Review policy

Due to time pressures, I am unable to commit to reviewing books at the moment. However, please feel free to recommend or discuss by tweeting @MsTick68 or commenting on here. Thank you!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Seasonal reads 10- Yeti and the Bird by Nadia Shireen


Lonely Yeti lives in the forest. One winter's day, he finds a little bird lost on her migration south. He takes her home and looks after her, and the two friends have fun together, until it is time for her to leave. A sad Yeti lets her go, but discovers that his kindness to Bird has made the other forest animals less scared of him, so he has lots of new friends- and Bird comes back to visit now and then.

This lovely book has vibrant, colourful winterscapes, and would be a fantastic read on a cold winter's bed time. The language is adventurous- it's one to read to children rather than them reading for themselves, I think. I particularly liked "Every evening, the friends sang sad, sweet songs together, which soothed the forest to sleep." I have bought this for some small people in my life, and hope to make a Yeti finger puppet from felt, and a pom pom bird, with the four year old, like these.these.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Seasonal reads 9- Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Image: Walden Pond Boks

10 year old Hazel has just gone through some difficult changes in her life- her father has left her mother, she has had to move to a new school, where she doesn't fit in, and her mother needs her to take greater responsibility for herself.

As the snow falls, she and her best friend, Jack, talk about superheroes and supervillains, play fantasy games based on their reading, and make plans to go sledging. However, at the same time, a magical mirror gets broken, and in a playground accident, Jack gets a piece in his eye. The shard travels to his heart, making him cold and careless. He forgets about his plans with Hazel, and arranges to sledge with some boys who tease her in class. On arriving at the hill, he sledges by himself, in defiance of neighbourhood rules. On the hill, he meets a mysterious woman, who is in a sleigh pulled by wolves. She tucks him in her sleigh, kisses him on the forehead, and takes him into the woods.

Hazel is badly hurt by Jack's behaviour, but on hearing from one of the boys that he has gone into the woods with a strange woman, she resolves to go after him. On the journey she encounters wolves, a woodsman, a woman who wears the skin of a swan, and other characters from traditional tales. However, the imagination and knowledge of fantasy fiction that has earned Hazel mockery at school and got her into trouble for daydreaming allows her to navigate the difficult journey through the woods and face not only danger, but the knowledge that whether we want to or not, we must accept that change is inevitable.

This wonderful book was a joy to read; a bookish 9-12 year old will delight in encountering references to Hans Christian Anderson's fairy stories, Wolverine, Narnia, The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time and When I Meet You, amongst others. I'd have adored reading this to my class, and guiding them to the texts referenced in it. This would make an exciting blogging project with Year 5 or 6, I think. Unfortunately this book doesn't have a UK publisher, but it could be easily ordered from your local bookshop for not much more than buying it online.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Reading habits

Following Scott PackBig Green Bookshop and Maggie Bob's lead, I'm going to write briefly about how, when, why and where I read.
1. I read anything and everything. Literary fiction, crime (though not gory; see below), horror (as above), romantic fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, historical , cookery books, even though I don't cook much: everything.
2. Books with a lot of graphic violence/ sexual violence, particularly against women, I find very difficult to read. Particularly rape as character development: see a lot of urban paranormal. Ugh.
3. I read anywhere and everywhere, except on the loo (eww) and on buses (make me travel sick). I feel a bit anxious if I don't have at least one book on the go. 
4. I mostly read paperback books, bought from physical shops. It depresses me that so many high streets are just betting shops, charity shops, pound shops and "cash converters". I'm the same with music- I support record shops. Use them or lose them and live in clone-town.
5. I don't judge you if you read differently from me. Reading should be pleasurable, fun and enhance your life. It shouldn't be like eating this bowl of twigs and dust that I'm chewing because it's good for me. 
Now, what are your reading habits? 

Monday, 13 May 2013

In praise of Violet Baudelaire

This post is part of Playing By The Book's I'm looking for a book about... carnival. This month the theme is Inventors and Inventions.


Violet Baudelaire, the oldest of the Baudelaire siblings, is 14 in the first of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. She is the greatest inventor of her age, having won her first inventing competition at 5, having invented an automatic rolling pin. Throughout the series, whenever threatened with their evil guardian, Count Olaf, Violet ties her hair back to keep it out of her eyes and uses her skill as an inventor to rescue them. She ingeniously uses materials to hand to create her contraptions: for example, in  The Bad Beginning she uses picture wires and torn clothing to create a grappling hook to climb a tower and rescue baby Sunny.

