Monday, 20 February 2017

Stories of finding courage and hope after grief

Foggy February has been a time for reading atmospheric stories about the different ways of coping with loss and grief. Who'd have thought that means it’s been a month involving ghosts, time travel, evil doctors and alchemy.
‘Through the Mirror Door’ by Sarah Baker is the first story, of Angela, who has been moving around children’s homes since she lost her family. Then an aunt invites her on a summer holiday with her cousins as a final chance to see if they might get along well enough to adopt her.

Horrible relatives and a summer spent in a spooky, isolated French house create the perfect setting for mysteries that need to be solved and soon Angela has more on her plate than simply than putting up with Aunt Cece’s sour comments, and cruel jibes from her cousins. She quickly stumbles on a secret. 

There is a mirror in a deserted room that connects with 1898. And when she steps through to 1898 she finds a sick boy whom Angela realises only she can help.
Should Angela abandon all her good intentions and risk upsetting her aunt in order to save the boy? She knows if she flouts all the rules she will jeopardise a future outside of children’s homes. 
It’s a lovely story with great description that draws you right into believing that shimmering mirror. And it lets you straight into what happened more than a century ago and the dilemma Angela faces. 
Even better, admirably clever plotting and some deftly handled twists means past and present storylines start to intertwine in a very satisfying way as Angela’s determination grows to do the right thing in both time zones.
A really elegant time-travel adventure story.
Lucy Strange’s ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’ is set just after the terrible losses of the First World War. But Henry’s (Henrietta’s) older brother died in a terrible accident and the whole family is struggling with immense grief.

The War has also brought in a new vogue for researching mental illnesses and Henry’s distraught mother is moved to an isolated house to receiving cutting edge treatment.
Her father copes by throwing himself into his work and disappears on a huge engineering project abroad, abandoning Henry with little to do but explore the house and woods, listening into what is going on around her, until she realises that darker things are afoot in Hope House.
The story ramps up as Henry realises that Dr Hardy does not want her mother to recover, but would rather have her as a subject for his experiments in the new field of mental health. And with her father absent, if her mother is institutionalised, this would also leave the way clear for the scheming doctor to take Henry’s baby sister, known rather charmingly as Piglet. 
The threat is now to Henry’s whole family, and forbidden to even write to her father, each adult Henry turns to lets her down. This failure of adult help means Henry’s feeling of isolation is very scary. She is the only one who has her mother's best interests at heart.

And you can’t get a much nastier villain than Dr Hardy.

The fact that he is is no imaginary monster, but a figure of trust, puts Henry in the terrifying position of being the only one who can stand up for her mother and sister and prevent his evil plan of turning her mother into an experiment and stealing her sister.
Luckily Henry is the sort of redoubtable character well able to fearlessly stand up to wrongdoing and never gives up on saving her family. The plot is a great demonstration that being brave does not have to be about taking up a sword and slaying monsters – that evil can sometimes come with a trusted face and be very close to home.
A really scary and atmospheric adventure that takes an unusual and imaginative slant on the nature of evil and how it can be defeated.
Cathryn Constable’s ‘The White Tower’ also starts with a death and takes a journey into the dark heart of grief when Livy loses her best friend.
Her father gets his dream job running the library of a prestigious and ancient school and Livy knows it is the chance for a new start. But how can she move on and make new friends when she doesn’t want to forget her old one?

