Thursday, 1 November 2018

Review & GIVEAWAY - To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo - BY Teen Reviewer

Lira is Royal, but unlike the any other Royal family, she is a siren. A killer, who will take a human heart for every birthday, and this year it will be her 18th. Her mother, the unforgiving Sea Queen, who cares little for her daughter as she does for anyone else, is sure Lira will not be worthy of Queen. So much, that when Lira disobeys the oldest rules, she curses Lira into becoming human, and without delivering the sirens most hated enemy; the siren killer’s, heart, she will stay human for eternity…

But Elian won’t give up, Prince of Midas, Captain of The Saad, and Leader of Siren killers. His mission is to defeat all sirens and in doing so kill the infamous Prince’s Bane, but when Elian rescues a defenceless woman floating in the water on his journey, he has to try and build trust if he wants her help…

This amazing book is full of twists and turns, as well as a brilliant plot. I love the way Christo has written this. The characters are so real, and intriguing that you find yourself rooting for even the most despicable characters. The incredible journey takes you on a whirlwind of adventures, I couldn’t put it down! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a bit of fantasy, or twisted fairy tale or even pirates! It was one of the best books I have read, and I didn’t want it to stop!

Review by Bea aged 14

We are giving away a signed copy of To Kill a Kingdom, just retweet our pinned tweet on Twitter @BookshelfSpace& follow before 1st December 2018. Winner announcer 2nd December. UK only. Good Luck!

Friday, 12 October 2018

October reading round up

Murder at Twilight by Fleur Hitchcock

Viv, grumpy teenaged daughter of the live-in childminder of posh-boy, Noah, hates her mum being at the beck and call of the Belcombe family.

A row that ends with her satisfyingly punching posh Noah on the nose has serious consequences when accusations and suspicions fly when he is kidnapped.

Viv is used to wandering the vast acres owned by the Belcombes, after all, they own practically everything around here. But when she accidentally finds herself embroiled in the kidnap plot, the realises she is in far more danger than the fragile, but valuable Noah.

It all leads to a series of thrilling chases as the pair have to flee and try to get to safety. But the landscape is flooded and almost unrecognisable, even to Viv. Is it going to be too easy for the baddies to be one step ahead of them? They are going to have to come up with a better plan, but resourceful Viv proves herself more than a match for any kidnappers.

There are really nail-biting descriptions of race-against-time daring escapes and chases (that don’t always go so well) to keep you frantically turning the pages. Another unputdownable thriller by Fleur Hitchcock.

Dragon Daughter by Liz Flanagan

When Milla witnesses a murder, the last thing she expects to discover is that the victim has hidden something extraordinary – four incredibly rare dragon eggs.

Milla feels instantly protective of the eggs. She has heard stories of course, that once there were dragons here on the island of Arcosi. But as she is only a servant and a lower-class citizen, she knows the risks if she keps the eggs. She has to be very careful as the consequences will be severe if she is discovered keeping things from the Duke.

Milla has no idea how her life will turn upside-down when she starts to learn what the return of the dragons truly means to her island home. At first it only seems to bring trouble. Chaos erupts, sending the divisions between the islanders even deeper.

But Milla knows she must protect the dragons at all costs. And she must learn their secrets if she is to find a way to heal all the warring parties and prevent a civil war.

Anyone who speaks up against unfairness is dealt with brutally and there are powerful descriptions of a whole country moving towards the brink of war.

This is a compelling tale of a society organised by caste and favouritism. But all that looks like it might be turned on its head by the return of the dragons and the forging of a whole new set of friendships and allies with more in common and more to lose than they realise.

This is an epic story with much to say of warring nations and how greed and corruption lead to bitterness and battles, but how finding common bonds reaches across the barriers of origin and caste. 

My favourite scenes were those beautifully evoked moments between the riders and their dragons, which is the glorious heart of the novel.

A beautiful and thought-provoking read in equal measure. And also with one of my favourite jackets of the year by Angelo Rinaldi.

Warrior Boy by Virginia Clay

Ben doesn’t feel he fits in at his London school, even though it’s the only life he has known. But he worries even more that he won’t fit in when he travels to Kenya with his mother. His father was Kenyan and Ben is worried to meet family he has never met before. 

He knows they will be very different and how can he possibly relate to people who wear strange clothes, have such unusual customs and live in huts made of cow dung?

