Friday, 31 August 2012

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Grandad Africa's Review

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Guest Review by Grandad Africa

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a good adventure story for children. The story is about a rich aristocratic family whose children found themselves (by devious means) in a workhouse. The story was about how they could regain their original lifestyle. This involved overcoming hurdles that included unsavoury and criminal minds and the constant fear about marauding wolves.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was first published in 1962. It has a nineteenth century setting and the author was able to bring some sociological factors about the different social and economic diversity that existed at that time into the story. It reads like a Dickensian novel diluted to suit young child readers. For example, it is cut back in size, detail and terminology compared to Dickens. Some of the vocabulary included words that a child might not know but there is a glossary at the back to help readers. After the early first few pages the read becomes quite child friendly. 

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase seems to be a pick and mix from different literary styles that the author has pasted together in one adventure story suitable for children. The storyline and events in the story are made up and fairly incredulous.  For me, it lacked credibility but I think children would read it at face value. For example, they might think that England really was covered in wolves in the 1800s and that the channel tunnel was already built (there is a note at the beginning which says the novel is set in a period of history that never happened but I think children may be confused by this).

The back section in this edition is most useful and may be essential to bring clarity and accuracy to the story. It covers a brief description of the main characters, there’s a quiz, it tells you about the author and it tells you what it really was like to travel around Britain in the 1830s: so gives a true perspective on the history of that time.

Publication details:
Vintage, August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publishers

Book Giveaway!!!

UK residents can win a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (or another title from the Vintage Children's Classis range) here

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Battle of John Dickinson

Usually, we like to think that we sat down for a chat with an author. But this time, we went to war. In his novel, Muddle and Win: The Battle of Sally Jones, author John Dickinson creates a Lifetime Deeds Counter (LDC). It counts things you do as Good or Bad deeds.  We asked John to answer a few questions and be judged by his own criteria. It was up to him to persuade us if he thought there could be an inbetween. This is how it went.....

You cook muffins?

John Dickinson: 
I cook muffins.  I’ve long had the muffin habit, but I didn’t actually start making them until I was writing Muddle and Win.  So it was research, sort of.  I was shocked to discover how much butter and sugar goes into those things.  Now it’s some time since I wrote The End on Muddle, and I’m still making them. A couple of months ago Son and Daughter and I all had exams coming up, and we mainlined on muffins while doing our revision.  Bad in all sorts of ways.  We’ll see on Results Day if our ends justified the means. 

You ever played hockey?

John Dickinson: 
I went to the sort of school where you played full contact Rugby in all sorts of weather.  So I imagined it as Rugby with clubs.  I’ve also been a touchline Dad while watching my children play it.  The sort of things Windleberry is shouting in that scene get shouted by every Dad on every touchline in the world, regardless of the sport. 

Good John Dickinson

You sing?

John Dickinson: 
Ahem.  I am a struggling tenor in a little local choir.  One of the good things about being a tenor, or a man of any description in that sort of choir, is that you practically have to commit murder before they ask you to leave.  One of the less good things is that when the conductor accuses us of a “Stockhausen moment” and looks at the tenors, it’s definitely me he’s looking at. 

You’re a house-husband?

John Dickinson: 
This is true.  Although I sometimes think I only keep the job because the family couldn’t find anyone else to fill it at this wage L 

You worked at MOD?

John Dickinson: 
Guilty as charged.  I plead the statute of limitations. 

You have a cat?

John Dickinson: 
Sadly, no longer.  We adopted our two – or maybe they adopted us, because it didn’t feel like it was really our decision at the time – at a cat’s home near Exeter.  They were the ordinary, short-haired black/black-white domestic sort with the personality-surfeit that comes as standard with cats.  They lived with us for seven years and then we lost them both to some mysterious illness that the vets couldn’t help with.   Very miserable, especially those final journeys to the clinic.  I have a feeling that in some future story Sally may find herself doing the same.  

Other John Dickinson

You read comics?

John Dickinson: 
As a child I read boys’ comics, and girls’comics too. I liked both, although as I remember the boys were about adventures and war heroes and time travel, and the girls were about classroom snobs and the occasional period drama.  Now I’m working three days a week at the offices of The Phoenix, a new story-telling comic aimed at both girls and boys (and everybody who likes comics).  I even write the occasional story in it. 

Your last chance...this one's up to you:

John Dickinson: 
I’m an accountant.  And if that surprises you – what other kind of creature could have invented the LDC?


In order to help us calculate his LDC, sweet innocents that we are, we did as John suggested. We punched in a six figure number on the calculator, and kept on pressing 'til our fingers dropped off. Now we have bloody muffins!

How would you calculate John's score?

You can read M's review of Muddle and Win: The Battle of Sally Jones here. It is published by David Fickling Books on 30 August 2012.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

M's review - Maggot Moon

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Compared to a lot of the recent teen dystopian that is out there, Maggot Moon is an invigorating read in much the same way as fizzing colas on your tongue. Maggot Moon is a what if story. What if things had happened differently? Sally Gardner poses this question by setting the story in an alternate past. At the beginning of the story, Standish Treadwell asks himself this question. What if?

Standish Treadwell is an imperfect fifteen year old. He has two differently coloured eyes and cannot read, write or spell. He has dyslexia and lives in Zone 7 with his Gramps. This is not a good zone to live in and you have to do everything you can to ensure you don’t become maggot meat for the Motherland, an oppressively brutal and stratified regime. This is difficult when you stand out as different, the way that Standish stands out. 

The novel takes place on 19th July 1956. More than anything, Standish wants to get on a rocket to the planet Juniper which he has discovered. What if he did? But the Motherland is much more interested in launching the first rocket to the moon- and nothing is going to stop them. But what if something did?

Other important parts in this what if story are a wall, a red football, Hector and Gramps.

Maggot Moon is stark both in its story and in Standish’s narrative. There’s no messing about with softening blows but there is a lot of messing with words and realities. There is also love. Not romantic love or lust. Just real plain love, loyalty and sacrifice.

Sally Gardner plays wonderfully with words, associations and meanings. I think she might have had a lot of fun with this novel and she (or was it the publishers?) describe it as a "bookful of Sallyisms". Don’t get me wrong. Maggot Moon is not a funny novel by any stretch of the imagination. And it might stretch your imagination. If you let it.

Maggot Moon. It really will mean something to you by the time you finish the book. And it won’t take you long because Maggot Moon is a fast read. It’s a real pageturner with perhaps the shortest chapters I’ve ever seen. This makes it difficult to put down (and it might make it difficult to quickly pick up from where you left off if you do put it down). 

If you liked Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, you should try this. If you liked Lois Lowry’s The Giver, you should try this. If you liked SD Crockett’s After the Snow, you should try this. If you like a good story that makes you think, you should try this.

This story DOES NOT contain girls. What if it did? Would it have been a different story…..?

This story DOES contain swearing and violence. It may upset some younger readers.

Publication details:
Hot Key Books, 30 August 2012, London, hardback, pp.288

This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

M's review - Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

I’m kicking myself (metaphorically of course) for not having bought a copy of Swallows and Amazons for Little M a few years ago. I should probably have read it myself when I was about nine. Basically, it’s a story that would be a dream-come-true for most kids (and quite a few adults too): take a boat on a big lake, sail over to a little island and camp there all week. Without any grown-ups.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Based on the environs of Coniston and Windermere lakes in England’s Lake District, four children are on their summer holiday and get permission from thier parents to take their sailing boat, Swallow, out and camp on a little island for their last week. The story goes into a lot of detail about the ins-and-outs of undertaking this expedition, particularly from a child’s point of view. For anyone interested in sailing or planning their own little outdoor expedition, I reckon this book might give you a fair few pointers.

And then some adventures and wars begin between them, some Amazon pirates, and another pirate with a real parrot. There is also treasure (for fans of Treasure Island or The Famous Five).

Titty was the most endearing character for me. She really, really yearns to be Robinson Crusoe.  She is also the character that we learn most about. That might have a little something to do with the fact that Titty was based on someone for whom Arthur Ransome wrote the book (as the Backstory in this edition informs us).

While Swallows and Amazons was originally published in 1930, it still has relevance for today's readers. The best thing for me about it (apart from the story) is that it inspires you to make your own seriously good fun. You don’t have to have your own boat or an island that you can camp on. What the Swallows and Amazons (and some of the adults) showed was that they could make their own fun by adding their own layer of make-believe to their holiday activities. So John becomes Captain John, Susan becomes Mate Susan, Titty is Able Seaman and Roger is Ship’s Boy. All the adults in the story become Natives. The non-alcoholic drink of ginger beer and lemonade becomes potent pirates’ grog!

This is a very chunky book and its size took me by surprise (I’m sure most copies of Swallows and Amazons that I’ve seen have been much slimmer but that might also be why I’ve never bought it because that meant the text was tiny). The text size in this new edition is very friendly so the book isn’t as long as it looks. I think Swallows and Amazons would be especially wonderful to read aloud with a younger child.

I didn’t read this book quickly but some readers might well do that. Instead, little bits of the story kept making me want to go and make a tent, or get on a boat, or make a map or chart, or travel to another part of the world and collect stickers on my case. Or make some grog.

And I really wanted to be a Swallow or an Amazon.  Really, really. So I saved the last few pages to join in properly. I finished the book on our very last day of our summer holiday in the Lake District. That way, I didn’t feel so left out. I’d tell you I had a pirate’s flag too (but that would be a lie).

Publication details:
Vintage, August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publishers

You can win a copy of Swallows and Amazons (or any of the other titles in the new Vintage Children's Classics range) over here.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Little M's Review - Girl, Missing

Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie

Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie
Girl, Missing is about a fourteen year old girl called Lauren.  She is an adopted daughter who wants to know more about her past. She looks in some diaries that belong to her ‘mum’ and finds something to do with her past in America. And after reading the diaries, she cannot stop thinking about her ‘real’ family. So she wants to go to America (with her friend Jam) to find her adoption place because she’s been looking for ages because of her school project.  And she goes on the internet and finds this missing children website and…….

I enjoyed it an awful lot.  It showed how much some children who are adopted want to know who their biological family is. I enjoyed this book because the story went somewhere halfway across the world and she’s only fourteen. It doesn’t seem possible that a fourteen year old can do that. I felt proud of Lauren. How could she persuade her mum into taking them to America? I’d never be able to do that (I wish!). I cried in some emotional parts of the book.

My favourite character was Madison because she accepts someone as how she is. I can’t say more because it will give away too much.

I would recommend this book to people who are new to teen books because it is not too teeny (kissing and things – there’s a bit but not so you’d go eulghh). This book is almost like an investigation, a mystery (there is kidnapping but hardly any violence). I think this is suitable for Year 7 onwards.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series – Sister, Missing.

Publication details:
Simon and Schuster, 2006, London,  paperback

Copy: my own

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Group review - Emil and the Detectives

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
Emil and the Detectives was read as part of our world of stories summer. The book started off with Little M. Then it was put on a boat and train with Daddy Cool (he opted not for Berlin – anyone who reads Emil will understand!), and then Grandad Africa jumped on a few planes to pick it up too.

Emil’s popularity among these three may have to do with the story but it might also have something to do with the numbers of pages. At 153 pages, it’s a slim and inviting read that can be read quickly by some and easily carried to all sorts of places by those who choose to take a little longer.

But writing a group review is difficult! Writing a group review across three generations in a noisy family is near impossible – my goodness!  This ‘review’ is probably more an experiment in reading group discussion than in a book review. Outcome: extended discussion…….on all sorts of things!!! Talk about fiction expanding your minds….

Now to Emil….sort of.

Emil and the Detectives was first published in 1959 in German. It is about a boy named Emil and a group of boys who help him get back his seven pounds which has been stolen on the train to Berlin. Emil was travelling alone for the first time. Note, Emil is a boy who likes to help and please his single mother but he does get into mischief with his friends.

Grandad Africa felt that there was more involvement by adults in the story too and that Emil and the Detectives is also about behaviour and how children and adults should respond in certain circumstances. Grandad Africa wondered whether Emil is suitable in 2012 because of the behaviour of children in the novel. But Little M completely disagreed and questioned if you follow that logic then what about other fiction Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series then? This is fiction!

A very passionate discussion about the role of fiction, the behaviour of children then and now, the possible confusions resulting from a translation, characteristation, and the type of language that is used in the novel (whether it reflects that of street children or public school educated children) ensued. 

Some other thoughts about Emil and the Detectives:

Daddy Cool and Little M had a little debate about gender roles in the novel. Daddy Cool thought the roles were gender segregated. This didn’t stand out as something noteworthy for Little M.

All three readers were confused by the reference to sterling currency when the novel was/is set in Berlin. Does anyone know why this is???

Daddy Cool liked the ending and the old school language. Again, the language in the novel didn’t affect Little M’s reading of it. She also didn’t know what old school language meant anyway!

Daddy Cool thought Emil and the Detectives was a good, easy read and the second half is better than the first. Little M agreed. Daddy Cool said, “It was fun a book and it made me feel happy.”

Little M really liked the book because she “loved the adventure and the kids tracking someone down.” She really liked the extras at the end of the book and she did the quiz. The adults didn’t do the quiz.

Grandad Africa thought that it is a great read for young boys because of the escapades of the group of children but added a cautionary note about taking the law into your own hands. Little M is emphatic that girls like escapades and would like this one too!! Another debate ensued…..

PS. Nanny Bee is rushing to read Emil and the Detectives to find out what all the fuss is about!

PPS. M has only read the first few chapters so far but especially likes the way that the author, Erich Kastner, speaks directly to the readers to explain things in the novel that they might not know. Like why seven pounds is so important to Emil and his mother. Or what you might expect in a third class train carriage. There are illustrations with detailed captions too – these are great; a bit like you’re being given clues that nobody else in the novel knows about.

Publication details:
Vintage, August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received from the publishers for review.

To win a copy of Emil and the Detectives or any of the other titles in the new Vintage Children's Classics series, enter here.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

What's going on? #6

What's going on - the place where we spill the beans on any exciting booky things we've been doing, any booky news that we want to shout about, a round-up of competitions that we think look great, and a heads-up on books that we're going to read.

Summer Competitions & Giveaways
(note that these might just be UK only)

Little M didn't want us to mention this one because she wants to win it, but Susie Day's Bluebell Jones' Summer Snap photography competition is groovy-retro-cool. As well as the main prize, you'll also win a signed copy of the extraordinary The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones (here's Little M's review). Closes 1 September 2012.

For 11-18 year olds: A drawing or painting competition to win the signed original painting by author Sarah Mussi for her new book Angel Dust. It's a wonderful prize. Closes 31 August 2012. Competition details here.

For the 12 year olds and younger, a writing competition run by Story Lab: The Summer Reading Challenge 2012: finish a story. There are six to choose from and they've all been started off by some big authors including Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson, Marcus Sedgwick and more. There are lots of books to win - and a laptop. Closes 1 September 2012.

We also have a fab giveaway on this blog running until the beginning of September where you can win a book of you choice from the new Vintage Children's Classics range.

Vintage also launched a new children's books website  - A World of Stories - which looks fantastic. And they have a drawing competition where you can win 30 books! And they'll come in a treasure chest. You have more time left for this one as it closes 15 November 2012.

Books for Review

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher from Hodder Children's. This was published a few years back and we can't wait to read it. Her forthcoming Obsidian Mirror (which we've had the privilege of reading already), is fabulous - a great children's Christmas buy.

A Sea of Stars by Kate Maryon from Harper Collins Children's; a story about two girls: Maya was an only child until Cat was adopted as her sister.

The Cloud Hunters by Alex Shearer from Hot Key Books. Forthcoming in November 2012. It's set in a world where there's no water and islands float in the sky. It's been described as a bit Charlie and Willy Wonka-ish. It's been inspired by the Maldives and has an eco-theme and old fashioned humour.

Kentucky Thriller by Lauren St John from Orion. This is the third book in the Laura Marlin mystery series, published just a couple of weeks back. In case you didn't know, Little M's the number one Lauren St John and Laura Marlin fan; so expect a review pretty soon!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Review - Raspberries on the Yangtze

Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace

Raspberries on the Yangtze
Raspberries on the Yangtze.  Sounds delicious and suggestive of something  out of place. Short-listed for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2002, the cover of this edition of Raspberries on the Yangtze really does look like raspberries, sugar and cream on a gentle summer’s day.  And the story reads the way it looks. 

Nancy is a young girl (pre-teen) who lives with her annoying brother and parents with seven dogs and some cats in a house with a “friendly wooden face” in the Canadian countryside. The Yangtze is the name she gives a fence that she finds during their outdoor adventurous play. She tells the story of a quandary into which she finds herself wading deeper and deeper.

It begins when she realises that things and people are not always what they seem and this challenges her knowledge of the facts of life and life as her community knows it. For some, this will all be solved by a bottle of fizzy coke.  For others, the consequences are life changing.

A quick, easy read for adults but a book whose ‘coming-of-age’ issues might hit a lingering nerve with many younger readers. Marked by Michael Morpurgo as Swallows and Amazons for the 21st century, this book certainly takes you beyond The Famous Five which “didn’t go in for boys and girls grabbing each other in cars” as Nancy puts it (p.86).  But there are also plenty of laugh out loud – and then laugh again – moments that are not all dependent on the children’s perspectives of daily and adult lives.  Especially watch out for the moments with Bogey and the fish, and cupboards. For the older reader, the book may hold a mildly poignant charm.

For those of you who didn’t know that cupboards were central to the facts of life (and that included me), you’d best get reading.

Publication details:
Simon & Schuster, 2002, London, paperback

This copy: our own (from Oxfam)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

M's Review - My Brother Simple

My Brother Simple by Marie-Aude Murail

The troublesome Mister Babbit on the cover of My Brother Simple

Think of the film Rainman and just make the characters years, years younger. Like seventeen and twenty-two. And put it into French. That’s almost My Brother Simple for you. Except of course, this is a new edition translated into English. The original French edition was published in 2004 and has won numerous awards across Europe.

My Brother Simple is a coming of age story from a boy’s perspective which is a refreshing difference for me. Kleber is seventeen, about to start at a sixth form college in Paris, desperate to get ‘to know’ girls, and he has a big heart. He’s totally committed to keeping his ‘I-di-ot’ brother Simple (real name Barnaby) out of institutions and this means having to find a flatshare that will accept them both.

Finding a flatshare is a bit difficult when twenty-two year old Simple insists on bringing out an army of Playmobil and revolvers, and threatens to brandish his ‘knife’ (something he keeps in his trousers and that girls don’t have). And that’s even before Mister Babbit makes an appearance – which is frequent (like always)! This obviously also provides plenty of comedy for the story.

There are some bits about this book that I’m not so sure I like. For example, I didn’t like the way the boys (or young men; Kleber is the youngest) thought about girls. They were a bit crude and a bit gross for me (I suppose that might be young lust for you but guys, you could be a bit nicer!). I’m not sure the novel challenges stereotypes as much as I thought it would.

But I also laughed reading this book. Actually, I smiled to myself and laughed quite a lot. It’s probably up there among the funniest books I’ve read.  And I kept on wanting to read on. It really is a very funny book. And, their grossness aside, some of the boys in it are actually lovely characters, like Kleber and Enzo.

I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it for older teen readers. The publishers recommend it for ages 14+ and they’re probably right if I think of the teens I know. I think many adults will enjoy this novel too.

Publication details:
Bloomsbury Childrens, London, 2 August 2012, 288pp., paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher

Thursday, 9 August 2012

M's Review - The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket is a delicious romp of a story suitable for the oldest of readers right down to reading out loud to the youngest of not-yet-readers. The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed it.

Barnaby Brocket is born into the most ordinary of families in Sydney, Australia (although they’re actually quite remarkable in their ordinariness). But the arrival of baby Barnaby gives them quite a shock because he just can’t keep his feet on the ground. Barnaby floats. 

Then a really, really terrible thing happens to him. It really is terrible but it also opens up a world of possibilities for him and he heads off into all sorts of wonderful adventures. Along the way, he meets a host of marvellous characters.

Readers of all ages and levels will grasp the not-so-hidden theme of how tough it is when people won’t accept you and allow you to be who you are – or who you want to be. But John Boyne’s simple and humorous narrative carries layers of light and dark in the depth of this message so that individual readers may follow a slightly different reading journey as the story progresses.

The story also says a lot about relationships between children and their parents, and particularly father-child relationships: Barnaby and Alastair, Alastair and his wannabe-actor dad, Palmira and Thiago, Joshua and Samuel. All of these characters have dads who’ve let them down or not let their children be ‘themselves’. Food for thought for some people, perhaps….. But there are also plenty of characters with big hearts and some who openly display their loving loyalty to Barnaby. I think my favourite characters have got to be Ethel and Marjorie, and Captain W. E. Johns!

This edition is enhanced with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers. I particularly adored the postcards.

While the terrible thing is really terrible and one way or another, I bet the ending will make you shed a small tear, this is also a very funny, very heartwarming and very enjoyable story. Barnaby Brocket, the dear boy, is an absolute delight.

Publication details:
Doubleday (Random House), 2 August 2012, London, hardback

This copy: received for review from the publisher


This review is part of our world of stories series for August which celebrates children's classics and reading across generations. To find out more about this series and to win a book, hop over to this competition post.

Another John Boyne novel, the acclaimed The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas has been included in the new Vintage Children's Classics series.

The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Another contemporary classic that has been included in the Vintage Children's Classics list for teen readers is Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time. It has a new cover (thank goodness!!!) and you can read our earlier review of it here (I didn't like the cover then but highly recommend the story).

The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Our review of it is here.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

M's Review - I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

(This is part of our World of Stories series for August)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Cassandra Mortmain is seventeen and lives with her slightly eccentric family in an old castle and its buildings. I Capture the Castle consists of three notebooks that Cassandra has written in coded speed writing (much better than a lock and key!). In her story, Cassandra attempts to capture the life of the very eccentric characters who inhabit the castle. She manages this very well – although it soon develops into a wonderfully honest story about the trouble with identifying first love and the highly complex processes of give and take that create and sustain social and intimate relationships.

This story tells of a time when marriage was still a key means of securing an income for families.  And the relatively isolated Mortmain family (who are extremely poor and have some unusual habits) are no exception to this. They despair of ever meeting any men – let alone rich suitors – for Cassandra and her older, beautiful sister Rose. But then some unexpected visitors turn up and everyone’s life is turned upside down and all around in ways none of them had ever imagined.

Cassandra – with the help of Dodie Smith of course – captures a very memorable and mainly endearing cast of characters. Among my favourites are Cassandra herself who is very funny and honest (at least, in her writing). There’s also Topaz, Cassandra’s stepmother, who communes with nature and may be spotted running around the countryside in nothing but her wellies (yes, Little M raised an eyebrow at the notion of this!). I have a soft spot too for the beautiful and maybe very daft Stephen. And of course, Heloise – she’s the one with a long snout on the cover!

I Capture the Castle is a delightful story (although there are some characters whose motives and ethics are very questionable – in my not so humble opinion!). It is full of cheeky moments and lots and lots of laughs. I can see why so many readers love it. Anyone who writes is also sure to love Cassandra and the creative plight of her experimental author father.

The Backstory pages in this Vintage edition provide a who’s who of the characters, two quizzes, prompts for further thinking, suggested themed activities and a bit of background about Dodie Smith and her writing.

What is particularly lovely about this edition though, is the cover. It absolutely captures the atmosphere of the novel: quirky characters looking off in their own directions, and a ramshackle castle full of nooks and crannies that add colour and texture to the story’s telling. The warm yellow glow gets it so right.

Appropriate for 12+ but it would probably be enjoyed much more by an older teen.  And adults? There are already plenty of those who continue to love this book. 

Publication details:
Vintage Children’s Classics, 2 August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher


Children's Classics Book Giveaway!!!


