Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Middler – Kirsty Applebaum (Illustrated by Matt Saunders)

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‘With moments of family dynamics, a war quietly raging and undertones of an almost middle-grade Hunger Games meeting Stig of the Dump, this dystopian debut is without doubt one of the books of the year.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Middler
Author: Kirsty Applebaum (@KirstyApplebaum)
Cover artwork: Matt Saunders (@msaunders_ink)
Cover typography: Joel Holland
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 4th April 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788003452

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Middler 👧
2. Eldest 👴
3. Youngest 👶


Maggie is a middle child, overlooked and unheard. Beyond her town’s boundary, the Quiet War rages and the dirty, dangerous wanderers roam. Then Maggie meets Una, a hungry wanderer girl in need of help, and everything she’s ever known gets turned on her head…

An absorbing, quietly menacing story of forbidden friendship, loyalty and betrayal, beautifully told.


Review: Entrenched in her own world and feeling ever more discontented, Maggie, or Maggie-middler as she’s more ‘affectionately’ known and seen by her peers and teachers, is stuck. Stuck between being the eldest or the youngest. Stuck between being overlooked and under-heard. Stuck in the middle.

That’s because in the town of Fennis Wick where she lives, the eldest children are the special ones. The chosen ones. Always the chosen ones to win prizes, to be clapped at, to have their portraits painted or to have parties. Or so she believes. But they’re also chosen for something else. Something that’s quietly raging beyond the boundaries of Fennis Wick and something that Maggie knows very little about…

Always quietly questioning and fighting to make her own name for herself, Maggie makes an encounter of a different kind. Hearing that there’s a tribe of people – named ‘wanderers’ and thought of as dirty, deceitful and dangerous – who are as disconnected from society almost as much as Maggie is, she begins to form a forbidden friendship with Una, one of these so-called outsiders who’s been watching her. As her eyes begin to open to the world around her and truths and twists are revealed, this tale proves to be far more than it appears to be on the surface.

Told through the distinctive voice and sometimes-dark perspectives of Maggie, this deeply-atmospheric story within its sinister setting carries with it undertones, a family dynamic and moments of an almost middle-grade Hunger Games meeting Stig of the Dump.

This debut is more than a mystery. It’s more than a thriller. It lingers and lurks in the memory so uniquely, it’s like nothing you’ve read before and nothing you’ll read again and for me, it’s without doubt one of the books of the year.


‘With moments of family dynamics, a war quietly raging and undertones of an almost middle-grade Hunger Games meeting Stig of the Dump, this dystopian debut is without doubt one of the books of the year.’


Author Q&A: Kirsty Applebaum with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

2xvI2k85_400x400.pngI’m delighted to welcome Kirsty to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about The Middler, her reading and writing influences and using her book in the classroom with a link to teacher resources!

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 Middler?
KA: 1. atmospheric ⛈ 2. voice-driven 👄 3. thought provoking 🤔

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

KA: There are so many things I could say here – but I’ll just pick out a few. The place where I grew up influenced the setting immeasurably. It’s called Oliver’s Battery, and it’s only a short walk from meadows and butterfly fields just like the ones in The Middler. Sting’s beautiful song Fields of Gold provided the soundtrack – I listened to it whenever I needed to sink myself back into Maggie’s world. John Yorke’s book Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them enabled me to shape my ideas into a readable story. And so many great novels inspired me, for example: Z for Zachariah (Robert C. O’Brien) with its wonderful close narrative; The Testament of Yves Gundron (Emily Barton) with its isolated setting; We (Yevgeny Zamyatin) with its gripping dystopian plot. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there!

TRT: What was the most enjoyable part of writing The Middler?

KA: The moment I decided to re-write it from a middle child’s point of view. It wasn’t really working up until that point – then suddenly I had a new title, a catchy concept and the four opening lines, all in an instant. I got the physical tingle of excitement I get when I think my writing’s going to work out.

TRT: Are you an eldest, middler or youngest? And can you ear-wiggle yourself?

KA: I’m a youngest – I have one older sister. I can’t ear-wiggle yet because I haven’t had enough discipline to teach myself. It’s on my to-do list.

