Mary Esther Judy, MA is a life-long reader, specialist in children’s literature amd champion of childrens' writing. She is a book reviewer, editor and former childrens' bookseller for many years. She enjoys nothing more than heading off to one school or another to share stories and gain insight on what the kids are reading. Mary started her blog, Fallen Star Stories over 10 years ago, where you can find reviews, interviews, blog tours and random thoughts about childrens' literature. Mary is a longstanding member of Children's Books Ireland and frequently has reviews in Inis Magazine.
Mary has lived in Galway for over 23 years. She shares her home with her daughter, grandson and beloved dog, Molly; surrounded by stacks of books and a magical, if rather messy garden.
It’s Pride month and tomorrow is Empathy Day and wouldn’t you know it…I’ve found the perfect picture book to celebrate both….
MY BROTHER GEORGE
authors: Kelly & Zoey Allen
illustrator: Tara O’Brien
UCLan Publishing (June 2023)
Meet Mollys’ brother, George. He tells funny jokes, has a brilliant laugh and wherever they go, whatever they do, Molly and George always have the greatest adventures, whether they are building sandcastles at the beach, climbing trees or splashing in muddy puddles. Some people make fun of George because he has long (and beautiful!) hair, loves to wear sparkly hairclips and he’s really good at painting nails. They laugh at him and call him a girl. This used to make George sad, and it sometimes makes Molly angry. But George learned how to say things that make people think again. Now, he’s really proud and happy with who he is…and so is Molly.
This is a sweet and charming picture book that celebrates being just who you are and doing the things that make you happy. A lovely story of the relationship between a brother and sister, it gently covers themes of inclusiveness, acceptance, empathy and the wonder to be found in difference. It teaches how to speak up for yourself in a non-confrontational way and how to be ally, not just when things are hard, but all the time. It’s easy, happy text is set alongside bright, beautiful illustrations that are packed with detail. This is such a happy book; one that will bring joy and warmth with each reading. Vibrant, cheerful, loving and full of beauty…a reassuring and open-hearted story. Just read it!
While you’re looking for this beautiful book (at all good bookshops and online) you might want to know more about the author, Kelly Allen. Here’s the link to her website: https://effervescentkelly.com/
The Wild Wanderers are back! Hooray! I love this brilliant series of picture books showing us the natural world in all its’ glory and true appreciation of the worldwide connections between creatures, environment and, once, even out into space. The latest addition is truly beautiful…
FLY, BUTTERFLY, FLY
author: Dom Conlon
illustrator: Anastasia Izlesou
Graffeg, Ltd (6 June 2023)
You can see the world in a butterflys’ wings, in the pattern of splash and spray….
But Cabbage White Butterfly feels too plain, with all the other butterflies showing off their colours. So off Butterfly flies, into a world painted and coloured, to find a way to bring that vibrant light into their own wings. Journeying to the Amazon rainforest, to the jungle, the Day of the Dead, Mount Lamington…far and away and back again to meet other butterflies and explore the dangers and learn their ways…
With lyrical verse language, expressive and free, Dom Conlon takes us on a journey through a butterflys’ story across the planet, bringing us a consciousness of environment and beauty. The rhythm of the tale moves like a butterfy, flittering here and there all the while giving us an intimate picture of their world, showing us their importance. It is an easy read, perfect for the youngest among us, but also enchanting us at any age. But alongside the text, Anastasia Izlesous’ beautiful illustrations shimmer across the pages giving the texture and vibrancy, unfolding the various locations and eco-systems before our eyes. The last couple of pages outline a few basic facts about the butterflies showing off in the story. This book is a joy, extraordinary! Vibrant, evocative, entrancing…a happy addition to any bookshelf and one that will be enjoyed over and over and over.
In just two days, we will be celebrating Empathy Day! This is a free online yearly festival coming out of EmpathyLabUK whose mission it is to raise empathy-educated generations, inspired to create a better world for everyone. If you head over to their website, you’ll find a host of empathy-inspired downloads, activities packs, videos and podcasts, a plethora of resources for one and all…and their ever popular “Read for Empathy” collections and guides. They make it very easy to join in, whether you are in the classroom or at home. So please have a look and see if you can complete the “Mission Empathy Challenge.” It’s a small thing that we can all do to foster a better world. I think you’ll agree with author Phil Earle; “Empathy isn’t important. It’s everything.”
This years’ Read for Empathy Collection is astounding! 65 books for all ages; picture books and novels that highlight empathetic responses to a wide variety of life situations while giving us a great story to read, cherish and remember. And some of my very favourite books over the last year or so are included. Saving the Butterfly by Helen Cooper; The Light in Everything by Katya Balen, Run for Your Life by Jane Mitchell; The River by Tom Percival, Cuckoo Summer by Jonathan Tulloch….and so many others There is at least a whole years’ worth of reading here, meaning we could make Empathy Day part of every day. And I can’t see anything wrong with that….
Late last week, The Girl Who Fell To Earth fell through my letter box. It is always a moment of great excitement when a new book by Patricia Forde appears, and this one appeared quite unexpectedly. I dropped everything I was reading and got lost in this world…and it absolutely gripped me….
THE GIRL WHO FELL TO EARTH
author: Patricia Forde
Little Island Books (15 June 2023)
Growing up on Terros, Aria lives on an orderly, well-designed planet whose people have developed an efficient, beautiful and clean environment that meets all their needs. They’ve even eradicated illness and death through scientific and genetic developments. Earth is their ‘shadow planet’ which they populated with humans centuries ago so they could study them and learn from their experiences. Brought up to believe that humans are inferior, Aria is sent to Earth with her scientist father to release a deadly virus and end the human experiment. But as they plummet toward the Shadow Planet, Aria is carrying a shocking secret with her; a secret no one can ever know. Aria has human DNA. And when she sees that everything she has ever learned about humans is a lie, Aria knows she has to stop their destruction. But sinister forces from her home planet and another disturbing secret from her past are determined to destroy Aria, as well…
Wow! Just…wow! With a concise, well-developed storyline, we are pulled through at a strong pace with no stone left unturned. Aria is a wonder, thoroughly and easily relatable, hungry for the truth and understandably troubled when she finds it. All of the characters are intriguing, each with a genuine voice; their relationships, complex and very recognisable from our own lives. And the emotional content is haunting. The Girl Who Fell To Earth begs many questions; what does it mean to be human; does it lie in our flaws or in the moments when we rise, the relationships we hold dear; is this how we are seen, is it who we are? There is even a lingering feeling, maybe one that should or will be left unspoken…what if we are just an experiment? And, what are those pigeons doing exactly?(a bit of a teaser) While asking these questions and others, it gives us a cracking, gripping tale that will take your breath away…in just 186 pages. I don’t want to say too much. It might give the game away. It must be read. It must be felt and will last long in your memory, without a memory disc. (another teaser.) A high impact, speculative novel that presents many current issues; such as family issues, displacement, colonialism, culture and racial stereotyping; with grace and subtlety that allows the story itself to take centre-stage; a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat-type adventure; thought-provoking, heartfelt, oddly beautiful and very timely. Simply amazing. (for 12+, YA and the rest of us)
It’s always an exciting time when a new Laureate na n’Óg (Childrens Laureate) is announced; time for a new, revitalised interest as they come in with their particular emphasis for the next three years as the guiding light in childrens’ literature in Ireland. We wait with bated breath for the announcement, and, I must add, have never been disappointed. The childrens literature world is ripe with shining stars.
Knowing this, I was not prepared for the utter delight and joy when yesterdays’ announcement came….our new Laureate na n’Óg is Patricia Forde!!! Trish takes up the position from the outgoing Áine Ní Ghlinn (who was just marvelous) and is hitting the ground running.
I have had the privilege of knowing Trish for quite a number of years now. In my little corner of the childrens bookselling world, she has always generously given of her time, energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. Whenever I was in need of an author for World Book Day events or author visits to the bookshop or school classes, Trish was happily there, even when I knew she was incredibly busy…she made the time. And her books! I have read and delighted in them all; from her wonderful Reading Ladder books featuring the unstoppable Lola (Frogs Do Not Like Dragons, Hedgehogs Do Not Like Heights, Witches Do Not Like Bicycles) to her beautiful picturebooks, To The Island and Imagine! her many Irish Language Books published by Futa Fata (like Benjí and Míse agus an Dragún) and her pivotal YA Books, The Wordsmith (entitled The List, if you’re in the US) and Mother Tongue (The Last Lie in the states). Bumpfizzle, the Best on Planet Earth, Fidget the Wonder Dog…the titles go on and on. And each one is filled with the gift of her language, imagination, incredible and insightful storytelling, humour (when called for) and energy. I am currently just about to finish her latest, The Girl Who Fell To Earth (to be released very soon) and it is just wow! (review coming in the next few days)
Frankly, I can’t think of a better person to take up the mantle of Laureate na n’Óg. The theme for her tenure is ‘Samhlaigh, Samhlaigh! Making It Up As We Go Along’…absolutely! Congratulations, Trish…this is going to be great!
From Trish herself: “I’m delighted and honoured to be the seventh Laureate na nÓg and I look forward to bringing books and reading to children and young people all over the country for the next three years….My theme, ‘Samhlaigh, Samhlaigh! Making It Up As We Go Along’ is all about creativity and using imagination to enrich our lives. Books are the fuel of imagination, and every child should have access to wonderful stories and the very best of children’s literature.”
Bigfoot Mountain is one of my favourite books in the last couple of years. (I’ve read it several times.) So when word reached me that its’sequel, Bigfoot Island was coming, I was beyond myself with joy. And it did not disappoint! These two together tell an incredible tale of extraordinary friendship, community, family and believing in the impossible, packed into a story of environmental concern and living side by side with nature; appreciating its’ ways and its’ beauty and doing all you can to not upset the balance…
author: Roderick O’Grady
cover & interior illustrations: Jess Mason
Firefly Press (20 April 2023)
Minnie and her stepdad, Dan continue to work on their new cabin after the Sasquatchs’ have swum across the bay to their new home. But she, and only she knows that one young Bigfoot, Kaayii has remained behind as guardian of Bigfoot Mountain. When Minnie spots a white boat bringing strangers to the cove beyond her cabin, the first visitors after the raging forest fires ended , she fears the hard-won peace of her tiny community will be shattered. Kaayii has to deal with a different intruder on the mountain and, injured, needs to reach his family across the water. He sends Minnie “messages” and signs…Kaayii needs her help. The two inhabit separate worlds but must find a way to work together to avoid disaster and protect the people and places they hold dear.
With extraordinary attention to detail, genuine voices and pitch-perfect pace, Bigfoot Island picks up the story just where its’ predecessor left off so that nothing is missed. Minnie and Kaayii continue their unlikely friendship, holding it as a secret between them. It is clear they have a unique understanding; an unbreakable bond that allows each one to be just who they are. And, with this friendship solid and firm, the other relationships around them are nurtured, understood and grow. As does the relationship with the natural world; it develops a deeper, more substantial meaning. But that is not all there is to this book. There is adventure and danger! While the new, wealthy visitors to Minnies’ community hold the promise of money to kick their holiday rental business back into action, they also bring recklessness, carelessness and disregard…a belief that money can solve all problems. (Spoiler alert: it can’t.) The fires may be gone, but the continuity of nature and the peace in Minnies’ life are at grave risk. And there is one currently on the mountain that is filled with pain and rage, seeking revenge. Kaayii desperately needs help…and Minnie is willing to risk her own life and safety to get it for him. All of this makes for insightful, compulsive reading…and it is glorious.
I need to talk about the Bigfoots’ presence in this book and what it actually does; so simple and so perfect. Having them here, as central characters…and real characters with personalities and feelings…opens up a space for understanding and insight. Now, must logical-thinking people will assure that Sasquatch doesn’t exist; it is a myth, a fairytale designed to frighten young children (and adults, I suspect) into good behaviour, not running off into unknown territory. But…what if they do exist? How do we know they don’t? Here, in these stories, Sasquatch acts as a unique possibility; a vehicle to understand that there is more to this world than we know and that disrupting the balance of nature has dire consequences, for us and the planet. We should open our eyes to what is around; maybe not rationally explain away everything. We should use our imaginations and our instincts more. And, possibly, find a new path for living on the Earth. (Frankly, I’m not sure I want to live in a world with Sasquatches or Yetis…or the Loch Ness Monster, for that matter. How dull would that be?)
Yes, I could go on for much longer. Bigfoot Island (and Bigfoot Mountain) is multi-layered with much contained within its’pages to entertain and enlighten. But to end, what a brilliant read! A beautifully painted world; action, adventure, suspense; the wonder and beauty of the natural world; heartfelt friendship and families; a tale of hope, courage and belief…again, it’s everything you could want in a book. For middle-grade readers and anyone who loves a great story.
Every so often, a book comes along that sends chills up the spine, intrigues and fascinates and grips you until the very last page; one that calls you to think outside the box and view your world…differently; one that calls you to beware and believe in equal measure…. Ghostlord by Philip Womack is one of those books.
GHOSTLORD (Wildlord Book 2)
author: Philip Womack
Little Island Books (4 May 2023)
Meg and her mother have left their London apartment to go and start a new life in the country, and Meg is unhappy. One afternoon Meg hears the voice of a child calling her from the garden. Following the child’s pathetic calls, she unearths a toy horse with an obsidian mirror in its forehead. Through this mirror, Meg contacts Jankin, the ghost of a young boy. He tells her that he has been imprisoned for 500 years by a necromancer. Meg feels sorry for him and promises to release him. Meg undergoes a “training” process of sorts, to uncover how and why Jankin came to be imprisoned and what it will require of her to set him free.The deeper she investigates, Meg uncovers a web of deceit and cruelty; sinister secrets and lies. All is not what it appears to be… And she surprisingly discovers magical powers of her. With the mysterious Skander at her side as this shattering journey unfolds, a world she could barely imagine collides with her own and a centuries-old battle threatens the everything she has ever known.
Following on from the world of the supernatural Samdhiya built in his previous Wildlord, we enter another chilling, suspenseful chapter gifted to us through wild magic and sinister deeds. An ancient evil seeks to enter our world, and the evil sorcerer in the guise of a young and helpless ghost boy doesn’t care who he has to use; who he must destroy to accomplish his goal. Meg is the perfect unwitting accomplice; absent and ailing father, hard-working, easy-to-fool mother, away from friends and lonely in her new home. She easily falls prey to his ploy and becomes enchanted by the new magical powers at her disposal. But she is also clever, brave and filled with conscience. The story unfolds fluidly. With clear language it follows the plots many twists and turns, coiling from its’ fractured portrait of a disjointed, magical history into a tightly built knot of deceit. Again, it calls into question what we know to be true and demands we look more deeply; ignore the obvious in favour of the hidden. And it is frightening! This is horror-fantasy at its’ very best. Complex, beautifully woven, gripping, unnerving and completely satisfying.
Helping young children navigate the emotional world can be tricky sometimes. We want to encourage their feelings; we want them to express how they feel and of course, we want them to be happy! But it can be overwhelming or confusing at times, and happiness can be hard to hold on to. It’s fantastic to have picture books on hand to help. And with Empathy Day* upcoming soon (Thursday, 8 June) now is the perfect time to stock up on books that deal with feelings, how to express them and how to recognise them in others. Here are two new picture books all about feelings that I think are particularly lovely….
FIND YOUR HAPPY by Emily Coxhead (Walker Books; 6 April 2023: ISBN 9781529501476) We all want to feel wonderful. But sometimes, other feelings get in the way. So what can you do to find your happy? In this brilliant and bright picturebook, you’ll find loads of suggestions. Whether you’re feeling sad, angry, bored, afraid or maybe…left out, there’s always something you can do. And with little Sloth leading the way and the people you love surrounding you, it won’t be long before you find your happy. Cheerful, colourful illustrations packed with feeling and personality make this the perfect book to help young children understand and deal their emotions. And it is so happy! https://www.walker.co.uk/Find-Your-Happy-9781529501476.aspx
THE PAIN IN MY CHEST by Áine Murray & Bronagh Lee (O’Brien Press; 1 May 2023: ISBN: 9781788493550) A young girl takes us on a walk through her world and explains how, even in the best moments, her joy gets spoiled by the pain in her chest. When that happens, she just stays by herself and worries…oh how she wishes it wasn’t like this! Then finally, a chat with her mum about the pain in her chest starts to clear things up for her. Expressive, child-friendly illustrations weave through the story with ease, giving a genuine view of what it feels like when we are grasped by anxiety. A very helpful, uplifting book that helps children learn to take control when it hits, that it’s important to find a caring adult to help and how to break free of anxietys’ cycle. Something so many young children need right now. Gentle and warm. https://obrien.ie/the-pain-in-my-chest
Hi! Yes, I’ve been absent from FallenStar Stories for a couple of weeks. There has been a lot of “goings-on” here at my end…family birthdays, work, book reviews elsewhere and what not. It just didn’t leave me the time, energy or enough ability to think about what I should be posting (rather a lot really.) I do have a few posts upcoming that I hope you’ll enjoy, but I did want to check in before I proceed…
The weather is finally becoming tolerable for gardening, which is fantastic because the garden really needs some encouragement. Winter seemed to last forever… I think it rained from mid-September until this month…seriously. And it seemed cold until just a week or two ago; maybe three. I lost a number pf plants over the truly freezing weather. They just couldn’t cope. My St Johns Wort is a mere shadow of its’ former glorious self, which I consider very unusual because, well, it’s what we all call a weed. Things are starting to bloom, though and until I get the reviews up, here’s a few blossoms to brighten your day…..
Summer, 2032: Britain is in the grips of another extreme heatwave. Government curfews and restrictions for this kind of weather, and are rapidly becoming the norm are in place. Shops are forced to shut again and Pollys’ parents’ gardening business is struggling to keep itself going. For Polly, it’s the sort of heat that makes her do wild, out-of-character things just to cool down. Like face her fear of deepwater. Essential, as she and her brother, Joel are sent to their Aunt Jessies’ eco-house by the reservoir for the summer. But Truthwater Lake is drying up. As the water level diminishes, the lost village of Syndercombe is revealed. Swimming over the rooftops at midnight, Polly dives down and is suddenly able to breathe, to hear church bells and bird song . . . Polly emerges in 1952. As Nellie, an orphaned girl with big dreams of swimming the English Channel. There is much upheaval in Syndercombe, as it has been sold off to create a new reservoir to provide water for the growing towns and cities. And Nellie is determined; taking chances and developing schemes to realise her dream. Flipping back and forth, from 2032 to 1952, Polly uncovers the history of Truthwater Lake, Nellies’ story with all it’s boldness and improbability and a past that has impacted the enormous climate changes in it’s own small way.
An incredible tale! With a strong, relevant environmental message, Carroll has woven an intriguing, compassionate time-flip story that is gripping and remarkable. Filled with highly relatable characters, superb story-telling and a fast-paced plot with many twists and turns that begs the reader to look more deeply, explore possibilities, have courage. But at its’ heart, this is a story of the power of lasting friendship; a friendship that will get you through. We truly feel the connection between friends, both in the past and the present (well…future…2032); how they come together, often in unlikely circumstances, bond and support each other, fall apart and, inevitably come together again as if not a day has passed. And it is Carrolls’ facility at combining the two stories set 80 years apart; at mixing and melding these different lives while highlighting their similarities that makes the entire story come together and sing. The impact of past actions on the future, the bonds of friendship that last a lifetime, the hidden secrets revealed and the ability to speak the truth, apologise and hold fast; to use your fears to propel you forward toward your dreams…it all comes together in an astonishing tale. Intriguing, fascinating, compelling, brave and full of heart, family, friendship and hope, despite of a much-changed world. Like all her previous works, this book is a wonder. https://www.faber.co.uk/product/9780571332861-the-tale-of-truthwater-lake/