Blog Tour (Review): The Titanic Detective Agency – Lindsay Littleson

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‘With TTDA, we (finally!) have a Titanic text so worthy that it should be used widely in classrooms and schools across the country… a first-class children’s historical novel.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Titanic Detective Agency
Author: Lindsay Littleson (@ljlittleson)
Publisher: Cranachan (@cranachanbooks)
Page count: 204
Date of publication: 9th April 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911279440

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Titanic 🚢
2. Detective 🔍
3. Key 🗝️


Unlock the secrets of the unsinkable ship…

Bertha Watt, tree-climber and would-be polar explorer, is excited to be on RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage, as she leaves Aberdeen behind for the glamour of a new life in America.

But Bertha quickly realises that some passengers are behaving strangely, and she determines to unravel their secrets.

With new friend, Madge, Bertha sets up her own detective agency to try and solve the mysteries onboard, but they have no idea that disaster is looming for Titanic.

Can they help Johan find the hidden treasure and unmask the identity of the enigmatic Mr Hoffman before time runs out on the ‘unsinkable’ ship?


Review: From the first chapter, as the steam whistles blast, the engines roar and the ship of all ships sets sail for New York, we are immediately transported back to a time before modern technology and invited on board to the wonder that is the Titanic and its maiden voyage. We all know the tragic fate of this apparently ‘unsinkable’ vessel but do we know the whole story…?

Looking at the passengers and surroundings around her, Bertha Watt – who fancies herself more as a polar explorer rather than that of the prim and proper young lady she pretends to be to fit in with her 2nd Class co-passengers – soon becomes bored and begins to notice that the people joining her on this epic journey away from hometown Aberdeen and mainland Britain may not be all as they seem to be.

Finding a new friend in an unlikely situation, Bertha and new friend, Madge create their very own detective agency (The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency) to dig deeper in to the mysteries of the masses, firstly beginning with maybe-murderer(?) Mr Hoffman. Like Daisy and Hazel from A Murder Most Unladylike meeting Poirot, this detective agency has sharp thinking, super sleuthing and more than a dash of speaking Français to assist them in their onboard investigations.

However, these soon take on a different course once Bertha meets Johan – a Swedish boy on board who has little money to his name; constantly feels seasick and struggles to converse as he speaks barely any English whilst Bertha speaks barely any Swedish. Nevertheless the two manage to communicate and communicate they must as Johan holds in his hands a treasure map and (quite literally!) the key that could unravel the most mysterious mystery of all. But with the threat of danger looming… will they crack the case before the clock counts down on the biggest nautical disaster of all time?

It is so refreshing to see a book recently written that is based on the real-life people who experienced these events and emanates with well-researched historical facts and information not just from what is widely known of the Titanic such as the class divides but also the more minor details that are often overlooked or missed entirely including the staggering humiliation of the medical examinations for third-class passengers and the recognition of the difficulties in communication for those foreign passengers on board. I am fascinated by the history of this ship having been to the museum in Southampton myself but the quality of this book is guaranteed to spurn children (and adults) to take a vested interest to learn more about it themselves.

With The Titanic Detective Agency, Lindsay has created a text so worthy to complement further learning about The Queen of the Ocean (finally – said with a great big sigh of relief!) that this first-class children’s novel should be used widely by Key Stage 2 teachers in classrooms and schools across the country.


‘With TTDA, we (finally!) have a Titanic text so worthy that it should be used widely in classrooms and schools across the country… a first-class children’s historical novel.’


Big thanks to Kelly, Lindsay and all the team at Cranachan for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Titanic Detective Agency blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of The Titanic Detective Agency blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Lindsay and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Middler – Kirsty Applebaum (Illustrated by Matt Saunders)

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‘With moments of family dynamics, a war quietly raging and undertones of an almost middle-grade Hunger Games meeting Stig of the Dump, this dystopian debut is without doubt one of the books of the year.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Middler
Author: Kirsty Applebaum (@KirstyApplebaum)
Cover artwork: Matt Saunders (@msaunders_ink)
Cover typography: Joel Holland
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 4th April 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788003452

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Middler 👧
2. Eldest 👴
3. Youngest 👶


Maggie is a middle child, overlooked and unheard. Beyond her town’s boundary, the Quiet War rages and the dirty, dangerous wanderers roam. Then Maggie meets Una, a hungry wanderer girl in need of help, and everything she’s ever known gets turned on her head…

An absorbing, quietly menacing story of forbidden friendship, loyalty and betrayal, beautifully told.


Review: Entrenched in her own world and feeling ever more discontented, Maggie, or Maggie-middler as she’s more ‘affectionately’ known and seen by her peers and teachers, is stuck. Stuck between being the eldest or the youngest. Stuck between being overlooked and under-heard. Stuck in the middle.

That’s because in the town of Fennis Wick where she lives, the eldest children are the special ones. The chosen ones. Always the chosen ones to win prizes, to be clapped at, to have their portraits painted or to have parties. Or so she believes. But they’re also chosen for something else. Something that’s quietly raging beyond the boundaries of Fennis Wick and something that Maggie knows very little about…

Always quietly questioning and fighting to make her own name for herself, Maggie makes an encounter of a different kind. Hearing that there’s a tribe of people – named ‘wanderers’ and thought of as dirty, deceitful and dangerous – who are as disconnected from society almost as much as Maggie is, she begins to form a forbidden friendship with Una, one of these so-called outsiders who’s been watching her. As her eyes begin to open to the world around her and truths and twists are revealed, this tale proves to be far more than it appears to be on the surface.

Told through the distinctive voice and sometimes-dark perspectives of Maggie, this deeply-atmospheric story within its sinister setting carries with it undertones, a family dynamic and moments of an almost middle-grade Hunger Games meeting Stig of the Dump.

This debut is more than a mystery. It’s more than a thriller. It lingers and lurks in the memory so uniquely, it’s like nothing you’ve read before and nothing you’ll read again and for me, it’s without doubt one of the books of the year.


‘With moments of family dynamics, a war quietly raging and undertones of an almost middle-grade Hunger Games meeting Stig of the Dump, this dystopian debut is without doubt one of the books of the year.’


Author Q&A: Kirsty Applebaum with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

2xvI2k85_400x400.pngI’m delighted to welcome Kirsty to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about The Middler, her reading and writing influences and using her book in the classroom with a link to teacher resources!

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe The Middler?
KA: 1. atmospheric ⛈ 2. voice-driven 👄 3. thought provoking 🤔

TRT: What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The Middler?

KA: There are so many things I could say here – but I’ll just pick out a few. The place where I grew up influenced the setting immeasurably. It’s called Oliver’s Battery, and it’s only a short walk from meadows and butterfly fields just like the ones in The Middler. Sting’s beautiful song Fields of Gold provided the soundtrack – I listened to it whenever I needed to sink myself back into Maggie’s world. John Yorke’s book Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them enabled me to shape my ideas into a readable story. And so many great novels inspired me, for example: Z for Zachariah (Robert C. O’Brien) with its wonderful close narrative; The Testament of Yves Gundron (Emily Barton) with its isolated setting; We (Yevgeny Zamyatin) with its gripping dystopian plot. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there!

