Winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize 2021 Announced

Flavia Z. Drago has won the 2021 Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. She won for her book Gustavo the Shy Ghost (Walker Books) about a little ghost who despite being so shy he is invisible to the other monsters, eventually finds a way to make friends.

Established in 2016, the Klaus Flugge Prize was founded to honour publisher Klaus Flugge, a supremely influential figure in picture books. Flugge set up Andersen Press in 1976 and has discovered and nurtured many of today’s most distinguished illustrators including David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Ruth Brown and Susan Varley.

The Klaus Flugge Prize judges loved the balance of fun and fright in Gustavo, The Shy Ghost, and admired Flavia’s superb control of pace and the composition of her illustrations. Judge and winner of the 2020 Klaus Flugge Prize, Eva Eland says: “There is so much to admire and enjoy in Flavia’s book…She delivers a powerful and universal story, whilst maintaining a light-heartedness and a playful touch that will speak to many little children.”

On receiving the prize, Flavia Z. Drago said, “I feel incredibly happy and honoured to have won this year’s Klaus Flugge Prize! Getting my first picture book published was a dream that started about ten years ago. The journey was filled with ups and downs, rejection, uncertainty, and constant learning. I am so grateful to my lovely team in Walker Books for giving me the opportunity to make a story about shyness and monsters, and for having allowed me to share a glimpse of Mexico and its most beautiful celebration (The Day of the Dead) with the rest of the world. Making picture books is a privilege and joy, and I hope that I will be able to keep doing this for many years to come.

Alongside Eva Eland, the judges are Posy Simmonds writer and illustrator, Darryl Clifton, Illustration Programme Director at Camberwell College of Arts; Fleur Sinclair, owner of Sevenoaks Bookshop; and Mat Tobin of Oxford Brookes University. Julia Eccleshare, director of the Children’s Programme at the Hay Festival, is Chair of the Judges.

Judge, Mat Tobin, interviewed Flavia earlier this month and their conversation provides a lovely insight into the inspiration for the book, the illustrative technique and Flavia’s plans for the future.

This year’s shortlist was, I thought, particularly strong and the wide range of subjects and the varied styles are a wonderful indication of the strength and depth of picturebooks at the moment. My own copy of Gustavo will now have pride of place on my bookshelves. By happy coincidence the announcement of the Klaus Flugge Prize winner comes a week after the publication of the report by the Centre of Literacy for Primary Education on the Power of Pictures project as part of children’s learning. The findings revealed that picture books are an important genre of children’s literature and not just a step on the route to chapter books. The Klaus Flugge Prize both celebrates and promotes the very best of new and exciting illustrators and their books. Definitely a cause for celebration!

More information about the award, this year’s shortlisted titles and previous winners is available on the official website.

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Gloria’s Porridge by Elizabeth Laird illustrated by Toby Newsome

Gloria’s Porridge is inspired by a traditional Ethiopian folk tale which Elizabeth Laird heard during her travels in that country several years ago. The story is brought to life for children with humour and Toby Newsome’s eye catching, distinctive illustrations but imparts some sensible advice along the way.

When Gloria is making porridge one day she is so hungry that she decides that she will keep it all to herself, even when Cat, who is hungry too, asks her for some. When Gloria goes to fetch some water to add to the porridge Cat takes matters into his own hands and decides to help himself to a little of it. A little soon turns in to a lot and by the time Gloria returns Cat has eaten all the porridge! Gloria is angry and the frightened Cat rushes out of the door. He in turn frightens the donkey and in no time there is chaos and disruption. Perhaps wise Fox can put things right?

Gloria’s Porridge is an appealing picture book; the colourful front cover full of smiles is tempting and the text has a lively, bounce to it which would make it fun to read aloud. Like many traditional tales it has a message to impart to its readers and listeners. Young children will see the repercussions from one small act and how it can cause problems for others. This is a tricky topic for them to understand but in this form is easier for them to relate to. There is also the opportunity to talk about sharing what we have with others.

