Willow Wildthing and the Magic Spell

Willow Wildthing and the Magic Spell
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley
Oxford Children’s Books

It’s great to see another adventure of Willow and her friends. Now they’re on a mission to save the Wilderness from the clutches of a dastardly property developer, one Lord Smog aka the money wizard, who it seems will stop at nothing to get his way. That means he intends to fell all the trees to make way for his housing development.

What Willow needs is to ‘out-spell’ him and there’s somebody the Wild Things know who can surely help them. Off they go to see their witch friend though even she isn’t very hopeful, initially at least. But after some discussion on the possibilities of what a spell might do they set about creating one – a spell written from the heart. That’s part one of the plan.

The second is to make their adults remember what it was like to be wild.

Can they do it? Anything is worth a try to save the wild green space wherein nature and magic meet, that they love so much.

At first I thought perhaps ash dieback might be the reason for the trees being marked and it was a relief to find it wasn’t so: even a powerful enchantment of the Willow kind wouldn’t work against that.

I really loved that Willow, her little brother Freddie, Bear, Fox, Mouse, Hare and Raven co-create the spell.

I’m sure Willow’s multitude of established fans will relish this smashing story spell-bindingly created by Gill Lewis and Rebecca Bagley; and the determined girl will doubtless add significantly to her fanbase too.

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard

These are new titles in two smashing series for young solo readers – thanks to Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley

Gill Lewis enchants once again with her third adventure of Willow and her dog Sniff, often a key player in her Wilderness exploits with the other Wild Things.

As the book starts, Willow’s little brother Freddie needs to go to hospital again and Nana is coming to keep an eye on her granddaughter.
A knock at the door brings not the anticipated Nana but fellow Wild Thing, Raven announcing the imminent destruction of their River Camp on account of flooding after several days of incessant rain. “You have to come,” Raven urges. “We’re going to lose everything.”

Happily, Willow is able to accompany Raven on the understanding that she’s to stay the night with her friend and they meet up with the others.

Only able to rescue some of their paraphernalia, the friends watch as the rest of their camp is washed away. Eventually the rain does stop and Raven suggests they all camp in her back garden from where they can watch the meteor shower that night.

It’s a night that turns out to be truly magical, for three shooting stars fall. Willow is convinced the one she wished on has landed in the Wilderness and she’s determined to find it …

There is SO much to love about the story, not least the way Gill Lewis celebrates children’s creativity and the imagination. These children thrive on a lifestyle that allows them freedom to explore the natural world, make camps, light fires, get thoroughly covered in mud and generally relish being part of the great outdoors. The love of family and the importance of friends – in this book ‘the witch’ (a reclusive writer) plays an important role – are also fundamental.

Each of these elements is captured so wonderfully in Rebecca Bagley’s illustrations which aptly, have a blue theme herein. Another great thing about these stories is their appeal to both girls and boys, those just gaining confidence as independent readers especially.

This is also true of

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Willliamson

Leo Wilder is apprentice to the Guardian and his job is to keep the village safe from monsters that hide in the eerie forest all around.

In his second adventure, Henrik has summoned Leo to inform him that having left their home along the White River, two deadly Spitfangs have left their riverside home and are getting alarmingly close. His “Whatever you do boy, don’t get spat on.” is pretty troubling as Leo’s already overheard the village chief’s comment to Henrik about the possibility of the lad being eaten.

Nonetheless, off to the forest with the pouch of stones Leo goes. Almost immediately he hears beating wings and there is Starla announcing that she’s come to help. Shortly after two girls appear carrying baskets. “Not friendly. Not friendly at all,” Starla says of them.

A brief conversation ensues and they disappear leaving Leo to continue his search. Suddenly he slips and almost the next thing he knows is that his legs are encased in a grungy cocoon of Spitfire spit. Yikes!

With some enigmatic characters,

this is a highly engaging story for young solo readers: the problem-solving element and smashing illustrations by Pete Williamson contribute significantly to the enjoyment.

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: Dancing with Doughnuts / Willow Wildthing and the Dragon’s Egg

It’s great to see new stories in two fiction series for younger readers, both from Oxford University Press

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: Dancing with Doughnuts
Harriet Whitethorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

It’s summer time in Belville the town of Freddie’s Amazing Bakery and the Summer Talent Show is imminent.

Freddie’s friend and bakery manager, Amira already has her show clothes: she’s going to dance with Samuel and the auditions are that very night; but the nefarious Bernard (of Macaroon’s Patisserie) is also intending to compete – as a magician.

Then disaster strikes in the form of an injury to Samuel’s leg that means he’ll have to pull out. (I wonder who was instrumental in that?)

Next day Freddie gallantly offers to step in, (so long as he can overcome his stage fright) but then, so too does Bernard, who is of course, rebuffed.

However Bernard is determined to get in on the act by fair means or foul.

Just how far will somebody go to sabotage things for the new partnership?

Is there any way Freddie and Amira can emerge triumphant in spite of everything?

Freddie’s third adventure is just as tasty as his previous ones. Harriet Whitehorn’s recipe, with its liberal sprinkling of Alex G. Griffiths’ humorous illustrations is just right for newly independent readers and for reading aloud to reception and Y1 audiences. Why not test out the recipe for Freddie’s doughnut muffins given at the back of the book too?

Willow Wildthing and the Dragon’s Egg
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley

As Willow and her family finish creating a safe indoor haven for the ‘baby dragon’ her little brother Freddie has found in the garden and head back indoors, Willow and her dog, Sniff, find a message from the Wild Things ( Fox, Bear, Hare, Mouse and Raven) telling of ‘Trouble in the Wilderness’ and asking for her help.

Off they go to the secret place, Willow taking a batch of Nana’s cookies with her, and she learns that River Camp, home to the Wild Things, has been invaded by strangers and some of their stuff taken.

Then the cookies are stolen from right under their noses and the thief runs away into the Forest of Forever Night

only to disappear completely, Moreover they discover that Mouse has also vanished and a note left in his place.

The other Wild Things decide they have to find him even if it means going deep into this forest, a place they’ve never been before. It’s in there, they see Mouse stuck up a tree and meet the no longer “Invisible Tribe’ who call themselves the Bark Skins, and demand to be given River Camp in exchange for Mouse.

Time to consult the ‘witch’ (actually a writer who lives in a cottage) – about dragons in particular. She gives the Wild Things wise words about dragons and dragons’ eggs and off they go to find a dragon’s egg.

Thus the battle of clans really gets under way, but what is really going on and can the dispute be resolved peaceably and in such a way that everybody is happy with the outcome?

And what will eventually be the fate of Freddie’s ‘dragon’? It can’t live in a tank forever …

Once again, Gill Lewis’ story of friendship and determination celebrates both the natural world and children’s imagination. Willow and her friends are terrific models of resilience and curiosity for young solo readers and listeners who will love this new adventure with Rebecca Bagley’s terrific illustrations and page borders.

Willow Wildthing and the Swamp Monster

Willow Wildthing and the Swamp Monster
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bayley
Oxford University Press

This story introduces a super new character, Willow Wildthing in the first of a series to be.

Willow has just moved into a new home in a different town; everything feels strange, alien even. Left to her own devices, she decides to go exploring with just her dog Sniff for company. No sooner have they sallied forth than something startles Sniff and he vanishes.

Giving chase, Willow comes upon four grubby-looking children calling themselves the Wild Things who have seized Sniff saying they need him for a mission.

When Willow stands her ground the Wild Things (Fox, Raven, Mouse, Hare) agree (mostly) to let her accompany them.
But is she brave enough to enter the Wilderness? It’s a kind of wood but not just any wood, a secret place where anything can happen, a place wherein a wild monster dwells.

It means crossing some very murky water and going barefoot. Oh yes, it’s also a place where magic seeps into you regardless of whether or not you want it to; and you can only enter through the Holloway.

It’s said that a witch lives in the Wilderness too, though Mouse insists she’s the writer who came to talk at school; witch or writer, or both? The woman tells them in answer to Fox’s ’what do you do?’ – ‘I suppose you could say I conjure openings into other worlds.’

Eventually Willow decides that accompany them she must, Sniff’s help is needed in locating and rescuing another member of their group – Bear; but his is not the only rescue they undertake. They locate the source of the howling Willow heard on her first night in the new house.

All ends satisfactorily with Willow being accepted as a member of the Wild Things and there’s the promise of another mystery waiting to be solved.
And as for magic, let’s say yes to that, the best magic of all being, friendship.

Gill Lewis lyrical manner of telling this tale immediately engages the reader holding your interest throughout with its mixing of the enchantment of the natural world and that conjured up by the imagination. Rebecca Bagley’s two-colour illustrations are a delight too. The book is one likely to engender in children the urge to be curious, thirsty for adventure and resilient, as well as open-hearted and kind.

A Story Like the Wind

A Story Like the Wind
Gill Lewis and Jo Weaver
Oxford University Press
Gill Lewis has woven a wonderful novella with an up-to-the-minute feel to it. Stories of the refugee crisis continue to feature in the news with desperate people continuing to attempt seemingly impossible journeys in inflatable boats: this fable is such a one and this particular boat is filled with hopeful passengers young and old, ‘clutching the remains of their lives in small bags of belongings.’ The boat’s engine has failed and the boat is adrift on the Mediterranean; but the passengers, their resources dwindling minute by minute, are alive. Even so, they are willing to share what they have. Among them is fourteen year old Rami: he has no food to share so he refuses what the others offer him. What he does have though, is his precious violin: fragile; intricate; beautiful.

I took the only thing I could not leave behind,” he tells the others when asked why he refuses their offers.
Tell us a story to see us through the night,” requests mother of two young children, Nor.
What Rami performs for those beleaguered passengers is, so he tells them a story of Freedom, a story like the wind, a story that begins on the highest plains of the Mongolian desert, known as the ‘land of a million horses’. His story – essentially a Mongolian folktale about a young shepherd and a white stallion that he rescues as a foal, – is powerful, drawing in each and every listener (and readers) and as it progresses part by part, the passengers make connections with their own lives. Carpet seller, Mohammad tells of trying to sell a flying carpet to the woman who is now his wife. Others too have stories to tell but eventually, Rafi’s magical telling is done. It’s brought his audience together in a shared bond of happy memories, of sadness for those they’ve loved and lost, but most of all, of freedom and hope.

With what I fear is an increase in overt racism, in hate crimes and fascism, not only here in the UK, but also in many other parts of the world, this affecting book deserves, (I’d like to say needs), to be shared widely and discussed anywhere people come together in groups.
Music has the power to transform – that is clear from the story;

and it’s something many of us know from experience: so too do words. Let’s hope Gill Lewis’s poignant words here can work the same magic as those of Rami. They certainly moved me to tears several times as I read. But let’s not forget the power of pictures: they too can bring us together, sometimes in shared understanding, sometimes, shared appreciation or awe. Seamlessly integrated into the story, and adding to the sense of connectedness, Jo Weaver’s illustrations rendered in blue-grey shades are at once atmospheric, evocative and intensely moving, as befits the telling.

I’ve signed the charter