Apple & Rain by Sarah Crossan

Usually Moontrug’s all about the middle grade books (the ones for 8-12 year olds) but recently she read a YA (teens) story that was so absolutely wonderful, she wanted to give it a shout out: Sarah Crossan’s Apple & Rain.

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When Apple’s mother returns after eleven years away, Apple feels whole again. She will have an answer to her burning question – why did you go? But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother’s homecoming is bitter sweet. It’s only when Apple meets someone more lost than she is, that she begins to see things as they really are. Apple discovers something which can help her feel whole from the inside out, not just the outside in.

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Just like her first book, The Weight of Water, Apple & Rain is written in an effortlessly beautiful way. The sentences are like fragments of poetry (a subject at the heart of the book) and the reader is drawn into Apple’s fractured world from page 1. Raised by an overly strict grandmother, misunderstood by a father pre-occupied with his new wife, neglected by an actress mother and bullied by a classmate who ‘walks wiggly, like she’s got salsa music playing in her head,’ Apple seems to have everything against her. But out of this, Crossan manages to craft a girl full of hope, one who stands a chance at being ‘transformed’ even though life seems pretty bleak.

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Crossan’s characterisation is superb. Moontrug loved the Dead Poet’s Society-style teacher, Mr Gaydon: ‘Poetry can teach us about ourselves. It can comfort us when we are in despair. It can bring joy. It can open us up. It can make our lives bigger and brighter and clearer. It can transform us.’ And the way he nurtures Apple’s talent as a writer is just gorgeous. It would be a plot spoiler to discuss some of the other characters (especially the one with a voice ‘as fragile as a ladybird’s wing’) but Del, the boy who moves next door to Apple, is fabulously original – and Moontrug developed a hugely inappropriate crush on him. When the story gets dark and sad, there’s Del lightening the mood, giving Apple hope: ‘Basically, the poet means that you don’t have to fly your sweetheart to Venice to show her you love her. Sometimes you can just buy someone a Toblerone… It’s the triangles that make it romantic.’ He’s the kind of quirky, thoughtful and funny character teens will love, especially when he comes up with lines like: ‘And then I can use my binoculars to spy on you. Maybe I’ll see your bum.’ Apple and Rain is a beautiful book for teens. Crossan makes you want to cry for Apple’s situation then stand up on a classroom desk and shout about how cool poetry is – because teachers like Mr Gaydon DO have the power to change kids’ lives. Crossan so perfectly gets inside the mind of teenagers, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re living this story with the characters. This is a YA author to watch…

Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson…

Moontrug has LOVED every single Eva Ibbotson book she has ever read (Journey to the River Sea being a particular highlight earlier this year) and so when she learnt that Eva Ibbotson’s son, Toby, was writing children’s books, she did a massive star-jump and pleaded with her agent, Hannah Sheppard, to get her a signed copy at the Waterstones Piccadilly event a few weeks ago.

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At top-secret Mountwood School for Ghosts the magical staff instruct their students in the highest levels of haunting. Although the Stinking Druid, the Legless Warrior and Vera the Banshee try very hard to be terrifying, they’re just too riddled with fears of their own to be properly scary. Then two human children arrive seeking help. Daniel and Charlotte have powerful enemies – can a force of paranormal professionals help scare them away? The bunch of misfit phantoms at Mountwood School wants to rise to the challenge, but will they just make things much, much worse?

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Ibbotson’s book has a sort of Roald Dahl feel to it – from the first few pages we’re introduced to larger-than-life characters, described with all the wit and flair of a story-telling professional: ‘An ordinary village hag goes out at night to sit on people whom she doesn’t like and stop them breathing, so that they wake in a panic. That’s why some people look hag-ridden when they come down to breakfast. Great Hagges cannot be bothered with stuff like that.’ Small wonder that it’s the Great Hagges who form Mountwood School ‘to put the ghastly back into ghosthood’ and the ghost-cast who enrol there are truly brilliant – they sparkle with originality and style: a banshee whose vocal chords are wasting away, a flirtatious Druid, a Phantom Welder, a broad Scotsman called Angus Crawe, a hugely fat ghost who had been a housemaster at a famous public school and had died of apoplexy while enthusiastically thrashing a small pupil…

