15 January 2020
#WWWWednesdays is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words. Each week it asks these three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
I’ve just started reading Folk Tales for Bold Girls, a collection of short stories from across the northern hemisphere. Each tale centres around at least one female protagonist. I was drawn to the book because I enjoy stories that give females a voice and I was interested to see if there was going to be any subversion of the traditional folk tale genre. As yet, the stories aren’t as radical as I’d hoped for but they are engaging and enjoyable nonetheless.
Just finished reading
I’ve just finished reading North Child and I completely loved it! It’s an epic adventure set in the frozen north. Edith Pattou has adapted the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon and fleshed out the story with additional characters and detail. It’s the story of Rose, a young woman with a desire to travel and explore, and the White Bear she leaves her home with. It’s full of danger, excitement and magic; I was gripped!
The book I’ll be reading next is The Flat Share; I’ve just collected it from the library. It’s a book that’s been on my radar for quite some time and I’ve seen lots of great reviews for it on social media. Since starting my children’s book blog four years ago, I’ve predominantly read children’s books. I made it one of my #SixforSunday bookish resolutions for 2020 to read some more adult fiction and so I’m starting with this.
#SixforSunday book prompts
12 January 2020
This week’s prompt for #SixforSunday is your six favourite books of 2019. I read so many great books last year but I’ve narrowed it down to my six favourites. Here are my choices:
The International Yeti Collective is a wonderful middle grade adventure set in the Himalayan Mountains. It’s a powerful and important book. At a time of devastating climate change, it will strike a chord with young readers only too aware of the fragility of their future. Read more about it here.
I absolutely loved The Tzar’s Curious Runaways. It’s set in Russia in the early 1700s and gives a fascinating insight into life at court at the time of Peter the Great. After escaping from court, the protagonists begin an epic adventure across the Russian steppe. It’s a gripping and suspenseful story. It’s also a celebration of friendship and a powerful example of inclusion and acceptance. Read my full review here.
Ever since I read Rooftoppers, I’ve been a huge fan of Katherine Rundell. Her latest book, The Good Thieves, is another triumph. It’s set in 1920s New York and is an exciting, tense adventure – a real page-turner of a book. Here’s my review in full.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rumblestar; it’s a gripping, life-affirming book where loyalty, bravery and friendship triumph over evil. Take a closer look here.
Wildspark is exciting, tense, thought-provoking and original. There are red herrings and unexpected twists. I really enjoyed it. Click here to find out more. The story ends poised for a sequel and I can’t wait to see what Prue and her friends will get up to next!
A Pinch of Magic is a corker of a book! It’s got it all: adventure, mystery, magic and danger. Plus the Widdershins sisters – three of the best MG protagonists in years. A Pinch of Magic is incredibly exciting and packed with tension, especially as the story reaches its climax. You can read my full review here. The sequel, A Sprinkle of Sorcery, is published next month and it’s one of my most anticipated reads of the year.
#SixforSunday book prompts
5 January 2020
I’ve been following Steph’s #SixforSunday prompts for a while but never actually got round to joining in. Until now. Steph is a teacher and children’s book blogger – here’s her blog – and she suggests book themed prompts for every Sunday of the year. The first one for 2020 is six bookish resolutions. Here are mine:
- Get back into the habit of reading every night before bed. I find it way too easy to spend half an hour scrolling through social media on my phone when I could actually have been getting stuck into a book. I don’t always sleep that well and I think that swapping my phone for a book might really help with this.
- Read some books that have been written for adults. I absolutely love children’s books, especially MG fiction, and for the past couple of years have pretty much exclusively read children’s books. I’m probably missing out on some real book gems and so I’ve decided to read a few books for adults this year too.
- Interact more with other book bloggers. I want to get involved in more bookish conversations. I intend to comment more on other people’s blog posts and join in with blog linkups and book tags like this one.
- I want to post more on my bookstagram account. Recently, I think there’s been a shift away from book blogs towards Instagram and I don’t want to be left behind.
- I’d like to develop my book-related Pinterest account. I only post on here sporadically and I’d like to work on developing more content for it. I’m thinking of focusing on themed posts and bookish lists.
- I’m going to branch out a bit with the content on my blog. I mainly post individual book reviews and participate in blog tours. This year I’m going to write more themed posts where I highlight a number of different books in one post. I think this type of post might have a wider appeal.
The Laugh Out Loud 2020 Book Awards (Lollies)
14 November 2019
Everyone loves a silly name especially if it’s also vaguely rude. So what better premise for a picture book? You’re Called What?! is one of four picture books nominated for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (the Lollies) and it’s a huge hit with me and my three-year-old son. He finds it hilarious and calls it “the funny book”. Read more about it here. The Lollies celebrates the best and funniest children’s books in the UK and Ireland and is voted for entirely by children.
The animals in You’re Called What?! are all completely fed up with their ridiculous names. Every time they introduce themselves they are met with laughter and incredulity. They are exasperated and have come to the Ministry of Silly Animal Names to change their names.
Of all the laugh-out-loud names, our favourites are the Cockapoo, the Blue- Footed Booby and the Monkeyface Prickleback. Incredibly, these (and all the other animals in the book) actually do exist.
It’s prompted me to compile a list of other creatures with crazy names. Perhaps they’ll star in a sequel to You’re Called What?! In fact, we think we spotted a few of them in the queue at the Ministry of Silly Animal Names as un-named extras. Take a look at them below (by clicking on their names). Which one is your favourite?
Our Top 10 Silly Animal Names
6) Agra cadabra
10) Star-nosed mole
Voting is now open for the Lollies 2020 – it’s time to get reading and voting for your favourites! Click here to access the voting section on the Scholastic website.
The Lollies are awarded in three categories: picture books, books for 6-8 year-olds and books for 9-13 year-olds. Here are the shortlisted books in full:
Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book
Baby’s First Bank Heist by Jim Whalley & Stephen Collins
Spyder by Matt Carr
Ten Fat Sausages by Michelle Robinson & Tor Freeman
You’re Called What?! by Kes Grey & Nikki Dyson
Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 Year-Olds
Bad Nana: Older Not Wiser by Sophy Henn
The Legend of Kevin by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre
The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steven Butler & Steven Lenton
The World’s Worst Children 3 by David Wallians & Tony Ross
Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 9-13 Year-Olds
Kid Normal and the Rogue Heroes by Greg James, Chris Smith & Erica Salcedo
I Bet I Can Make You Laugh by Joshua Seigal & Tim Wesson
I Swapped My Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons & Nathan Reed
Planet Stan by Elaine Wickson & Chris Judge
Check out the other shortlisted titles by visiting the other stops on the tour.
Don’t Feed the Troll Blog Tour
12 November 2019
I’m delighted to welcome author John Hickman to my blog today. His latest book, Don’t Feed the Troll, tackles the issue of cyber bullying. You can find out more about the story and read my review here.
Get Kids into Books: Can you tell me a little bit about the book?
John: Jack really likes Chloe. She’s not like any other girl at school. But when Jack feels rejected by her, he does the unthinkable and becomes an online troll. But he soon finds himself in deep trouble, when an actual troll begins to stalk and insult him…
Get Kids into Books: What inspired you to write Don’t Feed The Troll?
John: There have been so many news stories about young celebrities and the abuse they have suffered online over recent years, and I know from experience – working as a social worker and in my own life, with my nieces – cyberbullying seems to be happening all the time. The thought of these “trolls” made me angry. How dare they say these terrible things. How dare they make young people feel awful about themselves. I wondered about these bullies – who were dishing out this abuse – and I questioned whether they’d say the things they said online in real life. My feeling was no. But what if they had no choice? What if their online antics caught up to them? The idea of an online troll getting stalked and abused by an actual troll then began to take shape…
Get Kids into Books: Do you think that schools have a responsibility to make students aware of the dangers of social media and cyberbullying? Or do you think it is a job for parents?
John: I think it’s everyone’s job – parents and schools, and I’d add the media into that as well. The internet and social media are such huge parts of our lives these days, it’s important young people have as much information as possible to look after themselves online.
Get Kids into Books: If you had to describe Jack in three words, what would those three words be?
John: Obsessive. Insecure. Smart.
Get Kids into Books: What would your advice be to someone going through similar situations to Jack, Chloe, and Isaac?
John: My advice to Chloe and Isaac, in terms of online trolling, would be not to give it any attention. While I know that can be easier said than done, if you don’t give trolls what they want – the attention – in most cases they’ll just give up. Starve them of that and they’ll wither away, much like Troll in my book. However, I think if anyone finds themselves subject to any sort of bullying, they should speak up and seek out help. It’s something most people have been through – myself included – so you’re not alone and people will understand. My advice to Jack would be don’t do it. Don’t be a troll. Would you say these things in real life, without the anonymity of the internet? No. You wouldn’t.
Get Kids into Books: If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
John: Everything will work out! When I was young, everything seemed like such a big deal. And to be fair, at the time, maybe it was – because that was my life. But the older you get, and the more you see of the world, the more you realise that things will be okay. The things that are troubling you when you’re twelve and thirteen, you’ll look back at – and hopefully – laugh about. Of course, some kids do go through some awful stuff too – as did I growing up – so it’s not to underplay that. But for those kids, I guess it’s worth knowing, where you come from and the things that happen – they don’t have to define you. You can achieve the things you want. You’ll need to work hard, be tough and never give up – but you will get there.
Get Kids into Books: What is your favourite childhood book?
John: I read loads when I was a kid and I was a big fan of Roald Dahl books, like everyone else, and loved Fantastic Mr Fox. I read a lot of factual books and I was obsessed with robots and dinosaurs. I loved comics too – The Beano, Dandy, all that stuff, as well as Marvel and 2000 AD. I always wanted to be Flat Stanley from the Flat Stanley books. No idea why really, maybe I just liked the idea of being posted through letterboxes!
Get Kids into Books: What is the most difficult part of your writing process and why?
John: Making a living from it! That might sound like a joke, but it’s true. Making writing your day job takes a lot of hard work and sacrifices. It’s taken me years and I’m only just about there now!
Get Kids into Books: Describe your writing space.
John: I actually have an office at home, that’s filled with loads of retro gaming memorabilia – something I’m quite a fan of. However, I don’t work in there very often, and end up writing on the sofa most days, with my dog, Belle, sitting next to me. She’s actually sitting beside me as I write these very words!
Get Kids into Books: You’ve written a great number of things. Which piece is your most favourite and why?
John: That’s a tough question. I’m always really excited about my current project – whatever that is – which I guess you have to be. It’s hard to get stuff finished if it doesn’t excite you! As well as books, I write a lot of scripts for film and TV. One project I’m really proud of was a script called The Things. It was a children’s TV show about two care experienced siblings caught up in alien invasion, and won the BAFTA Rocliffe writing competition which, in turn, got me an agent and kick-started my screen–writing career. In terms of my books, The Football Trials were a series of books aimed at teens with reading difficulties. I’ve had several young people tell me the books really helped get them reading, which is something that makes me immensely proud.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today.
Black Water Blog Tour
7 November 2019
I’m delighted to welcome author Barbara Henderson back to my blog. Her latest historical novella Black Water is a fast-paced adventure full of peril and tension. She talked to me about the importance of pace in children’s fiction.
Barbara Henderson: I vividly remember studying Thomas Hardy as a teenager. Endless pages at the beginning of his classic novel simply described the lush English countryside: rolling meadows, cows, villages and the weather. Nothing happened at all.
Of course, Hardy’s novel wasn’t intended for young readers, but even the classic children’s books are a little slow to get started by comparison with their modern equivalents, aren’t they? We notice the difference when delving into the likes of The Hobbit and The Water Babies. Nowadays, we value pace in our stories, alongside a distinctive voice. We place less value on beautiful description, for example. Why is that, I wonder? Is it because reading books has to compete with all sorts of other fast-paced activities, and we are simply not used to waiting anymore? Is it because competition in the publishing industry is so fierce now, with writing, editing and submitting eased by technology, that only the paciest make it through?
One thing is certain, a child has always loved a pacey story; one where things actually happen. A bit of jeopardy and peril never goes amiss either. I’ll tell you a secret: I’m a bit of a fan of the wee chapter. I’m also rather fond of the wee sentence – these style choices lend themselves to maintaining the story’s pace, and for a children’s writer, this is especially crucial. Adults cut their books a bit more slack and don’t typically give up until around 50 pages in or so. A kid, given a choice, will not turn the first page if he or she isn’t interested to read on.
Take Black Water, my new novella for 8-12 year olds. As it is so short (only seven chapters) it was imperative to keep youngster’s interest. So yes, there are cliff hangers all over the place, not just at the end of those chapters. I want readers to be hooked as soon as possible, so we begin out on the water in the early hours of a February morning in 1792. It is pitch black. My hero is in a boat with his armed father in an operation to intercept a small smuggling boat. Their informer may have betrayed them, or he may not. Shots ring out, someone goes overboard, a confrontation ensues, someone flees – good, good, good. Plenty of pace here.
Now, the whole book couldn’t possibly maintain this type of intensity. As an editor said to me early in my writing career, you need to ‘manage your reader’s feelings’. It means that after an intense chapter like this, your reader will need a breather. Fair enough. I send my hero and his father home for a domestic scene for a page or two. But then the message arrives: there is a huge smuggling vessel, stranded nearby. Despite having been out all night, they will have to leave again. For a bit of small-scale drama, I have my hero Henry disobey an instruction and seek out an informer in another confrontation to maintain the reader’s interest. From then on, it’s haste and jeopardy and peril all the way till the end, mainly because the real events which are featured in Black Water demand it. I like to think that readers get a breather from time to time though. I describe the characters’ journeys, for example: riding along the coast, staying the night in an inn etc. I also hope I maintain the pace by introducing the reader to interesting new characters including the poet Robert Burns who actually took part in the real events I describe in Black Water. But essentially, this is an adventure story, set in an age where risks were high.
