Out of the silence, Snow Leopard sang the stars to life

A few weeks ago Moontrug told bestselling author, SF Said (think Phoenix and Varjak Paw), that her favourite animal was a wildcat with attitude. And if there weren’t too many of those kicking around (after all, they’re the most secretive animals out there), she’d settle for a snow leopard (not that they’re any easier to find…). So SF Said introduced Moontrug to a WONDERFULLY talented author and illustrator called Jackie Morris. And the subject matter of one of Morris’ brilliant picture books? Snow Leopards. Check this out for a cover…

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‘From the beginning of time, out of the silence, Snow Leopard sang the stars to life, the sun to rise and the moon to wax and wane.’ And so Morris’ book begins. It is the story of a secretive Snow Leopard who, ‘cloaked in her shadow-dappled fur’ sings to protect the Mergich Realm. But over the years danger creeps in and Snow Leopard must look to another to help her weave the spell of protection and secrecy. Sleeping soundly in the heart of the mountains is a child, and it is she who must learn to ‘still her mind and become one with the place… to ride on the thermals with eagle and falcon, to watch for the moon bear, bharal and wolf.’

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In a world where we move at 100mph through almost everything we do (this morning I was moving so fast I tripped over my own feet and face-planted into a cardboard box), The Snow Leopard draws us away to a half-forgotten world of peace and silence. A world where magic is stirring inside a ‘crackling fortress of snow’ above a Child who listens to a ghost cat’s song. Moontrug completely fell in love with this book; reading the words was like watching snow fall – a sort of silent beauty laced with magic.

Jackie Morris - Snow Leopard

As the Child began to learn the Snow Leopard’s ways, Moontrug was reminded of some of the best animal-child relationships in children’s stories – of Lyra Silvertongue and Iorek Byrnison in Northern Lights, of Lucy Pevensie and Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Morris’ child and snow leopard are up there. She makes you believe in the bond so that you feel like a little part of you, where the stillness and the wonder rests, might be snow leopard, too.

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From start to finish there was a sort of hypnotic magic spilling out of the pages; Moontrug was lost in the ice-covered mountains and the Snow Leopard’s song. And when the ending came, Moontrug spent a few moments just sitting, thinking, dreaming – and then she went right out and bought three more Jackie Morris books (I am Cat, The Seal Children, East of the Sun, West of the Moon) – because that kind of magic doesn’t come around often, so when you find it, you’ve got to hold on to it tight…

 

PS: Henrietta Poppy, this one’s for you x

Do you believe in monsters? Rupert Wallis & The Dark Inside

Apparently when browsing a book shop you give a book roughly 30 seconds to win you over (includes cover snoop, back blurb glance and possibly a peek onto the first page). Well, Moontrug read a book recently that took just 5 seconds to win her over: The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis. Cover: navy, silver and white with a ‘Do you believe in monsters?’ caption – intriguing… Back blurb: ‘Run. And James did. Out the back door. Through the gap in the fence. Not stopping even after the bellowing of his stepfather had wasted in the wind and there was nothing but the whip of grass across his shins…’

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And that was that – book bought. And then read within hours. Yes, it’s THAT good. The Dark Inside follows the story of thirteen-year-old James who discovers a homeless man in an abandoned house on top of a hill. But this is no ordinary homeless man. This man has a secret, and a dark one at that. Hoping to find a ‘cure’ for the dark curse inflicted on the man, the pair embark on a journey. But what starts out as a search for a cure, quickly becomes something altogether more sinister. And when the merciless travellers get involved, James has to face up to the fact that what he thought might have been the stuff of nightmares, might actually be lurking in the shadows of his everyday life…

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Perhaps the first thing Moontrug noticed with The Dark Inside was the power of the writing. The sentences are literally like wisps of magic; they carry something other-worldly inside them: ‘Moonlight silvered the hallway and the stairs as clouds moved and shadows hardened,’ ‘Somewhere in the dark a dog was barking and the sound of it chimed in the marrow of his bones,’ and ‘Cloud curdled the moon, culling the light around him’. Wallis’ writing is fine-tuned – each sentence, each word has been thought about – a lot. And it’s really paid off. The sadness and despair James feels after losing his mother is so evocatively presented – and Wallis perfectly captures James’ growing understanding of the world around him, of the hugeness of it all, of the unanswerable questions staring him in the face.

