Christmas 2017, Middle Grade Fiction

Christmas 2017 – Book Advent – Day Five & Six

Day Five & Six

Okay, I know I’m cheating here a little doing two days in one but I think I can get away with it because today I am featuring two books! Yes that’s right! Two books. Back in January 2016 I was lucky enough to be whisked away to London with my Lovereading4kids hat on to attend the Chicken House Books Big Breakfast. Chicken House are lovely. Not only do they publish some outstanding books for children, they are also a small, passionate team who put on a great breakfast event. Well it was at one such event back on a cold, dark January morning in 2016 that I first met Maz Evans. She gave us a taster from her debut novel Who Let The Gods Out and oh my goodness, did she make me laugh. The book sounded amazing. I am quite shy but I mustered up the courage to say hi to Maz and thank her for the amazing reading. Maz is incredibly warm, lovely and funny and I was was so glad I went along and met her that day. Back I trotted to the Lovereading4kids office and confirmed that this was definitely a book to look out for. I then had to wait over a year until it was published but boy was it worth the wait. Not only was Who Let Gods Out published in February 2017 but it’s sequel (Simply The Quest) was published just a few months later in August 2017. If your kids not only love funny books that have them howling with laughter but also books that are smart, full of adventure and unsual yet lovable characters then this is a series to get them reading. And the great news is that there is still two books to come! Now a little more about the books….

Who Let The Gods Out? by Maz Evans

Here is a wee snippet from my review for Lovereading4kids…

Who Let the Gods Out

This book is laugh out loud hilarious and I just adored each and every character. Elliot is brave and good hearted and going through such a hard time. The Gods were hilarious and I love how Maz has made them so quirky, fallible and bang up to date. There is also a rather special appearance from her Majesty the Queen that was quite simply magnificent. Who Let The Gods Out is the first in a four part series and I for one am very excited to see what happens next for Elliot and his new friends.’ – Lovereading4kids

And here’s the synopsis:

Elliot’s mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo – a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world – and solving Elliot’s problems too?

Who Let The Gods Out was published in February 2017 by Chicken House Books.

Simply The Quest by Maz Evans

Simply

Elliot Hooper’s troubles are far from over: his mum’s health worsens, he’s struggling at school, and a bunch of anarchic Greek immortals have moved into his home – including teen goddess Virgo, who’s in trouble with the Zodiac. What’s more, death-daemon Thanatos and his scary mum are at large. As even more immortal and enemies emerge, Virgo and Elliot must learn how to be heroes …

Simply The Quest was published in August 2017 by Chicken House Books.

I can’t wait to find out what happens next….

Find out more about Maz Evans by visiting her website here.

Find out more about Chicken House Books here.

And for more great books visit Lovereading4kids.


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Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight – Kaye Umansky

Each month my author spotlight shines a sparkly light upon authors I admire and whose books I heartedly recommend. Read on to discover more about these spellbinding story makers who weave their magic into our lives through the pages of a book.

October 2017

October, 2017 and it’s Halloween so what better place for the sparkle of my spotlight to land than on the fantasmical children’s author and poet, Kaye Umansky.

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Kaye Umansky

Kaye is of full of wonderful wit and humour and has written over 130 books!! Including: novels, picture books, music books, plays and poems and the ‘Pongwiffy’ series that she is most well-known for – which, by the way, is currently being rather fantastically reissued by publisher Simon & Schuster and is full of brilliant illustrations by the talented Katie Riddell.

If you’d like to find out more about Kaye then do visit her website, it’s rather wonderful (and sparkly).  She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me to share with you, so do take a moment to read on if you can.  Right, back to the books….

There are so many of Kaye’s books that I admire.  Published by Barrington Stoke, The Knights of the Drop-Leaf Table is particularly good for reluctant or dyslexic readers and Algy’s Amazing Adventures in the Jungle holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first books my own son read and reviewed as part of the Lovereading4kids reader review panel (he was 6 at the time). But unfortunately time and space is limited, so for now here is a little more information about two of my personal favourites.

The Pongwiffy Stories by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Katy Riddell

Pongwiffy is hilarious and if you haven’t yet discovered her then I recommend buying the recently published bind-up edition of the first two books. The remaining two will be published in 2018.

Pongwiffy has just moved into a new cave, and it’s dirty, smelly and damp – in other words it’s perfect for a witch like Pongwiffy!  At least it would be if her next dPongwiffy storiesoor neighbours weren’t a group of extremely noisy Goblins… Before long Pongwiffy can bear it no more and enlists the help of her best friend, Witch Sharkadder, to find her somewhere else to live.  And that’s when the problems really start!In the second story , the Goblins are back and up to their usual tricks!  But this time Pongwiffy also has to deal with a badly behaved broom, a bonfire disaster and a strange genie…

Two laugh-out-loud stories of humour and warmth, enticingly mixed with sludge, slime and very bad habit.