TRT: What was the most enjoyable part of writing The Middler?

KA: The moment I decided to re-write it from a middle child’s point of view. It wasn’t really working up until that point – then suddenly I had a new title, a catchy concept and the four opening lines, all in an instant. I got the physical tingle of excitement I get when I think my writing’s going to work out.

TRT: Are you an eldest, middler or youngest? And can you ear-wiggle yourself?

KA: I’m a youngest – I have one older sister. I can’t ear-wiggle yet because I haven’t had enough discipline to teach myself. It’s on my to-do list.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The Middler, who would it be and why?

KA: Maggie. She’s 100% based on me, entirely deliberately. But she grows in confidence & bravery a lot quicker than I did.

Reading and Writing (4)

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

KA: As an adult, I started writing after reading stories to my own children – I got that excited tingle as I read them, and thought I could do this. And yes, I did enjoy writing at school. My friends and I used to write about the characters we’d seen in films. I remember thinking up lots of stories about flying monkeys after I’d watched The Wizard of Oz.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?

KA: Starting a book is usually the most energising for me. That exciting period of time when I have the image of a perfect, atmospheric novel pictured in my mind and I’m writing the scenes that just flow from my head, rather than the ones that have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. I love writing the second draft too – tightening everything up so that the story hangs together better. The exhausting part is getting through the middle of the first draft – the sticky middle is definitely a real thing. I usually tackle it by re-reading books on the technicalities of plotting, and gradually the story begins to find its way.

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?

Sadly, we didn’t have authors come to school. But I did once go to a Puffin Club event where I met the author of the Gumdrop stories. Gumdrop was a vintage car and the author was the awesomely named Val Biro. He signed my book. I treasured it.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today? What are you reading, if you are reading any children’s (or adult’s) literature at the moment?

It was great to see funny children’s literature being celebrated at the Lollies (the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) in February. I love a book that makes me laugh. As children my sister and I nagged our grandmother to read us Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator over and over again, never ceasing to find it hilarious. And with my own children some of our funniest favourites were Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens series and Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum. A couple of years ago my neighbour’s son lent me Pamela Butchart’s Baby Aliens Got My Teacher! and I fell in love with funny all over again. And I’m reading a funny book right now – Lissa Evan’s Wed Wabbit. ‘Don’t laugh,’ says the strapline. ‘He’s dangerous.’ 😆😂😄

The Middler and Teaching (3)

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers and school staff that will read this?  

KA: The Middler is suited to pupils aged nine and over, particularly for teaching literacy and writing skills, and for PSHE debate. Nosy Crow have developed an excellent KS2 teaching resource pack with extracts, discussion questions and lesson plans – you can find it at nosycrow.com or on my website www.kirstyapplebaum.co.uk.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ The Middler in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?

KA: The Middler tells the story of Maggie, a middle child living in an isolated community where only the eldest children are special. It’s a gripping novel of forbidden friendship, loyalty and betrayal set in a near future world, covering themes of self-doubt, freedom, belonging and lies.

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?

KA: You can contact me via my website (kirstyapplebaum.co.uk) or Twitter (@KirstyApplebaum).

Two more before you go (2)!

TRT: What has an interviewer or blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?

KA: What is your favourite word? (It’s spoon. Best word ever.)

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?

KA: I have grade three euphonium.

One last one… (1)!

TRT: Do you have a question you would like to ask the readers of The Reader Teacher?

KA: Do you think being a youngest, middle, eldest or single child makes a difference to how you feel and act?


Big thanks to Clare, Kirsty and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Middler blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Kirsty for answering my questions!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of The Middler blog tour for more reviews & exclusive Q&As and guest posts from Kirsty and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Great Animal Escapade – Jane Kerr (Illustrated by Alexis Snell)

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‘Returning to this follow-up is like revisiting an old friend again…  with brilliantly-executed twists, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Great Animal Escapade
Author: Jane Kerr (@janekerrwrites)
Cover illustration: Alexis Snell
Cover design: Steve Wells
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: Second in The Elephant Thief series
ISBN: 978-1911490340

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Maharajah 🐘
2. Escape 🏃
3. Father? 👨


Working at Belle Vue Zoo is life-changing for Danny. Once, he lived on the streets, pick-pocketing to survive. Now he has a new family and a new job – caring for a zoo of exotic creatures, including the famous elephant, Maharajah. But when animals start escaping, Danny is the prime suspect: after all, everyone knows he used to be a thief. And when a man turns up claiming to be his real father, the plot thickens.

Can Danny untangle the mystery of the animal escapade – and find out where he really belongs – or will his wonderful new life also disappear?


Review: When it was published back in 2017 The Elephant Thief soon became a stand-out story for me, so going back to it with the sequel in The Great Animal Escapade – with its returning cast of characters and follow-up story – is like revisiting an old friend again.

This time, we rejoin a different Danny. One with a new family and a new job –  and a new life entirely from what he was used to on the streets of the first story. Working in Belle Vue Zoo, under the ownership of the Jamesons, you’d think Danny would have settled in to working life and all remnants of his previous life would have been soon forgotten. But think again! As his old life soon catches up with him when the animals start to mysteriously escape from their enclosures and all hell starts to break loose. Especially when Mr Jameson had plans in place to host the grandest of spectacles, a show featuring his most prized possessions and attractions – including the most famous of all, Maharajah.

Suspicion mounts and the finger ends up slowly being pointing towards Danny due to his background and his past life. But surely this level of sabotage can’t all be down to him… As word gathers pace, the zoo’s critics’ voices get even louder in their campaign in their threats to close it and even more animals escape, is the future of the zoo at stake?

With all this happening, Danny’s life is changing for the worse but with the appearance of a man claiming to be his father: will it start to get better and does Danny find that long-lost sense of belonging he has always craved?

Try as he might – and some may call him fearless; others audacious – Mr Jameson puts up the only fight he can to relent the oncoming fracas the best he can, still scheduling his plans for his show of all shows but will the show go on…?

There are important messages throughout this epic adventure of good-versus-evil: the rights of animals and the place of zoos in historical and modern society being the main one that will make the reader think more deeply. But in Danny, there is a much more pressing message in that care and love goes further than anyone can imagine.

With superbly-executed twists along the way, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.

It is so interesting and insightful to read Jane’s author note (and lucky for you, this is the theme of Jane’s guest post below!) in the back of the book which details the fact behind the fiction and the real-life stories of the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Manchester and Maharajah which inspired the idea for this book and its predecessor. Although this book is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone knowing that Danny has been saved from the streets. However, if you really want to maximise the potential of this story and become immersed in the quality of Jane’s writing, I fully recommend reading The Elephant Thief in all its glory.

‘Returning to this follow-up is like revisiting an old friend again…  with brilliantly-executed twists, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.’


You can read more about them, or as Jane calls them: the Disneyland of the North, as I’m delighted to welcome Jane to The Reader Teacher today with her beautifully-written guest post below…


Belle Vue: Disneyland of the North

Known as the Disneyland of the north, Belle Vue Zoological Gardens attracted more than two million visitors a year. And yet today, the only sign that it ever existed is a commemorative plaque at the spot where the entrance once stood.

