Posted in children's fiction, discussion

Thoughts On World Book Day

When I was a child, World Book Day was like an extra Christmas day for me. I took that token as if it was the most important gift bestowed upon me and picked out the book I wanted as if the fate of the entire world rested on my tiny shoulders.

Sadly, gone are the days when I am eligible for those magic tokens, but it doesn’t stop me, at the age of 24, making sure I buy at least one book from the line up every year. (I mean, they’re £1 each. How could I not?!)

So, when March 1st rolled around, I ventured out into the snow (yes, snow. England’s weather certainly took an interesting turn) and went to make my selections for the year. Here’s what I bought:

Brain Freeze by Tom Fletcher

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Blurb: “A little girl discovers that eating ice cream from her grandfather’s old ice-cream truck gives her the power to travel through time.”

If you’ve been a long time reader on my blog or watch my videos you won’t be surprised in the slightest to see that I picked up Tom Fletcher’s book. Despite being incredibly biased, I’ve always found his stories to be fun, witty and just downright enjoyable. So Brain Freeze was a no brainer for me.

Paddington Turns Detective And Other Funny Stories by Michael Bond

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Blurb: “Nothing is ever straightforward when Paddington is involved. Whether he is attempting detective work, helping to sail a boat or performing magic, ordinary things have a habit of becoming quite extraordinary!”

I have a confession to make… I’ve never read any Paddington Bear stories. Or seen the films. I know, I’m a mess of a reader but with this collection of fun stories making it onto the list, I can’t think of a more wonderful way to get started.

Oi Goat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

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Blurb: “Frog turns stylist in this boisterous picture book, making all the animals put on their glad rags for World Book Day. But will everyone be as fashion forward as Frog?”

If you haven’t heard about the Oi! picture book series, then you’re seriously missing out. It’s a hysterical rhyming series about animals sitting on other animals and I think they’re utterly brilliant. So again, it was a no brainer to add this one to my picture book collection.

And there you have it! That’s what I picked up for World Book Day!

Did you grab anything?
Do you have any amazing memories to do with World Book Day?

Let me know!

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

“The real world is where the monsters are.”

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Blurb: “Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse—Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods , where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea.”

I have attempted this series before in the past and never really got on with it. It’s something that’s always pained me a little as I’ve seen how many readers seem to adore Riordan’s work. So after much contemplation, I decided to give the Percy Jackson series again. But this time on audiobook.

The story follows a troubled boy called Percy whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is a demi-god, and later, the son of Poseidon. He is then taken to a place called Camp Half-Blood a summer camp/safe haven for kids of the Greek Gods. When Zeus’ famous lightning bolt goes missing, Percy’s father is accused, causing Percy to go on a mission to absolve his father of the accusation.

I’m glad I decided to go for audiobook format for this one as the narrator, Jesse Bernstein really took on the character of Percy; I felt like I was listening to him telling this story and I was utterly invested. So much so that it’s hard to remember what my previous issues were with this adventure. I was gasping, laughing and groaning in fear throughout the chapters and even breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over and I could finally relax.

I think my big apprehension with this series is that I don’t really have an interest in Greek mythology and I will admit that I did get a little confused at some of the history. But I persevered.

It was so brilliantly action-packed and I didn’t know what could be waiting around the next corner. All I can say is that Percy is a very unlucky kid.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

Wonder – R. J. Palacio

“My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

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Blurb: “August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”

Wonder is another one of those books that I’ve heard about on and off over the past few years but never really had any desire to delve into it… until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation.

The story follows ten year old August Pullman who has been living with a facial disfigurement from the day he was born. He’s been home-schooled but his mother can only teach him so much and decides to enrol him in fifth grade as August will not be the only new kid starting. August battles through stares, whispers and outright abuse while gaining true friends along the way.

I expected Wonder to be a really sad read – and in a lot of ways it is – but overall it’s a touching, uplifting book. Seeing August’s best friend Jack Will stand up for him reminded me about the importance of good friendships, and a girl called Summer actively sitting with August in the cafeteria highlights the effect that just being kind can have on someone’s day.

The book is told through different narratives: August, Jack Will, Viv (August’s sister), Miranda (Viv’s friend) and Julian (Viv’s boyfriend). Each perspective allows a different insight into what it means to be August or associated with August and really works well in showing the overall bigger picture as well as the scale of August’s influence. However, I did often find these jarring and that they disrupted the flow of the story. I also felt that Julian’s perspective wasn’t needed as he hadn’t been with Viv for that long.

Jack Will was the stand out character for him. He is a symbol of a true good kid and, while he made mistakes, his heart was really in the right place and I would love to read more about him.

If you’re looking for a book to lift your spirits and remind you of the good things in this world, make sure you pick up Wonder.

Wonder is…well… a wonder.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

The Creakers – Tom Fletcher

“What makes all the creaks, and clangs in your house? It isn’t the cat, or your dog, or a mouse. Those noises are made by mysterious creatures. Read on if you dare and you might meet… the creakers.”

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Blurb: “Do you ever hear strange, creaking noises at night? Ever wonder what makes those noises? Lucy Dungston always did. Until, one morning, Lucy discovers that all the grown-ups have disappeared – as if into thin air. Chaos descends as the children in Lucy’s town run riot. It’s mayhem. It’s madness. To most kids, it’s amazing! But Lucy wants to find out the truth. Lucy lost her dad not long ago, and she’s determined not to lose her mum too. She’s going to get her back – and nothing is going to stop her… except maybe the Creakers.”

The children of Whiffington wake up one morning to find that all the parents have gone missing. But not only that: they’re all having nightmares about strange creatures hiding under their beds.  Lucy Dungston, having already lost her father, takes it upon herself to not only get her mother back, but the other kids’ parents too.  Her mission takes her into the dangerous world of Woleb where everything is backwards.

One of my favourite things about The Creakers is the little fourth wall breaks in between certain chapters in which the narrator temporarily stops the story in order to check how the reader is feeling. For example: “Blimey! How are you doing? That was a bit intense, wasn’t it?” This little addition was just an extra bit of humour which I think would work brilliantly if this book was read aloud to a group of children.

The backwards ways of Woleb were just perfect and left me having many revelations along with Lucy as she attempted to navigate her way around the new world.

Another personal favourite of mine was the character of Norman Quick – a young boy scout who wears his badges with pride. He even has a camouflage one though he can’t remember where he put it on his sash!

The Creakers is a fantastic, slightly scary, story that teaches the importance of working together and accepting those different to yourself.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club – Alex Bell

“She never got tired of looking at maps and globes, and as far as she was concerned, a compass was just the most beautiful thing in the whole entire world.”

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Blurb: “Join Stella Starflake Pearl and her three fellow explorers as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages . . .When Stella and three other junior explorers get separated from their expedition can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale?”

The story follows a girl called Stella Starflake Pearl who has a pet polar bear. Her dad is an explorer of the Icelands and she wants to be one too. But there’s one catch – girls are not allowed to be explorers. After much convincing, Stella is given the opportunity to prove herself by going on an expedition and, if successful, she will be given a place in the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club.

In The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, the reader is thrown into an icy world of pure brilliance and never-ending magic as Stella is paired up with boys from her club as well as the others to make new discoveries. While the world is all-consuming and well put together, I did find myself getting lost quite a lot and having to re-read pages to get a sense of where the characters were in the world. It was one of the few times where I really did wish that there was a map at the front of this book. Sadly there wasn’t and I feel that let the book as a whole down a lot.

I like that there were many different explorer clubs: Polar Bears, Ocean Squid, Desert Jackal and Jungle Cat; all with their own rules. It allows that room to connect more with the world as readers can look at a glossary at the back of the book and see which club they’d most likely fit in.

There were plenty of magical twists on aspects that already exist in our world such as frostbite (a rather scary bit I must admit), however, I find it hard to be invested in a book and enjoy the story if I can’t really place where the characters are. For mainly that reason, this book fell just a bit too flat to me.

