WILD SWANS by Jackie Morris

On the days that bring grey skies, traffic jams, tax returns and flu, I look for magic. And my first port of call, almost always, is Jackie Morris – an illustrator and author whose art and words transport me to other worlds in seconds. Last year I read about her snow leopard, before that her ice bear and a few years ago her dragons. Now Jackie Morris is back with Wild Swans, her take on an original fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson – and its every bit as magical, if not more, than what has gone before.

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‘Eliza lived in a castle beside a forest…’ At first there is only happiness: a childhood blessed with loving parents and eleven brothers, handsome and brave. But when the queen, their mother, dies, a terrible change comes to the castle and to Eliza. Enchantment deep in the forest leads the king to marry the mysterious woman in white. Who knows why he conceals his children from her, in a tall tower, within a complex maze… But when the new queen discovers them, she takes bitter revenge, and eleven boys become eleven swans, who must fly far, far away from their sister. Eliza will need love, faith and courage to find her brothers, and this is only the beginning of her quest to break the white queen’s spell.

Even before the story starts, Morris brings the magic: a double page spread of an enchanted castle, the sea, a restless sky and a girl soaring across it on the back of a swan. It effortlessly draws the reader into the story – a sort of promise that what you are able to read is special and otherworldly.

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Morris’ knowledge of, and delight in, the outdoor world – of nightingales, firecrests, goldcrests, curlews, silver sand eels – is a joy to read and each setting Eliza travels to to find her brothers is beautifully and convincingly evoked. The characterisation, too, is superb: a mysterious woman with ‘long white hair that glowed like the moon…a constant moving crown of moths’, a faery queen who lives in a castle carved from the clouds, a loyal sister who will stop at nothing to find her brothers and a vile bishop who seeks to undo any seeds of goodness sewn.

 

At the heart of the book there is an unsettling darkness, true to many of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytales and Morris encapsulates this evil in a brilliantly compelling way. The embittered white queen throwing ‘soft cloths of the finest spiders’ webs, each warped with a spell and wefted with jealousy’ over innocent boys is spine-tinglingly horrid and as she curses Eliza with witch-knots, Moontrug’s shoulders hunched up in fear.

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Wild Swans is a story of winged magic, of twilights ‘filled with the soft wings of moths’, swan feathers ‘jewelled with tiny drops of water’ scattered on abandoned shores and flights over seas that shift from ‘pearl to slate, silver-splintered, fish belly fright, dove grey…cloud-shadowed’. But it is also a book about the ‘textures of silence’ – a sister’s quiet deeds, a dog’s faithful companionship and the mysterious watching of a hare. In the run up to Christmas, we live our lives at breakneck speed, but Morris reminds us that is it in the silence of everyday life that some of the greatest magic is found. So, amidst the rush of Christmas shopping and frantic holiday plans, listen to the wind catching in the heavy-leaved branches, the distant birdsong and the quietness of footsteps and heartbeats. Wild Swans is another magnificent read by Jackie Morris and Moontrug hugely recommends it.

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THE WRECK OF THE ARGYLL by John K. Fulton

Moontrug loves reading about magical places (taking strolls through Narnian woods, high-fiving Legolas in Rivendell and sipping butterbeer in Hogsmeade) but she’s also a fan of stories rooted in the real world, of plots bound up in places she’s been. And she was very excited to see that author, John K. Fulton, has set a children’s book in Dundee, a city half an hour away from where Moontrug grew up.

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Dundee, 1915. Twelve-year-old Nancy Caird is desperate to do her bit for the war. So when she suspects one of her teachers of being a German spy, she’s determined to foil his plans, and ropes in the reluctant Jamie Balfour to help her uncover the scheme. Midshipman Harry Melville is on his first voyage aboard HMS Argyll as it forges through the black and story North Sea, unaware of both hidden rocks and German plots that threaten the ship. When Nancy and Jamie’s suspicions are confirmed, and they discover HMS Argyll is in deadly danger, they’re drawn into a web of espionage, secrets, and betrayal, where no-one is as they seem and no-one can be trusted.

Right from the opening line, ‘Nancy kept to the shadows as she followed the spy’, Fulton sets the pace for his war-time thriller. And Moontrug loved Nancy’s impetuous nature – creeping out of bed at night to investigate crimes and making friends with boys in graveyards… Her friendship with Jamie is really well drawn and the two provide an exciting spy duo. Moontrug also loved the inclusion of suffragette Jean who boldly declares: ‘Women were meant to stand with men, shoulder to shoulder, as equals’ in a time when women didn’t even have the vote.

