Crater Lake: Evolution Cover Reveal – Jennifer Killick

Following on from the success of Jennifer Killick’s brilliantly scary and strange, ‘Crater Lake’, I am delighted to be hosting the cover reveal for the second book in the series, ‘Crater Lake: Evolution,’ which will be published on the 20th May 2021 by Firefly Press.

So without further ado here it is…

Illustrated and designed by Anne Glen, this cover gives me proper chills. Declaring proudly once again on the front, ‘DONT. EVER. FALL ASLEEP,’ we are immediately given a sense of the spine-tingling story that lies beneath this cover. Wonderfully eerie and atmospheric, this looks absolutely terrifying and I can’t wait to read it.

Let’s find out what Jennifer has instore for us…

It’s five months since the Crater Lake Year Six alien invasion school trip from hell, and Lance and his friends have struggled with the transition to high school. But now things have got strange in their hometown of Straybridge: there’s been an explosion at the university, a mysterious creature has escaped, the town is under curfew and Lance’s mum is acting seriously weird. Cut off from help can Lance reunite Katja, Chets, Ade, Big Mak and new friend Karim, to tackle an enemy straight out of their worst nightmares…

I can’t wait to get my hands on this, it sounds amazing. If you haven’t read the first, ‘Crater Lake,’ book you can read my review here.

Thank you to Jennifer and Firefly for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Crater Lake: Evolution,’ 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.

Another Twist in the Tale – Catherine Bruton

Today on the blog I am delighted to share with you the wonderful, ‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ by Catherine Bruton, a thrilling adventure inspired by Charles Dicken’s, ‘Oliver Twist.’ What if Oliver hadn’t been an only child but instead had a twin sister born just before him, who was tossed into the gutter left to die. Rescued by Baggage, Twill Test is brought to live in a gambling den, no life of luxury awaiting for her as Oliver found. But as she gets older she is forced to flee the den and ends up on the streets of London and encounters a group of girls who are robbing for themselves and not at the behest of a wicked master. Twill seems happy with her way of life until a chance encounter with some familiar figures makes her question everything she’s ever known about herself. This brilliantly imagined reinterpretation of this famous story is completely wonderful, I loved the contrast between the misery of Fagin’s boys and the Sassy Sisters. In this feminist take of the story we see how little value there is in the life of girls and how this merry band use this to their advantage and to ultimately challenge those who would threaten their existence. The characterisation is superb, the dastardly villains are truly evil and Twill is truly remarkable despite what life has thrown at her. An absolute triumph in storytelling that is bound to captivate and thrill readers.

To celebrate the release of, ‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ I have a special guest post from Catherine about why she chose to do a feminist retelling of this much loved story.

A feminist twist in the tale? – Catherine Bruton

My new novel ‘Another Twist in the Tale’ – a middle-grade sequel to Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’, set in Victorian London and featuring Oliver’s long lost twin sister – opens with the line ‘Girls are worth less than boys!’ and closes with ‘The female fightback has begun – and our heroine is throwing the first punch’. So yes, this tale of Oliver Twist’s twin sister has a feminist twist! In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that  in this novel and my next ‘The Monster’s Child’ – a sequel to  Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ – I deliberately set out to give voice to the voiceless. And not just girls – my mission was to tell the tales of all those marginalised, silenced, overlooked characters from the classics.

Because, let’s face it, the canon of classic British Literature is overpopulated with voices and faces which are male, pale, straight and able. As Jane Austen put it ‘The pen has been in their hands’, and  the lack of diverse voices in the classic literary canon means that the stories which have been told for decades – for centuries – are inevitably limited in scope. The voices of the marginalised – not just of women but of those of different cultures, those who are differently abled, neuro-diverse voices, LGBTQ voices – are rarely heard.  Even if such faces exist in the classics we rarely get their perspectives – and their outcomes/ fates too often confirm unhelpful social biases.

But, I hear you cry, there are so many great female authors and so many fantastic female characters in the classics! And of course you are right: Lizzie Bennet, Cathy Earnshaw, Oliver’s Nancy, Miss Havisham, Estella, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Anne Elliot… the list goes on. But the questions we need to ask are: Who are they? What do we hear of them? What – and who – don’t we hear?  And what happens to these women in the end?

