Friday, 20 April 2018

BIRD GIRL by Maudie Smith reviewed by Sharon Tregenza


  1. Finch Field is an outsider at school, mocked by the others kids for her crazy dreams. She's excited to be spending summer with her beloved Granny in Sunview-on-Sea but when she arrives she discovers a problem. There's a dark cloud looming over the town and it's stealing the sunshine. The usually happy villagers are miserable. What danger threatens them and how can a girl with pink hair use her special dream, of flying through the air, to save them from a terrible enemy? Finch must first believe in her own dreams before she can save the dreams of others.




Maudie Smith weaves a wonderful tale of fantasy and friendship in this delicious story of dreams and monsters. It's quirky and clever and magical - exactly my kind of book. It will be loved by fans of Holly Webb and Jacqueline Wilson. Perfect for age 8-12.

www.sharontregenza.com




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Saturday, 14 April 2018

Poetry or prose? reviewed by Emma Perry


The beauty of novels written in verse first fell in front of my eyes not long after I had set up My Book Corner, and was still enjoying the beautiful sunshine in Melbourne, Australia.

I distinctly remember trying to cook the kids' tea, and read the book at the same time because, whilst I hate to use a cliche, I really - really - didn't want to put it down. Plus. Cooking has never been my strong point anyway!

Pearl Versus The World


I was struck by the beautiful illustrated chapter book from Sally Murphy and Heather Potter - Pearl Versus The World, and it was the first time I could remember reading a children's novel written in verse. Sally Murphy is a talented writer, and her ability to convey the emotions of the character in so few words, and pull me into the story of Pearl as she copes with the passing of her Grandmother blew me away. Cleverly, Murphy also had her character battling her teacher at school regarding their stoic definition of poetry. It doesn't have to rhyme. 

The next verse novel to pull me up to attention was The Weight of Water from Sarah Crossan back in 2012. A neat, small book with blue ink and a wonderful cover from Oliver Jeffers. Kasienka and her mother head arrive in England with just one suitcase and a bag, Crossan uses the verse medium brilliantly to convey Kasienka and her mother's emotions as they negotiate their new life, as Kasienka navigates a new school and friendships.

The Weight Of Water
Cover Illustration: Oliver Jeffers

After that I was hooked.

I've managed to devour many (but not all... yet) of Sarah Crossan's novel ever since. The heartbreaking One, Apple and Rain and most recently Moonrise - which sees Joe trying to re-establish a relationship with his brother Ed, after being apart for ten years. Because Ed is on Death Row, and his execution date has been set. It's gripping, intelligent and the power of verse to pull you into a wonderfully flowing narrative is more than evident.


Cover Illustration: Peter Strain

My recent love... the verse writing of Kwame Alexander. I think I might be late to the party here in this discovery. Booked had this (me!) very un-sporty reader, hooked on a story featuring football. It has energy and pace - the verse flowed effortlessly from page to page. It's the follow-up to The Crossover, so I may or may not have read them out of sync (oops!), but it didn't impact on the journey it took me on.
Cover Design: Lisa Vega
Cover Photo: Steve Gardner


So have I convinced you? At the hands of these skilled writers poetry has such immense power to hook and absorb the reader, and pull them in to the narrative. The medium of verse seems to help the narrative really flow, seemingly effortlessly (I know!) pulling us into the hearts, minds and dramas surround the protagonist.

So, I now leave this in the words of Kwame Alexander's character, Nick Hall, from Booked...


"The best ones were
like bombs,
and when all the right words
came together
it was like an explosion.
So good, I
didn't want it to end."

I need more - where do I go next? Would love to hear your recommendations of novels written in verse.




Emma Perry is a picture book writer represented by Bell Lomax Moreton. 
She is the founder of the childrens book review site MyBookCorner and organiser of International Book Giving Day. 
Twitter: @_EmmaPerry @MyBookCorner

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Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon by David Almond, Polly Dunbar reviewed by Chitra Soundar





I love magic realism – from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon which is deceptive yet magical.

I know it’s not a recent book of David Almond, but it’s one of my favourites. Walker Books had done an illustrated version of it with Polly Dunbar’s wonderful illustrations and I got it signed by David Almond a few years ago.

It’s a story of a boy who believes something different and with the help of like-minded friends explores his belief. He then meets Fortuna, a human cannon ball who introduces him to the world up there.

