Desert Island Children’s Books

CHILDREN'S

Last year I had such fun listing and re-reading the twelve books that I would take with me to a desert island that it spawned a whole new guest blog feature and, I have decided to do it all over again this year, but with children’s books. Yes, this is nothing more than a thinly disguised excuse to read my childhood favourites over the course of the year, and I am totally unapologetic for that. In these turbulent times, what could be more natural and comforting than to retreat to the warmth of the books that saw you safely through childhood?

The premise is the same as last year. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve children’s books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are the books that I read over and over again as a child, and why they still speak to me as an adult, and what I continue to love about them.

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, like last year, I am trailing the twelve by listing the thirteen books that almost, but didn’t quite, make the final cut. Some of my all-time favourites, that I would be loathe to leave behind but had to sacrifice to make room for the top dozen.

Let’s kick off shall we.

Pony Club Camp by Josephine Pullein-Thompson

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The last glorious swansong of the West Barsetshire Pony Club sees the Major run a camp for the Pony Club members.

Noel and Henry have now left school and have returned as instructors to deal with the loose and the runaway, and that’s just the ponies. The Pony Club members are even worse. 

As a pony-mad girl in the early eighties, the books written by the Pullein-Thompson sisters were a staple of my childhood library, and Pony Club Camp was my absolute favourite. This story of camping with ponies, doing horseback treasure hunts and gymkhanas, was aspirational and the day I finally went to Pony Club Camp myself was a dream come true, even though it wasn’t quite as chaotic as the one in the book!

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

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The Borrowers live in the secret places of quiet old houses; behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. They own nothing, borrow everything, and think that human beings were invented just to do the dirty work. Arrietty’s father, Pod, was an expert Borrower. He could scale curtains using a hatpin, and bring back a doll’s teacup without breaking it. Girls weren’t supposed to go borrowing but as Arrietty was an only child her father broke the rule, and then something happened which changed their lives. She made friends with the human boy living in the house…

Normally the idea of unseen creatures living in the corners of your house would be a plot line to scare a child rigid, but the story of Pod, Homily and little Arriety who live under the floorboards and exist by ‘borrowing’ human items to adapt for for their own use is just charming. I was fascinating by the clever way they adapt our huge items for their tiny lives. I loved all five books in the series, but the first time you meet them is always the most memorable.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

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Milly-Molly-Mandy lives in a tiny village in the heart of the countryside, where life is full of everyday adventures! Join the little girl in the candy-striped dress as she goes blackberry picking, gets ready to throw a party for her friends and goes to her village fete – whatever Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends are up to, you’re sure to have fun when they’re around.

I’m not really sure what the appeal of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories was to me as a child because, looking back, she didn’t do anything hugely exciting. Her life was fairly ordinary and simple, you wouldn’t think that they held as much appeal as stories that whisked a child away somewhere magical, but I loved them nonetheless. Maybe their appeal was their simplicity and innocence, it was like having a friend sleeping over in your bedroom every night. Plus, it was like a collection of short stories, perfect for early readers to master their reading independence.

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John

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Lucien’s teasing of Dani leads to an accident with far-reaching consequences. Annette is intent on revenge and does all she can to make life a misery for Lucien. His only friend is the old man up the mountain who recognises his skill in carving wood and gives him new hope. Set in Switzerland this story of Annett, Lucien and Dani has caught the imagination of countless children.

My sister borrowed this book from our school library and somehow it never got returned; I still have the school copy to this day (sorry, St. Mary’s School!) This was my first experience of a book taking me away to a different country with its strange customs (I know it’s only Switzerland, not Swaziland, but we never travelled abroad when I was a child, Switzerland seemed exotic!) I was particularly obsessed with the children getting gingerbread bears from the church Christmas Tree as a gift and coveted the one with the twisted nose.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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The Wild Wood seems a terrifying place to Mole, until one day he pokes his nose out of his burrow and finds it’s full of friends. He meets brave Ratty, kind old Badger and the rascally Mr Toad, and together they go adventuring . . .

But the Wild Wood doesn’t just contain friends, there are also the sinister weasels and stoats, and they capture Toad Hall when Mr Toad is in jail. How will he escape? And can the friends fight together to save Toad Hall?

I don’t think I need to explain why I loved this charming story of animals acting like people; nervous Mole, adventurous Rat, sensible Badger and the bumptious Mr. Toad. I think I strongly related to Mole as a child, which is why I particularly relished his growing bravery and friendships.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar And Six More by Roald Dahl

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WHAT if you stumbled upon a boy who could talk to animals?

WHY is a hitchhiker both a saviour and a threat?

HOW can a man see without using his eyes?

SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY TALES OF MAGIC, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE.

I remember us studying The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar in English at junior school, and I fell in love with Dahl’s more adult, dark storytelling and was eager to read the rest of the short stories in this volume. My first exploration of stories that were slightly less wholesome and cartoonish than what I read at home, a stepping stone to the world of grown up literature.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

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‘If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle – certain to be’

When Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen are forced to spend their entire summer at school they don’t imagine they will have a particularly interesting time. But that’s before they stumble upon a mysterious castle set in beautiful, abandoned gardens. Could this really be an enchanted castle? Don’t be a duffer, there’s no such thing. But with the air thick with magic, the sun blazing down, and a maze hiding a sleeping girl at its centre, the holidays might just be looking up…

This is probably the least well-known of this author’s books but it was my absolute favourite. Absolute pure magic for a child to read, a proper childhood fairytale that you really wish you could be in yourself as a reader.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

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A trustee of the John Grier orphanage has offered to send Judy Abbott to college. The only requirements are that she must write to him every month and that she can never know who he is.

