Olivia and the Fairy Princesses : Ian Falconer


This is Olivia. Olivia is awesome. This book is awesome. I shall be using awesome quite a lot throughout this review, so I just wanted to warn you in advance.

I want you to take a moment and think about every signal that that front cover is giving you about how it wants to be read. About how it should be read, really, it’s more than want somehow. I want you to think about the colours used. I want you to think about the fact that there is only a title. I want you to think about the size of that title and of the shift of fonts. I want you to read it out loud and try to read that title as the fonts and the size and the placement is asking you to read it. Everything on a perfect cover like this is done for a reason. Everything. And there is everything on this cover and it is just being given to you on a plate.

Olivia first page

Olivia first page

And then we have this. What I want you to take from this page (apart from sheer genuine delight at how perfect a picture book can be and how it can say so much with one single page) is the idea of placement. This is a fairly well sized book. There’s a lot of page. And here we have Olivia, slap bang in the middle of the first page, right in the centre of your eyeline and she is suffering from the weight of the world (embodied by this heavy and close text, right above her) and it is awesome. It is a page that is just perfect and every time I look at it, I crack up. Genuinely. (And if you’re interested more about placement and white space, go and have a look at what I thought of ‘Ellen and Penguin’ by Clara Vulliamy which is a divine example of such a thing).

So. We have a book that in two short moments (for we must always include the front cover in such a consideration) has given us everything. It’s given us Olivia; a pig who is so glorious that her character spills from every line drawn. She is exuberant. Vivid. And she is, as that title has told us, quite definitely a star.

This book is full of transcendent moments. I won’t spoil the plot (because really, the beats of Falconer’s storytelling are something quite delightful and that should be experienced first hand). I will, however, leave you with some more moments.

And the word awesome.

Because this book really is.


God I love this book.

You can view all the other picture books in depth posts here (and that tag also includes my a-z of picture book terminology – all the things I think about when I review a picture book).

Remember that list I keep of children’s books set in the UK?

Did you know that I keep a few reading lists here and update them when I come across something relevant? One of those lists was a list of titles set in the UK. This all came from one of those late night conversations on Twitter where I and a few others wondered whether you could read your way around the UK. Turns out you can. You so can and should. Really, there’s some splendid books out there. We’re so incredibly lucky with what’s out there.

Well, that was then and this was now. Today, I’m letting you know that that list has evolved. Basically, it was once a Pikachu and now it’s gone all Raichu. As part of my PhD (I’m doing a Phd, have I mentioned it? ;) ), it’s evolving into a much more specific and user friendly sheet. The data on this sheet is free of duplicates, of typos (there were a lot…), and all those lovely white gaps are going to get filled in with some very specific data – such as full citation details, actual specifics of locations features, and their real life equivalents where applicable.

And I thought I’d let you have a look at it now in a sort of covert, sneaky peek sort of manner. Shush. Keep it under your hat. Don’t tell anyone. :)

Starring Kitty : Keris Stainton

Starring Kitty (Reel Friends, #1)Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was struck, very much, on reading this how adorable a book it is. The initial title in a new series from Stainton, Starring Kitty is a book about friendship and being who you are – and realising how important a bond true friendship is. Set around a trio of friends, Sunny, Hannah and Kitty, each title focuses on one particular member of the group and this initial one is Kitty’s moment to shine.

Kitty has secrets. Her mum’s ill, her little sister’s panicking, and her dad’s struggling to cope. And Kitty’s starting to fall in love with a girl named Dylan. As Kitty and her friends work through a film competition with school, she starts to realise that secrets quite often have a habit of being found out. How is she going to deal with when people find out her truth? And how is she going to keep Dylan?

It’s a poignant and quite beautiful book this. Stainton has the substantial gift of sympathy. Her writing is warm and gentle and precise, colouring each moment of Kitty’s slow realisation of how much she loves Dylan with a sort of very genuine hue. You believe this girl so much. Kitty is lovely. She has this rich, timeless quality about her that is again a testament to Stainton’s writing.

I would recommend this very much for somebody looking for a bridge into young adult literature. Stainton handles some quite powerful themes here – severe illness, sexuality, pressure at school – with a lightness and deftness that is very much a pleasure to read. I know that’s an odd sentiment to express when it comes to such themes, but it’s sort of the best way to describe it. Stainton’s created story here and it’s story that is coloured and shifted by these moments, but not about them. Not wholly. This is Kitty’s story through and through, and what shines is the glorious warmth and humanity of it all. An adorable and quite wonderful little book.

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Black Dove, White Raven : Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White RavenBlack Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read into this, and slid myself into yet another one of Wein’s richly textured and imagined landscapes, I was thinking about how I felt about her work. One of the words that sung out to me then and still does now, is the idea of trust. Following the great heights of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, I trust Wein so much. I would go with her wherever she wanted to go.

And so to two women, stunt pilots and mothers, and their children Em and Teo. Black Dove, White Raven. Teo’s mother is killed during an accident and so Em’s mother, the wild and vivid Rhoda, decides to take him to Ethiopia. A country where he won’t be discriminated against because of the colour of his skin. A country where Em won’t be discriminated against because of her gender. A country where this family can live in peace.

But then war, and the end of all good things.

Black Dove, White Raven is a difficult book to rate and talk about for me primarily because of how it swings on that last rapid and intense third of its story. Before then, it is slow. It is rich and coloured and beautifully written but oh, in the same breath, it is so slow and heavy and dense. Structurally, it’s told in a patchwork of stories and voices, and there’s an odd sense of disconnect between all of them which impacted heavily upon my reading. I was not invested.

But then, in that last third, then I was. So much. It’s here that Wein slides into doing what she does best and bringing all these strands that have been laid beforehand into play and she does so with great ease and great skill. Her canvas, I think, is upheaval. It is emotions and tension and love and loss and hope. And I would have welcomed more space being trimmed for that movement, for that great crashing of chords at the end of the piece.

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Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book : Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's BookEnid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book by Enid Blyton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As ever with me and Enid Blyton, the idea of ‘rating’ one of her books is something quite different than rating another. So four stars, yes, definitely, but they are four Blyton-shaped stars and thus of a very different ilk to those that I would give something else.
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(A slight segue)

Today is International Women’s Day. Twitter has been sharing many inspirational women and much more under the hashtag, and there’s been some thought provoking coverage in the wider media. I am proud to live in this passionate, nerdy and vivid space on the internet and in real life and to know so many inspirational (the repetition, I know, but it’s truly the only word which suffices).

And as part of today, I’ve been thinking about Buffy. I’ve been thinking about my writing and how, in a way, it all comes down to one single moment in Buffy.

It comes down to this girl.

Baseball Slayer

For those of you who don’t know (spoilers!), she appears in a final montage where Willow uses the power of the Scythe (magical thingamijig) to basically activate every potential Slayer in the world. No more waiting for people to die. No more power for those who are chosen to have it. No more following the rules. No more sitting down.

A lot more standing up.

And in a way, everything I do and think about literature and writing and creativity and voice comes back to that sentiment. It comes down to that little glint in this girl’s eye that still moves me, twelve years on. It comes down to that moment when she looks up and realises that she’s got this. The world is hers. She owns this moment. She’s got this. For this moment, she’s got it. Oh God, she’s got it. (Excuse me whilst I go and bawl at something)

That’s what I write for. That’s what I long for. Those moments. I want my characters to have them, I want readers to have them, I want people to know that the potential for these moments exist. I want people to have these moments, right now, right when and where they want them.

I want moments.


Phoenix : SF Said & Dave McKean

PhoenixPhoenix by S.F. Said

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brief diversion before I begin this review. Once, a long time ago, I went to see Persepolis in the cinema. For those of you who don’t know it, it was an animated adaptation of a wonderful graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi: -The Complete Persepolis. The film is glorious in many, many ways but there was one particular scene which tore me open and stands with me now. Marjane is on her way to study in Austria. Her parents wish her well at the airport. Farewells are said. Smiles. Hugs.

And Marjane turns around, one last time, just one last moment, to see her mother crying her heart out and being helped away .

This is love, then, this mad and foolish and facade-full thing; we love, we put our faces on, and we sacrifice the whole of ourselves for another, we want them to live and to love and to thrive and to be themselves, to be whole and to be the best that they can be and to be the person that they should and could be and we will stop ourselves and hold ourselves and make that happen because we love them. We love them.

This is Phoenix. This is Phoenix. I am sunk by this book and how underneath the layers of space and of aliens and of war, it is a book about humanity and hope and belief and of love. It is a book about being brave. It is a book about fighting for what you believe in. It is a book about hope. About faith.

And again, always, about love.

Phoenix is so much about love and about connections and about fitting into the great space of the world(s), that I am a little bereft at finishing it. It is – it is something.

It is so very definitely something; a text that dances with shadow and light and illustrations that pull and tease the words until something strange and alchemical happens to them.

This is Phoenix. A book about a boy with the power of the star.

And it is a book about us.

And love. Oh god, oh how much this book is about love.

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