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Happy Sad by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Augusta Kirkwood – published by Little Door Books

Can you be happy and sad at the same time?

Fans of Bog Baby will love this absolutely gorgeous picture book, which explores the themes of friendship, love and letting go. I’m sure adults and children alike will identify with the bittersweet feeling of being ‘Happy Sad.

Pippa Goodhart’s soothing story flows like gentle waves and as you’ll see below, August Kirkwood’s stunning illustrations speak for themselves. See the fish shimmer and the mermaid’s emerald hair and irredescent scales shine in a striking colour palette of aquamarine, turquoise, purple and cobalt.

When Toby finds a mermaid stranded in a rock pool on the beach he takes her home and tries to cheer her up.

Toby tries songs, stories and a paddling pool full of bubbles, all the time asking:

‘are you happy now?’

And for a while Toby and the mermaid have fun. But…

…the more the mermaid sees the love Toby and his family have for each other the more she misses her own family and home.

Toby is really sad to see his friend go, but can he be happy for her at the same time?

We had a little talk in Reception class about when we have felt ‘happy sad.’ Here are a few of the children’s contributions:

“I’m happy coming back to school but sad that the holidays are over.”

“I’m happy our butterflies have hatched but sad we have to let them go.”

“I was happy on my birthday but sad when I had no presents left to open.”

“I’m happy we’re going to Year 1 soon but sad to leave Reception.”

Happy Sad is a particularly great choice for us at the moment as we have been observing minibeasts in class such as snails and butterflies but then had to release them back into their habitats. The children could really relate to Toby having to let his friend go, yet knowing she is living happily in her natural environment.

Happy Sad was published on the 6th June by Little Door Books.

Big shout out to Little Door! As an Early Years Leader and Reception teacher, Little Door Books are now a staple on my classroom bookshelves. Pinkie and Boo, The Girl Who Stole the Stars, Scaredy Bat, Snooze and One Button Benny are such well-loved stories and there’s more amazing titles to come. Keep an eye on my blog next month for another exciting release!

Keep following the Happy Sad blog tour for more fantastic content from the brilliant bloggers below. It’s been a pleasure taking part and having the opportunity to review this beautiful book.

The Riddle of the Sea by Jonne Kramer, Published by Piccadilly Press

I’m absolutely thrilled to have been invited to join the blog tour for this gripping sea adventure and better still, get the opportunity to ask author Jonne Kramer some questions about some of her inspiration behind the book.

Featuring stunning illustrations by acclaimed illustrator Karl James Mountford and translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson, Carnegie-Medal 2020 short-listed translator, The Riddle of the Sea was a huge hit in The Netherlands and it’s easy to see why.

When Ravian’s father doesn’t return home from sea for his son’s birthday, Ravian is certain he must be in danger. Hearing tales of a cursed ship that captures fishermen, Ravian goes in search of his father accompanied by his only friend Marvin the seagull. Before long, the pair find themselves trapped on the ship with a kindly boy and a bad-tempered pirate for company. The ensuing voyage is beset with battles with giant squid and fierce storms, and Ravian despairs of ever finding his father.

Jonne Kramer

Ask the Author

I read in your guest post earlier in the blog tour that like protagonist Ravian, you are a ‘sailor’s child with a severe and inexplicable fear of boats.’ What made you choose to base most of your book at sea?

The sea is so intriguing to me because it is so enormous and so inaccessible. You can never really know what’s hiding in the depths. That’s what makes the sea so scary, but it also makes it very mysterious and that gives the writer a lot of options. Nothing feeds my imagination as much as a mysterious place where anything is possible, I only have to think of it and write it down.

Was there a particular location that inspired The Harbour of Rotten Herring? Do you have a favourite seaside place?

No, I didn’t base the harbour on any existing place, but the surrounding dunes where Ravian lives were based on Texel. This is a small Dutch island where I used to go very often with my family when I was little, and I especially loved walking through the dunes and the forest next to them.

Ravian finds himself trapped aboard a cursed ship. Are you superstitious? Where’s the spookiest place you’ve ever been? 

Haha, no I’m not superstitious. I just like to believe that nature is more powerful than mankind. In the book, the ship is cursed by the sea as punishment. Even the most evil pirate fears the sea and has to obey her. We would all be better off if we’d obey nature a bit more, I think.

The spookiest place I’ve ever been, was a castle in northern France. During the day it was lovely and romantic, and I could picture myself a princess. But at night everything got spooky and very dark, and it seemed like the wooden floors were constantly creaking, and the curtains were dancing while the windows were closed, because of some cracks in the windowsill.

Marvin the seagull is such a great character and he’s an amazing companion & friend to Ravian. Did you have an animal companion as a child? 

Yes, I love animal companions in stories. Especially adventurous stories where the main characters have to do scary things, it’s nice to give them a great friend who supports them unconditionally.

My own animal companion was our cat Storm. He’s still alive but a very old and grumpy cat now. He would always chase me and my brother and come along when we were playing outside.

Which was your favourite scene in the book to write? 

I loved all scenes where Ravian and Kars talk and get to know each other better. Those were easier for me to write than the more action-filled scenes. Their conversations and cute flirtatious jokes made me feel so warm and I felt they were so needed in between the scary adventure, the sea monsters and crazy pirates.

Are there any stories or authors from your childhood that have influenced you as a writer?

Of course! I loved Roald Dahl’s stories because they’re set in our normal life, but he adds something that’s impossible or magic, but in such a way that makes it seem like it actually could be possible, but we just haven’t noticed it. His stories have always made me try to notice unusual things in what’s around me.

And my absolute favourite book was Wise child and its prequel Juniper by Monica Furlong. When I was young, I always wished I could be the same as the main character and dreamed to live inside the story. I hope my books can have the same effect on readers one day.

And finally, are you writing at the moment? Can you give us a little hint?

Yes, I am! I’m writing a short story collection about a child bandit who lives in a forest with his gang of robbers: a squirrel, a raccoon, and a spider. They go on little adventures and carry out funny robberies.

Please do check out the other stops on the tour for more exclusive content.

The Riddle of the Sea is available to purchase now.

Uncle Pete and The Forest of Lost Things by David C. Flanagan, Illustrated by Will Hughes.

Planes, parachutes, Polar Bears and a gigantic pair of pants! Fasten your seatbelts for a fabulous adventure into a rather fantastic forest. An energetic Early Chapter series perfect for children 5-8 years.

Our favourite explorers Uncle Pete and Tiny Mouse, aka TM are back and heading out on a brand new quest full of silliness, surprises and a whole lot of squirrels!

If you joined Uncle Pete for his first adventure The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep you’ll remember that he and fearless sidekick TM had to abandon their stardust powered plane en route to retrieving a magical blanket for a boy who’d never had a night’s sleep in his life. But where should they look for it? The strange and mysterious Forest of Lost Things of course. But wait…that’s crazy…nobody should EVER go there!

That’s if you can get there in the first place. A journey as perilous as this should only be attempted by the most experienced explorers as one needs to be competant on a surfboard and daring enough to ride the legendary white-knuckle forest transport know as The Squirrel-Coaster.

Uncle Pete doesn’t half get himself into some scrapes. It was touch and go on many occasions but it doesn’t bear thinking about what would’ve happened if he hadn’t packed ‘the emergency underpants.’ This was without a doubt the funniest scene in the book and my children and I were howling reading it aloud (I might’ve begged them to read it again several times!) Imagine the biggest pair of unflatable undies you can and being propelled through the air at break-neck speed and you’re somewhere there – hilarious!

What awaits Pete and TM when they do finally arrive in the forest is mystery, mayhem and lots of missing things – thanks to Uncle Pete, I now know where the odd socks go when your washing machine eats one of them…phew! That’s one of life’s mysteries solved! But there’s more dangerous dilemmas in store and they’ll need kindness, bravery and a whole load of jam sandwiches if they’re going to find the plane and get home safely…

Yet again, Uncle Pete has been a roaring success in our house and we were thrilled that Uncle Pete has unfinished business at the end of the story. This seems to suggest that we will be packing our rucksacks and heading off on another adventure in the not too distant future – there’s a polar bear who needs reuniting with his family and I’m sure Uncle Pete’s the man for the job. But for now it’s time to settle down after all the shenanigans and enjoy the rest of publication week – beans on toast anyone?

Do check out the other stops on the #UnclePete blog tour and get ready for an exclusive GIVEAWAY on the 8th May (follow @littledoorbooks on Twitter for more information)

Uncle Pete and The Forest of Lost Things is published by Little Door Books and is released today (2nd May)

With thanks to Little Door Books for sending me an advance copy of the book and inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Cick on the cover to check out my review of the first adventure.

Wolf Bane by Michelle Paver – Published by Zephyr Books.

‘A howl rose in Wolf’s throat. It ended in a whimper.’

Is this the end for Wolf?

All is revealed in the edge of your seat conclusion to the Wolf Brother series that has wowed millions of readers worldwide.

I was a Newly Qualified Teacher when Michelle Paver gave us the gift of Wolf back in 2005 and the children that enjoyed Wolf Brother are now adults. 17 years on and The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series has gone from strength to strength and these timeless Stone Age adventures continue to captivate. The world-building is breathtaking and Michelle’s meticulous research of hunter-gatherer cultures sings from every page – the author’s note makes for enthralling reading in itself!

The beauty of Wolfbane is it can be enjoyed as either a standalone adventure, or as the long-anticipated next title in what is an epic series for staunch Wolf Brother fans. I find it incredible how Michelle is able to write the series finalé of a 9 book saga, yet also enable new readers to slip effortlessly into her immersive world and enjoy Wolfbane.

Returning to Torak and Renn is like being reunited with old friends and if you’ve read the whole series, I am in no doubt that you will be completely and utterly invested in them, making the finalé all the more bittersweet.

We rejoin our favourite hunter-gatherers as they track Naiginn, a human or ‘tailless‘ with the spirit of an ice demon trapped inside of him. Naiginn steals the souls from others to strengthen his power, and he sets his sights on Wolf. It’s early spring – a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack. The ocean teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…

As with previous installments, the plot seamlessly switches between the two different perspectives of both the series’ main characters – Torak and Wolf. And if you fancy an audio book version of Wolfbane or any of the earlier instalments you’re in for a treat as they are voiced by none other than Sir Ian McKellon.

Sadly, all good things must eventually come to an end. Michelle Paver truly is a ‘Creator of Legends.’ This may be the last time we walk alongside Wolf, however I hope this is just beginning of a new chapter and a new adventure is just around the corner.

Wolf Bane was published on 26th April by Zephr Books.

With thanks to Zephyr Books and Helen Richardson PR for inviting me to be part of the blog tour – check out the stops from these fabulous bloggers.

Click on the cover to read my review of Skin Taker.

The Girl in White by Lindsay Currie – Published by Source Books.

A town full of legends, an unforgettable curse and a ghost determined to change their fate.

I love a good ghost story and Halloween is one of my favourite times of year, so cue ridiculous excitement when I saw that The Girl in White was available on Netgalley and realised that I could get an early #spookyseason fix.

If like me, you adore the Haunting of Aveline Jones and Small Spaces you will absolutely adore this! It’s deliciously dark and I inhaled it in a matter of hours. Reader beware, you’re in for a scare the old R L Stine Goosebumps books warned and this is certainly true in this case. There’s flickering lights, messages on bathroom mirrors and ghostly apparitions a-plenty to send shivers down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder.

For me, the scene-setting was just perfect. A creepy coastal town, complete with a harbour shrouded in mist and beyond, the lighthouse where the spirit roams the rocks late at night. The weather is satisfyingly blustery throughout and as the paranormal activity becomes stronger, the storms rage. Halloween decorations swathe the streets and mummies, ghosts, gravestones and Jack ‘O Lanterns adorn every front porch.

Twelve year old Mallory has moved from her beloved Chicago to the spooky seaside town of Eastport. Steeped in legends and curses, Eastport is renowned as one of the most haunted places to visit and the townsfolk rely on the trade and tourism generated from it’s sinister reputation.

Sweet Molly once lived in Eastport
Sweet Molly once loved the sea
Sweet Molly lost Liam to the shadows
Now Sweet Molly is coming for ye …

Possibly the town’s most famous legend is that of tragic Sweet Molly. Her brother Liam died at sea in a terrible storm on The Merriweather, Eastport’s largest fishing boat. The tale goes that angry and grieving, Molly one day walked down the the lighthouse in her best white nightgown and vanished into the mist. Legend has it that with her final breath, Molly cursed the town for choosing their precious fishing trade over her brother’s life. There are many different versions of the story, but everyone in the town agrees that if you are down near the lighthouse late at night and you dare to cross paths with her spirit, she’ll drag you beneath the waves and into a watery grave…

Since arriving in Eastport, strange dreams have troubled Mallory and they’re becoming more and more vivid – almost like visions. Until one day, she’s drawn to the harbour where she has a terrifying encounter with the old woman from her nightmares.

The town is gearing up to celebrate the anniversary of the legend of Sweet Molly and as the excitement builds around the festivities, so does the tension and terror for Mallory. A series of chilling events make her believe that Molly is after her – but why? With the help of friends Brianne and Emmie and unlikely new friend Joshua, Mallory must try to solve the mystery of Sweet Molly before this restless, malevolent spirit wreaks havoc…

The story reaches a stormy, spine-tingling climax on the day of the Eastport parade that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! This is an absolute must read this autumn, perfect for when the nights are drawing in.

I am totally treating myself to Lindsay’s other titles. This is my absolute favourite genre and her storytelling is right up my street! I have a feeling she may become one of my favourite ‘go to’ middle grade ghost story authors.

With thanks to Source Books and Netgalley for approving me to read a copy of the book in advance of publication.

The Girl in White will be published on the 2nd September.

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick, Published by Farshore Books.

Detention has never been so deadly…

Quite rightly dubbed the queen of Middle Grade horror, Jennifer Killick brings us her newest hair-raising adventure Dread Wood and it could be her best yet. Think Eight Legged Freaks meets Tremors, it’s Goosebumps with a fresh new feel for the tweens of today. Creepy caretakers, eeerie school grounds, mad scientists and an underground threat to make your skin crawl!

As with Jennifer’s highly acclaimed Crater Lake series I binged Dread Wood in a matter of hours. These stories are so compulsive and once you open the cover there’s no turning back – I literally could not turn the pages fast enough and found myself completely unable to tear myself away from the thrils, spills and chills that lurked inside.

This is one nightmare detention. When classmates (but not mate-mates) Hallie, Angelo, Gustav and Naira are forced to come to Dread Wood High on a weekend, they think things can’t get much worse. But they’re wrong… Aside from spending the day with bum bag-wearing Mr Canton, things are about to get seriously scary – and not just because he’s confiscated their phones!

Soon after their smart phones are incarcerated in Mr Canton’s man-bag, a piercing scream tears through the abandoned school grounds. The group split up to investigate and when they go to check on the school’s animals, they make the grim discovery that one of the pigs has disappeared.

Back at the main school building the children search and search for Mr Canton but it seems he has also vanished without a trace. All that remains is a strange sticky white substance on the ground…

It’s not long before the earth beneath their feet begins trembling and any second now they’re about to be snatched into a sinkhole. Cut off from help and in danger each time they touch the floor, the gang’s only hope is to work together to battle against the unknown. The ground is literally about to open up and swallow them!

And as if trying to evade deadly subterranean crawlers wasn’t enough, the group discover it’s no coincidence that they’re all there on weekend detention together. Something brought them here. A web of lies, betrayal and deception connects them all and someone has been watching and plotting and is out for revenge.

As well as some truly terrifying moments (oh my goodness… the eye!!) Dread Wood is super funny and the balance between horror and humour is absolutely on-point – I’m still chuckling about Mr Canton’s man-pouch (don’t ask!) The constant banter throughout- even in the most death defying situations. Jennifer writes the most brilliant characters – Gus is a total legend! – and they each come with their own ‘baggage’ that young people will be able to identify with.

Killick’s crown well and truly remains in it’s rightful place. Her brand of horror is hugely popular and tearing through Dread Wood it’s easy to see why. I was ridiculously excited to learn that this fantastic group of characters will return to our bookshelves in the Autumn in a spine-tingling sequel when The Fear Ground lands. Now I’ve read the teaser, I’m not sure how I’ll stand the wait!

With thanks to Farshore and The Write Reads for including me in the #UltimateBloTour

If you’ve not read the Crater Lake duology you absolutely must!! Click on the cover below to read my review of Crater Lake Evolution.

Zo and the Forest of Secrets by Alake Pilgrim, Published by Knights Of.

‘A Story don’t start where we tell it you know…’

Perfect for fans of Fireborn, The Crooked Oak Mysteries and Dreadwood, Alake Pilgrim weaves an intricate web of mutant creatures, fantastical gifts, folklore, friendship and adventure. This felt like Christopher Edge meets the Caribbean and as with Escape Room, there was many a moment in The Forest of Secrets when my mind was well and truly blown! It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s imagined and there are some absolutely nail-biting pursuits and escapes too!

Allow yourself to be swept away to rural Trinidad for sun, sea and sci-fi futuristic fantasy! This is the trek of a lifetime through forests and hills, over rocky outcrops and along rushing rivers. I could almost feel the unbearable heat of the sun beat down on me as I journeyed through sticky mangrove swamps and the cool sea breeze of the bay. But where there is beauty there is also danger. What is hiding in the forest…lurking in caves below ground…what lies beneath the murky waters…? Zo must unravel the secrets of the forest before she is lost in them forever…

Zo’s parents have separated and she has been forced to move to the island with her mother, stepdad Jake and baby Tayo, AKA ‘The Terror’. Zo resents having to leave her home, her dad and most of all, she resents the attention Tayo and Jake command from her mother. So Zo hatches a plan, a plan to run away.

She’s got it all worked out, she’ll not go far, only staying away for a few days, long enough for the alarm to be raised and a search party sent out to look for her – long enough for her dad to fly in and join the rescue team. Taught well by her beloved Da in survival skills, Zo has gathered supplies and seizes her opportunity to evade old Ms Kofi, her keeper whilst on the island.

But it’s not long into her expedition when things take an unexpected turn. As she journeys through the once-familiar forest, terrifying creatures and warped visions begin to emerge. Dazed and dehydrated with a beast on her heels, Zo strays far from the beaten track. With only her knowledge of physical geography to guide her, she follows the flow of a small stream, hoping it will be a tributary to a larger river that will lead her to the coast. When she eventually meets the gushing waters she spots a boy, flailing and and struggling against the current.

Zo fights against the powerful waters and manages to drag him, surely drowned to the shore. But when her skin touches that of the unconscious boy, she is plunged into a vision of his memories so real, it is like she is actually there. When Adri, as she now knows him to be called comes round, the pair must embark on the wildest and most deadly trip of their lives. Things are not as they seem – be ready for some futuristic twists. Could a mysterious abandoned research facility hold answers…?

There absolutely HAS to be a sequel to this as there are clearly many more secrets yet to be revealed. We absolutely need more books for Middle Grade readers set in Africa and the Caribbean on our shelves. I thoroughly enjoyed the island setting with its diverse cultural backgrounds and the camaraderie that develops between it’s characters, Zo Joseph a black girl and Adri Khan a South Asian boy. The atmosphere in the forest was palpable – a feast for the senses! This is an incredible debut and I can’t wait see what pulse-pounding adventure Alake Pilgrim pens next – definitely one to watch!

Thank you to Knights Of and Anabelle at edpr for sending me a gorgeous proof copy of this wonderful book.

Zo and the Forest of Secrets publishes on the 2nd June

Has Anyone Seen Archie Ebbs? By Simon Packham, Published by Firefly Press

Archie Ebbs has the perfect life. Good friends, a nice home and classmates who laugh at (nearly) all his jokes. But all that is about to change. As his family have to face unsettling times, Archie has his own worries. Is he really starting to become invisible?

I am delighted to be hosting a stop on the Archie Ebbs blog tour today. As a teacher myself, I can think of at least one family in our school community currently facing the same desperate situation Archie finds himself in and as I read the book, countless others came to mind. With energy prices and the cost of living sky-rocketing, I can only imagine that this is a problem that will unfortunately grow.

It is with pleasure I am able to share a guest post from author Simon Packham, highlighting the very real issue of Hidden Homelessness.


Archie Ebbs’ world is shattered when he and his family are evicted from the house they’ve rented for the last ten years. Unable to find an affordable alternative, Archie’s Mum (a nurse) tells Archie and his teenage sister, Izzy that the council have found them a single room in a temporary Bed & Breakfast hostel for the statutorily homeless.

Tragically this is an increasingly common scenario. We will never know the exact figures, but in 2021 the charity Crisis estimated that around 227,000 people in the UK were experiencing some form of homelessness. What’s more, it can happen to almost anyone. It’s often said that many of us are only two-and-a-half pay cheques away from losing our homes.

Hidden homelessness – the type of homelessness that Archie experiences – refers not to street homelessness, but people living in squats, sofa surfing with friends and family or in temporary bed and breakfast hostels. These are the people we don’t see; people who can often feel excluded from the rest of society. This can be particularly devastating for children and their potential outcomes later in life, something my wife, headteacher of a local primary school, often testified.

As the class comedian, Archie Ebbs has always been a highly visible member of the school community. But his sister makes him swear to keep the hostel a secret, so he’s forced to turn down visits and sleepovers with his friends because he can’t possibly invite them for a return visit. There’s no Wi-Fi either, so he can’t even talk to them on-line. In the end, his friends stop asking. And Archie’s so exhausted from the two-hour bus rides to school that most of the time he’s half asleep. Everything that makes Archie, Archie is gradually slipping away from him; his home, his friends, his beloved cat, Dinger (pets aren’t allowed in the hostel) – he’s even stopped telling jokes. And then one afternoon in the middle of a lesson, Archie realises that he’s become completely invisible.

One of my main challenges as a writer was finding an apt way for Archie to become visible again so I could give him (and his cat Dinger!) the happy ending they deserve. The answer of course was empathy. With the encouragement of his new friend, Zofia, (who sees him, because she’s homeless too and understands what it’s like) Archie decides to stop keeping his new circumstances a secret and tell the whole class what it feels like to be homeless.

I hope that reading Archie’s story will give children a greater understanding of the immense feelings of loss, bewilderment and fear that are experienced by families all around our country, as well as offering support to those who may have experienced this situation themselves or know someone who is going through it.  The right to a safe and secure shelter is laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it’s vitally important that we don’t allow children like Archie to become invisible

Thank you Simon for shining a light on hidden homelessness and making children and families in this desperate situation visible.

Although central to the plot is a very challenging and upsetting issue, Archie Ebbs is a natural born comedian and Simon’s witty writing style and on-point humour provides plenty of lighter moments throughout. The characters are so relatable for tweens and teens and to give you a flavour, I’d like to introduce you to Archie’s big sister Izzy.

Izzy is in Year 10 and of course sports an onion-shaped hairstyle (huge messy bun) and has trademark thick eyebrows. She’s usually attached to boyfriend Clint who is a legend in the kitchen and caters to all her newly-found vegan tastes.

Has Anyone Seen Archie Ebbs was published on the 7th April and is available to purchase now. With thanks to Firefly Press for my proof copy of this wonderful book and inviting me to be part of the blog tour – be sure to visit the other fantastic bloggers on the tour for more guest content, character profiles and reviews.

The Insiders by Cath Howe – published by Nosy Crow

Secrets, lies, promises. Sometimes keeping things inside is dangerous…

I think we can all recall times when friendships became strained at school and the awkwardness and pain of trying to get back on track with our besties. As a teacher I have witnessed children grappling many a time with the nuances of friendship groups and Cath Howe explores this in her latest thrilling and edgy read, The Insiders.

Callie, Ted, Zara and Nico are best friends. In fact more than friends, they’re like family to each other. As Callie’s mum is a child-minder, she cares for the children after school each night and the four-some spend long evenings hanging out together in the summer house at the bottom of Callie’s garden. Callie’s summer house is total childhood goals! It has a comfy sofa, beanbags and blankets and even a heater, great as the chilly autumn nights are drawing in.

But Ted is about to become an outsider to the group. When money worries hit home, he tries to help and suggests to his mum that he’s old enough to stay home by himself, saving money on after school care. Even though he only lives next door, this means spending evenings alone – no more sumer house or dinners round Callie’s big kitchen table.

Ted has always been the quietest member of the group. He’s a fantastic listener but finds speaking out in school difficult. Being the smallest kid in the class doesn’t help either and he’s often singled out by teacher Mr Dunlop who is possibly the most joyless, meanest man the world has ever known. When the class are rehearsing their class assembly, Mr Dunlop ridicules Ted in front of his peers for not speaking loudly enough, making it impossible for him to get his words out at all.

Just before the actual assembly performance, bully Billy Fenton squirts orange juice right down the front of Ted’s trousers. No-one, including Ted notices until it’s too late and when he stands centre stage, his unfortunate ‘accident’ is there for all to see. It’s the most excruciating humiliation ever and he’s the butt of everyone’s jokes.

Ted becomes more and more withdrawn. He sits up in the Big tree in his garden, spying on the others. So he sees the others find the hole under Callie’s fence that leads to their school grounds. Curiosity gets the better of the children and one night, they decide to explore. Sneaking in through an open classroom window, they discover movement inside the building and a light on in the library – could someone be sleeping in their school at night..?

Meanwhile Billy Fenton’s mum has gone on holiday to Lanzarote and he’s been forced to stay with his dad and his new family. The newborn baby never stops screaming and his teenage step sister, Kingsley, has it in for him. When dad suddenly goes away for a few days with work, Kingsley unleashes her fury on Billy and makes his life a misery. With mum away until the weekend, Billy knows he can’t take anymore so he tells his exhausted step mum he’s off to stay with a friend to work on a school project. Problem is, Billy doesn’t have that many friends. Going back home to the flat would arouse suspicion from the nosy neighbours so where can Billy go…?

Concrened about Ted, Callie tries to chat to him at school. But when he surprises her by asking if she entered the school building at night, she panics and says no. Unbeknown to her, Nico has already bragged about the group’s night-time antics. Hurt that she’s lied to him, Ted slinks off and blanks her from then on. From his vantage point in the tree, Ted sees everything his ex-best friend gets up to, including her helping a stricken Billy Fenton. Consumed by jealously and hatred, he plans his revenge on Billy with disastrous consequences and the story comes to a dramatic climax on Bonfire Night – keeping it all inside is dangerous.

The narration seamlessly switches between Callie, Ted and Billy, each giving their unique perspective as the tension is triangulated. Cath Howe is completely on-point with her portrayal of the complexities of friendships. The ease at which misunderstandings arise and the danger of filling in the gaps without knowing the full story. You never know what someone is going through behind closed doors and appearances can be deceiving.

I think every child will identify with one of the characters within the group of friends in the story due to their unique personality traits. I also think the secrecy and the slightly dark element of the story, with its ever-present sense of danger and threat of being found-out will enthrall upper primary pupils – I know I was and devoured it in a matter of hours!

The Insiders publishes on the 5th May. With thanks to Sîan at Nosy Crow for the proof copy of the book.

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell – Published by Piccadilly Press

Imagine a world without colour…

Auden Dare is an ordinary eleven-year-old in most respects except for one. He cannot see colour.

But when Auden uncovers a secret in his uncle’s shed, an extraordinary mystery begins to unravel – one that could change the future of the world and Auden’s life forever…

The Shark Caller was one of my stand out favourite books of 2021 and will forever hold a special place on my bookshelves, so I was eager to read more of Zillah Bethell’s work. Auden Dare (published in 2017) couldn’t be more different in terms of setting and storyline but I think for me, that’s the beauty of this book after reading the more recent Shark Caller. Many authors stick with a particular genre but not Zillah, and after reading this, I’m left wondering if there’s a genre she can’t write! Dystopia, science fiction, war, environmental issues and a thrilling mystery…this book has it all!

There really is something that will appeal to every reader within the pages of Auden Dare, it really is an extraordinary story. As a huge fan of dystopia and mystery this was my hook but fans of sci-fi with be equally thrilled by the scientific and engineering elements. This is the perfect book for fans of Between Sea & Sky and Adam-2

The story is set in an imagined future that scarily could become our own. The world is at war over water. In Auden Dare’s world there isn’t enough to go round and countries are dependent on the tiny drizzles of rain that happen once or twice a year. Supplies are strictly rationed and Government agency, the oppressive Water Allocation Board rule with an iron fist, terrorising the people. The Edge of Britain is a protected area and huge desalination units dominate the coastline. There were so many spooky parallels with the problems our society currently faces that were so eeeerily accurate that this felt like a prophecy in places. The cost of fuel and everyday items sky-rocketing was sadly spot on. Under the watch of drones, basic commodities are dispensed from futuristic vending machines. Potatoes retail at £5,000 a bag and meat is now completely unaffordable for most – beef steak costing in excess of £80,000.

Auden’s father has gone away to fight and with his mother struggling to make ends meet with the astronomical cost of living, she decides to uproot them and relocate to Cambridge. There they can stay in the cottage she has recently inherited from Auden’s Uncle Jonah where they can live rent free.

Blue, green, pink, purple, yellow, red…they are all just words to Auden. He can’t see any of them. Everything is just grey as he has a condition with a long unpronounceable name and at his old school, this often made him a target for school bullies. But at his new school in Cambridge, he quickly buddies up with class-mate Vivi and whilst clearing out junk from his eccentric inventor uncle’s shed, the pair make an intriguing discovery. Old letters and a search of Jonah’s office at the university reveal that his recent death was almost certainly suspicious and more mystery unfolds at every twist and turn. The children are forced down a dangerous path – can their friendship save the world?

As a die-hard mystery fan I can honestly say I did not guess the ending, which I have to say is so incredibly moving. Firmly at the heart of this captivating, multi-faceted book is a story of friendship which Auden learns can be discovered in the most unlikeliest of places. The pages are also peppered with humour which had me chuckling along with the characters, even at times of seemingly great peril!

Whether it’s sci-fi and mystery in a dystopian future or the supernatural on the shores of sunny Papau New Guinea, Zillah Bethell’s writing is truly captivating. I can’t wait to see what direction she takes her writing in next.

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, published by Piccadilly Press is available now from all good bookshops.

Also by Zillah Bethell…

Click on the cover to read my review.