But others are interested in her. She shares a name with the founder of the school, which has a history of outlandish scientific experiments. Notes from daring experiments have been lost and many people seem keen to rediscover those secrets.
Livy is a character that makes you feel her sadness and understand how being surrounded by a treasure house of obscure scientific thought, she hurls herself into a frenzied sleepless world, trying to recreate ancient experiments in the forlorn hope that she can find a cure for blood diseases and stop others from dying.
But what if her ancestor really did make a breakthrough discovery? Did he find a way to stop time and death up on the rooftops? What if there is a way of cheating death? Livy’s journey takes her into asking some big questions. 
But the story at its heart is about letting go and moving on after loss – and how the lesson loss really teaches us is how to treasure those we have.
A foggy February, on the verge of spring is the perfect time for stories with grief at their heart and these three all provide moving and thought-provoking stories of people overcoming odds to emerge with renewal in their lives.
Perfect reads for those who like an emotional core of families in crisis, stories with an nicely old-fashioned feel and a hint of mystery and secrets.
Nicki Thornton

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson - review

Matty spends his day watching the lives of everyone in his street out of his bedroom window. So he is a crucial witness when a toddler is snatched from outside his home - and Matty really wants to help.

Only Matty is living an increasingly isolated life owing to his overwhelming fear of germs. 

His compulsion to clean, and to go nowhere near anything he perceives as remotely dirty, has resulted in him skipping school and hardly even leaving his room.

The crime, committed just outside his front door means Matty will have to overcome his crippling anxiety to do the right thing.

Readers of  Lisa Thompson’s contemporary debut for children ‘The Goldfish Boy’will be rooting all the way for Matty. He's a great character and his debilitating illness provides a unusual obstacles in his quest to solving a good mystery.

Matty gets the surprising help of two other lonely children in his street, so this is a story about courage and fighting your fears head on. It’s got a great message at its heart of the importance of community, and how, if you talk to people, you might discover that everyone lives with their own fears.

The biggest strength of the story is Matty, whom you are willing on at every painful step.

We learn he has more than one shameful secret in his past. He treated his best friend really shabbily when he was really needed and when stepping in would have made a big difference. Yet what is actually at the root of his obsessive compulsive behaviour is another issue entirely, one where Matty sees the consequences and feels blame, even though this time it is not his fault.

It is a strong recommend for reading groups with lots to discuss about mental illness, the nature of guilt and how letting things eat away at you inside can have consequences.

But it is also a very enjoyable mystery all about whether the fate of an eighteen-month-old is safe in Matty's very over-washed hands. 

Can he confront his fears, do the right thing - and, also, help himself on his own road to recovery?

A complex, emotional and uplifting story to start the new year.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Happy New Year: 2017 Chinese Year of the Rooster - Favourite ‘Kids Lit Chicks!’



This Saturday (28th January) sees the Luna and Chinese New year, and the move from the year of the Monkey to the year of the Rooster. So we thought we’d celebrate this by sharing our favourite ‘Kids Lit Chicks!’ So here they are; some choices may controversial; the lack of Rosie from Rosie’s walk or the hens from Dick King Smith's ‘The Fox Busters’ may ruffle some feathers, but we love the capers of these feathery fowl and think you will too…

Nicki’s Favourite Literary Fowls …




My best rooster in fiction award goes hands down to Professor Rooster in Chicken Mission: Danger in the Deep Dark Woods, by Jennifer Gray, part of the Chicken Mission Series. This story about ninja-training for chickens is action-packed, funny and a bit bonkers, plus is great for adults reading with their children as they will appreciate all the wonderful puns. Hooray for Kung-Fu Poultry (KFP).



Another of my favourite fowl is Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, I love this series for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because I can’t think of many series which focus on the villain – in this case a twelve-year-old child prodigy millionaire who not only believes in fairies, but that they truly have gold and he plans to steal it.



Fowl kidnaps Holly Short, but she is a special agent and more than a match for the boy, aided by his Butler, who thinks he has thought of everything. This is a great fantasy series, high on gadgetry and smart dialogue and characters that develop over the series showing that being an evil genius is not an easy road to riches. And it’s very funny too.

Both books are great reads for kids up to teen.

Sally Favourite Literary Chickens…


To quote one of the most misunderstood poets of all time William McGonagall, ‘The chicken is a noble beast,’ and I concur completely so narrowing down my favourite Kid’s Lit Chicks was not easy, (although Mr McGonagall kind of took away the compliment by comparing it to a cow which; stands in the pouring rain with a leg in every corner.) however I did manage to narrow the list down to two...



