The Light in Everything by Katya Balen

This book is proof that you do not always need to judge an author by one book. I read ‘October October‘ a couple of years ago, and did not have quite the same love for it as so many others did. However, recently I picked up ‘The Light in Everything’ and absolutely loved it – although I admit I had been putting it off for a little bit based on the previous book.

Tom and Zofia are thrown together as their parents begin a relationship and have a baby on the way. Neither of them is too sure about this idea or having to share their parent based on previous experiences; they quite like the world as it is. Zofia is not keen to share her Dad after they have built their life following the death of her mother. Zofia is headstrong, confident and determined, and is not great at hiding her emotions, especially towards these two people who have entered her life. Tom is still dealing with the trauma of his abusive father, who has now been locked away. He does not like the dark, he is jumpy about new people and his confidence is rock bottom – he is not ready to share his Mum with anyone, as he wants to protect her, as he could not before. However, Zofia and Tom have no choice but to try and get used to this blended family and the tests that they are about to face.

This is a story of new beginnings, trust, friendship and love. And it is a story about how, although sometimes life is a little messy and does not quite follow the path that we expect, sometimes that is not all bad. Maybe, like Zofia and Tom, we discover things about ourselves that we never knew and understand that, sometimes, change is not all bad.

I enjoyed that we are told the story with a dual perspective, we are privy to the thoughts of both Zofia and Tom as their lives change in ways that they were not expecting. We see them develop and grow, and we meet the community that comes together to support them both and their family.

This is a book that I will be recommending to middle grade readers and adults alike because I think there are lessons for us all in its story.

And, the important lesson for me is this: that just because one book may not be your cup of tea, it does not mean you should not attempt other books by the same author – you may be surprised.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow and Joe Todd-Stanton

This book was a gem (and now has me wanting to read ‘Skellig’ – have you read it?). This book had been recommended to me a number of times by a number of different people so on a recent book buying day out I picked up a copy.

This is a book that will be relatable to so many readers, young and old alike, as we have all faced that final year of Primary School before the move to bigger school and all the emotions and experiences that come with that. Nate is starting Year 6 and he know that it is all going to be OK as he will have his best friend by his side. However, as events unfold, his best friend seems to have a new best friend and Nate has to navigate the school year in a way he never expected. But that is not the only shock for Nate as circumstances at home are not the easiest either.

However, Nate finds some comfort in the book that his teacher is reading to the class, ‘Skellig’. It seems to give him strength and confidence to face the world each day – alongside the support from his teacher, friends and family. Which just proves the power books can have over their readers.

This book is told in free verse, which always seems to add something a little bit extra to a story. And this is accompanied by some stunning illustrations that also bring the book to life – and bring the emotions too.

‘The Final Year’ is a very special book which I will be recommending to everyone, because not only is it beautifully written and illustrated, but it is a book that will remind some of what it is like to be young, some of what may be to come, and some of the importance of believing in yourself and your own strength. And I am sure that this is a book I will come back to when I need a hug in a book to bring me some comfort.

Two For Tuesday – Middle Grade March

I was lucky enough to join a buddy read for ‘Julia and the Shark’ with some of my bookstagram buddies as part of ‘Middle Grade March’. Another book I am ashamed to say has been sitting on the shelf far too long. The only reason has been my mood reading, and this has just been a book that I have been in the mood for. However, that is a mistake of mood reading as I have missed out on a treat for quite some time.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave has brought such a fantastic book to the world, again, with ‘Julia and the Shark’. With the illustrations by Tom de Freston, you are immersed in the story from the moment you turn to page one. I, again, do not want to give any spoilers of the story here, as I feel everyone should read this as I did, without too much knowledge of the plot.

However, what I will say is that the author has tackled the important issue of mental health in this book, with incredible sensitivity, but in a way that should start conversations. I was so impressed with this aspect of the book and pleased to see that there would be younger readers aware of this issue, because it is something that should be in the public domain at all times, and I think we still hold back a little about it.