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There were undertones of David Almond’s Skellig in the book. Just as Michael helps Skellig and day by day the pain inside him eases, so James helps Webster and he learns to trust again. James’ pain and confusion is obvious but Wallis never patronises the reader with quick-fix solutions. And at the end of Chapter 2, when James is crushing nettles, we see James’ pain very realistically evoked: ‘The bruise on James’ arm began to creak and groan and ache, and he stopped wondering about the man, and who he might be, and drove the stick harder. Nettle heads flew. Necks opened. He mashed the stalks until the ground around him reeked of green.’

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One of the most likeable things about James is his capacity for hope, in what appears to be a very ‘unhopeful’ world. Time and again things don’t go James’ way and yet somehow he keeps going: ‘When a ray of sun drifted over him, he held out his hand, imagining it was gold warming his outstretched palm. He wondered how much he would need to buy every one of his dreams.’ Throughout the book, James struggles to make sense of the world: of why bad things happen to the people he loves; of why his step-father beats him; of who is ‘up there’ controlling it all, if anyone… Wallis uses these huge questions to bring James and Webster together – and he does it in the most natural, believable way.

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Wallis’ writing after this conversation so brilliantly sums up this sense of questioning and understanding: ‘Sunlight began chasing itself over the floor and the walls. And the man watched it. And James watched the man. And it seemed to be enough for the moment that he was standing there.’ Often Wallis slips away from naming James and Webster, instead saying ‘the man’ or ‘the boy’ – as if James and Webster are touching on questions every one of us burns to ask.

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But The Dark Inside is more than just beautiful writing and probing questions; the plot packs a punch, too. With relentless energy, the travellers pursue James and Webster, while all the while the dreaded full moon looms nearer. The action scenes are fast-paced and gripping and the old woman and her wooden-faced companion, ‘no taller than the boy’s knees…with painted lips and eyes’ are truly terrifying. On Page 1 James is running; and he’s still running by the end – now that’s momentum for you. Right up until Page 357 – and then you’ll be fighting back the tears… The Dark Inside is a brilliant debut for 10+ years and Mootrug can’t wait to see what Rupert Wallis has got in store for us next…

Fortunately, the Milk… by ridiculously bestselling author Neil Gaiman

Moontrug’s done a lot of exhausting workouts in her life – trained in a circus, hung upside down in an Anti-Gravity yoga class, run up and down some MASSIVE munros in Scotland – but nothing has left her feeling quite so exhausted as reading Neil Gaiman’s totally brilliant Fortunately, The Milk… Indeed she was so breathless by the end she had to go and sit in a dark room with a blanket on top of her head.

FortunatelytheMilk_HardbackUK_13654403762Click here to buy on amazon

Mum’s away. Dad’s in charge. There’s no milk. So Dad saves the day by going to buy some. Really, that’s all that happens. Very boring. YAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWN. And yet, during that seemingly dull episode a series of EXTRAORDINARY events happen and both the writing and the illustrations (by the uber cool Chris Riddell) take you on a journey of total brilliance. Because on the way back home (fortunately, with the milk) Dad is abducted by aliens covered in goo and then hurled into the hands of pirates! Desperate to hold onto the milk, Dad manages to hitch an escape ride in a hot air balloon piloted by the very capable Professor Steg.

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But the two of them are going to need to keep their wits about them if they’re to avoid being sacrificed to a volcano god, re-abducted by aliens and freaked out by wumpires. The book is both a fantastic adventure story and a laugh-a-second ride through ridiculous names (Splod, Nessie Grundledorfer), fabulously original characters and a lot of MILK. Just when you think the plot can’t get any more extraordinary, a vain unicorn pops in or an alien sidles up and declares he’s going to replace all the trees in the world with plastic flamingos.

