Blog Tour, Children's Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Tales Before Bedtime Juniors

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the latest spell-binding novel from Michelle Harrison – A Pinch of Magic. I’m also thrilled to share a piece from Michelle herself on the inspiration behind the story. Read on dear reader, read on.

How stunning is this cover? Believe me it’s even more beautiful in the flesh, shimmering with gold foil. The detail is amazing and you’ll catch many glimpses of the story on this eye-catching cover.

I absolutely adored reading A Pinch of Magic, it’s a wonderful story full of adventure, courage and magic. Betty Widdershins is a sparky young lady desperate for travel and adventure but she might just get rather more than she bargained for. This is a story about magic but it’s also a story about family, love, and that nothing good can come from jealousy and hatred. Recommended for age 8+, I think this is a joyous read for anyone. Michelle is a mesmerising writer and I was completely held within her spell from the moment I picked the book up.

Synopsis

It was on Betty Widdershins’ thirteenth birthday that she first learned of the family curse…

Living on the isle of Crowstone, surrounded by eerie marshes and a formidable prison, the Widdershins sisters: Betty, Fliss and Charlie, are desperate for adventure. But when Betty strays too far from home, she learns the awful truth: a deadly curse has haunted her family for generations. If Betty and her sisters leave Crowstone, they will be dead by sunrise.

But the knowledge of the family curse comes with a bit of excitement too! Each sister inherits a magical object, been passed down the family: A scruffy carpet bag, a set of wooden nesting dolls and a gilt-framed mirror – none of them are what they seem.

Will they be enough to help the Widdershins break the curse? Or will the sisters have better luck with a mysterious prisoner who claims he can help them?

And now lets here a little from the author herself…

Author, Michelle Harrison

Widdershins and Witches: the inspiration for A Pinch of Magic – by Michelle Harrison

I came across the wonderful, whimsical word ‘widdershins’ in one of the spell books I often leaf through when researching magic for my stories. It’s a word commonly associated with witchcraft, and means the witches’ path/ the wrong way/ anti-clockwise. In the past, even observing someone walking ‘widdershins’ was enough to warrant an accusation of witchcraft. These days, when it is used by modern wiccans it’s usually for the purposes of banishing or eliminating something. It’s also believed to be unlucky. Naturally, I fell in love with the word immediately, and decided it had to be the name of the family in my next story.

Originally, A Pinch of Magic was based on witches, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. In the first three chapters and synopsis which I sent to my editor, Betty Widdershins discovered she was a witch on her thirteenth birthday and had to master a signature spell linked to an ordinary object of her choosing.


The idea stemmed from a snippet of local folklore linked to the Essex village of Canewdon. According to legend, there will always be six witches in the village, and whenever a stone falls from the church tower walls it signifies that one of them has died and been replaced within the coven.

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While I loved the idea of all this, there was a problem. My publisher already had several other books about witches lined up, so my editor asked if we could rethink the witch element but retain certain parts of the folklore. Following some discussion and brainstorming I came up with the idea of a family curse, which allowed me to keep the ‘fairy tale’ aspect of the falling stones. Of course I then had to give Betty some siblings to ramp up the tension and danger of the curse, so Fliss and Charlie were introduced. As the youngest of three sisters myself, it felt like a good dynamic and the ‘power of three’ fits with my liking of fairy tales.

The witch became a sorceress, the church a tower, and the stones falling from it a warning of imminent death for the cursed girls. Finally, the ‘signature spell’ became a set of three magical objects handed down the family – after all, gifts and curses go hand in hand. The name of ‘Widdershins’ still worked perfectly with the idea of being cursed; being both unlucky and symbolic of the girls trying to ‘banish’ the curse from their lives. But I have to admit that it’s such a favourite word of mine that I was intent on using it – and I’m thrilled that it continues to be part of my working life, because I’m already working on the Widdershins’ next adventure . . .

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So there we have it, the synopsis and the inspiration. There is already so much buzz surrounding this book. It is also a Waterstones book of the month (with some absolutely gorgeous special purple edged copies). This is a story to entrance young readers and add fuel to reading for pleasure, a story that will be treasured. I am so happy to hear there are more Widdershins’ adventures coming our way, these characters have found their way into my heart and I can’t wait to see where their story takes them next.

If you’d like to discover more about Michelle and her writing then take a look at her website here.

Thank you to Michelle for sharing Widdershins and Witches and her stunning photographs for me to feature on my blog.

Thanks also to Olivia Horrox at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy for review and for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

 

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Bookish Post, Children's Fiction, Debut, Middle Grade Fiction

The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell

The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth is a story that shows us that courage, friendship and goodness comes in all kinds of packages.

Minnow is different to the other girls in her town and there’s plenty to set her apart: the blossom of pale scars which lie beneath her delicate ears, her affinity with the water which leaves people speechless, and the time when, in deep, deep water, her body began to glow like a sunken star.

When her mum gets into trouble and is taken from their boat in the dead of night, Minnow is alone with one instruction: “sail to Reykjavik to find your grandmother, she will keep you safe’.  Minnow has never sailed on her own before, but the call of the deep is one she’s been waiting to answer her whole young life.

Perhaps a girl who is lost on land can be found in the Wild Deep.

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I first came across Cerrie Burnell when she joined the children’s channel ‘CBeebies’ over eight years ago.  It was a channel I watched regularly with my son when he was very young and one that we were both very fond of.  I remember Cerrie  because she was a great presenter but I also remember being pleased that this channel who assisted me with teaching my child at such an early age, were brave enough to chose a presenter who looked slightly different to what is considered the ‘norm’;  a presenter that may arouse some curiosity amongst it’s young viewers and offer the opportunity to explore the differences amongst us all.

Any child should be able to find a character they can relate to in books but children should also be able to read strong characters that are different to them too.  To immerse your child in diversity from an early age, I believe, is vital.  To teach them that each and EVERY individual is unique, important and has so much to offer the world.  I’ve noticed over the years, both as a parent and working with young children, that they are curious when they encounter something different but they do not judge; it is the influence of the reactions around them that will then, I believe, cause the judgement to kick in.

Cerrie has moved on from presenting CBeebies and is writing fiction for children.  Inspired by her own dual heritage daughter she wanted to expand on the young heroines out there for our young readers. When it comes to her writing Cerrie herself says “Families like mine are so rarely represented in children’s literature in a positive magical context, so I wanted to create characters who reflect us but are bound up in adventure.

I was intrigued to read The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth.  As always, I try not to consider what I know about the author and let the story speak for itself…and this one certainly does.  Cerrie is a natural storyteller.  Her empathy, kindness and sense of adventure comes through in her characters.  Young readers will love the adventure and magic within the pages.  I loved the illustrations throughout, they weaved in amongst the story perfectly, framing the beautifully depicted world that Cerrie has created.  The leading characters are strong, fearsome and memorable.  Young Minnow is feisty and courageous; the love and bond she shares with her mother driving her forward to face whatever danger is thrown at her. Minnow has been raised on stories and song and it is these that she turns to when life becomes confused and her path feels uncertain. The story itself is exciting, filled with wonder and peril.  This will be a wonderful book for all middle grade readers but also as a book to be shared and enjoyed together with younger readers.

Thank you to Oxford University Press for sending me the review copy.  It has been an absolute joy to read and I certainly hope we will be seeing more from Cerrie Burnell.

About the Author

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Cerrie Burnell is an actor and writer best known for her work on CBeebies, a role that has earned her critical acclaim and a devoted fan base.  In 2011 Cerrie was named in the Observer’s top ten children’s presenters and the Guardian’s  100 most inspirational women.  She has been an author in residence for Great Ormond Street and is a patron of Polka Theatre for children.  She trained at Manchester Metropolitan and her credits prior to CBeebies include Eastenders, The Bill, Holby City and Grange Hill.

Cerrie’s one woman show The Magical Playroom opened at Edinburgh in 2013 and her Harper series, published by Scholastic, has been translated into twelve languages and was a World Book Day title in 2016.  She is the author of several picture books including Snowflakes, which Cerrie adapted for the stage for the Oxford Playhouse in 2016.  Cerrie left CBeebies in April 2017 with a commitment to push diversity in other directions.  Since departing, Cerrie has played the role of Penny in the BBC’s Doctors, presented a documentary about the NHS, and written her debut middle grade book The Girl with the Shark’s Teethwhich she is very excited about.

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Books that adults should read, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018, Historical Fiction

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

Emma is one of the best authors in historical fiction for children. Her first novel, Frost Hollow Hall, was published in 2013 and she has been inspiring children (and adults) to read ever since. I absolutely adore her books and it makes me incredibly happy that she is such a prolific writer as I am never particularly patient when waiting for the next. Her most recent novel, Secrets of a Sun King, is detailed below but do check out her backlist as they are ALL marvellous.

London, 1922. 

