Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cover Reveal – Pie-Rats and the Mist Island Treasure by Kate Poels, illustrated by Sarah Horne

I’m really excited to be able to reveal for you today, the cover of Kate Poel’s new book, ‘Pie-Rats and the Mist Island Treasure,’ illustrated by Sarah Horne which will be published on 28th November.

So without further ado here it is…

This treasure of a cover was created by Sarah Horne and hints at the irresistible swashbuckling adventure that lies within the pages, waiting to sail you away. I was lucky enough to have an early read and it’s packed full of silliness and fun with a large sprinkle of chaos and carnage. An irresistible cast of characters make the story leap off the page and it will completly captivate younger readers.

Let’s find out more…

Pie-Rats and the Mist Island Treasure

Captain Greentail

Jump aboard the good(ish) ship, Black Biscuit, with Steady Eddy, Cap’n Greentail and the rest of the Pie-Rat crew as they search for the lost treasure of Mist Island.

Only be warned, there be mouldy pies, pirate ghosts and skullduggery aplenty.

So batten down yer hatches, grab yer pie pistols and get ready to set sail…If ye be brave enough.

Steady Eddy

Thank you to Kate for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Pie-Rats and the Mist Island Treasure,’ is available to pre-order online now or directly from Four Bears Books by emaililng info@fourbearsbooks.uk

Diary of an Accidental Witch – Perdita & Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders

Today I am excited to be joining the blog tour for, ‘Diary of an Accidental Witch,’ by Perdita & Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders. Bea Black had moved to Little Spellshire, a town with a magical secret. When her dad accidentally enrols her at witch school, she has to get to grips with some interesting new classes, like, NOW! Also on her to do list…make friends, look after the grumpy class frog. AND do everything humanly magically possible to stay on the broom. But with the Halloween Ball on the horizon, will she be able to master her wand skills in time to WOW? And more importantly can she keep her newfound magical abilities a secret from dad? This is the first book in an exciting and magical new series that is bound to delight middle grade readers with it’s engaging diary format, brilliant characterisation and hilarious plot. Brimming with magical mishaps, sprinkled in humour and featuring the most wonderful illustrations this book completely charmed me. A brilliantly imagined world that is bound to entertain & amuse. Loved it!

To celebrate the publication of ‘Diary of an Accidental Witch,’ I have a special Q & A with Katie Saunders by the dynamic duo Perdita and Honor.

Q&A with Katie Saunders by Perdita and Honor Cargill

Thank you so much Jo, for being part of our blog tour! You did our cover reveal (thank you!) so you already know how much we love Katie Saunders’ work – seeing the inside illustrations come in was so exciting. This is a whole new sort of collaboration for us and we thought it would be fun to understand a little more about how it works from Katie’s side so we asked her some questions:

As soon as we saw your sample drawing of Bea, we knew you had captured her perfectly! How did she come to you?

She took a few attempts – my first idea was too young so I had a rethink. I thought she would be a tiny bit awkward with short black hair (always a bob style – just what I saw) and I’m not sure why but I didn’t see her as massively girly. She has an element of my own daughter, Olive – she’s a bit of a tomboy and the same age. Then there was just a bit of tweaking later on with the design and art direction.

Well, she is spot on! Her expressions make us laugh out loud – especially when she’s panicking… It’s so interesting that you just ‘see’ some things because it’s the same for us when we’re writing. We love that you’ve put some of Olive into her, that’s so special! Big shout out too, to the brilliant art and design team at Little Tiger, Charlie Moyler and Sophie Bransby.

Who was your favourite character to draw?

I love Winnie. I adore her lovely curls and I couldn’t stop adding to her (we’ve just got a second sausage dog and now we’ve named her Winnie!). So she was my favourite to draw – but Bea is my favourite character by far. I love the fact that she’s desperate for a puppy…

We’ve just looked at the sausage dog drawings (https://www.advocate-art.com/katie-saunders) and they are ADORABLE. If a puppy were ever to make an appearance in the series, it will have to be a sausage dog!

Which character did you find the hardest to draw?

Ms Celery was trickiest. I’m not sure why but she took the longest. I was struggling to make her look like a teacher as well as a witch – I wanted her to be a cool popular P.E. teacher and not too old or scary.

She can be quite intimidating (she’s not one for health and safety…) but she definitely ends up as one of Bea’s faves.

