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  • Gladiatrix - Bethan Gwanas

    (suggested) reading level/age: 15+ (suggested) interest age: 15+ Genre: #fiction #adventure #history Themes: *fighting , blood + gore, violence, sexual references Review by Rebecca Roberts Gladiatrix is the story of sisters Rhiannon and Heledd – a story that takes us from Ynys Môn under the rule of the Druidic tribe, the Orddwig, to Rome and Halicarnassus in Turkey.  After the Roman army under the leadership of Suetonius Paulinus massacres their community, Rhiannon and Heledd also expect to die under the sword. But their own prowess as fighters earns them a reprieve and they are sent to Rome and trained to be gladiatrix, to fight in front of the crowds in the amphitheatre. I’m not one for sharing detailed plot recaps in reviews, so I’ll simply say that the plot, as in every book by Bethan Gwanas, is tight and every chapter is filled with emotion, excitement and tension. I devoured the book – once I began reading it was hard to stop. Several times I had a lump in my throat, or punched the air in glee. The main characters are vivid and real, and I was genuinely sad to see some of them face the chop. (No spoilers from me – read it to find out who survives and who gets a trident to the throat!) It's a historical adventure novel, and I really enjoyed the way Gwanas managed to incorporate several important historical figures -Suetonius Paulinus, Boudica, Caradog, Spartacus – into the narrative and portrayed the day-to-day lives of characters in Ynys Môn and Rome without slowing down the plot. Her thorough research is evident, and the sections where she depends more on her imagination and theorising (as the Celts were not keepers of written records) are convincing. The writing appeals to all the senses, and is so evocative that at times I felt as though I was standing side-by-side with the characters. Despite the violence of the period, and the sadness of the characters as they watched their family and peers die one by one, it is not a dark nor sombre novel. It is a novel about sisterhood, and learning to forgive and to survive. If it’s not completely obvious by now, I absolutely loved it. Well done, Gwanas – this is your best book yet. Review by MORGAN DAFYDD “Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” If you recognize that iconic line, you’ll know that it comes from one of the best films of all time – Gladiator. Well now you can forget about Rusell Crowe, because we’ve got our very own book about Gladiators now thanks to Bethan Gwanas – and it’s brilliant. Its shows how good original Welsh novels can be. What little information I had about Gladiators pretty much came from cartoons like Asterix vs Julius Caesar. I’d never quite realised that they were, in fact, slaves, and I certainly didn’t know that there were females Gladiators too! That’s so cool. (or unfortunate for them, depending on which way you look at it!) So the title, Gladiatrix, is the word for female Gladiators and I think it works really well as a title. It has clout. It definitely stands out on the shelves amongst loads of samey Welsh book titles. The beautiful artwork too is just begging to be picked up and purchased. I also knew very little about the Druids who also appear in the novel, but to be fair, no one is quite sure about them, because the evidence is quite sparse. I like how she interpreted them, anyway. Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that a fictional novel like Gladiatrix is going to give you a precise historical account of the period, because that's not what it’s for. Despite the fact that it’s just pure easy-read entertainment, I feel like I've come to know more about these turbulent times in our history a little better, and if anything, it's made me eager to learn more. Living a stone's throw away from Caerhun (Canovium was the Roman name), the evidence of their time here is all around us, if you know where to look. As Bethan herself says, much of our information about this early period is very fragmented, and sometimes there are no records at all. Obviously then, she's taken little pieces of history, and with a little bit of fill in the blanks and some artistic licence, she’s managed to weave an excellent and utterly believable story around the facts. A lot of meticulous research has gone into this book, and the attention to detail is commendable. (it took about two years to write the novel, so fair play!) I’m not going to say much more than what it does on the blurb, to avoid ruining it. What I can say, is that it revolves around two teenage sisters, Rhiannon and Heledd, who were living quite contentedly on Anglesey, with the rest of the Orddwig tribe and their ‘wise’ old leaders… until the Romans show up. Yes, the Roman army has arrived right on their doorstep. Oh dear.  But to think how serious this is, the response from the island natives is quite laughable! As Suetonius Paulinus marches his troops ever closer, the islanders engage in some bizarre pagan rituals, in the hope that their sacrifices will be enough to save them. 'The Romans haven’t got a hope in hell’ they say. Oh lord, they’ve no idea what’s coming for them… When they do finally come face to face with ruthless Roman military force, the sisters are captured and before being taken far far away. After living freely all their lives, they must let all that go, and accept the fact that they are prisoners and will be forced to fight as Gladiators to entertain the Romans. Death might have actually been a blessing. When Gladiators meet in the arena, with the crowd baying for blood, only one competitor is ever likely to come out alive. It’s kill or be killed in the amphitheatre and weakness is fatal. How far will the two sisters be willing to go? I’ll say no more. Other than the fact that BG knocks you for six several times. I was on tenterhooks throughout most of the novel, and some bits of it are enough to make you sick! (though, I must admit, I love all the violence, blood and gore!) Who’s the audience? This is a topic that always gets a bit of discussion going among bookworms. In the case of this book, it’s what I call an OI! Book. (that’s Oedolion Ifanc = Young Adult) But does there need to be a label at all? Ok, so the main characters are teenage girls, but the book will appeal to a wider audience. In fact, I can’t stress enough that adults should read it too. It’d be a huge shame if they didn’t, simply because it’s located on YA shelves. If anything, books in this category are much better – they get straight to the action usually, and there’s less waffle. The author has already proven herself a dab hand at writing fantasy stories that hook you in from the first page and leave you desperate for more. The Melanai series was great, but Gladiatrix goes a step further and is darker and bloodier. What a shame that S4C hasn’t got Hollywood budget, because this is the type of story that would make a hell of a movie! We had fun at the launch event discussing which Welsh actors could play the different characters! Mici Plwm as a pompous Roman general perhaps? Martin Sheen in some capacity? Who could play the sisters I wonder? Because of the fighting, the violence, the bloodshed and the executions the book won't be for everyone, but if you like things like Vikings, Game of Thrones, The 300, Spartacus etc., then you’ll definitely get on with this one. But, remember, amidst the horrors of the situation, this is essentially a story about two sisters, their strength and will to survive. I haven't wanted to read much lately, probably because I can’t keep my eyes open past 8pm (we’ve a 5-month yr old in the house so need I say more?). But this was the book to change that, because I read it all in a couple of days, and it’s given me the kick in the arse I needed to get reading again. Thank you, Bethan. No word of a lie; my favourite novel of 2023. It’s got blood, guts and Gladiators - what more could you ask for? Publisher: Lolfa Released: 2023 Price: £9.99

  • Llyfr Bath: Ffrindiau'r Fferm / Farm Friends [adapt. Elin Meek]

    (suggested) reading age: 5+ (suggested) interest age: 0+ Genre: #bathbook #baby #firstbooks #farm Bath time with a baby can be a pleasure or a complete nightmare! Fortunately, in the case of our 4-month-old son, he seems to love the water, and enjoys splashing and soaking us as we try and get bath time done! Except for feeding time, I think it's his favourite time of day. Although other things crop up, for the most part, we try to give him a bath every night as part of his bedtime routine. The other day, he got this book, Ffrindiau’r Fferm / Farm Friends, from his Nain and he loves it. It's a bath book, so it's made of a soft, wipe clean plastic, and therefore completely safe to get wet. For the last two weeks, he’s been putting absolutely EVERYTHING in his mouth. That's the way babies get to know the world apparently. If he can get hold of something, you can bet it’s going to be chewed up. It’s a good thing then that this book is tough enough to deal with all that. In the book, there are colourful pictures with farm animals, with bilingual text – ideal for anyone looking to introduce a bit of Welsh to their children. When my friends have babies, these bath books are my go-to’s for simple, useful and inexpensive gifts. Despite being a bath book, it’s getting a lot more use than that. For example, we've started taking it in the pram on our outings because it's lightweight and a pocket size. It's just something handy for him to have in his hand to play with and keep his attention. He’s not too keen on the car seat, so anything to keep him quiet is a godsend! Right now, I'm not worried that he's not actually reading the book, but he's definitely examining it with his mouth and enjoying staring at the bright pictures. The important thing is that he’s going to be familiar with holding books. Everything else will come in time... Also, as part of the series there’s a book with sea creatures, Ffrindiau’r Cefnfor/ Friends of the Ocean. I’ll probably get a copy of one of those to keep in Nain’s house. Publisher: Dref Wen Series: Llyfr Bath Price: £6.00

  • Secs ac Ati - Y Stori'n Llawn - Laurie Nunn [adapt. Llio Maddocks]

    (Suggested) interest age: 13-18 (suggested) reading age: 13+ Themes: #guide #fact #sex #healthandwellbeing #teen Age restriction: 14+ (according to publisher) Gwales: The official, no-nonsense sex syllabus and guide to life you always wanted. From the Netflix sensation SEX EDUCATION, with a foreword from the show's creator, Laurie Nunn. Perfect for introducing the new Welsh Curriculum topics in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and ideal for secondary school children, young adults and parents! With the very last series of Sex Education just released on Netflix this month, this feels like the perfect opportunity to discuss the Secs ac ati (Sex and stuff) guide. It only took us a few days to watch the entire season, and now that it’s all over, we don’t know what to do! In her foreword to the volume, Laurie Nunn - the programme's creator - states that the book is a safe space for all the young people, especially those who had boring or poor Sex Education lessons at school. I may not be the exact target audience for this one, being now in my thirties and having just become a first-time mum, but I feel strongly about the sex education lessons I received at school- they certainly left a lot of room for improvement! So when I saw this book, I was intrigued to say the least. A book like this would have been great when I was a teenager, and I think it will be a great asset for anyone, especially young people who are trying to learn more about relationships, sexuality, the body, mental health, STI’s, safe sex and much more. Firstly, I have to say I'm pleased to see that so many modern sex and relationship related topics are being discussed here. Okay, so there’s a lot of information here, but the book is well laid out, full of colour, illustrations and references to the characters from the tv show. It is therefore, very easy on the eyes and overall, an easy read. This is because it has been written in clear, modern, informal Welsh and has managed to avoid using too many difficult, unfamiliar Welsh words. Let’s be clear here, there are very few Welsh books out there that discuss sex in such a casual, natural manner. Welsh is after all, ‘iaith y nefoedd’ [the language of heaven], but it’s sadly not a language that I felt I could easily use to talk about sex and such things. Some Welsh words and the translations of some terms can sound clumsy, awkward and unnatural. I’m just thinking back to those old science textbooks from school! By choosing the translator/adapter carefully, they’ve managed to avoid some cringey and outdated terms. Llio Maddocks is no stranger to talking publicly about sex, and she was the perfect person to adapt this to the Welsh language. She’s done a cracking job to be fair! Back when I was in school, the sex ed lessons weren’t great tbh. I’ve got a vague recollection of a teacher demonstrating how to put a condom on using a banana. I can’t say I remember much more than that. There simply weren’t enough resources for us at the time and the information we received was pretty thin on the ground. Where were the conversations about gender, identity, self-image, consent, healthy relationships and things like that? Whilst there's always room for improvement even today, I'm glad to see that things are different now. Young people are more willing to discuss gender issues openly, and they seem to be more informed about sex overall. Even the Welsh Government has recently stepped up and reformed the sex education curriculum, so that it now includes a lot more info about healthy relationships. Another topic I'm pleased to see featured in the guide is sexting and sex in the online world. It’s extremely important that young people know how to stay safe online and know that it is now illegal to share any sexual photos of someone without their consent. If you're fans of Sex Education (which has been an incredibly popular series), and are aged 14-18, I think you'll appreciate this book, which keeps the light and funny vibe of the tv show whilst tackling the topics that young people are too embarrassed to talk to their parents about! My only concern is that when books are linked with a TV series, there's a tendency for things to move on quickly. I wonder if young people will still be talking about Sex Education in 5-10 years’ time? Who knows? Ties to popular TV series do help 'shift' book products I’m sure, but my concern is that it can make a book seem out of date quicker than others. I’m guessing the book was 'written between the first and second seasons, which means that many of the new characters are missing. This does not, however, detract too much from what is otherwise a superbly informative read. It really would be a shame if the book wasn't widely purchased, because it's really worth reading. Grab a copy- you’ll definitely learn something new! Publisher: Rily Released: 2022 Format: paperback Price: £12.99 The house that starred in the show is on sale. Got a spare couple of million!?

  • Dysgu am dyfu a theimlo'n wych - Llawlyfr i Fechgyn - Dr. Ranj [adapt. Catrin Wyn Lewis]

    (suggested) interest age: 10-15 (suggested) reading age: 10+ Genre: #fact #nonfic #growingup #boys #teen Illustration: David O'Connell I don’t remember my folks ever sitting my sister and I down and giving us “the talk”, you know, the one about “the birds and the bees.” Although a part of me thinks it could have been useful, overall, I think I’m glad we managed to avoid all that! To be honest, back in the 90s you just didn’t talk publicly about sex, and certainly not with your parents! I don't quite remember how I learned 'how things work' but I know one thing - it definitely wasn’t thanks to the sex ed lessons at school – they were hopeless! I’ve got some recollection of finding a very informative, if not slightly graphic encyclopaedia on the shelf at home and getting a real eye-opener! Of course, you’ve got to learn about the 'biology' of it all, but there's a hell of a lot more to it than that. Unlike the dusty, old-fashioned books we had, this engaging, modern guide discusses a number of contemporary topics such as mental health, gender, social media, blended families, anxiety, catfishing and a whole host of other topics. There’s so much more to growing up than learning how a sperm and an egg come together to make a baby (but, yes, if you’re wondering, there are diagrams of those bits and bobs in there somewhere!) I first saw this book in English, and when I heard Rily had adapted it into Welsh I was very pleased. It's important to note that this isn't just a book about sex. It contains information about loads of useful things related to growing up, and it talks about all the crazy changes that happen during adolescence - stuff like personal hygiene, relationships, sports, staying healthy, mental health, cyberbullying, friends, hormones, emotions and more... the list goes on! Speaking from experience, boys quite often get bad rep for being 'childish' or immature when it comes to sex, but I think that's a bit unfair. Boys want to know about all these things, but they’ve got to be presented in a way that will appeal to them as readers. I think the layout of this book makes it quite easy to read. I remember being very curious about sex and growing up from a fairly young age, (about 10 years ish I think) but I always felt I wasn't allowed to ask anyone or talk about it because it was weird or embarrassing. Thinking back, it’s a shame that I had to read books like this one ‘on the sly’ in the back of the library, instead of being able to borrow them and read them proudly. I know that my eleven-year-old self would have loved a handy guide like this. Generally, as a society, I think we are far more open talking about sex, gender and mental health issues that we used to be, and that’s a great thing. Another great thing about this book is that, although aimed at boys, it also contains a section about girls too. It’s vital that boys understand how the changes affect girls too. Being informed about these things fosters understanding, empathy and respect. For someone like me, who usually chooses to do other things over reading, a comprehensive yet entertaining guide like would be just the thing to persuade me to read. With its light-hearted style and humour, this means that the book doesn't feel like a boring PSE lesson. The author's tone is friendly and approachable too – he never preaches and doesn’t sound patronising. Ain’t nobody got time for that! With any book that discusses sex and things, everyone will have a different view about age suitability. As a boy, former teacher and now a parent, I've always felt you’ve got nothing to lose from learning about these things as soon as possible (within reason!). Avoiding talking about things because you think they’re embarrassing is just asking for trouble. I think a lot of myths and misconceptions start by not talking about things. Far better to know the facts! Not everyone will agree with me of course, but I would recommend this book to boys between the ages of 10-15. Summary: This is an informative and useful book, presented in an easy-to-read way with a casual tone. It’s a valuable guide for any boys’ keen to understand the changes to the body and how to gain confidence and to be proud of themselves. Growing up can be hard, but it's also an exciting time (it won’t be forever, I promise!). This book should be in every boy's Christmas stocking! Publisher: Rily Released: 2023 Price: £9.99 Format: paperback