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Posted in children's fiction, discussion, lgbt, romance, young adult

Favourite Books Of The Year 2017

Another year has slipped by and it’s time to sit back and reflect on the reading year. I’ve frequently said that 2017 was a bad year for me in terms of quality rather than quantity. I read a lot of books that just left me feeling a big deflated and didn’t think about again once I put them on a pile to be donated to one of my local libraries. I feel that this is reflected in the minimal number on the list. But that in no way should diminish the spotlight on the ones I mention as they deserve all the love and praise in the world. So let’s get into it:

The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli 

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The story follows a girl called Molly who really wants a boyfriend but feels that no one will ever love her because she’s a big girl and so she must settle for her list of unrequited crushes.

If you’ve been following me at all over the past year, you will know that I simply cannot stop talking about this book. It has pansexual, bisexual, jewish, fat and anxiety representation but it’s all weaved into the story in such a way that none of it feels like it’s there just to tick boxes. I’ve not connected to a book like this in such a long time. It made me feel valid in terms of body issues and the way my anxiety can be a real hinderance at times and it was nice to see a grown  bisexual woman represented in a Young Adult book. It felt like this book was giving me a hug and telling me that I am valid. If you’re interested in a full review, you can read it here.
Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green 

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This book is about a boy called Noah who just wants to be a normal sixteen year old boy and decides he’s going to cement this by kissing the beautiful Sophie at a party… but he ends up kissing his best friend Harry instead.

I came across this book because of an interview Amber from themilelongbookshelf did with the author. Simon pointed out the lack of British LGBT books which really got me thinking about how I actually couldn’t name any myself, which is what pushed me towards picking up a copy. There’s been a lot of discussion about YA books where the characters feel “too old” and Noah Can’t Even really feels like reading a story about a teenage boy. The internal monologue is embarrassing and cringy, but my gosh it’s downright hilarious. There were some parts of this book that had me laughing to myself for days after I’d finished it. I’m even laughing now writing this thinking about some of my favourite moments. If you’re interested in a full review, you can read it here.

The Christmasaurus: Musical Edition by Tom Fletcher 

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All William Trundle wants for Christmas is a pet dinosaur… and it just so happens that the elves at the North Pole have discovered a dinosaur egg. A wondrous turn of events leads to a truly magical Christmas Eve adventure.

I was in two minds about whether to include the musical edition on this list as, while it is a re-release, the original made it onto my list of favourites in 2016. But then I figured, I shouldn’t deny myself small pleasures and also this is my list therefore I make the rules. There are honestly not enough words to describe how brilliant this story is. It’s festive, magical and heart-warming and I shed many tears again, even though I knew what happened. If you’re interested in a full review you can find that here and my comparison review of the two editions can be found here.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin 

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The story follows a twelve year old girl called Suzy who finds out her best friend, Franny, has died. The cause of death doesn’t make sense to Suzy as her friend was an incredibly good swimmer so she struggles to understand how drowning could be the cause. Through a school trip to an aquarium she learns about jellyfish and comes to believe that one type in particular was the real culprit. She starts learning everything she can about jellyfish and looks into experts who can help prove her theory to be correct.

This book punched me right in the heart… several times… just to make sure it hurt enough. In these pages, the reader sees a girl facing her own mortality for the first time and trying to cope with the death of a loved one for the first time and it’s utterly heartbreaking to read. But I feel it’s something we can all relate to: searching for rational answers to something as unpredictable and -at times- nonsensical as death.

I’ve not been this affected by a book since I read The Book Thief but I think it’s finally found some competition.  Again, if you’re interested in a full review, you can find it here

And that concludes my favourite books of the past year! Here’s to another book-filled one!

Happy Reading!

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Posted in adaptations, children's fiction, discussion, review

Book To Movie Talk | Wonder

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*This post contains spoilers*

Wonder is another one of those books that I’ve heard about on and off over the past few years but never really had any desire to delve into it… until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation.

The story follows ten year old August Pullman who has been living with a facial disfigurement from the day he was born. He’s been home-schooled but his mother can only teach him so much and decides to enrol him in fifth grade as August will not be the only new kid starting. August battles through stares, whispers and outright abuse while gaining true friends along the way.

Having just read the book, the content was still very fresh in my mind. So straight away from an accuracy point of view, Wonder is the most accurate book to movie adaptation that I think I’ve ever seen. It can seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but straying too much from the source material is the easiest way for an adaptation to lose me completely. Wonder was also directed by Stephen Chbosky who wrote and directed The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and there are many stylistic similarities between the two.