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And alongside these memorable ghosts, Ibbotson gives us delightful human characters – the gorgeous Charlotte who plays Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, to Daniel’s Hector (because Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and that seemed a bit too much) and the WONDERFUL writer, Lottie Wilder, who relishes the opportunity of being locked up in prison because it’ll give her the solitude, time and quiet to finish her novel. Brilliant stuff. Moontrug couldn’t help thinking there was a bit of Eva Ibbotson herself in the lovely Mrs Wilder (‘and you will sense a small door opening in your mind…and then you will have to decide whether to shut it, or keep it open) and she adored the scene with Daniel, Charlotte and the rolling pin! But Ibbotson doesn’t just give us ghosts and goodies – there are some real rotten eggs in there, too. Lord Ridget, a buffoon who sleeps through important court cases, and the odious Jack Bluffit. Luckily they’re no match for Team Spectre though, as demonstrated by the words the ghosts engrave onto Bluffit’s crane: ‘Up Your Bum.’ Mountwood School for Ghosts is a gorgeously told story for 8+ years, so good in fact, that it’s made it’s way onto Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower. Can’t wait to see what Toby Ibbotson writes next…

Bristol giants & Grumpy teddies…

When Moontrug isn’t writing about gypsies and wildcats, star jumping on top of mountains and trying on animal onesies, she is blogging about children’s books. Mostly it’s middle grade, usually 8-12 years, but this week she was sent two picture book gems worth a pre-Christmas shout out: Goram & Ghyston, The Bristol Giants by Oliver Rigby and Tom Bonson, and The Grumpy Teddy by Greg Dobbins and Hannah Rees.

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Moontrug was instantly won over by Goram & Ghyston, The Bristol Giants because their story centres around the city she went to university in. Prevailing memories from Moontrug’s time there involve:

  • joining the Breakdancing Society but quitting after the first session
  • co-hosting a radio show so early in the morning no one listened to it
  • discovering it’s possible to eat Pot Noodles every day for a month and not die
  • standing on the Clifton Suspension Bridge looking over the Avon Gorge

And it is perhaps the last of these memories that really stands out – and which was brought back so clearly by Oliver Rigby’s picture book. I mean, a gorge as massive as the Avon Gorge being dug away by men with diggers and cranes? Um, no. It HAD to be built by giants. And Goram and Ghyston are some giants. They can make rivers, lakes and mountains with their massive arms – and they even threw the moon up into the sky! Moontrug loved Goram’s beautifully illustrated pet dragon, Digby (despite the explosion of fiery bogeys) and the challenge Princess Avona sets the giants has a true fairytale magic about it.

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Moontrug loved Goram and Ghyston’s eagerness to please the princess: ‘Can I catch you a dinosaur?’ ‘Can I catch you a whale?’ If only men these days knew those kind of one-liners – dating would be a whole lot easier… And Moontrug was left genuinely sad at the thought of why people believe the Avon Gorge fills up with water. The Bristol Giants is a gorgeous tale – but surely there’s another book on the way with an ending like that? Pleeeeeease…

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Moontrug has had a teddy for as long as she can remember. He went everywhere with her when she was a child – and he maaaaaaaaaay have smuggled himself into Moontrug’s suitcase for her honeymoon last year. But shhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell. So when The Grumpy Teddy arrived through her letterbox, Moontrug was delighted. But Greg Dobbin’s teddy is no charmer – you won’t catch him mucking in on the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. NO. The Grumpy Teddy is so spectacularly grumpy he outgrumps Eeyore and Puddlglum… And the charming rhymes of the story only underpin how cross he is.