Fingers crossed that today’s readers will enjoy imagining themselves in Henry’s place, riding at speed, overhearing conspiracies, dodging quicksand and cannon-fire and wading into icy waters with a flintlock pistol held high over his head. I make no apology for squeezing all of this into my wee book.
Maybe I just love a good pacey story myself!
Fantastically Fiendish Fiction
🎃 Halloween 2019 🎃
The nights are drawing in. Halloween is just a couple of days away. It’s the perfect time of year for a spooky story. Here’s my round up of some recent fiction that will have you cowering under the covers.
For older readers ready for a grisly read, look no further than The Dead World of Lanthorne Ghules. Set in a dingy, grey world where the inhabitants have a taste for rotting flesh, this is a tense and chilling tale that’s full of terror. Read my full review here.
Another story that’s the stuff of nightmares is The Night’s Realm. Imagine being trapped in a world that’s populated by the creatures from your most terrifying dreams. This becomes reality for Billy as he’s plunged into a world of darkness where he must face his worse fears head on. Click here to find out more.
For younger readers, my three-year-old son and I can recommend three picture books which between them have a terrific cast of Halloween characters. To lighten the mood there’s the laugh out loud funny There’s a Troll on My Toilet. From stinky trolls to vampires and zombies, everyone’s turned up to party in this book. Read more about it here.
For a gorgeous story about having the courage to be yourself, we loved Dracula Spectacular. Dracula Boy is more giggles and glitter than evil villain. Will he dare to be different? Here’s my review in full.
Finally, if you want a Halloween character without the chills, meet Oscar the skeleton. Quite possibly the most adorable skeleton ever. All he wants is a friend. Oscar seeks a friend is a stand out picture book with beautifully original illustrations and a heartwarming story. Take a closer look here.
The Mist Monster Blog Tour
21 October 2019
I’m delighted to welcome author and illustrator, Kirsti Beautyman, to my blog today. The Mist Monster is the first book that Kirsti has written, as well as illustrated. It’s a beautiful story of friendship. Read my full review here.
Kirsti has joined me today to talk about the initial ideas for the story.
Kirsti: After I first graduated in 2016, I had this idea for a story book with a brave and adventurous little girl, and a monster made of mist in a forest. I decided to apply to the Picture Hooks Mentorship Scheme as I really had very little idea what I was doing. I knew I would like to write and illustrate a children’s book but didn’t have the first clue how to start or adapt my illustrations from being used for screen printing (which I spent most of my time in university doing) to illustrating for children. These images were my initial colour draft that I applied to the Picture Hooks Scheme with, and they are the very beginning of Penny and Morris’s creation!
Get Kids into Books: Wow! Thanks for sharing these drawings, Kirsti. Morris has changed loads since his inception. Penny seems quite a bit older in your original drawings too, but you kept the same hairstyle and the stripy top. It’s fascinating to see how your ideas evolved. Thank you.
The International Yeti Collective Blog Tour
17 October 2019
Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for this terrific middle great adventure with a powerful environmental message. The International Yeti Collective is published today. You can read my review here. The book is written by Paul Mason and illustrated by Katy Riddell. I’m delighted to be able to share one of Katy’s beautiful illustrations from The International Yeti Collective here on my blog.
You’re Strong With Me Blog Tour
3 October 2019
Today I’m delighted to welcome author Chitra Soundar to my blog. Her latest picture book, You’re Strong With Me, is published in the UK today. You can read my review here. Here Chitra talks to me about the central theme of the book: how children learn from their parents.
Chitra: You’re Strong With Me is a story about a baby giraffe learning more about her habitat. She learns from her mother and she relies on her mother to keep her safe, until she’s ready to be on her own.
Children at a young age want to do things on their own – be it tying their shoelaces to jumping off high walls or getting ready for bed. But one thing is for sure, they do love learning from their parents. Often children learn to copy and repeat gestures and phrases from their parents and that is part of their learning.
In You’re Strong With Me, the baby giraffe has to learn a lot of new skills before she can leave the herd:
As children read through this text, I’m hoping parents and children will be inspired to talk about things they learn from each other. It will be great for parents to find out what are the things children have learnt to do on their own – maybe eating on their own or putting their toys away. And when do they have to rely on their parents to guide them – like crossing a road or riding a bike.
The art in this book has been lovingly created by Poonam Mistry. The patterns and colours evoke the earthy colours of the land where giraffes live. I hope it will be fun for the children to spot the tiger, the beetles, the zebras and the fishes as they read the story.
Guardians of Magic Blog Tour
15 September 2019
Guardians of Magic is the first book in a new fantasy series written and illustrated by Chris Riddell. It’s set in the kingdom of Thrynne, a place where fairy tales misbehave and magic is forbidden. You can read my full review here.
50th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, I have spent July reviewing books about space travel and the moon. Here’s a round-up of my favourites. (Click on the italicised book titles to read my full reviews.)
In honour of the historic event, lots of terrific new non-fiction titles have been published. Pop-up Moon is a fascinating book with incredibly impressive pop-up pages. It’s bursting with different information about the moon. For slightly younger readers, there’s The Big Beyond which is written in rhyme. It’s full of awe and wonder about space flight. For a really comprehensive book about the history of flight, look no further than Balloon to the Moon. It’s a celebration of centuries of innovation, technology and endeavour.
Another factual book that I’ve enjoyed, Piggles’ Guide to Space Shuttles, was published a couple of years ago. It’s pitched perfectly for the school market and would suit Key Stage 1 in particular. It gives really clear child-friendly explanations about space shuttles and how they work.
There are some gorgeous picture books about space travel too. It turns out that it’s not just humans who’ve landed on the moon… In Molly’s Moon Mission an ambitious young moth makes it there too. And there’s Armstrong the mole who manages to touch down on the moon’s surface in Rocketmole.
Stardust is another super story about self-belief and following your dreams; in it a young girl with a fascination for the stars grows up to be an astronaut.
Sam, my young son, and I have also been enjoying reading picture books where the moon, with its quiet beauty, almost seems like a character itself. In these books, the descriptions of the moon are wonderfully poetic and lyrical. The whole swamp is bathed in brilliant moonlight as frog and his friends make music in the beautifully atmospheric In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon. Britta Teckentrup has long been one of our favourite illustrators and with Moon she’s created a stunning picture book which fills you with awe as you gaze upon the magical moonlit scenes from around the world. We also marvelled at the brilliant moon gleaming from the pages in Daddy Frog and the Moon.
Stories about the moon naturally lend themselves to being read at bedtime. Here are three that we’ve loved. One Moonlit Night is a gorgeous dream sequence narrative with elaborate pop-up pages. Luna and the Moon Rabbit is a magical bedtime tale with beautiful Japanese influences. Goodnight Baby Moon is a story that unfolds with the changing faces of the moon.
The Adventures of Harry Stevenson Blog Tour
22 June 2019
I’m delighted to welcome author and illustrator Ali Pye to my blog today. Ali has written and illustrated a number of picture books, including You Can Never Run Out of Love and Rosie Is My Best Friend. The Adventures of Harry Stevenson is her first fiction series and was inspired by a real-life guinea pig (who turned out to be a girl and was re-named Harriet Stevenson). I loved The Adventures of Harry Stevenson (click here to read my review).
Get Kids into Books: Hi Ali, thanks for joining me on my blog today. Can you introduce us to Harry?
Ali: Hi Rachel, Harry Stevenson is a plump and very ordinary-looking ginger guinea pig, who just wants quite a life. Unfortunately for Harry though, he’s very greedy and this leads him into all sorts of escapades.
Harry is based on all the guinea pigs I’ve kept over the years, and his name even comes from one of them. When I first got guinea pigs ‘for my children’, they were really into Harry Potter and Steve Backshall’s ‘Deadly 60’ programme on TV. They couldn’t decide which name to use, so we combined the two.
From the start I wanted Harry to have a very close relationship with his owner – or rather friend – seven-year-old Billy Smith. Here is one of the very first drawings I sketched out.
Billy and Harry have a mutual love and respect for each other. I’ve watched my children grow up with guinea pigs and seen how they respond to each other. The guinea pigs are quite happy to lie on the boys’ chests as they lounge on the sofa, and will even step onto our hands when we go to pick them up. Guinea pigs are generally very amiable creatures, as is Harry. Here’s another early picture of him: he’s just happy to be in the middle of things, watching the family bustle about him.
It’s important to point out that in real life, Harry would need to live with another guinea pig as they are very sociable animals and need each other’s company. But in fiction, Harry loves just being part of the Smith family.
We had guinea pigs when I was a child myself, and I was smitten. I can remember the smell of their hay and guinea pig food. If you’ve never known what guinea pigs are like as pets, they are simply lovely. They’re very chatty (as is Harry) and will ‘WHEEK WHEEK’ for food, loudly and shrilly – even when they just hear the fridge door open, or the rustle of a bag of spinach.
One of the sweetest things that guinea pigs do is what is known as ‘popcorning’ – they will just randomly jump up into the air when they feel happy. Harry does this quite a lot – when he imagines a full bowl of food, or once he’s got used to being outside in his new cage, and is enjoying the sunshine.
Harry has several fur-raising adventures, but there’s always a happy ending and he’s reunited with Billy. I’m hoping that children will enjoy reading about Harry Stevenson as much as I did writing about him.
Guest Post from Morag Hood
17 June 2019
I’m delighted to welcome author Morag Hood to my blog today. Her latest picture book, Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius, is a real delight: funny, clever, and brimming with the brilliance of a young girl’s imagination. My full review is available here.
For my Blog Spotlight, Morag has written a super guest post about encouraging creativity and imagination in children.
Morag: I think one of the joys of being a child is having the time and space to play and be creative. I remember so many happy times of playing imaginary games, whether by myself with my extensive collection of plastic animals or complicated Famous Five/Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mashups in the garden with my friends. I am secretly delighted that as my friends have children I get the chance to play and be silly with them, and equally to watch otherwise very composed and serious adults be immersed in a bit of imaginative play. I think it is a great thing for all of us!
Fostering creativity and imagination is so important, and something I really enjoy about writing Sophie Johnson. She is a girl who is very much living in her own reality, making up stories, crafting unicorn horns and detective outfits, oblivious to her more mundane suburban surroundings. It’s a really magical time when children start to make up their own scenarios and stories and something which should be nurtured and encouraged. It gives children the chance to explore ideas and work through things they have come across, as well as to let loose, not hampered by the adult world they live in.
In the book we don’t see Sophie’s parents, although they are mentioned. She is being given the space to be creative on her own terms, and look how brilliant, and chaotic, that can be! A bit of direction can be a great thing, but having the space to explore and also, in Sophie’s case, be very wrong about almost nearly everything, without anyone calling you out on it, is invaluable.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks so much for visiting my blog, Morag, I agree wholeheartedly with you about the importance of fostering children’s creativity and imagination. I loved the imaginative play in Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius and can’t wait to see what Sophie dreams up next.
The #ReadforEmpathy Blog Tour
For Empathy Day 2019, I’m delighted to feature this beautiful illustration by Allison Colpoys in celebration of the power of stories to foster empathy.
The illustration is taken from the stunning and wonderfully poignant picture book If all the world were… which Allison illustrated. The story is included on Empathy Lab’s 2019 list of books recommended to develop empathy among primary-school-age children. Click here for the complete list.
If all the world were… is an imaginative and original exploration of a girl’s feelings as she comes to terms with her grandad’s death. The book provides a gentle springboard to help children understand their own and others’ experience of loss. And this is what empathy is: feeling and understanding other people’s emotions and perspectives. It’s not the same as feeling sympathetic or sorry for someone. Having empathy means we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and really imagine what they’re going through.
Stories are a powerful tool to develop empathy because in identifying with book characters we learn to see things from other points of view.
Miranda McKearney, OBE and EmpathyLab founder, has this to say about the power of reading in developing empathy:
Reading helps young minds to imagine lives beyond their own: how they would cope in a crisis, if they were a refugee or had just lost someone they loved.
In an age of suspicion and mistrust, developing empathy is key if we are to understand each other better and embrace, rather than fear, that which is unfamiliar and different.
Empathy Day is an annual event. It was founded by EmpathyLab in 2017 to help children drive a new empathy movement, inspired by research showing that humans are not born with a fixed quantity of empathy – it’s a skill we can learn.
EmpathyLab’s criteria for empathy-building books
• Powerful characters you care about, whose emotions you feel and which challenge and expand the reader’s own emotional understanding.
• Builds perspective-taking – e.g. through different characters’ points of view.
• Gives the reader real insight into other people’s lives and experiences.
• Builds empathy for people in challenging circumstances (e.g. disability, migration, bereavement).
• Deepens understanding of human experience at other times in history.
• Can help expand young people’s emotional vocabulary/recognition of emotions.
• Motivates the reader to put empathy into action.
Ollie’s Magic Bunny Blog Tour
24 April 2019
Ollie’s Magic Bunny, which published last month, is a heartwarming springtime picture book by author/illustrator Nicola Killen. You can read my review here. If this sounds like a book that you or someone you know would love to read, I’m running a giveaway. Any new UK followers of my blog between 24 and 30 April 2019 will be entered into the draw.
The Titanic Detective Agency Blog Tour
21 April 2019
Bertha Watt, tree-climber and would-be polar explorer, is excited to be on RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage, as she leaves Aberdeen behind for the glamour of a new life in America.
But Bertha quickly realises that some passengers are behaving strangely, and she determines to unravel their secrets. With new friend, Madge, Bertha sets up her own detective agency to try and solve the mysteries onboard, but they have no idea that disaster is looming for Titanic.
Can they help Johan find the hidden treasure and unmask the identity of the enigmatic Mr Hoffman before time runs out on the ‘unsinkable’ ship?
Read my review of this exciting MG novel here.
