Monthly Archives: February 2019

Charlie Changes Into a Chicken – Sam Copeland, illustrated by Sarah Horne

I’m in real awe of anyone who can write funny fiction. Funny is so difficult to write, at the best I might be able to conjure up a mildly humorous joke in my writing but never any full on laugh-out-loud moments. So it’s rare to discover a writer, especially a debut one who has a real knack for comedy. But Sam Copeland’s debut, ‘Charlie Changes Into a Chicken,’ is one of those books that will genuinely make you laugh-out-loud, cringe with embarrassment and tell all your friends about. Meet Charlie McGuffin ( I can barely type this name without sniggering) an eternal optimist who is determined to see the best in everything. Unfortunately for Charlie his life is rapidly becoming a half-empty scenario rather than a half-full version. His brother is really ill in hospital, his parents are incredibly anxious and just when you thing things can’t get worse, the school bully sets his sights on Charlie. For the first time in his life Charlie is totally stressed out and doesn’t know how to cope. Panic sets in which disastrously leads him to discover that he has a hidden power that is bound to get him into a whole heap of trouble, including much unwanted attention from the bully. With the help of his three best friends can Charlie learn to deal with his power before the truth is exposed?

I had such high expectations of this book having seen rave reviews across social media, so I’m pleased to confirm that these glowing praises are hugely justified. Sam deftly mixes humour and heart in a story that deals with some really tough issues in an accessible way, helping children to gain an empathetic insight into the lives of others. At a time when children’s mental health seems increasingly fragile, I think readers need to see themselves in books and understand other’s experiences. Charlie’s life feels out of control and exceptionally difficult so it should be quite bleak, instead it’s a riotous mix of chaos and carnage that will leave you with a huge smile on your face. Sarah Horne’s lively and hilarious illustrations magnificently portray the variety of Charlie’s emotions as he struggles to come to terms with his new powers. My favourite illustration (above) had to be Charlie appearing rather unexpectedly in the girl’s toilets, this whole scene is pure comedy genius. Brilliantly observant with laughter aplenty, this series is bound to become a fast favourite with lovers of funny tales.

Thank you to Sophia and Puffin for sending me a gifted proof copy in exchange for a honest review. ‘Charlie Changes Into A Chicken,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

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Will You Catch Me? – Jane Elson Guest Post

Today I am delighted to welcome Jane Elson to the blog with a special guest post to mark Children of Alcoholics week which aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. ‘Will You Catch Me,’ is a beautiful, empathetic read about a girl called Nell who is craving a normal and predictable life. Her life is disrupted by the ups and downs of her alcohol dependant mother. A life where every day she has no idea if it will be a good day or a terrible day depending on whether her Mum has kept her promise to Nell. She lives with a menagerie of animals who provide comfort from her increasingly difficult life. Nell thinks her only hope is to track down her Dad so that he can look after them all, so her life can be ordinary instead of chaotic. With her best friend Michael she hatches a plan so that her Dad will have to come and claim her, but will she succeed? Heart-breaking and incredibly poignant, Jane’s storytelling brings a really honest insight into the most difficult of topics dealing with them sensitively and thoughtfully. Her stories feel so genuine and truthful. She gets to the heart of her characters allowing the readers to really feel their raw emotions and internal struggles, taking you along on this emotional journey with them. Yet again another moving and sublime read from Jane Elson, I can’t recommend it enough.

Operation Ark Care, love and routine – Jane Elson

Nell Hobs in Will You Catch Me? has a mother who is alcohol dependent. Aunty Lou, as all the children on the Beckham Estate affectionately call her, lives next door with Nell’s best friend Michael. Aunty Lou is not happy when Nell’s mum leaves her on her own to go to the pub and insists that Nell, who has been locked in the flat by her mum, comes next door to stay with her for the night.

Nell refuses unless all her animals can come too and ‘Operation Ark’, the plan that she hatched with her best friend Michael, is put into action. So Bob Marley the tortoise, Asbo and Chaos the guinea pigs, Aunty Lou the hamster (in honour of the real-life Lou), Fiz and Tyrone the gerbils, and Beyoncé and Destiny the goldfish all get passed through the window in the middle of the night!

The inspiration for ‘Operation Ark’ goes back to World War Two when my dad was a little boy. The air raid siren would blare as the bombs started to fall and his mum, my Nana Elson, would scream at my dad to get in the air raid shelter. He wouldn’t listen and would run backwards and forwards, saving his jam jars of tiddlers, tadpoles and newts from Hitler’s bombs.

As a little girl the bible story of Noah’s Ark really captured my imagination. It made sense that Nell, who is proud to be the only naturalist on the Beckham Estate, would feel an affinity to Noah, ‘the first great naturalist’ as Nell calls him, for rescuing all of those animals.

