Thank You for the Little Things by Caryl Hart, Illustrated by Emily Hamilton.

Whenever I am feeling sad

Or life feels hard or wrong or bad,

I focus for a little while

On LITTLE THINGS that make me smile…

With war raging in Ukraine and a pandemic bubbling away in the background, the world feels a frightening and overwhelming place. With rising fuel and energy costs, families are being hit hard and sometimes it feels like there is very little to smile about.

In gentle lyrical rhyming prose, Thank You for the Little Things encourages us all, (big or small) to reflect on the simple things in life that make us happy – it could be swinging high on the swings in the park, squelching through mud…

…finding a ladybird

…or making a daisy chain. They say the best things in life are free and they truly are!

Thank You for the Little Things celebrates the ordinary magic of everyday life. We all have bad days and sad days but this hopeful and uplifting book helps children to appreciate the simple wonders of the world around them. As with the Scandinavian feeling of Hygge, we are inspired to recognise activities that create a mood of coziness and comfort, like the youngster in the story snuggling up with a book and a warm milky drink at bedtime. Everyone will have favourite activities they associate with feelings of wellness and contentment and these can be key in promoting happiness and relieving stress.

What Are You Thankful For?

Cultivating a culture of gratitude with children is one way of being mindful every day. I’ve been following the blog tour with interest and I just love this lovely little gratitude game that Caryl shared in her interview with The Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG). You can read the full interview here but here is the game that would be fantastic to do either in the classroom or at home – I think it will be great to talk through with my own children in the car at the end of a long day:

In a small group, each person takes a turn to talk about the following. Take one question and take turns to answer before looking at the next question:

One thing that you DID for YOURSELF that made you happy.

One thing that you DID for SOMEONE ELSE that you are thankful for.

One thing that SOMEONE ELSE did for YOU that you are thankful for.

One thing you SAW that you’re thankful for.

One thing you FELT that you’re thankful for, or that made you happy.

Emily Hamilton’s illustrations are simply delightful and as a family of mixed Black African and White British heritage it was lovely to see ourselves represented in the story. Hart and Hamilton have clearly put a great deal of thought into how the main character should look and the lovely little person narrating the tale is also very neutral in terms of gender, giving both girls and boys an equal chance to feel like this book is for them. This ensures there is no hint of gender bias attached to any of the activities the child enjoys in the story either.

Thank You for the Little Things will appeal on so many different levels. From the tiniest of toddlers snuggling up for a gentle rhyming before bedtime, pre-schoolers spotting favourite familiar activities to school-age children who are able to express on a simple level what they are thankful for, this is a must-have picture book this Spring!

I have so much to be thankful for, but this week I’m particularly thankful my family and I got to watch my son win his first Cup Final on Sunday. It was a truly wonderful day that will stay forever in our hearts.

Thank You for the Little Things was published on the 3rd March and is available now!

With thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy and inviting me to take part in the Twitter blog tour.

There’s also lots of fantastic accounts to follow along with on the instagram tour and bookish ways to play every day!

If you missed the wonderful instagram Live Q&A with Caryl hosted by the lovely @picturebooksnob, catch up here

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery – Published by Puffin

Illustrated by Laura Catalan

WARNING: this book contains a fire hazard…

…And a very angry goose!

The Last Firefox completely set my heart alight. It’s a wonderful story of family, friends (both of the flammable and non-flammable variety) and finding your inner fire.

Lee Newbery’s sparky, humorous writing style had me falling about laughing at various points in the book but I have to say, I was sold from #GooseGate in Chapter 1 – this was one of the funniest first chapters I’ve read in a long time!

Family and friendship burn brightly at the centre of this wonderful story. Between bullies at school and changes at home 11 year old Charlie Challinor finds life a bit scary. His spirit is made of kindling and he’s missing a flame. His dads desperately want to adopt another child and whilst Charlie would love a little brother or sister, how can he be a good big brother if he can’t even find the fire to stick up for himself?

The summer holidays are just days away and Charlie and best friends Lippy and Roo hang out in his tree house – the ultimate childhood dream! They lend him their fire when he needs to stand up to the bullies at school but he just wishes he could find the courage to do it himself.

But then one day, in the grounds of Bryncastell, from behind a wall of ivy emerges a mysterious stranger. He’s travelled through a magical portal from a fantastical place called Fargone and there’s no time to waste, for a fearsome beast is hot on his tail, or should I say Firetail, the fox cub he is carrying.

Shape-shifting monster, The Grendilock, is seeking the only remaining firecub in Fargone – The Last Firefox – and he’ll stop at nothing to get it. And all the clues you need are in the name because as Charlie quickly discovers, Firetail errupts into a ball of flames – get too close and you might just loose your eyebrows!

The time-travelling boy, who is named Teg, nonchalently confirms that the combustion thing only happens when the cub’s angry, scared, excited or hungry (that narrows it down a bit!) He thrusts the fiesty fireball into Charlie’s arms with strict instructions to look after him for the next two days when he will be back to collect him. Teg then makes a hasty exit back through the portal to lead the Grendilock away and Charlie is left with a highly flammable fox in his care!

What follows are a hilarious 48 hours of Charlie trying to conceal his little fire-cracker from his dads and the irony is one of them is a firefighter. Pants are literally on fire as washing lines burn in the breeze and there’s an uproarious supermarket sweep as sausages are stolen and are dragged sizzling round the shopfloor!

Unable to cope with the unfolding mayhem, Charlie let’s his besties in on the secret that is burning a hole in his backpack and they are instantly smitten. Libby and Roo are eager to take turns at fox-sitting and help solve problems around how to conceal newly renamed Cadno throughout the school day. But there’s fire on the football pitch and flames at the summer fête and it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to hide him much longer. To top it all off, it seems that the deadly fiend that they’re on the run from has broken through the portal and is hot on the fox’s scent. Will Charlie be able to find his inner flame to save The Last Firefox?

This was such a funny and entertaining read that I could not put down. It’s ideal for fans of The Boy Who Grew Dragons and would be an absolutely perfect book for a Year 4 class. Laura Catlán’s lively illustrations break up the Chapters and cannot fail to keep younger readers engaged.

The Last Firefox is also a wonderfully inclusive story. Author Lee Newbery was just about to embark on the journey of becoming a family and it quickly became apparent that books with same-sex parenting units at the heart weren’t that common. Lee wanted his future child to see himself represented in the books and read stories where the main character was adopted, but where the plot wasn’t necessarily about adoption. Lee and his husband now have a little boy who might think that Charlie’s dads look a little familiar when he’s finally old enough to read the book.

An absolute fire-cracker of a book! Newbery has made a sizzling debut and I’m really hoping there’s more to come hot off the press very soon.

The Last Firefox is published by Puffin and is out on the 3rd March.

With thanks to Puffin books for sending me a proof copy of this hot new book in advance of publication.

WRATH by Marcus Sedgwick – Published by Barrington Stoke

Master storyteller Marcus Sedgwick makes his Barrington Stoke debut with a moody, intense mystery of a missing girl and the intricasies of teen relationships.

The mysterious disappearance of teenager Cassie Cotton had me hooked from the very first page and the events that unfold, as told by classmate Fitz.

Cassie has always been a bit different, a bit alternative, but when she starts to hear a strange humming sound that others don’t notice, it starts to attract her unwanted attention at school. Fitz is completely intrigued by her and the more time they spend together rehearsing in the band, the more he realises he really likes her. He thinks she likes him too – if only he could find a way to tell her how he feels…There’s an absolutely beautiful scene where the pair lay side by side in the park, just their fingertips touching and I think it might just be my favourite scene in a book for a long time.

The sound gets louder for an increasingly unsettled Cassie and she believes it’s a sound that the earth is in distress. Fitz isn’t sure; he can’t work out if it’s the lockdowns, the stress of her parents arguing or something else that’s affecting Cassie… She’s a troubled and complicated soul that straightforward Fitz finds difficult to navigate. She blows hot and then stone cold.

And then she disappears.

Worried by what she’ll do, Fitz is determined to find her but has no clue where to start looking.  Will he be in time to help her…?