Can you give us a quick insight into how you work?

I usually need at least two coffees before I start – I can’t function without caffeine! I work a combination of hand-drawn and computer-generated and I sketch with my Wacom just like I would with an ordinary sketchbook. I love texture, tone and shading. But everything starts with character – designing character is simply my favourite thing ever!

This is such a magical answer because for us too, it all starts with characters!

Thank you to Perdita, Honor and Katie for such an interesting Q & A. I love getting an insight into the illustrative process.

Blog Tour

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

‘Diary of an Accidental Witch,’ is available to buy now online or from you local bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Cover Reveal – Libby and the Parisian Puzzle – Jo Clarke & Becka Moor

After many years of hosting cover reveals for other authors, today I get to reveal the cover for my debut, ‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle,’ illustrated by the brilliant Becka Moor. This is the first book in ‘The Travelling School Mysteries’ and will be published by Firefly Press on March 10th 2022. I’m so excited to be sharing it with you here first. The lovely Becka Moor has created this incredible animated cover for the reveal today so you’re in for a huge treat!!

I am naturally biased but I absolutely love everything about the cover. Stunningly, illustrated and designed by Becka Moor, I think it’s the perfect introduction to, ‘The Travelling School Mysteries.’ Libby and her best friend Connie take centre stage and she cleverly gives us a real insight into their personalities. Can you guess which one is Libby and which one is Connie? If you look carefully you’ll also spy lots of clues about the story hidden in the cover. Regulars to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of illustrated fiction, so I’m thrilled to share that the book will feature more illustrations inside from Becka.

Let’s find out what we have instore for you in this brand new mystery…

Libby and the Parisian Puzzle – Jo Clarke, illustrated by Becka Moor

Mystery-lover Libby is excited but nervous when she’s sent to live with her aunt, while her mother is working abroad, Her Aunt Agatha is the headmistress of an extraordinary travelling school that moves from country to country. Libby joins it in Paris, where she is just starting to find her feet, when Agatha is arrested, accused of daring jewel robber. Can Libby and her new best friend Connie find the real thief and save her aunt?

I honestly can’t wait for you to meet Libby and Connie, having my debut published is an absolute dream come true!

‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle,’ is publishing on March 10th 2022 and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Cover Reveal – Toby and the Silver Blood Witches by Sally Doherty

I’m really excited to be able to reveal for you today, the cover of Sally Doherty’s debut, ‘Toby and the Silver Blood Witches,’ which will be published on 19th July.

So without further ado here it is…

This beautiful cover was illustrated by Sarah Jane Docker. For me this stunning artwork hints at the mysterious and magical tale that lies beneath the cover. I’ve been lucky enough to have an early read and this is a really thoughtful but entertaining story. Full of twists, turns and the unexpected, it has just the right amount of peril to keep readers turning the pages. A satisfying and enthralling read. Let’s find out more about what Sally has instore for us in, ‘Toby and the Silver Blood Witches‘.

Toby and the Silver Blood Witches

A sinister plot. A secret city in the sky. A boy with an impossible choice.

Twelve year old Toby has little time for friends or football since his mum fell ill. All he wants is to stay at home and keep an eye on her. 

But mysterious things are happening beyond his garden hedge. And who is the strange woman in his attic with her clumsy magic and bothersome bat?

Entangled in adventure, Toby must embark on a dangerous mission. A girl’s life is at stake and time is running out.

Thank you to Sally for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Toby and the Silver Blood Witches,’ is available to buy from the 19th July. 10% of profits from the sale of this book will go to The ME Association.

Taylor and Rose – Visit Paris with Katherine Woodfine

Today I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour to celebrate the final book in the Taylor and Rose Secret Agents series written by Katherine Woodfine and illustrated by Karl James Mountford. We are going back to the beginning and visiting, ‘Peril in Paris,’ on the blog today and I have a special guest post and Q & A with Katherine. Without further ado, let’s see the sights of Paris…

PARIS – KATHERINE WOODFINE

Bonjour Paris! With the final book, Nightfall in New York, being published on 8th July, what better moment to revisit the previous books in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series — beginning with Peril in Paris?

