Monthly Archives: February 2016

Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog and the Last Circus Tiger – Claire Barker & Ross Collins


There is nothing more joyous in life than getting to read the next book in a series where you absolutely love all the characters. I was so happy to get to spend time again with the delightfully eccentric Pepper family in ‘Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog and the Last Circus Tiger’ by Claire Barker. Ross Collins once again provides the divine illustrations to compliment this wonderfully, written tale of our ghostly dog Knitbone and the other Beloveds who live at Starcross Hall.

Lord Pepper – or Hector Augustus Merriweather Pepper to give him his full name – has a simply marvellous idea to create the biggest hat collection in the world. He decides to consult Mad Hatter Monthly for inspiration and embarks on turning Starcross Hall into a tourist attraction blowing their entire fortune on his latest madcap venture. Unfortunately not everything goes to plan and it’s up to Knitbone and friends to use their spooky powers to try and turn the exhibition into the hottest ticket in town. With mysterious, unexplained happenings from our ghostly gang visitors soon start flooding in. Things take an interesting turn when a chance encounter with an old magazine leads the Peppers to invite the Circus Tombellini to Starcross. But the circus is hiding a dark, sad secret and the Beloveds uncover a mysterious creature lurking in the shadows. Throw in the remarkable Eye of Mumbai and a notorious jewel thief and you know that you are about to be taken on another epic adventure with the Pepper family.

This superbly entertaining story left me feeling all warm and happy inside. I adore the relationships between the Beloveds and their humans.  Claire understands and perfectly conveys the unbreakable bond we have with our pets and how loss can be unbearable and leave a huge hole in our lives. It is filled with humour, craziness but mostly heart. The Pepper family’s joy and enthusiasm for life is totally endearing and you can’t help be charmed by their unusual lifestyle. All of the characters are wonderfully individual and so brilliantly crafted that they feel like long lost friends. Ross Collins provides the most beautiful, detailed illustrations which capture the exuberance and joy of this fantastic story. I particularly love his expressions which allow me to  empathise with the characters absolutely. I really can’t ask for any more from a book it was a fantastic treat to read.

Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog and the Last Circus Tiger is released on Tuesday 1st March 2016.

To find out more about Claire Barker you can visit her website:


To find out more about Ross Collins you can visit his website:



Superhero Street – Q & A with Phil Earle


I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to chat to the author Phil Earle in the run up to the release of the second book in the Storey Street series ‘Superhero Street’ Being a huge fan of Phil’s work it was a joy to talk about the series and his role as Booktrust Writer in Residence.

After writing books for Young Adults, why did you decide to write MG books?

I wanted to prove that I could do more than just write YA and didn’t want to be pigeon holed. My first three YA books were gritty and ever so slightly miserable, then came Bubble Wrap Boy, which was written for a slightly younger reader. It sounds like a well worn cliché but I was a Dad of three kids, but couldn’t read any of my books to them. The Storey Street books allows me to do that.

What was the inspiration behind the Storey Street Series?

I don’t really see it as a series. I enjoy the way writers such as Nick Hornby and George Pelecanos introduce new characters in books in an incidental way. You might read a book by them and realise that you have met the main character before in a previous book and it creates this extended world, I love this. It feels like the author is rewarding the reader for knowing all their novels.

When I talk in schools about where ideas come from, I tell children we are surrounding by stories. As you walk along, look at every door on your street, as behind every door there is at least one story, waiting for you to retell. Storey Street is based on the street I grew up in, in Hull. I used to think that everything in the world happened on that street, for me it was a world of drama. There is great drama to be found in everyday life.

The series is brilliantly illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Was it important to you that your book featured illustrations?

Yes, absolutely. It had to be a lead in to the book and appeal to the 9 year old me. Illustrations break up the text for reluctant readers and helps break down any fear or anxiety a child may have at the prospect of reading it. Illustrated fiction can be used as a stepping stone to traditional novels, but children should read the things that make them happy and fire their imaginations. If that’s comics, graphic novels or articles in magazines, then fine, great! Word count is not important when it comes to reading, it is the reading itself which is important.

