Monday, 20 November 2017

Best of 2017 - Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith




Black Friday is almost upon us, the nights are longer and the season colder. Everywhere you look there is Christmas decorations and fake snow, which is a good place to start the next Best of 2017 review of the fabulous, Nellie Choc-Ice by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith.

Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is one of Barrington Stokes’s Little Gems, and it is just that, it’s a frosty, funny, fast adventure about a feisty penguin named (you’ve guesses it) Nellie Choc-Ice. Nellie is an adventurer, that inadvertently explores not only beyond the colony in the south pole but the north pole too!



As Nellie is going where no penguin has gone before exploring the south pole, she encounters a large object that thinks is a killer whale, which crashes into her iceberg and sends Nelly floating off on an ice-raft , all the way to the opposite pole!

On her adventure Nellie encounters a series of dubious characters and manages to outwit them before finally being reunited with the ‘whale’ that takes her home.



As you would expect from Jeremy Strong, the story is fun and engaging, and it is enhanced by Jamie Smith’s energetic illustrations. Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is definitely one of The Best of 2017!


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Hippo at the End of the Hall – Helen Cooper – Best of 2017

Why has Ben had an invitation to visit a museum he’s never even heard of?
It doesn’t open often, doesn’t even seem to want visitors.
And why are two unpleasant people plotting to get their hands on it?
There is so much delight in with Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children about the intriguing Gee Museum, one of those overstuffed with display cases of long-dead animals reconstructed with taxidermy and trays of bugs skewered with pins.

But this one is also touched by a little magic. And Ben soon gets caught up in trying to save the museum when he realises he can hear some of the exhibits speaking.
Ben, along with the very old lady who runs the museum, and some of the stuffed creatures, form an unlikely band of friends. They take on the developers who have evil plans for the museum, unleashing a strange, uncontrollable magic.
Ben also discovers a connection to his father and unearths that there might be more to the museum’s story and some very personal reasons to want to fight to save it.
This is Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children. She is, of course, the brilliant author of such classic and award-winning picture books as ‘Pumpkin Soup’ and ‘Tatty Ratty’, which have been shared and loved by so many children (and adults reading them).
One of the biggest delights of this book is that it has been illustrated by Helen, which brings the strangeness and peculiarly fascinating museum atmospherically to life.
From Flummery the owl to the detailed observations of the scientific devices, it is a little like pouring over a museum display case itself.

As someone who confesses to a fascination for pouring over museum collections (and may have taken their children too many times in the perfect excuse that the visit is really for them), this is a book I think lots of parents are going to love to read with their children. 
From the little fables, to the bees and the chapter headings – ‘Spite and Malice in the Fish Room’ being my favourite (when did writers start to use chapter headings less? I love chapter headings), it is a pure delight.
And as I live near Oxford, where Helen is based, it is particularly pleasing to know that some of our local museums have inspired the story and that some of the drawings come from those collections I have visited possibly too often and know far too well.
But then who hasn’t visited the witch in the bottle at the Pitt Rivers museum a hundred times and made up stories about it? It is so pleasing to think that someone has finally written one. 
It is the perfect feelgood story, made for sharing.
Nicki Thornton - one of my Best of 2017

Friday, 10 November 2017

#BooksMadeBetter Interview with David Stevens founder of Knight Of



Diversity is a hot topic, whether it is white-washing on the silver screen or seats in the Houses of Parliament, it is a conversation that is being translated into action in many industries.

Publishing is no different. Steps are being seen to be taken to promote diversity, eg with many BAME competitions and scholarships being set up to seek out authors and illustrators that reflect a varied society.

Shiny new publishers Knights Of (as in of the round table where everyone is equal) launched just last week on a pledge to increase diversity behind the scenes. The news was met with a frenzy of anticipation of just how this new publisher was going to rise to the challenge of doing things differently.

AimeĆ© Felone and David Stevens have launched Knights Of with a stated aim to approach publishing in a new way and to ‘DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY - and in this way, to make books for every kid.

We at SOTB are delighted to share this interview with Knights Of founder David Stevens to share his vision of this new publishing company, how he plans to make a difference … and just what that difference will be.

The publishing industry is really focused on diversity at the moment, with lots of publishers trying to seek greater submissions from diverse authors/diverse intern applications etc. What are the main barriers currently to finding a job in publishing and what will ‘Knights Of’ do differently that might address them?

We’re inspired by what publishing and other children's media have been doing, every initiative and call for openness has strengthened our belief that now is the right time for an inclusive publisher. KNIGHTS OF is trying to address as many barriers as it can – making ourselves available via live chat to answer questions, if there’s a barrier we’ll work to address it.



