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Jessie Burton’s fiery feminist re-telling of the Greek myth of Medusa blazes with intrigue and beauty courtesy of author’s elegant style and Olivia Lomenech Gill’s fabulously evocative colour illustrations. It’s an incredible feat of intellect and imagination that takes down toxic masculinity and victim-blaming culture through an ingenious reframing, reclaiming of Medusa. The gods have exiled Medusa to a remote island, with no one for company but the snakes she has for hair. That is, until impossibly beautiful Perseus arrives and transfixes her: “I know a lot about beauty. Too much in fact. But I’d never seen anything like him…I wanted to eat him up like honey cake.” Desires awoken, Medusa won’t reveal her name, or let him see her: “I was just going to sit on the other side of this entrance rock and pretend that boys like him washed up on desert islands all the time.” This excerpt encapsulates one of the many marvellous things about this book. The writing - cleverly, and compellingly - feels both timeless and modern. Medusa’s narrative, and the dialogue, is laced with wit, and infused with tremendous detail. But betrayal swoops in the wake of desire, and all-too familiar mechanisms of patriarchy come into play with ferocity. Ultimately, though, and with a magnificent sense of sisterhood, Medusa comes to a new state of being: “Self-awareness is a great banisher of loneliness. And my sisters, the immortals, are with me.” This is terrifically inspiring and empowering in the ways of timeless myths, but also in ways that are very, very real - “you will find me when you need me, when the wind hears a woman’s cry and fills my sails forward. And I will whisper on the water that one must never fear the raised shield, the reflection caught in an office window, or the mirror in a bathroom.”
September 2021 Debut of the Month | Vibrant world-building, hilarious horror happenings, and splendidly quirky characters - Alex Foulkes’ debut, Rules for Vampires (the first in a series), has plenty for adventure-loving 9+ year-olds to sink their teeth into, a devour-in-one-bloodthirsty-sitting story that’s made even more engaging by Sara Ogilvie’s cleverly comic illustrations. “Slow as creeping nuns, stealthy as a stalking cat, the girl slunk closer to the door.” Thus we’re introduced to Leo on the eve of her one hundred and eleventh birthnight, as she must embark on her first solo mission as a vampire - The Hunt of the Waxing Moon, no less. Trouble is, following Vampiric Laws and negotiating that ghoulish line between the Living and the Undead sure ain’t no stroll in the cemetery, and all this while feeling the pressure to live up to the high and spiky expectations of the Great and Terrible Sieglinde. The writing is slick as blood, with smart turns of phrase that Lemony Snicket aficionados will adore, and cracking whip-smart dialogue that drives the story at bat-out-of-hell pace. Oh, and it’s divinely packed with a cast of top quality, quirky characters readers will want to get under the skin of (though not literally, of course…)
Marnie Blue is shocked when lots of plastic rubbish starts to appear in Mermaid Lagoon. It's causing all sorts of problems and even harming the underwater animals. Marnie and her friends decide enough is enough and they must have a big green clean-up. But just where is all the plastic coming from? With the help of the local Brinies group, a new dolphin pal and a human friend, the mermaids come up with a plan to rid the lagoon of plastic junk for good.
Book Band: Brown- (Ideal for ages 7+) | This is a lovely retelling of a famous myth. It tells the story of Icarus and his father who are prisoners on the island of Crete. Although it is set in Ancient Greece, the relationship and obvious love of the father and son shine through in quite a modern way. Both characters have their frustrations over their plight, yet they are both sensitive to the feelings of the other. It is a good adventure story where the two characters deal with setbacks in their quest for freedom – their attempts at boat building and their construction of the birds’ wings. Unlike many books for young children there is a sad ending which somehow makes it more poignant. There are lots of things to discuss in this book with some useful questions in the ‘quiz time’ at the back. I think the book would also benefit from a simple map to show where Crete is and also a guide to how to pronounce the characters names. Daedalus and Pasiphae are challenging for the adult too! A super book and a great introduction into Greek Mythology
Billy Chan and his friends are not having a very relaxing summer. Their friend, Dylan, has been kidnapped by the evil Dragon of Death and it's up to them to travel through time, back to the dangerous Dragon Realm, in order to save him. Luckily they have their own dragons on side, but they'll need to collect eight magical pearls if they're to amass enough power to destroy the Dragon of Death and her followers for good. So begins an epic quest that will take them to the depths of the Frozen Wasteland and the imperial palaces of Ancient China. But can good triumph evil...?
School trips are always fun, but especially when you are a little mermaid. Marnie Blue and her class are going on a trip to Queen Maretta’s palace so are very excited. Being mermaids, their school bus is a whale shark and the contents of their packed lunches are a bit different (kelp fritters, seaweed rolls and sea-cucumber slices), but other things are exactly the same – jostling for the best seats on the journey and making sure you’re partnered with your best friend. Marnie’s glamourous aunt Christabel is a helper on the trip, which worries Marnie – after all, Christabel was very badly behaved when she was at school – but it’s someone else gets up to mischief. The story is full of fun and adventure and young readers will love the underwater details. Sheena Dempsey’s illustrations are ever-so pretty too and this series is offishially a hit. One to recommend to fans of The Worst Witch and readers who like Marnie should get to know Lyla, star of Rebecca Patterson’s new Moon Girl series too There are some great reviews from our Kids Reader Review Panel for the first in this series - Mermaid School - read them here!