The people in this story are so surreal and so are the incidents. It constantly reminded me of one of my favourite stories as a child – The Magic Faraway Tree (by Enid Blyton) where different world appeared on top of the tree everyday.

This story has now been adapted for stage and is on stage this week (Apr 7/8 2018) on the Northern Stage and earlier it was put on by Polka Theatre too.

And if you missed the show like I did, then here is a short trailer. Maybe it’ll be back on tour again.



The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon - Trailer from Theatre Alibi on Vimeo.




Chitra Soundar is the author of many picture books including Pattan's Pumpkin and her next book is You're Safe With Me (illustrated by Poonam Mistry) by Lantana Publishing. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com and follow on Twitter @csoundar


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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

THE MANOR, HEMINGFORD GREY, by Adèle Geras






I hope readers of this blog will forgive me for the  kind of double whammy I'm presenting you with in this review.  My main aim  is to draw people's attention to this jewel of a house, and to a recent history of it, written partly by Mary Carter and partly by Diana Boston, who has been the guardian of the the place since the death of her mother-in-law, Lucy Boston in 1990.  Mary Carter's history was written in 1997, but is now published together with Diana's guide to the house, which makes the little pamphlet pictured above a must for anyone interested in this place. Copies are available for £5 from the shop at Hemingford Grey.

The Manor is one of the very oldest houses in the country and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. 900  years of human feelings and conversations: quarrels and kisses, tears and laughter,  have happened  here and must have imprinted themselves somehow on the fabric of the house. Many people have felt that it was haunted and even if traditional ghosts are not seen by everyone, the many young airmen who sat in the Music Room and listened to records on the gramophone, with its enormous trumpet, (and many of whom went on to die in defence of freedom in the Second World War) are still there in spirit in a way that's completely real. Here's a  photo from the booklet of the Music Room. 



The piece I've added below was written so many years ago that I feel I can bring it out again for a different audience. I hope many readers of this particular blog will know the Green Knowe Books but if they don't, then I can't recommend them highly enough and you can by those at the shop too. 

I have been back twice since I wrote this post. Once, on one of the coldest nights I can remember, we listened to ghost stories by M.R. James read to us by the light of candles by the wonderful actor,  Robert Lloyd Parry. The second time, Diana Boston herself (who tells us in the booklet that she's shown 80,000 people round the house) showed us (this was a second time for me) every one of Lucy Boston's beautiful, beautiful patchwork quilts. We put on white gloves to look at them and handle them and they are quite astonishingly lovely. 

Lucy Boston was very lucky in her daughter-in-law. Diana Boston is the perfect caretaker for this magical house and her booklet  is a model of clear exposition and succinct and modest description. She doesn't say how much she's done towards the maintenance of the Manor, but she's the spirit of the place now and what I'd like to say to anyone reading this is: get in touch by phone and arrange for your own viewing. You won't regret it. The website is www.greenknowe.co.uk Do go and visit it...
----------------------------------------------------------------
And here is my piece from 2012.

If you park near St. James's Church in Hemingford Grey and walk along the towpath, you come across the Manor almost by accident. I was there on purpose. It's a place I've been longing to visit ever since I read my first Lucy Boston novel, decades ago. The Manor is Green Knowe, the house described so vividly in her children's books that I sort of felt I knew it already. On June 1st, on a mild and overcast day, my good friend Frances Wilson and I went to see the real thing.
We walked all round the garden first. The topiary, cut into very Jubilee-appropriate crowns, orbs etc was started in the year of the Coronation. Every bush had bunting around it, and we were greeted by two lovely dogs who bounded over the grass to welcome us.
If you wanted an example of a perfect English domestic garden, this is it. Planted with care and devotion, tended with enormous love for decades, first by Lucy Boston herself and now by her daughter-in-law Diana Boston and a couple of very good gardeners, it is full of everything beautiful you can think of: roses in abundance, shrubs and flowering plants of every kind and in particular on the day we went, banks and banks of the most splendid irises. These are purple and what you think of when you think of irises, but there were bronze ones and underwear pink ones as well as white and gold and mixtures of bronze and purple...the varieties were astonishing to me at any rate. And there were masses and masses of them. The whole display is spectacular. Visit quickly if you want to catch them at their best but after they're done there will be the roses, some of which were already flowering profusely.
Diana Boston met us at the door. She is the widow of Peter Boston, who provided the extraordinarily evocative illustrations for the Green Knowe books. She was showing us round the house and on the day we were there, Frances and I were the only visitors,so it felt exactly as though we were guests at the house of a friend. Diana knows all there is to know about the Manor and lives there now, and the feeling you get as you step into it is precisely that: you're entering someone's home. It's been around since 1130 A.D, this house, and is one of the earliest domestic dwellings in England. It has been the background to words, deeds, thoughts, emotions, celebrations, bereavements, births, and gossip for over 900 years. The walls in most of the house are very thick indeed and have absorbed so much that you feel the place is crowded with memories. The hall has in it coats, wellies, umbrellas, and the normal paraphernalia of everyday life. It's a dignified and beautiful and ancient house but in no way a grand one. You have to watch your step sometimes and the rooms lead off one another in unexpected ways, but wherever you go, you see wonderful pictures, pretty ornaments and evidence of Lucy Boston's presence as well as that of her friend, Elizabeth Vellacott, the artist. The link goes to the Daily Telegraph obituary of this interesting woman who died as recently as 2002.
One of the main reasons I've long wanted to visit the Manor was because I knew that Lucy Boston, as well as writing enchanting books, also created patchwork quilts. Quilts are something of an obsession of mine. Almost my first book was called Apricots at Midnight and in it, each story relates to a patch in a quilt the narrator has made. The patchwork curtains in the living room were lovingly mended by Lucy Boston, and this started her on the making of her own quilts. She spent each winter putting together the most extraordinarily lovely and carefully-designed and worked-out patchworks. The one illustrated here has a pattern of appliqued stars and the phases of the moon.
Patchwork is a metaphor for a great many things, as well as being, when well done, both beautiful and useful. It's like writing books for instance: you have to pick which words go well next to which others, how the paragraphs are going to line up, how the structure of everything will fit together at the end. I found it thrilling to imagine Lucy Boston, sewing away by hand (you cannot see any stitches at all on the quilts without bringing your eyes practically up against the fabric and even then it's hard!) through the cold winter nights. Diana assured us that the house is still very cold when the temperature drops but blessedly cool in hot spells. It's the thick walls... Frances and Diana put on white gloves to show off every single quilt. These are awesome in the true and not the modern slangy meaning of the word. For anyone who loves such things Boston's works of art are absolutely worth the trip all on their own.

During the Second World War, Lucy Boston played gramophone records to young airmen, many of them still in their teens, who were stationed nearby and who used to come in a special bus to hear the music. Still in the room in which this happened, and in the photograph, you can see the records, all in boxes and in their buff paper sleeves, and it's an enormous collection. The old gramophone shown in the picture still works and Diana played us a piece of music (she chooses different pieces to play for each visit) which you can hear by following this link. When the high-ceilinged, silent, ancient room filled with these notes, a real chill came over me and I found myself on the edge of tears and with gooseflesh all over my arms. And yes, it was partly the sound, the notes, the melody, but it was also the ghosts of those young men, hearing that song, facing death daily, suddenly present where we were. It's not a moment I'll forget in a hurry. I do urge anyone who can to follow the link to Gladys Ripley's rendition of O peaceful England! on the truly magical You Tube.
Readers of the Green Knowe novels will recognize the rocking horse and the picture of the toys in the trunk, brought to the house by children from other times and places. There's no room here to go into detail about them but they're the work of a truly remarkable woman and anyone who loves books with a proper sense of place, interesting characters and stories touched with the best kind of magic will love them. They are all on sale in the shop, of course, as are postcards of the garden and the patchworks and much more besides. Diana Boston explained to us why she hasn't gone the Disneyfied, theme-park route in the Manor. She has wanted to keep the place as it was, for all those who love the books: a home for real people who happen to share it with a multitude of benevolent ghosts. I'd like to thank Frances for driving me there and Diana for taking us round. She's the perfect guide and I can't think of a better place to visit if you're in the region. It's the very best kind of haunted house there is.


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Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Drum, written by Ken Wilson-Max and illustrated by Catell Ronca, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart




From the moment of our conception, we grow to a rhythm of a beating hearts; our mother’s and, soon, our own heart too.  That instinct for the pattern of a beat instilled in us then never leaves us, especially if it is nurtured through music.  Watch any group of people when music with a strong beat starts up.  We all start swaying and stamping and clapping and nodding.  It’s innate in us, and one of those things, like stories, which works magic on whoever hears or feels it, making us feel things. 

