Blog Tour (Review, Guest Post & Giveaway!): Boy Underwater – Adam Baron (Illustrated by Benji Davies)

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‘A book that shows how the littlest of people can cope with the biggest of issues… Named after Shakespeare’s own Cymbeline, this is both a comedy and a tragedy that’ll leave readers feeling like you’re thrown in at the deep end and completely blown out of the water at the same time.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 Boy Underwater
Author: Adam Baron (@AdamBaron5)
Illustrator: Benji Davies (@Benji_Davies)
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s (@HarperCollinsCh)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 1st June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0008267018

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Moving 😢
2. Swimming 🏊‍♂️
3. Understanding 😌


Cymbeline Igloo (yes, really!) has NEVER been swimming.

Not ever. Not once.

But how hard can it be? He’s Googled front crawl and he’s found his dad’s old pair of trunks. He’s totally ready.

What he’s not ready for is the accident at the pool – or how it leads his mum to a sudden breakdown.

Now, with the help of his friends old and new, Cymbeline must solve the mystery of why his mum never took him near water – and it will turn his whole life upside down…


The first line(s):

Here’s something you won’t believe.
I, Cymbeline Igloo, have never been swimming.


Review: Named after Shakespeare’s own Cymbeline, this is both a comedy and a tragedy that’ll leave readers feeling thrown in at the deep end and completely blown out of the water at the same time. The story starts with a boy (Cymbeline, ‘yes really!’) who’s never swam before challenging one of the class’ strongest swimmers to a race on a school visit to the local swimming baths. This can only go one of one ways: not swimmingly. In fact so bad that after Cym has an accident at the pool, his mum ends up in hospital.

Man Boy overboard!

Feeling like he’s out of his depth with absolutely none of the adults telling him what’s happening, he is determined to find out for himself why his mum’s disappeared and like a fish out of water, he’s been forced to live with his ultra-rich relatives who, unbeknownst to him initially, have many recurring problems of their own.


But does he sink or does he swim?


Told through the very eyes of our protagonist, the character of Cymbeline ebbs and flows from the silly, innocent, almost naïve nine-year-old he is to then providing a social commentary on events, observations and life that even the most perceptive adult may not recognise or be able to articulate so well.

Pushing is an action that sets the story off to a shaky start for Cym however throughout it, we slowly start to see characters pulling people and families apart only for them to later on push people and families back together and it is this that makes this story a must-read. One for older Upper Key Stage 2 readers, of which I recommend being mostly mature Year 5 and Year 6 readers or older: mixing mental health, depression, family dynamics, bullying and strong emotions, this is a story that will make a huge splash when staying in the minds of its readers due to the often hearty emotional content it contains. This is also complemented by the illustrations of Benji Davies (best known for Grandad’s Island, The Storm Whale and The Grotlyn) that add further weight to this already deeply moving story.

I can guarantee that once you’ve dipped your toe in to read a chapter, you’ll be jumping in to read one more and one more after that as you’ll be completely absorbed by the character of Cymbeline and his pursuit in finding the truth about why he’s never encountered water in a way that could, and maybe would, have prevented his previously-mentioned ‘accident’. A truth that you need to watch out for as it’s quite the tumble-turn that will change him and his family forever…
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Emotionally gripping and truly deserving of being awarded Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for June, this is a book that shows how the littlest of people can and do cope with the biggest of issues.

‘A book that shows how the littlest of people can cope with the biggest of issues… Named after Shakespeare’s own Cymbeline, this is both a comedy and a tragedy that’ll leave readers feeling like you’re thrown in at the deep end and completely blown out of the water at the same time.’


Big thanks to Laura and all at HarperCollins for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing me with both an advance proof, finished copy and giveaway!
Extra thanks to Adam for writing his super guest post!

Mr E
📚

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Boy Underwater is available to order now in paperback online or from any good bookshop (£6.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books).


Today I am also delighted to welcome, author of Boy Underwater, Adam Baron to The Reader Teacher as part of his Boy Underwater blog tour. Here, he shares with The Reader Teacher his exclusive guest post about the birth of his main character, Cymbeline with thoughts coming direct from Cymbeline himself…

Cymbeline Igloo, the birth of a character by Adam Baron

Hello! Cymbeline here! You’ve asked Adam to write a blog about how he created me but I’m going to do it for him. The reason is that I know him and he would SO FIB! He’d talk about all sorts of writer techniques, and strategies he used, blah blah. All of this would be aimed at him taking all the credit for Boy Underwater (the big show off) and he doesn’t deserve ANY.  Just because his name’s on the cover, please don’t let that fool you. Boy Underwater is MY STORY, something I know because I AM COMPLETELY, ABSOLUTELY, REAL.

It’s true.