The Children’s Book Award Blog Tour
22 March 2019
The Children’s Book Award is the only national book award voted for solely by children from start to finish. There are three categories: picture books, younger readers and older readers.
One of the books shortlisted in the younger readers category is The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer and P.J. Lynch. It’s a tender story about friendship and healing. You can read my review here.
Today I’m delighted to welcome author Eoin Colfer and illustrator P.J. Lynch to my blog to talk about The Dog Who Lost His Bark. It’s the first time these two Irish Children’s Laureates have collaborated on a book together.
Photo of P.J. (on right) is by Steve Langan.
Get Kids into Books: Congratulations on your nomination in the younger readers category of the 2019 Children’s Book Award. What would it mean to you to win?
Eoin: I would be wonderful to know that our little puppy was connecting with young readers around the world. It always warms my heart to imagine a family reading our book together. On a selfish note, winning the award might convince PJ to do another book with me.
P.J. Thank you so much! It’s always thrilling to be shortlisted for a major award, but the FCBG award is really special because it is judged by young readers’ votes from start to finish. It would mean the world to Eoin and me if we were fortunate enough to win.
Get Kids into Books: What was it like working on a book with your friend?
Eoin: It was really great working with PJ. He is so talented and generous that every meeting we had was a pleasure. I suppose the real test of the working relationship is that we are still friends. Also we both have grey beards so we bonded over that.
P.J. It was a great experience to work with Eoin on The Dog Who Lost His Bark. Eoin is well known for having a great sense of humour and he is so much fun to hang out with but he is also really serious about his writing, and I found that his pushing so hard to get the story right was very inspiring to me in my efforts to make the pictures work.
Get Kids into Books: Have you ever experienced the healing power of music?
Eoin: Music has always been a great healer for me. Whenever I am upset or annoyed then I can always turn to music to calm me down. Music can not only soothe a savage beast but also an irate writer. Hardly a day goes by when I do not turn to one of my favourite artists to help me through a tense few minutes.
P.J. I certainly have! Music is very important to me and my family, especially so for one of my sons who has become a really brilliant pianist. So our house is always full of music. I think when people are grieving music can be wonderful for healing a sad heart. Music can somehow express sadness, which magically can make the sadness more bearable.
Get Kids into Books: Where did you get the idea from? Do you know any musical dogs?
Eoin: The idea came very directly from a visit to PJ’s house. I wanted us to work on a project together and was looking for a suitable topic. When I visited PJ his son was playing the piano and the dog they were fostering loved it, and I had a lightbulb moment where the character of Oz popped into my head.
Get Kids into Books: What came to you first, the plot or the characters?
Eoin: The character of Oz came to me first though he was initially called Bedlam, which we thankfully dropped. For a few weeks I moulded this character in my mind until I ended up with this poor little traumatised puppy, and then I had to figure out what had traumatised him.
Get Kids into Books: Did you have a pet dog when you were young? Or do you own a dog now?
We don’t have dogs in our house as our youngest son is allergic to most things. And now we travel so much that it wouldn’t be fair to have a dog, but maybe when our little boy is grown up and our lives settle down a bit.
Get Kids into Books: Do you have a favourite place to write?
Eoin: I love to write in a café near my home in Dublin. It is a big, friendly place where I can hide in a corner and watch life’s everyday adventure from my seat.
Get Kids into Books: How did you decide which scenes to illustrate?
P.J. When I first read a story I’ll scribble on the pages when a scene grabs me and usually those are the ones that really need to be illustrated. In this book there were so many great characters, and so many cool things happening that it was more a case of which scenes would I have to leave out?
Get Kids into Books: Did you meet with Eoin to discuss the illustrations or did you just work from the text?
P.J. We met up to talk about the project but we didn’t really discuss details like that. I left Eoin to get on with writing the story, and he left me to get on with doing the pictures.
Get Kids into Books: Did you come up with different versions of Oz before finally deciding on how he should look?
P.J. Yes, there were lots of different versions of Oz. Finally it all came good for me when my wife, Barbara, and our daughter, Evie, brought home two puppies that needed a foster home for a few months. They were gorgeous, and full of character so Oz just grew out of the sketches I did of those lovely pups. Don’t tell Oz but they were both girls! We called them Marshmallow and Popcorn.
Get Kids into Books: What’s your studio like?
P.J. It’s very messy with piles of drawings and paintings here, there and everywhere. Every few months I have to do a big clean up. But the good thing about my studio is that it’s in a shared building with lots of other artists around. So I don’t have to look far for inspiration.
Get Kids into Books: Thank you both so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can check out the other shortlisted titles by visiting the other blogs on the tour:
Click here to find out how you can vote for your favourite. Every online voter will also be entered into a draw to win a pair of tickets to the awards ceremony.
A Little Bit Brave Blog Tour
20 March 2019
A Little Bit Brave is the stunning new picture book by Nicola Kinnear. It’s about two rabbit friends, Logan and Luna. It’s a brilliant story of bravery, friendship and biscuits. Read my full review here.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Nicola to my blog.
Get Kids into Books: One of the things that struck me most about A Little Bit Brave was the beautiful autumnal colour palette that you used for your illustrations. The vibrant colours really bring the story to life. Can you tell me more about how you used colour to help you tell Logan’s story?
Nicola: Starting on some coloured concept art for the book, I did this piece which set me on the path to the sort of colours I wanted to use. Autumn was a great season to set the book in, for all the vibrant, interesting colours I could utilise.
Get Kids into Books: It’s such a striking image!
Nicola: I love trying to use colour to emphasise the mood of the scene and really wanted to help tell this story with my colour decisions. When Logan feels safe at home, I used warmer colours, as he first steps outside, the colours are frosty and when he gets bolder, so do the colours. I used more oranges and reds, when the wolf appears, to reflect the danger of the scene.
For this project, I found planning out the colour for the illustrations with quick thumbnails really helpful. This quickly showed me what was working, and what wasn’t and gave me a chance to see how colours would blend together.
Get Kids into Books: Thank you, Nicola, for this fascinating insight into how you work. I’ll look at the pictures even more closely next time my son and I read the book.
The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet Blog Tour
14 March 2019
I’m delighted to welcome author Martin Howard to my blog today. He’s the brains behind the hilarious new MG sci-fi adventure, The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet. You can read my full review of his book here.
Get Kids into Books: Congratulations on writing such a funny book. I particularly enjoyed all the ridiculous place and character names. Was it fun dreaming them up and where did you get your inspiration?
Martin: Why thank you very much, I’m glad you laughed. It’s always a nail-biting time when you have a new book out. What if no one likes it? What if people point and jeer and throw rotten fruit? It’s a relief to know at least one person gets my sense of humour. Thank you for having me, by the way. Blogs like this make a big difference and I’m very happy to be here.
To answer the question, I do enjoy coming up with names. Some of them just appear in a flash of inspiration. Professor Bowell-Mouvemont’s happened like that, and it made me nearly wet myself when it appeared in my head so I thought it was a keeper. Others are the result of flicking through the dictionary and thesaurus, playing with words until I come up with something that sounds right.
Get Kids into Books: Are any of the people in the story based on real people that you know?
Martin: There are bits and bobs of people I know in there. The Prof has a few characteristics in common with me. Like him, I’m absent-minded (I once spent half an hour moaning that I couldn’t find my keys while I was holding my keys in my hand), and he talks in his sleep. Most of what he says is stuff I’ve actually woken my wife up with (“Emma, Emma … I’m inside a tomato!”) There are a few other character traits of friends and family mixed in to various people but once I start writing I usually find the characters have very definite views about their own personalities.
Get Kids into Books: What came to you first, the plot or the characters?
Martin: In fact, I had the idea to write a travel guide to fantastic worlds first, about fifteen years ago, but I couldn’t make it work so I shelved it for a long time. About three years ago I came up with an intergalactic map-making society called the Unusual Cartography Club. Throwing in the travel guide aspect seemed like the right thing to do, and after that everything fell into place. Alfie and the Professor came next and then the plot. I tend to be quite flexible when I’m writing fiction. I’ll have an outline of where it’s going but let it grow and change along the way. One or two of the characters arrived on the page without any planning at all. They just popped up out of nowhere while I was writing.
Get Kids into Books: This is the first book in a series, when you start a new series do you have the key plot points and characters for each book planned out in advance?
Martin: To some extent. I have ideas about what might happen, but this isn’t intended to be a Harry Potter-type series with a plot arc over x number of books and a definite end point. Each book will be a self-contained story, though of course the gang will develop and meet new people. I don’t know if you noticed but there are a lot of other derelict buildings around Wigless Square, too. If people enjoy the adventures of Alfie and the Professor, I’d like to eventually bring the whole square alive with weird clubs and societies.
Get Kids into Books: You were into books as a child, are there any particular childhood favourites that have influenced you when writing The Cosmic Atlas?
Martin: That’s a big question! I read compulsively through childhood so I have a lot of influences though I hope there’s a big dollop of me in there too. Interestingly, a lot of people have said that The Cosmic Atlas reminds them of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Obviously, I knew there were some similarities (I’ve even put in a tiny tribute) but I would have said a bigger influence was Terry Pratchett, who I loved while I was growing up. Funnily enough, we went to the same schools, though he was there a long time before me. I was also a huge PG Wodehouse fan from the age of about twelve. Though that influence might not be so obvious, it’s definitely in there somewhere. As a kid I liked comedy, too – stuff like Monty Python and Blackadder – and I think comedy shows and films have also helped shape me as a writer.
Get Kids into Books: You’ve written a lot of non-fiction, did any of the research you’ve done for your non-fiction books serve as inspiration for Alfie’s adventures?
Martin: Gosh yes! No reading ever goes to waste and you have to do a lot of research for non-fiction. I wrote a book about the world’s great historical monuments a couple of years ago and that was very useful for stuff about stone circles but I love writing about history and that’s influenced the look and feel of certain places as well as characters. For instance, the Old Verminium Bridge is very much based on old London Bridge which is long gone now but a fascinating place with houses and shops across the entire span.
Get Kids into Books: I love Chris Mould’s illustrations. Can you describe the process of working together? Did he work independently using your descriptions or was there a dialogue?
Martin: I’ve been a fan of Chris’s for a long time and from the moment I started writing I knew he would be the perfect illustrator. Luckily, Oxford University Press agreed, which made me very happy! We’ve never actually met though. Because he lives in the UK and I live in France everything had to happen over email, so for the maps I’d sketch something to the best of my abilities (which aren’t great) and he’d turn it into beautiful, Chris Mould artwork. We’re planning to do one or two events together a little later in the year though, so hopefully we’ll have a chance to sit down and talk about the next book face-to-face.
Get Kids into Books: Do you prefer writing for adults or children?
Martin: Children, definitely. I have no plans at all to write fiction for adults again. Writing for children is a completely different ball-game and one that I absolutely adore. I think children especially love exploring the far reaches of the imagination and I have a childish sense of humour, so it’s a great match for me. I’ve explored lots of different areas in writing and I think they’ve all helped me improve my skills but fiction for children is where my heart is and when I’m writing children’s fiction it feels like that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, if that makes sense.
Get Kids into Books: Do you have a favourite place to write?
Martin: Ach, well I’ve tried writing under a tree in the garden because that’s the sort of thing writers ought to do, but it’s difficult to concentrate with insects crawling into your pants. I write best when I’m comfortable with no distractions so – I’m slightly ashamed to say – I usually write in bed with a laptop on my knees. I have three children and a dog so the bedroom is the quietest room in the house, and it’s comfy, too. It’s not because I’m lazy, honest!
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for such an interesting insight into your work.
Martin: Thanks again for having me, I hope this has been as entertaining for you as it has for me. I do love wittering on! Let’s do it again soon. In the meantime, toot toot as Chris Mould would say.
Molly’s Moon Mission Blog Tour
19 February 2019
Today, I’m delighted to welcome author Duncan Beedie back to my blog. After the success of his last ‘How to Draw’ guest post, he’s here again with more drawing tips. This time it’s with brilliant step-by-step instructions for how to draw the lead character from his latest picture book, Molly’s Moon Mission. Molly is an adventurous young moth with ambitions for space travel. You can read my review of the book here.
I’d love to see your drawings of Molly! Share them on Twitter with the hashtag #MollysMoonMission. Don’t forget to tag me @GetKidsin2Books and Duncan @DuncanDraws.
We didn’t quite match Duncan’s standard of illustration, but Sam and I had a go at our own art inspired by Molly’s Moon Mission.
Next we used three cheerful colours to paint stripes on Sam’s hands and we made a left and a right handprint.
Finally, Sam used silver glitter glue to add the finishing touches – stars (some are shooting stars 🤣) and galaxies.
A Pinch of Magic Blog Tour
6 February 2019
A Pinch of Magic is the brilliant new MG adventure by award-winning author Michelle Harrison. You can read my review by clicking here.
Michelle is a full time author, living in Essex. Her first novel, The Thirteen Treasures, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and is published in sixteen countries. It was followed by The Thirteen Curses and The Thirteen Secrets. Michelle has also written One Wish, a prequel to the Thirteen Treasures books, Unrest, a ghost story for older readers and The Other Alice, a magical book about the power of stories. You can find out more by visiting Michelle’s website: www.michelleharrisonbooks.com
** Competition **
Between 6th and 28th February 2019, all new UK followers of my blog will be entered into a draw to win a copy of A Pinch of Magic.
EmpathyLab Announces 2019 Read for Empathy Guides
17 January 2019
I’m a huge advocate of the benefits of reading for building empathy so I’m delighted to be able to support the work that EmpathyLab is doing around this very issue. Books help us see the world from another perspective. We can start to understand life in another place, another skin, another gender. We become kinder, more compassionate and more human. EmpathyLab is spearheading a new empathy movement with books at its core, aiming to develop children’s life skills and combat society’s empathy deficit. In 2019, this starts with the announcement of the titles chosen for the 2019 Read for Empathy Guides following publisher submissions of books with strong empathy angles.