We love the idea of a ‘fairer team’ – what sort of different opportunities are you going to offer?

We love the idea too! We’re offering paid, remote freelance positions on every aspect of publishing a title. We’re hoping to circumvent prohibitive costs of having to live in major cities, and where possible, we will aim to pair an experienced hand with an entry/mid-level candidate for added value.



You say that Knights Of is “creating a better pipeline: working with writers, illustrators, agents, retailers and other publishers to make books better” and it is really interesting that you are looking at so many aspects of how an author’s work gets to readers. Which of these changes of approach will make the biggest difference to the books you will publish?

It is the one small change that we’re hoping will have the most impact. If your editor, designer, marketer, production team, publicist and sales team are all from broadly different backgrounds the end result will be different.



We have noticed you are accepting direct submissions as well as through agents. What is the main reason for this? Is this a long-term plan or just a short-term ‘open window’?


We’ll keep Live Chat open as long as we can – it’s not going away any time soon. We’re working hard to make sure we’re as accessible as possible – being available as much as possible is part of that.



You mention the relationship with retailers. Do you have plans to reach readers differently other than through the usual channels of bookshops and school libraries or online?


One of the biggest pieces of work we want to undertake is working with retailers to bring non-traditional readers into bookstores. Partnering with as many communities, booksellers, librarians and readers as we can.



Talking of readers, has there been any research into whether there is lower interest in books by children with BAME backgrounds?

Not that we’ve seen. (Cheeky, but with so few books published that meet the criteria would any research be reliable?). Look at what Empathy Lab can do – proving that engagement with as many characters as possible has positive results.



Do you plan to publish in other languages to reach those children who have English as a second language? Will you take submissions in other languages?

We’re just getting started – our first focus is home-grown talent. We’ll look at submissions in translation but, for now, it’s unlikely we’ll be publishing into the UK and Irish markets in multiple languages.



It sounds like we are witnessing the start of a really exciting, forward-thinking publisher. How can we get involved?


Sign up to the #BooksMadeBetter newsletter [http://knightsof.media/#sign-up/] – come write for BooksMadeBetter.com – and tell everyone who might be interested about us. We’re a new start-up company so always willing to talk investment at varying levels.


So - they are being different and being very open, so what are you waiting for - sounds like a brilliant opportunity to get involved. SOTB will certainly be watching this space and wish Knights Of the very best for getting it dreams realised.

Lastly I must say a BIG SOTB THANK YOU to David for taking time out of the hectic start up week to be interviewed and to wish Knights Of the very best of luck. We look forward to reviewing some of their books in due course!

Find out more at Knights Of Website


You can also follow Knight on Twitter @_KnightsOf





Friday, 3 November 2017

The Polar Bear Explorers' Club by Alex Bell - review

Stella and her adoptive father, Felix, live in a fantasy world of strange, unexplored lands and exotic and wonderful creatures. 

Felix, an explorer, fills their home with stories and unusual animals brought home from his adventures and Stella longs for the chance to go on one of his explorations. She is thrilled when she is approved to officially accompany a dangerous voyage to reach the coldest part of the Icelands.
Stella and three other explorers’ children are on the trip, and even a shared ambition of returning from their mission covered in glory doesn't mask the fact that they don’t get on.

It’s a wonderfully imaginative fantasy adventure story that really rips into action when Stella and the other youngsters get separated from the experienced adult explorers as an ice bridge collapses.
Stella knows their biggest danger is not the ice or the unknown perils, but the fact that they cannot bury their differences.
Can Stella help bring together elf healer Beanie, wolf-whisperer, Shay and grumpy magician, Ethan, into a team that is strong enough to survive both the journey and the tricks of magical creatures?
They encounter unicorns and pygmy dinosaurs, must outsmart frostbite fairies, carnivorous cabbages and ice magic that can freeze the heart, before they can get home.
The non-stop twists in the plot and the inventiveness of the peril make for plenty of thrills and spills, but it’s the forging of the unlikely team into a really strongly bond is will stay with you after you have finished reading the story.
One of my 'Books of 2017' - Nicki Thornton

Friday, 27 October 2017

Sofa Dog by Leonie Lord – Best of 2017



It is high time for a picture book to feature on SOTB Best of 2017 list, so here is the fabulously funny and charmingly illustrated Sofa Dog by Leonie Lord.

If you have a dog in the household or have ever had a family dog, then I’m sure this book will hit a cord, if you’ve not had the experience of sharing a house with a canine, then this is still; a humorous and entertaining tale, and maybe even serve as a warning to the nature of owning hounds!

Sofa Dog is a story about one sofa, one dog and the dog's human. Sofa Dog loves the sofa, and is only happy to share it only with it’s human, however begrudgingly Sofa Dog has to make way for not one but two cats, and just as Sofa Dog think it couldn’t get any worse there a rat-a-tat-tat at the door.



Before long the house is full and the sofa crammed with relatives, animals, and even a musical orangutan. The sofa gets so crowded that Sofa Dog gets pushed off and out into the rain. But soon something begins to move, and bite, and all the residents of the sofa being to itch. The itch leads to eviction, and Sofa Dog, has the Sofa back.

Being a owner of not one but two Sofa Dogs, I know that the observation Leonie Lord makes in the exquisitely envisioned picture book are all too true, and therefore believe that Sofa Dog is indeed one of the best of 2017!


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood - Best of 2017

There are several things that might surprise you about the great warrior adventurer; the amazing Podkin One-Ear, that son of a chieftain and famously great hero.
Firstly, Podkin isn’t impressive at all at the beginning of his great adventure. He’s too lazy to even want to be a hero. In fact, he is spoilt rotten. But then everything changes when the big bad Gorm, the dreaded enemy, arrives.
Kieran Larwood’s tale of a rabbit thrust into an unwanted adventure won this year’s Blue Peter prize. It features the wonderful, Podkin, who lives in a cosy and well-ordered world, entirely happy to leave it to his sister, Paz, to pay attention in sword-fighting lessons – or any lessons at all. What is the point of them?
Podkin, his big sister, Paz and little brother, Pook, have to go on the run in a harsh and snowy world. Podkin has zero survival skills and must rely on the kindness of others if what is left of his family and his whole burrow are to stand any chance of not being wiped out.

But in his heart, Podkin doesn’t want to be the sort of person no-one can rely on in a crisis. He needs to find out if any of his family have survived, save his burrow, and defeat the dreaded Gorm, who are ruthlessly taking over the previously peaceful world of the rabbits. 
Podkin might be the only one who has any chance of finding a way to defeat the Gorm. But is it too late to pay attention not just to sword-fighting, but to his history lessons and find any way a small, scared and not very brave rabbit can stop the evil Gorm from dominating in a world where they have been banished underground.
The Gorm are a terrifying group of baddies, part-iron, part-rabbit, seemingly invincible. Why have the Gorm suddenly got so powerful? How on earth can they be defeated? Podkin is plunged into a position where there seems to something he has much to learn at every turn as he tries to gather an unlikely team to take on the enemy. But he's a character easy to like in this wonderful tale of a very unlikely adventurer. 
Podkin discovers he has plenty of courage and learns to use guile rather than fighting skills, trying to outwit his opponents. He goes on an amazing journey, learning the history of the world he dearly loves and it so close to losing and finds friends and strengths he never knew he had.
A wonderful and imaginative adventure, sensitively told, packed with action and set in a well-realised world. This is definitely one of my Books of 2017.
Nicki Thornton

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory - Best of 2017

Mold, whose most distinguished feature is his very large nose, works for healer, Aggy. He must go on a journey and learn to be a hero when Aggy, who has looked after him since he was abandoned as a baby, is arrested for poisoning the king.
Aggy’s arrest leads straight into a page-turning adventure, the action plunging Mold through city sewers and into wild swamps, into a world fraught with unexpected dangers and some very nasty smells.

He ventures far from the world he knows, staying only one step ahead the bad people after him, finding help in unexpected places. Despite everything thrown at him, Mold never gives up, knowing only he can find a cure, stop the king dying, and prove Aggie’s innocence.
Mold is a character easy to warm to, big-hearted, as much as he is big-nosed. He makes increasingly good use of this most distinguishing feature, discovering he can tell someone’s character from their scent.
This intelligent adventure has many subtle themes running through it – pleas for tolerance and for celebrating difference rather than being afraid. Mold discovers much during his adventure, not least that the king he admires has not always behaved well to the people he rules. And about his own heritage and why he was abandoned.
Debut author Lorraine Gregory admirably brings in these big themes into a page-turning adventure. She also gets top marks for breaking a few rules (brave for a debut author), particularly her use of dialect. Mold’s voice is not only authentic and easy to understand, but it also pulls the young reader straight into Mold’s colourful world.
‘Mold and the Poison Plot’ is a perfectly-pitched and captivating fantasy adventure featuring the truly marvellous Mold and is a really very classy read indeed.
One of my Books of 2017 - Nicki Thornton