Judy’s life at college is a whirlwind of friends, classes, parties and a growing friendship with the handsome Jervis Pendleton. With so much happening in her life, Judy can scarcely stop writing to ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’, or wondering who her mysterious benefactor is…

I was given this book by my mum, for whom it was a childhood favourite, and I think this is why I have such fond memories of it, it was something I shared with her and we could discuss together, rather than books I read which she never had. One of my first experiences of the joy of books being enhanced by sharing your love of them with other people. I’ve experienced that the other way since with my own children, and it is a joy that can’t be over-stated.

The Tree That Sat Down/The Stream That Stood Still/The Mountain of Magic by Beverley Nicholls

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Deep in the enchanted forest Judy helps her granny run The Shop Under the Willow Tree. They sell all sorts of wonderful things, such as boxes of beautiful dreams carefully tied up with green ribbon.

But then Sam and the charming Miss Smith, a witch in disguise, open a rival business. The newcomers are not only cheating their customers, but also plotting to destroy Granny’s shop.

Can Judy save the wood from their wickedness?

I was actually introduced to this series via the third book, which I received as a Sunday School prize when I was nine, but as soon as I finished it I pestered my parents to get me books one and two. This series still has the most terrifyingly evil pair of villains ever written in children’s literature. When I was a pre-teen, they scared me silly.

Trebizon by Anne Digby

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New girl Rebecca Mason arrives at Trebizon, the famous boarding school, after everyone else has already made friends. Lonely and anxious to prove herself, Rebecca writes something for the school magazine that unexpectedly triggers a row and half the school turns against her. Luckily, she discovers she has friends after all, the best friends any new girl could hope for.

I was introduced to the Trebizon books by my friend, Lisa, and soon fell in love with this school series. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and Anne Digby’s Trebizon series were a more mature version. Set in a Cornish boarding school, they dealt with slightly more adult topics across the fourteen books and they were a firm favourite.

Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks

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Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention…

Such as the fact that the kingdom is falling into ruin. The barons refuse to recognize a king and taxes haven’t been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, is laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, is plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren’t enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learns that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, has challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death – a duel no mere mortal can hope to win.

But Ben Holiday has one human trait that even magic can’t overcome. Ben Holiday is stubborn.

Terry Brooks is much better known for his Shannara series of fantasy books, but I fell completely in love with the Landover series, of which Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold is the first book, when I first read them. The story of a man disillusioned with the modern world who buys a magic kingdom, believing it to be an elaborate hoax, only to find it is real but very far from a magical fantasy realm, is just bewitching. I’ve just discovered there is a sixth book in the series which I’ve never read, so I guess I’ll be revisiting these from the beginning at some point this year.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

The only reason this book is on the runner-up list and not top of the master list, is that this was one of the books on my main Desert Island Books list last year. One of my favourite books of all time, you can read my review of this book from last year here.

The Ship of Adventure by Enid Blyton

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An amazing voyage around the beautiful Greek islands becomes an exciting quest to find the lost treasure of the Andra!

Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann, Jack and Kiki the parrot are plunged into a search for hidden riches – with some ruthless villains hot on their trail! Will they find the treasure before it’s too late?

Really, this is just representative of all of Enid Blyton’s books. I grew up with her, and her books guided me through all of my early reading experiences. Starting off with her collections of fairy stories and Mr Pinkwhistle (how was this ever allowed?), through the Faraway Tree books and the Magic Wishing Chair to The Secret Seven and the Mystery series, I loved them all and devoured every one. The Famous Five were my absolute favourites, and they will be making an appearance in the final twelve, but a special mention has to go to the Adventure series, and this book in particular, which I think was the best. I know she is problematic and very unfashionable, but she is the cornerstone of my love of reading and I still have all of my Enid Blyton books, because they hold huge sentimental value for me.

So, those are the thirteen childhood favourites that are close to my heart but didn’t quite make the final twelve. Join me on 31st January to see the first one that forms part of the twelve childhood favourites that I would take to my desert island.

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Guest Post: The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia by Maddy Harrisis and Misha Herwin

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Poppy and Amelia didn’t set out to be witches. That happened quite by accident, and it’s a secret they must keep from their family and friends.

Then there is Mia, the new girl in class. Pale, strange and deadly serious, she’s in need of a couple of equally weird friends. Poppy and Amelia are happy to oblige.

Together, the three of them must thwart the plans of the sinister Miss Mortimer and her evil companions.

Today, I am delighted to be featuring a guest post by Misha Herwin, who has written a piece telling me about the experience of writing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia with her nine-year-old granddaughter, Maddy, during Lockdown.

Let me hand over to Misha to tell us more:

Writing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia by Misha Herwin

Thanks Julie for having me on your blog and letting me talk about the The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia.