‘Leila and the Blue Fox’ was just as wonderful, and I had to pick it up as I had enjoyed ‘Julia and the Shark’ so much. This time, the deeper issue amongst the pages is immigration. As well as the need for families to move for a safer and better life – and the impact that this can have on those families. It is again tackled with sensitivity, with a parallel to the natural world (even challenging the fact that for animals we accept it, but sometimes we do not offer the same understanding for people), that will again encourage readers and their families to spark conversation and try to educate themselves.

Both books carry some similar themes. Kiran Millwood Hargrave draws so beautifully from the natural world (as she does in all her books), and uses it almost as another character to bring the stories to life and educate us about the human race too. The illustrations from Tom de Frestin are so beautifully vivid, yet delicate, and add to the whole reading experience.

With strong young female leads who can inspire readers with their strength against all odds, and slightly flawed parent figures, not really through any fault of their own, we see a fantastic study of family relationships and the importance of communication in families. This is a book that I would recommend to young readers and adults alike, because these two books have so much in them that so many of us could learn from.

Pages and Co: The Treehouse Library by Anna James

I was soooooooo excited when a copy of ‘Pages and Co: The Treehouse Library’ arrived on my doorstep. I had been lucky enough to gain a place on the Tandem Collective UK readalong of this beautiful book and been gifted a copy of the book from Harper Collins to allow me to join in.

Well, it is very simple: this book is fabulous. I am fully aware that I am not the target audience of these beautiful books, but they really are books for readers and book lovers of all ages. I challenge any of you not to wish that you had the skills to be a bookwanderer by the time you reach the end of this story (or any of the others in the series) – although I suppose we are all bookwanderers the minute we open any of our favourite books.

I do not want to give the plot away, especially if you are a fan who has been reading them all, but I can honestly say you will not be disappointed. Anna James creates such a wonderfully adventurous bookish world with the most brilliant characters. There is such a range of strong characters who younger readers would be able to look up to and take inspiration from – especially when times may be a little more difficult.

So, as we enter the autumnal months, why don’t you take a trip to Pages and Co? Because there really is no adventure like the adventures we find in books.

Also, I bet your reading wish list will grow…

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery

This book is great fun to read. A fantastic piece of Middle Grade fiction with a heart. I am clearly not the target audience for this story, but I really enjoyed it as a great adventure yarn for younger readers, and I may be gifting it to a few readers I know.

Charlie does not think he is very brave; he does not stand up to bullies and tries to avoid being noticed by peers. He wishes he could be braver, like his friend Lippy, and answer some of the bullies back, like his friend Roo – and as for Dad, who is a firefighter, well that is a strength and bravery he can only imagine.

Yet, one day he meets Cando, the Last Firefox, and this sets him on a path of adventure he was never expecting. And one that proves that he does indeed have that fire inside him to be as brave as all the people he admires.

I do not want to give any spoilers away, as it is great fun to read, but it is wonderful again to see a book for younger readers that is so inclusive. Charlie has been adopted by his Dad and Pa and, for me, that was one of the greatest things about this story, as it covers so many key social issues in a heartwarming manner. I wish there had been so many more books like this around when I was younger, and although it is still not perfect, at least that change is happening.

So, if you like a good adventure story with a heart, then this is a book for you, whatever your age.

Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick

So, I have finally reached the end of the Carnegie Shortlist, ending with Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick.

This is a lovely book, told in part prose and part manga; an emotional and powerful story about Yuki Hare Jones and her journey of self-discovery and identity. Caught in the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, her life is changed forever: it forces her to re-evaluate her identity and her life, starting a new journey of self-discovery and finding an inner strength she believed she had lost. Oh, and there is an imaginary superhero along the way, created through her art, that supports her with the challenges ahead.

Beautifully written and illustrated throughout, you follow Yuki on her amazing adventure. You will admire her grit and determination, and the inner stength that her creativity and beliefs give her. And, again, it is great to have a strong female lead character, even if she has challenges that she has to overcome first. It will help many readers understand that they are not alone, and that everyone has something or someone that gives them strength. And, well, as a big fan of ‘The Little Prince’, I am always happy to find a book with a fox as a supporting or central character (all this will be revealed if you pick up this book – which I am sure you will).

