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'Sky Chasers' is a wonderful adventure story, set against the backdrop of France at the time of Louis XVI. A colourful cast of characters- human and animal- tell the story of the Montgolfier family and their race to be the first to fly a hot air balloon. Magpie- a pickpocket- and her rooster. Coco, find themselves caught up in their world, all the way to Versailles and the King and Queen of France.

Magpie is a delightful, lively, brave and intelligent character who, despite all the circumstances stacked against her, is determined to do the ‘right thing’ and shows great loyalty to those around her. Her enquiring mind and determination to help allow the reader to see the development of the invention through its successes and set backs through her eyes. Each character from the family to the servants and even the King and Queen of France is well developed and engaging, such is Emma Carroll’s skill.

There is much to explore and enjoy in this book, making it the perfect starting point for work with a class. It offers the joy of looking at an area of non-British history not dictated by the curriculum, opening children to the world of aviation history, pioneers in this field, the science and technology behind flight as well as France poised on the brink of revolution. Plenty to research and explore about the family and their country at this time! In the notes at the back, it says that the flight in front of Louis XVI and his court took place in 1793 which should read 1783. Eagle eyed children may spot this; the book clearly opens in March 1783!

Prejudice about class, race and gender are all observed by the wonderful Magpie in the story. The King's casual attitude to the lives of his subjects, Magpie's unacknowledged contributions to the experiments, assumptions made about people- all ripe for discussion, debate and challenge. Attitudes to animal welfare could also be discussed.

'Sky Chasers' would also make a wonderful starting point for science and technology lessons about balloon flight, materials and their properties, atmospheric conditions and offers brilliant opportunities for truly working scientifically. Imagine a great balloon challenge! 

The story is quite beautifully told and moves along at a pleasing pace, full of excitement and action. There is something for everyone to enjoy in these pages as the complexities of family relationships sit amid the historical details and scientific discoveries. Adventure and excitement make this a rich tale based on a true story.

Sky Chasers   Emma Carroll

From a prize-winning idea by Neal Jackson

Chicken House     ISBN: 978-1910655535





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Izzy Gizmo is an inventor. She has her own tool bag and is constantly on the hunt for things to mend or upcycle. Despite creating the most incredible functioning machines, Izzy is also learning that gadgets and gizmos can often have glitches: her Tea-Mendous popped a piston and Swirly-Spagsonic turned the wallpaper to confetti. Whist being incredibly clever, Izzy does lack the ability to stay calm when her creations don't go quite right. She will grump and huff, and in frustration, want to quit; without her grandpa's patient advice and support, she probably would. Grandpa convinces her to keep on trying if she wants to succeed.

When Izzy comes across an injured crow in the garden, the spark of inventive creativity is reignited within her. She is determined that if the vet can’t fix the crow’s wing, then she will. Izzy studies and gathers all the gadgets and gizmos she might need. Her first attempt at creating a new wing fails miserably and her confidence as an inventor is again knocked. With Grandpa’s gentle encouragement, Izzy finds the confidence to keep trying. Izzy attempts many different creations but eventually learns that the only way to succeed is to try, try and try again.

A beautiful, engaging story told entirely in rhyme, Pip Jones’ text and Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations work together seamlessly to tell this inventive story of Izzy, her grandfather and their fathered friend. This powerful story not only features creativity and problem solving, but also offers an opportunity to discuss a growth mindset. It has alliteration, rhythm and bright, engaging images, which are full of opportunities for inference. There are many ways to engage the reader through questions: ‘What will happen if Izzy switches it on?’, ‘What will grandpa think?’. 

This book not only offers a picture book perspective on STEM, but also champions diversity. The character of Izzy is not only female but black, much like the character of Ada Twist in ‘Ada Twist Scientist’. It was Pip Jones’ hope that her character provide children of all ethnicity an opportunity to see themselves in print, something she struggled to see when she herself was a child.

After reading this book readers could…

  • Create their own design for something to use around the home, like Izzy’s Tea-Mendous and the Swirly-Spagsonic.
  • Design a wing for an injured crow.
  • Make a wing for an injured crow from plastic, cardboard and old springs.
  • Write a letter to Izzy to encourage her not to give up on her inventions.
  • Investigate some of the gadgets Izzy uses and find out how they are used - pumps, engines, sprockets and sumps.
  • Research crows and find out if they really are as clever as the crow in the book.

 Izzy Gizmo  by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Simon and Schuster    ISBN: 9780857075130