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A Belle Vue programme cover  (Courtesy of Chetham’s Library)

Belle Vue began life in the 1830s as a small tea garden but the owner John Jennison had big ambitions. As well as an aviary of parrots, he introduced kangaroos, a rhino, a couple of lions, a bear and some gazelles. And then in 1872, he bought an elephant: Maharajah.

Over the next ten years, Maharajah became one of Belle Vue’s best-loved animals, giving rides to thousands of children, and taking part in city parades. He’s also the undisputed star of my books: The Elephant Thief and the latest adventure, The Great Animal Escapade.

 

But just like my fictional Belle Vue, the real park boasted many other attractions. The Jennison family built a maze, a dance hall, an archery field, several tearooms, Italian gardens and even a platform for hot air ballooning.

One of the annual highlights was a summer show staged on the island in the middle of Belle Vue’s boating lake. Local men – paid in pies and beer – were enlisted to play soldiers and act out scenes from historic battles.

Huge painted canvases formed the backdrop to these dramatic performances, while overhead, rockets and firecrackers coloured the sky.

But the displays were not without danger. Almost every night, the wooden stage caught fire and on one occasion in 1883, flames broke out on the island destroying half the painted scenery – a drama that provided inspiration for The Great Animal Escapade.

It didn’t stop people from coming. Such was Belle Vue’s success, that Jenison launched his own omnibus service to transport visitors to and from the park, and a rail service ran to the nearby station every half hour.

But the gardens were not popular with everyone. Local church leaders demanded Jennison stop business during Sunday services. His blunt reply was ‘I’m like you: I make my living on Sundays.’ They didn’t bother him after that.

The Jennison era ended in 1925 when the family finally sold the park. It was taken over by a businessman called John Henry Iles. He expanded Belle Vue, adding a rollercoaster and speedway track, as well as welcoming big-names like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

But times were changing for the menagerie. As well as increased competition from other, more modern zoos, there were growing – and justified – concerns about animal welfare and conservation.

With little investment, Belle Vue was simply not able to keep up with the new thinking, and after 140 years in business, the zoo closed in 1977. Within four years, the other attractions had shut down as well.

Now, all that remains are memories “…of the most magical, marvellous and mesmerising zoological gardens on this great earth!”

THE GREAT ANIMAL ESCAPADE by Jane Kerr is out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and connect with Jane on Twitter:  @janekerrwrites


Big thanks to Jane, Laura and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the The Great Animal Escapade blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Jane for writing such a brilliant and interesting guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Great Animal Escapade blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Jane and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): She Wolf – Dan Smith (Illustrated by Jill Calder)

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‘With She Wolf, Dan succeeds in turning his hand to historical fiction once more. Both ravaging and raw… this should be top of the pile for teachers and schools learning more about Viking England.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: She Wolf
Author: Dan Smith (@DanSmithAuthor)
Cover illustration: Jill Calder (@jillcalder)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 320
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910655931

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Bow-and-arrow 🏹
2. Shield-maiden 🛡️
3. Revenge 😠


Northumbria 866.
Washed ashore on a frozen English beach, Ylva’s survived. She will not cry. She’s meant to be strong. She’s a Viking.

But when her mother dies at the hands of a three-fingered man, and the wolves of the forest circle closer, Ylva will need more than the memory of her mother’s stories to stay alive. Can she shape her own legend? Will it end in revenge – or is there another way?


Review:

With an opening where we encounter Ylva (eel-va), our bold and brave protagonist, left reeling and reacting in a state of shock after the murder of the mother to a terrifying figure and a mysterious woman who’s wearing her mother’s necklace, She Wolf starts as it means to go on. With revenge in mind, Ylva sets off on the most bloodthirsty of tasks: to kill the man who killed her mother. The three-fingered murderer.

Together with her dog, Geri – her loyal and trustworthy companion who sticks by her side through thick and thin – Ylva treads through the treacherous, frozen lands of Northern England in her plight to avenge her mother’s death. What we learn throughout Ylva’s very own saga is that she is most definitely her mother’s daughter. Gutsy, headstrong and staunchly independent, she is on a one-girl mission and nothing is going to stop her. But the journey is not easy and the weather is constant; biting and freezing and everybody is not as friendly as they first seem either…

Will Ylva survive or will she fall at the hands of the very same people that murdered her mother?

Fighting off foes and holding her belief in the gods close to her heart, this quest is more than a quest for Ylva. It’s character building and courage-forming. And for the reader, it’s both a ravaging and raw look at Viking life and what it would have been like to live during these harsh and historical of times. With descriptions of the wilderness that surround Ylva that arouse all of the senses, Dan has a canny knack for transporting us deep in to the heart of his settings: this time in amongst the trees to experience her epic, dangerous and sometimes, violent (although not overly graphic) journey first-hand.

Dan is the master of all-action, heart-pounding, breathless books and for me, She Wolf achieves this in spades. With She Wolf, he succeeds again (after the success of My Friend the Enemy and My Brother’s Secret) in turning his hand to historical fiction once more, leaving readers demanding more and more. This should be top of the pile for any teachers and schools learning more about the history of Viking England.

‘With She Wolf, Dan succeeds in turning his hand to historical fiction once more. Both ravaging and raw… this should be top of the pile for teachers and schools learning more about Viking England.’


Read on for Dan’s guest post of how a question from a young girl at a school event inspired the creation of Ylva… I’m delighted to be hosting him at The Reader Teacher.


Shield-Maiden – No Myth!

A couple of years ago, during the Q&A after a presentation at a school, a young girl at the front of the audience put up her hand to ask a question.

‘Have you ever written a story with a girl as the main character?’

Before SHE WOLF, I published five books for younger readers. Those books take readers through the hardships of World War II, they send them hunting in the forests of Finland, racing through the jungles of Costa Rica, and investigating a mystery in the icy wastes of Antarctica. All but one of those books (the one based on a film I didn’t write) have two main characters; a boy and girl. It made sense to me, having both a son and a daughter, that I would want both of my own children to be able to see themselves in one of those characters. But it would be fair to say that, yes, the boy was usually the main main character.

So I decided to change that. My next story would have a girl as the main character. But, when we think about Vikings, we think about large, bearded, menacing men with swords and axes, so how was I going to do that? Well, maybe it’s time to change our thinking; while researching the Viking Age, I discovered that women were an important part of Viking society. They had many rights and freedoms that the Christian women in the countries they invaded didn’t have. And when the Vikings eventually became Christians, those women lost their freedoms.

But what about warriors? Were there any female Viking warriors? I wanted my main character, Ylva, to be fierce like a wolf. I wanted her to feel comfortable with an axe in her hand. She should know how to swing a blade, and not be afraid of a little blood. Ylva needed to be a warrior.

In several of the Viking sagas – epic poems about great Viking heroes – there is mention of female warriors, known as ‘shield maidens’ but until recently, historians thought these were a myth. They believed that Viking raiders were all men; that women were not strong enough, or brave enough, or fierce enough to have joined the raiding parties that ventured over the seas.