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

KA: Maggie. She’s 100% based on me, entirely deliberately. But she grows in confidence & bravery a lot quicker than I did.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

KA: As an adult, I started writing after reading stories to my own children – I got that excited tingle as I read them, and thought I could do this. And yes, I did enjoy writing at school. My friends and I used to write about the characters we’d seen in films. I remember thinking up lots of stories about flying monkeys after I’d watched The Wizard of Oz.

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

KA: Starting a book is usually the most energising for me. That exciting period of time when I have the image of a perfect, atmospheric novel pictured in my mind and I’m writing the scenes that just flow from my head, rather than the ones that have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. I love writing the second draft too – tightening everything up so that the story hangs together better. The exhausting part is getting through the middle of the first draft – the sticky middle is definitely a real thing. I usually tackle it by re-reading books on the technicalities of plotting, and gradually the story begins to find its way.

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?

Sadly, we didn’t have authors come to school. But I did once go to a Puffin Club event where I met the author of the Gumdrop stories. Gumdrop was a vintage car and the author was the awesomely named Val Biro. He signed my book. I treasured it.

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 was great to see funny children’s literature being celebrated at the Lollies (the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) in February. I love a book that makes me laugh. As children my sister and I nagged our grandmother to read us Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator over and over again, never ceasing to find it hilarious. And with my own children some of our funniest favourites were Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens series and Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum. A couple of years ago my neighbour’s son lent me Pamela Butchart’s Baby Aliens Got My Teacher! and I fell in love with funny all over again. And I’m reading a funny book right now – Lissa Evan’s Wed Wabbit. ‘Don’t laugh,’ says the strapline. ‘He’s dangerous.’ 😆😂😄

The Middler 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?  

KA: The Middler is suited to pupils aged nine and over, particularly for teaching literacy and writing skills, and for PSHE debate. Nosy Crow have developed an excellent KS2 teaching resource pack with extracts, discussion questions and lesson plans – you can find it at nosycrow.com or on my website www.kirstyapplebaum.co.uk.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ The Middler 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?

KA: The Middler tells the story of Maggie, a middle child living in an isolated community where only the eldest children are special. It’s a gripping novel of forbidden friendship, loyalty and betrayal set in a near future world, covering themes of self-doubt, freedom, belonging and lies.

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?

KA: You can contact me via my website (kirstyapplebaum.co.uk) or Twitter (@KirstyApplebaum).

Two more before you go (2)!

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

KA: What is your favourite word? (It’s spoon. Best word ever.)

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

KA: I have grade three euphonium.

One last one… (1)!

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

KA: Do you think being a youngest, middle, eldest or single child makes a difference to how you feel and act?


Big thanks to Clare, Kirsty and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Middler blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Kirsty for answering my questions!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of The Middler blog tour for more reviews & exclusive Q&As and guest posts from Kirsty and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Star-Spun Web – Sinead O’Hart (Illustrated by Sara Mulvanny)

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‘A fantastic fusion of exciting, excellent and effervescent fiction that’s out-of-this-world! This is science-inspired storytelling at its stellar, supercharged best.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Star-Spun Web
Author: Sinéad O’Hart (@SJOHart)
Illustrator (Cover): Sara Mulvanny (@saramulvanny)
Publisher: Stripes (@StripesBooks)
Page count: 384
Date of publication: 7th February 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788950220

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Science 🔬
2. Reality ✨
3. Violet 🕷️


Tess de Sousa is no ordinary orphan. When a wealthy stranger appears at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings claiming to be her relative, she embarks on a new life with him. She take nothing more than her pet tarantula Violet and a strange device that she was left as a baby.

But far from providing answers to Tess’s mysterious past, it becomes clear that her guardian’s interest in her is part of a terrible plan. With the future of more than one world at stake, it’s up to Tess to stop him…


Review: As a wealthy man turns up on the very doorstep that Tess de Sousa turned up on herself as a baby, she has little idea of how much her life is going to change. Going by the name of a certain Mr Cleat and claiming guardianship of her, Tess knows that this could be her last chance to find out how she came to end up living at the orphanage home of Ackerbee’s Lost and Foundlings once and for all. But all is not quite as it seems…

Imaginative and inventive – although a little anarchic and with a pet arachnid for company – Tess sets off with this stranger, spanning across a web of parallel worlds and dimensions for a multi-layered and multi-universe mystery that is the adventure of all adventures.

Every element of this tale is cleverly written: in terms of its pulsating plot; the cast of its characters: their relationships; their interactions and their interconnectedness; and the dual (sometimes tri-) narratives occurring in concurrent chapters. With a stunningly-illustrated cover by Sara Mulvanny to match, this book can do no wrong and I can predict it already garnering praise aplenty and appearing in nearly all end-of-year celebratory lists.

As the gripping suspense of this story sucks you in to the web that Tess soon finds herself tangled up in, every turn of its page makes time truly fly by with the sensation that you can travel through time yourself.

With The Star-Spun Web, Sinéad establishes herself fully on the MG stage spinning gossamer threads of alternate realities that collide with fragments of fantasy and overcoming the precarious and notoriously difficult ‘second novel syndrome’ with apparent ease. It’s as if she has story writing down to a science.

Out-of-this-world. This is science-inspired storytelling at its stellar, supercharged best. A book that is a pleasure to read and a book that can’t help but encourage reading for pleasure. Like the very best of science discoveries, I think this could be a momentous and ground-breaking read for children (and adults!) who crave a fantastic fusion of exciting, excellent and effervescent fiction.

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I’m utterly delighted to have Sinéad O’Hart, author of The Star-Spun Web, join us on The Reader Teacher today on publication week with this extra-special interview where she shares her experiences of writing, her inspirations and the best and worst things about being an author…sinead-ohart.png

  1. What was your favourite book when you were 8?
    Alan Garner’s Elidor – and it’s still my favourite book now.
  2. What are the three main things a reader will find in your books?
    Clever, determined girls; brave, ingenious boys; mortal peril!
  3. When did you start to tell stories?
    I wrote my first ‘book’ at 7, a sequel to The Little Prince complete with my own drawings, but sadly I’ve lost it. My parents said I always had a strong imagination and liked to tell stories to myself, drawing pictures to go with them, from as soon as I could talk and hold a crayon. I’ve been pleased to see my own little girl doing exactly the same!
  4. Did you always want to be a writer? Have you had different jobs before you were an author? Do you think a variety of work experiences has helped you to write?
    I always wanted to have a creative life, but I wasn’t sure for a long time exactly how I’d go about it. From the age of seven or eight, when I began to think about the sort of life I wanted to have, I knew I wanted to do something unusual, something where I could use my interest in creativity (and daydream a lot, because daydreaming is very important), but to me that could have been anything from being a visual artist to a scientist – I wanted to be a marine biologist for a long time. It wasn’t until I was a few years older, perhaps halfway through secondary school, that I realised my love for books, reading, stories and art could be made into something cohesive, and it was then I began to dream of being a writer. I’ve had lots of jobs; I’ve worked in a clothes shop, as a tourism adviser, in many different offices including a printers’ and a health centre, in a supermarket, as a trainee butcher, as a researcher, as a tutor and lecturer of English language and literature at a university, as a records manager for an English department at the same university, as a bookseller, and as a freelance proofreader. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few! And yes, of course every job I’ve done has helped me to be a writer. Everything you do in life – everything you read, see, hear, watch, and observe – can go toward helping you to be a writer. The more jobs you’ve done, the more experiences you’ve had, the more things you’ve felt and seen and heard, all help you to describe things in your stories and make them feel real. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to wait until you’re a certain age, or until you’ve done a particular amount of ‘things’, before you can write – if you want to write you can start anytime, and the earlier the better. You’re never too young to switch on your observation skills, and then you’re already well on the way. Reading books, learning from them, and using your imagination are all vital tools in a writer’s kit, and there’s no age or experience limit on those.
  5. Where do you get your ideas from, and how do you store them?
    Ideas are all around, just waiting to be plucked out of the air. I’m inspired through observation of the world around me, and I have an insatiable curiosity. I’m constantly on the lookout for strange and interesting words; sometimes I find them in newspaper articles or books, or in overheard conversations, or on signs. For me, words – particularly if they’re misspelled, or if they’re used as a pun, or if they’re unfamiliar to me – are wonderful idea-seeds. Mostly my ideas seem like tiny fragments of something bigger; I get a scene, or a character name, or a place-name, or a funny line of dialogue, and I don’t have any idea where they go or what sort of story they’ll grow into. They need careful handling until they’ve had a chance to germinate and sprout, so it’s important to have a notebook on your person all the time to keep your idea-seeds safe. However, I usually store my ideas on scraps of paper and my phone, as I never have my notebook handy when I need it!
  6. Every writer creates a story in their own unique way. Roald Dahl had an armchair in his shed, Lewis Carroll liked a standing desk and to write in purple ink. Do you have any unconventional methods, habits or superstitions when it comes to writing?
    I tend to write standing up, but not because of superstition – it’s mostly out of necessity as I have a busy little girl. I don’t have unconventional methods because I need to write in any second I can! I feel very boring now. Perhaps I should invent some strange habits, like writing with a rubber chicken tied to my head. Bok bok!

  7. How much of Sinéad O’Hart is reflected in your characters?
    Quite a lot, I think – and I reckon the same is true of any writer. I think my girl characters reflect some of my own awkwardness and social anxiety; I was a very introverted and thoughtful child, who liked to work things out in my own way, and I found, as a girl, that there weren’t many girls like me in books. I try to remedy that a bit with my stories. Some of my girl characters are deep thinkers with a strong sense of justice, girls who like to observe, and I see my child-self in those characters. In my boy characters I put my heart and vulnerability, and that’s something which comes naturally but it’s also a conscious choice, in part. I think it’s important to create boy characters with emotion and depth, and who show true bravery – which to me means doing what you need to do, even though it frightens you.
  8. You are in a library with a 10 year-old who claims that they don’t like reading… Which 3 books would you reach for to try to change their mind?
    I think I’d be there all day, offering them a new trio of books every five minutes, but at the moment: Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, which is the grippiest, most engaging, most fun and most absorbing children’s trilogy I’ve read in a long time; Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart books, which feature a wonderful heroine and a complex, layered hero, along with a clankingly good cast of mechanimals and mechanicals alike; and Jennifer Bell’s Uncommoners books, which are fast-paced and twisty, edge-of-your-seat action coupled with a brilliant, detailed world and mythology. (Yes, I know that’s technically nine books!) But ask me again in half an hour and I’ll say Sky Song, the Rose Raventhorpe books and Brightstorm… Don’t make me choose!
  9. What’s the best and worst things about being an author?
    There are loads of good things about being an author but the best is: having a job that, for the most part, fits around my child’s life, and also meeting and hearing from readers. I love getting messages from teachers, librarians and mums and dads telling me about the kids who’ve loved my stories, and I really enjoy meeting readers at school and library events. The worst is pretty bad: writing books for a living is a stressful thing sometimes, and I worry constantly that I’m not good enough, or that I’ll never get another contract. But the good things definitely outweigh the bad.
  10. Do you have any advice for budding writers?
    The first thing you need to be a writer is to remember this ABC – Always Be Curious. Pay thoughtful attention to everything you see and hear in the world around you; listen to snippets of conversation, keep your eyes peeled for the interesting and unique things you see every day, ask yourself questions and make up the answers about the people and places you come across. Then: read, read, read; read anything and everything and immerse yourself in words and stories as often as you possibly can. After that: when you start to write your own stories, write what you love; write what interests you, write the kind of books and stories you’d like to read. But the most important thing is this: never give up. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have parents, siblings, and teachers who’ll support you, but sometimes you won’t. Try not to let anyone put you off writing. Do your best to protect the things you love and the things you’re interested in as much as you can. If there’s something in you which loves to read, or write, or draw, or do anything at all, then guard it and nurture it and never lose that love. You never know when it will suddenly bloom into life and bring joy to you and all around you. If you’d like to write as a career, do know this: it can take a long time, and the most important thing you can bring to it is sticking power. Don’t ever stop writing, improving, and trying your hardest!

QUICKFIRE

  1. 3 words that describe you: Confused. Curious. Reading.
  2. Favourite time of the day? I’m a night owl – evening time!
  3. 3 random facts about you: I once chopped up hearts for a living (don’t panic, they were beef hearts); I have a PhD in medieval English; I really hate balloons.
  4. Go-to snack? Rich Tea biscuits!
  5. The best advice you ever got: Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.
  6. Complete the sentence: “If I was one of the Seven Dwarves, I’d be…” all of them at once! But mostly Dopey.
  7. Superhero power of choice: The ability to hold the entirety of human knowledge in my head, like a walking library.
  8. Go-to outfit? Whatever fits and isn’t covered in last night’s dinner… Usually jeans, DM boots, and a big shirt.
  9. Your dream place to curl up with a book? Anywhere with a view of the mountains or the sea, at sunset, in a cosy well-lit window seat, with a steaming mug of tea close by. Bliss!
  10. The 3 books you’d like to get for your next birthday: The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher; and The Girl, the Cat and The Navigator by Matilda Woods.

Big thanks to Sinéad, Leilah and all at Stripes for inviting me to kick off The Star-Spun Web blog tour and share my thoughts and for giving me the wonderful opportunity to do its amazing cover reveal and giveaway!

Extra thanks to Sinéad for her brilliant interview!

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Be sure to check out the rest of The Star-Spun Web blog tour this week to see more exclusive guest posts and reviews!

 Mr E 

 

Author Q&A: Armistice Runner – Tom Palmer (Illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole)

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‘Powerfully poignant.. not to be missed. If there’s one WWI story you read this year, let it be this one!’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Armistice Runner
Author: Tom Palmer (@tompalmerauthor)
Illustrator: Tom Clohosy Cole (@tomclohosycole)
Publisher: Barrington Stoke (@BarringtonStoke)
Page count: 176
Date of publication: 6th September 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1781128251

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1.  WWI 🎖️
2.  Running 🏃‍♀️
3. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦


Today I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Tom Palmer to The Reader Teacher for an exclusive Author Q&A about his most recent book, Armistice Runner. Read on for a fantastic interview where Tom shares his thoughts about Armistice Runner, his own experiences of reading and writing and how Armistice Runner can be used in the classroom!

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Armistice Runner (5)

  • 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 Armistice Runner?

    1. Fast-paced 🏃‍♀️
    2. Historical 🕓
    3. Emotional 😂
  • What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Armistice Runner?

I researched a variety of things. There are some great books about the history of fell running, but also histories of the end of WW1. The Forgotten Voices: Armistice book was the best. Also, local material about Cumbria in WW1. The Imperial War Museum has a vast bank of interviews with old soldiers, many available online. I listened to a lot of those. I found out about a real fell champion called Ernest Dalzell. He went to war and died. I based a lot of it on him. I also ran the races he ran to get the feel. But not at his pace. My daughter fell runs too, so her ‘world’ was vital to me getting it right, I hope. Also, remembering dementia and how it has affected people in my family.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Armistice Runner?

Writing about what the trench runner did in WW1. I researched the role and found out how dangerous it was and how men were very keen to do it. I found one book by a trench runner that gave me an idea of how they felt about the war. Then I went out into the dark moors near where I live and pretended I was a trench runner to get into the character.

  • Do you like to run yourself?

Yes, I fell run. My daughter does too. It was an honour to tell the story of fell running 100 years ago. It made me proud of what is quite a niche sport.

  • If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Armistice Runner, who would it be and why?

Lily’s dad. Because he kind of is me. With some changed names.

Reading and Writing (4)

  • What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

I hated reading and writing at school. I was attracted to both by my mum getting me to read about football in newspapers, magazines and books. It gave me confidence and I started to read more broadly. Then my life changed in a thousand ways. I firmly believe the way to engage reluctant readers is through what they are interested in and not always fiction, and not always even books.

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

I am energised by most of it. Writing. Marking up changes. I really love planning and researching and often go too far because it is such fun. The bit I hate is typing the changes I have marked up on the page. But it needs doing. I use coffee to help with that one bit I struggle with.

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

Yes. I wrote to Elizabeth Beresford and she wrote back, twice. I loved the Wombles on TV and my mum read the books to me. I remember the impact that had on me every time I get a letter or email from a child. She taught me a good lesson.

  • 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?

Loads of my reading relates to what I write. I am reading about the advance paratroopers who went in early on D-Day at the moment. But I like to read fast-paced historical fiction most that the moment, like Bernard Cornwell or Manda Scott. I read other children’s books because of the way children recommend them to me in schools. I love their passion and often go away and get the book. I am a big fan of Anthony Horowitz and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Armistice Runner and Teaching (3)

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

I like to hear it is being used as a class read. Because it is about dementia, running, a girl as a main sporting character, WW1, Cumbria and the end-of-war coming together of a British and German soldier – I hope there is a lot in there. My wife and I have developed films, games and texts that teachers can download for free, aimed at KS2 and KS3. I hope they are useful: www.tompalmer.co.uk/armistice-runner.

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ Armistice Runner 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?

It’s about a girl who likes to run. She finds out via her grandma that her great- great-grandad was a champion runner and war hero. That inspires her on and off the fells.

  • 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?

Direct would be great: info@tompalmer.co.uk. I try to reply within 24 hours.

Two more before you go (2)!

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

Would you like your mum and dad (who died before I was published) to know you did okay?

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

When I started at secondary school I was not allowed to do English Lit or a foreign language because my grip on the English language was not strong enough. (Before I found reading.)

One last one… (1)!

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

I’d like to know if I have gone overboard with my Tweeting about Armistice Runner. I have been banging on about the book and the free resources available on my website – at www.tompalmer.co.uk/armistice-runner – for weeks. (There I go again.) What do they find annoying about authors and what they say on social media and in their blogs?


Thank you so much Tom for answering my questions!

Armistice Runner is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Biggest thanks to Tom, Kirstin and all at Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of this outstanding book and for choosing my quote to feature on it!

Mr E

 

Author Q&A: There’s a Yeti in the Playground – Pamela Butchart (Illustrated by Thomas Flintham)

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: There’s a Yeti in the Playground
Author: Pamela Butchart (@Pamela_Butchart)
Illustrator: Thomas Flintham
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 4th October 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788001168

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1.  Yeti 👹
2. Footprints 👣
3. Laugh-out-loud 😁


Today, on its book birthday, I am delighted to welcome to author of There’s a Yeti in the Playground, Pamela Butchart to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher her exclusive Author Q&A…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Q&A

There’s a Yeti in the Playground (5)

  • 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 There’s a Yeti in the Playground?

  1. WINTERY ❄️ ️
  2. FUNNY 🤣
  3. WILD 😱
  • What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write There’s a Yeti in the Playground?

When I was on World Book Day tour with my then ten-week-old baby we had quite the snowy adventure! At one point the ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorm trapped us on a train for ten hours. Thankfully, we were warm and the baby had everything he needed but it gave me a lot of time to think plot the new book!  I remember I kept thinking about the snowstorm’s nickname – the ‘Beast from the East’ – and how it sounded like an actual SNOW BEAST. I realised that if this had happened when I was eight-years-old and all the adults were talking about ‘The Best from the East’ that I would’ve DEFINITELY thought a yeti was headed my way!

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing There’s a Yeti in the Playground?

It was the first book I’d written since my baby was born and I wrote the whole book during his nap time. Some days the baby would nap for only 30 mins so it was a complete race against time to write as much as I could each day in a very short period of time. I found that I had to write faster than I ever have before and it made the story even more FRANTIC and WILD than I’d planned! I also managed to sneak a baby yeti in there too with was fun.

  • What would you do if you found a yeti in the playground?

If it was a baby yeti I’d give it a great big cuddle.

  • If you were to choose the character that is most like you from There’s a Yeti in the Playground, who would it be and why?

I’m most like Jodi. I like to make plans, be in charge and watch SURVIVAL programmes. I’d DEFINITELY put a survival plan in place ASAP if I spotted a mummy yeti in the playground at my school.

Reading and Writing (4)

  • What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

I didn’t always enjoy writing at school because I didn’t like it when you had to write a certain way and do certain things that the teacher said when you were writing a story.  It definitely got in the way of my imagination. But I DID like writing at home. I could write what I wanted, any way I wanted.

I was also a terrible speller which made me a bit anxious to hand in my story to the teacher. But now I know that I shouldn’t have worried about that so much. I’m STILL an terrible speller, I STILL find it hard to make sentences sound right and I STILL forget what an ‘adjective’ and ‘pronoun’ are (I always have to look them up). But none of that matters too much when you have a big imagination and are willing to work hard and not give up.

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

Writing the Izzy books always energises me. I get super-excited when I’m the fast-paced scenes and can often be seen typing at about one hundred miles and hour!

Sometimes editing exhausts me, especially when I can’t quite figure out how to make something work if I take something else out. Once, when writing ‘Attack it the Demon Dinner Ladies’, I turned two characters (who were twins) into one character. That’s was a bit tricky. I find that the best thing to do when I get a bit stuck is to walk away from it and come back to it later. Sometimes I’ll be asleep and wake up because the solution suddenly pings into my brain. It’s weird.

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

I never experienced an author visit or met an author when I was at school. I don’t remember writing to any either. But I do remember meeting my favourite author for the first time…I was lucky enough to meet Judith Kerr a couple of years ago at the Edinburgh Festival and it was awesome. She is my literary hero.

  • 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?

I’m pleased to be seeing lots of great funny fiction for children but I’d like to see more written by women.

There’s a Yeti in the Playground and Teaching (3)

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

YES!

  1. Children could work in small groups to write and draw alternate endings to the book.
  2. They could also write their own Izzy adventure with each person in the group having their own task. There could be what I like to call an ‘Idea Generator’ (helping the writer and illustrator), writer/s, editors (helping the writer/checking their work), Illustrator/s, designer/s (designing the layout and what the front cover will look like, publisher/s (presenting the story and front cover/design to the class and explaining what the book is about.)u
  3. They could also work in small groups and act out scenes from the book (always hilarious!).
  4. They could pretend there’s a yeti loose on their playground and make a survival plan!
  5. They could do a follow-up project about yeti sightings and learn about Mount Everest expeditions and sightings.
  • If you were to ‘pitch’ There’s a Yeti in the Playgroundin 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?

A fast-paced, funny, adventure about getting snowed in at school with a yeti on the loose and having to eat out-of-date beans to SURVIVE.

  • 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?

Sorry! I’m currently on maternity leave and not booking any school visits at this time.

Two more before you go (2)!

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

Who are your favourite funny female funny writers?

Children’s and YA Fiction – Louise Rennison, Catherine Wilkins, Sue Townsend and Joanne Nadin.

Children’s Picture Books – Sue Hendra, Rebecca Patterson and Cressida Cowell.

TV/Film – Sharon Horgan, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.

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

I wrote ‘The Toilet Ghost’ when I was eight-years-old and it was published when I was 32! So please keep ALL of your stories because you never know, they might end up being turned into a book one day.

One last one… (1)!

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

I had so much fun writing a wintery book (and I really hope you enjoy reading it!). My favourite Winter-themed books are ‘The Snowman’ by Raymond Briggs and ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ By C.S. Lewis. What are your favourite wintery books?

Thank you so much Pamela for taking the time to answer my questions!


There’s a Yeti in the Playground is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Big thanks to Pamela, Clare and Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this brilliantly funny book!

Mr E

 

 

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!

20180628_103104POS photograph copy

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

WALLS_CVR.fw

‘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):

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 07.36.14



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
📚

IMG_7633


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?


andy shepherd headshot
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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