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Even though other animals like Rabbit, Horse and Dog try to jolly him along, The Grumpy Teddy is steadfast in his grumpiness and insists on storming through the countryside in a mood. His face has a hilariously foul-tempered grimace about it and his words are equally bad-tempered. Moontrug hoped that by the end of the book the other animals might have cheered him up but it seems The Grumpy Teddy almost delights in his moods. Maybe with Christmas on the way, The Grumpy Teddy will flash us all a quick little grin?

 

 

 

 

Winners of the seas & forests writing competition…

Moontrug had SO many incredible entries to her Shaping Seas & Forests writing competition earlier this Autumn that she had to run it again. And just like last time, she was inundated with super talented writing. Wow, there are a lot of authors-in-waiting out there… So, without further ado, here are the results. Lots of fantastic book prizes are winging their way towards you guys – WELL DONE! And keep an eye out for the latest Moontrug writing competitions.

 

Shaping a forest winner: Hadar Ben Zvi (aged 10)
Shaping a forest runner up: Alisha Davies-Johnson (aged 10)

Shaping seas winner: Avinandan Sengupta (aged 10)
Shaping seas runner up: Iona Mandal (aged 8)

 

Shaping a forest
by Hadar Ben Zvi (aged 10)

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Trees whispered words unknown to man, while the wind hissed and whistled through the crackling, dry leaves being scampered on by the forest inhabitants. The sun pushed her rays to try and penetrate the seemingly invincible shield that the immense branches were creating, but still, no light got through. The hostile bloodthirsty creatures lurking on the ground were, indeed, not welcoming things at all; for every mouse, squirrel, bunny, dove and deer was captured, killed and eaten. Nothing and no one was safe. Dark and wicked, the atmosphere inside the trapped biome continued to make the forest look ill. It destroyed anything bright in its midst and slowly any source of light perished, and so did the soul of the forest.

Forest of Dragons
by Alisha Davies-Johnson (aged 10)
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It was a light starry night and the forest was a night green world of trees. In the middle of it all, there was a field of grass and black scorch marks. The field had been scorched… the history of the Vikings and warriors emanated throughout and now it was going to throw the Modern Generation.

A gust of wind came out of nowhere and along with it thousands of dragons. Red, green, black, brown and blue, the black midnights scorch was washed away by the shadows of dark green dragons making their twig nest in the midnight levels of the forest.

The red dragons rested by the burning amber of the fire; the blue dragons danced and played in the dark shadow of the beautiful midnight sky; the brown earth dragons slept on the muddy ground, the babies playing in the brown mud annoying the older dragons. The black dragons camouflaged in the now twilight sky of the shiny stars.

As the stars twinkled a new dragon was born, a dragon of gold burning sun stars… this dragon had the golden claws of an eagle and the wisdom of an owl.

 

Shaping Seas
Avinandan Sengupta (aged 10)
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I am unpredictable, ever changing. One minute I am calm, the next I have started pummelling the cliffs that prevent me forging deeper inland. I feel the touch of the boats that skim over me, oblivious of the deaths that I can cause just because I have had a bad day. On a rainy day, I feel the call of the water falling from the sky, urging me to explore my new reaches, drowning all who stand in my way. I lust for more power, ever seeking to increase my empire. I reach out with my fingers into the land but they are ‘polluted’ by the fresh water that flows out of the rivers. I seem to be stuck in a stalemate, but I will always find a way to escape. For I am the sea, vastly superior to those puny little streams.

 

Shaping Seas
Iona Mandal (aged 8 years)

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I drifted away to a faraway land, surrounded by the sea. The sea – enveloping the world, much travelled and explored. Moderating the earth’s climate; getting polluted every second. Miles of endless, open blue skies sweeping above the sea – its waters heaving way around the world. Waves as high as mountains; as low as the abyss. Rapid as jet planes, yet, slowing down at times like a tortoise. Moving every second; never silenced. Rolling in crescendo and back down again. The rhythm of the sea calming my soul. The golden, grainy sand washing its shore – dotted with sea shells, driftwood, rotten fish and broken sandcastles. I plunged into the inviting waters. Frothy, placid and soothing. A whole new magical underworld greeted me teeming with abundant marine life – corals, jellyfish, starfish and sea-urchins. Fishes in all hues added a glow. Seahorses danced like fairies among mossy seaweeds. A turtle flapped its flippers and swam past. A cold-eyed shark with razor-sharp teeth drifted into the darkness! Scared, I jumped onto a friendly, dolphin’s back. Whooshing around, it carried me across the turquoise waters. The salty brine sprayed into my eyes and nose – curing my cold from last Saturday. I landed on a quiet cove. In the distance, I could hear the sound of children laughing and seabirds chirping. It left me asking for more.