Even more than that, one of Ben’s biggest fears is how he will cope when he has a phobia about blood and he learns his father was a brave warrior?

This is a thoroughly enjoyable fish out of water story where the sights and smells of the Maasai come really to life and plunges the reader, along with outsider Ben, into a culture that he gradually learns to love. The life and landscape seeps through the book in such a delightful way that I challenge any reader not to fall under its spell.

With an exciting plot about catching poachers, some great interplays with his new-found cousin and grandfather, Ben’s journey becomes one to see if he can dig deep and discover any warrior roots hidden in this nervous, urban boy.

This is such a great read about the things we have in common, no matter where we grow up. About finding bonds in family and learning that differences can be a cause for celebration. But it is also an enthralling and uplifting tale about how facing your fears can bring you closer to others.

Peril in Paris by Katherine Woodfine

Thirteen-year-old Arnovian princess, Anna, is full of envy of her younger brother, Alex, who will get to go to boarding school and be King one day. Being a princess is a lot less fun. All she seems to do all day is learn the history of her country and how to walk and talk nicely. But maybe life is about to get exciting . . . Anna is getting suspicious that her new governess might be a spy.

Meanwhile, in another part of Europe a young woman is investigating the death of a secret agent. Was it really just a burglary that went wrong? With the shadow of the First World War starting to fall across Europe, it is important to get to the truth and spying is a new and dangerous mission as secrets trade for high value.

The twin narratives of this intriguing story set in the early twentieth century is full of glamour and parties, but there are also exciting developments happening in science and aviation. Paris is the scene of the first air race and it forms a great backdrop to the climax of this exciting spy thriller. 

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius 

Ship’s engineer, Sally Jones, is an absolute genius at anything mechanical. She is also a gorilla, a fact that characters throughout the story react to in different ways! But her abilities and character help her make friends and win allies at every turn. 

Gentle Sally Jones is content to follow Captain Koskela anywhere. She works diligently and news of her talent is widespread. Then they go on a dangerous voyage together that goes terribly wrong. The captain is arrested for murder. Only Sally Jones believes in his innocence and there begins her epic tale to find the evidence that will free him.

This is a great historical adventure that will take Sally Jones to the other side of the world in a thrilling quest involving everything from planes to palaces, as she leaves no stone unturned, but patiently finds the evidence that will free her friend.

This is an unusual book for many reasons. It's a children’s book with no child characters. That the main character is an ape in itself makes this such an astonishing book. But the main character also never says a word throughout the story, yet it is all told from her point of view as she writes her memoirs. 

Sally Jones is both a believable engineering superstar, and someone who is only ever herself. She has a childlike quality of trust and goodness, almost the epitome of humanity, without her being human at all. 

It’s a legendary piece of writing, an enjoyable adventure as Sally Jones never sways from her unswervable belief that she can free her captain, no matter how long it takes. The amazing Sally Jones will remain in your heart.

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson

Nate can’t quite understand why Mum has brought him to this freezing cold cottage  in the middle of nowhere in the snow. It’s all a bit musty, but he knows she has rowed with Gran and at least they have got away from the hateful Gary.

But when Mum goes out for food and then doesn’t return. Nate is really pleased that his old invisible friend, Sam, turns up again to help. And then there’s Kitty from the big house, obsessed with mazes and dolls houses, pestering him to help her solve a treasure hunt – as if he is worried about finding treasure when Mum might have gone back to Gary, and the only food around is what was left in the empty house.

The Light Jar is a gripping story about facing up to our fears, but it is also a tale of the sometimes strange things we find ourselves doing in order to get through and survive. A brilliant tale of friendship and standing on our own two feet.

Nicki Thornton

Friday, 5 October 2018

October Picture Book Round UP – 100 Dogs – Not Yet a Yeti – The King That Banned the Dark

100 Dogs by Michael Whaite

100 Dogs is fun rhyming book, with vibrant humorous pictures, which is an easy read-aloud book to share. With pages bursting full of dog of every shape, size bread and personality type, it groups them together by way of rhyme that slips of the tongue and poses the question, which dog is like yours? Funny and full of dog traits that all dog owners will find funny, it also poses as a great books for learning your phonics, with so many rhymes. But primarily it is just a funny book great to share at bed time.

