a copy forthwith and settle in for some deliciously extraordinary happenings.

Lake Geneva, June 1816

At The Vila Diodati, Lord Byron is planning an evening of ghost stories with friends. His servant Felix has been sent to deliver the invitations to Mr and Mrs Shelley and Miss Clairmont who are staying nearby. The weather is unseasonable for June to say the least and the servants are discussing it:

” ‘It’s the comet causing all this queer weather,’ Frau Moritz said over her shoulder. ‘Comets are a bad omen. Always have been, always will be.’

Yet that didn’t explain why it was still cold, still stormy, even when the comet had nearly disappeared. “

A strange star indeed.

Lizzie Appleby

As preparations are made for the evening, a storm rolls over Lake Geneva, bringing early darkness. The stories begin but are interrupted by an apparent sighting of someone at the window and then by a loud knock at the door. The anticipation of ‘something’ is brilliant; the best I’ve read since my first encounter with The Turn of the Screw. Then it gets even more intriguing.

Felix opens the door to find a young girl, covered in scars and apparently dead. After trying to resuscitate her, the party abandons hope and drifts away- that is except for Felix and Mary Shelley who refuse to give up thankfully. The girl is Lizzie Appleby and she has an urgent story to tell: one that will both captivate you and chill you to the bone…

Honestly, I could just go on and on about Strange Star; I’ve already hit my ‘recommended word count’ for a blog post and don’t feel like I’ve even begun to do it justice.

So, What Do You Need to Know?

I can’t put you through several thousand words though, so what do you need to know?

Well, that it’s entirely suitable for children aged 10 years plus but still managed to spook me very satisfactorily. It’s also a masterclass in how to bring a scene to life: there’s this bit on a hillside in a snowstorm and another in a tunnel later on and I’m telling you, you will be so present you’ll feel the sting of the snow and taste the mustiness of the damp earth around you. You also need to know that it’s heavily bound up with Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and enough real-life elements to make you question what really happened and who really existed. And it’s oh so very good at it. Strange Star will also encourage further reading and further exploration of literature, of that I’m sure.

Great for fans of historical fiction and absolutely one of my favourite reads this year. More of this please.

 

 


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!

 


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.


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.


Apley Towers: The Lost Kodas by Myra King

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“She was about to get up and go home when she caught sight of the horses in the feeding paddock. They looked so calm, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. At that moment, Kaela was incapable of leaving. There was a small voice in the back of her head struggling to make itself heard. If she was completely still, she could hear it say: ‘Writing courses are for adults. You will look back and wish you had spent less time growing up, and more time with the horses.”

Cheered and Inspired

I’m currently one book into the Apley Towers series, with books two and three sitting next to me waiting to go. If book one, The Lost Kodas, is anything to go by, then I’m looking forward to several more hours of very happy reading. It’s a pleasure to read a book set in South Africa, because if there’s one thing that’s better than reading about horses, it would be reading about horses in beautiful and exotic surroundings.

For me, horsey books are a library essential: they appeal widely over the age range and have a sense of selflessness that only comes from putting another’s needs before your own. This series is no exception.  Apley Towers: The Lost Kodas left me feeling cheered, inspired and ready for more.

Neverland

Fourteen year old Kaela Willoughby and best friend Trixie see Apley Towers Stables as their own personal Neverland; horses are their passion and they are fully involved in the community there. They say busy people get more done and Kaela and Trixie certainly support that theory. With school work, extra curricular commitments and hours spent both teaching and helping out at the stables, the girls are fully stretched.

Choosing options at school is also causing Trixie confusion about future career choices, and Kaela’s hopes of attending a prestigious writing course are on her mind. There are aspects of self discovery along the way told from the dual perspective of both Kaela and Trixie and this works very well.

Complementing the girls are a wide cast of credible characters, most notably Phoenix, a friend via social media who lives in Canada and adds an extra dimension to the story. It feels like life, but better, as there are horses to enjoy along the way.

Love and Optimism

As is often the case in horsey fiction, the story culminates with a competition. What I love about Apley Towers: The Lost Kodas is that it’s not Kaela or Trixie that are participating, but the younger girls they’ve been coaching. This I adore. It speaks volumes about the kind of writer Myra King is and I adored this big-hearted and altruistic approach. That’s what makes the series for me; it has a sense of love and optimism.

I’d like to leave you to discover more for yourself, as I’m conscious that in regards to Kaela and Trixie’s development, you will much prefer taking it at the author’s pace. I’m looking forward to finding out more about them in books two and three (Made Powerful and Siren’s Song) as well as getting to know the horses better too.

Apley Towers: The Lost Kodas is a refreshing take on one of my favourite genres and a firm recommendation for pony mad kids.

 

Big thanks to Sweet Cherry Publishing for sending me this lovely series.


Raven by Tommy Donbavand

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Tommy V Cancer

I’m honoured to be reviewing the wonderful Raven by Tommy Donbavand today as part of the month-long Tommy V Cancer Blog Tour.

Raven

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” I tiptoed down the stairs, then took a moment to calm my breath before I went into the living room. This wasn’t going to go well- I already knew that- so I might as well be ready for the row that was about to come.

I took a last moment to enjoy the peace and quiet, then I went inside.”

There are a few things 15 year old Poppy would like. She would like everyone to call her Raven instead of Poppy, but that doesn’t seem to be catching on. She’d also like to be allowed to dye her hair black, but her mum’s put a stop to that. Still, she didn’t say anything about not dyeing it pink, did she? We meet Poppy just as she is taking advantage of this loophole and about to face the subsequent music…

Most of all though, Poppy would like two things back that she no longer has. The first is her twin brother Stephen, who vanished without warning seven months ago and hasn’t been seen since. Secondly, she’d like her own life back. As a consequence of Stephen’s disappearance, Poppy’s mum has been ultra protective with her, really clamping down on what she can and can’t do. This situation certainly hasn’t been helped by rumours of strange people meeting in the local woods…

As Poppy sees it, it’s up to her to find Stephen and sort things out once and for all.

I loved Poppy straight away: she’s bright, confident and stands up for what she believes in, plus she has pink hair, which is very cool! Raven is a thrilling read that packs quite a punch into its fifty pages. Tommy Donbavand knows what he’s doing here, creating intrigue and excitement quickly whilst allowing the reader the space to imagine what might happen next. Raven is a book to be devoured whole, shared, discussed and then most likely, read again. It’s clear that good things do come in small packages.

Raven by Tommy Donbavand is part of the wonderful Teen Reads collection from Badger Learning.  Currently numbering 36 in total, Teen Reads are a collection of short novels designed to be enjoyed by less able young adult readers and accessible to those with a reading age of 8 to 9 years. The books are designed to be dyslexia friendly, with bite sized text chunking and a well spaced layout, off-white paper and more mature themes to capture the imagination of readers aged 12 years plus.

About Tommy

Tommy

Tommy is the author of the popular 13-book Scream Street series for 7 to 10 year olds, published by Walker Books in the UK and Candlewick Press in the US.  His other books include Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform (winner of the Hackney Short Novel Award) for Barrington Stoke, Boredom Busters and Quick Fixes For Kids’ Parties (How To Books), and Making A Drama Out Of A Crisis (Network Continuum).

In theatre, Tommy’s plays have been performed to thousands of children on national tours to venues such as The Hackney Empire, Leeds City Varieties, and Nottingham Playhouse. He is also responsible for five episodes of the CBBC TV series, Planet Cook (Platinum Films).

As an actor, Tommy played the Clearlake MC in the West End musical Buddy: A veteran of pantomime, he has portrayed just about every comic character from Abanazer to an Ugly Sister.

Tommy lives in Lancashire with his wife and two sons.  He is a HUGE fan of all things Doctor Who, plays blues harmonica, and makes a mean balloon poodle.  He sees sleep as a waste of good writing time.

