Category Archives: Book review

Book Review: The Very Best Beast

Title: The Very Best Beast

Written by: Alison Green

Illustrated by: Siân Roberts

Published by: Maverick Publishing

The Very Best Beast by Alison Green and Siân Roberts

This is a clever, lyrical rhyming picture book that will have young children engaged to the end. The new King is searching for an animal to feature on his royal crest. All the animals think they will be the perfect choice, except for elephant, who is too shy to put herself forward. However, an unexpected guest shows everyone’s true colours and one beast proves themselves to be the bravest and most helpful of all.

The illustrations are bold and vibrant, with such a dynamic feel I am sure the children will be eager to keep turning the pages. I loved the different expressions on the animal’s faces. They complement the text perfectly. Pre-school and Key Stage One children will enjoy listening to the book being read aloud as well as pouring over the pictures in quiet time.

A great book to help children recognise different species of wildlife and their characteristics. It would also be an ideal opportunity for slightly older children to learn about different character traits that can be used as part of a story, both good and bad. They could have fun creating their own animal characters.

The Very Best Beast could also be used as part of a PSHE and empathy lesson on shyness and how everyone is valuable in their own way.

You can buy a copy of, The Very Best Beast by Alison Green and Siân Roberts, direct from the publisher Maverick Publishing, from your local bookshop, or you can also purchase a copy online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

I would like to thank Maverick Publishing for sending me a review copy of The Very Best Beast to review on my blog.

Book Review: The Artificial Anatomy of Parks

Title: The Artificial Anatomy of Parks

Written by: Kat Gordon

Published by: Legend Press

 The Artificial Anatomy of Parks by Kat Gordon

At twenty-one, Tallulah Park lives alone in a grimy bedsit. There’s a sink in her bedroom and a strange damp smell that means she wakes up wheezing. Then she gets the call her father has had a heart attack.

Years before she was being tossed around her difficult family: a world of sniping aunts, precocious cousins, emigrant pianists and lots of gin, all presided over by an unconventional grandmother. But no one was answering Tallie’s questions: why did aunt Vivienne loathe Tallie’s mother? Who was Uncle Jack and why would no one talk about him? And why was everyone making excuses for her absent father?

As Tallie grows up, she learns the hard way about damage and betrayal, that in the end, the worst betrays are those we inflict on ourselves. This is her story about the journey from love to loss and back again.

Review: This novel takes us on a rollercoaster ride of Tallie’s emotional turmoil, triggered by her father’s heart attack. Through a series of interwoven flashbacks to Tallie’s childhood interwoven with the present day action, we discover how secrets and half-heard truths have influenced Tallie’s whole life.

The author Kat Gordon has evidently done a lot of medical research for her novel The Artificial Anatomy of Parks. The book is split into five sections: Heart, Skin, Bones, Blood, and Heart Again. Each body parts parallels Tallie’s life and they are used as metaphors for Tallie’s emotions. Each medical emergency acts as a cornerstone for another development and surprising discovery. It encompasses themes of betrayal and a search for identity

This story will tug at your heart strings as you cross your fingers in the hope Tallie’s father will survive.

Book Review: The Thief Who Sang Storms

Title: The Thief Who Sang Storms

Written by: Sophie Anderson

Illustrated by: Joanna Lisowiec

Published by: Usborne Publishing

The Thief Who Sang Storms by Sophie Anderson

Sophie Anderson’s imagination and beautiful descriptions bring the world and characters alive. Like her other books The Thief Who Sang Storms was inspired by Slavic folklore in particular, the Russian folk poem, The First Journey of Ilya Muromets featuring Nightingale the Robber. The book is set on the floating island of Morovia which itself was inspired by Buyan, an island from a Slavic folktale. Sophie builds a vivid world in this book of bravery and determination when everything looks bleak.

The population of Morovia consist of the humans and the alkonists, who are bird-like people with hollow bones and feathers instead of hair and each can perform their own unique form of magic with their singing. They have been divided by a terrible tragedy – singing magic created a storm that sunk the ship the king and queen were on. Now the humans live on one side of the island the most of the alkonists have been forced to leave their homes to live in the Mournful Swamp or have been sentenced to work in the Keep.

