Kitty Born at Sea by Donna Mae Smith

Kitty Born at Sea by Donna Mae Smith follows the eponymous Kitty on board a ship named Betty, along with the Captain, passenger Rod, and his mother. Having lived his entire life at sea, Kitty is intrigued by the land and soon gets the opportunity to see and explore different areas in the Gulf Of Mexico and the areas of the US. But one day he wakes up and discovers that Betty is supposedly no longer docked. Can Kitty make it back to the ship and his Momma?

This book is marketed to children around the age of 9, which seems fair. There are some words that perhaps younger readers will struggle with, and there is quite a bit of text which could be a deterrent. But older children can follow the plot easily enough, and it is adventurous enough to keep them entertained. The first few pages were admittedly a little slow; we essentially watch Kitty grow up and explore the ship. Some of the passages felt a little repetitive, and that became clearer when the characters begin to see and explore land. In this section, the plot really begins to kick in and provides a welcome contrast to the slower-paced beginning. The images, also done by Smith,  almost act as chapter headers and provide a small teaser for the upcoming chapter, enticing the reader to continue.

Nonetheless, Kitty Born at Sea provides a lot of themes and interests to children. There is the idea of facing one fears which children can identify and possibly relate to. But Smith has also cleverly woven facts about sailing and US coastal landscape into the narrative. Not only are younger readers potentially learning about new topics, but the book also encourages them to engage with the natural world, and perhaps explore the surrounding areas where they live. Kitty Born at Sea is a very positive and engaging novel in that sense as it tackles subjects that children understand and encourages them to learn more. Despite the rather slow beginning, Kitty Born at Sea is a sweet, fun novel for children and one cat lovers, in particular will, enjoy.

Kitty Born at Sea is published independently and you can find more information here. This book was kindly given for review by the author and Booktasters.

Sasha and his Red Leash by Yossi Lapid review

Sasha is a lucky little pup! He takes a long walk each morning, he gets a healthy treat when he comes back and Big Boss Bob, his loving owner, plays ball with him.
Sasha also keeps a personal diary which was a secret until now!
But Sasha’s life is not perfect! In this diary entry, Sasha reveals just how much he dislikes his red leash! Big Bob insists, however, that the leash is needed to keep everybody safe.
Will Bob and Sasha find a good solution to Sasha’s troubled relationship with his leash?

Sasha and the Red Leash is a great children’s picture book that helps to teach younger readers how to take care of their pets. Lapid’s story is simple but sweet, and the rhyming scheme is highly effective. Not only does the rhymes make it more entertaining for small children, but it also injects some humour into the narrative. There are some interactive elements in the story as well, which really help to engage children and let them be a part of the plot. Overall, the structure and writing style used clearly articulates the book’s main theme, as well as helping to make the storyline fun.

Sasha is also such a lovable character it is hard not to get drawn into the story, and younger readers will definitely enjoy reading about his escapades. This is the first book in a series, so it will be interesting to see the adventures Sasha goes on in later stories. Sasha’s relationship with his owner, Big Boss Bob is also endearing to read about, and hopefully explored more in the future books.

Yet, the main highlight was the illustrations by Joanna Pasek. They are stunning, some of the best picture book images in recent years. Pasek has created these beautiful watercolour paintings, filled with tiny details that truly make the story come to life. Her illustrations really complement Lapid’s writing, making the book come together as a whole.

Sasha and the Red Leash is an excellent picture book for children. It has a great theme and storyline, as well as brilliant writing and gorgeous illustrations. This is a wonderful book to teach children how to look after a dog and the responsibilities that come with having a pet, and a must read for animal lovers everywhere.

This review first appeared on Reedsy Discovery. 

The Mountain and the Goat by Siamak Taghaddos review

Here’s some water. Here’s some bread.
Do as you wish, but plan ahead!
When you arrive at a mountain and a singing goat gives you some water and bread, how do you make the most of it? Find out how small, everyday actions can lead to bigger and better results in this modern-day fable that will inspire resourcefulness and take-action mentality.
Written by a US Small Business Association’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year, this short journey of bartering and progression will plant the seed of entrepreneurship in children.

Taghaddos wrote this picture book, inspired by a Persian poem, to encourage children to be resourceful and to spark an entrepreneurial spirit. He certainly gets this message across; in less than 20 pages the narrator has bartered for all kinds of things. He wastes no time diving into the story and the main themes shine through. Zachary Cain’s illustrations are nicely done and compliment the storyline. They don’t take over the page or overwhelm the reader; they are actually very sweet drawings.

The writing is fairly straight-forward, as one can expect for a children’s book. However, the actual style confused me. At the beginning the story is told through rhyme, yet this is quickly dropped. It is unclear if this was an intentional choice to switch between styles, but it was a bit jarring. If the narration had been told entirely in the same style it would have felt a lot more cohesive. Also, the ending was quite sudden. The plot never built towards it; there was no sense of why the narrator was swapping goods. The narration just stops and that’s it. That also threw me as I was expecting the narrator to reflect on what they’ve learned, or even wrap up the storyline. The ending was fairly abrupt.

Overall, The Mountain and the Goat was an OK children’s book. Taghaddos’ theme really hits home, and Cain’s illustrations are a nice addition. The writing style could be changed slightly to make the narration stronger, and the plot as a whole could be expanded. At under 20 pages it is a short read, and one is left thinking the book could be longer. Also the ending just didn’t work for me.

This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery.

Fantastic Planet by Douglas Bosley review

Upon landing on an unexplored planet, Crab learns that it is full of quirky plants and animals. Every nook and cranny is full of interesting creatures to describe. But when its time to travel back home and share these new discoveries, Crab’s spaceship won’t launch! Will ingenuity be enough to get this explorer home or is Crab stranded on a Fantastic Planet?

This was a very sweet children’s picture book. Crab is a really likable protagonist and Bosley has injected enough personality into his main character that the book is never dull. He carries the simplistic plot and makes it entertaining. As a narrator, he does a great job of navigating this new world and guiding the reader through it.

The illustrations, also done by Bosley, are the highlight of the book. They are remarkably evocative, capturing the star HR 8832 and its inhabitants. The only criticism there is of Fantastic Planet is that I would have liked to have seen more of this alien world. Bosley does cram a lot into very few pages and the premise could easily expand into a longer picture book. Yet this is only one in a series so perhaps Bosley explores this world more in other books.

Overall, Fantastic Planet is a fun picture book. Whilst there may not be a lot on offer for adult readers, certainly younger children will enjoy this, thanks to the main character of Crab and the adventurous aspect of the book.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott review

Having first read Little Women when I was around 12, I decided to reread the novel in preparation for the new film adaptation (which I saw last weekend and loved. A very clever adaptation which brings fresh ideas and perspectives to the story. If I could write a whole blog post on the movie alone, I would). Everyone knows the plot of Little Women which revolves around the four March sisters and the relationships they develop, with the Civil War serving as a backdrop.

Book One is probably the section most remember, and certainly the one I enjoyed the most. Here the sisterly dynamic is established and explored, the various tales of their adventures providing snapshots of their lives. Each character has her own personality, which not only makes them stand out as individuals but also makes it more interesting when they clash, as one can see both their reasonings.  It is obvious Alcott loved writing this book. Her love and enthusiasm seeps through, and as a reader I wanted to delve into their world. She captures this sense of family and belonging so well; it is hard not to get swept along.

Book Two is where issues begin to arise, which admittedly I didn’t notice when I was younger but are glaringly apparent now. The one in particular is the character of Professor Bhaer. He is much closer to a father figure than a lover to Jo, making their relationship awkward and uncomfortable to read about. He also comes across as quite sanctimonious and rude and it is hard to root for them to be together. Alcott had intended a very different ending for Jo – she was originally a spinster who writes children’s books – and it is evident that this romance was tacked on to either appease publishers or go against readers. Or perhaps both. It makes Bhaer an incredibly unsympathetic figure and the reader can’t help but wonder: why would Jo want to be with him? I felt similarly about Laurie and Amy; just how and why are they together? That’s not to say everything in Book Two didn’t work – I enjoyed reading about Meg’s marital problems as that subplot signifies a maturity in her character – but it is clear this isn’t the book Alcott wanted to write.

Little Women is quite literally a novel of two halves. The first section is a masterpiece in children’s literature; so cosy and joyous that you can’t stop yourself from smiling. There’s this longing to be that young again and playing/bickering with siblings. If the novel had stopped there, it would have been great. Alas, Book Two  feels like a disappointment in comparison, with these underdeveloped romances and sudden changes of character. Admittedly, I have never read any of the sequels so perhaps relationships develop more in them. Still, it is obvious how the novel has become a classic of children’s literature.

Little Women is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.  

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball by S.P. O’Farrell review

Hi everyone! So this is my final review for 2019 (how?!) and I’m ending the year on a light-hearted note. Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball is a children’s mystery novel written by S.P. O’Farrell. Our protagonist is Simone, a precocious 12 year old living in Paris. Her father owns a world famous patisserie, and her mother is a spy. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Simone is the youngest spy for the government, and she’ll need to use her sleuthing skills when a thief targets her family.

O’Farrell’s descriptions were the highlight of the book for me. The patisseries and chocolates in particular were described so evocatively that I was salivating just reading about them. Similarly, Paris itself is also beautifully written, with O’Farrell doing an excellent job of capturing the city. The plot itself is well-paced, and there are a few twists and turns. Some were a bit predictable but I think younger readers wouldn’t notice them.

The novel is written in the first person, meaning the reader gets to know Simone and see everything from her perspective. This helped greatly as Simone is portrayed as a hyper-intelligent spy – not the most relatable of characters. So having her thought processes laid out made her more likable, and you could understand her reasonings a bit more. Otherwise, she could easily have been a cold figure and the novel wouldn’t be as engaging as it is. At times she comes across as quite smug, but I never found her unlikable. Some of the secondary characters, like her younger sister, can feel a little flat but they are only minor figures in the plot so they didn’t affect my enjoyment too much. Perhaps they are developed more in future books.

Overall, this was a really sweet read to end the year with. I can see readers aged between 9 – 12 really enjoying it with the fast-moving, intriguing plot and a likable main character. If people are fans of the Sammy Keyes series, then I think they’ll like Simone LaFray.

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball is published independently and you can find more information here.  


Pirates by Celia Rees review

When I was twelve one of my favourite books was Witch Child by Celia Rees, a book I reread again and again from my school library. Coupled with the Pirates of the Caribbean craze that was happening at the time, I decided to pick up another Rees novel, Pirates. I enjoyed it at the time, but looking back I don’t really remember a huge amount about it, so I’ve decided to read it again and see if my feelings have changed. The novel is set in 1724 and we follow wealthy heiress Nancy Kington. After her father dies, Nancy is sent to the West Indies by her brother to marry a much older plantation owner. Disgusted by his cruelty, Nancy and one of the plantation slaves Minerva run away and join a gaggle of pirates.

This was a lot of fun. It is very fast-paced and action-packed – one could devour it in a couple of days. Yet I also enjoyed how Rees took the time to build the characters of Nancy and Minerva. It was nice seeing them develop over the course of the story and how their friendship changes as well. It was also interesting seeing what freedom means to them as individuals coming from completely different backgrounds. It is told from Nancy’s perspective, and I would have liked to have seen Minerva’s viewpoint too.  The male characters, particularly Nancy’s beau who joins the Navy early in the book, are a bit flat. Admittedly, they are not the main focus of the story, but at times it was hard to see why Nancy was so enamoured with him. And the bad guy is a stereotypical villain but that wasn’t a major concern as I was enjoying the novel.

I also liked the historical detail that Rees adds. Whilst the novel is obviously not 100% accurate – it paints a very rosy picture of pirates – it added to the atmosphere of the book. You felt you were in 18th century England and West Indies travelling with these girls. In a way they act as guides, as Nancy and Minerva are relatable to young girls and they help navigate the reader through this different time period. It was interesting exploring this world that Rees had created.

I’m glad I read Pirates as a young teenager. Whilst I enjoyed the book on my reread, I think I connected to the characters back then a little more, perhaps because they were roughly the same age as me. I also ignored the slightly milquetoast secondary characters, probably because I wasn’t reading critically at the time. If I had read this for the first time as an adult, I would have had a lot more problems with the book. But I would still recommend Pirates for young girls, especially if they like action-adventures romps. It is a lot of fun with two great female main protagonists.

Pirates is published by Bloomsbury and you can find more information here.


Julu (Vol. 1) by Jan Anderegg review

Hi everyone! I would like to thank the author and Booktasters for sending me a copy of the first volume of Julu. We follow two children, Jack and Mia, who are thrown into a magical world when he stumbles across a dragon egg and it hatches. They must save the mystical land of Jirvania, where imagination and stories grow, from destruction by evil forces who would do anything to stop the children.

This was a really fun-filled children’s adventure, with the idea of kids travelling to a magical land reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia. Anderegg is excellent at world-building and her evocative imagery helps to make Jirvania come to life. There is a lot of really well-written, descriptive passages that I enjoyed as she has a great way with words. Combined with creatures such as fairies, witches, and centaurs the book has a lovely, magical vibe which is perfect for this time of year.

Anderegg’s characterisation is also really good. All the characters, Jack in particular, are flawed and are not all-knowing, making them more relatable for younger readers. They also have nice character arcs which are never fully developed here, but I imagine they will be explored in further instalments.

There is quite a bit of time-travelling in the novel. I always find time-travel a tricky subject to handle – mainly because I find it to be a deus ex machina (looking at you Avengers: Endgame) – but Anderegg handles it really well. The constant jumps did confuse a bit however at the beginning, especially when I didn’t really know the characters or world that well. Yet once I got into the rhythm of the book it all fell into place.

Julu is a very action-packed, entertaining story for children. Anderegg incorporates themes such as love and the importance of family, so there is a nice message underneath all the magical trappings. Her writing style is very descriptive which helps create this fantasy world and her characters are well-drawn. Whilst I did find the time travel element confusing at points, I think Anderegg handled it well. For children (young and old) who like delving into magical worlds.

Julu (Vol.1) is published by Gateskeeper Press and you can find more information here.

Saving Forest Farm by Jack Purser review

Hi everyone! So recently I’ve been reading a lot of heavy non-fiction (obviously I reviewed Goddess last week and at the moment I’m reading a book about Chernobyl. Cheery times ahead!) which made me decide to read some more light-hearted fare in between. I chose Saving Forest Farm by Jack Purser, which was kindly send to me by the author and Booktasters. It’s a children’s picture book and it follows two friends called Farrell Fox and Gunther Goat, whose home of Forest Farm is currently suffering through a drought. They are sent on a mission to try and bring rain to the farm and save the day.

The book is very sweet. The topics covered within the story – ranging from simple, everyday messages like being kind to others, to worldwide current events such as protection of wildlife – are all expertly woven through the narrative. They never feel heavy-handed or forced into the story. Instead, Purser gives children room to think about the messages being brought up in the story without seeming preachy. I also really enjoyed the characterisations. Each animal has their own distinct personality, with their own interests and hobbies. It makes them more endearing and interesting to read about, and younger readers can probably identify with at least one of the characters. Purser has done an excellent job with the story.

The images are probably the best I’ve seen from a self-published book (and, admittedly, some traditionally published ones too). I’m not sure who the illustrator was, but they have done a fantastic job. Each image is incredibly detailed, and looking back I noticed small things I never picked up the first time around. An example would be a character featured in the far back nearly out of sight, who would later have an important role in the story. The colour scheme is also very vibrant, and no two images were the same which helped to keep me engaged in the storyline.

Overall, I think Saving Forest Farm is a really good book for younger readers. Well-written and expertly drawn, it will appeal to kids and encourage their reading, as well as having positive messages for them to learn from.

Saving Forest Farm is published independently and you can find more information here.

The Morgans and the Jewel of Bar-Ran by K.T Dady review

Hi everyone! This week I’m back with another review for you all – K.T Dady’s middle grade novel, The Morgans and the Jewel of Bar-Ran. The five Morgan siblings go to visit their gran – a treat as it gets them away from their uncles. Whilst exploring their gran’s home, the children get whisked away to the magical land of Bar-Ran. There, they meet all kinds of magical creatures and learn that the land needs saving – and they might be the ones to do it.

I thought this was a really sweet book. You get vibes of Alice in Wonderland or The Chronicles of Narnia – even that small blurb I just wrote suggests it. Dady admittedly doesn’t really stray away plot-wise from standard children’s fantasy fare; as an adult I knew what would happen next. But, I thought Dady’s writing style was wonderful, and that kept me interested throughout. I loved the fairytale-esque beginning (which also gave off Harry Potter vibes) as it just sets the tone of the novel really well. Dady’s imagery was really evocative and brought the world of Bar-Ran to life.

The characters as well were all nicely developed. The five children have their own distinct personalities and talents, with each of them having a chance to shine at some point in the novel. This made it more fun to read and see how their relationships develop as they struggle to navigate this new world. At first I thought having five protagonists would make the narrative cluttered, or some characters would get left by the wayside whilst others would be more fully developed. But that’s not the case as all of them are explored in depth (or as much depth as middle grade books go).

Overall, I liked The Morgans and the Jewel of Bar-Ran. Sure, the plot was a tad predictable, but the writing was excellent and the characters well done. I can see children really enjoying this and getting sucked into the storyline and magical world. If they liked any of the children’s fantasy that I’ve mentioned throughout this review, then I think they will like this.

The Morgans and the Jewel of Bar-Ran is published independently and you can find more information here.