In 1889 a Viking grave was excavated in Sweden, containing the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, and two sacrificed horses. Known as the ‘Birka Warrior’, archaeologists believed this to be the grave of a wealthy, famous male warrior. But during the 1970’s, and again in 2016, close analysis led bioarchaeologists to believe that the remains of the Birka Warrior might actually belong to a woman. In 2017, a team of scientists, led by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, carried out genetic tests on the remains and discovered that the Birka Warrior was a woman. A shield maiden.

And that’s what Ylva wants to be. 

So my Viking hero is no bearded giant. Instead, she is a brave and resourceful girl with an axe in her hand and revenge burning in her heart. Dan-Smith.jpg

Who says girls can’t be tough?

SHE WOLF by Dan Smith is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and www.dansmithsbooks.com

Connect with Dan Smith on Twitter: @DanSmithAuthor


Big thanks to Dan, Laura and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the She Wolf blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Dan for writing such a superb and insightful guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the She Wolf blog tour for more reviews, exclusive guest posts from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): A Witch Come True – James Nicol (Illustrated by Daniela Terrazini)

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‘Fizzing with magic…
this is a trilogy to treasure of which James conjures to an end so exquisitely.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: A Witch Come True
Author: James Nicol (@JamesENicol)
Cover illustration: Daniela Terrazini (@djterrazzini)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: Final book in the trilogy
ISBN: 978-1910655986

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Magic ✨
2. HotChocolate ☕
3. Witch 🧙‍♀️


The war is done and Arianwyn has discovered the secret of the quiet glyphs at last, but her troubles are far from over. Her day-to-day work as Lull’s witch is tricky enough: winter has set in, bringing endless rain, ice imps and some rather befuddling Yule traditions. But when enemies and dark magic converge on Lull, stealing away someone very dear indeed, our witch faces her greatest challenge so far. What really makes a witch come true? Our loveable heroine is about to find out…


Review: Saying goodbye to a series you’ve enjoyed can be hard but saying goodbye to a series of books you’ve thoroughly endeared is harder still. When James released the first book in the trilogy, The Apprentice Witch, back in 2016, it was almost obvious to see that this was going to be such a triumph of a series and with each book that has followed, it has been, for me, better than the last and that only says something about the quality of his purely exquisite and wonderful writing.

With the third terrific instalment of Arianwyn’s adventures in A Witch Come True, we find her after the war and hoping that her life can return to normal where she’s able to learn the truths of the quiet glyphs at last. With family reunions and Christmas on its way, it seems that life in Lull could rebalance itself for Arianwyn in the right way. However, dark magic doesn’t lie low for long before resurfacing in to her life once again and causing her one of the greatest challenges she’ll face so far. Can she save the inhabitants of Lull, her family and herself before its too late…?

If you haven’t yet read The Apprentice Witch or A Witch Alone, I suggest you get right to it because this is a trilogy to treasure. Fizzing with magic and a dash of mayhem, this series sparkles with sheer delight and is not just ‘another series of books about magic’ but is a trilogy that you can’t help but fall under its spell and take them so close to your heart with a cast of characters you really care about and most of all, a hearty and hopeful heroine who is sure to live long with readers well after the last page.

A mug of hot chocolate is the perfect complement and the most fitting of accompaniments to the end of this series which James conjures to a close so perfectly. It’s little wonder that James has recently received offers to bring The Apprentice Witch series to our screens and of that, we are all eagerly awaiting it!


‘Fizzing with magic…
this is a trilogy to treasure of which James conjures to an end so exquisitely.’


Big thanks to James, Jazz and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts and bring the A Witch Come True blog tour to a close too and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the A Witch Come True blog tour for more reviews, exclusive guest posts and Q&As from these collection of brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): The Boy Who Flew – Fleur Hitchcock (Illustrated by Ben Mantle)

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‘A dangerously, dark, Dickensian romp through the backstreets, and rooftops, of Bath that never lets you go… Fleur’s first foray into fantasy passes with flying colours!’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Boy Who Flew
Author: Fleur Hitchcock (@FleurHitchcock)
Cover illustration: Ben Mantle (@benmmantle)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788004381

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Flying ✈️
2. Invention ⚙️
3. Murder ☠️


When his friend, Mr Chen, is murdered, Athan Wilde must stop the flying machine they were building from falling into the wrong hands. But keeping the machine safe puts his family in terrible danger. Athan faces a dreadful choice – flight or family? Which one will he pick?

A tense, grime-filled thriller from a master storyteller.


Review:

As this tale begins to rapidly unfold, we are first introduced to the backstreets of Bath where the shadows swathe the streets in darkness swallowing all of the light and where we soon enter a murky world of mystery and murder…

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Hidden away are Athan Wilde, our young protagonist, and his inventor friend, Mr Chen who are busy at work creating their latest contraptions. Most recently, that being a flying machine. For Athan – who dreams of taking to the skies – Mr Chen is the man who can turn imagination into idea and aspiration into actuality. However, Athan’s dreams are all but diminished upon hearing that his great friend has been brutally murdered in his own home. Fearing the worst and that all of their inventions and well-kept secrets could be revealed, Athan soon finds it falling to him to rescue their plans and plot a way forward for their dream of flying, now his dream, to survive.

But there’s more than many a ruthless and sinister villain who will stop at nothing to thwart Athan’s ambition, especially when there’s a competition prize of 10,000 guineas at stake. Hold on to your hats for a dangerously, dark, Dickensian romp through the backstreets, and rooftops, of Bath to join Athan on his adventures of aviation. Warts and all…

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Even though Athan is living a life that’s shrouded in poverty, destitution and hardship, this book is filled with the power of family and friendship – complete with a frank, funny and farting Grandma who (for me) absolutely steals the show.

Engrossing, exciting and most of all, riveting are the words that I choose to use to describe this fast-paced, frenetic and unmissable tale that just will not let you go until the very last word of the very last page. I highly recommend The Boy Who Flew to Upper Key Stage 2 readers who enjoy stories told with intensity interwoven within an inventive, immersive world that you can’t help but be drawn into. Fleur’s first foray into fantasy passes with flying colours and The Boy Who Flew should be renamed The Book Who Flew because that’s what it’ll be doing… flying off the shelves!

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Big thanks to Fleur, Rebecca and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts and kick off The Boy Who Flew blog tour and for sending me early copies of the proof and finished versions in exchange for an honest review.

Mr E 


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Be sure to check out the rest of The Boy Who Flew blog tour this week for more reviews of this magnificent adventure that you don’t want to miss!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet – Martin Howard (Illustrated by Chris Mould)

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‘A fantastic fusion of the time travelling of Adams, the humour of Pratchett and the eccentricities of Stanton. Outlandishly good… this is imagination at its pure and absolute wildest!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet
Author: Martin Howard (@MJHowardWrites)
Illustrator: Chris Mould (@chrismouldink)
Publisher: Oxford University Press Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0192767509

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Cosmos 🌌
2. Atlas 🗺️
3.  Brains-in-Jars 🧠


Bored of the same old routine?
Longing for a bit of adventure in your life?
Love living life on the edge?
Then join Alfie Fleet and discover a whole universe of wonders (and things that are not so wonderful too, but we won’t go into that now).

