Tag Archives: Children’s Literature

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

img_2230

Hello Lovelies!!

Sorry there’s been a bit of a gap between this post and my last. I am back at school on a new rota system. Whilst it’s lovely to see everyone, it’s so strange remembering to be 2 metres apart and not seeing the rest of my team and fellow colleagues is really strange. Never mind! Things do seem to be getting better slowly, slowly. I hope you are all continuing to be safe and well.

As you may be aware, I am reading my beloved Harry Potter series again. It’s something on my list of things I want to do when I turn 30. Today I want to share with you my review of my favourite Harry Potter book – The Prisoner of Azkaban. I hope you enjoy reliving and following the series with me. If it’s your first experience of Harry, then I especially hope you love it as much as I do!

IMG_2182

What’s it all about?

Summer rolls around again and once again Harry is at the Dursleys’ having a miserable existence. Muggle television airs a report about an escaped convict, Sirius Black. If that wasn’t bad enough, Aunt Marge visits and insults Harry. In retaliation, accidentally, Harry inflates her and runs away from home with the fear of being expelled. He’s at significant risk but thankfully the Knight Bus manages to pick him up. This journey is full of strange new experiences but exciting nonetheless. Harry meets Stan Shunpike, encounters a large black dog that seems to be following him. He travels to the Leaky Cauldron where Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. He asks Harry to stay in Diagon Alley for his own protection. After time, he is reunited with Ron and Hermione.

“Don’t let the muggles get you down.”

Before their return to Hogwarts, Harry learns from Arthur Weasley that Sirius Black is a convicted murderer. Somehow, it is unknown currently, he managed to escape the wizard prison, Azkaban to kill Harry. On their journey to Hogwarts a Dementor (an Azkaban prison guard) boards the train causing Harry to relive his parents’ death before fainting. In the same carriage was Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, who saves them from the Dementor. What is more concerning is the fact that Dementors will be patrolling the school in attempts to catch Sirius Black. Everyone seems to love Lupin. All but one…Snape.

Third years do have a welcomed distraction, IF they have their parents permission. Sadly Harry doesn’t, so trips to Hogsmeade are banned. Instead, Fred and George give him a gift: the Marauder’s Map. What looks like a piece of parchment is actually enchanted to show all the passages and people on Hogwarts grounds. This means that Harry has a way of sneaking out. Sadly, Lupin catches him. What is exciting is that Lupin knows all about it as he was part of the group who made it in their school days.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

During a Quidditch match, Harry faints and falls off his broomstick. The cause? Dementors. Dumbledore was naturally furious. As a result, Harry’s beloved Nimbus 2000 is blown away and smashed to pieces by the Whomping Willow. Professor Lupin decides that Harry needs to learn to defend themselves. Therefore, he teaches him how to achieve the Patronus charm.

“Where is Wood?” said Harry, suddenly realizing he wasn’t there.
“Still in the showers,” said Fred. “We think he’s trying to drown himself.”

Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione are at loggerheads as Ron is under the impression that Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, has eaten his rat, Scabbers. Hermione is also incredible critical about the anonymous Christmas present Harry receives: a Firebolt broomstick. She’s worried it could have been cursed or jinxed by Sirius Black. Hermione’s stresses continue as she has many classes, some at the same time. She absolutely refuses to explain how she achieves this to Harry and Ron.

Malfoy continues to be up to his old tricks but this time his target is Hagrid. Hagrid’s hippogriff Buckbeak is in danger of being executed by the Ministry of Magic after injuring him. Malfoy did deserve it as he failed to listened to the instructions given by Hagrid. His father is pushing for punishment. Hermione and Ron work tirelessly to try and defend the hippogriff. The trio hear Buckbeak executed as they leave Hagrid’s hut. The rift between Hermione and Ron is healed when Scabbers is spotted and returned to him.

Things take a turn for the strange and Scabbers escaped again. However, this time the large black dog appears and drags Ron into a tunnel under the Whomping Willow. The others have no choice but to follow ultimately ending up in the Shrieking Shack, a haunted house in Hogsmeade. It is revealed that the dog is in fact Sirius Black. Harry feels like he has to kill him, but he can’t.

Lupin arrives but weirdly, hugs and embraces Black as a friend. We learn that the belief that Sirius betrayed the Potters was not true. It was Peter Pettigrew. Lupin admits he is a werewolf and that the Marauders (Black, Pettigrew and James Potter) learned how to transform into animals to help support Lupin. Scabbers is Pettigrew. He faked his own death, framed Black for the murders and has been hiding ever since.

We saw at the start the hostility between Lupin and Snape. This continued – Snape hates Harry remember? Snape arrives to apprehend Black but is knocked out by Harry, Ron and Hermione, who now know Sirius is innocent. Lupin and Black transform Pettigrew into human form and prepare to kill him. Harry stops them. He knows his father would not have wanted that. What is fair and right is to send him back to Azkaban.

“You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?”

Pettigrew, slimy as ever, manages to escape and the full moon transforms Lupin into a wolf. The problems continue for Harry, Ron, Hermione and Black as they are chased to the shore of the lake. Here, waiting for them is the Dementors. Just as hope was feeling lost, a Patronus charm saves them, cast by Harry’s dad, he believes.

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Harry awoke later in the hospital wing full of panic and confusion. Harry and Hermione are told that Black has been sentenced to the Dementor’s Kiss. This is where the Dementor’s suck out the soul of their prisoner. Pettigrew’s escape means that Black is still a convicted murderer. Professor Dumbledore tells Harry and Hermione that there is a way to save many innocent lives in one evening. Hermione has a way of attending classes that seem to be on at the same time: a time-turner. The two set off on a mission to go back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius.

Whilst on this mission, Harry sees himself at the side of the lake. Harry learns that it wasn’t his father who summoned the Patronus charm, it was him. Buckbeak escapes with Sirius on his back. The two are saved. Time ticks away but thankfully Harry and Hermione return to the hospital wing to close the timeline. Snape is furious with Lupin and reveals to all that he is a werewolf, resulting in Lupin’s resignation. Harry returns to Kings Cross with his friends. What is different this year, is a letter from Sirius, giving him permission to visit Hogsmeade next year.

“He was my mum and dad’s best friend. He’s a convicted murderer, but he’s broken out of wizard prison and he’s on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though…keep up with my news…check if I’m happy…”

Final Thoughts

I think the reason why I like this book the most is because we have two brilliant characters: Lupin and Black. I love his misunderstood Black is and the fact that he has been in prison, a hell, for years for something one of his friends did, not him. As the trio get older, the magic gets darker. I also like this because it’s really good to see Hermione centre stage. She is the one with the knowledge and the history but here we saw her put that into action. After all, she is the only one with a time-turner. I think it is also good to see niggles and fallings out between the trio – it is reminiscent of real life in that sense. I’m absolutely loving re-reading these. They do get bigger and darker now too which is great.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Book Three! Here’s to the next: The Goblet of Fire. See you next time for the Reading Challenge Book Review for June and hopefully more cakes! Stay safe everyone!!

Big love all. xx

img_2847

24 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

img_2230

Hello Lovelies!

We are hurtling through May at such a pace that I really just don’t know where the time is going. All I do know is that around my sporadic days at school, I have managed to do a lot of reading which I am always grateful for. I’ve tried really hard to help support local businesses to which is always lovely.

The time has also given me the opportunity to get some serious thinking done! This year marks a big birthday for me so I decided to make a list of 30 things I want to do in the next year. It’s very much a work in progress, don’t get me wrong. However, I have started on one thing from the list: rereading all of the Harry Potter books. I remember when each one was published. I was very much a small part of that generation. I am a devoted Potterhead, as you all know. I’m excited about reading them all and feeling the magic all over again.

IMG_2047

 

What’s it all about?

The novel begins with what appears to be a very normal and ordinary life on Privet Drive. Harry Potter lives with his Aunt and Uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley who has nothing but dislike for their nephew. Their son, Dudley has a favourite hobby: bullying Harry. Harry ends up there due to the death of his mother and father, ten years prior. The most interesting thing about him so far is his lightning bolt scar on his forehead. On the day of his eleventh birthday, he receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Unbeknown to him, he has been accepted. Hagrid, the Gamekeeper, had to track down Harry in order to give him his letter after all the previous letters had been destroyed by the Dursleys. 

Hagrid tells Harry all about his past – who he is, his parents, James and Lily Potter, who were a wizard and witch respectively. Hagrid tells Harry about their death, about how they were murdered by the most evil and dark wizard of all time: Lord Voldemort. The only person to ever survive was him. Voldemort was unable to kill baby Harry. It was more than this though, he also lost all of his powers. As a result, in the magic world, Harry was famous. 

Harry is introduced to the wizarding world by visiting Diagon Alley with Hagrid. This is a hidden street in London where Harry will be able to buy all the things he needs for his new school. Harry, well aware that he has no money whatsoever, is also equally surprised to learn that at Gringotts Wizarding Bank, he has a fortune waiting for him from his parents. Hagrid gives Harry his birthday present, a beautiful snowy owl he decides to call Hedwig. Harry makes his way around Diagon Alley, buying everything he needs. He is shocked to learn that the wand that has chosen him has the same core as the one that gave him his scar. 

“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather–just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother–why, its brother gave you that scar…Curious indeed how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, remember…”

The following month, Harry leaves the Durselys’ home to catch the Hogwarts Express from London’s King’s Cross railway station. However, there is just one thing that is a slight issue for him. He can’t find the platform he needs and no one around him seems to know what he is talking about. Where on earth is Platform 9¾? Eventually and thankfully he overhears a family discussing it. Thus, his friendship with Ron Weasley is formed. They also meet Hermione Granger on the train and almost instantly decide they don’t like her. She is snobby and a bit of a know it all. Harry also meets Draco Malfoy who dislikes Ron’s family because they aren’t well off and the children have hand me downs. 

When the students arrive at Hogwarts, the first thing the first years need to be do is to be assigned to a house. This is the Sorting Hat Ceremony, where the Sorting Hat decides which of the four houses to place new students in: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin. Slytherin has a dreadful reputation as being the house where good wizards have gone bad. Voldemort was in Slytherin and he was a dark and powerful wizard. Like his family before him, Malfoy ends up in Slytherin and the trio end up in Gryffindor. This wasn’t with some drama- the Sorting Hat was very conflicted and believed Harry could achieve great things in Slytherin. 

“Not Slytherin, eh?…Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that–no? Well, if you’re sure–better by GRYFFINDOR.”

As Harry settles into his new routine at Hogwarts, he learns what he is particularly good at: flying on a broom. He’s selected to play in Quidditch, a competitive wizards’ sport, as the Gryffindor Seeker. Yet, it isn’t all happy and joyous. The Potions master, Severus Snape, takes a natural disliking to him and makes a fool of him in lessons. Nevertheless, the trio continue to work hard, especially Hermione, who seems to know everything. 

One day, Malfoy tricks Harry and Ron into a duel in the trophy room in order to get them out of bed at night, thus breaking the rules. Malfoy tells Filch, the school’s caretaker that everyone hates, where they would be. Hermione unintentionally is forced to come along after her attempts to stop them, all fail. Neville Longbottom is asleep outside the common room because he’s forgotten the password. He too puts up some resistance but Harry and Ron manage to run out. Harry and Ron realise that Malfoy tried to trick them and decide they need to get back to the common room before they get into trouble. They discover a huge three headed dog standing guard over a trapdoor in the forbidden corridor. 

Halloween arrives and the school is busy celebrating. The celebrations are interrupted by the entrance of a troll in the school, which heads for the girls’ bathroom where Hermione was, after running away upset. Harry and Ron defy the order to return to their dorms and go after her. The three of them take on the troll and amazingly survive. From this, the trio become best friends. Bigger questions are raised about the dog and the trapdoor. To top things off, Snape seems to have a leg injury. Very odd indeed… 

Hermione, obsessed with their behaviour and the fear of being expelled, forbids the boys from investigating this further. She begs Harry to channel his efforts into his first ever Quidditch game. Without knowing how or why, Harry’s broom begins to act strangely and tries to repeatedly throw him off. Hermione notices that Snape is glaring at Harry and muttering something. Harry manages to swallow the Golden Snitch, meaning the game is over. 

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.”

Christmas then comes and Harry receives an anonymous gift, an item of his father’s: an invisibility cloak. This has to be explored further! Harry takes off into the night to do some investigating regarding that trapdoor. On his travels, he discovers the Mirror of Erised. The strange item shows the deepest desires of the viewer. Harry sees his parents.