Adam was just sitting there one day staring at the wall when I jumped into his head and took over his brain. He’s so lucky I chose him, believe me, because there are loads of writers out there. Soon I started making him think like me, and talk like me, and then I started making him write down the story of my swimming. And my mum.  And how I got to know Veronique Chang (who smells like someone, somewhere, is eating candyfloss). He tried to stop me at some points (he really is quite lazy) but I made him go on until he’d finished.

AND THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

Adam, you can say a bit now but don’t go on too long and bore people.

Thanks Cymbeline! Well, I won’t go on long but I’ll add a few things. The first is that Cymbeline is right, of course. He did invade me. He did take over my head. I found myself saying only what he’d say, seeing the world through his eyes. It might be a bit more complicated than he thinks, though.

Thing is, it’s not just Cymbeline I’ve been taken over by. I have three children who each have a hat-load of friends. I also coach my children’s football teams and am surrounded by brilliant, funny, honest, passionate minds. I feel like I’ve been plugged into an incredible source of free energy, though it took me a while to realise it. Writers feed on energy and it seems so natural for me to use it to create stories with. I don’t deserve any credit though, it’s all these people around me.

And it’s not just real people.

You see, I’ve read loads of fantastic books with wonderful first-person narrators. My two favourites are Arturo Bandini from Ask The Dust and Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, both of whom sweep you into their worlds in about three words and keep you there until their stories are over. I’ve tried to do the same thing (with Cymbeline’s help) in Boy Underwater – by sitting back and intruding into Cymbeline’s story as little as possible. My wonderful publishers at HarperCollins described Boy Underwater as JD Salinger for ten-year-olds, and though I know they were just being gushy, I was pretty happy with that. I’m even happier that it’s now out in the world where you can judge it for yourself.

THAT’S ENOUGH. Let the people go back to reading something interesting.

Okay Cymbeline.

Adam Baron, author of Boy Underwater

Adam

Adam Baron is the author of five successful adult novels and has, in his time, been an actor, comedian, journalist and press officer at Channel 4 Television (as well as things he’s too embarrassed to mention). He now runs the widely respected MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University London. Adam lives in Greenwich, South London, with his wife and three young children. He wrote Boy Underwater (his first novel aimed at younger readers) because they told him to.


Giveaway!

So to coincide with my review of Boy Underwater, I am delighted to say that Laura, Adam’s publicist has kindly given me one copy of the stunning Boy Underwater to give away on Twitter. If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

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Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews, posts and exclusive content from Adam on the Boy Underwater blog tour this week!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): CANDY – Lavie Tidhar (Illustrated by Mark Beech)

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‘Like a mini Miss Marple meets Maynards… this mouthful of mystery will leave every reader feeling like a child in a sweetshop; just craving to read more from Lavie!’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 Candy
Author: Lavie Tidhar (@lavietidhar)
Illustrator: Mark Beech (Website)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 7th June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407184272

Perfect for Year 4 & Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Confectionary 🧱🍫
2. Prohibition ❌
3. Detective 🕵️‍♀️


In a city where candy is a crime and biscuits are banned, Nelle Faulkner is a telve-year-old private detective looking for her next client.

So when a notorious candy gangster asks for her help, Nelle is on the case.

Swept into a secret world of sweet smugglers and chocolate crooks, can Nelle and her friends find a way to take the cake? Or will they come to a sticky end…


The first line(s):

The sun was bright through my office window in the backyard of our house. I had a desk and two chairs, one for visitors, a bookcase and a cabinet – everything a private detective’s office needs.


Review: A town knee-deep in a confectionary chaos, a missing teddy bear and an unsolved case that throws up more questions than answers… why wouldn’t you want to read this?

In Lavie’s first foray into writing for children, he thrusts the reader (especially for those younger readers) in to the middle of what will seem like the utter unimaginable; a city where chocolate and sweets are forbidden under a prohibition act, with sugar gangs roaming the streets and corrupt candy cops round every corner.

However, fear not for super-sleuth and private-eye Nelle Faulkner – committed to always doing the right thing – to step up and take on what develops as the most intriguing of cases… As she investigates several people in *confection* with the previously-mentioned stolen teddy bear, the case goes from what seems like returning a missing cuddly toy to its rightful owner to an assortment of antics and more than the odd spot of confectionary capers (‘bootlegging, extortion, corruption, wilful destruction of property, intimidation and attempted murder’) that you can’t help but feel like you have to bite into.

Roles often reverse as grownups start acting like children and children act more like grownups in this original, highly-enjoyable and tempting twist on what happens when the town suffers from the symptoms of sugar withdrawal.


Can Nelle track down the teddy bear?
Solve the ongoing feuds of the candy gang war?
Save the city’s finest chocolate factory? 


Mark Beech’s joyful illustrations add tastes of humour, quirk and life to complement Lavie’s brilliant and charismatic characters; infused with an infectious influence of the collaboration between Dahl and Blake.

Like a mini Miss Marple meets Maynards… this mouthful of mystery will leave every reader feeling like a child in a sweetshop; just craving to read more from Lavie!


Big thanks to Lavie, Emily and all at Scholastic for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing me with an advance copy!
Extra thanks to Lavie for writing his guest post!

Mr E
📚


Today I give a warm welcome to author of Candy, Lavie Tidhar to The Reader Teacher as part of his Candy blog tour. Here, he shares with The Reader Teacher his exclusive guest post about the inspiration behind his debut novel for children…

My Inspiration for Candy

Candy draws on a whole bunch of sources. Scholastic have described it as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Bugsy Malone for 9+ readers”, and both of these certainly qualify as inspirations. Sometimes I like to explain Candy as what would have happened if at the end of Charlie the chocolate factory was shut down, Prohibition was declared, and Mr Wonka has gone missing.

But there is a huge amount of other inspirations that fed into – and snuck in! – the book. I grew up reading a lot of classic children’s books, anything from Tove Jansson’s Moomin books to Michael Ende’s Momo and The Neverending Story to Erich Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives… And detectives play a surprisingly important part in children’s books. There was Kalle Blomkvist in Astrid Lindgren’s books, of course, and Enid Blyton made a whole career out of the adventures of inquisitive kids running up against troublesome adults… And while I’m not sure I read any Nancy Drew growing up, I adore the 2007 movie! And then there was that annoying know-it-all Encyclopedia Brown, of course…

I love detective stories. I particularly love Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled adventures of sun-drenched California. Chandler reinvented and set the template for a new kind of detective story, one that was not purely concerned with solving some elaborate mystery, but rather with the society his detective operated in, and the lives of the people who lived it. It occurred to me that a hardboiled detective in a children’s book was not something one saw very often and, more importantly, it struck me as pretty funny. It seems to me there is a great similarity between being a child and being a detective – in both instances you are tasked with trying to solve the world. And the world, as both children and detectives know, is big and confusing and incomprehensible at times. It is the same with science fiction. A child, like an explorer, is learning an alien world. Somehow, I thought, it might be fun to join these two influences together.

Candy, with its world of banned sweets and its mean streets of Prohibition, is of course a world much inspired by numerous crime stories. I had a ridiculous amount of fun sneakily parodying any number of favourite movies, from The Godfather to the television series Justified  (“We used to dig in the sandbox together”, says Nelle of the candy bootlegger Eddie de Menthe, bringing to mind Raylan’s famous assertion of his antagonist Boyd, which bookends the series, “We dug coal together”). When Nelle visits the Used Goods store, she finds any number of unidentifiable objects for sale, from a Brasher Doubloon (“Whatever that was”) to a statue of a black falcon. I got to name the Mayor Thornton (it was Raymond Chandler’s middle name), and map the streets of my town, from Sternwood Drive (The Big Sleep), to Leigh Brackett Road. Brackett was, of course, the screenwriter of both The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, beside being a science fiction writer of some renown.

In truth, it’s what I do with every book I write. I’m barley even conscious of doing it anymore. I like to say originality is stealing from people no one reads anymore, but really what I do is somehow take all these influences and very different sources and mix them up into a new thing, like some sort of cooking experiment that marries unusual ingredients together. You just have to hope it doesn’t hit you in the face like a cream pie at the end.

I like Candy. I like to cook, though I’m not much of a baker. I made chocolate chip cookies for the first time the other day. If the batter is the book, then perhaps the hidden references are the chocolate chips inside.

You can eat the book as it is, or you could hit a chocolate chip and get something extra out of it, but either way, I hope it tastes good.

Lavie Tidhar, author of Candy

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Lavie Tidhar is an Israeli-born writer working across multiple genres. He has lived in the United Kingdom and South Africa for long periods of time, as well as Laos and Vanuatu. He is a multiple award winning writer, especially in the genres of fantasy and science-fiction. Candy is his first book for children.

You can find out more about Lavie by visiting his website or by following him on Twitter @lavietidhar.


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Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews, posts and exclusive content from Lavie on the Candy blog tour this week!

 

Blog Tour: Empathy Day #ReadforEmpathy Guest Post: AF Harrold

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Today I am honoured to welcome author of The Song from Somewhere Else and many others, AF Harrold to The Reader Teacher as part of the Empathy Day and #ReadforEmpathy blog tour. Here, he shares with The Reader Teacher his exclusive guest post about how reading books when he was younger like The Lord of the Rings helped him to see one beginning of empathy


I read a lot of books when I was younger (I still read a lot now), and few things have had so lasting an influence, have left so lasting a mark, as that final scene of The Lord of the Rings.

For anyone who hasn’t read the books or seen the films, and who thinks they might want to, here’s a spoiler warning for you: Read no further!

For the rest of you, here’s a reminder of how it goes.

You’ve had two and half books of adventure, of warfare and death and heroism and darkness. Everyone has been tested, everyone has had their own paths and none of them have been sunlit and simple. But Frodo and Sam made it alone and ashen, starving and wearied, to the slopes of Orodruin, Mount Doom, where they planned to destroy the One Ring. They had suffered and survived for a month, on foot, through desolate lands, in and out of the clutches of enemies, across the slag-heap desert plain of Mordor, right up to the foot of the mountain. It was a month of not knowing whether their companions lived or died, a month of not knowing whether the war out there was already won or lost, a month of just them, foot-sore and dry-mouthed, slow-plodding towards the end of their quest.

And what an end. At the lip of the fire, at the edge of the chasm into which the One Ring should be cast, at the moment when the destruction of that ring would undo all Sauron’s works, reducing his power to a mere scrabble of smoke against the sun, Frodo failed.

Instead of casting the ring into the fire he put it on. Claimed it for himself. Declared himself the new Lord of Middle-earth. After six months of bearing the ring, of carrying it from the Shire all the way to this end of all places, he finally gave in to its whisper, its temptation, its glamour, and put it on.

Of course it came right after that. He lost a finger, the ring finger, and the One Ring with it, to Gollum and the fiery pit, and the War came to a close with the utter collapse and ruin of Sauron’s power.

And then months went by. Eight months as they retrod their steps back home, this time with light and laughter, and they arrived in a Shire that was changed and another battle had to be fought, right on their doorstep. But that shadow, too, passed and it seemed the War was truly ended.

But as the following October rolls round Frodo’s wound, where he was stabbed by one of the Nazgûl in the fight at Weathertop, aches, and later, in March, the wound where Shelob, the great spider, stung him pains him too. And he finds he just doesn’t fit right in the world he’s come home to. He has changed, and has been changed, by the things he’s seen and done, and by the things that were done to him. His part in affairs beyond the sleepy borders of the Shire, in the great affairs of the world, weigh on him and no one notices.

The only companions who would understand, who share similar burdens, similar experiences, are busy doing what he doesn’t feel able to do, are getting on with their lives. Sam has married and is having a family, Merry and Pippin are off in their corners of the Shire leading their lives. Frodo feels alone, lost, if not misunderstood by his neighbours, at lost not-understood.

Eventually he sails to the West, takes the ship with the last of the elves leaving for the lands beyond the sea. There, he hopes, in Valinor, his wounds will be healed and his heart will be at peace, at last.

And Sam and Merry and Pippin are there, at the Grey Havens, to see him off, to say their farewells, and Gandalf, who is sailing too, says: ‘Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.’

And the three hobbits get on their ponies and ride slowly homewards, and as they go they say nothing, and their paths part one by one, and eventually the camera of the book’s eye follows Sam, just Sam, plain Sam, dependable Sam, right up to his door, and it opens and Rosie draws him in and puts his daughter in his lap and he is where he should be.

And even as I type this now the tears are pooling in my eyes, and I realise that I know, and knew when I read this aged 12 or 13, that I understand Sam and how he feels and I understand Frodo and how he felt. And the heart breaks and does not cease breaking at this ending… at this ending which is another beginning, and is a middle, and is all those other parts of a life, and Tolkien shows us what the best-hearted books show – the life beyond the adventure, the pedestrian day-to-day, the normalcy, the place where the real soul resides…

You can never know what is happening inside another person’s head, or heart. But the characters in books, in your favourite books – they open up and share themselves with you. You can hear their thoughts and know them, a little. And perhaps, by knowing them, a little window will be opened into the lives of your friends and family, into the strangers and people you see in the news. Just knowing that window exists is one beginning of empathy.


AF Harrold, author of The Song from Somewhere Else, The Imaginary, Greta Zargo, Fizzlebert Stump and many more

A.F. Harrold is an English poet, performer and children’s author. He writes and performs for adults and children, in cabaret and in schools, in bars and in basements, in fields and indoors. He was Glastonbury Festival Website’s Poet-In-Residence in 2008, and Poet-In-Residence at Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2010. He won the Cheltenham All Stars Slam Championship in 2007 and has had his work on BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and BBC7. He is active in schools work, running workshops and slams and doing performances at ungodly hours of the morning, and has published several collections of poetry. He is the owner of many books, a handful of hats, a few good ideas and one beard.

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AF Harrold’s book The Song from Somewhere Else features in Empathy Lab’s
2018 Read for Empathy Guide.

You can find out more about AF by visiting his website or following him on Twitter.


Big thanks to AF for writing his most wonderful and stirring of guest posts and to Fritha, Miranda and all at Empathy Lab UK for inviting me to take part in this year’s blog tour! Here’s to many more in the future!

Mr E
📚


What is Empathy Day?

Empathy Roundel18 Final OutlinedEmpathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab. With hate crimes at their highest level since records began, it uses stories to help us understand each other better, and highlights empathy’s power in our divided world. (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/hate-crime-statistics). Empathy Day 2018 is on 12 June.

