Posted by: janesandell | December 11, 2017

The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper

Come now or come never! That’s the message on the mysterious invitation Ben receives.  Accepting it leads him to the Gee Museum and a meeting with a hippo, a sengi and a puffer fish.  Oh and a mischievous chameleon.  Ben is fascinated by the ramshackle museum and teased by a distant memory involving his long-dead Dad.

But the museum is under threat from an unscrupulous alliance and it seems that Ben is the only one who can save it. With help from the resident bees and other animals he sets out to make a plan but one rash decision has unimaginable consequences…

Part fantasy, part mystery Helen Cooper’s debut novel is a joy with strong characters and a plot of just the right complexity. Staying just this side of sentimentality it’s a warm and engaging read.  And, of course, it’s beautifully illustrated.


Posted by: janesandell | November 8, 2017

Oi Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Following on from Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! comes Oi Cat! (Hodder) by Kes Gray and Jim Field. Cat is NOT happy.  Ever since Frog changed the rules, Cat can longer sit on mats but instead must sit on gnats.  And they keep biting him on the bottom!  But rules are rules and Cat must sit on something rhyming.  The problem is that everything seems to have been taken – unless Cat becomes something else…

oi cat

The first two books in the series are loved by children for their interesting rhymes and crazy illustrations and Oi Cat! is sure to be just as popular. Here we have a pony sitting on some macaroni, a vole sitting on a bowl and an alpaca on a cream cracker.  The pages are of bright colours with bold illustrations on top of them.  The book is funny and clever and has a surprise at the end.  Don’t miss it.

Posted by: janesandell | November 7, 2017

Up and Down: a walk in the countryside


Nosy Crow and the National Trust have collaborated on a range of books recently. One of these is Up and Down: a walk in the countryside by Rosalind Beardshaw.  It’s a beautifully produced board book of opposites.  It’s sturdy with thick, heavy pages that feel as though they’ll survive much handling by young fingers.  The illustrations have just enough detail to make them interesting but the characters are not overwhelmed by the background.  The colours are strong and bright and dynamic and come to life beautifully.


Posted by: janesandell | November 7, 2017

My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner

No Refugee

Barrington Stoke’s imprint The Bucket List has published My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner. On the front cover is a quote from Jacqueline Wilson: ‘A much-needed, lovely book for small children which explains the refugee crisis in a simple, child-friendly way.’  That’s a great description of this gentle and understated picture book full of calming illustrations in soothing, muted colours.


The Turkey that Voted for Christmas (OUP) by Madelaine Cook and Samara Hardy is a fun Christmas read for young children and full of plays on words for the adults who share it with them. It’s packed full of Christmas clichés, farmer up to no good and a robin with a plan.

The animals of Pear Tree Farm are a democratic lot, voting on everything. Each year the vote goes against Christmas thanks to Timmy Turkey’s family who always say NO!  But Timmy is tired of the lack of festive cheer so he galvanises the other animals and leads a brilliant campaign.  The voting is on a knife-edge.  Timmy’s family quakes as they wait for the outcome…

Colourful, festive and funny, this is an enjoyable story to share with young children. There’s lots to see in the illustrations and plenty of humour to laugh over in the text.

Turkey Voted Christmas

Posted by: janesandell | November 3, 2017

Comfort Reading

The long silence from me is due to illness.  I was critically ill in the summer and have taken a long time to recuperate.  For much of that time I didn’t have the focus to read new books but I’m pretty much back now and normal reading and blogging will resume shortly.


Like many people, I suspect, I re-read lots of old favourites whilst I was recovering.  Mostly, these were adult novels but I did turn back to Clare Mallory, a New Zealander who wrote books for children and teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s.  I came across her books fairly recently and immediately enjoyed them.  Many of them are school stories but the schools tend to be much more relaxed than their British contemporaries although they do have much in common.

My favourite of Clare Mallory’s novels is Juliet Overseas.  It concerns a girls who is sent halfway around the world to attend her mother’s old school in England.  In a typical school story plot, the tone of the school is not all it might be and Juliet takes it upon herself to effect an improvement.  Of course she succeeds but reading about how she does it is entertaining and even thought-provoking.

I also read the Merry trilogy (Merry Begins, Merry Again, Merry Marches On).  It is set in Dunedin in a fictional representation of Columba College where Clare Mallory was Headmistress.  Merry and her friends are engaging characters as are the prefects who form the other group we get to know.  There’s a strong message of loyalty and striving to do one’s best permeating the series but it’s none the worse for that.

That’s my comfort reading over now, until Christmas at least.  From this weekend I’ll be attacking my to-be-read pile so come back soon and find out about some of the brilliant new books being published for children and young people.


Posted by: janesandell | July 25, 2017

Elizabeth Wein

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is drawing near and I am, once again, looking forward to introducing and chairing events. One of these is with Elizabeth Wein who has generously agreed to be in conversation with me.  We’re going to be considering her novel The Pearl Thief set in Perthshire in the summer of 1938.  It’s a very good book full of rounded jump-off-the-page characters living, moving and having their being in a landscape with which I am fairly familiar.

The heroine is Lady Julia Beaufort-Stuart, only daughter of the Earl of Craigie and grand-daughter of the late Earl of Strathfearn. But think again if you’re expecting a story of the aristocracy at play.  Elizabeth’s event at Edinburgh is entitled A Very Scottish Mystery and that’s exactly what The Pearl Thief is.  Actually it’s a mystery spawning other mysteries and delving deep into the Scottish landscape.

The Strathfearn estate has been sold to a school and Julie, her grandmother, mother and assorted brothers are clearing and packing generations of family history while the local librarian and a visiting academic are cataloguing precious documents and artefacts. Then the academic disappears, Julie is attacked, some water pearls vanish and everything is blamed on the McEwens, a Travelling family well-known to Julie’s mother.

Julie plays many parts as the multiple mysteries are solved and she tries to discover who she is and navigate her way into adulthood. Like anyone else her journey is full of twists and turns, shocks, surprises and confusion.  She is an engaging, complex, human heroine full of passion for life and I was left wanting to know how her life developed.

Those of you who know Elizabeth’s books will be aware that we do know more of Julie’s story. The Pearl Thief, whilst being an absolutely complete book in its own right, is a prequel to the massively successful Code Name Verity.  Incredibly I failed to read it when it was published so I turned to it immediately after finishing The Pearl Thief.  And I couldn’t bear it.  I read it in the space of about eight hours, always thinking I’d have to stop but unable to put it down.  I knew enough about the book to know that it wouldn’t, couldn’t end well but, nonetheless, I kept hoping against hope.  However it all ended in tears – mine!

I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t yet read these novels. Because you must read them.  The dilemma now, though, is whether to read them chronologically by publishing date or internal dating.  And I don’t have an answer to that.  Whatever you choose your heart will break but Julie Beaufort-Stuart will stay with you.


There is a very cute monster in this brand new picture book by Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott from Puffin. And it turns out he’s difficult to dislodge. You can shake the book, tickle his feet, tilt him to the left and to the right and even spin the book round and round and the little monster is still there.  Only one thing seems to work but that has unfortunate repercussions…  Simple, amusing and interactive There’s a Monster in Your Book features bold and dynamic illustrations of a very engaging star.

Posted by: janesandell | July 13, 2017

One Book, Many Editions

I recently received a copy of Anne of Green Gables from Alma Books.  As anyone who has known me for more than a few moments will know, I am great admirer of LM Montgomery’s books.  I’ve written about them at length here and drive my colleagues to distraction singing her praises.  So, obviously, this is not the first copy of Anne of Green Gables I’ve ever seen or owned.  Since the copyright on the work expired it seems like every publisher has issued its own edition.  Naturally the text remains the same so they’re all looking for a way to make their own stand out whether by commissioning an introduction from a well-known author, adding notes, including extra material or inserting illustrations.  And then there’s the front cover…

Alma Books has included helpful notes on the text, a short biography of Lucy Maud, a brief history of the novel and its main characters. It also offers a quick overview of some other well-known orphans in children’s literature.  There are chapter heading illustrations by Susan Hellard which I rather like as well as a front cover that I don’t (although she does get Anne’s hair right unlike a remarkable number of illustrators).

I’m really pleased to have this copy and will add it to my already large collection. At first glance it seemed a pretty unremarkable addition but then I read the blurb, something I had neglected to do as I sort of know the story!  Pretty much everything it says is true but it has a very modern feel to it, clearly designed to appeal to today’s readers.  I’m not knocking this – far from it – but it did occur to me to wonder how blurbs have changed over time.  Needless to say, I will be looking in to this and will report back!

Posted by: janesandell | June 27, 2017

The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper

“Come now or come never!” it says on the back of the invitation to the Gee Museum. The invitation lands on Ben’s doorstep along with the milk and, although the envelope is blank, Ben is confident it’s meant for him.  He wants to visit but his Mum is strangely reluctant to let him.

The bees who went to great lengths to deliver the invitation wonder what is delaying him and one highly-strung shrew is stretched to snapping point when Ben finally stumbles in. By this time Ben knows two things: he has been here before and at least one person hopes that there will soon be no museum left to visit.  Has he left it too late?

The utterly frustrating truth is I can’t tell you! Sabina at David Fickling Books has tantalised me by sending the opening few chapters.  I’m completely hooked now and the book isn’t being published until November.  This seems like cruel and unnecessary treatment!

So look out (but don’t hold your breath!) for The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper.  Yes, that Helen Cooper, double Kate Greenaway Medallist for Pumpkin Soup and The baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed.  This is her first novel but fortunately for us she has also provided illustrations for it.  If the rest of it lives up to what I’ve read it will quickly become a critical and popular success.  And maybe even a Carnegie Medal winner…

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