The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson

The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson, published by Luath Press

I am absolutely honoured to be kicking of the blog tour for The Reluctant Rebel today. First and foremost Barbara Henderson is one of my favourite authors who writes the most magnificent historical adventures set against a variety of Scottish backdrops. As you can imagine, therefore, I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy of The Reluctant Rebel, a ‘Jacobite Adventure’. This is a time period where events are often studied in primary school but little MG fiction has been written in this era.

Read on to hear from Barbara about teaching the Jacobites in the classroom . Thank you Barbara for the guest post.

Jacobites in the Classroom

The targes and broadswords clash, thankfully in a controlled manner. The faces of my pupils, contorted in fear and rage, belie what is really going on – nothing but a slow-motion Jacobite battle, filmed by me, their drama teacher. Wooden props are all they have – but what these children lack in authentic appearance, they more than make up for with their imagination. 

In short, I love teaching the Jacobites. As a drama specialist in a primary school, I come across the topic annually and developed a bit of a fascination with the time period. Living just along the road from Culloden Battlefield, there was no excuse. I had to go and see for myself!

But as much as I read about the 1745 Rising and the iconic Bonnie Prince Charlie’s triumphant start, I became much more interested in what happened in the aftermath: Following the Battle of Culloden in April, the Prince fled – and spent months on the run across the Highlands and Islands, aided by an ever-changing cohort of guides and supporters. The government’s £30,000 reward went unclaimed. Instead, many in the Jacobite clans risked their lives all over again for their Prince. That, I decided, was where the story was. The result is The Reluctant Rebel – a Jacobite adventure for upper primary– and being a teacher, the classroom is never far from my thoughts. In collaboration with the National Trust for Scotland, I’ve created comprehensive teaching resources to accompany the book, ready to download from www.barbarahenderson.co.uk/resources

Hence, and without further ado, here are five ways to bring the Jacobites alive in your classroom:

1. Make a no-sew white cockade. The white cockade was a sign of support for the Stuarts on the throne and signified Jacobite sympathies. Simply cut two ribbons to around 17 cm length. Take a button (charity shops often have a collection of old ones) and thread a 10 cm wire through it. Now loop the ribbon, overlapping the edges, and scrunch together at the join to form a bow shape, twisting the wire around it once. Now repeat with the next length of ribbon securing all together by another twist of the wire. You can either trim the wire or use the remaining length to secure the white cockade to your bonnet/jacket. (Top tip: If your white ribbon is prone to fraying, you can pre-cut at home and run the edge over a candle to seal. Not recommended in a classroom setting, obviously!)

2. Freeze-frame Comic. Pupils should brainstorm the 10-12 main events in the Jacobite Risings, or alternatively, the main events in the novel The Reluctant Rebel. Once they are in the right order, pupils can be given minimal dressing up/props and a camera to take freeze-frame photographs of these key dramatic moments. Once printed, the photographs can be displayed with captions and speech bubbles. Don’t forget the sound effects either!

3. Bake Beremeal Bannocks. This was the staple diet for many Highland clans at the time of the the Jacobite rebellions. You’ll need: 2 cups of beremeal (from health food shops or online), 1 cup of plain flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, a pinch of salt, (1 tablespoon of sugar if desired). Mix thoroughly and add milk, water or buttermilk to make a stiff but soft dough. Roll out on a floured board and cut into 4 like a farl, to form the Bannocks. Cook on a hot, ungreased girdle 5 minutes or so each side until both sides are browned and the middle is cooked. Alternatively, bake in a hot oven. Practice will make perfect. Consume with copious amounts of butter and cheese, or jam!

4. Shadow Puppetry Battle of Culloden. All you need is a large picture frame or even a cereal box with a window cut out. Cover the frame with a thin light cloth or thin paper. Now cut your figures out from black card – only the shapes will be seen, so you can draw the outlines in pencil and cut around it without being too precise. I’d definitely cheat and trace silhouettes of Highlanders/Redcoats.  Shine a light source onto your screen from behind and gently hold your puppets against the screen from behind. This works best if you mount them on sticks using masking tape. There are loads of YouTube clips on how to do shadow puppetry. An atmospheric piece of music to accompany the puppetry with turn great into awesome!

5. Site visit. Nothing beats visiting the very places where the soil is steeped in stories. Here are some fab Jacobite sites to visit with your class. Some are even set up for virtual events, so it’s always worth checking: 

National Trust for Scotland, Culloden:https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/schools-and-learning-guide-to-culloden . The site of the last land battle on British soil where the Jacobites were defeated. The place has an excellent visitor centre, well laid out paths and a dedicated and lovely learning officer who could not be more helpful!

Glenfinnanhttps://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/glenfinnan-monument/planning-your-visit. Site of the beginning of the 1745 Rising where Bonnie Prince Charlie gathered the clans and marched south for the Cause. Another lovely visitor centre, beneath the viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films. If you hang around long enough, you will be able to see a steam train cross it.

Ruthven Barrackshttps://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/ruthven-barracks/ .The defeated Jacobitesregrouped here after Culloden, awaiting their prince. Instead, they received instructions to go home. A really evocative ruin.

Battle of Prestonpans Jacobite Museum and Battlefield Visits:https://www.battleofprestonpans1745.org/school-visits/ . This new museum is currently only open to the public at weekends, meaning that volunteers can tailor their work to school groups during weekdays. It is a fantastic resource with big plans for the future too.’

Thanks again to Barbara for that brilliant piece about teaching about the Jacobites.

As a fan of Scottish historical fiction, an adventure set against the backdrop of the Jacobites was always going to be right up my street. The Reluctant Rebel tells the story of young stable boy, Archie MacDonald who , along with his cousin Meg, become caught up in the rebellion.

It is primarily an adventure story, one that is filled with drama and tension that hooks you in from the word go. I love the characters of Archie and Meg, their relationship and the dilemmas they are forced to face.

One of the talents that Barbara has is to hook the reader into a particular time period. The attention to detail ensures the reader is taken back in time with Archie and Meg and you feel that you are living the adventure with them

Quite simply, I loved The Reluctant Rebel. It is full of excitement, tension and pure adventure. It would be an brilliant book to accompany a Jacobites topic in the classroom or as a standalone read.

To find out more about Barbara please follow @scattyscribbler on Twitter.

The Elephant Squad by Kerry Gibb

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Delighted to be a part of the blog tour for The Elephant Squad today!

As part of the blog tour, author Kerry Gibb is running a competition:

When a safe arrives in the school yurt, the children must think up a code that only they can know! Follow The Elephant Squad blog tour to discover the code! Each blogger will release one number and direct you to the next blog! Once you have the correct combination, email it to kerry@kerrygibb.com to unlock your entry into a competition to win a signed copy of The Elephant Squad with a limited edition bookmark. Good luck!’

Today’s number is 1! Check out Ben Harris and A Few to Read at https://afewtoread.blogspot.com/?m=1 for tomorrow’s number.

The Elephant Squad is a beautiful, hopeful tale about discovery and friendship and realising that, whatever your circumstances, you are never alone

Cleo feels different from other children. She never sees anyone out of school and never goes to the school disco that everyone talks about. At the end of each day she runs home to check on her mum, full of worry that she will be okay. With just Cleo and her mum at home, Cleo has had to take on the role of carer for her mum whose illness has increasingly led her to struggle with everyday tasks and rely on her wheelchair.

Cleo feels anxious, alone and under pressure.

That is until one day a visitor comes to speak to the school. Darryl explains that he is setting up a group for pupils who, for whatever reason, are caring for others at home. Through the group, Cleo discovers that there are others who are in a similar situation to her.

This is a story that is primarily about friendship and making connections. It is a beautiful, hopeful read that gives a voice to children who are young carers. It is written with warmth, humour and empathy and it is a hugely enjoyable book.

The Elephant Squad is a fabulous and important read. It reminds us that we never quite know what is going on in other people’s lives and what challenges they may be facing but, ultimately it reminds us that however we are feeling, we are never alone.

I absolutely loved it!

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann

There is something very beautiful and powerful about an entire story told through verse. Manjeet Mann’s debut novel, Run Rebel, was one of my standout books of 2020 and I knew her follow up was bound to be something special. A tale of grief and hope it puts the spotlight on the plight of refugees and it is quite simply one of the most stunning things I have ever read.

The crossing is told from two different perspectives. Natalie is struggling to cope after the death of her mum. Her dad is feeling lost and her brother has found his outlet in a far-right gang. Swimming is her escape.

Sammy has fled from his life in Eritrea with the hope of making a new start in Europe but his journey as a refugee proves to be more terrifying and arduous than he ever could have imagined.

There stories become inextricably linked as they both battle to find hope in their lives and a better future.

The rhythm and the energy that beats between the two characters is absolutely magical. As the days count down there is a sense of foreboding of what is to come and a feeling of inevitability that is hard to shake off.

In The Crossing Manjeet has made sure that every single word counts and that every single line speaks to the soul. I have rarely read a book that I found so emotional, so thought-provoking and so powerful. I couldn’t put it down.

The Crossing skillfully explores themes of grief, hope, empathy and kindness in the most challenging of circumstances. It also forces the reader to challenge and reflect on their own beliefs and prejudices.

Overall, though, this is a story about humanity, courage and the future. The Crossing NEEDS to be in every high school library and every teenager and adult must read it. It is that important.

Nip Nebs and the Last Berry by Susi Briggs & Ruthie Redden

Unicorns and Kelpies

Nip Nebs and the Last Berry is the second installment of the beautiful Nip Nebs books from Susi Briggs and Ruthie Redden. Another original picture book in Scots, it follows the continuing adventures of Nip Nebs – this time following him and his friend Wee Moosie as they try to encourage three birds to share the last berry so they can get back to their nap.

It is an utterly enchanting tale about friendship and sharing. It is bursting with rich Scots vocabulary, making it a joy to read aloud from start to finish. If you are unfamiliar with Scots there is a handy wee glossary at the back to help!

Susi’s gorgeous storytelling is exquisitely complimented by Ruthie Redden’s glorious artwork. There is a lovely innocence about the whole book and it is impossible not to fall in love with it. Younger children will adore it and it would…

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Elma the Elf and the Tinsel-Tastic Sled Zeppelin by Camilla Victoria Storm and Nick Simons

Unicorns and Kelpies

15767090135375313211692471369939.jpgElma the Elf has to be one of my favourite Christmas stories ever. I laughed, I smiled and enjoyed every second of Elma’s adventures. With such a strong, feisty character at the centre of the tale it was always going to be an exciting and enthralling ride! Handily split into 24 chapters it could be read as a countdown to Christmas but, to be honest, you will be so engrossed you will want to read more than a chapter at a time.

Elma is about to start her new job at Santa’s toy factory and she is beyond excited to be part of the team. However, things are not quite as she expected and she quickly makes her feelings known. She is a clever little elf with oodles of ideas but is also very opinionated and is not afraid to speak her mind, which does not always go down well…

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Hag Storm by Victoria Williamson

I am over the moon to be hosting today’s stop on the Blog Tour for the absolutely fantastic Hag Storm by Victoria Williamson.

I am a massive fan of Victoria’s two previous novels, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind. These are two contemporary stories that are very pure and honest and force the reader to think about their own attitudes and actions.

When I heard that Victoria’s next book was a historical work of fiction starring a young Rabbie Burns and was going to be published by one of my favourite publishers, Cranachan, I could barely contain my excitement. Surely a mix that could not fail to disappoint!

I was most certainly correct. Hag Storm is simply magnificent, a tale full of history, witches and magic.

Hag Storm is the story of 12 year old Rabbie Burns who spends his days working on his family’s farm. That is until one day he finds a mysterious hag stone through which he witnesses a frightening world of witches.

Hag Storm is based on Rabbie Burns and his poem Tam O’Shanter. It is a wonderfully exciting historical adventure with a brilliant burst of mystery and witchcraft. Victoria has, once again, proved that she is a master storyteller with this fantastic adventure.

An atmospheric spooky tale steeped in Scottish myth and history, Hag Storm is the perfect read for Halloween weekend.

Ruth Estevez interview

I am delighted that Ruth Estevez, author of The Monster Belt has kindly answered some questions for Unicorns and Kelpies. Have a read, enjoy and, if you haven’t read The Monster Belt, go and get it. You will not be disappointed!

I read that The Monster Belt had a really interesting route to publication. Could you tell as a little bit about that?

Yes, The Monster Belt started off as a stage play, years and years ago. Mainly because theatre is my working background and I was starting a playwriting course. We were shown photographs to start us off with character, and I chose a man, which started a theme off in the book, which I later dropped, as I’m interested in coming of age stories, and so Dee evolved and over time, the story changed. When I read about an area in the Northern Hemisphere, called the Monster Belt, then the story changed again! I already knew how difficult it is to get a play taken up, as it’s such a collaborative medium, so I turned it into a novel. I submitted it to agents, and when no joy, direct to publishers, still no joy and I put it away, I think for several years. But I loved the story, and when I joined the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (North West group), who hold monthly critique groups, I resurrected it. So, for the YA sessions I took part in, I started sharing chapters of The Monster Belt, and rewriting along the way, which made me fall in love with the characters and the story all over again. With the group’s advice and enthusiasm, I submitted it to UCLan Publishing, which I’d heard about from attending the Northern YA Lit Fest which is held at UCLan. They were full up, but it was accepted by the MA Publishing programme and I worked on the manuscript over a year with a great student, Emma Hennigan. At the end of the year, the commercial arm of the company took it on, and it’s now in bookshops! I still find it hard to believe.

Where do you take inspiration from for your writing?


I get most of my stories from articles I’ve read, or photographs that catch my imagination and set off a list of questions. I’ve also written books very loosely based on my family and from local history books. For example, Meeting Coty is set in the 1920’s perfume world and very loosely based on my great grandmother’s family. It’s being rereleased next year. And the Jiddy Vardy smuggling trilogy came from reading a snippet about a real life female smuggler from Robin Hood’s Bay in a local history book. The Monster Belt was from a sentence telling about an area between two latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere where the majority of mythical creatures are found.
And then there is place. My home county of Yorkshire inspires me. It is vast and full of stories and inspiration, so it features strongly, almost as another character in most of my books.

I really love stories that feature mythological creatures. What do you think the appeal is?


I think what appeals most is that we don’t know for definite whether they exist or not, and that makes them fascinating. I’m also interested in where these myths start and who starts them and why. Which brings about a different element to the story. I’m very interested in mermaids and when researching The Monster Belt, I read about Beluga Whales and looked up images of them. They look oddly human, with what appear to be legs and knees, shoulders and ribs and round heads. You can see how people could mistake them for mermaids, so the question of do mythical creatures really exist or not, sprang to mind. I read about how creatures decay too, I know, not pleasant, but this makes animals appear different and myths about strange creatures can grow from this misapprehensions. I’m also interested in the different interpretations of creatures from mermaids and fairies to the Loch Ness Monster. Some interpretations show them as cruel, some kind, some enticing, beautiful sirens. I also like to think about the mythical creatures’ point of view, why they hide themselves, if that’s what they do, why they are rarely seen, and why there are so few and so isolated. Now I’m getting myself started on a different element I could add if I wrote more Monster Belt books!


Have you always enjoyed writing? What were your favourite books as a child?


Yes, I’ve always enjoyed writing. I used to make my own cut out dolls and made up stories about them. Then I made families of peg dolls and made up stories about them as well. I still have those, but the paper ones haven’t survived! With a friend, I makes a series of little books, inspired by the Bronte children’s little books which I saw in the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth. And in English at school, we had projects and assignments to write stories and poetry, which I loved and it went on from there, co-writing plays at university and then in my job.
My favourite books were Anne of Green Gables, The Little House on the Prairie books, the Wells dancing books by Susan Hill (I was into dancing) and also random books I found on our bookshelves, some written in the 1920s, some in the Victorian age. I love finding books that no-one else has heard of. When I was little I loved the Flower Fairy books and learned about flowers and trees from them, and when very young, I adored the Pookie books for their illustrations. Rereading them now, I see how before her time the author was, with climate change and homelessness. And of course, in my teens, I loved, loved Wuthering Heights. I still do, but for different reasons now.


What current MG/YA books and authors do you love right now?

I don’t tend to read MG books, but for YA, I found the verse books by Louisa Reid very powerful and I love books by Ruta Sepetys and Julie Hearn. I guess I like historical fiction and also a bit of a scare! There are some less well-known writers whose books I have really enjoyed too, like Lu Hersey’s Deep Water, about Kelpies and Catherine Johnson’s books. For humour and contemporary commentary, I’d say Anna Mainwaring is great and I was carried along by Danielle Jawandos’ And the Stars were Burning Brightly. On my tbr pile are A M Dassu, Susan Brownrigg and a few Frances Hardinge books.

Finally, why should people read The Monster Belt?


It’s been described as ‘Beautiful, bold and scary’ (@Richreadalot) and ‘Scary, thrilling and heartfelt’ by you, I believe, so I hope that is enticing enough!
But, in case readers need more….
It’s a coming of age story about finding our identity and where we feel we belong even if it isn’t where we are born.
There’s information about the signs and stages of drowning (I always like to learn something new when I read a book) and most centrally, it asks the question, ‘Do monsters exist?’
By asking this question, the reader is taken on an emotional, mysterious and exciting adventure with people I hope you will be rooting for.

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez

I am delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the #blogtour for the frankly magnificent, The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez. This is an absolutely glorious book, full of excitement, unexpected moments and adventure. A coming of age tale interlinked with stories of monsters and myths.

Synopsis

In the Monster Belt, discoveries are made. Some good, some bad, some life changing

Harris White is on a journey, one that takes him across land and sea in search of The Monster Belt, where he believes he’ll find the key to unravelling a mystery deeply rooted in his past.

Dee Winter, however, has her sights set firmly on a future away from The Monster Belt. When their paths collide, will Harris and Dee find the answers they’ve been looking for.” (https://uclanpublishing.com/book/the-monster-belt/)

Harris and Dee are two teens who have lost loved ones and are on a mission to find out what happened to them whilst navigating the mysterious Monster Belt where all manner of mythical creatures reside.

The Monster Belt is an adventure with wonderous characters that are both scary and delightful. It is also a story with a big heart, with the characters that get under your skin that you can really empathise with.

The Monster Belt is a powerful coming of age story filled with myths, mystery and adventure. Scary, thrilling and heartfelt, it is a beautifully atmospheric and an unputdownable read.

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez is out now.

You can follow Ruth Estevez on Twitter at : @RuthEstevez2

You can follow Uclan Publishing on Twitter at: @publishinguclan

Thank you to Ulcan and Graeme Williams for the review copy.

Scaredy Bat by Jonathan Meres and Anders Frang

I am very excited to be hosting the first day of the blog tour for the stunning, funny and endearing story of Scaredy Bat!

It’s morning and Little Bat can’t sleep. Are Middle Bat and Big Bat right when they accuse him of being scared of the light? There’s only one way to find out! Little Bat sets out on a journey out of the old oak tree and into the light to prove to them and, more importantly to himself, that he is not a ‘Scaredy Bat’. Or is he?

Scaredy Bat is a gorgeous wee tale about being brave and about conquering your fears, no matter what others may think. Although Little Bat sets out to prove to the others that he is not scared, it is really about him discovering himself and proving to himself that he can overcome his fears.

I just fell in love with the characters in Scaredy Bat and children will adore Little Bat and his adventures. The illustrations are fabulous, full of life and little intricacies.

Scaredy Bat would be a brilliant book to read with children at home, or at school. It is a perfect little picture book about being brave, about having the courage to step outside your comfort zone and to discover the beauty and adventure that the world has to offer.

A great little story!

Thank you to Little Door Books for the review copy.

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler #UltimateBlogTour #TheWriteReads

I am delighted to be a part of day 2 on the Ultimate Blog tour for Fireborn by Aisling Fowler! Thank you to The Write Reads for letting me be a part of the Blog Tour and to Harper Collins for the proof copy.

This is a book that I knew I was going to love before I had even turned to the first page. The stunning cover with the exquisite illustrations and embossed lettering, and the blurb that draws you in but yet doesn’t give too much away, meant that Fireborn already screamed ‘I am epic and magical and you will love me!’.

Set in the fantasy world of Ember, Fireborn follows the tale of Twelve who has given up her identity and life to become a part of the hunter’s lodge, a group who train to hunt the monsters that roam this magical world. She is a complex character and we soon discover that Twelve’s deep and dark motivations are rooted in her desire to seek revenge on those who took her family.

However, when the lodge is attacked everything changes and Twelve is catapulted into a journey where the future of her world is at stake.

One of the things I loved so much about this book were the characters. Identified by a number, they are written with depth, warmth and empathy. The relationship between Twelve and Five (enemies at the outset) as they begin to understand each other is beautiful to watch. Likewise, it was fascinating to watch Six and Seven as their characters developed as the story went on. I was left wanting to know more about the smaller characters and the ones on the side of evil as they were that perfectly written.

The world of Ember that Aisling Fowler has created is a perfect land of fantasy, a world that is so vivid and full of life that it is easy to get lost there. The writing is so perfectly pitched that I never wanted to put this book down and I was always eager to know what was going to happen next. I was there with those characters in this magical world at every step of the way.

This is a story that will appeal to fans of big, other world fantasies, both young and old. It is an absolute unputdownable delight.

Fireborn is an absolutely epic tale that felt like only the start of the adventure. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

Fireborn is published 30 September 2021

Children's Book Reviews

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