Empathy Day’s calls to action

READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic

SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways

DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community

How to join in

  • Share ideas for empathy-boosting books using #ReadForEmpathy @EmpathyLabUK
  • Use the free Read For Empathy Guide to 30 children’s books – at www.empathylab.uk
  • Follow this blog tour to hear the powerful voices of the authors and illustrators involved
  • Hundreds of schools and libraries are already taking part. Gt a free toolkit from info@empathylab.uk
  • Use the ideas and free downloadable resources at  http://www.empathylab.uk/empathy-day-resources

#ReadforEmpathy       #EmpathyDay     @EmpathyLabUK


With this guest post, I am finishing the EmpathyDay blog tour in readiness to celebrate Empathy Day tomorrow on the 12th June. But be sure to check out the other dates and other wonderful bloggers for more posts and exclusive content from a superb range of authors from the past week!

Blog Tour 7

Blog Tour: Review & Guest Post: Mirror Magic – Claire Fayers (Illustrated by Becka Moor)

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‘Claire has conjured up a story that’s a richly magical, mid-nineteenth century myriad of mirrors and mystery. Her writing not only transcends beautifully between magical realms but in the real world too… This is definitely my most favourite of Claire’s yet!’ 

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Mirror Magic
Author: Claire Fayers (@ClaireFayers)
Illustrator (Cover): Becka Moor (@BeckaMoor)
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 14th June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1509870066

Perfect for Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Mirrors 🖼️
2.  Faerie-fantasy ✨
3. Book 📒


Welcome to Wyse, the only town left in Britain with a connection to the magical Unworld.

When twelve-year-old Ava meets Howell on the other side of a mirror, the two are quickly drawn into a mystery to discover why the enchantments that link their towns are disappearing.

But it’s hard to distinguish between friends and enemies when magic is involved and Ava and Howell soon learn that it can be very unwise to mess with mirrors…


The first line(s):

The town of Wyse, set precisely on the border of England and Wales, is remarkable for one thing: it is the only remaining town where magic works.


Review: Two worlds seem to begin, for better words, worlds apart but come together in the most magical of manners in this mid-nineteenth century myriad of mirrors and mystery. The worlds of Wyse and Unwyse who unbeknownst to orphans Ava and her brother, Matthew, remain separated by the power of mirrors… at least for now. Going back to her birthplace of Wyse, on the edge of Victorian England and Wales, where magic only exists, Ava feels something that’s not quite right. In the air, something different. Something that smells quite different too…

Under the control of Lord Skinner – a fine gentleman*, as I said – the town appears to be losing its sense of magical life. With the town’s conjurors closed down and seeing the once-thriving town scene dishevelled, dejected and dilapidated, Ava and Matthew think that this might not be the place they might have even distantly remembered.

Things soon change whilst discovering a working magic mirror that’s been hidden away, Ava uncovers more than she could have ever imagined. Deep connections and links to a well-imagined and all-kinds-of-wonderful world emerge after she meets and has to join forces with Howell, one of the Fair Folk from Unwyse, as they find themselves appointed the guardians and master protectors of a very important object that’s being hotly pursued by the ghastly Mr Bones.

Meet all of these spellbinding characters and more as you can’t help but delve deeper as Claire thrusts us in to the middle of this faerie-fantasy, where magic leaps and swirls from every page, that’s full of enchantments, magical mists and a book that can only heartily be described as The Book.  Introducing every chapter with a witty exchange or dry remark, the book or should I say The Book is one of my favourite ‘characters’ who has quite the gift for forecasting the future…

Like Diana Wynne Jones meets Susanna Clarke (author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell), Claire has conjured up a stupendous story. I am so pleased to say that Claire’s writing not only transcends beautifully between magical realms but in the real world too, as within Mirror Magic, it reflects and showcases her strength in writing between differing genres and books so well… This is definitely my most favourite of Claire’s yet!

*Read on to find out for yourselves if this is in any way to be as believed as the good people of Wyse would tell you…

‘Claire has conjured up a story that’s a richly magical, mid-nineteenth century myriad of mirrors and mystery. Her writing not only transcends beautifully between magical realms but in the real world too… This is definitely my most favourite of Claire’s yet!’ 


Big thanks to Claire, Karen and all at Macmillan Children‘s for inviting me to open up the blog tour for Mirror Magic and for sending me this gorgeously magical book. Extra thanks to Claire for writing her guest post!

Mr E
📚

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Today I am also delighted to welcome author of Mirror Magic, Claire Fayers to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher her exclusive guest post to open her Mirror Magic blog tour where we travel back to a time where Claire shows us what it might have been like had the Romans had magic and newspapers…

If Rome had magic…

Mirror Magic imagines a world exactly like our own but with one big difference – magic exists. Fairy mirrors connect us to the Unworld where the Fair Folk have promised to provide magical goods and services to anyone who asks.

The story starts in 1842, when most mirrors have stopped working and only one small town on the border of Wales and England still has access to the Unworld. The Wyse Weekly Mirror (expertly designed by Jess at Macmillan Children’s Books) gives an insight into daily happenings in the last town of magic.

But what of other time periods?

What would newspapers look like if, for example the Romans had magic (and newspapers)…

Rome Built in a Day

In celebration of our illustrious Emperor’s birthday, Rome has been rebuilt in a single day. Conjurors across the Empire came together and worked tirelessly, commanding their fairy servants to bring fine marble, gold, and other precious metals from the Unworld. All day long the city echoed with the sound of hammers and the groans of complaining fairies as they hauled blocks of marble into position.

A grand celebration was held in the newly built amphitheatre, including chariot races and trials of combat. As a finale, fiery horses were brought through a mirror from the Unworld to race the Emperor’s own chariot team. The resulting conflagration caused major damage to the arena and several unlucky citizens were eaten by the Unworld horses before the creatures could be caught.

Rome Building Project Proves Disappointing

A week after Rome’s dramatic rebuilding, the cracks are beginning to show. It started when the statue of our illustrious Emperor collapsed in the middle of the night. Now, buildings are crumbling. A whole section of the great amphitheatre turned to leaves yesterday afternoon and blew away.

Three conjurors have been arrested and have confessed that fairy magic is mainly made up of illusion. The marble pillars and gold statues may look convincing for a little while, but beneath the façade of enchantment, they are merely mud and leaves.

Rome, it seems, was not built in a day after all.

Roman Roads Conquer Britannia

News from the Ilse of Britannia where our army is fighting a brave battle to subdue the savage inhabitants and bring them into the civilisation of the Empire.  Roman conjurors have found a new way to travel across the isle’s rough countryside – fairy roads.

We know that fairy enchantments fade when exposed to the real world, but a road only needs to exist long enough for an army to march along it.

Conjurors work at night to create a road. The next day the army marches, claiming all in its path. Some of the island tribes have fought back but many surrender the moment they see the army approaching.

I came. I conjured. I conquered.

Claire Fayers, author of Mirror Magic

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Claire Fayers grew up in South Wales, studied English and Comparative Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, and is now back in Wales where she spends a lot of her free time tramping around castles in the rain, looking for dragons.

She has worked as a church caretaker, a shoe shop assistant, in accountancy, in health and safety, in IT, and in a library. Only one of these prepared her in any way for life as a full-time author.

Her first book came about after she won a writing competition. She was more surprised than anyone. She works from her home in Cardiff, sharing her workspace with a pair of demanding cats and an ever-expanding set of model dinosaurs who sometimes like to pretend they are pirates.

Mirror Magic is her third book after The Accidental Pirates: Voyage to Magical North, shortlisted for The Children’s Book Award and The Accidental Pirates: Journey to Dragon Island.


Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews, posts and exclusive content from Claire on the Mirror Magic blog tour this week and next!

mirror-magic-blog-tour

Blog Tour (3 in 1): Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star (Illustrated by Daniel Rieley) – Maria Farrer: Review, Guest Post: How stories help with developing empathy – Maria Farrer & Giveaway!

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‘A series of stories that goes from strength to strength with a big bear and an even bigger heart that do more than break the ice; Mr E is most definitely a huge fan of Mister P!’ 

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star
Author: Maria Farrer (@FarrerMaria)
Illustrator (Cover): Daniel Rieley (@daniel_rieley)
Publisher: Oxford University Press Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 224
Date of publication: 7th June 2018
Series status: Second book in the ‘Me and Mister P’ series but can be read on its own
ISBN: 978-0192766519

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4 & Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Understanding 😌
2. Heartening 💓
3. Un-bear-ievable! 🐾


Our flat isn’t big, but at least it’s high up. I can stand on the balcony and look up at the stars. I reckon Dad’s out there somewhere looking up too. And I bet he’s thinking about me. I do love Mum and Leo but it’s hard work looking after both of them. Sometimes I wish things were a bit easier.

What’s not easy is a RIDICULOUS, ANNOYING, IN-YOUR-FACE POLAR BEAR moving in!
I mean what use is he going to be? i’ve tried to get rid of him, but he seems very determined to stay…

PREPARE TO MEET THE WORLD’S MOST HELPFUL(ISH) POLAR BEAR!


The first line(s):

Ruby slipped out of the door onto the small balcony of her flat. Sitting with her back against the wall, she stared out across the rooftops and chewed the end of her pencil.


Review:

I’m absolutely delighted that Maria Farrer’s wonderful Mister P series is back with Me and Mister P: Ruby’ Star, subsequently being published after the first book, Me and Mister P, was at the beginning of 2017. Having been shortlisted for a number of awards since then including the UKLA Book Award 2018 and chosen as part of the 2018 Read for Empathy Book Collection for Empathy Day, it is clear to say that Me and Mister P has been a resounding success for all the right reasons.

