Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Night Spinner – Abi Elphinstone


Reading ‘The Night Spinner’ by Abi Elphinstone was a really emotional experience for me. ‘The Dreamsnatcher‘ was the very first book I reviewed on my blog and I chose it because it had the feel of a timeless classic and evoked memories of my favourite childhood reads. I felt drawn into Moll’s world in the same way I was with Narnia and the Northern Lights series. I could clearly see it and wanted to be there with them and become part of their tribe. The story moved at such a pace I struggled to put it down, it simply left me wanting more. I kept promising myself just one more chapter, then just another one. I was left desperately wanting to find out what would happen next and luckily for me I received an early copy of the sequel.  With dastardly smugglers, sinister villians and magical I was totally captivated  by ‘The Shadow Keeper.’ As the story drew to a close I wondered what the future might hold for the tribe but I felt certain that there were many more battles for them to fight before the old magic could be fully restored. And so ‘The Night Spinner’ begins…….

Deep within Tanglefern Forest, feeling bereft and lost, Moll and her tribe are ready to set off on quest across the northern wilderness in search for the last Amulet of Truth. Time is running out and the darkness is closing in, leaving a wave of misery and destruction in its wake. Armed only with a set of mysterious clues they must face the most difficult part of their journey. But danger is lurking behind every corner and they must use their wit and bravery to outwit witches, goblins and giants as they climb treacherous peaks, weather unnatural storms and scale vast lakes. Do they have what it takes to defeat the dark magic once and for all?

The temptation to devour this book in one sitting was really strong, but when you’re on your final journey with friends you really don’t want it to end so I rationed myself a few chapters at a time, which took incredible willpower.  Cinematic in it’s journey across the northern wilderness, it stimulated all of my senses with the sumptuous descriptions of the snow, tipped mountains, deep, dark lochs and the heather filled moors. Thomas Flintham’s map conveys the epic nature of the quest brilliantly, giving the reader a real insight into the size of the mission the tribe must complete to save the old magic. His bold, stunning cover captures the excitement and danger of one of the most thrilling sequences in the story

Packed with drama, danger, daring and most importantly heart from beginning to end, this story is a truly emotional rollercoaster of a ride. As we come to the end of this epic journey I felt incredibly tense and agitated, there is a moment – you will know it when you read it – that I let out an audible gasp as I couldn’t quite believe what was unfolding before my eyes. As ever the characterisation is brilliant and it is the cast of secondary characters which give this story a real depth creating this believable but magic world which you find yourself lost in once again. A truly spectacular end to this outstanding trilogy, ‘The Night Spinner’ is a story that will stay with me forever.

Thank you to Abi and Simon & Schuster for a copy of this fabulous book.

The Pavee and the Buffer Girl – Siobhan Dowd & Emma Shoard


To celebrate the release of the stunning graphic novel adaptation of Siobhan’s Dowd’s ‘The Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, I am delighted to welcome the illustrator Emma Shoard to the blog today, with an exclusive animated gif reveal.

Emma Shoard

I decided a while ago that after I had finished the illustrations for The Pavee and the Buffer Girl and the drawings decided upon had gone off to print, that I would like to animate a few scenes from the book. I studied animation a little bit at University but this would largely be a new process for me and it was exciting to imagine what it might bring to the illustrations. It was a way for me to continue developing a project that I have loved working on since receiving the commission back in 2015.

With these animations I wanted it to create the idea that the world inhabited by Jim and Kit continues beyond the page by introducing small movements to an illustration or having a character move through it. The three scenes I have chosen – the second of which appears here today – are all from different points in the book and hopefully tell you a little about the characters and setting of the story.


This image I had been looking forward to animating the most. There were so many possibilities for things that could happen. I chose to imagine a scene from the book viewed from a different angle. Around the corner, just out of sight a fight is breaking out and two people are reacting to the noise.