I remember sitting in the glorious reading room of the Bodliean Library in my first week at university and picking up book called ‘The Madwomen in the Attic’ (Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar) which explores how the ‘socially unacceptable’ faces of female experience are forced into the ‘attic’ of many classic stories. The most obvious example is Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ where the demure, obedient, submissive Jane is heard and praised, whilst the passionate, angry – non-European and neuro-diverse – Bertha is vilified by both her society and by the text – locked away, silenced, ultimately killed for her deviance to social norms. Gilbert and Gubar argue that such dichotomies populate 19th Century novels, by both men and women: female characters who fit an acceptable social mould are praised and allowed to triumph; those who don’t are silenced and punished.

Are they right? Is it true that girls in the classics are rarely allowed to be angry or disobedient or passionate or adventurous, and if they are they must either mend their ways or meet a sticky end? It’s certainly true that if they break the rules society laid down for women, nothing will save them! Nancy is brave and heroic – but she’s a prostitute so she has to die; Cathy Earnshaw is  passionate, wild and adventurous – but she has an extra-marital affair (even if only emotionally) so she has to die; Tess is pure and true of heart – but she has a baby out of wedlock (probably as a result of rape!) and so she has to die… Yup, to be honest, I struggle to name one Victorian heroine who breaks all the social conventions and is allowed to have a truly happy ending.

So how do we redress the balance? Well, one of my favourite novels of all time is Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ which gives voice to the original ‘madwoman in the attic’, Bertha Rochester – telling the story from her perspective, making the reader think anew about ‘Jane Eyre’. Rhys – herself of Caribbean origin and having suffered from mental illness – gives us new insight into Bertha’s experience, not taking away from Bronte’s masterpiece, but rather complementing it, adding new layers of meaning to  the text. This first ignited my fascination with the idea of  giving voice to voiceless characters in literature, a rich tradition which has spawned so much incredible writing –  from Virginia Woolf’s Shakespeare’s sister, to Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife’, the brilliant Netflix series ‘Enola Holmes’,  Imogen Russell William’s ‘The Women Left Behind’, Alice Randall’s ‘The Wind Done Gone’, ‘Ahab’s Wife’ by Sena Jeter Naslund, ‘Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead’ by Tom Stoppard, ‘Foe’ by J.M. Coetzee and so many more!

So why did I choose to create a new Dickensian heroine? Well, I adore Dickens’ novels – writing ‘Another Twist in the Tale’, following in the footsteps of Oliver Twist has been the greatest privilege and adventure – but his presentation of women is … problematic!  Let’s think about Dickens’ women: we have perfect little cherubs like Little Nell and Sissy Jupe; and idealised ‘Angels in the House’ like Esther Summerson and Rachel from ‘Hard Times’;  on the other hand there are monstrous matriarchs, harridans and murderers Miss Havisham, Mrs Joe, Moll, Mrs Corney; oh, and there are saintly whores like Nancy – who we can sympathise with so long as they die. Girls in Dickens don’t seem to be allowed to be just flawed human beings, three dimensional. We don’t see them coming of age or going on adventures or growing up as people. We don’t see a female Pip or Nicholas Nickleby or David Copperfield. None of this takes away from the brilliance of his storytelling but it does mean that if a girl wants a role model in Dickens her options are quite polarised.

So I created Twill Twist, a heroine who is spirited and adventurous, prepared to challenge social norms, to take on the world and save the day. An orphan baby cast out into the snow (because she’s a girl)  and rescued by a young kitchen maid named Baggage Jones, Twill is raised surrounded by the beautiful butterfly girls from whom she learns that girls have to fight to survive in Queen Victoria’s England. And when she finds herself cast adrift on the streets of London she encounters the Sassy Sisterhood of Saffron Hill, an all-girl band of pickpockets and kickass little lady lawbreakers who take orders from no man, and welcome our brave heroine under their wing.  So Twill learns girl power, even as she fights against the laws of primogeniture and challenges the patriarchy!