Moontrug’s Best of 2014…

The best bits of 2014? Hugging Westley from The Princess Bride was up there – as was firing catapults with a Burmese temple guard and high-fiving a monk on a motorbike. But the middle grade books Moontrug read this year – the sheer BRILLIANCE of those – pretty much topped the list. Them, and all the days spent imagining riding BIG CATS across the Arctic ice plains Lyra/Iorek style…

Snow-Leopard-animals-33903438-1440-900Not a chance the Gobblers would catch you if you were up on a snow leopard…

B36CycyIEAA-o_AThanks to Emma Carroll for this one. BIG FURRY LYNX PAWS. Love.

So, yes, books… Drum roll for the middle grade books Moontrug read and fell in love with this year…

The Black North by Nigel McDowell

the black northStorm clouds are gathering on the Divided Isle. Oona Kavanagh’s home has escaped the worst of the ravages of war, but now the Invaders from the ruined Black North are threatening. When Oona’s twin brother, Morris, is kidnapped, Oona is forced on a journey to the furthest reaches of the country to rescue him. With rumours of the Echoes – a mysterious blight creeping across the land – and Briar-Witches and Invaders at her heels, can Oona save her brother before the South turns as Black as the North?
A totally original Irish voice, a punchy heroine and a plot dripping with powerful magic.

 

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

18070753When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up a secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they can’t find a truly exciting mystery to solve (unless you count The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. Which they don’t). Then Hazel discovers the body of the Science Mistress, Miss Bell – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls have to solve a murder, and prove a murder happened in the first place, before the killer strikes again (and before the police get there first, naturally). But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?
A true boarding school classic – hilariously told and well plotted.

 

The Burning Shadow by Michelle Paver

imagesHylas the Outsider is captured by slavers.  Set to work in the terrible underground mines of Thalakrea, he learns to his horror that he’s now closer than ever to his murderous enemies, the Crows. He has to escape before they find out he’s here. Pirra, the daughter of the High Priestess, is also on the run. When Fate reunites her with Hylas, their survival depends on ancient magic and an orphaned lion cub – unless the Gods have other plans.
One of my absolute favourite middle grade writers. Fast-paced, a brilliantly realised world and a gorgeous animal-child bond.

 

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

urlA boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show. A boy with an extraordinary power of observation and detection. A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth. Behold the savage spectacle of Wild Boy. Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin…
A fantastic Victorian circus drama – superbly plotted with a brilliant villain and a truly original main character.

 

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse

river singers‘Something was approaching the burrow. Something deadly. Something that made Sylvan’s fur bristle with fear…’ Knowing their lives are under threat, water vole Sylvan and his brother and sisters have no choice but to abandon their burrow for ever. Together they set out on an epic journey along the Great River; but with dangers lurking at every turn, will they ever find a safe place to call home?
A modern Wind in the Willows. Delightful water voles, coupled with a powerfully realised countryside setting. Brilliant action scenes.

 

The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

The Dark wildThis is the story of a boy named Kester. He is extraordinary, but he doesn’t know that yet. All he knows, at this very moment, is this:
1. There is a flock of excited pigeons in his bedroom
2. They are talking to him
3. His life will never be quite the same again
A fast-paced adventure with totally brilliant characters. Look out for wolf-cub and the white pigeon – they’re moontrug’s favs.
Just as incredible as the first book in this series. Hugely memorable characters and a tense plot – storytelling at its best.

