1990s 2016 Books for Children

The Castle of Inside Out by David Henry Wilson

 Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: starving, fumes, selfish, resources, save

The Castle of Inside Out is a children’s book that deals with issues of greed, inequality and pollution. I read it to my two boys (aged 9 and 11) and was impressed by the way it got them to think about the complexity of these issues. It made them realise that some people (and businesses) benefit from creating lots of pollution and it isn’t easy to get them to change their ways. Best in Nashik can provide you guide or tips for better business operations.

The book begins with Lorina, a school girl, following a black rabbit into a magical land; where she discovers a population of starving green people. She befriends them and discovers they are used as slaves by the rich society, who live in a large castle nearby. Appalled by the conditions they are forced to live in, she decides to head to the castle in order to negotiate a better life for the green people.

The book lacked the subtlety required for a entertaining adult book. It was packed with heavy metaphors and the character names (His Porkship, The Piggident, and the bureaurat) were often eye-rollingly cringe-worthy, but my boys found them hilarious. The chatty tone engaged them throughout and they loved the vivid imagery of each scene:

“Help them? Help them? Because, my dear little girl,” said the pig, “it’s none of my business. Whether they starve or don’t starve is their concern, not mine. My concern is money. The cashiest, coiniest, notiest concern in the world. Now pass me my bathrabbit, will you?”
He pointed towards the door, and there, hanging on a hook, was a large white rabbit.

The Castle of Inside Out is a very important book and I think it would be especially useful for schools looking for material to discuss climate change. Children probably won’t grasp all the concepts without explanation, so I recommend reading this aloud with them – that way you’ll also benefit from seeing them laugh at the bizarre scenes.

Recommended to children between the ages of 8 and 12.



Books for Children

Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

Boy In The Tower Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: strange, plants, menacing, trapped. tower

Boy in the Tower is a modern-day version of Day of the Triffids. It is equally powerful and, although it was originally released as a book for children, it deserves a place on adult reading lists too.

Ade lives on the seventeenth floor of a tower block with his mum. One day the buildings around him start falling down and it becomes obvious that strange plants are eating their foundations. Most people evacuate, but Ade is trapped because his mum is too depressed to leave their flat. The paces quickens as the battle between Man and plants begins…

I picked up a copy of this book with the intention of reading it to my two boys, but stopped reading it to my seven-year-old when I saw a remark about Father Christmas that would have led to too many questions! Undaunted by this initial set-back my 9-year-old and I continued reading and we fell in love with it. It was impossible for either of us to put down and he couldn’t wait all day for the next installment – I caught him reading it 2 hours after his bedtime! I was equally hooked and finished the second half in one sitting.

Boy in the Tower is an example of what is missing from the majority of the book world. The central character lives in a tower block, but isn’t treated as a pariah for doing so. It also sensitively handles depression, cleverly weaving the subject into the story without it dominating or becoming distressing.

The text was simple, but that didn’t prevent it from being vivid and packed with emotion. It was cleverly paced and didn’t dumb things down for children in the way many other books do.

There are a few moments, while we are all eating our food, when, if you were looking at us sitting around the table enjoying our dinner, you would not have been able to tell that we are on the very edge of disatser. That while we are pushing forkfuls of soft rice into our mouths, the Bluchers are creeping around us in a deadly circle, ready to eat the stones and bricks of our home.

 I was slightly concerned that my 9-year-old would find the concept of dangerous plants disturbing, but he loved it. This was the perfect introduction to dystopian fiction for him and an impressive addition to the genre for everyone else. I’d like to see it introduced to the school curriculum (probably for children around the age of 12) and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Day of the Triffids.

(for children aged 10 – 14)

(for adults)


1980s Books for Children Classics Uncategorized

Redwall by Brian Jacques


Five words from the blurb: mice, monastery, attack, evil, rats 

Redwall is a classic of children’s literature. I didn’t read it as a child, but my husband has fond memories of it and so bought a copy for our boys. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try and so offered to read it with my oldest son. 

Redwall is a typical story of good versus evil. The peaceful mice of Redwall monastery come under attack from the evil rat, Cluny, and his band of followers. A range of other woodland animals are recruited on each side, but size is not relevant as bravery and quick thinking win every time.

This is a lovely story for older children. It has the perfect amount of action to hold their attention, but manages to combine it with vivid descriptions that create a wonderful atmosphere. It also contains many good moral messages, encouraging children to believe that anything is possible given thought and determination. 