As an undiagnosed dyslexic child, school was a frightening, confusing place for me growing up. And at home I would have a permanent anxious knot in my tummy as my entire happiness revolved around what mood my dad would be in when he got home from the pub. My biggest comfort was my grey rabbit, Flopsy. Every morning as soon as I woke up I would pull on a thick, woolly cardigan over my nightie and shoving my feet in a pair of old shoes, creep downstairs, unlock the backdoor and tramp over the grass to get my rabbit out of his hutch. Then me and Flopsy would snuggle in my bed, under the quilt till it was time for me to go to dreaded school. I loved that rabbit more than life itself.

Animals bring such comfort and routine to children from chaotic backgrounds. I know what a comfort my rabbit was to me when things were turbulent at home. You have to have a routine when looking after an animal. Feeding them at a certain time, cleaning their cages and making sure they get exercise. Nell’s animal family are the only stability and routine she has. Bob Marley, Asbo and Chaos, Beyoncé and Destiny and co. are to Nell what Flopsy Rabbit was to my younger self. It was a delight creating them for Will You Catch Me?

There are 2.6 million children in the UK with a parent who is alcohol dependent. The stability and routine of their daily lives will be greatly affected by this dependency. For those children who read Nell’s story and think, ‘This is me, this is my story too’, Nacoa is a wonderful charity who run a 24-hour help line for children affected by parental drinking. For readers whose lives are untouched by alcohol addiction, I hope Will You Catch Me? is an enjoyable read which helps them empathise with the lives of children like Nell.

The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics (Nacoa) has a message for children like Nell. It is ‘You are not alone’. Their helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk

Thank you to Jane for sharing this very personal and thoughtful guest post on the blog today.

Blog Tour

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

 

Thank you to Jane and Fritha for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘Will You Catch Me,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop.

 

Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of the Dark – Katie & Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour of the much anticipated newest ‘Sam Wu,’ adventure, ‘Sam Wu is Not Afraid of the Dark.’ Brilliantly written by the fabulous Katie and Kevin Tsang with vibrant illustrations by Nathan Reed this book is a thing of joy from start to finish. Sam and his friends are back jumping up and down demanding that you pay them some attention and join in with their latest adventure. When Sam inadvertently manages to rope himself into Bernard’s camping trip with his Dad, he’s not too impressed as it might just reveal that he’s the teensiest bit afraid of the dark. Out in the wild woods there’s bound to be attacks from great big grizzly bears, rabid wolves, oh and not forgetting vampire bats and aliens. With Sam in charge of the mission to protect him and his friends, will they get to the bottom of who or what is making those strange noises in the night?

Yet again Katie and Kevin have assembled a brilliant cast of characters who are engaging and entertaining. I love how Sam’s annoying cousin  Stanley from Hong Kong manages to drive him crazy on every level with his superior ability in anything and everything. Witty, chaotic and downright hilarious this has to be my favourite ‘Sam Wu,’ story as we witness his overactive imagination spiralling out of control and affecting all of his friends. Its really appealing interactive format with it’s zany and fun layout crammed with Nathan Reed’s superb illustrations which are stuffed full of humorous and intricate details. This series continues to stand out for being genuinely diverse and culturally rich unlike the majority of published books for this age group.

This series has proved to be a huge hit at school and I’ve shared these books alongside the fantastic resources available to subscribers on Authorfy’s website with my Chatterbooks book group. We took on the ‘Using Fears to Fuel Your Writing Challenge,’ to create some epic stories. I think they would be perfect for sharing with LKS2 children as a class read.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and fantastic insights!

Thank you to Hilary and Egmont for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. ‘Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of the Dark,’ is published today and is available to buy online or from any good bookshop.

The Star-Spun Web – Sinéad O’Hart Guest Post

Today I am delighted to welcome Sinéad O’Hart to the blog with a special guest post as part of the blog tour for her latest book ‘The Star-Spun Web.’ This exceptional story captured my imagination from the very first page which with its tale of orphan Tess who is taken away from the only home she’s ever known by a strange man  claiming to be a distant relative. It soon becomes clear that something is terribly amiss and her new guardian has some sinister plans involving Tess and a strange device that was left as a baby. A shocking revelation teaches exposes her to something beyond her imagination and when she learns of  terrible threat from those who would try to control and use her remarkable abilities, she knows she must intervene before it’s too late. Thrilling and engaging, it moves at a breath-taking speed filling the reader with awe and wonder. An original and captivating story that will linger in my imagination long after I closed the book.

Other Worlds: The desire to reach between realities – Sinéad O’Hart

What scientific theories did you research for The Star-spun Web? Fiction has looked at alternative worlds for many years, whether hidden at the back of wardrobes, or in the shadows of rabbit holes… What do you think the role of alternative worlds in children’s fiction plays?

