The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell


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My son has been a huge fan of Cressida Cowell forever. He was genuinely upset when the  How To Train Your Dragon series was over, and he re-reads them all the time. The Wizards of Once is Cowell’s new series, and after having read it, I think he will love it. Possibly more than he loves How To Train Your Dragon.  He’d have already pinched it off me by now, but he’s on an outward bound holiday, so I got to read it uninterrupted.


The story is set in a mythical, pre-Arthurian Britain in which magic and men are at war with each other. In the woods live the Wizards surrounded by sprites, elves, talking animals and giants.  In the fortress live the Warriors and their iron weapons that are intent on wiping out magic forever. Witches, the most evil creatures in the land, have already been wiped out and now the Wizards and their ilk are being hunted.

Except that everything is not quite as it seems. Xar is a Wizard. He’s thirteen, the youngest son of the chief Wizard. At thirteen, a wizard’s magic comes in. Except Xar has no magic yet. It does not stop him being wild and reckless and cooking up increasingly more risky plans to find a way to access his elusive gifts. One one of his adventures he bumps into Wish, the Warrior princess, daughter of the ruler of the Warriors. Wish is not meant to have any magic at all. She is meant to be a bloodthirsty and fearless fighter, and yet her destiny seems to be taking her in quite another direction altogether.

The two meet and in doing so, discover that Witches might not be quite so extinct as everyone had imagined.

This is a splendid adventure. It’s beautifully realised, with the most marvellous, atmospheric illustrations by Cowell. It’s funny and dark, adventurous and thoughtful and  full of promise for the rest of the books in the series to follow. The characters are great, and I loved every last bit of it. It would be a brilliant book to read aloud at bedtime or to a class, and I think those who are already fans of Cowell’s work will love it, and those who are introduced to her through this, will be smitten. Perfect for children aged seven and up.


Birthday Boy by David Baddiel


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I was sent an advance copy of Birthday Boy by Netgalley in exchange for my review.


Until this point I’d only ever read David Baddiel’s novels for adults, which I enjoyed very much. I have to be honest and say that I had a little trouble imagining how he would transition across to children’s writing though, but as my ten year old son rates him highly, I thought I’d give this a whirl.

Having read Birthday Boy I can now see why my son loves his books. Deftly written, the plotting moves at speed so that there is no chance of the reader becoming bored or distracted, the narrative simply doesn’t allow you to stop.

Sam Green wakes up on his birthday, after months of fevered excitement and planning. The day is as wonderful as he anticipated, and that night, looking through his new telescope and spying a shooting star, he wishes that every day could be his birthday.

Over the course of the book, Sam finds out the truth of the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for,’ as birthday after birthday dulls his appetites and starts taking a ruinous toll on his family. He has to figure out a way to stop the magic working and get his ordinary life back.

The moral of the tale is handled with humour and a lightness of touch that mean the narrative never gets bogged down in wordiness or sentimentality, which I like. There are some great supporting characters. I particularly love Sam’s long suffering guinea pig whose facial expressions are a running joke throughout the book. There’s a good mix of characters and great, strong roles for girls. I also loved the grandparents, who seem to be an homage to Charlie’s grandparents in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. It’s particularly lovely that there is more than a nod to Baddiel’s own father, Colin.

The book is generous, kind and funny, taking inspiration from some classic tropes of children’s fiction and making them fresh for a new generation of readers. Perfect for children aged 7 and up.

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler


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Anne of Green Gables was one of my favourite books as a child. My copy was a tattered hard back that had been my mother’s and it was a wonder, given how many times she had read it, that it lasted long enough to be handed down to me. I read and re-read it until it disintegrated.


I was dubious when Net Galley allowed me to read a review copy of the graphic novel by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler. I really wondered what on earth they could add to such a classic book, with such a world wide following of fans.

As it turns out, they add a lot.

One of my great sadnesses as an adult, encouraging children to read, was how hard it was to get kids to read the classics that I had loved as a child. They’re often too wordy and slow for all but the most patient and confident of readers, and I was really beginning to be concerned that the love for these books was on the wane with children. However, I really think that turning the stories into graphic novels, particularly such beautiful and well thought out ones as this, could be their saving grace.

I cannot praise this book highly enough. The illustrations by Brenna Thummler are superb. They perfectly capture the mood of the book for me. There is so much life and joy and movement in these illustrations that the entire book just bursts to life before your eyes. It’s perfectly matched by the skilful paring down of the essentials of the s tory by Mariah Marsden. Her ability to sum up the essence of Anne Shirley in so few words is a skill.

I loved this book so much I read it twice. I was sent a digital review copy, but when the book is published on 30th November 2017, I will be ordering a paper copy of my own, and getting one for my mum for Christmas as well.

The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett


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The Last Hero is the twenty-seventh book in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and one, which when I started reading it with my son, I realised I had never read before. It was a real pleasure to read something new (to me), and which, unlike The Shepherd’s Crown, did not make me cry.


The Last Hero is more of a novella, and our version is a beautiful, large format, cloth bound book with full colour plates that are beautifully drawn by Paul Kidby. Oscar, my son, particularly enjoyed this format as he had a real chance to examine all the pictures and see the Discworld up close, so to speak. My favourite illustration was the Librarian, his was the turtles swimming through space.

In this book, Cohen the Barbarian and his ageing horde have a bone to pick with the dice playing Gods who gamble with the lives of ordinary Disc dwellers (if there is such a thing) and heroes alike. Cohen decides to go out with a bang not a whimper, and they set off to deliver the gift of fire back to the Gods.

Back in Ankh Morpork, the Patrician enrols the help of the wizards to try and stop the world ending and with the help of Leonard of Quirm and the City Watch, they launch a vessel filled with their brightest and best, and Rincewind to save the day.

Many different strands of Disc lore weave together to make this modern myth come to life. I think it’s best described as a romp, and one we thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer – Jeremy Strong


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Independent publisher, Barrington Stoke, sent me Nellie Choc-Ice, Penguin Explorer by Jeremy Strong to review.


Another fantastic addition to their stellar, little Gems collection, I loved this. Strong brings the same wit and humour to this warmly funny story of Nellie Choc-Ice that makes stories like The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and my favourite, Mad Iris, so popular.

The story of Nellie is wonderfully brought to life by illustrator Jamie Smith, who captures Nellie’s slightly ditzy nature perfectly. I particularly loved the snowball style bobble on her hat. Strong is great on humour, but I also enjoyed the fact that in this book, he gives little factual snippets about penguins and their habitats, in an engaging way that doesn’t feel like information is being force fed the reader.

The quality of production is as high as ever, with wonderful, nautical end papers, puzzles and quizzes on the inside covers, and the usual, dyslexia friendly font and simple chapter format.

A great book for newly independent readers and to share with children aged 5-8.

There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday


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Amazon Vine sent me a copy of Piers Torday’s There May Be A Castle in exchange for my honest review.

I’ve read Torday’s work before. I really enjoyed his The Last Wild trilogy and have had the pleasure of recommending it to a lot of children who also enjoyed it. There May Be A Castle is equally good, but in a very different way indeed.

I really don’t want to publish any spoilers, because it is the emotional rawness and twists and turns of the inner life of both Mouse and Violet, the protagonists, that make this such a compelling read. It would be a shame to not let you find out for yourselves what is going on.

Mouse Mallory is, as his name suggests, a small, but not insignificant part of his family, which consists of him, his mum and his two sisters, Violet and Esme (his dad has gone off to Florida to live with a lady he met online). The story starts as Mouse and his family set off across the moors to visit his grandparents house for Christmas. Snow is falling. It should be idyllic, and yet it isn’t, and soon, disaster befalls them.

It is how Mouse and Violet cope with this disaster that makes this book such an epic adventure story. Today takes the tropes of the traditional quest story and employs it in a new and exciting way.

One of the best things about the book is the fact that as well as the quest narrative, we also get Violet’s adventures as she takes inspiration from her heroine, a female pirate, Grainne O’Malley. I confess that Violet is my favourite character in the book. I find it so inspiring that more and more writers are addressing gender in their books and giving both boys and girls way more interesting, gender smashing roles in fiction. I love that Violet is strong and determined and as much a hero as Mouse.

The book had me in floods of tears by the end as not content with turning genres and genders on their head, Torday delivers a gut punching emotional twist right at the end. A superb book which I feel will win many accolades, and most importantly, the love of a lot of young readers.

Recommended for eights and up.7c6541_68abf54e1a2a435c9bcab873151e6223~mv2

The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais


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The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais was given to me by Net Galley to review. It will be published on October 3rd, 2017.


Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of alternative fairy tales. The topic of fairy tales is regularly picked in primary schools to help introduce children to fiction, and I’ve helped find the books to teach it on several occasions.

One of the great joys of sourcing books for the topic is the fact that we are blessed with so many alternative takes to traditional stories, and stories from many countries and faiths are now included in the mix to give a really diverse flavour to the topic. Every time I’ve seen it taught there has been some new element to the teaching that makes the topic vital and relevant to children today, as well as sharing with them stories that delighted children of many generations before them.

As a result I was really looking forward to reading The Little Red Wolf.

I have to say that the story is beautifully illustrated. The images are very special indeed. Flechais’ work has an ethereal quality that brings a real depth to her words and is visually very appealing indeed. I spent a long time looking at the artwork and I feel that it’s something you could come back to time and time again and always find something new, rich and strange.

The story however, was somewhat difficult for me. Firstly the language was fairly advanced in places, for a story that usually gets taught and shared with early years and pre school children. I can see how you could teach this as an alternative reading to older children, but that would make it a fairly niche product.

Secondly, I understand that fairy tales can be dark, and tracing them back to Charles Perrault, it’s pretty clear they were not really meant for children originally. That is not where we are today, however, and as I imagined myself having to explain to children the wolf’s diet of rabbits, and how the book ricochets between cutesy rabbits and then crunching rabbit’s paws, and scattering bones, I found the whole thing a bit tricky.

I think it’s great that Flechais has reversed the roles in this re-telling. The wolf is the hero of the piece, and much like The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas, there is much value in this topsy turvy take on things. What’s more difficult for me is that the tone is uneven. The artwork is ethereal and at times quite cutesy, but the words undercut that cuteness in quite a grim way that may need some talking through with children as you read.

Similarly the whole second half of the story with the soulless, evil child was quite problematic. Flechais’ text here strays even further from the more cartoonish qualities that water down the impact of the traditional tale and make it macabre and troubling. I personally don’t have a problem with macabre and troubling, but it did make me wonder what age group the book is really supposed to be for.


Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen


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This week I was approved by NetGalley to get a sneaky peek at the new, picture book version of Michael Rosen’s classic poem, Chocolate Cake, replete with illustrations by Kevin Waldron.


The book will be published on 24th August, 2017.

I love Michael Rosen’s work. I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t, to be honest. As a child I enjoyed reading his work myself. As an adult, teaching children about the sheer joy of reading, I used to look forward to sharing his books, particularly his poems.  Chocolate Cake and No Breathing In Class are two of my all time favourites to read and share. You can see them being performed on Michael’s YouTube channel, which is, in my mind the best way of sharing poems.

For sharing at bed time, or in class, or as part of a school library this new version is an absolute must. The illustrations by Kevin Waldron have a child-like glee to them that really help bring the poem off the page, in much the same way that performance does. The humour, the suspense, the excitement are all captured in the bright, bold pictures and really draw the reader in to the narrative.

I recommend this for all ages. It is deserving of the title classic, without making it seem dreary or only for an elite few. It is a classic because its themes are universal and it evokes all the emotions in the reader that the poem’s protagonist goes through himself. It is just lovely.

A Skinful of Shadows – Frances Hardinge


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I recently joined Netgalley and was very fortunate to be offered a sample of the new Frances Hardinge novel, A Skinful of Shadows to review. I got sent six chapters, and let me tell you, that is very unfair. Six chapters was just not enough. It cruelly whetted my appetite and I rushed off to pre-order it from Amazon. I only have to wait until September 21st.



Hardinge hit the big time with her last book, The Lie Tree, which you will find reviewed here in the archives at Making Them Readers. A dark and thrilling blend of historical novel and fantasy fiction, with an excellent heroine and a brilliantly original plot, it deserved all the plaudits heaped upon it.

If this was your first experience of Hardinge’s writing you will be delighted to know that there is a decent back catalogue of her work to go at, and it is all equally good. I first came across her in reading Fly By Night to see if it would make a good addition to the primary school library I was then looking after. It did, and I made sure to hunt down everything she has written since.

A Skinful of Shadows has the same blend of historical fiction and fantasy that featured in The Lie Tree, but is set at an earlier period of English history. Makepeace is a young girl whose mother keeps secrets from her, secrets about their shared past, and secrets about the things Makepeace sees in the small hours of the night. Gradually she begins to educate Makepeace about what haunts her, but before she can share everything, tragedy strikes and Makepeace finds herself thrown back into a past she doesn’t know anything about and at the mercy of strangers who she is sure do not have her best interests at heart. She feels alone and defenceless until she realises that she has inadvertently found an ally in the last place anyone would think to look.

Beautifully written, dark and enthralling, I cannot wait to read the rest when the book finally comes out.


Max and Bird by Ed Vere


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I recently joined Net Galley and one of my first picks was an Ed Vere picture book featuring Max the cat (who has also starred in Max the Brave and Max at Night), called Max and Bird.


Max is a dishevelled cat, more of a kitten really, who means well, but is slightly clueless. I think I warm to Max because I have a cat called Derek, who is much the same, and really struggles with the basic principles of how to be a great cat. She is an excellent Derek, but her cat skills leave much to be desired.

One day Max sees a bird and decides that he probably wants to eat it. Bird, unsurprisingly, is not keen, and suggests they try friendship instead. In order to give Max time to think about this, Bird rather magnanimously in the circumstances, suggests that Max helps Bird learn how to fly, and if at the end of the process he still wants to eat Bird, they’ll talk it through.

There is a joyous section where Max and Bird try to figure out flying, and quite rightly, spend a great deal of time in their local library, reading books from the low shelves because they’re too short to reach the top shelves.

The book is in Vere’s trademark frenetic style of illustration with some really wonderful facial expressions that make the book very funny indeed. He uses his usual bright pops of colour as background to the otherwise minimal content. I really like this technique for making both Max and Bird seem tiny (like the reader) but also the whole focus of the attention because of their shape against the big blocks of colour.

This is funny and has a charming lesson about what makes a friendship work, that is so touching because it isn’t too saccharine, which works perfectly for me as a reader.

The book will be available to buy on September 5, 2017, and if you like Ed Vere you will find it a fantastic addition to his previous work. A great bed time sharing book and a good addition to any Early Years reading corner. Ideal for readers aged 3-6.