As the plot thickens, Twill finds herself in a tangled web of intrigue involving child-catchers, a poison plot and kids who are turning mysteriously blue. It seems the only person who can save the day is Oliver Twist – but Oliver is nowhere to be found. If only there were another Twist in this tale to come to the rescue, along with a band of brave street girls, and a bit of help from the beautiful Butterflies, and Miss Baggage Jones  … after all, anything boys can do, girls can do better, right?

When I was a kid, acting out Oliver Twist with my kid brother, I always wanted to play the Dodger – the mischievous, adventurous rascal with the big bold heart. In Twill, I tried to create a female counterpart – a girl with agency and spirit and guts, brains and brawn and beauty, who saves herself and saves her friends and saves the day! So, whilst my novel draws on the Dickensian tradition  featuring a saintly Angel as well as the monstrous Madame Manzoni and spiteful Mrs Spanks – it also celebrates an ordinary collection of heroines – Baggage, Chelsea, Pearl, Sloane, Birdie, Anna Dropsy and Miss Twill Twist. Oh, and there are plenty of brave and brilliant boys in there too!

Young readers today face their own struggles over rigid gender definitions and expectations, and I hope ‘Another Twist in the Tale’ will challenge some of those and make them ask some big questions. But, most of all, I tried to follow in the rich Dickensian tradition of page-turning, cliff-hanging, unputdownable story-telling, so I hope all readers, regardless of gender, will love following this rip-roaring adventure to the very final thrilling twist in the tale!

Thank you to Catherine for this really insightful guest post, I absolutely loved Wide Sargasso Sea too so I loved how this helped ignite the idea for this story.

‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Poetry For Everyone

As part of National Non-Fiction November I wanted to share some recent poetry books that I’ve enjoyed reading. As a primary school librarian I’m always on the look out for new books to help inspire a love of poetry in children and all of the books I’m sharing all offer something a little bit different. It’s really important that poetry is made to feel accessible and that children can understand that writing and reading poetry can be for everyone, it’s just making the right connection and allowing yourself the freedom to give it a try.

This Rock, That Rock – Dom Conlon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Dom Conlon’s absolute passion for both the Moon and poetry shines through this book like the Moon shines through the night sky illuminating our world. The Moon is something that we see every day, sometimes it’s hazy behind a cloud, other times a thin slice of brightness pierces through the sky capturing our attention with it’s boldness and beauty. In this genius and entertaining collection, Dom’s poems cover a fascinating array of different facets of the Moon, from looking at our enduring interest in the Moon landings to exploring how cultures across the world view this magnificent presence in our lives. Entertaining and thoughtful they invite the reader to think about poetry can help you to understand and engage with things that may feel beyond our comprehension. I particularly love how Dom at the end invites the reader on a search to discover poetry that they will love even if they haven’t found it between these pages. Dom’s words together with Viviane’s lively and intriguing illustrations make this a must have for every school library.

Daydreams and Jelly Beans – Alex Wharton, Illustrated by Katy Riddell

‘Daydreams and Jellybeans,’ is a delightful collection of warm and funny poetry that is bound to delight and entertain younger readers. Some poetry is best savoured alone whilst these poems demand to be shared and read aloud. Poetry can be a fantastic way for children to express themselves and if they can see themselves within a poem then even better. None more so than Guilty where a child surreptitiously scoops up the dropped jellybean on the floor and eats it, despite it being covered in hairs. Beautifully illustrated by Katy Riddell this is a real feast for the imagination, I can just see this book being enjoyed in classrooms inspiring children to create their own versions and draw their visions of the different poems. A truly wonderful debut collection that mixes a variety of different styles highlighting to children that they don’t need to conform to a particular way to engage, enjoy and write their own poetry.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright – Fiona Waters, illustrated by Brita Teckentrup

