Father Christmas on the Naughty Step by Mark Sperring and Tom Mclaughlin


Father Christmas on the Naughty Step by Mark Sperring and Tom Mclaughlin
Publisher: Puffin
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The naughty step is the place Sam has to sit when he has done something he knows he REALLY shouldn’t have. And Sam isn’t alone. Captain Buckleboots is sitting on the naughty step too and so is Father Christmas – uh-oh, oh no! What’s going to happen on Christmas Eve now?!

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even Father Christmas.

What a clever take on learning how to correct your own mistakes and ask for forgiveness! The message of was an important one, of course, but what really drew up into it was the creative storytelling. I never would have imagined Father Christmas being sent to the naughty step, but I couldn’t wait to see how he behaved once he arrived there and what would happen to him and Sam next.

The big thing that was missing from this book was an explanation of why Sam was sent to the naughty step in the first place. After reading all about why Captain Buckleboots and Father Christmas had been banished there to think about what they did, I was surprised by that fact that Sam didn’t get the same opportunity. It would have been nice if there had been some kind of reference to that.

The funny dialogue made me want to keep reading until I’d finished the final page. I especially liked the section that included Father Christmas using some festive words once he realized what he should do to apologize for his bad deeds. It was exactly the kind of stuff I’d expect him to say because of who he is and what a caring reputation he has, so I smiled when he said it.

This is part of a series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

Father Christmas on the Naughty Step kept me giggling until the end. It’s a treat for preschoolers and adults alike.

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson


Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

All anyone wants to talk about with Mama is the new “ding-dang baby” that’s on the way, and Gia is getting sick of it! If her new sibling is already such a big deal, what’s going to happen to Gia’s nice, cozy life with Mama once the baby is born?

Adding a baby to the family changes everything, and who’s to say it will be for the better?

The main character was such a sweet and adorable kid. I enjoyed seeing how she reacted to the excitement of her family as they all prepared for the new arrival. One of my favorite scenes involved a cousin asking this character if she wanted to hold that relative’s baby. Mia definitely had strong opinions on this topic, and she wasn’t at all afraid to share them with anyone who was listening.

I was a little surprised by how long it took Mia’s mom to realize that her daughter was feeling jealous and uncertain of the baby that was on the way. She was such a loving and attentive parent in general that I wondered why she didn’t notice the first time Mia was uneasy around this topic. With that being said, she was still a doting mom and this is a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise thought was really well written.

Jealousy is a tough emotion to deal with no matter how old someone is. It can be even more difficult for young children who haven’t much experience managing it yet. This topic was handled with humor and sensitivity in this tale. What made the storyline even better was that it gave such a positive example of how to handle this feeling without feeling overwhelmed by it.

I’d recommend Pecan Pie Baby to any family who is expecting a new addition soon.

Following Flora by Natasha Farrant

 

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Following Flora by Natasha Farrant
Publisher: Puffin
Length: Full Length (256 pgs)
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Life with the Gadsby family is always chaotic, but now things are spinning of control. Blue’s parents are back home, alternating between rekindling their romance and wondering why they’re still together, and Zoran, the au pair who used to keep them all sane, has moved out. What’s more, he has taken in a reclusive teenage boy, which leaves Blue and her siblings feeling utterly abandoned. Naturally, Blue is determined to bring Zoran home—and to document every moment of her family’s trials and tribulations. Fans of The Penderwicks and Counting By 7s will find an insightfully funny narrator in the irresistible Blue Gadsby.

Following Flora loses not one bit of the vibrancy or the unpredictability of After Iris.

The Gadsby family is back, and love is in the air! Mom and Dad are back together (although their relationship is still not peaceful.) Flora, the older sister, has fallen in love…Twig, the younger brother has found a young lady to impress, and even Blue, family reporter/recorder might have fallen in love! None of it is simple or straightforward though – it is all Sweet, confusing and …the watchword for a Farrant story: Chaotic.

Farrant keeps us guessing what will be next, even while remaining in a comfortable, English setting, in utterly believable circumstances. No matter how outlandish relationships become, we are drawn along, believing. The relationships within the family are as important here as any outside, and Blue finds herself exploring social media – somewhat accidentally. Its use, abuse, and impact is very ‘today’ and still, unpredictable. We cringe when Blue cringes; surely some postings could be viewed as completely accidental!

Everyday life and interaction is not forgotten. The evolution of the family – and even seeing those included as ‘family’ – is truly the heart and soul of this one. Another Must Read!

After Iris by Natasha Farrant

After Iris

After Iris by Natasha Farrant
Publisher: Puffin / Penguin
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Blue Gadsby’s twin sister, Iris, died three years ago and her family has never been the same. Her histrionic older sister, Flora, changes her hair color daily; her younger siblings, Jasmine and Twig, are completely obsessed with their pet rats; and both of her parents spend weeks away from home–and each other. Enter Zoran the Bosnian male au pair and Joss the troublemaking boy next door, and life for the Gadsby family takes a turn for the even more chaotic. Blue poignantly captures her family’s trials and tribulations from fragmented to fully dysfunctional to ultimately reunited, in a sequence of film transcripts and diary entries that will make you cry, laugh, and give thanks for the gift of families.

With the charm of The Penderwicks and the poignancy of When You Reach Me, Natasha Farrant’s After Iris is a story that will stay with readers long after the last page.

Unpredictable, quick, and yet believable, After Iris is a simply wonderful contemporary story. Bluebell “Blue” Gadsby had a twin, once. At first, that memory seems to define her, what little of her 12 year-old self we see. She’s more involved in watching others–and we get a great study of her teenage sister and younger siblings (and pets) and a great amount of her speculation about her often-absent parents.

Although the premise seems sad, in fact, there’s a lot going on. Daily life and interactions have taken over and amazing stuff seems to happen every minute. As the children are largely in their London home, with the one square of backyard, you might sit back and times and wonder how much can really happen.

The truth is, the action never stops. I loved Blue, the main character’s voice–her interest in and awareness of other people. She didn’t need a ‘babysitters,’ yet still warmed up to the au pair straightaway. He let her know that every family had a ‘quiet kid,’ and its okay to be that kid.

Their are arguments, unexpected develops, the unexpected first love interest, jealousy, and the mystery of specific family issues on-going, the whole time. Readers will identify with Blue, and if you aren’t a kid, you’ll remember thinking like a kid…you’ll remember friendships found…and lost, and what it is to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ at school.

Farrant handles the issues of loss and memory with sensitivity but also, with a refreshing reality. Every moment is not about Iris, but her absence is felt.

After Iris is probably the best thing I’ve read since back when Judy Blume’s Margaret wrote for that age group… 5 stars, and put it on the must read list for any middle-grade reader.

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman

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The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman
Publisher: Puffin (Penguin Books)
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (273 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rated: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Lupine

Leo never imagined that time travel might really be possible, or that the objects in H. G. Wells’ science fiction novels might actually exist. And when a miniature time machine appears in Leo’s bedroom, he has no idea who the tiny, beautiful girl is riding it. But in the few moments before it vanishes, returning to wherever—and whenever—it came from, he recognizes the other tiny rider: himself!

His search for the time machine, the girl, and his fate leads him to the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a magical library that lends out objects instead of books. Hidden away in the Repository basement is the Wells Bequest, a secret collection of powerful objects straight out of classic science fiction novels: robots, rockets, submarines, a shrink ray—and one very famous time machine. And when Leo’s adventure of a lifetime suddenly turns deadly, he must attempt a journey to 1895 to warn real-life scientist Nikola Tesla about a dangerous invention. A race for time is on!

Would you believe time travel was possible? I wouldn’t and neither did Leo … until a small time machine appears in his room and he sees a tiny girl and another rider…Himself!

When he starts to search for this mystery girl, he finds the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a magical library which lends out famous and even magical objects instead of books. Hidden away in the storage is the Wells Bequest, which holds all the sci-fi machines in all books, including a shrink ray, lasers, robots and that time machine.

When Simon, a worker at the NY Repository, threatens the others with Tesla’s death ray, Leo must attempt a journey to 1895 to stop this contraption from ever getting into Simon’s hands.

When I opted to review this book, I was under the impression it was the sequel to “The Grimm Legacy”. It’s not … exactly. More of a book that has some of the same settings. I admit to being disappointed I didn’t get to see more of the characters I’d come to love in the first book, but once I got past that, I enjoyed The Wells Bequest for what it was instead of being frustrated for what it wasn’t.

Packed full of history, mystery, and of course the romance between characters, The Wells Bequest has a great plot for readers who love science fiction, the great inventions created, and who enjoy learning something new about the world’s greatest inventors.  I especially enjoyed when Leo and the mystery girl, Jaya, must go back to fix what Simon has done to the fabric of time, without ripping their own future to shreds.

Truthfully, the story was a little slow in the beginning, and I found it easy to set the book aside, but after the first five chapters, Polly Shulman had me hooked. It was a real page turner at the end, and it was hard to predict what else might pop out around the corner.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

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The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
Publisher: Puffin (Penguin Group)
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (338 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

Elizabeth has a new job at an unusual library – a lending library of objects, not books. In a secret room in the basement lies the Grimm Collection. That’s where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales; seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth embarks on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before she can be accused of the crime or captured by the thief.

Polly Shulman has created a contemporary fantasy with a fascinating setting and premise, starring an ordinary girl whose after-school job is far from ordinary and leads to a world of excitement, romance and magical intrigue.

Elizabeth is new at her school, and she wants to make some new friends. Her social studies teacher recommends that she take a job at the Repository, where they store ancient and even magical items that people can borrow.

It also houses the Grimm Collection, a room that holds things like Cinderella’s glass slippers or the seven league boots or even a magical tablecloth…but someone starts to steal things out of the collection and Elizabeth and her newest friends decide to find out who it is.

This novel is not for the faint of heart, as it holds many surprises and is perfect for those who like a mystery around every corner. It even deals with real world problems, along with the magical ones.

I enjoyed it a lot, and it had a good plot. I got quite attached to the characters and enjoyed how the author mixed realistic things with magical. The Grimm Legacy is perfect for people who like a little fantasy that takes place in the real world.