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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Review: Giant – Kate Scott (Illustrated by Alexandra Gunn)

‘A totally transformative tale to read, and read aloud, to help readers truly think and feel what it’s like to be others.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Giant
Author: Kate Scott (@KateScottWriter)
Illustrator: Alexandra Gunn (@LexiGunn)
Publisher: Piccadilly Press (@PiccadillyPress)
Page count: 192
Date of publication: 9th February 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1848125643

Perfect for Year 4 & 5 (& comic book fans).

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Charismatic ☺️
2. Empowering 💪
3. Feel-good 😃


I’m Anzo.

In case you don’t know, in ancient German Anzo means ‘giant’.<br<br<br
iant.

Things need to change. And that means growing taller. Because if I can grow as tall as the rest of my family, I might feel more like one of them.

EXTRAORDINARY. NOT ORDINARY. 

Read a sample of Giant’s first chapter – It Does Not Start Well here:


The first line:
Mum and Dad probably didn’t mean to land me in trouble as soon as I was born.


If you search for Giant to purchase or read reviews about it, you’ll find it’s often accompanied by the phrase ‘A feel-good story children’s book about growing up and being yourself.’

But to me, it’s even more than that.

We meet Anzo at the beginning: an overlooked despondent, reticent Year 6 boy harboured by his own experiences of home and school life, in which he’s often ignored or teased or both. Throughout the story, however, we discover Anzo’s inner voice and uncover his true passions, what makes him tick and what makes him him. By the end, fittingly, he’s grown both literally and figuratively in every sense of the word.

And that’s just Anzo.

Wait until you meet his usually erratic and rambunctious family – Mum, Dad, Uncle Talbert and Uncle Miles – who are more invested in restoring their house for their new restaurant (which explains a lot as to why Anzo initially feels the way he does) than recognising Anzo and his achievements. Fortunately for them, they realise what they’ve been missing out on just in time.

As for his best friend Elise (an old-head-on-young-shoulders), she is the friend we all wish to have and what we all need. A future therapist, she’s read every book, manual and how-to-guide cover-to-cover on modern psychology and subsequently instils Anzo in to the now very much current way of The Power of Positive Thinking. This, however, can only help him so far…

Readers, particularly of older primary school ages, may identify and relate to some of Anzo’s experiences of being teased at school and generally just not quite ‘fitting in’.  But they will definitely connect to Anzo (like I did!) and learn that life is not necessarily about fitting in but finding your own way and in fact, sometimes, standing out. Standing out for the right reasons in acknowledging and nurturing what you already have, not what you want or in this case, what you think or wish you want.

Giant packs in big, strong, heartfelt messages in sincere, thought-provoking paragraphs as a result of Kate’s eloquent, touching and poignant style of writing which will be welcomed in classrooms, schools and homes across the country.

Kate’s writing is also complemented and visually characterised by comic-book style illustrations from Alexandra Gunn, that will greatly appeal to readers in which we peer into’s Anzo imagination where he takes inspiration from his real-life everyday battles with bullies, using these experiences as a form of escapism in to the cartoon world through the character of Giant.

If I were to sum Giant up, it’s such a refreshingly charismatic read that promotes empathy, confidence-building and overcoming insecurities so well. It will have you really feeling deeply for Anzo (some of the time); laughing out loud (most of the time); and will really prove that good things do come in small – and tall – packages (all of the time!).

A totally transformative tale to read, and read aloud, to help readers truly think and feel what it’s like to be others.

If you want to help to not only teach but to also nurture the morals, values and emotions of the children in your class, then I highly recommend that you read this book to them.

Thank you to the lovely Kate Scott for sending me a copy of Giant to review.

Look out for ‘Just Jack‘, her next offering, being published on 5th April 2018.


Mr E📚

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Did you enjoy reading Giant as much as me?
Can you describe it using #3Words3Emojis?
Will you be pre-ordering ‘Just Jack’?

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Review: The House with Chicken Legs – Sophie Anderson (Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón)

‘Like a snowflake floating on the breeze…a glistening gem of a story with an air of elegance, beauty and fragility.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The House with Chicken Legs
Author: Sophie Anderson (@sophieinspace)
Illustrator (Cover): Melissa Castrillón (@mv_castrillon)
Publisher: Usborne (@Usborne)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 5th April 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1474940665

Perfect for Year 5, 6 & 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Beautiful 😍
2. Magical ✨
3. Heartfelt 💖


“Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. 

For Marinka’s grandmother is Baba Yaga, who guides spirits between this world and the next. Marinka longs to change her destiny and sets out to break free from her grandmother’s footsteps, but her house has other ideas…”

To read the first chapter of the book, Prologue – click here


The first line:

My house has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we’ve been living.


A little while back, I was scrolling through my feed on Twitter looking for books coming out in 2018 and the one that I kept returning to was this one, The House with Chicken Legs. Was it the sight of the cover, the talk of the plot or the glowing reviews from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Peter Bunzl and Claire Fayers that kept making me come back? OK, I’ll admit it. It was all of these things but most of all, it was the title.

1. How could you choose to not read a book called ‘The House with Chicken Legs’?
2. How could you not be both fascinated and the slightest bit intrigued by what was to come?

Therefore, I just knew that I HAD to read it. Big thanks to Sophie Anderson and the lovely people at Usborne (@AnnaHoworth), for sending me a copy to read and so started this website!

The House with Chicken Legs is steeped in Russian folklore in the form of a Baba Yaga mythical retelling. You may think ‘Oh, just another retelling…’ but let me assure you, that this reimagining take on this tale is absolutely something else.

How would you feel if your house got to choose where you live?
How would you feel if your house decided who you met and became friends with?
How would you feel if you had great responsibility bestowed upon you but you wanted – no, needed – to choose your own destiny?

Along the way, Marinka, the House and her trusted jackdaw, Jack meet: life – Benjamin, Benji, Salma, Lamya; death – Nina, Serina, The Old Man and his Wife; and Yaga – Baba Yaga, Old Yaga and plenty of other Yagas; to try to work out the answers to these life-changing questions.

And we haven’t even yet spoken of the House. Well what can I say? The House is larger than life with an even bigger heart; personified perfectly with oodles of charm and charisma but also tinged with a loveable rawness and roughness around the edges that’ll have you yearning and pining deeply for it. Marinka is the right kind of heroine for this story but the House is just as much as a hero for me.

The more you read on, the more Marinka will have you wanting to join her on her journey of self-discovery, fate, companionship, loyalty and affinity where houses walk (and run!); where the dead talk; and where life, death and Yaga come together in a superbly crafted story.

Sophie’s use of language is packed full of rich and vivid imagery which ensures that the words leap and dance off the page effortlessly in to the reader’s mind creating stunning worlds of magic and adventure. This is further complemented by her utterly beautiful style of writing and divine choice of vocabulary (e.g. ‘nebulous‘, ‘tendrils‘ and ‘balustrade‘ to name but a few!), which is perfect for logophiles like many teachers and I who want to introduce a broader range of vocabulary to children.

By the end, like I was, you’ll be trying your best to hold on and not say goodbye to these characters and this stunning story. But you’ll also learn some Russian; some chemistry (I loved the mentions of compounds combining to make fireworks and scientists like Rosalind Franklin); wonder why you haven’t experienced a Yaga party before and you’ll certainly want your own House with Chicken Legs after this… I know that I do.

It’s like a snowflake floating on the breeze… a glistening gem of a story with an air of elegance, beauty and fragility.

One that needs to be in your hands as a teacher and in the hands of your class. Unmissable. I adored and devoured every single word.

A purely magical debut and an absolute must-read for 2018.

Out 5th April 2018!

The House with Chicken Legs is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.


If you can’t wait to hear from Sophie for that long, she’ll be joining The Reader Teacher for a Q&A very soon!

If you have a question you would like to ask Sophie, please click here!


Mr E
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Have you been lucky enough to read the book already?
Can you describe it using #3Words3Emojis?
Will you pre-order the book to read?

Message me. Tweet me. Email me. Reply to me in the comments below…