Most of my research was online, though I did dip into some of my husband’s science biographies too. I read some articles about the life and work of Erwin Schrodinger, the famous scientist who came up with the thought experiment now known as ‘Schrodinger’s cat’. He lived in the real-life Dublin at the time the story was set (1941), and he’s briefly alluded to at the start of the book when Miss Ackerbee mentions the scientist ‘from Ostravica’ whom she has befriended. He first mentioned what would later be called the ‘Many-Worlds Theory’, even if he didn’t come up with it in reality until a few years after the book was set – he gave a famous lecture on the topic in 1952. Schrodinger was a refugee from Nazi Germany, invited to live and work in Dublin by the then-Taoiseach (PM), Eamon de Valera, and he founded the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies while living in Ireland. The Institute still exists today. The ideas in The Star-spun Web mix concepts from the many-worlds theory and quantum physics, but I’m by no means an expert! Most of it was completely made up. I think children’s fiction uses the idea of ‘other worlds’ for lots of reasons, perhaps because our own is so unsatisfactory in so many ways and perhaps because children can have more agency and control in alternate realities, particularly ones where their parents aren’t present.

10 fictional worlds to visit before you grow up

  1. Tiffany Aching’s home on the Chalk (from books by Terry Pratchett, first appearing in The Wee Free Men)
  2. Earthsea (from the Earthsea series by Ursula K Le Guin)
  3. Lundinor (from the Uncommoners series by Jennifer Bell)
  4. Yorke (from the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series by Janine Beacham)
  5. Ingary (from Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels by Diana Wynne Jones)
  6. The world of Faerie beyond the Wall in Stardust (from Stardust by Neil Gaiman)
  7. Lyra’s Oxford (from the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman)
  8. The world of The Dark is Rising (series by Susan Cooper)
  9. One of Philip Reeve’s traction cities, or life aboard The Jenny Haniver (the main airship in Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines Quartet)
  10. The world of Elidor (from Elidor by Alan Garner)

Thank you to Sinéad for this really interesting guest post and a list of new worlds to explore in some brilliant books. Lots for the readers of this blog to immerse themselves in.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Leilah and Stripes for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for gifting me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. ‘The Star-Spun Web,’ is released on the 7th February and is available  to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

 

 

 

 

A Pinch of Magic – Michelle Harrison

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for Michelle Harrison’s magical new tale, ‘A Pinch of Magic.’ I’d been in a bit of a reading slump when I started this book but I’ve always found Michelle’s writing to be wonderfully compelling, so it was the perfect read to reignite my love of reading. From the opening chapter I was completely drawn into the world of the Widdershins sisters: Betty, Fliss and Charlie who live a difficult life after the early death of their mother and the imprisonment of their father. Betty –  more so than her sisters – yearns to leave the Isle of Crowstone, to embrace the wider world and seek adventures. But when a planned excursion is abruptly ended, she learns a harsh truth which shatters her dreams. A deadly curse that can’t be broken has plagued their family, their only protection is a ‘pinch of magic,’ in the form of  mysterious objects. When a prisoner offers them a chance to break the curse, will they risk everything they love for an uncertain promise?

Michelle has crafted a deliciously dark tale brimming with magic and superstition that completely entranced me. Wonderfully atmospheric you feel the oppressive nature of the isle of Crowstone from the opening chapter. A bleak place surrounded by eerie marshes and dominated by a prison tower that casts a shadow over everyone’s lives. The magic that she has created is just irresistibly enchanting and cleverly weaved through the story. Using enchanted everyday objects gives an enthralling edge to the story, casting a spell of wonderment over the reader.

Michelle has assembled an extraordinary cast of characters who sit firmly within this carefully constructed world. Betty is formidable, her refusal to accept the constraints of the curse and belief that she can shatter the hold it has over her family is frustrating and endearing in equal measures. But her determination and bravery in even the darkest of times shines through this novel as does the fierce love she has for her sisters. I was really intrigued by the interwoven story of Sorsha who is tormented and betrayed for being different. The fear she stirs in others is woefully reminiscent of societies distrust and suspicion of the unknown. As the story unfolds and the drama escalates, you will hold your breath right till the very exhilarating and  satisfying ending. I loved everything about this spellbinding tale and I’m thrilled that we have more to come from the Widdershins sisters in the future.

Michelle Harrison

Michelle Harrison is a full time author, living in Essex. Her first novel, The Thirteen Treasures, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and is published in sixteen countries. It was followed by The Thirteen Curses and The Thirteen Secrets. Michelle has also written One Wish, a prequel to the Thirteen Treasures books, Unrest, a ghost story for older readers and The Other Alice, a magical book about the power of stories.

You can find out more about Michelle by visiting her website, or follow her on Twiiter and Instagram.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews, posts and resources.

Thank you to Olivia and Simon & Schuster for inviting me to join in with blog tour and for gifting me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. ‘A Pinch of Magic,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop