children’s literature

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Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2017 – SEPTEMBER READ – Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

Published September 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The four Casson children, whose mother, Eve, is a fine-arts painter, have all been given the names of paint colors. Cadmium (Caddy), is the eldest; then Saffron (Saffy); Indigo, the only boy; and Rose, the youngest. When Saffy discovers quite by accident that she has been adopted, she is deeply upset, though the others assure her that it makes no difference at all. Saffy is the daughter of Eve’s twin sister, who lived in Siena, Italy, and died in a car crash. Grandad brought Saffy, as a very small child, back from Siena.

At Grandad’s death he leaves something to each of the children. To Saffy, it is “her angel,” although no one knows its identity. How Saffy discovers what her angel is, with the help of an energetic new friend, lies at the heart of this enchanting story. Unforgettable characters come alive in often deeply humorous and always absorbing events to be treasured for a long, long time.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to the September episode of a regular feature on bibliobeth that I have taken part in with my sister Chrissi Reads pretty much as long as I have been blogging – Beth And Chrissi Do Kid Lit. This month’s choice, Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay comes highly recommended with some stellar reviews on GoodReads and now after reading it, I can certainly see why. I was utterly charmed by this sweet middle grade read and the Casson family in general and am now wondering if I should continue the series just to check out what this colourful family get up to in the future. I’d love to know if anyone has read the entire set of books, are the rest of them as good as the first and is it worth reading on?

But, back to the book for a moment. Saffy’s Angel is the story of the Casson family, four children who have all been named after colours – the youngest Rose, the only boy Indigo, our main protagonist Saffron and her older sister Cadmium. Their father works away quite a lot and they are mainly looked after by their mother who works as an artist, is incredibly creative but slightly scatty and as a result, their house resembles a bit of a bear pit. However, the children are encouraged to express their artistic sides and although their lives are quite haphazard at times, their is a lot of love and support in the family. Unfortunately, things take a sudden shift when two things happen to disrupt the normal but crazy flow in the Casson household. Firstly, Saffy finds out that her mother is actually her auntie (and obviously her brother and sisters are now, in fact her cousins) and secondly, her beloved grandfather who brought her over from Siena, Italy when her mother passed away has in turn died too. Her Grandad leaves Saffy an angel in his will and the rest of the novel follows Saffy as she makes a new friend and sets off on an adventure to find the mysterious angel and learn more about herself as a person.

I was entranced by this novel from the first few pages, mainly because of the vibrant cast of characters that Hilary McKay has created but also because of the wonderful humour which had me chuckling instantly. I loved each of the children individually and for different reasons but generally speaking they all came alive, bursting off the page with their own quirky personalities and strange little ways. I loved how a younger Caddy made her hamster dance over the kitchen table after dipping its little feet in a pot of paint, I adored Indigo and his daily fight with the things that scare him and when three of the children take a road trip to Wales, I laughed fit to burst at Rose when she wrote hilarious signs to hold up at cars behind them to explain Caddy’s erratic driving behaviour! Hilary McKay has a fantastic gift for writing characters that not only make you snort tea through your nose (yes, this actually happened) but are so heart-warming that you actually feel quite bereft when the book is finished and you have to leave them behind. I’m really hoping that Chrissi has enjoyed this book as much as I have as just writing this review has made me one hundred percent certain that I want to re-visit the Casson family once again and perhaps I can persuade her to put it on our Kid-Lit list next year!

For Chrissi’s fantastic review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP IN OCTOBER ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: Black Hearts In Battersea by Joan Aiken.

 

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Banned Books 2017 – SEPTEMBER READ – Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz

Published September 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Creak…
Crash…
BOO!

Shivering skeletons, ghostly pirates, chattering corpses, and haunted graveyards…all to chill your bones! Share these seven spine-tingling stories in a dark, dark room.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the ninth banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

In A Dark, Dark Room And Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz (illustrated by Dirk Zimmer)

First published: 1984

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2006 (source)

Reasons: insensitivity, occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: We haven’t had an older release on our Banned Books challenge for a little while and I was intrigued to see how a children’s book published in the 1980’s could have had so much against it. Even though it was published over thirty years ago, I don’t believe attitudes have changed that much in the last three decades or so and I don’t really agree for the book being challenged. I hadn’t actually realised that I read this book as a younger reader (possibly when I was about seven or even younger?) and I was surprised by how vividly I remembered the stories. I did find it a little frightening, I have to admit but never in a way that gave me nightmares or seriously troubled me afterwards. I was one of those readers that went out looking for scary stories to read and found them thrilling so perhaps caution should be advised with more sensitive youngsters? However, I think if children want to read a scary story they are going to seek them out, like myself.

