Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Farewell 2014

I've mentioned before that I'm good at winning books through social media or other online draws. Usually, I review the book here then pass it on to a suitable library or charity. This year, I've been quite remiss about that and all the titles below have gone, unread, to their new homes. However, I'd still like to thank the publishers who supplied them, and I'll try to do better next year.

Picture book

Maudie Smith and Antonia Woodward Milly and the mermaids. (Orion)
Milly loves mermaids. She's sure if she just wishes hard enough she'll meet one on her visit to the seaside. Will her dream come true?


Karen McCombie The girl who wasn't there. (Scholastic)
13 year old Maisie doesn't believe in ghosts - but when she starts at a new school she hears rumours of a long-gone girl who wanders the halls. A ghostly friendship mystery.

Helen Moss The phoenix code. (Orion)
Two present day teenagers get caught up in an Ancient Egyptian murder mystery.

Na'ima B. Robert She wore red trainers. (Kube)
When Ali first meets Amirah, he notices everything about her - her hijab, her long eyelashes and her red trainers. They can't stop thinking about each other, but can they ever have a halal "happily ever after"?


Jacqueline Wilson Daydreams and diaries. (Corgi Yearling)
The popular novelist tells the story of her own childhood and youth.

So Farewell 2014, I have cleared the decks. All the best to everyone for 2015.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A book swap for International Book Giving Day

International Book Giving Day happens every year on 14th February with the aim of getting books into the hands of as many children as possible. The 2015 poster (above) by award winning illustrator Chris Haughton has just been released.

It might seem early to be thinking about February when we haven't even reached Christmas yet, but that's what I'm doing because Zoe Toft of the wonderful blog Playing by the book has just announced a fabulous book swap scheme. #GiveABook, #SwapABook is all about sharing, sending and receiving children’s books: you can spread the word about a children’s book you love, and discover another equally amazing book through a gift from someone else. I plan to sign up and send a Scottish book to whoever I am paired with  - which one, I haven't yet decided. The book I get in return I will read, review and pass on to a library or charity.

To join in yourself, click on the link above or the logo at the top of the sidebar. I'll keep you posted on my own progress!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Jackie Morris: Something about a bear

Jackie Morris: Something about a bear. (Frances Lincoln)

When I worked in a library, we had loads of Jackie Morris's gorgeously illustrated children's books, so I was really pleased to win this one in a Youth Libraries Group draw. "Let me tell you something about a bear" it begins, before matching beautiful watercolours with poetically written text about eight different types of wild bear. But "of all the bears in the wide wild world, the very best bear of all is..." I'll leave you to guess! It finishes up with a double spread of facts, in much smaller text, about each species, and a list of conservation websites. The book could thus appeal to a range of age-groups: from those who just love the pictures, through those who can read the simpler text, to those who are ready to learn more about bears, maybe for a school project.

Jackie obviously loves bears, and so do I. After I won the book, we had a short chat on Twitter about it (find her @JackieMorrisArt). Here's a bear that I saw on holiday this year. It's zoomed a bit, but yes, it was that close, grazing behind our accommodation in Shenandoah National Park.

Jackie also loves cats and I can't remember if I discovered her cat blog first, before her books (We three, ginger cats tales). She has a different blog now (Jackie Morris Artist), and the ginger cats are no longer with her, but it's still worth taking a look, or see the fabulous gallery in the Guardian, Cat walk.

Thanks to YLG and Frances Lincoln Children's Books for sending me this book - there was no obligation from either to write about it. Now I've enjoyed it, I'll be donating it to Glasgow Women's Library, where I'm sure the resident Brownie Pack will love learning about bears.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Book Week Scotland 2014

Well-loved literary characters don their boxing gloves and get ready for the fight of their lives, as Scottish Book Trust launches the full Book Week Scotland 2014 programme (24-30 November). It includes a national vote for the favourite character from a Scottish book. Place your vote (I've already done mine) and find out about all the other exciting events and activities on the SBT website.

The launch looks like a lot of fun! All photographs by Rob McDougall.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Scottish Children's Book Awards 2015 - shortlist announced

The nominees. Photo credit: Rob McDougall
The shortlist for the Scottish Children's Book Awards 2015 was announced today.  These are Scotland’s largest book awards, with a total prize fund of £12,000, and celebrate the most popular children’s and young adult books by Scottish authors or illustrators. For a full list of nominees in all three categories (3-7, 8-11 and 12-16) see the Scottish Book Trust website - they are running the awards, with support from Creative Scotland, for the eighth time.

The 8-11 list includes a debut book from one of the youngest published authors in Scotland (Alex McCall), and a children’s book from one of the best known authors in the world (Alexander McCall Smith) - and they have very similar names which means voters (Scotland's children) will have to be very careful with their choice!

Alex McCall. Photo credit: Rob McDougall
Claim to fame - I have actually met Alex McCall, even if only for five minutes. He was with his Mum as she arrived at an event which I'd helped Glasgow Women's Library to organise, and they recognised my name because I'd voted in a Twitter poll on whether the cover of Alex's book, Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, should have a blue or orange background. Alex is only 20, and currently splits his time between promoting his book and studying Filmmaking and Screenwriting at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr. He has already won the 2013 Kelpies Prize, and must have his fingers crossed for the double. He says “I'm overjoyed to be shortlisted for this Scottish Children's Book Award. It's fantastic to think that my first published novel could get a response like this.”

Robot Chickens is published by Kelpies, an imprint of Floris Books - it's a good year all round for them, as they have two more books shortlisted. Pyrate's Boy (E.B. Colin) is in the same category as Alex and KelpiesTeen Dark spell by Gill Arbuthnott is nominated for 12-16s.

Congratulations to Alex, Floris Books and everyone else nominated. The winners will be announced on 4th March 2015.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

DA Nelson: DarkIsle

DA Nelson DarkIsle (Strident).

My good luck in winning books through social media seems to be holding up! Many thanks to DA Nelson (Dawn) for all three books in her DarkIsle series which I won through her blog.

I've just finished the first book, which was awarded the Scottish Children's Book Award in 2008. I can see why - it's an engaging fantasy which starts in a real world which will be recognisable to many Scottish children. The main character is Morag, a young girl living with cruel foster parents who lock her in the cellar for some imagined misdemeanour. When she first hears voices, she is terrified - until she finds they belong to Bertie and Aldiss, a dodo and a rat! Against their better judgement, these two are persuaded to take Morag along with them in their quest - and what that is becomes clearer as the story progresses.

Their first task is to free Shona, a dragon who has been turned to stone by the evil Devlish - and Shona actually exists! Well, in stone form anyway. She's a sculpture by artist Roy Fitzsimmons and that's her on the left on Irvine Beach (© Copyright paul c and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence). The four friends then set off for the DarkIsle where they must rescue the Eye of Lornish. Do they achieve this? Well, that would be telling, but you'll have great fun finding out as you meet more lovely characters along the way, such as Henry the talking medallion, as well as some frightening and distinctly unpleasant ones, Tanktop the Klapp Demon being a case in point.

You'll also spot a few clues about what might have happened to Morag's parents, but I'm guessing the full answer to that won't be revealed until the second or third book. Those are DarkIsle: Resurrection and DarkIsle: The Final Battle. I'll be reading them next. Once I've finished, they'll be added to the children's collection at Glasgow Women's Library. Dawn actually works near there, so she came into the library to give me the books - you can see a picture of us together on Darkislethebook's Blog. Thanks again, Dawn, for your generosity.

Friday, 30 May 2014

On feet and two wings

Abbas Kazerooni On two feet and wings (Allen & Unwin).

Set during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, On feet and two wings tells the story of an Iranian boy, Abbas, who is soon to be 10 and therefore, unbelievably, eligible for call up to the army. Abbas' parents decide that he and his mother will try to escape via Istanbul to England, but at the last minute his mother is not allowed to board the plane and Abbas travels to Turkey on his own. Remember, as you read on, this is not fiction, this is a memoir. Kazerooni says:
"The book is based on real events that happened to me a long time ago when I was a child. To write it for you I have simplified some events and changed some details."
Abbas arrives in Istanbul, where he doesn't speak the language or understand the system, and has to fend for himself for 12 weeks while he tries to get a visa for the UK. I'm not sure I would like to do that now, never mind as a nine year old. Obviously Abbas has a lot to learn, not least how to judge character and who to trust. In general, the kindness of strangers is greater than that of the few contacts his father has managed to make for him. For example, the man who was to meet him at the airport and help him abandons him almost immediately. Fortunately, he finds a taxi driver with more integrity who helps him to find a cheap hotel where Persian is spoken.

Abbas manages to find his way around the city, change money on the black market (his father has given him a supply of dollars), persuade someone to translate for him at the British Consulate - and also make a living! His best friend is Murat, the hotel owner, whom he talks into giving him work serving drinks and shining shoes. Murat also teaches him backgammon, at which he proves to be a natural, and they make a lot of money taking bets on his performance. Not all is plain sailing though. A less attractive job is delivering packages for the jeweller who changes his money - what is in them is never disclosed, but the job earns him his first beating - and, at heart, Abbas remains a small boy who cries himself to sleep because he misses his mother.