Following on from the hugely successful, ‘I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree,’ Fiona Waters is back with another exquisitely produced and thoughtfully curated collection of poetry. ‘Tiger,Tiger, Burning Bright!’ features a wonderful array of animal poems from around the world, one for every day of the year. I often find that children at school are drawn to exquisite books featuring animals so it seems a natural leap to have a whole book dedicated to poems about a whole multitude of animals from galahs to alligators. Britta’s bold and vibrant illustrations capture the movement and personalities of the animals magnificently allowing the reader to become entranced by these stunning spreads whilst inviting them to discover the poems inside. It’s an interesting and thoughtful mix of well known authors such as William Blake to newer poets like Ftoun Abou Kerech, a teenage refugee from Syria. This collection is highly giftable and highly covetable and is an absolute treasure trove of a reed, that encourages the reader to keep coming back for more. Nosy Crow have also produced a KS2 resource pack for this and you can find it here

Honey For You, Honey For Me – Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell

I absolutely adore Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell’s, ‘A Great Big Cuddle,’ so I was delighted to discover they were collaborating again.’ ‘Honey for You, Honey for Me,’ is a first book of nursery rhymes featuring some well loved rhymes like, ‘Jelly on a Plate,’ to more topsy-turvy versions like ‘Dickory, dickory dare.’ I read an article recently which suggested nursery rhymes are in danger of dying out with fewer children starting school being able to join and share them. If there was ever a book that was going to encourage a parent to share rhymes then this has to be the one to do it. Michael’s playful and entertaining collection is an absolute pleasure to read aloud with Chris capturing the mischievousness and hilarity of these selections marvellously. Children can’t help but being entertained by flying pigs, dancing sausages and hungry toads who run riot across the pages bringing fun and joy to the reader. A beautiful and charming collection that is bound to delight both children and adults.

A Poem For Every Winter Day – edited by Allie Esiri

‘A Poem For Every Winter Day,’ is part of a seasonal collection of poems curated by Allie Esiri. Winter is now upon us and while it may feel like we’re about to enter a challenging time as the light diminishes as the days grow darker but it is easy to forget that this season brings with it much beauty and joy. This collection invites the reader to embrace all the elements of the season from the joy of closing the curtains and wrapping yourself in a blanket and hiding away from the world to exploring the changes in nature that come in Winter, spying the Robin on the sparse twig and listening to the crunch of the frozen ground. I like how Allie takes the opportunity to introduce and discuss the poems connecting with the reader and inviting a conversation about how you can face the day and then reflect on what has happened as the night closes in. Thoughtfully and expertly created, this book is perfect for thinking and reflecting.

Thank you to Dom Conlon, Firefly Press, Macmillan, Nosy Crow and Walker Books for sending me gifted copies of these books. All of these books are available to buy now online (Daydreams and Jellybeans can be pre-ordered) by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Fascinating Fact Books – Inspirational People

To celebrate National Non-Fiction November I have chosen some fantastic fact books featuring inspirational people who have each in their own ways made their mark on history. From philanthropic footballers to flamboyant play-rights to those who have risked their lives for the greater good. In this varied collection there is hopefully an individual whose ideals a child can look up to and someone whose reality reflects theirs represented within these pages. Amongst a wealth of brilliant non-fiction titles published this year for me these really stand out for their quality of information and striking illustrations. All of these books would make a wonderful addition to any school library.

I’m Not A Label – Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by Lauren Baldo

Featuring 34 disabled role models from around the world and through history, ‘I Am Not a Label,’ is one of the most powerful and thought provoking books I’ve read this year. Cerrie has chosen a wonderful collection of individuals who have shown the world that living with a disability is not the thing that defines who they are but just one part of their lives. From more familiar faces like artist, Frida Kahlo and physicist, Stephen Hawking, to less known figures athlete, Terry Fox and software engineer, Farida Bedwei this is an intriguing and informative insight into their unique contributions in the world. I particularly liked how it highlighted mental illnesses and hidden disabilities, there is a real lack of understanding in society about the effect these can have on individuals so it’s importance for children (and adults) to see that they exist. It will make you think and challenge any preconceptions or misunderstandings you may have and allow you to see how people are discriminated against because of society chooses to label them. Beautifully told and illustrated with the most sublime spreads, this book is an absolute joy.

