Skyships, Flying Cities & Paper Spirits…Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

Oh! A sky-bound adventure with incredible battles, social turmoil and intricate world-building that pits a young, endlessly surprising heroine against an entire empire…I’m intrigued. But when you begin with an attack by a giant tortoise and add an ode to Japanese culture and timeless paper-crafting into the mix…you have my complete attention…


author: Ann Sei Lin

Walker Books (5 May 2022)

ISBN: 9781406399592

All of her life, Kurara has been nothing more than a servant girl on board the Midori.. with a unique party trick of making paper come to life. This turns out to be a power treasured across the empire. Now running from an enemy she does not understand, she joins a skyship crew and trains to become a Crafter, the most powerful and feared soldiers in the sky or on land. Taught by the gruff but wise Himura, Kurara learns to hunt shikigami – wild paper spirits who are sought after by the Princess. Are the shikigami just powerful slaves, or are they beings with their own souls? And can a Kurara be the one to help them find their voice? A whole new world is unfolding; a world full of mystery, power and peril.

This is astonishing! The elegant writing allows a rich, imaginative plot to develop gracefully as the reader is drawn into a fantasy adventure that will live long in the mind, creating a sense of possibilities and endless mystery. The world created here is steeped in a new and different mythology, intricate with a wealth of detail and alive with beauty and danger. While all the characters are well-rounded and believable, Kurara shines; a fascinating character, holding mysteries of her own that even she knows nothing about. These unfold gradually, revealing themselves throughout delicate twists and turns in the story that start off seeping slowly to life, only to explode with action and surprise. Her talent of paper-crafting, breathing life into her origami-style creations is glorious, inspiring. Social structures, relationships and nuances of this life show themselves with a curiosity that is thought-provoking and emotion-stirring. The writing has that deep textural, visual quality, pulling at the reader, rebuilding this world in their own imagination; cinematic in its’ effect. A stunning debut; intriguing, thrilling, curious, bold…Rebel Skies is a triumph. Perfect for YA or fantasy readers everywhere.

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

In case you haven’t noticed, I do love a good “witchy” story. It’s not just the magic, though we all desperately need a sense of magic in our lives. It’s about the construction of the story, the world-building and the genuine quality of the characters and their relationships…and the way these magical, fantastical tales speak so eloquently about our own day-to-day lives, how to navigate through them and how, with a bit of creative-thinking and boldness, we can accomplish things we never thought possible. This lesson is incredibly important for children to hear…repeatedly.

While my shelves are full of witchy books, I’ve recently found room for one more…

“Witches aren’t born, they’re made…”


author: Skye McKenna

illustrator: Tomislav Tomic

Welbeck Flame (14 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781801300087

Seven years ago, Cassandra Morgans’ mother left her at the dreary, frankly awful Fowell House boarding school with nothing but a key to keep safe and remember her by. Her mother promised she would return…and Cassie believes her. But in the meantime, Cassies’ days are spent trying to escape the school bully and her hockey team, and hiding in broom cupboards and tree branches, reading forbidden books about the world of Faerie. But things are now coming to a head. Cassie has been told her mother is dead and she’s about to be sent to an orphanage. She knows her mother is still alive; she just knows. Whatever dangers await her, Cassie runs away from school. Lost and alone, she is chased by a pack of goblins but, escapes with the help of a flying broom and a talking cat named Montague, who takes her to the cosy village of Hedgely. There she discovers she comes from a long line of witches; those who protect the country from the Faerie, who are all too real and much more terrifying than her story books could have ever prepared her for….

The village of Hedgely

Oh my, but this book is wonderful! Yes, it is true that you will recognise the “formula” all too well. But, that should do nothing to discourage you from it. It is a beauty; a carefully constructed world loaded with drama and peril; fascinating, realistic relationships and brilliant twists and turns; and a considered look at the magical creatures and people that inhabit the world of Faerie…just marvelous! (And there is a map, should you find yourself wandering.) Cassie is fabulously drawn and highly relatable; a central character that you will find yourself cheering for all along the way. Her frustrations, accomplishments, individuality and determination shine throughout. She must work hard to become a witch, and while she tries to follow the rules and achieve her goals; while she tries to “be good”…trouble follows her everywhere (or she follows it.) Along with the magic and mystery, there is a family turmoil at the centre of the story that all of us will recognise and revel in. Full of conflict which is realistically solved, it speaks eloquently of family life and history. Beautifully paced with adventure, imaginative, filled with friendship…and it all feels so real. Magical in every way. This is everything I look for in a “witchy” book. (And it’s the first in a series of 5!)

There’s So Much More to Albert….Albert Supersize by Ian Brown & Eoin Clarke

The Albert the pet tortoise books are just great! Based on the real-life Albert, a variety of mishaps and misadventures lead even the youngest readers through his back garden life bringing humour, friendships, a bit of drama and…if you’re not careful…you’ll learn a lot about tortoises and their relatives. The latest takes Albert into the excitement of the ancient past…sort of…..


author: Ian Brown

illustrator: Eoin Clarke

Graffeg Ltd (7 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781802580167

In the land of gigantic creatures with earth-shaking roars, Albert is the biggest and loudest of them all (at both ends.) He is the mightiest leader the dinosaurs have ever seen. And they need his help with the volcano threatening to erupt and destroy their land. Just as Albert has stopped the volcano and saved them all….Albert wakes up to his own garden, where his tiny insect friends have a huge problem of their own. And only giant (in their eyes) Albert can help.

This adventure is big. Huge, in fact! While tortoises are very much modern-day dinosaurs, quirky, fun-loving Albert is of course dreaming of what it would be like to be a bigger version of himself, to which any child (or short person like me) can relate. But it’s all a matter of perspective and this lesson is pointed out brilliantly. Its’ wonderful characterisation, compelling storytelling and vivid, expressive illustrations allows the story to sing with friendship, problem-solving, helping whenever you can and the importance of having big dreams. And with fascinating tortoise facts included, it’s a fabulous storytime book at home or in the classroom. A laugh-out-loud funny tale that inspires curiosity; completely engaging, heartwarming and intriguing; I can’t recommend Albert Supersize (and the others!) highly enough.

Huge Albert-sized thanks to Graffeg Press for sending along another exceptional picture book.

Musical Magic from Caroline Magerl…Piano Fingers

Piano Fingers by Caroline Magerl; also pictured Maya & Cat and Nop

Caroline Magerl creates the most extraordinary picture books! Expressive, concise use of language weaving through glorious, picturesque scenes that build memorable, warm tales that beg you to wrap them around you. And her new book? Well….


author/illustrator: Caroline Magerl

Walker Books (7 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781529502510

Bea is from a big, noisy, uber-musical family who make all sorts of noisy noises! Big sister Isla plays the violin and while Bea is trying out her musical talents on the triangle, she longs for her big music to start. She yearns to play the piano, but is the world ready for her musical genius? With the help of Maestro Gus, the cat ghost of the piano, her music will bloom… Bea’s own special music is about to start!

If you were ever a child who wanted to make music, this is the one for you. Short and sweet language use evokes the feeling of a musical, magical journey waiting to begin. The excitement, small frustrations, sense of longing, delight and joy ebb dance across the pages as young Bea moves with determination towards her goal; to play the piano like an angel…to reach out to the whole world in her own way. These words weave through illustrations, creating a lyrical movement of their own. The palette of colours shifts and changes with emotion; here rather dulled ambers, greens and greys (always with little shimmers of light) until the music erupts and bright sunshine yellows, blooms of reds, pinks and turquoise spring to life. The gently rich watercolours are highlighted with expressive line-work, bringing that sense of how music actually flows and bends to simply be itself. Splashed with fascinating details that you could look at for hours; enchanting, delightful, filled with feeling, and beautiful…simply beautiful.

So many thanks to Caroline Magerl and those wonderful, brilliant folk at Walker Books for sharing this book with me. It is a picture book to be treasured.

(You should also read Maya & Cat and Nop…like I said earlier, extraordinary.)