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Neil Gaiman completely freaked Moontrug out with The Graveyard Book (how’s this for a first line: ‘There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife’) so she was pretty relieved to see he’s capable of making her laugh, too. And laugh Moontrug did – A LOT. The humour is so absurdly wonderful it made Moontrug feel faintly normal. Take Steg, for example: ‘According to my calculation, if the same object from two different times touches itself, one of two things will happen. Either the Universe will cease to exist. Or three remarkable dwarfs will dance through the streets with flowerpots on their heads.’ Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle… Or even Dad’s daughter: ‘Spoons are excellent. Sort of like forks, only not as stabby.’

 

Fortunately, The Milk… is a fabulous book for 7+ years looking for a lively, gigglesome adventure – and it’s tucked up nicely in Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower. So if you’re fancying a bit of SUNSHINE in all this rain, go buy it – because it’s bound to cheer you up! Oh, and before I forget – there’s a secret pop up illustration by Chris Riddell. Yeah, I know – TOO cool. And Neil Gaiman finally tells us where all of the dinosaurs have gone…

 

Prankometers and waterbombs with Sharky & George…

According to a British newspaper, we spend 26 years of our life asleep, 6 months queuing and 653 hours waiting for trains. Gulp. Those numbers made Moontrug’s brain go a bit scrambly so she set off in search of the VERY BEST activities out there for kids, ones that smash sleeping, queuing and waiting into little pieces of irrelevance. It took some time, but Moontrug found just the activities she was looking for – and guess what? They’re all gloriously stored up in one book. Cue Don’t You Dare by children’s party organisers extraordinaire: Sharky & George.

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Don’t You Dare is a treasure trove of amazing activities. Forget iPhones, Angry Birds and computer games. This is the real deal – the games, pranks and activities we’ve all been waiting for but haven’t known where to find. Sharky & George get you charging around with games like Bog Flush It (did you know the average person spends 3 years of their life on the bog – and King George II died falling off a bog in 1760 – thankfully there’s no bathrooms involved in this game though, despite the name), Bombers and Fighters, Fill Your Pants and Hippo Hot Potato.

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They revive old classics with a Sharky & George twist – think 40:40 (with Foxy Guards) and Sardines (or the reversed version Senidras) – and they give you top tips for stone skimming, sandcastle-making (to beat the world record of 19 metres on Fiesta Island, San Diego) and Rock Pool Top Trumps (25 points for a starfish, 100 points for sea horse, by the way).

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And there are games for those who don’t fancy rampaging through fields or crashing through waves. Sharky & George disclose tips on making flick books, getting involved in Photo-trick-ography, Folding Frenzies (everything from pillows to pancakes, flat fish to puff pastry). The book just is brimming with fun, adventure and humour. There’s a Prankometer (which reveals the likely expression of your victim and handy escape measures), a whole page of awesome stickers, an upside down secret chapter and the personal touch – signatures from Sharky & George themselves.

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So who are Sharky & George? Two Lost Boys who haven’t found their way back to Neverland? Just William’s long lost cousins? Thankfully they’ve given us all the necessary background in at the start of their book: Sharky’s most mischievous prank is the String Theory (done successfully on George apparently) and George’s most mischievous prank if the Funnel and Coin (done successfully on his Dad – see below). BRILLIANT. Also good to know that Sharky has achieved a world record. For what, you ask? The fastest 100metres dressed as a pantomime horse. Take that Usain Bolt! And when the duo are not Wave Hurdling, Seaweed Trailing or Butt Darting (involves a coin and a mug…), Sharky likes reading Swallows and Amazons and George is partial to a bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So switch off your TV, shut down your computer, and get involved with Sharky and George – their games are so much FUN that Don’t You Dare has made it up onto Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower. 

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Meet Osbert Brinkhoff & Rocky, the unlikeliest of avengers…

Recently Moontrug came across a book whose main character had one of the best names out there: Osbert Brinkhoff. And his job title? AVENGER. Oooooohhhhh. Seconds later the book was in Moontrug’s handbag and her journey through the sinister streets of Schwartzgarten began. Osbert The Avenger is the first book in the gruesomely funny Tales from Schwartzgarten series, a tale of dark delights and ghastly goings-on, of injustice and revenge. The villains are vicious. The settings are sinister. And good does not always prevail…