This is the drum
This is the beat
Clap your hands
Stomp your feet


This silky-smooth, chunky, square little book of simple rhythmic phrases and bright joyful pictures of people and animals dancing is written by Ken Wilson-Max, and illustrated by Catell Ronca.  It is the first in a new series of books, ‘Children, Music, Life’, from innovative publisher Tiny.  It doesn’t tell or show a story; it simply celebrates that coming together, summoned and orchestrated by the beat of a drum.  It’s a sort of party, and the book invites you to join it.  So, go on and enjoy your own ‘drum of life’, and ‘feel the beat in your belly’ as you share this lovely book with the small people in your life!


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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

AdoraBULL written by Alison Donald, illustrated by Alex Willmore, reviewed by Dawn Finch

Image copyright Maverick Children's Books


Alfred is a bull. Bulls are big, and solid and dependable. One day his best friend, Tom, wants to bring home a new pet, and he makes it clear that it must be "adorable". Alfred overhears Tom asking his parents for a pet and he is very upset. He's been worried about losing his best friend ever since Tom started school, and now it seems that he's going to be replaced by something "adorable".

What can a bull do to make sure that he's adorable, and that he's not replaced?

Alfred formulates a plan to make himself look adorable too so that Tom does not get a new pet and replace him. He searches the internet for the word "adorable" and finds endless pictures of kittens and marshmallows, hamsters on swings, and puppies in teacups. He can't do any of those things, and so he tries other things to be cute.
Image copyright Maverick, Willmore, and Donald

This is a completely charming picture book that takes a look at what it means to be adorable, and to be adored. It explores in subtle ways the nature of friendship, and loneliness, and being unique and proud of who you are. Donald's gentle story unfolds around Willmore's bright and bold illustrations. I love Willmore's illustrations and am so pleased to see these two talents working together again. Their previous collaboration - The New LiBEARian is a great favourite of mine. AdoraBULL is another gem for the stable (pun intended!).

It is worth mentioning that this is a new one from indie publisher, Maverick. Launched in 2009 by Steve Bicknell. As you know, I am a bit of a fan of indie presses and this one is growing fast and is supporting some really exciting new writers and illustrators. They are well worth keeping an eye on! If you are a teacher or librarian, their resources page is well worth a visit too.

AdoraBULL by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore is published by Maverick Children's Books on March 28th 2018
ISBN 978-1-84886-322-4
RRP £7.99

Reviewed by Dawn Finch, children's author and librarian
www.dawnfinch.com
@dawnafinch

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Friday, 23 March 2018

Inky's Great Escape by Casey Lyall, illustrated by Sebastia Serra - reviewed by Damian Harvey

Octopus's are well known to be great escape artists and in 2016, Inky, an octopus at an aquarium in New Zealand made the news when he escaped from his tank, crossed the floor and returned to the ocean via a drain.

Canadian author and librarian, Casey Lyall, has taken this news story and built upon it very nicely for her first picture book - "Inky's Great Escape - The Incredible (and mostly true) Story of an Octopus Escape."

We are told that Inky is the greatest escape octopus of all time. and had slithered out of every trap every invented - and lived to tell the tale. Inky loves telling tales...

Feeling tired from all of his escaping, Inky decides to retire to the local aquarium for a rest. In his tank, Inky spends the day playing games of hide and seek and charades with his tank-mate Blotchy. At night they play cards (crazy eights) and Inky tells tales of all his great escapes. Having spent his entire life in the aquarium, Blotchy understandably finds it hard to believe his friends wild tales so bets him that he can't escape from the aquarium. Inky agrees to the bet and declares that it will be his "biggest escape yet".

While Blotchy feels sure that escaping will be impossible, Inky knows better. From all his years of escaping from traps her has learnt that you need careful planning and patience - so he sets about drawing up his plans. When the time come, Inky makes his escape and asks Blotchy to join him on the great adventure. Blotchy refuses the offer - after all, it's "Fondue Friday".

After Inky escapes, Blotchy is left with a tale of his own to tell to the new arrivals at the aquarium and justifies his staying behind with the thought that someone had to do so to tell the tale.

The text in this picture book is slightly longer than in many other so will be ideal for an older audience to share. Children will also enjoy Sebastia Serra's illustrations which are bright, detailed and lots of fun. It will also be interesting to discuss Inky and Blotchy’s motives for doing what they do - Inky's boasting and escaping compared with Blotchy's reluctance to join him

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