The Ghost In Annie’s Room by Philippa Pearce

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The Ghost in Annie’s Room by Philippa Pearce was sent to me by Barrington Stoke in return for my honest review.

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Philippa Pearce is probably best known for her classic children’s novel, Tom’s Midnight Garden. She also wrote many other novels for children including A Dog So Small and Minnow on the Say. What’s perhaps less well known are her stories for younger readers, including The Ghost in Annie’s Room. In the years since her death, publishers have been slowly releasing these stories in picture book and novella format for a new generation of readers.

The Ghost in Annie’s Room has been published by Barrington Stoke as one of their Little Gem readers, suitable for children aged five to eight. The books are small enough for little hands to read, broken into manageable chapters and the text is well spaced for easy comprehension. It also uses a dyslexia friendly font.

The story has been lovingly illustrated by Cate James’ whose work reminds me somewhat of Pat Hutchins’ work (Rosie’s Walk) and Quentin Blake.

Emma and her family go on holiday to the seaside to visit Emma’s aunt, and Emma is put to bed in the room that used to belong to her aunt’s daughter. Emma’s family tease her about the room being haunted. Emma wonders about the ghost, but finds that nothing can dim her enjoyment of her holiday and every night finds her explaining away ghostly happenings and getting a peaceful night’s sleep.

There is a beautifully managed tension in this book which reminds me of some aspects of Tom’s Midnight Garden. It is suspenseful but not really frightening and Pearce delivers up a lovely twist in the tale.

 

Dread Cat by Michael Rosen

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Dread Cat by Michael Rosen has been sent to me by Barrington Stoke publishers in exchange for my honest review.

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Regular readers will know how much I love Barrington Stoke, who specialise in publishing books tested by children, and with children who have dyslexia and reading problems in mind in terms of format. Wide spaced text, a readable font, non white pages and a size perfect for small hands are just a few of the things that make the books so great.

In the Little Gem collection of which Dread Cat is a part, you also get the stories split into easily manageable chapters and wonderful extras like puzzles and games on the books’ integrated fly leaves and beautifully illustrated end papers.

As you would expect from Michael Rosen the story is fresh and funny. A smart cat, the Dread Cat of the title, decides to make his domestic life easier by figuring out a cunning plan by which to trick the house mice to their doom, and in the manner of the best of these stories, the mice figure out how to get their own back on Dread Cat.

The story is beautifully complemented by illustrations from Nicola O’Byrne. I particularly love her depiction of Dread Cat himself who has more than a hint of one of T. S. Eliots more rambunctious felines about him.

The story is perfect for new readers aged 5-8. My son’s primary school uses a lot of the Little Gem series in their individual class libraries throughout the school and they are perennially popular with the children. This will be another great addition to their collection.

Picture This! A Kid’s Guide to Great Artists and Paintings by Paul Thurlby and The National Gallery

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Picture This! A Kid’s Guide to Great Artists and Paintings, put together by Paul Thurlby and The National Gallery was sent to me by the Amazon Vine review programme in exchange for my honest opinion.

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I love Paul Thurlby’s work, which was why I was happy to receive the book, although his input is most obvious on the cover art and the first few pages, and tends to taper off towards the end of the book.

It reminded me slightly of when Quentin Blake took over the gallery several years ago, and his work was used to frame the pictures he’d chosen to display. If you’re looking for a Thurlby heavy work, this is not really for you. Having said that, it is perfect if you’re looking for a kid’s guide to the National Gallery with added funkiness from a top class illustrator.

The book is divided into sections which allow for a child’s eye experience of exploring some of the paintings in the gallery, and some material on what to expect if you visit the gallery itself. The sections are tailored to appeal, with headings such as ‘Children Like Me,’ and ‘Myths, Tales and Legend.’

The text is well thought out, with a few short sentences that describe what the section is about, interspersed with questions for the reader to actively encourage the reader to engage with the paintings in a thoughtful way. There are also activities to do, and the reader is encouraged to draw and write in the book, which is something I really liked.

The pictures from the Gallery are, in the main, really well chosen and utilised, although given that there are over 3000 pictures in the gallery, I did think it was a little weak to use a couple of the pictures more than once. I’d like to have seen fresh material to illustrate the points being made.

I think it’s great that all the pictures are also reproduced in colour, and to a pretty high quality. The only criticism would be that they are fairly small,  which I can understand in terms of packing in more for the, very reasonable price, but makes it a little difficult when some of the questions for the reader involve them having to look closely at small details on the already small paintings.

Having said that, I think for a fiver, the book is excellent. It’s well made, with sturdy covers and spiral binding so that it can be used as a practical object, as well as read. It’s thoughtfully laid out with decent space for the readers to do their own activities in, and with a good font size for the text. It’s bright and appealing and well written. It would be a wonderful gift for a child interested in art, but also a great addition to class rooms and school libraries for primary readers.

 

Knighthood for Beginners by Elys Dolan

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Knighthood for Beginners by Elys Dolan was sent to me by the Amazon Vine review programme in exchange for my honest review.

