Fantastically Feisty Females

Since I started blogging over four years ago I’ve seen an emergence of books featuring fantastically feisty females. From intrepid inventors, plucky princesses and fearless fairy tale characters there are a plethora of books to inspire and excite a generation of young readers. Their bravery and determination even in the most difficult of circumstances makes for intriguing and enticing storytelling. Today I am sharing some of my favourite new releases, featuring bold and empowered characters who will hopefully inspire children today.

Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention by Pip Jones, illustrated Sara Ogilvie

I was thrilled to discover that Izzy and Fixer are back for a brand new adventure. When Izzy is invited to take part in the Invention Convention, she questions whether she is good. Although her inventions are marvellous, magnificent they sadly often malfunction. With time ticking away, nothing seems to be going Izzy’s way. Everyone else is using all the cogs, wires, belts and wheels, leaving her with a pile of old broken tools. Inspired by Fixer, Izzy decides that success lies in repairing not creating. All she needs to do is just conquer her nerves and embrace her fears. Filled with Pip’s trademark lively rhymes that capture Izzy’s frenetic inventing style, this is a joy to read aloud. Sara’s energetic and humorous spreads capture Izzy’s personality perfectly. Another sublime collaboration from Pip and Sara, this is a triumph of a book.

 

The Snow Dragon by Abi Elphinstone, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock

‘The Snow Dragon,’ was one of my favourite stories in ‘Winter Magic,’ so I was delighted to discover that Abi was adapting this stunning tale into a picture book, which would be illustrated by one of my favourite illustrators Fiona Woodcock. Phoebe is the only child left at Griselda’s Home for Strays and is hoping that one day might be her miracle day, when she would have a real life family of her own. Locked away in the kennels as punishment by the cruel Griselda, Phoebe is all out of hope when a Snow Dragon appears whisking her away on a extraordinary adventure. This dragon encourages Phoebe to be brave and to never give up hope, even in the darkest of times. Her courage and belief in a happy future despite all the odds helps change her destiny in the most remarkable way.  Abi and Fiona have created something truly magical. Every sumptuous spread is a joy to behold. A perfect partnership of words and illustrations.

 

Superkitty  by Hannah Whitty, illustrated by Paula Bowles

Kitty is fed up of answering phones at the Sensational Superhero Agency and is desperate to become a real life superhero and is determined to help track down the most fearsome of criminals. When a call comes in about a stolen dinosaur bone Kitty feels this her chance to prove she is just as good as the others. Ignoring their demands to stay at home and iron their capes, she shadows them and watches as they get distracted on their way by bakeries, hairdressers and running races. By the time they catch up with Nefarious Norman there’s only Kitty left to confront him but does she have the courage to stand up to this dastardly dog burglar? Brilliantly told with lots of humour this was a huge hit when I shared it at school during storytime. Kitty is a hero that everyone can get behind and Paula manages to capture her drive and determination wonderfully in her bold and vibrant spreads. Filled with fun and feistiness, this is a real treat of a book.

 

Heidi by Johanna Spyri, retold by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Briony May Smith

I remember with fondness reading the story of Heidi as a small girl and Nosy Crow have produced an exquisite new version that is bound to captivate young readers today, bringing this story to live for a whole new generation. Heidi is an orphan sent to live with her grumpy Grandpa in the Swiss Alps, instead of feeling sorry for herself she embraces her new life even managing to see through her Grandpa’s gruffness and find the kindness hidden in him. Loving her new life, she is devastated to be sent to Frankfurt to be a companion to a sick girl. But Heidi always sees the good in everything and is doggedly determined to make a difference to Clara’s life when everyone around her has given up. Jeanne captures the true essence of this classic in this beautiful new version, while Briony May’s glorious illustrations wonderfully enhance this story. Every page is filled with the most sublime and intricate illustration, she has a real gift for bringing characters to life. Lovingly produced, this gift edition would make a perfect gift for any young reader in your life who is fond of beautiful storytelling.

 

The Lost Fairy Tales retold by Isabel Otter, illustrated by Ana Sender

We are all too familiar with fairy tales where females are waiting in towers, glass coffins and in cellars waiting to be rescued by their princes. Luckily for us Isabel Otter has discovered a whole host of overlooked and forgotten fairy tales that she has curated into a wonderful anthology featuring twenty female heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing. Comprising tales from all over the world our heroines refuse to be defined as helpless and while they don’t always make the right decisions, they stay true to themselves. We have wives rescuing husbands, giants being outwitted and impossible tasks being conquered.  What these heroines have in common is their approach to life, they seize the day and are brave and cunning and nobody expects them to be able to succeed. Sublimely illustrated, this is a gorgeous collection of tales that are bound to inspire and empower.

Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror -by Natasha Farrant, illus. by Lydia Corry

Natasha Farrant has created a collection of original stories featuring princesses who are bold, full of curiosity and looking for adventure. Discovered by an enchantress  who throws her magic mirror into our universe, she sees reflected in it, princesses who are very different. They are determined to be true to themselves in worlds that try to define who they are by the fact they are princesses and expect them to behave in a certain way. Using contrasting modern and traditional styles of storytelling we meet a forest princess who takes on a very unladylike crocodile for a pet and an urban princess who fights to protect her community garden from the hands of greedy developers. I really enjoyed how different the tales are and by including modern tales it makes this story feel really relevant for readers today who want to help protect the world around them. Lydia’s illustrations are truly beautiful, wonderfully capturing the spirit of adventure in these tales. A fairy tale collection for modern children who are looking to inspired to take action in a world that doesn’t expect them to.

 

All of these wonderful books are available to buy online (click on the title to buy) or from any good bookshop. With thanks to Paula Bowles, Little Tiger Press,  Nosy Crow, Simon and Schuster and Zephyr for sending me gifted copies of the books.

Nevertell – Katharine Orton

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Katharine Orton’s bewitching debut, ‘Nevertell.’ Lina has never left the confines of the prison camp she was born in, after her grandfather was wrongly imprisoned. One night she unwillingly finds herself caught up in a dangerous plot to escape the camp. Despite the chances of success being low, she seizes the chance to see the outside world and together with her friend Bogdan is cast outside in a freezing and relentless world. But there are greater dangers than the cold lurking in the shadows, an evil sorceress with her pack of wolves is tracking them and it’s going to take all of their courage and just a sprinkle of magic if they are going to survive this treacherous journey across the Siberian wilderness.

Katharine has created this imagined world filled with darkness and magic that will delight and chill you in equal measures. She has bestowed upon Lina and Bogdan a seemingly impossible quest to travel across these frozen lands to reach Moscow and the safety of Lina’s grandmother. Each turn and triumph is matched with setbacks and dismay, keeping them just that little bit further from salvation. Katharine continually keeps the reader on their toes with this totally unexpected story and I for one didn’t imagine the surprises and uncertainty that Lina has to face. It gradually builds up, luring the reader into the story and then speeds up to a thrilling and dramatic finale that is thoroughly satisfying for the reader. A perfect winter read, best to be enjoyed under a blanket with a hot chocolate.

 

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and guest posts?

Thank you to Rebecca and Walker for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘Nevertell,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Crater Lake Cover Reveal – Jennifer Killick

Following on from the success of Jennifer Killick’s brilliant, ‘Alex Sparrow’ books, and  ‘Mo, Lottie and the Junkers,’ Jennifer is back with something a little bit different and today I am hosting the cover reveal for her newest book, ‘Crater Lake,’ which will be published on the 19th March 2020 by Firefly Press.

So without further ado here it is…

Illustrated and designed by Anne Glen, this cover gives me proper chills. Declaring proudly on the front, ‘DONT. EVER. FALL ASLEEP,’ we are immediately given a sense of the spine-tingling story that lies beneath this cover. Wonderfully eerie and atmospheric, this looks terrifically terrifying and I can’t wait to read out. Perfect for fans of Stranger Things, this is a real edge-of-your-seat adventure.