Have Pride – An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement – Stella Caldwell

‘Have Pride,’ is a comprehensive insight into the LGBTQ+ movement around the world, focusing on significant events that changed the course of history and profiling leading figures from within the community. Truthful and thoughtful in equal measures it shows the horrific discrimination and persecution that has taken place throughout history and the struggles to achieve equality which still continue today. From the concentration camps in Germany to the Stonewall riots in New York, this book focuses on a mixture of terrible and hopeful events that marked real changing points in the movement. It’s honesty is a real insight for children today who may not be aware of the social barriers that people have worked tirelessly to break down in the fight for acceptance. By choosing to feature messages from young, modern day members of the LGBTQ+ community about why they are proud of who they are it teaches the reader to accept not only themselves but others regardless of their sexuality. Inspiring and educational, this is definitely a book that I would urge every teenager (and adult) to read.

Football Superstars : Rashford Rules – Simon Mugford & Dan Green

Although there are a lot of incredibly famous footballers in the world, there is one young man whose name has dominated the media in the last few months and it’s not for his skills on the pitch. Marcus Rashford has become a national hero by standing up and demanding protection for those who live in poverty, convincing the government to overturn their stance on free school meals and most recently his announcement to support literacy and access to books. This book is part of the, ‘Football Superstars,’ series, highly visual and informative biographies perfect for younger readers with it’s accessible text featuring stats and expert tips about today’s biggest football heroes. I love how it mixes illustrations and facts so that young or reluctant readers can find out information without being overwhelmed by text. A really useful addition for a primary school library or classroom, Teachers and librarians can find resource packs here.

Timelines From Black History Leaders, Legends, Legacies – DK Books

The Black Lives Matter movement has featured in many headlines this year, the death of African American George Floyd in police custody this year sparked worldwide protests and my experience is that it’s made children think about Black history more so than ever. ‘Timelines From Black History,’ encompasses a wealth of history from the wonders of ancient Africa kingdoms, the legacy of the US Civil Rights movements and features the lives of prominent Black people who have made crucial contributions to the world while encountering racism and inequality in their daily lives. In a world where the contribution Black people have made has been minimised, this celebrates key figures allowing the reader to discover more about fascinating and influential leaders all the way from Mansa Musa in the 13th century to Barack Obama in the 21st century. Produced in an engaging and interactive format and packed with vibrant illustrates it allows the reader to gain clear insight into Black history with a treasure trove of facts and information.

Health Heroes: The People Who Took Care of the World – Emily Sharratt, illustrated by Juanita Londono

2020 will be remembered for many reasons as we are in the midst of a global pandemic but amongst the worry and the stress there was a tiny amount of positivity as the nation came together every Thursday night at 8pm to Clap for Carers. I’m sure this will stick in my children’s minds as neighbours gathered on doorsteps banging pots and pans and cheering on the heroes who were working incredibly hard. This books is a celebration of healthcare workers past and present who have put themselves on the front line and helped to take care of people in need. From Florence Nightingale, to unsung heroes whose names we might not recognise. this book is truly joyful and allows us to meet some wonderful people who are making a real difference to people’s lives. Featuring the most heart-warming and inspiring true stories of courage and dedication from those who don’t see anything extraordinary in the work they do. A really humbling and thoughtful read.

Thank you to DK Books, Simon and Schuster, Wellbeck Publishing and Wide Eyed Books for sending me gifted copies of these books. You can buy copies of these books now online (click on the title to buy) or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia – edited by Christopher Lloyd

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour to celebrate National Non-Fiction November and I’m delighted to share with you the, ‘Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia,’ edited by Christopher Lloyd. This comprehensive collection features information gathered from over 100 experts in their fields, including Space, Animal, Wars, Mummies, Brain Science and many, many more.

Each stunning spread is filled with fascinating facts from each of the experts and combines beautiful illustrations and photography to highlight the information. It forms links with other related areas of the book allowing the children to further their knowledge and invite them to understand how fields relate to each other.

It uses engaging features such as ‘FACTastic,’ which highlight the really fun facts that you can use to wow your friends and family. Discovering that the golden frog can kill up to 10 people despite only being 5cm long is not only terrifying but for children hugely entertaining in the most gruesome of ways.

Children can travel across the world and discover new places and even venture out into space to explore the moon and crater, wondering if it will ever be possible for them to live on the Moon in the distant future.

