Posted by: janesandell | May 16, 2017

Steve Antony and the Queen

Her Majesty, the Queen returns in a red and green triumph by Steve Antony. It’s Christmas Eve and the Queen is still trying to decide what to buy for some of her great-grandchildren.  Although some of the most famous stores in the land are at her disposal she just doesn’t know what to get.  Fortunately Santa Claus is on hand to help and he whisks her off around the world to search for gifts.  Full of elves, reindeer and quirky details to spot The Queen’s Present is a welcome and worthy addition to this picture book series published by Hodder.  The other books are The Queen’s Handbag and The Queen’s Hat and they are just as much fun.

Posted by: janesandell | May 16, 2017

Some New Looks at Old Ideas

I came quite late to picture books as a professional but now that I’m there I can’t get enough of the best of them.  Here are three that are standing out for me currently.

Many years ago I had a much-treasured copy of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  I love the beautiful underground world where the sisters danced in secret away from the confines of the palace, and the little hint of mystery.  This new version by Alison Jay and published by Templar is gorgeous.  Her crackle-glazed style with sumptuous colours and dynamic characters draws the reader in to the princesses’ private world.  I particularly like the forest and lake scenes which contrast so well with the lighted ballroom.  This is just as much a treasure as my well-loved and read older copy.

Princess Eliza is clever, busy, kind and lonely. She needs a friend but few people make it to her snow-bound kingdom.  One day she ventures out alone into the forest where, instead of the bears she’d expected to meet, she finds a reindeer who carries her off to meet his friends.  Told in verse, this is a joyful story with sly allusions to other fairy tales, and the illustrations bring to life a Nordic winter.  In The Princess and the Christmas Rescue from Nosy Crow, Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton have created a modern take on an age-old story of friendship.

Cinderella: an art deco fairy tale published by Pavilion is a retelling of the well-known story by Lynn Roberts-Maloney illustrated by David Roberts. The text gives the tale a gentler feel and makes the stepmother and stepsisters less horrific but still self-centred, demanding and dismissive of Cinderella.  The illustrations set the story very firmly in the 1930s and are full of art deco style from the hairstyles to the shoes and the pictures on the walls.  The attention to detail makes this a fabulous book to view and the tightly-written story is laced with an undercurrent of dry humour.


Posted by: janesandell | May 15, 2017

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Here’s another excellent book from another superb storyteller.

With no time to consult the books in the library, prepare a plan or collect provisions, Princess Anya is forced to start off on a dangerous, perhaps deadly, quest with only Ardent, one of the royal dogs, for company and support. As their journey progresses, the nature of the quest develops and grows until finally Anya accepts that only she can prevent a takeover by a group of wicked sorcerers. Frogkisser! is an exciting and entertaining modern twist on traditional fairytales by that master of storytelling Garth Nix.

Posted by: janesandell | May 15, 2017

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

Every so often a book slides across my desk and into my heart.  This, from Scholastic, was one such.  It’s funny and emotional and full of the power of words.

When the Jones family wins the Montgomery Book emporium in a raffle, it seems too good to be true. And, of course, it is!  What at first seemed like a thing of wonder turns out to be anything but.  However, with the help of a ferocious kitten and her own powers of observation, young Property saves the day. The Bookshop Girl  by Sylvia Bishop is a cleverly funny romp ideal for reading aloud or for confident readers to enjoy alone.

Posted by: janesandell | May 15, 2017

Until We Win by Linda Newbery

There are few things I look forward to more than a new novel by Linda Newbery or a novel set around the campaign for women’s suffrage so I was pretty excited to receive this.  However, I was beyond excited when I read the dedication!

Until We Win is Lizzy’s story, set in the run-up to the First World War but detailing a different conflict. The fight for the right to vote for women is at its height with the Suffragettes, led by the redoubtable Emmeline Pankhurst, prepared to do and risk anything to win.  By chance Lizzy meets Julia and Elsie and is drawn into the campaign.  Linda Newbery has a wonderful ability to get under the skin of her characters and she demonstrates that here.  This may be a short novel but it is engrossing and compelling.

Until We Win is a short novel.  It was commissioned by Barrington Stoke the superb Edinburgh publishing house that specialises in books for young people with reading difficulties.  They only commission the best contemporary authors to write for them and their production values are as high as you could wish.  I am always delighted when a book from them arrives on my desk.  You can find them online at


Posted by: janesandell | May 15, 2017

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

It’s no great secret that I hold Elizabeth Laird’s books in very high esteem.  She’s a talented writer, a superb storyteller and also a humanitarian.  In an environment where fantasy and dystopia vie for shelf space, Macmillan should also be congratulated for continuing to publish her books which are not easy reads although they are hugely rewarding.

In Welcome to Nowhere  Elizabeth tells Omar’s story.  Omar is a twelve-year-old from a fairly average Syrian family who hates school and has great dreams for the future.  As the novel unfolds so does the civil war and slowly, gradually life as Omar knows it begins to unravel. Elizabeth is unsurpassed in her ability to personalise stories of global catastrophe, causing her readers to empathise with, and therefore, understand the situations to a greater degree. Without ever going to extremes, she is both truthful and hopeful in her account of the struggles of Omar and his family.  Based on her own experiences working in Syrian refugee camps her novel is powerful, heart-breaking and compelling.  This is a book not to be missed.  And surely the Carnegie judges will finally award Liz the Medal she so richly deserves.


Posted by: janesandell | May 12, 2017

The Scotsman No More

Great sadness has come into my life.  I am no longer going to be reviewing for The Scotsman.  I am assured that this is no reflection on my writing but rather a financial decision.  I have decided to believe that!  So here I am back again with renewed purpose.  Look out for more posts about the many wonderful books I’m reading…

Posted by: janesandell | April 15, 2014

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

I have come to the conclusion that Meg Rosoff is a genius. I’ve been reading her books since How I Live Now which I really didn’t like. I thought it was flawed and convoluted and generally an unsatisfying read. I was part of the Carnegie Medal judging panel that controversially didn’t short leet it. Perhaps it was the controversy that made me carry on reading Meg’s books.

Because, in spite of everything and even with hindsight, I still don’t think that How I Live Now is a good book. But many other people did. So maybe I needed to find out what I was missing in her books. Now, I have read everything she has written since then as though I can’t help myself. I don’t watch out for her books, counting the days until a new one appears but somehow they impinge themselves upon my consciousness.

I have just finished reading Picture Me Gone and I could hardly put it down. As much as it’s a story at all, it’s the story of Mila and her father and their journey to find Gil’s oldest friend who has disappeared, leaving behind a wife, son and dog.

But, of course, it’s not really about the story; it’s about ideas just as all of Meg’s books are. And this time it’s about truth and how well one person can ever really know another. And it’s brilliant. Written in Meg’s distinctive low-key style, it wraps itself around you and doesn’t let you go until you reach the end.

Posted by: janesandell | April 15, 2014

Love, Lies & Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon

One of the many joys of reviewing books for The Scotsman is that I see lots of them before they are published. I’ve never quite got over the excitement of knowing that I’m reading a book that the general public hasn’t seen yet!

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of Love, Lies & Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon from Stripes Publishing. It’s not due to be published until May and, although it was on my reading shelf, I hadn’t quite got around to it. Then last week I had a gentle nudge from the publicist so I thought I’d take it home (my main reading shelf is at work and I only take a few books home at a time; they balance precariously on a reading pile) and read it over the weekend.

In fact, I read it on Friday evening and hardly stopped until I’d finished! The book looks like it’s a light and frothy summer read and the sun was shining in Lossiemouth last weekend so it felt like a good match. Actually, without wanting to give away too much of the plot, the book isn’t as light and fluffy as all that.

It’s the story of six teenagers who, for different reasons, end up joining the Bake Club at school. Lottie, the main character, is struggling after her Dad’s death. She tells the story in the first person so we see everything through her eyes. Mac is at Bake Club as his last chance. If he messes this up, he’s going to be kicked out of school. The other four teenagers are there from choice, or so it seems. In fact they all have secrets and no-one’s life is quite what it seems.

I loved this book. Yes, everything works out slightly too easily but this is a feel-good story, not an angst-ridden tome. I’ll be buying it for the Libraries Service and recommending it to my young teenage readers. Realistically, it’s the girls who’ll read it but there’s no reason at all for the boys not to enjoy it.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. In between each chapter is a recipe. They all sound delicious but the one that might get me to break out my rarely used baking bowl is the cinnamon rolls.

Posted by: janesandell | December 17, 2013

Judith Kerr

My introduction to Judith Kerr’s books was not through Mog or the Tiger Who Came to Tea but When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I remember that I was in Primary 6 when I read it and I think it came from the class library but it might have been a class reader. However I came to read it, I loved it. Clearly at that age I didn’t understand the horror lurking behind the story but I did grasp that life was difficult for Anna and her family.

This year Judith Kerr was 90 and, in honour of that HarperCollins reissued some of her most-loved books and published an illustrated autobiography. Here’s how I reviewed it in The Scotsman last weekend:

To celebrate Judith Kerr’s 90th birthday HarperCollins re-issued many of her much loved books this year. So Mog, Pink Rabbit and that Tiger who dropped in for tea are doubtless being enjoyed by many children for the first time. But older readers who already know and love Judith Kerr’s work will be delighted with Judith Kerr’s Creatures (HarperCollins £25). It is her autobiography, written in such a way that it can be enjoyed by older children, teenagers and adults. Throughout the book there are references to her love of art and included are many sketches, photographs and published illustrations. It is both a superb introduction to her life and work and a joy and treasure for those of us who have grown up loving her books.

If you get a book token for Christmas you could go further wrong than buy a copy of this beautiful book!

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