Monthly Archives: May 2021

Irresistible Illustrated Fiction

Regular readers of the blog will know 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 reads all guaranteed to enthral and entertain younger readers. They would make wonderful additions to any primary school library.

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife – Maz Evans, illustrated by Chris Jevons

Having been a huge fan of Maz Evan’s writing for a long time, I was thrilled to discover she was bringing her comedy brilliance to younger fiction, in the form of ‘The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife.’ Scarlett has BIG FEELINGS and since her mum has had to work harder and longer just to Make Ends Meet, she’s found it almost impossible to keep them under control. With William U making her life a misery at school, being chosen to play the Swedish Yule Goat in the school play and the cancellation of her birthday party at Stuff-a-Squishie, she’s pushed to her limit. The more she tries to squash down her feelings the more carnage she creates and she doesn’t know what will happen next. A brilliantly funny and heart-warming look at the impacts emotions play in children’s life. With a thoughtful insight into the problems that hiding your feelings away can create, it shows by sharing your worries it can be a great start to dealing with them. Maz excels in observational comedy turning the everyday moments of real life into pure comedy genius moments. I particularly love all of the things Scarlett gets confused about with the snippets of adult conversations she overhears. Chris’s illustrations perfectly capture the chaos and carnage caused by Scarlett’s explosive behaviour, the wonderful detail really brings this story to life. An entertaining and thoughtful start to this new series.

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish – Steven Lenton

Steven Lenton makes his first foray into younger fiction as an author/illustrator in the delightful, ‘Genie and Teeny Make A Wish.’ Grant is a hapless but endearing genie whose penchant for word confusion causes him to be cast out of Genie World after accidentally turning the Queen into a birthday snake rather than conjuring up a birthday cake! Luckily he bumps into another lost soul, Teeny the puppy and they soon become the best of friends. But when Teeny is dognapped by the purple-loving and dastardly Lavinia Lavender, it’s up to Grant to outwit this fiendish villain. I was totally enchanted by this delightful and magical tale. You can’t help but chuckle at the mishaps Grant seems to find himself caught up in, I know that kids will be utterly charmed by his quirkiness and the relationship between Genie and Teeny. The interactive elements of the books bring children in to the heart of this story allowing them to take part in this rollicking adventure. Stunningly produced with the most gorgeous illustrations from Steven, this book is an absolute treat from start to finish.

The Smidgens – David O’ Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett

I adored David O’ Connell’s, ‘Dundoodle Mysteries,’ so was intrigued to discover he had a brand new series coming from a world not to far away in, The Smidgens.’ For Smidgens are exactly like humans except for one tiny difference, they are so small that if you were ever to see one you might suspect you’d spotted an extra large spider or an unusual looking bird. They are everywhere, hidden away in places you can’t see trying to stay out of sight. Gafferty Sprout thinks her family is the last of the Smidgens until one day her curiosity gets the better of her and she sets out to explore the world beyond her house, unwittingly putting her family into grave danger. David has created a richly imagined world that feels completely believable and realistic, it makes you want to peer through the cracks in your skirting boards to see if Smidgens are hidden away. A story of adventure, bravery and self belief, I was completely entertained by this adventure containing just the right amount of peril for younger readers. Seb’s illustrations are delightfully detailed, capturing this miniscule world marvellously. I can’t wait to read more in this series.

Rainbow Grey – Laura Ellen Anderson

Laura Ellen Anderson is back with a brand new series that is bound to delight her Amelia Fang fans. Ray Grey lives in The Weatherlands, home to all sorts of wonderful Weatherlings who each have their own type of weather magic but sadly Ray hasn’t found hers yet. A chance encounter with a dark crystal on a forbidden mission to Earth changes Ray’s life forever when she discovers a new type of magic and becomes Rainbow Grey. But Ray’s magic is unknown and her fellow Weatherlings are suspicious especially when dark forces threaten everything their way of life. It’s up to Ray to find a way to control her new powers and defeat this mysterious enemey. This book is bursting with delicious and delightful details that will enchant younger readers. Laura has assembled an amazing cast of characters, that children will love spending time with, I particularly adored Nim, her exploding cloud cat. The perfect mix of adventure and peril, Laura has created the most sublime and wondrous world which she brings to life through her marvellous illustrations.

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest – Vashti Hardy, illustrated by George Ermos

I’ve long been a fan of Vashti Hardy’s epic and thrilling adventures so was excited to discover she was bringing her richly imagined storytelling to younger fiction in the first book in a brand new series, ‘Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest,’ illustrated by George Ermos. Harley Hitch has a habit of always managing to find herself in trouble, when she’s late on the first day of school and accidentally bumps into Cosmo things go from bad to worse. Their town Inventia relies on the technology that blooms in the Iron Forest but when Harley spots an unusual fungus that is spreading out of control, their way of life is at risk. She is determined to find a solution and get the much coveted Pupil of the Term in the process. But Harley’s good intentions cause more damage than good, can she save the Iron Forest before it’s too late. Vashti has once again created a most intriguing and fantastical world where every detail is cleverly constructed. She creates characters you genuinely care about, especially Harley who despite being rash always has good intentions at her heart. George’s illustrations bring the story to life capturing all the wondrous elements of Inventia brilliantly while showcasing the ups and downs of this compelling story. I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures Harley gets mixed up in, in the next installment.

Llama on a Mission – Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan

Yasmin and Levi are back in another hilarious and heartfelt story that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Now that Yasmin has found her voice life should be getting much easier but holding her feelings inside for so long means that she can’t always find the best way to express herself and she keeps getting into heaps of trouble. Levi, her magical llama is tasked with a secret mission that is vital for both him and Yasmin. Can he help her find a way to finally let people know how she feels before it’s too late? This story is hugely entertaining and likeable, there are so many moments of chaos and carnage that make you want to cringe as the mission spirals out of control. Allen’s illustrations are bold and lively, the characters just leap off the page and demand to be noticed – especially Levi! Superb characterisation and a cracking plot makes the mission of delivering a fabulous follow up a complete success.

Thank you to Farshore, Hachette, Scholastic and Steven Lenton for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy or pre-order online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.


Marvellous Middle Grade Reads

I actually can’t believe it’s May and after way too long, I’m finally getting the chance to sit down and tell you about the middle grade books I’ve been reading recently. This year has been so busy and I’ve been completely heads down for a very exciting reason. In case you missed it, I have my debut children’s book coming out in April next year, ‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle,’ which will be illustrated by Becka Moor and published by Firefly Press. I can’t wait to share more with you but in the meantime you can take a sneak peek here.

Enough about me, let’s move swiftly on to some books! So far this year there has been some extraordinary middle grade books (8 – 12 years) published and I wanted to share with you some of my favourites.

Otherland – Louie Stowell (cover George Ermos)

It was with huge anticipation that I opened the pages of ‘Otherland,’ having adored Louie’s The Dragon in the Library series. I’d only planned to read a few chapters when quite aptly, a wicked fairy stole my afternoon away demanding that I devour it in one sitting. Myra and Rohan are life-long friends, more through co-incidence of birth than choice. But, when Rohan’s baby sister is stolen and taken to a magical underworld, they are forced to unite in a battle against time to defeat an evil Fairy Queen. Set three impossible challenges they must find a way to win the Knight Game in a place where nothing is as it seems and nobody can be trusted. Exquisite world-building meets sublime characterisation in the most surreal and stunning story that I’ve read in a long time. Deliciously dark and packed with peril, Louie will take you on an unforgettable ride full of thrills, spills and the unexpected. An absolute joy from start to finish.

The Strange Worlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean – L.D. Lapinski, illustrated by Natalie Smilie

I was totally slayed by the first book in The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, it was such a captivating and original tale, that left me wanting more. Luckily for me, ‘The Edge of the Ocean,’ sailed into my life bringing with it, a plethora of breath-taking and thrilling moments. When Flic and Jonathan receive an urgent message from the Pirate Queen Nyfe, they pack their bags and jump into her world, The Break. A world full of piracy and magic that is falling apart, threatening to destroy the lives of its inhabitants. Sailing perilously close to the edge of the ocean and facing a seemingly impossible task. Can they help them escape before it’s too late? This is such an epic and breath-taking story packed with so much action and adventure that I could hardly keep up. The world-building is extraordinary, the characterisation is sublime, I barely have the words to tell you how much I loved it. Honestly this completely blew my mind and the ending, well let me just say I cannot wait for ‘The Secrets of the Storm Forest,’ so I can find out what happens next!

A Girl Called Justice – The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths (cover Nan Lawson)

Justice Jones is back and this term there’s a new girl at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Letitia catches Justice’s eyes for her inability to follow the school rules, and the lack of reprehension from the teachers intrigues her curious mind. Things escalate when her dormy’s midnight feast is disrupted by the appearance of a terrifying ghost and one of her friends mysteriously disappears. With a kidnapper on the loose and strange ransom notes, torn from a crime novel causing much consternation. can Justice solve this confusing crime? Smart, sassy and oh so clever this is a thoroughly satisfying and entertaining story for lovers of mysteries. I completely failed to unravel the clues and uncover the true identity of the dastardly kidnapper. Justice Jones is fast becoming one of my favourite sleuths with her sharp mind and determination to find the truth at any cost.

Luna Rae is Not Alone – Hayley Webster

Hayley Webster’s ‘Luna Rae is Not Alone,’ is an extraordinary debut brought to life with the most beautiful and subtle storytelling. Luna Rae has been upended from the home that she knew, a place where flowers grew under the house to a house where she is struggling to belong. A new house and a new school should mean a brand new start for Luna Rae and her family but something is terribly wrong. Something that fills her waking thoughts and that she desperately doesn’t want anyone to discover. Luna is convinced that she has the perfect plan to solve everything, all she needs to do is win the school baking competition with her mum…but there’s one detail she can’t fix, her mum has disappeared. Hayley has created an incredibly thoughtful story that will quite simply steal your heart. By gradually revealing the layers of the story, she creates an almost unbearable emotional tension allowing the reader to become completely attached to Luna. An exciting new voice in middle grade fiction, Hayley is a natural born storyteller.

Between Sea and Sky – Nicola Penfold (cover Kate Forrester)

In Nicola’s debut, ‘Where the World Turns Wild,’ we discovered that she has a talent for creating dystopian worlds where the reader feels like there is a real possibility that the events could actually happen in the future and terrifyingly this world seems very close. ‘Between Sea and Sky,’ follows on brilliantly with a thought-provoking tale set in a world where most of the land is underwater following a series of environmental disasters. This world is full of suspicion and distrust between those that live on sea and those that live on land. Pearl and Clover’s life is turned upside down when Nat comes to spend the summer at sea when he brings along something forbidden, something that could change their lives forever. Can they risk everything they love to change the future? An emboldening and thoughtful tale which challenges he readers perceptions about the world we live in, emphasising its fragility. It highlights the power of the state to control information and how divisions serve their needs better than cohesion. A tale of hope and friendship rallying in the darkest of places.

Amber Undercover – Em Norry

I think there’s a huge gap in the market between middle grade and young adult fiction. I’m always on the look out for transition books that will appeal to tweens who are not quite ready to step into YA. Step forth the hugely entertaining, ‘Amber Undercover,’ by Em Norry. Amber, is just an ordinary girl trying to navigate the complexities of teenage life. Things become trickier, after she agrees to go to an escape room with her friends. Little does she realises that her savvy decision making and calmness under pressure will change her life forever when she is recruited as a spy. Before long she is whisked away to a secret world, sworn to secrecy and set upon a thrilling mission despite feeling completely clueless. This is a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced romp of an adventure which will keep you turning the pages. Amber is the kind of heroine that you will want to root for as she tries to battle her way through her undercover mission whilst keeping all the plates spinning in her real life. I really hope there’s more missions on the way for Amber to tackle.

Thank you to Hachette, Nosy Crow, Oxford Children’s Books, and Stripes Publishing for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy or pre-order online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.