The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

Jim and his family have halted by Dundray and the education people have been round mouthing the law. In school the Traveller kids suffer at the hands of teachers and other pupils alike, called ‘tinker-stinkers’, ‘dirty gyps’ and worse. Then the punches start. The only friendly face is Kit, a settled girl who takes Jim under her wing and teaches him to read in the great cathedral chamber of the cave below the town. With Kit and the reading, Jim seems to have found a way to exist in Dundray, but everyday prejudice and a shocking act of violence see his life uprooted once again.

A huge thank you to Emma for stopping by the blog today and to Nina and Barrington Stoke for inviting me to take part in the animation reveal.

Irresistible Illustrated Fiction

I’m a huge fan of illustrated fiction books, they are perfect for newly confident readers allowing them to gain confidence without being overwhelmed by pages of text. Here is my round up of my favourite recent releases all guaranteed to enthral and entertain younger readers. They would make wonderful additions to any primary school library.

Erica’s Elephant – Sylvia Bishop & Ashley KIng


‘Erica’s Elephant’ is a captivating and enchanting tale about the unlikely friendship between a girl and her elephant. When Erica Perkins wakes up on the morning of her tenth birthday, the last thing she expects is to find a very confused elephant sitting on her doorstep. Left all alone since she was eight  – after her Uncle Jeff left to hunt for a bird called the Lesser Pip-footed Woob – she finds herself trying to learn to live with a rather large elephant in a tiny terraced house. As if this isn’t problematic enough, the dastardly owner of the local zoo is plotting to steal her elephant. Can Erica manage to outsmart him and keep her new friend. Sylvia Bishop has created a book that is an absolute joy to read. It’s like a great big cuddle on a gloomy day, oozing charm and warmth on every page. Ashley King’s marvellous illustrations are just scrumptious, capturing the relationship between Erica and her elephant beautifully. I found this story to be totally irresistible and I can’t recommend it enough, I’m really looking forward to their next collaboration ‘Bookshop Girl.’

Dave Pigeon Nuggets – Swapna Haddow & Sheena Dempsey


Dave and Skipper (ably assisted by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey} are back with another pigeontastic adventure in (to give it it’s full title) ‘How Not to Get Plucked, Minced, Roasted and Served up with Ketchup.’ When the ‘Human Lady’ goes away on holiday our fearsome duo are forced to brave the big, bad world in the search for food and unwittingly fly into a whole heap of birdseed and danger. Hold on to your feathers as our favourite pigeon heroes try to dodge a vengeful pigeon-nugget maker in this nail-biting, claw-curling and SOMETIMES SHOUTY adventure. ‘Nuggets’ is another absolute triumph, once again Dave and Skipper manage to cause so much chaos and hilarity which is amusing and endearing in equal measures. The mixture of captions, illustrations and scribbling out of words is really engaging for newly confident readers. Sheena Dempsey’s illustrations perfectly compliment this tale, capturing the charm and humour of the story. A must have read for younger readers.

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern – Roland Chambers & Ella Okstad


Nelly is back in the follow up to the fantastically quirky ‘Nelly and the Quest For Captain Peabody’ with a new adventure in ‘Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern.’ When intrepid explorer Nelly returns home to discover that her mother has mysteriously disappeared, she vows to stop at nothing until she’s found her. But being who she is –  a bundle of determined energy with riotous red curls who will not let anybody stand in the way of what she needs to do – we know this will not be an ordinary quest. Come with me as we follow Nelly climbing to the tops of the clouds in a laundry basket, diving deep to the bottom of the ocean in an oversized time can and discovering the truth about her family. Roland has created this fabulous world  filled with mystery and excitement described in the most sumptuous details. You really do feel that you are part of Nelly’s intrepid adventure and get swept along in the excitement. Ella Okstad’s sublime illustrations in a vivid palette of red and grey, manage to capture the drama and danger of this weirdly wonderful story. Nelly is one of my favourite heroines and I was delighted to join her on another adventure.