Over to You

Tommy is currently going through a very tough time, but we can help. There are lots of ways we can support him and his family as they deal with this hideous illness. Please take some time to read Tommy’s own blog which will keep you up to date with how he’s doing. You can buy his books and spread the word about how fabulous they are. Plus there’s more: you can follow the links here and here to support Tommy, become a patron, follow the ad links on his site or make a one-off donation. Please do what you can. Thanks, Beccy.

Tommy Tour 3

 

 

 


Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan

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“Quick heavy footsteps walked over the corner of the room. I could hear them on the tiled floor. I held up my tilelight with one trembling hand, but no shaking or confusion could explain what it showed: that no one was there.

The footsteps stopped just short of me and then, horribly, I could feel the definite presence of someone or something breathing into my face. I could hear and feel sharp, angry breaths. 

I bolted for the exit but that door slammed in my face. I grasped the ancient handle with slippery hands and pushed and pulled as hard as I could, forgetting which way it should open. It would not budge. Behind me, the footsteps were approaching stealthily.”

Suitable for readers of eleven plus, Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan is exhilarating and action-packed YA science fiction.

It’s 3016 and Earth has long since been uninhabited due to the devastating effects of war. Although life continues on Mars, with the population living under thick domes in contained cities, there are still many links to home. Our story is part based in New Cardiff, a Martian city built to replicate Cardiff on Earth and originally designed to create a feeling of belonging and familiarity for the first dwellers.

Here we meet Bree, an immediately friendly and likeable teenage girl living in New Cardiff and attending the prestigious Pioneer School.

Bree

When Bree is picked from her fellow students to be part of a mission to Earth, no one is more surprised than she is. Only the most academic students usually get to make up the research teams visiting Earth, and though she has many talents, including empathy and a gift for writing poetry, Bree is not a traditional straight A student. However, once she begins training, she begins to understand her worth and appreciate that diversity within a group creates a stronger team.

As Bree becomes part of the mission at the Cardiff Scientific Survey Organisation (SSO), she learns quickly that the public image of Earth and the classified factual information are two very different things. She is informed that there are dangers on Earth the team will have to face every day, weapons originally developed by Earthlings in the final war. These biological weapons, or dragonmansks, once created to protect, became too powerful and wiped out human life. Now, having established themselves as Earth’s dominant species, they appear indestructible. Because of these creatures, any plans for making Earth habitable again have been written off. Teams from Mars, we learn, are now focused on stripping the planet of its useful resources while they can.

Suspicion

In discovering just how much the SSO is holding back from the general public, a delicious seed of suspicion was created for me. I couldn’t wait for Bree to get to Earth and start to uncover the truth.

You should read Alien Rain for the following reasons:

  • I’m loving the love for Cardiff. There are stunning descriptions of Cardiff, written by someone who really knows it well and has the skills to re-imagine it as a post-apocalyptic world. Ruth Morgan brings beauty to dystopia and it feels extraordinary. Plus, it’ll open your eyes to the everyday loveliness of our planet, something I was all too happy to be reminded of.
  • It’s a more than slightly addictive page turner, that will take you through a range of events and emotional responses. I read Alien Rain straight after the brilliant Alone by D. J. Brazier and was still very much in the jungle, but within a few pages Ruth Morgan’s writing had transported me fully to Mars. I stayed up half the night reading Alien Rain, because I so wanted to reach the next twist in the tale. I wasn’t disappointed.
  • Adults who want to read but find time is not on their side will enjoy this just as much as their young adult counterparts. YA authors are amazing. They manage to convey concisely what most ‘regular’ fiction authors would find hard to achieve in double the page count. Alien Rain is a great example of a book that knows how to get you hooked and keep you enthralled in under 300 pages.
  • Alien Rain champions the importance of being yourself and recognising the power of all your talents, not just using the measure of academic results. I also loved the closeness depicted in the book between science and the arts, which are linked by the common goal of discovery. It sends a good message to young readers.

Alien Rain is a great read for superior beings, regardless of planetary provenance. Out of this world.