Let’s find out what Jennifer has instore for us…

Crater Lake

It could be the mysterious bloodstained man who tries to stop their coach, or the fact no one seems to be around at the brand-new activity centre when Lance and the rest of his class arrive for the Year 6 school trip, but something is definitely not right at Crater Lake! What follows is a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death. But whatever happens, they must Never, Ever fall asleep!

This sounds amazing, the children at school are always asking for scary books and I think this fits the bill perfectly!

Jennifer Killick

Jennifer Killick always wanted to be a writer but really started when she applied for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University, which is where she first got the idea for ‘The Really Big Stink.’ She lives in Uxbridge, in a house full of children and animals. When she isn’t busy mothering or step-mothering (which isn’t often) she loves to read, write and run. Jennifer does interactive writing workshops in schools and festivals.

Thanks to Jennifer and Firefly Press for inviting me to host the cover reveal, ‘Crater Lake,’ is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

 

 

It could be the mysterious bloodstained man who tries to stop their coach, or the fact no one seems to be around at the brand-new activity centre when Lance and the rest of his class arrive for the Year 6 school trip, but something is definitely not right at Crater Lake! What follows is a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death. But whatever happens, they must Never, Ever fall asleep!

Spooktacular Reads

As Halloween approaches there’s nothing I enjoy more than turning out the lights and reading spooky books by torchlight. I have a Spooktacular selection of books on the blog today for children (and adults) of all ages, that are perfect for sharing or as an alternative to a bucket full of sweets. From reluctant vampires, to imaginary friends that come true, there’s definitely something for everyone to enjoy here.

Dracula Spectacular – Lucy Rowland & Ben Mantle

Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle are back with another wonderful collaboration which celebrates kindness, bravery and learning to accept who you really are. Dracula’s parents don’t know what to do with their little boy. He’s happy and content, doesn’t like wearing black and would rather befriend humans than scare them.  Despite their best efforts, he refuses to be like them but he wants to try and keep them happy, so he tries his best but it makes him really sad. A chance encounter with a little girl makes for an unexpected friendship that shows Dracula boy and his family that they should embrace their differences. Told in Lucy’s trademark bouncy rhymes which are a joy to read aloud, this is such a fun book to share and offers the opportunity for lots of thoughtful conversations with children. Ben’s illustrations capture brilliantly the contrast between the traditional darkness of the Dracula family and the shiny technicolour that the boy desperately craves. A lively story filled with heart, the perfect spooky book for younger readers.

Hansel and Gretel – Bethan Woollvin

I’m a big fan of Bethan Woollvin’s fairy tale retellings with their humorous and dark unexpected endings. Her version of Hansel and Gretel features Willow a good witch, who lives peacefully all alone in her gingerbread cottage until one day two wicked children come along and create total chaos. Despite their appalling behaviour, Willow does her very best to be kind and patient, trying not to loose her temper and conjuring them up delicious treats. But no matter how hard she tries, they continue to be beastly and boisterous.  Brilliantly told, this is a deliciously dark and frightfully funny fairy tale, which is bound to fill children with glee. Beth’s signature vibrant artwork is creepily compelling and perfectly enhances this story filled with magic and mayhem.

Picklewitch & Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin – by Claire Barker, illustrated by Teemu Juhani

I just loved the first book in the ‘Picklewitch and Jack,’ series so I was excited about getting my hands on this proper dandy new adventure. Capturing all the mayhem and charm of the original story, Claire cunningly throws some more mischief into the mix of Jack’s life with the arrival of Pickliwitch’s practically perfect cousin Archie Cuckoo. Jack is completely swayed by his immaculate manners and encyclopedic knowledge and thinks he may have found a true ally at last. But he soon discovers Archie is not all he seems, and a strange darkness descends over their lives threatening everyone they know and love. Can Picklewitch and Jack find a way to outwit this cunning cousin? A fiendishly funny and hilariously heart-warming tale, sprinkled with just enough peril and peculiarity to keep the reader completely engaged and entertained. Claire and Teemu make for a wonderful combination, together they have created something stuffed with so much magic and charm that completely enchanted me. Teemu’s illustrations capture magnificently the transformation of Archie into something really rotten. It just crackles with naughtiness and energy and I just can’t get enough of this brilliant series, another triumph in storytelling.

