Book Review: How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan

Child Saving the PlanetIf there was a prize for the book that’s had the most impact in our house this year then this would win it!

How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear introduces the reader to thirteen different habitats – from gardens to mountains – then gives them practical advice about how to protect each one.  Dr Jess French’s tips are really accessible and 5 year-old Martha was instantly hooked by the plight of the wildlife facing extinction – so much so that she decided she was going to make some changes straightaway (no more plastic straws for a start).

As we read the book together, we worked out which of the 70 tips we’d already adopted and made a list of the ones that we still needed to do.  Martha also enjoyed spotting the creatures she recognised and learning about new ones that are depicted in Angela Keoghan’s beautiful illustrations.  There’s so much detail on each page that it’s possible to read it many times over and not get bored.

What astonished me most though was how excited Martha was to protect the planet after finishing the book.  She felt as if she could actually do something to make a difference and the great thing is – she can! (See her garden tips video on our IGTV channel)

Whether you have a future green crusader in your family or just want your kids to become more aware of the environment then I’d highly recommend this title.  It’s essential reading for the next generation.

We were sent a review copy How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan (published by Nosy Crow/National Trust). The words and pictures are our own.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

The Storm Keeper's Island by Catherine DoyleWhen Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

Who could resist such an enticing cover (illustrated by Bill Bragg) and blurb? Not me – that’s for sure! So when Bloomsbury offered me a review copy of The Storm Keeper’s Island I jumped at the chance.

Initially, I was drawn in by the idea of overlapping worlds in this middle grade novel. I’ve always been fan of low fantasy where magic intermingles with reality and the tale really delivers on that score. From the outset we know that Arranmore is enchanted, especially for Fionn and this sense of power is richly developed as the story unfolds.  Doyle casts us into a landscape that’s full of gods, myths and half-buried histories.  At the centre of this, Malachy – Fionn’s grandfather and the current Storm Keeper – is trying to hold everything together from his homely cottage filled with mysterious candles, but his strength is waning and so a successor must be found.  Malachy is a beautifully drawn character, one of my favourites in the book, full of humour and kindness – very much like Fionn who is also incredibly witty.  The sparky dialogue between the characters is a real highlight of the novel. I’d read more by Doyle just for her banter alone!

Of course, where there are heroes, there are also villains.  The island has a motley crew of unlikeables topped by Morrigan, an evil sorceress who wishes to rise again. This is where it got a bit more complicated as different timelines began to interweave but I enjoyed the intricate plot and will be interested to see how the author brings everything together in the sequel (out July 2019).

A compelling summer read for 9-12 year olds and fans of old-school novels such as The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

I’ll start by confessing that this is the second time I’ve read this book. When I first attempted it, I simply wasn’t in the right mood , and I’m so glad that I gave it another go because this is yet another Rundell triumph.

The story begins with a plane crash and four children – keen explorer Fred, spiky Con and Brazilian siblings, Lila and five-year-old Max.  Alone in the jungle, they have to pool their scant knowledge in order to survive. Despite the terrible odds (snakes, caiman, piranha…yes there are some nasties in the book, but this is the Amazon rainforest after all), Lila’s optimism helps to buoy their spirits and they manage to stay alive.  But they also need to find a way to return home, and this is where the Explorer comes in.  I won’t give too much away – needless to say that Rundell has once again fashioned a truly memorable character capable of both anger and kindness, not entirely likeable yet with good reason.  His voice lends a wider perspective to the novel – touching on subjects such as the environment and colonialism without beating the drum too loudly.

The writing is satisfying as always.  I found the prose cleaner than in Rundell’s earlier works but her trademark inventiveness can still be found in phrases such as ‘The ants were so small it was like being covered in full stops, ‘ and ‘The jungle was an infinite sweep of green: a Turkish carpet for a god.’ Personally, I preferred this simpler style and it carried me swiftly through the book, deftly revealing how the children become mentally and physically stronger, as well as closer to one another. There’s a sense of repressed emotion throughout the novel, which made the ending all the more moving. And I loved the epilogue. It was the perfect way to end this exciting tale and leave us hoping that there might be another story to follow.

I’d recommend The Explorer for fans of survival and discovery stories – think Bear Grylls meets The Lost City of Z.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!