The story itself has its origins in Ethiopia however Toby Newsome was born in South Africa and his lovely illustrations are inspired by his surroundings there. This provides a mix of the different cultures within this picture book. The original folk tale which prompted Elizabeth Laird to write this book is called The Bear and the Woman and can be found on the Ethiopian Folk Tales website. This is an excellent resource if you are wanting to discover more traditional stories. There are also a range of activities and teaching resources linked to the book on the Tiny Owl website.

Gloria’s Porridge was published in May 2021 by Tiny Owl and is available to purchase on their website. Tiny Owl produce some delightful picture books for young children and for little ones just discovering the joy of books I can recommend Where’s Baby Elephant by Ali Khodai.

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The Puffin Portal by Vashti Hardy illustrated by Natalie Smillie

The Griffin Gate, Vashti Hardy’s first title for Barrington Stoke published last year was a big adventure packed into a small book so I had been looking forward to reading this sequel. The Puffin Portal has all the appeal of its predecessor plus a likeable new character to get to know too. The latest instalment of this enjoyable steampunk fantasy is another hit.

Cover illustration by Natalie Smillie

Grace Griffin has now qualified as warden and is enjoying working with her family to fight crime across Moreland using the Griffin Map to teleport through the land. Grace has been allocated the task of solving a series of odd, small thefts that have been happening and the only apparent link is the sighting of a small bird near the scene of the crime. The resourceful Grace refuses to give up and eventually follows the clues to a dilapidated castle on a lonely island accompanied by her trusty companion, Watson the robot raven. Once there her detective skills uncover something rather unexpected.

There is much for children to enjoy in this enjoyable story. There are clues to solve, an engaging lead character in Grace, humour, wacky inventions, and ultimately a lesson in kindness, friendship and what family really means. Natalie Smillie’s illustrations capture the personalities so well and bring the plot to life for young readers. This is a great package and perfect for children who would find fantasy adventures of 300 pages plus daunting. The Puffin Portal contains all the elements of a full blown adventure in a manageable format. I can see this series being popular in primary school libraries and classrooms.

Vashti Hardy, a former teacher, has created a selection of downloadable resources and ideas for creative class work which are available on her website. This book has a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy it. It has been edited to a reading age of 8.

I should like to thank Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy. The Puffin Portal was published on 2nd September and can be purchased via their website. You can read the first chapter below and my review of The Griffin Gate here.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to another look back at what has been happening in the world of children’s books this week.

What I’m reading…

Last weekend I read The Hideaway by Pam Smy and am stilling thinking about the story a week later. It is a book with a profound emotional impact. My review includes a link to Nikki Gamble’s excellent interview with Pam Smy on the In the Reading Corner podcast.

Scallywag Press are doing a wonderful job of reissuing classic picture books and bringing gems to another generation of young readers. The Three Happy Lions is a lovely example being both retro in style and relevant in content and theme. I am fond of this book. This week I have been reading the books that I have to review for the next issue of the School Library Association magazine, TSL, and among them is His Royal Hopeless a debut by Chloe Perrin. I have included Lily’s review below to give you a taste and find out why this story made me smile.

This week the CILIP Youth Libraries Group Virtual Conference takes place with the theme Representations of Place – New Lands and New Ways of Looking. I have only been able to watch a few sessions live but am looking forward to catching up with the others in the coming days. I found the session on The Place of Picture Books in Translation with school librarian Melanie McGilloway and Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island Books extremely interesting and have included a link they shared in the resources below.

News, articles and resources…

Outside In World – this helpful website was shared in the Picture Books in Translation session mentioned above. It promotes and explores world literature and children’s books in translation. There are booklists, activities, articles and resources for educators and an interactive section for children too. It’s well worth exploring.

Using graphic novels in the classroom to engage students – an interesting and helpful article by teacher Richard Ruddick for Education Platform UK providing tips and suggestions.

Down the Rabbit Hole – the episode on 28th September at 5pm is a celebration of Black writing, with four fantastic contributors to Knights Of’s middle grade anthology Happy Here taking part in the programme. You can listen on Resonance FM and details are included in the link.

Malorie Blackman: ‘Hope is the spark’ – wonderful interview for the Guardian by Sian Cain. Our former Children’s Laureate about her award winning Noughts and Crosses series and how she persevered through rejection.

