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 & Guest Post): The Truth About Martians – Melissa D. Savage (Illustrated by Daron Parton)

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‘Like a middle-grade ET crossed with a hint of Stranger Things… this is a science-fiction story of strength as much as the grapples of grief.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Truth About Martians
Author: Melissa D. Savage (@melissadsavage)
Illustrator (Cover): Daron Parton (Website)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 3rd January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911490821

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Spaceship 👽
2. Friendship 🤝
3. Loss 😟


Mylo knows there’s no such thing as Martians – at least, until a flying saucer crash-lands next to his family’s New Mexico farm. And then he starts to hear the voice, like someone’s trying to communicate with him, asking for help. Desperate to be as brave as his older brother Obie – who passed away over a year ago – Mylo has to investigate the crash. Along the way, he ends up discovering more about the universe than he ever could have imagined.


Review: 

Set in the rural heartlands of south-western America (some references may need explaining to younger readers) and based on the real-life events and conspiracy theories of 1947 when a ‘UFO’ was initially thought to have crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico, The Truth About Martians is a science-fiction story of strength as much as sorrow and sensitivity and the grapples of grief.

Shining a light on an event not known by everyone – and probably not by most of its readership – and covering just over three months between July 4, 1947 – 11:53 p.m. and October 6, 1947 – 6:15 a.m., the story starts with main character Mylo and his best friend Dibs staying over for the night. Since Dibs’ mother left, Mylo’s mom has become almost a surrogate mother for him (which is not surprising considering the quality and quantity of baked goods and sweet treats she makes for the boys!). Throughout the start of the story, we begin to understand that Milo is coming to terms with the loss of his older brother Obie and in turn, we realise that Dibs is slowly becoming the almost-brother that Mylo lost. Friendships are the glue of this story.

As the night sky flashes green and loud bangs are heard which in turn sends Dibs’ overactive imagination in to overdrive, the boys think they’re in with the chance of an alien encounter. Even Mylo who’s never believed in aliens…

The saying goes that curiosity killed the cat but it doesn’t kill these children’s desire to investigate further and so Mylo and his friends set out on an adventure to discover more about the newly-arrived Martians and their mothership. What they don’t know yet is that their discoveries may be more than they could possibly ever imagine.

Drawing on her background and experiences as a child and family therapist, I’ve been a big fan of Melissa’s honest, frank and touching writing style in her previous books – most notably with Bigfoot, Tobin and Me – and long may this continue.

Like a middle-grade ET crossed with a hint of Stranger Things, this is one that should definitely have been included in this year’s space-themed ‘Space Chase’ Summer Reading Challenge collection.



Inspiration for The Truth About Martians

There are many things that inspired me to write The Truth About Martians. One of them is my love of research and learning stories about our world’s history. One such story that has always intrigued me is the 1947 UFO crash outside of Roswell, New Mexico. Although the U.S. military has assured us it was nothing other than a military balloon, there are others who believe beyond a doubt that the crash was something extraterrestrial. Some even stating they saw the bodies of aliens at the crash site. Come on, who wouldn’t find this story intriguing? It has everything a captivating mystery needs to keep us talking about it. Even seventy-two years after the incident happened.

I spent a great deal of time learning about that time frame, the facts of the case, the stories from witnesses and about the atomic age. I visited the town and spoke with the people. I researched eye witness accounts and read sworn affidavits and deathbed confessions by ex-military personnel.  Additionally, I researched the children of that time. What was it like to live in 1947 as a preteen? What were their interests? What did they wear? What did they play? What did they aspire to do and to be? While this may not sound as exciting as the writing component of creating a story, for me, it’s one of my favorite parts of the process. I love doing research because it gives me so many ideas for the story itself – plot, character development, setting, themes, scenes and dialogue. I learned all about 1940’s baseball, the importance of Action Comics, I listened to many episodes of The Adventures of Superman radio program, and I even learned of this strange time called the atomic age which included children’s atomic games and a very special atomic ring kids sent in for with pennies and some Kix Cereal box tops. I have absolutely loved immersing myself in the tiny town of Corona just outside of Roswell, New Mexico at a time when life seemed much slower and maybe a bit more predictable in many ways.

