Book Review: Maya & Cat, by Caroline Magrel

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maya_and_cat.jpgCat does not want feather boas, nor pink shoelaces or a pompom on a stick and although she ate every oily silver morsel of fish, Cat is searching for something much more precious. So Maya sets out with Cat in tow to knock on doors to see if one holds what Cat is seeking.

Maya & Cat is a heart-warming story that follows a little girl and a cat as they seek out the thing that Cat is missing most and the thing that Maya discovers she is missing too; companionship. A perfect story to read together; young children will enjoy the gentle, poetic language. Caroline Magrel’s adorably quirky watercolour illustrations take us through the wet and gloomy, lamp-lit streets of a seaside town. They leave you with that sense of peace and tranquility you feel when you’re warm and cosy indoors while a storm rages outside your windows.

This unique feel-good picture book written and illustrated by Caroline Magrel would make a wonderful addition to any young child’s bookshelf. Maya & Cat makes for a pleasant and comforting read – the perfect bedtime story!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Maya & Cat
by Caroline Magrel
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921977282

 

Book Review: Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_don't_stop_thinking_about_tomorrowStevie and Hafiz are two fourteen-year-olds from very different backgrounds. Stevie is a talented guitarist who is passionate about music – but she has a difficult home life, living with the challenges of her mother’s unemployment and crippling depression after the recent death of Stevie’s father. Hafiz is a gifted footballer, new to England after a gruelling journey on his own from his war-torn home in Syria, desperately missing his parents. The one thing Steve and Hafiz have in common is that both of them are struggling to fit in at school – until they find each other.

This is a fabulous book about diversity, mental health, the plight of refugees, and overcoming prejudice. But mostly it is a story about friendship. The book unfolds in chapters alternating between Stevie and Hafiz’s perspectives. Slowly we learn more about their backstories and the events that have led them to the moment where a well-meaning teacher instructs the new boy to sit next to the lonely girl. This is a very contemporary tale, with its empathetic and tactful discussion of mental health issues and the refugee experience. Stevie and Hafiz’s voices are unique and genuine and the author carefully avoids slipping into a schmaltzy treatment of some very tough topics.

My daughter and I were both big fans of Curham’s earlier books, The Moonlight Dreamers and its sequel Tell It To The Moon, so I was very keen to read this new novel. To my surprise, I think I like this new book even better than the other two; no mean feat. Both of the characters are endearing and extremely likeable. And how can you not love a book that includes a Spotify playlist? This is a thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable read for anyone twelve and over.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406387803

Book Review: Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_front_deskWhat a fascinating read this is. Mia and her family are immigrants to the US from China, and this is the story of their American dream and how against all odds they actually realised it.

Mia and her parents land what seems to be a dream job, managing a motel. However all is not as it was cracked up to be in the interview and the owner is a really mean-spirited, grasping piece of work. He is quick to impose penalties and wage reductions for perceived errors and unexpected costs, and takes every opportunity to make life really hard for the family. To make things worse, his son is in Mia’s class at school and he too is quick to make Mia’s life miserable.  Her language skills are not wonderful and she struggles with English until she finds a real friend, also the child of immigrants, and they join forces.

Mia decides, as she observes the crazy workload her parents struggle with, to take on front-desk responsibilities herself. She is only 10, but the work ethic of her parents is strongly implanted in her too. She has some problems, of course, but the depth of the story lies in how Kelly Yang brings to life the issues of discrimination, poverty, and language barriers which are known to immigrant families everywhere. She also sheds light on the Cultural Revolution in a way accessible to young readers.

Mia is a clever, thoughtful and resilient girl who – as we see often in immigrant stories – wants things to go well for her parents, and for them not to lose face among their friends and relatives both in the US and back in China. She has a gazillion ideas for improving how the front desk operates, and is able to get some of them in place. She makes friends with the “weeklies” – the people who live semi-permanently at the motel – and their willingness to help her and her family provides a good counterpoint to the owner’s attitudes and behaviour. The parents in turn are generous and welcoming to friends and acquaintances who are in need of temporary support or accommodation. All of this comes at considerable cost and stress to the whole family, as they find ways to do this without having the motel owner in the know!

The story careers along, from crisis to crisis but it works extremely well. The book is based on Kelly Yang’s own experience, and this is why it rings so true. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Front Desk
by Kelly Yang
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650469

Book Review: Maya & Cat, by Caroline Magrel

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_maya_and_cat.jpgCat does not want feather boas, nor pink shoelaces or a pompom on a stick and although she ate every oily silver morsel of fish, Cat is searching for something much more precious. So Maya sets out with Cat in tow to knock on doors to see if one holds what Cat is seeking.

Maya & Cat is a heart-warming story that follows a little girl and a cat as they seek out the thing that Cat is missing most and the thing that Maya discovers she is missing too; companionship. A perfect story to read together; young children will enjoy the gentle, poetic language. Caroline Magrel’s adorably quirky watercolour illustrations take us through the wet and gloomy, lamp-lit streets of a seaside town. They leave you with that sense of peace and tranquility you feel when you’re warm and cosy indoors while a storm rages outside your windows.

This unique feel-good picture book written and illustrated by Caroline Magrel would make a wonderful addition to any young child’s bookshelf. Maya & Cat makes for a pleasant and comforting read – the perfect bed time story!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Maya & Cat
by Caroline Magrel
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921977282

Book Review: The Promise Horse, by Jackie Merchant

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_promise_horseThis is a great book for young adults and horse lovers.

Harry is redheaded, tall, with what she sees as very large feet. Her family have moved to the country after her older sister tragically dies of cancer, going back to where her parents had both grown up. Harry’s way of coping is to have conversations with her dead sister Sissy. She has had counselling and to keep the peace she tells everyone the voices have gone, but they haven’t. Harry still regularly has conversations with Sissy. They move to be near grandparents, along with the carrot that Harry she can at long last have her promised horse.  She’d been having riding lessons for years at a riding school.

Harry’s mum Jenny is inconsolable with the loss of her daughter, burying herself in her work and her father Mick is often away with work. They forge friendships in the local community and Lizzie a local who works with horses suggests perhaps her borrowed horse Marksman might be suitable for Harry, as she was looking for a new one. The owner Jack is happy for Harry to take over Marksman from Lizzie, but Jenny takes one look at the large horse (over 15 hands high) and gets concerned – having lost one daughter, she is not ready to lose another. Between grandparents and her father, Harry is allowed to keep the horse for the time being, but with strict rules in place.

Friendships are forged through Harry’s involvement with Marksman along with encouragement to join the local pony club. Local girl Josie is about Harry’s age, and have a lot of fun together which makes for a happier life for Harry.

This is a great story which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a great human-interest story about loss, grieving, and new friendships between people and horses.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Promise Horse
by Jackie Merchant
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650568

Book Review: The penguins are coming!, by Meg McKinlay & Mark Jackson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_penguins_are_coming.jpgThe zoo is expecting some penguins to arrive and a squirrel is confused – what exactly is a penguin?  This begins a crazy story where all the animals contribute their preposterous ideas which become more absurd with each turn of the page.

The illustrations perfectly capture the cheerful nature of the story.  They are full of life and colour.  The animation of the animals creates a playful scene for the silliness.  There is even a kiwi to spot for the eagle eyed!  Little dream bubbles accompany the animals as they imagine what a penguin is.

Children will love becoming the expert to correct the zoo animals and share their knowledge.  And they don’t need to know much about penguins to be the expert – according to the otters they travel south to get away from the snow but stop for pizza on the way.  Later on the pelicans tell us the penguins don’t like water!

Each animal has an opinion but nobody knows what to expect.  Eventually the zoo keeper steps in and contributes knowledge by correcting the animals.  This is a great way to introduce facts into the fictional book.  But wait for the twist at the end when the penguins arrive!

This is a great book to share out loud and a hilarious addition to any young child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The penguins are coming!
by Meg McKinlay & Mark Jackson
Published by Walker Books
9781760650391

Book Review: The Mulberry Tree, By Allison Rushby

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_mulberry _tree.jpg‘Do naught wrong by the mulberry tree, or she’ll take your daughters . . . one, two, three.

In the dead of night, spirited away, never to see an eleventh birthday . . .’

Ten-year-old Immy has been forced to move halfway across the world – from her friend-filled, vibrant life in Sydney, Australia to the pin-drop quiet of a tiny village in Cambridgeshire, England. With only three girls in her class – none of whom will talk to her – Immy is alone and feeling lonely in this strange new place. The one upside is the beautiful medieval ‘doll’s house’ cottage her parents find to rent, but it too has a secret – a gigantic, black mulberry tree in the back garden which drenches the house in darkness.

According to village legend, the mulberry tree is murderous: two girls, Bridget in the 1700s and Elizabeth in 1945, disappeared from the same house on the eve of their eleventh birthday, with a bulging knot appearing in the mulberry tree the day after their disappearance. Every person in the village believes the mulberry tree took the girls – so much so that they cross the road to avoid walking past the tree, they refuse to talk to Immy or her parents when they decide to rent the house, and children who sing the rhyme do naught wrong by the mulberry tree are roundly told off out of superstitious fear.

Immy doesn’t believe in the rumours: she was raised by two doctors who believe in scientific truth above all. One day, however, she hears a strange song in her head . . .
With mounting pressure to unravel the mystery of the mulberry tree before her eleventh birthday, The Mulberry Tree is a spooky tale which will appeal to those aged eight upwards. A modern fable by prolific Australian author Allison Rushby, The Mulberry Tree interlaces broad topics such as the difficulties of starting somewhere new, the dangers of black-and-white thinking, and how to help someone you love who is suffering from a mental illness.

With beautifully drawn characters, The Mulberry Tree is infused with heightened tension. A strong, stubborn and compassionate protagonist, Immy takes charge of solving the mulberry mystery – as well as saving injured hedgehogs. As she rides the anxiety and angst that come with change and growing up, her innate empathy for others allows her to not only befriend kids in her class, but the lonely tree in her garden.

A tale about forgiveness, the moral of The Mulberry Tree is bluntly spelled out rather than gently entwined. If the ending is slightly too convenient, Rushby has still successfully managed to balance the telling of a compelling but not-too-creepy tale, which will ensure both upper primary and lower secondary school readers will love this page-turning mystery.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

The Mulberry Tree
by Allison Rushby
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650292