From giant sand lobsters on planet Maureen and the Twang Bears of Mumsy, to the eerie (yet oddly quite boring) brains in jars on Brains-in-Jars World – there’s something for everyone. And if danger’s your thing you won’t want to miss Outlandish, with its gold-hoarding dragon, take-your-life-in-your-hands cuisine, and welcoming locals who’ll fire lightning bolts at you.

Thrills and adventure await, just hop on board the slightly old and rusty moped of infinity!


Review: After desperately needing some money and thinking that he’s in luck, Alfie Fleet (a poor, destitute young boy who lives with his mother in a ramshackle, run-down house) responds to an advert in the newspaper where he thinks he can make the extra £49.99 to add to his £100 to make his mother’s dreams come true to buy her the most wonderful of birthday presents: the Sole Sensation 6000 Foot Spa.

However (and it’s a common theme in this book), Alfie’s best-laid plans go slightly awry in meeting the man who he thinks will bestow him with this most needed of money. Meeting a professor might be a transformative experience for many but for Alfie it’s life-changing. Especially one who goes by the rather amusing name of Professor Bowell-Mouvemont and mark my words, there’s plenty more amusing names to come!

Taking Alfie on a tour where he experiences new dimensions, new worlds and new characters and creates a world for this book of its very own as Martin’s mind comes to life on these very pages through the incredible, inter-cosmological and inimitable illustrations of Chris Mould. As the professor reveals (rather hysterically!) that these new lands are often unmapped and undocumented, Alfie begins to articulate his adventures through his own version of the Cosmic Atlas. If you think you’ve seen one travel guide then you’ve seen them all, well think again because this ranges from the surreal to the sublime and will be a source of inspiration for its readers to create peculiar places of their own.

But as the Professor and Alfie are soon left to discover for themselves, the way back home may not be as simple as it first seemed. Can they return to give Alfie’s mum the present he thinks she’s always wanted or will they be trapped in this weird and wonderful world…?

It’s more than science-fiction or science-fantasy with every page taking you in a different direction and this is what makes it truly unique. Wacky, insanely inventive and heaps of fun, I can completely guarantee that this book will be lapped up by children (and adults!) who love laughing out loud due to its fantastic fusion of the time-travelling of Adams, the humour of Pratchett and the eccentricities of Stanton.

Forget the boundaries of space, forget the boundaries of time and forget the boundaries of imagination because this is outlandishly good. This is imagination at its pure and absolute wildest!


A fantastic fusion of the time travelling of Adams, the humour of Pratchett and the eccentricities of Stanton. Outlandishly good… this is imagination at its pure and absolute wildest!


What’s It All About, Eh?

If you are interested in the universe or anything in it then The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet is the book for you. Not only is it a proper science-fiction, fantasy, travel guide adventure, but it answers questions that have left science scratching its chin. Who could ask for more? As a taste of the surprises that await, The Reader Teachercan reveal just a few of those secrets. Glue your eyeballs to this screen for just a sample of that astonishing knowledge …

How Did Human Life on Earth Begin?

Let’s start with the BIG question. Some books tell you it all began with monkeys. Wrong! The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleetteaches us that stone circles brought humans to Earth. Yes, stone circles. You know, like Stonehenge. This is how it happened …

About a million years ago, a man named Partley Mildew invented stone circles on the planet Wip-Bop-a-Looma, starting a craze for inter-galactic travel. His circles had the power to send people across a bejillion miles of space in the blink of an eye, allowing humans to explore the universe. People loved them. Travelling to distant planets meant they could go swimming with Giggling MegaFish on planet Mip before breakfast then have lunch on the other side of the universe while their brains were spring-cleaned by friendly Limpation Cranium Toads. Soon, holiday companies were building bigger and bigger stone circles to cope with crowds of tourists. Across the universe, happy holiday-makers dipped their toes in the Sweat Sea on planet S’Panq, flapped across planet Win’span on homemade wings, or danced on Ominoss-Merkwerld, lit by swarms of multi-coloured discoflies.

Tourists first arrived on Earth about forty thousand years ago, and immediately described it as “delightful”. As the travel brochures said, “Comefor the fresh air, stayfor the mammoths.” Of course, these early tourists didn’t call the planet “Earth.” They called it “Toby”. Toby became a popular holiday destination, famous for its beaches and great restaurants. Some humans decided to make their home here, and also decided that Toby was a nice enough name for a boy but sounded silly on a planet. As there was a lot of earth on Toby, the planet’s new people took a vote and renamed their world “Earth.” Interestingly, the name “Chickens” came in second place.

Wow. Why Didn’t We Know About This?

As thousands more years went by tourism died off. Tobians, or “Earthlings” as they now called themselves, forgot they had cousins on other planets. They forgot what stone circles had been used for, too. “Hmm,’ historians thought to themselves. “These stone circles must have been important. Something to do with gods, I’ll bet.” It’s worth mentioning that if people don’t understand something, it’s often blamed on gods. Gods get quite cheesed off with this.

How Has this Incredible Secret Been Preserved?

Around the universe most folk had forgotten about the power of stone circles but one group remembered. They called their society the Unusual Cartography Club, and the members continued to travel the universe, mapping planets for their Cosmic Atlas: the finest collection of extra-terrestrial maps this side of Nerwong-Nerwong Plinky-Plonk.

That Sounds Like the Sort of Thing People Would Remember

Well, no. Not really. People forget important stuff all the time. Pyramids for example. If you think space travelling stone circles are weird, pyramids would reallyblow your mind. Plus, though the UCC wasn’t exactly a secretsociety its members got tired of people giving them funny looks. Try this simple experiment: next time you’re invited to a party, open a conversation by saying, “Hullo, I spent last week mapping planet Foopsie-Wigglefinger. They have pink ostriches with three bottoms there, you know.” Funny looks, right? And no more party invitations.  After a while the UCC’s explorers just stopped talking about their adventures.

Interesting. Tell Me More About This Unusual Cartography Club

It’s a club with a long history. At first, its members used Stonehenge to get around. Around two thousand years ago though, bits started falling off the ancient circle. Instead of repairing it, the UCC’s President – Dogstinkle the Crispy, who suffered from a bad leg in damp weather – decided to build a smaller circle, indoors where he would be out of the rain. More years went by and a city grew up around the new UCC headquarters. Empty fields became Wigless Square. Dogstinkle’s mud hut was demolished and replaced many times, most recently with a large mansion, now surrounded by other houses and Mr Hong’s Happy Dragon takeaway. A cavern was dug beneath the house and the circle moved onto a rotating platform. Invented by Medelaine Tusk, it made spinning the heavy stones to new co-ordinates much, mucheasier than shifting them about by hand.

The UCC’s mission of mapping the universe went on but the club lost members. Some got eaten by ghastly tentacled things, or blown up by unexpected volcanoes. Others just wandered off on worlds they liked better. Eventually, only one member of the UCC remained at Number Four, Wigless Square; one man in all the world who knew the power of stone circles: Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont. But the old UCC headquarters on Wigless Square was about to be demolished and the UCC’s maps, treasures and secrets destroyed forever.

No! What a Waste!

Woah there. All is not lost. Luckily, the Professor had a bad back and needed help with some light lifting and carrying. Enter Alfie Fleet – a boy with a destiny. Thanks to Alfie’s amazing brain-power, the old Unusual Cartography Club is about to change forever. Oh, and the entire universe, too. Sounds like fun? Well, read on. The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleetcontains further surprises about the universe, plus travel information about where to eat and stay on the planet of Outlandish, as well as stuff you did not know concerning elves, villainous scum hairdressers, Pulsating Swibs, and much, much more …

Enjoy! Or, as the Professor would say, “Who me? Ahh, what would I say? No, it’s gone. Forget my own … umm … thingy next. Something about prawns, was it?”

COMPETITION TIME: If you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading about strange planets and the weird people who live on them why not enter our competition? Design us a planet and Martin Howard and Chris Mould might help bring it to life so it can be included in book two of Alfie Fleet’s adventures! The winner’s planet will appear in the book and their name in the credits. They’ll also get a signed book, signed Chris Mould print of their planet and any other goodies we can lay our hands on. Probably chocolate. More details will be posted on Martin’s website soon: https://booksbymart.pub/


Big thanks to Martin, Emma and all the team at OUP Children’s for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet blog tour and for sending me early copies of the proof and finished versions in exchange for an honest review.

Extra thanks to Martin for writing his fascinating guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet blog tour with exclusive guest posts and reviews from all of these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Storm Hound – Claire Fayers (Illustrated by Becka Moor)

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‘Electrifying, exciting, entertaining and endearing, this melding of Norse mythology with the Celtic culture of Wales is a modern-day myth of its very own.’

Title: Storm Hound
Author: Claire Fayers (@ClaireFayers)
Illustrator: Becka Moor (@BeckaMoor)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 21st February 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1509895045

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Storm 🌩️
2. Odin 🛡️
3.  Hilarious 😁


Storm of Odin is the youngest stormhound of the Wild Hunt that haunts lightning-filled skies. He has longed for the time when he will be able to join his brothers and sisters but on his very first hunt he finds he can’t keep up and falls to earth, landing on the A40 just outside Abergavenny.

Enter twelve-year-old Jessica Price, who finds and adopts a cute puppy from an animal rescue centre. And suddenly, a number of strange people seem very interested in her and her new pet, Storm. People who seem to know a lot about magic…


Review:

As proud hound Storm of Odin leaps through the raging storm clouds as he joins in with The Wild Hunt, his first experience of this becomes rather short-lived as he crashes to Earth falling from the sky and finding himself face-to-face with a herdful of sheep in the wonderful world of Wales, which is as unexpected to him as the sheep that greet him; open-eyed and open-mouthed. It is within this early glimpse of Storm’s ever-so-slightly cheeky character that seemingly sets the scene for this warmhearted, magical and mythological story and things to come…

Lucky for him he is not left out in the wilderness for long as he becomes acquainted with new owner Jessie – a girl whose own heart doesn’t lie in Abergavenny either, after her parents’ separation and her own relocation to this new land. Thinking that a new dog will ease the pain, Jessie’s dad takes her to a rescue centre where she has the pick of the bunch. Jessie’s brother Ben wants the white dog but there’s something about Storm of Odin that catches her eye and she takes him under their wing and touchingly, she names him Storm.

As Storm starts to encounter many moments from our world, it is the most normal of events that become the most amusing: the meetings with the vet, the postman and the cat to name just a few! The observations and wit in Claire’s writing of these pooch-perspectives to show the mild madness in what most of us would consider to be the mundane and that the world according to dogs is a very different one to what we might perceive is comedy genius.

But wait! Action and adventure are soon abound in this tale as the pair are thrust together to navigate the danger that threatens to take over in the form of three mysterious wizards who are tracing a sign and who are searching for the position of this pup. With Jessie’s help, can Storm stay out of sight for long?

I can see this story going down a storm with readers because of its effervescent and charming main character; a supporting storyline that is as touching as it is triumphant and an author who respects the mythology that she mixes in but who too adds a sense of magic that makes this a modern-day myth of its very own.


The Invisible College

More than twenty sheep were grazing quietly when a silver car purred to a halt at the side of Ross Road just by the sign that said: Abergavenny 5.

Three men got out. They all looked quite identical – to a sheep, anyway. The first was tall and thin with grey hair the texture of wool caught in a bush. He stood gazing up and down the road, his hands in his pockets. One of his companions unfolded a map and laid it on the car bonnet. The third man produced a pair of metal sticks and began pacing up and down the grass slope by the road.

Several sheep strayed surreptitiously closer. The gentleman with the sticks paused mid-stride.

 ‘I don’t like the way the sheep are looking at us, Professor Utterby,’ he said. ‘They’re up to something.’

This is how we meet Professors Utterby, Nuffield and Ryston, the last three members of the Invisible College, a secret institution devoted to the dark arts.

I made up a lot of things in Storm Hound, but the Invisble College wasn’t one of them. It really existed – though it had nothing to do with the dark arts.

The college existed as an idea rather than a physical place. References to it date back to the 17th century, in particular by the chemist Robert Boyle. (It’s no accident that I made Professor Utterby a chemist). Little is known about it, but it appears to have been an informal group of like-minded thinkers who would meet to share knowledge and exchange ideas. The group split between London and Oxford, and in 1660 the group petitioned the King for formal status and the Invisble College became the Royal Society.

The notion of the Invisble College crops up in various guises, especially nowadays when online learning can take the place of buildings. In fiction, Pratchett had his Unseen University, of course. And BBC Radio 4 has an interested set of podcasts on creative writing called The Invisible College.
The link is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p053dm4v

I like to think that, after the creation of the Royal Society, a breakaway group of philosophers and magicians continued to meet in secret, delving further into the world of magic. The Invisible College has continued to this day, its numbers dwindling as magic faded, until only the three professors are left. But now, magic has returned to the world in the form of a fallen stormhound, and the three professors are ready to make themselves great again. Will they succeed? You’ll have to read the book to find out!


Big thanks to Claire, Karen and all at Macmillan for inviting me to take part in the Storm Hound blog tour and sending me a proof copy.

Extra thanks to Claire for writing her guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the Storm Hound blog tour for exclusive guest posts, reviews and giveaways!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post – Why I wrote about the child of an alcoholic in Will You Catch Me?): Will You Catch Me? – Jane Elson

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‘Jane’s writing exudes empathy where history and heart combine to make this story one that you should hold so close to your heart.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Will You Catch Me?
Author: Jane Elson (@JJELSON35)
Publisher: Hachette (@HachetteKids)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 9th August 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1444927788

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Heart 💓
2. Drink 🍷
3. History 👑


Most kids want adventures.
I just want normal.