Following this, a newspaper report reveals that there was a break in at Gringotts. The trio head to see Hagrid to try and get some information. Hagrid didn’t mean to spill information however, the knowledge they gain is that there is a Philosopher’s Stone and it is currently being hidden at Hogwarts. The Philosopher’s Stone grants its user immortality as well as the ability to turn any metal into gold. During detention, Harry meets a centaur, Firenze, who tells him that Voldemort plans to steal the stone himself to restore his health and power. When the school headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is lured away from the school, Harry, Ron and Hermione fear the worst: the theft is imminent. 

The trio decide they have to go through the trapdoor. Once below the school, they encounter a number of obstacles which require different skills. Each of them have what they need to work together. After a thrilling game of wizard’s chess, Harry is now alone with Quirinus Quirrell, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He reveals how he’s been working behind the scenes to try and kill Harry but was unsuccessful due to Snape’s interfering, much to Harry’s shock! 

Quirrell has been helping Voldemort, whose face has sprouted on the back of Quirrell’s head, to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone to restore his body. Quirrell needs to use Harry to get past the final obstacle: the Mirror of Erised. Quirrel forces Harry to stand in front of the mirror. The mirror recognises Harry’s lack of greed and places the stone in his pocket. Quirrell attempts to steal the stone and kill Harry but Harry manages to make contact with his skin. This burns Quirrell and breaks out into blisters. Harry’s scar burns and he passes out. 

Three days later, Harry wakes up in the school infirmary where Dumbledore explains his survival against Voldemort. It’s all down to his mother, Lily. Her love for him and the sacrifice she made that kept him alive means that he has a protective charm within his blood. It was this that made Quirrell’s skin burn as he is possessed with hatred and greed. The stone gets destroyed and the school year ends. Gryffindor win the House Cup and Harry, sadly, returns to Privet Drive. He fails to tell them that the use of spells is forbidden by under ages wizards and witches… roll on summer! 

“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.”

Final Thoughts

I can’t tell you how much I love Harry Potter. Like many millions of us, I was completely hooked. I was desperate to be a part of the world and secretly like to pretend I am. Reading it 23 years later, the magic is just as real, just as relevant today as it was then. I can’t wait to continue re-reading them again. It is different this time around, but it’s just as thrilling. It does also make me wonder if JK Rowling ever knew just what she was creating. I can’t remember another series of books taking over the world as much as this one did. And still does! 

I wish you all health and happiness. If you’re feeling lost, read something you love. It’s what I’m doing. 

Big love all. xx

img_2847

20 Comments

Filed under Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns 50!

Happy Bank Holiday Monday Everyone!

I hope you’re well and making the most of the long weekend. Today is a very special day in the book world because it is the 50th birthday of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It has its own hash tag on Twitter and everything! (#VHC50 if you’re interested).

I saw this as the perfect opportunity to review this book and look at how important this book has been in so many peoples lives.

What’s it all about?

The book starts on one Sunday morning where a caterpillar hatched from an egg under the moon. He’s absolutely starving, ravenous for gorgeous food. Thus, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is born. He goes off to search for food.

‘One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.

Over the course of five days, he eats increasing amounts of fruit. He starts on Monday with one apple, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday and five oranges on Friday.

On the Saturday, still hungry, he eats a ginormous amount of food! He eats one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, on slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

However, that night, he gets a pain in his tummy from eating so much. By the next morning, he feels much better after eating a luscious green leaf. By now, he’s neither hungry nor little. He’s a very big caterpillar who looks like he’s fit to burst.

The caterpillar spins himself a cocoon where he sleeps for two whole weeks. After this time as passed, he emerges from it as a beautiful butterfly, with large and colourful wings.

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…

he was a beautiful butterfly!

Final thoughts

It is easy to see why this book has turned 50 years old. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t read it. However, what I find more meaningful than any age of a book, is where it goes next. Of course, this book has travelled through generations of readers. I read this book as a little girl and I still marvel in its wonder today as an adult. Reading this with smaller children in my own family is a joy as the legacy continues.

I was reading somewhere that apparently one of these books is sold, on average, every minute. The story and the illustrations have lived in many a home and continue to do so today. It’s been translated into over 60 languages with more than 46 million copies being sold. There is, of course, a new edition for the 50th birthday which features a rather lovely gold cover. Regardless, this story is just a wonderful, humble piece of writing that we’ve all loved, since our childhood. Happy birthday Very Hungry Caterpillar! 🎂 🎉

Enjoy the rest of the long weekend my dearest friends.

Big love xx

15 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Reading

The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

Hello Lovely People!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the weekend peace you’ve hopefully been given.

Back at work for me now and exam season is fast approaching! With the pressures and strains of every day teaching life, it is so important to me that the weekends are all about relaxing and reading. Yesterday I went to the beautiful place of York and bought a number of amazing Harry Potter products from The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Then I spent some time in York Minster. However, one other little treat was that I’ve managed to get a front row seat to the RSC’s musical of The Boy in the Dress. I can not wait. There’s information about this here if you are interested. Matilda the musical was and still is awesome, so I expect the same from The Boy in the Dress. Therefore, it’s only fitting I review the first of David Walliams children’s books with you all today.

What’s it all about?

This life-affirming novel centres around 12 year old Dennis. He lives with his father and his older brother (14) John. Dennis loves football and watching Trisha on TV but has always felt a little different to his father and brother. Their mother left when Dennis was 7 following her divorce from his father. Their father, only known as Dad, reacts to the divorce by comfort eating which consequently results in him becoming quite large.

Dennis is a very contrasting character to his brother and father, who seem more alike. Despite being the best on the school football team, he desperately misses his mother. His father believed he burnt all the photos, but Dennis found one to keep. In that photo his mother is wearing a yellow dress which comforts him greatly. It’s the only way he can still see his mother.

One day, Dennis sees the same dress on the cover of a Vogue magazine. Dennis buys this magazine from Raj, the local shop owner. But when his father finds the copy of Vogue magazine, he is furious. His brother John starts to tease him, calling him “Denise”.

Are you sure you want this, Dennis?” asked Raj. “Vogue is mainly read by ladies, and your drama teacher Mr Howerd.

Things get worse for Dennis as he receives a detention at school the same day for kicking a football through a window. Something magical happens in detention because Dennis meets Lisa James. Lisa is the most amazing girl in school. She’s pretty and fashionable and popular. Lisa invites Dennis around to her house and shows him her drawing designs for different clothing. She persuades Dennis to dress up in girls’ clothing. After wearing an electric blue dress, Lisa convinces him to go out in public, under the alter ego of “Denise”, a French exchange student with limited English.

Their first stop is to Raj’s corner shop. Naturally, Dennis is worried that he will be recognised but amazingly, he isn’t! Raj completely believes that it is “Denise”. Because of their success here, Dennis is convinced to go to school with Lisa as “Denise”.

Rules don’t apply here,” laughed Lisa. “Dennis, you can be whoever you want to be!

The school day starts well and Dennis is unnoticed. However, Lisa forgot that she had a double French period. The sheer excitement from the French teacher means the narrative splits into French, not knowing that Dennis won’t understand a work. Rather than being found out, Denis accidentally upsets the teacher by criticising her accident. She is absolutely devastated.

Things go from bad to worse as during break time, a football is flying towards “Denise”, and naturally Dennis kicks it. Rather unfortunately, he slips and is revealed to be a boy. What feels like the whole school laughs at him. He’s sent to Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster, and is expelled from school for cross dressing.

His Dad is absolutely furious and sends Dennis to his room. Darvesh, Dennis’s best friend comes round to see Dennis, to tell him that they’re still best friends regardless, but is sent him again by his Dad.

No more watching that show Small England or whatever it’s called where those two idiots dress up as ‘laydees’. It’s a bad influence.

Darvesh’s actions mean so much to Dennis that he decided to attend a very important football match against Maudlin Street, at school on the Saturday. He’s not allowed to play and can see that the team are going to suffer an almighty defeat.

Lisa has a plan and the whole team encourage Dennis to play in a dress, which he does. With Dennis back on the team, it is complete again and they come back from being 6-0 down to actually win the final.

Dennis’s Dad has never attended a football match before, much to his sadness. This time was different. It wasn’t just Darvesh’s mum cheering and hollering from the sidelines, it was Dennis’s dad too.

The following Sunday morning upon visiting the corner shop again, Raj informs Dennis that Mr Hawtrey used to come and collect the Telegraph paper every Sunday at 7am. Although recently it has been his sister, Doris. What Raj found strange was that there was something peculiar about her.

Lisa and Dennis wake up ridiculously early to see what they could find out and as soon as the clock struck 7, Mr Hawtrey arrived at the shop dressed in a skirt and blouse! With this new knowledge, Lisa and Dennis threaten that unless Dennis is reinstated in school, they will tell everyone about Mr Hawtrey’s cross dressing. The next Monday Dennis is back in school, as normal.

By the end of the novel, Dennis, his Dad and his brother are able to talk about the wife and mother who left them. Dennis and Lisa remain the best of friends, as does Dennis and Darvesh. John even decides he needs to look out for his younger brother more. Harmony is restored.

Final thoughts

This book is everything you’d hope children’s books to be like. Honest, funny, understanding and accepting. We have all felt a time in our lives where we just feel like we don’t belong. The book is an anthem for that feeling and for the reality that that is actually ok. I really think this will be an awesome production too. Its cross dressing is actually a very Shakespearean element, meaning it will be right at home in Stratford upon Avon’s RSC theatre. Children’s books really lift the heart and Walliams has a way of making us all feel like we’re perfectly acceptable as we are. After all, we all belong whether we wear dresses and kick footballs or not.

“I think all those rules are boring. About what people can and can’t wear. Surely everyone should be able to wear whatever they like?

Big love all xx

16 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, RSC

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

13 Comments

Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Waterstones Book of the Month

A Pinch of Magic – Michelle Harrison

Hello Lovelies!

Firstly, I offer my warmest apologies. It’s been a really busy time at work as we are in the middle of another mock cycle. We’re done two papers out of four in English so I seem to spend my time marking plenty! I’m just so sorry I’m so rubbish!

However, I am back to catch up with you all and to share with you the book I chose from Waterstones Book of the Month list for February: A Pinch of Magic. As you can see, this book is beautiful!

What’s it all about?

The novel opens with the story of a girl gazing out of the window in Crowstone Tower where she is being kept prisoner. The next day she knew she was being taken to the gallows for being a supposed witch.

“Using the stone, she scratched on the inside walls as if she were writing with chalk. She wrote out a single word: a name… the one who had wronged her.”

Fast forward to Betty Windershins’s 13th birthday where she learns about the family curse. It’s a busy Saturday night in The Poacher’s Pocket, the local pub and their home. Betty lives there with her grandma, Betty (Bunny to avoid confusion) and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie. It’s Halloween too and Betty is determined to go out and play. However, she wants to travel a little further, across the ferry to Marshfoot where there was a fairground. Fliss declines the invitation, becoming more of a killjoy in Betty’s opinion since her own birthday. They board the ferry almost tasting freedom when all doesn’t seem quite as expected. Bunny appears!

‘The boat lurched again as a familiar figure looked over the two girls. Betty gave a squeak of surprise as someone pushed their face to hers, almost nose to nose.’

Absolutely certain that Granny had not been on the boat when they left, this journey raised more questions than answers. Naturally, Bunny was furious with the girls. Betty being naturally curious, tries to work out how their granny knew where they were and what they were doing. She desperately wants answers which she finally gets after a short journey in which they all hold onto each other and use a carpet bag for their travels. It is time for the girls to sit down with their grandmother to find out exactly what all that was about. Much to Betty’s surprise, her sister Fliss doesn’t see phased by it at all. It is revealed that she was told the story on her own birthday. It was Bunny’s time to tell them all.

“There are three items… three gifts, if you like. Each of them is an everyday object. Each of them holds a different kind of power. I call it a pinch of magic.”

The three everyday objects that held hidden secrets were the carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. These items had been passed down the family for 150 years and would continue to do so. Each item belongs to a specific person and they each do different magic things. The girls are naturally quite fascinated. Betty knows that the items could help them with seeing their father who is currently in prison. As amazing as these items are, they come with a price. The Widdershins family are cursed.

“The truth is, we’re cursed… all of us. No Widdershins girl has ever been able to leave Crowstone. If we do, we’ll die by the next summer.”

Betty hopes it’s just wishful thinking. However, Bunny has seen for herself what happens. The crows’ chorus followed by the person becoming colder and colder. Despite feeling like ice, the last thing you feel is the cold kiss. Then it’s the end. They know the curse has been triggered because a stone falls from the Tower over at Repent island where all the prisoners, including their father are. Despite all the warnings, Betty has this deep desire to break the curse, no matter what the costs. And so the adventure begins.

After searching at home, Betty finds some letters from her grandmother to her father and vice versa. All is not what it seems as it appears that their father has been moved from prison. Bunny had stopped replying to him but continued to visit the prison. Prisoner number 513 becomes of great importance to Betty so she decides she must visit him with Fliss to see why her grandmother kept returning there. The prison looked cruel by daylight, worse by evening light. It oozes misery. Prisoner 513, Colton by name it disappointingly ordinary. But it is his knowledge that the girls are desperate to acquire. He said he knew how to break the curse. The cost of this information, the bag. His ticket out of prison. His freedom card.

‘Four tiny words, with such enormous power. Betty tensed, like a bow string that had been pulled back, ready to fire.’

A regular visitor to The Poacher’s Pocket who could hold the key to some information is Fingerty. He’s an ex prisoner but also incredibly rude and cold. It would be very difficult to get information from him but Betty firmly believes that it is worth a try. After some free alcohol he tells the story of Sorsha Spellthorn. The general belief was that she was a witch which resulted in her being locked in the tower. The narration then changes to Sorsha and we hear about her awful childhood where she was a clear target. She ended up trusting someone who she shouldn’t have. This information inspires a deep need within Betty to try and break the curse. The girls decide to leave.

Granny, it said, we’re sorry. We’ve taken your bag and gone to break the curse. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Please don’t come looking for us, and please don’t be too angry. Betty & Fliss.”

However, Charlie catches them. Despite Betty following the instructions about the bag, it doesn’t work. They’ve forgotten one crucial piece of information: the items only work for their owner. Granny owns it now and then it will be Charlie’s. Charlie takes matters into her own hands, shouting the command of where they wish to go, much to Betty’s surprise. A larger surprise was waiting for them when they got to the prison. Unfortunately, Charlie got the number confused and they ended up in a cell with a rather awful prisoner called Jarrod.

“Why would you be carrying an empty bag, eh? This is how you got in here? Is it a portal or summat?”

‘He held the bag out in front of him, fitting it over his huge foot like an ugly, misshapen slipper.’

They get Colton out but Jarrod is nowhere to be found. They’ve no choice but to continue to get information from Colton. Betty desperately wants to break the curse but in a rather heartbreaking way, we learn that Colton lied for his freedom. He knows nothing. What’s worse, Jarrod appears after lurking in the shadows knowing everything. He takes Charlie, Fliss and the bag with him. Betty absolutely will not leave them. The curse is triggered.

What happens next over the course of the novel is adventure and desperation. Betty is determined to break the curse and get Fliss, Charlie and the bag back. Betty and Colton get a boat and travel over the very dangerous and notorious Devil’s Teeth. They hear the wardens however, there is also another surprise. Fingerty. He joins them and continues to tell the rest of Sorsha’s story. It’s a story of help, broken trust and envy.

‘Jealous… wants what you have… a mother always knows.’

Back to the now and the girls use the dolls to see each other. Betty is adamant that she is not going to leave her sisters behind, no matter what the cost. Whilst they continue the journey, Fingerty tells Betty and Colton the rest of Sorsha’s story. Her sister was jealous of the magic she possessed. She wanted it for herself which was exactly what their mother had thought all along. Whilst in deep betrayal caused by her sister, Sorsha picks ordinary looking objects to transfer her powers to. Her earlier help has to come to and end. However, it’s too late. She ends up in the tower. When her sister Pru arrives to see her, she’s changed and she lies. Sorsha is so angry that she curses her sister and all future Widdershins after her.

‘Perhaps there was a way she could have her revenge, even if she couldn’t save herself. For while she no longer had her magic, a curse was something different. A curse could come from darkness. And what could be darker than death.’

Eventually the girls are reunited and Betty has an idea of how she can break the curse. It’s always risky but it has to be worth it. After all, the Crow’s Chorus is only ever getting louder. However, this is where Colton’s part comes to an end. He doesn’t want to return to be put back into prison. So he stays behind. The girls press onward to the tower to prevent the curse. Betty meets Sorsha and tries to make her see sense. They become friends, real sisters and each girl gives Sorsha their magic items back. By the end of the novel, harmony is restored. There is no curse. It’s all over.

‘She was Betty the Brave, Betty the Explorer. And with her sisters at her side, she was ready for anything.’

Final Thoughts

This book was truly magical. There’s a reason why it’s Waterstone’s book of the month for February and March. It’s a real adventure and I was gripped the whole time I was reading. Magic does funny things to readers as it completely takes you in and you become a part of it. I loved Sorsha and felt her pain. I also admired Betty’s sheer determination and resilience. A great book!

Big love to you all!! I promise to be better. Off to catch up with you all now. ❤️

12 Comments

Filed under Book review, Waterstones Book of the Month

The 50 Books Every Child Should Read By Age 16 

Hey everyone! 
Hope you’re well on this Sunday evening and that you’ve had a restful weekend. 

I’ve been having a mooch online and stumbled across this list being advertised on Facebook. Naturally, I was inquisitive. It’s an interesting list based on, as the title of this post suggests, the 50 books every child should read by age 16. I had to check this out. 

Now I’m a bit of a geek and have a spreadsheet based on what books I’ve read and in what year. #booklovenotashamed. I was curious to see how many I’d read and I wanted to pass this onto you guys to see which ones you’ve read by this age. The ones I’ve read are striked out. 

Here goes. The 50 books are as follows:

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl

Alice in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- C.S. Lewis – Read after age 16. Didn’t really take my fancy as a child or an adult. 

Winnie The Pooh- A.A.Milne

Black Beauty- Anna Sewell

James and The Giant Peach- Roald Dahl & then again at university. It formed part of my dissertation! 

The BFG-Roald Dahl

A Bear Called Paddington- Michael Bond

Treasure Island- Robert Louis Stevenson

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Matilda- Roald Dahl

The Railway Children- E. Nesbit – Watched the film, but haven’t read the book. 

Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens – Read but after the age of 16. This would have been a huge book to read at that age! 

Five on a Treasure Island- Enid Blyton

The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Grahame

The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle

The Jungle Book- Rudyard Kipling – Nope… Loved the Disney film too much. 

Charlotte’s Web- EB White

The Tale of Peter Rabbit- Beatrix Potter

Watership Down- Richard Adams – Saw the film. It left me traumatised. 

The Hobbit -J.R.Tolken

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- J.K. Rowling – Read a number of times BUT it was published after my 16th birthday. 

Lord of the Flies- William Golding

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ Sue Townsend – Read a couple of years ago when she sadly passed away. 

Great Expectations- Charles Dickens – Read at university. LOVE it. 

The Cat in the Hat- Dr Seuss

The Secret Garden- Frances Hodgson-BurnettAnd saw a theatre adaptation. 

The Diary of a Young Girl- Anne Frank – Read after the age of 16. 

The Twits – Roald Dahl

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz- L. Frank Baum

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne – Another book I’ve read, but it too was released after my 16th birthday

Anne of Green Gables- L.M.Montgomery

The Tiger Who Came to Tea- Judith Kerr

Green Eggs and Ham-Dr Seuss

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Bambi- Felix Selten

Tom’s Midnight Garden- Phillipa Pearce – I knew the story but didn’t read the book until I was studying a children’s literature module at university

Little House on the Prairie- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Funny Bones- Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Where The Wild Things Are- Maurice Sendak

Carrie’s War- Nina Bawden

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon – Read but again it was released after my 16th birthday. Would love to see the London theatre version as well. 

The Magician’s Nephew- C.S. Lewis

The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

The Story of Doctor Dolittle- Hugh Lofting

The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Curious George- H.A.Ray

Each Peach Pear Plum – Janet and Allan Ahlberg 
This is an awesome list. Ok, there is a minor flaw that some books were published after my 16ty birthday; it serves as a pretty good reading list. It’s definitely a list I will be sharing with my students at school. 

Books I’ve read: 32, 22 by the age of 16. Not bad going! 
What about you? I’d love to know! 

Have a great week everyone! 

Big love xx

40 Comments

Filed under Books, Children's Literature