Author Q&A: The Mapmakers’ Race – Eirlys Hunter with Julia Eccleshare

I am delighted to host this Q&A between Eirlys Hunter, author of The Mapmaker’s Race and Julia Eccleshare, one of children’s literature leading figures and currently Editor-at-Large with LoveReading4Kids.
In this blog post, Eirlys discusses writing for children, and the differences between that and writing for adults; her Welsh heritage (which is pretty apt to appear on my blog with being Welsh myself) and writing fantasy stories.

Eirlys Hunter and Julia Eccleshare are schoolfriends who both ended up in the children’s book world—on opposite sides of the world. On the release of Eirlys’ first children’s novel in the UK, The Mapmakers’ Race, we asked them to have a small conversation about children’s books.

Eirlys Hunter is a London-born fiction writer who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has published seven books for children as well as a novel and short stories for adults. Hunter teaches Writing for Children at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University (New Zealand’s most prestigious creative writing school).

Julia Eccleshare is a journalist and writer on children’s books, and the former children’s book editor for the Guardian. She published 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up in 2009.

‘I’ve known Julia since we were three, but we became close friends when we were in the same classes in years 12 & 13. We had holidays at her parents’ cottage in Wales and used to go for long walks across the hills, talking about books.’ —Eirlys Hunter

JE: You grew up in the UK in what was thought of as ‘a golden age of children’s literature’. Do you think that influenced your decision to become a writer, especially your decision to write for children?

EH: I’m sure it did, though of course I had no idea of how lucky I was. The children’s library up the road had a constant stream of exciting new books and my sister and I had Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Philippa Pearce, Susan Cooper, William Mayne, Leon Garfield and Rosemary Sutcliff on our bookshelf.

Nowadays, reading adult novels gives me intellectual pleasure, but for emotional satisfaction and total immersion in another world I still prefer reading children’s books. I have written for adults and I may do again, but when I write for children I feel connected to the period in my life when stories were the only thing that mattered.

JE: Apart from the obvious things about what the characters are able and allowed to do, can you identify any differences between writing for adults and writing for children?

EH: You can write about any subject for children, but there are differences between how you write for children and adults (and by children, I mean pre-teens—writing for young adults is something else again). Of course, there are exceptions to undermine every generalisation, but for me the most important feature of a book for children is that it should have a child’s eye at its centre.

This probably means a child, or a childlike character, but it also means a sense of wonder. So much of children’s experience is new, extraordinary and inexplicable, and children’s writers have to reflect that.

Also, adult readers may be prepared to wade through pages of introspection, but children usually aren’t. Child characters may be thoughtful or dreamy, but they shouldn’t spend a lot of time reflecting until they’re teenagers. Children in books have to be active; they have to be doing.

And children’s books must end, if not entirely happily, at least hopefully.

JE: Does your Welsh heritage and your love for the remote Welsh countryside ever provide a landscape for your stories?

EH: Often! Setting is so important; it provides a mood as well as a stage for the action. There is a small corner of Wales that is in my DNA and I can’t keep out of my writing. The Mapmakers’ Race isn’t set in a named country but the landscape is a blend of the South Island of New Zealand and Snowdonia in North Wales.

JE: When did you discover you were a storyteller and writer? Did you start by writing for your own children or do you write to entertain yourself?

EH: I write because it’s an addiction. I used to make small books, and my parents must have noticed because they gave me an ancient typewriter for Christmas when I was ten. I began my first novel, painstakingly clacking out each letter, but it took two long pages for my heroine to get dressed and have breakfast; I wanted to write a realist novel but had no idea how to skip the reality of toast and tooth-brushing. In my teens I wrote poetry, and what I thought of as scenes—they were short stories really. It was a surprise to be praised for these at secondary school, because in primary school my writing was only ever singled out for poor spelling and wonky margins. As a teenager I kept a diary full of high emotion, and for many years I wrote to find out what I thought and felt.

I started writing for an audience when the last of my four children went to kindergarten, and I wrote for children rather than adults because that’s what I knew best; that’s what I’d been reading most of for so long. And children’s books tended to be shorter and seemed more manageable. I did try to write one novel specifically for my son, but the whole process took so long that he was practically grown-up by the time it was in print. I’d say that I was inspired by my children, but really I write for myself, because I have to.

JE: Do you imagine yourself in stories? In which case, which character from a children’s story would you most like to be?

EH: I always imagined myself in stories when I was young, sailing with Nancy and Peggy,
or languishing in the attic with poor Sarah Crewe. When I was older I spent a long time being Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle. Now I’d most like to be Lyra Belacqua or Malcolm Polstead, Philip Pullman’s brave, loyal, quick-witted heroes. Or, on less adventurous days, I’d like to be Orlando the Marmalade Cat.

JE: Writing fantasy novels for children has been very popular for the last 20 years, not least because of the success of JK Rowling. What is so attractive about writing fantasy and what opportunities does it give a writer?

I think many writers have been forced into writing fantasy because the reality of most contemporary children’s lives is so boring. They’re driven everywhere, closely timetabled and monitored, and spend so much time looking at their screens. Writers write fantasy because it’s the only way to get rid of the adults in a child’s life without causing major trauma (not that there’s anything wrong with writing about trauma, but then it’s trauma that drives the story). Fantasy may also be the only way to give child characters time to muck about and observe the world, and the opportunity to explore and take risks.

It’s impossible to imagine a contemporary realist novel in which the children have the kind of adventures that were standard in stories of a generation ago. Child welfare agencies would be called in if any contemporary children were observed to be unsupervised
for whole days at a time like the Famous Five or the Swallows and Amazons (and they didn’t wear life jackets!). It seems that only neglected children are free to have real world adventures nowadays. If a writer wants to give their child characters agency and a happy, functional family they have to write fantasy. (Historical fiction can serve the same purpose, but that involves research. I prefer making it all up.)

Fantasy doesn’t only allow child characters autonomy, it also gives writers autonomy.
I’ve been struggling with a contemporary YA novel in which social media is crucial,
but technology and the way it’s used by teens changes faster than I can keep up. In
The Mapmakers’ Race I not only ditched the parents but was free to ditch any aspect of contemporary life that limited my characters’ experience, or that I found hard to imagine, or intrinsically uninteresting. My children lose their mother on page one, but no one intervenes. They must manage without money or any means of communication. They have the technological skills they need for the race but soon discover just how many life-skills they’re missing. But they survive, and grow, and have fun.


The Mapmakers’ Race is out now in paperback (£6.99, Gecko Press)

Find out more at www.geckopress.com and on Twitter: @geckopress


Thanks to Laura Smythe for inviting me to host this exclusive and very enjoyable interview for this brilliantly-written book.

Mr E
📚

Author Q&A: My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar – David Solomons & Giveaway: 4 signed books in the My Brother is a Superhero series by David Solomons!

Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome David Solomons, author of the award-winning and incredibly popular and successful My Brother is a Superhero series, to The The Reader Teacher to answer my questions to celebrate the publication of the fourth and most recent book in the series, My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar, published by Nosy Crow on 28th June 2018.


My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar (5)

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar?

DS:
1. Funny
2. Exciting
3. Brainy
(I don’t do emojis. Is it a terrible thing to admit that I actively dislike them?!)

TRT: What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write the My Brother is a Superhero series… particularly with your most recent book, My Arch Enemy is a Brain in a Jar?

DS: Traditionally, the brain-in-a-jar is a background prop in the average mad scientists’ laboratory. I thought it was about time to get it out of the shadows and give it a starring role as the main villain.

TRT: Also do you find the books in the series get easier or harder to write as you go along?

DS: I love writing stories for Luke and the gang. Coming up with their adventures has proved alarmingly easy, but nailing the title of each subsequent book, that’s a different matter.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar/My Brother is a Superhero series, which one would it be and why?

DS: On one level the series is the story of a boy who missed out on the one thing he dreamed of having. For a lo-o-ong time I dreamed of having a successful career as a writer, but it always seemed out of my reach. The irony that the biggest success I’ve had should come from telling this particular story is not lost on me. Which is a long-winded way of saying that I am a lot like Luke Parker.

TRT: In My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar, Luke and his brother, Zack swap bodies by accident. If you could pick any fictional character or real-life person to swap bodies with and to inherit their ‘power’, who would it be and why?

DS: The name’s Bond. James Bond.

TRT: I know this Author Q&A is centred around the release of My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar but… I just have to ask about The Secret in Vault 13 – A Dr Who Story too. How is writing, drafting and editing going?

DS: As of this precise moment the copyeditor is running her big red pen through the manuscript.

TRT: How did it feel to be asked to write it?

DS: I was filled with a mixture of delight and sofa-cowering terror. Dr Who was a huge part of my childhood, so it’s definitely a career highlight to be entrusted with a story for the 13th Doctor.

Reading and Writing (4)

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?

DS: From early on I liked playing with language – I continue to have a weakness for puns. So I started writing not with a burning need to tell stories, or express some important point of view, but purely for the pleasure of turning a sentence.

TRT: Did you enjoy writing at school?

DS: I did. I wasn’t good at it, but I was enthusiastic. One huge moment for me was late in Primary school when we wrote a story and then went to the younger children to read it aloud to them. I loved that and I recall receiving praise from my teacher as a result. I’m a sucker for a good review.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?

DS: I work very hard to put my characters in impossible situations and then figure out how to get them out again. The effort of working that out is exhausting, but the moment when the solution hits me is worth it every time. More generally, I relish writing first drafts, when the world and the story is all mine. Rewriting uses different muscles, but that can be highly satisfying too. I have a sadistic streak when it comes to cutting words – I take a strange pleasure in killing my darlings. Often I find that when I strip back the text, a good joke rises to the surface. The scariest note is structural – anything that breaks the spine of your story will require significant rewriting. ‘What if we took the ending and put it in the middle?’

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?

DS: I grew up in the Land Before School Visits. If I could’ve had someone come to our school it would’ve been a science-fiction author like Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss or Frank Herbert. My passion was the shelf in the library marked ‘Science Fiction’. But most of all I would’ve loved Douglas Adams to drop in and talk Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today? What are you reading, if you are reading any children’s (or adult’s) literature at the moment?

DS: The contemporary children’s books that I know about are those I read to/with my children at bedtime. We’re currently racing through Pamela Butchart’s oeuvre, which we are all massively enjoying. Such a brilliant, funny voice.

My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar, My Brother is a Superhero series and Teaching (3)

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your books can be used in the classroom for the many teachers and school staff that will read this?

DS: I do a workshop on How to Write Funny Stories. There is this idea that not everyone can do it, but I introduce a few techniques just to show that there is an underlying mechanism. Teachers could dig into a funny section and explore what makes it so. Look at the choice of vocabulary and word placement. What happens to the humour when you move a word? Does it kill the joke? I’m no expert, but it seems to me that focussing on the funny side of the books would be a good way to engage even more reluctant readers.

I also talk about the idea that stories obey the rules of their genre, and that superhero stories are particularly good at illustrating this, mainly because they all tend to work the same way. Moreover, I broke these rules in order to make the reader laugh. So, for example, rule 1: all superheroes have cool vehicles – the Batmobile, Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet. But my superhero (and his brother) get to the scene of the crime on the bus. Can the children pull out the rules of the superhero story and see how I’ve subverted them for comic effect?

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?

DS: It’s Westworld meets the Prisoner, for kids. With a great spa for the grown-ups.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?

Contact my publisher, Nosy Crow, please. I can’t do a whole heap of school visits as I need lots of time in my office to write the actual books. I am in awe of my peers who can write on trains and planes. I’m useless away from my desk.

Two more before you go (2)!

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?

DS: I wrote two novels that didn’t get published.

TRT: Do you have a question you would like to ask the readers of The Reader Teacher?

DS: Why are funny novels treated with less inquiry than ‘serious’ novels?


Giveaway!

I have kindly been given a SIGNED series of David Solomons’ books:
 My Brother is a Superhero;
My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord;
My Evil Twin is a Supervillain
& My Arch-Enemy is a Brain in a Jar
& a Nosy Crow event pack (with plenty of resources, bunting, badges and display materials)
 to give away!

If you’d like to be in with a chance of being the ONE lucky winner of this very special giveaway and these utterly superb books, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

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Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): Walls – Emma Fischel (Illustrated by Sarah Darby)

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‘Breaking the fourth wall in this story where bricks aren’t barriers, Walls is an emotional exploration of some of the dynamics, difficulties and divides of divorce.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 Walls
Author: Emma Fischel (@emma_fischel)
Illustrator (Cover): Sarah Darby (@strawberrydarby)
Publisher: OUP Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 7th June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0192763822

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Walls 🧱🏠
2. Boggling 🚶
3. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦


Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith had a good life – a perfect family, a true best friend, and a brilliant secret den – but now everything is ruined! Suddenly his mum and dad want to build a wall right through middle of his home, Bill has made other friends, and his new neighbour has taken over his special place.

Ned is definitely, completely, totally not happy about this. Until the night he loses his temper and something amazing happens. Something that means maybe he can get everyone to come back round to his way of thinking…


The first line(s):

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DdkSuUKXkAAifT1Review:
 Meet Ned Harrison Arkle-Smith. Yes that’s right. Ned Harrison… Wait a minute. For once a week, it’s Ned Harrison Arkle… the Arkle all on its own. And the other, well it’s Ned Harrison Smith… on its own too. You understand, yes? This is all because Ned’s parents are splitting up but as you can see Ned is not taking this news well at all.

Narrated by Ned, Walls introduces us to and explores some of the emotional experiences of divorce through his eyes living with his two sisters, and his parents who have decided that they can no longer continue to live together. However there’s a slight twist to their living arrangements… as they continue to not live strictly ‘together’.

Rather than selling their home or moving out, they decide to separate by separating their existing home, using walls, in to two: the mum-side and the dad-side. With Mum and Dad expecting to carry on as normal living side-by-side, as Ned and his two sisters visit each side on alternating weekly schedules, they later learn that it’s not as easy as just closing the door on their respective side of the house.

Left reeling from seeing his family on opposing sides of HIS house, bricks don’t become barriers for Ned. Sick of the walls surrounding him, he discovers his own special and secret skill of walking through these (and many other) walls one limb at a time which he starts to call ‘wallboggling’.

Throughout the remainder of the story, we begin to uncover that Ned’s difficulties at home and in the past have led him to be the Ned he is today. Quite controlling of others – especially to those closest to him – which leads him to actually pushing them further and further away, he often responds unexpectedly and badly to situations.

But can a new friend help him to change his ways and discover more about himself?

And can he choose to use his special skill for the greater good…?


Divorce rates increase…
Over 40% of marriages in the UK end up in divorce…
Britain has the highest divorce rate in the EU…


These are just some of the headlines concerning the subject of divorce which appears to be increasingly topical at this time. Therefore, after seeing her own children dealing with their changing family dynamic, Emma uses this first-hand experience to write an emotionally-charged story which could be used as a platform for empathy and discussion (as always, I recommend pre-reading it first before sharing with a class to assess the suitability of using it based on your knowledge of the pupils in your classroom) and which has the trials and tribulations of true family and friendship at its magical and moving core.

Breaking the fourth wall in this story where bricks aren’t barriers, Walls is an emotional exploration of some of the dynamics, difficulties and divides of divorce and living in a dysfunctional family.

‘Breaking the fourth wall in this story where bricks aren’t barriers, Walls is an emotional exploration of some of the dynamics, difficulties and divides of divorce.’


Huge thanks to Emma, Hannah and all at OUP Children’s for sending me an advance copy of this wonderfully written book! Extra thanks to Emma for taking the time to answer my questions!

Mr E
📚

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Author Q&A: Emma Fischel (EF) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

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Emma Fischel had a happy, muddy childhood in the Kent countryside, the middle of five children. She spent many years in London but is now back in Kent. She has three grown-up children, two favourite kinds of potato (mashed and baked, since you ask), and once played in a band. Emma has written fiction and non-fiction books for children of all ages, including the Witchworld series for Nosy Crow. Walls is her first novel with Oxford Children’s Books.

You can find out more about Emma by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @emma_fischel.


Walls (5)

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe Walls?
EF:
1. Funny 😁
2. Magical ✨
3. Moving 😥

TRT: What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Walls?

EF: Well, parents splitting up happens to many children now – including my own. But Walls is written with distance and perspective on that time. And this is Ned’s story, not my children’s – who are nothing like Ned. I’m sure they would all be far wiser wallbogglers than Ned is!

I do think a big part of a writer’s job is to help children make sense of things that are happening to them, or to their friends. But serious subjects can be tackled in exciting and funny ways. And I hope that’s what I’ve done with Walls. By bringing in magic, the story moves from the domestic – and all the favourite books of my childhood were ones where magic happened to ordinary children. Edith Nesbit, Edward Eager, C S Lewis… the list goes on.

And as for help – my agent and editor, without doubt. Agents have calming spells for panicking writers with looming deadlines. And editors have magic powers that make a writer turn a good book into a better one.

TRT: I adore the unique concept of wallboggling in your book. For those readers who haven’t yet read Walls, can you explain what this is without giving too much away?

EF: Wallboggling, aka walking through walls – no spoiler, it’s on the cover! –  is a skill that Ned gets through the sheer power of his anger with the new wall his mum and dad have built down the middle of his house – the physical symbol of their split, and proof to Ned that they will never get back together. Ned has the idea that wallboggling will sort out his life. That with his new power he’ll be able to get all the people – Mum, Dad, his friend Bill – who are not behaving how he wants to come into line… Ned is WRONG. But he does come good in the end!

TRT: If you could pick any wall in the world to wallboggle through, which one would it be and why?

I change my mind on a daily basis. So many walls, so little time…Today, Mr E, the wall I would boggle through is the big wall round the garden of Buckingham Palace. As the queen has never invited me to one of her garden parties, I’d have a stroll around the grounds, and take a few plant cuttings as a souvenir. Better than a royal tea towel or mug, definitely.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Walls, who would it be and why?

I’m not sure I’m very like any of the characters in Walls – but maybe that’s for others to say? Although most writers, I think, put tiny bits of themselves into all their characters. It’s hard not to!

Having said that, Isabel, Ned’s four-year-old sister, does obsess about elves, as I did. And she also names all her paintings. Her painting, Dead Ladybird Under Leaves in the Moonlight was actually one of my finest!


Reading and Writing (4)

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

I know lots of writers wrote as a child, but I didn’t. I was outside as much of the time as I possibly could be. And I enjoyed writing in school but I never wrote at home – shameful confession, but there you go. What I did write as a teenager was film and tv reviews. I have a huge file of them, all very pompous and very earnest. They could have been written by Adrian Mole.

I did read though, lots and lots. And it was when I started working at Usborne publishing, where I wrote books in-house,  that I started to think about writing as a possibility.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?

That feeling of suddenly knowing I’ve found the key to a character. At last I can hear their voice, I know who they are, they’re real! Or when a scene bursts into life, and leaps off the screen. I can feel a surge of energy, of excitement, and a need to glue myself to the keyboard and get on with it.

Of course, when you’ve got young children – not that I have any longer – that’s often tricky. You have to STOP. You have to make food, run baths, read bedtime stories. But in back of your mind, the cogs are whirring and the longing to get back to work is there!

There are times, usually in the later stages of a book, when I know what needs to happen, what I need to write, but I start to slump. It’s a struggle to reach the finish line. It’s hard to maintain the energy – and it’s extraordinary how much energy hunching over a keyboard takes. Sometimes I feel like I’ve run a marathon by the end of a day!

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?

EF: Author visits weren’t a thing back then. Authors just sat at home, authoring and eating biscuits.

And I didn’t contact any authors because I was far too busy contacting pop stars and joining their fan clubs… (This is not going well, Mr E. I should have had a childhood interest in both writing and contacting authors. I should.)

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today? What are you reading, if you are reading any children’s (or adult’s) literature at the moment?

It gets worse, Mr E – because I am reading nothing. But that’s because I CAN’T. I’m at the stage with my next book where reading is banned. No reading until I’m sure I’ve found the voice of the book, and the voice of my central character. I am – confession –  an accidental plagiarist,  too easily influenced by the wonderful writing of others. I find they come creeping into my own writing.

However, I do have a pile of children’s books stacked up to read. The 1000-year-old Boy, Planet Stan, Ella on the Outside, The Light Jar – and I’m impatient to get on to them. Children’s books are addressing so many big issues right now, in so many different, brilliant ways.


Walls and Teaching (3)

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers and school staff that will read this?

EF: Well, I’ve never been a teacher, so I’m not sure it’s my place to suggest how the book should be used!

But there’s a lot of potential for empathy discussions. The effects on children when parents split, how it manifests in Ned, the different ways it can manifest, how you can help friends in that situation. And maybe some role playing – looking at ways Ned could have handled situations with his friends in a better way, with discussion of the right and wrong ways to behave towards others?

Also, Ned loves making lists – including Ten Questions about Wallboggling. Maybe a class could think about what magic skill they would choose to get, and work out what their ten questions would be.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ Walls in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?

EF: Walls tackles, in a funny and magical way, the effect on a child when parents split up, and what happens when friendships break down. Ned, the central character, has to learn one big lesson: he has no power over changes, the only power he has is how he deals with them.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?

I’m in the process of setting up a contact page on my website. It should be up and running very soon, and all the details will be there.


Two more before you go (2)!

TRT: What has an interviewer or blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?

EF: Where would you time-travel to?

Possibly a bit self-absorbed, my answer to this… but I’d love to go back to my own childhood. Because at the time, of course, it was the modern world. So I’d like to see it through those eyes, rather than the eyes of nostalgia and memory.

I’d love to see my family back then, see the house, the garden, the family holidays, poke around my primary school, listen in on conversations with my friends, revisit particular events that I have strong memories of….

I think that would be fascinating, finding how much my own memories tally with the truth of things. But I’d definitely take a big box of tissues – I suspect it might be shocking, and very emotional.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?

I am scared of runny eggs. Bleurgh. Just bleurgh.


One last one… (1)!

TRT: Do you have a question you would like to ask the readers of The Reader Teacher?

If you could wallboggle, who would you tell – and who would you NOT tell?

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): Across the Divide – Anne Booth (Illustrated by Serena Rocca)

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‘A book that broaches, binds, blends and bridges big issues…
This is more than historical fiction; this is a story movingly written in a one-of-a-kind way that ensures it will stay with you long after the last page is read.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 Across the Divide
Author: Anne Booth (@Bridgeanne)
Illustrator (Cover): Serena Rocca (@SerenaR_art)
Publisher: Catnip Books (@catnipbooks)
Page count: 320
Date of publication: 7th June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910611111

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Tolerance 😌
2. Lindisfarne 🏰
3. Divide ➗


Olivia is stuck in the middle of a horrible row that threatens to tear apart her family, her friendships and her community.

Visiting the island of Lindisfarne, she meets a strange young man, caught between war and peace, who may help her decide what to do.

A beautiful, thought-provoking novel about seeing both sides and having the courage to do the right thing – from the highly acclaimed author of Girl With a White Dog.


The first line:

The only thing I was absolutely sure about at the beginning of the holiday was that I didn’t want to go to Lindisfarne.


Review: After Olivia’s mother is imprisoned for leading a pacifist protest, she is sent to stay with her estranged father on one of author, Anne Booth’s, favourite places of the remote island setting of Lindisfarne. At first, she believes the island has nothing for her and wants to get as far away as possible from it because it’s about as far removed from the life that she’s used to as it could possibly be. However the island has a lot more to reveal of itself than Olivia could possibly first imagine…

Rowing, arguing and differences of opinion or ‘unhealthy’ debate make this a difficult time for Olivia, seeming to have put her home life in to disarray, so much so that we discover that she prefers living at her grandparents. Her grandfather, an ex-army man himself, is the polar opposite to his daughter, Caz – Olivia’s mum. Favouring the military, army life and the opening a new Army cadets programme at school, he encourages Olivia to take a similar path to him and helps her by signing the permission sheet, knowing full well that her mother will not, to enrol her in the cadet programme and even talking about it at her school. But what will her friends think of this and her…?

Divide. It is here where the title, ‘Across the Divide’ is rather apt for this book because small divides start to appear within Olivia’s friendship group, bigger ones within her family and the community; and when she meets William – a mysterious boy who lives in the castle – this in itself presents a larger divide between characters and eras that this book soon starts to span.

As the story progresses, Olivia learns for herself about the old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ through a clever look back at the past as it meets with Olivia’s life in the present, and helps her to come to terms with making her own mind up and choosing the right thing to do for herself. But what does she choose to do…?

There’s elements of politics, contemporary issues and world events that Anne draws on in this story and they’re all handled in an age-appropriate style aimed at this audience with her hallmark of immense sensitivity, considerateness and compassion that echoes within the words of her previous books.

With links to the army, soldiers like Billy Congreve and conscientious objectors, this is particularly pertinent in the year when we commemorate the centenary of the ending of the First World War. I’d never visited Lindisfarne and had only vaguely heard about its historical background but now, thanks to reading Across in Divide, I feel like I have (albeit only for a short time) and that I’ve lived through a part of its history.

Highly topical, this is a book that broaches, binds, blends and bridges big issues including pacifism and peace and war and conflict. This book will do more than make you think because it will make you think differently about the world. This is more than just historical fiction; this is a story movingly written in a one-of-a-kind way that ensures it will stay with you long after the last page is read.

‘A book that broaches, binds, blends and bridges big issues…
This is more than historical fiction; this is a story movingly written in a one-of-a-kind way that ensures it will stay with you long after the last page is read.’


ACROSS THE DIVIDE by Anne Booth is out now in paperback (£6.99, Catnip Publishing)
Follow Anne Booth @Bridgeanne & Catnip @catnipbooks for more information.


Big thanks to Anne and Laura for sending me an advance copy of this wonderfully written book! Extra thanks to Anne for taking the time to answer my questions!

Mr E
📚

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Author Q&A: Anne Booth (AB) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

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Anne Booth lives in a village in Kent with her husband, four teenage children, two dogs and two hens. She has worked as a bookseller, a guide round a haunted medieval building (though she didn’t see any ghosts), a table clearer and washer-upper, a teacher of English in Italy, an Arts and Crafts Coordinator in a residential Home for the Elderly and a University lecturer.

Anne’s talks about her most recently published book: Across the Divide; her reading and writing habits and using her book in the classroom. Her other books include Girl With a White Dog, Dog Ears, Refuge and Magical Kingdom of Birds series.


Across the Divide (5)

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
Which 3 emojis would you choose to best describe Across the Divide?

AB:
1. 🐕
2. ⌚
3.  🏰

TRT: What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Across the Divide?

AB: I knew I wanted to write about Lindisfarne, because I love it so much.  I am very interested in Lindisfarne Castle at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the time of Edward Hudson and Edwin Lutyens, and was moved to read in a National Trust booklet, the story of a boy, Billy Congreve, who stayed at the castle and then went off to fight in World War One. I feel that was a very poignant story.

I really like the words of the MP Jo Cox, who said that she found ‘we have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’ and in my own life, when I look at my friends, I think this is true, and wanted to write about that.

For ACROSS THE DIVIDE I have been inspired by knowing good people in the army and army cadets, including a very committed Christian who did active service in Afghanistan, but also by very close friends who have spent their lives as Christian Pacifists, one of whom has been frequently arrested for non-violent protests like the one Olivia’s mother does in the book. In my own family, one of my Irish grandfathers received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery whilst fighting as a soldier in the British Army in The First World War, and yet I know that he advised my father to never be a soldier. So I felt that there were very different, fascinating  stories to tell and compelling but opposite viewpoints that could demonstrate  connections made between people.

I was, as with Girl with a White Dog, aware of the stories being told our children by  headlines in the newspapers, and I wanted to tell an alternative story about politics and where conflict is resolved and about unity and reconciliation, illustrating Jo Cox’s words.

I also wanted as part of this story, to show how religious people make decisions, and how people from the same religious tradition can make very different decisions about war, because I feel that there is a current tendency to fear religious belief and to identify religious commitment with extremism. I set in on an island associated with Christianity and used the debates between Christians at the time of the First World War, and in current debate. I hope that this will help children understand more about people from Christian and other religious traditions and how they follow their god or gods.

TRT: Across the Divide
is set partly in Lindisfarne. For those of us (like myself!) who haven’t yet been to Lindisfarne, could you explain what it is like to visit or live on Lindisfarne?

AB: Lindisfarne is beautiful. It is a small island off the Northumberland coast which you can reach by driving or walking along a causeway, but it gets totally cut off when the tide comes in, and that gives it a unique atmosphere… It has the castle and the abbey,  gift shops and heritage centres and lots and lots of birds. It has farms and fields with sheep, but also part of it is a nature reserve with wild dunes and bird-hides and secluded beaches and wild flowers. There is a particular sense of history and peace there, and some people say it is a ‘thin’ place, a place where the distance between heaven and earth is shorter.  It has been an ancient place of pilgrimage for centuries, a cradle of Celtic Christianity, and was the birthplace of the stunningly beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels.  I have been on holiday on Lindisfarne many times with my family, and I love it.

TRT: You talk about birds often in Across the Divide with mentions of sparrows and starlings, curlews and cormorants just to name a few. This is one of my favourite parts of the book. Can you explain their significance and tell us about your favourite bird and why it is?

AB: I love birds – I find them fascinating and mysterious and beautiful and I find it amazing that we share the world with them. I always feel there is something timeless about them and I love thinking that people we are divided from by time and history across the centuries, have also looked at the way a bird hovers in the air, or listened to bird song. There is an old gaelic poem about a monk listening to a blackbird singing, and I often think about that monk when I hear a blackbird and somehow feel connected over time. So this is all linked with the time travel section of the book, as well as a way of linking Olivia and her grandfather and Aidan and William together by their shared love of birds. It’s impossible for me to choose a favourite bird – I think they are all wonderful! I love the song of the blackbird and the call of the curlew, I love the cheekiness of sparrows and robins, and yesterday I was standing outside my house talking to a friend, and a fledgling blue tit flew down and landed on my shoulder for a minute, which is a highlight of my life!

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Across the Divide, who would it be and why?

AB: I am not sure if any one character is like me. I’d love to be as brave as Riya or Aidan, but I don’t think I am. I can see lots of people’s points of view, so I am probably like Olivia, but I am not sporty and never wanted to join cadets. I’d love to be as enthusiastic as Stan the dog. I think, actually, it might be William, as I love dogs and birds and drawing and my own faith is very important to me, but again, I am not sure if I would be as brave – I hope so!


Reading and Writing (4)

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

AB: I’ve always loved reading and I’ve always loved writing. I had very encouraging teachers and they used to let me illustrate my stories.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?

AB: I love most things about writing. I can get a bit exhausted and muddled if I get too many story lines mixed up and the chronology of a story wrong and have to go back and sort out who did what, when. I have to remind myself to write down times and days beforehand. Luckily, editors are brilliant at helping me sort out any muddles!

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?

AB: I don’t remember any writers coming to visit our school or even thinking that I could contact them.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today? What are you reading, if you are reading any children’s (or adult’s) literature at the moment?

AB: I am really impressed by the wonderful range of children’s books at the moment, both in fiction and non-fiction. I love picture books and illustrated books and I also read lots of books for the age range I write for.  I have just read To the Edge of The World by Julia Green, which is a wonderful story, and re-read The Secret of Spiggy Holes by Enid Blyton, I am currently reading and enjoying The Goose Road by Rowena House and loved  Hilary MacKay’s new book The Skylarks’ War, which is out later this year – both are about the First World War, so link to ACROSS THE DIVIDE. A stunning picture book I read recently with gorgeous illustrations by Aurélie Blanz and a stunning text, is Just Like Brothers by Elizabeth Baguley. I am reading a wonderful adult non-fiction book called Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell and I’ve just read Dear Mrs Bird, a great adult novel set in the 2nd world war, brilliantly researched, by my friend AJ Pearce.


Across the Divide and Teaching (3)

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers and school staff that will read this?

AB: I blogged about this at: https://www.booksfortopics.com/blog/author-blog-using-across-the-divide-in-schools

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ ACROSS THE DIVIDE in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?

AB: A book about standing up for what you believe, and about listening and respecting those with other viewpoints and finding common ground with them. A story which shows children that they have the power to make a difference.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?

 AB: I think contacting Catnip Books would be a good idea.


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Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews, posts and exclusive content from Anne on the Across the Divide blog tour from the past two weeks!

Review & Author Q&A: The Boy Who Grew Dragons (Happy Book Birthday!) – Andy Shepherd (Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)

To celebrate the official publication date and launch (Happy Book Birthday!) of The Boy Who Grew Dragons, I’m absolutely delighted that author Andy Shepherd asked me to visit The Reader Teacher today to take part in her very first Author Q&A, alongside my review.

So I give a big welcome to Andy where she’ll be talking about The Boy Who Grew Dragons, her reading and writing habits, using her book in the classroom (with teaching resources!) and all things dragon-tastic! 🐲

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‘Sure to fire up the imagination and a love of reading, this is only the very beginning to a series that’s going to be a roaring success!
A debut of dragon delight… guaranteed to make children (and adults!) everywhere wish for their own dragon after reading this.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 The Boy Who Grew Dragons
Author: Andy Shepherd (@andyjshepherd)
Illustrator: Sara Oglivie (Website)
Publisher: Piccadilly Press (@PiccadillyPress)
Page count: 224
Date of publication: 14th June 2018
Series status: First in a series of three!
ISBN: 978-1848126497

Perfect for Year 2, Year 3 & Year 4.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Dragons 🐲
2.  Wonder ✨
3. Relationships 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦


We grow dragons, And I can tell you this – they’re a lot more trouble than cucumbers.

Poo in your dad’s porridge? ✔️
Chase your cat? ✔️
Set light to your toothbrush? ✔️

But I can tell you something else. Their bright diamond eyes twinkle up at you. Their warm breath tickles your ear. And you’d better keep them a secret, because who wouldn’t want their own dragon.


The first line(s):

When people ask me what we grow in Grandad’s garden, I think they expect the answer to be cucumbers, tomatoes and runner beans. I don’t think they expect the answer to be dragons.


Review: Being from Wales, dragons are an important part of our culture – rooted in our myths and legends to appearing on our national flag – and so from the start, I felt some kind of connection to this book. Identifying with this book is not something that only I will be able to do easily as it’s also something that many readers will immediately feel when reading this too, whether that be through the familiar characters, the everyday settings of home, school and the garden or through the sense of awe, amazement and magic in the dragon-discovery to come…

After Tomas discovers a strange-looking tree at the bottom of his Grandad’s garden and decides to  take one of its funny-looking fruits home with him, he doesn’t think much of it… until he keeps it in his bedroom and notices it start to move! Here, Tomas makes more than a discovery. Hatching from the aptly-named fruit, Tomas sees Flicker: his own real-life dragon. Trying his best to keep Flicker under wraps from his family, Tomas soon learns that life looking after Flicker is not only fun, but also quite unpredictable to say the very least!

How will Tomas explain:
1) his burnt toothbrush?
2) the chaos and carnage left behind in his bedroom?
and if you think that’s bad, worst of all…
3) the exploding dragon poo stinking up the place?

Andy brings a natural warmth and wonder to the book with her most imaginative of dragon-descriptions, especially when Tomas is – and we as readers are – introduced to Flicker, that are complemented by not only the very visually-appealing and richly-expressive vocabulary that Andy creatively uses but also within Sara’s distinctive and lively illustrations to match.


Here’s a short sample to exemplify when Tomas sees Flicker for the first time:

Things I noticed close up:
Glittery wings
Scales that rippled through every shade of red
Eyes like diamonds
Hot smoky breath
Sharp claws (three at the front, one at the back of each foot)
Arrowhead tail (which he didn’t seem to be able to control very well…)
Two little horns – one longer than the other.


It is through these features that I know that this book will be a catalyst for reading for young readers, because this tail(!) is sure to fire up the imagination and a love for reading as it will claw its way not only in to the minds of its readers but also in to their hearts. Even though it is thoroughly entertaining, I particularly like that it also shows a softer, warmer, friendlier side to dragons which is slightly different to what sometimes is typified in many other stories that children read or films that they may watch of dragons being beasts and monsters to fear and flee from.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the relationship-building between characters such as Tomas and his grandfather is one to savour and this will resonate among many younger (and older!) readers reminding them of the positive relationships, for some whilst growing up, between themselves and their own grandparents or close relatives.

For me, a sign of a good book is that I read it in a couple of days. A sign of a really good book is that I will read it in a day. So I’ll leave it up to you for you to make your own mind up with how I feel about this one, when I need only say that I read it cover-to-cover in an hour.

Therefore, I’m so pleased to say that Andy Shepherd’s dragon-debut is an absolute delight and is just the very start to a series that I’m sure is going to be a roaring success. It’s a series that – pardon the pun – I just want to drag-on and on and on! Luckily for you, I and everyone else that enjoys it, it does. Perfect to read aloud to a child, a class of children or for them to read themselves, I know I’ll no doubt be recommending this to all (in particular to those that I teach) because it’s easily one of my favourites of the year so far.

Next time that I look at a dragonfruit, I hope that I won’t be left feeling disappointed as I can’t help but expect my very own Flicker to start hatching. After reading this, children (and adults!) everywhere will be wishing for their own dragons.

‘Sure to fire up the imagination and a love of reading, this is only the very beginning to a series that’s going to be a roaring success. A debut of dragon delight… guaranteed to make children (and adults!) everywhere wish for their own dragon after reading this.’


Huge thanks to Andy, Tina, Fliss and all at Piccadilly Press for sending me an advance copy of this delightfully written book! Extra thanks to Andy for taking the time to answer my questions!

Excited for The Boy Who Lived With Dragons and The Boy Who Flew Dragons!

Mr E
🐲📚🐉

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First in the series, The Boy Who Lived with Dragons is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Second in the series, The Boy Who Lived with Dragons is also available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.


Author Q&A: Andy Shepherd (AS) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

The Boy Who Grew Dragons (5)

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis. Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe The Boy Who Grew Dragons?

AS: 1. Funny 😄 2. Heartfelt 💖 3. Dragontastic 🐉

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The Boy Who Grew Dragons?

AS: Definitely my sons. I nick so many ideas off them! I started writing this story after a particularly gutting rejection. I knew I needed to get back to writing just for the fun of it and forget about trying to get published. So I decided to write the story of our dragon, just for my sons. Every day I would write a chapter and then read it to them after school, sitting in the garden. The more I wrote the more invested we all became in it. So much so that one day my youngest son came home to find I hadn’t written anything – it had been a thinking day I told him. He gave me a very hard stare and said: ‘Well, OK, but just make sure that tomorrow is a writing day.’ I couldn’t have left this book unfinished even if I’d wanted to!

My husband and sons have been my greatest cheerleaders and the books wouldn’t be here without them.

Beyond my family, a lot of the stories I loved as a child were rooted in the real world but with a magical element, and that has probably influenced what I write myself. Books like Stig of the Dump, Mrs Pepperpot, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Flat Stanley.

Plus I have always wanted a dragon!

TRT: If you could grow a dragon, what would it look like? What would it be like to live with? What special features would it have?

AS: Well, I do have a dragon and his name is Glint.

He has blue scales down his back and then darker blue on his belly. And his head is even more colourful with the blues turning purple and finally red on his snout. He has a little spike on his snout and more down his back and two quite long horns. He has these deep amber eyes. Like Flicker he’s full of ideas.  He lets out electric blue sparks, like little fireworks that light up my imagination. He can also get really small and curl round my ear and his warm breath carries ideas and pictures into my dreams. So he’s very handy when I get stuck on a story! He has a slightly tricky condition, which means as well as getting small he can, unexpectedly, get very big. This can make things a bit awkward sometimes, because I don’t always know when it’s going to happen.  But it’s generally best to expect the unexpected when you grow a dragon.

TRT: What is your favourite dragon that exists only in literature?

AS: I think it would have to be the poetry-loving dragon from Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The Boy Who Grew Dragons, who would it be and why?

AS: Probably Tomas because he has a pretty over-active imagination – but also because he is open to the wonder of the world and notices the little things – like a moldy looking fruit that someone else might have thrown away! I like to try and find a little bit of magic in the ordinary mundane things.


Reading and Writing (4)

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

AS: I think it was that feeling of having created something that didn’t exist before. That’s a pretty magical and empowering feeling.  Also that what I had created was just mine, a secret – when I was younger I very rarely showed my writing to anyone. So it was a safe place I could invent, experiment, be brave, tell the truth, make stuff up and be wildly unlike myself all at once.

When I was in primary school I didn’t really enjoy writing, but that may have had a lot to do with being told I wasn’t very good at it! And the fact that the writing we did always had to rhyme.  It wasn’t until I got to secondary school I discovered it really didn’t. I also had a wonderful English teacher who encouraged me to write ALL the time.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?

AS: When I’m in the flow I feel like I’m electrically charged and can’t get the words out fast enough. I might be trying to have some down time and the story keeps rushing to get out. At this point I write in any snatched moments, although those moments tend to run away with me so I end up burning a lot of dinners – or just forgetting to cook parts of the meal!

When the euphoria passes though I can feel shattered. This is when the fatigue hits as I realise I haven’t been looking after myself properly. 

 About two thirds of the way through a first draft I often flag. By then I tend to know the story and where I want to take it. There are less surprises. To keep writing can feel exhausting. But as I plough on I usually get a second wind. And then it’s a mad race to the finish.

I guess my writing process is a bit boom and bust! Generally writing energises me because even when I’m not in the mood, if I stick with it and ideas come that’s almost more pleasurable than the bolt out of the blue.

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?

AS: The only time we ever had an author visit was when I was about fourteen and my English teacher arranged for Roger McGough to come to our school. For me this was the equivalent of meeting Simon Le Bon or George Michael. He was cool. McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri – those Mersey boys. They broke rules and played with words in a wicked way. To meet him – and have my English teacher introduce me afterwards (and tell him I wrote too) – was pretty amazing.

 The other thing that stood out for me was when I wrote to my absolute hero, Douglas Adams. I had started writing what would probably now be called fan fiction. I loved The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so much, but I felt bad that my book was basically trying to copy it – very very badly. So I wrote to him to ask if he would mind! I had the loveliest letter back from him and he made me feel like a proper writer – he also told me the title to his next book before it had even been finished. I still have that letter.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?

AS: I think there is a lot more focus on upturning gender stereotypes. Not simply opting for so-called ‘feisty’ girls – but genuinely creating characters, both male and female, who leap off the page as relatable and above all interesting.  Most recently, I think Vashti Hardy does this brilliantly in Brightstorm.

 There are so many books with characters I wish I had had access to as a child – Moll in The Dreamsnatcher, Lyra in Northern Lights, Mina in Skellig. Having those books would have made a huge difference to me – I generally got frustrated with the girls in the books I read and only felt I recognised myself in the daring adventures of the boys.

It’s been wonderful too for my sons to read books with girls as the main characters. But then we have also loved seeing books like Cogheart, with the quieter and more sensitive Robert.


The Boy Who Grew Dragons and Teaching (3)

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?

I have to admit that having trained as a teacher I can see so many ways of using the books in class – dragons do make a fab topic! As well as all the opportunities for creative writing that could come from the books, there are some great things you could do with Art &DT, like making junk model dragons or clay pottery dragon eyes, or designing and making a class dragon fruit tree and decorating it with individual dragons. There could also be links to geography, finding out more about the amazing dragon-fruit tree, which originally comes from Mexico, but is now grown in many places around the world. Plus it could be tied into a topic about how things grow. It is Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 00.55.27rather magical – with its vivid tendrils and huge white flowers that only bloom for one night! And then there are the s’mores that Tomas and his friends make in the later books – I have to admit to doing a bit of research here myself, customising and making up recipes for these. (And testing them out of course!)

I’ve been putting together some teaching resources, which people can download from my site.  But there are lots more things I can see myself adding as time goes on. And if anyone does use the books in class I’d love to hear what they do – or see some pictures : )

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ The Boy Who Grew Dragons in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?

Can I cheat and use a few quotes from other people?

‘My favourite sort of book – warm, funny, full of heart.’ Polly Faber

‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons with adorable illustrations by Sara Ogilvie is utterly charming, warm and funny and is sure to enrapture children.’ Lorraine Gregory.

I hope that beyond the obvious – come on, dragons just are awesome – there are also messages in the books about friendship and family and seeing the good in people and even living mindfully, keeping our eyes open to the magic around us, all of which I hope will offer some talking points.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?

AS: If people could go to my site and get in touch via the contacts page that would be great.  I would love to visits schools more but, unfortunately, it is difficult for me to travel long distance. I know author visits can also be too costly for many schools. So, I am very happy to offer Skype visits as a more logistically and financially friendly way of connecting with more teachers and classes.


Two more before you go (2)!

TRT: What has an interviewer or blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?

AS: Do you have a favourite quotation from a children’s book that you wish you had written?

Yes lots, but there is one that I came across recently which is probably of one my favourites now. Because it captures what I was trying to do in the books.

Right at the end of the third book I finally managed to articulate what these books were about for me – it was one of those lovely moments in writing when you realise what the heart of it all is.

A few months later I stumbled across this quotation:
‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ Roald Dahl The Minpins

After the inevitable feeling of annoyance when you realise that someone got there first and did it better – I quickly fell in love with it.

Besides I quite like that I got there in my own way – writing is always a personal journey. And just because the stories you tell have been told a thousand times before, and the ideas live in the world beyond you, it doesn’t mean you can’t hope your story will find its own place and add something.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?

AS: I like swimming in mud and I’m really good at picking things up with my toes.


One last one…(1)!

TRT: Do you have a question you would like to ask the readers of The Reader Teacher?

AS: If you could grow a dragon, what would your dragon be like?


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Andy Shepherd is a children’s writer working on middle-grade fiction and picture books. She lives near Cambridge with her husband, two sons and their border collie.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons is her debut novel published by Piccadilly Press. There are two more eagerly-awaited stories to follow in this series, The Boy Who Lived With Dragons (published in September 2018) and The Boy Who Flew With Dragons (published in January 2019).

You can find out more about Andy by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @andyjshepherd.

Blog Tour: Sophie Anderson – The House with Chicken Legs (Book Birthday!): Author Q&A & Guest Post: The Snow Maiden – Sophie Anderson

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I am absolutely ecstatic to have Sophie Anderson, author of The House with Chicken Legs,  visit The Reader Teacher today to take part in her blog tour. She will be answering many of my questions and talking more about the messages behind a beautiful Russian tale, The Snow Maiden. For me, this is an incredibly special guest with an incredibly special book as The Reader Teacher started with its first ever review about The House with Chicken Legs and I am also over the moon that a quote from my review has been chosen to be published in finished copies of The House with Chicken Legs.

You can read my review of The House with Chicken Legs by clicking here:
The House with Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson) – The Reader Teacher!

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson publishes in paperback, 3 May, £6.99 from Usborne. Cover art by Melissa Castrillón and inside black and white illustrations by Elisa Paganelli.

The House with Chicken Legs is available to order online or from any good bookshop.


Author Q&A: Sophie Anderson (SA) with The Reader Teacher (TRT):

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Sophie Anderson grew up in Swansea, studied at Liverpool University, and has worked as a geologist, science teacher and text book author. Sophie was inspired to love stories by her Prussian grandmother who fled her homeland during WW2, losing her family in the process. She carried the stories, music and food of her home in her soul and brought them with her to Wales…and to her granddaughter Sophie. Growing up it was the tale of the chicken-legged house that captured Sophie’s imagination the most. She thought it would be incredible to live in a house that could take you to see new places or to visit the homelands of ancestors. Now living in the Lake District with her husband, Sophie enjoys the freedom of home schooling her three children, fell walking, canoeing, and daydreaming.


The House with Chicken Legs

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis. I’ve described The House with Chicken Legs as 1. Beautiful 😍 Magical ✨ 3. Heartfelt 💖, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
SA: Oh gosh, I like your choices! Maybe fairy-tale🧙‍♀️ (the female witch emoji); destiny💫(the stars emoji); circle-of-life💀(the skull emoji). And I know I’ve totally cheated by adding hyphens to words!

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The House with Chicken Legs?
SA: The House with Chicken Legs was inspired by the Russian fairy tales my grandmother told me when I was young. And while writing Marinka’s story, I dipped into so many books for ideas and information! To name just a few: Myths and Legends of Russia by Aleksandr Afanas’ev, Forests of the Vampire: Slavic Myth by Michael Kerrigan, Russian Folk Belief by Andrei Sinyavsky, and Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

After the first draft, which I worked on alone, got picked up by my agent Gemma Cooper, The House with Chicken Legs became a collaborative project. I have had so much help and input from Gemma; and my editors Rebecca Hill, Becky Walker and Mallory Kass, it feels like their names should be on the cover too!

And of course, I could not have done any of it without the support of my husband and children.

TRT: What do you hope readers will take away from reading The House with Chicken Legs?
SA: That life is full of joy and sorrow, loneliness and companionship, pride and regret. To live means experiencing it all. Some things might feel heart-breaking, but they can never truly break your heart. There is always hope for a brighter future, and you might find it in the most unexpected of places – in an encounter with a young friend or an old Yaga, in a house that you thought was your enemy, in the beak of a bird, or in the ripples on a puddle’s surface. Even death can inspire us to embrace life.

I hope my readers try to appreciate every moment – whether light or dark – and keep striving for happiness. We can shape and mould our futures, and the possibilities are as endless as the stars!

TRT: You asked this question on Twitter recently, so now I’m asking it to you… If you had a house with chicken legs for a day, can you describe what it would like? Where would you go? What would you do? Why?
SA: It would be very old, but still full of life, and well-worn, but in a comfortable way. I have always wanted to see the places that inspired my grandmother’s stories. So, I would sit on the House’s roof as it ran over the fells near my current home and the Welsh hills of my childhood, splashed through the English Channel, and galloped all the way across Europe to the enchanted forests, lakes and seas of my grandmother’s first home.

TRT: What is your favourite house that exists only in literature?
SA: Oh, that’s easy! The Moominhouse! The Moomin books by Tove Jansson were my first love. I think it would need some legs though. Maybe heron legs? I think they would suit it…

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The House with Chicken Legs, who would it be and why?
SA: The House! Like the house, I love music and travel and playing games. The House wants to have fun with Marinka, but wants to protect her too, and sometimes those two desires aren’t compatible. As a parent, I can relate to that feeling.

TRT: As The House with Chicken Legs is based on Russian folklore, which is your favourite Russian folktale and why?
SA: Probably Vasilisa the Beautiful, as it is the first Baba Yaga story I heard in which I glimpsed the wise woman behind the evil old crone archetype. The story marked the beginning of a life-long love and admiration for Baba Yaga. I have learned so much about her, and from her, and no matter how much I read, there is always more learn!

TRT: What kinds of research did you do and how did this help when writing The House with Chicken Legs?
SA: I read flocks of Slavic fairy tales for inspiration, including all the Baba Yaga stories I could find. I also researched ancient Slavic beliefs, and many of the ideas I came across – death as a journey, the glassy mountains, the black ocean, and Baba Yaga’s links to an ancient Goddess of Death – became incorporated into The House with Chicken Legs.

I experimented with Russian recipes, made my first borsch and ate my first horseradish. I listened to traditional Russian music, discovered many curious and wonderful Russian proverbs, and visited beautiful places – Venice, Africa, Russia, and the Arctic – from my armchair through the magic of books and film.

TRT: You have introduced readers to lots of new vocabulary throughout the book both in English (i.e. balustrade, nebulous, tendrils) and Russian with my favourite being ‘pchelka’, which means ‘little bee, a term of endearment’. What is your favourite Russian word that you have used within the book and why?
SA: My favourite is also pchelka, as it is what I call my daughter!

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?
SA: I did enjoy writing at school – I was so proud of some of the stories I produced I saved them, and still have them! But, I always wanted to be a scientist, so I studied biology and geology at university, and became an exploration geologist, then a secondary school science teacher.

It wasn’t until I had children that writing became a big part of my life. I started writing short stories and poems for my children, but I enjoyed the process so much I began writing for myself – simply for the joy of telling a story!

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
SA: Each stage of the writing process has its own pleasures; the heady rush of a first draft, the cool clarity at the top of re-write mountain, and the calm, thoughtful polishing towards The End. But each stage can be exhausting too! You have to take care of yourself and know when to step away from your work and replenish your creative well!

TRT: Which is your favourite book from childhood and which is your favourite book now as an adult? Why?
SA: I love the magical world of The Moomins, created by Tove Jansson, and my favourite book of the series is Tales from Moominvalley; because Moominpappa learns so many wonderful things about the mysterious Hattifatteners.

And my absolute favourite book ever is Northern Lights by Philip Pullman; for its beautiful writing, incredible world building, and magical, memorable story.

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
SA: No! Sadly, I don’t remember contacting any authors, nor do I remember any authors visiting my school! Most of the authors I admired didn’t live in the UK (e.g. Tove Jansson, Tamora Pierce) or were dead (L.M.Montgomery, J.R.R.Tolkein). I would have loved it if an author had visited my school!

TRT: I am SO excited to visit Hay Festival again this year where I will be seeing yourself, Juliette Forrest and James Nicol as part of the HAYDAYS programme. Will you be appearing at other literary events or festivals this year? If so, which ones and what will you be speaking about?
SA: I will be … but it’s all top secret until official announcements are made!

TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting The House with Chicken Legs but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up inside or outside of the publishing world?
SA: The next few books I have planned are all middle grade stories inspired by folklore or fairy tales. My ‘book two’ is inspired by a lesser known Slavic fairy tale called The Lime Tree or Why Bears’ Paws are Like Hands. There are several short stories within the main story, inspired by folklore characters such as Zmey Gorynych, Koschei the Deathless and Father Frost.

The House with Chicken Legs and Teaching

TRT: I know that you have resources on your website to help with this. Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
SA: I think the book could be used to stimulate discussions (about identity and belonging, destiny, the circle of life, the soul, different cultures); or as a starting point for some research into different folklores and fairy tales; or to help inspire children to write their own fairy tale reimaginings.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ The House with Chicken Legs in a sentence or two for teachers to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
SA: The House with Chicken Legs is a fairy tale reimagining, about a young girl, Marinka, who is struggling to escape a lonely destiny as Guardian of The Gate between this world and the next. Death features, but not in a scary or morbid way, and ultimately it is a book about following your dreams and living life to the full.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
Through my website: https://sophieandersonauthor.com/contact/

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
SA: I once won a trip to The Pantanal in Brazil, to assist environmental research scientists, and while I was there I swum with piranhas, snuck up on a caiman, drove a jeep – and rode a horse – through the jungle, and cuddled a baby peccary.

Thank you, Sophie, for taking the time to answer my questions and even bigger thanks for including my quote from my review in the finished copy of The House with Chicken Legs!

You can find out more about Sophie by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.


The House with Chicken Legs Blog Tour:
Fifteen Russian Fairy Tales and What They Mean to Me

  1. The Snow Maiden (on love and happiness)

There are several different versions of the Russian fairy tale of Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. Many of the stories begin with a childless peasant couple building a little girl out of snow, who then comes to life.

In Alexander Afanasyev’s version, published in 1869, the peasant couple care for the Snow Maiden like a daughter, until one day a group of girls invites her for a walk in the woods. They build a small bonfire and take turns jumping over it. When the Snow Maiden takes her turn, she evaporates into a cloud above the fire and disappears.

The Snow Maiden was made into a play by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, with music by Tchaikovsky, in 1873; and was adapted into an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1881. In this version the Snow Maiden is the daughter of Spring the Beauty and Father Frost. When she meets a young man, she begs her mother for the ability to love. But, when she does fall in love, her heart warms, and she melts.

In Arthur Ransome’s retelling, The Little Daughter of the Snow, published in Old Peter’s Russian Tales in 1916, the Snow Maiden finds herself alone in the forest when her playmates go home at dusk. A red fox offers to lead her home and she accepts. Her parents are grateful to the fox for bringing their daughter home, but when the fox asks for a plump hen as thanks, they decide to trick him. They put a dog in a sack, and when the fox opens the sack – thinking a hen is inside – the dog chases off the fox. Then the parents hear their daughter singing,

‘“Old ones, old ones, now I know
Less you love me than a hen,
I shall melt away again,
To my motherkin I go –
Little daughter of the Snow.”’

The parents run into their home and find their daughter’s clothes in a pool of meltwater, although Old Peter (the narrator of the tale) explains that the Snow Maiden has been carried away by Father Frost and Mother Snow ‘over stars to the far north’, where she plays all through the summer on frozen seas, and in winter returns to Russia.

The story of The Snow Maiden contains powerful seasonal imagery and has been interpreted as representing the death of winter and the coming of spring.

All the versions I have read or heard, also seem to contain the message that it is better to live fully, to seek out love and happiness, even if there are risks associated with this; as a short, full life is preferable to a long, empty one.

In Afanasyev’s version, the Snow Maiden revels in playing with her friends, and jumps over the flames joyfully before evaporating. In Ostrovsky’s version, the Snow Maiden chooses to give up everything for the gift of love. And in Ransome’s retelling, the Snow Maiden leaves her parents because she does not feel they love her enough.

One of the things I love about fairy tales is how they can mean different things at different times in your life. And since I have become a parent, I have found new meaning in the tale of The Snow Maiden. I think there is another message perhaps, about how our time with our children is fleeting, and all too soon they grow up and often move away. So, it is important we try to make our time together filled with as much love and happiness as possible.

There is an adult reimagining of this tale, The Snow Child, written by Eowyn Ivey, published by Tinder Press.


Sophie Anderson

@sophieinspace @Usborne #TheHousewithChickenLegs
Melissa Castrillón @mv_castrillon and Elisa Paganelli @elisaupsidedown

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Review & Author Q&A: Running on Empty – S. E. Durrant (Illustrated by Rob Biddulph)

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‘A remarkable, revealing and realistic read that was every bit as brilliant as I hoped it would be in painting a powerfully poignant and at times, painfully honest picture of life where real heroes don’t wear capes. And sometimes, they don’t wear the correct-sized trainers either… This one will run and run.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Running on Empty
Author: S. E. Durrant (@SEDurrant)
Illustrator (Cover): Rob Biddulph (@RobBiddulph)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrow/@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 208
Date of publication: 1st March 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1510102118

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Remarkable ☺️
2. Revealing 😥
3. Real 👟


The thing that makes me different from other eleven-year-old boys, apart from my fantastic running ability, is that my parents have learning difficulties.

It’s no big deal for me. Really it isn’t. I don’t look after them.

We look after each other.

A story of family, friendship and trainers, Running on Empty will grip you till the finishing line…


The first line:

The most amazing thing I ever saw was Usain Bolt winning the 100 metres at the London Olympics.


Review: Living in East London, a quick stretch of the legs away from the hallowed track of the Olympic Stadium, AJ is a boy who was born to run. He lives, sleeps, eats, drinks and breathes running. After watching his idol Usain Bolt – albeit on TV – create history at the 2012 London Olympics by setting the world record, AJ spends his every waking moment trying to emulate his hero. He knows he’s different for two reasons. Different in that he has a terrific talent. But also different in that he leads a life unlike his friends, his peers and the people he sees around him, taking on the role and responsibility of a young carer by looking after his parents who have learning difficulties.

Due to the unconditional love, encouragement and support of his beloved grandfather, AJ’s talent develops in to something more than a talent. However his world starts to unravel as he is forced to adjust to life after the death of his grandfather who was more than his steadying influence, more like his rock. Roles are reversed as AJ soon recognises that his grandfather did more than he realised by keeping it all together for him and his parents, as he took charge of the running of the house and paying the bills. Suddenly AJ now finds himself trying to follow Grandad’s lead but with more responsibility than he could ever imagine bestowed upon his small shoulders.

When you’ve outgrown your trainers, you don’t want to run the risk of alerting social services to the situation and there’s no money left to put in the electricity meter – let alone enough to buy a new pair – it is clear that AJ will have a tough and tumultuous time to come trying to cope with it all. Although it seems that AJ’s grandfather cannot be replaced, his spirit does indeed live on in the security and stability that AJ seeks to provide for his parents. It is also here where his grandfather’s comforting words will live long in the memory: ‘Sometimes people think being different is a problem but actually it can be a very nice thing.’

Written in a series of frank, sincere and heart-to-heart conversational exchanges, we really start to feel for AJ as he breaks down the fourth wall between himself and the reader unveiling elements of what life truly feels like when living on the edge. He talks about what at first seem like unsurmountable hurdles to him; problems of transition between school and home life, the overwhelming sense of responsibility now resting upon his shoulders and trying to keep his family on track. But can he overcome these continual challenges that he is faced with or will it all come crashing down around him…? We begin to notice that although AJ runs as a hobby, it is also acts as a form of escapism for him and a way of channeling his grief, his anxiety, his worries and the instability of the situation he finds himself in.

An emphatically empathetic and deeply moving story that’s both attentively and compassionately written, Running on Empty has all the characteristic hallmarks of Sue’s brilliantly endearing style of writing that showcases the unassuming, unseen and unsung heroes of this world, and she – after the deserved success of Little Bits of Sky – achieves the gold medal standard in this genre once again.

It often brought a lump to the throat and tugged at the heartstrings as its laced with tinges of despair and uncertainty. For instance, the chapter where AJ rummages through the box of lost-property trainers particularly struck me at the time and still stays stuck with me, long after reading this. Though, it so equally often made me smile and feel remotely hopeful for AJ. A real emotional rollercoaster of a read where big-hearted characters run the show and the true power of relationships; of finding help in the unlikeliest of people and of total togetherness is rightfully placed at its core.

This book proves that sometimes that just managing and getting by in life in the long run is more of a marathon than a 100m sprint and that real heroes don’t have to wear capes. In fact, sometimes, they don’t – and can’t – even wear the correct-sized trainers.

‘A remarkable, revealing and realistic read that was every bit as brilliant as I hoped it would be in painting a powerfully poignant and at times, painfully honest picture of life where real heroes don’t wear capes. And sometimes, they don’t wear the correct-sized trainers either… This one will run and run.’

Big thanks to Sue Durrant and Clare Hall-Craggs at Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this wonderfully written book!

Running on Empty is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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Author Q&A: S. E. Durrant (SD) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

I’m very delighted to welcome Sue Durrant to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering my questions about Running on Empty, her reading and writing habits, using her book in the classroom and her favourite footwear!

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S. E. Durrant lives in Brighton with her husband and children. She has wanted to be a writer since she was a child and has always squeezed writing in around the edges of her life. She’s worked on a stall at Covent Garden market, sold paintings in Venice and taught art to children. In order to write AJ’s story, she extensively researched what life is like for child carers, and children growing up in the shadow of social services.


Running on Empty

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
I’ve described Running on Empty as 1. Remarkable 😊 Revealing 😥 3. Trainers 👟, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
SD: 1. Optimistic 😊  2. Realistic  💯  3. Empathetic 🙂

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Running on Empty?
SD: I was inspired to write Running on Empty after reading an article about a parent who had learning difficulties. I began to think about issues learning difficulty parents might face and to wonder how a child of learning difficulty parents might view our often unkind, impatient world. My protagonist, AJ, is eleven years old and has just begun secondary school; his very supportive grandad has died unexpectedly and AJ briefly tries to step into his shoes and manage the family affairs.

I have seen many children make the transition to secondary school, through my own children, and I wanted to explore the likelihood of AJ’s problems going unnoticed in the jump from a small primary to a large secondary. I also think eleven is such an interesting age, as children try to work out who they think they want to be, yet are still very much tied to childhood, veering between self-confidence and embarrassment in moments.

I was also inspired by the 2012 Olympic Games in East London, which is where my book is set. I was lucky enough to spend a day at the 2012 Paralympics Games and found the atmosphere inspirational. AJ and his family watch Usain Bolt win the 100m gold and that moment becomes a source of hope for AJ, who is a very keen runner.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading Running on Empty?
SD: I hope readers will empathise with AJ, his devotion to running and his resilience in the face of difficulties. I also very much hope they find him funny, quirky and relatable.

TRT: If you could build your own pair of trainers, what would they look like? What special features would they have?
SD: Unlike AJ, I am not a runner so my dream trainers would have some special component that would enable me to get up hills.

TRT: What is your favourite footwear that you own?
SD: My favourite footwear, though not beautiful, are my walking boots – when I put them on I know I am going somewhere lovely.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Running on Empty, who would it be and why?
SD: I’m not sure any of the characters are like me though perhaps AJ’s relationship with his mother in some way reflects my relationship with my son when he was eleven/twelve years old.

TRT: What kinds of research did you do regarding young carers and how did this help when writing Running on Empty?
SD: I visited a group of parents with learning difficulties who helped me understand some of the issues they face, for example the huge amount of paperwork their children bring home from school. I also spoke with a boy whose parents have learning difficulties.

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
SD: I have written for as long as I can remember, I think as a way of trying to make sense of the world, and I would continue write regardless of whether my work was published. I love the fact I can create situations and try to figure out what they mean.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
SD: I find the beginning of writing a new book exhausting, particularly trying to work out some sort of plot. The most energising part for me is when I have found the voice of my protagonist and can enjoy trying to imagine the world through his/her eyes.

TRT: What is your favourite book from childhood?
SD: My favourite book from childhood is The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. I love the way that, against the odds, the children find their way to safety and a future they can have some choice in.

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
SD: We didn’t have visiting authors when I was at school and I thought becoming an author was completely unattainable and involved some kind of magic.  It can only be a good thing for children to meet authors in schools and discover they are very ordinary human beings and no magic is involved.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books. What are some of the interesting things/things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?
SD: I love the fact that a greater variety of books is being published. I think the more child readers can see themselves reflected in stories the better and more interesting for everyone.

TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting Running on Empty but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
SD: I have just written a short story which will be included in the new edition of Little Bits of Sky which will be published in July.  This short story is set in 1947 when Glenda Hyacinth arrives at the orphanage, Skilly House.  Glenda is the girl whose letter Ira finds over forty years later.

I’m also working on my next children’s book. It is early days yet and I’m still struggling with the plot but it will be set in Brighton where I now live and will have an eleven year old female protagonist.


Running on Empty and Teaching

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
SD: Running on Empty could be used as a starting point for discussing grief, poverty, running, resilience, school transition and day to day embarrassment of being eleven years old.

TRT: When reading Running on Empty, I particularly liked the scenes between AJ and his PE teacher, Mr Higgins. When researching young carers, what were your experiences of visiting schools and speaking to teachers? What did you find out? Did you test out your ideas for Running on Empty on them?
SD: I didn’t test my book on teachers but as a parent I have had a lot of recent experience of PE teachers and have always found them remarkably dedicated and energetic. The PE teacher in Running on Empty starts out as a bit of a caricature, which I suppose is how time-pressed teachers often appear, though in time he shows a more human side.  I enjoyed writing the scenes between Mr Higgins and AJ – they are each trying to gauge what each other think without giving too much away.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your books to teachers in a sentence or two for them to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum them up?

SD: I find it hard to pitch my own books so have chosen two lovely reviews:

Little Bits of Sky
– This story of looked-after siblings of 9 and 11.. is instantly engaging, sustaining emotional involvement throughout… this is an uplifting and convincing evocation of time and place, of two vivid young lives, and of the hope that kindness can offer. Nicolette Jones, The Sunday Times

Running on Empty – AJ is a boy who just loves to run. Swept away on the belief and hope that anyone can achieve their dream after watching the 2012 London Olympics, all he wants to do is run on the hallowed track where he saw his idol Usain Bolt win gold… Incredibly emotional and powerful storytelling makes ‘Running On Empty’ a truly, compelling read. bookloverjo.wordpress.com

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
SD: Through Twitter @SEDurrant or via my publisher Nosy Crow @NosyCrow/@NosyCrowBooks.

Two more before you go!

TRT: What has an interviewer/blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
SD: I’ve never been asked my favourite book but if I was I would choose Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
SD: I have never given anyone a full box of chocolates.

TRT: Thank you so much for stopping off at The Reader Teacher today, Sue. I wish you every success with Running on Empty!

You can find out more about Sue by visiting her publisher’s website or following her on Twitter.

Author Q&A & Giveaway: Eloise Williams (Elen’s Island/Gaslight/Seaglass)

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I am honoured to welcome Eloise Williams, award-winning author of such wonderful books as GaslightElen’s Island and Seaglass to The Reader Teacher today.

To celebrate the cover reveal of her forthcoming novel Seaglass (which I am so excited about reading and reviewing!) which is out in September 2018 and also on the first birthday of Gaslight, Eloise is here to answer more than a few of my questions about Seaglass, about her reading and writing habits and about using her books in the classroom.

The giveaway follows on after the ‘Author Q&A’ interview!


Author Q&A: Eloise Williams (EW) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

Seaglass

TRT: On The Reader Teacher, I describe books using #3Words3Emojis. Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe Seaglass?
EW: 1. Ghostly 👻 2. Mysterious 🕵️ 3. Thrilling 😲

TRT: When recommending Seaglass to others on social media, I have had lots of replies (including from other authors such as Emma Carroll) commenting on how lovely a title it is. How did you choose and end up settling on such a wonderful title? Were there any other options that came a close second?
EW: How lovely! Emma Carroll is such a gorgeous and supportive author and is quite a bit brilliant with words herself so that means a lot! There were a few titles bandied about and they all contained references to sea glass. Sometimes simplicity is best.

TRT: So far we know that Seaglass will be ‘a salty, windswept, seaside ghost story for age 9+ will be published in 2018 to coincide with Wales’ Year of the Sea!’
Can you tell us any more than that at the moment about Seaglass?
EW: Here’s the information Firefly Press are putting out.
I’m being very careful not to give the plot away!

‘She will come for you.’

Lark struggles to settle when her Roma family moves to a new site by the sea. Her mother is ill, her little sister Snow isn’t talking and she has fallen out with her best friend. She distracts herself looking for sea glass on the foggy beach. But is someone following her? Who is the figure that Snow keeps drawing, the girl in green? Do the locals who tell them to leave the site just hate travellers, or is there something about the history of the beach that Lark needs to find out? A story that perfectly combines the chill of a ghost story with the warmth of a family tale about standing up for each other and being brave.

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Seaglass?EW: Where to begin? All the ghost stories I’ve ever read. From one of my very first books ‘The Worried Ghost’ by Seymour Reit to much later books read as an adult. I have a huge support network of family, friends and other authors. They help me to keep writing. My grandmother, who was a lovely woman and is still very much missed, was a driving force for this story too. Ideas and inspiration mostly came from the young people I work with and the landscape I live in. They mingled, knitted, wove together, fleshed out the story. When I got stuck along the way a young person would say something which would spark my imagination, or a storm would ignite an idea, or a beautiful jay would land in the garden and I’d be writing again. It seems strange to put children, storms and birds together but it’s the truth and truth is a big inspiration for this book too.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading Seaglass?
EW: Ooh… difficult without giving too much away… Firstly, most importantly, a really good read. Secondly, that we are capable of change. Is that vague enough? I think so, yes.

TRT: The cover was revealed yesterday (Thursday 5th April) for Seaglass, can you tell us a little more about its creation or conception?
EW: Both the cover for Seaglass and for Gaslight were designed by Anne Glenn. I’m very lucky that Anne and Firefly Press take my views into consideration when it comes to cover designs. We discussed both of these covers closely and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with them! I think both depict beautifully the essence of the stories in the pages.

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
EW: The creativity of it. I was an actor for a long time and it meant I was consistently waiting to be given a role so that I could be creative. With writing I can be creative anywhere and at any time. It’s very freeing.

TRT: Where’s your favourite place to write and why?
EW: I have a writing shed of sorts. I often have to climb over a lawnmower to actually get to my desk but it’s lovely once I’ve made it. I can hear the sea from there, watch a mouse scurrying across the garden and the birds having a wash in the birdbath.
I also write everywhere else!
On the beach, in bed, at the kitchen table, in cafes, libraries, on trains…

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
EW: Energising things are creating the story and characters. Tossing ideas about and playing with words.  Inventing, wondering, deliberating, the actual writing. Living in an imaginary world.

Exhausting. Elements of the business side of writing can be competitive and I’m just not. Recognition for a tale well told is wonderful, of course, but I want everyone to do well.

 TRT: What is your favourite book from childhood and why?
EW: Without a doubt it’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It opened my mind to possibility. Magical worlds just around the corner. Lands where children were courageous and won battles. All that and it SNOWED almost all the time!

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
EW: No! None at all. Being an author was something otherworldly. I believed in Narnia more than I believed in my chances of being an author. Children, schools and authors get fabulous opportunities to connect with each other now and that’s such an inspiring thing. Working with young people always makes me determined to keep improving my writing so that my stories can be of the best quality I am capable of creating.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?
EW: I am constantly astonished by the amount of talent in children’s literature. I like seeing everything! There are so many writers creating work with such passion and excellence. We are all in it together. The more writing, art, creativity we all put out there, the more beautiful the world is.

TRT: I know you are heavily invested in writing and focused on promoting Seaglass but can you tell us about anything else you’re working on or what you want to work on after Seaglass? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up inside or outside of the publishing world?
EW: I am always working on something else. At the moment I have four books for young people in very early stages so it’s a question of deciding which one to focus on. I’m excellent at starting writing books but not so good at finishing them. I’d also like to do something crazy with my life! I have no idea what so suggestions on a postcard please…

Teaching

TRT: I know that you often work in schools yourself, are you testing out the ideas for Seaglass on pupils or teachers?
EW: I’ve tested out the first couple of pages of Seaglass with a few schools now. It is the most nerve-wracking experience you can possibly imagine. So far, they’ve given it a huge thumbs-up, which is a relief!

TRT: Lots of teachers are using Gaslight in the classroom to complement their teaching of the Victorians. Could you suggest ways that Seaglass could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
EW: Some key elements are: Inclusion. A sense of belonging. Bullying. Anger. Friendship. Wildlife and nature. Facing fears. There are other themes, but I can’t disclose them without giving away the story!

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your books to teachers for them to use in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read them at home, how would you sum them up?
EW: Elen’s Island –  ‘A delightful, magical tale full of mystery, intrigue and the unknown.’ Book Lover Jo.
Gaslight – ‘A deliciously dark romp through the backstreets of Victorian Cardiff.’ Emma Carroll.
Seaglass – ‘You are trying to get me to give away the plot again aren’t you?’ Eloise Williams.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
EW: I love working in schools and have a contact page on my website www.eloisewilliams.com

General

TRT: What has an interviewer/blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
EW: I’d like to be asked if I’ve touched the rocking chair from the stage show of ‘The Woman in Black.’ Answer: Yes, I have. Eek!

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
EW: I share my birthday with Hans Christian Andersen and Adrian Mole.

TRT: Thank you ever so much for taking the time to answer my questions today, Eloise!

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Eloise was born in Cardiff and grew up in Llantrisant. She now lives in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, very close to the beach where she walks her dog Watson Jones and collects sea glass with her artist husband, Guy Manning.

She worked in the theatre in various odd jobs before going on to study Drama at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Guildford School of Acting. After working for over ten years as an actor, she decided to change path a little and take a Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University.

Her first book was Elen’s Island, published in 2015.

Her second novel, a Victorian Middle Grade thriller, Gaslight, was published in April 2017.


Giveaway!

So to celebrate Gaslight being one and the cover reveal of Seaglass, I am delighted to say that Eloise has kindly given me a signed copy of Gaslight AND an original postcard sized oil-painting of the view from the beach which inspired Seaglass – created by Guy Manning who illustrates inside the books – to giveaway to one of my followers on Twitter. If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

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Guy has also painted 365 consecutive paintings of Pembrokeshire over 365 days which you can see here at https://www.postcardsfrompembrokeshire.com/


 

Blog Tour: Vashti Hardy (3 in 1: Review: Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure (Illustrated by George Ermos), Author Q&A and Giveaway!)

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‘A scintillating, spectacular, spirited and special debut –
the right kind of adventure… one that’s really going to go down a (Bright)storm!’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure
Author: Vashti Hardy (@vashti_hardy)
Illustrator (Cover): George Ermos (@GeorgeErmos/Website)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 1st March 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407181707

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Scintillating 😃
2. Spectacular 💥
3. Spirited 💪


Ready for an adventure?

Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm are devastated by the news that their father, a daring explorer, has died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. But a mysterious clue, leads the twins to question the story they’ve been told. To find the truth, they must undertake the journey of a lifetime.


The first line:

The heavy chug of a sky-ship firing its engines rumbled through Lontown.


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Batten down the hatches, start the propellers, look out through your binoscopes and soar! As we board sky-ships Aurora, Victorious, Fire-Bird and Fontaine in a race to explore The Wide from the First Continent across the Second and Third and onwards to the vast and uncharted territory of South Polaris for an absorbing, atmospheric adventure that will not only take you to the frozen south with magical lands and continents anew; but take your breath away and also take the world by storm.

We first meet twin protagonists, Maudie and Arthur excitedly scaling the rooftops of Lontown to gaze skywards at the airships whilst longingly missing their father, an intrepid – yet not truly accepted – explorer who’s on his own sky-ship adventure to South Polaris, the furthest known point of existence. The siblings’ close relationship is shown here, even as early as the first chapter, where we discover that Maudie, an impassioned and gutsy engineer, has built a mechanical arm for Arty, her shrewd, book-loving, disabled younger brother, whose ingenuity and resourcefulness shrine through a little later on in the story.

Soon after, however, news reaches the twins of their dad’s lack of return and all-abandoned ship, Violetta, and their worlds quickly change. Following an inquest attended by what seems like the whole population of Lontown, we – along with Maudie and Arthur – are led to believe that their father has not only disappeared but has also broken ‘explorer code’ by being accused by a certain someone as… a thief! Something that even for the established families of explorers is deeply reviled within the explorer community, let alone for any new blood to the explorer party. Tarnishing the Brightstorm family name for good and rendering their father’s life insurance invalid, this also leaves Maudie and Arthur home-, guardian- and possession-less.

Having been taken in by the beastly, bedraggled Begginses and so seeking their escape from the drudgery of the lives they find themselves living, Maudie and Arthur answer an advert:

Individuals Wanted
For treacherous journey to South Polaris,
Small wages, certain danger,
Shared reward and recognition if successful. 

Well… what are they waiting for? With themselves knowing that this is their one and only chance, Maudie and Arthur don’t just have an amazing adventure to experience by following in their father’s footsteps but more importantly, they have a truth to reveal; their family name’s pride to rightfully restore and a point to prove to Lontown and the world.

In any good adventure, you’re going to need a good crew and this is no different in Brightstorm with its cast of strong supporting characters. Steering the good ship, Aurora, at the helm is Captain Harriet Culpepper, a bold, innovative, young commander who leads very much from the front and inspires Maudie, who I think reminds Harriet a lot of herself.

But then again, there’s also Eudora Vane (skipper of sky-ship Victorious) who visits Maudie and Arthur at the Begginses to tempt them to join her and her crew not long before take-off. A highly-esteemed explorer known throughout the land of Lontown, who so narrowly missed out on the prize last time around thanks to a particular Mr Ernest Brightstorm…

So who will they join… Culpepper? Or Vane?

Despite this array of human characters, my favourites (and what I think may end up being yours too!) are in fact the animals that we meet throughout their journey; steadfast, stealthy and sapient in nature. Parthena – the Brightstorms’ hawk – deserves a special mention returning from afar to help navigate them across the plains past the Great Ice Lake, Impassable Mountains and Silent Sea in to (and, thankfully, out of) the Everlasting Forest, where they encounter the at first terrifying, but actually terrific thought-wolves and a more menacing silver insect connected in some strange way to villainess Vane.

But do they make it to South Polaris and do they find their father? Dead… or alive?

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The shimmering, gold-panelled cover and detailed inside-cover map really add to the world-building in this adventure bringing it all to life.  Further to this you can see below, in her ‘Author Q&A’, a picture of Vashti’s impressive and meticulously hand-drawn map of the Continents and how it has evolved and been even further beautifully realised, with thanks to George Ermos’ striking illustrations and creative design at Scholastic.

A scintillating, spectacular, spirited and special debut – one that’s really going to go down a (Bright)storm! This book is the right kind of adventure that will leave you no doubt rooting for Maudie and Arthur along the way; is a journey of discovery not least just in the physical sense; and is a gentle reminder that where determination, desire and resilience combine to create a will, then there’s most certainly a way. One that I’ll be recommending every moon-cycle.

I found so much to enjoy in Brightstorm because of Vashti’s effortlessly engaging and all-round exciting writing style which made it so that I couldn’t help myself just wanting to join the crew!
I’m in! Where do I sign up? Because every crew needs a teacher, right?

I’m already hoping that Vashti will be writing plenty more and I’ll be snapping up her sequel to this as quick as she can write it! Chime to write some more!

So I ask this:

‘I know I’m ready for another adventure.’ 

What about you, Vashti? 

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Mr E
📚

This just HAS to be Waterstones’ Children’s ‘Book of the Month’ for March!

Big thanks to Vashti and Olivia at Scholastic for providing me with both a proof and a delightfully finished copy of Brightstorm!

Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

‘A scintillating, spectacular, spirited and special debut –
the right kind of adventure… one that’s really going to go down a (Bright)storm!’


Author Q&A: Vashti Hardy (VH) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

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Vashti Hardy lives near Brighton and was a primary school teacher before moving into digital marketing. She is an alumni member and buddy at the Golden Egg Academy. Brightstorm is her debut novel published by Scholastic.

I’m very happy to welcome Vashti to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about Brightstorm, her reading and writing habits and using her book in the classroom!

Brightstorm

TRT: For my review, I’ve described Brightstorm in #3Words3Emojis above, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
VH: I love your choices! I’m going… Adventurous 🏔 Pacey 🏃‍ Imaginative 💭

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Brightstorm?
VH: I’ve always loved real-life stories of exploration like Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to Antarctica. I’m a big fan of Bear Grylls too – as I couldn’t go out and jump in quicksand or a frozen lake easily in real life, his programmes were a godsend in helping me learn survival techniques to help Arthur out! I also have a great non-fiction book called A Teacup in a Storm: An Explorer’s Guide to Life by Mick Conefrey which is packed full of excellent explorer facts. I found my initial idea for Brightstorm in the book which was Shackleton’s advert to find his crew. I also love Amelia Earhart for how she inspired so many females to pursue their dreams (she’s basically Harriet Culpepper!).

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading Brightstorm?
VH: Aside from sheer enjoyment and an escape into adventure, I hope readers will see themselves in Arthur and Maudie and know that with determination, inner grit and a bit of tenacity, you can achieve amazing things!

TRT: If you could build your own sky-ship, what would it look like? Who would you choose to join the crew? Where would you go? How would it travel?
VH: I don’t think I can beat the Aurora – it’s my perfect sky-ship. It’s elegant and eco-friendly. My crew would probably be made up of my author friends Jennifer Killick, Lorraine Gregory and James Nicol. We would have a lot of fun, but I know they would work hard and have my back too. We would retrace Ernest Brightstorm’s original voyage north to the volcanic isles…

TRT: What is your favourite mode of transport that exists only in literature?
VH: The predator cities of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. A genius idea!

TRT: Can you give us a little more of a behind-the-scenes insight in to what goes in to making such a high-quality book like Brightstorm?  Map1

VH: Writing a book is a cyclic process of imagining, writing, planning, editing, revising, and so on whilst bouncing off the brilliant brains of your agent and/or editor, until you reach a stage where you all feel it’s the best it can be! For Brightstorm, I drew quite detailed maps early on because it helped me work out the stops en-route, the hazards they may come across and the journey times. Scholastic said from the start that they’d like a map in the book, so they took my original (TRT: seen here to the right – thank you so much for sending this!) and then their clever designer created the one on the flap of the book!

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Brightstorm, who would it be and why?
VH: I think Arthur is most like me. He is tenacious, which I tend to be, and when I was younger I would’ve been able to relate to that feeling of trying to find your way in the world and not knowing where you fit. Also he loves books!

TRT: If you could choose to visit any of the destinations from Brightstorm, where would you go and why?
VH: I would happily explore all of them, but I think spending some time with kings Batzorig and Temur in the Second Continent would be amazing. They are both so warm and positive and would make great allies. Their citadel is full of historical invention and I’d love to find out more…

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
VH: World-building – I love the fact that our imaginations are as large as we want them to be. It’s pretty empowering.  No matter what goes on in life, we all have or imaginations. It’s a great leveller.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
VH: It can all be energising and tiring in equal measure at different stages. Your brain certainly gets a great workout because you’re juggling so many aspects at once when you write, from the big picture heart of your story down to the tiny decisions. But when you know you’ve hit the spot with a piece of writing or an idea it’s magic.

TRT: What is your favourite book from childhood?
VH: Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation was the book that sparked everything for me. I can still see the pictures in my head as clearly as I saw them when I was seven. It showed me that one young girl could change the future of a whole world….

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
VH: We didn’t have author visits, but I would have loved it because I know how inspiring it can be. When I was first taking my writing seriously, I read an interview with Philip Pullman. He spoke of everyone seeing the gliding swan and not seeing the feet kicking furiously beneath the surface. This made me realise I could try!

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books. What are some of the interesting things/things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?
VH: I love seeing new twists on genres – for example with A Witch Alone by James Nicol, I love the use of magical glyph symbols rather than wands. Some of the best children’s literature takes a common favourite and twists it into something new, and with so many wonderful books out there it’s fabulous to see what comes next.

TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting Brightstorm but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
VH: There are potentially more adventures for the Brightstorm twins (a certain female explorer has some more dastardly things up her sleeve…) and there could be further sky-ship adventures with other characters set in that world. There’s another story in the early stages too which I’m really excited about, with a whole new world of invention. It carries on a similar Victoriana adventure feel but with a big twist…

Brightstorm and Teaching

TRT: There are going to be teaching ideas listed on your website about using Brightstorm for teachers, schools and parents to use. Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
VH: There are many links to be made to science with the invention and STEM aspects of Brightstorm, plus it’s especially strong in female STEM characters so great for inspiring that in school, along with eco themes and understanding our relationship with animals and the environment. PSHE could be linked with the diversity and difference, as well as links to raising aspirations. You could work on what you need for an expedition and the hidden qualities such as a positive attitude, courage and determination to achieve your dreams (which relates to all areas of life). The mapping aspect works well for geography along with the eco themes. The invention side would be great for design and technology too – it would be great to see children designing their own sky-ships. Brightstorm would work especially well as a class read if your topics are related to explorers or the Arctic/Antarctic or as a guided reading text.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your book to teachers for them to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
VH: A rip-roaring adventure that takes place on sky-ships, and has explorers you’ll want to be, sapient creatures you’ll love to meet such as thought-wolves, and a villain you’ll love to hate. Readers who love fantastical adventure but aren’t yet ready for Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials will enjoy this story.
(TRT: You can also view Vashti’s #AuthorsAllTogether video, to share in the classroom with your pupils, where she talks about Brightstorm herself by clicking here!)

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
VH: That would be lovely – if you visit my website www.vashtihardy.com you can get a flavour of the book and events and then easily contact me via the online form.

Two more before you go!

TRT: What has a blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
VH: My favourite film – the Labyrinth!

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
VH: Despite having written about the frozen south I really hate being cold! I can also twirl a baton as I was once a majorette…  in case you wondered!

TRT: Thank you so much for stopping off at The Reader Teacher today, Vashti. I wish you every success with Brightstorm!

VH: Thank you for your great questions!


🎉    Giveaway!   🎉

I am also pleased to say that Olivia Horrox, Vashti’s publicist, at Scholastic has kindly given me 3 copies of Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure to give away!

Retweet this tweet and follow @MrEPrimary and @vashti_hardy to win!


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Blog Tour: Leonie Roberts (3 in 1: Review: My Colourful Chameleon (Illustrated by Mike Byrne), Author Q&A and Giveaway!)

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A fabulous, fascinating and fun-filled story that is surely set to become a future favourite with children, their parents and their teachers!

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Leonie Roberts on her blog tour to The Reader Teacher. Leonie is a primary school teacher and also the author of the recently-released picture book My Colourful Chameleon (illustrated by Mike Byrne), which I must say is a real little gem. Leonie has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my questions too.

Enjoy!


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: My Colourful Chameleon
Author: Leonie Roberts (@leonierobertsuk)
Illustrator: Mike Byrne (@TheMikeByrne)
Publisher: QED Publishing (@QEDPublishing)
Page count: 24
Date of publication: 25th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1784939380

Perfect for Nursery, Reception, Year 1 & Year 2.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Eye-catching 👀
2. Funny 😁
3. Engaging 😍


The first line(s):
I have a pet chameleon
I love her – she’s the best!
But Mummy doesn’t like her,
she says that she’s a pest!

Review: My Colourful Chameleon opens with a girl constantly losing her camouflaging, colour-changing chameleon. Almost as if it is playing house hide-and-seek, it blends itself into the rooms of the house; the garden; the car and even at school causing all kinds of chaos and commotion for the girl and her family.

Will she be able to explain the reasons for its disappearance to her parents, teachers and others who doubt its awesome ability and be allowed to keep her dearly-loved, particoloured pet?

There is so much educational potential and opportunity within the pages of this book and this is encouraged by the helpful ‘Next Steps’ section at the back of the book. Discussion, questioning, discovery and observation can be promoted further through the introduction of new and interesting vocabulary (e.g. ‘chameleon’, ‘pest’) whilst helping to develop a scientific sense of awe and wonder in young children.

  • Can your children spot the chameleon hiding in the kitchen?
  • Can they see it in the bathroom?
  • Or what about the bedroom?

Delightfully drawn by Mike Byrne, his illustrations completely complement and embody the personalities of the characters within Leonie’s lovely style of rhyming narrative which will certainly be demanded to be heard again and again!

Equally, I’m sure that parents and teachers alike will thoroughly enjoy reading this to their children and their classes as much as they will enjoy listening to it. Due to it just begging to be read aloud, it will help to create a wholly interactive, immersive and enjoyable story time experience to be shared by all.

A fabulous, fascinating and fun-filled story that is surely set to become a future favourite with children, their parents and their teachers!

My Colourful Chameleon is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

 


Author Q&A: Leonie Roberts (LR) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

TRT: For my review, I’ve described My Colourful Chameleon in #3Words3Emojis, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
LR: You stole the best three words!!!
1. Cute 🐶
2. Adorable 🐼
3. Colourtastic 🎨

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write My Colourful Chameleon? As a primary school teacher, did you test out the book or the book’s ideas with young readers at school?
LR: I’ve studied rhyming picture books by many many authors including Julia Donaldson. With this particular book, I didn’t personally test it out with any young readers at school because I was living and working in Italy at the time. However, my good friend who is also a teacher did read an earlier version of this text to her class.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading your book?
LR: In simple terms, I just hope that readers enjoy this book and will want to read it more than once. It would be great if it also inspires them to read more in general.

TRT: Do you know a lot about chameleons to choose them as one of the central characters in your story?
LR: I know more about chameleons now than I did when I wrote the story. In fact, funny tale… it was originally called “My Colourful Iguana” until my Mum pointed out that iguanas are not the colour changing animals!!

TRT: If you could have had any exotic animal as a pet growing up, would it have been a chameleon? Or something else and why?
LR: I always quite fancied owning an exotic parrot so that it could sit on my shoulder and come everywhere with me.

PsammeadTRT: What is your favourite creature that exists only in literature?
LR: Oooo, this is a good question. I would have to say the Psammead from “Five Children and It” that was televised when I was young. Written by E. Nesbit.  

TRT: I can really imagine My Colourful Chameleon being especially fun to read aloud. What would you say are other advantages to writing a picture book in rhyme?
LR: As a teacher myself, I would say that having a picture book written in rhyme often allows the children to anticipate what will happen in the next sentence and to be able to join in more with the storytelling because they can often guess what the rhyming word will be.

TRT: Do you have a favourite two-page spread in My Colourful Chameleon that Mike has illustrated? Did you have any input in to the overall illustrations or the design of the cover?
LR: I didn’t have any input into the illustrations at all but I am very happy with the wonderful pictures that Mike Byrne has created. My favourite spread is possibly the opening spread because I love the image of the little girl being licked by her chameleon – it is so sweet!

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TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting My Colourful Chameleon but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more picture books or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
LR: At the moment, I am working on a number of other picture book texts about all sorts of weird and wonderful things and over the last year I have also begun writing for older children.

TRT: What first attracted you to writing picture books?
LR: Perhaps from having read so many during my time as a teacher and from spending a few years working with young children I simply had lots of story ideas that I felt an urge to get written down. It all started from there really.

TRT: As a primary school teacher yourself, which books (including picture books) do you most like to read to your classes?
LR: I have three favourites that I love to read time and time again…
Jill Murphy’s Peace At Last; Julia Donaldson’s The Smartest Giant in Town (because I like the singing bits); and Lydia Monk’s No More Eee Orrh!

TRT: There are teaching ideas listed at the back of My Colourful Chameleon for teachers, schools and parents to use. Could you suggest any further ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
LR: I have lots of ideas about this and hopefully I will have time to put some more up on my site at some point. For starters, I would use this book in the classroom as an introduction to rhyme and colours. It would also be good as a starter text that could lead onto a non-fiction topic where children could find out about the features of both non-fiction texts and about real chameleons.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your book to teachers for them to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
LR: A funny tale that is useful for the introduction of colour language and in heping children to name the different rooms of the house.

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
LR: The easiest way to contact me would be via the contact form on my webpage https://leonieroberts.com/ – I would love to hear from you!

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember any authors ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
LR: I can’t remember any authors having visited my school but I can remember one particular teacher who used to read amazing stories to the whole school during assembly times.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
LR: I learnt how to Salsa dance whilst living abroad.


🎉 Giveaway! 🎉

I am pleased to say that I have been sent an extra copy of My Colourful Chameleon and therefore I will be giving it away!

Retweet this tweet and follow @MrEPrimary and @leonierobertsuk to win!


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Huge thanks to Leonie for choosing to visit The Reader Teacher on her blog tour and for sending me a copy (or two!) of My Colourful Chameleon!

My Colourful Chameleon is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
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