The story is told in first person from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old alkonist called Linnet. Her mother died on the ship that sunk. Linnet has been thrown into adulthood where she has had to learn to survive and has become a parent-figure to her grieving father. Her only friends are Lumpy a three-legged toad and a swamp-rat called Whiskers. They go everywhere with her.

I was hooked by her quest to save her father and reunite the alkonists and humans. I also like that we got a brief glimpse of the House with the Chicken Legs in Linnet’s dream-like scene. The whole book is interspaced with flashbacks about her mother and her friendship with a human she knows as Hero. These nostalgic flashbacks sometimes slowed the pace of an otherwise fast-past adventure.

The Thief Who Sang Storms deals sensitively with issues of grief and how it effects people differently. I think it is a great book to read to a class in the book corner, or to a child before bed. I would recommend this book to fluent readers at Key Stage Two and Three.

Blog Tour – Robbie, or How To Be A Detective by Caroline Conran

Today I am taking part in the book tour for Caroline Conran and her debut children’s book, Robbie, or How To Be A Detective, published by Unicorn Publishing Group. Caroline has written many cookery books before turning her hand to writing for children.

Today my stop on the blog tour will take the form of a book review.

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Title: ROBBIE or How To Be a Detective

Written by: Caroline Conran

Published by: Unicorn Publishing Group

ROBBIE, or How to be a Detective by Caroline Conran

ROBBIE, or How To Be A Detective is about a boy who is quiet, withdrawn and lonely. He lives with his parents in the Port of Arlen, Northern Ireland. Robbie does not have any friends, preferring his own company. He lives in a world of his own, an imaginary place in which he is a detective, finding out secrets. His Dad is a very strict, dislikeable character and he is bullied at school. When he gets a pair of binoculars for Christmas, his world expands, he sees shadows, mysteries and menace all around him. Robbie has to face difficult challenges, fight for what he thinks is right and stay loyal to those he loves.

At the heart of the book is the fact that Robbie loves to sing, like his mum. He is persuaded by Julie, the receptionist at the local Art’s Centre (who is the nearest thing he has to a friend), to audition for the musical of The Little Shop of Horrors, much to his Dad’s disgust. Throughout the book, Caroline racks up the sympathy for Robbie and how he tries to cope with his dad who suddenly dies of a heart attack and the constant bullying at school, which threatens to follow him to his new school, alone.

Caroline Conran’s characterisation is spot on. Each character has their own characteristics and their own voice. In my opinion the dialogue was great. You could hear the Irish accents as you read. The settings were well described and I could imagine the port, the streets of Arlen and the art’s centre vividly. The only thing that let this book down is that it portrayed a rather dated view of a young teenager’s life. There are no mention of mobile phones, or computerised games and consoles, and the bullying takes the form of threatening notes and photos, dead rabbits and physical violence.

A good book for children who like to solve mysteries.

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I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour, inviting me to take part and sending me a copy of the book to review. Thank you.

Book Review: How Messy!

TitleHow Messy!

Written by: Clare Helen Welsh

Illustrated by: Olivier Tallec

Published by: Happy Yak

How Messy! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

How Messy! is a simple yet effective text. Clare tells the story in only 116 words. The book is about Dot and Duck who go on holiday to the seaside. Dot finds Duck’s untidiness very frustrating. She likes things in their place – neat and tidy – but Duck prefers the more organic and creative approach. Read how they learn to cooperate and accept each others different personalities.

I love the way Olivier Tallec makes the action explicit through his vinaigrette illustrations. He uses a limited primary colour palette of yellow, red and green with a hint of blue, pink and orange. The expressions on Dot and Duck’s faces are superb. Other books in the Dot and Duck series are How Selfish! and How Rude!

This series of books would be ideal for KS1 and nursery children. They could be used as a starting point to stimulate discussions on manners, tolerance and accepting each others differences. Each story is very relatable and guaranteed to make the children laugh and maybe even gasp out loud at some of the character’s behaviour.

I have also previously reviewed The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland. You can read the review here: Book Review: The Perfect Shelter.

You can read the interview I did with Clare Helen Walsh to mark the launch of How Messy! and to launch my journey into hosting blog tours here: Blog Tour – Clare Helen Welsh.

Book Review: The Beatryce Prophecy

Title: The Beatryce Prophecy

Written by: Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by: Sophie Blackwell

Published by: Walker Books

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackwell

The Beatryce Prophecy is a magnificent ‘folktale’ style middle grade novel set in the Medieval era. The partnership between Kate DiCamillo (who was twice winner of the Newbury Medal) and Sophie Blackwell (who was twice winner of the Caldecott Medal) is a perfect combination. The intricate black and white ink illustrations compliment and highlight the lyrical writing in a magical, atmospheric way that keeps the readers turning the pages. Each chapter begins with an enlarged, decorative, inhabited initial letter, which gives the book a historical, illuminated manuscript feel.

At the heart of the novel is Beatrice who is found by Brother Edik in the barn at the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. He was shocked to discover her curled up next to Answelica, the ferocious goat, clutching the goat’s ear as a comforter.  All the monks are afraid of Answelica, comparing her to a demon, as she bites and has a nasty habit of butting them in the backside sending them flying.

The only thing Beatryce remembers is her name. she has no idea how she got in the barn. When Brother Edik finds out she can read and write he fears for her safety, as it is forbidden for girls to read and write. He shaves her head and disguises her as a young monk. Answelica is her constant companion and protector.

Kate DiCamillo expertly creates her characters with vivid evocative details to vreate an instant image in the reader’s mind, such as Brother Edik’s wandering eye that dances around in its socket and Answelica the goat’s sharp teeth and hard uncompromising head that Beatryce finds comfort in. You are carried through the pages hearing their thoughts, feeling their fears and aspirations. I particularly like the way Kate DiCamillo does not name the antagonists. Throughout the story they are nameless shadows who are hunting Beatryce because of the prophecy documented in the Chronicles of Sorrowing.

The monks are the creators and keepers of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. They record the story of what has happened and things that have not happened yet. The prophecy that was foreseen by Brother Edik and has been previously ignored, states a girl child will come who will unseat a king. This king has been manipulated by an evil counsellor. Beatryce embraces the prophecy and heads off to Castle Abelard to confront the king with the goal of finding her mother. She is joined by a misfit group of characters including Answelica the goat, 12-year-old Jack Dory who had a talent for mimicry, a bee, Brother Edik and Cannoc an old, bearded vagabond who lives inside a tree and claims he used to be king.

The Beatryce Prophecy encompasses the themes of love, courage and determination. It is the ideal book for all KS2 book corners and libraries. A great book to read to the class at the end of the school day.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine

You can buy copies of The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackwell from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: That’s Life!: Looking for the Living Things All Around You

Title: That’s Life!: Looking for the Living Things All Around You

Written by: Mike Barfield

Illustrated by: Lauren Humphrey

Published by: Laurence King Publishing

That’s Life, Looking for the living things all around you
by Mike Barfield and Lauren Humphrey

Join Sherlock Ohms on his fascinating search for the range of amazing organisms present on our planet. This book is the ideal addition to any KS2 classroom as a valuable resource to teach about plants, animals including humans, living things and their habitats, as well as evolution and inheritance. There is so much detail and interesting snippets of information about the diversity of life. I feel it would also be a great addition to a KS3 pupil’s bookshelf.

Mike Barfield starts at the very beginning by outlining the seven signs of life and how the perfect conditions helped form the first cell over 4 billion years ago.

He explains how this cell evolved and developed in complexity to become prokaryotic (of a bacterium) or eukaryotic (of an animal). He goes on to describe how the human body is formed of 37 billion cells, distinguishes between the different classification of life from archaea to animalia and outlines evolution to extinction. Throughout the book there are graphic novel style life stories to help explain our origins and the philosophy of life.