Attack of the Alien Dung – Gareth P. Jones & Steve May


Every wondered what your pets get up to when you’re out of the house all day? I have two cats that sit on my bed and don’t appear to move all day, but what in fact if they were secretly protecting the earth from alien invaders. That’s exactly what the pets in Gareth P. Jones latest book ‘Attack of the Alien Dung’ are doing in the first of a brand new series ‘Pet Defenders’. Meet Biskit, Philip’s pet dog, also known as Secret Agent Biskit, part of an elite team of pets whose goal is to protect Planet Earth and prevent humans from knowing the truth about aliens at all costs. Secret Agent Biskit is not happy when he discovers his new partner Mitzy is a cat, everyone knows cats and dog’s don’t mix. But when the planet is under attack from a cluster of cow pats it’s time for them to put aside their differences and kick some alien butt! Stuffed full of hilarious, crazy moments this book will delight and amuse younger readers with it’s wonderfully, imaginative storyline. Steve May’s lively and engaging illustrations are a total joy, filled with comic details they capture the chaos and craziness of the book brilliantly. An out of this world adventure guaranteed to make you chuckle.

The Story of the Dancing Frog – Quentin Blake


I’m thrilled to share with you another ‘Little Gems’ book with you on the blog today. This marvellous series is hugely popular in my school library, really appealing to newly confident readers. Chapters are kept short and they are heavily illustrated to engage the child and promote enjoyment of the book. Quentin Blake’s ‘The Story of the Dancing Frog’ is another absolute joy of a tale. Wonderfully witty and wise, featuring the most exquisite and energetic illustrations that will captivate and delight younger reader. When a heartbroken widow, of a captain drowned at sea encounters a friendly frog it helps to lift her out of her despair. Gertrude soon discovers that George is no ordinary frog – he’s a dancing frog who will change both of their futures for the better. Travelling the world they live a life filled with excitement and wonder spreading light and laughter wherever they go. A warm, gentle tale about the power of friendship in the darkest of times and highlighting how light can be found in the most unexpected places.

Thank you to Barrington Stoke, OUP, Scholastic, Stripes Books and Swapna Haddow for sending me copies of these fantastic books.


Let’s Find Fred – Steven Lenton


Today it’s my stop on the ‘Let’s Find Fred’ blog tour and I’m delighted to share this panderrific picture book from Steven Lenton with you on the blog today. Every night, Stanley the zookeeper says goodnight to all of the animals and tucks them into bed. But one night, he can’t find Fred! Where can he be? Dreaming of balloons, candyfloss and parties Fred decides to set of on an adventure of his own.  Join Stanley as he searches for the pesky panda amongst all the sights of the city  children will love spotting Fred as he hides at the market, the art gallery, in the park, at the funfair and finally at a very special party.


You know from the very moment you lay your eyes on this book (or indeed when it lays it’s eyes on you – watch out for the moving eyes on the cover), that this is going to be a lively and mischievous read. Confusion and chaos runs through the black and white filled pages where pandas seem to be everywhere or maybe not as Stanley finds out, when the ‘Fred’ he spots turns out to be Dave, a big burly bloke. I love how the writing twists, turns and changes direction emphasising how Stanley is chasing Fred all over town and making it more challenging for newly independent readers to enjoy.


This book is guaranteed to have children pouring over the pages for hours as each spread is filled with delicious details that will appeal to both children and parents. Every time I’ve read this book I’ve spotted new things: from a monkey playing with a Rubix Cube; Goldilocks sharing a picnic with the three bears; a small boy drawing on an attendant’s face and a Mum feeling very sick on a tea cup ride. Not forgetting the many famous faces that appear in the book (see who you can spot), the white butterfly on every page and the puns that are scattered throughout the story. Who wouldn’t want to watch ‘The Panda of the Opera’ or ‘Star Paws’? My favourite being the ‘Dirty Dancing’ reference which I challenge you to find.  An absolute gem of a picture book, I absolutely loved it!

Steven Lenton


Steven Lenton is a highly-acclaimed artist whose bestselling titles include the Shifty McGifty series by Tracey Corderoy and The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Steven has also worked as an animation director in children’s television. Originally from Congleton in Cheshire, Steven now splits his time between Bath and London where he works from his studios with his little dog, Holly.

You can find out more about Steven by visiting his website or follow him on Twitter @2dscrumptious

Blog Tour

You can catch up with the rest of the blog tour with more reviews and guest posts.


Thank you to Steven and Olivia at Scholastic for inviting me to be part of the blog tour and for my copy of ‘Let’s Find Fred.’


Ally Kennen – The Everything Machine Guest Post


I am delighted to welcome Ally Kennen to the blog today with a special guest post on her ‘Tope 10 Fictional Inspirations’ as part of ‘The Everything Machine’ blog tour. ‘The Everything Machine’ is a hilarious new adventure about three children who are let loose with a top-secret magical machine with a mind of it’s own…..what could possibly go wrong? Olly, Stevie and Bird have just had a very special delivery. It’s a machine that has a name, can speak and is able to print ANYTHING they want it to. How about a never-ending supply of sweets and a cool swimming pool in the shed, for starters?

But is getting everything you’ve ever wished for all it’s cracked up to be?

So now it’s time to find out what books inspire Ally Kennen.


Top 10 Fictional Inspirations


I am a rabid reader, and everything I read probably gets churned up and processed and feeds the writing beast. I am currently reading ‘Vanity Fair’ by William Thackeray and I do love the wicked and irreverent Becky Sharp. I like characters who lead the plot rather than the other way round.

It is way too hard to choose only 10 fictional inspirations, so instead I have 15, which was also very hard. In no order at all…

 1) Absolute Zero by Helen Cresswell I love this series of children’s books about Ordinary Jack, marooned within his horribly high-achieving family. This is funny writing about an eccentric, crazy family. The humour is delicious.

 2) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Arghhh! This book is SO SCAREY and CREEPY and dark. It is brilliant and awful. I could never write anything so terrifying, and actually, that’s OK!

3) The Shipping News by E. Anne Proux. I keep rereading this funny, dark book. The language is so rich, the salty- seascapes so vivid, the characters unique. I am utterly behind Quoyle, the soft-hearted, unlucky, bumbling lead.

4) N-W by Zadie Smith. This is fine-honed super-writing. And funny. And a cracking story and deeply inventive. There are no superfluous sentences. Every. Word. Packs. A. Punch.

5) The Circle by Dave Eggers. What a crazy book! But this foray into the not too distant future is enticing and horribly convincing. Where we are all sewn into our virtual worlds. There is even a car chase at the end which is something I am personally fond of.

6) The Big Sleep  by Raymond Chandler. Actually I haven’t read it for maybe 10 years so I’d better not waffle here. But I remember a line ‘She was a blonde who would make a Bishop kick in a stained glass-window,’ that I find very entertaining. (That line might have come from another Chandler book) I love his characters’ dialogue, the dry wise-cracks are inspirational!

7) Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.  Oh I love Thomas Hardy. I come from a deeply rural upbringing, no buses, hardly any cars, just hedges and cows and things. The red postbox on the road was the most exciting thing around, a portal to another universe. Maybe this is why I am drawn to the heavy, immersing, pastoral settings of Hardy’s books, the lengthy discourses on the quality of the light, the bridle-ways and tracks and plantations, and of course, the dreadfully sad, yet compelling, plots.

8) Titus Groan by Melvyn Peake.  Reading these Gormenghast books is like burying yourself in another utterly immersive world, like being swept up by a far richer brain and being towed along by the thoughts. Crazy stuff: scary, wild characters, poetic. A brilliant series of fantasy books.

9) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This is a compelling page turner thriller. I love the warped characters and their motivations. The main characters are married, and absolutely loathe each other. This is like Uber-Twits!

10) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This book is so sad in places I can hardly bear to re-read it. But it is a story of a family’s progression through the Great American Depression. It is epic, but you don’t have to feel noble for reading it. It is gripping and  thought-inducing and will colour in a new part of your mind…

11) Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim. Ah Elizabeth! she grows a glorious garden, she is married to a Man of Wrath, she has many babies and there are many many lines in this book, which one has to reread, like those plaque things with inspirational  life-affirming messages. Only far better, and woven into a magical book.

12) Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Ok, this is the biggie. Hilary Mantel is the Usain Bolt Olympic super-human of the writing world. She writes books fit for the Gods. This book is the real thing. It has everything, story, PEOPLE, sorrow, poetry, more story. Actually I’m going to have to stop at 12 books and start reading it again. Sorry Mr Thackeray.

Ally Kennen


Ally Kennen has been an archaeologist, museum guard and singer-songwriter. Her dark and thrilling teen novels have been nominated for over eleven literary awards. She lives in Somerset with her husband and four children.

You can visit her website or follow her on Twitter @allykennen to find out more.

Blog Tour


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

Monday 13th February

Fiction Fascination

Bookish Outsider

Tuesday 14th February

Girl Vs Books

Book Lover Jo

Wednesday 15th February

Live Otherwise

A Daydreamer’s Thoughts

Thursday 16th February

MG Strikes Back

Alejandra’s Life

Friday 17th February

Library Girl and Book Boy

Luna’s Little Library

Saturday 18th February

Big Book Little Book

Mum Friendly

Sunday 19th February

Tales of Yesterday

Powered by Reading

Amazing Animal Picture Books


Animals in stories have always held huge appeal to me when choosing stories to read aloud at storytime. Offering the chance for children to join in by allowing them to recreate the animal noises or tell me what they know about different animals is a real joy to me. I like nothing better than a library filled with roaring tigers or mooing cows, so let me share with you some of my favourite animal picture books that have been recently released.

There’s A Pig Up My Nose – John Dougherty & Laura Hughes


What would happen if one day you found that you had a pig stuck up your nose? Would anyone actually believe you and how would you manage to get it out? One night when Natalie is fast asleep a pig sneaks into her house and climbs up her nose which results in chaos and confusion. Now try explaining this to a group of 5 and 6 year olds and see what reaction you get. I shared this hilarious book at storytime at school and the library was filled with giggles as we watched Natalie’s classmates grand plans for getting the pig out of her nose. My own personal favourite was holding Natalie upside-down whilst hitting her on the head with a large inflatable rhinoceros. John Dougherty has created a rollicking read that is a real joy to share and  Laura Hughes’s warm and witty illustrations capture the humour of this story perfectly.

There’s Brocolli In My Ice Cream – Emily MacKenzie


Emily MacKenzie is back with another delightful, colourful tale which you will find irresistible – unlike the aforementioned broccoli ice cream in the title. Meet Granville who loves everything sugary and sweet but can’t and won’t eat vegetables of any description. His family despair of his reluctance to be passionate about parsnips or to be mad about mushrooms, so they come up with a plan, not realising that Granville has a plan of his own. This wonderful tale flows beautifully wrapped round with layers of lavish alliteration that captures the passion of our veggie loving family. As always Emily’s illustrations are vivid and colourful, bursting with humorous details that you will discover each time you re read the story, exploring the pages for new and fun things to spot and discover. Perfect for fussy eaters, who may even be tempted to try something new after sharing this story.

Tiger, Tiger – Jonny Lambert


‘Tiger, Tiger’ by Jonny Lambert is one of those tales which fills my heart with joy. A celebration of young and old we are taken on a journey of discovery through the jungle seeing it through the eyes of the young cub for the first time. Whilst Old Tiger’s world is quiet, dull and devoid of colour, cub feels that there is a world out there waiting to be explored. But Old Tiger has been there and seen it all before, surely there is nothing that could possibly entertain or amuse him. As they journey into the jungle Jonny’s sumptuous spreads turn from muted grey to a vibrant palette portraying the change in Old Tiger’s feelings as he remembers there is more to life than being still and alone. The rich descriptive language captures the energy of the movement of the animals and the irrepressible enthusiasm of the young cub brilliantly. A visual extravaganza filled with warmth and wisdom.

Safe and Sound – Jean Roussen & Loris Lora


‘Safe and Sound’ is a wondrous celebration of the relationship between baby animals and their parents. No matter how different and diverse the animal kingdom or big and small, they need some help until they’re grown so they can be protected from danger. Jean Roussen tells their stories through a gentle, rhyming text which takes us on a journey as  we visit wolves hidden away in mountains protected by their packs, chipmunks safely buried underneath the ground and crocodile hatchlings hidden away inside their mother’s mouth. Loris Lora’s stunning illustrations convey the wonder of the habitats that each of the animals lives and the bond between the parents and their babies marvellously. Another sublime picture book from Flying Eye books, this is an irresistible combination of beautiful prose and sumptuous illustrations.

As Nice As Pie – Garry Sheppard & Tim Budgen


‘As Nice As Pie’ is a hilariously, naughty tale from Gary Sheppard which will make you laugh out loud with glee. Kindly Mavis Manewearing loves cooking and sharing, but feeding one lone bird soon turns into a menacing menagerie of potbellied pigeons, greedy gannets and plum parakeets. At the end of her tether she bakes up a surprise dish called ‘Birdie Surprise’ and teaches those cheeky and greedy birds a much needed lesson. Gary Sheppard has created a story which bounces off the pages with humour and energy, demanding to be read aloud with its lively rhymes. Tim Budgen’s illustrations are bright and colourful and filled with pure comic moments and a wonderful attention to detail.

A huge thank you to Bloomsbury, Egmont, Flying Eye Books, Little Tiger and Maverick Books for sending me copies of these amazing animal books.

The Painted Dragon – Katherine Woodfine


Lil and Sophie are back in another thrilling adventure in Katherine Woodfine’s ‘The Painted Dragon.’ I was ridiculously excited to spot an early copy in my local bookshop having had to wait a whole year for the next instalment in the marvellous Sinclair Mysteries. I can definitely confirm that it is absolutely worth the wait With an opening chapter that leaves you feeling like a nervous wreck you know that you’re in for a treat. Less dark and menacing than ‘The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth,’ this feels like a more complex story which hides many layers of secrets waiting to be discovered by our intrepid heroines.

Mr Sinclair in his endeavour to make Sinclairs the most glamorous and sophisticated department store invites London’s rich and famous to visit an exhibition featuring priceless paintings including the King’s very own ‘The Green Dragon.’ But on the morning of the gala evening  a terrible crime is uncovered. The King’s painting has been stolen from a room that was locked, but this is something much more complicated than a locked room mystery. Once again Lil and Sophie find themselves caught up in an elaborate plot and faced with forgery, trickery and deceit on all sides. Will they be able to unmask the true villain and prove that they are detectives to be reckoned with – no matter what danger lies ahead.

Katherine has succeeded once again in creating an intricate mystery waiting to be unravelled, whilst giving the reader a real insight into the inequalities in Edwardian society. She introduces us to Leo, whose wealthy parents don’t know what to do with her because she has a disability. A daughter like that, couldn’t possible have a London Season and what do with her so that she isn’t seen by society. Fortunately Leo manages to escape the confines of her home and finds herself crossing path with our heroines when she is identified as the last person to see ‘The Green Dragon’ and she becomes inextricably wrapped up in their perilous adventure. Assembling characters new and old the story builds to a thrilling climax as our splendid duo will stop at nothing to expose the thief. Wonderfully dramatic and tense, this is a truly marvellous tale that will leave you wanting more.

In case you missed them you can still read my reviews of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth.