Posted in Competition, general and welcome, literacy

Pottertastic – celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter!

Every year at St Michael’s Primary School in Oxford, where I am the Librarian, we run a fun summer challenge based on books and reading. In previous years, we’ve had Cakespeare (make/decorate a cake based on something from Shakespeare), Supertato veggie/fruit villains and heroes, and the Strangest Place to Read.

Since this year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we decided to base our competition on J.K. Rowling’s publishing phenomenon. I called it ‘Pottertastic’ and the challenge was for pupils in Key Stage 1 to colour in a picture from either Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Children in Key Stage 2 were encouraged to create a new character, object (eg wand, horcrux), Petronus, shop, etc, that could fit in nicely with the books.

With two weeks to do their best, the children set about their work, while my daughter Holly helped me design the background for the display, together with the help of Bloomsbury Kids UK, who sent me some decorations.

The display awaiting the children’s artwork

When the deadline arrived, I was amazed by the results. Two classes – Reception and Year 1, had embraced the competition and decided to use it as a prompt for their Big Write or class artwork. Therefore, I had pictures of Fantastic Beasts from every one of the children in both classes, with the children in Year 1 also writing amazing descriptions of what their beasts were and what they could do.

nagini.jpg   Gwen.jpgdishor.jpg   dave the monster.jpg

Some of the writing was very impressive indeed, and we gave special writing awards to two children for their efforts. See, for example, Lucy (below) who wrote about her beast, Diamond, of whom she is very fond:


Three children in the school created models of their entries.

sapphire bird.jpg
Sapphire Bird (this has feathers on the underside – hopefully I will be able to hang it up!)
Voldemort’s Spirit (another horcrux) lies inside this green tub and flashes! Under no circumstances must you open it. This handy map also gives you further information.
This is a fish but with a  human head. It can move on both land and water!

Interestingly, the children in Key Stage 2 based their creations on potential family members from the past and future. We have:

  • Valdi – Voldemort’s son who is 12 and really wants to be good but his father won’t allow it
  • Harry’s twin sister, Ellie – who was trapped in a crystal
  • Emily Potter – Harry’s long-lost sister!
  • Emma Upton – who escaped from Voldemort’s attack, although she has the same scar as her brother
  • Dobby’s family – both his mum and dad seem to love socks!

As you can imagine, judging the competition was extremely hard. Holly and Carl (my husband) went through all 75 entries and narrowed them down to 17 (I didn’t get involved to ensure neutrality!).

On Monday of this week, a good friend of mine, children’s/YA author Angela Kecojevic, came into school to help announce the winners. She treated the children to some slimy character creations based on her Hobbledown books and theme park and they all squealed with delight at her descriptions of her characters, especially when fellow pupils had to act them out in front of the assembly.

It always delights and inspires me when the children, families and staff enter into the spirit of these competitions, and we are incredibly fortunate to be supported in the activities we run to promote reading for enjoyment. Our library is an amazing resource but it wouldn’t be the place it is without the support, love and enthusiasm of everyone who uses it. Pottertastic was a huge success and it’s all down to everyone who supported it!

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Kids UK for their generosity in sending us bunting, posters, bookmarks and other items to help with our display. I’d also like to thank Carl and Holly for their time in helping me with the competition – especially Holly, who designed the display board! And finally, a huge thank you to everyone in Year 1 and Reception for devoting so much time to supporting this competition.





Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Veggies on the run

What better book to read in the (pardon the pun) run-up to sports day than Sue Hendra’s and Paul Linnet’s latest instalment in the Supertato series, Run, Veggies, Run!?,204,203,200_.jpg

It was actually pretty coincidental that I picked this up in the bookshop the week before our school had its annual sports day. I just saw the cover and thought I had to add this book to our collection because the children at St Michael’s are such huge fans. And indeed, when I showed them their special surprise during story time, their faces lit up, and they gasped so excitedly, that I knew we’d be onto a winner.

What it’s about:

Supertato isn’t impressed by his fellow veggies’ fitness … or lack thereof. They can’t keep up with the speed on the conveyor-belt/treadmill and he has to rescue them from falling in the baggage area.

Added to that, their diet leaves something to be desired – gorging on crisps (uh, do they not know where they come from?!), doughnuts and burgers and dozing in hammocks mean they’re not at their fittest. As Supertato remarks: “Whoever heard of an unhealthy vegetable?” (The children piped up at this point that there are some – eg ones that are rotten.)

To inspire his friends to adopt a healthier lifestyle, Supertato arranges a sports day, where there will be running, jumping, carrying the heaviest item… etc. But just as they’re about to start, who should make a last-minute appearance but The Evil Pea, along with his protegee, Gloria (a suspicious-looking watermelon). The Evil Pea announces that Gloria is going to win all the activities and she soon does. But Supertato knows that something’s not right … and he’s out to find out what it is.

What we thought:

As expected, the children loved this story from the first to the last page. The usual silly (but very funny) jokes were there, along with the favourite vegetables. I think The Evil Pea ranks up with Supertato in terms of popularity too – it was as if the children were holding their breath for his appearance in the story to make it that bit more funny and exciting. They nearly jumped out of their seats in excitement when he rolled up with Gloria! They followed the story avidly and asked for it to be read to them again as soon as I had finished. You can’t ask for better than that, can you?


Since we were gearing up for Sports Day, I asked the children to design pictures of various fruit or veg doing sporty things. They got stuck into that with glee, with some interesting results.


Sorry for the blurry image – it’s because the fruit and veg are moving! (Not really…) In the pic on the left, we have a swimming banana with a carrot balancing on his head, and a red pepper jumping rope alongside The Evil Pea on a trampoline. On the right is a netball game of carrots against aubergines. Not sure who’s winning, but Supertato, as ref, will ensure a correct result.

pea and broccoli.jpg

In this picture, The Evil Pea, wearing his black cape, is jumping rope alongside a happy broccoli. They seem to be enjoying themselves…


Of course Supertato had to feature in many of the drawings. In the three above, we see various representations of the Super Spud, one swimming after The Evil Pea, one running to the rescue of a friend, and a final one who looks rather frightened (and like he’s sprouting something out of his head).

As usual, Supertato has been a huge success. We can’t wait to read his next adventure!


Posted in adventure and mystery, general and welcome

Dark Dawn Over Steep House

As the name of my blog suggests, my reviews usually focus on children’s and young adults’ books. However, my reading does stretch beyond this remit and I particularly enjoy thrillers, crime and ghost stories, especially those set in Victorian times. Therefore, it was a real treat to discover a series that included all those elements, with a feisty, intelligent and wonderfully dry-humoured heroine to boot. I am talking of M.R.C. Kasasian’s ‘The Gower Street Detective’ series, narrated by the admirable and independent March Middleton, who details the always interesting and often bizarre crimes that she and her guardian Mr Sidney Grice (a personal, not private detective, if you please) set out to solve. Today, I am delighted to participate in the blog tour celebrating the new, and fifth, book in this excellent series by M.R.C. Kasasian.

Dark Dawn blog tour

What the book’s about

Dark Dawn Over Steep House opens in London, in 1884. Sidney Grice is restless – his latest case remains (unusually) unsolved and he turns to his book A Brief History of Doorstep Whitening in Preston for solace. Meanwhile, his ward, March Middleton, vows to find out what happened to Geraldine Hockaday, the daughter of a naval captain who was ‘outraged’ in a murky part of London and whose attacker is still roaming the streets. A chance encounter with two women – Lucy Bocking and her female companion Freddy – in a crowded café brings a new victim to light – it appears London has a serial offender on the loose. As Middleton and Grice recommence their investigations, their investigations lead them to the dining room of a Prussian Prince, the hangout of an Armenian gangster, and the ruin of a once-happy family home, Steep House.

Fancy a drink, March?

Slipping into this latest instalment by M.R.C. Kasasian was like coming home. The familiarity of the writing – dry, deft, humorous – and the characters – well-drawn and instantly recognisable – meant that I easily fell into the action and the story (not literally of course, just to clarify for Sidney Grice’s pedantic sake). March’s narrative voice is one that I could happily read endlessly, and is a testament to Kasasian’s writing (he teased another blogger by saying he wouldn’t reveal why he had chosen a female narrator instead of male – perhaps he might be tempted now?).

March is the kind of woman I’d like to go out and have a drink with, although I doubt I could keep up with her. Additionally, I’d probaby forego her favourite tipple of gin (it makes me morose and gives me a whopping headache) but we could hit a few cocktail bars and she could tell me about ‘Edward’ – her once husband-to-be. She might not like the smoking ban in drinking establishments, though, so we might spend the evening standing outside in the smokers’ area.

What I admire about March is that she sticks two fingers up at the Victorian establishment who, in the first book of the series, called her ‘a mere girl’ and wins the respect of her ward and even members of the police force, with whom she frequently liaises. She’s clever, sympathetic, determined and funny – and is a perfect contrast to Sidney Grice whose rudeness (or blunt honesty) knows no boundaries. In that way, he’s rather similar to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, although he does not drink, smoke or take drugs (heaven forbid) – preferring, instead, a nice cup of black tea made to very strict specifications. He is also a strict vegetarian, which means poor March must take her cravings for meat pies or pork chops out to lunch occasionally. Grice is also an avid inventor, seeking to trademark many of his creations (including a Victorian version of a thermos flask for Grice’s beloved tea).

He ain’t no Sherlock Holmes

A comparison to Sherlock Holmes would have incensed Sidney Grice. As March explains, in the opening sentence in this book:

“I was approached by a man from the London County Council yesterday. They want to put a blue plaque on the front of 125 Gower Street, commemorating Sidney Grice’s many years and countless triumphs here. I can only imagine how my guardian would have revelled in such glorification, especially as his detested rival Sherlock Holmes, being fictional, will never qualify for one.”

Yet, when reading the Gower Street series, you can hardly fail to notice the similarities between the two. Like Watson to Holmes, March is Grice’s recorder of tales, and the voice of sanity when he threatens to become too eccentric for his own good. Like Holmes, Grice has an amazing ability to tell things about people from the minutest of details (in this latest book, the age of a woman severely injured in a house fire when she was young, by the state of her teeth and skin on her hands). It has been said that the series is a pastiche of the works of Sherlock Holmes and I can see why this comparison was made. But be under no misapprehension that it lacks originality – the allusions serve to add to the richness and humour of the stories.

Sometimes a strong stomach is needed

While there is a great deal of humour in these books, crimes are still at the forefront of the action, and many are not for the fainted-hearted. When talking about the women who have been ‘outraged’ (Victorian euphemism for violated) in Dark Dawn Over Steep House, we see a side of sadism that makes for, at times, very uncomfortable reading. In previous books, there have been gruesome murders and disfigurements and stomach-churning visits to the mortuary that have had me squirming. The details are never salacious or unnecessarily grim but there is honesty about the crimes in this story, and the previous four, that can make you wince. Victorian London was, after all, a city of two sides – the squalor of the slums that encouraged both crime and cholera, and the wealth of the upper classes, who viewed visiting the slums as a kind of extreme sport (hence the women in this story being ‘outraged’ when visiting disreputable opium dens). March Middleton constantly battles with her conscience about this, handing out money when possible to street urchins and others in need, struggling to live a life of comparable luxury against a backdrop of abject poverty.

Characters that grow

Sometimes in series – book or television – and especially ones with a comic element, characters must remain frozen in a particular role in order continue playing their bespoke part in events. However, with this series, March and Sidney do grow and change, more specifically in relation to each other. In this latest instalment, the book commences with March challenging Sidney to tell her the truth behind his relationship with her mother – is he her father? Sidney denies it strenuously, but both March and the reader aren’t satisfied; there is something in her past that he’s not revealing. However, the guardian and his ward have definitely become closer as the series has progressed, and despite his often deprecating tone, it is clear that Sidney is very fond of his God-daughter.

March has also moved on from mourning the loss of her fiance… but she’s now mourning the loss of another suitor, Inspector George Pound, with whom she fell in love, somewhat against her will. Pound is still in her life but will not enter a relationship with her because of financial pride; her wealth is larger than his own. It seems as if March is destined to live life a reluctant spinster.

Molly the maid resides in the Shakespearean role of jester – providing comic relief at various points in each story. Her fidelity to her master is undeniable, as is her naivety in mistaking an insult for a compliment from her irascible employer.

Bedtime stories

I first came across the books on audible, during a difficult family time when I was driving to and from Devon on most weekends. The first book in the series had me enthralled, and meant I was mainly unaware of the miles I was clocking up in our grumpy and temperamental Citroen. Since then, I’ve introduced my husband to the series, and he’s now also become a huge fan – in fact we read them to each other at night like bedtime stories. When I asked him what it was he liked about the books, he said he liked the combination of humour and crime, and the interaction between March Middleton and Sidney Grice. In short, the books are a perfect recipe of action, characters and narration, although in this latest book, there is a fair amount of sadness too.

Dark Dawn Over Steep House, by M.R.C. Kasasian, is published by Head of Zeus.




Please note that while I was given a copy of Dark Dawn Over Steep House to review by the publishers, the views expressed in this post are entirely my own.