Category Archives: Book review

Blog Tour – The Complete Fairy Stories of Oscar Wilde

It is with great pleasure I join the blog tour for renowned author Oscar Wilde and the fantastic reprint of the compendium of his fairy Stories in The Complete Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde. It is such an honour to be included in this tour and I must thank Anne Cater from  Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising the tour and for ensuring I received the incredible collectors’ edition as a review copy.

Born in Dublin in 1854, Oscar Wilde was an Irish wit, playwright and poet best remembered for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray written in 1891. His social comedies includes The Importance of Being Earnest first performed in 1895. This is one of my favourite plays and one that I had the delight of acting in whilst I was in the sixth form at school. Oscar Wilde was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, and his two sons were born in 1885 and 1886. Oscar Wilde died in Paris in 1900.

My stop on the tour involves a book review of this beautiful new edition. It is not so much a review of the contents, as reviewing Oscar Wilde’s work as for nearly 150 years, the classic fairy stories of Oscar Wilde have been cherished by readers of all ages. This will be more a review of the magnificent book itself.

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Title: The Complete Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde

Written by: Oscar Wilde

Illustrated by: Philippe Jullian

Published by: Duckworth Books

The Complete Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde is a stunning 70th-anniversary gift-edition of Duckworth’s treasured compilation. He originally published two volumes of beloved fairy tales – The Happy Prince and other stories, bought out in 1888 and A House of Pomegranates, published in 1891. Now we have the good fortune of being able to rediscover all nine of the stories in this beautiful new edition of Duckworth’s exquisite collection.

The first edition of the complete collection was first published in 1952 and the original copy contained over twenty original line drawings. These exquisite illustrations, created by the distinguished and celebrated artist and aesthete, Philippe Jullian, have been expertly reproduced for this gorgeous giftable edition of The Complete Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde.

The new edition is quarter-bound with intricate green foil cover and spine detailing. It has been divided into two sections to keep the original volumes together. This is a beautiful edition and one people will want to cherish forever. You know how sometimes you pick up a book and want to stroke the cover well this copy is highly strokeable.

Oscar Wilde’s stories themselves are as relevant today as they were in the late 1800’s. His insight into human character is perceptive and pertinent from, The Nightingale and the Rose, where the nightingale gives up his life for a selfish, ungrateful woman, to The Star-Child that portrays what a kind and just leader should be with the underlying message that evil is still out there

His deep Christian beliefs are also evident as can be seen in The Happy Prince where the statue and the Swallow devote their days to helping others and win their place in paradise, The Selfish Giant with the symbolic child who is Christ and The Fisherman and his Soul. There is also an afterword by Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland, which explores the inspirations behind his father’s fairy stories and how they have roots in his devote Catholic beliefs and the influence of Irish folktales.

The Complete Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde would make the ideal Christmas of birthday present for all ages. If you have not read these stories I recommend that you do and if you have read them they are definitely worth re-reading. If you love Oscar Wilde’s writing and poignant comments on human nature as much as I do it is worth purchasing a copy as a celebrated collector’s item. head and shoulders above any other copy on the market.

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To join the other stops on the blog tour take a look at the schedule below: 

You can purchase a copy of The Complete Fairy Stories Of Oscar Wilde published by Duckworth Books from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org

Thanks again to Anne Carter for inviting me to take part and also to the publisher Duckworth Books for producing such a lovely copy. Thank you.

Book Review: The Miraculous Sweetmakers – The Frost Fair

Title: The Miraculous Sweetmakers – The Frost Fair

Written by: Natasha Hastings 

Cover illustrated by: Alex T Smith

Published by: Harper Collins Children’s Books

The Miraculous Sweetmakers – The Frost Fair
by Natasha Hastings 

An ingenious spooky story, full of intrigue and suspense. The book encompasses themes of family, friendship, loss, and overcoming grief.

Thirteen year old Thomasina feels responsible for the death of her twin brother Arthur. So when a mysterious, well-dressed man turns up in the family sweetshop claiming he is a conjurer and can bring Arthur back from the dead, she jumps at the chance. However, events spiral out of control putting not only her life at risk but also the lives of her friends and family.

I loved that the book was set in London 1683 when the River Thames froze over. Thomasina helps her father set up a sweet stall on the frozen river Thames. She makes friends with Anna who dreams of opening her own apothecary, which is a daring move in the 17th century for a young girl, despite the fact many young children would be expected to work at their age. I like the way Natasha Hastings’ characters challenge the male/female stereotypes that were prominent during this time. This was also evident in the way Natasha expertly tackled the subplot of her mother’s grief and neighbours wanting to lock her up as it was seen as female mental illness. I found it realistic for the times.

On the whole the plot was well researched and full of twists and turns. I would recommend this book for all middle grade readers who love history with a hint of magic.

I have previously reviewed this book on NetGalley and Goodreads.

Book Review: A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals

Title: A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals: Over 90 fun and fabulous festivals from around the world!

Written by: Claire Grace

Illustrated by: Christopher Corr

Published by: Frances Lincoln

A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals by Claire Grace and Christopher Corr

A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals compiled by Christopher Corr and Claire Grace is a fantastic compendium of carnivals, festivals, historical commemorations, religious events and other special days, which are celebrated around the world. Each celebrations has a double page spread which has text on one side and a bright, vibrant illustration opposite that often bleeds across both pages. They have been collated into seasons with a brief introduction to each season to explains what that season has in common all over the world, however they mainly describe seasonal differences in the Northern hemisphere.

Each season is not organised in any particular order within the chapter. Spring opens with the Indian International Kite Festival, with the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival Hanami in the middle and concludes with Martin Luther King Jr Day. Summer includes Palio de Siena the Italian horse race, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and finishes with a spread about the different Summer Solstice celebrations across the globe. Autumn starts with the Mid-Autumn Moon festival celebrated in East Asia, Diwali in the middle and climaxes with the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival in the United Kingdom. Winter features Hanukkah first, The African Festival of Dancing Masks (FESTIMA) in the middle and finally New Year’s Eve Countdown across the world.

Claire Grace’s text provides a brief, concise explanation of the celebrations, which includes some of the history and pageantry involved. Scattered across each spread is an insightful information bubble or snippet that contains extra fun facts about that particular celebration to stretch and entertain readers. At the back of the book is a spread of glossary words that appear in the text.

This colourful non-fiction book would be a great reference book for teachers wanting to think of ideas for a school assembly that could be expanded and for children who are curious about the world and other cultures. The ideal book for children to dip in and out of during reading times.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine

Book Review: The Spectaculars

Title: The Spectaculars

Written by: Jodie Garnish

Cover by: Nathan Collins

Published by: Usborne

The Spectaculars by Jodie Garnish

The Spectaculars is the first in a series of books about a group of magical performers with gifted special powers from the stars.  

I was enticed to read this book by the beautiful cover illustrated by Nathan Collins. However, it took me a while to get into the story and feel any rapport for the main protagonist, eleven year old Harper Woolfe, but after the first three chapters I was hooked.

When three figures arrive at Harper’s window in a flying canoe, informing her that she is due to start her apprenticeship, Harper discovers she is a Spectacular. Harper is transported away in the canoe, from the rundown Theatre Borough of the Smoke to the amazing magical world of The Hidden Peaks, dressed only in her pyjamas and dressing gown. She arrives at a magical travelling theatre and boarding school, called the Wondria, which is in a tram and has a multitude of floors, an attic and a giant glass dome.

Like her mum Harper has a love of mechanics but has inherited her dad’s magical abilities to control stardust. One of the mysterious figures is blue-haired Trick who was her best friend before the ‘accident’ that killed her father but her mother had convinced her he was imaginary to spare her the truth of what she had lost. Trick is my favourite character and in a lot of the ways he carries the book. He comes across as mischievous, but he also has a calm and reassuring side to his nature. He is always very supportive of Harper.

She learns that on the day her dad died and the Spectaculars arrived through the Gateway, thirteen stars fell from the sky and were lost. These stars are being hunted for their magical powers.

This well-crafted story reminded me in places of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series but instead of a sorting hat there is a teapot, which brews the perfect tea for their character and instead of the fallen star being human they are animals.

This novel is a fascinating look at how superstition can lead to dramatic over-reactions. Harper is convinced by the spoilt Althea Reed that she is responsible for bringing Misfortune to the Wondria. The accidents and mysterious disturbances to theatre life continue until they threaten to close down the theatre for good. With Trick and new friend Thief the magician, Harper fights to save the theatre and help the fallen stars return home.

Jodie Garnish shows a real talent for creating imaginative worlds as well as some incredible, unique magical creatures, such as a ‘kobold’ called Helja, which can shape-shift into a broom and a mangle. Her  world building is elaborate and impressive. One of my favourite settings is the ingenious magical library where the bookshelves look like they are suspended in the air high above their heads.

The Spectaculars is a fantastic amalgamation of the world of theatre with the world of magic. This is a boarding school story with a difference containing some exceptional twists. I particularly enjoyed the excellent twist at the end when the real antagonist is revealed with a surprising secret.

Ideal for readers 8+. This book would be a beautiful addition to libraries and school bookshelves.

Book Review: Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain

Title: Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain

Written by: Donna and Viskesh Amey Bhatt

Illustrated by: Salini Perera

Published by: Nosy Crow

Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain by Donna and Viskesh Amey Bhatt and illustrated by Salini Perera

Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain is a much needed, long overdue book that should adorn every bookshelf in all schools and libraries. It outlines the history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and how these cultures are entwined and shape British history. It was launched by Nosy Crow in July 2022 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Partition of India.

This is an innovative children’s non-fiction book about belonging and celebrating the past, present and future of our complex and diverse nation written with a clear and concise writing style by husband and wife team, Donna and Viskesh Amey Bhatt. It is divided into double-page spread chapters that start with an introductory welcome, which explains how India is divided and the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain, to a very useful timeline and glossary at the back of the book. With a chronological overall organisation it takes us from the past, into the present and looks onwards to the future.

Each beautifully illustrated spread covers such topics as how every person is an amalgamation of different things; the ancient history of India and its many religions; the British Empire and the decisions that led to a divided independent India. It touches on some difficult topics such as slavery and racism, as well as exploring the beauty of South Asian culture, customs, food, sport and language exuberated by the bright and colourful illustrations.

Lands of Belonging would be an asset in all classrooms for stimulating discussion on diversity and the celebration of our differences and similarities. I particularly liked the inclusion of the spread on the Asian calendar of celebrations, which would be perfect for helping children clarify and discuss the different religious festivals and celebrations throughout the year, whether the children traditionally celebrate these or not.

This brilliant book provides an insightful and inclusive educational overview of the links between our cultures. Truly a book about identity and belonging.

I was lucky enough to interview Donna Amey Bhatt for my Writing for Children slot in the UK’s national writing magazine, Writer’s Forum. The feature appeared in issue #247 21 Sep 2022. To read highlights from the feature take a look at my blog post: An interview with… Donna Amey Bhatt.

You can buy copies of Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain by Donna and Viskesh Amey Bhatt and illustrated by Salini Perera from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: The Hologram and Other Sinister Stories

Title: The Hologram and Other Sinister Stories

Written by: Stuart Ross

Cover Design by: Marcus Bell

Published by: Blean Books

The Hologram and Other Sinister Stories by Stuart Ross

The Hologram and Other Sinister Stories contains ten strong character-led stories that drive the plot to its dramatic and often gruesome conclusion.

