Friday, February 10, 2017

Raymond Briggs Lifetime Achievement Award

A huge congratulations to Raymond Briggs, author of Fungus the Bogeyman and, of course, the beloved story, The Snowman. He was been honoured by the childrens' charity BookTrust with it's Lifetime Achievement Award. Diana Gerald, BookTrusts' CEO described the body of Briggs work as "captivating and inspiring" and having an enormous impact on both children and adults.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was first given in 2015. The recipient was Shirley Hughes, author/illustrator of such books as Dogger and the wonderful Alfie series. Following on from that, in 2016, Judith Kerr received the honour for her many works, including the Mog series and the pivotal childhood story, The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

Briggs is probably best known for his Christmas stories, The Snowman and Father Christmas, as well as Fungus the Bogeyman. But he has also taken on some very political subjects. His 1982 graphic novel, When The Wind Blows, tackles nuclear war from the perspective of an elderly couple.  In 1998, Briggs looked at the story of a life lived together in his beautiful and moving work, Ernest and Ethel, which told the story of his parents from their meeting in 1928 to their deaths in 1971.
Briggs himself, as late as last December pondered such honours by saying; "funny title, because come on, my lifetime hasn't ended yet."
Each book is drawn and told with sensitivity and adds a deeper level of critical thought to the simplest of stories. His body of work has touched the lives of everyone. His perspective is refreshing and gives rise to more considered and critical thinking. And, they all capture a sense of wonder and beauty. Philip Ardagh recently referred to Briggs as one of the "picture Book royalty." He has won numerous other awards for his lifetime in childrens' books, including the Kate Greenaway Medal and was one of two runners-up for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award in 1984. The BooksTrust Life Achievement Award is a well-deserved honour, indeed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

New Year! New Books!...part 3 The Picture Books

2017 looks like another great year for picture books. As you probably know, I believe that picture books are possibly the most important books in a childs' reading life. They not only enchant and entertain young children, but they help them in many ways; exposing them to art at a very early age, helping them to hone their observational skills, explain the world to them, help them to develop concepts of what they want the world to be, developing visual literacy and creative thinking, etc. Most of all, they bring about a feeling of safety, cosiness and that they are loved, cared for and they have someone who is truly interested in them. The memories you create when you read to a young child stay with them for the rest of their lives. Now, here's a few to share...
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrations by Christian Robinson is out now in paperback. This lovely tale of a boy and his grandmother, who are taking their weekly bus journey across the city is filled with wonder and delight.With vibrant, enticing colours and images with a lively illustrative style, the feel of community and the warmth of relationship comes through in a genuine way, without being overly idealistic. There is much to see and it opens a world that, sadly, some will experience only on the pages of a book. How To Find Gold by Vivienne Schwarz has great dialogue and an exciting plot as Anna and Crocodile embark on a treasure hunt.This adventure requires much planning, strength and courage as they craft a map to take them to the treasure and take off across the seas. A charming book with great characters that shows us how to be brave and bold and teaches that things are much better when you have a good friend by your side.
I love The Glump and the Peeble by Wendy Meddour, illustrations by Rebecca Ashdown! Lively, bright, enthusiastic illustrations perfectly accent a story that is reassuring and just plain fun, while teaching that it is important to be more open and true to yourself. Quirky and colourful, this is one to read again and again.  
Mary Murphys' Picken offers a brilliant split page book to help the littlest ones learn about mix and match....and about the joy of creativity! Adorable, brightly coloured animals can be combined in numerous ways to create and wonderful array of farmyard animals and will keep young children (and older ones, too!) enthralled for hours!
As February nears be on the lookout for There's A Tiger in the Garden by Lizzy Stewart. Grandma likes to tell Nora some tall tales, and Nora is very aware of that. But there is NO WAY there could be a tiger in the garden...or is there? Bright, colourful,  and fresh, this book boasts stunning artwork and a clear influence from The Tiger Who Came To Tea...with an original twist that you are going to love. In The Everywhere Bear, Julia Donaldson and illustrator by Rebecca Cobb join forces again to give us the unexpected adventure of a classroom bear. When he gets washed down a drain and wooshed out to sea, who knows where he will end up? But can he make it back to Class One? These two work wonderfully together and their previous The Paper Dolls is still one of my favourite Julia Donaldson books. Expert story-telling and beautiful illustrations make this a winner.
Edie by Sophy Henn is absolutely gorgeous! Little Edie just loves to be 'helpful'. She helps her Mummy get up bright and early; she loves helping Daddy get everything they need at the shop; but, mostly, she really loves helping her little brother learn whats what and how to share. Beautiful, stylised illustrations and a bit of a nod to the Olivia books by Helen Falconer make this a book that everyone will absolutely adore. Will Mabbitts' I Can Only Draw Worms is a super-funny, incredibly silly story that encourages you to use your imagination and to understand that worms are not boring! They have loads of adventures....of course, the story-teller can't draw those. He can only draw worms.
The Koala Who Could by Rachel Bright gives us all a positive message about facing up to change. Kevin the Koala wants everything to stay just the way he likes it. That's how he's happiest; that's how he feels secure. Of course, things do change and Kevin learns that it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you just have to be brave. Beautifully illustrated with one of the most endearing, memorable characters I've seen in a long time.

In March, one of my favourites, Jonny Duddle returns with The Pirates of the Scurvy Sands. A sequel to the (completely brilliant!) The Pirates Next Door, this is a role-reversal of the original story, with the Pirates taking centre-stage as they tell their side of the tale. It's always good to get a different perspective and with Duddles' marvelous characterisation and intricate, lively illustrations and story-telling, this is a are all the others! 
Are You Sitting Comfortably? by Leigh Hodgkinson is the story of one small book-lovers' search for the perfect reading nook. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The bright and contemporary illustrations and a rhythmic, expressive text make for a fun and sympathetic read for that age old problem. We're All Wonders by R J Palacio adapts one of the best books ever written (Wonder by the same author) to picture book format, making it accessible to a younger audience.  And it loses one of its' powerful, beautiful, uplifting message of tolerance and kindness.
And that's just a taster!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

New Year! New Books! ....part 2

The last post featured those books out for the teen/YA readers among us. In this post I am focusing on the intermediate reading years, sometimes referred to as confident readers or 8 to 12 (roughly). I don't like to put age limits on books because, frankly, a good book is a good book. No one should feel they have to apologise for reading something 'beneath their age level.' But that is a discussion for another day. So here are some fantastic books out now or coming out in the next few months that I recommend.
Newly published now, Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones is an incredible adventure tale that takes us to Cairo. Plumped as "Indiana Jones meets Mission Impossible", add a little James Bond and they are not wrong. Packed full of  danger and excitement, this fast-paced, high-octane read is my recommendation for Dubray Books Childrens Book of the Month. Jake and his twin sister Pan find themselves suddenly thrust into a world of high-tech tomb-raiding in a bid to save their (up to now, boring history professor) parents from being turned into mummies, while a secret society are robbing tombs of ancient artifacts with a bid for world-domination. But everything is not at all what it seems. (Full review on the What Are You Reading page) The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson is a gentler sort of story about 12-year-old Matthew, who has an extreme OCD condition that keeps him housebound. From his window, he observes the comings and goings of the residents of Chestnut Close, including the old man who lives across the street, an old woman who may or may not be a witch, the local bully and the nosy neighbours next door. But when a toddler vanishes suddenly and the police can't locate him, Matthew uses all his observation to figure out exactly what happened. (For those of a sensitive nature, don't worry, it all turns out well.) Written with genuine compassion and understanding, this gives a fascinating world-view and is great for fans of Wonder by RJ Palacio.
Welcome To Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird is one of the first childrens' novels to deal with the Syrian crisis and the plight of refugees. Omar has a completely normal life in Bosra; school, friends, a couple of jobs and his family. But one day, the unrest escalates into violence and war, his family has to flee with only the possessions they can carry. As they move from place to place, they deal with real and present dangers; getting shot at, hunger, cold, as they move on to a refugee camp. But, a near tragedy just might bring them an escape from the horrific life they are now living. Realistic and powerful, this is a very important book for our times. Something for the younger reader,  Trouble Next Door by Chris Higgins is an absolute delight! The author of the My Funny Family series gives us Bellas' story. She has just moved into a new house; old, creaky and dark, and possibly with a ghost in the attic. But she has a new best friend in Magda, who is funny and filled with imagination. But Madga is also trouble! She wrecks Bellas' room, breaks her Mums' tea set and covers the entire living room in soot! But somehow, Bella always gets the blame. A charming story, with wonderful illustrations by Emily MacKenzie, about friendship, family and telling the truth.
Julian Gough and illustrator Jim Fields have returned with The Pest in the Nest (Rabbit and Bear book 2). All Rabbit wants is some peace and quiet! But what with Bears' continuous snoring and the BANG BANG BANG from up above, he can't even hear himself think. Something has to be done...but, spring has sprung, so peace may be the last thing Rabbit will ever see again. This is a laugh-out-loud, soon-to-be-your favourite story as we continue to travel through the seasons with those great (?) friends, Rabbit and Bear!

