Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann

run, rebel

Young Adult

Published by Penguin Books

Cover illustration by Manjit Thapp

Next up on my exploration of Young Adult novels is the absolutely tremendous, powerful and beautiful book, Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, a story of rebellion and about finding your voice.

Run, Rebel is a novel written in verse that tells the story of Amber, a teenage girl trapped by the expectations placed upon her, her father’s controlling and bullying behaviour and by her own insecurities.

Amber Rai lives at home with her parents, her sister having moved out to marry a man chosen for her as part of an arranged marriage.  Due to their illiteracy, Amber’s parents rely on her to help them with day to day tasks that involve reading and writing. Her father is an abusive and controlling alcoholic who has very strict expectations of Amber. She is desperate to live the way that she wants, yet terrified of what her father is capable of if she disobeys him.

Amber’s escape, her freedom, comes from her passion and talent for running. On the track is where she can be herself and when an opportunity arises to take her running to the next level she is determined to embrace it.

There are so many themes that Run, Rebel explores.  As well as confronting domestic abuse and alcoholism, it explores issues of bullying, teenage relationships, jealousy and poverty but at its heart it is about feminism, freedom, empowerment, equality and rebellion.

I loved the depth of each character. Everyone was important and I would love to see each of their stories explored and expanded.  Every piece of poetry in this book is so well-written, so powerful and so emotive that it could stand alone as an excellent piece of writing.  Put together to tell a story it becomes something else altogether, something immense.

Run, Rebel is a beautifully written lyrical joy.  Often heart-wrenching, but ultimately powerful and uplifting, it is a truly stunning book about discovering your truth and having the courage to fight for it.


The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

the black flamingo

Published by Hachette Children’s Group 

Young Adult

I have been venturing into the world of Young Adult literature of late and have read some stunningly powerful books over the last couple of weeks.

First up, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta.   I am going to be honest, I chose it purely on the basis of the exquisite front cover by Anshika Khullar. It is simply beautiful and it sets the stage for what is an absolutely incredible novel that I loved to bits. I genuinely could not put it down.

The Black Flamingo is a coming of age story told in verse.  It is the story of Michael, a mixed race gay teen, who lives in London.  Coming from a Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican background he is never quite sure where he fits and what it means to be him.

We follow Michael as he navigates high school and university, as he comes out, as he makes friends, explores relationships and as he finally discovers a place he belongs at the university Drag Society where he becomes The Black Flamingo.

The verse style of writing works incredibly well as a means of telling Michael’s story.  The pace, the lyrics, the emotion and the language convey his journey perfectly.

This is a story of self-discovery, identity, finding what it means to be you and searching for a place where you belong.  It is about being free to be who and whatever you want to be.

It is an important book that every teen should read. One that is powerful, emotional, honest and beautifully written and it is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Utterly brilliant.



Stay at Home! Poetry and Prose for Children Living in Lockdown

Edited by Joan Haig, Illustrated by Darren Gate and Published by Cranachan 

This utterly brilliant anthology is being released today and I was over the moon to have the opportunity to have a wee early sneak preview!

40 well-known writers from across Scotland have contributed poems and stories all with a lockdown theme.   It is a collection dedicated to all the children who have shown amazing resilience and understanding over this challenging period, children whose lives have changed beyond recognition but who have demonstrated the determination and ability to adapt.

Each and every contribution is unique, each sharing a wee slice of the lockdown experience.  These are snippets of lockdown life that children will be able to relate to. Together with the gorgeous illustrations by Darren Gate, these are the tales that bring us together.

I am  sure lots of children will have gone through the same ordeal as the central character in Barbara Henderson’s ‘The Lockdown Haircut’.  I know mine have!

How many children have had lockdown birthdays like Ivy in Maisie Chan’s ‘The Worst Birthday Ever’?  And how many are using technology to keep in touch to continue to make special days special?   A lot of the contributions reflect on how things have to be different right now but also on how we have been able to adapt and keep in touch. Families across the country have been finding innovative ways to keep in touch like the family celebrating Eid in Roisah Ahmed’s ‘Can You See the Moon?’.

I’m sure there are many children out there who can identify with Billy Baxter  in Alan McClure’s absolutely fantastic Scots poem – children who have spent lockdown in the local ‘hub’, passing the time by checking Teams while their friends are at home.

There is everything you could want in this collection.  There is funny, there is sad, there is fear, there is hope.  It is a testament to our children who have demonstrated imagination, creativity, perseverance and optimism through this period. This is a stunning anthology, a work of absolute perfection that is an important, beautiful and powerful record of this moment in history.

Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown is available to read, for free, here:




Fonetti, “The World’s First Listening Bookshop”


This week we have been having great fun trying out a new reading and listening app called Fonetti!  The idea of Fonetti is that children choose a book and read aloud to the app, page by page.  As they read the words turn green when they read them correctly.  If they are unsure of a word they can click on the it and the app tells them how to say it. When a book is completed children will earn badges, fanfares and animations. There is also an option to track progress and to view the books the child has read, the amount of times they have spent reading on the app and the accuracy with which they did it.

