It is book season over here, we have just had a spate of unprecedented reading over here and we are conquering our shelf of review books… so here is a collection of fabulous reads and the books my kids and I have been enjoying lately.
Wonderling by Mira Bartók: This is a new book on the block and there is a lot of hype about it… all worthy praise. 400+ pages of magic. It is beautiful book with a lovely cover and lots of little design details that add to the legend status. There are wonderful illustrations throughout the book and every detail is part of the story, and there are classic twirls and swirls on every page, it feels like you are diving into an old fashioned book. The story is about an 11 year old fox/boy groundling, and he is rather special. He only has one ear and with that ear he has exceptional hearing. This fox who doesn’t have a name, only a number, and it is 13, is part of a collection of very sorry little orphans that live in an hideous orphanage called the Home of Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures run by the very mean and nasty Miss Carbuncle. Think the richness of Oliver Twist, combined with the cleverness of a Series of Unfortunate Events and you will have a good feel for this book. 13 sets off on a quest with his only friend Trinket… and they have to part ways and he is left alone in a deep dark city. He needs to find his way out and save the orphans who remained behind, not to mention save all the songs of the world. In the background, gently threading its way through the story, is 13’s own personal mystery. This feels like a fairy tale, 13 is a sweet and bright light in a somewhat dark world. The lightness of the character somehow overcomes the world he lives in, which is a lonely and despairing one. Will he be able to understand his personal yearning? Will he be able to find the source of that elusive memory that is just out of reach? Will he find what his heart is looking for, even though he does not know what that is? So many questions. There is a mystery within his quest, and he is so very likeable that you feel he must achieve… so you read on and on and all to soon it is over. A Lovely read, if your child enjoys fairytales, then they will enjoy this. A Magical read that is going to take this book straight to the top of the book charts.
Rose Ravensthorpe Investigates Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham: I loved this book, it gets five stars from me, and I am thrilled that is the first in a series, because that means there are more like it to read. I read a lot of Middle Grade Readers and this one just had a unique feel to it right from the start. It is a murder mystery for middle graders, yes gasp… it is the real thing. Your chapter book reader is going to love this. Rose loves and adores her butler, Argyle… who is as close as she has to a genuine parent, in the heart of Victorian England, where children were seen and not heard. Argyle, has shown her the ways of the city of Yorke, she knows the ancient tales and superstitions that people live by. She walks the city and knows the Cats of Yorke… I was intrigued… there really are Cats of Yorke, this is the kind of book that would inspire a visit. An ancient prophetic poem about vanishing cats appears to be coming true, when the cat statues that protect the city, start to vanish from local landmarks… and then the butlers begin to be murdered one by one at the same time. Is it really old superstitions coming to life or is there some criminal intent behind the murders. Of course there is, and Rose Ravensthorpe is the one to figure out the mystery and protect her newly acquired friends in the secret society and sub-culture of butlers of Yorke. This book has no fancy illustrations to carry the reader along, it is words that paint the pictures… swirling mist, town graveyards after dark, secret tunnels and forgotten mazes and carriages speeding out of sight. This book is pure fun, a mystery that unravels to the point of no return and a feisty gal that doesn’t let anyone distract her from getting to the bottom of it. A Victorian Nancy Drew with a slightly gothic flavour, look out for Rose Ravensthorpe, I am hoping she is going to be solving a lot of mysteries in the future.
928 Miles from Home by Kim Slater: Kim Slater writes real stories about real kids with real troubles… and I enjoy them. Her previous book A Seven Letter Word was a hit in our house. She manages to pack a lot of life lessons into her books without being preachy. Let’s talk about bullying, and how all the systems in place to protect and prevent kids from it don’t help at the grass roots level. This book is all about all the players in a bullying situation: the victims, the onlookers, the bullys and the well-intentioned. The story is set in the UK, Calum… is an onlooker in a bullying world, he daren’t breathe because the situation he is in means that he could easily slip into the victim roll… he has to put on a brave face and display all the bravado to maintain his place on the bottom level of the bullying crowd. Callum’s father travels a lot and he is left home alone, with nothing to eat, no company and boredom to occupy him, it is a recipe for a downward spiral. Calum is far far from perfect and when he finds his father’s new girlfriend coming to stay, along with her son Sergei, he finds himself in a very awkward situation. Sergei is the local victim and while Calum has always been the onlooker he finds himself living alongside the victim, and he has a lot to answer for. Turns out that there is more to Sergei than Calum expected. When Calum is in a serious accident and has a long summer ahead of him, Sergei is going to be the one to stand by him, Calum realises that there are many facets to friendship. This book epitomises “there are two sides to every story” and possibly the only book I have read that covers Brexit,… 938 miles is the distance from Warsaw to Calum’s home in the UK, after all. All the complications of middle school hierarchy and the overriding theme of enduring friendship. This is a great read. A great read, for kids who find them self in hard situations and for kids that like reading about real life.
Tell it to the Moon by Siobhan Curham: This is the sequel to The Moonlight Dreamers. I really like these books they are the story of four very different girls who come together in the first book, to form a club called the #MoonlightDreamers. These are funky girls that could well be in your kids’ class at school. They each have battles to face, four girls and so many issues packed into one book. Each of the issues are issues that your typical teens are dealing with: bullying, stress, difficult family situations, ill parents, difficult parents, discovering their own identity, challenging their beliefs. What draws these girls together is that they each have a dream and their friendship is all about encouraging each other and believing that they can not just reach for their dreams but actually achieve them. Brave girls, courageous girls who support and encourage each other all the way: Maali’s dad is ill and where does her faith in her gods is floundering under the pressure; Amber has two dads and discovers that her surrogate mother doesn’t want to know her; Rose “comes out” while her famous parents are floundering around in a publicity furore; and Sky finds herself in high school after a lifetime of homeschooling… and it isn’t a whole lot of fun. The book is filled with Oscar Wild quotes, poetry and even a recipe. This is a fun read and covers a lot of ground about issues our teen gals are facing amongst their friends. I love how the girls support and encourage one another… they are great role models. These books read like hot chocolate on a chilly day, they are comfort books and leave you feeling good… friendship is a good thing and reaching for your dreams with their help is even better.
Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird: I have to say that if I see an Elizabeth Laird novel I grab it with confidence, she brings the plight of refugee stories to light in a way that is accessible to children. She tells their side of the story with compassion and understanding. These are great reads for kids who are interested in real life stories and are looking for books that are relevant to the world they might see flashing past on the News. In Kiss the Dust, Tara and her Kurdish family are forced to flee Iraq. Tara is a regular kid, and we are taken into her world as it is turned upside, we follow along on her families journey as Tara has to come to terms with the extreme dangers and struggle for survival of a fleeing refugee, her mother’s illness forces her to become the “grown up” in a wild and crazy situation. When they finally reach a very unwelcoming Western World, they don’t speak the language, they don’t understand the world around them. Her father has a job that he hates and the family somehow struggles through. This book is harrowing and eyeopening, not to mention a great empathy builder. We are all the same, we have hopes and dreams and our world can be shattered and changed forever in a moment. This book is about coming of age and while you read it, you will have to face your very comfortable life and grow up a little but too.
Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman:
Sigh, the slow slow start, but you have to push on because there is a twist in the tail that you won’t believe. Caleb and his dad are traveling minstrels in the 1750’s in England. Caleb is mixed race and it is assumed that he is his dad’s slave. The whole book in fact has more than an undercurrent of racial tension and the injustice of class, prejudice is rife in eighteenth century England. His dad gets arrested when a pick pocket tosses his bag into his arms, and Caleb’s dad is wrongly accused of theft. He is shipped of to the Colonies, and Caleb has to stay with his aunt and cousin who he has never met before. Turns out his dad was set up, and whoever was responsible is now after Caleb and his aunt is really not who he thought she was. This is a mystery crime novel… and an excellent read, for middle schoolers.
Beyond the Wall by Tanya Landman: Set in Roman Britain, Cassia is an escaped slave on the run. She is literally being hunted down, because she has managed to escape from her master, when she refused to be his mistress. There are going to be dire consequences if she is caught. She must escape. And her only escape is to the north and across Hadrian’s Wall. She is fleeing for her life and will encounter many perils on her journey. This is gripping historical fiction… but I have to say some of the themes would make me put this into the young adult section rather than a teen or middle school reads.
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron: A Dog’s Story is the heartwarming story of a dog (!), narrated by the dog himself. It all begins with him as a puppy and his awakening in the world and early days with his small squeaking siblings. This book just brings you the world from a puppies perspective and I think the author put a lot work into trying to figure out the world from a puppy and then a dog’s perspective… and there is a sweetness in this dog that will make you so much more empathetic to animals, wherever you encounter them. You might find yourself pausing and thinking, “What would my dog be thinking right here, right now?” This is really four short stories and each one is complete in their own right, they are really quick and easy reading… though some of the topics are a little above my kids that read at this reading level. In the first story, Toby a feral dog is collected by a woman and her family, who absolutely love dogs. They have a large kennel out back, where they keep and feed a lot of dogs… eventually towards the end of this first episode the home for dogs is closed down by authorities and some of the dogs have to be put down. It is sad. My younger kids would not handle this well at all. Toby is one of the dogs to be put down, but he wakes up in the next chapter as a puppy, and so begins Baily’s story. Baily’s story starts off about a dog that finds his way into the life of a young boy Ethan. Baily grows up alongside Ethan, making all the mistakes that puppies make and you will learn about the confused and mixed messages that puppy owners send to their dogs… there is however a neighbour who is a little bit strange and when Ethan gets to college, there is a certain amount of rivalry between Ethan and the disturbing neighbour Todd. This doesn’t end well for Todd. The final story is about a dog called called Ellie. Ellie is somewhat of a hero right from the start.
This book has been produced as four individual books one for each of the dogs in the book. I felt they were better presented this way, dog lovers will really enjoy books written from the dog’s perspective. They will definitely never look at their dogs in the same light again, now that they had an idea about what their dogs are thinking. I found it awkward in the four-in-one book that the dogs were “born again” in each story, it wasn’t necessary. If I was going to buy this book for my animal loving kid then I would head straight for Ellie’s Story pop it onto your must reads list.
For Younger Readers
Kingfisher Readers: Bears Level 1 Beginning to Read: It is so good for a beginner reader to find a book about a topic that they love, animals for instance, and then as they browse through it they discover that they can read it themselves. This little book is full of facts all about different types of bears from all over world. Lots of “did you know facts?” This is a great read for little readers.
Kingfisher Readers: Robots (Level 3: Reading Alone with Some Help) This book is from the same series as the book before this one, but unlike the book on bears this is a book on Robots. I have to say that there is a fairly high jump between level 1 and level 3 readers. I have to say that my beginner reader needed a fair amount of help with this one, but because it is a topic he is interested in he was prepared to persevere.
UnderWater Zoo by Alan Glass and Ed Jordan and illustrated by Sandy Lightly: My kids are big fans of Alan Glass… So were very pleased to receive this sweet underwater picture book for little people. You will find all sorts of wild animals in the Underwater Zoo, like the Elephant Seal, Lion Fish, Puffer Dog Fish and many more… This is a winding rhyming story about the wonderful creatures that you find under the sea. Each animal gets their own page and there is an information bubble, because we all know that little children love all the facts. This book would make a great addition to a little ocean lover’s library.
Huge thank you to PanMacmillan South Africa for supplying this fabulous collection of books for review purposes. This is not a sponsored post and all the reviews are as usual my own.