Not Yet A Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal

George is the youngest of a family of yeti’s and he anxious as to why he is not a yeti yet. So he asks his family members why he’s not yet a yeti,, and they ask him if he can do essential yeti tasks, like leaving big footprints in the snow to scare people, or being capable of luring hikes to their doom. None of these staple yeti activities really appeal to George, and it’s only when his Mum ask him if he really wants to be yeti, that George realises his vocation if very different. George soon realises he can be what he dreams, and with the acceptance of those he loves, he finds his own role within the family, and finally becomes the happies and truest form of himself. Not Yet A Yeti, is fun and colourful tale of self-acceptance and family love.

The King who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth

What would happen if a king was scared of the dark? He’d ban it of course! And so begins Emily Haworth-Booth’s lovely yearn, accompanied by muted and exquisite illustrations. Of course the King’s advisors are aware that banning the dark could cause the kingdoms people to revolt, so they cunning spread rumours about the dark so’s to fuel the people desire to ban it. When the people are ready, a huge artificial sun is hung above the palace, and the whole kingdom rejoices, until they become weary and sleep deprived. And so, the people decide action is needed, and their treachery payback as they save the Kings celebrations, and in doing so teaches him a valuable lesson. The King Who Banned the Dark is modern fairy-tale, akin to The Emperor’s New Clothes, told with sophistication and paired with extraordinary beautiful illustrations in monotones, juxtaposed with vibrant yellow.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Celebrations & Thanks as Last Chance Hotel - is picked as Waterstones Book of the Month - Nicki Thornton

We have been amazingly proud of Nicki Thornton, who writes for this blog, who had her first middle-grade novel, The Last Chance Hotel published this summer.

Her murder mystery set in a magical world has enjoyed the support of many independent bookshops with a special limited edition of the first print run and was supported by many Waterstones booksellers, who placed it in their summer promotions.

We would like to celebrate today that The Last Chance Hotel has been chosen as Waterstones’ Book of the Month for the deliciously spooky month of October by offering a giveaway of two goodie packs of a signed copy and signed bookmarks.

To win just let Tweet us @BookshelfSpace with tag #TLCHGIVEAWAY and let us know what enchanted sidekick you’d choose if you were investigating a magical murder! The competition closes on Halloween 31st of October at 10am GMT.

Thanks to everyone at Waterstones – and indeed to booksellers everywhere - for such brilliant support of The Last Chance Hotel.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Snail Story Sack - Featuring ‘Are you A Snail?’ by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries – Budget Story Sack

Recently my sister who is a Key Stage 1 teacher acquired some Giant African Land Snails as class pets, and as I was instrumental in her decision to have the snails in class, I put together a Snail Story Sack, as an educational resource.

we on SOTB do an array of Story Sack features, and from time to time we do a budget sack to show that they don’t have to be expensive to assemble. This Snail inspired Story Sack is indeed a budget sack, and came in at under £14.00. So before we start here is a reminder at what is included in a Story Sack…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel).
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book. 
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children). 
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book. 
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack. 


So firstly I kept my eyes peeled whilst out and about, and in a charity shop I picked up a good condition hardback copy of ‘Are you a Snail?’ by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries for 50p. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book which is full of facts about snails posed in questions and answers, all accompanied by charming illustrations.

Now, there are oodles of other snail books that you could use as the non-fiction element of the story sack, like ‘Snail and the Whale’ By Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, ‘Watch out Snail’ Gay Hay and Margret Tolland, ‘Snail Trail’ by Ruth Brown or ‘Norman, The Snail with the Silly Shell?’ by Sue Henra to name just a few alternatives. 

For the non-fiction element I chose to get a second hand copy of ‘Snail’ by Karen Hartley and Chris Macro, because it is a full colour picture book, which is fact based but the right level for Key Stage One students. This I got from a second hand book dealer on line for £3.50. In addition I have included a copy of the RSPB’s ‘My First Book of Garden Bugs’ which I also found in a charity shop for 50p, so children can use it to help discover snails in the garden. 

Soft Toys, 
Games & Activities…

Now soft toys are tricky, as snails are not the most snuggly of animal. However I did find a plush snail finger puppet by The Puppet Company for £3.50 which is charming and fun.