An expert, cross-disciplinary panel has chosen 45 books to strengthen children’s empathy skills, and inspire them to put empathy into action in their communities. This year there is a new trial list of fifteen books for 11-16 year olds (the Secondary Guide), in direct response to demand from adults living and working with young people. This is in addition to thirty books for 4-11 year olds (the Primary Guide).
The Primary Guide features 14 picture books, 14 novels, a graphic novel and a poetry collection. The Secondary Guide includes 2 graphic novels, 3 poetry books, 9 novels and a collection of short stories. Two linked book collections are available from Peters for parents, teachers and librarians to use in the run-up to Empathy Day on 11 June, and beyond. Both guides will be available for free from 17 January by visiting the EmpathyLab website (click here).
EmpathyLab welcomed the increase in publisher submissions of books by black and minority ethnic authors/illustrators. This resulted in 29% of the included books being by BAME creators – 7 out of the 15 titles in the Secondary Guide and 6 out of 30 in the Primary Guide. Of the 45 featured titles, 44% have a BAME protagonist or cast of characters.
You can read my reviews of three of the selected titles below and I’ll be reviewing more of the books on my blog in the coming months.
The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle Victoria Williamson. Click here.
The Last Chip by Duncan Beedie. Click here.
Not As We Know It by Tom Avery. Click here.
Vote for Effie Blog Tour
8 January 2019
Vote for Effie is a brilliant new MG book about girl power and making a difference. You can read my review here. Today on my blog I’m joined by Vote for Effie author, Laura Wood. She’s chosen to highlight a different inspirational young woman on each day of the blog tour. Today it’s the turn of Amika George.
Get Kids into Books: Hi Laura, thanks for joining me today. Can you tell me more about Amika and why you’ve chosen to celebrate her?
Laura: Amika George is an 18-year-old fighting for rights to free sanitary products for disadvantaged teenage girls with her #FreePeriods campaign, which she founded while she was still at school. Amika began her campaign after she read a report that stated there were girls across the UK who could not afford menstrual products during their period, and who were missing school as a result. The #FreePeriods campaign isn’t just about making menstrual products readily available to all, but also about overcoming the taboo of talking about periods in the first place.
In December 2017, Amika organised a protest outside Downing Street that was attended by over 2000 people. I think she’s such a great role model for young people, showing that you don’t need to be a grown-up in a position of authority to make change happen. She saw something that she knew was wrong and she decided she wanted to do something about it. That’s an idea that’s absolutely at the heart of Vote for Effie.
You can find out more about the #FreePeriods campaign here.
Don’t miss the other stops on the tour. Each one features an inspirational young girl who’s making a positive difference to our world.
The Night I Met Father Christmas Blog Tour
4 December 2018
Author, actor and comedian Ben Miller has written a fabulously festive new MG book called The Night I Met Father Christmas. You can read my review here. It’s my stop on the book’s blog tour today and Ben is here to share his top five Christmas books for children:
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
- The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
- Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Lollies 2018 Blog Tour
🤣 19 October 2018 🤣
The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (the Lollies) is a celebration of the very best and funniest books for children, voted for by children themselves. Laura Dockrill’s hilarious and moving collection of poems, My Mum’s Growing Down, has been shortlisted in the 9-13 years category. Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Laura to my blog.
Get Kids into Books: As a single mother to a son, these poems about a single mother and her son really resonated with me. My Mum Is My Dad moved me to tears. Why did you choose to write about this particular family dynamic?
Laura: Aww that’s so nice to hear. Thank you. My parents split up when I was 15 and really felt like I was torn between the two of them, I think it’s the first time I actually felt my heart break. They were my favourite people in the world and here they were splitting up. After visiting lots of schools I’ve seen how many kids come from homes where parents have broken up – it’s the first time they will know heartbreak too and the upset it causes. I wanted the poem to offer a remedy to that, something simple and bold in what can be such a confusing and difficult time, for those kids that don’t have the perfect together family, to offer an explanation for them to use for their friends and for themselves and to help others understand. The word Mum and Dad are just words- a parent is a feeling.
Get Kids into Books: The book is dedicated to your mum and there’s a note from her at the end. How much of the book is inspired by your own mum and your relationship with her?
Laura: A LOT of the book is inspired by my own mum and I found I had so much to draw from. My mum is unlike anybody else. She loves life, she lives out loud, is wild and wonderful. Both of my parents are amazing humans and the book is a celebration of that. It’s not completely autobiographical and my dad was very much a part of my life growing up but I wanted the book to shout about women. We see so much in children’s literature of dads being gross, funny, strong and silly and my mum is all of those things. Mums always seem to be the characters that sit at home and tell you to be careful and behave yourself whilst dad is on all fours being a bear in the garden- well, it’s not always like that for many kids at home.
Get Kids into Books: You’re a performance poet and these poems are a joy to read aloud – the rhythm, the rhymes, the humour and the way the words trip off your tongue – can you tell me a bit about your creative process? How do you write such performable poems?
Laura: Thank you so much, I write everything with the intention of it being read aloud because I love the art of storytelling. My first love of literature is through music so rhythm and punchlines are always in my head when writing the material. I think it’s another way of involving kids in literature.
Get Kids Into Books: Which poem was the most fun to write?
Laura: A poem called How to count to ten in Japanese but it never made the cut sadly!
Get Kids into Books: Which poems get the best response from an audience?
Laura: My Mum’s Growing Down of course! Kids love shouting out the chorus line in libraries as loud as we possibly can!
Get Kids into Books: Have you always loved poetry? What are your favourite poems?
Laura: I’ve always loved poetry since I was little, my favourite poets are Colin Mcnaugnton I adored There’s an awful lot of weirdos in our neighbourhood and have incredibly vivid memories of my mum reading these poems to me as a child. I loved Roald Dahl’s poetry, Plath, Duffy and Spike Milligan. My dad took me to see John Cooper Clarke read when I was young. But words were a great part of my growth, my dad would always shroud us in literature – books, magazines, newspapers, recipes and the art of conversation- I was taught to find poetry in the everyday. To use and cherish my imagination and enjoy language.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks so much for stopping by Laura.
You can read my review of My Mum’s Growing Down here. Check out all the other stops on the tour too for exclusive Lollies content and giveaways. Click here to find out how to vote for your favourite book.
Daddy Hairdo Blog Tour
19 September 2018
To mark the publication of this fabulous new picture book by Francis Martin and Claire Powell (read my review here), I’m delighted to welcome its author, Francis, to my blog today.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for joining me on my blog. Were you and your daughter the inspiration for this story?
Francis: Yes, I think family life is a fantastically creative time. The only trouble is that you’re too busy to process it at the time. It’s when things have quietened down that you realise you had created a world with its own stories, in jokes and even language. My daughter is grown up now and all parents say ‘where did the time go?’. This is my attempt to hold on to it and thankfully it resonated with other people.
Get Kids into Books: What was the most ambitious hairdo that you created for her?
Francis: I love doing plaits, it’s almost therapeutic. The in out pattern looks like a flowing river. The plait is also a building block for your sculptural ambitions. Dads, if you want to replicate my best Daddy Hairdo: do a plait in each corner of the child’s head and bring them into a top knot, tie together with a bright red ribbon, et voila – the ‘Volcano’.
Get Kids into Books: Where did you find the inspiration for all the amazing hairstyles?
Francis: My imagination collects processes and splurges out all kinds of wild ideas. One of my favourite bands ever is The B52’s (which is the name of a fabulous hairstyle). The shape looked like the nose cone of a B52 bomber. Kate and Cindy (the singers) sported the best B52s ever, truly spectacular. This got me looking into other hairstyle names such as the Beehive. So evocative and creative. This got me on a journey and I started making up my own styles. It’s so important for a picture book to have a strong visual hook.
Get Kids into Books: When you were dreaming up the fabulous Daddy Hairdos did you collaborate with Claire straight away or did you provide the names of the hairstyles and then Claire came up with the creations to match?
Francis: I originally drew and experimented with the hairstyle ideas so there was quite a lot of imagining done. When Claire came on board the project she lifted it up to another level and put in new ideas which expanded the text. There was no direct collaboration; we didn’t meet up until the book was completed. We let the editors run around whilst we luxuriated in our uptown pads being all creative and arty.
Get Kids into Books: 🤣 What I loved most about the book were the hair-related puns and the incredible illustrations of all the hairdos. What was the most enjoyable part of the storytelling for you?
Francis: Picture book writing is a real challenge you have to work quite hard to make it look like no effort was involved. Everything from the perspective you choose, to write in first or third person, whether you do it in the present or past tense it’s decisions, decisions. You need to make sure that your words aren’t just repeating what the images have already said but are actually moving the narrative on or revealing something that the reader wouldn’t be aware of. When you get a gag that fits into the narrative and stays in the story that’s the best feeling. Most picture books are just 12 spreads long so tons of stuff gets cut, stuff that you are really fond of. I am really glad that a special time in my life has been turned into a story that so many other people are relating to.
Get Kids into Books: It’s such a great book. Thanks so much for answering my questions, Francis.
I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree Blog Tour
12 September 2018
I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree is an ambitious anthology of nature poems especially selected for children. It was published this month by Nosy Crow, in association with the National Trust. Publisher Kate Wilson describes it as the book she is most proud of publishing in her thirty year career. I am delighted to welcome her to my blog today to talk about her favourite poems.
Kate Wilson: One of the joys of publishing a poetry book in which there’s a poem for every day of the year is that you get to choose the poem that is your birthday poem. I chose a silly, anonymous poem for my own birthday: I Sometimes Think I’d Rather Crow. Silly, but true: as the founder of Nosy Crow after a long career in publishing, I almost always think I’d “rather crow”.
But I can’t say that it’s my favourite poem in the book. Every time I think I have settled on a favourite, another one comes to mind, and one of the joys of this book was that, in its long, long genesis, there was plenty of time to discover and remember poems and suggest them to the brilliant, knowledgeable and terribly patient anthologiser, Fiona Waters.
But if I absolutely have to choose, my favourite remembered poem is Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, a poem I first read forty long years ago, and can still recite, my memory aided, I think, by the rather lovely London Gay Men’s Chorus sung version of it.
And my favourite poem that I have discovered through its inclusion in this collection is, I think, the one that gave it its name, Windsong, by Judith Nicholls:
I am the seed
that grew the tree
that gave the wood
to make the page
to fill the book
Get Kids Into Books: Thanks Kate for sharing these personal reflections. I’ve yet to narrow my favourites down to a single poem, but I did particularly love discovering Conkers, the poem that has been chosen for my birthday.
You can read my review of I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree here. Make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour too.
Isla and Pickle Blog Tour
23 June 2018
Picture book author and illustrator Kate McLelland has her own favourite picture books that have helped inspire her as a reader, writer and artist. I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today. It’s been a tough task but Kate has managed to whittle down her bookshelf to a stack of just five of her all-time favourite picture books. Read on to find out if you share any favourites with Kate.
Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
I couldn’t have a top 5 list without Beatrix. As an adult she has inspired me on many levels, but as a child I just loved her cheeky – and often dark – tales about animals wearing clothes! Peter Rabbit is the first book I remember loving, it stays with you in such a way that every time I see carrots growing, I instantly think of Peter and Mr McGregor.
Matilda Mouse’s Shell House (Tales of George & Matilda Mouse), Heather S. Buchanan
I had the whole series of Matilda Mouse books. They were about adventure and friendship. I loved the illustrative details and these have impacted my own work for years. In particular, there is a spread where Matilda gets her own house made from sand and decorated with shells. I have popped a version of that image in Isla and Pickle’s first adventure, Isla and Pickle: Best Friends, as a little nod to that book.
A Dark, Dark Tale, Ruth Brown
I think this was my favourite Ruth Brown book, but it is hard to pick just one as I loved them all. Ruth Brown’s illustrations are quite realistic – I can only think of The Tale of Two Mice where the animals are clothed. Generally her animals are natural, but so full of character. I think there is sometimes a feeling that animals need to be anthropomorphized to make them emotive – but Ruth Brown’s work convinced me otherwise a long time ago.
Big Baby, Jon Ward and Claudio Munoz
This was first published in 1986 and was one of my first picture books. It basically tells the story of an older sibling pinching cake from his baby sister. She starts to cry and as she cries, she gets bigger, and bigger and . . . Well, you can’t go wrong with cake and a giant baby! I recently ordered a copy all the way from America, as it is out of print, just so I could read it to my daughter. Now she loves it too and can recite the whole story. The simplicity is the key to why I loved this story and why it has stayed with me over the years.
The Very Hungry Caterpiller, Eric Carle
This book is the perfect example of when everything comes together. Carle’s energetic collage illustrations are so accessible for young readers. The story is simple, yet it tells a universal story of transformation. It is a great introduction to counting, colour and natural history and the page turns and dye cuts are just brilliant. I still remember the first time I turned the pages.
Thanks for visiting my blog today, Kate, and for sharing some of the books that have inspired you.
Isla & Pickle: The Highland Show is the second picture book in a new series about a feisty little girl, a cheeky Shetland pony and their adventures. They live on a Scottish island where they get up to all sorts of mischief, led by Pickle the pony, who enjoys escaping from his field and getting very messy! Perfect for any children with a penchant for ponies, this book is full of fun in the great outdoors, with bright, humorous illustrations that are sure to make grown- ups smile and give wee ones the giggles.
Kate McLelland is an accomplished illustrator and printmaker. She trained in illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. She is the illustrator of bestselling picture book There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie and the much-loved My First Scottish board book collection, and has received and been nominated for a range of awards.
Check out the other stops on the tour for more exclusive content.