Nominations for the School Librarian of the Year Award – this year for the first time there are separate categories for Primary and Secondary. Do you know a school librarian who is making a positive impact on reading and learning? Now is the chance to highlight their work and raise the profile of school librarians. Nominations close on 31st October.

Kids need two things – love and education’ – how former footballer and now TV pundit Ian Wright and author Musa Okwonga are inspiring young people through fiction. An eye opening and hopeful article.

Poetry books for children – with National Poetry Day approaching on 7th October, children’s book expert, Joy Court, recommends her top titles to bring poetry alive in the primary classroom on the Primary English Education Consultancy website.

Hay Festival Winter Weekend Programme for Schools – this special Hay Festival event has live sessions for pupils in Key Stages 2&3 with exciting writers and thought provoking performances for young people and a brilliant line up. All events are free to view live online or to watch again free on Hay Player Aspiring writers in Wales aged 16-18 can apply now for the free #BeaconsProject residency at this event. Find out more here.

Laugh Out Loud Book Awards Event Week – The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (the Lollies) celebrates the best and funniest children’s books in the UK and Ireland, voted for by children. Lollies Event Week begins on the 20th September and features writing activities, drawalongs and readings from the shortlisted authors and illustrators, as well as previous winners Liz Pichon and Michelle Robinson, and Head Judge Michael Rosen. You can see the full programme and register via the link above.

Picture Book Den: Fury at the Farm (with Mini Grey) – an excellent and thought provoking post by Mini Grey on the depiction of farms in picture books in contrast to the reality. And the story of Doris at the end of the article is wonderful.

Authorfy Masterclass with SF Said – a set of 10 videos for children all about writing & Varjak Paw, complete with creative writing challenges.

The Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist 2021 Illustrator Blogposts – on Wednesday 22 September the winner of this award will be announced. Until then, you can discover more about the five fabulous shortlisted illustrators on the official website above.

The Festival of Reading 2021 – a free online celebration of reading running from Monday 27th – Thursday 30th September daily from 3.15pm – 5.30pm. A team of top authors, leading literacy experts and experienced teachers will provided practical and inspiring ideas on how you can raise reading attainment and enjoyment in your schools.

Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards 2021 – these awards, now in their eighth year, aim to encourage parents and carers to spend more time reading with their children. The winners were announced on Thursday and congratulations to all the winners but most especially to Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley whose The Littlest Yak won Book of the Year and Best Picture Book. My assistant reviewer will be delighted!

How to encourage reading for pleasure on a budget – an excellent article by the current School Librarian of the Year, Kristabelle Williams, providing inspiration, advice and top tips.

Kate DiCamillo and Abi Elphinstone in conversation with Katherine Woodfine – this should be an absolute treat and not to be missed, plus it’s free! Celebrate these fantastic authors as they discuss their latest books, The Beatryce Prophecy and The Crackledawn Dragon with this one off virtual event. If you can’t make the live event time it will be recorded so you can watch afterwards at a convenient time. This event is in association with the National Literacy Trust.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

Polly Pecorino by Emma Chichester Clark – illustrated fiction is wonderful for encouraging readers in the 7-9 age group and this sounds just the job. This sounds like the Sophie books by Dick King Smith for a new generation. A lovely review by Louise Nettleton.

Mason Mooney: Doppelganger Detective by Seaerra Miller – if the Richard Ruddick article linked above has inspired you then this great review by Paul Watson will appeal. Paul describes this graphic novel published this month as a ‘witty, smart outing for that annoying paranormal detective, Mason Mooney.’ He also mentions the benefits of using this in the classroom.

Locked Out Lily by Nick Lake and Emily Gravett – John Lloyd has been reviewing children’s books for The Bookbag for many years and he lets you know when he does not like a book. He liked this one. ‘It’s a quite splendid mix, all told – a very readable book covering serious topics’ Any story that can be described as ‘Coraline in the Willows’ intrigues me.

His Royal Hopeless by Chloe Perrin – this comprehensive review by Lily on the Lily and the Fae blog explains how this amusing debut made her daughters giggle but has a reassuring message too. I love Lily’s description ‘’a Disney- Pixar movie but in book form’’ as I know exactly what she means.