“This sword is made for only one purpose, to kill. It will only be as good or evil as the one who wields it. I know that you intend to use it only for the good of your Abbey, Matthias; do so, but never allow yourself to be tempted into using it in a careless or idle way. It would inevitably cost you your life, or that of your dear ones. Martin the Warrior used the sword only for right and good. This is why it has become a symbol of power to Redwall. Knowledge is gained through wisdom, my friend. Use the sword wisely.” 

The vocabulary is quite complex so I’d only recommend it to a strong reader. It hasn’t dated in the 30 years since it was first published, but many of the words aren’t in frequent use and I had to use a dictionary more than I normally do when reading complex adult literature. 

I enjoyed reading Redwall, but I think I’d have appreciated it much more as a child. It probably works best for those between the ages of 10 and 12, but even as an adult I was still able to appreciate its charm. Recommended to anyone looking for a bit of escapism.


Redwall is the first in a series of 22 books. My son is planning to read more, but would I get anything from the rest? I fear they might be too similar to each other to make it worth it?

Have you read Redwall? Did you enjoy the series as an adult?

2012 Audio Book Books for Children Recommended books YA

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green (audio book)

Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend Note: Author is known as Matthew Dicks in the US

Five words from the blurb: boy, danger, loyalty, imagination, friend

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has the most original premise I’ve come across this year. The book is narrated by Budo, an imaginary friend who explains what life is like for those who only exist because a human has thought of them. Most live brief lives with young children, but Budo is special. Budo was imagined by Max, an 8-year-old boy with autism. Because Max has autism his attention to detail is excellent and so Budo is very life-like – unlike most other imaginary friends he even has ears! Budo can talk to Max and other imaginary friends, but cannot communicate with other people or touch anything in the real world. One day Max disappears and Budo is the only one who can save him. This leads to a thrilling, entertaining plot that is packed with emotion.

I am drawn towards books that deal with autism and this one did a fantastic job of showing the condition in a realistic, but positive light. Matthew Green’s career as a teacher has obviously helped him to understand children and this engaging story was filled with lovely little details about school life.

There were a few moments when I became frustrated by the plot – in the middle it became far fetched and I could see easier ways for Max to be rescued. But as this is a children’s book I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt – especially since the plot was so compelling.

There were also times when it got a bit too sentimental for me, but on the whole the messages were good and so I’ll forgive this too.

You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.

The audio book narration was wonderful! Matthew Brown was perfect, effortlessly managing all the different voices and capturing the heartache and emotion of the situation. I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed it as much if I’d read the print edition. The style reminded me of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and I’m sure that anyone who enjoyed Annabel Pitcher’s book will also like this one.

Because it addresses so many issues this book would make a fantastic classroom resource for older children. Themes of bullying, death, friendship and disability could all be discussed. The fact that most of the problems were faced by imaginary friends somehow made them less oppressive. But this isn’t just a book for children; as an adult I loved the original approach and was charmed by Budo’s insight in human behaviour.

This has become one of my favourite books with an autistic character. Recommended.


Many thanks to Bay State Reader’s Advisory for drawing this book to my attention!

The thoughts of other bloggers:

I listened to the entire 10 hour audiobook over the course of a single day because I just could not bear to put it down. Devourer of Books

….for all the suspense, the writing wasn’t quite as tight as Emma Donoghue’s in Room. Capricious Reader

That Matthew Dicks crafted his novel in such a way as to give an almost 3D view of the life of a child with emotional and social issues impressed me. The Literate Housewife


2011 Audio Book Books for Children YA

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher (Audio Book)

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Shortlisted for Galaxy National Book Awards 2011 Children’s Book of the Year & Audiobook of the Year
Shortlisted for the 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for 2011 Red House Children’s Book Award

Five words from the blurb: boy, loss, family, heart-warming, struggle

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a children’s book that tackles many difficult themes. The story is narrated by Jamie, a ten-year-old boy who lost one of his twin sisters in a terrorist attack five years ago. His family are torn apart by grief, but Jamie was too young to remember much about his sister and just longs to be normal. He wishes that his father would stop drinking and that his mother would return. This book is a moving account of Jamie’s struggle to understand his family and his plans to lead a happy life.

I loved this book! Jamie was a fantastic narrator and I felt I understood his complex problems entirely.

That’s the thing no one seems to get. I don’t remember Rose. Not really. I remember two girls on holiday playing Jump The Wave, but I don’t know where we were, or what Rose said, or if she enjoyed the game. And I know my sisters were bridesmaids at a neighbour’s wedding, but all I can picture is the tube of Smarties that Mum gave me during the service. Even then I liked the red ones best and I held them in my hand until they stained my skin pink. But I can’t remember what Rose wore, or how she looked walking down the aisle, or anything like that.

He had an innocence that I was charmed by and he dealt with his problems with the realistic, but flawed thinking of a child.

My only problem with the book was that I felt some of the themes were a bit heavy-handed. The “not all Muslims are terrorists” plot thread was especially lacking in subtlety, but I suppose that it is a children’s book and so should be given some leeway.

David Tennant’s narration of the audio was fantastic. I can imagine that reading Jamie’s rambling thoughts in the print edition could become draining, but David Tennant added a warmth and humour to the text. He brought the story to life and I frequently found myself unable to turn the audio off, listening to the end of a section in the car after I’d reached my destination. I normally prefer audios narrated by multiple actors, but this was so well executed that it has just become my favourite single narrator audio book of all time.

Highly recommended.


Clips of the audio book are being released as part of a blog tour. The third section of the audio book and links to the other blogs taking part are below.

Books for Children Other

Writing for Children – child’s play – or is it?

Guest post written by Linda Strachan, the author of over 50 books for children.

Car crime, racism, stabbings, pregnancy; delicately seasoned with flying horses, puppies, a cuddly haggis and a dollop of love –  Enter the diverse world of this children’s writer.

It is a curious thing – you would never ask a paediatrician if they are going to become a proper doctor i.e. a doctor for adults, but most children’s writers have been asked when they will write a ‘proper book’ (for adults!).  I think the real question to ask a children’s writer is – ‘What kind of children’s books do you write?’

The answer might be – novels, non fiction, educational or picture books.  Some write one kind of book while others will write across the ages and genres.  I write novels for young adults, picture books for young children and pretty much everything in between.

One of the glorious things about writing for children (unlike writing for adults) is that you are less likely to be restricted to one age group, or even a single genre. But if you write for adults, publishers and readers alike will have expectations; do they know you as a writer of crime or romance, thrillers or literary fiction?

Writing is a lot about imagination but I never imagined I would be a writer. In fact it is amazing that it happened at all because when I was about eight years old a teacher once said ‘ (she)….lacks imagination.’  So for many years being a writer never really entered my head.  

When I started I had my fair share of rejection slips (in fact I have a fat file full of them) and it was a steep learning curve, but in 1996 I got my first publishing contract.  My latest book, a teenage novel (Dead Boy Talking – pub Strident – April 2010) will be my 56th book.  Granted some of them are very short!

I love my work, the angst and delight of writing; losing myself in the story and living with my characters.  It is the challenge of getting inside the head of a teenager or trying to find exactly the right words that will be reassuring and still have the awww! factor, for a bedtime story picture book.

Writing ‘short’ for a picture book means that every single word counts. You are continually working up the text, reading it out loud, cutting and moulding it, until the rhythm is strong enough to grab even the most casual reader. The story may seem deceptively simple but it must feel complete and satisfying for both the child, and the adult reader who reads it to them –again and again!

Writing ‘long’ for a novel it is important to get the feel of the characters and their situation so that the reader is taken along for the ride and not bumped out of the story because it seems unrealistic, or because the readers cannot recognise themselves in the characters.

Young people are very critical readers, they will not put up with anything that does not grab them and carry them through the story; they won’t put up with padding or self indulgent twaddle. There is no place to hide.  As a children’s writer you also have to be prepared for very direct criticism. Most young people will be brutally honest about your book, even if it is negative, they will tell you with complete disregard for your feelings.

Writing is only a part of my job. The research is often fascinating. It has taken me out on a Saturday nightshift with an ambulance crew; extracting people from crashed cars on a training day with the local Fire Service training college; on tours of haunted castles and Royal palaces; speaking to experts about where pterodactyls nest or the culinary delights of Jamaica.   So from pterodactyls and ghostly castles to crime and mayhem, being a children’s writer may be exhausting at times, but it is never boring.

I spend a lot of time travelling all over the UK, and beyond. I visit schools and libraries talking to children and I also speak to adults who want to start writing, at festivals, conferences and writing retreats.  So I decided to write a book for people who were as excited as I was by the idea of writing for children.  But it is not just for new and aspiring writers.   I was keen to give a realistic view of what happens when you are first published; what to expect and how to gather support systems, and everything from school visits to handling finances. Many people have a very strange idea of what life is like for a writer.  This probably comes from the media hype that surrounds any big book deal or mega-successful author; think JK Rowling’s Harry Potter or Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights.  The reality is actually less Hollywood and more Eastenders!

Linda Strachan is the author of over 50 books for children and her book Writing for Children is full of information for aspiring and newly published writers.

If you’d like the chance to win one of two copies of Writing for Children, then just leave a comment below, before midnight GMT on 5th January 2010.

Winners will be selected at random and notified by email.

The giveaway is open internationally.

Good luck!