The Pongwiffy Stories was published on the 24th of August 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Ashley King

Now Kaye has a new series to add to her wonderful collection of stories.  Meet Elsie Pickles, a young girl whose time is mostly spent helping out in her family’s shop, in the dull town of Smallbridge where life ‘trickled on with calm monotony’ until that is a ‘wind came howling out of nowhere’ and suddenly life for Elsie begins to become rather unexpected and exciting.  “this is a lovely read; full of fun and adventure, comedy and excitement, it will keep children smiling from beginning to end.” Andrea Reece, expert reviewer for Lovereading4kids. For Witch for a Week, Kaye has been blessed with yet another talented Illustrator.  Ashley King’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment and the beautifully, sparkly cover will appeal to any young wannabe witches (or wizards) out there.

Witch for a weekWhen clever, unflappable Elsie offers to house-sit the mysterious home of local witch Magenta Sharp, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Left with a talking raven and a scruffy dog for company, and a book of instruction called Everything You Need to Know, what could possibly go wrong? With an assortment of weird and wonderful neighbours banging at the door and a box of volatile magical ingredients that must be used immediately, Elsie is forced to get experimental with magic!A brand new magical adventure from Kaye Umansky the bestselling author of Pongwiffy!

Witch for a Week was published on the 5th of October by Simon & Schuster.

Now some words from Kate herself…

Which is your favourite book to read aloud from?

My favourite book by somebody else is Just William, by Richmal Crompton – particularly the story where he meets Violet Elizabeth. As to books that I have written – I like reading out scenes featuring the Goblins in the Pongwiffy books. They are incredibly stupid and I love doing their voices.

You have two cats, Heathcliff and Jeremy. Who was Jeremy named after?

Well, I wanted to call him Mr Rochester, who is another dashing romantic type from Jane Eyre. I thought it would go with Heathcliff. But my family wouldn’t let me. My husband thought he looked like a butler, all black and white. For some reason, my husband thinks Jeremy is a butler-ish name. So there you go.

What one piece of writing advice would you give a) to children wanting to write stories and b) to adults wanting to write books for children?

A. Children wanting to write stories. Read, read, read! You will get hundreds of good ideas from books which will stimulate you to have a go at stories of your own.

B. Adults wanting to write books for children. Be clear on the age group you are writing for and use the appropriate vocabulary. Do a bit of research by visiting a library and seeing what is available and popular.

Of all the objects you have in the little office you write in at the top of your house, which is your favourite?

Hmm. Difficult. There are hundreds of bits and bobs. Possibly the tiny pair of brown leather boots I wore as a two year old, sixty eight years ago. I take them in to show the children when I visit schools. They look like they’ve been made by a fairy cobbler.

If you could live for one day as one character from any book, who would you be?

I would love to live for a day as Granny Weatherwax, the cleverest witch in the books by Terry Prachett. She has all sorts of wonderful skills, including being able to enter the minds of birds and animals. And I’d love to fly on a broomstick!

I do hope you’ve enjoyed my author spotlight.  Kaye Umansky really is a treasure and she’s been an absolute delight to write about.  Have a super Halloween and may all your stories be suitably spooky.

Picture Books

Picture Book Heaven…

Publisher Simon & Schuster have a wonderful selection of picture books which are just perfect for storytime anytime of the day. Bright, colourful and with engaging characters, these are sure to capture your little ones imagination.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Alison Ritchie & Marisa Morea

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A riotous, rhyming countdown to Christmas with adorable dogs leaping from every page.

A delightfully doggy take on the twelve days of Christmas, this fun, beautifully illustrated picture book is filled to the brim with perfect pooches. With one excited little pub, ‘three drooling Dalmatians’ and ‘six sausage-snaffling Scotties’ and many more besides, this will be a perfect book to share with young dog lovers.

Children will love picking their favourite dogs and spotting the puppy in busy scenes. This hilarious picture book is a great way to introduce children to Christmas traditions.

Published in paperback: 5th October 2017

Price: £6.99

The Magical Ice Palace by Suzanne Smith & Lindsay Taylor

Illustrated by Marnie Maurri

9781471123191Doodle Girl uses her magic pencil to create adventures by transforming doodles into fantastical lands, full of amazing animals!

