Tag Archives: British fiction

Delightful series for the younger set: Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn & Nick Price

I have admired the covers of this delightful series for a long time, but have only recently taken the time to sit down and read one. These stories are delightful – I finished the first and then read the second and third adventures straight after. These are really great little adventure stories, yes the characters have a great deal of “cute” factor but the stories are rich and interesting and children 6-7+ will be delighted. So far there are seven books in the series. Reading them in order is not absolutely necessary, but the first book does explain the characters and the setting particularly well. Now that I have read them I know I will be a lot more confident about recommending them to both girls and boys. There is a connection for any children who enjoy playing with toys based on miniature worlds, for example Sylvanian Families.

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Tumtum and Nutmeg Written by Emily Bearn and illustrated by Nick Price. Published by Egmont, 2008.

From the Tumtum and Nutmeg website: In the broom cupboard of a small dwelling called Rose Cottage, stands a house fit for a mouse – well, two mice actually. A house made of pebblestone, with gables on the windows and turrets peeking out of the roof. A house with a ballroom, a billiard room, a banqueting room, a butler’s room and a drawing room. The house belongs to Mr and Mrs Nutmouse, or Tumtum and Nutmeg as they affectionately call each other.

Tumtum and Nutmeg have a wonderful life but the children who live in Rose Cottage, Arthur and Lucy, are less fortunate. So, one day Tumtum and Nutmeg decide to cheer them up …Tumtum repairs the electric heater in the attic where the children sleep and Nutmeg darns the children’s clothes. Arthur and Lucy are delighted and think a Fairy is looking after them.

But then Aunt Ivy with her green eyelids and long, elasticy arms arrives. She hates mice and hatches a plan to get rid of them. Soon Tumtum and Nutmeg are no longer safe to venture out. When Aunt Ivy uncovers the location of Nutmouse Hall it’s a race against time for Tumtum and Nutmeg – can they thwart her evil plans in time?

The books in series order:

  • Tumtum and Nutmeg
  • The Great Escape
  • The Pirates’ Treasure
  • A Christmas Adventure
  • A Seaside Adventure
  • A Circus Adventure
  • Trouble at Rose Cottage

REVIEWS: (Source Tumtum and Nutmeg website)

“There’s a delightfully twitchy quality to Tumtum and Nutmeg which, despite their clothes and their domesticity, makes them seem genuinely mousey, and the small-scale world they inhabit is full of just the right tiny details.” – Guardian Review section

“Told simply, with charming detail, this old-fashioned and well published story …will delight children who are of an age to relish secret friends and a cosy world in miniature.”- Sunday Times

“Good new books for children 5 to 8 are rare, and this is one of them. Bearn’s style is as crisp and warm as a home baked biscuit.”- The Times

“Bearn is a fine writer and her tale of how the Nutmouses thwart the vile Ivy is a gently humourous page-turner, full of little details that will appeal to children who enjoy small world play but are too young for the Borrowers.” –Financial Times magazine

“Perfect bedtime reading” – Angels and Urchins

Recommended reading after these (some more suitable as “read alouds”):

  • The borrowers by Mary Norton
  • Books by E.B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Webb)
  • The sheep pig (Babe) by Dick King-Smith
  • Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
  • The wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • The miraculous journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • The rescuers by Margery Sharp

LINKS:

Series website: http://www.tumtumandnutmeg.co.uk/index.htm (lots of great material here including an interactive chapter sampler)

Galloping galoshes it’s ‘The Great Galloon’ by Tom Banks

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The great galloon by Tom Banks. Published by Hot Key Books, 2013. Paperback, 166 pages.

(ISBN: 9781471400889)

What on earth is a Galloon?…why it’s half galleon and half balloon! (source: Scholastic Bookclub News UK)

From the publisher:

The Great Galloon is an enormous airship , manned by Captain Meredith Anstruther and his able crew. They might seem like a bit of a motley bunch, but they’re great at fighting off pirates and polishing the decks whilst drinking lots of tea! But disaster is about to strike… Captain Anstruther is preparing to marry the beautiful Lady Isabella. But on his wedding day, his evil younger brother boards the ship and steals Isabella away onto his underwater Sumbaroon! Soon the plucky crew of the Great Galloon – including a reluctant countess-to-be – are battling BeheMoths, dodging scary Seagles and trying to save the Galloon from sinking. But will they ever find the Captain’s bride?

THE GREAT GALLOON is a humorous CAPTAIN PUGWASH meets MONTY PYTHON adventure perfect for reading aloud and for growing readers looking for a silly, funny book…

(from the back cover):

Can the crew of the Great Galloon survive this impending disaster? And how many riotous adventures will come their way in this fabulously funny action packed tale?

What did I like about this book?

I didn’t hesitate to order this because it’s published by Hot Key Books and as I have mentioned often on this blog, they are publishing some of the hottest kidlit fiction coming out of Britain, and kids just seem to love the books. Secondly it had a glowing pre publication review on lovedreading4kids – another website I trust. Thirdly, I have a bit of a penchant for anything steampunkish and something with a steampunk flavor and lots of humor grabbed my interest. Look at the handy ‘Key’ provided by Hot Key on the back of the cover!

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I love the writing in this, it is playful and a bit mad. The reader is thrust straight into the action, and in a rather alarming way, without much of an introduction.  Accomplished readers will eat this up, but in my opinion this isn’t one for struggling readers or kids with English as a second language – it might be a little bewildering. Not a fault with the book – it is just different so something for some readers to work towards. I wasn’t surprised to read that the author has a background in the theatre, it has a ‘panto’ like riotous romping quality. The publisher has suggested Captain Pugwash meets Monty Python, I would throw in a little of the opium fuelled fantasy from Alice’s adventures, and the seagulls from James and the Giant peach to round that description out. There is an absolute Mad Hatterish feel about the story – and to get the humor you have to take things literally rather than figuratively or is that figuratively rather than literally?..maybe both!

e.g. “Another game of Backgammon?” said Stanley “I’ll bat this time”. [I thought this and plenty of other lines like this…frightfully clever!]

I loved it – hope some of my Year5 +  (9-10+) students do too!

Take a look at the first chapter available via Hot Key here:

There is a sequel on the way too…The Great Galloon : Voyage to the Volcano (August 2013)

Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock

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Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock, Published by Nosy Crow, 2013.

Paperback, 272 pages. (ISBN13: 9780857631503) This will be available in New Zealand for purchase from April.

From the publisher:

A funny, moving and absorbing story about a young girl’s attempts to learn more about her dead father through the objects she finds in a cardboard box he’s left her.

Scarlett and her friend, Ellie, go on a sometimes hilarious, sometimes scary, journey of discovery, following the clues and always remembering to ‘keep looking up’. Was Scarlett’s dad a thief? Was he a spy? And what does it mean to be his daughter?

Fleur Hitchcock is a great new voice in children’s literature, and Dear Scarlett is a great book.

What do I think of this book?

I loved this book – it’s a heartfelt story, and will have you on the verge of tears one minute and laughing out loud the next. This book couldn’t have arrived at a better time for me. I seem to have a large number of student readers desperate for books that they perceive as being in the vein of Jacqueline Wilson. This fits the bill nicely – it’s a fabulous realistic story about coming of age and finding who you are, friendship and modern family life.

There are a lot of books and movies that follow the journey of a wife or child as they discover their husband or father does not live up to the sterling reputation he enjoyed before his demise. This story follows the opposite path. Scarlett’s Dad has been dead for many years and she never really knew him, she just has a few precious but fleeting memories of him. Worse still, everyone “knows” her father was a rather notorious thief. Mum is in a relationship with a new man who just happens to be one of the policemen that had professional dealings with her Dad. The “Step-Dad” comes with children of his own and Scarlett has to get used to sharing not only her room, but her Mum too, with a potential step-sister -“Ellie”. On the day of her eleventh birthday a man turns up on her doorstep and gives her a box of her father’s belongings.  The box and it’s contents are a mystery to her, she has no idea why the box has suddenly turned up now and whether or not her Dad was trying to tell her something. Why has he left her his housebreaking tools, strange bits of paper and other items that make no sense? Scarlett has to solve the mystery, figure out the message from her Dad and stop other people getting hold of the box.  While she does this she comes to realize her Dad was not the man she and the local community thought they knew – he was better. A long the way Scarlett not only learns about who she is, but works out how to get along with Ellie, trust her Mum’s boyfriend and also how she fits into a new blended family situation.

This will be a fantastic read for 9-10+ girls but there’s nothing to stop a few boys enjoying this story too! The story is beautifully paced, funny, sad, a little bit scary and not at all girly. Perfect realistic fiction to ladder girls from a steady diet of JW to other fiction!
Thank you Nosy Crow for publishing yet another hit!
Fleur’s earlier novel for a younger audience, ‘Shrunk’ published by Hot Key Books, is proving a real hit amongst my students, with one boy (normally a very reluctant reader) asking me longingly if there would be a series of it.

Video of Fleur Hitchcock reading from the book:

Read an excerpt of the first chapter HERE: (Courtesy of Nosy Crow Publishers)

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Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill

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Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill.

Paperback, 278 pages
Published 2013 by Random House Children’s Publishing

From the publisher:

Introducing Darcy Burdock, a new, cool, all-conquering girl character with a fresh and distinctive take on the world.

Ten-year-old Darcy is one of life’s noticers. Curious, smart-as-a-whip, funny and fiercely loyal, she sees the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around her.

Written and illustrated by Laura Dockrill: author, poet & performer – think Lady Gaga meets Mother Goose.

Book back cover:

My name is Darcy, I see the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around me. This is my first book. One day it will be read by people like you. In this book you will find out: How to calm an Angrosaurus Rex with some Maltesers; Running away with a reluctant pet lamb in tow leads to some sore kneebows; Baby brothers LOVE being dressed up as girls (they don’t, they prefer zombie snakes).

What did I think about this book?

The build up prior to publication of this book was huge.  Singer Adele gave this the big thumbs up by being quoted on the cover “The world is lucky to be invited into the colourful imagination of my favorite person! You’re going to have fun!”…and from Vogue:  “Everyone is falling for Laura Dockrill“.

One of my favourite and most trusted kid-lit book reviewers, had this to say…”Britain finally has an answer to Jeff Kinney and his Wimpy Kid! Many have tried, but few have come close in my opinion, but come next March the trials and tribulations of Greg Heffley will be consigned to bargain bins in book stores across the UK. There will only be one name on everyone’s lips, and that is Darcy Burdock...” Cor blimey – high praise indeed!

I am always on the look out for anything that remotely smacks of being similar to Diary of a wimpy kid by Jeff Kinney. Wimpy Kid is probably the most requested title/series in my library with students from Years 3-6 all clamouring for it on a daily basis. In order to keep kids reading, a librarian or teacher has to feed them with similar material to keep them enthused about reading. I absolutely had to buy this based on the recommendations above – and so I preordered this well before the publication date. It arrived, I read it and I suddenly wished it hadn’t been hyped quite so much. It set the bar so high and I just didn’t feel this book reached it. Darcy is a strong character and a good example of how it is great to be different and have your own voice, but I didn’t find this lived up to the claims of knocking Diary of a Wimpy Kid of it’s thoroughly deserved pedestal.

There will be kids that will like and probably love this book and so I will happily add it to my collection of Diary of a wimpy kid read-alikes. I am interested to see how popular this is with my students and if they think it is as fabulous as the pre publication reviews suggested.

Some of the books/series I do like to recommend for fans of Diary of a wimpy kid by Jeff Kinney:

  • Tom Gates by Liz Pichon
  • Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
  • I am not a loser by Barry Loser
  • The world of Norm by Jonathan Meres
  • The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell
  • Middle School is worse than meatloaf by Jennifer Holm
  • Timmy Failure : mistakes were made by Stephan Pastis
  • Diary of a cricket god by Shamini Flint
  • Ted goes wild by Michael Wagner
  • Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
  • My life as a book by Janet Tashian

Megawocka! Granny Samurai : the Monkey King and I – by John Chambers

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Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I  by John Chambers. Published by Walker Books, 2013. Paperback 2013. RRP NZ $17.95.

From the publisher:

Granny Samurai is small and dangerous to know. Her teeth are false and so is one of her legs. Her walking stick conceals a double-action repeater, of which there are only two in the world. She has other weapons too, which I am not at liberty to reveal. What I can reveal is contained within the pages of this book. My name is Samuel Johnson. This is our story.

Eccentric young wordsmith Samuel Johnson finds himself home alone while his diplomat uncle is off diverting a crisis in Azerbaijan. As Samuel sits penning his memoirs and wondering how to divert the crisis in his own life – namely the big, hairy brute that is Boris Hissocks – he spots the little old lady next door acting very strangely. Is she actually chopping wood with her bare hands? Then the Monkey King comes knocking, and suddenly Samuel’s whole world is turned on its head…

What do I think of this book!

It’s brilliant!

The story, the humor, the illustrations – what is not to like, in fact LOVE about this book?

This is a book that is difficult to categorise, it’s adventure and fantasy, with shades of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney), Mr Gum (Andy Stanton) and Ratburger (David Walliams)and episodes of the 1970s show “kung fu” (with Granny taking the place of the Kung fu master) rolled into one. I enjoyed reading this as an adult and could imagine so many of my students getting a giant kick out of this too. Kids 8-9+ will just have to read this and see what they think as I would struggle to talk about the twists and turns in the plot and give it the credit it deserves in a book talk without giving away all “the good bits”. Some kids may struggle with understanding some of the words, but for those kids this would make a great shared read or read aloud – although in my opinion it would be a shame to listen to the very funny and clever text without the opportunity to explore the illustrations, even though the story can stand without them.  Granny generally steals the show – she gives Samuel and the readers the sense that he (and they) just needs to listen, do what he is told and go along with things and all will be revealed…which it is, but occasionally Granny needs to explain a bit more and when she does elaborate, it results in some very funny dialogue.

I love the way it’s written (scribed!) by Samuel – it is written as a narrative journal and the chapters are short. Everything about this book gets a big tick from me: the cover – it will stand out on the shelf; the superb illustrations with an oriental flavour on nearly every page (there is a wealth of small details in these that will mean reluctant readers might pause ever-so-slightly, take a break from the text to explore them before leaping back into the text). Because this is so funny and so brilliantly done, I would encourage some of my reluctant readers to try this…some  might struggle with some of the words and will need help as for many of these boys the vocabulary won’t pass the ‘five finger rule’, but I would encourage them to try this anyway; lastly I adore the author’s obvious enthusiasm for language, vocabulary and writing. Very, very clever, original and loads of fun!

Author website: grannysamurai.com (it is under development… but go there and see a wonderful illustration from the author)

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Exciting dystopian fiction for reluctant readers “Gamer” by Chris Bradford

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Gamer by Chris Bradford. Published by Barrington Stoke Teen, 2012.

High interest fiction for struggling readers.

From the publisher:

Scott is selected as a games tester for Virtual Kombat, the most realistic fighting video game ever invented – so real it hurts! Once a Gamer enters the fighting world, it becomes hard to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Scott must work his way up the ranks to make it out alive, but when friend and rival Kate fails to return from the Virtual Arena,Scott begins to wonder if it’s more than just a game…

“An action-packed dystopian adventure from the bestselling author of the Young Samurai series”

“Dyslexia friendly”

Hear the author read the first chapter:

What do I think about this book?

I was impressed firstly by the cover – because so many of my readers judge a book by the cover and first impressions really count. This title has a stunning lenticular cover and the image on the front will be instantly appealing to some of my most reluctant boy readers. Secondly, the thickness – it’s just the right size for the same boys. Thirdly text size and layout – it’s promoted by the publisher as dyslexia friendly and looks it, plus the chapters are short. There isn’t anything off-putting about this book – so we are off to a brilliant start.

I am really impressed because so many books published for high interest but low ability readers look unappealing and just don’t look like regular books. The kids that will want to read this aren’t dumb and don’t want to be made to feel that way. This book is so “cool” looking I know higher level readers will want to read it too. Other publishers should take note.

As for the story it rocks along at an exciting pace very much like a mini ‘Hunger games’. I enjoyed it and I am sure my students will too.  This has really made me aware of how desperate I am to fill this gap in my collection, I need more books like this – because one won’t be enough! As a result, I  have just made up a list of other books from this publisher that I will be adding to my wish list  for my library. Chris Bradford has another title available through Barrington Stoke “Ninja : first mission“…and it’s at the top of my list as well as two by Tommy Donbavand who wrote the very popular (at least in my library)…’Scream Street’.

If you are interested in books like these, check out the Barrington Stoke website here: http://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

One of my favourite ‘go-to’ websites for books categorised by age and reading ability “Love reading for Kids” has previews and reviews of many of these titles and is a good source for information on suitable titles for reluctant, struggling and dyslexic readers:

http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/genre/dys/Dyslexia-friendly.html

Jack you’re not an ordinary boy…’Sorrowline’ an exciting adventure

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Sorrowline by Niel Bushnell. (The Timesmith chronicles), Published by Andersen Press, 2013.  331 pages. Available in NZ bookstores RRP $20.95.

“You have a rare gift Jack: you’re a yard boy, a voyager through graveyards. You can travel through the Sorrowlines. They’re tunnels, tunnels through time. Every grave, it’s connected to the date of the person’s death by a Sorrowline. Yard Boys like you, Jack – they can open up a Sorrowline and travel along it, right into the past.”

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jack Morrow is used to life being complicated. His mother died five years ago, and his father is now headed for prison. But then Jack discovers he’s a Yard Boy – someone with the ability to travel through Sorrowlines, the channels that connect every gravestone with the date of the person’s death – and he is quickly pulled into an adventure beyond anything he could have possibly imagined. Finding himself in 1940s war-torn London, with his then – teenage grandfather, Davey, Jack soon realises that his arrival in the past has not gone unnoticed. The evil forces of a secret world are determined to find him – and to find out all he knows. As Jack struggles to survive, he comes ever closer to unlocking the dark secret at the heart of his family, and to – just maybe – changing his own destiny…

Book trailer:

What did I think of this book?

There are quite a few original elements that make this different from other time travel books, but plenty of things that will make readers feel they are in comfortable and familiar territory. The time travel method of traveling back to a period of time tied to a person’s date of death is new – it makes for some excitement in the story because if the characters need to travel to a particular date then they need to find a gravestone first (or get chased around a graveyard while they look for one!)  The other thing that is noticeably different about this story is that the period in which a lot of the book is set is in the 1940s during the Blitz in London. This seems very vividly drawn and well described and adds another frisson of fear into the story – before the villain catches up with our hero Jack, he could be blown to bits by a bomb or trapped in debris or a burning building. It is here that Jack meets his own Grandfather as a young man and Jack learns more about his family.

The contrast between Jack’s seemingly ordinary life in 2013 London couldn’t be more different than what he experiences in the past. It is here that we find the fantastical elements of an alternate world story with many interesting characters with unusual roles both good and bad along the way.

I think this will be a hit with many of my students – the blend of fantasy world, time travel and modern day adventure will appeal to the kids who enjoy Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicle’s type adventures.

A theory of Time Travel – if you are interested in the science behind the “time travel paradox” you might find this YouTube video of an interview with Dr Ronald Mallett (a theoretical physicist) interesting. I found this brief article from brainpickings.org here: “Einstein, Goedel, and the science of time travel (or Meeting your future grandchildren in a rotating universe) by Maria Popova, brainpickings.org 19 July 2012″.

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