Clifftoppers: The Frost Castle Adventure / A Christmas in Time

Here are two gripping wintry stories from Nosy Crow Publishers:

Clifftoppers: The Frost Castle Adventure
Fleur Hitchcock

This is the fourth of the adventure series featuring Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh, who spend holidays at their grandparents’place. It’s coming up to New Year and as the story opens the cousins are trudging through the snow towards Frost Castle when a passing car spins out of control crashing into a snow drift. The children manage to extricate the driver, a young woman wrapped in several scarves, wearing a gold pendant and claiming to be cursed. It turns out that she’s a well-known actress who’s to play the lead in Frost Castle’s winter play – a murder mystery – and she also mentions an attempted break-in at her flat before she’d set off for the Castle.

Before long the four children are asked to help with the play. Despite talk of ghosts, they think they should stay and very soon that pendant goes missing. There must be a villain lurking in their midst.
Can the cousins use their skills and courage to discover what is really going on?

With her terrific storytelling skill, Fleur Hitchcock snares readers’ attention from the outset and keeps them involved and intrigued throughout. Whether or not they’re familiar with the previous books, children will thoroughly enjoy this one.

A Christmas in Time
Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Rachael Dean

This is the latest in Sally Nicholls’ time-slip series wherein Ruby and Alex fall through the mirror in their aunt’s house to discover they’re in a different historical period and have to undertake a task before returning to the present.

Now Aunt Joanna has broken her leg and the siblings are anticipating a Christmas doing chores when suddenly having gone through the mirror, they’re back in 1872 about to experience a Victorian Christmas instead.

As a result they meet Edith (8) who with no mother and a father soon to return to India, is about to be sent off to a horrible-sounding boarding school. Then Alex and Ruby realise that she’s being sent to the very place where in February 1873 a terrible cholera epidemic killed off two thirds of the children. Can they persuade her father – the far from pleasant Uncle Elijah – to send her elsewhere.

By all accounts it’s not going to be easy, but can they work some seasonal magic and turn things around for Edith? Or maybe she’ll decide to take matters into her own hands …

With plenty of action, a very interesting cast of characters (some rather eccentric), and details of a Victorian Christmas with singing,

parlour games, ice-skating and candles this is a smashing read, be it in the run-up to Christmas or at any time. I love Rachael Dean’s illustrations and Isabelle Follath’s cover art too.

Who Makes a Forest?

Who Makes a Forest?
Sally Nicholls and Carolina Rabei
Andersen Press

I received this lovely book the day after I’d spent a gorgeous (slightly damp) morning walking in a forest not far from my Gloucestershire home. I commented to my partner what an uplifting experience it was, (and always is) in stark contrast to all the pandemic doom and gloom in the media. Had I been out with youngsters I might well have asked them if they’d ever wondered how such a forest came into being: now I have an ideal starting point.

On the first page is posed the title question, followed by a number of possibilities, as two children, a male adult and a dog walk in a forest landscape.

How can something so vast and full of closely-growing trees and often, dense undergrowth have come into being? Could it have been created magically – by a giant perhaps? Or, as a large company enterprise? Or perhaps by other groups of humans?

It’s almost impossible to believe that something so huge was once very small but it’s true, as Sally’s effective story tells and Carolina Rabei’s beautiful illustrations show, demonstrating to children the entire process starting from bare, stony ground that becomes soil through the action and interaction of lichens, algae, moss,

and tiny insects causing a gradual fertilisation of the ground and eventual formation of soil.

Then come the first flowers, ferns and grasses,

the seeds and spores of which spread, becoming more flowers that attract bees and insects that feed on them.

Growth and change continue through the years, the centuries until there’s a huge ecosystem that we call a forest.

As the story concludes we come full circle to the ‘who made’ question and then read, “No. / It was the seeds / and the bees and the / roots of the trees. / It was a thousand / thousand tiny things. // And together they changed the face of the earth.’ A fitting finale to an inspiring story.

Not quite the end of the book though for the final five pages provide interesting facts about forests in various parts of the world and a last word about making a difference that relates to deforestation.

Whether for home bookshelves or school classroom collections, I strongly recommend this book.

One Fox / The Button Book

Just right for an early years collection are:

One Fox
Kate Read
Two Hoots

One moonlit night down on the farm, with his two sly eyes, one famished fox is on the prowl. Lots of lovely alliteration describes the happenings:

The three plump hens need to keep their ears and beady eyes open.
However that fox is in for a big surprise when he takes six silent steps towards the hencoop and taps seven times upon the outside …

In a dramatic and satisfying climax (although not for the fox), debut author/illustrator Kate Read takes us right up close to the action in her counting story.

With an economy of words she creates a visual comedy that is both exciting and gently educational; but It’s her superb visuals that carry the power – bright, textured art combining paint and collage – that build up expectations of the outcome

and then turn the tale right over on itself.

The Button Book
Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin
Andersen Press

Take a group of inquisitive animals and an assortment of ‘pressable’ buttons of different shapes and colours; add several generous spoonfuls of imagination and stir. The result is this playful interactive picture book for little ones.

Squirrel starts the whole thing off by prodding at the red button with his stick and wondering what will happen. It beeps, and that sets off the button investigation.

To discover which is the clapping button, which one sings songs;

which blows a raspberry;

what joys the yellow button delivers, and the pink and purple ones, you need the fingers of a child or so, and the willingness to indulge in some pretend play.

This is children’s / YA author Sally Nicholls debut picture book and it appears she’s had as much fun creating it as will its intended preschool audience. The latter will take great delight in all the noisy, occasional mischievous activities offered at the mere touch of a button. Adult sharers on the other hand might well be relieved to learn what the white button does.

Seemingly too Bethan Woollvin had fun creating the illustrations; she’s certainly done a cracking job showing the seven characters having a thoroughly good time as investigators and participants in their own comedic performance.