 

Big thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this copy.


The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

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” A twitching thing, it moves as if it were still alive.

But it can’t be. The hand isn’t attached to anything.

Sinews, veins and skin are dried up, discoloured, dead on the page. Yet it moves as if no one has told it. As if no one dares to say the word:

Drowned.”

I’ve just opened The Boy Who Drew the Future again to find this extract. Immediately I’m covered in goose pimples and wish I was starting it all over again.

Gripping

Suitable for readers of eleven plus, The Boy Who Drew the Future is a gripping read, beautifully told by Rhian Ivory. It’s about two teenage boys living in different times but inexplicably linked by their unusual talent for drawing the future.

In the present we have Noah, a good soul and intriguing character, just moved with his parents to the village of Sible Hedingham. A new start isn’t a bad thing: you see, Noah’s had problems in the past that cannot be rubbed out and redrawn. Much to the distress of his family, and try as he might, Noah has no control over the artwork he produces: often disturbing images of real life events, drawn before they happen. He does this  as if commanded by an unknown force, without choice and sometimes even in his sleep. In 2016, this is definitely a curse. This is not what we might call normal, and so it is little discussed in the hope it might go away- which of course it doesn’t.

In the past, we read from Blaze’s point of view, also told in Sible Hedingham but in 1865. Although Blaze also has the gift/ curse to draw people’s futures, it is partially acknowledged in this time frame. This certainly doesn’t make his life any easier than Noah’s though, for whilst some accept and even consult Blaze about their own lives, he knows this could very quickly backfire. Here in 1865, this gift has the power to provide a source of income, but also makes him incredibly vulnerable to local hostility. The rural 1800s feels very pre-Industrialisation and more in tune with medieval times than the present, which it of course must have been. Unlike Noah living today, Blaze is no one’s responsibility. He has no parents to worry about, nor to worry about him. Since his mother died, his only comfort is Dog, who is wonderful and much-needed as a source of love and comfort.

Fingers Crossed

The Boy Who Drew the Future tells their fascinating stories, unravelling the links and uncovering elements of past, present and future in the process. Chapters are equally shared between the boys, pleasingly short and action orientated, which had me binge-reading for long periods of time and kept the story feeling fresh throughout. Scenes are highly visual, varied and exciting; it’s easy to become submerged. You have been warned.

Both Blaze and Noah’s worlds are made all the more irresistible by the characters around them. Antagonists on each side were especially convincing and brilliantly tangible in their unpleasantness. You will, I guarantee, make all sorts of  sounds under your breath as you read and discover more about where the boys’ futures are leading them. This is a book that gets under the skin, leaving the reader prone to muttering like a lunatic in surprise, anger, triumph- all of that- throughout. There may even be pacing and tiny punches of the air at times.

It it ends completely, with no hint or hope given of a sequel, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed for another book, as I’d love to read more of these characters and felt sad to see them go. Although it’s YA in genre, I’d happily recommend The Boy Who Drew the Future to anyone who’s after something original and a bit special to escape into. Oh, and if you get the chance to see Rhian Ivory talking about it, as I did recently at Waterstones in Birmingham, then do. There are some really fascinating and a few spooky stories connected with this book, that are absolutely brilliant and well worth hearing!

Goose pimples. Need I say more, really?

You can find out more about Rhian Ivory here.

 


Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss: Good for the Soul

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Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss

Carnegie Longlist 2016

Jessica’s Ghost (suitable for readers of 11 years +) has been my whole day today: firstly reading it in one go, then pacing around the local woods thinking about it and finally sharing it with you. And therein now lies the problem, as I just want to tell you all about it. Everything. I won’t obviously, because that would ruin it for you and I’m not that ridiculous. Suffice to say, it’s well worthy of its long-list placing for the Carnegie Medal 2016 and I’ll certainly be looking for it amongst the short-listed titles later in the year.

Friendship

We begin with Francis, alone.

It’s a freezing cold school day in February and he’s chosen his location well: a bench at the far side of the school playing field, cold and exposed enough to know most of his fellow pupils will stay away in the warm indoors, yet in full view of the school building- an option not preferred by the smokers and the skivers.

He needs time to think. He’s not finding life easy or enjoyable, so being alone feels like a good move and this spot at this time of year provides that in bucketloads. So, you can imagine Francis’ surprise when a girl about his own age walks across the grass towards him and sits down at the other end of the bench. As she’s wearing a strappy summer dress, Francis presumes she must be cold and offers her a cup of tea from his flask. (He has a flask. I already love him.)

“The girl turned to face him, then turned her head in the opposite direction, as if to see who he was talking to. When she realised there was nobody else, and that he must have been talking to her, a look of shocked surprise crossed her face.

‘Are you …talking to me?’ she asked.

‘Sorry.’ Francis withdrew the offered mug. ‘Won’t happen again.’

‘You can hear me as well?’

‘Yes,’ said Francis. ‘Sorry about that, too.’

The girl frowned. ‘But nobody can see me! Or hear me!’

Because, as she goes on to demonstrate, Jessica is dead. She’s been dead for about a year, has no memory of how she died, just that she found herself in a hospital room one day and knew that she was. Francis is the first person to acknowledge her since that day, so I guess it’s pretty shocking for both of them. However, apart from the obvious difference, they find they have a lot in common, like each other and begin to hang around together.

Square Pegs

Francis places his trust in Jessica, showing her his secret: a hobby room at the top of his house where he designs clothes and dresses dolls based on different styles and sub-cultures. Although this seems very cool to me and probably to you too, can you imagine the flack he, a teenage boy, would get at school if anyone had found out about this? Heaven help anyone who’s a bit different in secondary school. Unfortunately, someone did find out and has been making Francis’ life fairly miserable since, teasing him and making jokes at his expense. This has been hard for Francis to take but having Jessica as a friend helps, and life gets better still when fate brings more friends along; first Andi, and then Roland, who can also both see and hear Jessica, and are also both square pegs in the round holes of life.

There are questions you’ll be longing to find out the answers to: how did Jessica die? Why can these three alone see her? The answers will leave you amazed, emotional and possibly also having to go for a brisk walk around the park in order to take it all in.

Good for the Soul

Andrew Norriss is well-known for writing funny books and really, if you can make people laugh, I reckon you can do anything. Though this is certainly not a funny book, there are lovely glimmers of humour throughout, as there always is in life I guess. And this feels like a real life, one that I’m sure will be recognisable to young adults and one which not only tells a cracking story but also looks after its reader along the way.

Jessica’s Ghost is an absolutely captivating and beautifully written tale of how valuable friendship and kindness are, in good times and bad, and how we never know what is around the corner.  There is authenticity here, a whole little world and more than a little to hope for. A book with soul.

Jessica’s Ghost is eye-opening, honest, brave, and most certainly one for anyone who walks to the beat of their own drum.


Reading for Pleasure: A Primary School Guide

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On Reading for Pleasure in Schools

Reading fiction is an emotional business. You don’t need to have wept your way through many Morpurgo endings to know that. With emotional response key to encouraging the reading of fiction books for pleasure, how can we get children to relate in a positive way? According to government reports, reading for pleasure increases when children have access to books, if they’re rewarded for (bribed into) reading, or see people around them doing it. True enough, but fairly general and more than a little obvious. It’s up to the schools to understand what’s going wrong- because something is going wrong and we clearly aren’t making enough of the kids in our schools want to independently read fiction. So how can we begin to change that?

What’s Up With Reading for Pleasure?

Silent reading straight after lunch is really popular in primary schools and I think one of the reasons we fail to promote a love of reading to so many of our pupils. We take children at the time of day they most want to talk to us and to each other and instead we make them sit in silence. This is tantamount to using reading as a punishment and needs to stop. Kids have so much going on at lunchtime: they might have had a really good experience that they want to talk about, or maybe they’ve had a fall out and feel awful. They come in exhilarated, emotionally engaged and ready to communicate. We see it every day and yet we suppress it. Why? Honestly, it’s usually used as an exercise to ‘calm the kids down’ before the afternoon’s lessons.

