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! 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

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

Following on from yesterday's reviews of Is it a mermaid, today we have an interview with the wordsmith who brought us Benji, Bel and the dreaming Dugong, Candy Gourlay.

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

​This is always a difficult question because I read and loved SO MANY books as a child. Many of the books were school issue readers – I went to a convent school so we were given hardback, colour illustrated books called Cathedral Readers. They were anthologies of stories that ranged across many genres. My dad also liked to buy books from the door to door encyclopaedia salesmen (did you have those in England?) ... and he once bought a collection called the Collier's Junior Classics, which excerpted the best children's book of the time. One story I loved was The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene Dubois – about a secret, high tech society living on Krakatoa before it erupted. I loved the illustrations and all the tech invented by the characters, like pneumatic beds that could be pumped up high (through ceilings that slid out of the way) so that children could go to sleep with a view of the night sky. There were many problematic things about the story – such as the absence of Indonesians on an Indonesian island. But as a child, I simply loved the adventure of it!

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

​Another tough question! But I have to say I love Frank Cottrell's books, especially Millions, about a boy who finds a holdall stuffed with millions of pounds and then he has to spend it all before the UK joins the Euro (sadly, now the stuff of fantasy as Brexit looms). The characters were so lovable and the writing was clever and engaging. ​

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

​There is always a warm heart beating inside a story written for children, a hopefulness that you might not discover in a book written for adults.​

Why did you start writing for children?

I wanted to become a writer on the day that I fell in love with reading. I actually remember the moment and the feeling when I realised that the characters on a page were telling me a story. Everytime I write I remember the explosion of delight I experienced on the day​ I read my first book, and I've always wanted to recreate that feeling for other children.

Do you think about how the pictures will work with the text as you are writing?

​Yes I do! When I write picture books, I often begin by drawing comics – I did a comic strip for a weekly magazine a long, long time ago – ​and I draw until the story begins to emerge. And only then do I begin to fashion words.

What is the biggest challenge in crafting a story with such a small word count?

​The small word count is an exciting challenge and because I love to draw, I don't mind surrendering punch lines to the illustrator. The biggest challenge, really, is not creating the story but creating a story that fits the needs of a publishing market that is limited by its reach and the expensive risk posed by every picture book because nobody knows what story will capture the imaginations of the most readers.

"Candy Gourlay gave up writing picture books for novels after years of rejection. She is over the moon to become a picture book author at last with Is It a Mermaid, though her novels have been listed for many prizes including the Waterstones, Blue Peter, the Carnegie and the Guardian Prize. Her third novel, Bone Talk, will be published in August."

Thank you for stopping by, please come back tomorrow for an interview with Is It a Mermaid's, illustrator Francesca Chessa!

Monday, 16 July 2018

3D Review, ‘Is it a Mermaid?’ by Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa – Reviews - Picture Books

Review By Beatriz, (a picture book loving) 14 Year Old Reviewer 

‘Is it a Mermaid?’ is an amazing short story written by Candy Gourlay. After writing several novels, Candy has produced her first short story picture book, aimed for primary school kids. The tale tells of a boy named Benji and his sister Bel, who meet a friendly creature in the sea. The creature says she is a mermaid! However, Benji is sure it’s a Dugong! Bel and Benji set out with the creature to prove their points right. Is it really a mermaid? 

This tale is kind and shares a message of friendship and wonder. Carefully written, the book is wonderful to the end. Accompanied by beautiful drawings by Francesca Chessa, Benji and Bel create a special magic and a lovely story for all to read!

Adult Review by (a picture book and Dugong loving) Adult! 

Is it a Mermaid? Is a fun and charming tale panned by Candy Gourlay and exquisitely illustrated by Francesca Chessa. Set amongst vibrant backdrops the story tells the tale of two children who come across a mysterious, singing sea beast who is convinced she is a mermaid. Of course the children know better, tell their new friend the truth that she is not a mermaid but a sea cow, a dugong.

The creature is upset, but as mermaids are very forgiving, and the children are sorry, soon the threesome, are playing together and having a wonderful time, and it soon becomes apparent that Dugong, Mermaid or Human, it make no difference as friends accept each other for who they are.

Is it a Mermaid? Is a lovely picture book, which explores friendship plus brings a much neglected creature into the heart of this charming tale. Candy’s words along with Francesca’s beautiful imagery has created a delightful book, that is more than it seems, as it sprinkled dugong facts throughout the book and contains a page of dugong information to further peak children’s interest, and highlight the conservation issues that effecting the dugongs habitat. Is it a Mermaid is a truly beautiful book.

Thank you for stopping by, please visit us again this week, as we will be posting an author interview with Candy Gourlay, an illustrator interview with Francesca Chessa, and an article on a Dugong teaching resource too! 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Tears of the class clown - review of Jelly by Jo Cotterill

Jelly is the sort of heart-warming story that so many children (and adults) will find it very easy to relate to. It is the story of the class clown, who is using humour to hide their insecurities.

Jelly's impressions are legendary. She has the class in fits. She's voted by the class to take part in the talent show. She has great friends; is always picked for the sports team.

But now in the last year of primary school, Jelly's self-awareness in growing. She starts to recognise that she mainly plays up and tries to get people to laugh with her because she feels it will stop people laughing at her. Despite all her popularity, she is very insecure because she is fat, so her self-belief is very low.

It's clever of Jo Cotterill to have the insecure main character as being one of the popular girls. It so neatly draws attention to the fact of how much everyone plays a part and that the public face people show may not be who they truly feel to be inside. And it emphasises that to show our true feelings is exposing and uncomfortable and takes an awful lot of bravery, as Jelly finds out.

Another really great feature of the story that the person who notices Jelly's unhappiness is her mum's new boyfriend, Lennon. Seeing such a positive male role model in a story is a very neat twist, rather than using the new man in Mum's life as a source of uncomfortable conflict, and I loved this storyline.

Lennon is they key that gives Jelly the confidence to face up to her fears. 

Jelly starts to question whether she really even likes performing. She loves writing poems, which she never even shows to her closest friends. And when her friends start telling her than her impressions are crossing a line from being funny into being cruel, a crisis looms.

Jelly is such a warm and thoughtful character and the reader is really rooting for her as she wonders if she will be brave enough to reveal a new Jelly, one who admits their true feelings and acts more like the person she feels she is inside. Lennon, Jelly's lovely mum and her friends surround Jelly with so much goodness, creating a really feelgood story.

It really is a cracking tale about how outwardly confident people are often as insecure as everyone else and should give plenty of food for thought as well as being a joy to read.

Nicki Thornton

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Beware of dragons in your garden

If your children are suddenly very keen to pitch a tent in the garden and stay out there all night, it might not simply be down to the hot weather. There's a good chance they will have read 'The Boy who Grew Dragons' by Andy Shepherd and are scouring the trees to see what is growing there.
Because anyone reading this lovely book is going to want a pet dragon of their own! (Except the parents, perhaps.)

This is such a charming story about Tomas, who discovers that a strange tree in his grandfather's garden is growing tiny dragons that fit right into your pocket.
What could be a more perfect summer read than this beguiling story about the close bond that quickly develops between Tomas and his dragon, Flicker? And the unfolding trouble as Tomas tries to keep his rather destructive new pet a secret.

In this warm, imaginatively told and very funny story, Flicker is much more gentle than you might expect a dragon to be and totally cute, but he still breathes spurts of fire capable of singeing a lot more than fingers. He can fly. And, as Tomas quickly learns, dragon poo is also fearsomely explosive.

As well as the humour, one of the many strengths of this story is the positive relationships throughout, and not just between Tomas learning how to care for his new, unpredictable pet.

His family are adorable and I love the strong bond between Tomas and his grandfather, and his school friends. So, not surprisingly, soon Tomas and his friends are camping out in the garden so that everyone can have a dragon pet. Let's just say chaos ensues.

The writing is gentle, vivid and very well imagined, and so well complemented by illustrations from Sara Ogilvie throughout, it makes you want to pitch up a tent in Grandad's garden and see if you can't catch a dragon of your own. Be prepared.

Nicki Thornton