A film with a focus on child actors always makes me nervous as  a bad child actor can really derail a film. The role of Auggie is played by Jacob Tremblay (known for his lead role as Jack in Room) and he blows the part out of the water. He captured the true essence of Auggie’s personality and in the sadder moments, it was almost impossible to believe that he was just a child acting and now actually crying his heart out.  The absolute standout actor for me was Noah Jupe who took on the role of Auggie’s best friend Jack Will; who was my favourite character from the book. Noah did a brilliant job of facial acting and his chemistry with Jacob made the friendship between these two characters feel believable.

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I had a lot of issues with the use of multiple perspectives in the book and that’s one of the few aspects where I think the film did a better job of executing the intention. The different narratives are explored through voiceovers while the characters go about their day and the combination of that with the aerial, third person view of the film aided the experiences of the characters. For example, it was a lot easier to pick up on Viv being pushed aside as her parents focused on August in the film than in the book because the viewer can physically see Viv being side-lined and lounging around in the background.

Other actors that surprised me were the Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts who played the parts of Auggie’s parents. A clip of Owen Wilson in the trailer, along with an interview he did, are what really pushed me to devour this story and he pleasantly surprised me in this film. He is the typical, almost cliché “funny dad” there to break the tension at just the right moments and he really portrayed the loving father just trying to do the best to help out his child, along with paying Viv some attention unlike the preoccupied mother. When I looked into casting, Julia Roberts was the first one that I wasn’t I recognised but wasn’t too bothered about. Again, she surprised me and I found myself caring out – and appreciating the efforts of – the mother a lot more. Her chemistry with Owen did a great job of projecting that happy marriage and it was nice to see scenes of them together without the children.

I know that I’ve focused a lot on my thoughts surrounding the character portrayals, but in a heavily character driven story it’s too easy to focus on their efforts than anything outside of that. I will mention that I did love that the helmet featured a lot more in the film as it was an extra little thing to reflect Auggie’s character development throughout the story.

I left the cinema feeling emotionally drained but also overwhelmingly happy and satisfied. This adaptation keeps the real spirit of Wonder alive and showcases the importance of just being kind to others.

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Posted in children's fiction

Is The Christmasaurus: Musical Edition Worth It?

“I think books and music are very special. Books require a reader to use their imagination to bring the words to life, and music can affect your emotions like nothing else in the universe.”

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Last year, Tom Fletcher released his first full length children’s novel titled The Christmasaurus and it didn’t take long for it to jump onto my list of favourite books of the year. You can find my full review here.

For those who don’t know, The Christmasaurus  follows a boy called William Trundle who wants nothing more than a dinosaur for Christmas, and it just so happens that the elves have dug up a dinosaur egg at the North Pole. A series events leads to a magical Christmas Eve adventure. It was beautiful, funny, heart-warning and of course very festive. It was announced shortly after the release that The Christmasaurus would be transforming into a London-centric stage show for Christmas 2017 and as someone who lives at the other end of the country, I was disheartened. Until Tom Fletcher revealed earlier this year that the festive dinosaur would be returning in book form… with added music.

In terms of the aesthetic, the jacket designs are different, the embossing on the actual book binding is different and the end pages are also different. In terms of the content, the story is exactly the same.  However, the musical edition comes with a new introduction explaining Tom’s reasoning for the rerelease, a CD featuring 14 tracks and the song lyrics listed as a glossary at the back of the book.

The way to utilise the CD is simple: as the reader makes their way through the story, every so often there are little prompts in the margin indicating what song to play. The songs originate from Tom’s original writing process for the book in which he wrote a few songs to get into the true spirit of the stories and the minds of the characters. The songs are there simply to accompany and enhance the story.

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I wasn’t sure exactly how the execution of this would work as it’s something I’ve never seen done before. I didn’t need to worry because it is absolutely genius.

The combination of story and music really allows your imagination to run away with itself in new, magical and exciting ways. I found myself grinning when I reached a new prompt and got to listen to a new track – I will admit that sometimes I got distracted and listened to certain songs at least three times in a row before returning to the story. I was able to sit back and imagine new scenes while listening to the songs.

If you’re looking for something fun and festive to devour over Christmas, but will also leave you singing and dancing with a book in your hands, then I highly suggest you pick yourself up a copy.

I challenge you to not be excited for Christmas after going on an adventure with The Christmasaurus: Musical Edition

Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

“Some hearts beat only about 412 million times. Which might sound like a lot. But the truth is, it barely gets you twelve years.”

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Blurb: “After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting–things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone.”

I stumbled across The Thing About Jellyfish in my local library and picked it up because it sounded familiar. After reading the blurb, flicking through it and reading the first page it became clear that this odd sense of familiarity was misplaced. However, the first page captivated my attention, so I checked it out and set off on a new adventure.

The story follows a twelve year old girl called Suzy who finds out her best friend, Franny, has died. The cause of death doesn’t make sense to Suzy as her friend was an incredibly good swimmer so she struggles to understand how drowning could be the cause. Through a school trip to an aquarium she learns about jellyfish and comes to believe that one type in particular was the real culprit. She starts learning everything she can about jellyfish and looks into experts who can help prove her theory to be correct.

Back when I read The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and ever since then I’ve said I didn’t think I’d find a book that would match when I experienced when reading that. Dear reader, I think I’ve finally found some competition. The writing style in The Thing About Jellyfish is utterly beautiful and has a sense of broken innocence that feels like listening to the story of a real person.

This is a story that anyone who’s experienced loss can relate to. Death is a horrible thing that we’d rather not think about until we have to face it head-on, and when that happens it’s very hard to accept. Suzy is unable to believe that her best friend could drown when she was such a good swimmer and refuses to accept that sometimes things just happen. She stops talking after hearing the news and isolates herself which almost makes it easier for her to work on her new obsession. She wants to find a reason that fits better than the one she’s been given and it’s honestly heartbreaking to read. Here you have a twelve year old girl faced with the reality of her own mortality for the first time.

The format flits between past and present and in the former scenes the reader starts to build up a picture of the friendship Suzy and Franny share. These aspects showcase the difficulty of growing up and it’s where Suzy starts to appear as a bad person at times. It’s a struggle to support her actions but this is makes her flawed and just adds more humanity to her character.

I didn’t expect to learn so much about Jellyfish but, as the title suggests, the book is littered with all the different facts that Suzy learns on her quest for the truth.

The Thing About Jellyfish is fundamentally a story about grief, loss and how to cope with it. Oh, and of course Jellyfish.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review, Uncategorized

The King Of Average – Gary Schwartz

“No one had any cause to give James a second thought and that’s the way he liked it.”

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Blurb: “James isn’t the world’s greatest kid, but he’s not the worst, either: he’s average! When he decides to become the most average kid who ever lived, James is transported to another world where he meets Mayor Culpa, a well-dressed talking Scapegoat who recruits him to become the new King of Average.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

The story follows a boy called James who is completely average. His grades are average, his aspirations are average, his life is average; even his name is average. His mother hates that he will never achieve great things, but James has other ideas: he will be the most average person that’s ever lived.  This leads him into the Realm Of Possibility where his adventures with a scapegoat, an optimist, and a pessimist take him on a quest to be the new King of Average.

This world is so cleverly put together. From the Kingdom of Average to Dullsville, to the Sea of Self Doubt and Disappointment Bay, it’s practically impossible not to laugh out loud or crack a smile at some of the witty inclusions to the world. James constantly fights with himself over doing things to help others that may violate the conduct of being average and reaches points in the narrative he has to tackle what the right course of action is based on what he’s seeking.

What I really love about this story is James approach to perceptions of himself. His mother is quite mean to him and he could take that to heart in a bad way but instead he chooses to embrace himself and sets out to be the best at being… well… not the best and I think that’s a wonderful message to give to children.

I only wish this had been a bit longer because the transition from the “real world” to the Realm of Possibility was far too quick. James’ average life is set up and before you have a chance to find your feet you’ve already moved on.

Overall, this is a fun, light read that’s bought to put a smile on your face.

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