 

Skeleton Keys: The Unimaginary Friend by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson

Ben Bunsen has spent his life being shunted from one seaside town to a next and struggles to settle and make friends. When not one single person turns up to his birthday party, Ben is lost and confused and turns to the one person he can rely on, his imaginary friend Gorblimey. But his desperate desire for a real friend sparks of a chain of events that leads to a whole lot of trouble and mayhem for everyone who knows him when our narrator Skeleton Keys knocks at his door. For Skeleton Keys is convinced that when imaginary friends become unimaginary,  his job is to find them and cast them into the far off world of Oblivion but for once his intuition is so far away from the mark, he fails to spot the real danger. Can Ben protect Gorblimey and stop the unimaginary friend who is truly a threat? Packed with thrills, spills and spooky imaginings, this is wildly inventive children’s writing at its’ best. Guy and Pete Williamson have created a truly collaborative and intriguing tale which invites you to suspend everything you believe in and open your mind to a world that just bubbles below the surface. Excellent characterisation meets funny and playful storytelling in this spooky and entertaining tale.

The Ghouls of Howlfair – Nick Tomlinson, artwork by Kim Geyer

Molly Thompson is the thorn in the side of the residents of Howlfair. Her mind is filled with questions and she is determined to investigate all of the scary legends, even though it causes embarrassment and despair for the townsfolk. Despite her lack of success she’s convinced something strange is afoot and the death of her Dad is somehow linked. But when her meddling causes too much upset, she is banned from the library and her attempts to uncover the truth is thwarted at every corner. Undeterred she needs to find a way, alongside her best friend Lowry and Gabriel the cat to keep Howlfair safe. This is genuinely one of the most entertaining and ghoulish books I have read in a long time. I loved the mix of mystery solving and ghoul busting, Molly is a truly wonderful character whose willingness to carry on when everyone else around her doubts her plans is truly marvellous. I think it’s spooky enough to satisfy those children who want to be scared but not completely terrified and I predict it to be a huge hit at school. Funny, smart and downright compelling this is a joy of a read, Nick is definitely a debut author to watch out for!

Thanks to Faber, Macmillan, Stripes Publishing, Two Hoots, and Walker for sending me gifted copies of these books. You can buy all of these books now online (click on link in title) or from any good bookshop.

The Mist Monster by Kirsti Beautyman

When Penny and her Dad move house, she isn’t sure, despite her Dad insisting it’s the start of a brand new adventure. She can’t go adventuring without her Mum’s explorer hat and when her dog Peanut runs off with it, Penny is forced to follow him. Lost and unsure in the mist, she stumbles upon a monster who is surprisingly kind and they dash off on a hunt for the hat, sharing lots of fun on the way. A gentle tale of reassurance offering comfort to children who may be experience difficulties, showing them that friendship can be found even in the most unlikeliest of places. Exquisitely illustrated by Kirsti, every spread is rich with details and the muted tones add to the charm of this read. Magical and mystical in every way, this is a truly delightful and heart-warming tale.

As part of ‘The Mist Monster,’ blog tour I’m delighted to share with you a special guest post from Kirsti.

Rough and Final – Kirsti Beautyman

I find it really interesting to see other artists dummy books and roughs so thought I would share one of the final approved roughs for The Mist Monster with you! I often find looking at roughs just as exciting as seeing the final pieces. I visited Seven Stories (National Centre for Children’s Books) archive years ago when I was still in university, and I was so intrigued by the dummy books and roughs they had in their collection for some of my favourite children’s books. There was something very real and beautiful about seeing the development between a rough and a coloured piece. Whilst the line work for my approved roughs was quite neat (it did NOT start out this way, this was after many rounds of pencil sketches, but goodness knows where all those loose sheets of paper have gone!), there is still a good deal of difference between the roughs and final piece, things being moved etc and also the development of Dad as a character! ‘

Blog Tour

Why not catch up with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and guest posts.