December 2020 Book of the Month | Holly Black writes amazing fantasy set in the land of Faerie. She has thrilled us with The Folk of the Air Trilogy – but this delightful novella takes a deeper look at the early life of the cruel King Cardan from the trilogy – offering some insights as to why he becomes the adult he is and how his early influences contributed. For such a short book (only 173 pages) it is filled with high romance, terrifying danger and touches of humour that will appeal to both established fans and new readers alike. Starting in Cardan’s childhood - where he is a faerie child with a heart of stone and an eye for wicked mischief - the story takes us through his various meetings with the Troll Aslog of the West and the variations on the “boy with the stone heart” story and how these contribute to his eventual character. Pair this with Rovina Cai’s amazing illustrations and this is a jewel of a book. Using a wonderfully earthy, shadowy palette Cai creates a marvellous picture of the world of Faerie. The generous number of illustrations, with detail and depth to them, draws the reader further and further into the story. Definitely a book not to be missed!
An Anthology of Modern Russian Folk Tales | Hot on the stylish heels of Gamayun Tales I, this second anthology of Alexander Utkin’s stunning Gamayun Tales series of graphic novels is feast for all the senses - the artwork is bold and evocative, the storytelling thrillingly energetic as Gamayun, an all-seeing, all-knowing magical human-faced bird, recounts three fantastical Slavic folktales. This anthology opens with an enthralling version of one of my all-time favourite folk-tales, Vasilisa and the Doll, in which young Vasilisa falls into the clutches of Baba Yaga (the mother of all witches) due to the talisman doll her mother gave her on her deathbed. Vasilisa’s fear on sighting Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house, illuminated by glowing skulls, is palpable, with an ingeniously effective shift in colour palette and perspective. Then we move to epic two-parter, The Golden Apples - “take a bite of an apple and it will bring relief from any sickness or injury. Eat the whole apple and any illness will be cured.” The question (and adventure) is, can these magical fruits cure an old king of his illness? Alongside presenting an epic visual story-telling experience on every page, the book is also packed with witty quips, making it every bit as entertaining as it is thrilling (and fearsome too, in places).
This enchanting reinvention of a Natural History of Fairies written by botanist Professor Elsie Arbour in the 1920s glows with timeless charm and the magic of nature. What’s more, author Emily Hawkins’s message about protecting fairies’ natural habitats has important real-world resonance, such as this: “human actions are putting fairies’ habitats at risk. When forests and woodland are cut down to make space for farmland…then fairies’ homes are destroyed.” Fairy enthusiasts will delight in the detail of the softly-radiant illustrations that present fairy anatomy and life cycles in the manner of natural history books, replete with labels and descriptions. Throughout, the book is suffused with a thrilling feeling that fairies might be found - if you know what you’re looking for, and where to look. The section on language and secret scripts will undoubtedly inspire young readers to write their own fairy codes, while coverage of a huge range of habitats - from meadows, gardens and woodlands, to mountains, marine environments and jungles - gives a satisfying global feel. Alongside providing fairy-lovers with much fodder for exploration, this coverage of habitats, and information on the likes of leaves, plants and animals, might also spark a wider love of nature. Sumptuously presented, with a silk bookmark, and gold edging and cover foil supplementing Jessica Roux’s illustrations, this book’s style is every bit as charming as its content, which makes it a gift to treasure.
An Encyclopedia of Mythical Beasts and Their Magical Tales | Monsters, gods, tricksters and shapeshifters, you’ll find them all in this encyclopedia of myths. The descriptions, in words and full colour illustrations over double page spreads, are awe-inspiring and no wonder, mythical creatures have been stalking the imaginations of man for thousands of years. From the Americas, we meet the feathered Quetzalcoatl, the god of light, who protects humans from danger, and also the monstrous Mapinguari, who roams through the undergrowth of the Amazon. From the other side of the world, Shenlong, the Spirit Dragon, controls the wind and clouds, majestic and benign. The entries are interspersed with the old stories, which explain our world or show us the best ways to behave. It’s a wonderful way of bringing the world together and the tales told are as fascinating today as they have ever been. Handsomely illustrated this is an eye-opening, inspiring reference book.
This comic picture book cleverly demonstrates the dangers of being swayed by popular opinion. New boy Peter is quickly branded the baddest boy in school and it does indeed seem that he’s given to doing naughty things. So when the school’s pet rat goes missing from his cage, everyone assumes Peter is responsible. Only one person knows the truth, and that Peter’s bad behaviour is not what it seems either. The book explores the dynamics of any classroom while also showing us that strange or different doesn’t equal bad and that categorising people on assumptions is never a good idea. Peter is a very charming little character, with his cape, fangs and lacy collar, and the story is beautifully told by its mystery narrator. Original, memorable, and lots of fun.
Merfolk of the World | We are all fascinated by mermaids – whether it’s the story of The Little Mermaid, or the idea of mysterious creatures luring sailors into danger. This beautifully illustrated book introduces readers to mermaids from all around the world – not just the UK and Europe but across the Americas, Australia and Asia too; it seems that people everywhere have always been entranced by the idea of human creatures living in the sea or deep lakes. Many of these mermaids are beautiful, some are helpful and kind, others anything but. The stories will catch the imagination, and this is a book to pore over and return to again and again.