 

The Girl Who Walked On Air by Emma Carroll

6Ladies and Gentlemen, we bring you to the sensational story of Louie Reynolds, whose dream is to become a circus showstopper. Whose tightrope talents put the finest performers to shame. Yet the path to fame is a rocky one. To travel it, Louie must first: witness a terrible accident, meet two mysterious strangers, cross Niagara Falls and look Death square in the eye. Will Louie find the the courage, Ladies and Gentlemen, to face such challenges and become the Girl Who Walked on Air?
All the colour of the circus, with the magic of the tightrope taking centre stage. Superbly feisty heroine.

 

Phoenix by SF Said

++PHOENIX_FRONTLucky thinks he’s an ordinary Human boy. But one night, he dreams that the stars are singing – and wakes to find an uncontrollable power rising inside him. Now he’s on the run, racing through space, searching for answers. In a galaxy at war, where Humans and Aliens are deadly enemies, the only people who can help him are an Alien starship crew – and an Alien warrior girl, with neon needles in her hair. Together, they must find a way to save the galaxy. For Lucky is not the only one in danger. His destiny and the fate of the universe are connected in the most explosive way…
Bold and brilliant – cosmic magic.

 

Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

url-1Since her father went missing while prospecting for oil in Siberia, life has been tougher than ever for India Bentley. Little does she know that he was actually searching for Ironheart, a legendary fortress containing the secrets of the old world. A place some say could save humanity. Along with tech-hunter, Verity Brown, and her android, Calculus, a killer from the old world turned protector in the new, India must make the journey to remote Siberia to try to find her father and finish his work. But there are others fighting to find Ironheart too – and they have very different goals in mind…
Original story, great cast of characters, excellently plotted.

 

My Brother’s Shadow by Tom Avery

51NaCYHpE0LMy name is Kaia. I’m frozen because of what happened. I’m trapped because of what I saw. Can anyone help me to grow again?
A beautifully sad story about a young girl coming to terms with the death of her brother. Bring tissues – you’ll need them.

 

 

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson

urlI’m Dan Hope, and deep inside my head I keep a list of things I want to come true. For example, I want my sister, Ninja Grace, to go to university at the North Pole and only come back once a year. I want to help Sherlock Holmes solve his most daring mystery yet. And if it could be a zombie mystery, all the more exciting. I want to be the first eleven-year-old to land on the moon. I want my dog to stop eating the planets and throwing them up on the carpet. And finally, the biggest dream of all, I want my Dad to love me.
Gorgeously funny whilst pulling at heart strings.

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard by Julia Lee

gullyGully Potchard never meant to cause any trouble. He’s just an ordinary sort of boy …at least that what he thinks. But when an old acquaintance comes knocking, it isn’t long before Gully is tangled up in a mess of mischief and skulduggery. Cats and dogs go astray, a child is kidnapped, and ransom notes are delivered to the wrong people! But as a storm rages and a fire blazes, Gully discovers that he has an extraordinary skill that might just make him an unlikely hero after all…
An unlikely hero thrown into a fast-paced adventure with a colourful cast of characters.

 

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? by Nikki Sheehan

51ryIgY3tQLPeople used to call them ‘friends’ and said how they were good for your brain. And then a day came when all that changed… When they became the enemy. Now, anyone found harbouring a rogue imaginary person is in for the COSH – an operation that fries your imagination and zaps whatever’s in there, out of existence. That’s why I wish Klaris Cliff had never shown up and why I know that proving her innocence is that last hope I have of saving myself.
A wonderful idea, originally told.

 

Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig

Jimmy coatesIn this action-packed sequel to Jimmy Coates: Assassin?, government agency NJ7 wants Jimmy working for them or they want him dead. Not only must he fight off someone as dangerous as himself, he must also confront the man he fears the most–his father.
Action-packed. Bond meets Bourne.