Regarding the crash itself, I still haven’t decided quite yet what I think about it all. I’m a pretty skeptical person in general unless I see something with my own eyes. However, for me, I don’t need a definitive answer to write a story about it. I am a fiction writer. All I need are some amazing facts, and the story of Roswell is ripe with them. Those compelling facts are what inspired me to create a Roswell mystery of my own. Maybe one day we will learn for certain what really happened out in that desert. Until that time, there are plenty of unique and fascinating accounts. Which one is true remains to be seen, but I’m open to hearing each and every one of them.

Even the ones that take me all the way to the stars.

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Melissa Savage


THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

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

Follow Melissa Savage on Twitter: @melissadsavage


 

Big thanks to Laura Smythe, Melissa and all at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts on this out-of-this-world book as part of The Truth About Martians blog tour!

Extra thanks to Melissa for her guest post discussing her inspirations behind her book.

👽  Mr E  👽


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Truth About Martians blog tour with these wonderful book bloggers for more reviews and exclusive posts!

 

 

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Our Castle by the Sea – Lucy Strange (Designed by Helen Crawford-White)

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‘Tinged with twists at each turn of the page… it reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.
With Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something very special.’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Our Castle by the Sea
Author: Lucy Strange (@theLucyStrange)
Designer (Cover & Inside): Helen Crawford-White (@studiohelen)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 3rd January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911077831

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Lighthouse💡
2. War 🛩️
3. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧


England is at war. Growing up in a lighthouse, twelve-year-old Pet’s world has been one of storms, secret tunnels and stories about sea monsters. But now the clifftops are a terrifying battleground, and her family is torn apart. This is the story of a girl who is small, afraid and unnoticed. A girl who freezes with fear at the enemy places ripping through the skies overhead. A girl who is somehow destined to become part of the strange, ancient legend of the Daughters of the Stone…


Review: Mystery, adventure and intrigue combine with characters you can’t help but care deeply about.

The prologue to this gripping narrative opens in 1931 where we are introduced to our protagonist Petra – small and so very young at this time – recounting her own experience of her father retelling her family an ol’ folktale of the Daughters of Stone. An ancient myth of monsters that according to Petra is ‘much, much more‘ than it appears to be told and she may be right in thinking this…

Flashing a little further forward to 1939, we find Petra having to increasingly partake in wartime rituals as the threat of invasion looms closer to the Kent coastline and the lighthouse where she lives. Camouflaging the lighthouse green, the event of evacuation and the wearing of ghastly gas masks are all described in the most emotionally-skilful of manners. From the realisation that the impending threat of war is just around the corner or rather, over the cliff face to the heart-wrenching moment that Petra’s parents realise they may have to lose her for the greater good, Our Castle by the Sea really will ensure that its readers see the impacts and consequences of war in a way that will resonate with them – both young and old. So much so that after reading this, the first thing I did was pass this on to my grandmother and grandfather, of whom he himself was evacuated from North London to Wales during World War Two.

For me, the storyline starts to really come into its own as Mutti, Petra’s mother becomes a source of suspicion due to the fact that she is German: this being a familial side to wartime historical fiction that is rarely covered in children’s literature. As sidewards glances and a sense of hostility is rising along with the emergence of family secrets and the shunning of her mother in public becoming more prevalent, Petra becomes only all too aware that her family could be falling apart at its very seams. This reaches a clattering crescendo when Mutti is taken away and forced to live imprisoned in exile in an internment camp.

The demons of doubt begin to forge deeper in Petra’s mind when newspaper headlines, government acts on treason and mysterious letters appear leaving Petra in a state of emotional turmoil. Seeing her gutsy sister, Mags – who for me, is one of the standout characters – and her father entangle themselves in a swathe of secrets of their very own, Petra has no-one to turn to but herself.

With a turn of phrase and a sense of metaphor that makes the most ordinary of feelings and emotions come wildly alive in the reader’s mind, Lucy achieves what all writers are wishing for: a long-lasting connection to their readers. A book that many – and certainly I – will not forget. If this is your first read of a novel by Lucy, I am sure that you’ll be returning to her for many more.

With its links to Dunkirk, Spitfires, Hurricanes and ration books, you may think this book is a typical tale of wartime experience however think again because with Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something else entirely and something very special indeed. Suspense and drama set against the backdrop of WWII tinged with twists at each turn of the page. It reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.


‘Tinged with twists at each turn of the page… it reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.
With Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something very special.’


Historical Fiction for Young Readers – Five of My Favourites
by Lucy Strange

Lucy Strange author pic 2017 (by Claudine Sinnett).jpgOne of the best things about writing historical fiction is that you are never working on a blank canvas: the chosen period provides a richly detailed background – the context for the powerful tale that will be depicted with brighter brushwork in the foreground. I love the challenge of weaving my own stories through a fabric of historical fact (if you’ll forgive the change of metaphor) – it adds layers of conflict and excitement to the narrative, especially when the historical period is already a tense and dangerous one.

My new novel, Our Castle by the Sea, is set at the beginning of the Second World War. There are, of course, already so many wonderful children’s books about this time (Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mr Tom, Blitzcat, The Book Thief, The Machine Gunners and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas to name just a few), but when a story presents itself as needing to be told, there is often very little a writer can do about it. This is how I felt when I first read about the British internment camps for ‘enemy aliens’, the tribunals and categorisation processes, and Churchill’s ‘Collar the Lot’ policy. My central character is twelve-year-old Petra Zimmerman Smith who lives in a lighthouse on the white cliffs of Kent with her unpredictable big sister, her English father and her German mother. When the war begins, and it becomes clear that there is a traitor in the village, the local community turns against Petra and her family, but can her beloved ‘mutti’ really be to blame?

I love reading historical fiction as well as writing it. I think the genre has so much to offer younger readers: the thrill of the past being suddenly and vividly present; the opportunity to explore lost and faded worlds through the eyes of sympathetic characters; the jolt of emotion when you realise that the story you are reading is based on something completely true. Here are some of my favourite recent additions to the canon of historical fiction for children and teenagers . . .

Beyond the Wall by Tanya Landman, 2017

After maiming her master, slave girl Cassia is forced to run away. Her only hope for freedom – and life itself – lies in the wild lands to the north, beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Landman’s 2015 novel Buffalo Soldier won the Carnegie Medal with a moving story of bravery set during the American Civil War. Her unique brand of original, fast-paced and visceral historical fiction frequently explores the darkest times of cruelty, violence, prejudice and powerlessness in human history. 

The Buried Crown by Ally Sherrick, 2018

Ally Sherrick’s historical fiction for children provides an accessible and entertaining portal into British history, venturing through realms of archaeology, espionage and political intrigue. The Buried Crown is a Second World War story about a young evacuee’s adventures as he attempts to save Anglo-Saxon treasure from the clutches of the Nazis. Sherrick’s 2016 novel Black Powder is a gripping, twisting tale based around the Gunpowder Plot and was the winner of the Historical Association Young Quills Award.

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll, 2018

This beautifully framed mystery takes us from 1920s London back to ancient Egypt – Secrets of a Sun King is a wonderfully thrilling adventure through time. I love Carroll’s books, particularly her gothic novel Strange Star inspired by the life of Mary Shelley, and her Second World War story Letters from the Lighthouse which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Dubbed ‘the Queen of Historical Fiction’, Carroll’s novels are a gift to teachers and a joy for bookworms.

Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, 2018

An established and highly respected children’s author, Gourlay has recently ventured into the genre of historical fiction with her stunning new novel Bone Talk. Shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, this moving coming-of-age tale takes place in the Philippines where Gourlay grew up. Set at the turn of the century, it explores sophisticated themes such as colonialism and identity, and seeks to redress the balance of Western-dominated narratives in historical fiction.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge, 2017

Frances Hardinge is a writer I hugely admire. By blending historical fiction with elements of magical realism and fantasy, she creates a genuinely extraordinary reading experience. A Skinful of Shadows is a strange, dark tale set during the English Civil War, but with the most brilliant supernatural twist. Hardinge’s brilliant 2015 novel The Lie Tree famously won the Costa Book Award. If you haven’t yet read a Frances Hardinge book, you have the most wonderful treat in store.


OUR CASTLE BY THE SEA by Lucy Strange out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com
and follow Lucy Strange on Twitter @theLucyStrange


Big thanks to Laura Smythe, Lucy and all at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts on this beautifully-written book as part of the Our Castle by the Sea blog tour!

Extra thanks to Lucy for her guest post highlighting five of her favourite children’s historical fiction novels that I think should be on everybody’s to-be-read (TBR) piles.

  Mr E 

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Blog Tour (Guest Post): Frostfire – Jamie Smith (Illustrated by Karl James Mountford)

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Title: Frostfire
Author: Jamie Smith (@JamieHBSmith)
Illustrator (Cover): Karl James Mountford (@karlj_mountford)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 1st November 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911077879

Perfect for Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1) Mountain 🏔️
2) Avalanche ❄️
3) Secrets 🤐


Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home.

In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths…


I’m delighted to welcome Jamie Smith, author of Frostfire, to The Reader Teacher where he shares his exclusive guest post talking about how he can push the boundaries of the fantasy genre and how this makes him think more innovatively about the way he builds his worlds…

Tolkien’s Legacy by Jamie Smith

For decades, the shadow of fantasy’s biggest name has loomed large. Only recently have others begun to chip away at the legend that Lord of the Rings built – and deservedly so. It’s a great world, with fantastic characters and plenty of original ideas! However, I can’t help but feel that the super success of the books has limited what fantasy can be for all too long. It doesn’t have to be elves and dwarves all the way down!

These concepts, along with the dark lord, orcs and countless others became the foundation for other mega-franchises and have stuck around ever since. You’ll never see an elf in my books. Not because they can’t be interesting, but because I’ve seen them so many times before. I’d rather build something new and personal to me than putting a new spin on someone else’s idea.

Fortunately, in recent years, it seems like a number of other authors are coming to agree with me. Names like Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Tomi Adeyemi and more. Every time I see something fresh, it inspires me to do better too – and the further the fantasy genre is pushed, the better. It’s a place where literally anything can happen, after all!

That’s why my book has a sentient glacier in it, and not a hint of a dark lord in sight.

I’m hoping that by expanding the worlds we tell these kinds of stories in, I and others can help break free of the weight of those writers that came before (while still using them for a leg up from time to time). That way, we don’t have the limits of medieval Europe constraining us, and we can be more inclusive with our characters. Even our world is full of places that are not stone castles and mild-weathered woodland, after all.

So, I do my best to fill my world with strange creatures, fantastic magic, heroes with strength of character and flaws to overcome, just like Tolkien did when he (practically) founded the genre.

I’ll just paint a different picture over the top while I do it.


FROSTFIRE by Jamie Smith,
out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com
and follow Jamie
@JamieHBSmith and jhbsmith.com


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Look our for more reviews and guest posts from Jamie on the rest of the Frostfire blog tour from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Warrior Boy – Virginia Clay

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‘Absorbing and captivating… it’s so immersive, it’s like you’re in the African savannah yourself.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Warrior Boy
Author: Virginia Clay (@VClayAuthor)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 6th September 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0857636409

Perfect for Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Maasai 🇹🇿 🇰🇪
2. Poachers 🔫
3.  Warrior 🛡️


London schoolboy Ben is heading for Kenya to meet his Maasai family. But how is an outsider like him going to fit in?

When he meets his cousin Kip, he discovers they share more than he thought – if only Ben can keep up.

Together, the boys must survive the African savannah: hunt for food, defend elephants from poachers – and even face the king of the beasts. Does Ben have what it takes to be a twenty-first-century warrior?


Review: Set deep in the African savannah, Warrior Boy tells the tale of Ben, a London schoolboy about as far removed from a tribal lifestyle as he can be, visiting the homeland of his father. As he travels to Africa with his conservationist mother, he finds himself in for a few shocks to say the least.

As he confronts his biggest fears within moments of arriving (including taking part in a ritual that ends up showing he has far more in common with his family than he so realises), he soon knows he’s in for more than he bargained when he comes across poachers who seem to have it in for his family and give them more than a serious warning to let them carry on poaching…

Can Ben – who already feared the lack of acceptance from his father’s family – defend the savannah’s animals from these callous poachers, fit in to the tribe and follow in his father’s footsteps to become a warrior? Only time will tell.

Thanks to Virginia’s own experiences, this is written in such an absorbing and captivating way that’s so immersive you’ll really feel the mix of the soaring heat and the pulsating dangers of the grasslands making it feel like you’re experiencing the savannah for yourself.


Boys and Reading

The most surprising but yet thrilling thing I have noticed since Warrior Boy’s release, has been the number of parents who have told me, having read the book, how excited they are that their son might start reading now. Of course, it’s wonderful that anyone should have such high hopes for my story, but also shocking because I hadn’t realized boys were not reading in such vast numbers.

Perhaps I have been slightly fooled by the phenomenal success of David Walliams; he has done so much to encourage boys to read. And whilst I hear lots of parents – and writers – say they are fed up with his monopoly hold on the market, for every one of those, there are two teachers who adore him. When you have a student who will do anything to avoid reading, but encounters DW and reads one of his books in two days, quite frankly you could fall down and worship at his feet.

But it has been ten years now since The Boy in the Dress was first published, which is probably a good time to take stock. And I am wondering whether Walliams hasn’t just turned boys who don’t read, into boys who read David Walliams, when we really want them to be getting a varied literary diet.

So how can we help them be braver about approaching new titles? The children’s author Chris Bradford says it’s all about finding the right subject to fit the boy:

“If all they ever play is an Xbox, perhaps start them on Game Boy by Alan Durrant. If they’re into sports, challenge them with Tom Palmer’s Football Academy series or his award-winning Ghost Stadium. If they’re interested in technology or science, connect them with Dot Robot by Jason Bradbury or Itch by Simon Mayo.

As a child, I read everything from L.M Montgomery to Tolkien but research shows that girls are more likely to try a wider range of subjects than boys and to get the latter sailing away from the warm, familiar waters of Walliams and into uncharted waters, we need to find subject matter they are passionate about.

Bradford continues, “The key element here is to plug into their everyday interests and let them live the book both in their minds and in their lives. Remember, every boy wants to be the hero!”

So where does this leave Warrior Boy? Are there any boys out there who have an obsession with spear throwing and warthog wrestling? It certainly has a hero at its heart, and I think this could be the key. All readers – boys and girls – need to identify with the main character enough to feel they could overcome the potential threat. The hero in my story faces a formidable threat in the form of elephant poaching. Will parents’ hopes be realised for their sons to read Warrior Boy? I certainly hope so!


Virginia Clay, author of Warrior Boy

WARRIOR BOY by Virginia Clay out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

 Connect with Virginia on twitter @VClayAuthor and find out more at http://www.chickenhousebooks.com


Big thanks to Laura Smythe and Chicken House for sending me a copy of this brilliant book and for inviting me to join in with the Warrior Boy blog tour.
Extra thanks to Virginia for writing her guest post!

