Monthly Archives: September 2016

There May Be a Castle – Piers Torday


Have you ever opened a book and totally lost track of time and place. You look at the clock and realise that those few chapters you were going to read has suddenly become a whole book finished. A book that transports you to a different place where you are oblivious of your surroundings.  For me that book is ‘There May Be A Castle’ by Piers Torday. It took me to a freezing cold world even though I was reading it on the hottest September day for decades. A story that totally captivated me and held me tightly in its grasp until I turned that very last page. I laughed, I cried and I took the characters to my heart emotionally, investing myself completely in their journeys.

It’s Christmas Eve and Mouse is travelling to see his grandparents with his mother and two sisters Violet and Esme. But the weather becomes treacherous and a fierce blizzard makes it impossible to see, and the car goes off the road and crashes. Mouse is thrown from the car and when he wakes, he finds himself in a world he doesn’t recognise.  He stumbles across a sheep named Bar, who can only say Baaa, and a sarcastic horse named Nonky, who appears to be his beloved toy horse come to life. With these two companions in tow he finds himself upon a quest to find a  secret castle. He doesn’t know why he has to find it or where it even is, or if it actually exists. This mysterious tale follows Mouse through a world of magic and wonder, monsters, kings and wizards an exciting story beyond his wildest imagination. He faces an array of challenges as he tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle which will lead him to the castle. But as the cold grows we realise that his quest might have something to do with his family trapped in the wreckage of the car. Can Mouse find the castle before it is too late?

A mesmerising tale of courage, hope and the power of imagination ‘There May Be A Castle’ is simply beautiful. Piers has created these wonderful characters in Mouse and his sister Violet who are tested to their limits by extreme events and have to fight for their family in the most hopeless of circumstances. Their bravery and resilience is wonderfully uplifting and Violet channeling her inner pirate queen refusing to be beaten is marvellous as she battles to save her family. The contrast between reality and fantasy allows the story to be filled with fun and excitement giving the story a magical element, to contrast with the true danger they face. Putting the children at the centre of the story and allowing them to control their own destiny, gives them the power to make a difference to their ending.  Unique and spellbinding, a truly extraordinary book which I whole heartedly loved.

A huge thank you to Piers Torday, Lauren Woosey and Quercus Books for sending me a copy of this amazing book.


Rose in the Blitz – Rebecca Stevens


Rose is struggling to come to terms with her Mum getting re-married, she feels empty inside as the whole world is moving on except her. When an unexploded World War Two bomb is discovered in her neighbourhood it seems to trigger a memory in her confused elderly Great- Aunt Cosy. The night before the wedding Rose can’t sleep for worrying and nor can Cosy, disturbed by an echo from the past and reminded of her long lost love. Seeing the old lady leaving the house she runs after her following her to the London underground. Boarding an empty train she goes on a journey not realising that when she exits the station she will finds herself in 1940, in a war-torn London broken by the Blitz. Caught up in her Aunt’s life Rose feels she must have been sent here for a purpose. Can she change the past in order to find her way back to the future.

This was a quite a pacey fast read and at 156 pages it is ideal for children who are  daunted by a huge tome of a book. Although it is relatively short Rebecca has managed to fill it full of dramatic scenes, it’s tense and gripping storyline it is bound to captivate and excite.  I found it completely compelling getting sneak glimpses into the reality of life during the Blitz and recognising that those numerous deaths are simply not numbers in a history book. Instead it allows us to understand and recognise them as individual human tragedies unfolding for so many families and serves as a poignant reminder of the true cost and suffering that war has on ordinary people. Yet despite the constant threat of attack looming over the inhabitants of this city they still embraced life not knowing what tomorrow would bring and we see this clearly within the story.  Beautiful and haunting, it will make you smile, cry and fill your heart with joy.

If you’re intrigued to find out more you can read an extract on the Chicken House website.

Thank you to Laura Smythe and Chicken House for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.

Read and Play Activity books – Miles Kelly

Read and Play Princess and Dinosaur

We had an incredibly busy time as a family during the summer holidays trying lots of different activity books in an attempt to keep the girls amused. Miles Kelly sent these fab new Read and Play books from their new range, which although aimed at younger children of 5 and over still managed to entertain the girls.


Stuffed full of fun activities they include a storybook, puzzle book, jigsaw, play scene with pop-out models and board games.  The play scene and characters provide a perfect starting point for story creations allowing children to use their imagination to the full. They can then develop the art of storytelling and role play long before they may be able to write their own stories.


The puzzle books are wonderfully educational aiding children’s number recognition and observational abilities. Whilst the chunky jigsaw and board games helps develop hand and eye co-ordination and counting skills. There is so much to do and see and most importantly they fold away into a compact box so ideal for taking on long journeys and staving off the boredom.



A huge thank you to Miles Kelly for sending me these fantastic packs.

Exquisite Fairy Tales – David Roberts & Lynn Roberts-Maloney

I have read many retellings of traditional fairy tales but none quite as special as these wonderful collaborations from David Roberts and Lynn Roberts- Maloney. Beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated, they are a true delight to behold. Each tale is set in a distinct period and David Robert’s creations have the most marvellous attention to detail, perfectly evoking the era and transporting you to a different time and place. So without further ado let me take you back in time and then in a twist of events on a magical trip to the future with Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

Rapunzel  – A Groovy 1970s Fairy Tale


Rapunzel is a truly groovy chick living with her wicked Aunt Edna  who has locked her up in a hideous tower block with a broken lift. Like any teenager in the 1970s her bedroom walls are covered with posters of her favourite idols and she spends her days listening to her vinyl collection on her record player. The only difference being she is locked away to protect her from the scary outside world, not realising that it’s her villainous Aunt who presents the real danger. When a chance encounter with a boy called Roger who sings in the local school band, Rapunzel learns there is more to life than lies within the walls of the tower. Each of the pages are filled with glorious details, a Rubix Cube, a chopper bike, platform shoes and my personal favourite a David Bowie vinyl capturing the essence of this time. Allow yourself to be immersed in this fabulous 70s homage to this traditional fairy tale.


Sleeping Beauty – A mid-century fairy tale


Meet a science-fiction-obsessed heroine, a jealous witch and a resourceful rescuer in this stylish reworking of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. Living in the 1950s Annabel loves to read stories all about the future, but a curse means that she may not live past her 16th birthday. An unexpected birthday present of a record player puts her into a deep sleep when she accidentally pricks her finger on the needle. Fast forward a 1000 years and a young explorer Zoe who is intrigued by books and history discovers the fate of Annabel amongst the library stacks and is determined to save her. An enchanting twist on this classic tale this story celebrates the power of books and their endurance in a world far away in the future. I love the fact that Annabel is saved by the love of her Aunts and the inquisitiveness of Zoe not a handsome prince of a white horse. A joyful and endearing tale which will captivate children’s imaginations.


Cinderella – An art deco fairy tale


This stunning reinterpretation of Cinderella oozes style and sophistication capturing the glamour of the 1920s, in the exciting time of the flapper girls. David’s sublime illustrations convey brilliantly the wit and humour of Lynn’s storytelling in this fun and lively version. The villains of the piece are magnificently malevolent making Cinderella’s life a misery whilst her father is completely oblivious to her plight. Every detail of this period is faithfully reproduced by David Roberts, giving the reader a real insight into the past whilst maintaining the original elements of this tale. A simply flawless picture book which deserves to be treasured.


A huge thank you to Pavilion books for sending me these gorgeous books.

The Happy Book Club – Fabulous Fish books


Brown paper packages tied up in string are definitely one of my favourite things, so I was excited to receive this special delivery from The Happy Book Club. This premium book subscription offers a wide range of packages from one month up to a year containing a stunning selection of picture books. I can’t think of anything more exciting for a child than to open up their very own parcel filled with bookish treasures. Each month is themed and includes two books and an activity sheet filled with great ideas for free or cheap activities. On opening this intriguing parcel I discovered…..


The River  An Epic Journey to the Sea – Hanako Clulow

This stunning narrative information book follows a little fish on her epic journey downriver, as she travels into the unknown. As the river winds through mountains, forests and plains the little fish swims on.


You find yourself carried along the river by the most beautiful, lyrical rhymes that are a joy to read aloud. Every page contains the most sublime illustrations and the magical ‘swimming fish’ hologram will captivate the youngest of readers. A truly, wonderful treasure which will delight and inform any child eager to explore the world.


Tiny Whale a Fishy Tale – Joshua George & Puy Pinillos

When a little orange fish with a very big family feels ignored, he starts to look for attention elsewhere. This funny tale about bravery, friendship and very big fibs, shows that sometimes even the littlest of fish can make a big difference.


A lovely story to share with children who may feel overwhelmed in large groups or struggle to make themselves heard. It helps inspire children to be brave and to try something new and teaches them the power of working with others to achieve your goals. Children will be enchanted by the bright and bold illustrations and entertained by Gerald the fish who just wanted to be heard.


A huge thank you to The Happy Book Club for sending me this lovely book package. To subscribe head over to their website where they have an introductory 15% off your first purchase.

Exciting new junior fiction from Maverick Books

I was intrigued to find out more when I heard Maverick Books are launching a new range of Junior Fiction titles, aimed at six to nine year olds.  These books are for children who are embarking on their own reading adventure or for being shared with a grown up. Launching in October, I was excited when early copies landed on my doormat. I’m a strong believer in the power of illustrated early fiction for newly emerging readers, providing a vital bridge between picture and chapter books. My youngest daughter whizzed through them and gave them all a big thumbs up.

Rickety Rocket – Alice Hemming & Emma Randall


Meet Spacey Stacey and her band of fun friends! There is never a dull day on Planet Fiveways, where Stacey and her friends live. From space races to jetpack missions to outwitting pesky space bunnies, there is always a new adventure to be had. Hop into Stacey’s Rickety Rocket and blast off!

This lively and fun adventure is bound to amuse and delight children who find themselves lost in space information books (excuse the pun). Inside you will find three wacky stories featuring Spacey Stacey who finds herself caught up in the most madcap of escapades. With hilarious energy filled illustrations, children will be captivated by this galactic treat.

Letter to Pluto – Lou Treleaven


Jon’s teacher wants to keep the art of letter writing alive, and starts an interstellar penpal programme. Jon is not impressed especially as his penpal, Straxi, is from Pluto, the most boring, smelliest and far away place in the whole solar system. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she’s a girl!

Warm and funny, Jon and Straxi are unlikely penpals, but they soon forge a friendship via their hilarious exchanges where they find out that despite their differences they have a lot in common. Using a letter format is a really interesting concept for children and Lou’s witty illustrations make this an engaging read. Fast forward 300 years later and life seems very similar with just a few planetary twists, despite advanced leaps in technology there will still be irritating brothers and annoying teachers to contend with. The underlying environmental message is told in a very subtle manner but provides a starting point of conversation with younger readers. An original and lively story which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A huge thank you to Maverick Books for sending me copies of these fantastic books. ‘Rickety Rocket’ and ‘Letter to Pluto’ are released on October 28th.

An enchanting debut Grace-Ella Spells for Beginners – Sharon Marie Jones & Adriana Puglisi

grace-ella-lowres final cover

I was thrilled when earlier this year I was asked to do a cover reveal for Sharon Marie Jones’s debut novel ‘Grace-Ella Spells for Beginners’ and even more excited when I got my hands on an early copy. Grace-Ella is thrilled when a black cat walks through their door. She’s always wanted a pet. But Mr Whiskins has a secret to share with Grace-Ella. On the ninth day of the ninth month of her ninth year, he tells her that she is a witch and can start learning magic with the Witches’ Council. Amazed at this astonishing news Grace-Ella who has never been good at school, wonders if she can she learn to be a good witch? As well as struggling with lessons, Grace-Ella and her best friend Fflur are bullied by star pupil Amelia and wish desperately that they could teach her a lesson. The Witches’ Council forbids using magic against anyone. But how else can Grace-Ella protect her friends?