They can travel back to time and meet the dinosaurs or even just to the 1950s and find out how children where given toys to play with that they use to make nuclear reactions. Imagine finding out how different (and possibly dangerous) life was just 70 years ago.

I can’t imagine reading a book that would be more satisfying to a child with a insatiable appetite for facts and finding out. The clear index makes it easy for children to navigate independently and it is definitely one of those books that you could spend hours pouring over, dipping in and out of on a regular basis. Brilliantly produced this is a superb addition to any home, school library or classroom.

National Non-Fiction November is an annual celebration of non-fiction for children and young people organized by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. Visit their website for more information, ideas and resources www.fcbg.org.uk/national-non-fiction-november-2020

Thank you to Chris at FCBG for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and to What On Earth Books for sending me a gifted copy of this encyclopedia. You can buy a copy online now or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

A Thousand Questions – Saadia Faruqi

Mimi is dismayed when she discover her summer plans have been railroaded by her mum, who has decided they must go to Karachi to stay with the grandparents she has never met. Confused and disorientated she confesses all her feelings to her new journal which she is desperate to share with her long-absent father who she is determined to track down. Everything seems strange and unsure and when she meets the daughter’s cook Sakina she is shocked to discover how privileged her life is in comparison. But Sakina is hiding a secret too, she dreams of going to school but is afraid to tell her parents knowing they can’t afford to lose her wages. Despite their differences the girls strike up an unlikely friendship and by working together they might just find the one thing they truly desire.

This is such wonderful and heartfelt story that totally delighted me with it’s thoughtful storytelling. I love seeing this story unfold from two very different perspectives and see how Mimi and Sakina perceive each other and how they both live. The reader is transported to Pakistan through evocative descriptions of Karachi which stimulate all of your senses as Mimi discovers this world her mum grew up in. From the unbearable heat to the spicy food, we watch Mimi as she tries to navigate this new world. This contrasts perfectly with seeing Mimi and her culture through Sakina’s eyes, who is shocked by her casual behaviour and seeming disrespect to her elders and her fondness for inappropriate t-shirts with bizarre slogans. The way their bond develops feels natural and the reader watches as they become closer and both discover they do have things in common. It feels realistic without being overly sentimental allowing you to feel like you have had an authentic insight into the girl’s lives. A completely joyful tale of family, friendship and finding your place in the world.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Saadia for inviting me to join the blog tour and to Harper Collins for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘A Thousand Questions,’ is available to buy online or from any local bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

The Creature Keeper – Damaris Young

When a mysterious letter arrives at her family home one day Cora is intrigued about what it offers, a chance to look after a menagerie of creatures at Direspire Hall. Since the tragic death of it’s owners nobody has been near the place and the whispers in her village talk of menacing and terrifying monsters locked away inside. Inextricably drawn to this strange and dark place Cora befriends the gardener and meets these magical creatures realising this is her dream role. But there are dark secrets hidden within this home and Cora soon realises things aren’t exactly how they seem. Torn between her head and a heart, Cora must find a way to protect these creatures at the risk of losing everything she’s worked so hard to achieve.

‘The Creature Keeper,’ is a thoughtful and intriguing tale which is bound to capture the imagination of readers. Damaris introduces us to a whole host of magical and extraordinary creatures who completely take her breath away but she soon realises that their lives are a shadow of what they should be. Enclosed in a glasshouse with not enough room to live properly, she knows that it’s not fair to them. Her anguish at wanting to protect them but knowing that her job is helping to look after her family is apparent. But Cora is daring and courageous and decides to risk everything before finding herself mixed up in a dangerous plan which would put the creatures in terrible jeopardy. With strong themes of conservation, it illustrates to the reader the importance of looking after the world we live in a conscious manner not at the expense of those creatures we want to save. A wondrous and compelling tale which is bound to enchant readers.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and features?

