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.