My 5 and 7 year old absolutely loved Fonetti.  They enjoyed the challenge of successfully completing a book and found it very easy to use.  What Fonetti does very well is give children the opportunity to explore books for themselves.  It gives them a level of independence when they are starting to read that they may not otherwise get.  For children who may struggle with reading or do not enjoy reading, it makes it fun. For some children who may feel pressure when reading, Fonetti is a great way for them to practise without worrying about getting something wrong.

There is an excellent selection of books on the app, both fiction and non-fiction, with varying degrees of difficulty and topics. There is something there to suit every child’s taste and with more titles to be added in the future, there is always choice!

Although we loved the app, the voice recognition feature didn’t always correctly pick up what the kids were reading.  This didn’t take away from their enjoyment but hopefully as the app is developed this will be ironed out.

Fonetti is another tool to help children read and to find pleasure in reading.  It is a fantastic resource to add to the multitude of ways that we help children with their reading as parents and as teachers.  It is a brilliant way to encourage independence, confidence and motivation with reading and it is well worth taking a look.

Fonetti is free to access for the next 3 months.  For more information go to



The Kelpie’s Pearls by Mollie Hunter

kelpies pearls

The Kelpie’s Pearls by Mollie Hunter is one of the books that I read as a child that never left me.  It is a stunning story written by an absolute master storytelling.  It is full of myth, superstition and magic and it is the story that started my fascination of the mystical kelpie.  The kelpie is a water spirit that inhabits Scotland’s lochs, a shape-shifting creature that can turn from human form into a dangerous and powerful black horse that lures its victims onto its back before dragging them into the watery depths.

Morag MacLeod lives a quiet, simple life near Loch Ness.  Everyone thinks that this old woman is a witch because of some strange things that happened on the shores of the Loch and she is content to keep out of folks way living her simple existence.  But things change when she meets and befriends a strange little man who, in fact, turns out to be a kelpie.  Quickly reporters and scientists arrive to find out the truth about Morag.  Young Torquil knows what has really happened because he has seen the Kelpie for himself and knows of the supernatural powers that they possess. Meanwhile, greedy Alisdair the Trapper, is determined to get hold of the kelpie’s pearls.

It is an utterly enchanting tale of magic, myth and folklore, told in Mollie Hunter’s stunning voice.  Set in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland, it has a gentle pace which makes you focus on every single word. I have reread The Kelpie’s Pearls many times in the last 30 years and it remains one of my absolute favourites. It is just perfect.

Mollie Hunter wrote more than 25 novels for children, regularly incorporating Scottish folklore and history into her work. She was an absolutely wonderful storyteller whose books are just fantastic.  If you are not familiar with her work, The Kelpie’s Pearls is as good a place as any to start.




Tiger Skin Rug by Joan Haig, published by Cranachan Age 8-12

tiger skin rug

One of my most anticipated reads of 2020, Tiger Skin Rug is a remarkable debut from author Joan Haig – a story full of adventure, excitement and magic that is hard to put down. It has a real mystical charm to it that ensures it is a book that stays with you long after you have finished the last page.

Lal and his brother Dilip have moved to Scotland from India with their family but they are finding it hard to adjust to the dreich weather and to their rather spooky new house.  They are homesick, they miss their friends and the normality of their old home in India. Everything is so different to what they are used to.

Everything changes, however, when the old tiger skin rug that they find in the house comes to life and needs their help.  In return it promises to help them return to India. We then set off on a fast-paced roller coaster of an adventure with Lal, Dilip and their new friend Jenny to help the tiger complete a mission that was cut short when he was killed.   This is an adventure that takes the reader from Scotland, to London, and all the way to India as the children try to help the tiger complete its goal.

I loved how the author moves the story from place to place, showering the reader in the vibrancy of  different cultures and locations.  The characters are so genuine and believable that you really want them to succeed.

Tiger Skin Rug is an enchanting, mesmerising and magical adventure full of vivid beautiful storytelling from Joan Haig.  It is full of twists and turns and keeps you guessing until the very end. I absolutely adored it. Another must read book from publishers Cranachan and a fabulous debut from author Joan Haig. I cannot wait to read her next books!







Fierce, Fearless and Free by Lari Don, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon and published by Bloomsbury


Lari Don is one of the most enchanting and glorious storytellers that I have had the pleasure of meeting. During school visits, book launches and storytelling events Lari is an inspirational figure who holds your attention with every word.  Her novels and picture books are some of my favourites.  They are often based on wonderful myths, legends and folklore which I absolutely adore so as you can imagine I was absolutely delighted when a copy of Lari’s latest book, ‘Fierce, Fearless and Free’ dropped through my letterbox.

The first thing that struck me about this gorgeous book was the intricate and beautiful cover and, subsequently, the illustrations inside.  The very talented Eilidh Muldoon has creating a incredible series of work which complements and completes Lari’s words.

For her latest book, Lari has retold various traditional tales of girls from myths and legends from around the world.  These are stories of strong, empowered girls and women.  These are girls who take no nonsense. These are girls who don’t need a prince to complete their fairy tale.

I absolutely loved the range of stories that Lari has discovered and shared from so many different countries. These are tales to inspire, motivate and celebrate the creativity, courage and passion of females in all their glory.

In the Lithuanian legend of Neringa and the Sea Dragons Lari shares how Neringa stood her ground against the powerful dragon, demonstrating bravery, courage and ingenuity to overcome her foe.

The book is full of tales like this. It is an at utterly exquisite collection of traditional tales which celebrate the strength, power and independence of girls and women through myths and legends.  It is a collection that will inspire, excite and enchant everyone who reads it.

This is another absolutely gorgeous must read from a master storyteller.

Lost by Ele Fountain, published by Pushkin Press. Age 9+


There are few books that have had such a profound effect on me as Lost by Ele Fountain.  This story of 2 siblings fighting for their very survival in an unknown world is simply stunning.  It is a beautiful and often heart-breaking tale but ultimately a tale of determination and courage.

Lola and Amit live a comfortable life, free from worry, with their factory-owning father.  Then one day he unexpectedly fails to return home, leaving Lola in charge.  Initially convinced that he has been delayed and cut off by the recent floodwaters the children carry on as best they can as they wait for him to turn up.  But hours turn to days and there is still no sign.  With rent overdue the children find themselves out on the streets, homeless and alone.  When the siblings become separated their situation becomes even more dire.

Lola finds herself with the ‘street rats’, children who are battling to stay alive in a world that doesn’t seem to care. These are children who are shunned by society and regarded as nothing more than ‘rats’.  As Lola gets to know some of these children we hear their tragic stories.

I loved the two siblings and the powerful bond that they have.  Their determination to find each other is incredibly touching and I found myself willing the children to succeed.

Lost is an immensely powerful story which forces you to reconsider your assumptions and to consider those less fortunate than yourself.   It shows that anyone’s situation can change without warning and we need to take care of each other in our societies.

Lost is an emotional, haunting, beautiful and uplifting book. It is a story of survival, resilience, family and empathy which will stay with me for a long time.  It is an astonishing, powerful and important story that everyone should read and I cannot recommend enough.


The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

mask of aribella


The Mask of Aribella is an absolutely enchanting, engaging and beautiful story of adventure, magic and self-discovery set in the thriving and glorious city of Venice. It is full of delightful moments, as well as plenty of dark ones and it would be a fabulous book to share with children at home or in the classroom.

Aribella is a young girl approaching her thirteenth birthday. She lives in Venice with her lace-maker father with little excitement in her life. However, she yearns for more and has ambitions beyond her background. When she discovers a magical secret about herself and flames start shooting from her fingertips it is apparent nothing will ever be the same again. When her mysterious power is witnessed and reported her path is irreversibly altered when she discovers she is part of the magical Cannovacci – a group of warriors who are sworn to defeat the sinister spectres haunting the city.

From thereon we are drawn into a story of mystery, friendship, magic, dark forces and excitement. We follow Aribella as she learns and accepts who she is while meeting an array of incredible characters with various powers. The beautiful Venetian setting creates a superb atmospheric backdrop to an utterly enchanting tale. The Mask of Aribella is stunning book that is hard to put down. It is a great adventure story but also a heartwarming tale of a young girl finding her place in the world. It is a story that will  engage and delight readers and inspire them to create their own incredible tales.

The Secret of the Purple Lake by Yaba Badoe, originally reviewed for @BooksforTopics


The Secret of the Purple Lake is a glorious book and I can honestly say I have never come across anything quite like it. It is clever, beautiful and deeply thought-provoking and it is probably the only book that as soon as I have finished it, I had to pick it up and read it again straight away.

It is a collection of fairy tales that span the globe and that are interlinked in different ways, the full extent of the connections only becoming clear at the end of the book. I found myself literally gasping at various points as the links gradually became apparent.

We start by hearing the story of Ajuba, the Fisherman’s daughter, whose father has died at sea off the coast of Ghana. From that moment things start to go wrong in her seaside village and she finds herself being instructed to retrieve her dead father’s bones from the bottom of the sea in order to bring peace back to her people. We are then taken on a journey from Ghana to Orkney, and from Spain to Norway and Thailand, discovering one fantastical fairy story after another, each one revealing a little bit more of the bigger picture. Small characters we meet in one tale become central characters in another and we are able to delve further into their stories.

We meet an array of wonderful creatures along the way, including Imoro the magic elephant, and we witness many transformations as we follow the characters on their journeys until everything finally knits together at the end.

The Secret of the Purple Lake is, on one level, an exquisite collection of fairy tales and folklore cleverly interlinked. The stories are wild and fun and beautifully written. There are also many themes running through the book that give it a real depth and which merit giving it a second read! One of the themes that stuck for me was about free will, choice and respect. Many of the characters are put in positions that they did not choose themselves, positions that quite often put them in danger. The relationships between the characters is another area for discussion, with some questionable characters thrown into the mix.

The Secret of the Purple Lake is an astounding piece of writing and is one of the most intriguing, beautiful and clever books I have ever read. The learning opportunities are endless and the sheer enjoyment of reading this masterpiece cannot be measured.

Thanks to Books for Topics for the review copy. Originally featured on their website here:

Children's Book Reviews

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