Mr E
📚

Warrior Boy is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.


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Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews and guest posts on the Warrior Boy blog tour this week!

Review & Giveaway: The Ice Garden – Guy Jones (Illustrated by Helen Crawford-White)

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‘With scenes echoing more than that of The Secret Garden meeting The Chronicles of Narnia… this is a fantastical mix of magic and frozen fantasy across a literary landscape that glistens with absolute grace.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Ice Garden
Author: Guy Jones (@guyjones80)
Illustrator (Cover): Helen Crawford-White (@studiohelen)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 224
Date of publication: 4th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911490043

Perfect for Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Atmospheric ✨
2. Friendship 👫
3. Acceptance 😌


Jess is allergic to the sun.
She lives indoors in a world of shadows, peeking at other children from her curtained house. One night, she sneaks out. And there, just beyond the empty playground she’s longed to visit, she discovers an impossibility – a magical garden made of ice.


The first line:

They called it the Hat.


Review: Frozen out of going to school, going outside and making friends in the real world due to her allergy to the sun, Jess – pained and pitiful – finds herself becoming more and more frustrated with her life. Confined to being home-schooled and being routinely taken to hospital visits where the doctors don’t listen to her and her own mother doesn’t either, she’s stuck in a world where her emotions ice over, her confidence is often shattered and that darkens when it’s light.

So when it’s night time, it’s the perfect opportunity for Jess to defy her mother wishes, remove the Hat and secretly explore her city.  However, there’s more than a chill in the air when Jess discovers something greater than she could ever have imagined: an enchanted, frozen paradise in the form of a magical ice garden that transcends between this world and that. Behind the playground she’s familiar with, an altogether different kind of playground emerges that’s worlds apart from what she’s used to and it is here where she discovers a feeling of unburdening freedom in the most unlikeliest of places. I suppose you could call it her garden of Eden. And where she meets the most unlikeliest of friends…

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First with Owen, a mysterious ice boy who she shares more than his ice garden with.
Then back at the hospital, with an unconscious boy called Davey who she shares more than her written stories with, as these soon become stories within a purely magical story. The connections between these characters stretch far beyond what is immediately apparent.

Despite this being what some would consider a short book, every word is worth its weight in gold. Metaphor is gloriously used throughout with my favourite examples being ‘The purple sky was streaked with brontosaurus ribs of white cloud.’ (p.44) and ‘The next day was like a held breath.’ (p.51). With scenes echoing more than that of The Secret Garden meeting The Chronicles of Narnia, Guy has sculpted a sense of sumptuous sophistication within his writing which ensures that just as discovering The Ice Garden was a revelation for Jess, discovering Guy Jones’ writing will be a revelation for you.

A fantastical mix of magic and frozen fantasy adorned with hues of hope and heart that should be encouraged in to the hands of as many readers as possible. Even though this story may leave readers with the slightest feeling of cold hands, this will soon thaw to leave them too with the warmest of hearts. It’s an incredibly fine example of an atmospheric, tender and multi-layered tale that is at times bittersweet yet glistens with absolute grace. I can only hope that Guy will be writing many, many more as I am eagerly anticipating his next.

‘With scenes echoing more than that of The Secret Garden meeting The Chronicles of Narnia… this is a fantastical mix of magic and frozen fantasy across a literary landscape that glistens with absolute grace.’

Big thanks to Guy for sending me an advance copy of this beautifully written book!

The Ice Garden is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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Giveaway!

So to coincide with my review of The Ice Garden, I am delighted to say that Guy has kindly given me three copies of The Ice Garden to giveaway on Twitter. If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

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

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

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

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

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


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


The first line:

There was something happening at Outpost Zero.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he starts to see things…

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mr E
📚

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