Magical new book releases

If you read my review of “Dragonfly Song” by Wendy Orr you know that I adore YA fiction. My all time favorite is the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pulman. After I used to re-read the complete series around Christmas time, last weekend brought a wonderful surprise: I discovered “The Book of Dust”, a prequel to the story of my favorite heroine of all times – Lyra. To be completely honest, the book is out since a few months now. It’s kind of embarrassing, but between family life, work, running and reviewing I totally missed one of the (for me) most magical releases…

This week brought another surprise: Elizabeth Foster contacted me some weeks ago with the offer to review her first novel “Esme’s wish“. Her description of the book blew me away: “A city of sea dragons, songspells and glittering canals. A city where waters whisper of enchantment. A place sewn into the fabric of her dreams…” Yes, definitely my kind of book! 🙂 Today, the book arrived after a long flight from Australia. I can’t wait to read and review Esme’s story and will keep you posted!

Wendy Orr is a fan already: “A fresh new fantasy, of an enchanting world.” If you want to check out Elizabeth Foster’s new book before my review, visit her homepage, her publisher Odyssey Books oder goodreads!

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…all I wish for Christmas is more time to read. And new running shoes maybe 🙂 What is on your list?

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„My friend robot“ by Sunny Scribens

Childhood and education today is different from our upbringing in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But is this a bad thing? Definitely not! Society changes, and so do the requirements for preparing children for today’s world. One example is the growing importance of STEM: Today, science, technology, engineering and mathematics are essential skills for everyone. But STEM doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, even seemingly complex machines like robots are based upon basic principles every preschooler can understand and practice…

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“My friend robot” by Sunny Scribens, published by Barefoot Books, is one of the few STEM books for toddlers and preschoolers. Scribens doesn’t start with complicated programming questions or even mentions computers. On the contrary, the story begins with a situation every child can relate to: Who can us help build a tree house? Luckily, a friendly robot joins the diverse group of friends and helps using simple tools like a wedge, a wagon, screws, a ladder, hammer and pulley. Together the team follows simple steps to make their dream of a house come true. Every child helps in their own way, from carrying wood blocks to pushing a wagon. The situation grows with complexity, until the tree house finally stands. There is just one thing to do: Comfort the shy dog on his way up into the tree house…

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Scribens shows that technology and empathy aren’t exclusive to one another. To finish a project you need skills, heart and passion! Easy to repeat rhymes and an accompanying CD make the book adequate for younger children.

The for us really fascinating part of the book was the appendix: Several pages of information about programming and robotics teach children about simple machines and ignite interest in STEM. Engines, printer and computer might be hard concepts for young readers to grasp – that’s why Sunny Scribens starts with “simple machines”, basic devices to make work easier. She then goes on to everyday robotics most children know and shares he fascination of programming robots. A simple play “Scientist says” teaches children the basic principles of programming code.

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We absolutely love the colorful illustrations by Hui Skipp, an illustrator born and raised in Taiwan. The bold colors will catch every toddler’s and preschooler’s eye and perfectly fit the STEM topic. Finja loved to “read” the book with help of the easily to understand pictures: “Who will help us use this nail? My friend robot, my friend robot!”

You see: “My friend robot” is a great book to ignite your toddlers or preschoolers interest in science and technology. Have fun reading, singing and learning!

More information
„My friend robot“
published by Barefoot Books
written by Sunny Scribens
illustrated by Hui Skipp
CD sung by Norma Jean Wright

“Yokki and the Parno Gry“ by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby

I love fall! This is the time to cuddle up with a good read, to re-live favorite stories and find new ones. We enjoy reading fairy and folk tales and discovered some great retellings of old fables.

On one of these nights, we fell in love with “Yokki and the Parno Gry” by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby, published by Child’s Play. Inspired by a traditional Romanian folk tale, “Yokki and the Parno Gry“ tells the story of a travelling family.

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Yokki and his family are travelers. They take their canvas tents over the country. In the winter, they are selling what they made with their own hands, before picking fruits and vegetables and working for local farmers during harvest season. Telling stories is a big part of everyday life: In the evening, the whole family gathers around the fire to share fables and experiences. Little Yokki is telling the best tales, retelling what he heard from other people, mixing it up and adding bits of his own.

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Yokki’s creativity and talent becomes more and more important when the family goes through hard times. After a wet summer and a poor harvest, he shares the story of the Parno Gry, a powerful white horse who would fly into camp and bring them away to a foreign land with plenty to work, harvest and eat. Dreams alone don’t fill stomachs, but Yokki’s wise grandmother supports his love for storytelling. “Sometimes all we have are our dreams”, she says. “They keep us going until the next opportunity appears.”

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Indeed, after one especially cold night, Yokki’s dream seems to become reality. A huge white horse appears to take the family and all their belongings, soar high in the night sky and bring them into a land full of wonder: Cold air, fruit trees, a clear stream, wild gardens and vegetables growing in the rich soil promise a better future. To this day, Yokki’s family believe and value children’s dreams and imaginations. Especially in their darkest hours, when they need them to find inspiration and strength.

Like every folk tale, “Yokki and the Parno Gry” leaves a lot to the imagination. This makes the book perfect for readers every age: Our five-year-old loved the idea of dreams becoming reality. As a parent, I like to inspire her believe in the importance of her dreams and stories. Finja loves to spin her own fables and Yokki’s story strengthened the need make up and tell stories on her own! Older readers are invited to dive deeper into the world of Romani folk tales, maybe develop an interpretation of their own. The book also gives us a glimpse into a culture, that is not well known in the US and therefore barely understood.

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“Yokki and the Parno Gry“ was written in cooperation of Richard O’Neill, a Romani storyteller raised in North England, and Katharine Quarmby, an award-winning journalist and writer. Richard O’Neill knows about the traveler’s life of his forefathers: Born into a large family in small a mining community in the North East of England he travelled with the seasons all over the country. According to his own words, he is “taking his storytelling skills around the country, winter will find him in Manchester, the rest of the year telling tales and performing anywhere from Cumbria to Cornwall, Skegness to Southport.” Best known for storytelling, Richard is also the author of a number of children’s books, and award-winning plays for adult audiences, a number of which have been broadcast on national radio.

We can thank Marieke Nelissen for the eye-catching drawings in this book: Made with ink and watercolors they are full of expression, but not distracting. Marieke Nelissen’s images are the perfect illustration for a folk tale about the power of imagination.

“Yokki and the Parno Gry” is the perfect read for a rainy weekend or a stormy night. Enjoy!

More information:

“Yokki and the Parno Gry”
written by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby
illustrated by Marieke Nelissen
Publisher: Child’s Play International
ISBN-13: 978-1846439278

“Henry and Boo” by Megan Brewis

It’s Halloween time! And, like every year, we binge-read our favorite book of the season: „Room on the broom“. Reading Julia Donaldson’s classic definitely changed in the last five years. While we could barely make it through all pages with a three-week-old infant in 2012, Finja memorized every page last year and now “reads” the book by herself. “Room on the broom” is a wonderful story about friendship and compassion being repaid in kindness.

“Henry and Boo”, a new release published by Child’s Play, might be totally different from our favorite Halloween read. It picks up the friendship-topic in a similar manner though: The book, written and illustrated by Megan Brewis, tells the story of an unlikely friendship. It all starts when dog Henry’s afternoon tea is interrupted by a purple rabbit sitting next to his tea pot, shouting “Boo!”.

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“Henry and Boo”, published by Child’s Play
“Boo!” seems to be the only word the unwelcome newcomer is able to pronounce, and so Henry soon tires of his new companion. But no matter how often the tries to get rid of “Boo”, “Boo” follows him everywhere and does whatever Henry does. “Boo” is not the only one, though: Attentive readers soon spot a dangerous, hungry bear stalking Henry… And just as Henry made the final decision to mail the annoying Boo far, far away, “Boo” jumps out of the mailing box, shouting his famous “Booo!” – scaring the attacking bear away and saving Henry’s life.

Megan Brewis has a wonderful illustration style: Her watercolor images with warm, stark colors are a pure eye catcher. And although I was getting a little wary of Finja shouting “Boo” over and over again, she loved the tale of an unlikely friendship. Henry and Boo’s story is written in an uncomplicated manner, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers eager to interact with a story.

One question remains though: Where did “Boo” come from? According to our five-year-old, “Boo” is a magical being. Or is he a stray rabbit, searching for a new home? No matter where “Boo” comes from: He might not have been welcomed at first, but he now makes Henry’s life a little brighter.