If you haven't read A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you have a treat ahead. They are incredibly funny, with a deadpan style with very formal language, and sardonic authorial comment. I think it would be great fun to read them with children and create inventions with household objects.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Lewis chessmen


As a girl, one of my favourite things to do was to visit the British Museum. I loved the slightly creepy horror of the Egypt room (too many illicit viewings of horror films!) but my heart has always belonged to small things- Japanese netsuke, for example or the Lewis chessmen. Museums were far less interactive and child friendly in the 70s, but the Lewis chessmen were perfect- at child eye height, you could see things that adults couldn't- the pompous expression on the Bishop's face, the tired droop of the Knight; the Queen with her hand to her face. They're wonderful objects. I could almost feel their smooth weight in the palm of my hand.

So I was delighted when two books recently featured the chessmen. The wonderful Francesca Simon of Horrid Henry fame's Sleeping Army is the story of Freya, living in an alternate version of Britain, where Christianity is a minor cult, and Viking beliefs are the mainstream religion.


Freya is caught between her warring, divorced parents: her mother is a priestess of the Viking religion, and her father, who has lost his job, is a security guard at the British Museum. Owing to a mix up, one night he has to take Freya to the museum with him, where, bored, she blows Heimdall's horn, and brings the statues to life. A brother and sister, Alfi and Roskva, Snot the Berserker and Sleipnir the eight legged horse. Together they end up in Asgard, only to find it horribly altered: the gods are dying, and Freya must go on a journey to save them. If she fails, she will be turned into a chess piece herself. On the way they meet giants, Loki the trickster god and travels to the Underworld. Freya is a believable protagonist: hardly heroic at times, she is definitely not the outdoor type, but grows into her role as the leader of a quest. I really enjoyed this, and recommend it to children 8+.


All the Doctor wanted was a game of chess. But he arrives on an island at the top of Scotland just at the wrong time: a mysterious fire that burns on top of the water is coming closer to the island, and a ship full of Vikings is transporting a princess to an unwilling marriage with a very unattractive King, and an island people with no way of defending themselves from either. And to top it all, the salt water seems to be playing havoc with the TARDIS.

This is a great adventure. If you know Jenny Colgan's romance novels, you'll know that she's a very funny writer with a great talent for deft characterisation, and she captures the whimsical and capricious nature of the Eleventh Doctor, as well as his love affair with humanity. Here he is without Amy and Rory, and rather lonely- and in keeping with the television series, has an affinity with a child. The Princess and Viking subplot is great too, and balances nicely with the Doctor's lone state. Although this is not marketed for children, I think a confident Who fan of 11+ would love this book.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Review: Michelle Paver's Gods and Warriors

Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series is one of the best recent children's series, so I was very much looking forward to reading this one, based in bronze-age Greece, pre-classical period. And I wasn't disappointed. Her ability to conjure up the cold and dangers of ancient Scandinavia translates to Greece, with the dangers from sea, sun and volcanoes to her protagonists Hylas and Pirra.

Hylas is an Outsider in Lyconia- he and his sister Issi are blonde haired, and therefore heard goats in return for limited protection of the villagers. Then one day black armoured warriors known as Crows arrive, attacking the goatherds, killing one, and Issi vanishes. Hylas runs away, seeking help from the chieftain's son, Telemon. 

On his journey to find Issi, Hylas makes an unexpected friend in Pirra, a priestess's daughter, and together they must prevent the Crows from regaining a precious artefact, despite betrayal. A wonderfully exciting read for confident readers of 9+.

This post previously appeared on


Monday, 4 March 2013

Review: Emily Knight I Am by A. Bello


Thirteen year old Emily Knight is the daughter of a famous warrior, Thomas Knight, in an alternate version of Britain where warriors have magical powers and fight against the forces of the evil Neci. At the beginning of the book, Emily's rebellious older brother, Lox, is struggling with the pressure to live up to his famous father and ambivalent about Thomas's motivation in encouraging him to become a warrior too. Lox decides to run away, and is met by a mysterious figure.