Things I Know…by Helena Close

We are at a moment in time where issues of mental health in young people are really coming to the fore. For all the pain we feel when we look, it is right that we do. I’m not going to say that mental health wasn’t this big a problem prior to the pandemic and all the recent social/political upheaval. Because it certainly was. It’s just that now, we’re talking more openly about it. Young people need brave voices that paint an honest, vivid picture reflecting the turmoil in their lives and minds; that give them that all important “it’s not just me” reference, opening pathways and understanding for them. The new novel, Things I Know by Helena Close does exactly that….


author: Helena Close

Little Island Books (5 May 2022)

ISBN: 9781915071033

Saoirse can’t wait to leave school. But now, just before the Leaving Cert, the grief and uncertainty following the death of her mother and move to this claustrophobic sea-side town is compounded by her ex-boyfriend dying by suicide. And everyone blames her. Who knows? They could be right. Saoirse finds herself in a spiraling descent, threatening to pull her under and no one can save her… Not her lovely (but a bit batty) Nan; not her fabulous, bold best friend; not that gorgeous boy who’s trying hard to love her and make things right…certainly not her counsellor. Saoirse is adrift, with spiralling anxiety attacks and fugue states and grasping at straws that aren’t even there. How can she find the strength to rescue the Saoirse she used to know? And is it even possible?

“I felt this was a story I had to write…” says Helena Close. And I am so glad she did. It is a story that is all too familiar to young people, told in a voice that exists inside each and every one of them, whether we want to believe it or not. A story of grief, family upheaval, trauma, the nature of feeling alone, teenage suicide; all told with empathy and peppered with humour which gives the reader a pause of relief from the pain. There is a glittering hope running across every page, even in it’s darkest moments. And truth…it’s told with unrelenting truth. The characterisation is magnificent. It is easy to see all the layers of ourselves and those around us in the characters; we understand them; we know them, though we may not like them… and we are them. Saoirse is at a moment in her life where she is longing to just get on with it, trying to make decisions about her life with a constant vibration in her head. She seeks humour, joy and escape, but is pulled back because of all the unresolved issues that build up, one after another, after another until she reaches a point where she doesn’t know what’s real anymore…or what matters.

This book shines a glaring light on the social constructs that young people today are expected to navigate, usually without a map or sense of direction. And how can they move forward with the weight of their own history so prevalent? And Close tells the story so incredibly well. Fluid, straight-forward writing allows the reader to really “get” the full impact of the nuances and feeling. She is a fabulous, gifted storyteller. This is NOT an easy book to read. But it is so important…and simply impossible to out down. Honest, unflinching, compassionate…and powerful. This is the book we need now.

Family, Joy and Laughter from the O’Brien Press

Murphys’ Law and Our Big Day; published by the O’Brien Press

Picture books are always such a joy! They give glimpses of life to hold in your hands that can entertain, enlighten and support us for years and years. Here are two new wonders from the O’Brien Press…


author: Bob Johnston

illustrator: Michael Emberley

O’Brien Press (18 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781788493147

Uncle David and Simon have lived together for a very long time. They have a small house by the sea and a big dog named bear. Visiting them is such great fun; walking Bear in the park, playing at the beach, making cakes and doing some drawing. And now…Uncle David and Simon are getting married! There is so much to do and Little Niece (and Bear!) have a very important job. They are taking care of the rings for the ceremony. But, with everyone there and the celebrant ready for the rings, will everything be perfect? Of course! Even if it doesn’t go quite to plan….

A simply wonderful story of family, friends, love, weddings, with a big dog thrown into the mix; as well as a celebration of marriage equality; this book is so much fun and so charming. All the busy-ness and bustle of preparing for the Big Day brings ample opportunity to highlight the happiness (on so many levels) abounding with the occasion. And when Little Niece has a bit of a panic about the rings, Bear emerges as the hero by playing his favourite game, Find It…and creates some delightful chaos in the process. The illustrations (by the brilliant Michael Emberley) bring an extra spark of joy. Clear, energetic, vivid pictures that accent this heart-warming tale. Beautiful in word and illustration!


author: Muireann Ní Chíobháin

illustrator: Paul Nugent

O’Brien Press (18 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781788492928

Anything and everything that can go wrong WILL go wrong when Murphy the Irish Wolfhound is on the scene! Murphy and his best-person friend Mary love heading out on doggie adventures, but it seems bad luck follows Murphy wherever he goes. Crashing, banging, things (and people) falling over…in the park, at the farm, in the shops, at the lake. And everywhere Murphy goes, he hears “Bad pup!” But Murphy isn’t bad…he just needs to turn his luck around.

This is a book that speaks of the endearing friendship between a child and a dog, who just happens to take mayhem with him everywhere he goes. There’s a bit of a mystery as to why Murphy has such bad luck and trying to change other peoples’ minds about this shaggy, waggy pup isn’t going to be easy. Bright, lively illustrations offer many details and gift the tale (tail?) with charm and a good dollop of hilarity. If you want a truly funny shaggy dog story, look no further! Charming, delightful, filled with heart and laughter…you’ll love Murphy!

For Earth Day… One World

One World: 24 Hours on Planet Earth by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Jenni Desmond

Happy Earth Day! I hope, wherever on the planet you happen to be, you were able to spend some time considering this beautiful world we live in. Or perhaps you were wondering what is happening elsewhere at exactly the same time; who was waking up, which animals were swimming in the oceans, how the rest of the residents of Earth are making their way through this day, when we celebrate the diversity of our world. I may have found the perfect book to answer these and other questions….


author: Nicola Davies

illustrator: Jenni Desmond

Walker Books (7 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781406394771

April 21st; one minute to midnight in London. While the rest of the city is sleeping, two little girls are wide awake, looking out into the night and wondering what’s happening all across Planet Earth right now. As the clock strikes midnight and the new day starts with the dark and quiet of their home, the sisters head out on an amazing journey to have a look at life on the planet at that very minute. Their travels take them to visit creatures of every shape and size, to consider the drama and challenges each faces and wonder at the vast beauty and diversity of the world … and return home again in time for the last chime of midnight.

This nonfiction book is written as a story; a dream-like journey across the globe and it’s time zones to observe life as it happens in just one minute of time. A glimpse of biodiversity combined with an urgent message about climate change, the world is given to us in all its’ wonder through the eyes of two young girls.

The message is clear; it is One World and it is ours, but we share it with so many other creatures. Our actions have impact. We must understand this and consider how what we do affects the rest of the world. The rich, detailed illustrations show us a beautiful world, full of life. And it asks us to consider the lives around the planet; the wonders we see here and so many others, as well. An interesting, compelling look at the world in just one minute, it begs questions about all the other minutes, all the other creatures… what is happening while we are asleep? A marvelous journey; a well-considered narrative; fascinating, beautiful, imaginative, sure to invite curiosity about the natural world…and indeed, a call to action.

On an Island Shaped Like a Broken Heart…

The Thief Who Sang Storms by Sophie Anderson

Sophie Anderson emerged in 2018 as one of the most gifted, mesmerising storytellers with the publication of The House With Chicken Legs, a wonderfully crafted story that takes its’ readers on a wild ride with Marinka and Baba Yaga. With that first book and the ones that followed; The Girl Who Speaks Bear and The Castle of Tangled Magic, we cross over through the unfamiliar, yet strangely familiar territory inhabited by the echoes of the Slavic folk tales of her youth. They make the intangible and unlikely real. Magic and shape-shifting are afoot always. And then there’s that ever-present desire for home, comfort and belonging, something we all know well. Her fourth book is out now, following the story-telling path set by the others…a strange, beautiful, compulsive journey…


author: Sophie Anderson

illustrator: Joanne Lisowiec

Usborne Publishing (31 March 2022)

ISBN: 9781474979061

The island of Morovia is shaped like a broken heart, with humans living on one side and the alkonosts; the bird-people living on the other. But it wasn’t always so. Once, they lived together as one community at a time when the island was rich with vibrant colour, the sound of bird-song bringing joy and magic abounding everywhere. Then, a tragic shipwreck on Unity Day drove them apart, creating suspicion and fear. And now, the alkonosts have been cast into the Mournful Swamp.

Map of Morovia by Joanna Lisowiec – I do love a map!

Linnet wishes she could sing magic. But, magic is forbidden and her magic hasn’t appeared. She and her father have been banished, along with the other alkonosts. Linnet desperately misses her old life and dreams of being reunited with her friends…of returning home. When her father is captured and imprisoned in the Keep in the Magicless Mountains, that dream seems further and further away. To free him, Linnet sets out on a treacherous journey through alligator-infested pools and sinking sands with new friends…those few who will risk everything to help her. She learns how to be brave and finds something even more powerful than the singing magic she has waited so long for…something that may heal the broken heart of Morovia once more.

As you would expect of a storyteller of Sophie Andersons’ caliber, the writing is completely captivating and so atmospheric. Her world-building is a thing of supreme beauty, creating a magical land filled with texture and nuance. The reader can feel the land beneath their feet, smell the air and hear the songs that inhabit the text. It is indeed a magical land, but it becomes more real with every passing page. She draws her characters thoughtfully; precisely. Each one is unique and utterly fascinating, but throughout the story, we get to really know them. And Linnet emerges as yet another unique, strong, young girl, full of intelligence and heart. The tight weaving of the relationships brings a fascinating understanding of growth, change and loyalty. The individual turmoils and fears become echoes for the fate of the land.

Speaking of characters, at the most unexpected moment, we receive another visit from Baba Yaga! She returns briefly to at as an anchor and comforter to young Linnet…to lift her spirits and give her an understanding of loss and the continuing nature of hope and love. And she does it with huge heart, pointed truth and a dollop of humour… It is an injection of joy and reassurance to see Baba Yaga appear again. As soon as she appeared, I had the feeling of “oh! It’s going to be okay…”

Based on Nightingale the Robber (an old Russian poem,) there is less of the “old-fairytale-made-new” feel to this book. It is a tale of grief, loss, unity and diversity; finding your strength and hope to carry you through impossibly difficult times. Though it may not have that contemporary feel to it, it is a timely story of reconciliation; of finding a way to bring community back together of the power of diversity to heal old wounds. But mostly, it is cracking, intriguing magical adventure…an old one that has rung out through time. I did have to work a bit more with this book, but it is altogether extraordinary, lyrical and simply marvelous.

Mulberry Dreams & Friendship Flowers

It’s all a bit “Picture Book Friday” here, with these two beauties from Walker Books added into the mix. Such joy and wonder; such comfort and delight…these are two to read over and over…and to share with every child you know….


author: Tanya Rose

illustrator: Chuck Groenink

Walker Books (3 March 2022)

ISBN: 9781406389807

Early one day as the sun starts to rise, a mother and daughter make their way on a very special annual trip…as always, just the two of them. Leaving town behind, they hop on a bus and travel to the wild fields where their mulberry tree is waiting. Mum and her little girl climb and pick, collecting buckets full of sweet purple berries until, with stains on their shirts and juice on their hands, it’s time to head back home and make delicious mulberry pie…and to start dreaming mulberry dreams until next year.

Such a gentle, beautiful story! This book echoes traditions; the sense of repetition of heartfelt traditions that make us. The annual trip to the mulberry tree is about far more than harvesting fruit to make pies. It’s about family; about honouring the familiar and the everyday. It’s about knowing that some things remain consistent in an ever changing world. Told in the little girls’ voice, we get a genuine sense of excitement, of knowing there are some things that can be counted on and the feeling of happiness that radiates out of this knowledge. All this told with an economy of flowing, lyrical language. The descriptions of simple things like Mum lighting up the house and warming the oven, the sensation of sweet, sticky juice covering your hands, the journey there are back again are brief, but bring satisfaction and warmth to a simple tale. Lovely, happy illustrations with a palette that varies to match the time of day and surrounding locations are so content and joyful. Tender, warm, moving and so engaging. A real gift of love.


author/illustrator: Jarvis

Walker Books (3 March 2022)

ISBN: 9781406392517

Have you met David? He’s the boy with flowers in his hair. He’s sweet and kind and colourful, just like his petals. Everybody likes David. He’s always happy and really is the best friend! But one day, Davids’ flowers begin to fall…just one at first, but then every last blossom is gone. And David goes quiet…David has never been so quiet. But his best friend never leaves his side. And through kindness and creativity, he even finds a way to give David his colour back.