More information:
“Henry and Boo”
written and illustrated by: Megan Brewis
published by: Child’s Play
ISBN-13: 9781846439995

“All about cats” by Monika Filipina

Besides reading, there is one big passion in our family: Cats. Currently, there is just one feline living with us: Fleckli is part of our family for over 12 years now. She moved in as a frightened shelter-kitten when Immo and I were still studying. She and her friend Sakura, a stray from Austria, relocated to the US with us. Unfortunately, we had to let Sakura go shortly after Finja was born… By now, Fleckli is a healthy, confident cat lady. She’s definitely the head of the household – at least in her opinion… 🙂

Cats also are my professional passion. I’m founder and former chief editor of Germany’s first independent magazine for cats, Pfotenhieb, and work for a charity pet food line. As an avid reader, my biggest dream came true when a German publisher asked me to write a few books about cat care, cat health and cat nutrition…

So, it’s no surprise, that “All About Cats” from Monika Filipina immediately caught our eye! Another reason: The beautiful, funny book cover with multiple Felines peeking at us.IMG_9065

Finja and I couldn’t wait to start reading (and reviewing) the book!

Turning the first page, you see multiple cats looking at you through windows: Feeding cats, dreaming cats, angry cats, tranquil cats, sleeping cats, lurking cats and cat families. They are relaxing, waiting for their humans to return – or aren’t they? When you live with cats you probably know that the myth of cats sleeping the whole day is just that: A myth. But what exactly are cats up to as soon as we leave the house?

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Monika Filipina has some ideas… Do cats play, maybe even Tennis? Do they read? Do they bake? Or do they just curl up and sleep – just to wake up and make a big mess? Every page teems with wild, colorful cats doing “their” thing. Cupcake anyone? At least that would explain why the kitchen looks like a tornado just went through it after the cat’s “wild five minutes”. And what did the cat do with the wool – trying to knit a cozy sweater for the cold season? Every page causes chuckles. Finja loved to tell me what cats do and what they don’t – or do they? We burst out laughing a couple of times.

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Not all of the author’s suggestions might be serious. They show that cats are up to more than sleeping though! I lived and worked with cats long enough to know: No cat is like the other. Monika Filipina did a wonderful job giving each of her four-legged heroes a real personality: With just a few pencil strokes she captured proud black cats, tinkerer cats exploring any nook, long-haired beauties and calmer cat characters. Her colorful illustrations also show, that cats need more than a cozy pillow for a nap. What about a scratching post, so the angry black feline doesn’t need to rasp her claws over the bookshelf? What about hide treats through the house, so your cat can go searching for her personal pirate treasure while you are at school or work?

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“All about cats” is a fun, colorful book for preschool aged children and their parents. Child’s Play, a small independent publisher, did a great job bringing out this exciting book with extraordinary illustrations and an unconventional look at cat behavior! Open-ended questions provide lots of room for conversations. And the illustrations by the London based artist are just magical… I wish the publisher would offer art prints of these Felines:

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A guaranteed hit at story time!

More information:
“All about Cats”
written and illustrated by Monika Filipina
Grade Level: Preschool – 2
Publisher: Child’s Play International
ISBN-13: 978-1846439339

“Dragonfly Song” by Wendy Orr

From the first glimpse of the magnificent cover I knew that „Dragonfly Song“ would be a glorious read. A fantasy story embedded in history? A strong heroine? Sign me up!

Long story short: “Dragonfly Song” was all what I expected it to be – and, at the same time, completely different. Is that a good thing? Definitely! “Dragonfly Song” is a magnificent, magical book for teens and young adults. During a sleepless night, I couldn’t put the book down. I suffered, laughed and, yes, cried. And although I live and die with books, I don’t cry often 🙂

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But let’s start at the beginning.

Crete, Bronze Age. When Aissa is born with two additional thumbs, her mother, the oracle of Crete, casts her out. Aissa is lucky: The servant entrusted with taking her away suspects that there’s more to the girl. Instead of death, Aissa earns a second chance with a farmer’s family. When raiders kill her adoptive parents and Aissa is the lone survivor, she finds herself on her own again… In a town where the mute girl is denounced as a demon, Aissa has to find her own way to survive and escape her miserable existence. Might the yearly lottery for bull-riders, who will be send as tribute to the bull king’s island, her chance?

I expected fast action when I turned the first page of “Dragonfly Song”. Instead, I found a slow revealing, deep, thoughtful and almost philosophical tale of an abandoned girl and her fight for a better existence. “Dragonfly Song” is more than just a good read. It’s a saga, not just a retelling of the legend of the Minotaur, but a tale of fighting for one’s identity. It’s the story of a strong girl taking her life in her own hands, finding her way against all odds.

We take part in Aissa’s thoughts, dreams and hopes and live with her through highs and lows. As a mother, it pained me to see the girl suffer, living from scrapes on a good day, going hungry for bad days. The townspeople’s treatment of a child left me angry. Then I was at the verge of crying happy tears when Aissa found a special friend in the oracle’s cat and when a bed from seaweed gave her the first good night sleep in years. I might not be the author’s anticipated target audience – but I’m a really critical reader and Wendy Orr’s ability to let me hurt like this speaks for her storytelling!

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Wendy Orr slows down significantly. She incorporates rhyme, which makes “Dragonfly Song” lyrical and interesting to read. Orr’s poetry might be challenging for the average midgrade reader. The sections are not bothersome, though. Embedded in Aissa’s story, at the right time and in the right place, they intensify the feeling of “Dragonfly Song” being a saga. Orr’s writing makes the book really special and a wonderful read – even for mid-graders!

Dragonfly Song” – an outstanding book for young (and old 🙂 ) adults! Read it! Now!

More information:
“Dragonfly Song”
by Wendy Orr
Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Publisher: Pajama Press (October 27, 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-1772780376

Cold, rainy fall days – here we come!

Cold mornings, sunny afternoons and the first smell of Pumpkin Spice everything. I hope I’m not the only one looking forward to fall! Freshly baked cookies. Pumpkin Spice Latte. Hot tea. Rainy weekends with lots of time to read…

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After a crazy summer with selling and buying a home, moving, a huge water damage, doing all the repairs and remodel and finally traveling for two weeks due to a family matter in Germany we are ready to slow down a bit. After months and months of mulling over it I finally decided to quit my day job for a company in Europe. Even a nice home office doesn’t compensate for crazy working hours due to a nine-hour time difference… This decision was really tough for me. I worked for this company for over 11 years. My colleagues in the marketing and private label department made sure I never felt “left out”, even with 5263.48 miles distance between us. Plus: I just re-created my home office… Look at these pictures! I’m never sure if I should concentrate on my laptop, my book shelves or this beautiful sight…

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Echo Lit created some of my favorite pieces in our new home. But: We have more!

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This is for our “reading nook”. Even my husband with his love for audiobooks couldn’t resist… The quote from “The Minpins” was the beginning for Finja’s and my hunt for classic children books. We read quite a few! 🙂

I know that all this isn’t an excuse, but just an explanation why “The Reading Castle” appeared abandoned during the last weeks. But: We’ll be back! Just today I found a wonderful surprise after an exhausting day: Myrick Marketing, a company I work with regarding reviews for children’s books from many international publishing houses, send me a review copy of “Dragonfly Song” by Wendy Orr, published by Pajama Press. The package was complete with a signed autograph of the author, a button (my daughter immediately stole this one 😉 ), and a special bookmark! Now I definitely can’t wait for fall and more time for books anymore…

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You probably didn’t know that I read lots and lots auf YA fantasy in my free time. I especially love books with unusual, clever and independent heroines. Books I can recommend to Finja once she’s a little older…

In Dragonfly Song, Orr weaves an intriguing mythological portrayal of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, where subject nations are forced to send youths each year to dance with bulls in the god-king’s bloody ceremonies. Inspired by Crete’s frescoes showing figures leaping over the backs of bulls, and by the legend of the Minotaur, Orr spins a gripping story of danger and destiny that will appeal to fans of Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games.
Aissa is a resourceful and resilient heroine who possesses a mysterious bond with animals. Mute since the traumatic raider attack that took the only family she ever knew, and spurned by a community that thinks she carries bad luck, Aissa takes her survival, identity, and destiny into her own hands. In a world where the gods demand perfection, Aissa — scarred, silent, and rejected — dares to fight for her own worth.

Kirkus review wrote:
“Orr tells her tale in both narrative poetry and prose for an effect that is both fanciful and urgent, drawing a rich fantasy landscape filled with people and creatures worthy of knowing. An introductory note describes Orr’s inspiration in the legend of the Minotaur, but her story is no retelling but a meditation on rejection and acceptance, on determination and self-determination. The shifts between poetry and prose build tension just as surely as the bull dances do. As mesmerizing as a mermaid’s kiss, the story dances with emotion, fire, and promise.”

Still wondering why I can’t wait for a few cold, rainy fall days to experience Aissa’s world myself?

What’s on your reading list for fall?

“The Sports Timeline Posterbook” by “What on Earth?”

A few months fly by quickly… And suddenly you realize you have not posted in a while… Hopefully your summer was filled with lots of fun, sun and good books!

