Category Archives: Book review

Book Review: Meet the Oceans

Title: Meet the Oceans

Written by: Caryl Hart

Illustrated by: Bethan Woollvin

Published by: Bloomsbury

This creative non-fiction picture book is the sequel to Caryl Hart’s highly-acclaimed, Meet the Planets, also published by Bloomsbury. Written successfully in rhyme, we follow a young girl and her dog on an incredible underwater voyage in a submarine to explore the many seas and oceans of the world to learn about the multitude of diverse habitats and sea-life they can discover there.

We start our ‘epic adventure’ in the world’s smallest ocean, the Arctic Ocean, where we are introduced to beluga whales and narwhals. We travel on to the breezy Atlantic, then to the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific and the busy South China Sea. Then we journey on to the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, the colourful Indian Ocean, the cold Southern Ocean to see the penguins and end at the beautiful warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. At the back of the book is a map of the world for the children to study the route they travelled and compare each sea and ocean’s location to the five continents.

Each illustration by Bethan Woollvin has its own colour palette. I particularly like the way Bethan has bought each of the seas and oceans to life by giving them faces. Together with Caryl’s text they create a different endearing, watery character for each spread.

Meet the Oceans is both exciting and educational. It supports KS1 topics on the environment and meets the requirements of the Geography curriculum attainment target of locational knowledge to name and locate five oceans, whilst introducing some basic geographical vocabulary in a fun way. It also provides opportunities for discussion on conservation by highlighting the plastic pollution littering the Pacific.

This book is sure to become a timeless classic. It is full of interesting, well-researched facts that will sit nicely alongside Moth: an evolution story and Fox: a circle of life story both by Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus.

Overall a truly breath-taking experience that will capture any child’s imagination and inspire them to find out more.

Book Review: The Time Traveller and the Tiger

TitleThe Time Traveller and the Tiger

Written by: Tania Unsworth

Illustrated by: Helen Crawford-White and Laura Brett

Published by: Zephyr

The Time Traveller and the Tiger is a remarkable book about a young girl called Elsie who aspires to be a writer. She goes to stay with her Uncle John where she discovers a tiger skin in the spare room and an exotic flower in the greenhouse..

This book is different from other books in that it is cleverly written from several points of view. The first chapter is from John’s point of view of the inciting incident that sets the story in motion – when he killed the tiger which he regrets. The story continues from the future in Elsie’s point of view until she is transported back in time to 1940 India where Great Uncle John is a boy again. From that point the story is mainly Elsie’s point of view, with intermittent chapters from Mandeep’s and the tiger’s point of view, really getting into the tiger’s head with dramatic effect and in a humorous twist from Sowerby, the antagonist’s point of view and his untimely death. I enjoyed the different points of view and gaining a deeper understanding of the character’s motivations and emotional state.

I was captivated by Great Uncle’s John’s regretful decision to shoot the tiger and carried along with Elsie’s goal to prevent him making the same mistake again, changing both their futures and ultimately saving his brother’s life. Tania’s writing flows easily from scene to scene with realistic dialogue and amusing exchanges. She creates a stunning, colourful world set in India with her vivid and evocative descriptions of the animals and vegetation. These are enhanced by the truly breath taking charcoal illustrations of the Tiger scattered throughout the pages.

The Time Traveller and the Tiger touches on issues of sexism and racism as the attitudes and opinions of the time are perceptively portrayed and expertly balanced by Elsie’s views and feelings of these dated and bigoted opinions.

The timeless message of preserving our wildlife rings loud and true from every page as the plot highlights the plight of the tiger and other endangered species and gives young reader’s options at the end of the book how they can help protect their planet from such species dying out altogether. The timeless message of preserving our wildlife rings loud and true from every page.

Book Review: The Wild Way Home

Title: The Wild Way Home

Written by: Sophie Kirtley

Illustrated by: Ben Mantle

Published by: Bloomsbury

The Wild Way Home is a unique book where the gender of protagonist, twelve-year old Charlie Merriam, is not revealed and is left up to the reader. The story works well with Charlie as a boy just as it does if she is a girl and to be honest I did not think her gender was relevant. However, my preference by the end of the book was to think of Charlie as a girl in that when she is whisked through time to the Stone Age and discovers Harby, he is searching for his baby sister. In contrast Charlie is running away from her baby brother.