The Secret of the Night Train Blog Tour
23 May 2018
In Sylvia Bishop’s fabulous new book, The Secret of the Night Train, Max Morel takes a journey from Paris to Istanbul on four trains. She is accompanied by a nun called Sister Marguerite, and must solve the mystery of a smuggled diamond. Sylvia was lucky enough to make this journey herself, and wrote a lot of the book on board. In a series of blog posts this week, she talks about her real journey, and how it informed the book.
Get Kids into Books: Hi Sylvia, I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog today. I’m fascinated by the journey that you, and Max, took. We’re day three of your journey. Tell us more about Budapest.
Sylvia: If you travel from Paris to Istanbul by train without any unnecessary breaks to the journey, you can mostly catch your next train within a few hours of your last. The only city where you need to wait for any length of time is Budapest. So, on my story plan, there was a section marked out where Max would spend a day there.
This section just listed a bunch of things Max had to learn at this point in the story. I am always wary of chapters like this, that just get you from A to B. They are abstract, and you need a concrete setting or activity for the chapter itself. Concrete settings generate rules. Rules in turn produce ideas.
For example, in my book The Bookshop Girl, I set one such chapter in a posh café. Rules of a posh café include: ‘At regular intervals a waiter will ask if you need anything.’ ‘You cannot wave your arms around too much without causing a mess.’ ‘Odd-looking people and animals will arouse suspicion.’ All this is very productive – it generates ideas for a scene that is fun, and not just functional.
Seeing a real actual city with a real actual geography was a great way to set rules. If Max tries to hide here, there will be crowds, but here it would be deserted; if Max goes to these baths, then options for a nearby scene are limited to a park or an ice-rink; if Max ends up here, there is a limit on how quickly she can get back to the train station. Suddenly ideas suggest themselves.
Also, guys, spending time in Budapest was great.
All the buildings are beautiful. All of them. And because these swirling, colourful, grand buildings are no big deal, they think nothing of having fast food chains or phone repair shops with neon signs on the ground floor, so the high streets are an incredibly confusing mash-up.
Budapest is famous for its baths, and I thought that a good and sincere writer really ought to go and see those baths, for, y’know, authenticity. The baths I went to were outdoors, and Budapest is cold in February. There is a brief moment, as you are scurrying pink-skinned towards the bubbling water, when you wonder if this is maybe the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Then you sink into those warm bubbles, and realise the answer is NO. NO, this is in fact the best thing you have ever done, and you are now blessed among men. Excellent.
In conclusion… set your abstract, plotty scenes in concrete, rule-bound places. And go to Budapest. Especially the baths.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for such a fantastic guest post, Sylvia. *Adds Budapest to bucket list.*
Join Sylvia for the next stage of the journey tomorrow on Anna’s Adventures in Book Land.
The Secret of the Night Train by Sylvia Bishop is out now, published by Scholastic (RRP £6.99). You can read my review here.
** For a chance to win a copy of The Secret of the Night Train, start following my blog. Competition closes 15 June 2018. UK and EIRE only. **
The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster Blog Tour
12 May 2018
The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster is a new picture book by Scottish children’s author Lari Don and illustrator Nataša Ilinčič. It is inspired by folklore and legend and combines two magical tales to create a new Loch Ness Monster myth.
I’m delighted to welcome Lari Don to my blog today.
Get Kids into Books: I’m really interested to learn about how pictures and words combine in a picture book.
Lari Don: The most important elements of a picture book are… the pictures! So the role of an author writing a story for a picture book is very different from the role of an author writing a novel. When I write a novel, my aim is to put pictures – of the characters, the action, the magic – into my readers’ heads. But when I’m working on a picture book, I know that the story will be brought to life by the skill of an illustrator, so my words have a different function.
I’ve realised (albeit slowly, as I’ve worked with editors, art designers and illustrators on half a dozen picture books) that one of my responsibilities as a writer of picture books is to create opportunities for wonderful illustrations. And I’ve also learnt that I can, and should, leave spaces within the narrative for the artist to tell the story themselves, because the words and the pictures should tell the story together. The pictures are never just an afterthought, stuck in there to show what the words have already said.
When I was drafting the text for The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster, I knew that I wanted to give the artist scope to create as full a world for Nessie as possible. That meant not only pictures of the shores of Loch Ness and the surface of Loch Ness, but also at least one underwater scene. As I played with the story, I kept circling round plot ideas that took the characters and therefore the readers down into the depths of Loch Ness. I didn’t know what Nataša Ilinčić would draw for that scene, but I did know that I had to write a plot, which gave her the chance to explore it.
So when I write a picture book, I weigh up the plot not just from the point of view of the characters and the readers, but also with the aim of offering the illustrator plenty of chances to create original, magical and dramatic pictures. After I’ve written the text, there is a long and intriguing wait while the editor and art designer brief the artist, then the artist creates their initial rough sketches. (This long wait is fine: I’m happy to leave the look of the book up to the experts; also I usually have a new novel to write…)
When the roughs come back, I used to think my job was to suggest changes to the artwork in order to fit the text, but I’ve realised that it’s often easier and sometimes better to change the text to fit the pictures. And I love it when the picture tells the story so well that I can edit words out of the draft text. In this book, for example, the expression on Nessie’s face, when she finally meets Ishbel and Kenneth, contains much more emotion than I could have written in several paragraphs.
One of the strengths of a picture book is that it’s not just the writers’ story. A picture book (unless it is created by one of those amazingly talented people who can write AND draw) is created by two people’s imaginations. The world of a picture book is not just the writer’s world, it is the illustrator’s world too: a shared world that is enhanced and deepened by both our imaginations. When the illustrator is someone as talented and wise and deeply immersed in folklore and history as Nataša, then the
illustrations bring a huge amount to the story’s world.
I love being surprised by someone else’s vision of the story. In this book, the treasure chamber that Nataša imagined under Castle Urquhart took my breath away. I’d
imagined a small dark room containing not much more than the treasure necessary for the plot, but Nataša drew a huge arched chamber filled with fascinating objects from legend and history. I see something new everything I look at it! And that’s the joy of writing picture books. I knew what I needed the room to contain for the characters and the narrative, and Nataša drew that perfectly, but then she added her own magic, her own vision, and she made the story so much stronger.
Picture books are all about teamwork, and I was privileged to work on The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster with the wonderful team of editor Eleanor Collins, art designer Leah McDowell and the truly magical artist Nataša Ilinčić. A picture book might start with the author, but it takes a whole team to put it in your hands…
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for such a fascinating insight into the process, Lari. Good luck with the book and the rest of the tour.
Lari Don grew up in the north-east of Scotland, and lives in Edinburgh. She has worked in politics and broadcasting, but is now a full-time writer and storyteller. Lari is the author of more than 30 books for children of all ages, including The Fabled Beast Chronicles and Spellchasers trilogy for middle grade readers, Mind Blind for young teens, and picture books The Tale of Tam Linn and The Secret of the Kelpie, and she regularly visits schools and libraries to share her stories. Almost all her books are inspired by her love of traditional tales, and absolutely all her manuscripts are covered in muddy paw prints from her helpful cats. Find out more by visiting her website: www.laridon.co.uk
Nataša Ilinčić is an artist and illustrator originally from Croatia, now living and working in Edinburgh. Nataša was brought up on the foot of the Italian Alps where she spent much of her childhood befriending ancient trees and exploring ruins. Following her academic studies in Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology, she moved to Edinburgh to pursue a career in art and illustration, drawing inspiration from mythology and folklore. Her work has been shortlisted for the Folio Society Book Illustration Competition 2017, and has been exhibited in various galleries, including the London House of Illustration.
The Discover Kelpies team are looking for young monster spotters to enter their Map My Monster art competition. To enter the competition for a chance to win a bundle of signed books by Lari Don just draw a picture of your local mythical monster on their
special Map My Monster sheet. Don’t worry if you don’t have a local monster – you
can borrow one from another place, or create your own! For more details visit
Luna and the Moon Rabbit Blog Tour
1 May 2018
I’m delighted to welcome author/illustrator Camille Whitcher to my blog today.
Camille: Hello and thank you for inviting me to write here!
Get Kids into Books: My pleasure. I’m really interested to hear about the influences on your work.
Camille: My work is undeniably influenced and inspired by my Japanese background. Although I was born and brought up in London and had one English parent, I didn’t really feel like an English kid, always an “other”. Of the few books I had growing up, most were Japanese stories such as Momotarō (Peach Boy) and Shita-kiri Suzume (Tongue-cut Sparrow) or Western stories written in Japanese such as Aesop’s Fables. For quite a while, I didn’t know that Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad wasn’t a Japanese story!
However, I actually didn’t spend much time reading as a child. Most of my time was spent watching tv, drawing and making things, no bit of scrap paper or cereal box was safe from my clutches! Quite a lot of what I drew or made was based on things I’d seen on TV such as cartoons, animation or art programmes like Hartbeat. Now that I think about it, one of my favourite programmes as a child was Mooncat with Beryl Reid! Mooncat…Moon Rabbit….Hmmmm…
My other favourite subject to draw as a child was my toys. My beloved Sindy doll featured heavily in my pictures as well as my Monchicchi dolls. I didn’t have a lot of possessions as a child but most of what I did have, toys and stationery etc., were from Japan and were always decorated with some cute character or other which I would then try to draw. After some practice, I think I’d got how to draw ‘Doraemon’ down pat!
As I grew up and even now, I continued to love these “fancy goods”, and when I moved to Japan to teach English, I think I spent more money than was wise on collecting such kitsch, particularly cute stationery.
It was at this time, while living and working in Japan, I fell in love with picture books. Japan seemed to embrace picture books far more than in the UK. There are quite a few museums dedicated to picture books and picture book makers such as the Inori-No-Oka Picture Book Museum in Nagasaki, the Picture Book Museum in Iwaki, and The Chihiro Art Museum in Tokyo, which commemorates the work of artist, Chihiro Iwasaki.
I can’t deny the influence on my work by my Japanese background but I am wary about being penned in by it. My work will probably always have a Japanese tinge to it but I’d say I’m more influenced by stories, folk tales and myths, wherever they may be from. Of course the best stories come from Japan, especially the Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales… wait… what?!
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for such a fascinating insight, Camille.
You can read my review of Luna and the Moon Rabbit here. Check out the other stops on the blog tour below.
Sam’s First Book Festival
Bournville BookFest, 16 March 2018
I was very excited when I found out about the Bournville BookFest (I had never been before) and I bought our tickets the day they went on sale. It turns out that this was the fifth year of the annual Birmingham children’s book festival. Bournville BookFest has grown every year since it began and this year it hosted 150 book events in venues across the city. It welcomed lots of fabulous children’s authors and illustrators, including Michael Rosen and Lucy Worsley. Over 10,000 visitors attended the ten-day festival, with lots of events selling out weeks in advance.
I booked tickets for Sam and I to hear author-illustrator Steve Lenton read his fabulous picture book, Let’s Find Fred. The book has long been a bedtime favourite of Sam’s and so I was excited for him to hear it read by its creator. We bagged ourselves seats at the front and we took our copy of the book so we could read along. Steve had a great rapport with the children and after the story he showed us, step by step, how to draw Fred.
We then got to make our own Fred masks. The festival team had set up tables at the back of the room with mask making packs (very well organised), and Steve guided us through the different stages. Sam and I were pretty pleased with the results!
The event was great fun and the perfect introduction to a book festival for Sam. You can read my review of Let’s Find Fred here.
There was a fairly long gap until our second event and Sam and I had lots of fun playing in the lovely big park next to the venue. However, it did mean that Sam was worn out when our 4pm big sing-along with Nick Cope began. Next year I’ll remember to book events closer together. Sam enjoyed listening to Nick sing and play his guitar but he did nod off 15 minutes into the 45-minute set! I giggled along to the rest of Nick’s songs though. Particular favourites were I’m just a little green bogey (absolutely hilarious lyrics) and Hugh the Hedgehog (which had a nice Country vibe).
Tickets for Sam and I for both events cost £10 in total. I think this is brilliant value. The festival also organises lots of free events at libraries and other venues across the city. It makes the festival open to all, and helps make the arts inclusive not élitist.
We had lots of fun at Bournville BookFest. We even made it on to the local news later that evening. We’ll definitely be back again next year.
Bear Child Blog Tour
14 March 2018
Bear Child is the début picture book from Geoff Mead. It’s an inspirational story of parental love, belief in mythical creatures, and the importance of embracing individuality. This beautiful picture book weaves together Geoff Mead’s charming words with Sanne Dufft’s ethereal illustrations to create a truly timeless folktale.
The story is a bedtime tale told by a father to his daughter. It’s with great pleasure that I welcome Geoff Mead to my blog today to talk about representations of strong girls in children’s fiction.
Geoff Mead: Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t… This is what Ursula’s daddy tells her in Bear Child when she asks him if girls like her get married and have children when they grow up, and then he adds: …but they are all adventurous and they have extraordinary lives.
For me, this exchange is at the heart of the book. The story invites us – without judgement – to imagine the possibility that we can become the authors of our own lives. Girls can be strong and bear-like as well as feminine. They can be cooks and clowns and artists and teachers; they can travel far and wide and read lots of books; they can run and swim and ski as well as grow things in their gardens and take care of the world.
Of course, there are many strong girl characters in recent literature: Philip Pullman’s Lyra, for example; J.K. Rowling’s brainy Hermione; and the intrepid Hazel and Daisy in Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series. But young girls today are still bombarded with images of Disney princesses and Barbies. As parents and teachers we have to work hard to redress the balance, so my story shows a father encouraging his daughter to believe that she only has to be herself.
We owe it to our children, both girls and boys to expose them to generative stories that give them the confidence both to embrace their unique characters and expand their possible life choices.
I originally wrote the story of Bear Child as a gift for my late wife, Chris, when she was in hospital having treatment for a brain tumour. Her lifelong love of bears and her fiercely independent spirit were the inspirations for Ursula. Her own father had been wonderfully supportive of his eccentric, intelligent and precociously talented daughter and I wanted to reflect some of his qualities in the character of Ursula’s daddy.