That’s everything for this week. My weekend plans include today’s YLG conference session with Hilary McKay and Phil Earle, the authors of two of my favourite books of the year, and reading more of The Book of Stolen Dreams. I’ve just started this but already intrigued. I hope you have a lovely weekend. Happy reading!

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The Three Happy Lions by Louise Fatio illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

The Three Happy Lions is the third book in this classic series by husband and wife team, Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin. First published in 1959 and republished this year by Scallywag Press, this gentle story has a charming retro appeal to both the text and illustrations, however the message it conveys is both important and timeless.

There was once ONE happy Lion…he was joined by a second happy lion and in this story the two happy lions welcome a baby happy lion. Their happiness is now complete and the two proud parents are delighted with their new cub. He is named Francois, after their best friend, the zoo keeper’s son. All is well but then, for the first time in his life, the Happy Lion starts to worry. He wonders what the future holds for the baby lion. What job should he do when he grows up to keep him happy?

Various possibilities are discussed and dismissed by the two happy lions until a rich lady visiting the zoo decides that Francois will be her pet. When this does not work out well due to his increasing size Francois joins the circus where he struggles in his efforts to roar and be scary because he likes people and does not want to frighten them. Finally he returns to the zoo to do what he has always wanted. He will be a gardening assistant alongside Francois the keeper’s son, tending and nurturing the flowers and trees.

As soon as I opened this book and started to read I was a little girl again, transported back in time, not so much by the words initially, but most definitely by the illustrations. The overall look of this book is distinctive. The artwork by Duvoisin, although using a limited palette, is bold, colourful and graphic in appearance with much detail for children to pore over. There are several spreads in black and white and there is a real feel of movement on some of the pages. The animals are depicted with humour and a child friendly appeal but have a realistic appearance too, it is beautifully done.

The French settings and the occasional French words are a brilliant way of introducing young children to the language and culture of another country in a natural manner. It is the book’s thoughtful message that adds a greater depth to this charming story. Francois the young lion does not want to conform to what many would think of as the way he ‘should’ behave and live his life. He learns what matters most to him and what makes him happy and fulfilled and is, eventually, able to achieve this. That his loving parents support him in this decision makes the ending a supremely happy one.

As you can probably tell I am fond of this lovely book and am delighted that Scallywag Press have been wise enough to enable a new generation of readers to meet the happy lions and enjoy their adventures. The publishers have a range of activities and teaching resources linked to The Three Happy Lions on their website which include an audio of some of the French vocabulary. Love My Books has an excellent selection of suggested activities linked to the book on their website plus a video of the first story in the series read aloud. This would be a perfect book for children in early years settings and the infant stage of school but does have, I think, an appeal for many.

I should like to thank Laura Smythe and Scallywag Press for providing my review copy.

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The Hideaway by Pam Smy

Sometimes you read a great deal about a book before you get to read the book itself, so much so that you can feel that you know the story in advance. The Hideaway by Pam Smy was, for me, such a book. However despite the plaudits on social media and the praise from people whose opinion I trust I did rather approach my reading of this with the attitude that it may not live up to expectations. Well, I was wrong, The Hideaway manages to be both raw and disturbing and hopeful and loving. It is a remarkable book.

Billy McKenna needs to escape. He runs away in fear from a difficult situation at home and takes refuge in an overgrown graveyard. While hiding away there he meets an elderly man who is tending the graves in preparation for a special day. Meanwhile Billy’s mother Grace needs to escape too but she cannot. The reader accompanies Billy and Grace as their lives part through a dual narrative that is expertly executed. The storyline gradually draws in others and we watch as connections are made and lives weave together in a moving manner as the importance of individuals to each other is carefully revealed to the reader. The plot is structured in such a way that you feel personally involved. Each character matters and the storyline brings home how our lives are connected to those around us.

The difficult subject matter of domestic abuse is not sensationalised but does need to be borne in mind for this book’s readership. After the shocking opening chapter the story deals with this topic carefully, alluding to the gradual increase from dominance to coercive control and ultimately physical violence rather than a direct portrayal of this. The characters are well rounded and sympathetic. Both Ben and his mother Grace are victims yet we read of life before and that creates a picture of them as happy, fulfilled people enjoying life.