CHRISSI: This book is older than me! I was totally intrigued by this book. I remember Beth texted me a while ago insistent that we had read it when we were younger. I wasn’t totally convinced, but then when I read it I totally recalled it! So, did it damage me? Clearly not, if I don’t remember the story! They are pretty creepy, but so readable. Not all children will enjoy this because it is scary, but others will absolutely lap it up!

How about now?

BETH: I think nowadays you probably see a lot scarier stuff on television before the watershed (for example, some episodes of Doctor Who I find much scarier than this!). I don’t think it is insensitive or promotes the occult or Satanism in the slightest, it’s just some good old fashioned scary stories that are exciting to read and I just loved the illustrations which bring something extra to Alvin Schwartz’s words. There’s a lot of death mentioned – that’s a given really, death is scary right? However, some of the stories could be looked on as humorous, if told in the right way by a responsible adult, letting children know it’s just a story and there’s nothing to be frightened of.

CHRISSI: I had to laugh at the occult and Satanism reasons behind the banning of this book. Yes, I can get how some people might think that, but really there’s much more out there that promotes occult and Satanism. This simply is a children’s scary story. Much like Goosebumps and Point Horror for slightly older readers. All books should be thought about especially for young children. I’d recommend that you don’t give a sensitive child this book. Surely you’d know if your child could handle it? It should be down to personal preference and adult discretion! 

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: This book was super nostalgic for me and so quick and easy to read I finished it in about ten minutes. There are a couple of stories that when I read them I was instantly transported back to how I felt as a child reading them, particularly the first one about the men with the very long teeth and the girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck (the reason why I remember being horrified but kind of delighted with as a child!). This book was probably my first introduction into scary stories and led to me reading Point Horror as a teenager and then of course, Stephen King as an adult. It’s perfect for young horror fans and the illustrations compliment the stories perfectly without being “too” scary.

CHRISSI: The one that brought back memories was the story about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck. That one still give me chills. Ha! Such a wimp…I loved the illustrations too. Creepy but not overly terrifying and I’ve always had an overactive imagination! 

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Join us again on the last Monday of October when we will be talking about ttyl by Lauren Myracle.

Blog Tour – Prisoner Of Ice And Snow – Ruth Lauren

Published September 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In a thrilling fantasy that’s equal parts Prison Break and Frozen, Valor attempts the impossible—breaking her sister out of prison.

When Valor is arrested, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s sister Sasha is already serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped in three hundred years. Valor has a plan and resources most could only dream about. But she didn’t count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.

This fresh and exciting middle-grade debut effortlessly melds an unforgettable protagonist, a breathless plot, and stunning world-building—and is impossible to put down. An unforgettable story of sisterhood, valour and rebellion, Prisoner of Ice and Snow will fire you up and melt your heart all at once. Perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell, Piers Torday and Cathryn Constable.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Faye who invited me to be part of this blog tour and to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for providing me with a free copy of Prisoner Of Ice And Snow in exchange for an honest review. As soon as Faye emailed with the synopsis of this book, of course I knew I had to have it straight away. This middle grade fiction and epic fantasy/adventure story was a joy to read with strong characterisation, a compelling plot and a beautiful message of sisterhood that I really appreciated. Basically, anything that is compared to “a cross between Prison Break and Frozen,” is bound to make me want to read it!

Prisoner Of Ice And Snow is set in the cold and wintry climate of Demidova (a land comparable perhaps to Russia) and when we meet our heroine Valor she is attempting to shoot a member of the royal family with her crossbow. However, there is method to her madness. Her twin sister Sasha was recently accused of stealing a precious and hugely important music box that was meant form part of a peace treaty with the neighbouring land, Magadanskya. Sasha has been given a life sentence in the notorious prison, Tyur’ma and now, after her attempt on Prince Anatol’s life, Valor will now join her, which of course was her grand plan all along. You see, Valor has a brilliant plan for them both to escape (even though nobody has actually managed to escape in three hundred years) and she is so determined and devoted to her sister that she might just pull it off.