Fulton perfectly captures the clandestine world of spies and all the excitement and danger lurking there: ‘He spun the cylinder with a practised air and snapped it shut with a flick of the wrist’ and the tension rises as Nancy discovers the truth behind characters’ pasts: ‘Then, unexpectedly, she heard the unmistakable sound of a key turning in the lock.’ It is perhaps this weaving of invented spy plot with historical details from the sinking of the Argyll that makes the story work so well. Indeed the language used to describe the scenes on board the Argyll was richly evocative and Moontrug could almost feel the dark, cold seas buffeting against the ship. Fulton creates a real sense of foreboding as the Argyll draws ever nearer the Bell Rock in the fog and the rain and the thrashing waves.

But set alongside the action and the drama, Fulton touches on the pathos of war, of men coming back from The Front with memories so awful they can only make jokes to deal with the trauma – and of little boys left in Scotland without fathers to look after them. Moontrug loved the humour Lachlan and Hector brought to the story, especially when Hector asks the doctor if, after his injures, he’ll ever be able to play the fiddle. The doctor replies: ‘I see no reason why not,’ to which Hector responds with, ‘Grand, because I could never play before.’

The topographical details of Dundee, combined with the historical events on board the Argyll and the excitement of spies combine to make this a convincing and exciting spy thriller for children. And the last line of the book is just wonderful…

THE BLACK LOTUS by Kieran Fanning

Eoin Colfer is a pretty big deal in the children’s book world (Artemis Fowl, WARP etc) and so when Moontrug saw his comments on Kieran Fanning’s debut for 8+ years (‘A powerful new voice in children’s fiction. I loved this book’) she knew she had to do some investigating…

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Ghost, Cormac and Kate are junior recruits of The Black Lotus, a training school for ninjas. But when the Moon Sword – a source of unimaginable power – is stolen by an evil Samurai Warrior, the three are forced to battle through sixteenth century Japan and present-day New York to stop him from destroying the city.

The book opens with Ghost’s recruit into The Black Lotus. Fanning conjures up both the smart apartments and frenetic favelas of Rio De Janeiro and they provide the perfect backdrop for a fast-paced opening scene. Ghost’s super-power is excitingly evoked and the arrival of a one-eyed man at the end of the chapter ensures the plot is full of intrigue. Moontrug particularly liked the way Ghost wasn’t a straight-up wonder kid – his past is full of secrets and sadness (‘a favela kid: tough, strong and full of secrets’) – and Fanning evokes his sense of loss with real heart. In fact, all of Fanning’s characters have depth and quirks and children will love the friendships that lie at the core of the story – they reminded Moontrug of the kids in Andy Mulligan’s novel, Trash. Recruited from an Ireland run by deadly Kyatapira, Cormac runs faster than any kid he encounters (faster than the bullies who are set on beating him up) – and is both a loyal friend to Ghost and a flirty side-kick to Kate. And Kate’s ability to talk to animals provides some top quality humour to the plot (along with Ghost who has learnt English phrases incorrectly from a guide book) – and she adds a fabulous dash of ‘girl power’ to the trio.

There are helicopters, BX-12 Kestrel planes, black orb portals, underground headquarters, ejecting capsules and glass bombs. But perhaps coolest of all are the shinobi shozoku – ninja suits made ‘from millions of tiny mirrored beads. Each bead is weighted and reacts to the earth’s gravitational pull. Regardless of the wearer’s position, the mirrored surface of each bead faces sideways or downwards, but never upwards. Therefore, the suit always reflects the environments around it, never the sky. It will camouflage you anywhere.’ Kids will love imagining which gadgets they’d use and they’ll also enjoy the memorable sayings scattered throughout the story: ‘sometimes the best place to hide is perched on your enemy’s eyelashes.’