This first book in the series sees young detectives Sophie Taylor and Lil Rose leaving London behind, on an exciting mission for the mysterious Secret Service Bureau. In Paris, they must go undercover to investigate a murder and a sinister plot. It was great fun to write about Sophie and Lil (who also appear in previous series The Sinclair’s Mysteries) settling into their thrilling new role as secret agents for the British government, facing all kinds of dangers along the way.

I loved writing this story, which is set in one of my very favourite cities. I was able to draw on lots of my own special memories of visiting Paris, as well as to indulge myself in researching the city as it would have been in 1911. Sophie and Lil’s adventures take them everywhere from the streets of Montmartre, to sophisticated night-club La Lune Bleue — inspired by the legendary Moulin Rouge.

Strolls in the Jardin Du Luxembourg helped me to imagine the park scene

Of course, I couldn’t resist a visit to Paris to help me research the book — and if that wasn’t enough, I also took a little day-trip there to celebrate its publication. That seems incredibly decadent now (and it’s certainly the fanciest way I’ve ever celebrated a new book!) but it’s so lovely to be able to look back on a memorable day of lunch in the sunshine, a boat trip on the Seine and of course a visit to wonderful bookshop Shakespeare & Co. I’m looking forward to being able to go back to Paris again soon — which is now even more special to me, as the setting for the first Taylor & Rose adventure.

Returning to Paris celebrate the book’s publication in 2018 – I couldn’t resist posing with Peril in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower

Why did you decide to use Paris for the setting of the first book?

Paris is not only one of my favourite cities, it’s also one I know reasonably well. I can navigate the Métro, I understand the layout of the city, and I speak some French. For that reason, it felt like a good, solid place to start — and the ideal city for Sophie and Lil to begin their travels.

 On my research trip in 2017, I scouted out key locations including Au Lapin Agile in Montmartre, which helped inspire the Café Monique

What’s more, I knew it would be interesting to explore the Paris of this period. 1911 is towards the end of what we now call the ‘Belle Époque’, which saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris Métro, grand exhibitions like the Universal Exposition of 1900 which showcased the latest innovations in everything from art to technology, the birth of cinema, the Ballets Russes, the Impressionists… I could go on! This was a moment at which Paris was hugely influential in terms of art, culture and fashion, and I knew it would offer lots for me to write about — and of course, lots of scope for adventure.

What inspired you to have Sophie and Lil recruited to the Secret Service Bureau?

While I was writing the final book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series, The Midnight Peacock, I learned that the real-life British Secret Service Bureau (which would later become MI5 and MI6) was established at around the time this book was set. That caught my attention at once — and in fact, there’s a hint at the end of that book that Sophie and Lil may find themselves working for a mysterious new government organisation in the future.

The idea of Sophie and Lil turning their detective talents to becoming secret agents was really intriguing to me, and I soon found myself reading more about the early days of the Secret Service Bureau, as well as exploring some of the stories of spies and espionage that were so popular in the years running up to the First World War. From this research, the idea for Taylor & Rose Secret Agents soon evolved.

When writing Peril in Paris, what kind of research did you do?

I read a lot — both fiction and non-fiction, and consulted maps, travel guides and even railway timetables from the period! As always, I looked at lots of images for inspiration, from fashion illustrations to 1900s photographs of Paris. Of course, writing the book was also a great excuse for a trip to Paris to scout out some of the key locations that appear in the book. I also wanted to take the time to absorb all the small details which are so important when you’re trying to evoke the atmosphere of a place — the colours, smells, sounds, and of course, the food (especially essential in France!)  While I couldn’t visit Paris in 1911, I could mooch about the present-day city streets, trying to imagine myself back in time — and stopping for a few all-important patisserie breaks along the way…

Of course, no Paris research trip would be complete without visiting a patisserie!

Thank you to Katherine for this really insightful guest post and a wonderful trip to Paris, it’s really making me want to hop on the Eurostar and visit my favourite city. If you want to listen to Katherine read from, ‘Peril in Paris,’ click here or have a sneak peek of her Pinterest click here. ‘Nightfall in New York,’ is published on the 8th July and you can pre-order online or at your local bookshop.

Blog Tour

The next step on the blog tour is St.Petersburg with Miss Cleveland is Reading next week…

Marvellous Middle Grade Reads

So I blinked and June is now upon us, this year is just flying past! After being heads down for most of the year there has been a slight breather which has happily coincided with the half-term holidays. There are so many wonderful books sitting in my to be read pile so it was really tricky to choose which books I should share with you but these were the ones that caught my eye.