Stuart Ross never ceases to amaze me with his keen insight into human nature. Each of the short stories included in this anthology, contain poignant and resonating observations into peoples’ psyche. They left me contemplating the resolution and events leading up to them. An insightful examination of human nature.

Each story is very different and each has at its core a very different form of technology that contributes to the main character’s grizzly and haunting demise – from AI’s over-riding their programming, possessed holograms and lethal apps, the stories grip you from the start. There are hints of Stephen King and James Herbert with a technological twist, so rather than rats devouring the flesh, we have images online devouring the soul.  

If you enjoy menacing stories this is definitely the book to read.

Book Review: How to Make a Picture Book

Title: How to Make a Picture Book

Written and illustrated by: Dr Elys Dolan

Published by: Walker Books

How to Make a Picture Book by Elys Dolan

How to Make a Picture Book is the perfect gift for children who want to write and make their own books. It is full of bold illustrations drawn and narrated by the author-illustrator, Dr Elys Dolan, who speaks directly to the reader, anthropomorphised by a bookworm and helped by her trusty assistant Bert.

Elys and Bert talk the reader through where they can get their ideas from, to developing characters through interviews and character sketches. What setting is and how the setting can tell you more about the characters.

This fantastic book then goes on to help children decide what will happen in their story by providing story sentence starters and then illustrates how they can make their own books for the story to go in, showing them how to put the pages together and how the pictures can be used to add more meaning to the story and show the action. It even talks about page turners and the use of colour in your illustrations.

How to Make a Picture Book really is the ultimate step-by-step guide for making a picture book. This unique picture books is packed with brilliant activities, top tips and funny jokes to keep the children entertained. They will love finding out how Bert develops his story idea about the Pizza Delivery Dinosaur. The instructions are easy to follow and will inspire even the most reluctant writer to have a go.

Ideal for use in the classroom and at home. Children can spend days creating their own stories and picture books and sharing them with their friends. A fun project which the whole family can join in. Great for project work.

How to Make a Picture Book is released by Walker Books next week on Thursday 3rd November. Just in time to write your action-packed firework stories or reminisce on the spooky Halloween stories they have read and heard. 

I would like to thank Antonia Wilkinson for sending me a review copy of this book.

If you would like more ideas on writing picture books you can see my post on Planning a picture book here:

Book Review: Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie

Today I am going to share my book review of Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton.

The first in the series, Phyllo Cane and the Circus of Wonder, was hailed by the judging panel of The Booklife Prize to be ‘dizzyingly bewitching, articulate and intoxicating.’ The sequel, Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie, was released on July 31st 2022.

On the 13th September 2022, I took part in a book tour for the release this sequel, which you can see the Q&A interview I did with Sharn for this tour here: Blog Tour – Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton

However, before I begin the actual review, I would like to tell you all about the amazing book package I received of the review copies. This must be one of my favourite and most theatrical themed review book packages that I have ever received and I am in awe of Sharn for the organisation that must of gone in to doing this.

When I first received the parcel I did not know what it was – it really was a mystery package. When I opened it there was a Big Top shaped box that fit the circus theme perfectly. However, there was a piece of card covering the window at the front, which I had to remove before all was revealed. So cool! Just like magic.

Just the box was impressive enough, but when I removed the contents of the box I was overwhelmed to discover what I assume is a wind-up paper dragon (and not a butterfly), a bag of pop corn ideal for eating at the circus, or while you read the books, and a copy of not only the book I was asked to review but also the first book in the series: Phyllo Cane and the Circus of Wonder.

Sharn had also kindly signed both books, which was lovely.

It was so exciting! Thank you Sharn.

All I have to do now is get on with the review.

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Title: Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menangerie

Written by: Sharn W Hutton

Published by: Star City Press

Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton

I can say with hand on heart, the second book is even better than the first, as we follow Phyllo on another action-packed adventure. Twelve-year-old Phyllo Cane use to work with his family – brother, sister and father – in the Circus of Wonders. His dad runs the magical confectionery business where the enticing sweets are made of beautiful memories that will fill the person eating them with joy as they watch the show.

