Angel on the Roof

Angel on the Roof
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Come with me to 32 Paradise Street, Notting Hill, London where something wonderful unfolds.

In her inimitable style, Shirley Hughes presents the story of a friendship that develops between a boy, Lewis Brown, and an angel.

One night this angel alights unnoticed on the roof of the building wherein Lewis lives with his parents, spends the night there and next morning shakes his wings causing a golden feather to fall, landing on the sill of the window through which Lewis is peering.
(Having an underdeveloped leg, Lewis prefers people watching to interpersonal encounters.)

The boy notices the feather, knows it’s something special and clambers up to the roof to investigate.

What he sees is an angel with a beaming smile. Lewis pours out his heart to the being and thus begins their relationship.

The two walk together through the streets of west London, the angel wearing an overcoat belonging to Lewis’s father.

We never see its face, but alongside the angel Lewis feels alone no longer and gradually things change for the better at 32 Paradise Street.

For fear of spoiling the story, I’ll say little more other than that one night Lewis has the experience of a lifetime and things continue to change for the better both in his life and those of other people.

This is such a sublimely beautiful book; it’ll make you feel uplifted and having read it and wondered at Shirley’s illustrations with those touches of gold, you’ll want immediately to find others to share it with. I certainly did.

Earth Heroes

Earth Heroes
Lily Dyu
Nosy Crow

In this timely book from travel journalist Lily Dyu we meet twenty individuals – conservationists and inventors from around the globe who are actively engaged in their work to save the world, to counter climate change and save its humans and our precious wildlife.

Familiar names such as Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and Stella McCartney are present, and we read fascinating information about their backgrounds and what set them on their paths.

Alongside these are less well-known people whose work is also inspiring: these include Mohammed Rezan, architect of floating schools in Bangladesh; Isabel Soares from Portugal a pioneer of cutting down food waste by persuading people to use ‘Fruit Feia (ugly fruit)

and the ingenious Chewang Norphel who was responsible for the building of artificial glaciers in Ladakh that have transformed thousands of lives.

Great for individual reading or classroom use, Lily Dyu’s engaging text is readable and pitched just right for its intended audience of young readers and cover designer Jackie Lay has provided splendidly designed art with a relevant and inspiring quote to introduce each entry.

Lily’s final words speak to us all ‘ … we need to fight for the planet we love. The future is ours for the making. You too can change the world.’ A powerful rallying cry for sure.

Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best Self
Danielle Brown and Nathan Kai
Button Books

At a time when more and more youngsters are suffering from low self-esteem, Danielle Brown double Paralympic Gold medallist and five times world champion in archery and Nathan Kai, (just seven at the time of writing), a member of MENSA and an elite athlete, have joined forces, creating a book to empower children to become their very best selves.

Profusely illustrated and including motivational quotes from the authors as well as the likes of Dr Seuss and J.K.Rowling, Michelle Obama and Amelia Earhart, this certainly is an inspiring book.

With a straightforward, thematically organised framework children are told to dream big and then determine what steps they need to take to fulfil their dreams.

Aspects such as The Mind and Mindset, which looks at the importance of developing a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset,

Staying Focused, Learning How to Fail Well ( it’s a chance to learn), Self-Confidence,

People Skills, and the importance of eating well and getting plenty of sleep are included.

I have a teenage friend in Udaipur, Rajasthan who, one Christmas holiday four years ago announced she wanted to be sports captain of her school. She is a talented athlete but there is a tradition in Rajasthan for shooting and Karttiki decided she would try to become a shooter.

She started to practice in earnest and by luck one of the older girls fell sick at the last moment and Karttiki was given a chance to participate in an inter-school tournament. Thus began her shooting journey: one of determination and great focus.
Having researched several kinds of shooting, she decided that her best bet if she wanted to become a champion, was skeet. It’s a tough sport and very expensive but her father (my close friend) is very supportive. This year though still a junior, she has made the senior national team and in 2019, has represented India in the World Cup, World Championships and is about to go to the Asian Games (all this before A-levels). She’s had her downs as well as her ups along the way and feels tired a lot of the time, but as she says, “I’m doing it because I love it.”

Turning a dream into reality is just what this 17 year old is surely doing: she epitomises the spirit of this splendid book.

Madame Badobedah / A Sea of Stories / Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost

Madame Badobedah
Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is a rather longer than usual picture book story of an unusual older woman and the young narrator, Mabel.

Mabel lives at The Mermaid Hotel an establishment managed by her parents. She’s an only child with a fertile imagination and a thirst for adventure and here she acts as narrator of the tale of what happens when a certain rather unusual guest arrives. Not only does the woman have twenty-three bags, two large trunks, lots of jewels and a dressing table but also two cats, two dogs and a tortoise, oh! and a penchant for toffees too.

So high-handed is her manner that Mabel takes an instant dislike to her, naming her Madame Badobedah and deciding she’s a villain. Donning her large raincoat, hat and sunglasses the girl becomes Mabel the Spy.

One Saturday morning the strange guest invites Mabel into her room for tea.

We learn that Madame Badobedah had long ago come across the sea on a big ship to escape war and had once been a ballerina – hence the jewelled tiara.

Gradually as this rather unlikely friendship blossoms we learn more about Madame Badobedah – she’s ready to apologise when she thinks it’s due, enjoys visiting the mermaids,

and also has some secrets that she wants to keep to herself. I love the way Sophie Dahl’s narrative gradually reveals things about the lonely Irena (as we discover is her real name) but leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill in for themselves.

Lauren O’Hara captures the inherent warmth of the story in her deliciously whimsical illustrations that are just perfect for the quirky telling.

Another story about an intergenerational friendship is:

A Sea of Stories
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Stripes Publishing

Young Roo loves to visit her grandpa who lives in a cottage beside the sea with Bathsheba, his ancient cat and a large collection of Bits-and-Pieces he’s accumulated over the years.

Grandpa has a garden that has become overgrown and wild, the ideal place for a game of hide-and-seek when she goes to stay for a few days. When he gets tired there’s nothing he likes better than to sit in his favourite armchair and tell stories to Roo; stories inspired by the objects in his collection.

They all relate to the hidden cove at the bottom of the cliff, a place that Grandpa’s legs won’t carry him to any longer on account of the ‘rambly-scrambly path’ that leads down there.

On her final night at Grandpa’s Roo turns her wish for a way to bring Grandpa and his favourite cove back together into a plan; a plan that the following day is brought to fruition.

Highlighting the importance of sharing stories, this unusual story is both warm and infused with a delightful quirkiness.

Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost
Alex Rühle, trans. Rachel Ward, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Andersen Press

One day after the holidays Paul returns home from school and gets the surprise of his life: a voice comes from the keyhole when he inserts his key and it turns out to be a tiny ghost claiming he lives in the keyhole.

He names the being Zippel; but later on that same day he learns that the lock on the front door is to be replaced in just three days.

Later that evening Paul’s parents leave him alone and go to a meeting. Immediately the lad informs Zippel and the race is on to find the enormously inquisitive ghost (with an interest in everything including toilets) a new home before the three days are out.

With smashing Axel Scheffler colour illustrations and absolutely full of delicious wordplay and puns, not to mention Zippel’s rhymes, this warm-hearted story about discovering friends in the strangest of places is fun around Halloween especially, but worth reading any time.

The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic

The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic
Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I was thrilled to receive a copy of this, Chris Riddell’s first story in a new fantasy series.

The story is set in the kingdom of Thrynne, a place of ancient magic, the source of which is the Forever Tree hidden in the Great Wood.

‘For as long as anyone can remember, children of Thynne have looked at billowing clouds in the sky and wished on a cloud horse, always hoping … But no one has seen a cloud horse.’ That though is about to change …

We meet in turn three ordinary children each from a different town within the kingdom, into whose hands come three magical objects made with wood: to baker Zam Zephyr a runcible spoon;

to cellist Phoebe Limetree a talking cello;

to Bathsheba Greengrass a worpal sword with a carved wooden handle.

And thus it is that these unsuspecting children are destined to be the Guardians of Magic.

But anyone thought to wield the magic of Thrynne is in terrible danger especially from those who have their own reasons to keep that magic at bay: there’s chief rat King Tiberius-Tiberius who terrorises Sam’s home town Troutwine; the ruler of Phoebe’s home, Nightingale is a power-mad Clockmaker with an army of mechanical tin-men; while in Bathsheba’s tree-house town of Beam is Euphemia Goldencurls, a professional Princess who desires to keep alive the lucrative business of giant slaying.

Also cleverly woven into the story are fairy tale characters including a gingerbread man, the Pied Piper and the three bears.

The last section of the book brings together the three children who use their wits against the dastardly characters threatening the magical Forever Tree and the cloud horses that nestle in its branches.

If that’s not enough magic for you, there are also Chris’s awesome, instantly recognisable, detailed illustrations liberally scattered throughout the story, as well as a full colour fold-out guide to the giants of the Great Wood, aerial townscapes and cross-sections of buildings.

The result is an utterly compelling, enchanting and immersive book that you’ll find almost impossible to put down. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Star / Beyond Platform 13

Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies

Here’s a wonderfully wintry tale about a little girl named Anna who finds a small carved wooden tiger figure at her grandmother’s house. She puts the carving under her pillow at bedtime and the following morning when she wakes up she is somewhere completely different, a snowy village in Russia.

What’s more there are reports of a tiger cub in the vicinity.

Then Anna/Annushka realises the reason she’s where she is – that cub needs to be kept safe. She’s even more sure when she comes face to face with the little tiger in the forest and Annushka is convinced it’s a female.

Something has to be done,but her father, who doesn’t know she’s actually seen the cub, thinks they shouldn’t get involved.
Even the idea of going out alone in the snow is enormously scary but she’s a determined, resourceful young miss and so when everyone else is fast asleep out she creeps.

This nail biting story is based on a real event, so says the author’s note at the end wherein she tells of a cub whose parents had been killed by poachers that was rescued, cared for in a rehabilitation centre and eventually released back into the wild at a nature reserve in Russia.

Beyond Platform 13
Sibéal Pounder, Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Beatriz Castro
Macmillan Children’s Books

Eva Ibbotson’s original magical book The Secret of Platform Thirteen was published about 25 years ago and now Sibéal Pounder has penned a smashing sequel that is also both funny, and full of magic and madness.

It’s now nine years after the events of The Secret of Platform 13; the Island of Mist is besieged and Prince Ben and friend Odge Gribble (the hag) are hiding away. The protective mist surrounding the island is disappearing and in the hope of discovering the reason why, Odge decides to travel to Vienna (via the gump – a bump containing a hidden door to another world) to secure the services of a mistmaker. And so it is, in a case of mistaken identity (Odge’s speciality) young adventurous Lina Lasky who most certainly is no mistmaker, becomes involved in a quest to foil the plan of the power-mad harpies before the gump closes over.

Totally captivating and full of priceless comic moments and strange creatures,

A bagworm shot out and a bridge was created

this story absolutely whizzes along sweeping readers with it; and zany as it is, there lie within messages relating to kindness and finding a place in the world – whatever world.

With smashing black and white illustrations by Beatriz Castro, this is an unputdownable delight through and through.

Speedy Monkey / An Owl Called Star

Speedy Monkey
Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne

Speedy Monkey, like many young humans is bursting with energy and inquisitiveness. Nothing wrong with that except that the other rainforest creatures think that his constant capering is way too lively and noisy; peace and quiet is what they crave.

Speedy’s efforts to be more like them are a dismal failure and none of them has any desire to emulate the little monkey.

Come nightfall, as the animals try to sleep, Bat suggests if Speedy wants to do what he was born to do he should go to the  edge of the forest, climb to the top of the Kapok tree and … “Everyone will love you for it.”

Speedy does just that, but being completely alone is no fun at all.
Suddenly a really fierce storm approaches and Speedy knows that he has to warn his fellow animals of the danger.

There’s no time to lose, but will they heed his warning?

Happily yes, but once they’re all safely gathered in Bat’s cave, one creature is notable by his absence …

Jeanne Willis’s telling is as lively and full of fun as her protagonist in this latest addition to the Stripes’ series of full colour fiction for new solo readers. Also exuding liveliness are Chantelle and Burgen Thorne’s funny, spirited illustrations of Speedy and his fellow rainforest dwellers.

For those ready for a longer read is

An Owl Called Star
Helen Peters, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon
Nosy Crow

This is the eighth story about Jasmine and her best friend Tom. Here the two are out walking with Jasmine’s sheepdog when he disappears and in their hunt for him, they come upon an injured barn owl in some brambles and they name it Star.

With the help of Jasmine’s mum, the owl gradually regains its strength; but barn owls are hunters that love to feed on small mammals and Jasmine has also offered to look after Aisha’s hamster for the weekend. Is it wise to keep both cages in the same room? Not only that but she’s also planning a secret Halloween party. It looks as though she might just have taken on rather more than she can cope with, especially when the hamster goes missing after Jasmine forgets to secure the door of his cage, and then Mum declares that Star is ready to be released.

Readers, especially animal lovers, will lap up this story and along the way learn a fair bit about barn owls from the information Helen Piers has skilfully woven into her narrative. Ellie Snowden’s detailed pencil drawings that break up the text are a delight.