Emma Carroll – The Week at World’s End

A new book from Emma Carroll is always a highlight in my literary year, so when an early copy of ‘The Week at World’s End,’ dropped through my letterbox I had to abandon everything and read it straight away. Set against the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the end of the world seemed like it was within touching distance, Stevie finds a runaway girl hiding in her coal shed. The girl is desperate for help claiming someone is trying to poison her and Stevie – along with her best friend Ray -can’t resist the chance to have some excitement in their lives. But Anna’s increasingly strange behaviour unsettles Stevie, she knows that she isn’t being completely honest with them. The discovery of a dark family secret convinces Stevie that Anna has come to World’s End Close for a purpose. With time ticking away can she uncover the truth before it’s too late? This story is Emma at her finest. Exquisite storytelling brought to life with rich period detail and glorious characterisation. She captures all the tension of the escalation of the Cold War brilliantly, at times the tension is almost unbearable, it took my breath away. Emma has this incredible talent for bringing history to life, allowing the reader to be completely transported to a different time of place. It tackles some incredibly poignant themes including feminism, racism and loss, in a thoughtful and unsentimental way. I was gripped from start to finish, this book is an absolute triumph and I absolutely loved it!

When The Sky Falls – Phil Earle

I’ve been a huge fan of Phil’s writing for many years. He has an incredible talent for finding stories wherever he goes, hidden behind doors in the Storey Street series, in the ‘Mind the Gap,’ announcement on the London Underground and now in the extraordinary, ‘When the Sky Falls,’ he was inspired by a real life story about a friend’s dad during WW2. We are familiar with stories where children are sent away to the country to escape the threat of bombing but here we meet Joseph, a boy who has been sent to the very heart of the War. He has been sent to live with a woman, Mrs F, who has no time for children and is simply repaying a debt by looking after him. The only thing she loves is her rundown zoo and its former star attraction, Adonis, the silverback gorilla. Joseph is initially terrified of this ‘beast,’ but the more time he spends with him, he forges a bond. But with the bombers getting closer can they make a terrible decision to save others from a horrific fact? I was completely overwhelmed by the characterisation in this story, the anger that Joseph can’t contain pours out of the pages, contrasting with the hidden vulnerability and pain of Mrs F. On the face of it they have little in common, yet they are both struggling to come to terms with grief in their own ways. Set against the background of intense bombing, destruction and loss this exacerbates their feelings building up the tension to a dramatic climax. There are not enough words to do justice to how much I loved, ‘When the Sky Falls.’ All I can say is that it’s raw, powerful, beautiful and poignant, one of the most accomplished books I’ve read in a long time.

The House of Serendipity: Sequins & Secrets – Lucy Ivison, illustrated by Helen Crawford-White & Catharine Collingridge

I’m completely fascinated by the 1920s, a period of time when the world was emerging from a long period of war, life seemed full of optimism and change was in the air. in the first instalment of ‘The House of Serendipity,’ series, Lucy introduces us to two very different girls, Sylvia Cartwright a rich socialite who feels suffocated by her destiny and Myrtle Mathers who is forced into service after the death of her father, giving up her dreams. Both girls come from very different worlds but are brought together by their shared love of fashion and their dazzling designs become the talk of London. But their friendship is threatened when they agree to help a glamorous debutante escape, can this scandal crush their dreams forever? I absolutely adored ‘Sequins and Secrets,’ it was completely dreamy, rich in period detail and the characterisation is sublime. Sylvia and Myrtle make for an unlikely but inspired pairing and you can’t help but be swept away by their seeming success. I loved the attention to the detail in the intricate descriptions of their creations, beautifully brought to life by Catharine’s stunning illustrations. Daring, dramatic and utterly delicious it truly captured the essence of this period of time.

We Made a Movie – Charlotte Lo

Charlotte’s debut novel, ‘We Won an Island,’ was a wonderfully uplifting read that filled my heart with joy. It was with much anticipation that I dived into the follow-up, ‘We Made a Movie,’ and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. Life has settled down for Luna and her family, her dad is embracing their new life, while her mum’s experimental yoga classes are causing lots of interest. But when developers threaten their dream, Luna is determined to find a way to save Wishnook. Her plan to make a movie to showcase it’s uniqueness is scuppered by bitter rivalries as the residents become divided. Is this the end of the road for Luna and her family? Pure escapism at its best, it was an absolute treat to return to this world. There are so many brilliant moments filled with chaos, confusion and downright quirkiness which will entertain and amuse younger readers. Charlotte deftly mixes humour and heart in the lively and entertaining romp of an adventure whilst thoughtfully exploring the decline in rural communities and the threat of overdevelopment. This is an irresistible and charming story which I completely devoured in one sitting. A must have summer read!

The Cooking Club Detectives – Ewa Jozefkowicz, illustrated by Katy Riddell

Ewa has a gift for creating stories that are warm and entertaining but have so many hidden layers waiting to be discovered. in ‘The Cooking Club Detectives,’ she assembles an intriguing cast of characters who on the face of it have nothing in common. Ewa is worrying about money after her mum is made redundant, while Tanya lives a privileged life with her own housekeeper and a wealthy dad. A firm friendship is forged when Ewa convinces Tanya to join an after-school cooking club at the local community centre where they meet Frixos and Sam. When they discover that the centre is to be sold, the friends, the newly named Cooking Club Detectives set off on a mission to discover the identity of the new owner, convinced they can change their minds! This story shines a spotlight on the vital roles places like Skipton House play in the community, from the very basics of making sure that families are fed, to enriching their lives with activities and opportunities that they might not have without it. Without these places people risk being forgotten about and becoming isolated, facing hardships alone. It highlights the importance of family, friendship and realising that it’s never to late to embrace your dream even when it seems impossible Brimming with warmth and filled with heart, it is a joyful and life affirming tale that entirely charmed me.

How To Be Brave – Daisy May Johnson

When I first heard about, ‘How to be Brave,’ I knew immediately it would be just my cup of tea, as Calla’s mum has a passion for ducks (you did read that right, I did say ducks), I have a complete obsession with boarding school stories and mysteries, this story delivers these both brilliantly. Calla has never had what you would call a normal existence, she’s spent most of her childhood parenting her mother and when her mum’s dream job offer arrives, she finds herself packed off to a very unusual boarding school run by nuns, which has a more practical than educational curriculum. But something very strange is going on at the school. The headteacher has been usurped, there are strange men in suits patrolling the grounds and they’re forcing the girls to drink kale smoothies – quelle horreur! Things go from bad to worse when Calla’s mum disappears off grid and Calla uncovers a terrible plot, together with her new friends the eccentric but marvellous Edie and Hanna she must find a way to thwart their dastardly headmistress. A truly extravagant romp of an adventure that is bound to delight and entertain readers with it’s terribly bad behaviour and wonderful characters. Despite the contemporary setting, it has (and I mean this in the very best way) an old fashioned charm that really endeared me to the story. It was totally irresistible with it s midnight feasts, hidden passageways and pranks all produced with a very modern and humorous twist. Original and quirky, this is simply wonderful.

Thank you to Andersen Press, Faber, Nosy Crow, Pushkin Press, Usborne and Zephyr 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.

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.

Cover Reveal – Wee? It wasn’t me! by Clare Helen Welsh, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne

Today I am delighted to welcome Clare Helen Welsh to the blog to tell us about her new book, ‘Wee? It wasn’t me!’ illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne and she will also be exclusively revealing the cover. I have been lucky enough to have a sneak peek and it’s just brilliant. A clever mix of funny facts and hilarious storytelling captured wonderfully by Nicola’s humorous and vibrant illustrations.

Clare Helen Welsh – Wee? It wasn’t me! Cover Reveal

I’m really excited to be writing this guest post for Booklover Jo, with the details and cover reveal of my next picture book!

Wee? It wasn’t me?’ is illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne and publishes with Macmillan on April 1st. It is the second book in a series about Lenny the lemur, who goes on holiday and gets more than he bargained for!

In his first adventure, ‘Poo! Is that you?’ Lenny visited the Amazon rainforest and when a nasty niff interrupted his snooze, he learned all about some wonderful animals and their smells.

Poo is that you? illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne

In this next instalment, Lenny is holidaying in Alaska and is once again on a mission – this time to find out who made the piddle of piddle he slipped in.  

Interwoven with facts about wolves, mountain goats, caribous and more, it’s the perfect combination of story, learning and laughs!

So, without any further ado, here it is!

Doesn’t it look brilliant? The insides are spectacular, too! Nicola and designer, Becky Chilcott, really have worked magic. Lenny is also delighted, which got me thinking… are there any other fabulously famous lemurs in children’s fiction? Lenny and I did a little research and picked our favourites.

Here they are:

1. How to Lose a Lemur – Frann Preston -Gannon

In this story, a child tries to escape an ever-growing number of lemurs. It’s fun spotting and counting the lemurs through the settings that include scorching desserts, mountain blizzards, skies, lakes and forests. I particularly like that this story plays on the true to life nature of lemurs –once they take a liking to you, there isn’t much you can do about it! It reminds me of when I was a teacher and I took my class on a trip to the zoo. A lemur jumped out of nowhere and onto a parent’s handbag! There’s a photo of that moment somewhere.

2. The Lemur’s Tale – Ophelia Redpath

A Lemur’s Tale is a touching story about finding safety in a country that isn’t your own. A ring-tailed lemur is stowed away on a boat from Madagascar and ends up in a city, secretly living in a house with a girl and her family. It’s beautifully illustrated and was on the Kate Greenway longlist in 2014. The lemur causes quite a lot of mischief – as lemurs often do – raiding the larder and nibbling plants, but the lemur brings hope and happiness to the Laruby family in the end.

3. Little Lemur Laughing – Josh Siegel

Not a picture book but a collection of poetry, Little lemur Laughing is a book packed with lots of silly, funny poems written by Josh Siegel. This book came recommended to me by another brilliant poet, Coral Rumble, and didn’t disappoint. Covering everything from conkers, to stickers, to spaghetti-eating dogs and a stomping brontosaurus, there’s a poem about pretty much everything (yes, even lemurs). All the poems are wonderfully visual, accessible are perfect for sharing aloud.

‘Wee? It Wasn’t Me!’ is published on April 1st by Macmillan and is available to pre-order now online and from all good bookshops, I can highly recommend ‘Stories by the Sea’ and ‘Bear Hunt Books,’ who can deliver to your door! 

Stories by the Sea – Where Reading Rocks! 

Bear hunt independent, online children’s bookshop UK – Bear Hunt Books 

Thank you to Clare and Macmillan for inviting me to host the cover reveal, I’m really looking forward to sharing this hilarious book with the children at school.

Cover Reveal – Setsuko and the Song of the Sea by Fiona Barker, illustrated by Howard Gray

I’m really excited to be able to reveal for you today, the cover of Fiona Barker and Howard Gray’s new picture book collaboration, ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea,’ which will be published by Tiny Tree books on the April 22nd 2021.

So without further ado here it is…

This stunning cover was illustrated by Howard Gray and designed by Howard and James Shaw. For me this intriguing artwork hints at the beautiful tale that lies beneath the cover. I’ve been lucky enough to have an early read and this is truly thoughtful and powerful story which will completely delight its readers with it’s hopeful message. Let’s find out more about what Fiona and Howard have instore for us in, ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea‘.

Setsuko loves the sea.

She swims its shallows. She dives its depths.
But she worries that her friends have chosen to abandon her way of life. Then she meets a whale who also fears he is the last of his kind.
In return for giving him hope, he gifts her a song which she uses to remind people of the beauty of the ocean.

The Song of the Sea is a story of friendship and hope in an uncertain world.

This story was inspired by Fiona and Howard’s love for the ocean and by Howard’s amazing skill in capturing its beauty. A proportion of the profits from the book are going to support the work of the Marine Conservation Society. Fiona changed the way she does things after taking part in the MCS Plastic Free July Challenge in 2017. That had to be part of Setsuko’s story.

Setsuko is an ama; a free diver. These incredible women dive without breathing equipment in cold dangerous waters, looking for shellfish. Strong, proud and independent, many of them have been diving all their lives and are now in their 70s and 80s. It is a way of life on the brink, just as the overall health of the ocean and its inhabitants teeters on a knife edge due to human activity and negligence. A heavy subject for a picture book perhaps but, don’t worry, the ending is hopeful if everyone listens to the song and pulls together.

Howard has drawn on influences from traditional Japanese art and updated it with a hint of manga.

Thank you to Fiona and Tiny Tree books for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea,’ is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.