Tag Archives: Children’s Books

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

A lot of people have been talking about this newcomer on the scene of children’s fantasy. The book is by an Australian author, and when I saw a signed copy in the window of a Canberra bookshop, I thought I’d better grab a copy and give it a go myself.


“Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend is a children’s fantasy novel about a young girl called Morrigan who is cursed. Blamed for every mishap that takes place in Jackalfax, a town in the state of Great Wolfacre, in the Wintersea Republic, where her father is Chancellor, Morrigan is treated like an outcast by her community and her family. Due to die on Eventide, Morrigan is instead rescued by the charismatic Jupiter North and taken to a magical city called Nevermoor. However, her status in this city is not secure. In order to avoid the deadly hunt of smoke and shadow, Morrigan will have to trust Jupiter’s confidence that she will pass the trials to gain entry and sanctuary into Nevermoor’s prestigious Wundrous society.

First things first, I think kids will probably enjoy this book. Although I’m an adult, if I look at this book through the eyes of my younger self, it’s easy to read, it doesn’t shy away from heavy themes, yet it has a strong sense of wonder about it. There are some really creative elements that I enjoyed in Jupiter North’s hotel like Morrigan’s bedroom that changes daily and the chandelier that regrows. It’s a fast-paced story and Morrigan has a sense of integrity that really resonated with me. Townsend writes in a style that’s both complex and age appropriate and I think has a particular knack for capturing the subtleties of a young person’s emotions and relationships. There was a particular part where Morrigan felt guilty about something and eventually confessed to Jupiter, and I just felt like the whole emotional exchange was handled by Townsend in a really realistic way. Something being a much bigger problem for the child than it is for the adult, but the adult appreciating being told the truth in the end nonetheless. I’m certain I would have whipped through this as a kid.

However, I am no longer a kid, and this is not my first fantasy book. This book has been touted as the next “Harry Potter” and I think that is a fair but not necessarily favourable comparison. Drawing on themes from J K Rowling’s famous series and the gothic atmosphere from “A Series of Unfortunate Events“, this book definitely has a familiar vibe to it. I could go through the various tropes in it, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I did really like some of the side-characters, but Morrigan herself I thought could have been a bit more interesting. Maybe after Harry Potter and Bella whatserface from “Twilight” I’m a bit tired of dark hair and pale skin being considered a revolutionary appearance. The trials themselves as well I wasn’t completely sold on. Morrigan felt a little bit like Harry Potter bumbling his way through the Triwizard Tournament meets Jill Pole muddling up Aslan’s instructions in “The Silver Chair”.

Also, there was something about the world building that confused me a bit. The Wintersea Republic seems like a very English-inspired world/country (surprising given Townsend is from Queensland, Australia but again very typical for this kind of fantasy), and Nevermoor is this kind of missing magical fifth state that is only accessible via a type of giant clock. I couldn’t quite get a grip on the relationship between the Wintersea Republic and Nevermoor, and the extent to which the former has magic. Maybe this will be revealed later in the series, but at the moment it feels a bit unfinished.

Anyway, while I may be old and jaded, I’m fairly certain that for lots of kids for whom this will be their first foray into fantasy, this book will be a breath of fresh air and they will thoroughly enjoy the story. For adults who have read several children’s fantasy books, this one will feel very familiar. Perhaps a little too familiar. Either way, it’s about the target audience and the target audience will love it.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Signed Books, Uncategorized

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

If you spend any time on the internet at all, you might have noticed that 26 June 2017 was the 20 year anniversary of the publication of one of the most famous books of our time. I don’t reread many books these days, but I thought I would make an exception for this one. I also want to talk about some of the beautiful new editions.


“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J K Rowling is the first in a children’s book series that took the world by storm. The story follows Harry Potter, an orphan boy who discovers he is actually a wizard, as he learns about his identity, the secret wizarding world and the magical boarding school of Hogwarts. Harry navigates schoolwork, friendship and his newfound fame as the Boy Who Lived with his new friends Hermione and Ron. Together, the three uncover a plot that could spell disaster for not only themselves and their school, but all the wizarding world.