Fanning transports the reader back to sixteenth-century Japan seemlessly and Moontrug loved the descriptions of ‘glowing paper lanterns’ that ‘bobbed on the evening breeze’ and skies stained ‘a grapefruit pink’ – an atmospheric setting for warriors and legendary Samurai swords. And the finale in New York is breathlessly exciting – while Cormac’s up on the top of a skyscraper, Kate is advancing on an elephant… The Black Lotus is a fantastic, energetic book – the adventure is huge and the friendships have heart – and Moontrug is excited to see what Fanning has in store for his readers next…

 

THE SNOW SISTER by Emma Carroll

There are a few authors Moontrug keeps an eye on. Not in a creepy, stalky way – she doesn’t follow them down streets in a swishy black cloak – more in a I MUST ABSOLUTELY, DEFINITELY BUY THEIR NEXT BOOK kind of way. And Emma Carroll is one of these authors. Moontrug loved her previous books, Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air and In Darkling Wood and was excited to see she has a shorter book, a novella, out in time for Christmas – cue The Snow Sister, illustrated by Julian de Narvaez.

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Pearl was putting the finishing touches to a person made out of snow. And that person, with coal for eyes and a turnip for a nose, was now wearing Pearl’s sister’s best shawl. It’s Christmas Eve, and Pearl Granger is making a snow sister. It won’t bring her real sister back. But a snow sister is better than no sister. Then a mysterious letter arrives, with a surprise that will stir the heart of Pearl’s family. Will Christmas ever be the same again?

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Few authors write historical fiction as well as Carroll – there is something gloriously authentic about her dialogue and her settings are completely convincing. Within the first few pages of The Snow Sister, the reader is transported to a Victorian village bustling with carts and crowds, a fir tree decked with lights in the town square and stalls brimming with spiced cider and hot pies. But set against the smells, sights and colour of Christmas, Pearl’s life seems very grey and lonely. Her family is struggling to scrape enough money together to survive and the grief of losing Pearl’s sister has hit them all hard. But with the arrival of winter, everything changes.

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Carroll captures the universal yearning for snow – the excitement of creating snowmen (or snow sisters), the possibility of mysterious letters and a world made new and good: ‘the snow still made everything seem better, like a clean sheet over an old mattress.’

A strange letter gives Pearl hope that perhaps life will get better for her family but when the snow falls harder, her father doesn’t return from Bath and Pearl gets caught stealing, things get even worse. On the run from the police, Pearl finds herself whisked into Mrs Lockwood’s fancy home (Moontrug loved the humour on page 52). Pearl glimpses the luxury of wealth – cream-coloured stone, sugared plums and egg tarts – but Carroll weaves a much richer message into the story here. And in amongst the sumptuous puddings and shining carriages, Pearl watches the snow falling softly around her and she realises what actually matters at Christmas. The Snow Sister is a gorgeously evocative novella, boasting stunning illustrations from Julian de Naravaez and the warmth and wisdom of an Eva Ibbotson story.

THE BOOK OF LEARNING by E. R. Murray

Even from the cover, Moontrug could tell she was going to enjoy E.R. Murray’s The Book Of Learning: a rat, tangled roses and a girl and a boy doing a wheelie on a motorbike. All the signs of an exciting adventure…

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After the death of her beloved grandpa, Ebony Smart’s world is turned upside down. Sent to Dublin to live with an adult she didn’t know existed, she soon discovers what her new home, 23 Mercury Lane, is full of secrets. Learning that she is part of an ancient order of people who have the power to reincarnate, Ebony quickly discovers that a terrible evil threatens their existence. With just her pet rat, Winston, and a mysterious book to help her, she must figure out why her people are disappearing and how to save their souls, and her own, before time runs out…

Murray creates a heartfelt opening as Ebony struggles to come to terms with the death of her grandpa. The sights and smells of her home in Oddley Cove are wonderfully evoked (fishing trips, cigar tobacco lingering in the air, hidden rocks and an old man’s tales of how you can ‘learn to read’ the sea) and Ebony is established as a wilful and exciting protagonist right from Chapter 1: ‘Ebony Smart had other ideas.’ Moontrug loved her bond with the animals in her home and how she felt quite sure George and Cassandra, her goats, could take care of her better than the mysterious Judge Ambrose who arrives to take her away. But her closest bond is with the brilliantly named Winston, Ebony’s glorious pet rat. Moontrug liked how Winston wasn’t just a sidekick to Ebony’s adventures; he was right there in the midst of them, helping Ebony unravel the secrets behind her past…