I wrote this book together with Maddy, my nine year old granddaughter, during lockdown and in spite of the circumstances it was a truly joyful experience.

In March, like many other writers, I was finding working on my current book very slow going.  A day’s work felt like ploughing through porridge. Very little got done and what I did write had somehow lost its flow.

The impetus to write had also faded and most days I found it almost impossible to get started. Nothing much seemed to matter. While other people re-decorated, caught up with DIY or re-modelled their gardens I let the time slip past.

Except for my four times a week Skype lessons with Maddy.

Maddy’s parents were both having to work from home and she has a four year old brother, so at the start of lockdown all the grandparents and any stray relatives had been roped in to help with her home schooling. My brief was to deliver English lessons. Having been a teacher in a middle school as well as in secondary education, this wasn’t going to be too hard.

How wrong could I be?

Working through what the school had sent was far from simple. I don’t blame the teachers, who had to put together a term’s worth of work almost overnight. Some of the material was great, some less than inspiring and some beyond awful. There was also the unrealistic expectation that given a stimulus pupils would then find a quiet space and write for twenty minutes. This would be hard to achieve in a classroom let alone a house, flat or even a bedsit with parents and siblings vying for space.

In the event, we managed and the reward at the end of each lesson was story time. Together Maddy and I wove the tale of two girls who became witches by accident and how they learned to use their growing skills. Added to the mix was Mia who like Poppy and Amelia has a secret of her own.

The characters evolved with the telling. Maddy knew exactly what each girl looked like and sent me a picture to make sure we got their descriptions right.

To keep up with their adventures I had to make notes and towards the end of lockdown I had the outline of a story which ran to about 5,000 words. Seeing how much we had I suggested to Maddy that we could publish an e-book for her to read on her tablet, to which she replied, “No Granny, I want a proper book; one I can take to school and with my picture on the back.”

And so began our joint editorial sessions. We cut down on the stories and we honed what had been written. Maddy put me right on things I had either forgotten, or got wrong and then when the book was well on its way, I took it to Renegade Writers.

My fellow Rens loved it. At our weekly on line meetings Michelle said it was like being back at primary school and having story time on the mat. Much as they enjoyed it, they didn’t spare me the feedback. Because the book had evolved from storytelling there were gaps in the narrative that needed to be filled, so after every meeting I had to do some re-writing then check with Maddy to see if she agreed with what I had done.

Only then was it ready for Jan Edward, my editor, and her comments led to more re-writing, until finally the book was finished. 

Maddy had specified what she wanted on the cover, which was designed by Peter Coleborn of Penkull Press and by a stroke of luck, not to mention hard work, we managed to set publication day for 12th November, two days before Maddy’s birthday.

To share the joy we decided that all profits from the book would go to Blood Cancer UK in memory of my daughter and Maddy’s aunt who died of leukaemia on Christmas Eve 2002, aged 31. Posy, who was always up for an adventure, would have loved Poppy and Amelia and they are among my favourite characters in all the books I’ve written.

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Maddy is very proud of her achievement and has already had signing sessions for her friends. We’ve also sold a load of books through her local bookshop in Bristol, Storysmith.

All in all, we’ve had a great time doing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia and, judging from the feedback we’re getting, our readers are enjoying the book too.

The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia is available on Amazon and all other digital outlets. You can also order it from any bookshop and from Hive.co.uk.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Misha. What a lovely experience, and for a great cause too. A perfect story for Christmas time.

If you have been tempted to buy a copy of The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia, you can buy it here, and all the other places mentioned by Misha above.

About Misha Herwin

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Misha Herwin was born in England to Polish parents. English was not her first language but once she learned, she never stopped talking or writing. Her first efforts were stories and plays for her younger sister. Since then she has moved on to women’s fiction, kids books and has had a number of short stories published in anthologies in the US and UK.

Her latest book ‘Belvedere Crescent’ is a time slip novel.

Her books for children include’City of Secrets’ and ‘Bridge of Lies’ the first two books in the series of ‘The Adventures of Letty Parker’.

Her short stories can be found in ‘The Alchemy Book of Ancient Wonders’, ‘Magical’, ‘Bitch Lit’ ‘Voices of Angel’ ‘Dear Robot’ among others.

“The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia” is her first co-written book.

Connect with Misha:

Website: https://mishaherwin.wordpress.com/

Facebook: Misha Herwin

Twitter: @MishaHerwin

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Desert Island Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Desert Island Books

My penultimate Desert Island book is one of my absolute favourite childhood novels. I used to take The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster out of Askern Library every single week, so my apologies to all the other children of this particular area of South Yorkshire who never got to read this marvellous book because it was perpetually out on loan to me! One wonders why my parents never bought me my very own copy as a present, given how often I read it, but they didn’t and I never owned it until I bought my own copy aged 24!

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

This is the story of Milo, a young boy who finds life very boring and can’t see the point in anything, until one day he comes home from school and finds someone has left him a mysterious package containing a toy tollbooth. With nothing better to do with his afternoon, Milo decides to play with it, and finds himself transported to another land, where he goes on a fantastical odyssey, meeting many strange creatures and carrying out feats of derring do along the way. When he finally comes home, his life is changed, as is the conclusion of all good children’s adventure stories. So far, so obvious.

What made this book so attractive to me as a child was the same thing that made me love C.S Lewis’s Narnia stories and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. The story is transportive, whisking the reader away from every day life and into the magical world of the Lands Beyond, which is inhabited by characters never to be met in the real world. Juster has built a believable, 3D world within the pages of this book, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences that a child can live and breathe through the power of his words. There are characters here to fall in love with and whom they will not want to leave behind. It was many years before I could read the part where Milo has to return to the real world, leaving behind Tock, the Humbug and all his new friends, without shedding a tear, and I think this was why I took the book from the library week after week, so I could reunite the gang again and again in my pre-bedtime hours. This is what great children’s books do, they create a world that becomes very real to a child, and one they want to return to repeatedly.

But, there is so much more to this book than a great story and beloved characters, and it is this extra quality that makes me want to have the book with me on my desert island. This book is very, very clever. While transporting the reader on the journey through the kingdom of Wisdom with Milo, it is teaching and exploring ideas about our world, the importance of knowledge, the excitement of learning and why we should try to look at everything around us a little differently. As you get older, the book can be appreciated on a whole different level, and the ideas that Juster explores in the book become clearer and gain more meaning as you mature and have more understanding of the world. Coming back to the book as an adult, the book makes my heart sing with the joy at the word play throughout the book. The author twists and twirls common words like a majorette twirls a baton, throwing them in the air and making them perform delightful and entertaining contortions in mid-air. Anyone who loves language and the exploration of ideas will chuckle in glee at the author’s allegorical story-telling, and marvel at the imagination which produced this masterpiece. I think I enjoy and appreciate the book now perhaps even more than I did as a child. It appeals to the word nerd inside me, and I never fail to come away from the story without a huge smile on my face and a gladdened heart.

So, the joy of this book for me, and the reason I would want it on my desert island is two-fold. Firstly, it reminds me of the immense pleasure I took in reading as a child, how I lost myself in faraway worlds and fantastical characters, all the while anchored to my own, normal life. The pleasure instilled in you as a child in reading is something that never leaves you and will see you through tough times throughout your life, as recent events have proven. I have never lost the joy I felt as a youngster in discovering a new world through words, and I hope I never will. Alongside this, the pleasure in revelling in what is just a very intelligent and brilliantly constructed novel that offers me something new each time I read it is something to be treasured. There are many ideas within this book to take away and apply to your life, including my favourite line:

So many things are possible, just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

I just want to say a word about the illustrations that accompany this book. I had never come across anything quite like Jules Feiffer’s scratchy, black-and-white interpretations of Juster’s world before, and I found them really intriguing. An interesting mix of showing the story, but also leaving something open to interpretation by the reader. I must have spent hours pouring over the double-page illustration in Chapter 19 showing all of the various demons chasing Milo and his friends and trying to make out the individual characters. These drawings appeal equally to adults and children, and fans of Quentin Blake’s illustrations will find them particularly attractive I think.

Over the years I have tried to interest my children in the books I loved passionately as a child, but very few of them have had the same appeal for them as they did to me. Often they now seem so dated that modern children can’t relate, and I am sure all bookworm parents will recognise the disappointment when your child rejects one of your beloved classics out of hand. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of only a few titles that are equally beloved by me and both of my daughters, who each now have their own copy. The book needs no further testament to its timeless appeal than that.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a wonderful book for any child, or any adult who wants to remember what it was like to be a child, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the Great Depression. There are still a number of people who attribute that catastrophic event directly to his birth.

He grew up in Brooklyn, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent a year in Liverpool, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship, doing graduate work in urban planning and learning to ride a motorcycle.

After spending three years in the U.S. Navy (1954-1957), he began working as an architect in New York. He opened his own firm and within a few years moved to Western Massachusetts and expanded his practice as Juster-Pope-Frazier. Their projects included the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, educational and cultural projects throughout New England, and a number of buildings for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He taught architecture and planning at Pratt Institute in New York and was Professor of Design at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970-1992.

He began writing seriously while in the Navy. His first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, was published in 1961. Winner of the George C. Stone Centre for Children’s Books Award, it is recognised as a classic and continues to be treasured by children and adults throughout the world. It was made into a feature film by MGM in 1969 and, more recently, into a musical. In 2007, it was produced at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. The nationwide tour will start in 2008

Other books he has written include The Dot and the Line, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by MGM and famed animator Chuck Jones; Alberic the WiseOtter NonsenseAs: A Surfeit of Similes; and the Caldecott Medal winner The Hello Goodbye Window. His latest book, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, is the sequel to The Hello Goodbye Window.

Mr. Juster is retired from the practice of architecture and from teaching but continues to write. He is currently adapting a short story he wrote into ballet and is working on several new books.

Norton Juster is lives in Western Massachusetts. He has a daughter and a granddaughter.

Connect with Norton:

Twitter: @NortonJuster1

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Tempted By… Bookshine and Readbows: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

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Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer.

Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too.

Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world?

Today’s Tempted By is long overdue, but better late than never I believe and it has been worth waiting for. I don’t often get enticed into buying middle grade books, unless it is for my daughters, but I really loved the sound of The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart.

The book was brought to my attention by this review, written by the lovely Steph over at Bookshine and Readbows blog. I didn’t really need to read further than the line ‘This the book I wanted Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series to be’ to know that I wanted to read it, but then she goes on to describe the book as ‘steampunk-ish’ in style which sealed the deal. I really love her descriptions of the writing as having a bit of snark (I am all about the snark) and then references some of my all time favourite authors as comparators – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams? How could I not want to pick up this book?

Steph waxed lyrical about this book, and when Steph waxes lyrical, I am always listening. I love Steph’s cheery blog – that name alone let’s you know that this a cup-half-full person doesn’t it – she has been one of my longest and most avidly-followed blogs since I first discovered this community and she is a generous and supportive blogger too. People like her are the reason I love this community so much. Make sure to pay her blog a visit at https://bookshineandreadbows.wordpress.com.

If you would like to get a copy of The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart for yourself, or anyone else, you can buy it here.

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Book Review: The Owl Service by Alan Garner #ThrowbackReview

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It all begins with the scratching in the ceiling. From the moment Alison discovers the dinner service in the attic, with its curious pattern of floral owls, a chain of events is set in progress that is to effect everybody’s lives.

Relentlessly, Alison, her step-brother Roger and Welsh boy Gwyn are drawn into the replay of a tragic Welsh legend – a modern drama played out against a background of ancient jealousies. As the tension mounts, it becomes apparent that only by accepting and facing the situation can it be resolved.

I read an article that a friend of mine had posted on Facebook recently about why people are turning to old, familiar, favourite books and TV series during lockdown, because they are comforting and known in a time of the new, strange and frightening. I, myself, have found this to be true, watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and Midsomer Murders, and picking up copies of firm favourites from my bookshelf.

This may be initially why I was drawn to grab my copy of The Owl Service from my bookcase, but once I had read it again, I realised that this book no longer felt familiar to me at all and that coming back to this as an adult was a totally different reading experience, and not a comforting one at all. Somewhere between my last reading of this book, which must have been in my mid-teens, either I or the book had changed and become strangers who had to learn to relate to each other in a different way.

The book I remembered from my childhood was a slightly spooky story about a dinner service whose pattern came to life if you made the owls and odd things happened to the children who found it. When I read it now, I wondered why the book hadn’t terrified me as a child, and realised I had not really understood the story at all, because it is really about a trio of children being drawn against their will into an ancient magic that repeats itself by manifesting through a set of people down through the centuries.

This is marketed as a children’s book, but it isn’t really a book that can be properly understood by children. So much of what is going on in the story is inferred, rather than outwardly expressed, and would be much too complex and subtle for a child to understand. Alan Garner’s writing is very sparse, lacking description and embellishments, but this makes it all the more powerful in some ways, because there is so much room for the imagination to do its work, and we all know from childhood nightmares what our imaginations can conjure when given free rein. And, I think, that having lived and experienced so much, sometimes adult imaginations can produce some truly terrifying thoughts, especially in a time of heightened alarm such as we have at the moment.

This is a really powerful and evocative story, written in a bare writing style, which is a feat of magic in itself. But I don’t think I have had such a profoundly different reading experience from the one I expected as when I picked up this book after a gap of 34 years. Going back and rereading the same book does not always mean you get the same story.

The Owl Service is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Alan Garner was born in Congleton, Cheshire, in 1934. His began writing his first novel at the age of 22 and is renowned as one of Britain’s outstanding writers. He has won many prizes for his writing, and, in 2001 he was awarded the OBE for services to literature. He holds two honorary doctorates and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 2004 he co-founded The Blackden Trust http://www.theblackdentrust.org.uk

The Sapphire Society by L. C. Sarll #GuestPost (@c_sarll) @matadorbooks #TheSapphireSociety

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A forgotten necklace… A far-off land… A fantasy she never imagined…

Savannah Wood doesn’t just think she’s an ordinary twelve-year-old, she knows she is. Eager to leave the bullies that have made her life unbearable, she jumps at the chance when her father suddenly announces they’re moving to the Faroe Islands for his new job. Savannah is ready to find new adventures – especially ones that can link her to her ancestry. Her grandmother was Faroese, and when in the move Savannah’s mother unearths a sapphire necklace that belonged to her, Savannah is drawn to it, little realising that this gem will change her life forever.

For there are dark secrets hiding beneath the waters surrounding her new home. Deep in the fjords exists the Hellson, an underwater volcano ruled over by Ragnar, a merciless Viking with a craving for power. With only a secret force called The Sapphire Society to stand in his way, Ragnar will stop at nothing to claim the islands and its inhabitants for his own. Told that her grandmother was an accomplished member, Savannah throws herself into the society, nurturing her own talents and making new friends. But when the Hellson threatens to erupt and Ragnar’s army strikes, Savannah must call on all her courage to stand up to her nightmares and face the threat head-on for the sake of the island – and the entire world.

When I was approached by Sophie Morgan at Troubador to see if I was interested in reviewing The Sapphire Society by L. C. Sarll, I was disappointed that I was unable to fit in a reading of this book at present, as the blurb really appealed to me. So I am delighted to bring you instead a guest post by the author, to whet your appetite and mine, for a future reading of the book.

Author Interview with L. C. Sarll

What inspired you to write this book?

The Sapphire Society was inspired by two lovely ladies; my daughter and my grandmother.

Why did you decide to set the book on the Faroe Islands?

The Faroe Islands are where my Grandmother was born. The magical stories she told me as a child are so inspirational; I felt duty bound to try and pass snippets on, albeit in my own way.

What did you learn when writing the book?

Perseverance.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

The world is a magical place; we need only see when we look.

What book from your childhood has shaped you most as a writer?

The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It changed the way I saw my own surroundings and appreciate the little things.

Are there any future books for you?

Yes! The Sapphire Society is the first of a four-book set sequence. ‘The Mother of the Sea’ will continue Savannah’s journey as she finds dark challenges ahead.

Thank you for answering my questions, I look forward to reading the book in the near future.

The Sapphire Society is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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L C Sarll is  passionate about children’s literature. ‘The Sapphire Society’ is her debut middle grade fiction, to be released in February 2020. Visit the mysterious Faroe Islands for a dash of magic, friendship and a fight for the world.

Connect with L. C. Sarll:

Website: http://www.lcsarll.co.uk

Twitter: @c_sarll

 

Oranges and Lemons by Paula F. Andrews #GuestPost (@PaulaAAuthor) @matadorbooks #OrangesAndLemons

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Gregarious teenager, Jessifer Jordan, has always been loyal and open, and her love of acting has made her an expert in pretence. So, when six-year old Victorian ghost, Adeline, appears in her life and Jess’s best friend won’t believe her, deceit becomes Jess’s natural ally. Previously fun-loving and sociable, she becomes serious and isolated in her quest to discover what Adeline really wants. Always curious, she finds herself whisked back in time to 1863 and into the clutches of a volatile doctor with an obsession for morphine.

As she journeys back and forth into the past, she realises that Adeline reminds her of her dead sister and her submerged grief resurfaces. Will her great aunt Ruby’s counsel help her? Can she outwit the deranged medic? And whose is that smoky cat which keeps turning up out of the blue?

I am delighted to be featuring Oranges and Lemons by Paula F. Andrews on the blog today with a fabulous guest post from the author. My thanks to Sophie Morgan at Troubador for inviting me to do the feature.

Author interview with Paula F. Andrews

What is your book about?

Oranges and Lemons is a light ghost story, set in York, and involving time-slip episodes between the modern day and 1863. The main character is a fourteen-year-old contemporary teenage girl called Jessifer. She answers the call of a six-year-old ghost called Adeline. Her quest leads to conflict with her best friends and wonderful, beloved Aunt Ruby but underlines her deep empathy, love and loyalty. 

When did you know you wanted to write a book, and why this one? What was your inspiration?

I had an idea for a children’s picture book about ten years ago which led me to begin a course in writing for children. I then created a teenage girl character and felt I could write a story that would bring her together with a little ghostly character from local legend. I’d been interested in the little ghost since my teenage years and felt her fun, vibrant personality would be perfect for a book for young teenagers. The picture book is still at the idea stage!

How did you research the story? What was the most fascinating thing you learned?

I spent a long time looking into the development of morphine analgesia and the development of the hypodermic syringe. I did most of my research online but I also spent time in the Library and Archives in York, examining texts about the city, its streets and buildings, disease and medical care in the 1860s. I discovered that The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley was published in the year my story is set and also that the American Civil War was happening at the same time as the little ghost’s father was doing his own research into using the hypodermic syringe.

How long do you write each day?

I try to spend part of each day writing, whether it’s a blog, letters, social media posts, novel, short story or poetry writing. Now that my book has been published and I am working on the marketing and sales side of things as well, I’ve set aside three days for mainly writing and editing with the remainder of the working week allocated to  planning and doing events, signings and launches. Inevitably, I spend part of my weekend doing admin and also some writing.

Where do you like to write?

Until recently, I wrote in my lounge, which meant tidying all my papers, storyboards, etc, away, at the end of the day. So, now, I have converted our spare room into a writing-cum-guest-cum-sitting room where I can have all my things spread out! (Until someone comes to stay!)

I also love to write in cafes! And people watch at the same time!

What was the most valuable piece of advice you’ve had about being a writer that you’d like to share with others?

To write every day, even if it’s only a short letter or a social media post. Using the ‘writing muscles’ is important for maintaining skill but to achieve real growth, daily writing is vital.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? What was the best? 

The hardest: agonising over cutting out characters and chunks I really liked.

The best: seeing each of my unique characters take shape and giving them different voices.

What has been your favourite part of the publishing process?

Getting the final cover design!

Do you have plans for another book?

I have a completed fantasy novel for middle grade readers which requires editing. I also have ideas about another story involving some of the characters from Oranges and Lemons but with a different setting. And I have begun planning a second novel for middle grade readers.

Paula, thank you for answering my questions, it has been fascinating to hear about your writing process.

Oranges and Lemons is out now and you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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Paula F. Andrews has been a nurse, midwife and craftsperson. She grew up in North Yorkshire and now lives in Glasgow with her husband and grown-up children. Writing seriously since 2012, she has won numerous prizes including Strathkelvin Writers’ Group overall prize for 2019 and the Scottish Association of Writers prize for YA fiction in 2017. She has also been published in Aquila and Scottish Memories magazine.
Connect with Paula:

Website: http://paulaandrews.co.uk

Twitter: @PaulaAAuthor

Facebook: Paula Andrews

Instagram: @paulaandrewsauthor

Tempted by….Tales Before Bedtime: A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson @AJ_Wils @panmacmillan @ShelleyFallows #bookbloggers #bloggerlove #readingrecommendations #booklove #AFarAwayMagic

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When Angel moves to a new school after the death of her parents, she isn’t interested in making friends. Until she meets Bavar – a strange boy, tall, awkward and desperate to remain unseen, but who seems to have a kind of magic about him. Everyone and everything within Bavar’s enchanted house is urging him to step up and protect the world from a magical rift through which monsters are travelling, the same monsters that killed Angel’s parents.

But Bavar doesn’t want to follow the path that’s been chosen for him – he wants to be normal; to disappear. Fighting one another as well as their fears, Angel and Bavar must find a way to repair the rift between the worlds, and themselves, before it’s too late . . .

Wow, these Mondays seem to be coming around quickly, which means it is time for the next in the ‘Tempted by….’ series, highlighting books I have been tempted to buy after reading reviews of them by my fellow bloggers.

Today I am showcasing A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson, which I bought after reading this review by Shelley at Tales Before Bedtime. It was featured on the Tales Before Bedtime Juniors section of Shelley’s blog, as part of her  Summer Reading suggestions to keep kids occupied during the long holidays. My daughter loved Amy’s previous book, A Girl Called Owl, which I bought her for her birthday back in March, so I thought she might enjoy this too, but not until I’ve read it first!

My mother, when I ask her why she has never read Harry Potter, always responds with a question: “Why would I, as an adult, want to read a children’s book?” and I always reply, ‘Why wouldn’t you?” Children’s books contain some of the most beautiful, imaginative, innovative and exciting writing being produced today and anyone who thinks that the quality of writing for children is lesser than that in adult fiction is sorely mistaken. Plus, I think we all need a little magic and fantasy in our lives in these stressful times, to remind us what it was like to be uncynical; to be filled with wonder and imagination and optimism; to believe anything is possible for us. Why wouldn’t you want to read children’s books?

When I read Shelley’s review of this book, I thought it sounded like a book that might offer all of this magic and wonder and imagination. Shelley sums up the book in this quote: “Beautifully written, filled with magic, love and grief, this is a powerful novel with wonderful characters – I was left feeling a little of the magic had stayed behind with me.” Just what I am looking for when I pick up a book to provide me with a respite from the adult world for a time. I can’t wait to read this, and fully intend to steal back A Girl Called Owl from my daughter to read too. Actually, I’ll swap it for this one as fair exchange is no robbery.

Make sure you check out the full review of the book on Shelley’s blog, and have a further scout around while you are there. She has lots of interesting content, including some of her own writing which I am sure visitors will enjoy as much as I do. You can find Shelley’s blog here.

If you would like to get your own copy of A Far Away Magic, you can buy the book here. Amy Wilson’s new book, Snowglobe, is also out now.

Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer by Lily Mae Walters #BookReview #BlogTour (@LilyMaeWalters1) @RaRaResources #Giveaway #JosieJames

Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer Blog Tour

Taking my turn on the blog tour today for Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer by Lily Mae Walters (the pen name of my fellow Fiction Cafe Writer, Florence Keeling). My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to Lily Mae/Florence for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly. Make sure you check out the giveaway after the review for a chance to win a signed copy of the book.

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“Josie James is an ordinary 13 year old until something extraordinary happens during her summer holidays.

Whist staying at her Great Grandmother’s cottage in the country she finds herself swept into the cursed world of Suncroft where it is perpetual winter.

Her new friends believe she could be the Chosen One who it is foretold will lift the curse, but there are more pressing matters.

The Teardrops of Summer – magical crystals that render the owner immortal – have been stolen.  Along with her telepathic husky-dog Protector Asher and her new friends, Josie must race to find the Teardrops and prevent catastrophe for their world.”

This is a really enchanting fantasy read aimed at the middle grade reader which is the start of a series I am really looking forward to.

The main character, Josie James, has no idea she is special until the summer she is thirteen when she visits her great grandmother and everything changes. She is taken to a new hidden world full of magic and talking dogs where she may be the ‘chosen one’ foretold in a prophecy. The plot will draw a child in in the best traditions of the Narnia books or Alice in Wonderland. What child can resist a hidden magical world?

There is plenty of action and magic and intrigue to keep a child wanting to read to the end, and is left well balanced at the end of one mystery but with more to discover in the next story, so to hook the child in to the series. Josie is a really appealing lead character, strong, resourceful, curious, slightly rebellious, slightly insecure – I am sure a lot of children will relate and wish they could have the same kind of adventures. Making a central characters that children want to be is the main part of the battle in drawing the young reader in.

I think the author did a great job in setting up a world that children will find intriguing and magical. The book took a little while to get going while the story was set up in the first half, but the second half was action-packed and I am sure the following books in the series will not have the same slowish start as the stage is already set. I did also think that some of the writing near the beginning was a little simplistic and pitched the book at the lower end of the middle grade age range or at the reluctant reader – my ten-year-old is a more sophisticated reader than some of the language in this book is aimed at, but that is not necessarily a draw back. I think she would still enjoy the story and I will share it with her and get her reaction.

I was really drawn in to the world and the story created in the book and look forward with pleasant anticipation to the second book in the series. I would definitely recommend this book to children of ages 7-10, boys and girls, especially those who like a slightly less demanding and gentler paced read to encourage them.

Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer is out now and you can get your copy here.

Giveaway

To be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer, enter via the Rafflecopter link below.

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494132/

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Make sure you check out the stops on the rest of the tour on the blogs listed below:

Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer Full Tour Banner

About the Author

Lily Mae Walters chose her pen name in honour of her beloved grandparents who also stare in the Josie James series.

She is married with two teenage children, and two huskies that are the inspiration behind Murphy and Asher in the books.

Lily Mae lives in Nuneaton, England and finds herself using local  places and even her old school in her stories.

Family and friends mean the world to Lily Mae and many will find themselves popping up throughout the series.

Lily Mae also writes for adults under the name of Florence Keeling.

Connect with Josie:

Facebook: Josie James

Twitter: @LilyMaeWalters1

Instagram: @lilymaewalters

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle #BookReview (@doyle_cat) @KidsBloomsbury #TheStormKeepersIsland #NetGalley

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“When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet.

Once in a generation, the island chooses a new Storm Keeper – someone to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has finally come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

Fionn’s ancestral home has been waiting for him. But deep underground, someone else has been waiting, too. As a battle rages, over who will become the island’s next champion, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.”

This book is a mystical story of ancient magic and family legacies, brought right up to date with modern story-telling. Fionn Boyle goes to visit his grandfather on the island of Arranmore, a place his mother doesn’t talk about and where tragedy has befallen his family. Once there, Fionn discovers he is descended from an ancient line of families integral to the history of the island, which is full of magic and with an ancient evil lurking beneath the earth. Fionn doesn’t think he is anything special, or that he has what it takes to live up to his legacy, but he may not have a choice.

As someone who has always loved traditional myths and folklore, I would have loved this book as a child and still found plenty to enchant me in adulthood. The setting was perfect – an isolated storm-swept island full of history and legend, magic and secrets – just the kind of place to capture the imagination of any child. Fionn is an easy hero to relate to as well, as he seems ordinary in the beginning, possessing no special skills and riddled with fear and self-doubt, and with a fractious relationship with his older sister. I am sure most children will recognise aspects of themselves in Fionn and be able to identify with him and his journey.

The relationship Fionn has with his grandfather is particularly touching and emotional and was at the heart of the story for me. The idea of seeing ourselves in previous generations and how we can carry down the best aspects of our family through the generation and maintain those links is charming and heart-warming. The relationship he has with his sister is also drawn very naturally and authentically. Their bickering, the way she annoys him and how frustrated he gets with her were very true to life and extremely entertaining. The suitably appalling boyfriend who is a rival to Fionn’s place in island history was also good fun to read.

There was plenty of action and great ideas in this book. The way the Storm Keeper was able to capture moments in time and preserve them to be revisited in future was a great hook for creating some exciting moments of drama in the book, and it was pacy enough to carry the reader along through chapter after chapter.

If I had a minor niggle about this book, it was that it was obviously setting itself up for a sequel and the ending was not perhaps satisfying enough in relation to the subject of the evil lurking beneath the earth which does not fully materialise. There are a lot of hints and developments that are obviously leading to a major battle occurring in a future book that we will have to wait for, so this definitely feels like a prequel. This did not stop it being an enjoyable read but I was most certainly left wondering about what is going to happen to Fionn and the island next.

A small quirk I also came across was with the name of the main character – Fionn – which my eye, unfamiliar with this name, kept reading as Fiona and I had to mentally check myself each time I read it which was a niggling annoyance but that might just be me!

Those tiny issues aside, this is a great book that is a welcome addition to the strong canon of middle grade literature that has sprung up over the past few years and I am sure any child who loves stories of magic and adventure will quickly get lost in this book over the long summer holiday. I would definitely encourage my younger daughter and nieces and nephews to read it and I will be waiting eagerly for the next instalment in Fionn’s story.

The Storm Keeper’s Island is out now and you can buy a copy here.

My thanks to Bloomsbury and to NetGalley for my copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

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Catherine Doyle grew up beside the Atlantic Ocean in the west of Ireland. Her love of reading began with great Irish myths and legends, and fostered in her an ambition to one day write her own. She holds a first class BA in Psychology and a first class MA in Publishing from the National University of Ireland, Galway, and is the author of the YA Blood for Blood trilogy. The Storm Keeper’s Island is her debut middle-grade novel and was inspired by her real-life ancestral home of Arranmore Island, where her grandparents grew up, and the adventures of her many seafaring ancestors. After living in Dublin City for two years, Catherine is now based in Galway but spends a lot of her time in London and the US.

Connect with Catherine”

Website: https://www.catherinedoylebooks.com

Twitter: @doyle_cat

Instagram: @cat_doyle0

Goodreads: Catherine Doyle