Monday, 16 January 2017

Me And Mister P written by Maria Farrer and illustrated by Daniel Rieley. Reviewed by Tamsin Cooke

Me And Mister P by Maria Farrer and illustrated by Daniel Rieley is an absolute joy to read. It's incredibly funny, warm and tender all at the same time.



‘There are times when only a polar bear will do . . .
All I want is a normal family but no, I've ended up with the brother from Weirdsville. Liam is so embarrassing, but Mum and Dad can't see that and give him all the attention. Leaving me with zero! Zilch! A big fat NOTHING!
And I'm not really sure how an enormous, funny, clumsy polar bear is going to help with all this, but he was standing on the doorstep, so I had to invite him to stay, didn't I? Well, what would you have done?’


Arthur struggles with his younger brother’s special needs. He’s embarrassed of Liam’s behaviour and resents all the attention he gets.  Yet as soon as the bear turns up in Arthur’s life, you have a feeling everything’s going to be OK. 

Mister P is possibly one of the greatest bears I’ve ever met. Even though he doesn’t utter a word, he says so much. (A huge well done to Maria for achieving this!) He’s quite a nervous bear - not used to spiders, cars and school - and so Arthur goes out of his way to make Mister P feel safe and secure. Through Mister P, Arthur begins to see the world through Liam’s eyes – how loud noises and new experiences can be frightening. Furthermore, Arthur starts to appreciate and enjoy his younger brother’s fun, quirky qualities.

There are so many magical moments in this book from Arthur teaching Mister P keepy-uppy to polar bear dancing. And I loved how so many of the characters just accepted a polar bear in their midst, as if this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. 

The illustrations by Daniel Rieley are fabulous, adding warmth and humour.  I adore Mister P’s expressions, especially the one where he sees the spider for the first time.  The layout of the book is really interesting too, with different sized text, making it very accessible.

This is such a special story, relishing how we are all different. It's filled with empathy and compassion, while making us roar with laughter. It's aimed at children 6+, but I think any age will enjoy it. 

I have to admit since reading Me And Mister P, whenever my doorbell rings I’m always hoping to see a giant polar bear with a suitcase standing on my doorstep...





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Thursday, 12 January 2017

What I Couldn't Tell You by Faye Bird, reviewed by Dawn Finch

First the blurb....

When love turns to jealousy, when jealousy turns to rage, when rage turns to destruction...

Laura was head over heels in love with Joe. But now Laura lies in a coma and Joe has gone missing. Was he the one who attacked her?

Laura's sister Tessie is selectively mute. She can't talk but she can listen. And as people tell her their secrets, she thinks she's getting close to understanding what happened on that fateful night.



YA books about young people with "issues" are very on-trend at the moment and so, when a friend recommended this book to me, I must confess to some resistance as I've read far too many "worthy" books recently and was becoming a little jaded with them. Don't get me wrong, many of these books are important, but there are an awful lot that are not. I was wrong to dump this book in with the masses, Faye Bird has given us quite a different thing. This is a book about a girl who is caught up in a terrible event, a girl who desperately wants to know what happened to her sister, a girl who wants more than anything for her life to go back to what it was before the attack, a girl who like all teens just wants to be happy and to have friends - and this girl happens to be selectively mute. 

Faye Bird has achieved a remarkable thing here, she has managed to deliver to the reader a very detailed understanding of the life of a SM young person, without ever being patronising or giving us infodumps. She does this by putting us firmly in Tessie's shoes. The prologue sets the scene by introducing us to Joe and Laura, but when we move on to the next chapter we are with Tessie. Bit by bit details of the attack on Laura trickle into our laps but, just like Tessie, we are mute. As readers we want to shout out to Tessie, to warn her, to tell her what we think, to tell her what is really going on... but we can't. We want to tell Tessie to go to someone, we want to share what she knows but we too are mute and can't be heard.

Characterisation is so well handled in this novel that I bonded quickly with Tessie as she is incredibly likeable. I became so fond of her and found myself missing her when I finally closed the book. Her frustrations and confusions become ours, we feel her struggle and I know that YA readers will find a great deal to identify with in the twisting and turning sub-plots.

I particularly like the fact that Bird does not neatly solve everything with a perfect happy ending. Life isn't like that and not every broken thing can, or should, be fixed.


What I Couldn't Tell You by Faye Bird was published by Usborne in May 2016 and is available in both print and e formats. You can find out more about the author on her website www.fayebirdauthor.com

Review by Dawn Finch, children's author and librarian. www.dawnfinch.com





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Sunday, 8 January 2017

A Tale Of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberston - reviewed by Damian Harvey

I came across this wonderful picture book whilst looking for something else in the library and I'm very glad that I did...

In A Tale of Two Beasts, Fiona Robertson delightfully tells the story of two beasts. One 'The Strange Beast' and the other, 'The Terrible Beast'. The book itself is divided into the two separate stories - each telling its tale and each serving to prove that there are indeed two sides to every story. 

The Tale of the Strange Beast begins when a little girl walking by the woods spots a strange little creature hanging upside down from a branch and whining sadly to itself. The little girl wastes no time at all and rescues the poor creature; then, calling him 'Fang', she wraps him in her scarf and carries him safely home. 

The little girl is determined to take good care of the creature so she gives it 'a lovely bath', 'a gorgeous new hat and jumper, and a delicious bowl of fresh nuts.' She even goes to the trouble of making it a house to live in. As if all this isn't enough the little girl takes him for long walks on the end of a lead and shows him off to his friends at school - everyone loves him.

But despite all of her best efforts, the strange creature doesn't seem happy and one night jumps through the window and runs back to the woods. Then later, while the girl is lying sadly in bed, a little shadow appears. The creature has returned and the little girl starts to think he isn't so strange after all. I don't want to completely spoil the ending for you so will leave it there...

The second story, 'The Terrible Beast', begins with an almost identical illustration, but this time the story is being told from the little creature's point of view so there are lots of subtle differences to watch out for. While he is hanging from his favourite tree, the little creature is 'ambushed by a terrible beast' and carried off 'to her secret lair.'  

The story continues and we witness everything from the side of the little creature. Children (and adults alike) will love seeing the differences in both the text and the delightful artwork which gives this book lots to look and and talk about - making it a great one to share again and again.

Reviewed by Damian Harvey
Website 
Twitter @damianjharvey 

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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, and reviewed by Sarah Hammond and her 3 year old niece

ISBN: 978-0-316-32490-8
Finding Winnie is a poignant inter-generational picture book about the inspiration for the much loved bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.  This is an inter-generational review of the story by Sarah Hammond and her 3 year old niece. 

The form of Finding Winnie is a story-within-a-story. The frame story is told by the author to her son at bedtime. She is the great-great-grandaughter of a veterinarian called Harry Colebourn. Harry, a soldier during the First World War, went to train so that he could help military horses at the front. On his journey to his regiment, Harry discovered a baby bear with a trapper at a train depot. He bought the bear and called her Winnipeg after his home city, or Winnie for short. 

Sarah's niece: My favourite bit is when Winnie meets the Colonel because he is grumpy but Harry is happy. I love it when they come to the camp and bring Winnie all the food but she's still hungry!

Winnie becomes the regiment’s mascot and is taken across the ocean from Canada to England. 

Sarah's niece: I love it when Winnie sits at the top of the boat, but I worried she might fall in because she's at the edge.

However, Harry decided not to take Winnie with him to the front in France, and so he left her at London Zoo for safekeeping. 

Sarah's niece: Then lots of people can see her and love her, too.

It is here that Harry’s story ends, ‘so that the next one can begin’. This new story concerns a boy called Christopher Robin Milne, who loved bears and loved London Zoo. His father, Alan Alexander Milne, took his son to visit Winnie regularly and these visits inspired many adventures with Christopher’s toy bear back at home. The visits also inspired A.A. Milne to write his beloved Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Sarah's niece: I love Winnie because she is like my bear. 

Meanwhile, after the war Harry (now Captain Harry Colebourn) decided to leave Winnie at London Zoo, where she was loved. The author of Finding Winnie named her son, Cole, after her great-great grandfather. 

Sarah's niece: And then I like the Winnie-the-Pooh bit when the little boy [Cole] is in bed with his mummy and his own bear.

There is a lovely mirroring of stories and a comforting connectedness in the book. One story leads to another, and one person's actions inspire actions by others. The pace is fast, interspersing facts and anecdotes and pearls of wisdom. 

The illustrations by Sophie Blackall have an old-fashioned, expressive, and reassuring quality. In keeping with the form of the book, they approach the subject matter from many different perspectives. 

Sarah's niece: I love all the pages and love the story. I love the way [Winnie] cuddles [Harry’s] boot on the front [cover] and the shiny medal, too. And I can balance the book on my head, too! The end!                



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Sunday, 1 January 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A NOVEL CURE HANDBOOK! by Penny Dolan



Hello again! I hope you enjoyed some good reading time over the holiday.

I’d like to start 2017 by mentioning an unusual and delightful "handbook" someone gave me for Christmas. It is definitely a grown-up book for grown-up readers, although colds & flu meant that I only dipped into the contents a little. Consequently, this post is probably a rather a hazy recommendation; however, this quirky handbook is a most dipping-into and recommending kind of thing in itself.



A NOVEL CURE:
An A-Z of LITERARY REMEDIES
by ELLA BERTHOUD & SUSAN ELDERKIN

The two authors, both bibliotherapists, have put together an alphabetical “medical handbook” with a difference; containing suggestions for novels to ease pains from stubbed toes to the severe blues, as well as tackling reading ailments.

They claim that
Our belief in the novel as the purest and best form of bibliotherapy is based on our own experience with patients and bolstered by an avalanche of anecdotal evidence. . . Some treatments will lead to a complete cure. Others will simply offer solace, showing you that you are not alone.”

For example, to help with Monday-morning feeling, they suggest reading the opening of  Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, where Clarissa Dalloway daydreams lyrically over the buying of Spring flowers.

To avoid Car-sickness, Berthoud & Elderkin suggest taking a train instead, because that will give you plenty of time for any of the ten best novels listed for reading on trains, which includes A.S Byatts Possession, Nesbit’s The Railway Children, Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains and more.

There are also solutions to reading problems, such as suggested cures for "being a compulsive book buyer", for "reverence of books, excessive" as well as "ome, put off by" and other familiar situations.

While I wouldn’t agree with every suggestion made within the covers – and nor - by the hints of humour - is one meant to - A NOVEL CURE certainly made me consider the choosing of books in a new way.

(Published by Canongate in 2013, and as a paperback in 2015. Might be available through your local library, if you are lucky enough to still have one.)








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Friday, 16 December 2016

FOXCRAFT: THE ELDERS by Inbali Iserles; reviewed by Gillian Philip

CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE SO AWFULLY BIG REVIEWS IS TAKING A SHORT BREAK. WE'LL BE BACK AGAIN AT THE START OF JANUARY 2017

UNTIL THEN, MUCH HAPPY READING TO YOU ALL, 
AND THANKS TO ALL THE AWFULLY BIG (AND BRILLIANT) REVIEWERS
FOR ALL THEIR POSTS DURING 2016.

Meanwhile, here's Gillian Philip, writing about Inbali Iserles FOXCRAFT series:

I've been looking forward enormously to the second instalment of Inbali Iserles' magical series FOXCRAFT, and from the moment I dived into the first chapter of Book Two, THE ELDERS, I knew the wait had been worth it. It's the kind of story that starts with an earthquake - or at least, the mystical tremor of malinta in the ground beneath Isla's paws - and builds to a spectacular climax. 


When we left her at the end of Book One (THE TAKEN), Isla - a former urban fox whose family were torn from her in a brutal act of violence - was venturing into the unknown Wildlands in search of her lost brother Pirie. She's little more than a cub, but Isla is blessed - or perhaps cursed - with a strong talent for Foxcraft, the magic that enables foxes to vanish, to mimic other creatures, or even to shapeshift. Foxcraft itself is an enthralling and exciting creation - one that is entirely believable to fox-watchers - and Iserles does not flinch from giving her magic a bad side. Like all strong charms, there are negative consequences to using Foxcraft's power, and Isla finds out much more about those  downsides in this breathlessly-paced adventure.
In Book One, Isla managed to shake off the charismatic, artful, but treacherous Siffrin - my favourite character of the series. But as Book Two opens, she is responding to the scream of a fox in distress, and when she runs to his rescue, she soon finds herself reluctantly entangled with another young fox, Haiki. He too is searching for his lost family, and he wants them both to travel together in search of the legendary Elders. Isla is not so sure - but Haiki soon proves a loyal and dependable companion, even if his cowardice sometimes gets the better of him.

Isla and Haiki journey in search of their families through forest, river, cliff and wasteland, and their trials are more than enough to keep a reader on the edge of her seat. They face dogs, coyotes and 'furless' hunters - but their most fearsome enemies have followed Isla since Book One: the Taken, mindless slaves of the sinister and unseen Mage. These menacing, relentless, yet strangely pitiable foxes pursue Isla and Haiki with barely a let-up, and our heroes' escapes are frequent, terrifying and breathtakingly narrow.

Inbali Iserles adds her own beautiful illustrations to the chapter headings 

Iserles writes landscape into life, and populates it with characters who range from endearing to terrifying, but who are always multidimensional and real. The skulk who take in Isla and Haiki at a moment of extreme danger are a family you can instantly love, with all the personalities and conflicts of any family. I loved them all, from the weakling Mox to his grumpy grandmothers, and my heart was in my mouth as the Mage's hench-foxes prowled ever-closer. Two of the family, Tao and Simmi, join Isla and Haiki in their quest to find help and foxcraft-skills from the Elders; as a crisis forces them to set out from the safety of their den, the book begins to climb towards its chilling, thrilling denouement.

Inbali Iserles has created a world of incredible beauty, terror and believable magic. The sheer physicality of the descriptive writing takes the reader directly into the mind and skin of a fox. I could feel the frost on my paws - and that spine-tingling quiver of the earth at the summer malinta, when day and night are in balance. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Isla and Haiki find the Elders at the very moment it matters - but they find much, much more, and not all of it what they hoped for.

In this second instalment we discover more about Foxcraft itself, and about the dreadful Mage and his motives. The horrors of this 'Tailless Seer' are creeping remorselessly across the land, and there is a distinct sense that time is running out for all foxes. 

More happily, I am delighted to say, we meet charming, conflicted Siffrin again.

There are three books in the Foxcraft series. I'm back to waiting, and I'm more impatient than ever. 









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Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive review by Lynda Waterhouse

Evelyn is an only child; a serious little girl who lived ‘in a tall London house which you would have thought rather grand and very dull.’ Separated from her parents she is dispatched to Old Lady Tamerlane’s where she will spend Christmas with her and all of her grandchildren.
This story was written by Mary Clive, Lady Mary Katharine Pakenham. It was first published in 1955 and is a sharp and funny description of an aristocratic Edwardian family Christmas. Think Roald Dahl meets Downton Abbey with a sprinkling of Daisy Ashford’s Little Visiters.
Evelyn first encounters the Savages on the train where she is faced with the question, “Are you a Cavalier or a Roundhead?”
Evelyn is flummoxed by Lionel, Harry, Rosamund and Betty and with their noisy and wild ways. As well as the Savage children there are also the Glens and the Howliboos each with their own Nana. Each Nana is competing to rule the nursery with hilarious consequences.
Evelyn finds herself taking part in a series of adventures and misadventures.
Everyone hangs up their stocking on Christmas Eve;
‘We were all excited but in different ways, from Tommy who was so horrified and revolted by the idea of a dreadful old man coming down the chimney in the middle of the night that they had to hang his stocking outside his door, to Lionel who had put a wet sponge beside his bed with the worst intentions. I was in that state when you don’t know what to expect or whom to believe…’
This is a perfect bedtime read for the holiday season.
Published by Puffin Books

ISBN 978-0-141-36112-3


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