Thank you to Harriet and Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘The Creature Keeper,’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

The Midnight Guardians – Ross Montgomery

It seems quite apt that I’m sharing Ross Montgomery’s ‘The Midnight Guardians,’ with you today on the blog. The world can seem a very dark place to children at this moment in time and more now than ever, they need stories to escape to. Stories that offer them hope and stories that bring a sprinkle of magic to their lives. For me this book is the perfect mix of all of these elements and it’s just that thing that children (and adults) need in their lives. Col feels desperately alone, his hopes of being reunited with his sister for Christmas are dashed at the last moment and he feels drawn to the place from his past. But unknowingly strange forces are at work and the voices he hears calling him back are ones that he buried deep inside himself, locked away after a tragic accident. Inside this place he discovers his a strange band of misfits. Pendlebury, a tiger with a penchant for terrible jokes who can change size at will, Mr Noakes, a badger with a fondness for waistcoats with a keen smell and the fearless (despite his tiny stature) The King of Rogues, a knight in shining armour. These are Col’s Guardians – his imaginary friends – and together they must embark on a dangerous and perilous quest to save those they love from a malevolent being who threatens to cloak the world in an endless darkness.

It’s difficult to describe just how much I loved this book. Without doubt it is one of my favourite reads of the year, I was so completely invested all the way through and by the end I felt like I’d experienced every emotion possible. Ross has created the most quirky and wonderful characters in the Guardians who contrasted brilliantly with Col and Ruth who are just ordinary children in the most extraordinary circumstances. As they race across the country the tension becomes almost unbearable as they are beset by the most demanding challenges both physically and emotionally and you desperately hope they can win this race against time. There are some quite dark moments (one in particular that nearly broke me) but Ross carefully balances these so the reader always feels there is a glimmer of hope in the distance. Ultimately this is a tale of friendship, acceptance and having courage in the darkest of times even when hope seem impossible. This is an absolute triumph in storytelling, Ross has created a truly magical and wondrous tale that will captivate and enchant children for a long time to come.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Rebecca and Walker for sending me a gifted copy of this marvellous book. ‘The Midnight Guardians,’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, many are offering online services at this time and you can find your nearest one here.

Blue Planet II – Leisa Stewart-Sharpe, illustrated by Emily Dove

Today on the blog I’m delighted to share this stunning new non-fiction book, ‘Blue Planet II,’ from debut author, Leisa Stewart-Sharpe, illustrated by Emily Dove. In collaboration with BBC Earth, it captures the wonder, beauty, and emotion of the iconic Blue Planet II TV series. Exquisitely produced and packed full of intriguing information, this book is a wonderful introduction to the hidden world beneath the waves, allowing the reader to dive down and explore the depths of the ocean. Each stunning spread that Emily has created, invites the reader to delve in and find their facts, encouraging them to make their own discoveries. It’s one of those books that you know you will come back to time and again to find out more. It would make the perfect gift for fans of this marvellous series or for those with an insatiable appetite for information. To celebrate the release of this beautiful book, I’m delighted to welcome Leisa to the blog with a special post.

IT CAME FROM THE DEEP

An interview with BITE from children’s author Leisa Stewart-Sharpe

Duuun dun duuun dun. Is there something lurking in the water? You pause, waves licking at your ankles, that ominous tune in your head. Dun dun dun dun dun dun doo dedoo.  What could it be. . . ?

It’s me – author Leisa Stewart-Sharpe!

My first children’s book splashed into the world this week – Blue Planet II. You might remember seeing the show on the tellie a few years back. Well I got to work with the people who made the show, the BBC, some people who make books, Puffin, and an incredible illustrator called Emily Dove to take Blue Planet II from TV to print. It was FINtastic. (Sorry – I’m prone to puns).

I’ve been asked to tell you about my FAVOURITE animal in the book. You probably think I’m going to say otters. They’re otterly adorable. (Oops – there I go again). But no, I’m much more inclined to favour species that are misunderstood. Species that could use a little more love from humankind.

I’d like to tell you all about SHARKS!

Blue Planet II is a shark lover’s dream, it has exactly 17 sharks in it – we even managed to get a few on the cover. Illustrator Emily Dove is so good at drawing them, I think she must have had gills in a past life. You’ll find stories about bluntnose six gill sharks, pyjama sharks, tiger sharks, great white sharks, blue sharks, silky sharks and whale sharks.

