Reviewed by Emily.
Every once in a while I open up a book and everything around me stops. I can't exactly explain it. It's like being caught in mid-air. It's like, all the longing--and all the wonder-- and all the stardust, wrapped up in a single moment -- I'm not making sense, I know.
It happened to me with David Almond's 'Skellig' and with Delia Owen's 'Where the Crawdad's sing.' It has happened to me often when I'm spending time with one of Kate Di Camillio's books. Lauren Wolk does it to me too.
None of these authors write with a particularly similar voice or style, yet they all have the capacity to 'hold me captive' and leave me breathless with marvel and awe
I quite simply love this story, Sweep, by Johnathan Auxier.
It's the story of eleven-year old Nan Sparrow whose kind guardian (Sweep) disappeared five years before, leaving her with only a fragment of charred soot which magically keeps her warm. Now she works as a 'climber' for a cruel and heartless master. When she gets stuck in a chimney, she is almost killed by one of the other chimney sweeps, but is saved by the 'char' in her pocket. She escapes and the char magically grows into a big hearted and mysterious monster who's purpose in life is to protect her. Nan and her monster build a life together in hiding, but her cruel master is intent on finding her and having his revenge.
This is a story about finding wonder in small things. It's a story about sacrifice and love. It's a story about miracles and magic.
It is quite simply beautiful. Beautifully constructed. Beautifully told. And one that should be a requisite read.
My only sadness is that this book was released in 2018 and it is now 2021-- meaning I lived three whole years without it in my life!
Reviewed by Esther Bailey.
February is Black History Month in North America and so it's a good time to read and write about some unknown black hero's from history.
The Clothesline Code is another great book from author, Janet halfmann, telling a story that I think few people will have heard of before.
It is the story of Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker and how they risked their lives to spy on the Confederate army during the American Civil War. But these two brave people were not your average spies! Having been slaves (and escaped Slavery!) they had never learned to read or write, but they still managed to devise a whole secret code using laundry on a clothesline! This was the most interesting and exciting part of the story for me and I loved how the author and illustrator showed how they came up with their plan and created their code. In the authors note at the beginning, Janet Halfmann explains that some of the scenes she had to imagine up, but they are based on factual events that really happened. I am glad she chose to include some imagined scenes and conversations, because they really helped to bring the story alive for me.
This book felt like it could be for slighter older kids than picture books usually are, but the illustations by Trisha Mason, are bight and colourful and will make it appeal to younger children, so I think it's a great book for kids 5- years-old to 10-years-old.
I think my school would love to have a copy of this book in their library because it is such an important story about bravery and using what you have been given for a greater purpose than yourself, plus both the story and the afternote teaches you about the Civil War too.
Reviewed by Esther.
So I have to be honest, I don't usually read many books like this - I mean unless I have to for school, I'm more of a fiction girl. But I was pleasantly surprised by this book.
It's actually a great book for everyone because not only does it tell the true story about a pretty amazing man called Robert Smalls (for the story lovers like me,) but it's also packed full of interesting fact pages about the civil war and slave ships in the 1800's (for the kids who love all that history stuff too.) Win win!
So, who was Robert Smalls?
Robert Smalls was a plantation slave born in Charleston, South Carolina. He had a hard childhood but was lucky because he was allowed to work in his masters house instead of on the plantations, where the work was much harder and the masters were meaner. As he watched "boys and girls his own age sold like animals on the auction block," he hated slavery more and more and began to dream of a different kind of life.
I don't want to give away spoilers so I won't tell you what happens exactly but I really like how the Author, Janet Halfman, tells Roberts story because the whole time, despite being a slave and having a terrible early life he comes across as so hopeful and determined. Even though he had never been properly educated he eventually became a very important person, fighting for the rights of slaves and all black people and in the fight to win the Civil War.
I've read lots of books about American hero's (mostly from the Civil rights movement and some about the Slave trade,) for school, but I had never heard of Robert Smalls before, so I really enjoyed reading about how he refused to accept his circumstances and had so much courage and bravery.
The information pages tell the reader lots of facts about slavery in the southern states and also the Civil War. There are even diagrams of the inside of a slave ship.
Another nice feature is throughout the book, the words that some of the younger readers might not understand are bolded and then put into a glossary at the back, which is super helpful.
I liked Duane Smith's detailed illustrations. Even though they are in black and white... His style reminded me a bit of Van Gogh's portraits, which I thought was pretty cool.
I think this is a great book for classrooms and libraries, but also for anyone who is interested in learning about Slavery and the Civil War. I learned a lot!
Reviewed by Emily.
"Prue Haywood is on a mission: getting the ghost machines of Medlock to remember the people they used to be. She needs to find her brother, Francis. If she fails, her brother will stay dead. And if she succeeds, all society may fall apart."
Holy Cow! Those are some stakes right there!
I'm not usually a big reader of Middle-grade fantasy - If I'm looking for world building and epic adventures I normally turn to our vast home library of YA with experts like V.E. Shwab or Brian Sanderson leading me into their dark and wonderous worlds.
But having connected with author Vashti Hardy on twitter (oh for the love of the twitterverse,) and seen that she recently won the Blue Peter award - which is pretty much the UK version of 'Mecca,' (for those of us who grew up in the 80's,) I was dying to get my hands on a copy. I know how Esther loves a good, fast-paced twisty-turny adventure story and this sounded just up her street.
Then I read the back copy and decided 'heck, I'll read it first!'
Vashti has created a brilliantly unique premise - a world where machines carry the spirits of the dead. Our protaganist Pru, is a brave and spirited girl who is recovering from a deep loss of her own. Disguised as her late brother, she sets off to the city of Medlock to become an apprentice to the very inventors who created the 'personifate' machines. Her plan? To find her brother's ghost and bring him back.
I don't wish to give spoilers so I won't share any more, but rest assured there is barely an eleven-year-old out there who won't absolutely fall in love with this book. It has all the pieces in place - A strong and determined, science oriented, female leading lady (Yeah to girls rocking it in STEM!) a riveting and unique concept and a plot that does that marvellous thing of leading you deep into otherwordliness while keeping you rooted to the characters in their 'this world' humaness.
This was most certainly one of those occasions where I finished a book and thought - Darn it. Why didn't I come up with that?
Lots of gold stars from me:)
Reviewed by Esther.
Counting by Sevens is a book I read in school. I was not really looking forward to it because normally I like fast-paced action books the best, so I was a little bit skeptical about this one. Little did I know that it would be such an amazing story and an important one, none the less.
In counting by 7s, author Holly Goldberg Sloan shows us the world through the eyes of Willow Chance, a very special kid who is super smart and kind-hearted but who everyone else thinks is strange. Willow has three, great, obsessive passions - medical practice, gardening and the number 7. These three things are what get her through the traumatic events in the book. And they are VERY traumatic. However I still recommend this book for 11-12 year olds (or if you have a really smart 10 year old…) The book is not scary, but be prepared, it is quite sad.
However more than just being sad I also found Willow's story very inspiring.
The author switches between Willow’s perspective and a few other characters and this gives the reader clever insight into how others see Willow. I thought this made the story super interesting and it made me think a lot about how sometimes we might judge people from our own perspectives, when actually we don’t ever really know another person or what going on inside of them.
I give this book 4 stars.
Reviewed by Esther Bailey.
Orphan Island is one of my all time favorite books.
It is about a little island where everything seems perfect, the beautiful sunset and the crystal clear waters. Except the island's only inhabitants are nine children.
Only one thing ever changes on the island. Once a year, a boat comes to take away the eldest child, and this year it is Deen’s turn to leave. Deen is Jinny’s best friend, The magical thing about the boat and the island is that when the oldest child leaves a new child arrives. This way there are only ever nine kids and it has always been this way. The children have no idea why or how this happens.
When Deen leaves Jinny is the new elder and responsible for the new arrival, Ess. Jinny has to teach Ess everything she needs to know about survival on the island so that when it's Jinny’s turn to leave, Ess will be ready, but will Jinny be ready to leave the only home she has ever known?
This book is everything you would want in a good book, not at all scary, but it is filled with tension, cliff hangers and there is no yucky romance stuff! It has great characters and an amazing plot. Laurel Snyder (The Author) really makes you feel like you are actually there - one of the children on the island.
I totally recommend this book for 10-13-year-olds.
So all in all Orphan Island is an amazing book!
From Emily -
The strongest friends of the soul - BOOKS.