Nell Hobs lives with a tortoise, two guinea pigs, two goldfish, two gerbils, a hamster and an assortment of beasts and bugs living in jam jars on her windowsill. She is proud to be the only naturalist on the Beckham Estate.

Caring for her family of animals is a good distraction from caring for her mum. But Nell knows her chaotic life can’t continue as it is. Nell needs a dad. So she hatches a plan with her best friend Michael: a way to make her dad step forward and catch her. But will she succeed?


Review: 

I have so much to say about this unforgettable, powerful and poignantly-written book. For many who read this book it will provide an insight in to a hidden problem. A hidden problem that children face today in our classrooms, our schools and our lives. But for some, this will be their lives. The life they’ve had to live, they’ve had to endure and for those, I hope this book is a kind of tribute to the suffering they have had to face as it acts as a stark reminder to everyone to be kind, compassionate and thoughtful to each other because sometimes we do not know the battles that other people are fighting.

As we are introduced to Nell Hobs who lives on the Beckham Estate, we discover that she is ever the natural naturalist who can’t help but adopt more animals to her mini-zoo that gets bigger each and every week with a new and additional animal appearing. But not only does she live with her mini-menagerie of animals but she lives with her mother. A mother who at first appears to be wanting to do all she can to please Nell that is until the ‘demon drink’ takes over. She’s an alcoholic. In a life surrounded by her mother’s empty promises, a home life that is way more erratic than anybody could imagine and the ever-present worry of her mother relapsing mean that Nell’s mental health is a constant source of agony and – rarely ever, ecstasy. For, whenever it is a feeling of happiness it’s nearly always short-lived and dripping with false hope.

This is why Nell starts out on her quest of soul-searching. She needs a dad. She needs some kind of stability. Someone to sort this mess out and someone to be her state of normal. But will she find the person that can catch her when she needs it most?

As she tries hard to balance school – of which with her chaotic life, she can’t help but always arrive late to – with bringing herself up, Nell takes some sort of solace in the community around her. Without her extended family, her neighbours and two teachers who are the shining light of Nell’s life, Nell would not be Nell. These people are her life; her crumbs of comfort, her lifeblood and when living with her mother becomes all too much: her escape route.

Then someone else comes in to her life. Unexpectedly at first, yet the more she appears, the more welcome she is. For that person is Nell Gwyn. Introduced at first by her history teacher, Nell’s namesake soon becomes the honorary ancestor and ally that she has been craving. Guiding her through her life, her imaginary historical friend is her inspiration. Can Nell help Nell on her journey to finding her father…? Readers will be in awe of the real-life accounts and pursuits of Nell Gwyn and will be itching to research her life after reading this.

Will You Catch Me? captured my heart in the same way that Nell Gwyn captured Nell Hobs. With heaps of heart and a story of history that also needs to be told, it gets better and more emotionally investing with every chapter. This is frank, real storytelling with perceptive and innocently acute observations that have the power to make you think differently. I don’t think you’ll realise quite how much this book has such an effect on you, it’s a life lesson. Such a carefully-considered concept for a children’s book that could only be delivered with the writing wisdom of Jane. Her writing exudes empathy and she establishes herself as an author that all readers should be aware of. For this is another of Jane’s beautiful books that you should hold close to your heart because like me, your heart will ache with feeling after reading it.

‘Jane’s writing exudes empathy where history and heart combine to make this story one that you should hold so close to your heart.’


Great Big Hill of Hope:
Why I wrote about the child of an alcoholic in Will You Catch Me?

In this, the first blog of my tour to mark Children of Alcoholics week, I felt it important to say why I wrote my children’s book, Will You Catch Me?

When I first said that I was going to write a middle grade novel about eleven-year-old Nell Hobs whose mother is an alcoholic people were taken aback. But then the headlines started to hit the media. Every Week there were news stories about the statistic that 2.6 million children in this country are affected by a parent’s drinking.

IMG_4388.JPGJournalist, Camilla Tominey’s Sunday Express headline ‘My Mummy Is Drunk Please Read To Me’ broke my heart, brought back buried memories and made me determined to give a voice to these children. My editor at Hodder Children’s Books, Naomi Greenwood, agent Jodie Hodges and her assistant Emily Talbot gave me their blessing and supported me throughout.

Will You Catch Me? is my oldest story, a little itch in my imagination that just wouldn’t go away. I had a recurring image of a young girl, running home from school and seeing her mother, an alcohol addict, carried out from their flat on a stretcher, people standing around watching and as she ran and ran and tried to reach her mum, everything going into slow motion.  In my mind the 4 Non Blondes song, ‘What’s Up’ was playing. The lyrics ‘Trying to get up that great big hill of hope / for a destination / I realized quickly when I knew I should / that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man’ were so relevant to this scene that looped in my mind.

The words – ‘Brotherhood of Man’ – the community which would be so vital to this little girl. Without which she would have nothing.

Fast forward many years, I switched on the television and Calum Best was talking movingly on the Lorraine show about his father George Best and the charity Nacoa – The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics – of which he is patron.  As the statistics rolled out that one in five children have a parent who drinks too much and that a 100 teenagers a day are made homeless due to having a parent who is alcohol dependent, my childhood came flooding back. My dad was a heavy drinker with a terrible temper. I grew up a very anxious, nervous little girl. One strand of the story was set.

I have always had a fascination with, and felt a connection to Nell Gwyn, the 17th century celebrity actress. In my late teens I worked as an usherette in Drury Lane where 320 years before Nell Gwyn had done the same job – they sold oranges then rather than half melted ice creams, so they were known as the Orange Girls. I discovered that Nell Gwyn’s mother was an alcoholic and that she did not know her father. Nell Gwyn was the perfect guardian angel for my modern day Nell, the protagonist of  Will You Catch Me? – whose mum is also an alcoholic.

Writing Will You Catch Me? was the most extraordinarily immersive experience of my life. In fact, I had an operation half way through writing it, and when I came too from the anaesthetic I woke up in the world of my book and was nattering on about Nell Gwyn. It took the nurses ages to get me fully awake.

As I worked day and night on Will You Catch Me? I visualised myself finishing Nell’s story and contacting Nacoa to tell them about my book. It was my light at the end of the tunnel.

I did not realize what a bright light in my life Nacoa would be. They are a group of truly amazing, passionate and strong people. Hilary Henriques MBE who is the CEO of Nacoa welcomed me with open arms and made me part of the Nacoa family. She is a tower of strength and an inspiration.  When I visited Nacoa’s headquarters in Bristol I was particularly moved by the telephone booths from which they run their children of alcoholics help line. Real children, in similar situations to Nell, or to younger me, can ring Nacoa at any time, in confidence, to get advice or just talk. After that visit I knew that Will You Catch Me? would be the most important story I have ever told.

The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk

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Jane Elson, author of Will You Catch Me?

 


Big thanks to Jane, Fritha and all at Hachette for inviting me to take part in the Will You Catch Me? blog tour.

Extra thanks to Jane for writing her incredibly insightful guest post!