This review is part of our world of stories blog series for August.
To celebrate the launch of the VintageChildren's Classic, Vintage  is offering you the chance to win I Capture the Castle or a book of your choice from their launch list.
To enter, hop over and leave a comment on the competition post.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Little M's Review - The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day

This book is about a girl named Bluebell Jones who has just turned thirteen while on holiday in Penkerry, Wales. As she blows out the candle on her birthday cake she wishes that someone will guide her through her thirteenth year because she’s not sure how to be a normal, fashionable teenager.

A girl called Red appears in front of Bluebell’s eyes and says she is here to help her get through her thirteenth year. Red looks almost identical to Bluebell apart from having red hair, pierced ears and wears different clothes. Red claims she is from the future and is fourteen but Bluebell is the only person who can see or hear Red. Who is Red?

I enjoyed this book because it’s very, very, very different to all the other books I’ve ever read. Most of the events in this book I have never read about all in one story. For example, Bluebell asks for guidance and gets it from the future. This is unusual. This book is also about whether you can change the future. There are also bits of romance between girls and boys, and girls and girls.

I loved the storyline and it was a real mystery as you went along. At first you seem to guess what might happen but as the story goes along it changes and you don’t expect what’s going to happen.

Towards the end, this book becomes very sad but during the book there are some very funny moments too. I would really recommend this book because the storyline’s probably like nothing you’ve ever read before if you’re twelve. This book made me cry when I was reading it and when I was doing the review. This is now one of my favourite books.

Where’s a tissue?

PS. I haven’t given too much away with the review because it will spoil it and it is very hard to explain without spoiling it.

Publication details:
Marion Lloyd Books, 2 August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher


Susie Day has a cool photo competition over on her website.

Bluebell Jones' Summer Snap competition

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

We Sat Down in A World of Stories

We've been inspired by Vintage's Children's Classics range which launches on 2 August. With a little help from their launch list, we're creating our own world of stories this month. So welcome to our family summer holiday of reading children's classics and adventuring.

John Boyne said: "Books become classics when generation after generation can read them and experience the same emotional charge as their first readers." We're going to put this to the test by sharing a selection of titles from the new Vintage range across three generations of readers in our family.

Lucky readers, as well as M and Little M, you'll be meeting Daddy Cool, Nanny Bee and Grandad Africa for the first time! Each week, we’ll be posting reviews and discussions about our family reading adventure.

We're pretty spontaneous so things might change a bit, but here are some clues as to the titles and activities you can expect to see popping up on the blog throughout August: there's a visit to a certain war museum, we may take a continental train ride, put a boat on a lake and run naked in wellies (I bet we don't do that last one!). We might be chased by wolves, disappear down a hole or even read a book.

There's also a book giveaway for one lucky reader.  So read on!

Things we're loving about the new Vintage editions:
  • We're all reading some books we never thought we would read
  • Some of the covers are really eye-catching
  • The font size is much larger than our old classics (this does make some of the books thick - but they're not as long as they look)
  • The Backstory sections: these include lots of different extra bits like info on the author, quizzes (and answers) about the book, and themed activities
  • The book covers have a suggested age ranging from 8+ to 12+
  • The texts are original and unabridged.

The launch list includes 20 titles:
1. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
2. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
3. The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
4. Five Children and It - E Nesbit
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
6. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
7. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
8. The Railway Children - E Nesbit
9. Peter Pan - JM Barrie
10. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
11. Treasure Island - RL Stevenson
12. What Katy Did - Susan Coolidge
13. The Wind In the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
14. The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier
15. The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
16. Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kastner
17. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
18. Swallowdale - Arthur Ransome
19. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken
20. The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

Heigh-ho and off we go. We hope you’ll join us on the ride.

Children's Classics Book Giveaway!!!
(This competition is closed. The winner is Alice from booky group.)

To help you enjoy the ride, we’re holding a giveaway.  Vintage Children’s Classics are offering one lovely reader a choice of titles from their brand new Children’s Classics range.
All you have to do is leave a comment indicating your choice of title on this post by 12pm on 3rd September 2012. Please indicate how we can contact you if you win. 

The winner will be chosen at random and will be announced on Tuesday 4th September 2012.

This giveaway is UK only and is open to readers aged 13 or older.  If you are younger than 13, please get your parent’s permission or ask them to enter for you.

Here is a lovely animation showing you the range: