Review: Look Out, Leonard!

Written by Jessie James
Illustrated by Tamara Anegon
Published by Dorling Kindersley on 4th March 2021 (paperback)

Leonard and his shrew family are moving to a new home in another part of the forest with a long journey ahead of them. Very sensibly, Mrs Shrew asks them to hold on to each other’s tails so they don’t get lost. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, poor Leonard, who does not have the best eyesight and perhaps doesn’t pay as much attention as he could, finds himself in trouble when he accidentally catches the wrong tail! Finding himself separated from his family, he certainly needs to look out as he catches an assortment of different tails in his efforts to be reunited with his family. When his family find themselves in trouble, will Leonard be able to save them?

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous in a range of bright and bold colours, celebrating the diversity, life and movement of the forest. They also brilliantly capture the personalities of the shrews and other animals.

This is such a wonderful story which is uplifting, joyous and invites its young readers to engage with the text as they look at different ways of saying ‘Hello’, practise counting, answer questions and spot a range of animal tails! It celebrates difference as Leonard is not quite like the other shrews: his name doesn’t begin with ‘S’, he doesn’t say ‘Hello’ in the same way and he wears glasses BUT he is curious and has a sense of adventure and perseveres to prove himself an accidental hero! All the way through the story, the reader is left feeling encouraged that Leonard will be reunited with his family.

The text is easy to follow, chatty and humorous with lots of questions, description, alliteration and repetition which will have young readers wanting to join in, especially with the refrain: Look Out, Leonard! The text is also playful with large, bold text interspersed with the main text.

The final page includes some factual information about the Southeast Asian Shrew. I especially liked discovering that, whilst they have excellent hearing and smell, they have poor eyesight – that explains Leonard!

This is a perfect book for children of 3-5 years who will enjoy both the engaging text and the bright, bold images and I have no doubt will be repeating ‘Look Out, Leonard’ with great glee!

Thank you to Dorling Kindersley for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Girl Reader.  This week’s theme is Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers (in honor of Mardi Gras, which is today!). I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and chosen a range of Green, Yellow and Purple books that I haven’t read – yet!

These are all books I am really excited to read, but my TBR is just ridiculous! Have you read any of these? Which would you recommend?

Review: The Dragon and Her Boy

The Dragon and her Boy is a brilliantly exciting, fast-paced adventure set in a past London, brimming with peril, intrigue and humour, that enthralled me throughout. 

The gutterling friends and tumblers, Stick, Spud and Sparrow, who we previously met in Tiger Heart, are separated when there is a commotion beneath the streets during an unnatural Great Heat.  Could their disappearance have anything to do with a terrifying figure seen by Stick, a figure from his past? 

The other children who are surviving on London’s streets sense that something is wrong in the City, and tell Stick about a strange woman who is taking children.   Determined to find his lost friends, Stick finds himself beneath the streets of London, and face-to-face with … a dragon!  A rather irascible, easily offended dragon – the last of her kind – who has become stuck in an underground tunnel after running away from grave danger.  AND she’s just brilliant – and rather partial to a little flattery – and crumpets!

Discovering that they have a common enemy, the dragon and Stick join forces and embark on an incredible adventure to rescue Stick’s friends and each other; an adventure that sees them form a wonderful bond of friendship; and, an adventure that sees Stick confront terrors from his past.  Their friendship is filled with wonderful repartee, trust and a need to protect each other.  Stick is incredibly courageous, thinking about others before himself and facing up to his fears in order to save both old and new friends from someone who has caused him great pain in the past. 

This is a fantastically fast-paced adventure, brimming with danger, revelations and intrigue:  a real page-turner.  The bonds of friendship between the gutterling children, who have become a family, are incredibly touching which leads to some poignant moments, but also a real sense of hope as they are determined to work together, despite the risks they have to take, to help each other.  I really enjoyed the language used between the children and felt this helped me become part of their world.  The author has included ‘Stick’s Guide to Gutterling’ in the Author’s Notes which I found fascinating.

This is a story that will take you on an incredible adventure, an adventure filled with daring and danger, with truths unfolding, with courageous hearts and heart-warming friendships.  Truly glorious storytelling!

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

WWW Wednesday

I’ve just started The Abbey Mystery (slightly later than I had intended to as I got distracted by another recommendation). I’m just about to start The Good Bear on audio.

I’ve read four books this week. Leo’s Map of Monsters is the start of a series for younger readers, and was a really fun read which I enjoyed. Leo lives behind a wall to protect the villagers from dangerous creatures in the forest.  On their ninth birthdays, the village children are given an assignment to match their talents.  Leo loves reading and writing so is convinced that he will join his friend at the Record Office.  However, when he opens his assignment, he discovers two words:  TOP SECRET.  He is immediately whisked away by the Village Chief, Gilda to meet the person he has been assigned to:  The Guardian.  Leo finds himself discovering the secrets of the forest, and learning that his assignment is to protect the villagers from monsters – and monsters from the villagers!  Will Leo be successful in his first mission:  to save the village from an enraged Armoured Goretusk who is heading in their direction?  Leo learns that he is braver than he thinks, and makes a wonderful friend in Starla, a rather cute flying monster. 

I listened to the audiobook of The Silent Stars Go By after seeing it recommended by Lily. This story is set after the First World War, during the Christmas period.  The vicar’s young daughter, Margot, has had a child out of wedlock to her fiancé Harry who went to war and was reported missing in action.  Feeling that she had no other choice, she gave up her child, James, to be adopted and raised by her parents.  Margot has come home to spend Christmas with her family, and meets with Harry again who has survived the war.  My heart went out to Margot as she is forced to make choices because of societal ‘norms’ of the time and as she goes through the almost unbearable anguish of being close to her son, but not being able to treat him as such.  This is a beautifully written, and heartfelt story, that I was completely immersed in. 

I also read an e-book of The Dragon and her Boy on NetGalley. I requested this book as I had really enjoyed the author’s previous book, Tiger Heart. This story is based around one of the children from that story, Stick, who meets a dragon under the streets of London. I really enjoyed the story which was fast-paced and exciting. The dragon is just brilliant! I will be posting my review within the next few days.

Finally, I DEVOURED Storm over a couple of days after Rachael recommended it. I read late into the night and was up at 5:30am to read some more before going to work. OMG!! What can I say? I only knew one thing about this book, and am so glad that I hadn’t even read the synopsis. So much in this story led me in unexpected directions. The voice of the main character, Frances, is captured brilliantly, and made it such a brilliant, flowing read. I don’t want to say anything about the plot as it was just so wonderful to go into this book ‘blind’ and I think it made it even more enjoyable. I absolutely can’t wait to read the author’s next book, Starboard. Thank you so much Rachael for telling me to read this – I ABSOLUTELY loved it!

I think I’ll probably read A Wolf for a Spell next.

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

Six for Sunday

The February theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot is Read it and weep! and today’s prompt is for Books with red covers. I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and chosen six books with red covers that I haven’t yet read, but all of which I’m excited to get to!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Review: 44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Acrobats is the second book in this gorgeous series for younger readers, starring 44 adorable and mischievous pygmy mice, and the wonderful Bow-Linnet family:  full of warmth, humour and adventure, this will be sure to keep children entertained throughout – and probably wanting their own little acrobat! 

It is the start of the Christmas holidays, and Betsy and her Grandad are continuing the family tradition of Christmas Decoration Day.  However, Betsy is quick to realise that her beloved Grandad is not his usual cheery self:  could this be something to do with the circus which they can see on the common near their home? 

After one of her mice gets injured, Betsy takes it to the vet and, on the way home, cannot resist buying a ticket to Fry & Sons Circus of Wonders.  Betsy is absolutely mesmerised by the acts who perform and feels a pull towards circus life, a life that drew her Grandma too.  Trouble ensues when the mice escape which leads to an encounter with the circus Ringmaster, Mr Fry who demands that she makes amends, so Betsy finds herself and her acrobatic troupe of pygmy mice agreeing to perform, but can she keep her secret from her family? 

This is a wonderful story taking the young reader on an exciting adventure with an element of danger that is sure to keep pages turning.  Will Betsy be able to outwit the terrible Ringmaster, Mr Fry, who is determined to have her acrobatic mouse troupe perform, with or without her? 

Betsy is the most wonderful, kind-hearted young girl:  courageous, independent and determined.  She finds herself in a tricky situation, trying hard to do the right thing whilst not upsetting others and feeling guilty over the choices she makes.  She does have help from the magnificent magician, Enid the Splendid who is kind and supportive, and who has some of his own wrongs to right.

I loved the warm relationship between Betsy, her parents and her Grandfather.  Even though she feels she has to keep her secret from her family, she is doing so in order not to hurt them and as she feels a responsibility to put right a mistake she has made.  The message that her family is there for her, to protect and support her is a wonderful one, and I really enjoyed seeing other sides of her family – especially her Dad!

The story illustrations, in a range of shades of red, by Ashley King are absolutely stunning, and really bring the characters to life, showing the warmth and humour in the story perfectly.

This is a perfect book for young readers to enjoy with endearing characters, plenty of action and humour, and wonderful messages of friendship and family. 

Thank you to Charlie Morris and Little Tiger for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

First Lines Fridays

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!

Fear sank its jaws into Zima as she recognized the smell of magic. She pressed her nose to the ground and sniffed again. Like moonlight and decay – it burrowed into her nose, slippery and sinister. She shook her head and huffed to clear out her nostrils. A shiver rippled through Zima’s silvery-gray fur. She knew what the smell meant. The witch was nearby.

Any ideas?

I couldn’t resist this one as I’ve heard some wonderful things about it: wolves and Baba Yaga – what’s not to love?

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon meets Pax in this fantastical tale of a wolf who forms an unlikely alliance with Baba Yaga to save the forest from a wicked tsar. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans—especially witches—but when her family is threatened, she has no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing… Before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut—and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

WWW Wednesday

I haven’t actually started either of these yet, but I’m going to be later this evening and tomorrow morning. I really enjoyed Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes so, when I saw this on NetGalley, I was eager to read it. I’ve seen lots of wonderful recommendations for The Silent Stars Go By so I reserved it on BorrowBox and it has now become available. It will be keeping me company on the drive to and from work over the next while.

This week I finished reading The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club which is the most fun, imaginative adventure. The world building is brilliant. I am taking part in a Blog Tour later in the month, so will post my review then. I also read 44 Tiny Acrobats which is an adorable read for younger children. I am currently writing my review and hope to post it tomorrow – depending on how late I finish work! I also finished Uki and the Swamp Spirit which I absolutely loved. This is such an incredible adventure series that feels like a classic quest. The main characters, Uki, Jori and Kree have a wonderful bond and are such a brilliant, and brave, team. The ending has left me desperate for the next book for very different reasons than I had anticipated! Finally, I finished listening to The Light Jar which was amazing. For so much of the book I was on edge as I just didn’t know what to expect. It is such a cleverly written story with a wonderfully sympathetic character in Nate who I adored. I definitely need to read more books by Lisa Thompson as I really enjoyed the writing style in this one.

I have been sent a proof of The Abbey Mystery which is being published on 23rd April. I love Jane Austen’s books, so am really looking forward to a mystery with a young fictional Jane. I love the cover of this one too.

Blog Tour: The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

Desperate to become a shark‐caller to avenge the death of her parents, Blue Wing is instead charged with befriending infuriating newcomer Maple. At first they are angry and out of sync with the island and each other. But when the tide breathes the promise of treasure, can they overcome their differences and brave the deadliest shark in the ocean?
The Shark Caller publishes in paperback on 4 February from Usborne, written by Zillah Bethell with cover art work from Saara Katariina Söderlund.

Zillah Bethell has penned a spell-binding new middle grade novel set against the beautifully-woven backdrop of her childhood home of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. The Shark Caller is an astonishing story of friendship, forgiveness and bravery which fellow children’s author Sophie Anderson describes as “magnificent and beautiful.”  

I am incredibly excited to have a wonderful piece written by Zillah exclusively for my Blog about her interwoven childhood memories of a sea moon.

Copyright Sian Trenberth Photography

SEA MOON

“Choose one,” my grandmother said, tearing a newspaper page with a list of horse names on it and handing it to me. I didn’t find this particularly strange, at least no stranger than anything else that had happened since recently moving to the UK where everyone seemed to eat a lot of cream and talk interminably about the weather. To be fair to my grandmother, I don’t think she was an inveterate gambler exactly, it’s just that when she managed to sell a Toby jug or horrible vase with grapes on from her little shop Aggie’s Antiques, she liked to place a small bet, thereby combining her love of money with her love of horses. Either that or she was trying to broaden my understanding of the culture I’d landed in.

I looked at the list of names. They were all beautiful: Romeo, Lady’s Slipper, Farewell Tardy, Dawn Piccolo, March Wind and then I spotted it – Sea Moon. “That one,” I said, pointing.

My grandmother peered. She always peered. “Forty to one!” she laughed. “No chance.”

***

The sea is a mysterious thing, fascinating and unpredictable. Sometimes you can float in it, the sun on your face, allowing the waves to roll you where they will; other times it takes all your strength to get through the breakers or survive an undertow. It feels like a metaphor for life, the sea. It gives, it takes away. It crashes in suddenly, turning you head over heels, over and over. Sometimes it plays and sparkles. Sometimes it’s edgy and dangerous. It can be so very cold and drear and bleak. It’s always changing yet always the same. It seems to go on forever.

I grew up with the sea literally on my doorstep. It woke us in the morning, sent us to bed and accompanied us through our dreams and our sleep. It felt like a second heartbeat. I grew up learning Ewa ge – the language of the sea people. The sea was everything to us – we swam in it, washed in it, fished in it, travelled in it. We couldn’t exist without it. We took a gamble on the sea every day of our lives. In Ewa ge there’s a saying which goes something like this: you have to dive beneath the surface to see the rocks, the coral, the barnacled shipwrecks. From above you can’t tell which is which…

***

My grandmother trotted out with Pepper the dog. She was always nipping out to buy a loaf of bread or go to the bank or some other errand. I think I was meant to mind the shop but hardly anyone ever came in and I didn’t understand money, so I took up my position in the dog’s chair in front of the television. It was a Queen Anne chair apparently, my grandmother had got it from some auction and was re-stuffing it and even though it wasn’t very comfortable, I loved to watch that black and white crackling TV, mesmerised by images I’d never seen before. Don’t ask me why Pepper’s chair was sat in front of the TV – perhaps he liked watching videos of The Bionic Woman, too, imagining he was back jumping off platforms into the sea in Papua New Guinea instead of the icy brick walls into gardens with people yelling.

***

I remember one night we were travelling back from a wedding in Basabua, I think. I was pretty young and I was feeling a bit drowsy and sick with the diesel of the boat and maybe because I’d eaten too many flummy dummies (fish in batter) at the wedding. It was dark and the rain was falling, gentle and cooling. Suddenly I noticed the moon, low in the sky. It had a bright arc above it like a silver rainbow.

“Look!” I said to my mother. “Look!”

“Ah,” she said. “That’s a moon you see at sea.”

I kept repeating moon-you-see-at-sea and staring at this beautiful thing until I must have fallen asleep.

***

I once asked a fisherman in Devon what a moon you see at sea was. He said it was probably a moonbow. I researched moonbows – rare atmospheric phenomena that occur when the moon’s light is reflected and refracted off water. First mentioned apparently by Aristotle. Of course, I don’t know if it really was a moonbow I saw or whether the experience belongs to that land of dream, myth and memory where much of our childhood lies.

***

Suddenly my grandmother was in the doorway. She was kind of hopping and grinning and waving all at the same time and Pepper seemed to be doing the same.

Sea Moon came in,” she said. “Fourth place. We’re rich!”

“Are we?”

“Yes.” She waved a ten-pound note. “Let’s get some chips.”

I left the Queen Anne chair to the dog and took my grandmother’s rough and reassuring hand. It was always rough and reassuring. We walked up the street to the chip shop and sat eating those deliciously newspapery vinegary greasy chips on a wall, me wiping my hands on my jeans and my grandmother still grinning. (Now, when I imagine her washing those jeans in a Belfast sink in a house with no central heating or washing machine, my heart kind of lurches.)

And at that moment I felt the deepest conviction as children often do about the most random of subjects, that the sea was the most magical thing I had ever known and would ever know; and that even though rare and beautiful things are lost, there will always be more to meet, when they’re ready.

Thank you so much Zillah for writing ‘Sea Moon’ especially for my Blog.

My Review of The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller is a stunning and powerful story which wove its magic straight into my heart; an unforgettable tale set on the beautiful island of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea; a tale of two young girls from different worlds who find a bond of sisterhood that saves them both.  This is an incredibly moving story that left me in floods of tears, but it also left me filled with hope and reassurance.  An absolute masterpiece that I’m already confident will be one of my top reads of 2021!

Blue Wing lives with her waspapi, Siringen, after the loss of her parents who were killed by a shark.  He is the village shark caller, a role that Blue Wing is desperate to step into.  Siringen refuses to train her in this magical calling as it is a traditional role passed on through the male lineage, and as he is worried that she is seeking the role for the wrong reason:  in a desperate need to assuage her anger and avenge the death of her parents by killing the shark who took them from her.  Siringen is wise, honest and clever and perhaps knows what is best for Blue Wing more than she does herself, even if she is not willing to accept this.

Both Blue Wing and Siringen have a wonderful affinity with the world they live in, respecting the natural environment and reluctant to let the modern world encroach on their idyll.  They want to keep the traditions of their people alive, despite the changing times.  However, change is forced upon them by the village chief who is intent on modernising the island and opening it up to the outside world.  He has demanded that Siringen look after visitors to the island:  an American professor who has come to study the coral and his daughter, Maple.

It is no surprise that Blue Wing’s first meeting with Maple is difficult and that friendship does not come easily to the girls who do not seem, at first, to have anything in common.  This story doesn’t shy away from the complexity of emotions that are experienced by both girls as they suffer the pain of grief at the loss of loved ones.  Theirs is not an easy path, but they learn to travel it together as their friendship and trust in each other grows, and as they learn valuable lessons relating to forgiveness and acceptance.

As the girls’ friendship develops, they find themselves caught up in a compelling mystery to uncover the secrets that Maple’s grieving father is hiding, secrets that uncover their family’s history and reveal a longing to change the past …

Some stories have the power to speak to the very core of our being and to transcend time and place; I have found a peace and solace in this story which has helped me deal with my own personal grief.  I am in awe of the emotional depth of this story, of the honest and heartfelt portrayal of the relationship between these two young girls which captured my heart and, yes, broke it a little in order to heal it again.  I mean, how does a writer do that to a reader?  There is magic and power in storytelling and this story has been imbued with its own unique magic that makes it a truly special book, an exceptional story that deserves to be read by both children and adults alike.  As an avid reader of children’s books, I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read:  I really cannot recommend it highly enough!

Thank you so much to Fritha Lindqvist, Usborne and Zillah Bethell for inviting me to be part of this Blog Tour.

January Wrap-Up

What a month – it seemed to last forever! Back to school with my class for one day, then lock-down. It’s been really lovely reading our class story live to the children and catching up with them daily through GoogleMeet. The endless Seesaw marking however!!! It’s been a hard month with work, but I have managed to keep myself together by making sure that I relaxed and read on most weekends. Both my Mum and my mother-in-law have had their first vaccines which is brilliant news for our families. I’ve also started bi-weekly Lateral Flow Tests which have been offered to teachers. I had no problem with the throat swabs (got my husband to do it for me), but the nostril one is a whole other matter! Anyway, one to my bookish month …

Books I’ve read:

I’ve read 12 books this month: 8 physical copies, 2 e-books and 2 audiobooks.

NetGalley:

My Feedback Ratio is currently at 92%. I have requested and been approved to read 2 books this month, both of which I’m very excited to read. There are also a few books that I have been auto-approved to read which I want to get to if I can.

Books sent by publishers:

I’ve been lucky to have been sent 4 physical books by publishers to read and review in exchange for my honest opinion. I’ve already read and loved The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club, and will be taking part in a Blog Tour later this month. I am currently reading 44 Tiny Acrobats (which is due to be released on 4th February).

Books I’ve bought:

I have NO self-control whatsoever when it comes to buying new books. I bought 14 books this month. I have NO idea when I’m going to read most of them but, you know, they are patiently waiting for me on my bookcases:

How has your month been? Have you read any of these?