With her mother dead, and Thomas off hunting for Lox, Emily is also rebelling, getting into trouble for shop lifting, while living with a foster family. Then her family decide to send her off to warrior school, where she can better learn to control her powers and channel them for the good. However, a mysterious figure is also hanging around the school. Who is the mysterious figure? Can Emily learn to control her powers? And can she stop herself from fighting mean girl Tanya?

This is a fun read for children 9+ from a very young author- A. Bello is only 24, and she wrote the original version of this book when she was only 12! If the book is reminiscent of Harry Potter- a magical school with teleporting teachers, a magical game that is a cross between tag wrestling and dodgeball with fire, an evil force wanting to destroy the school- then it is, but then Harry Potter is reminiscent of many other classic children's books. It's great to read a fantasy novel with multicultural characters, and I'm glad to see that A. Bello is writing a sequel. However, I did find some typographical errors and some inconsistencies, and I would hope that good editing would eliminate these in future editions. 

I am grateful to the author for sending me a review copy of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Review: Year of the Dog by Grace Lin


Pacy is a Taiwanese-American girl growing up in upstate New York. The book opens on the eve of Chinese New Year, the year of the Dog, and her family (older sister Lissy, younger sister Ki-Ki and her parents) are preparing. She learns that the year of the Dog is a year for friends and family, since dogs are faithful and loving, but also a year for self discovery. As Pacy's year progresses, she makes a new friend, discovers more talents and learns from her mum and extended family to value her heritage, but also to be herself.

Pacy is a lovely character, who is conflicted- she feels to Taiwanese to be American, but too American to be truly Taiwanese. There are some great chapters that explore this: for example, another girl's horror when Grace (as Pacy is known at school) wants to try out for the part of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: "You can't be Dorothy. Dorothy's not Chinese!" When her class is entered into an illustrated story writing contest, Pacy can't think of anything to write. She is encouraged to "write what she knows", but with no models of Chinese-American culture (Lin explains in an afterword that when she was growing up, Taiwan was not recognised by the USA) she can't find her story. This is a lesson for all of us involved in promoting children's literature to children: it is so important for children to be represented in the books that they read.

This is a great chapter book for readers 7+, especially, but not exclusively, for British Asian children. I think it would be a useful book to read with children to discuss any mixed heritage. I loved it.

Gong Hei Fat Choi to anyone celebrating Chinese/ Lunar New Year tomorrow!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review: North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

Disclosure: I am very grateful for to the publisher for sending me a copy of North of Nowhere. This review however is my honest opinion.


North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler is absolutely wonderful. The story of Mia, who is dragged away from her friends at February half term to the tiny seaside town of Porthaven when her grandad goes missing. Porthaven is a fishing village more than a holiday resort, although the council are trying to promote fishing trips, and her grandparents' pub doesn't even have internet access, let alone mobile reception, and Mia veers between anxiety about her grandad, sadness for her gran and boredom, until she makes two friends- Peter, who she meets on the beach, and Dee, a girl with whom she starts a sort of pen friendship when she accidentally finds her diary while rescuing Flake the dog from a boat. However, when Mia and Dee plan to meet, Dee doesn't show up. Later, she claims that she was prevented by bad weather- but the sea is calm...

This compelling and magical novel is hard to write about without spoilers, but I recommend it highly to readers of 9+, especially for fans of adventure stories with a fantastical twist. It's wonderful, and I'm passing it on to a 10 year old who I hope will love it.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I'm looking for a book about...

I am in the middle of a very busy time at work at the moment, so unfortunately no blog this week. However I'm contributing an old post to's roundup on books about the environment. Do check it out tomorrow!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Funny books

One of my favourite books is Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm. I have read my way through a copy- I look after my books, but a copy that I have had for 30 years fell apart two years ago, and I was delighted to receive a new copy for Christmas, since I loaned a copy to someone and not received it back. It is a delightfully funny book, poking fun at over-written "rural novels" such as those by Mary Webb, but you don't  need to have read the books to enjoy it; the grotesque characters and the heroine Flora Poste's deflating of the ridiculous situations are enjoyable on their own.

Somehow, in our society, we don't prize comedy enough. We don't take it seriously; yet any writer will tell you that writing successful comedy is one of the hardest things you can do. I get annoyed with lazy comedy for children, with authors who think that references to bums and poo are enough; I was extremely disappointed to hear an author I really admire say that the only thing he has to do to make teenagers laugh on school visits is to use a mild expletive. (I suspect that the students are actually laughing at what they see as a sad old man trying to be "cool".) Therefore, I have added "funny books" as a genre for my teaching students to explore in children's literature, and I have promoted the Roald Dahl Funny Prize to them.


For a long time I avoided Utterly Me, Clarice Bean as I am not a great fan of Charlie and Lola. I was urged to read it by Melanie Library Mice, and she was quite right. I adored it! Clarice is a wonderful creation, with her big, noisy family, problems with friends and school, and her bemusement at daily life. I can imagine children reading along and getting the enjoyment of seeing the pratfalls and getting the jokes that Clarice doesn't quite. 

The premise of the story is that Clarice and her best friend, Betty Moody, are great fans of books about a girl detective, Ruby Redfort, who is a secret agent as well as being an American school girl. (Wonderfully, Lauren Child had so many readers asking her where they could read more about Ruby that she has written a book about her!) Clarice's unsympathetic teacher Miss Wilberton thinks that the Ruby Redfort books are rubbish, and isn't impressed when Clarice and Betty decide to do their Open Day book project on them. But Betty is mysteriously absent from school, Clarice is told that she must be bad boy Karl Wrenbury's partner, and she can't explain what she has learnt from reading Ruby Redfort- and if she can't, she will be assigned a boring book by Miss Wilburton. Then the book project winner's cup goes missing, and Karl is blamed. Can Clarice put into practice the detective skills that she has learnt from reading Ruby? Where is Betty Moody? And will Miss Wilberton learn the value of reading for pleasure? A brilliant, fun read for 7+, with great graphics and illustrations as you would expect from Lauren Child.


Poor Clementine. Bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, things just seem to happen to her. She accidentally cuts off her best friend's hair, tries to draw it on again, and then to make Margaret feel better, she cuts off her own. She is sent to the principal's office almost every day because she just can't sit still. Can Clementine's creativity and ingenuity help her supervisor father solve the pigeon problem in their apartment bock? I adored Clementine, and recommend this book to readers of 7+. Adult readers who grew up on Beverly Cleary's Ramona will enjoy sharing Clementine's adventures with the children in their lives.


I must admit here that I was introduced to Kjartan Poskitt's Agatha Parrot and the Floating Head by my friend whose daughter was the "model" for Agatha's crazy hair! The first in a series by the Murderous Maths creator, the story again is told in the first person by Agatha, and involves Agatha's attempts to ensure that a promised school trip for perfect attendance goes ahead when her friend Martha has an unfortunate incident with an octopus paste pizza. Agatha decides to make a decoy Martha out of a balloon, a coat and some rolled up newspaper stuffed into trousers. The book is very funny, and the illustrations by David Tazzyman are as zany as you'd expect. A highly enjoyable book, again for 7+.

Finally, I can't list my favourite recent funny books without mentioning that absolute grimster, Mr Gum. The first in the series, You're A Bad Man, Mr Gum has had me hooting with laughter on public transport.


Mr Gum lives in a village called Lamonic Bibbler. He is an appallingly horrible man, with a beautiful garden that he must keep neat or the fairy who lives in his bath whacks him with a frying pan. A lovely dog called Jake, however, also likes Mr Gum's garden as a place to roll in the flower beds and leave "presents" on the lawn, so Mr Gum and his dreadful friend Billy William the Third the butcher, concoct a plan to kill Jake with poisoned meat. Luckily a little girl called Polly, with "a smile as happy as the Bank of England", and her friend Friday O'Leary are there to save him. This book involves brilliant word play, crazy imagery, David Tazzyman's illustrations, and Chapter 4, "Mr Gum has a cup of tea", reads: Mr Gum had a cup of tea. A wonderful read for 7+, and a fantastic book to read aloud- if you can manage it between laughing!

The pleasure to be had from reading books that really make you laugh of course cannot be understated. We want to do what gives us pleasure, so children will naturally read something that they enjoy. However, as Clarice Bean reminds us, "And it is amazing what you can learn from any books you enjoy, and you don't necessarily realise you are learning something because you are so busy enjoying it."