However, mishap and mayhem seem to follow Phyllo and threaten the circus wherever he goes from accidently burning down the big top to getting his twin brother hurt by confronting the jester. It is not surprising the exasperated Ringmaster orders Phyllis to start again elsewhere in the circus in a bid to discover his real talent and place in this incredible world of magic. The second book opens straight away from where the last book left off with Phyllo worried if he does not find his place he will be asked to leave the safety of the Circus and his family will follow him into the In-between.

In Circus of Wonder, Phyllo was apprenticed as a Trapeze Artist with an unfortunate fear of heights. In Magical Menagerie, we Join Phyllo for his next apprenticeship, which this time happens to be with Tamer Venor, who cares for all the mystical creatures in the Menagerie. This is such a great concept and will open the series up to Phyllo to draw on this incredible skill on more apprenticeship adventures in the future.

Tamer Venor is worried about her favourite dragon and needs to get it back on its feet before the ringmaster decides it is worth more money to use it for meat. The sand dragon is lonely and wants a mate, but finding a male sand dragon will be difficult as they are very rare. Tamar knows she will never be able to catch one on her own. So Phyllo becomes her apprentice to help her but the problem is Tamar already has an apprentice who she found on the streets and Panya seems to have taken an instant dislike to Phyllo. To catch the sand dragon Phyllo must first embark on a quest to discover his animal totem, a magical baton, a mystical portable altar and the exact words of command to control it.  

This magical upper middle-grade, fantasy adventure is well written with some excellent world building. Sharn’s exceptional descriptions bring vivid pictures to the mind of the circus, the atmosphere, and the magnificent beasts in the menagerie. The reader is transported into the world of big tops, popcorn, breath-taking countryside and some brilliantly flamboyant characters.

The plot is full of unexpected twists and Phyllo, true to character, still makes slightly dodgy decisions with sometimes hilarious results. The book also touches on themes of depression and addiction.

I really enjoyed the story and can’t wait to read the next instalment. I would recommend this book to fluent readers in Year Six upwards.

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The Adventures of Phyllo Cane are available as e-book for Kindle and are included in Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks are available for order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones. Most book stores will be able to order it in. If you visit the Amazon pages you will be able to see full descriptions and the possibility of downloading a free sample for kindle. The international book link to the series is: mybook.to/PhylloCane

You can find out more about Sharn W Hutton and her book Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie on her website: www.sharnhutton.com, Facebook: @SharnHuttonAuthor and Instagram: @sharnious

If you haven’t taken a peek already, please do take a look at the author interview I did with Sharn W. Hutton please see: Blog Tour – Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton

I would also like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for ensuring I received review copies so I could take part. Thank you.

Book Review: Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows

Title: Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows

Written by: Jenny Moore

Cover illustrated by: David Dean

Published by: Maverick Publishing

Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows by Jenny Moore

Maverick publishing is launching on Friday 28th October a top-notch new fantasy series with a fantastic premise. Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows by Jenny Moore is the first in this series about a girl who has hatched out of a dragon’s egg. She looks perfectly normal except for the scales on her arms and legs.

Emba has remained hidden from the majority of the world until an evil sorcerer, Necromalcolm, discovers her whereabouts. He lures Emba and Odolf Bravebuckle to Gravethorn Castle as he needs her dragon blood for his dastardly spell. Our two heroes have to save their friend and guardian Fred, the Wise Hermit of Witchingford Woods.

This fast-paced adventure has a small cast of characters who are all have very different personalities. Emba is loyal and courageous in direct contrast to Odolf who believes his bravery is determined by his stolen belt buckle. The fantasy world Jenny Moore has created is highly believable from the cave where the Tome of Terrible /Tomorrows is kept, to the Pool of Perilous Perception to the Grave Tower of Gravestone, with its impossible spiral staircases. The names are pure genius.