On their latest outing, Doodle Girl and her friends find a curly, curvy shape. What is it supposed to be? Whilst trying to work it out, they find a sad, lonely mammoth high up on a mountain. What’s he doing there? Will Doodle Girl be able to help him? And what is the curly, curvy shape going to be?

Talented trio, Suzanne Smith, Lindsay Taylor and Marnie Maurri have created an original and fresh character in Doodle Girl, who exudes positivity and encourages creative thinking. With a giant, free doodling poster included inside, this book is full of creativity and fun for all to enjoy.

This is such a charming, pretty picture book, which celebrates the power of drawing and the illustrators who bring the words to life. Doodle Girl is incredibly endearing, feisty and brave. She made me want to go grab a magic, red pencil and create my own fantastical lands and adventures. A wonderful tribute to both books AND those oh so important illustrations. – Oh and it comes with the most amazing giant poster to colour in. This would be the perfect gift for any little readers who love to draw and especially those who lack a little confidence with their drawing.

Published in paperback: 19th October 2017

Price: £6.99

Evil Pea Rules! by Sue General & Paul Linnet

9781471144066_JacketFrom bestselling, award-winning duo Sue General & Paul Linnet comes the story of the much-loved Supertato’s nemesis…the Evil Pea. It’s all very well being a superhero and saving the day…but what if there was no one there to cause the chaos? To provide these heroes with their chance to shine? Would we even need superheroes?! Fortunately, this isn’t something we will have to worry about any time soon. The Evil Pea is BACK! And this time he has his biggest, most dastardly plan yet to take over the supermarket…

Evil Pea escapes the confines of the freezer and tries to cause madness and mayhem in the supermarket. Will Supertato save the day?

I absolutely love Evil Pea and the frosty chaos he tries to unleash on the other vegetables and fruit. There is a distinctly festive feel to this latest adventure making it perfect in the run up to Christmas. I think even the naughty, little pea found a little Christmas spirit in the end (or should I say in HIS rear-end – tee hee 😋.)

Published on: 2nd November 2017

Price: £6.99

Words and your Heart by Kate Jane Neal

41gv2McsjML._SX428_BO1,204,203,200_Your words are amazing!

This book is about your heart.

The little bit inside of you that makes you, you!

A very timely book about the power of words – and how we use them. Told through the eyes of Pip and Cat, this book beautifully demonstrates the importance of what we say – both positive and negative. Thoughtful, warm-hearted and completely non-preachy, this is a book that has already resonated with large numbers of children, whose teachers report a sea of change in the culture of their classroom after reading it.

A universal message, for a world that always needs a little more kindness.

This is an absolutely stunning book. The design and layout is just beautifully executed, the illustrations perfectly complimenting the text have a wonderfully memorable impact. The message is simple yet powerful and expresses the effect our words have on those around us. It’s about empathy, compassion and how each and every one of us can make the world a little better, a little happier. This is a book I think every child should read.

Published on: 2nd November 2017

Price: £6.99

Young Adult Fiction

The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward

Ever wandered late into a series? You’ve heard the hype but for whatever reason didn’t quite jump on board when what feels like the whole world did? I know exactly how you feel but thankfully it’s never too late and the great thing is that when you do finally catch on, you don’t have to wait for the next release! It’s all there, from beginning to end, ready for you to immerse yourself in and you can simply jump straight in and enjoy.

There’s something rather fantastic about reading a whole series all together. For one thing it allows you to disappear within the pages of the story while still fresh from the last. Of course it has to be a great series and what better than one with a kickass heroine with a cute love interest and a strong desire to save her family business, her reputation, oh and pretty much the whole darn world. A little bit of magic, alchemy, peril and of course romance and you have the recipe to an awesome trilogy.

So why am only just reading The Potion Diaries series now? The first in the series – The Potion Diaries – was published in 2015, and in 2016 was chosen for The Zoella Book Club. Hot on it’s heels was Royal Tour and finally this year, Going Viral. I have to admit these books have been on my radar for quite some time. The first title was a Lovereading4kids book of the month in July 2015 and the consumer reader review panel absolutely loved it, so I was extremely pleased when I found myself in possession of all three books this summer. They are actually rather wonderful. Amy has created a very likeable protagonist who I grew very attached to and to be honest I am missing her quite a bit. Each book follows on from the last (but equally independently readable – although how anyone can not read them all is beyond me) and are filled to the brim with adventure, magic, danger, and a little bit of luv. I thoroughly recommend them and although aimed at the teen/YA market, I think an older reader (such as myself) will very much enjoy them. The content is pretty okay for younger and ‘almost’ teens too.

To my mind the proof of a good series is that you’re always left wanting more, always wondering where the story could go next. I believe Going Viral is to be the last in The Potion Diaries series but I am thrilled to read that Amy has started work on a brand new series, so that’s rather exciting. She is definitely an author worth seeking out.