Wonderful; just wonderful. This story just oozes empathy, understanding and reassurance; both in the clear, easy text and the bright, colourful illustrations which tell the story just with just as much poignancy as the words. When David loses his flowers, it’s a big change, and not a very nice one. We see David lose his sparkle and confidence. But friendship steps in as his best friend thinks up an inventive solution that everyone is keen to join in with. And sure enough, with support from his friends things turn around and David is back to his old self. Moving, comforting, joyful…a thing of child-like beauty.

Three New Picture Books from Graffeg, Ltd

As you might have gathered by now, Graffeg, Ltd has become one of my go-to publishers in picture books. Always giving us the very best, this small Welsh press is a delight! Here are three new picture books that I know you’ll want to chase up.


author/illustrator: Jane Simmons

Graffeg Ltd (March 2022)

ISBN: 9781802580679

Ebb and Flo find a bird sitting in their boat. And it’s sitting in Ebbs’ favourite spot! Everyone loves the bird, even Granny. So, Flo invites the bird to join them…but Ebb isn’t so sure and wishes the bird would just fly back to wherever it came from. Then, one day Ebbs’ wish comes true. Bird is just gone! Ebb has her favourite spot back, but she as to eat and sleep all alone. Ebb discovers that things just aren’t the same without bird constantly getting in the way. Will Bird ever return again?

Jane Simmons’ bright, free, expressive illustrations and flowing, clear storyline make this a story that will be read and loved for years. It’s so nice to see Ebb and Flo back again (originally published in 1998). They are a real gift! A wondrous, gentle seaside adventure filled will friendship, acceptance and belonging.


author: Zeb Soanes

illustrator: Anja Uhren

Graffeg Ltd (10 March 2022)

ISBN: 9781802580808

With Freds’ Dad busy working at the hospital, she gets to spend her summer holidays with her green-fingered Grandpa. Six glorious weeks in the countryside; she couldn’t contain her excitement! While Grandpa keeps busy studying plants in his greenhouses, there’s plenty for Fred to help with; and with Grandpas’ cat, Sir David Attenborough as her constant companion, she’s never bored. But when Grandpa shows her a map of the mysterious lost island of Papa Nupi, it isn’t long before they’re all off on the tropical holiday adventure of a lifetime…and it just might save the entire planet!

An exciting, imaginative journey across the globe that involves the reader in some extremely timely environmental issues with ease and joy, this books is just glorious! Exquisite, vibrant, detailed illustrations pull the reader through greenhouses, across the skies and into a land long forgotten. The story builds with fascination and depth, and a strong sense of inclusiveness and diversity fills its’ pages. As the tale was written to be set to a half-hour orchestral piece, the power of music pervades the entire book with rhythm and movement. It is quite “wordy”, so perfectly appealing to older children…and grown-ups. Intriguing, humourous, full of adventure…a book that is simply, deeply magical in every way.


author: Máire Zepf

illustrator: Mr Ando

Graffeg Ltd (28 April 2022)

ISBN: 9781802580464

Rita always has the best ideas…and she loves to be in charge. But sometimes other people just won’t do as they’re told. Rita wants a genie. Genies always do what you tell them to, no matter what. But genies’ don’t have just one master, do they? What if someone else got hold of the magic lamp…and made wishes that Rita didn’t like? Maybe, just maybe it’s possible to share a genie….

Yes, Rita’s back again! I love these wonderful books; just perfect for helping young children sort out complicated emotions and dilemmas. This one focuses on the difficulties of being a big sister and it is brilliant! Typical conflicts arise between the two with great insight and love…with a fantastic resolution. Delightful, quirky, funny and spot-on, when it comes to understanding sibling rivalry.