So, the important final question is: which book was my winner?

Like A Charm by Elle McNicoll

I was a huge fan of a ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll, so when I knew that ‘Like a Charm’ had been published, I knew that I had to read it. (Especially as, again, the cover was absolutely beautiful and just makes you want to read it).

This is another brilliant read, a wonderful journey into fantasy rooted in the city of Edinburgh. Ramya Knox is drawn into this fantastical world as she discovers that her family have a few hidden secrets which connect them to that world. In fact, she soon becomes a symbol of hope for the Hidden Folk as they have to protect themselves from the Sirens, especially as Ramya appears to be resistant to their ‘charm’.

This is another story that celebrates difference, as Ramya discovers that the thing that makes her different is also the thing that makes her as special as she is. That, in fact allows her to help the Hidden Folk and find her special place in the world – and in her family.

I was gripped by this book and I am excited that Ramya’s tale will be continued for us all. It is wonderful that Elle McNicoll writes stories for young people with neurodivergent characters, as representation in literature is becoming ever-more important. We live in a wonderful world of difference, and we all need to be able to celebrate and understand these differences, and great stories are one way to support us all in being able to do that. And, when we see people in books that also help us understand ourselves or our experiences, then they become even more special to us – and that is what Elle McNicoll has done for so many young people with her books.

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

Cosy crime is one of my favourite things about Christmas. So I chose some cosy crime for younger readers this time – although I believe we can all enjoy Children’s books, whatever age we are. It is perfect escapism (and I do wish these had existed when I was a child).

This time we are, as the title suggests, on a Christmas adventure with our two amateur detectives. Daisy and Hazel are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and Aunt. And, as you can imagine, they stumble on all sorts of mysteries, secrets and, of course, a murder…or two. And with a rival agency in town, too – who will solve the crime?

No spoilers here, but this was an incredibly fun read and it is always great to find strong female leads to inspire readers. I also thought that despite this being set in 1935, it did challenge some of the views that we would not accept now. It is always important to take lessons from books, too, and it is handled so well in these pages.

This is my secon ‘Murder Most Unladylike Mystery’, and I will definitely be returning (and reading them in the right order).

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

This could be one of my favourite reads of 2021 – even if I had left it on my shelf for a while. A classic ghost story for middle-grade readers – well, let’s be honest, for all fans of ghost stories.

Set in the wonderfully atmospheric Lake District, we find a family with dark secrets and a fascinating collection of characters. Some of them rather disagreeable and some of them rather wonderful, and inspirational in their way. Especially our fantastically fiesty and independent lead character Agatha Asquith; despite it being set in the past, she is a perfect hero for the modern reader.

This beautifully written novel is one that I want to share with readers of all ages. For the younger reader, it is a perfectly exciting ghost story, and for us ‘older’ readers – well, it offers exactly the same, with a touch of nostalgia.

Lucy Strange is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors because she writes the sort of books I would have adored when I was younger. And have seen that she has a new title heading our way very soon – and I can’t wait!

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

I have had ‘A Kind of Spark’ on the tbr pile for quite some time. I am not sure why it took me so long to pick it up, but it becoming ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2021’ overall winner certainly prompted me to pick it up.

This nook is certainly a worthy prize winner, and is one that I will be encouraging people to read, whatever their age.

Addie is fascinated by the tales of witch trials that took place in her village and nearby Edinburgh. She wants these women to be remembered because nobody should be treated badly just because they are ‘different’ or ‘misunderstood’. And Addie knows what that experience can be like, as she is autistic – and not everybody is willing to understand that.

Like all good books, this is not just a story but is also an education. The powerful descriptions of what life is like for an autistic child and young adult will really have people thinking and hopefully with some understanding.

If you can pick up a copy of this book please do – you won’t regret it.