There was so much in this book to love, I’m not quite sure where to start. The nods to Russia were wonderful and was one of the things that attracted me to the book in the first place but the best thing about the novel for me personally would have to be the character of Valor and her relationship with her sister, Sasha. Valor is one of the bravest fictional females I’ve come across in recent times and I had nothing but admiration and excitement for her tenacity, sheer ruthlessness and self belief that she would manage to free both herself and Sasha. There are a lot of terrible things that happen to the children in Tyur’ma and what amazed me about Valor is that even though she had some hideous and horrific experiences, not once did she think about giving up. Her love and protectiveness for Sasha never wavered, even at the toughest of times and it occasionally brought tears to my eyes as I was reminded of my close relationship with my own sister. Not only do we have Valor and Sasha but we have a multitude of other fascinating characters that I instantly adored, including street urchin Felixs, Valor’s cellmate Katia and the intriguing Prince Anatol. Combined with an action-packed plot that leaves you scarce able to draw breath I am incredibly excited to see where Valor and Sasha’s story will take them next – especially after THAT ending.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Ruth Lauren lives in the West Midlands in England with her family and a lot of cats. She likes chocolate, walking in the woods, cheese, orchids, going to the movies, and reading as many books as she can. She’s been a teacher and worked in lots of different offices, but she likes writing best. Prisoner of Ice and Snow is her debut novel.

Website: https://www.ruthlauren.com/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ruth__lauren

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/ruth_lauren

Thank you once again to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Prisoner Of Ice And Snow was published on 7th September 2017 and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35382914-prisoner-of-ice-and-snow

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1408872757

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2017 – AUGUST READ – Fortunately The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Published August 31, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

You know what it’s like when your mum goes away on a business trip and Dad’s in charge. She leaves a really, really long list of what he’s got to do. And the most important thing is DON’T FORGET TO GET THE MILK. Unfortunately, Dad forgets. So the next morning, before breakfast, he has to go to the corner shop, and this is the story of why it takes him a very, very long time to get back.

Featuring: Professor Steg (a time-travelling dinosaur), some green globby things, the Queen of the Pirates, the famed jewel that is the Eye of Splod, some wumpires, and a perfectly normal but very important carton of milk.

What did I think?:

I’ve only recently got into the magical world of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I’m loving the whole experience. I’ve read a couple of his adult books now and a few of his graphic novels so when the time came for Chrissi and I to prepare our Kid Lit list for this year we wanted to include one of Neil’s children’s books – Fortunately, The Milk which is part text, part illustration by the wonderful talent that is Chris Riddell. I have to say, the illustrations in this story really brought an extra something to the narrative and gave me such a warm, fuzzy feeling when I was reading this but even without the drawings, the story stands confidently on its own and would bring so much joy and happiness to children and adults alike who read it. It certainly made me smile multiple times when I was reading it and I can’t wait to read it to my nephew whom I’m sure would hoot with laughter at it.

Fortunately, The Milk is the story of a normal father and his two children whom he is tasked with looking after when his wife goes away for a short period of time. He almost fails at the first hurdle when he forgets to replenish the milk stock for the children’s cereal in the morning but pops out to the corner shop to get some and is gone an extraordinarily long time. When he comes back and the children quiz him about where he has been he tells them a fantastical tale of pirates in the eighteenth century, vampires (or wumpires) that want to destroy him and an ancient tribe that fancy him for a sacrifice, a Stegosaurus in a hot air balloon, aliens that want to take over the world and a galactic police manned by dinosaurs. Throughout it all, all he is concerned about is keeping the milk safe and getting back to his children so that they can have their cereal. In the end, it is down to that little carton of milk which ends up saving the world!

This is a fantastic and hilarious adventure that had me captivated throughout. It’s fairly short so I think it will appeal to a variety of age ranges but is also action-packed so there’s little chance of boredom. I already knew of Chris Riddell’s talent as an illustrator but I really loved the drawings in this story, they complimented Neil Gaiman’s writing perfectly and were so entertaining to look at I actually read the book a little slower just so I could stare at them a bit longer and fully appreciate them. Fortunately, The Milk is definitely a book I would enjoy reading to children, I can already imagine all the voices I could do (especially for the wumpires) and it has the potential to become a classic piece of children’s literature.

For Chrissi’s fantastic review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP IN SEPTEMBER ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT 2017: Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay.

