Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes (Bella Donna #1)

Bella Donna 1.jpgTitle: Bella Donna: Coven Road

Author:  Ruth Symes

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Picadilly

Published: 7th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A witch, a cat and a lot of magic!

A witch, a cat and a lot of magic!

Some girls dream of being a princess, but Bella Donna has always longed to be a witch. The only thing she wants more is to find a family to take her out of the children’s home where she lives. But no one seems quite right until she meets Lilith.

With Lilith’s help, will Bella Donna be able to make both of her secret wishes come true?

Beautifully illustrated throughout by winner of the Egmont Best New Talent award, Marion Lindsay.

~*~

Bella Donna is an orphan, living at the Templeton Children’s Home with her friend Sam – the two are inseparable and keen to find their Forever Families – the ones who will accept them for who they are and what they love. For Bella Donna, she has always wanted to be a witch – and wants a family who will accept her for who she is and what she wants to be. When they’re five, they make a pact that they will both wait for their Forever Families – the ones who will accept them for who they are, and with whom they can be themselves. When Lilith adopts Bella Donna, she feels Lilith is the right person for her, but why? What is it about Lilith that makes Bella Donna think this is her Forever Family? What follows is a series of shenanigans as Bella Donna enters Coven Road, and starts her time there pretending to be something she is not, until Lilith helps her reveal her wishes and find her new identity within Coven Road – and from here, Bella Donna find a way to keep secrets, and when things go wrong, can Bella Donna fix things and save her new family?

This is a new series to Australia, by British author Ruth Symes. Told in first person from Bella’s perspective, the first book in the series is funny, charming and touching – a story of family and friendship, and acceptance set in what I imagine is a small, British village – it has that feel to it and all the charm of British children’s literature throughout the years and decades. Bella Donna is not a perfect female character. At nine years old, she makes mistakes, she isn’t quite perfect but at the same time she just wants to fit in: much like any child growing up.

It is her awkwardness and imperfections that make Bella Donna such a great character as she grapples with friendship at school and keeping her secrets back in Coven Road – secrets, that if she reveals, could mean she has to leave Lilith and Coven Road. Bella Donna also has a charming friendship with Sam from the children’s home that remains strong throughout and though she makes new friends, Sam will always be there for her, and she will always be there for him – it is a celebration of friendship between boys and girls, and a celebration of liking things that might not be seen as acceptable or normal – but somehow Bella Donna makes it all work – school, her new home, her new identity and family – and so begins a series that is charming and amusing, and a rather quick read – but very enjoyable for kids, and anyone who likes a good story about magic and witches.

What Bella Donna does is take the scary image of the witch and turn it on its head. Sure, Bella Donna dresses like you’d imagine a witch might, but the magic that resides in Coven Road draws on all aspects of witches and fantasy, and links them all together in a very creative and uplifting way that is charming and reinforces positive friendships and individualism. I look forward to seeing where Bella Donna goes next.

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Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth

running on the roof of the world.jpg

Title: Running On The Roof Of The World

Author: Jess Butterworth

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 13th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

~*~

Set in modern day Tibet, still under the harsh regime occupation of Communist China, Tash (Tashi-la) and Sam (Samdup) are on their way home from school when they witness the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk protesting the ongoing Chinese occupation that began 1949. In quick succession, their lives are turned upside down as Tash’s parents are taken away by the Wujing, forcing Tash and Sam to run from their village, beginning a trek across the Himalayas with their yaks, Bones and Eve, in search of the Dalai Lama and safety in India. Together, the two friends keep the secret backpack safe, and hide from the soldiers who patrol the borders to make sure nobody escapes. Sam and Tash’s friendship is tested, as they go in search of the Dalai Lama and deliver a message for the secret resistance that Tash’s father is part of. Together, they are as strong as the yaks that accompany them. If they separate, not only their friendship will falter.

Running on the Roof of the World is a story about friendship, and about freedom. It shows the difficulties faced by those in oppressed nations, and what people are willing to do – risk their safety, and their lives – to bring atrocities to the world’s attention – but at an easy to understand level for children and teenagers, who are curious but maybe not ready for in depth or more complex discussion. It is aso a good introduction to Tibet and the Chinese occupation, and the Dalai Lama, and what the process of running from oppression can be like. Through the Tibetan characters, Jess Butterworth illustrates that not everyone can be trusted, and sometimes, those who you think are the least trust-worthy, can become your allies and help you at the end of your journey.

Tackling a complex issue in a simple way, Running on the Roof of the World gives a human face to refugees where it is much needed, and does so in an area of the world we don’t often hear much about in the news. The characters show that you do not have to accept the hand that you have been dealt, and there is always a way to forge a new path, and celebrates a friendship between a young boy and girl, which is refreshing to see, as well as seeing characters from another culture and nation in literature for children and is a step towards diversity in all fiction.

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