Posted by: janesandell | July 15, 2018

A Secret Diary of the First World War by Gill Arbuthnott

These past five years or so have been excellent for me.  Over the years I have collected up as much fiction as I could set during and around the First World War.  It’s a period of history that has long fascinated me and I have been interested to see how novelists deal with it.  As we have marked the War’s centenary publishers have fallen over themselves issuing and re-issuing books that tie in.  Some are good, some not.  But I have added many titles to my collection.

One of the things I have particularly enjoyed is reading books that give a Scottish perspective and I was fortunate enough to receive one such last week from Floris Books.  A Secret Diary of the First World War is inspired by an actual account of a teenager who fought on the Western Front.  Gill Arbuthnott has used his story to make the Great War more accessible to younger readers.  James Marchbank really existed and, as a fourteen year old Territorial, was legitimately called up at the beginning of the War and sent to France (although regulations changed soon after meaning that men had to be 18 to serve abroad).  He kept a diary and Gill has used it as the basis for her book which also includes blocks of explanation to help modern readers.  The book is illustrated by Darren Gate in a very engaging style.

I’m very glad to have this book and I’ll certainly add it to my collection.  The only problem I have with it is knowing where to shelve it.  It seems to me that it’s more fact than fiction but it reads as a story.  I guess it’s not a huge problem.  I could just buy another copy!  But wherever libraries and bookshops decide to shelve it, I hope that they draw it to the attention of young people as this is a book that deserves to be read.

Posted by: janesandell | July 2, 2018

The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

New Zealand publishing house Gecko Press doesn’t publish all that many novels so it makes sense to pay attention when it does.  Just out is The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter and I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy.

The Santander family is in dire straits when they decide to enter the Great Mapmakers’ Race to find a way through some uncharted country.  With their explorer and route-finder father missing on his latest expedition that task falls to Ma, mapmaker extraordinaire, and the children: Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey.  When Ma is stranded en route to the start line all seems lost.

Lack of money and lack of confidence vie with each other but finally the children decide to enter the race alone. A lucky meeting with a young local adds practical skills to their more creative ones and they set off optimistically enough.  The task is twofold: to win the race and to produce the best map of the best route for road and rail.  Naturally all does not go smoothly as the inexperienced team attempts to cope with the terrain, the bad behaviour of some of the other teams and the responsibility that has been thrust onto their untried shoulders.

Eirlys Hunter has created well-rounded characters who snap and snarl at each other one minute while encouraging and supporting the next.  All have flaws as well as virtues that make them come alive convincingly.  Interestingly there is no setting in either time or place explicitly given, something that would usually bother me.  However, the author paints wonderful word pictures of the countryside being mapped.

And she is aided in this by the wonderful maps and illustrations of Kirsten Slade.  I love a map beyond most things and I think I would buy this book purely for its cartography!  I  was audibly excited when I realised that the whole route was being mapped out before my eyes.  Not only that but Kirsten Slade beautifully captures moments of exhilaration, the quirks of some of the teams and the togetherness of Beckett and the Santanders.

I galloped through this book, finding it difficult to leave and I am hopeful of a sequel.  There is, it seems to me, unfinished business.  I’d whole-heartedly recommend this book to children who like a good adventure and compelling storytelling.

Posted by: janesandell | June 1, 2018

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star


As if Ruby doesn’t have enough to contend with, one day Mister P hot air balloons into it. So now on top of looking after her Mum and baby brother Ruby has a polar bear to take care of.  Sometimes that’s okay but sometimes it’s just too much and then Ruby gets angry, really angry.

Written by Maria Farrer and illustrated by Daniel Rieley, Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star is funny, gentle and thought-provoking as it considers the realities of life as a young carer. But its author never lets the issues get in the way of a good story.  The moral of this story is that plot and characterisation are more important than making a point.

Posted by: janesandell | May 23, 2018

Two From Sterling


Two new books from Sterling Books have made me smile recently. They both make the point that life can be better with friends but along the way they tell entertaining stories.

First for me was Selfie Sebastian by Sarah Glenn Marsh and Florence Weiser.  The eponymous hero is a good-looking young fox on a quest for the perfect selfie.  His clothes are fantastic, the backdrops are spectacular and his experiences are second-to-none but still something seems to be missing.


And then this week I read But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor.  It’s told in the first person by a little boy who receives an unexpected visit from a bear.  But bears don’t live in houses so the boy tells him to go home.  The bear, however, is persistent until finally the boy shouts at him and he doesn’t come back.  Strangely the boy misses the bear (and that is unbearable!) so he decides to go looking for him.

Both of these books are slightly absurd, gently funny and warmly endearing. Simply told with no unnecessary words, they are accompanied by splendid illustrations that describe and extend the story.  I’d happily give both of them to small children of my acquaintance and I’m also delighted to give them houseroom in my own collection!


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.


Older Posts »