For games I managed to pick up a snail puzzle for £1.00 in a budget shop and ‘Little Bug Bingo’ by Orchard Toys for £4.50 from a well-known supermarket. I have paired these with a magnifying glass and plastic bug viewer which I picked up for 25p each from a charity shop. To further ignite interest and curiosity, I found some empty snail shells in the garden, disinfected them and have included them for the children to observe with the use of the aforementioned magnifying glass. 

This story stack should be a fun way to help the children further their understanding about snails, plus also provide a good display to go alongside the class pets. It came in at a modest cost of £14.00. Of course if you have a smaller budget with good buying, you could go for a smaller sack with fewer games, or if you are lucky enough to have a larger budget you could go for the Hansa Plush Snail and possibly the Snail Pace Race Game! Either way there is lots of stuff out there to compile great snail Story Sacks whatever your budget.

Thank you for stopping by, please come back soon!

Sunday, 9 September 2018

August reads - Candy Gourlay, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch, Will Mabbit, Valija Zinck

Bone Talk – Candy Gourlay

Candy Gourlay delves into her own Filippino heritage to bring us Samkad’s thrilling story of life among hilltribes and takes you on a journey to the other side of the world and back over a hundred years.

It’s her supreme storytelling skills that not only bring this rich tale of a primitive existence so vibrantly to life, but make Samkad’s story seem so immediate and relevant.

Samkad’s life is dominated by the landscape, ruled by superstition, strict lore and community. 

To Samkad nothing about his life seems extraordinary, even though violence is commonplace, with tough consequences for anyone not conforming or challenging the ancient ways. A journey to the next village is considered too dangerous to even consider.

But then the local tribe are head-hunters. 

His worries are about rituals and displeasing the ancestors. His dreams are about his status, particularly with the other young men. 

It feels an impeccably researched story of the daily tribulations of a tribal life. Which makes it more shocking when his way of life is so brutally interrupted by the inexorable march of western exploration, with the arrival of Americans.

How utterly alien tribal ways, with their sometimes cruel rituals, must have seemed to those foreigners when they first arrived in the Philippines. The same story could be told of so many colonial explorers who landed on foreign shores feeling dominant, confident in their superior civilised way of life and ready to impose their views.

One of Bone Talk’s strengths is that it doesn’t take a romanticised view of a complex, enduring way of life – nor of the strangers who first encountered it.

Following individual desires rather than the strict rules and displeasing the elders can be met with a brutal response. Women must know their place. There are no equal chances for success and happiness. But it's a sustainable existence that has changed little, but endured.

It’s a strong twist that the first American Samkad meets plays an important part in the story, befriending the tribespeople and bringing some modern benefits, such as medicine. 
It all heralds the winds that bring inevitable change.

It’s the superlative storytelling that crosses both time and geography to connect with Samkad’s story. But it’s the plea for tolerance and understanding, rather than fear of what we don’t know and understand, which make this such a brilliant story for our times.

I can’t wait to see it on the Carnegie short-list as it so deserves to be, it would make a perfect book for shadowing.

The Book of Boy - Catherine Gilbert Murdoch

Known only as Boy, this is the story of a kindly young goatherd, who is taken on as a servant by a strange pilgrim on a long journey to track down the scattered bones of a saint.

This is the fourteenth century where anything connected to a saint is prized and has enormous value. The income of whole towns can depend on the visitors who come to pray to the saint for anything from answering wishes to cures. Rivalries for more authentic relics are rife. But it’s all down to belief, with plenty of openings for fraudsters.

The reader is plunged into the sight, smells and politics of the medieval world. Boy has been regularly taunted and called a monster in the manor where he was brought up because he has a humped back. But his disability doesn’t impair his agility at all. He a terrific climber – and he has another brilliant skill used with great comic effect throughout the story – he is able to talk to animals.

This means that although the book is mostly about religion, it’s a fun and playful read, at times a rollicking adventure, full of doubt and danger as Boy realises lengths his new master will go to and his mission gets more desperate. The lines between good and evil blur and with an extraordinary blend of history, religion and fantasy, this really is a book like no other. 

The Embassy of the Dead – Will Mabbit

When Jake accidentally accepts a gift from a ghost his troubles quickly spiral to very dangerous levels, in this quirky comedy story of the spooky underworld. 

Jake can see ghosts, which is how he got into trouble in the first place, but now only ghosts can save him. He has broken the complicated bureaucratic rules of the Embassy of the Dead and there is no way to call off the grim reaper who is coming after Jake.

With the help of an odd assortment of the long-dead (including a cute dead pet!) Jake learns quickly about the people who work for the Embassy to solve all sorts of the ghostly problems and mysteries of those departed, but who have not successfully passed to the other side.

But most importantly he must work out the mystery of why the creepy relic that has fallen into his possession is so important . . .and see if he can outwit the several baddies on his tale and save himself a horrible fate – all while pretending to his parents that he is spending a few days on a geography field trip.

Such a fast-paced, fun story. The ghostly set-up is really imaginative and the mysteries of why ghosts might end up haunting is really well realised (and promises sequels!). This is a page-turning adventure story with a great twist; good ghostly characters and worldbuilding and plenty of shocks and laughs in equal measure along the way. A thoroughly entertaining read.
Really hope to see more of Jake and his ghostly goings-on.

A Tangle of Magic - Valija Zinck

Penelope has always felt herself to be strange and different, and not just the fact that she is ten-years-old and has grey hair.

But when her hair suddenly turns red, Penelope knows it is not the only thing in life that has changed. She feels a totally different person, suddenly full of not just energy. Penelope realises she has powers.
But she has no-one around to teach her about magic. 

Valija Zinck’s ‘A Tangle of Magic’ is such an enjoyable story about someone who discovers they are magic but has to learn all by themselves, with plenty of room for fun and adventure as Penelope experiments and tries to work out what she can and can’t do – and how it is all connected to her hair.
What are her powers? How do they work? Has she has inherited powers from her missing father? And are there other magical people in the world?

Penelope is such a great character, adventurous and curious, kindly, popular and independent in spirit. She lives on the edge of the swamp forest with her lovely family, her doting mother, a grandmother who can’t cook and a loyal cat called Coco.

There are many ways this book is both unexpected and zany – like the fact that the only magic Penelope seems to be able to do is to talk to the road! 

Her mother is bitter about Penelope’s father abandoning them suddenly and why he sends them weird post every month. But this gives Penelope the glimmer of an idea and she starts to hatch a complicated plan to deceive her mother and see if she can find out more about her father.
It’s both a warm and intriguing story where the menace builds quite unexpectedly.

One of the great things is the hints about a much wider magical world that Penelope knows nothing about. Her grandmother is definitely hiding secrets and knows more than she is letting on! 
And there are hints about magical people being very menacing and a sinister organisation that trains them, which hopefully means there are many more stories about Penelope to come.

Nicki Thornton  @nicki_thornton

Monday, 3 September 2018

Firebird – Elizabeth Wein – Barrington Stoke – Review

People say that books are doorways into other worlds, but Historical Fiction doesn’t just open up another world, but also shines a light on parts of history that as lesser known, often forgotten entirely.

We all know about WWII, for people of my generation (I’m right on the cusp of Generation X and Millennial) we grew up amongst people that lived through it, both my grandparents on one side were in the RAF and had medals, my Gran refused to collect hers, and my granddad (twice shot down over enemy tertiary) refused to talk about it. My other grandparents worked the land and were in the Home Guard and saw action discovering a crashed German bomber. My neighbour was evacuated from London during the blitz to rural Oxfordshire, never to return.

Not only were we surrounded by people who survived the war, we were also immersed in literature about it, reading Michael Morpurgo, the Narnia series, and The Diary of Anne Frank, (even watching her father break down in tears on Blue Peter). And watching it, John Boreman’s Hope and Glory, Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and Goodnight Mister Tom. It’s a part of history we know well, from the troops on the front, the espionage and code breaking, to the way affected civilians in the UK, Europe and the US. Younger generations, may not be surrounded by people that were there, but they are still very well versed on the war experience from the perspective of the allied forces and nations. That is apart from Russia. Russia that fought on our side.

Russia and her people’s experiences and trials through the war have been barely mentioned, much like the German and Japanese’s experiences of the war (Grave of the Fireflies excluded). This is probably due to trust issues as a result of the Russian revolution, after all the Csar Nicholas II, the brutal execution of his children, and then the following cold War. So Historical Fiction really can expand our understanding of historical events by exploring these less written and filmed aspects of our past, and this is exactly what Elizabeth Wein has done with Firebird.

Firebird is the story of Anastasia Viktorovana , as told by her to a tribunal as she stands trial for treason. The first chapter is difficult reading, she is a true Communist, her parents were there at the beginning, fighting in the Red Army alongside Lenin, and her father drove the wagon transporting the corpses of Czar Nicholas II and his family. Anastasia known of Nastia was brought up fighting for the cause, learning to shoot a gun before she could walk. Nastia’s frank and unremorseful talk of these events are hard to read, but there is something that lies between her words that resonates deeply and demands empathy, the fact she is a loyal young girl, who fights for her beliefs but also is very loving and loyal to her family and friends.

Nastia a flight instructor for the Leningrad Youth Aeroclub, and is the only woman except for the Chief instructor. But on the advent of war, Natstia is devastated when she and her fellow instructors go to sign on for active duty, and she is the only one not accepted to fly fighters, despite her greater experience and more flight hours, the men are sent to the war, and she and Chief are left to train a procession of new male pilots. 

The Chief, a formidable woman with short cropped hair, who wears men’s clothes and does her makeup like mask, and (rumour has it) has an taste for expensive French corsets. Is the person who got Nastia her job within the Areoclub, due to her friendship with Nastia’s father. Nastia knows that the chief and her father are close friends, close enough that the Chief to have picked Nastia’s name, but she is an enigma, and Nastia knows nothing about her. All Nastia knows for sure is that her father met Chief around the time of the Csar was overthrown.

Under The Chief guidance Nastia along with a selection of other female instructors train other pilots biding their time until it the females are called on to fly fighters. The night before her first mission Nastia receives news that both her parents have died leaving the Chief as the closest thing she has to family. Loyally Nastia goes in to battle as the Chief’s wingman, but when Chief’s plane is damaged and is under fire she is left with an impossible dilemma leave Chief behind or fall back from the fight and face a treason charge.

When the fight is over Nastia learns the truth about The Chief’s identity and in doing so reveals more about her father and the notion of loyalty itself.

Firebird, really opens a doorway into an aspect of history which is not often discussed, and does so with unflinching directness, whilst empathising and bringing out the universal aspects of the human nature; that most people fight for love and loyalty. But by blurring with the lines between fact and fiction Wein has woven an ending with a twist that is both elegant and poignant that’s akin to the closing scenes of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 Oscar winning epic ‘the Last Emperor’. Firebird is an engaging intelligent read, and well deserves to get on the shortlist for next year’s CLIP Carnegie.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

‘I Love You Stick Insect’ by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros -Review & Story Sack

There are some animals that get staring parts in fiction books over and over again and then there are some that you’d be hard pushed to find even making a guest appearance let alone a whole book dedicated to them.  So it is a delight when you do find a book which shines a light on an under represented creature, and in this case, as you can tell by the title, it is Stick Insects that get the spotlight!

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s picture book ‘I love You Stick Insect’ is an endearing read, full of humour and is beautifully illustrated with equally charming images.  The story is one long declaration of love from one stick insect to another, as it proposes a romance full of adventures and fun, whilst a sceptical butterfly looks on. And although a romance does not blossom in this particular case, the Stick Insect is a true romantic and his aspiration remains steadfast as he turns his affection elsewhere.

Being a mother of a child who has a passion for natural history and animal husbandry and living in a home with an ever growing menagerie, I obviously share the house with a colony of Stick Insects, Sunny Stick Insects to precise, I was delighted to find ‘I love you Stick Insect’ on the shelves of my favourite independent bookshop. Also, I imminently saw the potential to use it as the basis of a story sack which could be in turn used as a teaching resource in classrooms too.   So here is our ‘I Love You Stick Insect Story Sack.’

But first let just have recap of what is included in a typical Story Sack…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book. 
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children). 
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book. 
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack. 

Our 'I Love You Stick Insect' Story Sack...


For books we have paired ‘I Love you Stick Insect’ with ‘Keeping Unusual Pets Stick Insects and Mantids’ by June McNicholas, this is a children’s guide to both the entomology and husbandry of keeping both Stick Insects and Mantis, full of full colour photos and interesting facts.


So, I have found that not only are stick insects sadly unrepresented in books, they are also scarcely available as toys. However there is one exception, you can purchase from either EBay, or the large online retailer who shall not be named, a toy model of an Australian Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (this is a very interesting variety that literally came back from extinction, which is well worth looking up!) The toy is by Science and Nature and is model number 75348.

Game or Activity…

As for a game or activity I have two, one is a model stick insect which can be simply made, by using you’ve guested it a STICK! Plus pipe-cleaners and with sticker for eyes or googly eyes. If you want to do antennas then you can also use ‘Twisty Sticks’ which are wax covered string. All items are easily available at a hobby/craft shops.  It is pretty easy and self-explanatory, each stick insect will take (if you aim for a 6-8 inch insect) 1 and half standard pipe-cleaners and half a Twisty Stick.

The second activity is well Stick Insect keeping. They are really easy and inexpensive to keep, as they live on brambles. You can either purchase a kit, which will come with a pop-up mesh enclosure water bottle and a voucher to order your stick insects, (available online at aforementioned sites from £12). Or alternatively if you have an exotic pet shop by you, you could just buy some stick insect which (species depending) are usually only a couple of £ each (just check with the shop owner about the suitability of the stick insect variety for keeping with children). You can keep them in an old fish tank, just put a netting cover over so they get lots of air flow, mosquito netting, fruit netting or tutu netting would suffice. You feed them on brambles, which you can place in a jam-jar, or even better, a children’s no-spill painting water pot. Then sit and watch them munch, shed, grow, and maybe reproduce!


Thank you stopping by and reading our little blog. please do leave us a comment.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Truth About Lies - Tracy Darnton - review

Straight away, from the title of this excellent thriller, The Truth About Lies, you know this will be an intriguing voyage into the truth and memory. And it doesn’t disappoint.
Jess has a condition called hyperthymesia, which means she can remember every detail of what happened on a any given day, even the unimportant minutiae, like exactly what she was wearing.
Jess also has a photographic memory. She can bring a document out of her memory to read later after only a glance.
Far too much information is all stored in her overloaded and over-busy brain and the descriptions of what it is like to be Jess are riveting.
But in that overworked brain, Jess is also keeping secrets. 
She is in therapy after the death of her room-mate. But the first secret she is keeping is that she is only going through the motions of pretending to be upset. The truth is she sees everyone else’s efforts to honour and remember their friend as being false and pointless – Jess can see a different point of view – that one of the kind things about most people’s memories is that it they are allowed to forget.
Jess wants to live a normal life, but how can she when she has such difficulty doing ordinary things, like making friends. If you cannot forget you are overly aware of every slight, every regret, every small unkindness.
This story is full of interesting and thought-provoking detail about how our minds work.
Jess attends a college in a remote part of Devon, taking classes in memory. She is studying under Ramesh Desai, learning how we store and lay down memories, why memory is important, how you can improve memory. I was just as eager to get back to his classes as his students were!
Does Jess have a supreme talent? Or is it an illness?
Jess a fascinating character to travel with. The descriptions of what is it like to be her, with a memory so cluttered she has to carry everything around with her all the time build on our sympathies and help us understand why she is such a brittle, unemotional character at the start.
The Truth About Lies deftly treads between the big theme of examining a rare condition, woven into a page-turning plot and ends up as a very smart psychological thriller.
Jess mostly tries to keep her condition a secret, but opens up when a new boy joins the college, just at the moment that all the secrets she has been keeping to try to live a normal life start to close in on her.
She was part of a programme that thought she was extraordinary. It helped her control her memories, to learn to be able to lock them away and not be overwhelmed by them. But her remarkable mind was also too irresistible not to use her as a means to advance scientific knowledge of exactly how the brain works.
And the more she learns, even Jess starts to doubt if anyone’s memory is truly infallible.
A terrific, intelligent debut and I can’t wait to read more by Tracy Darnton.
Nicki Thornton

Thursday, 19 July 2018

3D Review, ‘Is it a Mermaid?’ by Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa – Story Sack

To round up our week long 3D features celebrating Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa’s beautiful picture book ‘Is it a Mermaid?’ we bring you a story sack constructed around the book.

Before we start let’s have a quick reminder of what a story sack is. Story Sacks are fun education tools, which can be used to help children immerse in a book and gain greater understanding of the story. They typically include…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book. 
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children). 
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book. 
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack. 


Obviously the fiction book is the lovely ‘Is it a Mermaid?’ but we have paired it with Manatees & Dugongs by James Powell, which although may be a bit advanced for very young readers, contains many beautiful colours photographs and illustrations, plus facts to dip in and out of.


For the toys we obviously needed a Dugong, this is not the easiest plush to find but we did find a reasonably priced one by Colorata, which is available from Amazon, Ebay and The World Wildlife Fund. Beware though many people advertise Dugong plush toys that are actually manatees, TIP – look at the tail, if it is like a dolphin (or mermaid) it is indeed a dugong, if it more like a club it’s a manatee!

For Bel and Benji, we had an equally difficult search, as it is very difficult to find plush doll in any other ethnicity but white. However I have found a company that do plush toys in a range of ethnicities and both genders, for a reasonable price. The company is Lanka Kade, and you can buy directly from their website or other toy shops, (I got mine from a museum). To make them even better they are suitable to play with from birth, are handcrafted and are fair trade.


Again, as Dugongs are not the most well-known of animal, there are few games featuring them, there are a few, one where you mix up animals and fight, which isn’t really in keeping with the book and another conservation card/ board game which is quite pricey and advanced (for more info press here) , so we have made a kind of match the tail to the animal pairs game. This should be easy to do either by drawing or, using clip-art/internet images. So have fun and create!

Thank you for stopping by and reading out 'Is it a Mermaid' Features. Please do pop back again! 

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

3D Review, ‘Is it a Mermaid?’ by Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa - Illustrator Interview with Francesca Chessa

Continuing on our 3D review of  'Is it a Mermaid' we are delighted to welcome  Francesca Chessa on to the blog to talk about visualising the story through her beautiful illustrations.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

My favourite book as a child was Tomaso written and illustrated by Vittorio Accornero, first published in 1944.

Tomaso talks about the life of a dog called Tomaso who was bought by a family of cats as a Christmas toy for the spoilt kitten of the house.

During the summer holidays, not knowing what to do with Tomaso, the cats leave him in the countryside, where Tomaso will meet a family of rabbits that will treat him as a friend, he will give his life for them.

I learned to read on this book it remained in my heart.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

There are so many books I was inspired and that still inspire me that it’s quite impossible to me to choose just one.

The books I like more are amusing, have a good plot, a turning point and surprise me until the end.

My favourite books are the ones where text and illustration are necessary one to each other and you couldn’t imagine one without the other.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

I think that a good picture book needs to be intriguing, mysterious, funny and enveloping. It must be a book that every time you read, you can discover something new that increases your love for it.

Did you always want to be a children’s book illustrator?

I have always loved drawing and I have always loved reading and looking at the figures in the books. As soon as I realized that I could turn these my passions into a job, I thought I had found how to occupy my time working with passion and joy.

What is it like visualising other people’s characters?

When I work on a text of a writer and on its characters I try to figure out what the author wants to tell. Then I like to add some elements that belong to my world and my interpretation of the story, trying to create images that contains both our worlds.

Can you please explain a bit about your process of illustration?

For my illustrations I am taking inspiration from what I can read, I can see, I can hear, I can touch, I can taste. I like to think that I use all my five senses to develop an idea. The story concept comes first, then the main character, then all the story develops itself step by step by connections between characters and scenes.

I usually work together with the art director. Good art directors let you free but at the same time are able to show you a way and to get from you a better result than the one you could have reached just by yourself.

Francesca Chessa was born on a cold December day in a small north Italian town close to Turin.

She graduated in Architecture but, after some years of working as an architect, realised that she would rather paint animals and the things that surrounded her. Hence she did a course in Illustration.

Since 1997 Francesca has illustrated more than forty children's books working with publishers in various parts of the world including Italy, England, the US, France, Canada, Spain and Japan.

She has received mentions and prizes in a number of international competitions. She now writes her own stories as well as illustrating those by others and likes to feature her family and friends in these. She illustrates for Unicef and Amnesty International.

Francesca lives in an old house in the centre of Turin with her husband. Her studio is colourful, full of books and looks over a small courtyard garden. She loves reading, watching movies, cycling, swimming and skiing.

Thank you for stopping by, please pop back tomorrow to see our 'Is it a Mermaid' Story Sack feature!