#SixforSunday: Winter Books

The November theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by Steph at A Little But a Lot, is Winter Books and today’s wish is for: Books you’d throw in the fire. No!!!! I couldn’t think of any books I’d throw in the fire (no surprise there!), so I’ve decided to choose books with my favourite fire-breathing characters – dragons – even if they don’t all actually breathe fire!

I’ve chosen four picture books (but counted them as one choice!). Sorry – couldn’t help it. They’re just all so gorgeous! I used to do a unit of work on ‘Dragons’ with Year 4, and the first three were some of the books I used: they are brilliant for stimulating creative writing and poetry. I’ve recently bought The Snow Dragon which I am looking forward to reading in December.

I read The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart earlier this year, and adored it. Perfect to cosy up to with a KitKat and hot chocolate – my favourite combination! My review for this story is here.

I don’t think Spark is very well known in the UK. It was one of the first books I was approved to read on NetGalley. I really enjoyed the telepathic bond between Mina and her Lightning dragon, Pixit. My review is here.

This is definitely one of my favourite reads this year. I read it over the summer, and it was the first story I shared as a class read with my class who absolutely loved it too, so much so that over half of them bought a copy. My review is here.

This is a wonderful story of a girl who does not enjoy reading, or libraries, but all that changes when she makes an incredible discovery in her local library. My review is here.

I couldn’t just choose one as my final book as there are two books featuring dragons on my TBR which I am really looking forward to reading, and I can’t choose between them, so I’m choosing both!

Have you read any of these books? What other stories with dragons would you recommend?

Review: Greta and the Giants

Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Published on 19th November 2019

Greta and the Giants is inspired by the young climate change activist, Greta Thunberg:  there is further information about Greta’s campaign to have the damage caused by climate change taken seriously at the end of the book, as well as ways to help her. 

This allegorical story is aimed at 4-7-year olds:  the simple, descriptive language and bright, colourful pictures will really capture the imagination of this age group. The story is told just as much through the pictures as through the text.

Greta lives in the heart of a beautiful forest where she is friends with the animals who also live there. However, Giants (humans) are destroying their home, so the animals beg Greta for help.  The Giants are portrayed as the destructors of the forest, taking more and more trees in their greed and desire to build more and more.  There is a stark contrast between the bright and colourful images of the forest and the darkness and ugliness of the city. 

Greta is unafraid of the Giants and is determined to help her friends by taking a stance, even though she is only a child herself.  At first Greta is ignored, but as more and more people and animals join her, they discover that, by working together, they can make a difference.

This is a story tinged with sadness, but with a strong sense of hope that is uplifting.  The message of the empowerment to be gained from working together to force others to listen to an important message regarding the environment is a powerful one. 

I really liked the happy ending and was pleased that it was a happy ending for everyone!

Thank you to NetGalley and the Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Little Mermaid

Published by Pushkin’s Children’s Books
Published on 3rd October 2019

This is a beautifully illustrated new translation of The Little Mermaid from the original by Hans Christian Anderson.  The descriptive language is beautiful and evocative, and the black and white illustrations are stunning with the mermaids picked out in black ink whilst the surroundings are mostly detailed outline drawings.

Deep in the sea stands the idyllic castle of the Sea King where he lives with his six daughters and their Grandmother.  His youngest daughter’s favourite possession is a marble statue of a handsome boy; she yearns to join the human world, yet she is not allowed up to the surface until she is 15.

When her fifteenth birthday finally arrives, she sees a young Prince celebrating his birthday.  A sudden storm leads to her rescuing the Prince as his ship is destroyed but, of course, he doesn’t know who his saviour is, which causes heartbreak later.

The young mermaid is so determined to be with the Prince and gain an immortal soul that she seeks the help of the terrifying Sea Witch who takes her voice and gives her a potion that will make her human.  If she cannot make the Prince fall in love with her, she will be doomed to death …

The youngest mermaid is a sympathetically drawn character who yearns for both human love and an immortal soul.  When given the opportunity to save herself, she is not prepared to sacrifice her love which leads to a re-awakening after facing terrible hardship and disappointment.  This was not an ending I was expecting, but it felt satisfying.

This is certainly not the Disney version of the story, but it is a rich re-telling which I really enjoyed. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Pushkin Children’s Books for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Once upon a time in a beautiful, dirty, exciting city full of people and chocolate and possibilities, there was a girl so fearless and so daring that … No, wait. I’ve always been good at telling stories. But this time, I want to tell the truth.

Any ideas?

I loved reading The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart earlier this year. Silke was one of my favourite characters in it, so I’m really looking forward to reading her story.

Goodreads synopsis:

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.

Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies …

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.      What are you currently reading?

2.      What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’ve just started A Witch Alone by James Nicol. I read The Apprentice Witch earlier this year, and absolutely loved it, so I’m really looking forward to visiting Ariawyn again. This is my ‘A Book featuring Magic’ prompt for Believathon.

I read The Gift of Dark Hollow as my ‘Book with an animal character’ prompt for Believathon. I was completely engrossed by it, and immediately read The Beasts of Grimheart as I really wanted to continue the story. I then read a short picture book, Angel on the Roof by Shirley Hughes which was beautifully magical with gorgeous evocative images. I finished off my reading this week with The Velvet Fox which was my ‘Seasonal Book’ prompt for Believathon.

I am hoping to read my final book for Believathon this week, The Hunt for The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. It is my ‘Book set in the past’ prompt. I really enjoyed the first book in this series earlier this year.

#Believathon: A book with a strong sense of friendship

I adored this incredible adventure which completely drew me in with its rich and wonderful world-building and gorgeous descriptive language, not to mention the depth of the character-building which made getting to know the protagonists a heart-warming experience.  The children really captured my heart.

Stella Snowflake Pearl is the adoptive daughter of the explorer fairyologist Felix.  She was found on the Icelands as a toddler, and wants nothing more than to be an explorer and, in particular, a navigator.  There’s only one problem:  girls are not allowed into the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club.  Luckily for Stella, her father is enlightened and decides to fight against the restriction of the Club in order to take Stella on her first expedition shortly after her twelfth birthday rather than have her sent to finishing school by his sister.  Her father is full of sage advice:

It doesn’t do to be too afraid of life and taking chances.

Stella looks unlike any of the other children as she has very white skin and hair.  Yet again, her father offers her excellent advice:

It is no great achievement to be the same as everybody else, Stella.  Being different is a perfectly fine thing to be, I promise you.

Stella joins the Expedition to the Icelands where she soon finds herself separated from the adults when the Ice Bridge which they are crossing collapses, leaving the adults behind.  Her only companions are the three other children on the Expedition. Shay is a wolf whisperer with his own protector, a shadow wolf; Ethan is a magician from the Ocean Squad Explorers’ Club who finds making friends difficult; and Beanie is a neuro-diverse trainee medic with a penchant for jellybeans.

The children go on the most incredible adventure across the Icelands, full of danger and excitement and meet some brilliantly imaginative creatures including frosties and a carnivorous cabbage.  Secrets are revealed and friendships blossom as the children battle to return to the rendezvous point, but will they make it in time, or find themselves trapped in the Icelands?

Whilst this story is full of fast-paced action and dangerous situations which kept me irresistibly turning the next page, I also loved how beautifully and realistically it portrays the relationships between the children, who all have past heartache, as they get to know each other, reveal their secrets and fears and come to trust and rely upon each other to survive.

I loved this story so much that I immediately bought the next two in the series, Explorers on Witch Mountain and Explorers on Black Ice BridgeI am really looking forward to continuing the adventures of these wonderful explorers!

#Six for Sunday: Winter Books

The November theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot, is Winter Books and today’s wish is for: I wanna snuggle with. I have quite a lot of winter-themed books on my TBR that I’ve been saving for December, and they are all definitely books I want to snuggle with as the weather gets colder.

I got Nevertell for my birthday, and can’t wait to start it. I run an Authorfy writing club in school, and this is one of the books the children have been using as inspiration for their own writing. I read them the first chapter – they were completely entranced, as was I. It is set in a Russian wilderness where two children escape from a prison camp, chased by a sorceress and a pack of shadow wolves … sounds just perfect!

I also got The Tzar’s Curious Runaways for my birthday. This is another story set in Russia. Katinka and her friends are part of Peter the Great’s Circus of Curiosities. But, when he dies, they must escape the Winter Palace and run for their lives … this sounds like an amazing and magical adventure.

I’ve had Shadows of Winterspell since its publication, and am so looking forward to reading it as I’ve loved Amy’s other books: A Girl Called Owl and Snowglobe. The cover tells me this will be a magical winter read … can’t wait to snuggle up with it.

North Child was another birthday treat! Part of the blurb just makes me know I will love this: A beautiful, epic story of destiny, magic and love, North Child will take you on an unforgettable adventure. I am so looking forward to going on Rose’s dangerous journey to reveal her destiny …

I read The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club as my friendship prompt for Believathon. I loved it so much that I just had to get the next two books. I can’t wait to continue Stella’s adventures with her friends.

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Katinka Dashkova wanted to live, so she held her breath. She had no choice. If she was to survive, she must be quiet as stone, as still as the statues decorating the great rooms of the Winter Palace. One ripple of the curtain behind which she crouched and he would find her.

Any ideas?

I have a few books on my TBR set in Russia, and this one’s opening really captured me. I’m definitely reading a lot of books set in Russia and Russian fairytales in December!

Goodreads Synopsis:

A magical, captivating tale of adventure set in imperial Russia. St Petersburg, Russia 1725. Katinka Dashkova is running for her life because everything she knows is changing. Katinka, a dazzling ballerina with a hunched back, and her friends Alexei the Giant and Nikolai the dwarf are different. That’s why they are part of Peter the Great’s Circus of Curiosities. But the Tzar is dead and they must flee the Winter Palace. Guided by a special map, they set out across Russia running for their lives. An enthralling and delicious blend of history and fiction.

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.      What are you currently reading?

2.      What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’ve just started The Gift of Dark Hollow which is my 8th book for Believathon. It is my ‘Book with an animal character’ prompt. I read the first book in this series, The Legend of Podkin One-Ear earlier this year and loved it, so I’m looking forward to going back to this series.

This week I’ve finished reading four more books for Believathon. The Book of Three was my Myths and Legends prompt; The Children of Green Knowe was my Classic Children’s Story prompt; and, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was my Re-read a Childhood Favourite prompt. I also read The Little Mermaid, a new translation of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale (approved via NetGalley) and Ghost which was my Stories with issues prompt for Believathon. I’ve reviewed the first four, and will post my review for Ghost this weekend.

I hope to read The Velvet Fox as my Seasonal prompt for Believathon and Angel on the Roof which I got from my local library.

#Believathon: Re-read childhood favourite

I have two favourite books that I still remember vividly from childhood: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Secret Garden. I chose the former for this prompt, although, if I get time, I am going to try to re-read The Secret Garden as well.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is special to me because I have a vivid recollection of my Dad reading it me and my brothers and sisters on Christmas Eve. My Dad now has dementia and no longer recognises any of his family, so I guess I treasure this memory even more. It is the book I have re-read most often, both as a child and an adult.

I have really enjoyed reading this both for myself and to my classes. It always gives me great pleasure to see children fall in love with this magical story. I even had a boy last year who got his Mum to buy the whole series so he could read it over Christmas.

The story begins with four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy who are evacuated from London to a large house in the countryside during the Second World War. On a wet day, the children are stuck inside and decide to explore the house. They soon find a room containing a large wardrobe. The youngest, Lucy, decides to explore the wardrobe, and finds herself wandering through fur coats and feeling fir trees instead. She enters the magical world of Narnia, a land trapped in an endless winter, but with no Christmas, by an evil White Witch who professes herself to be the Queen of Narnia. Once there, Lucy meets Mr Tumnus, a faun who, despite the danger to himself, hides her presence from the Witch.

Of course, none of the other children believe that Lucy has been to Narnia and Edmund is particularly mean and nasty to her, until he too finds himself there but, instead of meeting Mr Tumnus, he meets the White Witch who promises him more Turkish Delight and to make him King in return for bringing her his brothers and sisters.

When the four children find themselves in Narnia, they discover that Mr Tumnus has been taken by the White Witch. They are found by Mr and Mrs Beaver who take them to their home and tell them something of the history of Narnia. They also tell them that the mighty lion, Aslan is in Narnia and they are to meet him.

Edmund betrays the other children and goes to join forces with the White Witch whilst the rest of the children travel with the Beavers to meet Aslan. Even though the Queen’s reign seems to be coming to an end with the arrival of Spring, this makes her even more dangerous as she fights to retain her power and control over Narnia. Will the children have the courage to stand together and defeat the evil Queen?

I can’t not mention the wonderful collection of creatures in this story from the kind-hearted faun Mr Tumnus to the motherly Mrs Beaver to the polite giant Mr Rumblebuffin who all help this such a gorgeous story.

This is a magical story of good versus evil, of sacrifice and redemption and of taking responsibility for choices made and the growth that ensues. This story still makes me cry and smile, and feel content with the world. It is the perfect cosy read to curl up to and always reminds me why I love children’s stories.