Who is your favourite character in the series so far and why?

Masher, he is deeply flawed and that’s why I love him. I made a deal with myself that if I created a ‘bad’ character, then I would write his story. The next book in the series, ‘The War Next Door’, explains why Masher mashes. I believe no child is born evil, children are taught certain behaviours and we begin to find out why he behaves like he does. There may be redemption in sight for Masher.

Mouse is most like me, just like the character, I’m obsessed with superheroes. Although I don’t wear a cape underneath my clothes at all times. (Unfortunately as this was a telephone interview I can’t confirm if this is true so we will have to take Phil’s word for it)

Who if anyone inspired the character in the series?

These first two books are love letters to my parents. I based Jake’s Dad George in ‘Demolition Dad’ on my Dad and Mouse’s Mum in ‘Superhero Street’ on my Mum. One of the original titles for ‘Superhero Street’ was ‘Mum, the Mighty.’ My Mum was certainly bionic, she had to be to put up with me.

They also reflect my love of wrestling and superheroes. My youngest son is 5 and is superhero obsessed. He went through a phase of refusing to leave the house without wearing one or a variety of superhero costumes.


Do you feel like there is a lack of diversity in Children’s books? Did you deliberately choose to have a black family in ‘Superhero Street’.

When I’m writing I don’t describe the characters in great depth, but Mouse was black from the second he appeared on the page. I didn’t question that. It’s just how it was. I want my books to be a reflection of society and on a street like Storey Street there will be lots of different types of families. Mouse’s ethnicity doesn’t fuel the story, the themes of heroism are universal.

If you were a Superhero what would your name be and what special power would you have?

I’m slightly obsessed with rubbish Superheroes. I once read a story about a man who lived in a flat, and spent his days watching people park their cars really badly. He reinvented himself as Parallel Parking Man, saving the day by squeezing their vehicles into tight spots. There’s something special about that I think.

I would love to be able to fly but in real life the thing that would make the most difference would be to be able to make the washing pile disappear or to make the kids tea prepare itself. (Phil promised to pass on this special power to me if he ever managed to make it happen}


In your role as Booktrust Writer in Residence you talk about the there being a book for every child. Can you explain more?

I genuinely hand on heart believe this. When I was 12 I had the door to reading slammed shut on me, when I was told I had to read the classics. That was game over.

Only when I was 26 and working in a bookshop (just to pay the rent), did I read ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar and it filled me with such joy. That was my lightbulb moment.

This is why library and librarians are so important. Once I’d found HOLES, I still needed to know what to read next. Librarians becomes the key to finding that next book, they hold the door open for you.

In your Vlog for Booktrust you say “We’re all our storytellers” do you have any words of advice for children wanting to write?

Yes! Don’t get a mobile phone, don’t wear headphones on the street and not see everything that is going on all around you. Read free newspapers, if you look around there are stories everywhere.

What have you got in store for the next year?

I’m working with the Booktrust until July and I will be interviewing my favourite writers and illustrators. I also hope to hold a huge event in the North-West, where we will talk about there being a book for everyone.

Book 3 in the series ‘The War Next Door’ is due out in October and I’m currently working on Book 4 which is as of yet untitled and is due out March 2017.

I’m also writing a YA Novella for Barrington Stoke based on a story I read in a free newspaper called ‘Mind the Gap.’


A big thank you to Phil for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat to me. You can read my review of Superhero Street here.



Welcome to the London Season – Katherine Woodfine Guest Post

I am delighted to welcome Katherine Woodfine to the blog today. Whilst Katherine was writing The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth she did some amazing research about the London Season. In today’s post she provides us with an introduction in this post ‘Welcome to the London Season.’

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth

  1. Welcome to the London Season!


All the way across the smoky city of spires and slums, in the heart of the West End… London’s most fashionable department store was crowded with people: the London Season was now in full swing, and anyone who was anyone simply had to be seen at Sinclair’s.’

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth


Each year, from the mid-nineteenth century until the Second World War, the focal point of Britain’s social calendar was ‘The London Season’. Every May, well-heeled and wealthy society folk would leave their country houses behind and travel to their London residences for a three-month social whirl of balls, parties and events that lasted until the end of July.


Highlights of the Edwardian Season included the opening of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, visits to the Royal Opera House, the Chelsea Flower Show, the Henley Regatta, Ascot – as well as of course, shopping for the latest fashions at glamorous department stores like Sinclair’s.


During this period, there were dozens of balls, parties and dinners at which members of the aristocracy could meet, mingle and show off.  Most important of all was the ceremony to present the debutantes (young ladies making their very first appearances in society) at Court for the first time.


Today, the rituals and traditions of the London Season may seem incredibly archaic – and sometimes just plain funny – but to the Edwardian upper classes, they were hugely important. I couldn’t think of a better backdrop to my latest book, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, which is the sequel to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, and follows Sophie, Lil and the gang on a new adventure.


In Clockwork Sparrow, we have already had a few glimpses of London high society, through the wealthy customers who come to shop at Sinclair’s department store. We peep at them eating in the elegant restaurant, and celebrating at the party to mark the opening of the new store – which so nearly ends in disaster.


But in this sequel, I wanted to take a closer look. The Edwardian era was a time of extraordinary social divisions, with the very rich living lives of incredible luxury, just a few miles away from many Londoners who existed in extreme poverty. The London Season offered the perfect way to introduce readers to a whole new group of characters that exemplified London’s very wealthiest social group. At its centre is Miss Veronica Whiteley, a debutante embarking on her first Season.


When Veronica asks for Sophie and Lil’s help to find her lost brooch, they too find themselves swept up with the events of Season – and must go undercover in Veronica’s high society circle to find out the truth. But all is not what it seems, and it soon becomes obvious that danger is lurking beneath the glitter and glamour of the London Season…

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth

The Jewelled Moth brooch

Sophie and Lil have been commissioned to find a missing brooch – the Jewelled Moth!

Illustration © Júlia Sardà

I was absolutely enchanted by The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth’. This is a truly marvellous adventure which will keep you turning the pages and I was totally gripped throughout. You can read my review here

One Day On Our Blue Planet – Ella Bailey


The One Day on Our Blue Planet series by Ella Bailey is a series of children’s books focused on the way our young animal friends spend a day, beginning with a curious lion cub and a penguin chick. From breakfast to dinner, dusk to dawn, children will love exploring the little corner of the big blue planet which the lion cub and penguin chick share with us. These books will captivate the imaginations of young readers as well as teaching them about the various animals of the Savannah and Antarctic and their natural habitats.

In the first book ‘In the Savannah’ we meet the lion cub on the first day he emerges from his den to join the rest of his family in the pride. We watch as takes his first steps on the savannah into a wonderland of strange and wonderful creatures. Not only is it filled with stunning, sumptuous illustrations as you turn each page you will learn interesting facts about his world.  Children will adore this mischievous cub as he roars, hunts and plays being a grown up lion. Just like the cub you will be filled with wonder and delight at the marvels that unfold before your eyes.



With sublime endpapers featuring all the animal of the African savannah during the day and night time eager young minds will be able to identify the different animals and then hunt for them throughout the book. It really is perfect for enquiring children who love to ask questions and collect information.



The second book of the series ‘In the Antarctic’ follows a young penguin chick as she embarks upon her first journey across the Antarctic ocean. We watch her courageous journey as she jumps bravely into the freezing ocean filled with giant sea creatures, ready to face unknown perils. Here we learn how she is able to swim many miles each day for many years without the prospect of finding land and is kept warm by her thick layer of fat. We see her face danger in the form of a Ross seal and are relieved she manages to escape his clutches just in time!



Again the brilliant endpapers take us on an exploration of all the different creatures above and under the ice in the Antarctic, which our chick will meet as she makes her epic journey.



These beautiful books are a joy to behold and would make a fantastic addition to any home or school library. The picture book format makes it highly accessible to even the youngest of child who will be delighted and entranced by these vibrant illustrations. Allow yourself to be taken on a journey around our amazing blue planet, it is an unforgettable experience.