“Oh, I just love reading. It’s so calming.”

Said no-one ever.

It’s a really unnatural change of state and helps nobody except maybe teachers trying to organise afternoon resources or sort out playground issues that should have already been dealt with. Essentially, it’s a holding task. I’ve seldom seen individual reading for pleasure work in primary school and I will continue not to whilst we treat it this way. It feels like the last vestiges of the Victorian Education System hanging on for dear life and has no place in schools, especially not straight after lunch, and we should scrap it. There, I’ve said it.

A Way Out

Instead, spend more time with a class reader. Complete at least three a year and if your knowledge begins and ends with Roald Dahl,  well hey, that’s a good start and beyond that you can ask for a recommendation- I’ve got a few suggestions at the bottom of the page. Many schools like their teachers to choose class readers that fit their particular area of the creative curriculum. That’s a nice idea but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you just need to read a book because it’s a great book, not because you’re studying the Victorians and it name checks Dr Barnardo.

Another solution is to prepare well thought out guided reading groups. These can be brilliant and much more pertinent and inspiring than silent reading time. Provide the children with books that are exciting, suitable, well-researched and of course pre-read by teachers. Let them take them home if they ask. Make the time after lunch a social time, a circle time, a time for talk! Include in it the opportunity for your class to talk about what they’re reading and what they think of it. With reading, we need to create a buzz, not a zzz.

Some schools will be reticent to kick out silent reading altogether, so I would encourage them instead to look at different approaches. Empowering pupils with the decision of when to read worked well for me last year. I gave my Year Fives the option of taking fifteen minutes out each afternoon to read their books. They could go to the book corner, or somewhere away from the group, and just read. Or not. It was up to them. Many chose to do this regularly, especially if they were reading something they really enjoyed. Some didn’t. There was no pressure because through my class readers and guided reading groups I made sure everyone engaged with fiction every day. It worked perfectly, no-one took advantage of it or used it as a way to avoid lessons. Kids never do when given the opportunity to own their learning do they? It was the how I managed to get individual, independent reading for pleasure to work.

My Recommended Reading for Pleasure Class Readers for Key Stage Two

I strongly advocate at least one reader a year is bought as a whole class set . This way everyone gets to experience the wonder of reading together as a group.

Year Three

The key time for engaging children in fiction. I’d suggest plenty of humour, imagination, linked activities and seizing the opportunity to introduce longer stories.

 

stick man big bum

The Stick Man With a Big Bum. Very funny story of Eric Trum and Johnny Staples. Includes lots of fun activities for children to try out in school and at home.

 

The adventures of Billy Slipper and his delightfully rude cat. A good route into longer stories.

Jumblecat by Archie Kimpton. The adventures of Billy Slipper and his delightfully rude cat. A good route into longer stories.

Year Four

The perfect time for introducing thought-provoking fiction and using reading time to travel beyond the bounds of normality.

An original and mystical tale which will enchant children.

Varjak Paw by SF Said. An original and mystical tale to enchant the whole class.

Touching, thought provoking and hilarious, plus comes to life when read out loud.

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. Thought-provoking and hilarious, plus comes to life when read out loud.

Year Five

Showing the power of fiction through different genres, these two books will get everyone engaged and talking.

Possibly the kindest children's book ever.

Wonder by RJ Palacio. Possibly the kindest children’s book ever.

Top hole murder mystery to enjoy puzzling out with your class!

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens. Top hole murder mystery to enjoy solving with your class!

Year Six

Bigger books with big themes, two gems that both deal with identity and diversity, plus the stories are second to none!

Morpurgo at his most brilliant and perfect for Year Six.

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo. Morpurgo at his most brilliant and perfect for Year Six.

Compulsive reading looking at life from a different point of view.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Compulsive reading, looking at life from a different point of view.