Mr E


 

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Be sure to check out the rest of the Will You Catch Me? blog tour with more exclusive guest posts, reviews and giveaways discussing this much-needed issue.

Blog Tour (Review & Resources & Giveaway!): A Pinch of Magic – Michelle Harrison (Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón)

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‘Sumptuously magical… this is like nothing I’ve read before. An exquisitely-enchanting tale in a world weaved with wonder. With hearty heroines who embody the truest sense of sisterhood, prepare to fall under the spell of the story everyone will be wanting to read in 2019.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: A Pinch of Magic
Author: Michelle Harrison (@MHarrison13)
Illustrator (Cover): Melissa Castrillón (@mv_castrillon)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s (@simonkids_UK)
Page count: 368
Date of publication: 7th February 2019
Series status: First in the Widdershins’ adventures
ISBN: 978-1471124297

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Sisters 👭
2. Curse 🗝️
3. Magic ✨


Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger?


Review:

Widdershins. What a word. A surname to describe the misfortune, haplessness and down on one’s luck that the Widdershins sisters often feel and have experienced for generations. Three sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – whose mother is dead, their father’s in prison and who live with their Granny Bunny in her rather rowdy inn. Three sisters who are about to find out for themselves that they will have three bespoke magical items soon in their possession that can achieve so much but for an ancient family curse that leaves them trapped upon the rolling, misty marshes of their island of Crowstone for ever more…

Focusing on middle sister Betty who is craving for more than the island of Crowstone and telling the story through her eyes, this is like nothing I’ve read before and so it is little surprise that this has been recently chosen as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for February. As the sisters embark on a journey to try to break this curse and put to use their most magical of items – a scruffy carpet-bag that can make its bearer travel anywhere it wants, a set of dolls that can make you invisible and a mermaid-like mirror that can let its bearer talk to people on other islands, the girls meet mystery, dark magic, betrayal, revenge and a prisoner who may hold all the cards to the sisters’ fate.

Adventure most certainly awaits the audacious in this tale that left me completely enamoured and enraptured. This beautifully-written book doesn’t only just show a pinch of magic but the absolute power of magic where not a word is wasted. Surely one of 2019’s standouts and mixing island legend with incredible world-building that oozes and fizzes with magic, this is a story to devour. As Michelle recently alerted readers to this being the first in the Widdershins’ adventures, I’m on tenterhooks for the next.

Readers of upper-primary and lower secondary will be thrilled, enchanted and awed by its three headstrong, spirited protagonists (even Charlie, the youngest sister whose young age doesn’t dissuade her) in their plight to rid them of this wretched curse that’s plagued them and their island since times gone by.

Luring, mesmerising and sumptuously magical, A Pinch of Magic is an exquisitely-enchanting tale in a world weaved with wonder. With hearty heroines who embody the truest sense of sisterhood, prepare to fall under the spell of the story everyone will be wanting to read in 2019.

‘Sumptuously magical… this is like nothing I’ve read before. An exquisitely-enchanting tale in a world weaved with wonder. With hearty heroines who embody the truest sense of sisterhood, prepare to fall under the spell of the story everyone will be wanting to read in 2019.’


To celebrate the official publication date and launch (Happy Book Birthday!) of A Pinch of Magic, I’m absolutely delighted that author Michelle Harrison joins me on The Reader Teacher to provide fantastic teaching ideas to use in the classroom…

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A Pinch of Magic is the tale of the Widdershins sisters, Betty, Fliss and Charlie, who set out to break a family curse which keeps them trapped on the small island of Crowstone. But the curse isn’t the only unusual thing about the Widdershins. Three magical objects have been passed down their family: a set of wooden nesting dolls, a mirror, and a scruffy carpet bag. Will they be enough to break the curse? Or will the sisters have better luck with the mysterious prisoner who says he can help them . . . for a price?

This story is probably best suited to readers aged 8-12, depending on ability. There is plenty of scope for it to be used in a classroom, particularly to inspire imagination and atmospheric writing, as well as the study of folklore, superstition and symbolism. Here are some suggestions:

Pre-reading activities:

  1. Look at the front of the book. What do you think the curse could be, and the worst that could happen? Can you think of any other stories about curses?
  2. Who illustrated the book’s cover? Can you find out the titles of two more books this artist has created the covers for? Are there any in your classroom?
  3. Look at the back of the book and read the blurb (the writing which tells you about the story). Does it make you want to read the story? Why, or why not?
  4. Study the front and back covers. What do you think the three magical objects in the story could be? What do you imagine they do? Make up your own list of three objects, and their magical powers.
  5. Look at the map in the front of the book. Which of the islands do you think will be the most important to the story? Find other words with the same meanings as Lament, Repent, and Torment.

Research: 

  1. Read the author’s note at the start of the book. What does the word ‘widdershins’ mean and what is it linked to? Have you ever heard of this word before? Can you find out a word meaning the opposite?
  2. Research the history of Halloween. Can you find other names for it? Where do the traditions of trick or treat, dressing up, and carving pumpkins come from? Is there any significance to Betty’s birthday falling on this day?
  3. What clues point to the Widdershins being an unlucky family? Are there any numbers, objects or creatures mentioned in chapter one that signal good or bad luck? Research and write down five more superstitions.
  4. Research your local area. Is there any interesting history or folklore? Write down the names of five real places that you could imagine in a story. Think of towns, forests, street names, beaches and even pubs! Give reasons for your choices.
  5. How were people who were suspected of witchcraft treated throughout history? What sort of tests did ‘witchfinders’ do to determine whether someone was a witch? What are your thoughts on this?

Activities:

  1. Design a flyer for the Halloween Fayre in Marshfoot. What kind of words and images might it use to appeal to someone like Betty?
  2. Write a letter from Prisoner 513 to Granny, convincing her to visit him in jail. How would he persuade her to help him?
  3. Rewrite the scene where Betty and Charlie are given their magical objects, but from Charlie’s point of view. Imagine what she is thinking and feeling, as someone who is much younger than her sisters.
  4. Write a secret diary entry for Prudence. What are her feelings towards her sister – and herself? Is she proud of her actions, or sorry?
  5. Write a cautionary poem or verse to warn travellers away from the Misty Marshes. Think of the way the author has written about the marsh mist as a living thing, and add your own descriptions to this. Consider other dangers such as will-o’-the-wisps, and escaped prisoners! It doesn’t have to rhyme.

Other relevant stories:

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone
Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll
Wood Angel by Erin Bow
The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh


Big thanks to Michelle, Olivia and all at Simon & Schuster Children’s for inviting me to take part in the A Pinch of Magic blog tour on its book birthday!

Extra thanks to Michelle for providing these superb teaching ideas!
I can’t wait to use them myself!

Mr E


Giveaway!

The very lovely people at Simon & Schuster Children’s have kindly given me three finished copies of A Pinch of Magic to give away!

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If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a stunningly-illustrated copy of this sumptuously magical story, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

Copies will be sent to winners when available from Simon & Schuster, as soon as possible.


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Be sure to check out the rest of A Pinch of Magic blog tour this week to see more exclusive guest posts, Q&As, giveaways and reviews!