I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read this story, but it has been a while since the last time. I recently bought the Bloomsbury 20th Anniversary Edition (pictured at the top) which was available both in paperback and hardback in each of the four Hogwarts house colours. I have come to terms with the fact that I am a Hufflepuff so I bought the Hufflepuff hardcover edition with the yellow and black tinted edges. This edition is simply gorgeous and has plenty of great new content about the house, the common room, famous Hufflepuffs and Hogwarts as a whole.

Last year I also bought the illustrated edition (pictured above) so after having a flick through the bonus content in the anniversary edition, I decided that I’d reread the story together with Jim Kay’s beautiful watercolour artworks. They are absolutely stunning, but there weren’t quite as many as I had expected. There are lots of character studies and sweeping scenery (the Hogwarts Express and Hagrid’s Hut really stand out), but I had expected a little bit more magic.

Then, as a reward for completing something really long and boring last year, I bought this great Harry Potter set where the spines all line up together to make a picture of Hogwarts (pictured below). It matches a similar set I have of the Narnia series where the spines make an image of Cair Paravel. Unfortunately, there’s no bonus illustrations or information in this edition but gosh it looks wonderful on my bookshelf.


Anyway, enough about editions – the story. It’s been 20 years since this book was published, and I really think that J K Rowling has written something timeless. Apart from the fact that she’s still releasing new books and the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” movie franchise is going gangbusters, there is a whole new generation of kids who are starting to read these books. At the heart of this story is the classic fantasy premise of:

  • orphan boy discovers magical powers
  • orphan boy goes on an adventure to learn how to use them
  • orphan boy recovers magical object
  • orphan boy save the world from evil

You know, the fantasy story that everyone knows and loves. However, by setting her story with one foot in a magical world (heavily inspired by European mythology) and the other in 1990s England (with all its accompanying cultural references), this book has a modern relevance that no ordinary high fantasy novel can achieve.

I first read this book when I was about nine years old after a friend of mine recommended it to me. Even though I was skeptical of a book called “Harry Potter” (my own nickname being Harry), I was absolutely blown away by what I read. I was also completely swept up in the Harry Potter hype which culminated in the release of the seventh and final book in the series in 2007, and which had a small revival last year. Rereading this book as an adult, I have a more critical eye, but I think this is still an ideal book for children. Scattered with equal parts wonder, humour and social commentary, it’s little wonder children devoured, and continue to devour, this book. The rest of the series grows darker and more mature, and this really is a story that grows up with a child as the child reads it.

Reading it now, it’s not perfect but it’s pretty close. Rowling cleverly drops little hints throughout the first book that have relevance not only to the ending of that book, but to the series as a whole. It’s an ideal book for an 11 year old – the same age as Harry himself – to immerse themselves in and picture themselves getting their Hogwarts letter (I’m still waiting for mine), learning that they are special and going to exciting classes to learn spells. Some of the writing is admittedly a bit simplistic – even for a children’s book. However, that simplicity is also what makes some of it incredibly funny, even all these years after I first read it. There are also a couple of inconsistencies which become a bit more apparent as time goes on. One of these is the rule that underage (or expelled) witches and wizards aren’t allowed to do magic at home, a rule that Hermione, Lily Potter and even Hagrid all break at some stage in this book. Harry has to buy a pointed hat for his school uniform, something which I don’t think we ever see him or his peers wear. The number of witches and wizards in Hogwarts (and in the wider wizarding community) is also not really clear. You’re never really sure if there are 140 or 1400 in Hogwarts, or how many live in the UK as a whole.

“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is a much shorter story that the rest of the books in the series, and you do at times feel like some of the detail of how magic works is glossed over a bit. For example, if transfiguration is turning one thing into another, how exactly is bringing chess pieces to life transfiguration? Wouldn’t that be charms? I feel like Rowling takes her time with this aspect of the story more in the later books as magic and spells are more relevant to the plot. However they are nevertheless a bit relevant to this plot and I think she could have fleshed her concepts out a bit further.

Ultimately though, I only have to ask myself a few questions to determine how I feel about this book. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I read it to my children? Yes. Will I keep on engaging with new content like the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise and the Pottermore website? Yes. Yes. Unashamedly yes. 20 years on this book is just as popular as ever. It’s now published in nearly 70 languages including Latin and Welsh. It is a literary phenomenon that spoke to a generation and is already speaking to the next.

There will always be Harry Potter books on my bookshelf.


Filed under Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Pretty Books, Tinted Edges, Young Adult

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

Somehow, I never read this book when I was a kid. I’m not quite sure how this happened. It was first released when I was 11 years old, around the time the Harry Potter books were gaining traction, and I was a big reader. I think I had heard of them, but maybe I thought they sounded a bit childish, or maybe they sounded needlessly grim. Either way, I missed the boat. Now, you may remember that some years ago a film adaptation was made starring Jim Carrey. I remember watching it and being quite underwhelmed, and the film was not memorable at all. However, recently a new TV adaptation has been made starring Neil Patrick Harris. It’s available on Netflix, it’s gotten really good reviews, so I figured the time was nigh for me to give this book series a go before I watch the show. Canty’s had plenty of copies in stock, and the hardcover editions have really cool roughly cut page edges that add to the ambiance. Also, if you watch the show before reading the book – be warned: there are spoilers in the first episode that aren’t in the corresponding book.


“The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snicket, is the first book of 13 in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series. The story introduces the three Baudelaire children. 14 year old inventing genius Violet, 12 year old bibliophile Klaus and baby Sunny who is good at biting stuff. When the children receive the terrible news that their parents have died from the executor of the will, Mr Poe, they are sent to live with their distant relative Count Olaf. It’s not long before the children cotton on to Count Olaf’s nefarious plans to steal their inheritance.

I think the first thing to say about this book is that it is definitely a book for children. I’m pretty certain that if I had read this book as a child, I probably would have gotten a lot more out of it. Snicket has a that glib style of writing that I remember finding very funny as a kid. He uses lots of “big” words but explains their meaning in a careful way without being condescending. He also gives plenty of examples of the children being independent and being able to capably solve problems, do chores and cook. I think this is a quirky, educational book that would probably be a good gateway book to get reluctant readers reading. However, as an adult (especially an adult that studied law), it’s a bit hard to suspend disbelief enough to really immerse yourself into the story. A big piece of the plot hinges on a “law of our community” that itself is completely implausible in both it’s text and application. I also found the sheer incompetence of the adults (particularly the judge and the banker) to be really annoying. I know this is a bit of a trope in children’s book, but their collective ineptitude was just a bit much.

A solid children’s book that would be perfect to help kids improve their reading, but probably a bit of an eye-roller for parents.


Filed under Book Reviews, Children's Books, Pretty Books, Tinted Edges

Made By Raffi

Another school holiday review, this book was also courtesy of the author. With an eye-catching front cover of a little boy knitting a rainbow scarf, I knew I had to check it out.


“Made by Raffi” by Craig Pomranz is a picture book for primary school aged kids. This story is about an introverted and creative young boy called Raffi who develops a passion for knitting and making clothes. After some teasing at school and some concerns about his identity, Raffi perseveres with his interests and ultimately is accepted and acknowledged for his talents.

This is a really important book for a number of reasons. I think as a society we have come a really long way in terms of accepting and even praising girls who are “tomboys” and show interest in traditionally masculine activities, but there is still a long way to go in equally accepting boys who show interest in traditionally feminine activities. Gender in a lot of ways is still a hierarchy, and masculine is often considered “better” than feminine. I’ve heard lots of stories of men who gave up activities that they had enjoyed as kids such as ballet because it was too “girly” and they were teased by peers or told not to by parents. In addition to celebrating diversity (this book has a really great diverse cast of characters), this book is really critical in showing that your interests don’t define you. Enjoying knitting isn’t necessarily indicative of your sexuality or gender identity. People – and in particular children – simply are who they are, they like what they like, and that’s OK.

With bright illustrations and a great message, I think this would make a great summer craft story for primary school children, or a bedtime story when kids are back in school.

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Daddy’s Bedtime Adventures

It’s school holidays, and over the next couple of days I’ll be posting up some reviews of children’s books to help you keep the kids entertained. I received this book courtesy of the author, and as a big supporter of dads being involved in caring for their kids, the title hooked me from the outset.


“Daddy’s Bedtime Adventures” by Kida Lopes Brino is a children’s book about a little boy’s bedtime routine with his dad. This book has a unique structure where the first half of the book is told from the boy’s perspective, and the second half is the same routine but told from the perspective of the father.

I think this is a great little book for kids for several reasons. First of all, I really like the dynamic between the father and the son. It’s playful but firm, and takes into account that the son is still very young and that the father is sometimes worn out from the day but maintains enthusiasm for their routine anyway. I also really like the way the story is told twice from both the father’s and son’s perspectives. I think this is a great way to teach kids empathy and to be able to understand that different people experience the same situations differently. Finally, I really like that this is an example of a diverse children’s book. I know that 20 years ago, when I was a kid, the overwhelming majority of children’s books were about white children.

This would be a great little book for dads to read to their preschool aged kids at bedtime to help them learn about empathy and routines.

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The Day My Fart Followed Santa Up the Chimney

This is the second Christmas book I recently received, and this one is for kids.


“The Day My Fart Followed Santa Up the Chimney” is an independent children’s book by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence and the third in a series about a young boy called Timmy and his friend the Little Fart, a cute, green, fluffy personification of a fart. This book is a fun overview of the classic Santa Clause tradition complete with reindeer, chimneys, cookies and milk.

I’m not really a big fan of toilet humour, but then again – this book wasn’t written for me! I haven’t read the other books in the series, but my understanding is that they are meant to be cheeky yet educational books to teach kids when it is and isn’t appropriate to flatulate. Instead of containing any particular social lessons, this book uses the Little Fart as a lens through which children can learn about some Christmas traditions. The lighthearted tone is matched by colourful digital illustrations. I think probably the main issue with this book is that the premise doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve read the first one. However, the Little Fart is a funny character and this non-denominational take on Christmas is wholesome without being ham-fisted.

A jovial Christmas children’s book that would probably go best as part of a set.


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Fantastic Mr Fox

This is the 7th and last Roald Dahl book I read for the Roald Dahl Read-a-Thon in celebration of 100 years since the author was born. “Fantastic Mr Fox” was a bit of a childhood favourite of mine, and I knew it was going to be a high note to end on.

“Fantastic Mr Fox” by Roald Dahl is about a fox and his family who live near three farmers: Boggis, Bunce and Bean. After many successful expeditions to steal their chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to feed his family, Mr Fox is taken by surprise when he’s ambushed by the farmers outside his hole one night. Although he escapes with his life, the farmers are onto him and will stop at nothing to dig him out.


This book is an excellent example of a modern fable. With all the elements of a classic animal story (especially the sly fox trope) and some pieces of fairy tale (three challenges),”Fantastic Mr Fox” is a fun, memorable story about animals banding together against some rotten villains. It’s got Dahl’s sense of humour, enthusiasm and wordplay throughout and it isn’t dull for a moment. The only thing that was a bit different for me is that I realised that I had a different edition when I was growing up. The edition I just read was illustrated by Quentin Blake, who has pretty much become synonymous with Roald Dahl’s children’s books. However, the one I had growing up was illustrated by Tony Ross. I have to say, I think I prefer Tony Ross’ softer style. The animals look much more cuddly and likeable, and his villains are far more revolting. I remember Bean in particular being depicted picking muck out of his ear, and being so thin he could cross his legs around three times.

This is an absolutely wonderful children’s story, and one that I will absolutely have on my shelf if ever I have children of my own.

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