Award Quality Fiction

The Umbrella Mouse


It’s 1944 and London is under attack. At James Smith and Sons Umbrella Shop, little Pip Hanway lives happily with her mother and father in an antique umbrella until her world is destroyed by a bomb. Orphaned, Pip decides she must find her way to the umbrella museum in Gignese, Italy where she has some family.

Befriended by Dickin, a search and rescue dog, Pip learns she must join the animals of Noah’s Ark, a secret organisation of animals working as resistance fighters, if she is to stand a chance of making it to her new home.

A very enjoyable and exciting adventure story, ‘The Umbrella Mouse’ looks at the role of resistance fighters and the constant perils they faced. The story highlights the work done by rescue dogs and carrier pigeons as well as acknowledging the impact war has on pets as well as humans. Anna Fargher cleverly uses the plight of the animals in her story to parallel those experienced by humans.

‘The Umbrella Mouse’ does not shy away from the darker consequences of resistance work, including the imprisonment and torture of those unlucky enough to be captured. The manipulation of the vulnerable- those who have lost everything and are searching for a new ‘family’ - so that they will join an organisation is also shown through the actions of certain characters. Infiltration and betrayal are also explored.

All of this makes it sound like a very dark and difficult story to read; however, this is far from being the case. Pip is an inspirational character, full of courage and the determination to follow her dreams.

‘You just need to find a little courage in your heart to begin something new’

This advice from her mother carries her through many perilous situations. At times, Pip is reckless, brave with the belief of the young that they are indestructible so that at times her actions endanger others, but her heart is true and loyal. Dickin is another fantastic character whose courage and good heart are up- lifting ad heart warming to read about. Hans might just be my favourite for reasons I can’t explain as it will spoil the book for anyone who has not read it yet.

The book is full of rich descriptions and is a compelling and powerful read. The illustrations really add to the story as we see Pip and her intrepid friends pursue their quest across France. The ending is left open for another adventure for this little mouse… and there is an umbrella museum in Gignese- who knew?!

The Umbrella Mouse Anna Fargher, illustrated by Sam Usher

Macmillan ISBN: 978- 1529003970

To be published May 2nd 2019

2018 Quality Fiction Shortlist

So here it is...

the NSTBA 2018 Quality Fiction shortlist.


A Story Like the Wind      Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver

OUP     ISBN: 978-0192758958

You can read the long list review here.


Song of the Dolphin Boy  Elizabeth Laird

Macmillan Children's   ISBN: 978-1509828234

You can read the long list review here.


Mark of the Cyclops: An Ancient Greek Mystery     Saviour Pirotta

Bloomsbury     ISBN: 978-1472934147

You can read the long list review here.



Just Jack    Kate Scott 

Piccadilly    ISBN: 978-1848126244

You can read the long list review here.

Congratulations to all! The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on the 10th November. 

LONG LIST REVIEW: The House with Chicken Legs

Chicken Legs.jpg

Marinka lives with her Baba in a house with chicken legs which gets up and walks off to somewhere else without warning. This - and the fact that Marinka is a Yaga whose role is to guide the dead through the Gate- makes forming friendships difficult. When she meets first Benjamin and then Nina, Marinka's longing for a different life grows as she has a taste of the companionship she craves. However, things do not work out as she hopes and Marinka has to make many mistakes and face many decisions before she finds her role in life and happiness.

Sophie Anderson has taken the traditional tales about Baba Yaga and woven her own threads to the tapestry of the tale. Marinka, her heroine, is seeking control of her own destiny- stepping outside the bone fence to carve her own future. As her story unfolds, she learns the importance of valuing what you have, but also the importance of moving on and letting go of the past. Stubborn and wilful, Marinka is also loving and loyal and her character is skilfully developed so the reader empathises and is infuriated by her in turns! The House itself is also beautifully drawn- full of personality and charm without uttering a word!

The book is beautifully written with rich language making it perfect for using in upper KS2, as a class read aloud, a main text or for guided reading. There are many passages to savour and enjoy, developing children's vocabulary, grammatical knowledge and love of a good book. Russian words scattered throughout the story could lead to developing children's understanding of that culture and its traditions, including the original Baba Yaga stories. And don't forget, the Geography programme of study requires children to locate Russia on a map of the world!

The cover illustration is beautiful, offering intriguing clues to the story within, tempting those who recognise the Baga Yaga references and those who don't.

For a Year 6 teacher, this is such an exciting story to consider as a class text. There is so much work that could be inspired by it that it's a real gift!

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, cover illustration by Melissa Castrillon

Usborne    ISBN: 978-1474940665