This is a beautiful book to look at. The pairing of text and illustrations works extremely well. The setting of the graveyard in which Billy and the old man form their bond is captured in textured black and white drawings. Some pages are edged with ivy and branches adding to the feeling of hiding away. The climax of the story is told in a series of wordless double page spreads which are, I think, immensely moving. To say any more would spoil the reveal but these illustrations ‘speak’ in a way the reader can understand. No matter what your own personal beliefs may be it would be hard not to be moved by this story of love, loss, family, and hope.

I found the interconnectedness of the lives in The Hideaway profoundly affecting. We watch as small acts of kindness make a difference, as personal experience affects attitudes. The Hideaway in addition to being a beautiful, moving story is a touching exploration of community, family and society itself.

The Hideaway was published by Pavilion Books on 9th September and I should like to thank the publishers and Catherine Ward very much for providing my review copy. As regular readers of my reviews know that most books that I mention are suitable for primary school age children I think I should say that due to the subject matter I think this is for teenage readers. It does, I think, have crossover appeal, and is one that adults would appreciate too.

After I had finished reading The Hideaway I listened to Nikki Gamble interview Pam Smy on her regular podcast, In the Reading Corner. You may like to listen too.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at all the latest news from the world of children’s books. We have new books to enjoy, award announcements to celebrate and events to entertain and inspire us. It’s been a busy week.

What I’m reading…

The Lulu series by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw is a shining example of picture books that capture those everyday details that matter most to young children. This week I read and reviewed the latest in the series, Lulu’s Sleepover, it turns a rite of passage that may trouble little ones initially into a joyful and positive life experience. It’s pretty much perfect and excellent for Early Years.

When I was sorting through my packed bookshelves recently I realised that I had still not read The Crackledawn Dragon, Abi Elphinstone’s final Unmapped Chronicles adventure. How on earth had that happened? Last week I put that right and you can read my review to find out more about this cracking adventure story.

Chris Priestley is a master of the horror genre for children and his latest for Barrington Stoke, Freeze, is a story that is perfect for young readers who enjoy reading books that teeter just over the edge from exciting and unsettling to down right scary. It unsettled this older reader too!

Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra by James Mayhew was published this week. It is wonderful; stunning, evocative illustrations paired with beautiful storytelling. This is a gorgeous book and perfect for introducing children to the world of classical music. I hope to be posting a full book review in the near future. Thursday’s launch hosted by Nikki Gamble was inspiring and happy, a real treat. Here is a video of the launch event and I highly recommend making time for this as it’s simply wonderful.

I am so glad that I signed up for Nikki Gamble’s ‘Audience With’ season as this week we had our first book club get together hosted by Nikki and Ben Harris, discussing Jane Ray’s books. The hour flew by and was a real joy to be part of so thank you very much to book buddies Nikki and Ben. Next month’s author is Hilary McKay!

News, articles and resources…

The North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards 2021 – the shortlists for these awards were announced last weekend and you can find out more about the books and read an introduction to the award in this Books For Keeps article.

50 Recommended Reads for Reception – Alison at Books for Topics has hand-picked 50 recommended books for 4 and 5-year-olds. Update your Reception class library or home book collections with this list of top reads, covering everything from grumpy unicorns and greedy monsters to dreams of space travel and expeditions into faraway places.

Love My Books September Newsletter – I mentioned the excellent Love My Books website last week and their latest newsletter includes a selection of books raising awareness of climate change plus new activities and features on David McKee and Jill Murphy. It’s definitely worth subscribing to this regular update.

Dapo Adeola is new Writer-Illustrator in Residence at BookTrust – this was happy news on Monday morning. Award-winning illustrator and author Dapo Adeola the co-creator of science-mad chatterbox Rocket from the bestselling picture book Look Up! with Nathan Bryon and illustrator of We’re Going To Find The Monster written by Malorie Blackman, hopes to use his residency to support emerging illustrators, with a focus on under-represented voices in children’s books and to champion the art of storytelling.

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle Videos – regular readers will know how highly I rate this brilliant book and I know I am not alone. Now Phil Earle in conjunction with Andersen Press has produced a series of ten videos for use in schools. They cover everything from the inspiration for the story to what to read next. A wonderful resource and interesting even if you are not involved in education.

Become a Blue Peter Book Awards Judge! – this is a great opportunity. Book Trust are looking for 12 primary schools across the UK to recruit pupils from Years 5 and 6, or P6 and P7 in Scotland and Northern Ireland, to select the winning books for 2022 in two Award categories: Best Story and Best Book with Facts. You can find out more via the link above.

Nikki Gamble’s Book Blast September 2021 – if like me you couldn’t make the date for this preview of new books to look out for this month Nikki has made the video available on YouTube. September is an incredible month for publications and this is a great way to catch up with what is available. Thank you, Nikki!

15 Brilliant Books to Bridge the Gap Between Primary and Secondary – Kate Heap has chosen some wonderful stories in this article for Global School Alliance. They include historical, adventure, fantasy and humour plus a super readable title from Barrington Stoke. A useful list.

The Little Rebels Award – congratulations to A M Dassu author of Boy, Everywhere, published by Old Barn Books, who has won the 2021 Little Rebels Award. You can read more about the winning book, the award and this year’s shortlist via the link.

Nikki Gamble: In the Reading Corner with Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston – Julia and the Shark is one of my favourite books of the year. This thoughtful and insightful interview has increased my understanding and appreciation of this stunning book and I would highly recommend listening to this.

CLPE Power of Pictures Project Research – CLPE’s the Power of Pictures project, (which has run since 2014 in primary schools across the UK) revealed this week that using picture books in primary schools and allowing drawing into the learning process improves writing and reading skills in primary age children. More details are available via the link.

Cover Reveal: ‘Cress Watercress’ by Gregory Maguire and illustrated by David Litchfield – I think this interview in Publishers Weekly is excellent. Along with information about the forthcoming book it explains how children’s books may help their readers and discusses the collaboration between author and illustrator. I can’t wait to “follow the rabbit whither she hoppeth.” in March next year.

CLPE Happy Here Initiative and Resources for Schools – This week, every primary school in England will receive a free copy of Happy Here, a new anthology from 20 of our best Black British writers and illustrators. You can find out more about the accompanying resources and events available via the link.

Book Launch for You Can with Alexandra Strick and Steve Antony – Created in collaboration with real children, ‘You Can!’ is written by author and co-founder of Inclusive Minds, Alexandra Strick, and award winning illustrator, Steve Antony. Join Alexandra and Steve at a special free online event, on 6th October, to mark the publication of ‘You Can!’ featuring: a reading from Alexandra; a live drawalong from Steve; a screening of a short film made with the book’s young contributors; and a Q&A session with the author and illustrator,

Nominations for the 2022 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals – CILIP members are invited to nominate one title per Medal which they feel meets the Medal criteria and mission for the Awards. Nominations are open between Friday 10 September and Friday 24 September and the list will be announced on Monday 8th November.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week

What a Wonderful World by Leisa Stewart-Sharpe and Lydia Hill – this illustrated tour of our planet through the eyes of scientists, eco-warriors and activists sounds wonderful. A great review and an interview with the author.

Diary of an Accidental Witch by Honor and Perdita Cargill illustrated by Katie Saunders – this book for young readers aged 7+ has been receiving a lot of positive attention recently and I really enjoyed this review by Nicola Mansfield Niemi for The Reading Zone. It sounds perfect for lovers of the Worst Witch series.

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City – Rob Biddulph – this wonderful review by Jon Biddle made me smile. It is full of such enthusiasm that I now definitely want to read this book too. Apparently it is one of Jon’s favourite books of recent years and Jon has read a lot of books!

Lightning Falls by Amy Wilson – I enjoyed reading this book over the summer and this post on BookLoverJo’s blog captures so much of its appeal. A lovely review and a guest piece by Amy Wilson too.

The Ash House by Angharad Walker – this review by Nicki Cleveland has tempted me to find out more about this book. She describes it as “a deliciously dark, dystopian fantasy that is as unsettling as it is unputdownable.”