As February rolls in (and we hope it will be kind), the books come along with some fabulous things to offer. In Who Let The Gods Out? by Maz Evans, Elliots' life is changed forever when a shooting star crashes to Earth and a young Zodiac goddess arrives with it on a mission. With his mum ill and his home under threat, you'd think Maz had enough on his plate. But when the pair accidentally release a powerful death daemon from his prison under Stonehenge, they have to turn to the old Olympian gods for help. Trouble is...they're all a little tired after thousands of years of retirement. It's just brilliant!  
The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis introduces us to Aventurine, the fiercest and bravest dragon who, while very young, is determined to prove herself to her family. She sneaks out of their cave in search of the most dangerous prey of all...a human. But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking hot chocolate, she turns into a little, weak human girl with no way back. Being brave and bold, Aventurine makes her way to the city to pursue her new passion....chocolate! While she brings mayhem to the human city with her, she never suspects she will actually find real friendship. A warm-hearted adventure that I absolutely loved. 
A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson is the story of Owl...yes, that's her name. And it's bad enough having a Mum weird enough to actually name you Owl, but when you add a Dad you've never met, a best friend in trouble and a new boy at school that keeps looking at you in a weird way; it's almost too much! So when strange frost patterns start appearing across Owls' skin, she just wants to hide away. But it isn't that simple. A wonderful book filled with great characters, friendship, responsibility and magic. 11-year-old Olly receives a very special delivery in The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen. It's a 3-D printer! It's also stamped with "Property of M.O.D. AND BRITSH SPACE AGENCY" and "DO NOT TAMPER". It has a name, it speaks and, of course it has magical powers. And it seems very happy to print everything that Olly asks it to. But what Olly really wants is his Dad, who moved out of the family. Cue the DAD-BOT, who is almost exactly like his real Dad...but a bit more chaotic. The Night Spinner by Abi Elphinstone is the third, and possibly the best, in the Dreamsnatcher series. Moll ventures to the wild north; to a land of moors and mountains, goblins and witches with Gryff and their friends to overcome the last Shadowmask. There, Wormhook is spinning a quilt of darkness called the Veil. A masked figure carries it across the land, slipping it through the windows of children to poison their minds. Moll and Gryff are in the forest, awaiting a sign from the Old Magic that they may continue their search for the Amulet of Truth. Suspenseful and truly magical!
And, I am so excited about the release of  Polly and the Puffin: The New Friend by Jenny Colgan. (Again, this is for the younger reader.) The third in the series, it's time for Polly to go off to big school and she's not at all sure about it. She is determined to make it work, though. Along the way, she makes a new friend for herself, and possibly a new feathered friend for her puffin, Neil. As always, in the back of the story there are wonderful recipes and activities.
On to the March winds and let's see what they'll be blowing in.  The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop; illustrated by Ashley King is my kind of book. (Of course!) A magical and intriguing story about Property Jones, who was left in a bookshop at age 5 and taken in by the owners, Netty Jones and her son. Property has a huge secret. After 6 years of living in a bookshop, she can't read! So she can't make any sense of the newspaper article announcing the chance to win the most magnificent bookshop in the entire world, the Montgomery Book Emporium. And, as luck would have it, her book-mad family actually win! Soon, Property finds herself in the middle of a huge bookshop with rotating rooms and a bad-tempered cat. But, it doesn't take long before disaster strikes, for all is not well at the book Emporium and the Jones family find themselves in the middle of trouble and a book forgery racket. Plumped for ages 5 to 9, I loved it!  
The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge is another great book from the author that gave us The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Jamies' Dad is an astronaut on the International Space Station.Jamie should be thinking this is really cool, but he just misses his Dad. When Jamie is hanging out at his local observatory, he begins to pick up some weird signals on his phone. Could it be that alien life is getting closer? When his Dads' mission goes awry, Jamie seeks to prove that his Dad isn't the only hero in the family. Another science-based story, this mixes family drama, alien intrigue and a space-time element in a cosmic adventure for anyone who's ever looked and the stars and wondered, is there anybody out there? Speaking of space, See You In The
Cosmos by Jack Cheng is a brilliant debut about 11-year-old Alex who dreams of launching his iPod into space with messages for any intelligent life, just like his hero, Carl Sagan. With a long-dead father, a sister he never knew about, an absent big brother and a troubled Mum, Alex ventures off to a rocket-launching convention in a impromptu road trip with his dog (Carl Sagan) that brings him many new answers and a whole lot of questions. Moving, hopeful and a lot of fun, this is amazing! Jane Kerrs' The Elephant Thief visits the past. A young street urchin and pickpocket, Danny accidentally bids on for Maharajah the elephant in an auction and begins the adventure of a lifetime. Danny's new employer transform him into an Indian Prince as he rides Maharajah from Scotland to his new home in England and even Queen Victoria is captivated by his story. But when a rival zoo-keeper gets hold of Dannys' dodgy past story, his new life threatens to unravel. Wonderful historical fiction!
 Thunderstruck by Ali Sparkes is an fantastic , fast-paced ghostly drama with lightening...literally. During a thunderstorm, Alisha and Theo are huddling under a tree when they get struck by lightening. Having survived the strike, they now see life differently.... including being able to see Doug and Lizzie, who were struck by lightening under the same tree in 1975. Sadly they didn't survive the strike and have now been hanging out under that tree ever since. But Doug and Lizzie are funny, brave and very clever. They come to the aid of Alisha and Theo, who have noticed something sinister going on at their school...something no one else seems to see. Ragged, faceless phantoms are staring out through the windows and not all ghosts are friendly. And the four friends have to battle through when all they want is to get on with their lives...or deaths, as it may be.
That's a lot of information, and I'm sure in the upcoming months, there will be more. So...take this as a taster of great things to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Year! New Books!...Teens/YA

After the craziness of the holiday, as the kids go back to school, in the book world our attentions turn to "so...what's next?" So, very briefly, I wanted to share a quick glance at some of the brand-new-out-now and soon-to-be-released titles that I am particularly excited about. It looks like it will be a very good year for books!
I have already put up a few reviews for books released at the beginning of this month, but they bear mentioning again. There are fantastic books that slipped in as we were doing the beginning of the year to speak.... and are ready to kick-start 2017 into a whirlwind of great book activity.
Let's start with the teen/YA group. Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle is the third and final in the Blood for Blood trilogy. A powerful and turbulent story that finds Sophie now under the protection of the infamous Falcone family and trying to prove her loyalty to them. Caught between 2 brothers vying for her affections and bent on revenge for her mothers' murder, this one is filled with emotional turmoil, deadly circumstances and an ending that you will never see coming. The plot twists will keep you up all night reading.Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is an eloquent, lyrical act of magical realism that takes us to the small town of Bone Gap, a place where anyone can slip away unnoticed; without a sound. Beautiful immigrant Roza disappears just as easily as she appeared. But she hasn't just vanished unnoticed. Finn knows that she has been abducted by a strange, sinister man whose face he cannot remember...but no one believes him. Eerie, moving and mysterious, this one was my selection for Dubray Teen Recommend for January. Simply spell-binding. In The Icarus Show by Sally Christie, we meet Alex, who has worked out a fool-proof method for avoiding the bullies notice; simply don't react. But his new next door neighbour, David does react and becomes targeted as a weirdo. When mysterious notes start turning up in everyones' school bags, the attention turns from David and starts a mystery hunt that ends in near-tragedy. An intriguing, compelling story of friendship and understanding that takes a poignant look at bullying, loneliness and mental health issues and compels the reader to be more aware. Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is out now in paperback. This novel about a young refugee and brief segment of his life in a refugee camp (all he has ever known) is an urgent read that gives us a wondrous, heart-felt story and is a very important book for our times.

As we move into February, we are anxiously anticipating the release of  We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan. It throws together Nicu, a young Romanian in search of a better life with Jess, who would never normally even look twice at him. They meet while in community service and, as their relationship becomes closer, secrets are revealed...secrets about domestic abuse, racism, alienation, poverty and expectations. A powerful verse-novel, it will break your heart and give you much to consider.
 UnConventional by Maggie Harcourt takes us into the world of, well, conventions. This comedic romance brings together Lexi, who is trying to make it through sixth-form college while acting as her Dads' right-hand man in his convention circuit, and Adrian, or Hayden Swift, a young author who has just released his first fantasy novel and receiving a lot of attention. It is great fun and brilliantly touches on first love, jealousy and the world of PR. Perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell! Lisa Williamsom makes a welcome return with All About Mia. This is a wonderful read about Mia, the middle child caught between her  perfect older sister, Grace and sweet, star-swimmer Audrey. Mia is a breath of fresh air; charming, chaotic and, generally speaking, nothing but trouble. A fabulous, exciting voice tells a story of family drama. 
A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell will be released at the end of February and, personally, I can't wait. Adding to the list of refugee stories, this one packs quite a punch. Ghalid doesn't want to leave his home, but Syria is far too dangerous now and his family has no choice. The journey they brave takes them through many dark, dangerous places to the horrific conditions of a refugee camp...and that is before they face a long voyage on a boat that may never make it. Insightful, heart-felt and, at times, horrifying, this is gives a passionate and considered view that will stick with you.
March comes in like a lion, indeed. Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen (author of We Are All Molecules) takes us into the life of self-avowed pessimist, Petula. She has done everything to avoid friendship and happiness since the death of her younger sister. And then she meets Jacob, an amputee, in the worlds' worst art therapy class. A novel about friendship, heart-break and growing up in an unfair, tragic world. Melinda Salisbury brings us The Scarecrow Queen, the concluding part of the dark, fabulous trilogy that began with The Sin-Eaters Daughter. This is fantasy at its' most delicious!
If you like historical fiction, I'd suggest checking out My Name Is Victoria by Lucy Worsely. Coming off the back of her debut, Eliza Rose, this takes us on a journey to the world of Queen Victoria's childhood as we've not seen it before. (Highly suitable for younger teen readers.) Also, look out for Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett. for older teen readers, this is a highly charged romance set against the backdrop of the Pre-Raphaelites. With Bennetts' keen eye for revealing the inner workings of whatever world she is writing about, this promises much.
The White Hare by Michael Fishwick is the launch title for the new Young Adult imprint from Head of Zeus. A fantasy set in rural Somerset, this is a powerful story of love and loss which fuses with mystery and myth and legend. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is an exquisitely written novella telling the story of a 14-year-old boy in search of a baby daughter he has never seen. Absolutely beautiful and profound, coming in paperback in March.

And this is just a taster for the YA/teen readers!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

NUI Galway Childrens Studies Presents....

NUI Galway Children's Studies Programme is holding another fantastic seminar. On Thursday, 19 January, Professor Peter Hunt from Cardiff University will address:
Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature
From Librarianship to Childhood Studies via
Liberal Humanism, High Theory, Post-Theory, Metamodernism and Pooh Corner 

The seminar will be held in room GO11, James Hardiman Library commencing at 5pm.
"Over the past 50 years, children’s literature has become a vibrant and important part of university-level studies worldwide. Approaches to it have been as diverse and lively (and problematic) as the subject-matter, having to deal with multi-media texts, the responses of non-peer audiences, fundamental issues of cultural, historical and literary values and psychological, educational and political influences. This lecture provides an outline of the fascinating and entertaining directions which the criticism of texts for children has taken."

If you are interested in children's literature, this promises to be a fascinating lecture. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

More Favourites of 2016 - Picture Books and Teen/YA

I am going to add a few more to my list of favourites. While yesterday, I focused on books that were largely 'middle-grade'/ages 8-12, today, I will complete the list for those not in that category.
I begin with Picture Books...a particular passion of mine. We have a tendency to let go of picture books far too early. I think, as we grow older, we should read more, not less picture books. They give a clear, unvarnished view of the world and are very tricky to create. I believe that our visual literacy suffers because of the desire to put 'real books' in our hands. Nothing is more real than a picture book.
No prizes for guessing what my Picture Book of the Year is; it has to go to A CHILD OF BOOKS by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. A clear, eloquent tale of a young girl who 'sails across a sea of words' (quite literally) to meet a somewhat unsure and reluctant young boy and take him along on an amazing journey. In the end, he himself becomes A Child of Books and ventures off on a journey of his own. The illustrations are crafted using typesetting...excerpts from a wide variety of childrens' classics that we all know and love. This typesetting is chosen in consideration of the action of the picture; so the pages involving sailing across the seas will have excerpts from The Swiss Family Robinson, Pinocchio, Gullivers' Travels; the mountains of make-believe are crafted with text from Peter Pan; the fairy-tale forest has trees with branches of lines from time-honoured fairy tales and so on. This is not simply a childs' picture book, but an 'everybody' picture to be treasured across a lifetime.
Birgitta Sif has quickly become one of my favourite picture book author/illustrators and this year, she gave us a wonderful gift in WHERE MY FEET GO. Little Panda is ready for adventure. As he walks down the street, could it be there is more than meets the ye with every step he takes? His flight of imagination is marvelous! Sif's lively, wondrous child-friendly illustrations are pure delight that truly replicate a childs' world-view. Adventure, entertainment and a real sense of cosiness. WHEN DAD SHOWED ME THE UNIVERSE by Ulf Stark/illustrated by Eva Eriksson tells the story of a father taking his young son on a walk to show him the universe. Along the way, they pick up provision and see many things. Just at the moment when Dad becomes down-hearted, feeling that he has failed to reveal the universe to his son, the young boy gets it! Fresh, dynamic, utterly lovely drawings reveal a story that everyone must hear and see. THE WHITE CAT AND THE MONK by Jo Ellen Bogart/illustrated by Sydney Smith is a retelling of a 9th century Irish poem, Pangur Bán. The eloquent illustrations have an ancient, but feel of aliveness as this quiet retelling of a monks' life alongside his cat is something of great beauty....again, not just for the small ones.  THE KNIGHT WHO WOULDN'T FIGHT by Helen and Thomas Docherty offers the story of Leo, who will never be a proper knight if he won't put down his books and learn to use his sword. Sent on a quest to see off a dragon making mischief, Leo has packed everything he needs...including his books.The fearsome creatures he meets along the way are all ones he's read Leo has no trouble dealing with them. An absolutely enchanting story with warm, colourful illustrations, this is a parable (of sorts) about the power of reading and a wonderful adventure! 
The wordless, stunning . OWL BAT BAT OWL by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is a silent book that shouts loudly about friendship, family, acceptance. While there are no words to read, the story is expressed perfectly through the pages with colour, positioning, facial expressions and body language. It sings with clarity, expressiveness and uncluttered simplicity. One of the best I've seen in ages.

The teen/YA sector has had a particularly strong year in 2016. Here are just a few of my 'best' reads.
I love a good fairy-tale, it has to be said. One of the best comes in the form of THE BOOK OF PEARL by Timothée de Fombelle. Joshua Pearl comes from a land not so very far from our own. Thrown here in an attempt to save his life, he has memories of his great love and all that lies waiting for him in his former home. With a stolen name and life, Joshua embarks on a journey to recover what was lost and make sense of the things that haunt him so. Expert crafting tells a story that is enduring and intricate; one of first love, longing and self-discovery. Everything a fairy-tale should be. A DARKNESS AT THE END by Ruth M. Long continues the story of Jinx and Izzy, as the worlds they both know are threatened by Holly, the fae matriarch seeking ultimate power for herself...and she doesn't care who or what she has to destroy to get it. Ancient pacts are destroyed; the angels and demons are drawing down sides, each daring the other to start a war that will end everything. High-octane, powerful, unnerving and an exceptional close to the story that began with A Crack In Everything.
We make a most welcome return to the Old Kingdom with GOLDENHAND by Garth Nix. Lirael, our favourite librarian and now Abhorsen-in waiting; finds Nicholas Sayre deeply wounded after being hideously attacked by a Free Magic creature. But Nicholas is now tainted with Free Magic and Lirael must travel to her childhood home, Claryls' Glacier, to save him. Simply one of the best fantasy series I have ever read by a master storyteller.
Back in the real world, NEEDLEWORK by Deirdre Sullivan is the story of Ces, a young woman who longs to be a tattoo artist and embroider a stronger, braver sort of beauty on the skin. Her own back story is very sensitively revealed in a book that is hard to read, but impossible to put down. BLAME by Simon Mayo takes us into the world of a not-to-distant future, where hereditary crimes are punished in the extreme. Unrest and tensions are brewing high within the prison system, and Ant and her little brother Mattie are right at the heart of it. When all comes to a head, they have one chance to escape and prove to the world that they, like all the other inmates, are not to blame. Powerful, deeply considered and a breath-taking read.
For those who feel the need for something gentler, quieter, can I recommend THE MOONLIGHT DREAMERS by Siobhan Curham? Four girls who simply don't fit in with their contemporaries band together to create The Moonlight Dreamers club. Each with their own issues and aspirations, they find friendship, support, courage and solace in their lives. It is joyous and imaginative to watch these 4 bound together to go against the norm and take on whatever life throws at them while they struggle to be themselves. And CARAMEL HEARTS by E.R. Murray gives us a glimpse into the complicated life of Liv Bloom...far more complicated than any 14-year-olds' life should be. Her father left the family, her mother has descended into alcoholism and her sister Hatty has taken a break from Uni to care for Liv while their mother can't. Finding a recipe book written in her mothers' own hand, Liv discovers something she is really good at while trying to replicate her mothers' recipes. But things are never straight-forward. A possible first love, bullies from school and reconciliation with the past bring more chaos into Livs' life. A heart-felt novel about growing up and the true value of friendship, family and understanding.
I'd better stop there, or I'll never get on with 2017! Happy reading to you all and I hope you find something to enjoy within these lists.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favourite Books of 2016

It has been quite a year! So, the books published for young people have been in the position of having an enormous impact on their lives. They help make sense of things, and give voice to the issues that they are dealing with, while the world goes on turning and the adult world goes on doing whatever it does. This year, the books published have been outstanding at doing just that, and with providing the outlet for the imagination. Here are a few of my favourites of 2016.
I'll get stuck right in and shout loudly that my book of the year choice for young people has to be GOLD by Geraldine Mills.This is a classic adventure story set in a future landscape scarred by volcanic ash and tightly controlled by the official bodies governing it. Two young boys show great courage, imagination and integrity by building a glider styled after Leonardo DaVinci's instructions and sail away to a forbidden sector. It contains elements of nearly every issue we ponder in these times; governmental control and corruption, education, environmental calamity in a way that never beleaguers the core story. Written with beautiful use of language, story-telling, mythology, world-building, family relations and a boldness that all alludes to the great childrens classics, it is the full package. This is one everybody will enjoy and savour.

There have been a number of books published this year (and at the end of the last) that take the lives of foxes and their interaction/collision with the human world as their theme. This is not surprising when you look at the environmental concerns spreading out over our lives in general. Foxes stand out as the one animal that (seem to) most readily adapt to the urban world we have made. Also, they reflect the human condition, how we live, perhaps by their readiness to infiltrate human society. The most beautiful of these new 'fox' books is PAX by Sara Pennypacker. A simple story of a boy and the fox he has raised since it was a cub, and now has to abandon due to war, PAX speaks gently, yet with much impact, of loyalty, bravery and growing up. Physically, this is a beautiful book, with exquisite illustrations by Jon Klassen. Also holding the fox theme, it was a great pleasure to see the reissue of RUN WITH THE WIND by Tom McCaughren, before the release of the new title in this classic series, RUN FOR THE HILLS, in October. It is so gratifying  to see the Glensinna foxes and return to their lives once again.  MAYBE A FOX by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee tells an exquisite and poignant story of family, friendship, love, grief and acceptance that will stick with you. At the time her sister, Sylvie disappears, Jules encounters a young fox cub that seems extremely familiar. This is really beautiful, but do expect a few tears...totally worth it.Let me also not forget THE FOX AND THE STAR by Coralie Bickford-Smith, released in paper this October; a wonderful, artistically designed picture book that is moving and eloquent, both in its' illustrations and its' simple storyline. Magic of the most warm and wonderful kind.

Time-travel and science-fiction has been a recurring them in childrens literature this year. THE MANY WORLDS OF ALBIE BRIGHT by Christopher Edge sees young Albie concocting a time/dimensional traveling machine out of his mothers' computer, a cardboard box and a rotting banana to find a world where his mother may still be alive. But traveling through alternate dimensions is not quite as straight-forward as it may seem. Humourous, lively and filled with curiosity, this is a wonderful read. Likewise, TIME-TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER by Ross Welford sees Al Chaudhury receiving a letter from his deceased father on his 12th birthday. His dad instructs him on how to build a time-machine in order to go back in time and save his life. Hilarious antics and a moving story open up the possibility that perhaps, if we are careful, we may just be able to change past events for the better. In PERIJEE AND ME by Ross Montgomery, a young and lonely girl finds a shrimp-like alien baby on the shore after a storm. Caitlin takes it home and begins to look after it as though it were her little brother. The problem is, Perijee eats a lot...of everything. And his rapid growth soon causes enormous fall-out and fear, with the only person who can save both him and, apparently the planet (quite by accident, mind) is Caitlin. A tale of friendship, loneliness and being where you belong.
How about some fantasy? We all need some fantasy. COGHEART by Peter Bunzl is a brilliant classic-style, steam-punk adventure! 13-year-old Lily has by sent to a finishing school, mostly for her own protection. But she dreams of a life as a sky-pirate. Her dreams become reality in a most unexpected way, as she is held prisoner by her governess, dodges clock-work bad guys, arson attempts on her life and sets sail in an airship to discover the truth about her father...with unexpected results. THE UNCOMMONERS: THE CROOKED SIXPENCE by Jennifer Bell takes us on an incredible adventure to a world just beneath our own, where common, everyday objects such as toilet brushes, belts,etc. have magical properties and unusual uses. Ivy and Seb Sparrow find themselves in Lundinor to solve an old family mystery and bring back Grandma Sylvies' memory. Exceptional! I am absolutely loving the KAPHEUS series by Marguerite Tonery, and this year saw the release of the third in the series; KAPHEUS WATER. Elisa and Jamie find themselves traveling, once again, to the fantastical world of light to fight off pirates, the Dark One and save the animals, Kapheus and even themselves. As Kapheus grows with even more substance, I can't wait for the series to continue.

THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a book of extraordinary depth and beauty. Isabella lives on the island of Joya, an island from which she can never escape. But she dreams of adventure in faraway lands once mapped by her her cartographer father, and of her brother and mother, now lost to her. When her friend, Lupe disappears and another is attacked by a strange, blood-thirsty beast, Isabella follows an old map drawn by her mother, her heart and an ancient myth to save her life and the island itself.

Historical fiction  holds a special place on my bookshelf. This year has seen KINGS OF THE BOYNE by Nicola Pierce gives a poignant and realistic account of the Battle of the Boyne, when we meet brothers Daniel and Robert Sherrard fresh from the siege of Derry. In the Boyne Valley, they soon learn that war is not only affecting the soldiers and their kings, but the lives and hearts of everyone. Brilliantly researched, this offers a stunning picture into the lives of the people, the planning, and the successes and failures of one of Irelands' most pivotal moments. THE MAKING OF MOLLIE by Anna Carey takes us back to the spring of 1912. Young Mollie lives with her family in Drumcondra and is thoroughly convinced that her life is boring. That is until she discovers her older sisters' secret... Phyllis is a suffragette! After attending a meeting, Mollie decides to join the cause as well. A dynamic, interesting and exciting look at the early days of the suffragette movement in Ireland. STRANGE STAR by Emma Carroll gives us a glimpse of the time when the story of Frankenstein was first conceived. In a weird, tense, troubled environment, 'scientific' experimentation is all the rage, without even dreaming of its' consequences in the lives of people. Out of a strange circumstance involving experimentation, kidnapping and coming face-to-face with mortality, Carroll creates a very realistic, eerie vignette in 1816 which leads to the inspiration of one of the most memorable and beloved novels of all time. THE SECRET HORSES
OF BRIAR HILL by Meghan Shepherd leads us to December 1941 and an evacuation hospital for young people with tuberculosis, or 'the still waters' as it is sometimes known. Emmaline is one of the evacuees, with few companions at Briar Hill, spending most of her days indoors and alone. But a surprise discovery, that there are winged horses in the mirrors and one of them escapes, takes Emmaline on a magical, imaginative adventure. Sweet, compelling and meticulously drawn, this book is exceedingly beautiful, with it's illustrations by Levi Pinfold. Amazing!

We all need friendship, loyalty and the day-to-day shown to us in ways that make these things extraordinary. So let's look first at RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate
DiCamillo. If Raymie can do a few good deeds, learn to twirl a baton and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, she knows that her Dad will see her in the newpapers and return to the family. In the process, Raymie makes two unlikely friends, both of whom have their own reasons for wanting to win. The three soon discovers that good deeds often go wrong, adventures easily turn into disasters, and what's lost doesn't always need to be found. Kate DiCamillo simply cannot write a bad book...this one is just wonderful! I loved A LIBRARY OF LEMONS by Jo Cotterill. Calypso' mother died 5 years ago, her father is always busy researching his book and she can mostly be found with her head buried in a book. When Calypso discovers a heart-breaking secret hidden in her Dads' library and understands that something is horribly wrong, it is her new friend, Mae and her busy, busy family that step in to give Calypso and her father exactly what they need. In MIRACULOUS MIRANDA, Siobhan Parkinson reveals the life and family of Miranda, her passion for the Word of the Day competition in school, her belief in miracles and how to make them happen. She also has a few problems with people misunderstanding what she is saying....maybe because they aren't listening. Funny, warm, wonderful and very, very real. A VERY GOOD CHANCE by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald glimpses what happens when Mintys' world falls apart and she befriends Ned Buckley, considered to be the wrong sort for her...nothing but trouble. Of course, preconceived notions are seldom right, and this new
friendship gives Minty hope and adventure as they embark on a journey that changes everything in both their lives and in the very small town in which they live.
You are probably thinking I could go on for ages...and you'd be right. But I'm going to stop there. Each and every one of these books will take you on a wonderful adventure of your own. And it has been a pleasure to share 2016 with them.