There are traumatic scenes in the book, but it's not unhappy overall. The story zips along, and you really root for the resourceful Abbas who is far more cheerful than many would be in his situation. Also, because we know the adult Abbas is writing the story in real life, we don't need to worry about him surviving. However, as well as being a good story, I think the book would help a lot of children to understand issues of immigration, asylum and persecution. Unaccompanied child refugees still arrive in this country today, so anything that encourages empathy and challenges the dangerous rhetoric preached by such as the Daily Mail and Ukip is to be welcomed.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me this book, which I won in a draw. I will now be donating it to the University of Strathclyde for its Teaching Practice collection and, I hope, addition to its Refugees booklist.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Picture book round-up

Thanks to the good folk at Templar and Hachette for sending me the following:

Thomas Docherty The Driftwood Ball (Templar).

Every year the badgers and the otters hold a Driftwood Ball, but they never mix. Then, one year, otter Celia and badger George meet and fall in love - can the star-crossed dancers overcome the prejudices of their families? This is a lovely tale about differences and the silly reasons we find not to like other people - they're too loud, or they eat the wrong kind of food. At the end, Celia and George are still dancing "but always to their own tune."

Jonny Duddle Gigantosaurus (Templar).

Many children love books on dinosaurs. Here is a glossy addition to the canon. It's in the form of a story and the Gigantosaurus is made up, but all the other dinosaurs are real and there is an information section on them at the end. Add to this fold out pages and a poster jacket with a timeline on the other side and you have a sure-fire hit.

Craig Shuttlewood Who's in the tree that shouldn't be? (Templar).

More paper engineering - this time lots of flaps to lift. Who's in the tree that shouldn't be? Who in the snow just does not go? The rhyme romps along and children will enjoy guessing which "wrong" animal is behind the flap and where that animal should rightly be. I'd rather they had all ended up in their natural habitats at the end though, rather than in the zoo.

Shaun Tan Rules of summer (Hachette).

Shaun Tan's picture books are generally for an older audience than the titles above. This is a dark and surreal tale of two boys and what they learned last summer. Some commandments are quite sensible (never give your keys to a stranger), while others are bizarre (never leave a red sock on the clothesline). All have terrifying consequences - the red sock, for instance, conjures up a horrifically red-eyed giant rabbit. Towards the end, the smaller boy is padlocked into a runaway steam engine and the older boy runs across a dystopian landscape to rescue him with bolt-cutters. If this sounds sinister, it is! Be careful which child you give it to.

As always, I'll be donating these review copies to a local library.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Daughters of Time

One of my favourite blogs is The History Girls, a collaboration by a group of female historical fiction writers who cover different periods and different age-ranges, but are always interesting. I make a point of checking it every day, and never fail to learn something new. Now, some of the writers for younger readers have published a book, Daughters of Time (Templar), in which each imagines a story about a famous woman from the past.  The author also explains why she chose to write about that particular woman, and gives some factual information so that the tale is put into context. Then, if you like her work, there's a section at the back telling you what else she has written. The book's editor is Mary Hoffman, whose Stravaganza series I loved, and she says:
History is about chaps is still all too true a saying. So it's up to the fabulous History Girls to balance this approach with stories of impressive and inspiring women and girls - we were spoilt for choice.
They certainly were. The book ranges in time from Katherine Roberts' Tasca's Secret about a daughter of Queen Boudica (c.30-c.60 AD) to Leslie Wilson's 1980s tale of Greenham Common, which was one of my favourites because I've actually been there (though only for a day, not to stay at the camp). Some of the stories are not for the faint-hearted - the Boudica story and the next one, The Lady of the Mercians by Sue Purkiss, are quite bloodthirsty! But life in those times was like that: nasty, brutal and short for many people.

The book really appealed to me because of the work I do with the Glasgow Women's Library's Women Make History Group, which has a similar aim, so I was delighted when Templar agreed to send me a review copy. It will now find a home in GWL's new children's collection. However, I'm wondering how many of the women Scottish girls will actually connect with, as the list is very England-centric. The Greenham story will have universal appeal and there's a lot of interest in the Suffragettes, so Celia Rees on Emily Davison (Return to Victoria) will be popular - I think that was my overall favourite - but some of the others never figure on the Scottish curriculum. This is by no means a criticism of the book, which I really enjoyed, it just made me wonder if someone could write a Scottish equivalent. Any takers? And who would you put in it? Other than Mary, Queen of Scots who's a tad overdone!