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I have reviewed several picture books by Elys Dolan here at Making Them Readers. My particular favourite being Steven Seagull, although I have thoroughly enjoyed everything she has written so far. Knighthood for Beginners is her first chapter or transitional book for slightly older readers. I was interested to see if she could carry the wit and style of her picture books over into a longer format.

She can.

Dave is a terrible dragon. He’s let down everyone in his family after failing the test to be a dragon, and indeed everyone in his community. Kicked out to wander the world alone, he finds a book about knights, and is bowled over. Realising that being a knight is his destiny, he sets off to find a trusty steed, who just happens to be a German goat called Albrecht.

Dave and Albrecht travel far and wide, but mostly to the nearest town to become chivalrous knights of old and in doing so, turn tradition on its head in the most delightful way.

This is a brilliantly crazy adventure, beautifully illustrated by Dolan with her usual charm and humour. I particularly like the rats on sticks in almost every picture. My favourite character is Albrecht, who is a devil may care adventurer with some classic lines, many of which are in German (glossary is provided). I also loved the Bearded Lady who, like Dave, manages to transcend her destiny and better herself.

There is a real sense of anarchy in this clever and funny book. It would work perfectly for newly independent readers and is a cracking read for both boys and girls.

And me.

Danny McGee Drinks The Sea by Andy Stanton and Neal Layton

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Danny McGee Drinks The Sea by Andy Stanton, with illustrations by Neal Layton was sent to me by the Amazon Vine review programme in exchange for my honest review.

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Long term readers know that I LOVE Andy Stanton, and my only disappointment with this is that it isn’t more Mr. Gum. Frankly, the world needs more Mr. Gum. However, this is pretty good too, and perfect for Early Years readers who are not quite ready for the madness that is Mr. Gum.

Neal Layton is a brilliant illustrator and picture book author in his own right, and really these two people together are a winning combination. Layton’s illustrations are alive with colour and energy and perfectly capture the madcap fun of the story by Stanton.

Danny McGee takes on the challenge laid down by his sister Frannie, to drink the sea, but he just can’t seem to stop there. Hooked on the power of sucking the whole sea into his belly, much like the Old Woman who Swallowed A Fly, he goes nuts for eating everything and anything in his path. Although there is a wonderful twist in the tale that I won’t spoil for you here.

It’s a rhyming story, which, as regular readers will also know, is not my favourite thing in the world, but it works beautifully in this context and small children do seem to lap up the rhymes. It’s not too twee and at times there’s a slight Dr. Seuss element that lifts it out of the usual, syrupy rhyming fare.

It’s funny, exuberant and silly. Destined to be a picture book classic.

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

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Apologies for the hiatus in posting. My health has not been of the finest and I have tended to be sprawled asleep at the keyboard rather than alertly typing away.

It is time, now that the summer holidays are here, to get back in the book blogging saddle and tell you about our experiences of reading The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett.  This is the twenty fourth book in the Discworld series, and one which I had very little recollection of when Oscar started reading it to me. As he read on, snippets came back to me, and I wondered why I had so comprehensively forgotten it, as I enjoyed it very much indeed the second time around.

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The book focuses on Commander Samuel Vimes of The City Watch, as he takes on a new role as a diplomat, trying to forge relations with the dwarves of Uberwald, and find out what exactly has happened to the Scone of Stone, which is needed for the ceremony to elect the new king of the dwarves. Sub plots involve Captain Carrot and Angua and their complex, dwarf/human/werewolf relationship and just what happens to the Ankh Morpork City Watch when Colon is left in charge.

Oscar loved it because the Watch stories are his favourite, particularly any scenes that involve Nobby Nobs, and I loved it because it really hammers home the point that by this time, Pratchett had gone way beyond the traditional limits of fantasy and is writing in a much more philosophical vein about all the foibles of being human. This is particularly underscored in his handling of the Uberwald class system, and the things about the dwarves that Vimes discovers. It foreshadows his material about goblins in the very last books he wrote.

There are the usual comic touches, but The Fifth Elephant is so much darker than the early works and, to my mind more multi faceted, showing the different layers of understanding and discovery that Pratchett was exploring. Whether a child reader will pick this up or not is largely irrelevant as the stories bear reading over and over again, and as my delight in rediscovering this attests, will last a lifetime of re-examination.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell is a new novel on the YA fantasy scene which is the first of what looks to be a most promising series of books.

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Kellen is a young man who is about to reach is sixteenth birthday. In the world in which he lives, all young people of his age are tested on their birthday with regard to their magical skills. If they pass a series of tests they become the ruling class, the powerful elite. If they don’t they are shunned from society and made to serve those in power, even those in their own families.

Kellen has a problem. His magic, which should have been sparking into life over the last few years and reaching its peak of power, is actually fading and he is about to become an outcast in his own life. To make things worse, his younger sister looks as if she will be one of the most powerful mages his people have ever known.