To buy a copy of these books you can visit:

Thank you to Flying Eye Books who sent me a copy of ‘In the Antarctic’.


Polly and the Puffin The Stormy Day – Jenny Colgan & Thomas Docherty


‘The Stormy Day’ is the second story in the ‘Polly and the Puffin’ series by Jenny Colgan. They feature Neil the puffin who first made an appearance in one of Jenny’s books for adults the ‘Little Beach Street Bakery. One day Polly hears a CRASH downstairs. Is it a monster? NO! Is it a spider alien? NO! It was a little puffin with a broken wing…
When Polly discovers the injured puffin, she and her mummy look after him in their cottage by the sea. And so Neil begins his adventures with Polly.

In ‘The Stormy Day’ we see Polly and Neil are waiting and waiting and waiting for Polly’s Dad to return for his trip to see. Despite keeping themselves very busy they find time is crawling along at a snails pace. When the stormy clouds start gathering and the rain starts to fall Polly gets increasingly agitated about her Dad’s return. Just when things can’t seem to get any worse Neil decides to fly off into the storm and leaves Polly and her Mum waiting anxiously. Polly finds out that waiting is difficult for grown ups too as they watch the sea hoping for a glimpse of the returning boats.



This is a perfect tale for a bedtime story or for newly confident young readers to read independently. Children will be enchanted by Neil’s delightful antics and charmed by the heart warming friendship between Polly and Neil. The book is stunningly illustrated by Thomas Docherty in a palette of black and orange which perfectly compliments the striking colours of a puffin. His illustrations capture the warmth and joy of this tale and his ability to capture the mood in the characters expressions help engage younger children who may not be able to read all of the text. The books also contains recipes, rhymes and activities which really enhance the story and bring it to life for children.

To find out more about Jenny Colgan you can visit her website:

Polly and the Puffin

To find out more about Thomas Docherty you can visit his website:

Thank you to LBKids for sending me a copy of this book.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks The Mummy’s Gold – Kristina Stephenson


‘The Mummy’s Gold’ is the newest Sir Charlie Stinky Socks adventure in this fantastic series from Kristina Stephenson. Sir Charlie is a little knight with a heart of gold together with his faithful cat Envelope and his good grey mare, he likes nothing better than adventures with colourful beasties, ghoulies and ghosties, not to mention pouting princesses in tall, tall towers. His latest quest is to return a sack of stolen pirate booty back to its rightful owner who lives in a desert across the sea. This may sound simple but Sir Charlie’s adventures seldom are and he finds himself caught up on a long forgotten quest to find the missing gold of the Pharoah Aboo Ra, whilst trying to outwit a cunning rival.



Kristina manages to conjure up this magical world and we are swept along the desert on the ‘brink of a brilliant adventure’. The story moves along in a fantastic, fabulous, flow of alliteration which makes it perfect for reading aloud. With the giant flaps that open sideways and upways any young explorer will find themselves drawn into this tale wondering what they will discover next. It is ideal for older readers, the words on the pages curve, loop and change size providing an engaging experience for newly confident readers to enjoy independently.

mummy4 mummy3

The illustrations are beautifully detailed, with Kristina capturing the Egyptian artefacts, hieroglyphics and the vibrant colours of the Bedouin tent in an attractive spellbinding way which will appeal to both children and adults. Each page is rich with wonderful colours and is brimming with life. There is so much to see that every time you return to this adventure there is more to discover and enjoy. By the end of the tale you really feel like you have been take on a journey across far lands, helped navigate tricky mazes and found out that treasure doesn’t always have to be about finding gold. At the heart of the story we discover that sometimes it’s the adventure itself and the fun of the search is the real treasure that we are seeking.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks has his very own website where you can’t find out more abouthis adventures, enjoy lots of fun activities and even ask Charlie questions.


Thank you to Egmont for sending me a copy of this book.

