Bookshelf Read Aloud

Witches (Un)Welcome!

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As usual, nothing exciting is happening in Smallbridge. Elsie Pickles is still helping in Pickles’ Emporium, but is finding it very dull. To amuse herself, she has been dabbling with magic she has learned from Magenta Sharp, the Red Witch from Crookfinger Forest.. However, magic is frowned on in Smallbridge and so when Magenta decides to open a magic shop, ‘Sharp Spells the Shop', many of the locals make it clear that witches are not welcome in their town. As Magenta’s shop tempts more and more visitors to Smallbridge, tensions come to a head. But perhaps a little magic is just what everyone needs?!

Great favourites here at JABHQ, I was delighted to find that there is a third to this wonderful series of books which are both fun and funny! For those who haven’t read the others, there is a helpful summary of characters and events at the beginning to set you on the right path.

As usual the story bounces along at a good pace and is full of fabulous characters. Elsie is her usual lovely self, but even she finds it hard to remain cool in the face of some of the intolerance and bigotry displayed by other residents of Smallbridge. Magenta is as irritable and unconventional as ever and leans the hard way that taking shortcuts is not always a wise way of getting what you want!

There is a strong message running through the story about lack of acceptance and people being ‘witchist’. Kaye Umansky exposes the narrow minded ideas of some townspeople which sadly seem to reflect those of a sector of society. However, by the end of the book, most people agree that the introduction of witches to their town has been a positive change and harmony is restored.

Ashley King’s wonderful illustrations appear throughout the book- most pages have a touch of his magic! He manages to capture the characters perfectly, adding to the humour of the story. They really are a winning team!

‘Witches’ (Un)Welcome’ is full of wit, wisdom and wonderful illustrations! A great one to add to your summer reading!

Witches (Un)Welcome Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Ashley King

Simon and Schuster ISBN: 978-1471175602

You can read our review of ‘Witch for a Week’ which was long listed for our Read Aloud Category last year here and ‘A Wish for a Witch’ here.

Will Mabbitt

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Today and yesterday, four of our schools were lucky enough to have visits from Will Mabbitt. At my school, he visited this morning and children have been stopping me all afternoon, telling me how funny he was and how much they love his books. Teachers were also captivated by him, calling him ‘inspirational’, ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’. But we were not the only school that was so impressed…


This account is from another of our schools who also enjoyed his visit.

Our school positively rocked with excitement this afternoon as we welcomed the marvellous, Will Mabbitt, to talk to our children.

Will was both very funny and extremely inspirational - holding the children in the palm of his hand as he told our audience about where he gets his ideas for his books and how he develops them into stories. The idea of basing your characters on your friends saw some of our collective smaller people turn and look at their classmates - already assessing their potential in stories of the future.

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Will’s message that it is ‘OK to make mistakes’ was particularly encouraging and the revelation that he had made over 5000 when writing his first book, ‘The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones’, was greeted with gasps and a few astonished ‘No Ways!’. In a world where the pressure to be immediately perfect is so intense, an established, successful author honestly admitting his struggles with spelling and telling his young audience not to worry about correcting and improving was a rocket to their self esteem.

The session was jam packed with audience interaction- our pupils loved playing the observation game where they had to spot different things in a picture of a rather cluttered writing desk and decide from the objects what the owner may be like. The revelation that  it belonged to Will caused much amusement and when he awarded them a ‘gazillion’ points for their beady eyes the resulting celebration nearly took the roof off!

The session ended with Will reading from his hilarious picture book ‘I Can Only Draw Worms’ - which was hugely enjoyed by everyone -especially the staff!

Lots of our pupils bought copies of Will's books  from the pop up bookshop provided by ‘Books on the Hill’. Both 'Embassy of the Dead' and 'Embassy of the Dead:Hangman's Crossing'( Books 1 and 2 in Will’s new series) were on offer - and every child got their book signed by Will in our library.

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Will took time to talk to every child, asking them a question or writing something unique to them in their book - he made every child he met feel special and those books will be treasured forever. 

It has been an absolute joy hearing all the positive comments from our children about the  author visit! Lots of them couldn’t wait to start reading their new books; others could wait to start writing theirs! Those super fast readers  who had already read a couple of chapters before home time were heard saying ‘It’s proper creepy’ and ‘This might be the best book I’ve ever read!’

Will Mabbit has set off a real book buzz in our school - long may it continue!

Embassy of the Dead: Hangman’s Crossing Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Chris Mould

Orion Children’s ISBN: 978-1510104570

Thank you so much to Will for coming and inspiring so many children! Thank you also to Dom for bringing him and to Books on the Hill for the book sales.

You can read about our last visit from Will here.

The Adventures of Harry Stevenson


Harry Stevenson is a guinea pig whose life is full of eating, sleeping and eating some more. Although food is his main passion, Harry is also very fond of his owner, Billy, sharing snuggles and secrets- an ideal life. However, Harry’s peaceful life is disturbed by the two adventures in this book!

When Billy’s family moves house, Harry should be safe and sound in his box, but some tasty treats tempt him outside. Having been left behind, Harry has to hitch a series of increasingly wild and wacky lifts chasing the family’s van so he can be reunited with Billy. Once settled in their new home, a birthday party and some balloons see Harry off on his second adventure. Fortunately, everything turns out well in the end and guinea pig and owner are together again- and the party declared a huge success!


Harry is a very appealing character and the warmth of his relationship with Billy is beautifully portrayed. Full of gentle humour, the stories also allow the reader to experience and understand Billy’s worries about moving, being the new boy and the importance of having a successful birthday party. Many readers will empathise with these concerns and no doubt feel reassured by Billy’s experiences.

Friendship is an important theme throughout. Billy’s friendship with his much loved pet is, of course, central to the story, but the book also looks at making new friends and about not judging others so that friends might appear in the least expected places.


The importance of caring for a guinea pig is also woven into the story and there are many tips for being a good owner throughout so your guinea pig will popcorn (make little jumps) with joy!

Full of fun, vibrant illustrations of Harry and his friends, ‘The Adventures of Harry Stevenson’ is a brilliant read , perfect for engaging pet lovers as well as those who enjoy a funny adventure story. Can’t wait to see what Harry gets up to next.

The Adventures of Harry Stevenson Ali Pye

Simon and Schuster ISBN: 978-1471170232