Call of the Titanic – Lindsay Galvin

Young cabin steward, Sid, is proud to be working on the glamorous Titanic, which has set sail on its maiden voyage. Meanwhile, farmer’s daughter Clara has inadvertently ended up as a stowaway on the Carpathia after wanting to spend more time with her cousin, who is a Marconi Telegraph Operator. There, she bonds with the biggest, best dog she’s ever known: Rigel. On one of history’s most famous terrible nights, the trio’s fates will collide… possibly along with an extraordinary creature from the deep…

I have been fascinated by the Titanic since I was about 9-10 years old and have read many books and watched countless documentaries about this tragedy. This summer, my wife had suggested visiting Belfast to go to the Titanic museum and having just finished Call of the Titanic, I’ve said we’ve got to go now! Another astonishing, gripping read from Lindsay Galvin, I couldn’t put this down after starting it last night (Lindsay’s books always jump to the top of my reading pile!). All three of Lindsay’s books have wonderfully researched events and I love how the characters are grounded in fact but what could have happened is fictionalised – it’s a captivating mix of fact and myth. You can find my reviews of Darwin’s Dragons here and My Friend, The Octopus here (my class loved Octopus as their first class story this year!).

You often hear about the events of the Titanic from being on the doomed ship but Lindsay cleverly takes the story to the ship which raced to the survivors, the Carpathia. Placing Clara and Rigel here means a nervous countdown to 15th April 1912, and Sid’s point of view of the events (retold during the United States Senate Inquiry) really adds to the suspense too.

Like Vinny in My Friend The Octopus, it’s great to see a strong, female protagonist willing to challenge society’s expectations of them. All of Lindsay’s stories have a touching animal friendship at their core and Call of the Titanic has the most beautiful hero in Rigel. Again, he is based on fact and I was fascinated learning where his name originates. A gripping final act of the story will leave your heart in your mouth so tissues may be necessary!

Another essential read from Lindsay Galvin, Call of the Titanic is action-packed, emotional and sensitively written about such a tragic event. It will leave your heart warm rather than cold by the end!

Suggested reading age: 9+

Call of the Titanic is written by Lindsay Galvin and it will be published by Chicken House on 8th June 2023. Why not preorder a copy now from an indie bookshop? I preordered mine from the brilliant Rocketship Bookshop (available here!).

My Bollywood Dream – Avani Dwivedi

It’s Friday night and as a little girl and her family head to the cinema, she imagines a Bollywood movie unfolding before her eyes…

My #PictureBookFriday had to be My Bollywood Dream from first time picture book creator Avani Dwivedi as it is gorgeously illustrated with such a joyful story. Drawing on Avani’s own childhood memories of Mumbai, My Bollywood Dream is a vibrant, jubilant celebration of Bollywood and how it unites people. For young readers, it’s great to have Hindi words throughout the story as it introduces them to the wonder of Bollywood. Y2 have really enjoyed reading this beautiful story this week so I definitely recommend it. A must-have picture book for your classroom, library and/or home!

Suggested reading age: 3+

My Bollywood Dream is written and illustrated by Avani Dwivedi. It is published by Walker Books and is available now.

Rory’s Room of Rectangles – Ian Eagleton & Jessica Knight

Welcome to my day on the review tour for Rory’s Room of Rectangles and I’m thrilled to share my thoughts today on this wonderful picture book.

It’s Rory’s first Father’s Day without his dad living at home and while he likes his step-dad Tony (as well as his own dad), he is unsure who to make his card for at school? When Tony takes Rory out for the day, Rory gets an opportunity to reflect and realise that he doesn’t have to feel torn at all…

I am a massive fan of Ian’s stories and whether it’s picture or chapter books, he creates such wonderfully inclusive, important stories which are much-needed in classrooms and homes. His latest, Rory’s Room of Rectangles, celebrates blended families and I’m sure there are many children who will be relieved to see that how Rory is feeling is the same for them. Jessica’s illustrations are lovely and I love all the captivating blends of colour throughout. I hope parents will read this too as it really shows the importance of co-parenting. Another must-read from Ian!

Suggested reading age: 3+

Rory’s Room of Rectangles is written by Ian Eagleton and illustrated by Jessica Knight. It’s published by Owlet Press and is available now.

And while you’re here, how are you feeling today? Today’s #MorningTom mood on Twitter is this brilliant book.

Welcome to Dead Town, Raven McKay blog tour

Welcome to day 3 of the blog tour for Welcome to Dead Town, Raven McKay and I’m thrilled to have its author, Eibhlís Carcione, share a piece with us today all about ghosts in children’s books. If you haven’t seen my review of this quirky, gripping story then check it out here. Thank you Eibhlís for today’s piece!

Ghosts in children’s books

I’ve always liked ghost stories. I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. When I was eight my grandfather died. I stayed at my gran’s for a few weeks because she was lonely. She told me wonderful stories of ghosts and changelings that made my heart beat faster. These stories have stayed with me and have given me a hunger for even more dark tales. But although I loved ghost stories, I was easily scared as a child. I didn’t like going up the stairs to bed. I thought there could be a ghost or spirit lurking in the shadows. Dark winter evenings often left me on edge. Maybe this was because I secretly believed that there was something out there. Still I was brave enough to sit in a dark loft and tell ghost stories with my friends. But it shows that even if you’re scared of things it’s still fun to be scared too.

I love Marley’s ghost and the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I read it when I was twelve and I still read it every Christmas. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde is a firm favourite from my childhood.

Doll Bones by Holly Black is a gripping coming of age haunted doll story. I also like the benevolent ghosts in Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. I love the ensemble of ghosts and spectres in Dial-A-Ghost by Eva Ibbotson. A hilarious story, quite gruesome and spooky. The Shadow Man in The Haunting of Tyrese Walker by J.P. Rose is wonderfully conjured. I never say no to a good spooky story. I have some new creepy books in my TBR pile. I can’t wait to plunge into the dark pages.

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers – Anna James

Tilly’s idea of her mum was stitched together from a patchwork of old photos and other people’s memories. No one knew where Beatrice Pages had gone, and this lack of facts meant that the hole her mother had left had torn, ragged edges that were slow to knit back together. Tilly had almost given up asking, but when she did, conversations about Bea’s disappearance always went the same way.

Since her mother disappeared, Matilda Pages has lived with her grandparents above their bookshop, Pages & Co. When one of Tilly’s favourite book characters suddenly appears in the shop and transports her to a very familiar world, Tilly discovers she has the power to bookwander. Can she use this power to unlock the mystery behind her mother’s disappearance and learn the identity of her father?

I’m ashamed it’s taken me SO long to step inside Pages & Co and experience the euphoric joy which comes with reading Tilly and the Bookwanderers. It is the ultimate love letter to children’s literature and a clever mix of the old and new. As a parent, I can’t wait to read this with my daughter as it’s a brilliant book to captivate adults as well as children (I loved spotting the classic characters who popped up!). Reading the first Pages & Co is the ultimate celebration for reading: it’s clear Anna’s dedication to this profession and I loved how she celebrates the importance of reading, libraries and bookshops here. If I become a headteacher, there are some many quotes from this book which I want on the walls of my classrooms and/or library!

As well as the incredible celebration of reading and the power it gives a reader, Tilly and the Bookwanderers is also an excellent story because it is packed full of humour, mystery, friendship and it has an overarching story which I can’t wait to see more of in book 2. Two children in my class as to check I was okay during our reading time as I gasped aloud at one of the twists – it’s such a cleverly plotted story! You must read this because, like Tilly, you’ll get lost within the pages as I did.-

Suggested reading age: 8+

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers is written by Anna James and is published by HarperCollins. It’s available now along with books 2-5 in the series. Look out for the final book coming later this year!

Deadlock – Simon Fox

Was Dad being serious? It seems like a strange sort of joke but there had been something in his voice… Police officers get targeted sometimes, don’t they? I roll out of bed, fast, fighting to recall what he’d said, glancing at the open window then sliding on the floor to pull on last night’s clothes. I grab my black Adidas rucksack from where I’ve dumped it, tip all my school stuff out and shove some clean clothes into it. Then I pull on my trainers and push my wallet into my pocket. I crawl on to the landing. Dad’s room is at the front and his curtains are open so I stay on my belly and scramble around to the bedside table.

Since his mum’s death, teenager Archie Blake and his police officer dad (Graham) spend their evenings competing to see who can break into safes the fastest. Archie clearly has a talent for it but their fun times take a dark turn when a diamond necklace goes missing and Graham is blamed. Suddenly, Archie is on the run trying to prove his dad’s innocence? Can he keep one step ahead of a dark criminal underworld?

Last summer, Simon kept us gripped with his sci-fi adventure debut, Running Out Of Time (you can find my review here!) so I was absolutely thrilled to get a proof copy of his 2nd book, Deadlock. This new story is such a triumph – it ups the ante once again as he has created an explosive, Line of Duty-style thriller where no-one can be trusted and it’s packed with stunning twists. It had me hooked as there are so many moments where you’re left with your heart in your mouth thinking, ‘How can he possibly get out of this situation?’ but through Simon’s intricate, sophisticated storytelling, it’s amazing to see what happens next to Archie.

If you’re exploring suspense with your class then Deadlock is one you must recommend to your children. Whether it’s the opening where Archie needs to get out of his house undetected or that dramatic inferno finale, Simon has certainly demonstrated what an exciting voice he is in children’s literature. If you think you’re having a bad week, check out Archie’s 7 days and you might reconsider as you’ll be captivated by a shocking diamond conspiracy. How far will you go to protect and avenge the ones you love?

Suggested reading age: 10+

Deadlock is written by Simon Fox and it will be published by Nosy Crow on 1st June 2023. You should definitely preorder your copy today!

Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency – Chris Smith

Struggling to survive in the realm of Rillia, Mutt has a chance encounter with the Magical Detective Agency and gets a job as their apprentice. Never did he expect to work with an ex-princess, a snow gnoblin, a notorious assassin of the White Hand Clan and a walking chest! When a jester mysteriously vanishes, the Agency face their toughest case yet…

When a story starts with a beheading, you know you’re in for quite an adventure and Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency is definitely that – seeing the Agency solve a case at the start of the story shows we are in for an unpredictable, hilarious fantasy adventure (I love all the clever, magical elements which assist them in their investigation). Chris has crafted such a cool world amidst the intricate city of Meandermart and I really hope we will get more adventures in this world as I know there’s so much more to explore.

What sets Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency apart from so many fantasy middle grade titles currently out there is how the reader feels involved in the story through getting to know key info ahead of the characters. It’s a hilarious story, which meant I couldn’t put it down, and great to see each character’s backstory is explored too (I felt really silly not noticing a character’s name!). They’re all really charming, although I think my favourite is Bayler as he had me roaring!

For a fantastic blend of fantasy and mystery accompanied by the most brilliant illustrations, Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency is a heartwarming, hilarious adventure.

Suggested reading age: 8+

Clarity Jones and the Magical Detective Agency is written by Chris Smith and illustrated by Kenneth Anderson. It will be published by Puffin on 25th May 2023 so preorder your copy today!

Bad Influence – Tamsin Winter

Clever and talented Amelia is desperate to fit in but is left crushed to come last on a list rating all the girls in her school. When a new boy shows an interest in her, she wonders if she’ll finally become popular. In a moment of hope, she takes a photo and sends it to him only for it to be circulated around school and online. How can she stop this one mistake defining her?

Being a teenager is hard – I certainly remember and still bear the emotional scars. However, today’s young children now have to contend with social media and the mental impact and pressures it puts on them so that’s what makes Bad Influence such a powerful, empowering story. You hear about sexting and the horrors of people’s private photos being released online and often, people form an opinion about a person from hearing that – Bad Influence really puts it into context and shows how anybody can make this mistake, even a sensible, talented young lady like Amelia. It’s crucial that online safety is tackled by schools and at home to realise not only the ramifications for the person sending a photo but also the criminal implications too.

I really liked how Bad Influence started with the fallout to the photo becoming common knowledge before rewinding 6 months to see how this happened to Amelia. Having her narration shows the reader her honesty and fears but we also can spot how she is being manipulated by Evan and how he treats her around his friends. I found Bad Influence such an interesting read and think that transition to secondary school age is perfect for this book as it is honest but sensitive about such an important topic for young people. It exposes sexism, shows what true friendship looks like and I thoroughly recommend it.

Suggested reading age: 11+

Bad Influence is written by Tamsin Winter. It will be published by Usborne on 8th June 2023.

Cinder & Ella – Barbara Slade and Lucia Soto

Cinder is trapped in a life of misery with her wicked stepmother and stepbrothers while Princess Ella feels misunderstood by her parents. When the two girls meet at a ball, there’s an instant connection… but we all know what happens when the clock strikes midnight. Can the power of love and hope prevail?

Publishing to celebrate Pride Month, Cinder & Ella is also groundbreaking in that it is the UK’s first same-sex female fairy tale adaptation and what a beautiful picture book it is too! Cinderella is one of the world’s most well-known fairy tales so I love this modern, inclusive take with the most stunning illustrations from Lucia Soto (I felt like I was reading a Disney story as the vibrant colours are so captivating).

Whilst reading it, I really got swept away by the adversity Cinder and Ella are facing and then your heart will melt as they meet. You can feel that connection leap off the page and I love how this story celebrates feminism, strength and hope. Owlet Press publish such inclusive, interesting picture books so Cinder & Ella is a fantastic addition. As a teacher, I can think of fairy tales we study linking to our Talk 4 Writing units and Cinder & Ella will be perfect there as we explore different perspectives and adaptations to the traditional tale. A much-needed book for your book shelf, Cinder & Ella is a warm, loving LGBT fairy tale which shows that everyone can get – and deserves – their happily ever after.

Suggested reading age: 3+

Cinder & Ella is written by Barbara Slade and illustrated by Lucia Soto. It will be published by Owlet Press on 1st June 2023.

Spellstone – Ross Montgomery

It was the cat from her dream – the exact same black cat, with one blue eye and one yellow eye. The memory of the theatre came back in an instant – the rain, the sleeping audience, the people in the front row… Evie shook her head. It couldn’t be the same cat. Just because its eyes were the same colours, that didn’t mean anything. There had to be millions of black cats in this city. But she knew, just knew, that it was the same one. There was something about it that was special. It was staring right at her, for one thing.

12 year old Evie feels unnoticed by everyone (even her parents) but when she unexpectedly meets the mysterious magician Wainwright, she is recruited to the Order of the Stone, a secret magical organisation sworn to defend humanity. Soon, Evie finds herself caught up in a desperate battle as evil magician Vale will do anything to get his hands on the stone. Can Evie triumph over evil… especially when she doesn’t know what her own power is yet?

You always know you’re in for a treat with a Ross Montgomery story – an incredibly gripping plot, plenty of twists and well-rounded characters. Spellstone is utterly mesmerising: like the magical stone our heroes are seeking, it is powerful and will be what everyone is desperate to get their hands on. You’ll find no spoilers here but I loved the cat and mouse chase between the Order and Vale, especially the fact that you’re not safe anywhere… even when you’re asleep. Vale is such a malevolent villain and certainly one of the creepiest in children’s literature.

Once you’ve finished Spellstone, you’ll be gutted but hopeful we might get to return to Evie and this magical world. While it’s a cleverly written story with great character arcs and lots to uncover, I’m sure there’s more to explore with the Order. Fingers crossed!

Suggested reading age: 9+

Spellstone is written by Ross Montgomery. It is published by Walker Books and is available to buy now. If you’re after a signed copy then head to Kenilworth Books and get it here (along with Ross’ other books, The Midnight Guardians and The Chime Seekers).