Emma Carroll

Bath Festival: Emma Carroll


Last week, I saw Emma Carroll at the Bath Festival, talking about her new book, ‘The Somerset Tsunami’. Where I live would have been completely flooded by this event so I was very keen to hear about her story. Emma’s enthusiasm for writing and storytelling is infectious and everyone really enjoyed the session.


Fortune Sharp lives in Fair Maidens Lane, a small community of strong women in rural Somerset. When her neighbour, Old Meg, is accused of witchcraft by a rival cheese maker- a man- the outside world starts to show more interest in this little hamlet and tomboyish Fortune and her brother attract attention to themselves by testing a boat that they made on the Sabbath, a day when such a thing is not considered seemly.

To save her daughter, Fortune’s mother sends her away disguised as a boy to search for employment. Ending up a servant at Barrow Hall, Fortune finds herself caught up with an unhappy family, whose father hates witchcraft yet is willing to exploit the fear and suspicion of others to increase the trade in people across the Atlantic. When natural disaster in the form of a tsunami takes place, Fortune survives only to find herself accused of witchcraft, facing imprisonment, torture and trial.

This is a stunning piece of writing, drawing on a little known piece of (for us, local) history and weaving a fascinating tale using this and other social events of the time. Witchcraft was taken very seriously during the reign of James I who had himself written a book on the subject called Daemonologie published in 1597 whilst he was King of Scotland and the famous Bideford witch trials took place in Exeter in 1682, their hangings being one of the last for witchcraft in England.

Fortune is a wonderful character whose individuality and personality made her an easy target for those looking for a scapegoat for their troubles. Those in power used fear and manipulation to create distrust and division in communities, destroying anyone who challenged the status quo. Sadly, it is not hard to draw parallels with events happening today.

Easily Emma Carroll’s best book to date, ‘The Somerset Tsunami’ is a wonderfully atmospheric, action packed novel which is a joy to read. Historical fiction at its best!

The Somerset Tsunami Emma Carroll

Faber and Faber ISBN: 978-0571332816


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The second part of our Moving On Category…


When their art club teacher is found murdered, sisters Nik and Norva are determined to use their detective skills to solve the crime. There are plenty of suspects- including their father- so the girls have to work quickly to uncover the truth, using their knowledge of the Tri- the estate where they live- and the people who live these.

This is an excellent mystery story with plenty of interest and action. The sibling relationship between Nik and Norva is perfectly captured and each of their personalities is fully rounded. Nik is particularly endearing! The book conveys a wonderful sense of community on the Tri- named for its three tower blocks in a triangular formation- and the reader is able to navigate the estate through the eyes of the girls, giving a sense of involvement to the reader as they solve the crime.

Each character’s voice is distinct and the use of plenty of dialogue helps the story move along at a great pace. Nik’s case notes are helpful as the girls unravel this satisfying mystery. An excellent read!

High Rise Mystery Sharna Jackson

Knights Of ISBN: 978-1999642518

You can read another review of this here.

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When starting at her new school, Effie soon realises that changes need to be made. A girl of action, she decides to run for Junior Student President, presenting a surprise challenge to the current one. With the support of her next door neighbour and a wonderful campaign team, Effie launches herself into making the school a better place of everyone with her policies and ideas. But will these be enough to challenge the status quo?

Effie is a wonderful character- full of vim and vigour and a strong sense of justice. Starting a new school and being friendless is really hard and the story follows Efiie as she navigates a new setting and finds those friends. She learns much about herself during the story, about having to compromise sometimes and that first impressions are not always right, Opinionated and sparky, Effie doe not always get things right, but she cares and her determination and resilience have the reader cheering her on every step of the way.

A must read!

Vote for Effie Laura Wood

Scholastic ISBN: 978-1407187723

You can read another review of this here.


Set in 1922, ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ is a fascinating historical story which cleverly uses the world’s fascination with Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb as its backdrop. The Great War is over, leaving the country relieved, but counting the heavy cost of the conflict. Social traditions and gender roles are being challenged and life will never be the same.

Thirteen year old Lilian, like much of the nation, avidly follows Carter’s search for the Boy King’s tomb, inspired by the fact that her Grandfather used to be an archaeologist. When her grandfather falls ill, Lil intercepts a mysterious parcel addressed to him, sent by a famous Egyptologist, Professor Hanawati - who has been found dead. Lil decides she must fulfil the Professor’s plea and return the contents of the parcel to its tomb on her grandfather’s behalf. A chance encounter at the British Museum leads to the opportunity for a trip to Egypt with Tulip and Oz Mendoza, and their journalist mother and Lil is off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Emma Carroll writes excellent historical fiction, carefully researched and richly written. The discovery of the boy king’s tomb had the world gripped, but there was far more going on than the image presented to the press. The sense of entitlement and ownership felt by the archaeologists plundering Egypt’s tombs is cleverly questioned throughout the story whilst personal scars left by the war are still raw as society and everyone’s place in it changes. Tutankhamun’s own story- that of the child behind the Pharaoh- is also explored through a scroll the children find, questioning how the young king died and the life he led.

Characterisation is strong throughout the story. Lil, the scholarship girl who struggles to fit in, bold and daring Tulip who hides secrets, the sun king himself- each is carefully drawn and filled with life. All the threads are skilfully pulled together, creating a satisfying story to be enjoyed.

An excellent book for those children at the moving on stage, ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ could encourage budding Egyptologists to discover more about Tutankhamun’s life- and death- and the world he lived in.

Secrets of a Sun King Emma Carroll

Faber and Faber ISBN: 978-0571328499

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On a stormy night, a hundred year's ago, a baby gorilla was born deep in the African rain forest. The gorilla elders prophesied that this baby would meet with many misfortunes. So begins the story of Sally Jones.

Kidnapped and smuggled to Istanbul, trained as a thief, abandoned, locked in a small and dirty cage, beaten and treated with great cruelty- these are a few of the misfortunes which poor Sally is subjected to in the course of her life before she finds peace and companionship at last.

Written as the prequel to 'The Murderer's Ape', 'The Legend of Sally Jones' is the story of Sally Jones' life before she met her friend, the Chief, and found a home on board the Hudson Queen. It is a sad story of man's callous attitude to animals and how casually they abuse them for their own ends. Rich white Europeans are shown exploiting the land and its animals. Belgian hunters, a Turkish ivory merchant, a rich widow from Hamburg, zoo keepers- each play their part in Sally's sad life. Only Koskela, a Finnish seaman,shows her the kindness and respect she deserves, nursing her back to health and valuing her.

Each page is beautifully illustrated with one panel, often framed in interesting and unusual ways,
reminiscent of old fashioned travel posters. So much emotion and additional detail is conveyed to the reader through these pictures. Sally's deep despair and dejection are plain for all to see through her eyes and her body language.

'The Legend of Sally Jones' is a stunning graphic novel which allows readers of 'The Murderer's Ape' to discover the early history of Sally Jones, a compelling heroine like no other. It is a book which the reader will return to again and again.

The Legend of Sally Jones Jakob Wegelius

Pushkin Children’s ISBN: 978-1782692331


Having ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate, but Felix does his best to focus. His slipping grades are a worry and everyone keeps telling him to try harder. His parents are under great pressure from work and his Granddad hasn't been the same since Grandma died. When mum suggests they spend more time together, Felix is horrified, particularly as Granddad seems determined to teach him to play chess. However, chess seems to be the key to unlocking their relationship and helping Felix discover strengths and talents he never knew he had.

This is a truly remarkable story. Felix's relationship with his grandfather is beautifully portrayed as it blossoms through the understanding and respect that comes from spending time together. In helping his grandson, Granddad comes to terms with his grief at the loss of his wife and also the impact of his past. As Felix gains in confidence, his concentration improves and his school work benefits.

The first person narrative allows the reader to see the thoughts of someone with ADHD and sympathise with how his actions are easily misunderstood, resulting in his frequently being in trouble. It also creates great tension during the chess matches where Felix's nerves and anxiety are brilliantly expressed.

Full of strong characters, 'Check Mates' is an excellent read.

Check Mates Stewart Foster

Simon and Schuster ISBN: 978-1471172236


Orphan, Matthew Henson, runs away from his violent step-mother to find a new life in New York. Hard working and determined, young Matthew manages to find work in a cafe. Listening to the sea going stories of characters like Baltimore Jack, Matthew embarks on a life at sea as a cabin boy and ends up accompanying Captain Peary on his adventure to ‘discover’ the North Pole. In spite of being the first of the party to reach their goal, Matthew was given no recognition on return to America.

This is a fabulous account of one of the unsung heroes of history. Having battled against the odds, his achievements were unacknowledged during his lifetime and are little known today so this very readable book is an essential addition to libraries and classrooms. The significant contribution made by the Inuit who gave their expertise and support to the exhibition and Matthew’s positive relationship with them are also highlighted in this stunning book.

This book could have taken a place in either our Quality Fiction or our Information categories as it is perfect for use in class; however, this is an extremely satisfying read about a fascinating character with plenty of challenge in terms of content and vocabulary, perfect for moving on those who don’t find reading easy.

Race to the Frozen North Catherine Johnson, illustrated by Katie Hickey

Barrington Stoke ISBN: 978-1-78112-840-4

Reading Rocks South West


Today, Bev and I headed to Taunton for Reading Rocks South West. It was a busy day, crammed full of book-ish delights!


Heather from Reading Rocks started the day by reading ‘Molly’s Moon Mission’, the new treasure from Duncan Beedie, challenging us all to ‘be more moth’ and keep spreading the love of reading!


We were then treated to the explosion of fun that is Maz Evans! She told us about how she came to be a writer and the writing sessions she runs in schools. With lots of laughs and plenty of writing tips, we all came away far wiser- particularly about the folly of using a story mountain!


James Clements spoke next about creating lifelong readers and whether it is possible to make someone read for pleasure! He emphasised the importance of using a range of models and approaches to engage children, sharing ideas that he has gathered from his travels around schools.


Coffee time was accompanied by a range of tasty treats, including lovely biscuits from Bloomsbury! Mt first workshop - about spelling - followed before a lovely lunch!


Things continued after lunch with Mark McClaughan ‘Igniting Children’s Writing’ before local lady, Emma Carroll spoke to us all. She told us how she had attended school very close to where we were and grew up in Taunton. Having always wanted to be a writer, she shared some of her writing rituals and ideas with us.


Another break gave us the chance to return to some book browsing - and buying- at the range of bookstalls. We were particularly delighted to see Greet from Book Island with her lovely range of stories. Bloomsbury, Bookwagon and The Roving Bookshop also offered many goodies!


The day finished with my last workshop- Reading Between the Lines- which focused on using beautiful picture books to inspire and delight!

It was a lovely day, made even more special by meeting up with so many Twitter friends - some for the first time. I was particularly delighted to see Kate Scott - previously shortlisted twice for the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards- and catch up with her. Such a lovely lady!

Thanks to all those who arranged the day!