Category Archives: Book review

Book Review: The Space Train

Title: The Space Train

Written by: Maudie Powell-Tuck

Illustrated by: Karl James Mountford

Published by: Little Tiger Press

The Space Train by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford

A great book for sparking the imagination and fostering a sense of curiosity about space. Jakob lives on the edge of the galaxy on a space station. One day he finds a broken down, old space train and with the help of his Granny and a robot chicken called Derek, sets about fixing it so they can explore the universe. Toolbot, the grumpy robot, adds a touch of comedy with his lazy, reluctant to help attitude.  

The illustrations are full-spread bright red and oranges with fascinating detail to give the picture book a futuristic feel. It is advertised as having lift-the-flap technology and peep through holes to reveal the workings of the space train but unfortunately my copy did not have these features. I suspect they are only in the hardback.

Scattered throughout the book is a column to the right of the double page spread which is Jakob’s log where he explains interesting facts about eh space station, his hopes for what he might discover when the space train is fixed and tells the reader a little about the new worlds and moons he visits in the space train. Although, we do not actually see them visiting these worlds in the story.

This would be the perfect gift for highlighting the adventures children can have with their grandparents and I particularly like the way if is Granny who is helping him with the fixing.

Book Review: The Secret Garden

Title: The Secret Garden

Retold by: Claire Freedman

Illustrated by: Shaw Davidson

Published by: Puffin Classics

The Secret garden by Claire Freedman and Shaw Davidson

Claire Freedman’s adapted version of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett has been illustrated by Shaw Davidson to produce the perfect picture book for older children. Launched in 2020 to coincide with the release of the new movie.

Follow Mary Lennox from India to Yorkshire, England, and watch her change from a sullen, over-privileged girl who has never tied her own shoes, to a happy, caring young woman. In her adventures, Mary meets Dickon’s, a young boy who can talk with animals. Together they discover the garden hidden behind the mysterious locked door and help her sick cousin, Colin, to recover. Guided by a remarkable red robin, Mary grows simultaneously with the amazing secret garden.

For over a century children, young adults, and adults of all ages have been touched by this masterpiece now it can be enjoyed in this fabulous picture book by KS1 and KS2 too. Claire Freedman and Shaw Davidson encapsulate Mary’s, Dickon’s and Colin’s characters impeccably keeping them true to the originals. This picture book brings the old 1911 classic alive by giving it a new energy. You can really see the garden blooming back to life in this magical adventure.  

KS2 children will enjoy reading this book alone and it is ideal for reading aloud to KS1 during story time.

Book Review: The World Made a Rainbow

Title: The World Made a Rainbow

Written by: Michelle Robinson

Illustrated by: Emily Hamilton

Published by: Bloomsbury

The World Made a Rainbow by Michelle Robinson and Emily Hamilton

MY first post of 2021 just has to be one with a message of hope so I have chosen The World Made a Rainbow by Michelle Robinson and Emily Hamilton. This up-to-the moment picture book published by Bloomsbury, which gives young children a chance to reminisce and discuss their lockdown experiences and any fears they may have about Covid. This book is ideal for reading at home and in the classroom or for children to explore by themselves in the book corner.

The story encompasses the joy of being at home and the dark times of never knowing when the crisis will end. It carries a message of hope from the start with the line: “All rainstorms must end, and this rainstorm must too.” The text is written in rhyme throughout so when read aloud gives the plot a lyrical feel all children will love.

The thing that immediately struck me about this book were Emily Hamilton’s bold illustrations on the light background. Each colour of the rainbow triggers a memory about her family, or lockdown life and how everyone worked together to make the best of it. Children will love to explore the pictures making up their own stories without necessarily reading the words. In this way this picture book works on many levels and is a book children will want to go back to again and again.

Book Review: Samira’s Wish

Title: Samira’s Wish

Written by: Saviour Pirotta

Illustrated by: Valerie Szucs

Published by: Wacky Bee Books

Samira’s Wish by Saviour Pirotta and Valerie Szucs

The Wacky Bee Buzzy Reads series that were released in 2020 are a great quick read ideal for Key Stage Two children to read alone.

Samira’s Wish is about a young girl who always puts others first before herself. When her grandparents come to visit she decides to make them beans on toast for breakfast as a special treat but her dad has eaten all the beans. Luckily, Mrs April the scary owner of the corner shop has one tin of beans left. Samira discovers that this is not ordinary tin of beans. They are magic beans. With every mouthful a wish can be made. But the wishes her family make do not make things better for everyone.

This book could be used as part of a PSHE lesson to stimulate discussion on sharing, being considerate, consequences and the importance of sometimes putting yourself first. It could also encourage creative writing sessions by getting to children to think of what they would wish for and the pros and cons of their own wishes.

There are some brilliant fun facts about baked beans and a healthy recipe to make home-made beans on toast at the back of the book. the recipe could be used at home or as a food technology lesson at school.