Perhaps because of its origins, I think I’ve somehow written a story that is bigger than me. It seems to touch everyone who reads it. A few months ago, I fell into conversation with a young woman sitting next to me on a coach journey. She told me that she had just finished her studies at Oxford University and asked me what I did. I told her I was a writer and showed her the proofs of Bear Child on my laptop. When she finished, she was in tears. “Every girl should read this story,” she said. “Because we are all different.”
Spyder Blog Tour
8 February 2018
Matt Carr is an incredibly talented graphic designer and author-illustrator whose début picture book, Superbat, was published to international acclaim and is currently shortlisted for a number of upcoming awards. We spotted yesterday that it’s up for the 2018 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Matt to the blog today to talk about the creative process involved in creating his latest picture book, Spyder.
I’m not sure how other people go about making a picture book, but with me it usually starts when I go for an early run up on the downs. When I say a run, it’s more of a slow plod but it does the trick. As I live in a tiny house with my other half, three daughters and two cats and my studio is a 6 x 3 lean to at the back of the kitchen, it’s the only time I get a bit of proper peace and quiet thinking time! So usually I’d think of something that makes me laugh and go from there, working it out in my head as I jog about. Then I’ll come home and jot it down so I don’t forget any of the gags etc. SPYDER actually started life as a sidekick for another character but she turned out to be a lot cooler!
I usually then have to get on with my day job of designing things for people so I have to develop my books in my spare time but…
If I get something I really like then I like to get the storyboard finished as soon as possible and get it off to see if anyone likes it… For me this is the best bit as it’s when it’s at its purest and there’s no pressure so you can play about and put in gags and funny bits and see if they work. I think of each spread like a movie still and I like to play about with scale, just like they do on a movie. I also try out the idea on my kids, especially my youngest as if she doesn’t get it then it’s not going to work! The rest of my family are also a good sounding board too.
At this stage I like to do a cover visual to help bring the character to life… then I send it to my agent Stephanie and then my art director Strawberrie and editor Pauliina at Scholastic. They are all fantastic at taking the idea and improving it and making it work better… when I first started doing books (my first one I published on my own) I didn’t take on any comments or changes but now I realise that making a kids book is a real team effort and it’s great to go through different ideas / suggestions on how to speed up / slow down the story or add little things that make a big difference.
So once everyone is happy with the storyboards I’ll start doing full size spread sketches to make up the whole book. I like this stage too as its lovely seeing the book come together to make up the dummy. Then once everyone is happy with that stage then it’s the final stage, doing the illustrations. Now I’m not really an illustrator (I do lots of different styles of illustration for my day job but they are usually in a style a client requests) and it took me quite a while to come up with a style that worked for me. This style is very graphic and uses big type and simple bold colours… My publishers have been amazing at making the colours zing out even more…
THE FINAL FRONTIER
I have no idea how I got to this method but what I do is draw everything up in sections in black pen then scan them in and then put everything together like a jigsaw puzzle. It seems to work well as I can then experiment with colours positions etc. and make up the final illustrations. Even though my illustrations look very simple they do take ages. Each stripy spider leg or hairy fly leg has to be individually made up! That’s a lot of legs! I think my next book will be about Slugs (only joking!) Once everything is done I have to go through it all really close up to iron out any glitches, this takes a while too, but it’s worth it for peace of mind. Then there is a proof version to go through with final checks and then it’s all done!!!
After years of being a jobbing graphic designer for other people it has been a real thrill to see something with your name on it sitting in a bookshop, although it’s also quite daunting as you always keep your fingers crossed that everyone will like it!
I Swapped My Brother on the Internet Blog Tour
21 January 2018
You can read my review of this laugh-out-loud madcap adventure here.
The Last Chip Blog Tour: How to Draw Percy in Seven Steps
19 January 2018
Today it’s my stop on The Last Chip blog tour and I’m delighted to welcome its author and illustrator Duncan Beedie to my blog. Duncan has written and illustrated three picture books and his latest, The Last Chip, was published on 11 January. You can read my review here. Duncan has been a keen doodler from a very early age and has fond memories of being sprawled out on his parents’ living room floor with his trusty felt tip in hand for hours at a time. Today he’s sharing his drawing tips so you can learn to draw like him.
Get Kids into Books: Can you tell us a bit about Percy, the star of your new book, and how to draw him?
Duncan: Percy the pigeon is the plucky, pint-sized protagonist of The Last Chip. I like to keep my characters fairly simple shapes, making them easy to draw. Here’s how…
Firstly, I start with the rough shape outline. Percy has a rounded head and squared off torso, like a tic-tac with one end nibbled off.
Next, I add the solid outline, adding his tuft of hair and spiky tail feathers.
More detail in the form of his feathered neckline and furry tummy.
Now to add his wings and legs. I say wings but, in Percy’s case, they double up as his arms with the tapered feathers making fingers when called for. His legs, like most pigeons, are scrawny.
Now for the important part – his face. Due to the simple style of my characters, all of the expression comes from the face – most importantly, the eyes. Feel free to vary expression as you see fit: surprised, sad, scared, happy, etc.
Time to colour in. I’ve stuck to his traditional pigeon colours here, but feel free to experiment.
And finally, some highlights and shading, just to finish him off. That’s how to draw Percy the pigeon in seven simple steps.
Get Kids into Books: Fantastic! Thanks so much for stopping by, Duncan.
Dinosaurium Blog Tour: Ten Steps to a T-Rex
2 December 2017
I’m delighted to welcome Chris Wormell to my blog today. He’s the talented illustrator of the magnificent Dinosaurium, a beautiful and informative book which is part of the Welcome to the Museum series published by Big Picture Press. Chris’s dinosaur illustrations are amazing and now you too can draw like him! Here are his ten steps to drawing a T-Rex.
1. Start by drawing a some rough guide shapes and lines, not too darkly as you may want to rub some of these out. Two overlapping circles to begin with.
2. Add some more shapes and lines to these, like this.
3. Put some ovals on the lines which will become the back legs, and some little lines where the arms will be.
4. Now start the outline. Not always following the rough shapes and lines but using them as a guide. Don’t forget the little bump above where the eye will be and the curve down and up of the mouth.
5. Carry the line along all the way around the underside of the dinosaur, making sure to leave a little gap at the second arm line and another at the second leg shape. My paper is not long enough so I’ve curled the tail up a bit.
6. Now take the line all the way along the top of the dinosaur back to where you began.
7. Next comes the first leg. Look at the way the line curves in and bulges out – this helps to give our dinosaur some muscles!
8. The second leg is much the same as the first.
9. Next are the arms – the one on this side fits into the gap left in the outline. Only two clawed fingers, remember.
10. Finally, teeth and an eye. And we have T-Rex!
I’d love to see how your dinosaurs turn out. Why not share yours on my Twitter feed? It’s @GetKidsin2Books. There’s loads more to discover on the rest of the blog tour too. Here are details of all the other fabulous bloggers:
Curse of the Werewolf Boy Blog Tour
5 November 2017
Read my review of the hilarious first book in this new series by Chris Priestley here.
When I Grow Up Blog Tour
12 October 2017
Read my review of this fabulous picture book collaboration between Tim Minchin and Steve Antony here. Anyone in the UK subscribing (for free) to my blog by 20 October 2017 will be entered into a competition to win a copy of the book.
Special Guest Post from Holly Webb
5 October 2017
Get Kids into Books: When I found out that Holly Webb was writing a sequel to one of my favourite childhood books, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I was really excited. I was doubly excited to discover that her book, The Princess and the Suffragette, was being published on my birthday! Holly and I both grew up in the 80s when A Little Princess was dramatised for TV (I loved that too) and we both hold the book very dear. I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Holly to my blog today to talk about the challenge and the pressures of writing a sequel to such a treasured classic.
Holly Webb: A Little Princess was one of my absolute favourite books as a child. I can still picture the copy I had exactly. I have to admit that one of the reasons I loved it so much was that the illustrations (by Margery Gill) gave Sara hair very like mine, and I thought it made us similar. I desperately wanted to be like Sara.
I was a terribly shy child, and I could never think what to say when people teased me. I’m pretty sure that the time I spent rerunning scenes in my head and working out what I should have said to the mean girls in my class helped me become a writer…Sara Crewe always knew what to say, and at just the right time. It was blissful, seeing her skewer the obnoxious Lavinia.
A Little Princess is such a rich book. It has the most sumptuous descriptions of clothes, and dolls (I longed for my own Emily). Then it’s so easy to picture the awful contrast of Sara’s servant days. But real strength of the book is the sense of friendship between the girls. I wanted to be at Sara’s party with Ermengarde and Becky in the attic – and it horrified me every time when Miss Minchin came rushing up the stairs to catch them.
I really wanted to capture that same sense of girls growing up together, and starting to understand the world together in my sequel. This isn’t the first sequel I’ve written – Return to the Secret Garden came out two years ago – and in fact the idea of a sequel first came up five years before that. I was talking to my editor about our favourite books, and we both loved Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. She suggested that I should write a sequel, and I was horrified! How could I possibly? But the idea stayed in the back of my mind. Return to the Secret Garden was set thirty years after the original book, with a completely new main character. I wasn’t quite brave enough to carry on the story of Mary, Colin and Dickon, and I wanted to write about the effect of the garden on a different child.
The Princess and the Suffragette is far more of a direct sequel, which meant that it was even more daunting to write. It’s set only a few years after A Little Princess, and the main character is Lottie, the spoiled baby from the original book. Sara is still living next door to the school, and is one of Lottie’s closest friends. One of the hardest parts of writing The Princess and the Suffragette was trying to work out how Sara would feel about the fight for the vote – but I loved it. Even the complicated bits (trying to work out how old everybody was at the end of the book took me days, and in the end I decided that FHB had contradicted herself!) The chance to go back to characters I adored, and to think about the wider world around them, was incredible.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for giving us this insight into what it means to tackle a sequel, Holly. It’s wonderful to be able to be part of Sara’s world once more.
My review of The Princess and the Suffragette will be up on my blog soon.
The Lollies 2017 Blog Tour,
🤣 17 September 2017 🤣
I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Simon Cherry, author of Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up to my blog today. Simon is an experienced television producer, writer and director who worked in Melvyn Bragg’s Arts Department at ITV for almost twenty years. Simon lives in Surrey with his wife, two teenage sons and a ginger cat, and hopes that one day his shed might also turn into a sailing ship. Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up was Simon’s first book for children. You can read my review here. If you like the sound of that, Simon’s also written a follow-up: Eddy Stone and the Alien Cat Mash-Up.
Get Kids into Books: What inspired you to write?
Simon Cherry: Having children. We’ve two of them, non-identical twin boys. Since they were little, there were always books for them to read or have read to them. I got to know The Gruffalo by heart, riffed comedy around the pictures in Richard Scarry’s timeless books, and worked through Mr Gum and Roald Dahl and Tintin and my own childhood favourite Just William.
Always books. Until one day they came home from the local library, and mournfully announced that they had read everything there was to read. They hadn’t, of course. Not quite. Fairy princesses and magic ponies had never featured, for a start. But when we went back and looked along the shelves there was nothing new that hit the spot for a couple of eight year olds. They wanted stories – long ones, not short. Adventure. Thrills. We moved up an age group and tried Alex Ryder and young Bond. But at eight they weren’t ready for the death and the gore.
It struck me that there was a gap for books that were properly funny and properly exciting but not violent. Pirates were good, I thought. Kids love pirates. And you could have a lot of fun playing about with the stuff of pirate stories. I began to scribble down ideas, sketch out scenes.
Two weeks later I wrote myself a note. “You have no plot,” it said. “No characters. No jokes.” So then I started work in earnest. Twisted a plot into shape. Developed the characters and how they reacted to each other. I had a childhood memory of the lighthouse that blinked into the night when we were on holiday in Cornwall. The Eddystone Light – break that in half and there was my hero’s name.
Then there were the jokes – or the spaces in the first draft where I scribbled ‘put something funny here’. Odd things, jokes. You never quite know where they come from. Sometimes they spring into your head so fully formed that you are laughing as you write them down. At other times it’s hard labour to turn expectations upside down, or escalate situations to absurdity, or nail the killer word.
And you still don’t know if they are funny. I was reasonably confident about using some daft things that I had done with the kids, like playing How Many Monkeys Have I Got In My Pocket?, in which – as you may already have worked out – you have to try to guess how many monkeys the other players have in their pockets. But there’s always doubt when you send a joke out into the world. What if it falls flat? How embarrassing. “What kind of weird person,” you can imagine the reader thinking, “could ever have though that would get a laugh?”
So I’m delighted that the judges have chosen Eddy for the shortlist for the Lollies Award. And I hope that anyone who picks the book up will find it as funny as they did.
Get Kids into Books: Thanks for joining me on my blog today Simon and good luck with the Lollies. Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up certainly had me laughing out loud and I’ll be rooting for you.
Check out the other shortlisted books on the tour:
The Laugh Out Loud Awards (the Lollies) are a set of awards, now in their second year, created by Scholastic (the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books) to celebrate the funniest children’s books.
The Lollies are awarded in three categories: Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book, Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8s and Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 9-13s. The shortlisted books in each category are as follows:
Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book
Oi Dog by Kes Gray and Jim Field (Hodder Children’s Books)
Eat Your People by Lou Kuenzler and David Wojtowycz (Orchard Books)
Prince of Pants by Alan Macdonald and Sarah McIntyre (Scholastic)
Danny McGee Drinks the Sea by Andy Stanton and Neal Layton (Hodder Children’s Books)
Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 year olds
Thimble Monkey Superstar by Jon Blake and Martin Chatterton (Firefly Press)
Hamish and the Neverpeople by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler (Simon and Schuster)
Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up by Simon Cherry (Usborne)
Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms by Jim Smith (Egmont)
Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 9-13 year olds
I Don’t Like Poetry by Joshua Seigal (Bloomsbury)
The Best Medicine by Christine Hamil (Little Island Books)
My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons and Laura Ellen Anderson (Nosy Crow)
AniMalcolm by David Baddiel and Jim Field (Harper Collins)
The winning book in each category will be decided solely by children’s votes, with schools and parents encouraged to help kids get involved and vote via the Lollies website or via the Scholastic channel on the PopJam app. Voting is open until 8 December 2017 and the winning books will be announced at an awards ceremony in London in January 2018.