I can’t tell you how much I love this enchanting debut from Sharon and Adriana. Grace-Ella managed to cast a spell over me with its marvellous characters and captivating storytelling. Grace-Ella is full of spirit and determination and is truly joyful at discovering her hidden talents, finally understanding why she never felt that she fitted in and embracing her differences. Her friends Fflur and Bedwyr are slightly out of the ordinary and this story reinforces to children the value of friendship and the importance of being true to yourself. Adriana’s illustrations are truly delightful, capturing perfectly the warmth and joy of this story. Totally irresistible, Sharon has created this spell-binding world filled with magic and mayhem, which is wonderfully appealing to younger readers. It’s full of fun and mischief rather than darkness and terror so an ideal introduction to mystical tales for children who may be aspiring to delve into the magical realm. I can’t wait to be taken on further adventures with Grace-Ella to find out what a witch’s life has in store for her.


Sharon Marie Jones

Sharon Marie Jones was born and raised in Dolgellau, in North Wales.
She studied English and Education at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and graduated with First Class Honours. After completing a P.G.C.E course, she began a career as a Primary School Teacher and taught at Pontrhydfendigaid Primary School for the last 13 years but is now a full time author. She’s a mum to three young boys. Grace-Ella is her first book.

To find out more about Sharon you can visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @sharonmariej

Adriana J Puglisi

Adriana was born in Argentina. She has lived in Granada in Spain since 1995 with her husband, son, daughter, two dogs, a guinea pig, a little bird, and several fish.
She has always drawn. When she decided on a career she chose architecture — she was wrong! Because she wanted tell stories. So she abandoned that, and began to study drawing humorous cartoons and caricatures in Buenos Aires. That’s where she found her strengths: the line, the design of characters and her humour. Adriana loves telling stories. As ideas often come at unexpected moments, she always keeps paper and pencils in her pockets, at home or in the car. She sometimes jots down a few words or a sketch, but usually both.


‘Grace-Ella Spells For Beginners’ is part of Firefly Press’s Dragonfly range for 7-10 year olds set in contemporary wales. To find out more you can visit their website.

Thank you to Firefly for sending my an early preview of ‘Grace-Ella Spells for Beginners.’

An epic adventure – Phonenix SF Said & Dave McKean

sf2  sf1

Last week on the blog I was extremely lucky to have the amazing SF Said on the blog for a Q & A as part of the YAShot blog tour which gave me the opportunity to read ‘Phoenix’ which I’ve been longing to delve into for a very long time. This story totally blew me away, I experienced a multitude of emotions as I was taken away on an epic adventure through the stars. Yet this book is so much more than a thrilling ride, there are underlying themes exploring ignorance, prejudice, and the devastating effect of war on mankind. It manages to be both magical and spiritual, inspiring curiosity and wonder about the world beyond our galaxy and opening our minds to new and exciting possibilities.

Lucky thinks he’s an ordinary Human boy. But one night, he dreams that the stars are singing – and wakes to find an uncontrollable power rising inside him. Now he’s on the run, racing though space, searching for answers. In a galaxy at war, where Humans and Aliens are deadly enemies, the only people who can help him, are an Alien starship crew – and an Alien warrior girl, with neon needles in her hair.  Together, they must find a way to save the galaxy. For Lucky is not the only one in danger. His destiny and the fate of the universe are connected in the most explosive way.

‘Phoenix’ is  tense and breath taking read that will hold you tightly in its grip until you reach the magnificent ending. After turning the last page I just sat contemplating this tale which had deeply touched me whilst totally enthralling me, a rare combination to find. Elements of the story filled me with sadness and outrage at the way the opposing races where treating each other. In particular the scene at the border controls where the Axxa’s humanity is stripped away simply because they are deemed to be ‘aliens’. In a world filled with fear and mistrust ‘Phoenix’ helps children understand how reality can become distorted when it gets caught up in political propaganda. Through Lucky’s journey, it reaffirms the belief that despite our differences, all of us are intrinsically the same.

Incredibly entertaining and exciting, ‘Phoenix’ is filled with the most complex and interesting characters from the feisty Bixa to the thoughtful Frollix, they defy stereotypes as they try to come to terms with their own destinies and what paths they must follow. Wonderfully, dark and menacing it is the fear of the unknown and unexpected which will captivate children’s imagination, how do you know who to trust in a world full of uncertainty. Just when you think the book can’t be surpassed, Dave McKean’s sublime black and white illustrations burst through the pages with a formidable energy. Conjuring up this unknown world before our very eyes and capturing the drama and danger of Lucky’s mission. A powerful and brilliant book that deserves to be in every school library, a truly stunning read.

To find out more about SF Said visit his website or follow him on Twitter @whatSFSaid

To find out more about Dave McKean visit his website or follow him on Twitter @DaveMcKean

Thank you to SF Said for donating a copy of ‘Phoenix’ to our school library.

King Flashypants – Guest Post Andy Riley

I am delighted to welcome Andy Riley to the blog today, author of the fantastically funny ‘King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor,’ for a guest post on his most frightening villain in children’s books.

Andy Riley4


The most frightening villain in children’s literature

Ever since I bought Moominland Midwinter from Woolworth’s when I was at primary school, I’ve been terrified of the Groke -a nightmarish creature which Tove Jansson created for her Moomin books and cartoon strips.

She’s a shambling, slithering, hillock shaped monster. She’s described as having legs but you never see them; they are underneath some sort of skirt which appears to be part of her body. She seems to move like a snail does, leaving a trail behind her – a cold, icy trail. Every living thing she passes over dies. And apparently she eats people.  Everybody in Moominland is terrified of her. So was I. She seemed to symbolise everything strange, threatening and unknowable. I was much more spooked by the Groke than I was by vampires or ghosts.

Then, in her last appearance in the books, in Moomipapa At Sea, Jansson hints at how lonely she is. Although she is a creature of the cold, she seems to be fascinated by light and warmth – but with her deadly freezing touch, she can never reach either. Maybe she’s not a villain at all, but a misunderstood, tragic figure. We never learn for sure. The Groke remains mysterious, unknowable, scary.

When I’m writing and drawing the King Flashypants books I think of the Groke often. Not for my main villain, Emperor Nurbison, who is more in the Ming the Merciless/Richard III mould, but for the mysterious fringes of the Flashypants world. I put in details on the maps, like an unexplored island and the ‘weird meadow’, to give me some riddles and unknowns to explore with readers later.  All stories need a bit of mystery. Children’s stories most of all.

To help me remember, the key to my drawing shed has a little cuddly Groke keyring I bought from the Moomin museum in Finland. If there’s a more eerie plushie keyring in the world, I’ve yet to see it.

IMG_5225 - Grog keyring for Most evil villains blog

Andy Riley

Andy is an Emmy award winning comedy writer and cartoonist, scriptwriter for BBC One’s ‘Gangsta Granny’ and ‘The Boy in the Dress’, as well as the hit animation ‘Gnomeo and Juliet.’ To find out more about Andy you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @Andy Rileyish

Blog Tour

In case you missed the rest of the blog tour you can still join in with more fantastic guest posts.

Flashypants tour announcement

A huge thank you to Andy and Hachette for inviting me to be part of the ‘King Flashypants’ blog tour.


Feelings – Richard Jones & Libby Walden


‘Feelings’ is a unique, beautiful exploration of the power of emotions from Richard Jones and Libby Walden. Taken from a child’s eye viewpoint we are taken on an emotional rollercoaster through the gauntlet of feelings they experience in their life. This beautiful, lyrical tale guides the reader through positive experiences such as excitement and happiness but then explores more complex thoughts of feeling alone and being embarrassed.



It warmly reassures the child that ‘everyone is different and their feelings aren’t the same’ and allows them to feel that it’s absolutely fine to show their true emotions they don’t need to hide them away. Wonderfully empathetic it helps children to understand that when others are experiencing more complex thoughts we should try to walk in their shoes to make sense of why they may be behaving in a certain way. Using a varied colour palette to capture each emotion accompanied by soothing text it opens up a conversation between a child and a parent, offering them a safe place to express their feelings. The clever use of the die-cut child puts them at the centre of the book and the focus of the conversation. It recognises that they may feel unable to control their feelings and how difficult and frustrating that can be for them. Beautifully told with exquisite illustrations this stunning picture book is a truly special read.



A huge thank you to Little Tiger for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for sending me a copy of this book.