Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

This was another title shared by my fellow bookworm Faye. Before we even discuss the book, we need to discuss the absolutely stunning cover. It is true that you should never judge a book by its cover, but this is a stunner! The cover beautifully sums up Erkenwald, our setting, but also it is almost alive with emotion. I adore it and could almost frame it and pop it on the wall.

So, the story: this is another beautiful adventure in a stunning snowy setting. A good versus evil traditional tale – with a wonderful villain in the Ice Queen. There is something a little Narnia-esque about it, so it will not disappoint, especially if you are a fan of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.

Erkenwald is in the grip of deadly winter as the Ice Queen’s hold seems to be getting stronger. Our heroes Flint, Erska and Blu are determined to prevent this from happening and return snowy Erkenwald to its rightful people, the traditional tribes.

Along with the support of the animals and mythical creatures of the land, they face danger and adventure as they aim to remove the Ice Queen from the Winterfang Palace. They want peace restored, families restored and the spell to be broken.

It is a lovely read, another novel with a strong female lead, but also the idea that we all have our skills to share. If you like a good old-fashioned adventure novel with a little sprinkle of magic, this is the book for you.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

In January, I got a comment on Instagram asking if I was only reading books with Eleanor in the title, after two of my choices had just that. Then, I have noticed that in February I appear to have a thing for books by authors named Katherine. Funny how these things work out. Anyway, back to the point…

‘The Explorer’ is the third book I have read by Katherine Rundell and I am going to make the bold statement that it is my favourite. This books is a wonderfully traditional adventure story. It reminded me of all the great classics such as ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

The joy of the story is that it proves how resourceful children can be in the face of adversity, without the support of adults. I mean being stranded in the Amazon jungle is more or less as extreme as it can get. However, it also shows that the majority of the important lessons we learn in life come from experience. Our four heroes learn an awful lot about themselves while they are stranded – even the very young Max.

Another theme of the novel which really struck me (and my love of History) is the real desire of the Explorer to preserve the ‘world’ he has discovered. I really admire the way Rundell addresses the damage the desire to explore did to different parts of the world and some things are better left a secret.

This book, although for younger readers, is one that I think we should all read, as there is a beautifully nostalgic feel to this tale which should be shared with all.

Toto – The Dog-gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

One thing on the New Year’s Honours list was Sir Michael Morpurgo. This is a man who has done so much for Children’s literature, he has brought the love reading and appreciation of History to so many over the years that it was a well-deserved accolade. I still remember that ‘The Wreck of Zanzibar’ was the first Morpurgo book I read, and I have not stopped since.

I admire writers bringing the classics to a new generation or offering a new perspective of a well-loved tale – it is quite a talent. I admit that I have never read the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I do have a little bit of a fear of the original film (although I do love ‘Wicked’) – however, the beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark on the cover and the name of Morpurgo attracted me to this book.

The story is told from the perspective of Dorothy’s loyal companion Toto. From my knowledge of the original tale (and the skill of Morpurgo) it is faithful to the original and the characters have the same charm. I enjoyed this book from the word go – drawn in by the skill of the storytelling and the beauty of the illustrations. I am now tempted to finally read the original classic tale to have an even better understanding of the story. However, this book is a lovely way to introduce children to a classic novel.

Have you read any retellings of the classic? Any you would recommend?

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

I know we are in those strange days between Christmas and New Year, when you feel you need to do all the things that you have not done as you have been busy in the Christmas bubble. For me, it is also a time when I need to make sure that I catch up on all those blog posts that I have missed, especially as one of my main focuses has been the chance to read.

So, just before the Christmas craziness began, I read ‘The Girl who Saved Christmas’ by Matt Haig. It was a delight! It was all the things that you want from a Christmas story and was a well-crafted nod to the work of the classic author Charles Dickens; in fact, dare I say that I enjoyed it even more than ‘A Boy called Christmas’, which I have also blogged about this festive season.

Amelia (who you meet at the very end of ‘A Boy called Christmas’) is not in a festive spirit, as she is orphaned at Christmas and is resident at Mr Creeper’s workhouse. Losing her belief in the miracles of Christmas is having a detrimental on the work of Father Christmas, as the magic of Christmas is fading and he is not able to carry out his work. He must find her and restore her faith so that Christmas Day can be saved. It is a classic Christmas adventure involving a whole host of colourful characters who want to save the big day and the faith of Amelia, and restore the magic of Christmas.

To me, this novel is a tribute to Dickens and his work. There are cleverly named characters reflecting their part in the tale, but it is also a comment on the state of Victorian society and, sadly, not that far from the truth for some in modern times.

This is truly a children’s novel that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so if you want to find or be reminded of your faith in the festive season (and you love ‘A Christmas Carol’ – book or film adaptations), then this is the novel for you – because Amelia Wishart really is the girl who saves Christmas for her and all of us.

 

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

The festive season is full swing and that has inspired me to pick books with a festive theme. I decided to start with ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ by the very talented Matt Haig. This may be a children’s book but, to be honest, that never puts me off a title; the most important thing is that you enjoy what you are reading – and I certainly enjoyed this book! (Feeling even more festive once I had finished it.)

This novel answers a question I am sure we have all pondered: how did Father Christmas become Father Christmas? (The same question that Matt Haig’s own son had, and which he took on the challenge to answer.) We all follow Nikolas on his childhood adventure to the far North after he decides that he needs to find the father he loves, and his only real family, who has not returned from his own journey there with the hunters.

As we would all expect, it is not a journey without challenges on so many different levels. He is captured by elves, who may not be quite as you expect, and he discovers that his father may not be all the man he thinks he is – until the going gets tough, and love and respect shine through. By the end of the tale, and I never like to write a review with a spoiler, we are all let into the secret of how Father Christmas became Father Christmas.

This novel is an instant Christmas classic, in my humble opinion, because it is full of magic and adventure, hopes and dreams, and a collection of colourful, magical characters – even a mouse that is a little bit of fond of cheese. The theme throughout that really made me smile, and can sometimes be lost in all the festive frenzy, is about how the most important thing in life is those that we have around us, and making the most of what we have and how we can help others. This is a novel that will make you laugh out loud and celebrate the success of goodness over evil – and realise that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

There is so much festive spirit and cheer in this novel that you can not help but feel ready for some Christmas fun with those that you love by the time you reach the end. (And keen to read ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’, which also happens to be on my festive to-be-read pile.)

A Place Called Perfect by Helen Duggan

Now, you should not judge a book by its cover, but this book has one of the most beautiful and intriguing covers I have ever seen. So, when it was the Waterstones children’s book of the month last month, I had to read it.

From page one, I was hooked; I knew it was going to be an adventure that I wanted to be part of. From the moment Violet and her family arrive at Perfect, there is a sense that it may not live up to its name. The rose-tinted view that all the residents have thanks to glasses that they all wear simply does not seem to be shared by Violet (she was perfectly happy with the life she had), especially after her father disappears. Once she meets Boy, the adventures really pick up pace as they work to prove that things do not need to be ‘perfect’ to be exactly what they need. It is a tale that proves that a little love for family, and determination, can defeat evil.

This reminded me of the classic tales of authors like Neil Gaiman. A good collection of characters, some we like and some we don’t, but ultimately a tale that stays with you a long time after you read the last word.

After all, do we really want everything to be perfect?

Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony by Chris Riddell

I am a HUGE Goth Girl fan and when I spotted a copy of The Sinister Symphony in Waterstones when I needed an emergency book for a train journey, I was so excited and had to purchase it immediately.

Reuniting with Ada Goth and her pals is liking meeting with old and new friends. I am far older than the target audience of this book, but the charm of Chris Riddell’s creations is that the humour works on so many levels. He certainly writes jokes in there for the older readers as much as he does for the target audience. (I may have caught myself laughing out loud at points and that can be a little embarrassing as you sit on a busy train from London.) There are wonderful little comments on society and clever plays on words throughout, which are nods to the world we live in and some of the characters from popular culture.

Ada’s latest adventure takes place at a music festival organised by Lord Goth in the grounds of Ghastly-Gorm Hall. There are the usual giggles along the way as Ada tries to keep all her plans for her father and his future happiness on the right path.  There was real happiness for me in this tale as there were nods to Narnia (and a surprise addition at the back of the book), which is one my favourite books from my childhood.

As usual, the book is beautifully presented with Chris Riddell’s stunning illustrations throughout, which bring each character to life for the reader. I was smiling a bit like a fool as I turned each page, as you can not help but be cheered by what you see on each page.

I am so pleased that I can add this to my collection of Goth Girl books and urge you all, young and old, to go on an adventure with Ada and The Attic Club – you will not regret it.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I saw an article not so long ago that suggested that there were not enough lead female characters in children’s fiction, but yet again I have stumbled across another: Tiffany Aching is one of the most fabulous female lead characters I have encountered.

Tiffany encompasses the idea that girls can be courageous and ambitious and will not let the world that they live in hold them back. In fact, it was interesting at the end of the tale that Pratchett highlighted the fact that successful and heroic females do not always get the recognition that they deserve, but they are confident enough in their own abilities that they do not need public adoration.

As I am sure you can see, I loved reading ‘Wee Free Men’. There was a charm to the book from the moment you picked it up. It was full of Pratchett’s usual wit and humour that works on so many levels (adults can always enjoy his children’s books as much as his target audience) and the voice that he gave the ‘pictsies’ was spot on. I often found myself chuckling as I heard their ‘wee’ Scottish voices throughout the novel.

The foe of Tiffany is the ‘Queen’, who kidnaps her younger brother. With the help of the pictsies and a mildly grumpy toad, Tiffany has to fight the dreams that the Queen creates for her to try and get her brother home. Her inspiration throughout is Granny Aching, who she gets her strength of character from. It is quite an adventure for all involved.

So, I think I may have found one of my new favourite characters, as it is rather a lot of fun to join Tiffany on her adventures.

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky

When I found out that Ashley King was illustrating a book for Kaye Umansky, I did a little squeal of joy. Growing up I was a massive ‘Pongwiffy’ fan; Kaye Umansky’s books were staple reading for my sister and I (and even my mum). So, when I saw that there was a new title and a wonderful collaboration between these two, I had to read it.

‘Witch for a Week’ is out in October, just in time for Halloween, but I have been lucky enough to have a sneak peek and I loved it. It was great to revisit the writing of Kaye Umansky, accompanied by the illustrations of Ashley King.

Elsie Pickle is a lovely heroine who takes on the job of temporary caretaker of the ‘Tower in the Forest’ for the local witch, Magenta Sharp. Along with a wonderful little collection of characters, including a talking raven and a rather hapless, scruffy dog, she embarks on quite an adventure. Elsie is a determined young lady who uses her skills in customer service (thanks to the family shop) and the guidance offered by the handbook ‘Everything You Need to Know’ to tackle whatever the ‘Tower in the Forest’ and the rather interesting locals throw at her.

There is so much humour and warmth in this book, just as I knew there would be. You can not help but wish you were part of the adventures. The illustrations really bring the characters to life, their personalities shining through in each drawing. This is a book that children and adults alike are going to enjoy reading.

So, make sure you give this book a go and find out if you have what it takes to be ‘Witch for a Week’. Thank you Ash for giving me the chance to find out!

 

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am not always one that selects prize-winning titles, but this is a well-deserving winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017.

The art work on the cover of this book is absolutely stunning and immediately catches your eye, even before you reach the magical sounding title. This is a story that takes you on a real adventure and, most importantly, there is wonderfully strong and independent female lead character in Isabella. She is a girl who will fight with real courage and fierce loyalty for the people she loves and the beliefs that are important to her.

When Lupe, Isabella’s best friend, goes missing, it is Isabella who uses her great knowledge of the stars and maps to support the search party. As you follow the characters on their adventures, there is a great use of myths and stories to influence the decisions made by those living on the island. It really reflects on how the ideas that can be with a nation of people for as long as they can remember, passed on to each generation, can lead some to have fear and misunderstanding and others to have the courage to fight for what they care for. You see the characters really form as each part of their adventure influences them personally.

You are on the edge of your seat throughout the story, never sure what is going to come next. You feel the danger and excitement as you turn each page; it is impossible to put this novel down. It may be a children’s book, but it is one that adults will enjoy just as much.