That’s everything for this week. Reading this back it’s clear my reading week owes a great deal to Nikki Gamble. Thank you Nikki for sharing your extensive knowledge with such enthusiasm, it really does make a difference. My weekend plans include finishing reading The Hideaway by Pam Smy. Happy reading!

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Freeze by Chris Priestley

Chris Priestley is a master of the horror genre for children and his latest for Barrington Stoke, Freeze, is a story that is perfect for young readers who enjoy reading books that teeter just over the edge from exciting and unsettling to down right scary.

Cover Illustration by Chris Priestley

When her alarm clock wakes Maya she gets ready for the day ahead and is suddenly aware of an intense sense of foreboding. However her day starts like any other, meeting up with her three best friends and entering the school library. A new supply teacher asks Maya and her classmates to write winter-themed creepy stories and they come up with some brilliantly spooky ideas. As Maya listens to the others reading their stories aloud she finds herself becoming part of the events they recount, experiencing the unsettling events as though they are real. When a mysterious new girl stands up to read her tale reality and story merge in a chilling manner.

Illustration by Chris Priestley

The blending of the familiar and the sinister is particularly effective in this selection of stories within a story. The setting in a school feels secure and normal to young readers and gradually the sense of foreboding, the tension and the discomfort is increased as the stories become steadily more dark and scary. Chris Priestley writes with an understanding of the fear generated by that blurring of reality and imagination, the dreams that can become nightmares all too easily and takes his readers carefully towards and across that boundary between exciting and scary.

The story writing session starts with a brainstorm of ideas during which the children suggest many of the recognisable elements of winter spooky stories: sinister snowman and dangerous frozen rivers, frost, floods and, the almost inevitable mention of creepy puppets, included whatever the season. The stories created by the children weave together some of these ideas and incorporate historical stories told to act as a warning of danger, folk tale and urban myths, all of them featuring four children.

Illustration by Chris Priestley

The author also plays on that uncomfortable feeling of ‘Did I dream it or did it really happen?’ The sharing of the experiences by the four friends magnifies the feeling of involvement. Chris Priestley’s dark and brooding illustrations hint at the fear to come before it arrives in the text and this increases as the story progresses. The build up to the climax is so well done that when I finished reading this I went straight back to the beginning and I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Freeze would be an excellent story to read on dark autumn evenings, Halloween or in the depths of winter. I can imagine it working well in school classrooms as a book to read aloud and also as a story writing prompt or for art ideas. A deliciously spooky story and thanks to Barrington Stoke this is presented in a super readable style making it accessible to a wide range of readers.

I should like to thank the publishers for my review copy. Freeze was published on 2nd September and you can find out more and order a copy on the Barrington Stoke website.

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The Crackledawn Dragon by Abi Elphinstone

The final book in the Unmapped Chronicles by Abi Elphinstone is every bit as exciting as its predecessors and a fitting end to this enjoyable series. This is a story that sweeps you up into an action packed adventure but also gently encourages and guides young readers.

Cover illustration by George Ermos

Eleven year old Zebedee Bolt is a boy on the run. He is running away from foster families who have let him down, from adults who don’t understand him and from memories of his past. This makes Zeb vulnerable and when magic transports him to the land of Crackledawn he quickly falls under the spell of the evil harpy, Morg. When he realises his mistake he is already committed to a quest that will take him on a journey during which he discovers silver whales, evil monsters and underwater palaces but also friendship, courage and hope.

This is a world of magic, drama, adventure and excitement. The Crackledawn Dragon is first and foremost good fun to read. Abi Elphinstone is a writer who knows how to communicate with children. And I do mean ‘with’ not to. The narrative voice throughout engages with her readers and she never patronises or preaches but understands that children want to enjoy what they are reading. There is humour, not only in the names but in the conversations, a lightness of touch that makes the evil of the villain not too overwhelming for young readers.

There are some fabulous characters in this story and it is heartening to see children who are not usually depicted as heroes taking centre stage and in addition being both likeable and engaging. Zeb in particular is a boy who young readers will root for. The many characters who assist Zeb and his new friend Oonie include a talking chameleon named Mrs Fickletint who adopts a slightly maternal role with the children but is kind and wise too. A helpful elephant called Trampletusk and of course Snaggle the Dragon have key parts in the action and I must mention the yoga loving goblin, Dollop too.

There are life lessons contained within the excitement. As the adventure progresses the reader will see how important loyalty, teamwork and kindness are and above all the power of trust and hope. The optimism within this story is infectious and children will feel empowered by the growth and development of the characters. There are important links to our environment and the dangers of climate change. The threat to this magical kingdom mirrors the threat to our own habitats and the story encourages children to notice the beauty and the fragility of the natural world about them and to help to protect it if they can.

Comparison with the Narnia books is inevitable. There are similarities in some ways and in this particular story we see Zeb being seduced by power and promise in a manner reminiscent of Edmund and the White Witch. There are subtle differences however. As the last in the series this has a positive and optimistic ending whereas as a child I remember feeling a little let down and disturbed by The Last Battle. Abi Elphinstone knows her audience well and this final act in the Unmapped Chronicles drama is both satisfying and kind.

The Crackledawn Dragon was published by Simon and Schuster in June and I should like to thank the publishers for my review copy. This would work perfectly well as a stand alone book but for maximum enjoyment you many like to try the earlier stories, Everdark, Rumble Star and Jungle Drop.

You may like to watch this lovely video in which Abi introduces this book to her readers…

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Lulu’s Sleepover by Anna McQuinn illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

The Lulu series of books captures the world of small children and the little details that matter most to them. In this latest title Lulu experiences a rite of passage that may trouble little ones initially but in the hands of Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw it becomes a life experience that is both joyful and positive. This is a gorgeous, perfect picture book for young children.

Cover Illustration by Rosalind Beardshaw

Lulu has visited her cousin, Hani, many times but she has never spent the whole night there. As she prepares for her very first sleepover Lulu packs everything she might need, including her favourite books, her Mary-Mary doll and her cuddly toy cat, Dinah. At Hani’s house the two girls build, paint, play, dress up and watch movies. Lulu tries out some food she’s never tasted before and discovers that it is delicious. At bedtime they snuggle up for stories before they fall asleep. In the morning, after a breakfast treat, Daddy arrives to collect Lulu with a big hug. Lulu has loved her first sleepover and can’t wait to do it all over again!

Lulu’s Sleepover is tender, full of warmth and family love. This lovely picture book will reassure young children with its positive and kindly tone. The emphasis throughout the story is on sharing, exploring and trying new things together in a safe and loving environment. Both the text and illustrations capture the world of small children and the everyday minutiae that is so important to them and their sense of security. The detail is simply perfect. It is important to linger and look at the pictures and take in slowly what the text is emphasising. When Lulu and Daddy arrive Hani and Auntie Jina are making lemonade and when Daddy says goodbye we can see that already Lulu is clutching a cup of lemonade, already participating in the other family’s life. When the girls go out to play in the garden changed in to their dungarees they have already swapped bracelets which by the next morning has extended to swapping of pyjamas. This emphasis on sharing and swapping is beautifully executed. We join Lulu as she joins in with a family different to her own but one that she enjoys being part of.

The story is inclusive in a subtle, natural and supportive manner and celebrates the bond between extended and diverse families. There are many lovely moments such as Lulu’s hand nestled on her Auntie as she watches the TV. The language and the story also encourage imaginative play. When the girls run excitedly into the garden they are playing in a ‘rainforest’, when they are busy with blocks and watering cans they are ‘building’ and experiencing ‘waterfalls’. There are lots of activities and quiet moments incorporated into the story that children will recognise and replicate. The illustrations are full of vibrant patterns and shapes, colours and items to recognise, name and talk about. This is most definitely a book with opportunities for learning.

This is a treasure of a picture book for young children and would be perfect for Early Years settings and for families too. I have grown fond of Lulu and her lovely family and can wholeheartedly recommend Lulu’s Sleepover.

I should like to thank Alanna Max Publishers for providing my review copy. Lulu’s Sleepover is published on 6th September and is available to purchase online or at your local independent bookshop which can be found on this map. If this appeals you may also like to try Zeki Loves Mummy from the same publisher.

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