We developed a new ritual: Finja “reads” a book to me every night after we are done with our story time. At first, I was astonished how good she memorized books we didn’t read for a while. Sometimes she was able to reconstruct stories word for word! One of her favorites right now: “Leah’s mustache party” by Nadia Mike, a book we reviewed in July 2016. Can you guess why?

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We also discovered the biggest book we ever read: The “The What on Earth? Sports Timeline Posterbook”. The unassuming cover of the fold-out-book hides a 2-meter-long laminated timeline with more than 1,000 pictures of more than 100 different sports from the early Olympics to horseback riding, climbing and world records. The big format might not be handy for reading in bed, but it’s perfect to discover different sports and their history on a rainy afternoon!

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Recommended for children 7 to 14, the posterbook packs lots of knowledge for adults, too. Our preschooler immediately begun discovering the different sports and started her own “search, find and explain” game: “Mom, where is the person without a head. And why is he bleeding?” Luckily, we spend some time with explaining the different disciplines of horseback riding after that…

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The “What on Earth? Sports Timeline Posterbook” makes a stunning wall display and is perfect for (pre-)schools, playrooms and children’s rooms. The publisher “What on Earth?” offers different wall books, poster books and even sticker books about the history of nature, science, big history and Shakespeare. Unusual books and a perfect gift for curious minds every age!

More information:
The Sports Timeline Posterbook
by What on Earth?
ISBN: 978-0-9954820-7-4

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„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Which child doesn’t like the zoo? Finja loves visiting her favorite animals – and she always knows which to visit first. The jaguar always is number one – and then come the goats, the bungees or the lemurs, depending on her mood. The tree kangaroo always has to be part of our tour, too. I’m always in awe of the teachers who are handling a whole group of children without one of them wandering of!

„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love.
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love.

That’s not a Hippopotamus“ by Juliette MacIver is a story about a school class visiting a wildlife park. “Don’s Safari” declares to have “every creature in the land, roaming wild, safe and free”. Looking at the list of animals the children soon realize that one animal is missing: The Hippopotamus. Don is sure the wild park is home to a hippo – and so the search begins. The hippo is really good at staying hidden among the other animals, and so the resolution to “fetch him in no time at all” end in lots of confusion. The self-declared hippo-hunters catch a giraffe, an elephant and even a skunk, but the hippopotamus stays just out of reach – always in the picture, newer spotted by the class. Only the shy Liam seems to be able to uncover the mammal’s disguise…

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„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love. A book for rainy days, snowy days, sunny days and whenever you or your child need some excitement in your life. The humor of the story is irresistible, the rhyme makes reading aloud extremely entertaining and Finja loved to scream “That’s NOT a hippopotamus!” after every mix-up. The illustrations by Sarah Davis are colorful and show real emotions. You can easily spot the anxious child in the diverse class, the more outgoing one, the loud one, the quiet one and the child that always is more careful than is classmates… Last but not least: Who doesn’t love a “search and find”-theme? Reading „That’s not a Hippopotamus“ can become a game: Who can spot the hippo first – you or your child? I have to be honest: Finja is way better at this than I am! 😉

„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is a fun picture book for kids in pre- and elementary-school. Our daughter wanted to read it again and again and again and again (…) and will take it to preschool tomorrow. That’s definitely a ribbon of excellence from this little reader!

The book was published by “Gecko Press”, an independent publisher from New Zeeland. According to Gecko Press, the publishers aims to encourage children to love to read, because “one good book can spark a lifetime of reading”. Books like „That’s not a Hippopotamus“ definitely make it easy for kids to find their love for literature!

More information:
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“
written by Juliette MacIver
illustrated Sarah Davis
Publisher: Gecko Press (August 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-1927271964

“Getting ready”, illustrated by Cocoretto

Sometimes it feels like getting an almost-five-year old ready in the morning takes more time and patience than simply putting clothes on a newborn… Selecting “the right dress” and discussing about wearing or not wearing a rain jacket takes ages each morning!

The board book “Getting ready”, published by Child’s Play, was perfect for Finja’s current phase! It might be recommended for younger children, but is a wonderful book for independent little readers who want to discover a book without mom’s or dad’s help. Finja loved it so much that she decided to review it herself 🙂

Child’s Play is an independent publisher specialized in whole child development, focused play, life skills and values. “Getting ready” indeed is a fun little book for all ages! The author/illustrator team behind “Cocoretto” created a wonderful board book. Finja especially loved the tactile elements, which enabled her to discover and read it herself.

More information:
“Getting ready”, illustrated by Cocoretto
Age Range: 2 – 5 years
Series: Tactile Books
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Child’s Play International
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846438868