A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls

A-Chase-In-Time-213778-1-456x701Within just twenty pages of this book I found myself transported in time – to the age of about 9 or 10 when I encountered time travel and portals with Philippa Pearce’s now classic ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’.  There the clock in Tom’s Aunt’s hallway strikes 13 and takes Tom to the Victorian garden, whereas here it is the old mirror in Great Aunt Joanna’s hallway which transports Alex and Ruby Pilgrim back in time to 1912.

I love the way that author Sally Nicholls has made reference to the changes which the children observe – clothing, food, manners, even jobs – and believe that this is helpful to younger readers in appreciating the way that the same house can be so different in different eras.

The story itself is a great adventure, rattling along at a happy pace, with fire, theft and a car chase among the marvellous occurrences. The siblings are drawn in to the family life within the great house where they befriend youngsters their own age, and meet Atherton and Mary on the eve of their wedding. This young couple are used to the unexpected befalling them on their travels and are not panicked by meeting time travellers or near-disaster – their strength of character is admirable.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am truly excited The-Secret-in-Time-484179-1-456x701 that this is the start of a new Time-Seekers series, with a second book, ‘The Secret in Time’, is on its way in February 2019.

If this seems too long to wait (it does to me!), I recommend Karen McCombie’s time-shift novel The Girl Who Wasn’t There (Scholastic), Ian Fleming’s vintage car adventure ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (Macmillan) or Piers Torday’s ‘The Lost Magician’ (Quercus) where the portal takes children not to Narnia, but to a magical story world.

The Girl Who Wasn;t ThereChitty Chitty Lost Magician

A word about the illustration and page appearance of A Chase in Time – Brett Helquist’s cover illustration and his clocks and ships in a bottle on the pages are delightful!

A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Brett Helquist.                              Published by Nosy Crow, August 2018


The Snowman by Sir Michael Morpurgo

This is an absolutely charming and delightful book, drawing on Raymond Briggs’ wonderful illustrated, wordless story, The Snowman ⛄ which so many of us have read and watched multiple times over the years – indeed Christmas isn’t Christmas to me without hearing Walking In The Air and reading or watching the story!

2018 10 18 The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo, Puffin Books

Sir Michael Morpurgo has taken the original story as drawn by Briggs, added Christmas essences from the Channel 4 film and added Morpurgo magic!  The idea that a child might be lonely and both ostracized and bullied by classmates at school because he has a stammer is sadly all too real. The idea that a new friendship, from not just one but many snowmen who do not judge James by his speech fluency and thus help him overcome his stammer is not just magical, but clinically accurate.  The snowman’s friendship and kindness helps James to find his words, his fluency, his confidence.

What a joy that Morpurgo has chosen to include the aurora borealis and have the grandmother meet and adventure with the snowman, bringing in special Christmassy features from both nature and family.  Also wonderful is to see original Snowman drawings specially adapted for this book.

I also love it that Puffin have chosen to include features about Christmas traditions in different countries and the art of snowman-building.

All in all, this is a great book to share with children, whether at home or school in the run-up to Christmas, which will no doubt be enjoyed all year round, just like Raymond Briggs’ original.

Thank you, Sir Michael, for agreeing to the tough challenge of writing a novella based on this picture-story. You have not fallen short of your usual high standards!

The Snowman
By Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw published 18th October 2018 by Puffin Books
Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy for review.


Karen McCombie Guest Blog

The release of St Grizzle’s School for  Girls, St Grizzles 4Gremlins and Pesky Guests

Hi Karen.  Thank you so much for agreeing to appear on my blog and for the book-set giveaway (see below).
The fourth instalment of your St Grizzle’s series is released on 9thAugust.  You’ve written a few series – ‘Ally’s World’ and ‘You, Mr and Thing’ to name but two.  When you start, do you already have the vision for further episodes, or is it quite a struggle?

If I’m planning a series, as opposed to a one-off novel, I’ll always play around with outlines for three or more books, just because publishers will be too nervous to commit to a first book – however appealing it sounds – if they’re not sure the author has solid follow-ups in mind! With ‘Ally’s World’ – my yonks-ago first ever series – it was quite tricky, as initially, it was just commissioned as a three-book series, then stretched to a few more, and a few more and a few more… all the way to fourteen books in total (with four ‘specials’ running alongside it!). I had to be very aware of making the stretchhhhhedddd story arc work. But I do love the pace of a series, being able to follow and develop characters and their adventures! (“What’ll happen if I add a goat/alien/evil penguin?”) 

The illustrations by Becka Moor really work so well with your text.  Your books have been illustrated by a range of illustrators. Do you get to meet up with many of them as they work on your texts?

Authors are one step removed from illustrators, with the design department at the publisher acting as the intermediary and driving force. I can understand why there is this remove; they might worry that authors will be too hung up on specific looks and not allow illustrators to bring their own colour to the text, but it is so nice when you can have a relationship with someone who’s brought your book to life! With ‘Ally’s World’ I actually suggested the illustrator… Spike Gerrell used to do fantastic illustrations for ‘Just Seventeen’ magazine, which I worked on at the time. I didn’t know Spike in person, but once he began to work on the series, we chatted via e-mail, and I realised he lived just down the road from both me and Alexandra Palace in North London, where the series is set. We’ve been friends ever since! (Spike has gone on to illustrate books such as the ‘Football School’ series by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton and lots of Juno Dawson’s books.) I’ve also worked with amazing illustrators Lydia Monks (‘Indie Kidd’, Walker Books), Alex T. Smith (‘You, Me & Thing, Faber) and Cathy Brett (some of my Barrington Stoke inclusive reads) and am friends with them all, via the wonders of social media, as we live in different areas. It was lovely working with Becka for ‘St Grizzle’s’, as she was a fan of ‘Ally’s World’ back in the day!    

 You have a lovely humorous touch.  What humour did you love to read?
Humour with a bit of quirkiness and heart; that’s what I aim for when I write. And actually, you’ve really made me think with this question, Tanya, and off the top of my head, I realise that as a little kid, I loved Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang cartoon on TV, and adored the sweet silliness of Spike Milligan poems. I guess things like these are the underpinnings to my own writing style! 
You started writing for teen magazines.  What do you miss about magazine life and what to you enjoy most about being independent?

I miss the banter and laughs in an office situation, but I don’t miss the office politics! On the flip side, being a self-employed author is a really, really special, wonderful  job, but it does come with a certain amount of instability. It can sometimes be hard to write something funny and carefree if you’re not sure when you’re next getting paid! *Gulp*

Do you prefer writing series to stand-alone novels?

Flipping between series and novels, older and younger, serious and funny… the mix of books I’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned to write has been brilliant. I do love the change of pace, and it’s fun to reset my brain and point it in a different direction!

Catching Falling StarsI love your book ‘Catching Falling Stars’, which is a novel about children from your part of North London during World War II. Did you enjoy doing the research for this and find it a different writing process to some of your other books?

I absolutely ADORED doing the research – it was fascinating, and very hard to stop once I got going! It becomes like an addiction; “If I read just ONE more reference book, or check ONE more website…” But at some point you have to realise you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of research, and have to claw your way back to the top and start actuallywritingthe book itself!

What can we expect from you next?

I’m writing a new contemporary, funny book for Stripes, publisher of ‘St Grizzle’s School’, and I also have two linked historical books coming out in 2019 for Nosy Crow. Not forgetting ‘The Lost Diary of Sami Star’–a quick-read novel Barrington The Lost Diaries of Sami Star - Kare Barrington StokeStoke – which is coming soon, in September. And I have a bunch of school visits planned already for the new academic year, which is great. We authors LOVE an excuse to come blinking out of our writing caves and meet real, live people!   


Sorry, my GIVEAWAY of the full set of St Grizzles School books on Twitter has now CLOSED.



St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Gremlins and Pesky Guests out 9th August 2018

Illustrated by Becka Moor

Published by Stripes Publishing

Continue reading

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

2018 08 02 MG Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll, Faber 9780571328499

When it comes to entertaining historical fiction, Emma Carroll has done it again with this Egyptian adventure!  No wonder Waterstones have chosen Secrets of a Sun King as their Children’s Book of the Month Month for August.

2018 07 30 Sun King Display - Copy (2)
Sun King and Egyptology Display at Waterstones, Canterbury



Set in 1922, when Howard Carter was seeking to uncover the tomb of the Boy King, Tutankhamun, this is the story of Lil Kaye and her two friends who wish to break a curse following the discovery of a mysterious parcel.  With wonderful touches about the potential of young women – just as some women were gaining suffrage – and the value of friendship in both Egyptian times and the 1920s, this is a fun adventure with trains and boat journeys, camels and scorpions  thrown in.

I found myself developing a real soft spot for Oz, the boy Lil first meets, with his sister, at the British Museum.  His knowledge and enthusiasm to learn and share, with his tendency to withdraw from company and contact, made me think of youngsters on the autistic spectrum.   I like the way that the author has drawn these characteristics without referring to them as an issue.

I also really liked Pepe, an Egyptian lad who comes to the aid of the three youngsters and helps them to realise that historical artefacts deserve to be celebrated and protected for those in whose country they are – rather than given over to rich treasure hunters.

With twists and turns, family secrets and the questioning of authority, this Anglo-Egyptian adventure is bound to enthral 8 to 12 year-olds and clearly meets Emma Carroll’s usual high standards of story-telling.


Secrets of the Sun King

Written by Emma Carroll.  Published 2nd August 2018 by Faber and Faber

With a glorious cover by Julian De Narvaez.



The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge

I love books written with alternating chapters – some are the same story from two perspectives, some two time zones.  For this Middle Grade novel, Christopher Edge does a brilliant job of using alternating chapters to relate the parallel lives (or are they?) of Maisie Day.

2018 04 05 MG The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge, Nosy Crow

Maisie is an academically gifted girl, already studying for a science degree, who wakes on her 10th birthday eager for the party ahead of her.  The social awkwardness she has from not going through a regular school career means a family gathering is her choice, but her relationship with her door-slamming teenage sister, Lily, is decidedly strained.  So when Maisie looks out of the front door and finds all has gone black, the last person she would expect to help her is Lily. What unfolds over the course of these chapters is fascinating – by twist and turns we see Maisie’s understanding  of the univChristopher Edge Bookmarkerse challenged in amazing ways.

Having read, and happily shortlisted, The Jamie Drake Equation for the Haringey Children’s Book Award, and now read Maisie Day, I am now itching to grab The Many Worlds of Albie Bright from my school library’s shelf.  Christopher Edge has shown a canny ability to use science in his books without either over-whelming or boring a non-science-geek audience.  Indeed, his well -researched use of very modern scientific information has certainly left me with both a better understanding and a greater desire to know more.

I see the same applying to children over 8 who will no doubt love this book as will the many adults who are reading it this month as part of Twitter’s Primary School Book Club hosted by @MrEPrimary – https://twitter.com/PrimarySchoolBC

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

Written by Christopher Edge, Published by Nosy Crow, April 2018, £6.99 paperback

Many thanks to Clare at Nosy Crow, who sent this book for my school reading group and I to read and review.

The Company of Eight – Blog Tour

The Company of Eight BLOG TOUR BANNER

Today is my turn on the Stripes Blog Tour for Harriet Whitehorn’s new Middle Grade novel, The Company of Eight.

Who can resist a novel with a map in its frontispiece? And then to discover that there is a  close-up map for each chapter! Whether a new world created by Tolkien or Pullman, or more recently Abi Elphinstone or Kiran Millwood Hargrave, a map introduces you to a world created in the author’s imagination, a new setting within which their story can unfold.

Harriet Whitehorn has created the Longest World, a series of islands governed by Lord Bastien and with a royal family.  Each island or group of islands has its own history and population to which we are introduced and the seas are populated by a great many boats: from merchant ships to the Palace Ship and the Circus Boat in particular.

Cass, an orphan in the charge of kindly but dull Mrs Potts, is desperate to join the circus as an acrobat, but she misses her audition when the Circus Boat sets sail, as Mrs Potts has other uninteresting, ambitions for her.  Cass bravely decides she must take her destiny into her own hands.

Heading for the Isle of Women, where her mother had been brought up, Cass ventures through the seas to many of the islands meeting royalty and commoners, learning new skills and persuaded to do undertake regrettable deeds.

Will she ever get to join the circus?

Cass is a strong character, confronting her challenges and daring to try things many would not.  She is brave in the face of the brutality she encounters – be it slavery or piracy. And her bravery comes to the attention of a secretive group, The Company of Eight, who support her and train in many ways but also call on her to undertake daring deeds.

This is an adventure on the high seas – fun, bold and brave.  Some of the characters Cass meets are particularly special – Ms Whitehorn has carefully given enough character to some to particularly hold not just Cass’s interest, but ours as the reader.  I notice that other reviewers and bloggers have, like me, found a special place in their heart for brave young Lion and for Rip, Lord Bastien’s nephew. Cass’s initial meeting with Rip is entertaiming and his role in helping her during her journey on the Palace Ship leads her to look out for him when he needs help.

I can imagine many youngsters enthralled by this ripping adventure and imagining the ups and downs of Cass’s travels through the Longest World.

Special mention must also be given to Maria Surducan for a glorious gold-trimmed cover depicting acrobatics.

The Company of Eight by Harriet Whitehorn, published by Stripes, 3rd May 2018

Do You Speak Chocolate? By Cas Lester

 Jaz is in Year 7 and unhappily getting used to new friendship dynamics. When a new girl joins her class she sees a chance to make a new friend. Only problem is, Nadima doesn’t speak English. How will they find a way to communicate and how will Nadima’s inclusion affect the existing relationships in class?

This is a wonderful a story of friendship, communication , family support and overcoming challenges. Underpinning the writing style is gentle humour, chocolate metaphors and a wonderful understanding of pre-teen girls.

Jaz has the challenge of dyslexia which is sensitively portrayed, but it is Nadima who has faced the brutal challenges we come to understand and empathise with.

Even with books I find moving, I tend not to actually cry. But with the later chapters of this book I found myself welling up; tears fell as the full details of Nadima’s story unfolded and the friendships grew.

My only other book-induced tears this year were when reading Nikki Sheehan’s  Goodnight Boy, another emotive immigration story. (Rock The Boat Books, July 2017).

With a Beautiful cover illustration by Kate Forrester, depicting themes from the book on a chocolate brown background, Do You Speak Chocolate? gets a big thumbs up emoji from me.

Do You Speak Chocolate?

Written by Cas Lester.  Published by Piccadilly Press, August 2017