The book opens with Kellen about to embark on a magical duel with one of his worst enemies. Kellen thinks he can win the day by sheer cunning alone, but two things conspire against him, his sister and the arrival of a mysterious stranger, an outlaw who doesn’t play by the rules, doesn’t worship magic and who might just show Kellen a different way to be.

This is a great fantasy novel that is combined beautifully with a coming of age novel. It’s funny, gripping and in parts handles the emotional journey Kellen is on sensitively. It balances all the elements of the disparate genres it pulls from very well, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well paced, well written and the characters were fleshed out nicely. The book ends satisfactorily in terms of the initial plot lines, but is open enough to allow for more volumes to be written and I believe the second volume will be out in the autumn of this year. I will be looking for it.

A good, solid read for children aged 10 and up, and adults who like fresh voices in fantasy fiction.

This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

I really wish that something like This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson existed when I was a teenager. It’s an amazing book and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone looking for a way to discuss with teens or even pre teens, anything other than the standard, heterosexual relationship situation.

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It’s simply written without being patronising. The copy I read was a reprint which has been added to and extended since it was first published to make sure that all the information available is as up to date as possible.

It appears effortless in its ability to explain complicated and often confusing ideas to people who may already be feeling pretty confused about their sexuality. It is non judgmental and deeply compassionate. It’s funny and wise and inclusive. I absolutely loved it, and despite being much older than the target demographic, I learned a lot.

I would make it mandatory to carry a copy of this in all secondary school libraries. I’d consider using it as a teaching aid in primary year six too, when regular, heterosexual sexual relationships is taught to children. It does a wonderful job of normalising whatever your feelings are about your and other people’s sexuality.

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

Carpe Jugulum is the twenty third Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett and features my favourite characters, the witches. The witches always cheer me up, and this book is no exception. My son, who is reading these to me, prefers the watch, but he has an abiding love of Nanny Ogg which means he’s always quite pleased when the witches turn up in a story.

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In this book, Magrat and Verence, now rulers of Lancre, are having their first child christened. The christening is pretty much pinched wholesale from every fairy tale you’ve ever read and in particular, Sleeping Beauty. It has, of course, it’s classic Pratchettian twists and turns that make you look at traditional stories and tropes with fresh eyes, and this is one of the joys of Pratchett.

There are various disasters in this novel. Granny thinks she has been forgotten from the guest list and is sulking in her cottage. Agnes Nitt is still struggling with the whole idea of her witchiness, not helped by her alter ego, Perdita, who haunts her. Nanny is outraged because Verence, as a progressive kind of monarch, has invited a priest of Om to oversee the service. Nanny remembers that Omnians burn witches and hasn’t caught up with the latest twists and turns in the Omnian saga which are laid out in the book, Small Gods. If you’ve read this novel prior to reading Carpe Jugulum, you will enjoy the character of Mightily Oats much more than if this is your first foray into the Discworld.

The worst thing Verence has done however, is to invite vampire aristocracy from Uberwald to the christening, not knowing that you must never invite vampires anywhere, even if it does sound rude. The vampires are coming, and even though they are a new and sophisticated breed of vampires, they’re just as much trouble as the old sort.

This book has lots of great jokes, time to revisit lots of characters and old plot lines to add richness to the general Discworld tapestry and plenty of interweaving plot lines to keep the pages turning. Oscar and I thoroughly enjoyed this book, particularly meeting the character of Verence’s falconer, Hodges Arrgh again. It’s funny, clever and a very rewarding read for people of all ages.

Little Town on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder – A Book Review

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Little Town on the Prairie is the next in the Little House on The Prairie series, of which, The Long Winter was the previous volume.

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The Long Winter was such a harrowing read. Laura and her family nearly starve to death in a particularly brutal winter, where they and indeed the fledgling town where they live, are saved by the daring of Laura’s future husband, Almanzo Wilder, who, along with his friend, brings vital supplies to the town’s snowbound population.

It was always going to be a tough volume to follow in terms of drama. Part of you, as the reader, craves more excitement, but there is always the knowledge that this is a real (although somewhat romanticised version) story about real people and their lives, and actually, reading this much gentler, more domestic volume, is a bit of relief. It is nice to know that Laura was not always having a hard time of her pioneering life.

In this volume, Laura has to do her final bit of growing up, waving goodbye to her beloved sister Mary, getting her first jobs and finishing school. It’s tough. You always sense the wildness in Laura that doesn’t want to be tamed or pious or good and personally, I sympathise with that version of Laura far more than the well behaved one. I think it’s part of what makes theses books so enduring, that Laura’s own mind is so modern, despite the restraints of the time she grew up in. It was a little sad to see her wildness squashed here.

It is however, enjoyable to see her finally getting a real social life and beginning to strike out on her own and I am very much looking forward to reading about what happens next for her.

The books are still suitable for primary aged readers as even with Laura reaching almost adulthood there is nothing in here to shock or scandalise. They do become less appealing to boy readers as the series evolves however, mainly because Laura’s escapades are being tamed by the social expectations placed upon her.