The illustrations by Lauren Humphreys are very distinctive and portray the characters in a charming yet eye-catching simplistic way. They complement and enhance the text perfectly helping eager young minds assimilate the multitude of insightful information. This book highlights he incredible variety of life on our planet in a fun and motivational way. It would be the ideal gift for a child interested in biological science.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine.

Book Review: The Last Garden

Title: The Last Garden

Written by: Rachel Ip

Illustrated by: Anneli Bray

Published by: Hodder Children’s Books

The Last Garden by Rachel Ip and Anneli Bray

The Last Garden is a thoughtful, tender story of hope, touching on issues of conflict and migration. Inspired by war gardens around the world and throughout history, it is based on true events in Syria but is poignant to all wars, such as the current conflict in Ukraine. I particularly like the fact, Zara’s story is told from a child’s point of view, which gives this unique picture book  a deeper sense of reality of what children have to cope with during times of war.

The children can no longer play in the playgrounds due to the devastation the city has suffered. Instead they spend their days helping Zara tend to the last flourishing garden, watering the plants and picking fruit from the trees. The garden is a haven that offers a welcome distraction from the horrors of war.

Anneli Bray’s full-colour spreads that bleed to the edges of the pages, portray the joy of the children looking after the garden in sharp contrast to the dark and gloomy illustrations of the war escalating on the other side of the garden wall. They complement Rachel’s text perfectly, contributing to the theme of hope and faith things will improve.

When everyone is forced to evacuate the war-torn city, Zara locks the garden gate creating a feeling of loss and helplessness. The all is lost moment for all the children in the city. But soon seeds from the garden scatter and grow. Behind the garden wall life continues so when the children are finally able to return, the garden is full of thriving plants and colour, reflecting the work they must do to rebuild their city and make it too bloom again.

Rachel Ip handles the issues of war with sensitivity and respect. The lyrical nature of the text is great for reading aloud. This beautiful picture book should be readily available on children’s bookshelves both at home and in school. I believe The Last Garden should be highly recommended, essential reading for all Key Stage One and Key Stage Two children. It can be used to stimulate discussion and empathy for refugees and will also help to encourage all children and adults alike to think about what is happening around the world to people just like them.

You can buy copies of The Last Garden by Rachel Ip and Anneli Bray from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: Maggie Blue and the Dark World

Title: Maggie Blue and the Dark World

Written by: Anna Goodall

Illustrated by: Sandra Dieckmann

Published by: Guppy Books

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall

Maggie Blue and the Dark World is an inventive middle-grade quest with themes of friendship, bravery and the search for identity. It highlights the importance of camaraderie and the struggle to summon courage when we feel afraid and alone.

Maggie Blue Brown feels abandoned and unwanted she is ‘the kind of child that adults find it easy to ignore or dismiss – too quiet, too weird, too angry.’ Her mother, Cynthia Brown, has been institutionalised with depression after her husband, Lionel Blue, left them for a younger woman. So Maggie lives with her eccentric Aunt Esme in West Minchen, UK. The headmistress of Fortlake School only accepted her as a personal favour to Aunt Esme. Maggie believes she is ‘a burden to her Aunt Esme, extra stress for her depressed mother, and an afterthought to her absent father.’

Her only friend is a grumpy, old, one-eyed tomcat, called Hoagy who greets her each evening with a purr that sounds like it is humming jazz. Sandra Dieckmann has produced a beautiful illustration of Hoagy for the front cover. Although at no point in the story is Maggie small enough to sit on Hoagy’s head and nor would he let her.

Anna Goodall’s characters are all well-formed and credible. She has obviously spent a  long time developing their backstories to make them realistic and believable, the type of people you might see every day in the street, each driven by their own agendas. She paints a perceptive picture of human greed and capitalism. Her debut novel is a reflective insight into children who have to navigate a world with parents who have mental health issues and are never around.

