Bookshelf Quality Fiction

Willow Moss and the Lost Day

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Coming from a magical family who can do extraordinary things, Willow Moss's talent of finding things does not seem very special. Her sisters, with their 'proper magic', take after her mother; Willow, with her long stick-straight brown hair and brown eyes, takes after her father. So whilst her mother and her sisters visit the Travelling Fortune Fair, Willow is left behind to find things for those in need of her services. However, she finds her queue of customers vanished and the most feared witch in Starfell, Moreg Vaine in their place. Last Tuesday has gone missing and Moreg needs a 'finder' like Willow to help her. And so an unwilling Willow finds herself embarking on a quest to locate the missing day, finding friendship, adventure and a lot of self belief on the way!

This is a wonderful story in so many ways. Full of fabulous characters, the story romps along at an enchanting pace to a very satisfying conclusion. Willow embodies those feelings of not being quite good enough that we all experience from time to time and her realisation that real skill and talent doesn't have to be showy or exciting to be valuable is a pleasure to see. Her courage, determination and vulnerability make her a very likeable character- one the reader is willing to succeed. Her 'sidekicks' in her quest are no less appealing! Oswin, the monster from under the bed who bears a striking resemblance to a cat, Nolin Sometimes, Essential Jones, Featherling, Calamity... each is well developed and engaging.

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The world of Starfell is full of detail and colour. Wisperia, the largest, most magical forest, 'an unpredictable place with magic fizzing about', the Midnight Market full of 'dangerous and deadly looking goods for sale', Troll Country where few apart from trolls venture- each location is beautifully imagined and described.

The perfect read for those who enjoy adventure with a touch a magic, 'Starfell and its heroine, Willow, are sure to be a hit and I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

Harper Collins ISBN: 978-0008308391

Published on the 2nd May 2019

The Star-Spun Web Blog Tour. Girls in STEM: Female Protagonists Busting Stereotypes

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We are delighted to be hosting today’s post for ‘The Star-Spun Web’ blog tour. We’re even more excited because today is its book birthday!

It’s brilliant to have a central female protagonist with a clear love of science and analytical thinking in ‘The Star-Spun Web’. Did you find enough characters in your childhood reading that broke out of those traditional ‘girly’ roles? Is modern children’s writing doing enough to show characters of diverse tastes and interests?

The main one I remember was probably Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, a character I absolutely loved (and still do). Most of the girls in the books I read were ‘typical’ girls – not encouraged to do anything out of the norm – which frustrated me no end. I really had had enough of reading about girls who were given ‘caring’ or ‘caretaking’ roles in stories merely because they were girls, and I desperately wanted to read about girls being the hero, doing reckless things or being brave or making mistakes without being punished for it. I love to read about girls who like to make things, do things, get their hands dirty, girls who like to think and plan and invent. Things have changed for the better in recent years, thankfully! My little girl and I love to read, and some of her favourite picture books include the brilliant Izzy Gizmo, Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist. I love reading those books with her because they’re brilliant, but also because the girl characters are ones I would have adored as a child. I also would have loved a girl like Tiffany Aching as a kid, who does things completely her own way. We need more girls like her, and I'm so glad books like these exist now.

10 fictional girls doing things differently

  1. Tiffany Aching (from books by Terry Pratchett – she first appears in The Wee Free Men)

  2. Coraline Jones (from Coraline by Neil Gaiman)

  3. Meg Murry (from A Wrinkle in Time, book 1 of the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L'Engle

  4. Izzy Gizmo (from the picture book ‘Izzy Gizmo’ by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)

  5. Ada and Rosie (from the picture books Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts)

  6. Rose Raventhorpe (from the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series by Janine Beacham)

  7. Mup (from Begone the Raggedy Witches, book 1 in The Wild Magic Trilogy by Celine Kiernan)

  8. Hazel and Daisy (from the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens)

  9. Mouse from The Huntress series by Sarah Driver

  10. Drest from The Mad Wolf’s Daughter series by Diane Magras

Women in Science: 10 women who changed the world

Some of Sinéad’s favourites:

1. Jane Goodall: primatologist and anthropologist

Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her over 55-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees. She has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.

2. Joan Procter: zoologist and herpetologist

Joan Beauchamp Procter was the first female Curator of Reptiles at London Zoo. She made significant innovative contributions to veterinary practice and zoo displays, and also wrote scientific and popular zoological articles, including early accounts of the behaviour of captive Komodo dragons.

3. Katherine Johnson: Physicist, mathematician

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson is an African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped the space agency pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks.

4. Sally Ride: astronaut, physicist, and engineer

Sally Ride joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have travelled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After leaving NASA, she worked as a Professor of Physics at the University of California.

5. Mae Jemison: engineer, physician and NASA astronaut

Mae Carol Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space on September 12, 1992. After medical school and a brief general practice, Jemison served in the Peace Corps, then was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps. In 1993 she founded a company researching the application of technology to daily life. She is a dancer and holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters, and the humanities.

6. Rosalind Franklin: chemist and x-ray crystallographer

Rosalind Elsie Franklin made contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.

7. Mary Anning: Fossil collector and palaeontologist

Mary Anning became known around the world for important finds she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

8. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: astrophysicist

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. She was credited with "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century". In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She gave the whole of the £2.3m prize money to help women, ethnic minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.

9. Rachel Carson: marine biologist, author, and conservationist

Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. She turned her attention to conservation, especially some problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring, which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people.

10. Chien-Shiung Wu: experimental physicist

Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American who made significant contributions in the field of nuclear physics. Her expertise in experimental physics evoked comparisons to Marie Curie. Her nicknames include "the First Lady of Physics", "the Chinese Madame Curie", and the "Queen of Nuclear Research".

Thank you very much to Sinéad for this fascinating piece. Plenty of food for thought here! ‘The Star-Spun Web’ is a fabulous book and we wish you every success with it.

Thank you too to the lovely people at Stripes for fitting us into the blog tour.

Song for a Whale

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Iris is named for a whale which had beached herself the day she was born. Although her grandparents tried to help the poor creature, it died ‘lost in her new silent world’.

‘She wasn’t born deaf like we were,’ Grandpa continued… His signing hands showed me the whale in an ocean that suddenly went quiet, swimming over there, over there, over there, trying to find the sounds again.

A natural with electronics, Iris obsessively collects and repairs vintage radios, using the vibrations she feels to tell when they were working again. School is not the most satisfying or fulfilling place for her- as the only Deaf student in a ‘mainstream’ school, she is constantly frustrated by feeling isolated, misunderstood or simply ignored, leading to trouble. One science lesson, however, has her gripped as she learns about Blue 55, a type of baleen whale with a unique song pattern, unable to communicate with other whales. Determined to help him, Iris sets about using her skills to create a song at the frequency of Blue 55’s song so that he won’t be alone. This leads to an amazing adventure, whose outcome benefits more than just Blue 55.

Poignant and powerful, ‘Song for a Whale’ explores and celebrates Deaf culture whilst exposing the daily issues and frustrations many face. This is a story about a talented, determined young lady who happens to be deaf. Iris is a wonderful character, but school is a daily struggle as she feels isolated and misunderstood by those around her. Her frustrations continue at home as her father has a limited command of sign language and her mother is determined to keep her at the hearing school.

The parallel between Iris and Blue 55 is skilfully handled, allowing Iris to explore her feelings through her connection to the whale. The scientific aspect of the book is fascinating and the author’s note about whale communication and 52Blue adds to the poignancy of the story. Iris’s passion and empathy for Blue 55 mirror her own feelings and her own struggle to be heard. Having gone to such great lengths to help the whale, Iris comes to the realisation that she can help herself.

Alongside Iris’s quest to bring Blue 55 a song he can understand, the story explores the loss of a loved one and the effects of grief. Her grandmother finds a sense of purpose and direction in supporting her granddaughter.

This is a beautiful book, beautifully told. The author’s background in signing and working with the deaf adds a knowledgeable perspective to the book and offers the reader a greater awareness of daily challenges faced by the Deaf.

A wonderful book for so many reasons!

Song for a Whale Lynne Kelly

Piccadilly ISBN: 978-1848126916

Published 7th February 2019