Prisoner of Ice and Snow Blog Tour,
❄️ 16 September 2017 ❄️
I’m delighted to be able to welcome Ruth Lauren, author of the fabulous Prisoner of Ice and Snow, to my blog today. Prisoner of Ice and Snow is the first book in an exciting new MG series. I asked Ruth about her favourite MG books and authors.
Ruth Lauren: Hi, and thanks for having me along to tell you about five of my recent favourite MG books and authors!
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Maps, stars, a gorgeous and vividly described fantasy island setting and an intrepid girl determined to save her best friend and maybe her home. Lush, lyrical writing and a Moana-esque vibe. Not in the least surprised it won the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017.
Roll by Darcy Miller
When Lauren (but call him “Ren,” pretty please) Hall sees birds falling from the sky, he knows something is wrong. But just as he’s starting to worry, he realizes that the birds are plummeting toward the ground on purpose.
Turns out they’re Birmingham Roller Pigeons, and his new neighbor Sutton is training them for a competition.
Sure, it’s strange, but Ren’s best and only friend Aiden has picked this summer to start hanging with the popular kids. So Ren starts training pigeons with Sutton—what’s the worst that could happen? A bird falls on his head?
This book is charming and compelling and Ren’s voice is a complete delight!
The Ethan I was Before by Ali Standish
Beautifully written, heartfelt and moving, this is classic middle grade at its best.
Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.
Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.
Rebecca Stead: everything she writes, but particularly When You Reach Me
This is one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read. Part mystery, part sci-fi, part realistic. Entirely clever and nuanced. Good for your head and your heart.
Katherine Rundell: I’ve picked out The Wolf Wilder for this post because it’s tough and whimsical at the same time and I adore a cold, snowy setting and a brave girl on an adventure.
Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.
When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.
I can’t wait to get my hands on The Explorer! (Katherine’s latest novel.)
Get Kids into Books: Thanks so much for stopping by, Ruth, and sharing these books with us. There are a couple of our favourites there and we can’t wait to check out your other recommendations too.
Perfectly Norman Blog Tour,
9 August 2017
Read my review of this positive and uplifting story here.
The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat Blog Tour,
6 May 2017
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea, in a box on the living room floor. They sailed away for a year and a day and these are the things that they saw… Join two curious children on a quirky adventure, loosely based on the classic Edward Lear poem, The Owl and the Pussycat.
The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat is a picture book collaboration between mother and daughter. You can read my review here.
🐰 Bunny Books for Easter 🐰
Celebrate Easter with these fabulous bunny books. Babies and younger children will love Funny Bunnies Up and Down, a humorous board book of opposites, and Hush-a-Bye Bunny, a tender bedtime story. The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic that has been recently re-published and, with its gorgeous new illustrations, will enchant the next generation of readers. The Ultimate Peter Rabbit is the perfect book for fans of one of the most famous rabbits in children’s literature.
Pilot Jane and the Runaway Plane Blog Tour & Giveaway, 19 March 2017
You can read my review of this exciting aeroplane adventure here. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book, follow my blog before 31 March 2017. The competition is only open to residents of the UK.
More Harry Potter Magic from Studio Press
Studio Press, an imprint of Kings Road Publishing and a division of Bonnier Publishing, have teamed up with Warner Bros. to produce these fabulous activity books for Harry Potter fans.
Two of the books are model making sets. No glue or tools are needed: the pre-cut pieces just pop out and then slot together. The instructions (numbered diagrams) are easy to follow and attractively presented. The idea is that you colour and customise the model yourself; the untreated natural wood can be decorated with paints, pencils, pens, beads or sequins – anything you wish! I received the 3D Dobby and the 3D Aragog. There are a further two models in the series. The models are aimed at children aged 8 and upwards and are not suitable for children under 3 years. A full-colour book accompanies each model making set. There are sketches detailing the design process of the character, behind the scenes photos and film production stills. The accompanying text gives lots of insights into the development of the character and the special effects used in the film. There’s also a page at the end of the book with tips on decorating your model.
The other three books are colouring books: The Best of Harry Potter Colouring, a Celebratory Edition; Harry Potter: Magical Artefacts Colouring Book; and Harry Potter: Magical Places and Characters Postcard Colouring Book. The images are very detailed and will keep whoever’s doing the colouring entertained for hours. Pictures include: characters and sets from the films, some of the enchanted objects and magical creations, and the creatures and beasts from Harry’s wizarding world. At the back of the two larger books, there are several glossy, full-colour pages of concept art and film stills. The little book of postcards contains 20 postcards for you to colour and send.
Each of these books would make a magical gift for the Harry Potter fan in your life.
Thank you to Kings Road Publishing for sending me this great selection of books to review.
1 February 2017: my first year of Toppsta giveaways
I can’t remember exactly how I found out about Toppsta but I’m glad that I did. Toppsta is a website packed full of children’s book reviews. The reviews are written by parents, teachers and children. You can search for book recommendations according to the age of your child and there’s a wide range of suggestions covering fiction and non-fiction.
However, it’s their giveaways that make Toppsta really special. If you have registered (for free) with the site then you are eligible to enter giveaways to win books. All you have to do in return is post a review online if you win. In the year since I first won a Toppsta giveaway, I have won a total of 14 books. My first was Ann M Martin’s incredibly moving How to Look for a Lost Dog. It is a warm and honest portrayal of life with autism, told from the point of view of 12 year old Rose. I have won two very different books about owls. The owl in Tim Hopwood’s Wow! said the Owl is a curious little bird who stays up during the daytime to see what she’s been missing out on. Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien’s Hoot Owl, by contrast, is a master of disguise and uses the cover of darkness to go out hunting, with hilarious consequences. Four of my books were non-fiction: the fun-packed Get Out! Nature Activity Book by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham, Andy Mansfield’s impressive Pop-Up London, Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron’s gorgeous and informative Animal Surprises and the stunning Bee by Britta Teckentrup. I’ve won and reviewed much-loved children’s classics, Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit, newly illustrated by Sarah Massini, and When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark. I’ve had the pleasure of discovering new author/illustrators too: Lizzy Stewart who wrote and illustrated There’s a Tiger in the Garden and Fiona Woodcock who created the beautiful Hiding Heidi. The Last Book Before Bedtime by Nicola O’Byrne is a clever twist on traditional fairy tales while Jimmy Fallon and Miguel Ordóñez humorously relate how Your Baby’s First Word will be Dada. I kept my own baby amused with the eye-catching Black and White Baby Book – Animals by Laura Seaby.
Thank you to Toppsta and to all of the publishers for a year of fabulous freebies!
My One Year Bloggerversary,
16 January 2017
Today marks my first anniversary as a book blogger. Over the course of this year, I have reviewed 80 children’s books: board books, picture books, illustrated books and middle grade books, fiction and non-fiction. I’ve reviewed classics and new titles, books we’ve bought and books we’ve borrowed from the library. I’ve also been really lucky to receive review copies from several publishers – a book post day is always one of great excitement in our house!
I created my blog a week before I gave birth and many of my early posts were written while my son breastfed. Now that Sam is a toddler, I find that I have much less time for blogging but, thankfully, no less time for reading. Sam loves books. He loves to listen to stories and already has his favourites. To my immense joy, he loves to read to himself too. Many a time, he has gone suspiciously quiet and I have crept into the room only to find him reading contentedly to himself – cue very happy mommy moment. Indeed, one of my proudest achievements has been raising a book baby.
I love writing my blog. In amongst the whirl of new motherhood, it has provided some craved-for ‘me time’. It has reignited a passion for writing that had been lying dormant. I have loved discovering new authors and illustrators, and the feeling that I’ve got my finger on the pulse of children’s literature. On our quest for new books, Sam and I have become frequent borrowers at our local libraries; the staff know us and welcome us and we feel at home there.
I don’t blog in isolation either. There’s a whole community of book bloggers who I interact with through their blogs, Twitter and Instagram accounts. It’s a friendly place. Publishers, authors and illustrators are very supportive and accessible too. Thank you to everyone who’s made me feel welcome.
To celebrate this exciting first year, I’ve selected my ten favourite books from those that I’ve reviewed so far. There are books that have moved me and had a huge emotional impact. Not As We Know It by Tom Avery deals sensitively and poignantly with the heartbreak of losing a sibling. Emma Dodd’s Together made me weep tears of love and joy as I shared its heartfelt sentiments with my newborn son. In How to Look for a Lost Dog Ann M Martin gives us an utterly absorbing, warm and honest portrayal of what it’s like to live with autism. For its unadulterated storytelling magic, my favourite book was Oy Yew by Ana Salote. My three favourite picture books stood out because of the power of their message. The Journey by Francesca Sanna is told with sensitivity and compassion and gives a human face to forced migration. Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson also nurtures empathy and understanding as it gently explores gender identity. While Yasmeen Ismail’s I’m a Girl! exuberantly challenges preconceived ideas about what is typical behaviour for a girl or a boy. Finally, one of my most exciting discoveries since I began blogging has been the fabulously rich world of children’s non-fiction. Wow! There are some glorious books out there. It’s been very hard to narrow it down to just three. Ella Bailey’s One Day on our Blue Planet in the Antarctic is aimed at a young audience and is packed full of beautiful penguins. Wild Animals of the North is a design-led visual delight from Dieter Braun. Lane Smith’s There is a Tribe of Kids is an exquisitely illustrated masterpiece celebrating the weird and wonderful collective nouns of the animal kingdom.
While still in its infancy, my blog has taken off in ways I could only have dreamt of this time last year and I’m excited about the year ahead. Children have read books because of my recommendations and this makes me happy. My blog has served its purpose: to get kids into books.
Unicorn Day, 12 January 2017
🦄 Special Unicorns of Blossom Wood giveaway, in association with Scholastic 🦄
** Just follow my blog by 28/01/17 to be in with a chance of winning all four books in the Unicorns of Blossom Wood series. **
Finding Black Beauty Blog Tour, 13 October 2016
Special Guest Post from Lou Kuenzler
Today I’m thrilled to be able to welcome author Lou Kuenzler to my blog. She is known for her Shrinking Violet, Bella Broomstick and Princess DisGrace books. Her latest story, Finding Black Beauty, was published on 6 October. It’s a re-telling of the classic novel but it is told from the point of view of Joe, the inexperienced groom from the original tale.
Get Kids into Books: Could you tell me about how you approached adapting a classic – your motivation, any challenges and how you’ve made the story appeal to a new, modern audience?
Lou Kuenzler: For my latest children’s book, I took inspiration from Anna Sewell’s classic animal adventure, Black Beauty. At first I was daunted, tiptoeing around the subject a bit, wondering how I could do justice to such an established text when reimagining it for modern readers. I think I was especially awed as Black Beauty was one of my own favourite childhood books.
In spite of that, I felt strongly that it was worth bringing to a fresh audience in a new way – especially a young readership, in the middle to second half of primary school, who might feel daunted by the some of the old-fashioned language and episodic structure of the original. Anna Sewell was never so much interested in writing a novel as in providing a much-needed platform to shed light on the terrible cruelty to horses suffered during the Victorian period. It can make for a very harsh read! In spite of this, she offers a glimpse of many intriguing characters – not least the eponymous and wonderful black horse, of course – but people too.
My interest was immediately drawn to Joe, the stable lad. I wondered what life would be like for a young outdoor servant in 1877. I knew he would live and sleep amongst the horses, making his bed in the hay loft and getting up at dawn to tend to their needs. This, I felt, was something contemporary readers would be interested in. I knew my own children had loved studying the Victorians at primary school, dressing up in period costume and going on trips to authentic museums which showed all elements of nineteenth century life.
Anna Sewell only mentions Joe twice, in no more than two or three short paragraphs. Yet his role is an important one: very nearly killing Beauty due to inexperience in the early chapters and instantly recognising the once magnificent horse when he spots him, worn out and broken through ill-use, at the end of the book. It seemed to me that young Joe framed the story. That was my starting point.
I wanted to know why the poor lad made his terrible mistake, cooling Beauty down too quickly when he was hot, and nearly costing the horse his life. Surely someone who had worked in a stable, even for a short time, would know not to deal with an overheated horse in this way? That is when my story really took off. What if Joe was actually a girl? I wondered. What if young if Joseph was really Josephine in disguise?
Once I had made the decision to go with this change, my story came to life. As a girl, Josephine would never have had the chance to work with horses before. Girl servants were limited to the house, or the dairy if outside. But I decided my Josephine was not a servant at all – she was the orphaned daughter of a squire – now forced to make her own way in the world. In this way, she would know how to ride a horse but would have been far too sheltered and privileged to learn how to look after one for herself. Her own servants would always have done this …
Josephine’s drive in Finding Black Beauty is not only about keeping track of her beloved horse but also reevaluating the positions of class and gender which have shaped her life as a young Victorian girl. I hope that this central journey – physical and emotional – which lies at the heart of my adventure story, will grab young readers and draw them in to my reimagining of Anna Sewell’s wonderful, heart-wrenching classic. It was so much fun to write as everything is out of kilter for Josephine: she was once spoiled and wealthy but must now learn to serve others in order to survive; she once had family and friends but is now alone in the world; and she must now dress up and pretend to be a boy!
I hope also that those who do enjoy my Finding Black Beauty will use it as a gateway to discover Anna Sewell’s original, heart-breaking story for themselves.
Fir for Luck Blog Tour, 23 September 2016
Special Guest Post from Barbara Henderson
It’s my stop on the Fir forLuck blog tour today and I’m delighted to welcome Barbara Henderson to my blog. Fir for Luck is set during the Highland Clearances, a particularly brutal period in Scottish history. I asked Barbara to tell me about how she struck the balance between historical accuracy and age-appropriate content in a children’s book.
Barbara: Children’s books should be uplifting, right?
Teenage books can be depressing, but children’s books; they should be squeaky clean and nice and wholesome, shouldn’t they?
Not sure about that.
When I wrote Fir for Luck, a story of the 19th Century Highland Clearances, it became clear pretty quickly – this local rebellion of Ceannabeinne, fictional Janet’s real-life village, did not happen in isolation. A lot of these villagers would have had baggage: trauma carried with them since the horrendous clearances of the Strathnaver Glen. I needed to flag up what the stakes were. Readers, however young, need to know what could happen to Janet and her family before I can expect them to care.
There were compromises, of course: the violence, the ruthlessness, the deaths – most of this is firmly placed in the flash-back strand of the narrative, experienced through Anna, Janet’s grandmother as a young woman. Young readers are less likely to recognise themselves in her than in Janet, so there is a little protective distance there. They know that Janet could be next, that the process could repeat itself with her.
There was a particular bit in Fir for Luck which I agonised over: again it’s in the flashback section, but it involves pretty severe cruelty to an animal, and kids do find that hard to cope with. Nevertheless, it was a historically documented part of the plot, not an episode I invented. I felt that it might be a cop-out to avoid it when it was there for the including. In addition, it is effective in showing the sheer ruthlessness and heartlessness of the back story’s villain, Patrick Sellar, and his henchmen. It is a brief episode, one which stayed with me from my research reading, but I needed to be careful not to dwell on it for too long.
The balance is sometimes hard to find. After all, a book needs to entertain. Doesn’t it? It can teach, as long as that is not too obvious. Of course a good book is like a dating agency, matching the reader up with a character they can relate to and identify with. There needs to be light in a story for children, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a bit (or even a lot) of darkness, too, especially when depicting a dark period in history. As best as I could, I tried to balance any suffering or angst with positives: Janet’s friendship with Wee Donald and Catherine, her loyalty to her Granna, the family unit and the village community. The satirical elements, of the haughty Top House Mackays and the arrogant Schoolmaster, add a slightly more light-hearted tone to parts of the novel – which it badly needed in the face of the constant threat.
In general, however, I feel that we do not do children any favours by patronising them. Young people are often more resilient than adults. I am no fan of grit for grit’s sake, but neither do I think that by pretending injustice and suffering do not exist do we give ourselves the best chance of a juster world and less suffering in the future. Young people who feel righteous outrage NOW will be the adults who will press for change in the years to come.
If we as writers can play our part to make that happen, I’ll settle for that very gladly.
Fir for Luck was published yesterday. You can read my review here.
Chloe’s Secret Princess Club Blog Tour, 9 September 2016
Special Guest Post from Emma Barnes
Today is my stop on the Chloe’s Secret Princess Club blog tour and I’m delighted to welcome author Emma Barnes to my blog. She’s centred her new series around Chloe, who dreams of becoming a princess. I asked Emma to tell me more about Chloe.
Top Five Things About Chloe
1) She’s imaginative. It gets her into trouble but it also makes for a lot of fun. When she sees an open door to the classroom cupboard she can’t resist investigating, because she’s convinced that, just like for Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it might be the way to another world…
2) She’s a twin. Arthur, her brother, is very down-to-earth, and often ends up amazed by her adventures.
3) She’s a good friend. She can’t imagine being a princess without her friends becoming princesses too, which means that her best friend Aisha gets dragged in, as does their classmate Eliza, and together they form the Secret Princess Club.
4) She loves animals. Hammy, her pet hamster, often gets involved in her adventures, and she chats to him about her problems.
5) She loves to act – and dress up. When her school does a workshop on the Ancient Egyptians, Chloe is thrilled to be Cleopatra in a wonderful golden dress and black wig.
Chloe’s Secret Princess Club was published in the UK by Scholastic on 1 September 2016.
Unicorn Day, 1 September 2016
Special Guest Post from Catherine Coe
I’m delighted to welcome author Catherine Coe to my blog today. The first two books in her new series, The Unicorns of Blossom Wood, publish today.
Get Kids into Books: You’ve written about girls who become unicorns in your new books. What are your favourite mythical creatures in literature?
Catherine: As a child I loved being taken to fantastical worlds where my imagination could run riot. Actually, I still love this now – which is most definitely one of the reasons I write children’s fantasy books. I remember the magic of being transported to different worlds, with mythical characters, and I use these memories to write books that I think my childhood self would’ve liked to have read.
The mythical creatures I was introduced to as a child by favourite authors such as Roald Dahl, C. S. Lewis and E Nesbit have stayed with me from the very moment I first read about them – they were so vividly written and felt so real, I wanted to believe they really might exist. And that’s I aim to do with my mythical characters, such as the unicorns in the Blossom Wood series. In fact, these characters are girls who turn into unicorns when they visit Blossom Wood – because I thought it would be huge fun for readers to imagine that they could turn into something so wonderfully different and have magical powers. Because everyone wants to believe in magic, right?
My top five favourite mythical creatures in literature:
5: Mr Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
I fell in love with Mr Tumnus the first moment I met him – even though we find out later that he was deceiving Lucy. It was partly his flaws that drew me to him – that and his bravery at defying the White Witch, and his often unintentionally funny, matter-of-fact dialogue.
4: The Psammead from Five Children and It by C. S. Nesbit
The Psammead is a sand-fairy who grants wishes, but other than that it’s not the usual type of fairy! It’s grouchy and somewhat ‘different’ to look at – with ‘long horns like a snail’s eyes’, ‘ears like a bat’s’ and a ‘tubby body…shaped like a spider’s and covered with thick soft fur’. But the main reason why the Psammead makes this list is Nesbit’s wonderful writing – because even now, many years since last reading the book, I can quite clearly imagine it rustling up from the sand and speaking in its fed-up yet brilliantly observant manner: ‘Does she always talk nonsense, or is it only the rubbish on her head that makes her silly?’
3: BFG from The BFG by Roald Dahl
Who doesn’t love the BFG? Taking Lucy from the orphanage is merely the first in a long line of kind-hearted acts that even his passion for disgusting snozzcumbers can’t out way. I have yet to watch the film – because I’m not sure I want to risk it changing exactly how I remember him from the book.
2: The Faraway Tree in The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
OK, so technically a tree isn’t a character, but I had to include it as in my mind it IS a creature – leading as it does to a fantastically different land in every adventure. Of course it’s also the home of many brilliant characters such as Moonface and Saucepan-Man; an integral part of the book that shapes almost every page. The Faraway Tree certainly influenced the books I write – in the Blossom Wood series there’s a tree called the Moon Chestnut, which is believed to be magical because it’s the oldest and tallest tree in the wood.
1: Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Ah, Bilbo Baggins, a lover of home comforts, of food and his pipe, and absolutely no adventures thank you very much. Except that’s exactly what he must do – undertake the greatest of adventures – and that’s when Bilbo’s character starts to really shine in his growing ingenuity and eventual bravery. He’s a hero for the non-heroic – a character who learns and grows in confidence, but who deep down never changes because he’s happy with who he is.
The first two books in Catherine’s new Unicorns of Blossom Wood series, Believe in Magic and Festival Time, publish on 1 September. You can read my reviews here. Catherine also has a brilliant website that accompanies the series.
Dylan the Doctor Blog Tour & Giveaway
20.8.16 Today is my stop on the Dylan the Doctor blog tour. I really enjoyed this fun playtime adventure. You can read my review here. Dylan the Doctor is the first Dylan story in an exciting new series of picture books for toddlers written by Guy Parker-Rees, author of the wonderful Giraffes Can’t Dance.
Competition! Would you like a chance to win a copy of Dylan the Doctor? Follow my blog to be entered into the draw. Deadline: midnight on Saturday 27 August 2016. Giveaway open to residents of the UK and IRL only.
Visit the other stops on the tour for more reviews and giveaways.
The Velveteen Rabbit, the first title in a new series of Nosy Crow classics
The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favourite books as a child and so I was delighted when I found out that Nosy Crow were re-publishing it. It means that a whole new generation of children will be able to enjoy its magic. The Velveteen Rabbit will be the first book in Nosy Crow’s new series of classics (Peter Pan is also confirmed) and is published in hardback on 1 September 2016. It will be a glorious edition – printed on munken paper with foiled cloth binding and a foiled dust jacket – making it perfect for a special gift.
The story, by Margery Williams, is almost 100 years old; it was first published in 1922. Nosy Crow are keeping the original text, with some minor alterations that you can read about here, but the illustrations have been changed. As much as I have a soft spot for the original illustrations by William Nicholson, today they do look rather dated and might not appeal to a modern audience. Illustrator Sarah Massini has had the task of reimagining the Velveteen Rabbit for this new audience and she’s done a wonderful job. There are seven illustrations in the original book and these have all been lovingly recreated for the new edition. As well as updating the illustrations themselves, the way they are used in the book is also now more in keeping with modern children’s books. In the original, the illustrations stood alone on a page or a double page whereas in the Nosy Crow version the illustrations tend to be interwoven with the text.
The Velveteen Rabbit is the story of how toys become real. It’s a timeless tale of friendship and love and that special bond between a child and their favourite toy. It is joyful, heartbreaking, wise and magical. The story is one to treasure, as is this beautiful new edition.
Reading with your baby
I’m a keen advocate of reading with children from a very young age. We started reading to Sam when he was in the womb and he was a member of the library at the age of six weeks. Sharing books with a baby has so many benefits:
- It’s a wonderful way to bond. Even if your baby is too young to understand the story that you’re reading, by reading with them each day they begin to make positive associations with books: reading is fun, it’s a time for closeness and cuddles. It’s special one-to-one time.
- You are nurturing from an early age what will, hopefully, become a lifelong love of reading.
- Listening to stories and poems helps with language development. Children hear the rhythms and undulations of speech – sounds that they can start to imitate – and thereby begin the process of learning to talk. Re-reading favourite books really helps with vocabulary acquisition. So many baby books are rhyming; hearing and recognising rhymes is very important for early phonics awareness and will be invaluable later when your child begins to read on their own.
- Baby books, particularly those with black and white illustrations or bold patterns, help a baby’s developing eyesight.
- By letting your baby hold the board book and turn the pages, they are honing their fine motor skills.
There are lots of brilliant organisations that support early reading:
- BookTrust runs Bookstart which encourages parents to give their children a flying start by reading with them every day, starting from when they’re babies. Their website is packed with resources to help parents choose books and find places locally that run reading activities. There are also loads of story apps and fun games to play. Bookstart offers free books to all children before they start school. The first free book pack is handed out via your health visitor at some point in your baby’s first year. Bookstart supports reading initiatives at your local library too, such as Bear’s Reading Adventure. It also runs the Bookstart bear club.
- Words for Life, an initiative of the National Literacy Trust, has tips for games, songs and stories to share with your baby.
- The Scottish Book Trust runs Bookbug, aimed at parents with babies. There are book recommendations, competitions, ideas for bookish activities and hints and tips about sharing stories and rhymes with your baby. Plus, if you live in Scotland, Bookbug provides free book packs and runs free events for babies and their families to enjoy together.
Read my reviews of some of the baby board books that we’ve enjoyed by clicking on the book covers below.
Caleb Krisp is the author of the brilliant Ivy Pocket trilogy. Two books have been published so far, Anyone but Ivy Pocket and Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket. They tell the adventures and misadventures of Ivy, a feisty, fearless and slightly deluded 12-year-old maid. You can read my review of Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket by clicking on the book cover below.
Bloomsbury Kids kindly arranged for me to ask Caleb a few questions. Here are his replies.
Do you get children to read and comment on your story drafts before submitting them to your publisher?
I have a small group of readers that I give the manuscript to before I send it to my publishers – but they are all grown ups. While children give me the most honest reviews, and in the end they are the only readers that matter, I use adults because I often want very detailed feedback.
What is your writing environment like? Do you have props and objects to inspire you?
My writing environment is awful – a room adjacent to my garage with no windows, a very low ceiling and a great deal of rubbish in it, including Christmas decorations and old suitcases. I don’t have any props or objects and that is deliberate because I want to vanish into the story as I write it. If I was surrounded by anything even a tiny bit interesting, I would become horribly distracted!
Why did you choose to set the book in Victorian London?
I grew up reading and loving nineteenth century literature and because of those brilliant books, Victorian London is thrillingly alive in my imagination. I also wanted to place my lead character, Ivy Pocket, in a society where she was forced to work as a maid at twelve years old. Victorian London proved to be a dangerous and exciting place to tell parts of Ivy’s story.
What are your plans once the Ivy Pocket trilogy is finished? What are you working on next?
I’m am working on the final book in in the Ivy Pocket trilogy now and it’s been a great deal of fun bringing Ivy’s story to a conclusion. As for what I’m working on next, I have several ideas swirling around my head but the only thing I know for certain is that my next book will be very different from Ivy Pocket.
Emma Dodd is one of my favourite children’s author/illustrators. My son Sam and I are fans of her baby animals series in particular. These gorgeous books are published as baby friendly board books and in hardback and paperback format; the paperback and hardback editions have a lovely foil finish. This heartfelt series is all about the unconditional love between a parent and their child, and each book explores a different aspect of this incredible bond. The series conveys the sentiments of parenthood perfectly. The stories are incredibly poignant and moving. Since I’ve had my son, I find they bring a tear to my eye when I read them. From a child’s point of view, Emma tells super stories that are both comforting and reassuring.
Find out more about Emma by visiting her website here.
Read my reviews of some of her books by clicking on the book covers below.