Maggie has a crush on popular girl Ida, who in return bullies her relentlessly, calling her ‘Bruise’, due to her double-barrelled surname. Yet Maggie still wants to be her friend. She sketches Ida in her notebook and calculates their compatibility, believing it must be high as they share the same birthday, the 21st June 2007. When Ida discovers the drawing of her in Maggie’s notebook she labels Maggie a stalker.

Only Maggie’s school councillor, Miss Cane, shows her any kindness and she is a particularly formidable and menacing character with the ability to shape-shift into a wolf and definitely not to be trusted Behind her smile she is a malicious woman. So when Maggie witnesses Ida being kidnapped and dragged into a portal in Everfall Woods by Miss Cane, she is unable to say anything to the police and those she does try to tell will not believe her, reflecting the realistic, universal truth that adults rarely listen to children.

Aunt Esme introduces Maggie to her friend, Dot, who is in a wheelchair and uses herbs for healing. In a chapter from Hoagy’s point of view we learn Dot has asked Hoagy to watch over Maggie as she thinks Maggie is special. With the aid of some instructions copied from one of Dot’s ancient books and Aunt Esme’s ring that Maggie stole from her finger whilst she slept, she crosses through the portal into the Dark World in search of Ida. Maggie believes when she saves Ida, she will become her best friend.

In the Dark World Maggie travels to the gilded palace of Sun City, which is ruled by the charismatic and manipulative villain, Eldrow, who controls the people with stolen happiness. She discovers the protector of nature, known as the Great O, has been forced away triggering the land into darkness. Armed with the stolen ring of protection, Maggie becomes the centre of attention and for the first time she starts to feel special. For a while she forgets why she came to the Dark World in the first place.

Although the book seems to meander into the story, in the same way as Anna Goodall has developed well-rounded characters, she has obviously spent time creating her magical world, with its well thought out history, elaborate city and corrupt politics. Her vibrant, detailed descriptions create vivid pictures in the readers imagination that linger long after the book is shut.

Book Review: An Artist’s Eyes

TitleAn Artist’s Eyes

Written by: Frances Tosdevin

Illustrated by: Clémence Monnet

Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet

An Artist’s Eyes is a captivating picture book about a little boy called Jo, whose eyes may look the same as Mo, who is an artist, but they see things very differently. He does not see the differences in colour Mo does. She can see:

“…shiny apple-green; the lime of gooseberries and the springy zinginess of moss.”

Extract from An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet

Yet the apples, gooseberries and moss just look like green to Jo. No matter how hard he tries his eyes don’t see the variations of shade in the same way Mo the artist. Frances’ text shows the build-up of Jo’s frustration, as he tries to force himself to see the same way as Mo.

As he journeys through the world of colour and creativity, Jo begins to relax and use his imagination. He soon realises he does not have to see the same as Mo, the things he can imagine are completely unique. I love the way Frances Tosdevin shows us how Jo begins to trust his own eyes and how his mindset changes in this empowering story of confidence. Jo starts to appreciate he is able to think and see like an artist but in a totally different way to Mo.

On each spread, Clémence Monnet’s watercolour illustrations compliment the text and vividly show the wide variety of colour Mo can see. I particularly like the way the colours are used to convey Jo’s emotional journey, from the black spread scattered with bursts of colour to illustrate Jo’s frustration, to the angry red spread which highlights Jo’s turning point when he finally starts to believe in himself. This picture book will inspire children to explore the different colours they can see for themselves in the world around them, from the different shades of red in the autumn leaves to the…

“…mellow yellow of melons and the pale pastel of primroses.” 

Extract from An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet

The perfect book to use in the primary classroom from years one to six to demonstrate to young children how to use the full colour of our imaginations. It could also be used to stimulate art work and experimentation of colour mixing and also the use of shape and pattern. I believe this book is ideal for encouraging children to be more observant of the world around them. It will help them to discover for themselves that our individual perspectives make us all artists because no two artist’s eyes are the same.

An Artist’s Eyes truly is an exceptional and distinctive book to help young readers see how magical the world can be.

You can buy copies of An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.