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Osbert is an exceptionally bright 11-year-old who, after a lot of revising mathematical equations and Latin verbs, secures a place at The Institute, a terrifying school where the brightest of Schwartzgarten are educated. But the tutors there are worse than Miss Trunchbull and the Demon Headmaster combined. They’re evil villains who want to crush the souls of the pupils they teach. And so when Osbert challenges their intellect, they turn against him, and it’s up to Osbert to make things right. Through a series of gruesomely awful but terribly funny deeds, Osbert deals out justice to his malevolent tutors. Perhaps being brought up by a nanny whose motto is ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’ and whose lover mysteriously drank a whole bottle of cyanide in his beetroot schnapps without a word of complaint, was the best upbringing Osbert could have hoped for…

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The author, Christopher William Hill, describes the tutors (Doctor Zilbergeld, Professor Ingelbrod, Anatole Strauss and the Principal) so brilliantly you can’t help but admit that you’d be right on Osbert’s tail to finish them all off. Only Mr Lomm, with his ‘pink face’ and ‘almond oil’ scent deserve our sympathies – and respect – for it is he who comes up with a genius way of making the other tutors think he is torturing his pupils in the classroom when actually he’s the only one giving them hope. Nanny, too, is a force to be reckoned with and she beats Mary Poppins in style hands down: ‘she fished a large and earthy beetroot from the bottom of her bag and hurled it at the bailiff’s head.’ This is then promptly followed by a hard, dry lump or rye bread which Nanny bludgeons into the bailiff’s eye.

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At the heart of the book is Osbert’s clear-thinking and witty mind. His cool, rational mind is both hilarious and unsettling: ‘Doctor Zilbergeld was not a young woman, and she had already spent a long life on earth. But Osbert was determined that she should not outstay her welcome.’ Let’s just hope Doctor Zilbergeld likes apple strudel… So if you prefer cleavers to kittens and fiends to fairies then this is your book. In fact it’s so good it’s made its way onto Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower – a Roald Dahl style adventure for VERY brave 7 year-olds (and upwards). It’s up to you to decide if Osbert is performing a series of good deeds, or whether he’s taken Nanny’s early advice a little too far…

 

Now on the subject of ‘good deeds’, Moontrug was recently sent a FANTASTIC story by 7-year-old, Isadora Bell, entitled ‘A Good Deed.’ Forget evil tutors and formidable nannies, here we’ve got a brave little dog called Rocky. And Moontrug can’t help but think that if Rocky and Osbert teamed up, then there would be trouble in the streets…

 

A Good Deed
By Isadora Bell
Rocky

This is fascinating story about a small, skinny dog called Rocky, a man called Bob and a priceless wallet. This wallet was very important because it belonged to Bob, and Bob was almost the best News Reporter in the world. He wrote exciting stories and had fascinating pictures to put on the front page of the newspaper.

 

Now, let’s get on to the story. So, one day Bob was having a very nice walk round the park after work when he thought he felt something. He looked around and put his hand in his pocket and suddenly noticed a man running away with his wallet!

 

‘THIEF, THIEF!’ he cried but he had come to a deserted place in the street where there were only stray dogs.

 

Then Bob noticed something strange, very strange. One dog was looking at him like he understood him, but this dog was not a stray. Bob looked at the dog’s collar and it read, ‘Rocky from Angelby Street, Singapore’. Suddenly Rocky saw the man running away. Rocky chased after the man like mad. Finally the dog reached the man and bit the man, HARD.

 

‘OWWWWWWWWW!!!’ the man screeched and dropped the wallet. The dog picked it up.

 

Rocky ran to Bob and gave him the wallet, ‘Wow, thanks!’ Bob said. Rocky seemed to understand him.

 

Suddenly an old women came running down the street screaming ‘ROCKY, ROCKY WHERE ARE YOU?!’

 

‘HERE HE IS!’ Bob shouted back.

 

Soon the lady came close enough to speak normally. ‘Oh, oh I don’t know how to thank you,’ said the lady.

 

‘He saved my life!’ said Bob.

 

‘How?’ asked the lady. So Bob had to retell the whole story. You may be wondering what happened to the Thief? He got sent to prison. So Bob had a very good newspaper article the next morning. Everything was good; everybody was happy. Rocky did a good deed.