Book Review: Witch

Title: Witch

Written by Finbar Hawkins

Published by: Zephyr

Witch is a remarkable debut novel, which encompasses the themes of betrayal, family, friendship, identity, revenge, self-discovery and sibling rivalry. The graphic descriptive nature of the opening scenes makes them emotionally difficult to read but sets the tone and atmosphere of the book. The fear and superstition, which permeates this novel draws the reader in.

The fiery, red-haired main protagonist, Evey, is a fascinatingly flawed character who blunders through life, heart first. Her voice is unique depicting the time and place the novel is set – firmly in 17th century Wiltshire. She is determined to avenge her mother’s death at the hands of the vicious witch hunters which conflicts the promise she made to her mother that she would keep Dill, her younger sister, safe.

Keeping this promise is confounded by the fact she is jealous of Dill, believing she was their mother’s favourite as she inherited the magick and this is why their mother gave Dill the mysterious scrying stone and not her. This jealousy is magnified by Evey’s constant rejection of Dill’s nick-name for her, Eveline of the Birds. Their complicated relationship is well constructed and realistic.

Evey is torn between the duty of the promise, her love for Dill, and the tormenting jealousy that threatens to rip them apart. She refuses to accept magick also flows through her own veins and she is the strongest witch of them all. This refusal to accept her fate makes her an unreliable narrator.

In her anger, Evey steals the scrying stone from her sister in the night and goes to hunt her mother’s murderers who are gathering for the witch-trials. She leaves Dill with their mother’s elder sister, Aunt Grey, who unknown to them is a collaborator with the witch hunters. Finbar Hawkins clearly shows how accusations of witchcraft were used as a weapon against independent, strong and resourceful women, portraying an era where women were persecuted for using traditional herbal medicines.

A dramatic grim depiction of cruel times and the strength found in sisterhood and friendship. I particularly liked the friendship and love between Evey and Anne, ‘Green Eye’ the daughter of Lord Whitaker the local magistrate. Together they fight against the male dominated system and their betrayers. When the line between using magic to heal and using magic to harm becomes blurred, Anne is there to steer her on the correct moral path.

The plot concludes in a climatic crescendo in the final scenes when Evey is finally forced to accept her powers and realises she has to work with her sister to bring balance. Her gradual acceptance of her powers is highlighted by the change in her emotions and how she grows to understand her mother and the gifts she has inherited.

This novel is a spectacular emotional roller-coaster steeped in history, myth and folklore.

Book Review: Loveboat Taipei

Title: Loveboat Taipei

Written by: Abigail Hing Wen

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Loveboat Taipei

The story of Ever Wong, an eighteen-year-old Asian American girl, torn between rebelling against her parents and her family loyalty. When she is sent to an expensive summer school in Taiwan she seizes her opportunity to shake off the shackles of all the rules her parents have imposed on her in their ambition for her to become a doctor and she totally embraces the freedom supplied by the limited supervision environment to make her own rules. This includes staying out late, wearing clothes they would not approve of, drinking alcohol, pursuing her love of dancing and choreography and maybe the greatest sin of them all – having a boyfriend.

But breaking all her parents’ rules does not prove to be as freeing as she originally believed. Not only does she have to fight the guilt of knowing her mother sold her antique pearl necklace, which was a family heirloom, so they could afford for her flight to go, she also has to deal with her feelings of finally meeting the boy prodigy who her parents have been comparing her to her whole life. A boy she thought she disliked because she could never live up to the expectations.

This is a beautifully written romance coming-of-age story in Ever Wong’s voice. We are swept along with her on a voyage of discovering her own identity through the tide of desire and heart-break not only from the various boys she encounters but because of fall-outs with her best friends.

Abigail Hing Wen uses her novel to explore the different Asian cultures and diverse family structures that influence a person’s personality and decision making. She also highlights what it is like to be an Asian American immigrant and the unrealistic stereotypes.

Teenagers all over the globe, will be able to identify with Ever’s struggle for more freedom, her disappointments, and their first Loveboat summer camp experiences of having their first kiss, breaking up, making-up and even the first real taste of love.

A novel that resonates and makes you think well after the last page has been read.

Book Review: Lena the Sea and Me

Title: Lena the Sea and Me

Written by: Maria Parr

Translated by: Guy Puzey

Published by: Walker Books

Lena, the Sea and Me

Lena the Sea and Me follows a year of adventures with Trille and his next door neighbour and best friend Lena. To emphasise this Lena the Sea and Me is split into seasons. This book is the much awaited sequel to Maria Parr’s debut novel Adventures with Waffles (also published under the title Waffle Hearts), which was translated into twenty languages and won several awards around the world. Both books are set in Mathildewick Cove in Norway and portray a realistic relationship of the highs and lows of friendship and growing up.

