Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara

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“Through the dark and wolfish woods,
through the white and silent snow,
lived a small girl called Hortense.
Though kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing . . .
Hortense hated her shadow.”

Hortense and the Shadow is a beautifully illustrated debut picture book written and illustrated by sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara. They tell the story of Hortense, a girl who hates her shadow so much that she decides it must go…until she realises just how small she is without it.

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This is a beautiful story of identity and self-acceptance. It shows us just how scary a shadow can be to small children and how they perceive themselves and the world around them. It’s not a rhyming picture book but the lyrical rhythm in which the story is told makes it seem like it is.

As she fell,

Hortense knew

her shadow hated her too.

The illustrations are stunning; whimsical yet very dark in places- a mix of pastel colours and black ink. The story seems to be set in a (perhaps Poland-inspired?) fairyland, with domed palaces and pink trees and ushanka-wearing bandits to be spotted throughout the book.

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Delciously dark but with a happy ending, Hortense and the Shadow is an utterly lovely picture book with an empowering message, and it reads like a classic fairytale.

Hortense and the Shadow will be published on the 5th of October. Thank you to Lucy at Penguin Random House for sending it so beautifully packaged!

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Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

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We weren’t supposed to be going to the pictures that night. We weren’t even meant to be outside, not in a blackout, and definitely not when German bombs had been falling on London all month like pennies from a jar.

February, 1941. After months of bombing raids in London, twelve-year-old Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast. The only person with two spare beds is Mr Ephraim, the local lighthouse keeper. But he’s not used to company and he certainly doesn’t want any evacuees.

Desperate to be helpful, Olive becomes his post-girl, carrying secret messages (as she likes to think of the letters) to the villagers. But Olive has a secret of her own. Her older sister Sukie went missing in an air raid, and she’s desperate to discover what happened to her. And then she finds a strange coded note which seems to link Sukie to Devon, and to something dark and impossibly dangerous.

After being caught in an air-raid and the disappearance of their elder sister, Olive and Cliff are evacuated to Devon, where they are sent to stay with a strange lighthouse keeper. The villagers are full of secrets, and Olive is determined to uncover them.

This middle-grade novel slowly unravels an intricate mystery and captures the tragedy of the refugee crisis, both back during WWII and in the present day. Its variety of characters has you constantly wondering who knows what- Ephraim, the discrete lighthouse keeper and his secret control room, sharp-tongued Queenie, fierce evacuee Esther, with whom Olive just cannot get on, and Sukie, Olive’s wild older sister who’s nowhere to be found. I especially loved the characterisation of Olive and Esther and their precarious relationship. They were easy to imagine- Olive, grieving for her father, sensible and determined to protect Cliff; Esther, whose anger seems to be hiding sadness and vulnerability. Equally beautiful was the love between Olive and her brother.

Wartime descriptions and period sayings like “the cat’s pyjamas” made the setting authentic. Each chapter was headed with a slogan from WWII, which I thought was a nice touch. The overall message is that love and compassion beat hatred and bigotry, and the world is as much in need of this message today as it was back in Hitler’s era.

“There were thirty-two refugees in total: thirty-two wet, frightened, exhausted people, who’d travelled through a storm in a sailing boat meant to hold ten. How awful their lives back home must’ve been to take such a risk.”

I did find the plot a little confusing at some points, and had to go back and check I’d got it right. Despite this, it moves at a gentle pace (not a bad thing), is full of moving scenes and reads like a classic. A timeless piece of historical fiction for children.

I don’t think a book could contain a more important message than the one spoken by Letters from the Lighthouse , and it’s weaved beautifully throughout the novel. It links current events to past tragedies and is a warning to us all to not let history repeat itself. Your children need to read it.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Reading in June

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness & Siobhan Down

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

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The Five Realms: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood

Podkin is the son of a warrior chieftain. He knows that one day it will be up to him to lead his warren and guard it in times of danger. But for now, he’s quite happy to laze around annoying his older sister Paz, and playing with his baby brother Pook.

Then Podkin’s home is brutally attacked, and the young rabbits are forced to flee. The terrifying Gorm are on the rampage, and no one and nowhere is safe. With danger all around them, Podkin must protect his family, uncover his destiny, and attempt to defeat the most horrifying enemy rabbitkind has ever known.

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Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl

Storm clouds gather over Lily and Robert’s summer when criminal mastermind the Jack of Diamonds appears. For Jack is searching for the mysterious Moonlocket – but that’s not the only thing he wants.

Suddenly, dark secrets from Robert’s past plunge him into danger. Jack is playing a cruel game that Robert is a part of. Now Lily and Malkin, the mechanical fox, must stay one step ahead before Jack plays his final, deadly card…

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The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Amihan lives on Culion Island, where some of the inhabitants – including her mother – have leprosy. Ami loves her home – with its blue seas and lush forests, Culion is all she has ever known. But the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave. Banished across the sea, she’s desperate to return, and finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it’s too late?