Here are 5 reasons I adore them.

They’re old-timers. Sharks have evolved over 400 million years – before trees and dinosaurs – to become the fish we know today. Scientists have discovered a Greenland shark they think can live for 400 years, making it the longest living vertebrate on the planet, around long before London’s St Paul’s Cathedral was even built.

They don’t need bones! Sharks come in all shapes and sizes – from titanic to teensy. The biggest, a whale shark, is about as long as a bus, whereas the teeny tiny dwarf lantern shark is about the length of a fork! You’d imagine they’ve got an awesome bony skeleton right? Wrong! Sharks have no bones and are instead made out of the same stuff as your earlobe – cartilage. It helps make them flexible and to corner fast. The shortfin mako is the fastest shark, as fast as our speediest human, Usain Bolt!

The Tooth Fairy’s worst nightmare! Sharks have rows upon rows of teeth that are continuously growing – some sharks can lose tens of thousands of teeth in their lifetime. Good news for sharks, bad news for the tooth fairy!

Fins with flair. A lot of sharks come in shades of grey with cream tummies, making them hard to see from above or below. But some sharks aren’t afraid to add a bit of flair! The cookie cutter shark is bioluminescent (it glows), the tiger shark has stripes, the whale shark has unique polka dotted patterns, and the wobbegong is yellow, green and brown like a 1970s shagpile carpet.

Sharks have friends. Just like you, sharks choose who they want to hang out with, and when they migrate, they remember their pals from the previous year.

Aren’t sharks jawsome! (That was the last pun, I promise). But it makes me sad that today many sharks get tangled up in fishing lines, hooked on drum lines or caught to make shark fin soup. I’ve got a huge soft spot for sharks – they’re so terribly misunderstood.  Many people are scared of them, but the odds of being eaten by a shark are 1 in 3.7 million. That means you’re actually more likely to get hit by lightning.

I’m a big believer that all plants and animals, not just the well known or beautiful ones, deserve our love and protection.

Thank you to Leisa for this really sharktastic (I love a pun too) post and for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. Blue Planet II is available to buy now online or in any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop, many are offering online services at this time and you can find your nearest one here.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to find out more?

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

It’s very rare that I read a debut that completely steals my heart away but Lesley Parr’s, ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets,’ is one of these unique finds. From the moment Jimmy and his brother Ronnie arrive in Llanbryn, a small mining village, we can feel the impact evacuation and the war has on him. It’s not the green lush countryside his Dad promised him, he can’t read the sign at the train station and nothing feels right everything feels wrong. While Ronnie quickly settles in and embraces his new life with the Thomas’s, Jimmy is reluctant and resentful. Convinced the war will be over by Christmas, he doesn’t want to accept their kindness feeling like it would be a betrayal to his family. Despite being surrounded by people, he feels alone. His best friend has changed and there’s no one he can confide in. But then Jimmy discovers a secret hidden in the valley, a skull inside a tree. He realises that this is too much for even him to figure out by himself and with the help of an unlikely friend they try to find out the truth, a truth that will change lives in the most unexpected of ways.

I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I would feel when I read this book and it’s because Lesley has a talent for creating characters that you genuinely care about. You know when a story has completely taking over your heart and mind, when you’re desperate to find out what happened to the characters after the story finishes. She gives us a real insight into the characters in the smallest of ways which for me makes it even more powerful. For Jimmy it’s his physical reaction of the relief of knowing someone is safe, while for Florence it’s her desperate need to have the one small thing found that makes her feel loved and cared for. I really felt like the setting was a character in it’s own right, the reader is completely transported to Llanbryn a place where knowing everyone can be a blessing and a curse. You could feel the stares from those who were suspicious of the refugees penetrating the children’s minds and could see how much it effected them. I love how Lesley chose to show the Wales she loves, an industrial heartland where the harshness of the mine may contrast against the beauty of the mountains but it’s the beating heart of the community, the place that sustains the inhabitants. Hauntingly beautiful storytelling, this story had me in tears by the end. A truly extraordinary and accomplished debut which is destined to become a future classic.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a gifted proof copy. ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets,’ is released on the 7th January 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.