Monday, 17 November 2014

Celebrate! Its National Non Fiction November

Educational, fun, inspiring, creative.

When  I think of non fiction books these are the words that come to mind.  Why? because it is all these things and more that non fiction books pack into their pages.

There are non fiction books for every age and every taste, even for those who claim not to love reading,I bet they love facts and they need to read in order to find these so put them in front of a non fiction book, see their faces light up and help them to realize that in fact reading is great fun, it just doesn't have to be make believe, it can be very real!

National Non Fiction month is a great opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the world around us, to learn a new fact, a new language or even a new skill.  

For me craft books are the real draw, for others it could be science, nature or even art.  In my school library it is university guides and obscure topics being researched for A Level independent study that are currently popular.

What is the topical non fiction November book where you are?

In Armadillo we make sure always to review a selection of titles for younger and older readers, it is important to remember them all and to remember that they are not just for homework they are for pleasure too.

My non-fiction book for November has to be the brilliant Yo Er San: My First Chinese Nursery Rhymes selected by Jie Mu and illustrated by Patrice Aggs (Frances Lincoln) which has taught me my very first words of Chinese thanks to the accompanying CD - I cannot fathom the text but I love the gentle illustrations.

Then of course there is also the stunning pop-up panorama of New York bought to us by Jenny Maziels and paper engineer Richard Ferguson (Walker Books).  This amazing book captures the glamour and scale of New York with its 3-D skyline and fascinating accompanying facts.  I love it!

So there we have it, a very brief look at some non fiction to help celebrate National Non Fiction November.

I hope you have found something to surprise you this month, something to love, something to learn and a new love of all books to keep you going until the same time next year!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Three ~ Not of A Kind!

Armadillo reviewer and avid reader Bridget Carrington gives us a taste of three very different but equally excellent titles for the week ahead...

Swarm: Operation Sting
It’s a race against time for SWARM to locate and retrieve a dangerous weapon before the thieves crack the encryption code protecting it… but just who are SWARM? The clue’s in the title of this new series by Simon Cheshire – they’re robotic insects used by the Secret Intelligence Agency to outwit villains. They may be robots, but they can squabble and moan just like us, but when things become serious they maximise their individual talents (or talons…) and act together to support each other. Packed with detail, easy-to-read, and accompanied by trading cards detailing the skills of each member of SWARM, this is a highly enticing series, particularly for boys who prefer games to books. Fans of Saxby Smart and Jeremy Brown stories will recognise the style, which Cheshire describes as ‘action packed comedy’, and look forward eagerly to the forthcoming titles in the series.

The Kingdom of Beautiful Colours
A collection of seven folk tales by Isabel Wyatt, a twentieth-century teacher, storyteller and collector of stories, which she retold in numerous books to resonate with the Rudolf Steiner philosophy in Waldorf schooling. Steiner’s views on education are a million miles from those of Michael Gove (for a start Steiner’s ideas reflected his observation of how children learn, and what makes a rounded human being…), and Wyatt’s stories add much to this enrichment, filled with a corresponding morality, wonder and beauty. This is just one of the new inexpensive Floris republications of Wyatt’s stories, and I would urge readers to seek out the other six volumes.

Scarlet Ibis

Gill Lewis is a vet, and her three earlier novels have resulted from her passion about practical conservation. She doesn’t just concentrate on the animals though, she is equally concerned about the humans who must interact with the animals, and in her latest book she looks at what the natural world can do for vulnerable humans. Scarlet looks after her severely depressed mother, and her autistic-spectrum brother Red, and she’s desperate to evade the intervention of their social worker. Red’s deeply focussed life revolves around his collection of bird feathers, and the baby pigeon on his windowsill.  When the family gets split up following a fire in their flat Scarlet has a plan to prevent her brother being taken into care, a plan which has a far-reaching effect. In this powerful novel infused with respect and empathy, Lewis highlights the plight of those who are old, homeless, mentally ill or just different from us, people who at best we often fail to understand and help, and at worst deride and bully. 

We'd love to know what you think after you have read any or all of these books so do leave us your comments ...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Back for Good (the good of books)

Dear all,
Faithful followers I know you have missed this Blog and I have missed making my contributions to it but I do hope in the interim you have been enjoying the magazine.

I have not been idle these last few months and this may be part of the reason that you have not seen me here, but I have plenty of posts to contribute and will be updating this Blog every Wednesday from now on, so please, as they say, watch this space, come back into the fold and enjoy some great Blogs on some even greater books!

To begin ... an explosion for an explosive day ... (contributed by Simon Barrett)

Itchingham Lofte: the explosive adventures of an element hunter

Itchingham Lofte is an element hunter.  He collects the elements on the periodic table, possessing a totally obsessive and near encyclopedic knowledge of them.  Impossibly Itch finds a new element, number 126.  It is hot, radioactively hot.  Suddenly Itch attracts a lot of unwelcomed attention.

So far there are three adventures in the element hunter series: Itch, Itch Rocks and Itch Craft.  It seems impossible that the story can continue and the stakes can get any higher.  Bruised, battered and near to death on more than one occasion, Itch and his cousin Jack, manage to keep outwitting rogue corporations and corrupt governments.  As Kirsten, an assigned M15 operative says, ‘I’m glad the kid is on our side’.  Inevitably his family and friends get dragged into a spiraling deadly situation, fuelled by Itch’s commitment to do the right thing and his enemies desire for revenge.

Itch’s nemesis is his old science teacher Dr Flowerdew.  Flowerdew’s menace extends out of the classroom and goes global as he uses his contacts and money in the oil business to try and steal element 126 and in villainous Bond-style exact a suitable death upon Itch and his friends.  In turn Itch must use his knowledge of science to escape and finally bring Flowerdew down.  Flowerdew however is ruthless and simply refuses to die.

Above all Simon Mayo is a terrific storyteller.  The adventures are impossible to put down as each chapter spurns you into reading the next.  Each book is packed with action as Itch travels around the world hounded by the mafia, corporate goons, government secret agents and outlaws.  There is suspense and hints surreptitiously placed in the book, teasing the reader to pre-empt what will happen next.  Itch, his family and friends are great characters, showing great grit and courage.  Sadly not all of them will survive.

Moreover the books have a really cool marketing concept.  If you download the app and point your device to the front cover of each book, the front cover comes to life and starts a book trailer.

The element hunter adventures have been the hit books of the summer for me.  I’m glad I could review the books after the final adventure, Itch Craft, had been released as I don’t think I would have had the patience to wait for them to be published.  If you haven’t done so already, start reading about the discovery of Lofteium, element 126.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Making May Magnificent - Brilliant Books

Over the last year there have been a number of celebrations, celebrations of book birthdays and anniversaries and in 2014 this is set to continue, as we started the year there were anniversaries for a number of books, some quite young, some much older.  Now that we have come to May it is time to celebrate 75 years of T.S. Eliot’s Mcavity The Mystery Cat (Faber and Faber)! Mcavity is probably one of the most famous of criminal cats and he has obviously been lucky enough to have more than 9 lives, being such a grand old age, which means that a new young audience of readers can enjoy his escapades as he is brought to life again with delightful illustrations by Arthur Robins. Mcavity can usually be found in T S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats but he has been given new life in his own picture book.  This is the perfect combination of pictures and poetry, the second charming picture book from the new Faber and Faber list.  It is as clever a creation as it was when T S Eliot first imagined his trickster cat and it is truly a delight.  This cat will have children and adults giggling, learning at the youngest age how enjoyable poetry can be and pouring over the glorious detail in each and every picture, not wanting to turn the page until they have drunk in every little detail – and there are plenty to see. Baffling, funny, rhyming – a delight for a new generation of Mcavity fans.


Whilst we celebrate the anniversary of Mcavity we should also take some time to remember those authors who are sadly no longer with us but whose books continue to inspire, enthral and touch us with their beauty.  One such book that has inspired and touched me this bank holiday weekend is Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Alexis Deacon (Walker Books).  Telling in graphic and prose the story of a little boy needing a life-saving operation and the power of dreams this is a modern fable with a dark magic that has been stunningly captured by Deacon and his pen.  I was moved by the power of the pictures and comforted by the words.  This is a winning combination of writing and drawing that is evocative and important, for children and adults alike.  This is a book to comfort those in pain and fear but to also help us all understand the importance of letting a little magic into our lives.

Then finally for today at least, there was The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (Allen & Uwin) another book with a dark heart but a light touch and an important fable to tell us all.  This is the story of a sorry and dark underground land where light is but a distant memory until a wounded duck brings hope and solace.  Mended and well she finds her wings and prepares to fly the nest but with her go the people of Dark, whose hearts she has touched and for whom she has a quite beautiful surprise.  Cleverly crafted, perfect for newly independent readers and as a moral tale this is a book to return to again and again, reiterating its message and enjoying its beauty.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Sam Hay - why we all need Uncles!

Sam Hay is the author of the Undead Pets series, published by Stripes. The latest book in the series - Hour of the Doomed Dog is out now.

Sam grew up in Scotland and worked as a journalist for ten years before becoming a children’s author. She’s written more than 20 books. She lives in Wales with her family, in a small house with a big garden.

Why Everyone Needs a Magic Uncle
Uncles. They sometimes get a bad name in books. From wicked old Uncle Ebenezer who tries to bump off his nephew in Kidnapped. To Harry Potter’s mean-spirited Uncle Vernon who makes Harry sleep in a broom cupboard! Not to mention several Shakespearean rotters - Richard the Third who nabbed the crown off his nephews, and, according to the play, had them killed! And Hamlet’s horrible Uncle Claudius, who murdered Hamlet’s dad, married his mum and tried to poison his nephew! Nice.

But not all uncles are up to no good. Step forward amazing Uncle Charlie!

In the Undead Pets books, it’s Uncle Charlie’s gift to his ten year old nephew, Joe, of an ancient Egyptian amulet, that makes all the magic stuff happen. The amulet turns Joe into the protector of Undead Pets and thereafter a string of ‘help-me-or-I’ll-haunt-you’ critters appear, desperate for Joe’s assistance.

Joe always wanted a pet - now he’s got loads!  And it’s all thanks to Uncle Charlie.
So who is Uncle Charlie? An old fashioned adventurer - part explorer, part archaeologist, part Indiana Jones with the survival skills to out-fire-start Bear Grylls. He’s a man of action. A man who plays poker with pirates. A man who has pulled a Tree Python’s tooth out of his own thigh and not only lived to tell the tale, but brought the tooth back as a keep-sake for Joe.  

Unsurprisingly Joe loves Uncle Charlie. He lives the sort of life Joe dreams of. He turns up when no-one is expecting him, in his battered old jeep with a kitbag full of sand and exciting treasures for Joe.  And that’s another thing about uncles. The gifts!

The magical amulet is amazing, but it isn’t without problems. That’s why a parent would never give it to their child. It’s too fraught with danger!  It’s magic. And magic’s unpredictable stuff. Parents don’t do unpredictable. But Uncles? Awww, hang the consequences! What the hec! Here you go! Take it. Try it. It’ll probably work out okay in the end.

I still haven’t forgotten the look on my kids’ faces last Christmas when a beloved uncle gave them a candyfloss machine. Utter joy. Sugar on a stick! Hurrah!  Or the total enchantment when another favourite uncle set up an amazing treasure hunt complete with video clues, walkie talkie communications and a two mile hike across fields and streams to recover a chest full of chocolate!

And if things go wrong, uncles don’t always need to be there to fix it. When the magical amulet goes bananas and Joe wants Uncle Charlie to sort it out, he’s already long-gone, off on another adventure. And that’s a good thing. Uncles give kids the space to solve their own problems...

I actually based the character of Uncle Charlie on another of my kids’ uncles - my older brother who has lived a dozen different lives - travelling around the world, doing the mad, crazy, hair-raising stuff that I can only imagine from the safety of my quiet desk in Wales. He’s Charlie. I’m Joe. And there’s always an electrical storm of magic in the air when he’s around.

See. Kids with uncles are SO lucky. But they’re even luckier if they’ve got an aunt, as well...
Aunts. Now they’re 100% magic. Maybe even more magical than uncles. But that’s another story...

Uncle Fester - scary-looking sweet-natured uncle in the Adams Family.
Uncle Ben Parker - Spider Man’s kind-hearted uncle
The Man from U.N.C.L.E - spy dudes from the seventies. 
Ziro the Hutt - Jabba’s uncle from Star Wars
Scar - evil uncle from the Lion King
Uncle Tom Cobbley (and all) - a bloke in a Devon folksong about lots of people turning up at a party.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Quite Beautiful Ava Lavender

The wonderful Leslye Walton has generously written this short piece about her stunning novel, her YA debut, written when she was not busy teaching children how to read, write and be nice to each other.  Perhaps some of the inspiration from this evocative and moving story came from her teaching experiences, perhaps, as she says it cam from a song.  No matter where it came from here we have a beautiful novel about finding yourself, finding your own wings.  With its gorgeous prose, unpretentious storyline, characters that go straight to the heart there is so much to love about this book that its YA readers are quite certain to fall in love with it just as much as I did and hopefully they will spread the word far and wide too.  Now sit back, read the words of Lesley herself, read the book and then join me in waiting for her next offering ...

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was originally inspired by the song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by Colin Hay. While pondering the logic—or perhaps, the lack of logic—when it comes to love, I discovered Viviane Lavender, a girl who spent her entire life pining after a childhood sweetheart. I imagined the weight of this, the immense burden of loving someone who didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, love you back. How you couldn’t help but allow that grief to shape the rest of your life.

At this point, I didn’t think I was writing a novel, but months went by, I kept returning to this story—one I had thought I was finished telling.  Soon, other characters began revealing their place in this now-evolving tale. Henry was based on an autistic boy I taught who had a remarkable aptitude for mapmaking. Trouver was a sweet tempered Great Pyrenees I walked to earn money while in grad school. But it was Ava who changed everything. I was looking at a picture of my younger sister, taken when she was perhaps eleven. She was all long limbs and big teeth, wearing an oversize white T-shirt, and running, her shirt billowing out behind her as if she had wings. And it was in that description that I came to a stop, my fingers poised over the keyboard, and I thought No. Not as if she had wings. She has wings. And in that, I also realized I had no idea what I was writing. This wasn’t historical fiction. It wasn’t fantasy. It was something else. I didn’t write again for weeks.

I spent the next few months devouring everything I could that touched on the topic of magical realism—Isabelle Allende’s House of The Spirits, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s glorious One Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time was like listening to someone speak a language I thought only I understood. And then I woke up one morning and found the Roux family waiting for me to tell their story, including Pierette, Emilienne’s sister who transformed herself into a canary after falling in love with a man who only had an eye for birds. Once I knew these peculiar characters, the story emerged quite easily from there.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a story about love and loss and longing. I like to call it my love song to the strange. It’s for the lonely, the misunderstood, the unloved. Which is all of us, at some point, in some way or another. So, I guess this book is a love song to you, kind reader. May it serve as a reminder to fly with your own wings.