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Edith Pattou’s epic story is partly inspired by the old Norwegian fairy tale ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, though readers will also recognise elements of the more familiar ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Though the story is told from the different perspectives of its main characters, at its heart is a young girl, Rose, the child born facing North and therefore full of dreams of travel and adventure, and who is saved from death by a great white bear. When later Rose betrays of the bear, it is her quest to make good the harm she has caused that drives the plot. Filled with magical scenes and unforgettable characters, this is a rich and rewarding read, filled too with fascinating research into map-making, Viking ships and Inuit life, all of which play an essential part in Rose’s journey to find the land of the Troll Queen and her true love. As spell-binding and mysterious as the best folk-tales always are.
The eleventh instalment of the extensive Tales of Ramion series of fantasy adventures. | Gary is a motor mechanic who’s in love with his next-door neighbour, Sharon. “If only he would clean his fingernails and wash his hair”, Sharon laments. Appearances clearly matter in this story world so when Gary is kissed by a Frog Princess while napping on his lunch break and is himself transformed into a frog, he’s certain Sharon won’t like him at all in his new froggy form. But, easily enchanted by the “husky” voiced Frog Princess, Gary forgets all about Sharon when the Princess suggests going to his place for a drink. Unfortunately for Gary, she’s unimpressed by his humble cottage and hops off, leaving Gary in quite a predicament. He must find the Frog Princess and get her to kiss him again to reverse his amphibian alteration. To this end he enlists the support of three boys and Snuggle, a “Dream Lord sent to protect the boys from the witch Griselda.” Gary, Snuggle and the boys (plus Snuggle’s curious carrot-crunching companion) embark on a quest to find the Kingdom of Frogs, battling high-stakes obstacles in the form of Griselda the witch and a knife-wielding High Priest along the way. The question is, will Gloria the “hen-pecked eagle”, come to the rescue of the male questers, and will Sharon finally accept Gary if he’s cleaned-up his act? (Assuming he remembers who she is!) Bizarre, bold and somewhat befuddled, this blends otherworldliness with ordinary world experiences.
The fourteenth instalment of the Tales of Ramion fantasy series leaps right into the baffling action of a new adventure: “Now that he was free from the rules of the Land of Lost Hair, Cloud 9 was bored.” Fortunately (for him, at least) while wandering “through Ramion looking for creatures to soak,” Cloud 9 is struck by a tedium-quelling idea. He will suck in the ocean and soak a castle. However, in so doing, Cloud 9 unwittingly releases the Blizzard Wizard (“evil touch, heart of ice”) who’s incarcerated in said castle. With Blizzard Wizard free, the realm turns to ice and it takes a strange assortment of characters to try to put things right, among them the Lion of Icing. And then there’s the sudden involvement of the Venomous Vampires, Globerous Ghosts, Mystic Mummies, Racing Racoons, Hero Hedgehogs, and so on. While the author’s alliteration game is pretty high here with such zany character names, the zigzagging story lacks cohesion.
The nineteenth book in the Tales of Ramion series, penned by a QC. | Sir Tancred Grunch might be dead and “preserved in a special fluid” but, “as with other members of the Grunch family to be dead was not to be completely dead: there was always a chance of coming back to life.” In Sir Tancred’s case, he wants an heir and to that end he claims his soon-to-be-born granddaughter, Griselda, who quickly grows into a petulant child with potential for evil. Regrettably women fare unfavourably in this world. “Girlie” is used as an insult, there’s mention of men being “blinded by a woman’s beauty”, and the tired trope of women with outer beauty belying inner evil looms large too, with child-witch Griselda described as looking like an angel but given to being drawn “towards the path of evil”. And this is all in the context of a story world in which “there was not a single good woman amongst them”, with “them” being all females in the Grunch family line. Still, there are touches of droll humour, a tangled plot stuffed with strange magic, a little light swearing (“Bloody crystal ball!”) and a cast of curious characters.
Exquisitely gorgeous illustrations accompany a well known fairy tale with a difference, an edge. Tiny Owl Publishing have a series of books called ‘One Story, Many Voices’, where authors and illustrators explore well known fairy tales from different perspectives. Here, the Twelve Dancing Princesses from the Brothers Grimm are transformed into The Secret of the Tattered Shoes by Jackie Morris. I opened the package containing the book and exclaimed in delight. The illustrations by Ehsan Abdollahi carry the story perfectly, the gold glistens, the pears call to be picked, the background as stunning as the puppet-like characters. The story by award-winning Jackie Morris sits boldly on the page, simple, evocative, familiar yet different. The love that Jackie Morris holds for nature shines through, while the ending made me smile, it suits, it feels, well, just so right. The Secret of the Tattered Shoes conjures the traditional fairy tale yet awakens new feelings and thoughts. I absolutely adored this rich and vibrant tale, both for the new interpretation, and the illustrations which adorn it.
Yanka is that much-loved staple of the fairy tale: an orphan. She’s grown up with her foster-mother Mamochka who found her in the wild as a baby, and mostly feels at home and happy in their village, though she’s conscious that she’s much bigger and stronger than the other children. All that changes after an accident when Yanka wakes up to find she has the legs of a bear. She also has, less alarmingly, the ability to understand animals, including her pet weasel the charismatic Mousetrap. Remembering a story about a family turned into bears, she sets off with Mousetrap to find out who she really is. Yanka’s adventures are full of danger, enchantment and stories within stories. Perhaps best of all is her meeting with the extraordinary House with Chicken Legs, which becomes a friend and helps in her quest. Like the best fairy stories, her tale takes readers into a fantastical world while at the same time telling them truths about the characters and themselves, in this case the importance of love, loyalty and learning to accept who you are. It’s beautifully told, feels both original and traditional, and sparkles with its magic. One to recommend to fans of Catherine Doyle’s equally magical and captivating Storm Keeper books.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | The lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Lampie, becomes a maid at the very strange house of Admiral Black. It is rumoured that there is a monster in the attic but, as Lampie soon comes to realise, not everything strange and different is monstrous. This has the qualities of the great fairy tales but with a bite which resonates with the contemporary world.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | Prince Zal is born with white hair. Perceived as a demon he is abandoned in the mountains. The baby is rescued and nurtured by the great Simorgh, a wise and magical phoenix who teaches him everything a prince needs to know. Sixteen years later, the king realises he made a terrible error. A beautiful traditional tale enhanced by music.
Cinderella, Rumpelstilstskin, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk: these stories are in our DNA, says Michael Morpurgo in his introduction to this gorgeous new collection. They are told by some of our best authors for children and each story is illustrated in full colour with pictures that match its mood (Ian Beck’s illustrations for The Pied Piper of Hamelin, retold by Adele Geras, are particularly rich). Morpurgo himself has chosen to tell the story of Jack and Beanstalk and, typically, it’s a first person narrative, Jack addressing the reader directly, keeping us breathlessly attentive from the opening line to the happy every after. An excellent collection to share with children.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2018 | Former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell weaves a wonderful fantasy adventure around some of the best loved fairy story characters in this hugely attractive and thoroughly entertaining picture story book. Little Green Cape sets out with a handful of useful things including a strong straight stick, comfortable clumpy boots and an invitation to a party. Once in the wild woods she is in a magical world where even the trees have faces, full of surprising characters. There’s a Beast looking for his Beauty, three Bears who are mistrustful of strangers, a talking harp, three little pigs, seven dwarves and many more. Young readers will love both feeling they know the stories being surprised by some of the turns of events.
Sisters Imogen and Isabel Greenberg make brilliant use of the comic book/graphic novel format to tell stories of Athena, probably the most appealing of all the Greek goddesses, weaving different myths into one coherent adventure. It starts as Athena springs from Zeus's head fully armed and 'ready to do battle in the world'; next is the story of her relationship with Athens and, more crucially, rivalry with Poseidon, then interventions in human lives with Perseus and Arachne (the latter a good learning experience for the goddess), before the lead up to the Trojan war and finally the wanderings of Odysseus. The stories are unbeatable and text and illustrations do them full justice. A terrific introduction to the world of Greek mythology and a great bit of storytelling.
April 2018 Book of the Month The penultimate in the series, Beyond The Odyssey continues with poor Elliot’s life becoming more difficult by the day. The situation with his mum is desperate and poor Hermes is still in a coma, but there is a glimmer of hope as Elliot hears of a potion that is rumoured to cure all. Yet even the gods doubt its existence and even if it does exist it won’t be easy to find. And so they set out on yet another quest to find the third chaos stone AND the mythical potion in an attempt to cure his mum and Hermes, whilst saving the world from evil Deamon of Death, Thanatos. No pressure there then! This series just keeps getting better and better and Maz will have you crying tears of laughter and sadness whilst cheering on our hero as we watch him face his toughest challenge yet. Superb, and I can’t wait to find out what happens in the fourth and final instalment to this epic tale of courage, heartache and heroism. ~ Shelley Fallows - You can also find Shelley here. A Piece of Passion from Barry Cunningham, Publisher ‘What I like about the classical gods is that they are so true to life. Wild, naughty, emotional and unpredictable, they carry on a bit like us humans – but with superpowers! Of course, in this story our hero Elliot has some serious real life problems to deal with too, and so Maz Evans takes us on a funny yet thoughtful romp. Hold on to your pants because you are likely to lose everything else!’