  • Criw'r Coed a'r Draenogod - Carys Glyn

    (suggested) interest age: 3-7 (suggested) reading age: 6+ Themes: #enviroment #fiction #animals Illustrations: Ruth Jên It feels like only yesterday when Criw’r Coed a’r Gwenyn Coll was launched! It’s hard to believe three years have passed. In that book, a concerned little bee came to ask for help from a group of wise forest animals. Time may have passed, but our impact on nature and the planet continues – and is getting worse if anything! (take Rishi Sunak’s recent announcements going back on his word on climate targets for example). The first book was popular because it tackled a very relevant topic, and did so in a colourful and fun way. Out of all the insects, bees were getting a bit of a bad rep (people tend to panic when they buzz around us) The truth is they are nature’s superstars! That's why the message the first book was so important, because it made children aware of the vital role certain small creatures play in our ecosystem. Criw’r Coed (the woodland gang) is a rather random collection of forest animals. As part of the group, there’s an eagle, an owl, a deer, a blackbird and a salmon. Much like the A-Team (showing my age) or the Avengers, they come together to help animals in need. But these aren't just normal animals – criw’r coed are extremely wise and knowledgeable. Oh, and did I mention they rap too? How cool is that? It’s not the bees that need assistance this time, but the hedgehogs. I'm so glad the author chose this animal, because not enough fuss is being made about their plight. Queen's guitarist, Brian May, loves them so much he opened up a hedgehog sanctuary on his land and does a lot for the cause. Unfortunately, that's not enough to stop their decline and we simply must do more! Some sources say the population has fallen by up to 75%! The reasons for this are very complex, but one thing is certain – we’ve played a part in this. Our fences, roads and walls often prevent these cute little creatures from travelling around the country in search of food. What's more, our overly-tidy gardens and affinity for slug pellets have reduced the food available to them. And if you remember the words from Crysbas’s song, a lot of them come to an unfortunate end under the tyres of our cars! Like the bees, the hedgehogs are disappearing. Thank goodness Criw’r Coed are around to give wise advice and turn the tide. By working together, the gang comes up with ideas to save the adorable little creatures. I think it would have been helpful to put a couple of 'tips' in the back of the book about the sort of simple, practical things we can do at home to help hedgehogs. Here's a link for some ideas: The appeal of the series is the combination of environmentally important messages and the fun that comes from the modern and quirky characters. It's not often you see an owl wearing a hoodie, is it? (also – what an easy idea for World Book Day outfit!) But more than that, you can see that Carys, the author of the series, is absolutely buzzing with energy and passion about saving wildlife and spreading these messages among young children. Her enthusiasm shines throughout the book. Just check out the photos below from the recent launch event – it looks like such a great evening with lots of laughs! She reminds me of the energizer bunny, and her passion is contagious! I wonder which animals will need Criw’r Coed’s help next time…? TEACHING RESOURCES: The author, an experienced teacher, has been busy creating learning resources to go along with the book. These are so handy. There are lesson ideas and songs. Follow the links below to download: Publisher: Lolfa Released: 2023 Price: £6.99 Series: Criw'r Coed Format: paperback

  • Laura - Bywyd Mentrus Laura Ashley [Mari Lovgreen]

    (suggested) reading age: 6/7+ (suggested) interest age: 4+ Genre: #history #Wales #nonfic Illustrations: Sara Rhys Covid was a difficult time for many businesses, and in 2020 another well-known and familiar company ran into major financial difficulties: Laura Ashley. Their shops are all over Britain selling luxury clothing and household goods since the 20th century. (I'm we’ve got Laura Ashley wallpaper in our bedroom!) At the last minute, NEXT stepped in to save the 'brand' and have now fully incorporated it as part of the Next family. This means Laura Ashley's future is safe for now, and her name will remain on the high street in one way or another for years to come. But I wonder how many of you knew she had a Welsh connection? Yes, you guessed it, she was Welsh! I remember reading about it in a Dref Wen series years ago. Those books (whilst still useful) are now outdated, and we were well overdue for a new book about this remarkable individual. Nowdays, there are strong and inspiring women all around us, and several chief executives are women. But in Laura's time, this was probably something extraordinary. It's a testament to her determination that she has managed to set up an incredibly prosperous business and raise a family at the same time. And despite the success of her company and all the hustle and bustle that came with it, her family came first every time. What a shame she died relatively young in an accident at home. I love the ‘Enwogion o Fri’ series which always focuses on an amazing Welsh person, shining a light on individuals who may not have received the attention they deserve until now. There's a lot of consistency in the series – text that flows and is easy to read, paired with beautiful pictures that enrich the story. But there are also many differences within the series, and I particularly like the fact that each volume is unique in that there’s always a new combination of author/illustrators at the helm, ensuring that each one feels fresh and different. I can see why this series has been so popular with teachers (as well as parents) – it’s an useful resource for morning assemblies, (it meets some of the requirements of the Siarter Iaith and the New Curriculum, for example). It could serve as an useful resource for an independent research task - yes, the web is great, but Welsh language websites are lacking so books like this are handy. As well as Laura Ashley's life story, I also received a copy of Ann by post. I wasn’t very familiar with Ann. I certainly learned a lot of new facts while reading this book. If I'm being honest, I preferred the book about Laura's life. Nothing against Ann Griffiths, but if I had to choose, I'd choose Laura Ashley's book. I was just more interested in her story. I've passed the old factory in Carno several times on the way down to Cardiff on the A470 and I'm sure I used the company as a case study for my business GCSE project. There's plenty of choice in the series, with lots of fascinating individuals to choose from. Whichever one you pick; you won't be disappointed. I’m going to read Betty Campbell's book next. SCREENSHOTS O LYFR ANN: Publisher: Broga Released: Mehefin 2023 Price: £5.99 Series: Enwogion o Fri Format: paperback ALSO IN SERIES:

  • Ffoi rhag y ffasgwyr - Myrddin ap Dafydd

    (suggested) reading age: 12+ (suggested) interest age: 15+ (and adults) Themes: #WWII #fiction #urdd #adventure #history ‘Two fleeing Germany on the last train before the War – but what about the elder brother?’ From the wording and cover design, Ffoi rhag y Ffasgwyr (also available in English as ‘Fleeing the Fascists’) is presented as the story of a family fleeing Germany and Nazi oppression, but the inside cover describes it as: ‘A novel about Aberystwyth and Urdd Gobaith Cymru during and after the Second World War’. Beginning the novel I wasn’t sure what to expect – a story about the adventures of Steffan and his family, or a story about Aberystwyth and Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Welsh youth movement? As it happens, we get two stories within the same book! At the start of the novel we are given a cast list of the main characters – 13 of them. Also, a map of Aberystwyth’s town, showing the main locations of the novel. But the main characters of the story are the Steinmann family and his children, Steffan, Anton and Lotti. (Poor mum Berta barely gets a mention!). It is through the Steinmanns’ eyes that we are introduced to Wales on the cusp of the Second World War. It isn’t easy to sum up the plot, other than to say that it involves a family moving to Wales to start a new life, and the effect Urdd Gobaith Cymru has on them, Steffan in particular. But this is an over-simplification – there’s a lot going on within this brief novel. It’s a novel which bounds confidently from one setting to another, weaving between characters, moving from the light-hearted to the intense. Sometimes it reads like a gripping adventure novel, at others it’s historical fiction. There were truly nerve-wracking moments where I held my breath and shuddered. But there were also chapters where the story’s pace became leisurely, dawdled even. The mood of the book changes from chapter to chapter, which reminds me of the novels of Louis de Bernier’s (showing my age now – I remember the hype around Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!) in the way that the author is more like an observant camera, sweeping across the scene rather than narrowing focus on a single hero’s journey. The advantage of this is that room is given to things that would otherwise be ignored – the effects of polio, the racism and prejudice visible here in Wales, the founding of Welsh-medium education, and of course, the history of the Urdd. I enjoyed the glimpse at how ordinary people’s lives were affected by the war just as much as I enjoyed the more tense and gripping sections of the novel where Steffan was trying to escape Bielefeld. The ending is very clever in its reminder as to why this period in history and the Urdd’s mission remains to important, even today... but you’ll have to read the book to find out why! Publisher: Carreg Gwalch Released: Mai 2022 Price: £8.00 Format: paperback

  • Sbwriel [adapt. Sioned Lleinau]

    (suggested) reading age: 8+ (suggested) interest age: 7+ #nonfiction #fact #environment #rubbish #earth Ever wondered where that milk carton goes after you throw it away? On quite an adventure as it turns out… I borrowed a copy of this book a few weeks ago from the library, but somehow forgot to review it. I was reminded of it this morning whilst walking with the pram in our local park. Some inconsiderate so and so dumped a binbag full of rubbish right next to the bin. How selfish and thoughtless. Was it really that hard putting it in the bin I wonder? It really breaks my heart when I see people ruining and disrespecting our beautiful world by littering and fly tipping. Anyway.... On to the book. I grew up with DK books - birds, ships, reptiles, buildings... you name it, there was a book for it. As a young reader who wasn’t very keen on fiction, I loved learning about the world around me. Something that still holds true today. I remember many of these books floating about in the nineties, but I haven't seen many of them recently. That's why I'm pleased that Rily has started adapting some of the 'Darganfod' series. Looking at how many titles are available in English already, there’s going to be no shortage of books for them to adapt into Welsh over the net few years… The book follows the tried and tested format of DK over the years and it doesn’t look that much different to how they used to look when I was growing up. (a bit more colour perhaps!) Some might think they're a bit old-fashioned, but for me, they don’t need changing really because they just work so well. The pages are filled with clear pictures, diagrams and interesting fact bubbles that present a lot of information in an easy-to-read manner. I wish all non-fiction books were this well put together. This is certainly a book you could enjoy at home, but I see a lot of use for it in classroom, especially in years 3-6. The Four Purposes of the new Curriculum talks about creating 'ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world (demonstrating their commitment to ensuring the sustainability of the planet). This is therefore the perfect book for an unit of work on recycling, the environment, pollution or the local community. Personally, I’d use it for an information-gathering/research task or as a resource in a group reading session (it opens up a lot of discussion points). You can just read bits of it or the whole book, it really is quite flexible. It suits itself well for presenting different elements of a non-fiction book as well, such as the contents page, index or references. Wales overall has a good record for recycling and sustainability, but we’d be foolish to think we're doing enough. Although things are improving, we're still living in a wasteful throwaway culture. What happened to the make do and mend mindset that was so popular years ago? Whatever happens, going forward, things will have to change. The current situation is unsustainable. I almost feel it's too late for this generation, but there is one glimmer of hope – our children. It's not fair at all, because we've left this world in a right old mess. They will have to inherit all that. I just have to hope and dream that they will do a better job than we did. This book educates the next generation about some of the problems we face. That’s why books like this are so important. Publisher: Rily Series: Darganfod! Released: 2022 Price: £6.99 MORE IN THE SERIES...

  • Bach a Mawr - Luned Aaron

    ♥ Children's Book of the Month: July 2023♥ (suggested) reading age: 4+ (suggested) interest age: 0+ Well, July has been quite a month! Sorry I've been very quiet on here lately, but in the meantime, I've become a first time Dad! On the 5/7/23 Llio and I welcomed Broc Siôn Dafydd into the world! And despite the lack of sleep, he's filled our lives with love and joy since the moment he arrived. Being about a month old, it didn't take long for me to stuff a book in front of him. Bach a Mawr by Luned Aaron arrived just in time – how appropriate. Whenever I hold him, I can't help but marvel at his helpless little body in my arms, and think about how he'll one day grow up to be a strapping young man. Everyone tell us to ‘make the most' of this period, and I know exactly what they mean. He’s grown out of several baby grows already! Apart from having a son, another reason I’m happy is because I now have someone, I can trial new books with – a guinea pig if you like! Whilst I try to do my best when reviewing children's books and be as objective as I can, at the end of the day, I'm not a little kid anymore and I never will be again! Even though he hasn’t yet uttered a word, I can assure you that little Broc is quite fond of the book. How do I know this? Well, he spends hours staring at the pictures, looking at them with wonder and amusement. Also – it stops him crying so it’s a lifesaver. I never realized that babies are pretty much blind when they're born. They can only see nearby shapes, and their vision is pretty blurry for the first few months. The book is pocket sized and handy – just the thing for packing into the pram. He hasn't started chewing things yet, so the corners are safe for now. Babies like bold, vivid and simple shapes – things that are high contrast. He can probably make out the shapes of the animals standing out against the white background. The adjectives that correspond with the words are good ones too – ffyrnig (fierce) and addfwyn (gentle). The basic idea of the book is all the contrasts we see in the world around us. I've also been using these pretty little sensory cards by Priya & Peanut too, but now we’ve got a little Welsh book that does the same sort of thing. It doesn't matter that he doesn't understand what he sees- he finds them interesting and that’s good enough for now. When he’s a little older, we can read and enjoy it a bit more together. Put it this way, we’ll get our money’s worth out of this one. As always, Luned Aaron's pictures are fantastic, and it was very interesting to see on her Insta page a little about the behind-the-scenes process of creating such a book. One doesn't always appreciate the hours of work that go into creating books for children. The sloth is my favourite picture, and that's exactly how I feel after very little sleep! On the penultimate page the animals come together in a splash of colour, and I like the idea of including a word list on the back for those who need it. As I say, this is a simple, but lovely little book by Luned Aaron, and I’d expect nothing less from this multi-talented author/illustrator. Publisher: Carreg Gwalch Released: June 2023 Price: £4.95 Format: paperback

  • Sara a'r Stranc - Nadia Shireen [adapt. Endaf Griffiths]

    *For Welsh review see language toggle switch* (suggested) reading age: 5+ (suggested) interest age: 2-5 Themes: #emotions #family #healthandwellbeing #anger Genre: #fiction #picturebook Know a child going through the terrible two’s? If so, read on! I don’t remember how, but I came across this book recently and thought it was a very good one – especially if you're the parents of a toddler who is prone to temper tantrums from time to time. (so pretty much all toddlers then!) Sara the cat is having a very bad day. It starts with a problem putting on her socks and gradually things go from bad to worse and the storm clouds soon take over. Before long, Sara has reached the end of her tether and proceeds to unleash the biggest STRANC ever! Many parents of young children will be very familiar with this situation. Apparently, when I was little, I had an almighty tantrum on the floor in Marks & Spencer. I bet Mam wished the earth had swallowed her on the spot! *how embarrassing! * I'm sure it's fair to say that every toddler goes through this at one point or another. It's part of growing up whilst they learn to manage and make sense of their emotions. To be honest, it's not just kids either – I think we’re all guilty of waking up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes. Some days, we’re just in a funk – there doesn’t have to be a reason! For parents, this is a book that will surely be an useful tool when discussing emotions and feelings with young children. I think the metaphor of the stranc as some kind of monster is an effective one. I like the idea of control and ownership over the 'stranc' - if you created it then you can control it too and make it disappear. On the last page, we see a number of situations that could potentially cause a meltdown. There’s an opportunity for discussion here, as children look for the triggers that can turn a good day sour. Hopefully, whilst reading through the book, children will be able to recognise the feelings, and to try to calm themselves down before everything kicks off. Learning to manage emotions does take time, though, and not even adults manage it 100% of the time. Bilingual book As I’m currently doing research on bilingual books and mixing languages, I always keep an eye out for new books like this. This one came to my attention because of the format. Bilingual books are extremely popular, especially with non-Welsh speaking parents or learners keen to support their children's Welsh reading. But they can also be controversial. Not everyone is so keen on them, saying that they detract from the Welsh or confuse readers with two languages on every page. Total rubbish in my opinion. The format of this book makes that argument invalid, because you get the best of both worlds here. At first glance, it looks like a Welsh book, but the text is also available in English for those who want it. Instead of putting the Welsh and English text opposite each other, like you normally see, the English adaptation is available as a fold out which can be used alongside the main text. No more flicking back and forth to the back every minute, and no complaining that there's too much text on the pages. There's even a set of discussion questions to help hold a conversation about the content of the book too —handy! To me, it feels like the perfect compromise – it looks like a Welsh book, but it offers bilingual support for those who need it. I wonder if publishing more books like this (with the English adaptation available as an appendix) would help broaden the appeal of original Welsh-language books? I think publishing books like this makes Welsh language books more accessible to a wider audience, and that has to be a good thing, don't you think? I think this is a simple but extremely effective approach, and I'd like to see more publishers follow Atebol by publishing more linguistically ‘flexible’ books. Publisher: Atebol Released: FEB 2023 Price: £6.99 Format: paperback

  • Mwy o Helynt - Rebecca Roberts

    *Use language toggle switch for Welsh review* ♥Book of month (children): June 2023♥ (suggested) interest age: 12-15+ (suggested) reading age: 12+ Genre: #fiction #teenage Themes: Domestic violence / mental health /wellbeing / self-image / grooming /self-confidence. **Contains explicit language** When #helynt was released back in November 2020 (wow, it feels like a lifetime ago already!) the initial reaction was fairly quiet. Rebecca was a relatively new writer, and I think this was her first novel for teens. But, gradually, more came to read about Rachel Ross's troubles, and in May 2021, #helynt won the prestigious Tir na n-Og Awards in the secondary category. (and well-deserved too!) When a first book does that well, I'm sure there's a lot of pressure to make sure the sequel is just as good. I'm happy to say that Rachel Ross, or Rachel Calvi as she’s now known, is back to create Mwy o helynt (more trouble) (see what I did there?) IMO the author has managed to maintain some of the elements that made the first book so readable, but has expanded on Rachel’s story in such a way that it doesn’t just feel like the same old thing once again. To think that Rachel is a little older, she's not much wiser, and she's still making - and finding- plenty of trouble (just as well for us readers!) It's hard to write reviews without spoiling the plot, and I wouldn't want to do that. This book picks up a few months after the turbulent events of the first novel. With Jason, her awful stepfather, in prison for what he did to Rachel's mum, the little family have now had to leave Rhyl. Yup, leave their lives behind and disappear somewhere to keep a low profile. I can't imagine what that would be like. Rachel has now started college, has a boyfriend and things seem to be going well, but it’s not long before she gets her first unwise idea… sneaking back to Rhyl on some sort of rescue mission to her old house to get her possessions. There were plenty of times in the novel where I was saying to myself ‘oh no Rachel, that’s not a good idea now is it…’ In addition to some of the old characters like Shane, Gina and Medium Jim, we are introduced to some new characters. And although Rachel is an extremely perceptive, witty and capable girl, she does do some silly things sometimes. For the right reasons no doubt, but silly nonetheless. As she starts an ill-advised and inappropriate relationship with someone that should know better, the alarm bells start ringing right away for us reading… I’ll say no more. You'll have to read for yourselves to see how Rachel comes out the other side. In light of all the media attention that ‘grooming’ has had lately, this novel feels quite timely and relevant. I have faith in Rachel though. She's a strong character- something that was very evident in the first novel. I think ‘badass’ was the term used to describe her! She definitely isn’t going to let her disability define her. I couldn't help but think 'Go on Rachel!' when she puts Jasmine, (a rather unpleasant girl) in her place. It’s a pity we can’t bottle up that sort of confidence and sell it! Rebecca's writing style is very readable, and the plot and language aren’t overly-complicated, making it perfect for early teenage readers. Reading it wasn’t laborious at all. I liked that there was some English in the novel because to me, it reflects the linguistic reality of North East Wales (an area that hasn’t had much attention in Welsh-language books). I happen to know that the #helynt books are popular amongst other groups as well, and Rebecca has a firm fan base of older readers who have also enjoyed reading about Rachel’s adventures. If Rachel's story concluded after Mwy o Helynt, then I’d be quite satisfied with that. That said, I know from the launch event that the author has a few more stories lined up for her. After a bit of an unexpected twist at the end of the novel, I'm sure there's plenty of scope for stories about Rachel Calvi, the goth from Rhyl... "Newydd ei llarpio mewn un eisteddiad. Nid hawdd o beth ydi sgwennu mor rhwydd â hyn. Campwaith arall gan Rebecca Elizabeth Roberts." dywed Elin Llwyd Morgan am nofel diweddaraf @BeckyERoberts Publisher: Carreg Gwalch Released: Ebrill 2023 Price: £8.00 Format: softback Click here to read review of first novel: #helynt Listen to the playlist that goes with the book...

  • Dros y môr a'r mynyddoedd - Awduron Amrywiol

    *See language toggle for Welsh review* ♥ Tir na n-Og Award Shortlist 2023♥ (suggested) interest age: 8+ (suggested) reading age: 11+ Genre: #myths #celtic #ficition #international Illustrations: Elin Manon Gwales description: Looking at Celtic legends, everyone wonders at the strength and bravery of the female characters. This collection of fifteen myths from seven countries demonstrates this. Welsh adaptations by Angharad Tomos, Haf Llewelyn, Mari George, Aneirin Karadog, Myrddin ap Dafydd, Anni Llŷn and Branwen Williams. A review by Francesca Sciarrillo My initial response to this beautiful book was love at first sight, from cover to cover! And that’s before I even opened it to read the wonderful stories! Immediately, I thought about how I would have loved a book like this when I was a kid. But anyway, I'm glad I found such a marvellous book as an adult, and I'm very happy to know that young children and people across the country can go and discover and enjoy the stories that come alive in this volume. Fifteen stories from different Celtic nations are available in this collection – from Nia Ben Aur of Ireland to Queen Lupa of Galicia. Adorning the pages of skilfully crafted words by much-loved writers are Elin Manon’s epic illustrations. One of the best things about this collection – in my opinion anyway – is the fact that you can read one at a time and return back to the same story, or another story. Each one feels fresh and different from the rest – as they are written by different authors – and that adds to the enjoyment of reading. A cast of strong, bold and brave characters will keep you company such as Rhiannon from Wales and Kowrmelyan the giant from Cornwall. My favourite stories – though I love them all – are Queen Lupa of Galicia and Merch y Tonnau from Scotland. I wasn't familiar with most of the stories in this collection, and I'm thrilled to learn more about the myths and legends associated with Celtic nations. I would really recommend this collection to any young reader who loves stories full of adventure, magic and memorable characters. This is a collection to treasure, and one in which very special women are the stars. How wonderful it is to see how the illustrator and authors have imagined and created these important characters. And without a doubt, the collection manages to "keep the stories alive" for readers of all ages. Morgan Dafydd's take on it, Sôn am Lyfra Books to treasure Out of all the books you ever read, some just really stand out don’t they? They are memorable in more ways than one, and make an impression that lasts long after they’ve been read. One such book for me was 'Heno Heno' edited by Glenys Howells – a book I was gifted when I was five years old. Twenty-seven years later, I still go back to it from time to time, and I've used it many times in class and kids still enjoy the short stories. I can still recite one or two of the stand out stories to this day – not word for word, but near enough! Now obviously, such a book was far too difficult for me as a five-year-old reader, but, Mam read them to me first, until I learned to do it for myself. Dros y Môr a’r Mynyddoedd is a similar book, in that it’s a treasure trove of short stories, and something that can be enjoyed and passed down. Timeless in a way. I certainly would have loved such a book when I was a young reader – books were never so colourful when I was growing up. The artwork by Elin Manon is special and beautifully adorns most of the pages. I’d buy this book just to look at it to be honest! Her artwork really captures the wilderness of the seas and mountains and brings the various authors words to life. New yet familiar tales It's great that we get to learn more about tales with an international dimension from other countries. Most were completely new to me, yet had a sense of familiarity about them. For example, 'Ker Is' is very similar to out very own Cantre'r Gwaelod. There are too many stories to mention individually, but Rhos y Pawl and Purt le Moirrey’s Mermaid were among my favourites. There's so much variety here - that's what's great about the volume. Each story is different, yet, they have one thing in common – the strong willed and brave women who lead each story. Mind you, don’t think that this is just a book for girls. There’s something here for everyone. Language As for the language, I may as well be honest, it's rather challenging. Some stories seem to ‘flow’ better than others and are easier to follow. From my experience as a primary teacher, only the most confident readers will be able to successfully tackle the text independently. But don’t forget – children of all ages love being read to. There's often a tendency not to prioritise story time, and think it’s something for young children. With a skilled storyteller reading aloud, anyone from 8+ will probably enjoy these. The short story format makes perfects for dipping in an out as desired. To sum up, this is a very beautiful volume, and although it may sound expensive at £18, you can tell a lot of work has gone into producing it. It’s one that deserves pride of place on the bookshelf to be sure. The tales: Nia Ben Aur (Iwerddon) Rhiannon a'r gosb o fod yn geffyl (Cymru) Ker Is (Llydaw) Morag Glyfar (Yr Alban) Cewri Karrek Loos yn Koos (Cernyw) Môr-forwyn Purt-le-Moirrey (Ynys Manaw) Llygad am Lygad (Iwerddon) Rhos y Pawl (Cymru) Merch y Tonnau (Yr Alban) Antur Keresen o Senar (Cernyw) Stori Gráinne (Iwerddon) Azenor ddoeth, Azenor ddel (Llydaw) Castell Penârd (Cymru) Cailleach – ceidwad y ceirw (Yr Alban) Y Frenhines Lupa (Galisia) Publisher: Carreg Gwalch Released: Medi 2022 Price: £18 (or free from library) Format: hardback

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