Thank you to Louisa and Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this wonderful book. ‘The Mist Monster,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Christopher Pumpkin by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet, illustrated by Nick East

When a wicked witch brings a batch of pumpkins to life, she’s determined to enlist their help in organising the scariest Halloween party ever! What she hadn’t anticipated was one pumpkin, Christopher being the least spookiest pumpkin in the history of pumpkins! Her demands for ghastly decorations, disgusting food and a howling playlist are continually thwarted by Christopher’s jolly bunting, pink cupcakes and gentle guitar music. But when the witch threatens to turn Christopher into soup, he needs to find a way to scare them all, in his own trademark style. A hilarious tale filled with the most disgustingly delightful details that will engage and entertain children. Nick East’s humorous and energetic illustrations complement Paul and Sue’s marvellous rhymes, making this a perfect book so much fun to share and read aloud.

 

 

Make your own Christopher Pumpkin fairy cakes

As part of the blog tour we (actually my teenage daughter) decided to make our very own Christopher Pumpkin style Halloween treats and chose these delicious cupcakes to bake.

 

Ingredients

for the cakes: 115g butter, 115g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 115g self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to decorate: 85g butter, 225g icing sugar sifted, 1 tablespoon of milk, pink or red food colouring, Haribo hearts

Preheat the oven to 180c

Beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour into the mixture and fold in, then stir in the vanilla extract

Spoon the mixture into paper case and bake for 18 minutes or until risen

When cool decorate the cakes, put the butter into a bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, milk and vanilla extract and beat together. Add a few drops of  food colouring until you get the desired colour and stir well.

Pipe the top of the cupcakes with icing and pop on the Haribo hearts (you can then eat the rest of the bag of sweets)

If you don’t fancy making something so perfectly pink, how about trying your hand at a rat’s tail pizza with curried slugs and fried spicy snakes.

Thank you to Alison and Hachette for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this Spooktacular book. ‘Christopher Pumpkin,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Grace Ella: Witch Camp by Sharon Marie Jones, illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi

I am so delighted to be sharing with you today, the follow up to Sharon Marie Jones’ enchanting debut, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells For Beginners.‘ Grace-Ella and Mr Whiskins are back in a brand new magical adventure, ‘Grace-Ella: Witch Camp,’ illustrated by Adrian J Puglisi, that is bound to entertain younger readers. Grace-Ella is excited but nervous to go to Witch Camp but she needs to get there first. After solving the riddle she finds herself with fellow young witches, Dilys, Mati and Aisha and they’re determined they will win the coveted best coven award.

The only problem is Dilys appears to be the worst witch her family has ever had and when her broomstick flying goes wrong, Mati convinces them that the only way to help her is to go into the forest at night, breaking the rules they’ve sworn to keep.

Grace-Ella soon discovers the rules are there for a reason. But after disaster strikes she has to face her fears and find a way to save her friends before it is too late!

Sharon has created a joyful sequel which is really appealing to lovers of witches, who may want to explore magical worlds in a gentler way. Although there are tiny sprinkles of peril, ultimately this is a tale about learning to accept yourself for who you are and embracing your talents. Grace-Ella and her friends are characters that children will be able to see themselves in, despite having magical powers they still face the every day worries that non-magical children do. Adriana’s illustrations wonderfully enhance this story capturing perfectly the wealth of emotions our young witches experience with their first taste of independence.  Bubbling with magic, bravery and friendship this is a charming read. Grace-Ella Witch Camp will cast a spell over you with its enchanting and captivating storytelling.

Thank you to Meg and Firefly for sending me a gifted copy of this enchanting book. ‘Grace-Ella. Witch Camp,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop. I think it’s a perfect story for sharing with years 2 – 4 and Sharon has created some online resources to help support teachers sharing the book in their classrooms.