 

Girl With A White Dog by Anne Booth

girl-with-a-white-dog-front-cover-final-300dpiJessie is excited when her gran gets a white Alsatian puppy, but with Snowy’s arrival a mystery starts to unfold. As Jessie learns about Nazi Germany at school, past and present begin to slot together and she uncovers something long-buried, troubling and somehow linked to another girl and another white dog…
Makes you feel you’re right back in Year 9 again. A heart-felt story – full of hope.

 

Mountwood School for Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson

mountwood-school-for-ghosts-978144727100001At top-secret Mountwood School for Ghosts the magical staff instruct their students in the highest levels of haunting. Although the Stinking Druid, the Legless Warrior and Vera the Banshee try very hard to be terrifying, they’re just too riddled with fears of their own to be properly scary. Then two human children arrive seeking help. Daniel and Charlotte have powerful enemies – can a force of paranormal professionals help scare them away? The bunch of misfit phantoms at Mountwood School wants to rise to the challenge, but will they just make things much, much worse?
Brilliantly funny – a ghost cast you’ll never forget!

The Case of the Exploding Loo by Rachel Hamilton

blogtour-150x150Wacky scientist Professor Brian ‘Big Brain’ Hawkins has vanished in a portaloo explosion, leaving only his smoking shoes behind. His daughter, Noelle, has an IQ of 157 and a photographic memory (but is NOT a mutant freak, whatever her sister, Holly, says). She’s born a Sherlock and the perfect person to investigate. Sort of.
The plot is full of twists and turns, facts and diagrams, clues and findings – perfect for inquisitive 8-12 year olds who like a bit of rule breaking…

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? by Nikki Sheehan

Moontrug had been noticing the glowing reviews and gushing comments surrounding Nikki Sheehan’s Who Framed Klaris Cliff? and so on a recent book-buying spree, she grabbed a copy. And from the first few pages she could see what all the hype was about…

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People used to call them ‘friends’ and said how they were good for your brain. And then a day came when all that changed… When they became the enemy. Now, anyone found harbouring a rogue imaginary person is in for the COSH – an operation that fries your imagination and zaps whatever’s in there, out of existence. That’s why I wish Klaris Cliff had never shown up and why I know that proving her innocence is that last hope I have of saving myself.

The story is told by Joseph, an ordinary, popular boy who loves playing video games and hanging around with his best friend, Rocky. He’s the last person you’d expect to have an imaginary friend, so when Klaris shows up, Joseph’s world is turned upside down. Sheehan draws on the imaginary friend concept in a totally original, subtle and almost unnerving way, and Joseph’s exasperation at having to listen to Klaris is brilliantly done: ‘I breathed deeply then spoke to the air in a thin whisper. “Happy now? Is that what you wanted? Why don’t you just go back to Flea and stop ruining my life!”‘

 

But a world without imagination, as Joseph comes to realise, holds terrifying consequences: ‘I’d never be able to imagine myself wing-walking on a biplane. Or playing basketball on the moon. Or diving with sharks.’ And so Joseph embarks on a journey to defend the one person he was adamant didn’t exist… The book is filled with engaging characters – take the gorgeous (and well-named) Flea who harbours his imaginary friend so willingly and is adorable in his vulnerability when faced with bully Charlie, who asks Flea to empty his pockets: ‘These shorts don’t have pockets, which is quite unusual. Most of my trousers do. Some have them at the sides and the back.’ Or Flea’s sister, Pooh: ‘A hairpin? Perhaps you’d like a piece of whale bone from my corset as well? What century do you think this is?’ But set against their childlike innocence you have characters like Mr Jones, the RIPS co-ordinator, a Gradgrindian meanie out to COSH all imaginary friends. There was a glimpse of Philip Pullman’s Gobblers in Mr Jones, and Joseph and Flea, like Lyra and Roger, must stand up to the adult world to fight for what they believe in.

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Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is a brilliantly original read for 10+ years. It boasts a truly powerful ending and throughout the story, Sheehan champions one of the most important things in life: the imagination. As Einstein once said:  ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ Moontrug can’t wait to see what Nikki Sheehan writes next and in the meantime, you can find her book up on Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower