Review: Star in the Jar – Sam Hay (Illustrated by Sarah Massini)

‘Incandescently, radiantly, resplendently brilliant!
It’s a dazzling delight that will truly shine on your bookshelf.

Full of feeling, friendship and fulfilment brought to life and beautifully realised with the finest of writing and illustrations.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Star in the Jar
Author: Sam Hay (@samhayauthor)
Illustrator: Sarah Massini (@SarahMassini)
Publisher: Egmont (@EgmontUK)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 11th January 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1405284301

Perfect for: Nursery, Reception, Year 1, Year 2, Year 3 & Year 4

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Charming ☺️
2. Heart-warming 💝
3. Uplifting 🌟


Up high, in the dark, dark sky . . . a message: LOST, ONE SMALL STAR.

When a little boy stumbles across a special star, he puts it in a jar and takes it on adventures. 

But the poor star misses its home…

Can the little boy and his big sister find a way to send the star safely back?


The first line:

My little brother likes looking for treasure.


Review: As soon as I opened this book and began to read, my eyes lit up and my heart warmed at the sight of these beautifully-drawn illustrations that help to really set itself apart from many of its contemporaries. This story is both preciously told in word and beautifully depicted in picture which combine to make it an absolute joy and pleasure to behold. Bringing plenty of warmth and light, it really does give us the little lift we all need!

Star in the Jar opens with both main characters playing within one of many of Sarah Massini’s richly distinctive, vivid and characterful double-page spreads.

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Narrated through the eyes of his older sister, we start to see that her younger brother loves nothing more than to rummage through absolutely everything searching for all kinds of treasure (‘Tickly treasure…  glittery treasure…  even litter-bin treasure!’). One day, he finds himself a solitary star. However this is not just any star, this is a star so special he knows that it must indeed belong to someone else.

After tirelessly trying to track down who they think may be it’s proper owner, he keeps it safe enclosed within a jar and fondly befriends it by choosing to take it everywhere(!), in turn becoming increasingly attached to it.

Whilst marvelling at the night sky one evening, he realises the star is not quite as happy as he and so sets out to return it to its rightful home.

At first… slightly unconventionally.

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And then with the bright ideas of his older sister…

But ultimately, does losing his star mean that he loses his friend too?

I am sure that this will be both a clear winner and a resounding success at story time. For children, parents & teachers alike will no doubt cherish this tale so much that they find themselves coming back to enjoy reading it time and time again. This story will keep putting a starry feeling in your heart and after reading this, children in your class and at home will be wishing for their own star in a jar.

One that I will be highly recommending to teachers and schools to share. Several schools that I visit utilise a praise system whereby pupils place a star in the jar for demonstrating positive behaviour and so this would definitely enhance and complement that practice.

An exceedingly enchanting story that encapsulates both the awe and wonder of the stars, the night sky and of the unique bond between siblings. So much so that I can really envisage this book being both a superb choice and a thoroughly rewarding experience for older children to read to their younger siblings.

Incandescently, radiantly, resplendently brilliant.
It’s a dazzling delight that will truly shine on your bookshelf.

Look, even Brian May agrees!

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A huge thank you so much to Sam Hay for sending me an early copy of this stunning book. You’re a star! 💫

Star in the Jar is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘Incandescently, radiantly, resplendently brilliant!
It’s a dazzling delight that will truly shine on your bookshelf.
 

Full of feeling, friendship and fulfilment brought to life and beautifully realised with the finest of writing and illustrations.’


Mr E
📚

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Review: Below Zero – Dan Smith (Illustrated by Steve Wells)

‘A spine-tingling sci-fi adventure that both trembles and thrills whilst embodying all of the bite, chill and snap of the setting that it takes place in.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Below Zero
Author: Dan Smith (@DanSmithAuthor)
Illustrator (Cover): Steve Wells (@SteveWellsArt)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 4th January 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910655924

Perfect for: Year 5, Year 6, Year 7 & Year 8.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Chilling ❄️
2. Gripping ✊
3. Tense 😮


When Zak’s plane crash-lands on Outpost Zero, a small Antarctic research base in one of the most isolated places on Earth, he discovers a cold, dark nightmare. The power’s out and the people who live there have disappeared. Worse, as he searches for answers, bizarre visions suggest a link to something else – deep beneath the ice – which only he can understand…


The first line:

There was something happening at Outpost Zero.


Review: Brace yourself because there’s no holding back as a sudden surge of panic pulls you in from the opening page to this already action-packed, arctic adventure as we encounter Sofia Diaz in a flashback three days ago from Outpost Zero. Sofia, the youngest member on base at Outpost Zero at fourteen years old, is stationed there with her family and seven others to participate in experimental training for the Exodus Project for a future life on Mars. However, a number of others are also there for altogether unexpected and unexplained reasons…

The pace of the story unrelentingly pulsates on, as we turn to the next chapter, with the attention switching to twelve-year-old Zak Reeves who is supposed to be enjoying a relaxing holiday in the sun with his family – Mum, Dad and older sister May – before he visits hospital for surgery for an as yet unnamed illness. From the start, there’s a sense of foreboding whereby we begin to notice that Zak is different. But it’s not until the end that we discover exactly how different he is.