Written from Trille’s point of view we learn a lot about both Trille and his next-door neighbour and best friend Lena’s characters and families. The stage is set for a dramatic year ahead, dark clouds are looming and a horrific storm hits Mathildewick Cove, Norway. Trille and Lena have to fight the elements and their own emotions in that Lena has to wrestle against the new football’s coach sexism and nepotism when she is benched from her position as goalkeeper, even though she is by far the better player and Trille is infatuated with the new girl, Brigit, who has moved into the bay but when his grandfather has a serious injury on his boat, Troll, Lena is there to help him and refuses to let Grandpa or Trille give up hope.

All the characters are well formed and seep under your skin, staying with you long after you have finished the book. The reader feels like they know them and understand them. I would like to read more about the lives of Trille and Lena.

Book Review: Blood Moon

Title: Blood Moon

Written by: Lucy Cuthew

Published by: Walker Books

Blood Moon

An excellent book which I highly recommend. Blood Moon follows astronomy lover Frankie and her experience of period shaming. During her first sexual experience with Benjamin from her class, Frankie’s period starts. They both agree it’s only blood and it isn’t an issue. The next day it is the talk of the school. Frankie believes Benjamin must have been bragging to his friends. Then a graphic meme goes viral turning their private intimate afternoon into something disgusting, mortifying and damaging. She blames her previously best friend, Harriet, as they recently had a falling out. The online shaming takes on a disturbing life of its own – the meme spreads to other schools, people in town recognise her, she is suspended from her part-time job at the planetarium and she starts to receive abusive and threatening messages. Frankie does not know where to turn or who she can talk to.

The novel is Lucy Cuthew’s debut novel and is written as a poem, which includes messages through social media between friends. Described by Lucy as ‘a verse novel about periods’. There is a very powerful message to all about how people should not made to feel ashamed of their bodies. I found myself laughing and crying along with Frankie as she attempts to navigate her way through the devastation to her life that follows this horrible act of cyber bullying. I particular like the way Lucy puts dialogue and thoughts to the right of the page and friend’s comments to the left and the way she uses onomatopoeic writing to give her words more depth. I also like the metaphor between the forecasted blood moon, which she plans to watch and the turn of events.

The characterisation portrays real teenagers, living very real lives. It shows how friendships can change and teenager’s relationships with their parent’s shift. In my opinion this book should be made essential reading for all pupils to highlight the effects and seriousness of online bullying and would be ideal for discussion in PSHE classes. I look forward to reading Lucy’s next book.

Book Review: Merve the Forgetful Mouse

Title: Merve the Forgetful Mouse

Written by: June Linscott

Illustrated by: Rosie Perkins

Published by: Matador

Merve the Forgetful Mouse

This book is a fun and easy read for young pre-school and nursery children. It is written largely in rhyming couplets this book uses colourful text and different sized fonts to its advantage to create a memorable and heart-warming tale of Merve the Forgetful Mouse and how he forgets his way home. The illustrations are simple black and white drawings with a minimal colour palette that is fun and grabs the reader’s attention.

Merve may be forgetful but he is determined and inventive. It may have been more interesting a plot if Merve did not simply curl into a ball each time to avoid the predators it would have been nice to see other ways of escape.

But on the whole a good use of repetition and contains useful sight words that will encourage emerging readers.

Book Reviews: The Unadoptables

Title: The Unadoptables

Written by: Hana Tooke

Illustrated by: Ayesha L. Rubio

Published by: Puffin

The Unadoptables

The opening chapters of The Unadoptables is written in the style of Lemony Snickets. It draws you into this unique story, which follows the orphans Milou, Sem, Lotta, Egg and Fenna who were all left at the Little Tulip Orphanage in strange and unusual ways.

Even though they have been described as ‘unadoptable’ the matron Miss Gassbeck because they do not look cute with freckles and pleasant features, each of the children have their own set of special skills that helps them on their adventures. Milou is an amazing story-teller, Sem is brilliant at sewing, Lotta has a fantastic grasp of science, Egg is an expert cartographer and Fenna has a lovely touching way with animals. Hana Tooke creates believable and realistic characters who pull on your heart-strings and carry you away on their epic journey.

Milou believes her parents will return to the orphanage to claim her. Milou finds a beautiful pocket watch hidden inside the cat puppet that was left on the orphanage roof with her. The watch contains coordinates so when they discover Miss Gassbeck, plans to sell all five ‘unadoptables’ to the disreputable Mr R they decide to run away from the orphanage and go to the mysterious coordinates in the hope it may lead them to the truth of who Milou’s parents are and why she was left on the roof of the orphange.

Set in and around Amsterdam during 1886, the five brave and determined children set off through 19th century Amsterdam on an adventure packed with puppets, clock-makers, cruel villains and pirate ships. On the way they discover what it means to have a real home with a real family. There are underlying themes of love, truth and identity.

This is the ideal book for a child to read alone or to listen to in the book corner at story time. The ideal book for any book corner.