Strictly No Crocs – Heather Pindar & Susan Batori


‘Strictly No Crocs’ is a debut picture book from Heather Pindar which is wonderfully illustrated by Susan Batori. Everyone in the savannah is excited it’s Zebra’s birthday but the crocs are not invited!  Chomper, Snapper and Cruncher are feeling rather cross and just want to eat everyone up. But without an invitation, they must come up with a plan to get into that party!  Donning cunning disguises they manage to sneak in. Oh no! What will happen next?



Before they can put their dastardly plan into action, they find themselves caught up in the party fever. Jumping on the bouncy castle, dancing the conga, bursting balloons and watching fireworks can definitely distract even the most determined of crocs from his deadly mission. As the crocs wave their new friends goodbye after an amazing party they soon realise there is something they have forgotten to do.



This book is a great interactive read aloud treat, perfect for sharing with younger children. I loved trying to convince the children when I was reading it that it was a leopard, flamingo and bee going to the party and not Cruncher, Chomper and Snapper. Of course they saw through mine and the crocs attempts to try and convince them and I was greeted with lots of shouting of ‘No’ and ‘It’s a Crocodile’. It is a fantastic, funny read and is very appealing with lots of opportunities for hilarious expression and joining in when reading aloud. Susan Batori’s illustrations are vibrant and fun with lovely textured backgrounds which give the book a really sumptuous feel. She manages to capture so much of the humour of the books in the brilliantly animated expressions of the animals. This book really made me chuckle I absolutely loved those cheeky crocs and it was a real treat to pour over the divine illustrations.

Thank you to Maverick Publishing for sending me a copy of this book.

Stanley The Amazing Knitting Cat – Emily MacKenzie


I was thrilled to see a new Picture Book from the lovely Emily MacKenzie having been a huge fan of the hilarious and delightful ‘Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar.’ ‘Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat’ is a colourful menagerie of woolly wonder and contains an array of fabulous animal characters. It is a simply, irresistible, hilarious and visual extravaganza of a read.

Meet Stanley, unlike other cats he doesn’t enjoy chasing mice or lazing around in the sunshine, no he is far too busy knitting the most amazing creations. He is a whirling dervish of activity knocking up pom-poms, whipping up bobble hats, knitting tail cosies to give to all his animal friends. But one day when Stanley spots a ‘Woolly Wonders’ competition looking for the wackiest woolly creation, it looks like his knitting obsession might be spiralling out of control.



I love the beautiful descriptive language on each page my favourite is when he is engrossed in a knitting frenzy, ‘Clickety- Knit! Twirly Twist! Pom-Pom-Pull! Clackety-Click! Bobbly-Bits.’ This wondrous alliteration captures perfectly the determined activity taking place as Stanley embarks on his quest to create the winning entry.



The attention to detail in each of the illustrations is a total joy. I adore how the bunnies wearing balaclavas all have totally different expressions on their faces. When the animals all have their clothes unravelled, it’s hilarious to see their embarrassed faces hiding behind a variety of objects. The penguins hide behind fish, the giraffe pops out from a leafy bush and the rabbit spares his blushes under a bunch of carrots. It’s details like these which will keep bringing you back to re read the story, exploring the pages for new and fun things to spot and discover. This is a truly heart warming and funny tale about the importance of not allowing anything the things you love to get in the way of your friendship with others.

To find out more about Emily Mackenzie you can visit her at:


Facebook  Emily Mackenzie illustration

Twitter       @emilymackenzie

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book.


Classic Tales to Read, Love and Share – Storytime Magazine


How many times as a parent have you been in a queue in a shop and been harassed by a child who desperately wants you to buy them a magazine just so they can have the free plastic toy. I think magazines are great for children but I want my girls to make a choice based on the content not on the soon to be disposed of and added to landfill toy. Discovering ‘Storytime’ magazine was a real revelation for me as a parent and a librarian, I felt that it offered a really attractive option which appeals to  both children and parents. It doesn’t come with a free gift and contains no adverts instead there is plenty to amuse and delight within the covers.



Inside you will find a real mix of traditional tales, fables, myths, legends and rhymes which is so refreshing. There are so many traditional tales to discover which your child may not be familiar with from all around the world. ‘Storytime’ helps to maintain the storytelling tradition ensuring these stories get passed down to the next generation and don’t get lost. Not only does it offer new adventures, each magazine also features a familiar fairy tale children will recognise eg Thumbelina. Each issue contains an extract from a book which helps to introduce children to some fantastic classic books. Children will definitely be entertained by ‘Storytime Playbox’ which is full of puzzles, arts and crafts to try at home. There really is something for everyone within these gorgeous pages.



Storytime magazine is a brilliant resource for schools with its superbly written stories. It is ideal for Guided Reading sessions or to encourage reluctant readers to engage with reading if they feel anxious about pages full of text. The magazine is of a very high quality. It is much sturdier than a traditional magazine which may not stand up to many re reads in a school environment. I often find that magazines or graphic novels can provide a starting basis for reluctant readers to help develop their love of reading. When you are thinking about how you could utilise it in school there are so many options. You could share the stories with KS1 or use it for creative writing with KS2. I found it very useful when my daughter was studying the differences between myths, fables and legends last year and it offers a really fascinating insight into other cultures storytelling traditions.

With stunning illustrations and beautiful stories, ‘Storytime’ magazine is a joy to behold. It would be an excellent addition to any home or school.

You can buy ‘Storytime’ as individual issues in large supermarkets and newsagents or you can order a subscription.

To find out more about ‘Storytime’ or to subscribe you can visit the website on the link below:

I’ve been a fan of Storytime since the first copy arrived in the library but I was sent these two copies which I have reviewed today in exchange for an honest review.

Hell’s Belles Tatum Flynn Illustrated by Dave Shephard

hell's belles

‘Hell’s Belles’ by Tatum Flynn is the follow up to the brilliantly, funny ‘The D’Evil Diaries’, where we first met our dynamic duo Jinx D’Evil and Tommy Covelli. Jinx is a useless demon, which is a huge problem when you’re Lucifer’s youngest son. Utterly despondent about being a failure he runs away and manages to get caught up in a conspiracy which could destroy the future of the underworld. Just when he thinks events can’t get any stranger, he discovers a human girl who shouldn’t be there at all! Can this unlikely pair save Hell and defeat the demons who are seeking to overthrow Lucifer? Well you will have to read ‘The D’Evil Diaries’ to find out!

In ‘Hell’s Belles’ Tommy is trying to come to terms with being the only human living in the underworld, Having Lucifer’s son Jinx as your best friend should work to your advantage but Tommy soon finds out that she is unlikely to win a popularity contest in Hell any time soon. Help appears to be at hand when Jinx’s mysterious stepmother Lilith makes a sudden uninvited appearance amongst the flames of blue hellfire. She offers Tommy the opportunity to prove her worth and redeem herself in the eyes of the demons by facing a series of  dangerous and challenging tasks. Tommy seizes the chance to join the demons who are determined to win the task and the favour of the underworld. But Jinx is suspicious of Lilith’s behaviour. He sets out to discover her underlying motives behind her generosity to Tommy and once again we find them caught up in another thrilling adventure.

‘The D’Evil Diaries are a perfect mix of fun and darkness and are certain to capture children’s imagination. Tatum’s writing is so richly descriptive and creative that it is joy to read. She manages to conjure up the underworld so brilliantly that it magically appears before your eyes. Your senses are tantalised and disgusted in equal measure. The stench of the brimstone will make your eyes water, the crimson sky will make you look in wonder and you can almost hear the nonsensical chatting of the gargoyles guarding the palace. It is a thrilling ride with just the right amount of terror and danger to keep the reader desperately wanting more. Brilliantly funny, entertaining and completely original this series is a must have read. A big shout to Dave Shephard who created the stunning, vivid covers of these books which demand to be picked up and read. He also creates the divine illustrations in this book that bring to life Tatum’s unique vision.

To find out more about the world of Tatum Flynn you can visit her website at:

To find out more about the world of Dave Shephard  you can visit his website at:

Thank you to Orchard Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.