#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.

#Believathon: Children’s Classic

First Published in 1954
This edition published by faber & faber in 2006
Illustrations by Peter Boston

I read this for the Classic Children’s Story prompt. I had never read the whole story before, but I had read an extract with my class for a comprehension lesson and it intrigued me, so I decided to read it for this prompt.

Seven year-old Toseland is going to live with his maternal Great Grandmother Oldknow who lives in a castle in Green Noah, formerly known as Green Knowe. His mother has died and his father and stepmother are in Burma, leaving him rather unhappily in a boarding school until he is taken in by Mrs Oldknow.

I love the fact that Toseland immediately feels comfortable with his Great Grandmother and at home in Green Noah from the start, even though he has never met her before. It is not long before he begins to hear whispering and laughter, yet he can see no-one. Then, items start to move of their own accord. This does not frighten him in the least, perhaps because he has had a rather lonely existence in his boarding school, and is desperate to have friends, even if they are not living! It also helps that his Great Grandmother is aware of the existence of the castle’s ghostly family members, and tells him wonderful stories of these children who had occupied the castle over 300 years previously: Toby, Alexander and Linnet.

At first the children tease Toseland (Tolly), and keep themselves hidden but eventually he is able to see them and communicate with them. I adored that Tolly is able to develop friendships with his long deceased relatives without any of the fear and apprehension often associated with ghost stories. They give him the companionship he so desperately craves as there is a real sense that Tolly was a rather sad, lonely boy before coming to Green Noah.

The natural world plays such an important role in the story. The depiction of both the flooded and snowbound landscapes is beautifully evocative. Woodland birds and animals play a pivotal role in the story as they link Tolly and his Great Grandmother with the castle’s past inhabitants. The children and Mrs Oldknow are clearly animal lovers, and many real and ghostly creatures are welcome in Tolly’s room.

As Christmas arrives, the sense of family and celebration deepens as it is clear that Tolly and his Great Grandmother delight in each other’s company, giving them both a real sense of contentment as they work together to find the perfect present for their relatives who, although no longer living, are not ready to pass from Green Knowe.

The story of how Green Noah got its name through a curse is beautifully woven into the story and gives a sense of danger as Tolly finds himself caught up in this curse, a curse that is waiting to be broken …

This is such a wonderfully gentle and heart-warming story of the beautiful relationship between a Great Grandmother and her Great Grandson cemented in their bond and love for their long deceased young relatives.

#Believathon: Myths and Legends

First Published in 1964
This edition published by Usborne Modern Classics in 2018
Cover Illustration by Joe McLaren
Inside Illustrations by Alison Read

I read this for the Myths and Legends prompt. The Book of Three is the first story in The Chronicles of Prydain.  It is a fantasy quest inspired by Wales and its legends.  A few of the characters are drawn from legend:  both Gwydion and Arawn, the Lord of Annuvin come from a classic collection of Welsh legends called the Mabinogion

As with many quest adventures, it has an amazing map which is brilliant for helping follow Taran’s journey through the Land of Prydain.

I really enjoyed The Book of Three which, in the story, is a book of knowledge kept in Caer Dallben where Taran lives. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings but more appropriate for a younger audience. Since I devoured The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I knew I was going to love this, and I did! It’s a good old-fashioned quest, full of heroics, great deeds, peril, companionship, fantasy creatures and self-discovery.

Taran is a newly appointed Assistant Pig-Keeper, living in Caer Dallben in Prydain, who has been given the responsibility of looking after the oracular pig, Hen Wen.  After a period of peace, a new war lord, The Horned King, has arisen. He takes his orders from Arawn, the Lord of Annuvin who is determined to bring darkness to the world.  The animals in Caer Dallben are disturbed and Hen Wen escapes, leaving Taran with no choice other than to search for her …

So begins an amazing, action-packed quest to find Hen Wen before she is captured by The Horned King who is quite terrifying.  Of course, no quest would be complete without peril, close encounters with the enemy, and meeting companions leading to the formation of strong friendships. 

The first companion Taran meets is Gwydion, a war leader and hero from Caer Dathyl who rescues him from his first encounter with The Horned King.  He is also tasked with finding Hen Wen who holds the secret to The Horned King’s defeat.  They soon meet Gurgi, a creature who is desperate to belong and adores ‘munchings and crunchings’.  He is a wonderful character who grows so much throughout the story from a rather pathetic, ingratiating nuisance to a brave warrior, ready to sacrifice himself for those who have shown him friendship.

Taran and Gwydion are attacked and captured by the Cauldron-Born, a terrifying group of undead warriors, and taken to The Spiral Castle which is ruled by Achren, an evil sorceress. This is where Taran meets his next two companions, Eilonwy, who is a feisty, fierce and quick-witted young girl who does not suffer fools lightly. She helps Taran escape and also attempts to rescue Gwydion only to discover that it is not, in fact, him she has rescued, but a Bard called Fflewddur whose harp strings break every time he tells exaggerates/lies – which is often! But always with good intentions!

Assuming that Gwydion has been killed, Taran decides to give up on the quest to find Hen Wen and instead travel to Gwydion’s home, Caer Dathyl to warn them of the threat from Annuvin and the Horned King. As they travel, they are in constant fear of the Cauldron-Born and the Horned King, and desperately try to outrun them until they have no choice but to make a final stand …

This may be a short book (230 pages), but it is brimming with action, adventure and well-drawn, likeable characters, so masterfully orchestrated that I was completely drawn into the story-telling.

I loved the quote by the author, Lloyd Alexander, at the back of the book:

I never became a world traveller, an explorer, an adventurer. But I did become a writer, which is pretty much the same thing.

#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:  Books with Blue Covers.  Looking at my bookshelves, I have a LOT of books with blue covers! I’ve decided to go for books on my TBR which have blue covers, but are not typical ‘winter books’, and share the blurb.

I loved Onjali’s first book, The Boy at the Back of the Class, and I am currently reading it to my class. I bought The Star Outside my Window on publication day, and know it will be another tearjerker as it deals with a very difficult subject.

Blurb: I’ve always wanted to be a Star Hunter. Grown-ups call them astronomers, but I think Star Hunters sounds much better. I was going to become one when I finished school, but I can’t wait that long any more. You see, I have to find my mum. Everyone says she’s gone, but I know she’s turned into a star. She’s breaking all the rules of the universe to find me again. And I’m going to break all the rules I know to help her do it.

Perijee and Me appealed to me as it is science-fiction, and I don’t tend to find many middle-grade books in this genre.

Blurb: I pointed up. ‘That star is called Sirius. See?’ Perijee glowed, like a candle in a jar. He grew more fingers, tens of them, wrapping them round my hands and wriggling. ‘Home,’ he said. When Caitlin finds a tiny alien on the beach, she teaches him everything she knows. He’s like the brother she’s always wanted. There’s only one problem: Perijee won’t stop growing. A stunning story about friendship, a heart-stopping adventure, and the power of kindness when faced with an alien invasion.

I picked this one up a while back as I love the sound of this fantasy adventure with. It is part of a trilogy.

Blurb: In the sky, the fire spirits dance and ripple. Grandma says they showed our Tribe that I’d be a captain before I was even born. Ever since Ma died, Mouse has looked after her little brother, Sparrow, dreaming of her destiny as captain of The Huntress. But now Da’s missing. Sparrow is in danger, and a deathly cold is creeping across the world …

I picked this one up at the start of October when I went to Reading Rocks South.

Blurb: He wasn’t an alien. I was sure of that. It was more like he’d walked in through an ancient door from the past … except he was here, in my bedroom, and his misty forest home was somewhere real on our planet Earth. What would you do if you discovered a strange being on a supermarket roundabout? Run? Hide? Or maybe you’d do what Kofi does in this story. Maybe you’d take him home …

I have a lot of Emma Carroll books on my TBR. She writes historical fiction. I’ve read Frost Hollow Hall and The Snow Sister. I first heard of this when I was trying to find books related to extreme weather via a Facebook Group and Emma told me about this one.

Blurb: Somerset, 1616. A sinking boat … A girl in disguise … A disappearing sea … When Fortune Sharpe carves a boat from a tree with her beloved brother, Jem, she’s only having a bit of fun. But now is not the time for a girl to be drawing attention to herself and she is sent away to find work dressed as a boy. Luckily a rich manor house is hiring. Yet Barrow Hall’s inhabitants harbour dangerous secrets of their own, the suspicious owner is hunting for witches, and the house itself is a little too close to the sea …

Michael Morpurgo was the first Children’s Laureate, and I’ve always enjoyed his stories which often make me cry. Two of my absolute favourites are Listen to the Moon and Private Peaceful. His latest story is a re-telling of Gulliver linked to a refugee’s journey.

Blurb: A little hope makes a big difference. War has forced Omar and his mother to leave their home in Afghanistan and venture across the sea to Europe. When their boat sinks, and Omar finds himself alone, with no hope of rescue, it seems as if his story has come to an end. But it is only just the beginning …

Review: Frostheart

Written and Illustrated by Jamie Littler
Published by Puffin
Published on 3rd October 2019

This is the most incredible, epic adventure which completely captured and entranced me as I joined Ash and the crew of the Frostheart on their daring quest to find Ash’s parents, whilst they strive to avoid the terrors of the Leviathans who relentlessly pursue them on their perilous journey across the Snow Sea.

Ash has been made an outcast from his home amongst the Fira people as it has been revealed that he is a Song Weaver, a people who are feared by others as they have an affinity with the dreaded Leviathans because they can commune with them through song weaving.  After his exile, Ash joins the crew of the Frostheart alongside his rather stern and grumpy, yet well-meaning, yeti guardian, Tobu. 

So begins THE most incredible epic quest which is overflowing with edge-of-your-seat danger, jaw-dropping discoveries, and heart-warming, humour-filled friendships.  The world-building is amazingly immersive from the description of the cold, isolated landscape of the Snow Sea to the places they visit such as Skybridge where the technologically-minded vulpis live in Shade’s Chasm which is an icy escape-route through the mountains to the Isobai Stronghold.  The Frostheart sleigh-ship is also wonderfully described and is like a character itself in the story. 

I’m willing to do anything to find them.  To find out who I am, and where I belong.

Ash is a beautifully sympathetic character.  He feels like he doesn’t belong with the Fira people leading to loneliness and isolation.   Despite knowing that it is against Fira Law, he is so powerfully and irresistibly drawn to his talent as a song weaver that he is compelled to practice and harness it, no matter the consequences.  Ash is impulsive and doesn’t like to follow rules, but he is also courageous and a loyal friend. 

He has a deep need to belong:  the crew aboard the Frostheart become the family he is desperately seeking – and what a crew they are! Captain Nuk is courageous, astute, cheerful and, most importantly, loved by her loyal crew. The young navigator, Lunah, has a boundless flow of curiosity and energy which is infectious.  Both these crew members immediately accept Ash for who he is, so he immediately feels that sense of belonging that he so craves. 

I was completely blown away by the epic scale of Frostheart.  So much magical story-weaving, character and world-building happens that it is hard to adequately express just how extraordinary this story is! And I haven’t even mentioned the gorgeous illustrations which are such an integral part of the story and really help to draw the reader even further into the magic that is this story.  I cannot wait for the continuation of Ash’s quest.         

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!

In the depths of Siberia, in the harshest cold, an eleven-year-old girl dressed in grey overalls crossed the assembly square on the way to her prison quarters. She walked alone. She blew on her hands for warmth and left her breath behind her. It made white whirligigs through air laced with ice.

Any ideas?

I’m really looking forward to this one! It sounds like the perfect winter read. The Goodreads synopsis:

A gorgeous, snowy adventure, set in the wilds of Siberia, full of magic and wonder, for junior readers. We used the book as part of our Authorfy writing club. I also have had a copy of the proof to give away to our Writer of the Term closer to Christmas which is a very special treat for him/her. It was very hard to resist reading it, and waiting for publication instead!

Born in a Soviet prison camp, Lina has never seen the world outside until the night she escapes with her best friend, Bogdan. As the pair journey across a snowy wilderness, they are pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive…

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’m currently reading The Book of Three which is my ‘Myths and legends’ prompt for Believathon. This is my fourth book for this readathon.

I’ve finished reading the brilliant Ghouls of Howlfair (a perfect Halloween read) which I absolutely loved: the author’s humour made me laugh out loud. I also finished the first two Amelia Fang books which were loaned to me by a girl in my class. These were just adorable, and I’m definitely borrowing the rest of the series from her. I’ve also finished books 2 and 3 for for Believathon. I read The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club as my friendship prompt. I absolutely adored it, so much so that I’ve immediately bought the second one. I read Potkin & Stubbs as my atmospheric prompt. Oh my! It was definitely that. I loved the use of the rain and the iciness caused by Nedly’s presence to help build the atmosphere. Lil and Abe were brilliantly realised characters.

I received an e-ARC of The Little Mermaid via NetGalley, and hope to read it next. As this weekend is Classics weekend for Believathon, I’ve decided to try to get my 5th and 6th books read: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for my ‘Re-read a childhood favourite’ prompt and The Children of Green Knowe for my ‘Classic children’s story’ prompt.

What have you read this week? Have you read any of these books?

Review: The Last Spell Breather

Published by Oxford University Press (OUP)
Published on 4th July 2019
Cover Illustration: Dinara Mirtalipova

The Last Spell Breather is a truly amazing debut novel with stunning world-building, both horrifying and adorable characters, and sublime story-telling which had me devouring it in one sitting. 

Rayne is a reluctant apprentice spell-breather, training under the tutelage of her mother.  She does not want to be a spell-breather as she doesn’t feel capable of being successful, and neither does she want to be bitten by the Grotesques who protect the Spell Book from which spells are carefully mindread and the words breathed on to pages when needed by the villagers.

This magical system is absorbingly fascinating and weaves a unique enchantment of its own as the reader becomes more familiar with its origins … and the terrifying consequences misuse can lead to.

After seeing a strange figure that deeply unsettles her, Rayne’s mother leaves Penderin to visit the Great Library where spell-breathers once trained.  In her absence, Rayne must take on the role of spell-breather which has disastrous consequences for the village as she makes a dreadful mistake which forces her, and her friend Tom, outside the protective barrier of the village on a dangerous quest to redeem herself and save her village …

Once outside the barrier, the children face terrifying encounters, unveil incredible secrets and deal with heart-breaking betrayals as they fight to trust in spell-breathing and in each other.  The authenticity of the friendship between Tom and Rayne is wonderful.  Both children battle inner feelings of guilt and lash out at each other, but ultimately, they are there to offer support and protection.

I adored Rayne who is a heartachingly sympathetic character as she battles self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy and guilt, yet overcomes these with courage and a willingness to embrace her magical spark … but has this acceptance come too late to save herself and the ones she loves?

A truly gripping, magical story which is perfect for readers of 9+.

Six for Sunday: 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 with snow/ice in the title. I’ve decided to share six of my favourite reads this year which are set in winter landscapes.

Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart was one of the first books I read this year, and really re-ignited my passion for reading middle-grade books. Emmeline’s scientist parents go missing and Emmeline, with her friend Thing, find themselves facing incredible dangers in the ice fields of Greenland where a legendary creature is in danger of being reawakened.

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone is a beautifully magical story set in the snowy kingdom of Erkenwald. Eska and Flint journey through this frozen landscape in search of an ancient song with the power to defeat the evil Ice Queen.

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave tells the story of Mila and her sisters who travel through a land frozen in winter in search of their brother Oskar who has been taken by a stranger.

She Wolf by Dan Smith is the powerfully engrossing story of one young, fiercely independent, Danish girl’s fight for survival, and vengeance, in the bleak, wintery landscape of Northumbria in AD 866, following the death of her mother.

Frostheart by Jamie Littler is an epic adventure which follows Ash, a Song Weaver, and the intrepid crew of The Frostheart across the Snow Sea on a treacherous quest to find his missing parents.

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club by Alex Bell follows the action-packed adventures of four young explorers as they investigate The Icelands after being separated from the adults members of the Expedition.

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!

Stella Starflake Pearl rubbed frost from the turret window and scowled out at the snow. She ought to be in the most splendid mood – it was her birthday tomorrow, and the only thing Stella loved more than birthdays was unicorns. But it was hard to be cheerful when Felix was still refusing to take her on his expedition.

Any ideas?

This is my first read for Believathon (a middle-grade readathon taking place this month on twitter @Believathon). It is the book I have chosen for my friendship prompt.

Goodreads synopsis:

It sounded like a respectable and worthy enough death for an explorer – tumbling from an ice bridge to be impaled upon a mammoth tusk – but Stella really, really didn’t want that to happen, just the same.

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?