My first choice goes to the fabulously mean Super Evil Chicken from, Emer Stamp’s ‘The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig.’ Super Evil Chicken is the nemesis of both the Pig diarist and his best friend Duck, but this chicken and his brood of other evil chicken comrades, are more than merely mean; pooing on cow and eating Pig’s slop! No The Evil Chicken’s hatch a plan; fashioning a rocket out of an old tractor, and convince Pig to fly the ‘Trocket’ to Pluto. Super Evil Chicken is the most evil and wicked of all of Pig’s feather foes, and pig soon discovers to his peril, that sometimes first impressions are the correct ones. 



‘The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig’ is perfect for early readers, but funny enough to appeal to children young and old.


But my all-time favourite Chicken is, Kureno Sohma from Natsuki Takaya’s, Shojo Manga; Fruits Basket. The story follows homeless orphan Tohru as she befriends the mysterious wealthy and beautiful Sohma family, discovering their secret curse. Collectively called ‘The Zodiac’, the Sohma’s curse causes some of its members to change from humans into the animals from the Chinese’s zodiac (and a cat with a grudge), when they are poorly or are embraced by someone of the opposite sex. As Tohru’s life becomes more entwined with the Shoma’s, she realises that there is more to the curse than metamorphosis; uncovering a dark cruelty, and starting her on a quest to free the family from their curse.



Kureno is the Sohma family Rooster, he’s aloof, endearingly clumsy, self-scarifying and loyal to a fault. Despite being the cursed member of the Sohma zodiac that the reader sees the least of in the books, he is beautifully empathetic and exquisitely flawed, making it impossible not to love him. But Kureno has a secret and when it is revealed, it soon becomes apparent that it may mark the beginning of the end for the Sohma curse.

Fruits Basket is a great read for young adults 13+.

Thank you for stopping by, we'd love you too hear what your favourite Kids Lit Chicks are, so please comment and let us know!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Wed Watbbit by Lissa Evans - review

I just love it when the year starts with a bang – and by a bang, I mean a book that you want to shout about and tell everyone to read. This year starts with a very evil rabbit

I wanted to add my voice to the already shower of good reviews for ‘Wed Wabbit’ by Lissa Evans, which gloriously imagines what might happen if you tumbled down a hole and landed in a favourite story, worse, the favourite story of your annoying four-year-old sister?

Ten-year-old Fidge does not want to read again the idiotic jollity of ‘The Land of Wimbley Woos’ to her sister, Minnie. But Minnie has an accident and somehow Fidge finds herself sucked into Wimbley Land.

Fidge has to rely on that endless reading of the story and knowledge of its annoying characters to find out why she is trapped and how to solve the puzzle to get home again.

And if there is one person she would not want trapped with it is her delicate, worrier of a cousin, Graham, who freaks out if his mid-morning organic ice cream is not delivered exactly as requested.

There is so much to enjoy in the premise of what toys might be like if they came to life, such as having to listen to comfort toy (now life coach) Eleanor Elephant, advise on stress control and not rushing into things  –  when you've a hoard of evil, greedy blue dustbins on your tail.

Lissa Evans steers making the nightmarish world of Wed Wabbit, created in the mind of a four-year, old terrific fun, with lashing of jeopardy, while also subtly bringing in complex contemporary themes. It follows in the strong tradition of the very best children's stories – using fantasy and humour to explore challenging ideas, so plenty for adults to enjoy and definitely one for sharing (or keeping to yourself).

Loved the ‘punishment’ room where you are made to eat broccoli soup and crusts.  

Joy.

But then who could fail to love a story about a giant, malevolent rabbit?

My only quibble is why does Lissa Evans not write more? I adored the Costa-nominated ‘Small change for Stuart’ and her adult novel ‘Crooked Heart’. I look forward very much to whatever she might do next.

So make 2017 the year of Wed Wabbit. Otherwise that toy in the corner of the room, the one with the evil expression, might just be out to get you.

Nicki Thornton

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Fabulous Festive Reads Perfect for Christmas Part One – Foxes, Magpies and Stars



With Christmas fast approaching it is entirely feasible that you are huddled on the sofa with the kids (maybe in front of an open fire, or the very least a working radiator) and you are looking for book to read together. But as you reach for you battered copy of The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe or The Box Delights again*, don’t despair, there are new festive books out there that can be enjoyed, and here are some of our recommends of recently published ones…

The littlest Magpie and Star by Gill Hutchison and Carol Daniel



The littlest Magpie and Star is a touching story about (you guessed it) the Littlest Magpie and his aspirations to catch and own the shiniest of all shiny things a star. But stars are very high, and the Littlest Magpie has a lot to learn first, like how to fly and even more importantly patience as the wise Old Owl tells him to wait for the snow before looking for a star of his very own. When Magpie is grown and the snow lie thick, he goes on the hunt for his star, and along the way he make some unexpected friends and get given a gift of a gift of… YOU NEED TO READ IT TO FIND OUT!


The littlest Magpie and Star, is a charming story with beautiful wintery-coloured illustrations by Carol Daniel, and I guarantee it’ll bring a tear to your eye, but perhaps not so much as the story behind its publication. Inside the back cover is a photo of the immensely talented author Gill Hutchinson, who wrote the story for her granddaughter, and whom had been a writer for many years with the aspiration of publications. Sadly, just as publishers were really getting interested in Gill’s work she passed away. Her dreams of becoming published lived on, and a dedicated group of her friend’s crowd funded the money and both created and published this beautiful book.

So, The littlest Magpie and Star is a book with not one but two moving heart-warming stories within it. This book is truly a lovely read, and if you wish to purchase a copy please visit the web-site: The Littlest Magpie.

The White Fox by Jackie Morris



Jackie Morris is an award winning author and illustrator who specialises in energetic watercolours of wildlife. The White Fox is a stunning book featuring her exquisitely executed illustrations, along with the story of Sol, a twelve year old living with his father in Seattle, a long way from his home and family in Alaska. Sol’s life isn’t ideal, his Dad is mourning and working long hours at the docs and the kids at school ostracize him due to cultural and visual differences. But everything changes when Sol strikes up an unlikely friendship with an equally displaced White Artic Fox. As boy and fox bond, a sequence of events unfold that bring Sol and his father closer together and instigates a journey back to home and happiness.



The White Fox is visually stunning and is full of positive themes about the harmony between wildlife and humans plus the importance of family and heritage.

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith



Ok, I think I should set this straight; when I started compiling this post I didn’t intend there to be a theme (other than wintery tales), but I suddenly realise that it has become very well, foxy, starry and magpie-y. That said, I offer no apology as these have all been selected on merit, and just happen to coincidently create a theme by their juxtaposition.

As I said, all these books have been picked by merit, and The Fox and Star is no exception, it or more accurately they, as I’m reviewing both the hardback and paperback which are subtly different but equally exquisite.

The Fox and the Star tell the tale of fox, whose only companion is star that he follows through the forest, but then one night when fox looks up, the star is nowhere to be seen. Lonely fox, searches for star to avail, until one day something changes, the leaves fall and when he looks up he sees the and his friend star along with thousands of other stars in the winter sky. 



Both books, are stunning; from the very ‘Filo Society esk’ fabric covered hardback with white cover illustrations, or the larger format picture books, with bright cover, with autumn colours which offers a vintage almost ‘Rosie walk’ feel. Inside the book share the same rich illustrations; highly stylised with repeated patterns and limited pallet, creating an atmospheric and aesthetic feast for the eyes, which will be enjoyed by children of all ages.

Thank you for stopping by and reading our first instalment of recommended winter reads, please stop by again for part two, where we will be talking; elves, dinosaurs and snow queens.







*please do not get me wrong both The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe or The Box Delights are great books to read all year around as are the rest of the amazing children’s classics, we are just offering an alternative!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas Gifts (that are not books) for Kids who Love to Read!

 If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a child who likes to read, and you want something that’s not a book, as sometimes you have no idea which to buy them as they read so much, then here are a few suggestions…


Top Ten Books


This is lovely idea, which is relatively inexpensive and displays the child’s love of reading, as well as having the special personal touch. You simply order your print of their top ten favourite book prints and it is sent out in the post. It is simple and looks stunning on the wall. The only problem getting them to narrow down their favourite book down to only ten!

A Present That Keeps Giving

How about giving a child a gift that continues all year? Well there are a few options, first you can go for a magazine subscription.

 

For young children who loves stories there is the beautifully illustrated Storytime Magazine which comes monthly and is packed full of fairy tales, folk tales and stories from around the world.

For children who love a bit of excitement and action, try the David Fickling published Phoenix Comic which come out weekly with funny, and all-action comic strips which feature everything from animal antics to space or historical adventures.

If the child in question is more interested in non-fiction, then Aquila could be just the ticket. Published monthly each issue is on a theme and is bursting with facts, stories puzzles about that theme all accompanied with stunning illustrations.

For arty young adults, try Tiny Pencil magazine which explores the art of creating images in graphite.

If book is what you’re after, then try popping into your local independent bookshop, many of which do a service where they’ll send wrapped books throughout the year.

A Way to Keep Books Safe.

Many book loving children love to share their favourite reads with their friends, but are worried about the books not being returned, so how about their own Library kit or book plates?



It none of this catches your fancy than how about the good old staple gift; a good book!


Friday, 9 December 2016

Lottie Lipton – Dan Metcalf & Rachelle Panagarry – Christmas Special - Story Stocking!



Over the past few weeks on SOTB we have been exploring and expanding the concept of Story Sacks, and so we thought it very appropriate to develop them further with a festive theme, adapting their format to become a Christmas Stocking (or sack/pillowcase whichever is your preference).



Story Sacks are versatile and share many or the features of a Christmas stocking so with minimal effort can be adjusted to create a fun packed stocking (press here to read our story sack posts). For our example we have picked Dan Metcalf and Rachelle Panagarry’s Lottie Lipton The Curse of Cairo Cat, to be the book we build the Story Stocking around, (press here for a full 3D review and interview with Dan).



In case you’ve missed our Story Sack post here’s a quick tick list of what makes up a good quality story sack.

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  •  A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

Lottie Lipton is an absolute delight for being the basis of a story sack/stocking, as there are so many potential avenues to utilise for the non-fiction and activities sections. For example, Lottie lives in the British Museum, and she is a detective often solving clues and mysteries to save precious historical artefacts. See what I mean LOTS of scope for fun and educational elements for the story stocking/sack.


So in our Story Sack/ Stocking, we have paired Lottie Lipton’s The Curse of Cairo Cat, with two non-fiction books; first is the Usborne Official Detectives Handbook, which is full of lots of useful hints and tips on becoming a sleuth, then we have added the Explore the British Museum; a Family Souvenir Guide, so readers can find out more about Lottie’s home and the backdrop of many of her adventures. 

 

As for toys, games and actives, we have a lovely plush Lottie and some spyglasses for detective work, we have also included an Eyewitness Mummy Project Pack and a craft tin to make your own Egyptian scroll, so children can get creative and learn about ancient Egypt. And because Lottie loves solving puzzles we’ve added the board game, Picdocku, which can be enjoyed by the whole family after Christmas dinner, and help hone everyone’s puzzle cracking stills!


Of course this is a CHRISTMAS story sack/stocking, so sweets are required, with this mind, and carrying on the Egyptian theme we’ve included chocolate coins for the gold factor and a Toblerone for pyramids! Also one last thing DON’T FORGET THE CRACKER! 
 


Thanks for dropping by and do come back to read more of our Christmas features.