Murray introduces Ebony’s Aunt Ruby with flair and originality, a far more exciting character than at first meets the eye. With jumpsuits, inventions and a voice ‘like corn popping in a tin pan’ Aunt Ruby is a feisty and apparently trustworthy guardian – but her house is full of secrets: relatives who aren’t who they seem and magical books locked inside studies. The Book of Learning is filled with strange codes, ghostly messages and cryptic clues and kids will love trying to crack them with Ebony. Murray keeps the reader guessing right through the book about which characters are really on Ebony’s side and the sense of menace at the heart of the plot will send shivers down reader’s spines: bedroom windows opening of their own accord at night, secret passageways beneath kitchen sinks, terrors lying hidden in the basement, figures lurking in the shadows…

Ebony’s friendship with the enigmatic Zach is brilliantly evoked and in amongst the action – forbidden trips to a library and midnight adventures in the park – there are moments of real heart between the two. Murray perfectly captures the wildness of rural Ireland (‘waves smashed up and over the pier, sending silt and seaweed flying,’ ‘wind howled like lost sea-ghosts’) and this provides an exciting platform for the book’s final action to unfold upon. The sense of magic surrounding gateways to other worlds is a joy to read – combine an amulet with a pure heart at moonlight and the gateway will open – and readers will be eagerly awaiting the next instalment when they finish reading this book.

ALFIE BLOOM & THE SECRETS OF HEXBRIDGE CASTLE by Gabrielle Kent

It was the cover that got Moontrug first: dragon claws, ravens, a mysterious castle and a child… The perfect ingredients for an 8+ years fantasy book. And within the first few pages, Moontrug was completely hooked on Gabrielle Kent’s debut, Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle.

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Alfie’s Bloom’s life is dull and lonely, until the day he meets the mysterious Caspian Bone and learns of his incredible fortune. Alfie is heir to a castle full of wonders that has been sealed for centuries. And so he begins a life beyond his wildest dreams. But deep below the castle lies its darkest secret, one that Alfie must protect at all costs or risk losing everything…

The opening chapters have that ‘I want to climb into this book’ feel: a crotchety old lady (who disapproves of whistling, tropical fruit, sandals, children who don’t open doors for her and children who assume she needs doors opened for her) encountering something dark and mysterious in the middle of the night. And so begins a story narrated with all the warmth and charm of a wonderful children’s book. The magic is enthralling (flying carriages that pick you up at precisely 11:26pm, castles that will seal themselves if not lived in, secret studies filled with powders, herbs liquids and books as bizarre as Predicting Plagues and Blizzards with Lizards’ Gizzards), the characters are brilliantly named (Lord Snoddington, Evelyn Murkle and Edwina Snitch) and the sense of adventure is endless. Moontrug especially loved the wonderful bear skin rug, Artan, who flies Alfie and his friends over London at night (because the moon would take a while and they’d need sandwiches and a jumper for the journey) and swoops in to help them when the magic turns dark…

The friendship between Alfie, Robin and Madeleine is really well drawn and Moontrug loved the humour Madeleine brought to the story, particularly when she carves the boys’ faces into ugly pumpkins… And the villains, Murkle and Snith, are deliciously evil – Moontrug was genuinely creeped out when they were chasing the children through the underground tunnel. Kent invites the reader to look for the magic behind everyday things – of headteachers who might not be what they seem and of houses which have a mind of their own. As Alfie’s Dad says: ‘The world is a magnificent, magical place with so much left to be discovered.’ Alfie Bloom boasts wonderful storytelling coupled with a magic that stays with you long after the final page – a cracking debut and fans will be excited to learn that a sequel is due out in 2016. YIPPEE!

PS. Always carry a water pistol with you. Just in case, you know…

THE MALONEYS’ MAGICAL WEATHERBOX by Nigel Quinlan

Moontrug has always believed phone boxes are magical so she was very excited to learn that children’s author, Nigel Quinlan, thinks so too – so much so that he decided to write a book about one…

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Neil and Liz Maloney’s dad is a Weatherman – but not the boring kind you see on TV. He’s the person who makes sure the seasons change every year. This year, though, the Autumn hasn’t arrived and the weather is spiralling out of control. Can Neil and Liz stop the chaos before it’s literally the end of the world?

 

Moontrug loved the imaginative scope of the book, the idea that weather is controlled by Weathermen, Weathermages and Shieldsmen, that rain can be multi-coloured and hail can be golfball sized – and if the seasons are disturbed, stalled or even stolen, the repercussions are huge… Neil and Liz are fabulous lead characters and Moontrug especially liked super feisty Liz with her bow and arrow: ‘I’m a Shieldsman and the man at the end is just short for woman‘ and ‘I had my bow in my hand, arrows in my belt, war paint on my face and crow feathers in my hair.’

 

Quinlan’s narrative voice is brilliantly original and he offers the reader some fantastic comedy in tourist, Ed: ‘Nobody hurt too badly, I hope? Nobody…turned into anything? Er…or…eaten?’ His life motto had Moontrug chuckling: ‘Keep the diesel topped up, and walk your dragon at least once a day or he’ll burn your whole rig, trailer and all’ and the fact that he remembers to carry a permit for his sword is awesome.

 

Quinlan mixes old Irish magic – hags and bogbeasts which, when ridden, feel like ‘riding a bag of angry stoats’ – with a contemporary twist: Celtic ninja warriors and Lady Gaga’s greatest hits. And at the heart of the plot are some truly mean villains: bully Hugh who conducts terrifying orchestras of new seasons – and outwardly beautiful, inwardly awful Mrs Fitzgerald. ‘The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox’ is a fabulously quirky and imaginative story for 8+ years infused with wit and Irish magic.

THE D’EVIL DIARIES by Tatum Flynn

The D’Evil Diaries by Tatum Flynn had been on Moontrug’s radar for some time – she’d seen preview chapters and sample illustrations by Dave Shephard (both brilliant) and the author herself is one of the funniest people Moontrug knows on Twitter – then finally Moontrug got around to reading it this month. And what a debut it is!

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It’s not Jinx D’Evil’s fault he’s a useless demon – but that’s a bit of a problem when you’re Lucifer’s youngest son. So Jinx runs away, and he hasn’t gone far when he discovers a conspiracy which could destroy the entire underworld. Now the fate of Hell rests in the hands of its most unlikely demon – and a human girl who shouldn’t be there at all…

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Flynn’s narrative voice is immediately compelling, mixing made up words (‘mammothly’ and ‘brontosaurusly’) with totally unique world building. Within a few chapters characters find themselves hurled into Frozen Forests, the Fields of the Damned, the Valley of Despair, the Desert of Deception and the Caves of Wrath. Flynn skilfully uses each setting to develop her characters and children will love imagining the fictional world expand as they read.

 

Lucifer is a fabulously drawn character: ‘Now get out of my sight. I’ve got 16 species to make extinct by lunchtime, and I need to work on my golf swing.’ And his relationship with Persephone is hilarious in its satirical references to Greek mythology. Indeed Flynn’s juxtaposition of chaos breaking out in Hell and Lucifer holidaying with Persephone on Earth (‘lying on a lilo in a pair of swimming trunks with little ducks on them, sipping a Pina Colada’) is so funny.

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But at the heart of the book is Jinx, Lucifer’s hopelessly ‘unevil’ son who accidentally emails half of Europe kitten GIFS instead of a killer virus in ICT. At the beginning of the book he lacks confidence and feels alienated but by the end he has saved Heaven, Hell and Earth and made a friend in the adorable Tommy. And it was perhaps this relationship that Moontrug felt gave the book such a heart. Tommy is vulnerable and sad but she is also feisty and funny – and she’s just what Jinx needs as a sidekick and friend. Together they make up a formidable (and humorous) duo. The book boasts some truly original magical creatures: deadly carousel horses, witches, Hell vultures, kravons – and that’s not even mentioning one of Moontrug’s favourite characters, Loiter the Giant Sloth. And coupled with stunning illustrations by Dave Shepard, The D’Evil Diaries is a cracking read for 8+ years exploding with adventure, magic and laughs. The sequel, Hell’s Belles is out in January 2016 and Moontrug can’t wait to see where Jinx and Tommy adventure to next…

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THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell

If you read just one book this year, read Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder. Her second book, Rooftoppers, was brilliant but this – with its wild landscape, wolves and feisty heroine – is something else… It is a children’s classic in the making.

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Feodora and her mother live in the snow-bound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teachers tamed animals for fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans. When the simmering resentment of her neighbours turns to murderous hostility, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of survival and adventure, trust and tenacity, and the toughness that the love between mothers and daughters inspires. And, of course, wolves.

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The opening line – ‘Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl’ – immediately draws the reader into Rundell’s bold and beautiful storytelling. Her character descriptions are exquisite (how about this for the description of Feo’s mother: ‘her face was built on the blueprint used for snow leopards and saints’) and the bond between mother and daughter is stunningly evoked: ‘there was only one person Feo loved properly, with the sort of fierce pride that gets people into trouble, or prison, or history books. Her mother, she thought, could do anything.’ Rundell casts a spell over the reader as she writes. Her narrative voice is uncompromising and original but it is also delightfully funny, particularly when we see the world through Feo’s fierce eyes: ‘Old people like sitting down. And growing ear hair. And… soup.’ And the moment when Feo mistakes agitators for alligators is absolutely genius.

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As the story unfolds, Feo learns about the people and animals worth her trust and about those it is important to stand up to. Her relationship with soldier boy, Ilya, is brilliantly portrayed and at so many moments Moontrug’s heart ached for Ilya: ‘I sleep with a dictionary under my pillow sometimes. Just to remind me that there are more words in the world than “Come here, boy”.’ Feo’s guard is up when she first meets Ilya (‘Feo firmly believed that if ever you told someone you were scared, sooner or later you’d have to kill them’) but as their friendship grows, so does Feo’s trust and the moment Feo discovers there are more children than just Ilya ready to fight her cause is exquisitely written. Moontrug wanted to leap up onto her chair and shout her name out loud. Rundell does that to you. She offers you a brave style of writing that forces you into the story and carries you with its characters – and its wolves. And there is a wisdom in the writing that touches the reader deep inside: ‘eyebrows and nostrils and mouth and forehead – the places humans let emotion leak out’.

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The plot moves forward with urgent energy, from the moment Feo flees her house in the woods to when she hurls snowballs at adult intruders. But amongst the frenetic energy of the chases and the hostility of the Russian army, Rundell offers us a slower, more thoughtful kind of magic. Dancing. ‘A kind of slowish magic. Like writing with your feet.’ The Wolf Wilder is a story of discovery: of Feo learning to fend for herself, to put her trust in the wolves and other children around her and it is a story that champions the child: ‘Children are the toughest creatures on the planet. They endure.’ And Moontrug has a feeling this book will endure. It is effortlessly perfect and there will be children, years from now, who will leap up onto their chairs and shout Feo’s name. A classic children’s book. For sure.

PS: ‘Socks are key ingredients for adventures.’

THE WORDSMITH by Patricia Forde

Two years ago Moontrug read a brilliantly original book by David Almond called My Name is Mina. Mina is full of wonder at the world around her – she loves nature, birds, drawing, William Blake’s poems and WORDS. She says: ‘Words should wander and meander.  They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats.  They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.’ And the same love of words that runs through Almond’s book is present in Patricia Forde’s excellent novel for 9+ years, The Wordsmith.

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Ark is a place of tally sticks, rationed food and shared shoes, where art and music are banned, language is severely restricted and outcasts are thrown to the wolves. Letta’s job is to collect words and dole them out to people who need them. When she discovers that John Noa is planning to rob the people of language altogether and make them Wordless, she has to stop him. But she’s only a young girl and he’s the leader of the known world.

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Forde’s concept of an apocalyptic world repressed of language is both original and superbly done. On the one hand, you have Letta’s fascination with words: ‘…words she’d learnt in school flying about her head, fireflies from some magical place’ and the author’s own intrigue with language: ‘words slipping and sliding between two men’. Then you have Ark, a place where language is being drained away, despite Letta’s best efforts to preserve it. The world-building is hugely convincing (streets patrolled by gavvers, woods full of wolves, a Wordsmith’s home with secret Monk’s Room) and provides a fantastic platform for the plot to play out. By page 28, Letta is already harbouring a dangerous intruder, a young boy injured by the gavvers, and by page 89 she realises that beneath the ‘truths’ she has been told lurk a string of shocking lies…

Forde develops Letta’s character from obedient wordsmith to enraged rebel and her relationship with Marlo is lovely – something to root for amidst the horror of Noa’s regime. The plot is full of twists and turns and tension is high as Letta mixes ink from beetroot to mark a trail to her friend in the forest and when she sneaks out into the outlaws’ hiding place. Forde’s writing is beautiful (‘a hushed kind of waiting clung to everything’) and set alongside Ark’s squalid prisons, torture scenes, murders and the repressive List language, a huge sense of anger bubbles inside the reader as the plot progresses. Moontrug was willing the illegal colour-catchers (musicians, painters and dancers) on and as the book reached its conclusion, the tension was so high Moontrug had to read the last few chapters pacing the room. A fantastic book – original and compelling – and Moontrug is looking forward to what Forde has in store for us all next…