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.


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?


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.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

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cogheart done

” 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…”


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.


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.

Dog Hair and Derring Do: The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

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The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

the girl who

Dog Hair

The thing I like best about Emma Carroll is that she understands dog hair. Non doggy people wrongly assume it to be a total pain that stops you from buying dark soft home furnishings and sees you wedded to the ‘lint’ roller. But actually, it can be a truly lovely thing. My dog Mr Fly is a seventeen year old whippet lurcher who has always been outstanding at producing dog hair. We have been able to bless most of the Midlands and the South-West with his fur over the years, and better places they are for it too. A lack of dog hair, on the other hand, means a lack of dog and this is a terrible, terrible thing. Emma Carroll gets this:

“I pined for Pip too. It was odd to wear clothes without a single dog hair on them.” Chapter 21, The Girl Who Walked on Air.

Mr Fly in his Youth.

Mr Fly in his Youth.

I couldn’t agree more with this sensible thought.

Derring Do

Our protagonist and dog appreciator here is Louie Reynolds, a young girl who works in a Victorian circus. Louie has ambitions to be a show stopper- a tightrope walker! When Louie walks the tightrope, she feels she belongs there. This is a blessing as life hasn’t offered her much opportunity to understand her place in the world. Her mother abandoned her as a baby, leaving her with good people and a fine hound but not with the knowledge to understand why she was left behind. Then there’s Mr Chipchase, the circus owner. He seems determined to keep her hidden away and safely on the ground. Louie’s frustration is palpable. Then one day, half an opportunity arises for her to fulfil her dreams and walk the rope for real! Thrilling stuff and the start of an adventure that takes her firstly across the ocean to America, then towards another formidable body of water: Niagara Falls…

This is a cracking good read which wraps up nicely in 300 or so pages. As I got closer to the end of the book, I would’ve been more than happy to find that Louie’s story was going to continue in a second volume, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

GGGG- A great adventure for children 9 plus. It’s wonderful to read a story which brings some joy to the Victorian era! Now, this leads me to my second point. Non school based folks, at this point you are excused. Missing you already though x.

Have they gone?

Inspiration and Added Value

The Girl who Walked on Air has got to me. It made me think. I’ve been teaching 9 to 11-year-old children for a good while now. Any primary school teacher will tell you that teaching through topics has been popular again for ages and it isn’t going away. Some topics tend to crop up in your year group again and again. For me, that’s always been ‘The Victorians’. Along with the obvious history gubbins, it’s always good to liven up the learning with a relevant piece of fiction.With this topic, it’s usually Berlie Doherty’s Street Child: our default Victorian based read. Although informative and entertaining, starting the day with a few pages of Jim Jarvis’ woes can sometimes leave the kids looking fairly stricken as they pad quietly off to literacy, hollow-eyed by 9:15, me behind them feeling like the worst teacher ever and making plans (that I will later forget) to pop down the garage at lunchtime for a bag of Chupa Chups to make up for it…

The Victorian era was tough for kids. We know that. We teach that pretty thoroughly too, I’d say. So any teachers looking for a way to bring joy to this traditionally dark topic, give The Girl Who Walked on Air a go and reflect the excitement of these wonderful times: the crazy popularity of the circus- the more dangerous the better! I can imagine a totally inspiring term’s work evolving, with fantastic PE lessons based on developing circus acts! DT could see us developing our own perfectly balanced creations to travel a class tightrope! Probably best to keep the kids off it though. The risk assessment would be horrendous. The right book can revolutionise the way we teach a topic. This is one of those books – pass it on. Let’s get the word around and put some new blood into the curriculum.

More to come on this subject…

Teachers: for those looking to bring the dead to life, GGGGG- a true book of glory


After a second opinion? Here’s a cracking review from a fellow blogger:


Cautionary Tales in time for Halloween

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Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman

Although it’s said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I’d make an exception for Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter. I mean, take a blooming look at it:

photo (22) Fingers

It’s pretty clearly going to be a somewhat disturbing read isn’t it, what with the terrifyingly tapered fingers and the Geoff Woade-esque huge thatched head. And you’d be correct in thinking twice before presenting it to the innocent tinies in your life. Heinrich Hoffman however, who wrote it in 1845, didn’t think there were enough good quality children’s books around at the time. What the small Victorian-age cherubs apparently needed was a series of tales in which they would be able to watch their peers befall all kinds of terrible fates. Fairly alarmingly, Struwwelpeter was a labour of love- an intended Christmas present for his three year old son.


Originally published anonymously under the catchy title “Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with Fifteen Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged Three to Six”, it was later shortened to Struwwelpeter, or Shock Headed Peter- ie, the young man with the hygiene issues pictured above. You’ll most likely associate the sort of poems in this book with Hilaire Belloc, born later than Hoffmann but more well known in the UK for his cautionary tales about Matilda and rather thrillingly, Rebecca, amongst others. For some reason, Hoffmann comes over as a little more direct in his poems. For example:

The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches

I expect you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen here haven’t you? Poor Harriet. At least her cats were sad, bless them. After her demise they cry a little pond around her ashes. Here they are:

photo (23)


The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb

A tad harsh, this one. Suck-a-Thumb, or Conrad, finds himself in a bit of predicament with a chap who has deep seated issues with thumb suckers. Despite being warned by his mother about the likelihood of a giant tailor arriving and using his extra-sharp scissors to chop off sucked thumbs, Conrad dismisses this as implausible. This is what occurs:

Conrad risks a suck.

Conrad risks a suck.

Ah, scissors.

Quite, quite thumbless.

I’m feeling lucky that I made it out of childhood with all fingers fully intact now. Incidentally, Conrad’s mother takes the firm but fair line of  telling Conrad who is ‘quite sad’, that she’s not really surprised and did warn him beforehand.

The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Eat His Soup

Essentially our Augustus goes from being a bonny, healthy looking type- chubby even- who eats his soup heartily, to a child who for some reason undisclosed makes the decision to refuse his soup. Nothing will convince him to eat the ‘nasty soup’. He keeps this up for five days, then dies. He probably should have ate the soup. Still, a bit mean to leave a soup tureen on the grave though.Talk about rubbing it in.

photo (27)


And Many More!

There are many more tales but I don’t want to spoil the surprises…

Yes, it’s fairly macabre for a children’s book and that is going to limit its appeal, but personally I just love it. If I was the intended three to six year old, this would haunt my dreams horribly though. By the time I reached nine years old, I’d have got the joke I reckon. Now, I can’t help but find it charming and hilarious. I realise that I might be on my own with this own however. If anyone knows of any other ‘unusual’ children books, please share!

GGGGG Oddness of an outstanding quality