Gaslight by Eloise Williams

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It isn’t every book that wins the whippet seal of approval, you know.

” My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”

And so starts an intriguing prologue that leads us into Nansi Howell’s life.

Nansi

In chapter one, we find Nansi five years older and in the dubious “care” of Sid who runs a theatre along with other less salubrious ventures. Under Sid’s control, she has learned to take on other identities as both an actor and a thief. Still, Nansi is determined to hold on to her hopes and dreams doing what she can to uncover any clues as to where her mother might be.

Then the arrival of two new theatre acts have an impact on Nansi’s life that means things will never be the same again. Readers aged nine years plus will thrill at being plunged into Eloise Williams’ tale of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi is a character to take to the heart and one who children will find a great empathy for. Gaslight is full of surprises and as good an adventure as you could possibly want and as I’ve come to expect from Firefly Press who consistently publish amazing children’s literature. And look at that cover! Isn’t it just beautiful?

Gaslight

I’ve been looking forward to reading Gaslight for a long time and now I’ve finished it the one thing that strikes me as amazing is the amount of heart and drama Eloise Williams has created in less than 200 pages.  There’s huge depth of story and as I read, I felt like Gaslight functioned as an ink and paper time machine, with surroundings as real as you would wish for. This is exactly what makes me want to share it in class: to see the response from children to not only a cracking adventure plot, but also to the wider picture of Nansi’s life. I fully anticipate mass gasping and holding of breath and hands raised with questions that just can’t wait. I’m pretty convinced Gaslight is one of those books that keeps kids glued even after the home-time bell has rung. I’m looking forward to finding out!

Gaslight: a vivid and breath-taking piece of story-telling brilliance.


Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

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Book seen here with terrifying Easter Bunny

“It began on a Friday, as strange things often do.”

Who Let the Gods Out

Elliot’s worries are very much grounded in the real world. His mum isn’t well and whilst Elliot is trying to hold everything together, the money problems keep coming. If he doesn’t find £20,000 in exactly one week they will be turfed out of their farm for good with nowhere to go.

But sometimes life surprises you with a bolt from the blue.

(Or a constellation.)

Possibly the last thing Elliot was expecting to land in their cowshed was Virgo: a young immortal from Elysium, on Earth to deliver ambrosia to a prisoner kept by the Gods near his home. Specifically, under Stonehenge. Thrown together by fate, they join forces but when the delivery goes wrong and the pair accidentally release Thanatos, diabolical Daemon of Death, things get a bit dicey. With the whole of the human race under threat, it’s time to get the big guns involved. Enter Zeus and a cast of Gods like you’ve never seen them before.

MG Roller Coaster

Who Let the Gods is a substantial MG roller coaster of an adventure.  It’s a big story- over 350 pages- and is packed full of action and humour. It’s properly roll around on the floor can’t get your breath funny. The characters are varied and hilarious. For example:

Charon the ferryman crossing passengers over the river Styx is genius, a kind of London cabbie:

“Right-o, we’ll take the Severn- the Wye’s murder this time of day.”

And Zeus, retired for the past 2000 years. An ageing Lothario, schmoozing mortal women and having a blast:

“…he was rather surprised to find Zeus in a badly fitting light-blue tuxedo with a frilly shirt, holding a cheese and ham vol-au-vent. The long white hair was there, albeit badly slicked back with hair gel. And it wasn’t a strapping chest bursting out so much as a gigantic belly.”

Then there’s Sisyphus, who I’m pleased to report has a lisp. Thithyphuth.

I’ll leave you to discover the episode with Her Maj the Queen; sufficed to say it’s rather surprising!

Reader Response

Whether it’s a main character or a brief encounter, the attention given to reader response is second to none. This is why I’d love to teach it and see those reactions first hand. If I were sharing this with a class, I’d have a whale of a time. I’d be going all out with drama, role play, anything to get the children up and enjoying the pure joy Who Let the Gods Out gives. Fun and learning, together at last!

Who Let the Gods Out is the first part of a series and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, out in the summer.

 

 

 

 

 


Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb: A Perennial Glory

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Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb

secret garden

Children’s Authors Rock

Revisiting classics can certainly be a tricky business so I’m always a little cautious that an author will not get the importance of doing a good job. Luckily for us though, children’s authors  are always (always!) avid fans of other children’s books and therefore totally get that when they take on a classic, they carry with them the hearts of many.

I should have known that Holly Webb would treat Return to the Secret Garden with the appropriate sensitivity and attention to detail. Like Kate Saunders, whose Five Children on the Western Front is my favourite book so far this year, she pulls her characters into a more recent and therefore plausible past. With Saunders, our five friends were reunited with us on the brink of the First World War; for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden, Webb takes us to 1939 where Misselthwaite Manor is providing a home for a group of evacuees who are orphans from London.

Secrets

We are straight away swept up with young Emmie, who is far from delighted with her new situation. Emmie has not had a great life. She has no family to speak of, just her teachers and the other children at the orphanage, but having adopted a stray cat in London- Lucy- and grown very fond of it, she is naturally devastated to have to leave her hundreds of miles behind in now dangerous surroundings. My heart went out to Emmie as she struggled not to worry about her dear friend all alone.

Just as she feels at her most alone though, she finds an old diary, one that belonged to a Miss Mary Lennox, began in January 1910. Mary writes about a wonderful secret garden. Emmie understands the importance of secrets: Lucy was her secret for a very long time before she was tempted into the orphanage by the possibility of more food. Having read Mary’s tantalising description of the garden, she sets out to find it and in the early morning dew is rewarded with roses, sunshine, heavily scented lilies and chubby bees. The garden however is now unlocked so anyone can wander in should they choose to, but in Emmie’s eyes it’s all hers, for now anyway.

Webb cleverly juxtaposes the time of Emmie’s first visit to the garden with Mary’s. Whereas Mary first visited in January, Emmie is here on a lazy late summer’s morning. Such a brilliant move, and such a good way of marking Emmie’s adventure as linked but of a different time. Webb is adept at lightly adding these sort of metaphorical touches throughout her writing, like extra secrets for the reader.

Reunited

As the garden has changed over the years, so have the original characters. Remember, this is only 1939 and our old friends Mary, Colin and Dickon were children in 1910, so you should be expecting to meet them during the course of the story. The First World War has been part of their lifetimes and Webb made the decision for its effect on them to be long-lasting and life-altering. I think she really had to do this, because this is the truth of that particular war; this is what it did. It seems that no-one was left undamaged by it, and much as we wish these three were left alone, in our hearts we know it would have touched them.

Read and I think you’ll agree that Mary, Colin and Dickon somehow feel right for their time, whether you feel happy with their outcomes or not. And here they are, on the verge of the bloodiest conflict in history with all the memories of the earlier war still lingering and a house full of strangers. Maybe this isn’t a time for secrets, but one for pulling together, sharing and helping out. Times have certainly changed.

Forever

Return to the Secret Garden is a book to be cherished. It is a beautiful object to hold and look at, with the roots of a story we most of us know as well as any. Webb’s new characters fit neatly into Misselthwaite Manor, and going from busy London to the solitude of Yorkshire it feels rather like we’re all time travelling together.

I would utterly recommend it to anyone who loved The Secret Garden, as long as they can cope with seeing the original children all grown up. A gorgeous Christmas present for children and adults alike, for teachers and librarians, or anyone who ever wondered what might have happened next…

GGGG Return to the Secret Garden is propagated to perfection. A glorious read.