A discovery from ancient Egypt . . .
A cursed package . . .
The untold story of a young pharaoh . . .

When Lilian Kaye finds a parcel on her grandad’s doorstep, she is shocked to see who sent it: a famous Egyptologist, found dead that very morning, according to every newspaper in England!

The mysterious package holds the key to a story . . . about a king whose tomb archaeologists are desperately hunting for.

Lil and her friends must embark on an incredible journey – to return the package to its resting place, to protect those they love, and to break the deadly pharaoh’s curse . . .

Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

This year has been a wonderful year for books and there are so many I could recommend. This next title is definitely one of my books of the year. Abi is a master storyteller. Her writing is beautiful and filled with adventure, courage and magic. Sky Song was published back In January but this wintery tale will make the perfect Christmas read.

Once an adventure digs its claws in, there is not an awful lot you can do about it. Especially when magic is involved . . .’
 
In the snowy kingdom of Erkenwald, whales glide between icebergs, wolves hunt on the tundra and polar bears roam the glaciers. But the people of this land aren’t so easy to find – because Erkenwald is ruled by an evil Ice Queen and the tribes must stay hidden or risk becoming her prisoners at Winterfang Palace.

Join Eska, a girl who breaks free from a cursed music box, and Flint, a boy whose inventions could change the fate of Erkenwald forever, as they journey to the Never Cliffs and beyond in search of an ancient, almost forgotten, song with the power to force the Ice Queen back.
 
This is a story about an eagle huntress, an inventor and an organ made of icicles. But it is also a story about belonging, even at the very edges of our world . . .

Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018

Scared To Death by Anthony Horowitz

My next recommendation is a selection of grisly, spine-tingling stories from the marvellous Mr Horowitz.

Short stories are great for dipping into and this selection will be perfect for fans of Anthony Horowitz. The cover declares ‘READ THIS AT YOUR PERIL’ – need I say more. They’ll absolutely love it. 🙂

SOMETIMES YOUR NIGHTMARES BECOME REAL…

This terrifying twisted and wickedly funny collection of spine-tingling short stories is only recommended for the most fearless of readers.

From man-eating massage chairs, to terrifying train rides with the living dead or sinister sat navy’s that direct you to doom, these ten gruesome tales by master storyteller Anthony Horowitz are guaranteed to make your blood curdle.

Books that adults should read, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018

The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig with illustrations by Chris Mould

My next recommendation is another book that is perfect for both young or old. Matt Haig is well known for both his adults and children’s novels and although The Truth Pixie is aimed at younger readers, there is a message that will touch us all, no matter our age or circumstance. Beautifully presented and wonderfully illustrated, this is an absolutely gorgeous book bursting with Christmas sparkle.

Matt has had an amazing year in books. He is a prominent figure in the fight to raise awareness for mental health issues. From his own personal experiences he has chosen to help those who may be suffering and anyone in general understand a little more about mental health. He is outspoken, courageous and is a fantastic storyteller. I would wholeheartedly recommend any of his books but this one in particular, one that will encourage children from a young age to love themselves for who they are, will make a perfect Christmas Eve book.

Wherever she is, whatever the day,

She only has one kind of thing to say.

Just as cats go miaow and cows go moo,

The Truth Pixie can only say things that are true.

A very funny and loveable tale of how one special pixie learned to love herself.

With words by the bestselling mastermind Matt Haig and pictures by the inky genius Chris Mould.

Adult Fiction, Children's Fiction, Christmas 2018, Dyslexia Friendly, Ghost Stories

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My next recommended read is an absolute classic that was first published on the 19th December 1843. It is one of THE most famous Christmas stories ever and one that has inspired countless stories told in books, film and plays ever since. It is also one of my absolute favourites.

I have a beautiful illustrated copy which was given to me by my husband quite a few years ago now and I take great delight in reading it once a year at Christmas time. This particular edition was published by Dover Publications and is are republication of the edition published by William Heinemann, Ltd., London,1915. It features 12 full-colour plates and 18 black-and-white drawings by Arthur Rackham.

There have of course been many, many editions of this wonderful story. Most recently, publisher Barrington Stoke, have produced a dyslexia-friendly edition, in a format accessible to all readers. Amongst the hustle and bustle of our modern, chaotic Christmas, this is the one story that continues to remind us that Christmas is a time for love, compassion and humility. I find it incredible that it still continues to spread Christmas spirit over 150 years since it was first published.

Of course we all know the story but have you read A Christmas Carol? If you own a copy please do share a picture.

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,

December, 1843. C. D.