Instead, the whole family have to cut their exotic holiday short to board a plane to the Antarctic in order to fix the ‘spider drones’ his parents have designed to support the Exodus mission as a result of them starting to mysteriously malfunction. As they arrive (…just!) on one of the last available planes in to Outpost Zero due to forecasted adverse weather conditions, they realise that things are about to go awry from the moment their plane crash lands in to the ice outside the research base whilst the whole site is plunged in to an abandoned and absolute darkness. This leaves Zak and his family finding themselves caught up in a flurry of fright and fear that will gradually end up with them fighting for their lives…

Throughout the story, the interchange of the dual narrative, which only adds to the suspense, between chapters backwards to Sofia Diaz and forwards to Zak in the present day continues. Further on, a triple narrative transpires as we are introduced to a new character known only by his alias, The Broker. It would be only maybe here that I could foresee any potential difficulties arising for some reading independently – particularly those readers closer to the lower age of recommendation – as they may be unsure of how to temper these three storylines occurring sequentially. But, by this point you’ll be feeling how I did where the sheer apprehension of what was about to happen to Zak next meant that you just have to read on to find out more with every turn of the page…

As the plot mysteriously shifts from the eerie and the sinister to the anxious and the downright heart-pounding, Zak makes a very important and other-wordly discovery about himself that’s been tormenting him ever since he got here.

Winter is not the only thing that’s coming for Zak…

As he starts to hear things…
Tick-tack. Tick-tack.

But then he starts to feel things…
Tick-tack. Tick-tack.

And then he starts to see things…

A discovery, deep within his psyche, which culminates in an almost apocalyptic, catastrophic crescendo of a climax that would rival any of the battles from Star Wars (I know from the references dotted throughout the book that the author, Dan, is a huge fan!) as nearly all of the previously described characters – under the condemned instructions of The Broker – converge for one last time.

I particularly enjoyed the brother-sister relationship between Zak and May and it is portrayed perfectly in that they initially tease, argue, annoy and fight with each other and they might not declare an immediate fondness for each other all the time yet we recognise early on how important they are for each other and this comes to an all important head at the very end of the story.

Fraught with all of the most essential ingredients found in the best adventure stories (i.e. tension, high intensity and peril), the front cover warns you that ‘Your blood will run cold…’ so as Dan advises in Below Zero, ‘Be Prepared’ or failing that, at least listen to and try to adopt the unofficial motto and mantra of the US Marines and ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’.

Thank you to the lovely Dan Smith and Jazz Bartlett at Chicken House for sending me an early copy.

Below Zero is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘A spine-tingling sci-fi adventure that both trembles and thrills whilst embodying all of the bite, chill and snap of the setting that it takes place in.’


Mr E
📚

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Review: The Light Jar – Lisa Thompson (Illustrated by Mike Lowery)

‘A deeply original mystery so tenderly told in the most profound, sensitive, intricate, authentic and moving of ways.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Light Jar
Author: Lisa Thompson (@lthompsonwrites)
Illustrator (Cover): Mike Lowery (@mikelowerystudio)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 4th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407171289

Perfect for Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1.Enlightening 💡
2. Heart-rending 💓
3. Rousing ☺️


The first line

I love Mum’s tunnel-singing trick.


In the dead of night, Nate and his mum run away to a tumbledown cottage in the middle of a forest. When Mum heads off for food and doesn’t return, Nate is left alone and afraid, with shadows closing in all around him. 

But comfort comes from the most unexpected places – a mysterious girl on a cryptic treasure hunt, and the surprising reappearance of someone from his past. 

A story of finding friendship and the strength to light up the dark, from the bestselling author of The Goldfish Boy.


Review: Like a moth attracted to the light, I was instantly drawn to reading The Light Jar due to its intriguing plot however I hadn’t anticipated anything like just how captivating it would end up being. So much so, that I read a whopping 106 pages within the first hour of receiving it!

We first encounter Nate and his mum hurriedly speeding off in the car in the middle of the night towards their idea of salvation in the form of an abandoned and ramshackle cottage, belonging to a dearly loved family member’s deceased friend, only having been visited previously infrequently by Nate and his family.

So many questions follow from Nate during the trip.
So many questions, that unfortunately for him, just can’t seem to be answered by Mum.

From the opening page, we start to sense that something is not quite right and on arrival at the cottage, this is when we really begin to feel for Nate as he himself becomes increasingly aware of the fact that something is not quite right either. And when they start to explore their supposed place of solace, that too is not quite as homely as they had imagined it would be.

Desperately seeking provisions after one night’s stay, Mum heads off in search of a place to buy food however her return never materialises leaving Nate all alone to swallow in his new surroundings. Doubt, despair and darkness creep in.

Anxiously fending for himself whilst fighting his fears of the shadows, Nate slowly whiles away the time by reading his well-thumbed book, hoping his magic ball will give him all the answers he so desperately needs and trying his best to avoid the only thing that resembles any indication of life in the place: a scrawny chicken.    

But as time ticks away, and trepidation ensues and the hours turn in to days, Nate soon becomes distracted by the reappearance of an imaginary friend (Sam) and also entangled in an unsolved treasure hunt led by a girl (Kitty) and her cryptic riddles, who doesn’t really seem to belong in the real world either. Sam and Kitty soon develop in to Nate’s companions and confidants – acting as Nate’s closest humanly equivalents to the lights from his light jar – who try to guide, console and feed him through the remaining nights. Whether they’re just being nice, playing devil’s advocate with Nate’s conscience or they are just as lonely as Nate himself remains to be found out…

The story’s many layers continue to unravel themselves to allude to and reveal elements of the troubling home life and the manipulative, coercive and damaging behaviour of his mum’s emotionally-abusive new partner together with the lingering control he progressively possesses over Nate, his mother, his social life and even the fixtures and fittings of his own house.

Yet as you read on, there’s this innate sense of unburdening hope; optimism; faith; belief; warmth; courage; strength and character that shines through to the very end and that is what will stay with me from reading this story. That even after adversity, if you’ve got something to hold on to and can grasp even a glimpse of positivity then that can sometimes feel like the most powerful feeling in the world as Helen Keller once said “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart”.

Like the lights in the light jar offer Nate some comfort, attachment, reassurance and relief from the situations he finds himself in, The Light Jar could potentially highlight and raise awareness of personal, social and emotional (PSHE) issues in an appropriate classroom context leading to powerful discussions; promoting deep questioning and high levels of inference. However, whenever approaching emotive topics within the classroom, caution is to be evidently advised and sensitivity considered. So whilst I highly recommend this book for its thought-provoking and empathetic qualities, teachers contemplating using it should – as they should with all books they choose to use – ensure that they pre-read it to decide on its suitability for their class of children.

Lisa not only does it once again after the richly deserved success of The Goldfish Boy – leaving devoted fans of The Goldfish Boy feeling only ever so slightly disappointed if it means they will have to replace that as their favourite read with this (as I now have to do!). Once more, she achieves it so well in such an understated manner handling yet another intangible and complex issue in such a way that is both highly accessible and as relatable as it can be to readers, which to me is one of the highest forms of writing.

Thank you to Lisa Thompson and Lorraine Keating at Scholastic UK for sending me an early copy of this beautifully-written book.

The Light Jar is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘A deeply original mystery so tenderly told in the most profound, sensitive, intricate, authentic and moving of ways.’


Mr E
📚

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Blog Tour: Leonie Roberts (3 in 1: Review: My Colourful Chameleon (Illustrated by Mike Byrne), Author Q&A and Giveaway!)

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A fabulous, fascinating and fun-filled story that is surely set to become a future favourite with children, their parents and their teachers!

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Leonie Roberts on her blog tour to The Reader Teacher. Leonie is a primary school teacher and also the author of the recently-released picture book My Colourful Chameleon (illustrated by Mike Byrne), which I must say is a real little gem. Leonie has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my questions too.

Enjoy!


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: My Colourful Chameleon
Author: Leonie Roberts (@leonierobertsuk)
Illustrator: Mike Byrne (@TheMikeByrne)
Publisher: QED Publishing (@QEDPublishing)
Page count: 24
Date of publication: 25th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1784939380

Perfect for Nursery, Reception, Year 1 & Year 2.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Eye-catching 👀
2. Funny 😁
3. Engaging 😍


The first line(s):
I have a pet chameleon
I love her – she’s the best!
But Mummy doesn’t like her,
she says that she’s a pest!

Review: My Colourful Chameleon opens with a girl constantly losing her camouflaging, colour-changing chameleon. Almost as if it is playing house hide-and-seek, it blends itself into the rooms of the house; the garden; the car and even at school causing all kinds of chaos and commotion for the girl and her family.

Will she be able to explain the reasons for its disappearance to her parents, teachers and others who doubt its awesome ability and be allowed to keep her dearly-loved, particoloured pet?

There is so much educational potential and opportunity within the pages of this book and this is encouraged by the helpful ‘Next Steps’ section at the back of the book. Discussion, questioning, discovery and observation can be promoted further through the introduction of new and interesting vocabulary (e.g. ‘chameleon’, ‘pest’) whilst helping to develop a scientific sense of awe and wonder in young children.

  • Can your children spot the chameleon hiding in the kitchen?
  • Can they see it in the bathroom?
  • Or what about the bedroom?

Delightfully drawn by Mike Byrne, his illustrations completely complement and embody the personalities of the characters within Leonie’s lovely style of rhyming narrative which will certainly be demanded to be heard again and again!

Equally, I’m sure that parents and teachers alike will thoroughly enjoy reading this to their children and their classes as much as they will enjoy listening to it. Due to it just begging to be read aloud, it will help to create a wholly interactive, immersive and enjoyable story time experience to be shared by all.

A fabulous, fascinating and fun-filled story that is surely set to become a future favourite with children, their parents and their teachers!

My Colourful Chameleon is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

 


Author Q&A: Leonie Roberts (LR) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

TRT: For my review, I’ve described My Colourful Chameleon in #3Words3Emojis, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
LR: You stole the best three words!!!
1. Cute 🐶
2. Adorable 🐼
3. Colourtastic 🎨

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write My Colourful Chameleon? As a primary school teacher, did you test out the book or the book’s ideas with young readers at school?
LR: I’ve studied rhyming picture books by many many authors including Julia Donaldson. With this particular book, I didn’t personally test it out with any young readers at school because I was living and working in Italy at the time. However, my good friend who is also a teacher did read an earlier version of this text to her class.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading your book?
LR: In simple terms, I just hope that readers enjoy this book and will want to read it more than once. It would be great if it also inspires them to read more in general.

TRT: Do you know a lot about chameleons to choose them as one of the central characters in your story?
LR: I know more about chameleons now than I did when I wrote the story. In fact, funny tale… it was originally called “My Colourful Iguana” until my Mum pointed out that iguanas are not the colour changing animals!!

TRT: If you could have had any exotic animal as a pet growing up, would it have been a chameleon? Or something else and why?
LR: I always quite fancied owning an exotic parrot so that it could sit on my shoulder and come everywhere with me.

PsammeadTRT: What is your favourite creature that exists only in literature?
LR: Oooo, this is a good question. I would have to say the Psammead from “Five Children and It” that was televised when I was young. Written by E. Nesbit.  

TRT: I can really imagine My Colourful Chameleon being especially fun to read aloud. What would you say are other advantages to writing a picture book in rhyme?
LR: As a teacher myself, I would say that having a picture book written in rhyme often allows the children to anticipate what will happen in the next sentence and to be able to join in more with the storytelling because they can often guess what the rhyming word will be.

TRT: Do you have a favourite two-page spread in My Colourful Chameleon that Mike has illustrated? Did you have any input in to the overall illustrations or the design of the cover?
LR: I didn’t have any input into the illustrations at all but I am very happy with the wonderful pictures that Mike Byrne has created. My favourite spread is possibly the opening spread because I love the image of the little girl being licked by her chameleon – it is so sweet!

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TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting My Colourful Chameleon but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more picture books or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
LR: At the moment, I am working on a number of other picture book texts about all sorts of weird and wonderful things and over the last year I have also begun writing for older children.

TRT: What first attracted you to writing picture books?
LR: Perhaps from having read so many during my time as a teacher and from spending a few years working with young children I simply had lots of story ideas that I felt an urge to get written down. It all started from there really.

TRT: As a primary school teacher yourself, which books (including picture books) do you most like to read to your classes?
LR: I have three favourites that I love to read time and time again…
Jill Murphy’s Peace At Last; Julia Donaldson’s The Smartest Giant in Town (because I like the singing bits); and Lydia Monk’s No More Eee Orrh!

TRT: There are teaching ideas listed at the back of My Colourful Chameleon for teachers, schools and parents to use. Could you suggest any further ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
LR: I have lots of ideas about this and hopefully I will have time to put some more up on my site at some point. For starters, I would use this book in the classroom as an introduction to rhyme and colours. It would also be good as a starter text that could lead onto a non-fiction topic where children could find out about the features of both non-fiction texts and about real chameleons.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your book to teachers for them to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
LR: A funny tale that is useful for the introduction of colour language and in heping children to name the different rooms of the house.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
LR: The easiest way to contact me would be via the contact form on my webpage https://leonieroberts.com/ – I would love to hear from you!

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember any authors ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
LR: I can’t remember any authors having visited my school but I can remember one particular teacher who used to read amazing stories to the whole school during assembly times.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
LR: I learnt how to Salsa dance whilst living abroad.


🎉 Giveaway! 🎉

I am pleased to say that I have been sent an extra copy of My Colourful Chameleon and therefore I will be giving it away!

Retweet this tweet and follow @MrEPrimary and @leonierobertsuk to win!


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Huge thanks to Leonie for choosing to visit The Reader Teacher on her blog tour and for sending me a copy (or two!) of My Colourful Chameleon!

My Colourful Chameleon is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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