Charlie has always wanted a baby brother but when Dara is born on her birthday and the doctors discover he has a heart defect, she is unable to deal with emotional turmoil of her brother’s life-threatening condition and sharing her special day. Her response is to run from her problems and hide in the forest where she loves to play with her friends. A place where she normally feels safe.

Written in the first person we get a deep insight into Charlie’s feelings and wave of mixed emotions at the hospital and on her adventures in the forest that used to be so familiar but has (like her family life) suddenly changed into a ‘wild’ almost unrecognisable landscape. Sophie Kirtley paints vivid descriptions of a Stone Age environment, complete with cave paintings, wolves, spirit songs, primitive tools and a strange new language.

Charlie discovers it is alright to be afraid of change and it is ok to worry about things that happen, which they are unable to control.

“Things happen, bad things sometimes and sometimes people get a bit broken…”

The story emphasises how things are easier when you don’t try to deal with them alone. In this way, The Wild Way Home carries a message of hope that together with love and support from friends and family we can get through the bad times.

A great book for PSHE sessions for discussing the different ways people react and cope with scary situations and ways we can safely manage circumstance that make them anxious.

Book Review: Nina’s Amazing Gift

Title: Nina’s Amazing Gift

Written by: Maya Lunde

Illustrated by: Hans Torgen Sandnes

Published by: Wacky Bee Books

Nina’s Amazing Gift by Maya Lunde and Hans Torgen Sandnes

The Wacky Bee Buzzy Reads series were launched in 2020. They are a quick read books ideal for children to read independently.

Nina’s Amazing Gift is about a young girl whose best friend, Choco has moved away. Nina is convinced her life will never be happy again. Then a mysterious envelope arrive from Choco. It contains five strange brown beans. Meanwhile, Raymond and Nigella and their sous chefs arrive in town for a cooking competition. Nina watches the contest from high up in the branches of the cherry tree she used to climb with Choco in the town square. She has the beans Choco sent to her in her pocket. Unknown to Nina the beans are cocoa beans.

It is hard to imagine a world where people have never tasted pizza, pancakes, chips and spaghetti. When the contestants start cooking these ‘new’ foods the judges get extremely excited. Maya Lunde weaves a hilarious creative tale of how Nina discovered chocolate, which she names after her best friends and becoming a late entry into the cooking competition.

At the back of the book there are some interesting true facts about chocolate and it is revealed the original illustrations by Hans Torgen Sandnes that have been reproduced throughout Nina’s Amazing Gift were actually made with chocolate. They are currently stored in a cold basement at a secret location, safe in plastic folders. After reading this amazing fact I had to go back and study each illustration in depth to absorb the fantastic detail and use of colour. Ingenious!

There is also a recipe for chocolate brownies at the back of the book, which could be undertaken at home or as a food technology session within school.

Book Review: October October

Title: October October

Written by: Katya Balen

Illustrated by: Angela Harding

Published by: Bloomsbury

A captivating story about a young girl coming to terms with dramatic changes to her lifestyle. Katya Balen weaves an intriguing tale of family relationships and building friendships, which tugs at the heart strings and is unforgettable.

October has been bought up by her father in the forest. She helps her father coppice the trees and views herself as part of the ‘circle of life’. She finds an abandoned baby owl, names it ‘Stig’ and takes care of it. On her eleventh birthday her estranged mother comes to see her and October climes the tallest tree in the forest to hide. Her dad follows her and falls. He is taken to the hospital and to October’s horror she has to go live with her mother in London and Stig has to go to a bird sanctuary.

Katya is an expert at creating vivid, lyrical descriptions to evoke all of the reader’s senses. I particularly enjoyed the way she uses the shape of word, the space and position of the words on the page to emphasise dramatic moments, such as when dad falls from the tree. Also, how poetry is mixed with prose to compare October’s life in the forest to life in London.

Throughout the book all conversations are echoed in October’s thoughts but we never see the actual physical speech on the page, which underscores October’s social deficiencies. It is evident that October’s communication skills are limited and she take everything very literally as she has lived her whole life alone with her father who could understand her but has never had to communicate with others.

The black and White illustrations of the owl scattered on the corner of the pages by Angela Harding depict Stig the Owl at different stages of its lifecycle. They are a beautiful additions that add depth to the story mirroring the text how life goes on and things change as they get older. We see October grow, adapt and change and learn to merge old elements of her life with the new.

October October the ideal book for prompting discussion about our environment, friendship and identity. Also, a great book for both adult and children’s book groups.

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.