The Summer holidays are over but the feelings don’t have to be when you are reading a good book.
Charlie and Me: 421 Miles From Home is a Middle-Grade novel and a poignant story of families and running away. Brothers Charlie and Martin are on a very special trip down from Preston to Cornwall. They’re desperate to see the dolphin that lives in the harbour there. But although Martin’s used to looking after his younger brother, this is a very different journey for both of them – there’s something even bigger than the dolphin waiting for them once they get to Cornwall.
If you’re looking for a book to help you rewind these last few weeks of summer holidays with empathy and joy, this is the one for you!
I’m pleased to be able to share an extract with you as part of the Back-to-School Blog Blitz.
The town was just waking up – the smell of fresh bread from bakeries. Shopkeepers dragging racks of flip-flops and beach balls out of shops called Wild Bill’s Surf Shack or Bob’s Budget Beach Hut. Street cleaners emptying bins and aiming half-hearted kicks at the cocky seagulls that scrounged around the cobblestones.
We’d been roaming about for a few minutes before we caught a glimpse of the ocean – a narrow strip of blue between two cottages. ‘Might as well have a peek,’ Dad said. We followed a steep lane until it opened out onto the seafront, and WOW!
It was incredible.
The town nestled above a bay about a quarter of a mile wide. It was a perfect semicircle, like the sea had taken a great big bite out of the land. Colourful cottages seemed to tumble higgledy-piggledy down the slope towards it. The tide was right in and fishing boats bobbed up and down on a sparkling sheet of turquoise. To our right, the bay was fringed by jagged rocks that concealed the rest of the coast. At the far side over to the left, an old stone jetty stretched out to sea, with a small white lighthouse perched at the end of it.
Mum squeezed his hand and said, ‘Beautiful.’
‘What are they looking at?’ said Charlie, squinting at a huddle of people on the other side of the road. There were about seven of them standing by the railings and pointing out to sea.
Charlie didn’t wait for an answer. He darted across the road, right in front of a car that screeched to a halt just in time. The rest of us chased after him. On the far pavement, Mum grabbed him by the arm. ‘Don’t you ever do that again. I couldn’t bear—’
But Charlie wasn’t listening. ‘Wow!’ he said, pointing past Mum. ‘Look at that!’
‘What?’ said Mum, her fingers instinctively relaxing as she turned to look.
Charlie wriggled out of her grasp, peeled off his eye patch and pressed himself up against the railings. ‘That! Behind that big blue boat. Next to the dinghy.’
Today’s Middle Grade book title is published by WackyBee Books and is a story that taps into the current push to gain a greater understanding of mental health, particularly in boys.
He skips every second step when he takes the stairs, taps door handles twice and positions objects in pairs. The problem has become so bad that Felix is on the verge of being expelled from school because the principal has had enough of trying to run the school around his very specific rules. Then Charlie Pye arrives and turns his world upside down. She’s grown up with very few rules. She eats cereal for lunch, calls a boat home, and has a very loose interpretation of school uniform. The question is, can Felix ever learn to be wrong when he is so obsessed with being right?
Sally Harris grew up in rural Australia and after graduating from Cambridge with a degree in Children’s Literature, Sally has been busy writing and working as a primary teacher in both Australia and the UK. Her first book Diary of a Penguin-Napper, sold over 10,000 copies and her second book Ruby Marvellous, has inspired children all over the world to try their hand at cooking exploding finger buns! Sally loves animals, including penguins, but as she can’t have one of those as a pet, she has found that a dog is definitely the next best thing.
Maria Serrano was born in Murcia, Spain where she still lives and works. After completing her BA in Arts at Complutense University in Madrid, she went on to illustrate children’s books for several Spanish publishers, all of which are still available to buy at bookshops in Spain. In the UK she has worked with Oxford University Press, Pearson Education and Templar books amongst others. She is represented by the Plum Pudding agency.
What I Thought
We join Felix’s story when he is already reliant on rules and patterns and he is in the midst of those being challenged. It has got to a stage where it is affecting his daily life, his ability to deal with change and to engage with other children.
As well as being introduced to the new girl at school Charlie, Felix’s latest episode means that he is sent to see the school counsellor who starts to work with him on addressing his anxieties.
I loved how the story focused on the introduction of these new characters into Felix’s life and how they both help Felix, and those around him to see things differently. Felix’s difficulties are spoken about in every day language that children would understand and I love the analogy the counsellor comes up with of ‘Basil the Bully’. I think this would be a great book for any child experiencing anxiety to read to maybe start off a discussion with parents or school staff. Or indeed it would make a great classroom read to explore with children how we can support others who see the world differently.
Both Felix and Charlie are fun characters and I loved following their growing friendship. They felt very authentic to their age.
Author Sally very cleverly introduces common anxiety provoking incidents into Felix’s life – some that are everyday (playing with other children at break times) and others that are often out of anyone’s control (substitute teachers who don’t know you, medical problems affecting those we love). And these scenarios help him begin to see how to deal with the uncertainty that life throws at us.
The illustrations by Maria really bring the story and Felix’s thoughts to life and I particularly loved the Rool Boy comic which was an adorable way for Charlie to share her understanding with Felix.
The story comes across as very realistic with no quick fix, no perfect ending but a hopeful journey. Check out the structure of the contents page which also forms part of the story.
It is worth noting that the book is set in Australia and schools in the UK are set up differently. In fact children and adolescent mental health services are generally under too much demand and there is pressure for schools to focus on academic achievement. This means that when children with mental health or social learning challenges (such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, ADHD etc) are achieving academically despite them having social and behavioural challenges they are not readily able to access additional support.
As an Occupational Therapist I see a huge potential role for OTs to be employed within schools addressing this more generally. Charlie even introduces Felix to an occupation that she thinks will help his anxiety. I sense a future fabulous OT in that character. One of my OT friends is exploring a PhD on this topic and I’ll definitely share this book with her, and also with friends who might have children experiencing similar challenges.
Today is the start of the blog tour. Do check out the other stops for reviews and author content.
‘I can get a new brother? On the internet?’ Jonny muttered. ‘Oh sweet mangoes of heaven!’
Everyone has dreamed of being able to get rid of their brother or sister at one time or another – but for Jonny, the dream is about to become a reality with SiblingSwap.com! What could be better than someone awesome to replace Ted, Jonny’s obnoxious older brother.
But finding the perfect brother isn’t easy, as Jonny discovers when Sibling Swap sends him a line of increasingly bizarre replacements: first a merboy, then a brother raised by meerkats, and then the ghost of Henry the Eighth! What’s coming next?! Suddenly old Ted isn’t looking so bad. But can Jonny ever get him back?
About the author
Jo Simmons began her working life as a journalist. Her first fiction series for children, Pip Street, was inspired by her own kids’ love of funny fiction, and two Super Loud Sambooks followed. In addition to children’s fiction, she co-wrote a humorous parenting book, Can I Give Them Back Now?: The Aargh To Zzzzzz Of Parenting, published by Square Peg. Jo lives in Brighton with her husband, two boys and a scruffy formerly Romanian street dog. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is her first book for Bloomsbury.
About the Illustrator
Nathan Reed has been a professional illustrator since graduating from Falmouth College of Arts in 2000. He has illustrated Christopher Edge’s How to Write Your Best Story Ever and the Elen Caldecott’s Marsh Road Mysteries Series. His most recent picture book is Samson the Mighty Flea by Angela McAllister. He was shortlisted for the Serco Prize for Illustration in 2014. When he’s not illustrating he can be found with his two boys and a football on Peckham Rye Common.
What I thought
From the phrase Oh sweet mangoes of heaven, to this sentence in praise of naps, I knew I was going to love this fun and charming book.
Of course I love and adore my sister and never once wanted to swap her!!! Um… whilst that is true now when we were younger we fought so much that I’m sure both of us may have been tempted to try the service offered by Sibling Swap. Johnny and his brother Ted have just had a fight when he spots their advert and he fills out the form not really thinking about the consequences. What follows is a series of swaps with siblings that aren’t quite what he’d bargained for. I think my favourite was the ghost of Henry the Eighth and adults will love the little history nods in that section. And if you are a fan of 80s film Splash you’ll love Mervyn the Merboy.
Kids are going to love the silliness, burping, adventure but mostly… The Hanging Pants of Doom!!!
The story was naturally far fetched – especially the Mum’s reaction to her missing older son- but it made me smile a lot and comes to the inevitable realisation that perhaps our siblings aren’t altogether bad after all.
Definitely one to read out loud at bedtime with the whole family enjoying. (Note – parents may wish to study Meerkat noises before reading).
Now – which one is Fred and which is George again?
Thanks to Faye Rogers and Scholastic for the copy of the book for the purposes of this honest review.