Here’s a few more details about each of the three titles.  Just a warning though –  the synopsis’ for books 2 and 3 do kind of have spoilers to the previous book.

 

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The Potion Diaries – Book 1

When the PRINCESS OF NOVA accidentally pioisons herself with a LOVE POTION meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection.  OPPS. A nationwide hunt is called to find a cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter SAMANTHA KEMI – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent.  Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but have fallen on hard times and winning the hunt would save their reputation.  But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company?  And just how close is she willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing enemy, in the meantime?

Just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

NO BIG DEAL, THEN.

 

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Royal Tour –  Book 2

Since winning the Hunt and savving her new BFF, Princess Evelyn, Sam Kemi has been royally busy.  What with TV interviews, working in her family’s potion store ad preparing to join Evelyn on her world tour, Sam STILL hasn’t had time for a real date with Zain, her new-boyfriend-slash-former-rival.

And that’s not happening anytime soon.  Someone has tampered with Sam’s grandad’s mind and she is the only one who can UNLOCK HIS MEMORIES.  But those memories hold the key to the most powerful potion in the world – which people would KILL for…

So Sam must swap dresses, princes and palaces for dragons, centaurs and caves in her quest to save her grandad (and everyone else).

JUST YOUR STANDARD EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A POTION-MAKING TEENAGER, THEN.

 

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Going Viral – Book 3

After finding her great-grandmother’s potion diary, escaping the clutches of Emilia Thoth, saving her grandfather’s memories AND becoming a Master Alchemist, surely it’s time for SAM KEMI to have a good, long rest?  And maybe, just maybe, a proper date with her boyfriend Zain?

But now that Princess Evelyn is married to the sinister Prince Stefan and showing symptoms of the Gergon illness, it looks as though Sam’s adventures are just beginning  the GOOD news: there might be a cure for the virus spreading like dagonfire through the city.  The BAD news?  It’s buried in a remote village in a far-flung country next to an active volcano – and Sam’s not the only one after it.

WITH A TV CREW TRAILING SAM’S EVERY MOVE AND TIME FAST RUNNING OUT, IT LOOKS LIKE THINGS ARE ABOUT TO…GO VIRAL

Published by Simon & Schuster.

Find out more about the fantastic Amy Alward here.

Find out more about Lovereading4kids here

Middle Grade Fiction

The Boy With One Name by J.R. Wallis

It’s Saturday and it’s Autumn – a great time to buy books.

I absolutely love Middle Grade fiction. It’s exciting and there is such an amazing choice for kids (and those of us still kids at heart). Unfortunately although there are many amazingly well stocked and managed school libraries out there not all of them have the funds or space to keep a stock of fresh, new titles. If you are lucky enough to have a local library then I urge you to use it if you don’t already and of course a bookshop of any shape or size is always a great place to visit. So, if you are looking for a weekend reading treat here’s my recommendation for this week.

The Boy With One Name by J.R.Wallis

I absolutely adore a little magic and mystery. Throw in some mortal danger, monsters and things that go bump in the night and I’m in heaven. 😄

This summer the rather lovely people over at Simon & Schuster kids sent me a copy of The Boy With One Name. The cover alone grabbed my interest as soon as it slipped out from it’s Jiffy bag.

WELCOME TO THE BADLANDS … a hidden part of our world populated by creatures which most people think exist only in fairytales and nightmares.

The story features two young protagonists – Jones desperately wants to be a normal boy but since he was a baby fate has had other plans, because Jones is an apprentice Badlander. Badlanders hunt witches, ogres, shapeshifters and other monsters that ordinary people only see in their nightmares.

Ruby is also desperate for a different life. Running away from her latest foster carer and a difficult home life, Ruby  is searching for a world she can fit into. A world where she has some purpose and meaning.

Things go terribly wrong on the night that Jones is making his first kill as part of his commencement to become a Badlander and suddenly he is left without his master Maitland, the one man who taught him everything he knows and who’s been there for him since he was a baby. Now he is alone with only a talking gun (which he can’t touch) for guidance.

Looking for a safe place to hide, runaway Ruby finds herself caught up in Jones life and the monsters that she thought only belonged in fairytales and nightmares. Before long circumstances force them to work together as each tries to not only stay alive but to find the lives they’ve both dreamed of.

What follows is an adventure story that grips from the very first page as you tumble into the Badlands. Adrenaline filled and full of danger, Wallis will have you cheering for more.

This is a great book about friendship, self discovery, learning who you are and finding courage in even the most desparate of situations. I absolutely loved Jones and fiesty Ruby. They each had their own problems but discovered that working together they could achieve anything.

An exciting start to what I hope will become a series. This will make a fantastic, fun and exciting read.

Published by Simon and Schuster
Published in paperback in August 2017
Review copy supplied by the lovely people at Simon and Schuster (thanks so much:)

Find out more about author J.R.Wallis by visiting his website: here.

Here’s a small taster that I’ve taken from the opening page.

     Jones stopped. He’d felt safe enough creeping down the path in front of the cottage, in the dark.  But now the moon had reappeared from behind the clouds, the world was relit with a softer silver light meaning he was much more likely to be seen.

He kept trying to focus on what Maitland had promised, that he wouldn’t come to any harm. But that was less easy to believe now they were actually here. Scared to go on, Jones looked behind him, to where his Master was hiding, hoping to be beckoned back.

Maitland stepped out from the granite porch concealing the front door of the cottage and stood on the path, big as a bolder in his greatcoat. He said nothing. His craggy face remained hidden below the peak of his baseball cap. And Jones knew right away Maitland wanted him to go on, however bright the moon, because this was his big night. This was his big test.

 

Picture Books

Poppy and the Blooms by Fiona Woodcock

Firstly, before I go any further, I just have to say that Fiona is a beautiful illustrator. She uses a variety of both medium and techniques that result in some visually stunning images. This is evident in her second picture book, Poppy and the Blooms, an eyecatching book that will demand your attention as it stands proudly on display in any bookshop, library or bookshelf. The images seem to call out to you and I can almost hear Poppy and her friends inviting me to pick them up and have a look. ( I imagine their voices to be fairly high pitched, a little giggly and very friendly.)

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Fiona has created within a book the same effect I experience when I see real flowers when I’m out and about. They grab my attention, make me stop and something about them draws me to gently touch their petals and smell their scent. They’re very evocative. Her illustrations capture this perfectly and I think this is one of the key things that will draw both adults and children to pick up the book. Of course once you’ve began to read you’ll also find that the story is absolutely delightful.

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Today, as our towns and cities continue to expand, we are becoming more and more aware of the need to retain (and add) as much natural landscape as possible. Poppy and her friends are on a mission to save the last park in the city. The stark contrast between the flora and the grey colourless world of a city without green space is clever at highlighting how lost and bleak things would be without our natural surroundings.

When Poppy awakes one morning,

‘with a strange tingling feeling. It fluttered in her tummy… and shivered the tips of her petals.’

she knew that something wasn’t quite right and so with enormous courage for someone so small she hops on her skateboard (LOVE the skateboards!) and sets off with her friends – Dandy, Bluebell and Buttercup – to try and save the last park in the city. And with a little courage, sunshine, magic, and a big dose of determination the four friends make a BIG difference.

‘Hey, Blooms, we did that,’ she smiled.

‘We did it together’, said Dandy and Bluebell and bright little Buttercup.’

A wonderful story to share, this lovely picture book will show your little ones just how little things can make a big difference.

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Published by Simon and Schuster

Published on the 10th August 2017

Visit Fiona’s website here.

Follow Fiona on Twitter: @FionaWoodcock

Or on Instagram: @FionaWoodcock

Visit the Publisher website here.

Follow Simon and Schuster on Twitter: @simonkids_uk

Or on Instagram: @simonkidsuk

Middle Grade Fiction

Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I have to admit to being a big fan of Emma’s books. Her stories continue to delight and move me, and Letters from the Lighthouse does not disappoint at all.

It’s 1941 and the Second World War rages on longer than anyone anticipated. Reeling from the death of their father and the disappearance of their sister Sukie, Olive and her brother are evacuated to the coast of Devon. After discovering a strangely coded message that she’s certain has something to do with Sukie’s disappearance, Olive embarks on a dangerous adventure as she’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Emma Carroll has a wonderful takent for bringing historic events to life for today’s young readers and with Letters from the Lighthouse continues to create an enthralling, thrilling read, whilst introducing situations and characters that are still relevant in our world today. Olive is a wonderful protagonist. Being an evacuee she has an understanding of the prejudice that can come from lack of understanding. The thing that touched me most within this wonderful novel was the opportunity to hear the stories behind all those effected by war along with the refugees and the impact they had on the locals. War and hate has the ability to divide communities but Letters from the Lighthouse shows how much can be achieved when people work together.

A beautifully written story about bravery, compassion, understanding, and having the strength to fight for what you believe in.

Publication on 1st June 2017

Published by Faber & Faber

Review originally written for Lovereading.co.uk

Visit Emma’s website here.