Full list of subjects: Queen Boudicca, Aethelfled, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Julian of Norwich, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth Stuart, Aphra Behn, Mary Wollestonecraft, Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Emily Davison, Amy Johnson and the Greenham Common women.

Full list of authors: Penny Dolan, Adele Geras, Mary Hoffman, Dianne Hofmeyr, Marie-Louise Jensen, Catherine Johnson, Katherine Langrish, Joan Lennon, Sue Purkiss, Celia Rees, Katherine Roberts, Anne Rooney and Leslie Wilson

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Scottish Children's Book Awards 2013 announced today

Chae Strathie, Janis MacKay and Claire McFall have been named as the winners of the 2013 Scottish Children's Book Awards. The announcement was made this afternoon at Glasgow's Mitchell Library with 800 young people from all over Scotland in the audience. The award is voted for exclusively by children and there were record numbers voting this year - over 38000, up 20% on last year. So what were the winning books?

Bookbug Readers (3-7)

Chae Strathie: Jumblebum, illustrated by Ben Cort. (Scholastic).

Johnny thinks that his room has its own special style, but Mum just sees a mess. Johnny doesn't care though - until the chaos attracts the terrible Jumblebum Beast. Will Johnny end up in Jumblebum's tum, or can he save the day with his secret plan?

Read what children themselves think about the book in the many reviews on the Scottish Book Trust site or watch a book trailer made by Bell Baxter High School. SBT also has more information about Chae Strathie on its author pages. The other shortlisted titles were:

Julia Donaldson: Paper dolls, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. (Macmillan).
Debi Gliori: What's the time, Mr Wolf? (Bloomsbury).

Younger Readers (8-11)

Janis Mackay: The accidental time traveller. Kelpies.

Saul is on his way to the corner shop when he sees a girl appear in front of him in the middle of the road. She doesn't understand traffic or shops and she's wearing a long dress with ruffled sleeves. Her name is Agatha Black - and she's from the year 1812! Saul and his mates, Will and Robbie, try to figure out time travel so that they can help her to get home.

Again, there are lots of reviews and a book trailer, this time from Oban High School. Also check out Janis Mackay's website. The other shortlisted titles were:

Caroline Clough: Black tide. (Floris).
Daniela Sacerdoti: Really Weird (Floris).

Older Readers (12-16)

Claire McFall: Ferryman. Templar.

When Dylan emerges from the wreckage of a train crash onto a bleak Scottish hillside she meets a strange boy who seems to be waiting for her. However, Tristan is no ordinary teenage boy and their journey across the desolate, wraith-infested wasteland together is no ordinary journey. This is a truly original love story from a debut author.

Read the reviews, watch the book trailer (from Craigmount High School) and find out more about Claire on her website. The other shortlisted titles were:

Diana Hendry: The seeing. (Bodley Head).
Barry Hutchison: The book of doom. (Harper Collins).

Congratulations to all nine authors. And - just in! Some photographs of the winners and some excited children. All pictures by Alan Peebles.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Carmen Reid: Cross my heart

Carmen Reid: Cross my heart

The usual follow up to "Cross my heart" is "and hope to die". Here, it is "and hope to live" - for someone who has very little chance of that. Nicole is 15 and a resident of Nazi-occupied Brussels. She joins the Belgian Resistance and is transformed into Coco of Group K. La Belle, one of her fellow agents, reveals that she thinks she'll be lucky to be alive in 6 months time, and Coco too is soon risking her life for her beliefs.

The gruelling subject matter is leavened both by the romance between Nicole / Coco and fellow agent Anton / The Poet and the author's fluid writing. I whizzed through it. When I first started reading, I was sceptical that 15 year olds would have been involved in the Resistance to this extent. Nor was I convinced that Coco could have escaped some of the situations she faced in quite the way described. However, Carmen Reid's afterword makes it clear that, although fictional, her story is based on considerable research which is detailed on her website. The afterword is also worth reading for Carmen's story of her own family - she is half British, half German, and her grandparents were on different sides of the Second World War. Cross my heart is, touchingly, dedicated to them.

I won this book in a competition on Scottish Book Trust's website. I'm grateful, as always, to them for everything they do. I'm now going to donate it to Glasgow Women's Library's collection for younger women. As Carmen says "Soon all the grandparents who fought in this momentous war will be dead. We need to preserve their stories and experiences. Teenagers need to remember there was a time when turning eighteen didn't mean being able to drink and go to uni; it meant you were old enough to fight, kill people and die for your country." Her book is testament to that.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Books for Brownies - International Book Giving Day

International Book Giving Day is dedicated to getting new, used and borrowed books into the hands of as many children as possible - check the site for ideas of how to take part. I'm going to be helping my friends at Glasgow Women's Library who have been collecting books for younger women for some time. Now that they have moved to new premises, they are home to a Brownie Pack whose members are wondering why there are no books for them. Also, children's books are always useful to keep the young ones occupied while their mothers are in the library choosing books or attending an event. I've been collecting books for GWL for a couple of weeks now, and here's the result so far:


It's great to get second-hand books in good condition - and if it helps another charity too, so much the better. A search of my local Oxfam shop yielded Emily Gravett's picture book Wolves, a signed copy of The mountain's blood by Lari Don and Gene Kemp's classic Turbulent term of Tyke Tyler. The latter has a great twist in the tail, but I wonder if it would be as surprising today as when it was written in the 1970s? For teenagers, I got Theresa Breslin's Remembrance, which is about the First World War and therefore very topical in this centenary year, and Solace of the road by the late Siobhan Dowd.


Sometimes publishers send me books to review, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to win them in draws by email or social media. I have three to add at the moment, so thanks to Templar for sending me Firebird by Saviour Pirotta and Catherine Hyde, a retelling of the Russian folktale which inspired Stravinsky's ballet, and Yokococo's Hans and Matilda Show about a school talent competition. From O'Brien I received Eva and the hidden diary, one of a series by author Judi Curtin. In this story, Eva and her friend Kate find an old diary and try to put right mistakes that were made long ago.

Book shops

Of course, you can just go into a regular book shop and buy something! I chose these two - one a classic, Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, and one more modern, Clarice Bean utterly me by Lauren Child. Can you spot the link? Lauren Child illustrated them both in her highly distinctive style. Both books feature enormously engaging heroines.

How can you help?

As I said at the beginning, there are plenty of ideas on the IGBD website, where you'll also find posters, book marks and book plates to go with your gifts. However, should anyone who happens to read this live in Glasgow and just happen to have some spare books suitable for girls of all ages (though I'm particularly keen to help out the Brownies who are around 7-11 years old) - let me know! Maybe you have daughters or nieces who have outgrown some of their books? Leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Update 12/2/14

I catalogued all the above books at GWL this morning - ready to be borrowed on IGBD!


Friday, 17 January 2014

National Libraries Day is coming - 8th February

If you look at the sidebar, you'll see that I've sprouted two new badges. They're for National Libraries Day and International Book Giving Day. Each is important for children's literature and I have plans for both - however, I'll leave IGBD for later and concentrate on NLD for now.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that One Man and His Beard was collecting photos of people holding up their library cards to illustrate the video for his song We need libraries. Well, it's here! You can see my picture at approximately 3.15 and my Mum and Dad are also there at 1.47. A banner runs underneath the photos listing the reasons we need libraries, many of which involve children's reading. If you love libraries too, please share the video widely.

In Scotland, we're also hoping to collect reasons to love libraries with The Big Question: "What did you do in your library today?" Read more via CILIPS (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland) and take part if you can. And keep using your library!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Natasha Mac a'Bhaird: Missing Ellen

Natasha Mac a'Bhaird: Missing Ellen

Teenagers Maggie and Ellen have been best friends since they were five. Ellen is lively, outgoing and impetuous while Maggie is quieter and more sensible. The story starts with a new school year. Ellen is missing, though we don't yet know why, and Maggie is missing her dreadfully - this dual meaning of "missing" is reflected in the story's two voices. Both are Maggie's - one a narrative from the point where she thinks Ellen's problem started until the time she disappeared, and the other a set of letters to her friend in which she tells her what her life is like now.

It's not difficult to guess where Ellen's story is going as she gets involved with a different crowd and makes choices that Maggie doesn't agree with. She's an attractive character on the surface, but thoughtless and reckless, and I much prefer Maggie who is left bereft at Ellen's disappearance and tortured by "what ifs", wondering if she could have changed the outcome by behaving differently herself. Her family and other school friends don't know how to help her and she has to find her own way through the grief and guilt.

It's hard to say much more without giving away the plot, so I'll leave it at that. I thought the story was very well told and the breakdown, in different ways, of both girls sensitively handled. It's not all gloom though - there's a glimmer of hope for Maggie at the end when she finally realises that she has to let Ellen go, and there's also a hint of romance ahead.

Thanks to O'Brien Press for sending me this book, which I won in a draw. I will now be donating it to Glasgow Women's Library for their younger women's collection.