Image from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/14/fortunately-milk-neil-gaiman-review

The Snow Sister – Emma Carroll

Published August 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ever since her sister, Agnes, died, Pearl has a tradition every time it snows. She makes a person out of snow. A snow sister. It makes Christmas feel a little less lonely.

On Christmas Eve, her father receives a letter about a long-lost relative’s will. Is their luck about to change? In anticipation of a better Christmas, Pearl goes to beg credit at Mr Noble’s grocery to get ingredients for a Christmas pudding. But she is refused, and chased down the street where she is hit by a hansom cab. The snow is falling so hard that they can’t take her home. She’ll have to stay at Flintfield Manor overnight, in a haunted room… Will Pearl make it home for Christmas?

This gorgeously evocative Victorian Christmas story is the perfect stocking filler for girls ages 9-12.

What did I think?:

If you’re a fan of heart-warming, evocative middle grade fiction and haven’t come across Emma Carroll yet, you are in for such a treat. I first came across Emma’s writing with her debut novel, the wonderful Frost Hollow Hall which holds a very dear place in my heart and after reading her follow up books – The Girl Who Walked On Air and In Darkling Wood, I knew this was an author that I would read absolutely anything she wrote. The Snow Sister is one of her shorter pieces of fiction, at a mere 112 pages but it’s such a hopeful and genuinely beautiful read that what it lacks in page numbers it fully makes up for in heart.

Set in the Victorian era at Christmas time it’s the story of a little girl called Pearl and her family who are not only dirt poor but have suffered a terrible loss when Pearl’s sister, Agnes passed away. Each Christmas, Pearl makes a “snow sister” outside in the street to make up for the hole that her sister’s death has left in her life. This year however, it looks like their fortunes may be on the turn. Pearl’s father has received a summons to Bath and has been told he is a beneficiary of a rich relation’s will. Pearl is sent out to buy some ingredients for a special Christmas pudding so the family can celebrate their luck finally taking a turn for the better. While carrying out her mission, Pearl becomes embroiled in an exciting adventure and learns a valuable lesson as a result. Furthermore, she is delighted to discover that some things in this world can be more precious to a family than money.

I know it might seem quite odd that I read this book in summer – it’s an absolutely perfect read for Christmas and, I’m sure, even more atmospheric if you read it when it’s cold outside but I couldn’t wait any longer to read this little book and is definitely something I would re-read when the weather decides to turn. It’s a stunning, poignant story that brought tears to my eyes and filled me with joy at the same time, leaving me completely in awe of how Emma Carroll can create characters that you instantly fall in love with and think about for weeks after you finish the story. The Snow Sister is perfect for younger readers but I think adults can also get so much out of this story, either for themselves or if reading it to little ones. There are important messages and beautiful imagery that will touch your heart and give you that lovely, cosy feeling you only get with a really satisfying novel. This is another wonderful effort from Emma Carroll and it just makes me more excited to read her next book, Strange Star so look out for my review here on bibliobeth very very soon!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2017 – JULY READ – The Reptile Room (A Series Of Unfortunate Events #2) – Lemony Snicket

Published July 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Dear Reader,

If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I’m afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether. The story may seem cheery at first, when the Baudelaire children spend time in the company of some interesting reptiles and a giddy uncle, but don’t be fooled. If you know anything at all about the unlucky Baudelaire children, you already know that even pleasant events lead down the same road to misery.

In fact, within the pages you now hold in your hands, the three siblings endure a car accident, a terrible odor, a deadly serpent, a long knife, a large brass reading lamp, and the appearance of a person they’d hoped never to see again.

I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

What did I think?:

Chrissi and I read the first book in the Series Of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning in our Kid Lit challenge last year and with the television series being announced on Netflix that I really fancy watching, we decided to include the second book in the series, The Reptile Room this year. This book has been a really interesting turnaround for me. I enjoyed The Bad Beginning when we read it but sadly not as much as I was hoping to and some things about it irked me slightly, like the continuous explanation of certain words that the author used which I thought got a bit unnecessary at times (although I’m quite aware I’m not the intended audience for this book at all!). However, I was really surprised to find that I actually enjoyed The Reptile Room much more. Surprising, as quite a few people on GoodReads don’t agree with me and think the first book in the series was a lot better but personally, everything that annoyed me in the first book I just found charming in this second outing and I’m definitely more excited to carry on with the series than I was after The Bad Beginning.

Of course, we are back with the poor Baudelaire orphans – Violet, Klaus and Sunny who have been placed with a new guardian after their terrifying experience with Count Olaf in the previous novel. Their new distant relative, Montgomery Montgomery (hilarious!) who insists the children call him Uncle Monty is a respected herpetologist, i.e. someone who is involved in the study of amphibians and reptiles and an all round good egg. He even has a Reptile Room in his house where he looks after his creatures and carries out research. Uncle Monty is preparing for a big research trip to Peru and the children are delighted when they are invited to help him prepare and then told that they will accompany him and his research assistant on the trip. However, when the mysterious research assistant arrives, he has a different, much more wicked agenda in mind and the orphans are placed in a horrific and dangerous situation once more, just when they thought they were going to get their happy ending.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it but let me assure you, it’s wonderful. I haven’t read a children’s villain for a little while now that is quite so evil and nasty but at the same time, almost a caricature of himself and I think adults will find him hugely entertaining. I felt like I connected a lot more with the children’s characters in this novel as well, much more so than the first novel in the series. I love clever Violet’s inventions that she always manages to come up with in the nick of time, the invaluable information that Klaus provides from his reading and even baby Sunny who really comes into her own in this story and saves the day. There’s one particular incident with one of Uncle Monty’s snakes, The Incredibly Deadly Viper (or is it?!) and Sunny that really made me smile and it was definitely one of the many highlights of the book for me. But when Lemony Snicket, just when are you going to give these poor children a bit of good luck in their lives? I don’t mind really, the stories are just too good! Now I just need to try and persuade my sister that we should put the third book in the series on our Kid Lit list for 2018.

For Chrissi’s fab review, please check out her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT TIME ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID LIT: Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman.

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2017 – JUNE READ – The Prime Minister’s Brain (The Demon Headmaster #2) by Gillian Cross

Published June 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Everyone at school is playing the new computer game, Octopus Dare – but only Dinah is good enough to beat it. As it begins to take hold, Dinah realizes that the game is trying to control her. But why is it happening, and how is the Demon Headmaster involved?

What did I think?:

The Prime Minister’s Brain, first published in 1985 by Puffin Books is another of our Kid-Lit books with a bit of history behind it. It’s the follow up to The Demon Headmaster which Chrissi and I reviewed in our Kid Lit challenge last year and was also one of our favourite childhood reads. Reading The Prime Minister’s Brain as an adult was a real nostalgia trip for me and, as a sequel, although it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of brilliance as The Demon Headmaster did, was still a great reading experience and a nice journey down memory lane.

In The Prime Minister’s Brain, Dinah has been officially adopted by the Hunter family and has two new brothers, Lloyd and Harvey and a host of new friends who all teamed up in The Demon Headmaster to form the unstoppable group SPLAT aka Society For The Protection Of Our Lives Against Them. In this story, there is a new craze going around the school, an addictive computer game with a puzzle to solve called Octopus Dare. Clever Dinah manages to solve the puzzle and is invited to London to compete in a challenge with dozens of other children (or Brains). Dinah is slightly worried and a little uneasy about the project so the children of SPLAT decide to make a holiday of it and accompany her. When they get there, they are right to be wary. The competition turns out to be a lot more sinister than they could have expected and Dinah begins to realise that the organiser of the challenge has much darker and frankly, insane reasons in wanting to solve a computer puzzle.

As I mentioned before it was lovely to re-visit the world of The Demon Headmaster again. I remember reading the sequel as a child and enjoying it but still favouring the original and first story. I felt the same this time round but still relished the experience for the memories it brought back. The characters are wonderful, particularly the children although I found myself slightly more irritated by grumpy little Ingrid as an adult! Of course, the Demon Headmaster himself is fantastic and your quintessential villain, perfectly drawn by Gillian Cross and ever so readable and easy to hate. I understand there might be about four books in the entire series and I don’t think Chrissi and I have ever read more than the first two so there is potential to carry on and see what dastardly deeds that rogue headmaster gets up to next. However, part of me doesn’t want to spoil the nostalgic feelings I do have towards the series so far so we’ll have to wait and see!

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT TIME ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT 2017: The Reptile Room (A Series Of Unfortunate Events #2) by Lemony Snicket.