The most prominent thing for me that made this book stand out from many other middle-grade fantasy adventures is the authors distinctive voice. From the very start we are in the mind of Emba and daren’t leave her side right up to the ‘calamitous climax’. Even the often hilarious chapter headings are firmly in the style of Emba’s thoughts and opinions of what is happening.

Our heroes learn bravery comes from within and not from shiny artefacts and you are still part of a family even though you look different. With themes of courage, friendship and family, Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows would be ideal for children who loved reading Sophie Anderson’s books.

There is a brilliant hook at the end leading us to another exciting adventure. This is a great addition to any bookshelf at home or at school. I look forward to reading the second in the series, Emba Oak and the Beckoning Bones.

I would like to thank Abi Reeves from Maverick Publishing for sending me a review copy this book. Thank you.

You can buy copies of Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows by Jenny Moore direct from Maverick Publishing, or from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: Tiger Skin Rug

TitleTiger Skin Rug

Written by: Joan Haig

Illustrations: Marian Brown

Cover designed by: Purple Sky Design / Krol – Denis Krasavchikov

Published by: Pokey Hat an imprint of Cranachan Publishing

Tiger Skin Rug by Joan Haig

This brilliant fast paced and exciting middle grade adventure story will have you turning the pages late into the night. It is not surprising it was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2021, as well as a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2021 and one of The Reader Teacher‘s favourite Books of 2020.

I won a copy of Tiger Skin Rug for my grandson in a Twitter competition run by Joan. He has recently asked for it to be read to him again when he was staying over in the summer, bringing it with him especially from home. I would like to thank Joan for this great prize that has given us both so much enjoyment.

Tiger Skin Rug explores the themes of betrayal and what makes a home, whilst seamlessly weaving in environmental issues of tiger conservation and illicit trafficking of endangered species. It is expertly written and has a timeless quality.

The book opens with Lal who is feeling homesick. He and just arrived with his family from India to live in Scotland in cold and murky house that smelt of old age and is packed with the strange relics left by its previous owner. Lal thinks the whole place is creepy and in the drawing room he discovers an even creepier old tiger skin rug. He reminisces about the beauty of India and playing cricket with his friends and wants to go back home.

Lal’s younger brother, Dilip only speaks in a whisper and he has a special connection to the rug as only he is able to talk to it. Dilip discovers the tiger skin rug can come to life. He explains to his brother the tiger is unable to rest as poachers shot him before he had fulfilled his promise to deliver an important message.

The boys and their new friend, the feisty and wild-haired Jenny next door, are determined to help the tiger. They embark on a quest to discover what the message was and take it to its intended recipient. The tiger in return promises to take the children back home.

They use the tiger’s magic and their critical thinking skills to unravel the mystery and deliver the message. The three children embark on an incredible journey from Scotland to a nail shop opposite the abandoned Joseph Ecks Auctioneers near Waterloo station, then on to the Department of Conservation and Biodiversity at Coventry University in search of Professor Menko Chatterjee and finally they go to India.

Lal, Dilip and Jenny are brilliantly rounded characters, who are instantly likeable and relatable. Their diverse cultures are skilfully woven together. I particularly liked the strong bond between the two brothers.

Joan Haig has created a vivid sense of place with her delicate, yet vibrant descriptions. She takes us on a journey from the rainy Scottish suburbs to the bustling Indian cities, which portray the contrast between classes, with overcrowded buses and crawling through drains in monsoon rain and onto the rich, green jungle where criminal hunters lurk. The magic of this book is amplified by the addition of some beautiful illustrations of the tiger by Marian Brown.

I would recommend this book to all middle grade readers and it would be a much coveted addition to any school library or book corner.

You can buy copies of the Tiger Skin Rug by Joan Haig from HiveBookshop.org, Foyles, Blackwell’s, Waterstones and Amazon.