As depicted in Paul Blow’s breathtaking cover illustration, the tension reaches fever pitch in a heart-stopping climax at Cape Wrath, the most north-westerley point in mainland Britain. Literally no word is wasted in this powerful tale of teenage angst.

I was so completely compelled by this belter of a book, Marcus Sedgwick + Barringtonstoke =
a match made in book heaven! I’m hoping this is the start of a beautiful relationship and there are more collaborations to come.

Barrington Stoke are without a doubt, my favourite children’s publisher. They put the work of the very finest children’s authors into the hands of young readers in manageable, novella length books and their impact in the classroom is huge. My colleagues and I have seen the most reluctant of readers transformed before our very eyes by this range and I’m forever begging my school’s Reading Leader to buy more Barrington Stoke!

WRATH is out on 3rd March

As always, thanks to Barrington Stoke for the opportunity to review to review your wonderful books.

Marv

Alex Falase-Koya

Illustrated by Paula Bowles

Suit Up. Step Up.

It’s time to become a hero!

There’s a new superhero in town and he’s swooping onto a bookshelf near you!

Marvin is an ordinary boy who loves spending time with Grandpa and reading comics with his best friend Joe. But everything changes when he discovers a mysterious superhero suit hidden in the attic . . .

To his amazement, Marvin learns that he is next in a long line of superheroes.

Now the time has come to meet his destiny!

Suit up. Step Up. It’s time to meet our heroes!

And every superhero needs a trusty sidekick – meet Pixel, Marv’s right-hand robot! A double act that cannot be defeated, this pair are a winning team!

Marv and the Mega Robot

Marvin’s life is perfectly ordinary: he loves technology, superhero comics, and is working on an invention for the Science Fair with his best friend Joe. But notorious baddie ‘Mastermind’ is causing chaos with her mega robot. When it grabs Marvin’s best friend Joe, he knows it’s time to spring into action and save the day.

Marv and the Dino Attack

Marvin is on a school trip at the Natural History Museum when a chilling roar resonates through the exhibition . . . the dinosaurs have come back to life and are wreaking havoc! Supervillan REX has made the dinosaur skeletons come alive. He wants one for a sidekick and wants it NOW!

Marv will need to assume his secret super-identity and use his super suit to save the day!


Marv is perfect for newly confident readers and I know he will appeal to the Key Stage 1 children at school. Children of this age adore PJ Masks, Marvel and The Incredibles and Marv ticks all the boxes.

Representation matters and we absolutely need to see more black characters in books. Author Alex Falase-Koya (pictured below in his Spiderman costume) longed to see a black superhero growing up. My own children (of mixed Black African and White heritage)absolutely idolised Black Panther, played by the late Chadwick Boseman and there really needs to be more iconic black heroes on our screens and bookshelves.

Superhero Author!

After reading Marv, my 9 year old son said the concept reminded him of another of his favourite heros – Leo AKA ‘Kid Chaos’ in the 2020 film ‘The Main Event’. Marv has obviously made an impression!

So join Marvin as he steps into his power and becomes Marv-unstoppable, invincible, and completely MARVellous!

About the author

Alex Falase-Koya has been writing since he was a teenager and was a winner of Spread the Word’s 2019 London Writer’s Awards for YA and Children’s. He is a debut author and exciting new voice on the children’s book scene.

About the illustrator

Paula Bowles has books published by Nosy Crow and Simon and Schuster as well as Oxford University Press.

Our hero returns this summer in another thrilling adventure…

With thanks to Oxford Children’s Books and Liz Scott PR for giving me the opportunity to review this fantastic new series and be part of the blog tour.

There May Be A Castle by Piers Torday

#BooksIShouldHaveRead*

I’m ashamed to say that until yesterday, I’d not read any of Piers Torday’s work. Hearing the high praise The Last Wild Series receives I know his books are, without a doubt, books I should have read and it was about time I made a start.

I was inspired to read There May Be A Castle by Anne Thompson* on a recent Twitter thread. The chat was about children’s books that involve tragedy and this and the heart-wrenching A Monster Calls were both highlighted.

This is one of those reviews where I feel I need to include details of the plot sparingly so as to avoid spoilers, therefore I will keep it purposefully brief. What I can absolutely say though is that There May Be A Castle is truly like nothing I have read before. It’s highly original, gripping, utterly bizarre in places and a heart-breaking yet suprisingly uplifting read.

It’s Christmas Eve and Mouse Mallory’s family are making the journey across the moors to visit his grandparents at their farmhouse. The weather conditions are treacherous, dusk is settling and snow is already drifting.

As siblings so often do, Mouse, baby sister Esmè and big sister Violet start to argue in the back of the car. Mum is already struggling to keep their SUV on the road, but a squabble over the i-pad causes her to loose control of the vehicle.

The car skids off the road into a field and rolls down a hill. Mouse is thrown through the windscreen into the snow. When he wakes, he finds himself in a magical landscape, with only a talkative sheep for company. His childhood toys, a horse called Nonky and dinosaur Trex, also appear and so begins an extraordinary and magical quest through a world of wonder.

A world of monsters, minstrels, dangerous knights and mysterious wizards; a frozen landscape of terrifying danger but also more excitement than Mouse has ever known.

There may be a castle says Nonky, somewhere, beyond. But why is Mouse looking for a castle? He begins to remember the accident and as memories of his family back at the car begin to return, Mouse realises this might be the most important journey he will ever make …

Meanwhile, trapped upside down in the wreckage by her seat belt, Violet regains consciousness. It’s pitch dark and the snow is still falling, quickly covering all evidence of the accident with a thick white blanket. The story enters a dual narrative with Chapters alternating between the two siblings. Without hope of anyone finding them and time quickly running out, what will become of the Mallory family…And where is Mouse?

This is real, hard-hitting life and death stuff, cleverly intertwined with magical fantasy. I am still reeling from Mouse’s unforgettable journey. It’s definitely one of those books that will stay with me for a long time. The Last Wild Collection sits firmly on my #BooksIShouldHaveRead list -and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in another of Piers Torday’s expertly crafted worlds very soon.

There May Be A Castle was published by Quercus Children’s Books and is available now from all good bookshops.

* #BooksIShouldHaveRead is a blog series recently created by the brilliant Mr Tom Slattery – follow him on Twitter Here

*Anne Thompson is the author of Reading Matters, a weekly round-up of Children’s Book News published every Saturday – follow her on Twitter for amazing book recommendations Here

Aftershocks by Anne Fine

The Earthquake cracked

Things wide open…

We knew at once that

Hauntings would follow.

Aftershocks is a gripping supernatural yet spiritual read that will have you on the end of your seat throughout. It has all my favourite traits in a book rolled into one! Ghosts, a dash of dystopia and a sensitive portrayal of grief and belief systems that saw me swallow it up in a matter of hours.

Anne Fine has skillfully aligned the aftershocks of a natural disaster and the utter devastation of a whole community with the horrendous fall-out for one boy’s family after the sudden tragic loss of his older brother. Bereavement affects all of us in different ways and one person’s way of dealing with loss can seem strange or unfeeling to another. Grief has torn Louie’s family apart but when he finds himself spending time with the survivors of a community ravaged by an earthquake, he starts to learn that only by facing his darkest fears will he be able to offer help, not just to his loved ones but to the entire stricken community.

When Louise joins his engineer father on a routine inspection of a pumping station in the Endlands, he’s not expecting to be caught up in a natural disaster. After hours of trekking to what seems like the ends of the earth, the small team arrive at the complex. Louie immediately senses the unsettling atmosphere; the strange standing stones on the road in, the silent shadow of a caretaker who emerges from the gatehouse and a series of haunting black and white photographs showing the plant’s construction. A feeling of unease hangs in the air as the team bed down for the night, the atmosphere charged.

A devastating earthquake strikes early next morning, reducing the plant to rubble. Miraculously, Louie and his dad survive but this was just the beginning. From the other side of the ridge that separates the plant from Causeway Bay, a huge roar errupts confirming their worst fears: a tsunami caused by the earthquake has hit, tearing through everything and leaving death and destruction in its path. What makes these scenes so terrifying is that Louie doesn’t actually see the tsunami hit, it’s told from what he imagines is happening, concealed by the ridge. When the small party eventually climb to the top and peer over, what meets their eyes is utter devastation.

Louie’s dad remains in Causeway Bay with his engineer colleagues and volunteers involved in the clean up operation whilst Louie is transported to safety in a helicopter. Back home, Louie discovers news of the disaster has spread as well as growing reports of creepy goings-on.

Louie finds posts on the internet of ghostly apparitions in the bay and he receives confimation of his ability to see them in the most chilling of ways. Whilst talking to his dad via video call, a blurry elongated figure steps into the frame behind his dad. It hovers behind him, with it’s head twisting towards the laptop screen, as if listening intently…

‘There’s one of them behind you right now, listening to every word you say.’

He spun round to look. Then he turned back to me. ‘Nice one Louie. You really fooled me there, nearly gave me a heart attack.’

The figure stated at me directly over Dad’s shoulder and then the screen went blank.

That particular scene and the build up to it well and truly sent shivers down my spine! And there’s plenty more like it, I was literally looking over my shoulder in my own house as I read at night.

With the infrastructure gradually being rebuilt, Louie returns to Causeway Bay to rejoin his dad in the school holidays and it doesn’t take long before he has his first ghostly encounter. A young child drenched in muddy water walks past him in the compound, leaving a trail of wet footprints before vanishing without a trace. Soon Louie begins to see whole families of Endlanders, wandering dripping wet before mysteriously disappearing.

The villagers practice an ancient custom named Malouy, a ritual of repeatedly telling the story of the loss of their loved ones to calm the troubled and restless spirits. Louie observes the practise first-hand, but the curiously unsettling ways of the Endlanders raise his own ghosts; his brother Toby who died very suddenly in an accident. This opens up the floodgates and Louie experiences his own outpouring of grief to his father, who has been paralysed by a cloud of numbness and horror since his son’s passing. Can the beliefs of this shattered community help them to heal their own hearts?

This is such a dramatic and incredibly moving work of fiction that I know I will be gripped by again and again and I am sure you will too.

So it is with great pleasure I have been given the first two chapters to share with you exclusively below – enjoy!

Aftershocks was published on the 10th February by Old Barn Books.

With thanks to Liz Scott PR for sending me a review copy of this breathtaking book.

The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold

What if you could communicate with a whale?

Hannah Gold ensnared Middle Grade hearts last year with her best-selling debut The Last Bear – a huge roar for our earth in the war against climate change and an unforgettable story of a remarkable connection between animal and human.

I completely fell in love with Hannah’s Bear and she returns with an equally incredible story as powerful and spellbinding as the ocean itself. A story of the breath-taking bond between a boy and one of the most big-hearted creatures on our planet; the grey whale.

Alone and adrift, 11 year old Rio has been sent halfway across the world to live with a grandmother he barely knows in California while his mum is in hospital back home. For so long he has been completely submerged by his mum’s mental illness and the strain of caring for her is drowning him.

Months of sadness keep Rio a prisoner in his own thoughts and instead of exploring Ocean Bay, he stays holed up in his room. But when his grandmother brings him a treasured collection of his mum’s old things, he finds a sketchbook – the pages brimming with beautiful drawings of a grey whale with distinctive white markings: White Beak. It’s as if the ocean has spoken directly to his heart and he instantly feels closer to his mum. A glimmer of hope washes over him and Rio feels the waves calling him, pulling him towards them.

Trudging the beach alone, Rio meets Marina. A similar age and a budding Marine Biologist she invites him aboard The Spyhopper on one of her dad’s whale watching trips. It’s here he has his first incredible encounter with White Beak, a gentle giant of the sea and everything changes. Not only is it a one-in-a-million chance that he’s seen the very same whale his mum loved so much all those years ago but he discovers a gift hidden deep within him: he can hear the whale song.

Marina and her dad Birch invite Rio to be a regular crew member – afterall his unique talent is crucial in helping them track and count the whales as they migrate along the Pacific coastline. For the first time in years, Rio feels like he’s come up for air and he no longer feels so suffocated. He also knows that when mum finds out he’s found White Beak it will make her happy again – he’s going to make her get better.

Until White Beak goes missing…

For days, Rio and Marina frantically search the whale watching websites for sightings along the grey whale migration route but there’s nothing. It seems she never made it to Mexico and the sanctuary of the lagoons. The trail has gone cold. Marina has educated Rio on all the dangers whales face in our oceans – choking on plastic, becoming tangled in fishing nets, fatal collisions with cruise ships and boat propellers- and he fears the worst. He sets out on a desperate quest to find his lost whale, he knows she’s in trouble and if he can’t save her, how will he save his mum?

Hannah Gold has done it again! She has the most spectacular talent for connecting children to our world’s most endangered creatures and through the power of her storytelling, empowering them to believe they can make a difference.

‘Awareness is the change of heart…None of us can save the world single-handedly, but together we might just stand a chance.’

I know we’re about to see a tidal wave of love and support for The Lost Whale, I think I loved it even more than The Last Bear (if that’s possible!) I’m all at sea after finishing it and can’t even think about reading another book yet – my head’s still somewhere in the middle of the Pacific! White Beak has completely stolen my heart -and whale watching has well and truly been added to my bucket list!

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

Hannah Gold

Ever since I was in my early twenties and first saw a grey whale, these gentle giants of the sea have always fascinated me. Years later, just before the start of the pandemic, I returned to Baja, Mexico and spent four life-changing days on marine protected waters. There was one moment that will stay with me forever – the sight of a grey Whale staring up at me from beneath the water; her gaze fixed steadfastly upon mine.

In that moment, I believed she was trying to communicate a story to me. A story of persecution to the brink of extinction, of survival against all the ways humankind seems intent on destroying the ocean, but also – and most importantly – a story of love. The kind of love that exists only between humans and wild animals and which is fuelled with the healing power of nature. It is my hope that in The Lost Whale I have captured all of this and more, and I feel very honoured to share Rio and White Beak’s adventure with you.

The Lost Whale will be published on the 31st March by Harper Collins Children’s Books. Perfect for readers of 8+

With thanks to Tina Mories and Haper Collins Children’s Books for the beautiful early proof copy of the book.

Levi Pinfold’s illustrations are being kept a closely guarded secret and I cannot wait to get my hands on a stunning hardback copy of the book to drink in their beauty.

If you’ve not read Hannah’s best-selling debut The Last Bear you absolutely must!

You can read my review here

Monster Max & The Marmalade Ghost

Robin Bennett

Illustrated by Tom Tinn-Disbury

My son’s most anticipated book of 2022!

We have been counting down the days until the unleashing of the second book in this marvellous series. It’s been a year since my now 9 year old was introduced to the totally ROAR-SOME world of Monster Max and I can honestly say, it’s the book he’s talked about the most in that time.

Brilliantly bonkers, Monster Max takes young readers on a zany adventure like no other. Burps, battles, bizarre inventions and best friends, it’s perfect for readers aged 7-9 years.

It would be an absolutely monstous mistake not to read book one in the series, firstly because you’d be missing out on a totally madcap adventure involving a bobble hat of befuddlement but secondly, it sets the scene in terms of Max’s friendships, family history and their links to the the mysterious land of Krit.

To find out where it all began, read our review of Monster Max & the Bobble Hat of Forgetting here

So the boy who burped is back with avengence! This time, Max and (joint) best friend Peregrine are volunteering at an old people’s home, when strange things start to happen. One resident is walking on the ceiling, one is riding their wheelchair through walls, and Reggie says his marmalade is haunted (no one listens). Can Max and his friends work out what’s happening to protect his family and the local community?

Things aren’t looking good: the Marmalade Ghost is turning into a sticky Godzilla, Max falls out with his (joint) best friend, and then just when it can’t get any worse, someone kidnaps Max’s other (joint) best friend, his cat, Frankenstein…It’s Time to ‘Protect and Do Good Stuff!’

Robin Bennett and Tom Tinn-Disbury are a winning collaboration. Superbly written comedy capers, mystery and madness combined with Tom Tinn-Disbury’s signature perfectly capture the mayhem and engage their young readership.

Monsters, ghost and goop, this is pitched perfectly for younger readers and an adventure series that boys particularly will thoroughly enjoy. My son can’t wait to get stuck into his pre-ordered copy this weekend.

Fingers crossed there’s a book three!

Monster Max & The Marmalade Ghost was published by Firefly Press on 3rd February and can be purchased here:

https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/monster-max-and-the-marmalade-ghost/

With thanks to Firefly Press and Rachel’s Randoms Resources for an advance e-copy of the book and inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour.

Like A Charm

Elle McNicholl

Witches, vampires, trolls, faeries… a feisty neurodivergent heroine and glamour, glamour glamour! Prepare for a magical adventure on the streets (and in the bookshops) of Edinburgh…

It goes without saying I am a huge Elle McNicoll fan! She is one of my favourite children’s authors and A Kind of Spark is without a doubt, one of my favourite books of recent years. I will always remember where I was and how I felt when reading it and couldn’t see how it could be matched. Then Elle gave us Show Us Who You Are and I was a wobbly teary mess! Two words: Chapter Thirteen (if you know, you know!) And it left me thinking, does it really get any better than this…?

Well in short, yes, it does actually. Whilst continuing to represent neurodiversity, Elle has taken her writing in a completely different direction, showing astonishing versatility and depth as an author – is there any end to this woman’s talents?

Like A Charm, the first book in an #OwnVoices duology sees Elle make her fantasy debut. I was completely swept up once again by Elle’s signature compassion and her pursuit of representation for neurodivergent young people. Like Elle, protagonist 12 year old Ramya Knox has a diagnosis of Dyspraxia, a condition that affects motor skills and processing, but she refuses to let this define her.

Ramya’s busy, news broadcaster parents have moved her from London to Edinburgh close to her mother’s family. There’s a huge rift that’s gone on for years between Ramya’s mother and her sisters – Aunt Leanna and Aunt Opal – but a sudden event throws the family back together.

A mysterious stranger appears at a family gathering and tells Ramya she has a gift; she can see through glamour, the magical camouflage that supernatural creatures use to hide. It’s not long before she discovers that the city is full of them. As she is pulled into her family’s world of secrets and spells, she sets out to discover the truth behind The Hidden Folk of Edinburgh, armed with only her late grandfather’s notebook and three words of warning concealed within it’s pages: Beware the Sirens.

Ramya and her cousin Marley are plunged into an adventure that will change everything. There’s a malevolent force at work and she’s about to learn that there are more to her powers than she ever imagined.

You can watch Elle talk about Like A Charm on her YouTube Channel and find out about the book’s exciting launch events here:

A Kind of Spark genuinely made me a better teacher and in general, a better human being in terms of understanding what it’s like to be neurodivergent. As well as being a thrilling fantasy adventure, Like a Charm had exactly the same effect. I cringed at the scenes where Ramya attends her ‘workshop’ Special Needs intervention sessions, which are insensitvely held at lunchtime.

“Support me?” …”I just want them to stop making me feel like an insect under a magnifying glass. Let me use a computer! Stop singling me out in PE! Let me process things in my own time! That’s all I need but oh no. It’s workshops and sheets and meetings and constant frowning and making sure I know I’m different at every opportunity.”

Bravo Elle McNicoll, you’ve done it again!

I am really looking forward to finding out what’s next for Ramya, Marley and her Aunts. The Magic returns in Spring 2023…

Like A Charm is published by Knights Of and is out on the 3rd February.

With thanks to Knights Of and Annabelle Wright at ed Public Relations for giving me the opportunity to read this much anticipated book in advance of publication.

My Brother Ben

Peter Carnavas

I was blown away by Peter Carnavas’ first novel The Elephant and just as in his critically acclaimed debut, Peter’s signature style of gentle story-telling shines through, handling delicate family subjects with the greatest of care and sensitivity.

My Brother Ben is a story of sprawling summer days and the special bond siblings share. I feel so lucky to have my two brothers and the story evoked feelings of nostalgia, taking me back to my own childhood. Endless days of the three of us playing out together in the garden, building dens, riding bikes and hunting for creatures.

Set in Australia (Carnavas’ home) Luke and his big brother Ben spend long hot summer days on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. They while away the hours fishing and swimming without a care in the world, spending nights camped out in the back yard, dreaming about owning their own boat someday so they can explore further up stream.

The boys are like chalk and cheese, they couldn’t be more different but their brotherly bond binds them together. Self-assured and popular, Ben doesn’t have to try too hard at anything in life, it would seem he’s good at everything. Things come less easily to quiet Luke who prefers the safety of the shallows and his sketch book whilst his dare-devil brother leaps into the water from The Jumping Tree. He secretly feels inadequate next to his big brother but Ben has a way of lifting him up and making him feel like everything’s going to be ok.

When a local competition to win a canoe is announced, the boys spring into action. Entrants must be under fifteen and make something that celebrates the creek – a painting, photographs, anything that shows it off. Birdwatcher Luke has a talent for sketching and the boys team-up to make a book entitled ‘The Birds of Cabbage Tree Creek.”

But could their unbreakable bond be about to snap? This is the last summer the boys will spend truly together; a last summer spent as little boys before Ben goes off to high school and there are already signs that they are growing apart. Dad upped and left unexpectedly and whilst Ben has continued to talk to him on the phone, Luke feels unable to have a relationship with him.

Aunty Gem is Luke’s confidant. She has opened his eyes to birds and when birdwatching, Luke is able to just ‘be.’ ‘Even on the dark days, birds still sing.’The birds fill the spaces in his mind, keeping stress, worries and thoughts of dad from creeping in.

Soon those sacred summer days are over and for the first time, the boys go their separate ways to school. It’s not long before their closeness starts to feel like a distant memory and when Ben makes a new friend – a girl – Luke feels like he’s losing his brother.

Feeling pushed out, Luke is lonely and despondent. Life has lost its sparkle without Ben in it and Luke mopes around the house not knowing what to do with himself. Ben will do anything to impress his new friend, even if it’s at Luke’s expense and it seems all loyalty to his brother has been forgotten. He’s lost all patience over the situation with dad too and in a heated moment spits ‘Why don’t you just grow up!’ Will things ever be the same again?

Through Ben and Luke, Carnavas has laid bare the strains sibling relationships can encounter and the changes they go through during different life stages. As an eldest sibling, the story made me appreciate the feelings of envy and frustration, of being left behind that younger bothers and sisters may feel.

Once again, Carnavas harnesses the therapeutic power of animals and nature to heal his characters and help young readers navigate challenging issues. It was a real treat discovering the Australian birds that live around the creek and surrounding suburbs. I’m a big softie when it comes to animal rescues and a certain Magpie melted my heart.

This is such a nostalgic story, brimming with the innocence of childhood and the pain of growing up.

My Brother Ben publishes on 7th April.

With thanks to Pushkin Children’s Books for sending me a review copy.

Also by Peter Carnavas…

If you’ve not yet read The Elephant, I highly recommend that you do! Never before have I read a children’s book that explores caregiver depression so insightfully through the eyes of a child. The Elephant personifies depression, gives it a living animal form and makes what can be a very abstract concept for children accessible.

“A big grey Elephant is following Olive’s father around. It leaves with him for work and trails behind him when he comes home, keeping him heavy & sad. Every day, Olive wishes it would go.

When she is asked to bring something old & wonderful to show her class, Olive immediately wants to bring her old bike, but she will need her dad’s help to fix it. Teaming up with her cheery Grandad & best friend Arthur, she sets out to chase the elephant away. “

Most people will readily admit that their mental health has suffered at times during the pandemic. Although his depression was triggered by the death of his wife, I could really identify with Olive’s father’s loss of motivation to do anything. The temptation to find excuses…to say to the kids ‘we’ll do it tomorrow’

We try to keep it together for our kids but the story really made me think about the signals they pick up on and how their lives are touched by caregiver mental health issues.

This little book has such a big heart. It’s so full of hope and shows children recovery is possible. It also highlights how wonderful Grandparents and pets are. And I didn’t see the ending coming at all – so very, very clever..

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