With Ruby’s Star, Mister P this time helps out a new ‘me’ character in the form of Ruby. Longing for her missing dad, she looks towards the stars hoping that he is looking down on them but wait…

Is it a bird?
Is it a plane?
No, it’s Mister P!

Not just content with showing up on doorsteps, Mister P this time takes to the skies to crash land, quite literally, in to Ruby’s life with the help of a hot-air balloon. Looking after her mum and baby brother Leo and balancing going to school is hard enough without a whopping great big polar bear showing up on her balcony… so how on earth is she supposed to live with him?

Causing immediate chaos by lying in the middle of the road, burying himself amongst the fish fingers in the frozen food freezers in the supermarket and making too much noise bear-boogieing, he doesn’t get off to the best start at fitting in to Ruby’s already-chaotic life. Thinking he’s more trouble than he’s worth, Ruby tries desperately to run away from Mister P, lose him and not claim that he’s hers but that’s to no avail as he always ends up returning back to Ruby… and sometimes to a friendly neighbour who just loves feeding him his fish fingers.

Luckily for her, Mister P –  full of patience and paws-itivity – has a most charming, calming and characteristic knack for bringing families together, all without opening his mouth or saying a word. Ruby is a keen skateboarder and it’s amazing to see her attitude change towards Mister P throughout the story as he becomes not only a big part of her family, but a big part of her heart. The best kind of company. The missing puzzle piece.

Embracing themes and values of empathy, tolerance, acceptance, diversity and children with additional needs and young carers in the most considerate, gentle and attentive of ways; this is a series of stories that goes from strength to strength with a big bear and an even bigger heart that do more than break the ice.

Highly recommended for all, especially families as this series makes for a perfect shared reading experience. Through these books, not only do main characters Arthur (in Me and Mister P) and Ruby become better siblings or better friends but they also become better people, thanks to the intervention of Mister P. The same could be said of the readers, both young and old, who read this book and who will empathise and resonate almost instantly with the larger-than-life characters and situations within its pages.

Mr E is most definitely a huge fan of Mister P!

‘A series of stories that goes from strength to strength with a big bear and an even bigger heart that do more than break the ice; Mr E is most definitely a huge fan of Mister P!’


Big thanks to Maria, Hannah and all at OUP Children’s for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for this wonderfully-written book and organising the fantastic giveaway below! Extra thanks to Maria for writing her guest post.

Mr E
📚

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Today I am also delighted to welcome author of Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star, Maria Farrer to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher her thoughts on building empathy through reading books and writing stories in the classroom…

READING BOOKS, WRITING STORIES AND BUILDING EMPATHY

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 21.13.51(Illustration by Daniel Rieley)

As teachers, empathy is at the centre of what we do. Understanding and connecting with the feelings and perspectives of our students is the basis of how we inspire, motivate, and teach effectively. Yet, as we know only too well, every child is different and every class made up of students with diverse abilities, experiences, interests, intelligences, languages, cultures and personalities. It is  this diversity which makes the classroom both inspiring and challenging in equal measure. It also makes it a great place to explore and nurture empathy and understanding within a safe and supportive environment.

Developing empathy and emotional literacy in the young is being recognised, increasingly, as central to both emotional wellbeing and academic attainment. Human beings have a natural capacity for empathy from a very early age. When faced with a sad or happy situation, we usually react by feeling sad or happy too. However, empathy has many facets. Sometimes we need to actively and thoughtfully consider the perspective or point of view of another person in order to understand the way they are feeling, acting or reacting. It is this thoughtful or ‘cognitive’ empathy that allows us to align ourselves more closely with a person or situation in order to work out how we would feel in similar circumstances and how we can most effectively act or react in response.

 “Integrating work on empathy with literacy and reading for pleasure is efficient and hugely potent.”
(Professor Robin Banerjee, University of Sussex).

Reading and writing are great ways to build empathy and emotional literacy. Good books allow readers to identify so closely with characters that they are able to stand in the shoes of a fictional character and ‘live’ their feelings. Losing yourself in a story is just that … losing your self and temporarily becoming another self. Experiencing situations from different fictional perspectives helps to build valuable emotional resources for dealing with real-life situations. When reading as a group, stories can also provide a great springboard for discussion and debate. Stories can be used more explicitly to help to recognise and understand empathy. I love getting children to subvert perspective and see what happens—the results can often be dramatic and fun. Take, for example, re-writing or discussing Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit from the point of view of Mr McGregor, making Mr McGregor the good guy. The good guy?! Really?! It takes guidance and support from the teacher in order to reassure children that it is OK to explore the possibilities, but once they get the hang of it, the outcomes can fuel interesting debate! There are numerous stories that lend themselves to this kind of activity. Align yourself with the antagonist and see what happens. Is there another side to this story? “Voldemort terrified into hiding by teenage wizard”? Can our empathy be shifted, even temporarily? With older groups, this has led on to discussions of how writers can actively influence our emotions one way or the other—leading to consideration of bias and prejudice.

A sack of random footwear or props can be handy when thinking about empathy and perspective—physically putting yourself in the shoes of another person can help with the mental leap. Inviting children to ‘choose their shoes’ and then writing a story from that perspective can help them to lose their ‘self’ in story writing as well as reading.

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 21.14.16(Illustration by Daniel Rieley)

I suppose putting a polar bear on skateboards was taking things to extremes but the Mister P series encourages children to think about empathy and perspective in a playful, yet (I hope) meaningful way. It is often non-verbal behaviour that provides a window on underlying emotions and elicits empathy. That is precisely why Mister P never speaks or thinks in human. For sure, it is much easier to talk about our feelings when we are happy. Sharing when we are angry or sad or frustrated or scared is much harder. Sharing comes with risks because we don’t know who we can trust with our emotions or how people will react. Often we are reluctant to reveal worries or weaknesses for fear these may be used against us. This can increasingly skew the way we feel about others and ourselves—the perennial dangers of social media where everyone is having a better time than we are!

But sharing through books and stories and writing takes away those risks and provides a stepping stone for children to build a recognition and understanding of empathy, providing them with skills they need to build their own strength, resilience and success.

RESOURCES:

Great information and free resources are available from http://www.empathylab.uk along with useful booklists to help young children develop empathy.

Empathy Day: 12 June 2018. Log on and share!   #EmpathyDay   #ReadforEmpathy

Maria Farrer photo
Maria Farrer is just settling into a new life in the Yorkshire Dales. A keen lover of the outdoors and mountains, she is enjoying exploring the fells with her family and her ever-energetic black labrador. Her dog has played a vital role in the writing of the Mister P series as he been teaching Maria all he knows about how animals and humans communicate.

Maria writes for children and young adults. She loves to laugh and is usually up for a challenge (which is lucky as life with Mister P is mostly quite funny and sometimes quite challenging). She studied Speech and Language Therapy at UCL and has an MA in writing for young people from Bath Spa. She started life as a speech and language therapist and specialised in working with children with language and literacy difficulties.

In her work in schools, she likes to share interesting facts about polar bears and to raise awareness of their increasing fight for survival. One day she dreams of visiting polar bears in the wild. How cool would that be? 

A little known piece of random information:  A lot of Ruby’s Star was written by hand in a small notebook while Maria was crammed into a tiny tent, at a height of more than 4000m in a remote area of Nepal. It was a very scenic office — if a little short on air! 


Giveaway!

The very lovely Maria Farrer and people at OUP Children’s have kindly given me a copy of first book, Me and Mister P and second book in the series, Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star to give away!

If you’d like to be in with a chance of being the one lucky winner of this set of two Me and Mister P books, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews, posts and content from Maria on the Me and Mister P blog tour this week!

Me and Mister P Blog Tour

Review: The Mystery of the Colour Thief – Ewa Jozefkowicz (Illustrated by Sophie Gilmore) & Guest Post: ‘My thoughts on mental health issues among primary school-pupils and how I hope The Mystery of the Colour Thief will help children to reach out’ – Ewa Jozefkowicz

Jozefkowicz_THE MYSTERY OF THE COLOUR THIEF
‘Simply ‘specsational’. Heart-wrenching yet heartwarming at the same time… it takes a very special talent to achieve this and I’m delighted to say that Ewa does with flying colours.’ 

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Mystery of the Colour Thief
Author: Ewa Jozefkowicz (@EwaJozefkowicz)
Illustrator (Cover): Sophie Gilmore (@sophillustrates)
Publisher: Zephyr (@HoZ_Books)
Page count: 192
Date of publication: 3rd May 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1786698940

Perfect for Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Friendship 👭
2. Strength 💪
3. Colour 🎨


First the accident, then
the nightmares.

A shadowy thief steals the colours
from Izzy’s world.

Will her new neighbour and a nest
full of cygnets save Izzy
and solve the mystery of the colour thief?


The first line:

He came out of nowhere, a man in the smoke.


Review: 

The story begins, as does some of the chapters, with a voice. An unknown voice. A voice given to a character. A most sinister, shadowy character who we can’t see, but later see the effects of, and can instantly feel coming; looming closer with every word. This too is how it feels for main character, Izzy who finds herself waking up more and more as white as a sheet, reeling in shock and horror at the thought of her dreams which are every bit turning in to nightmares that are encroaching upon her, invading her and taking over her sleep.

Izzy’s mum is in hospital after a car accident – and Izzy attributes blame and fault only to herself. Overwhelmed with pangs of guilt, wracked with anxiety and shrouded in grief, Izzy cannot even face the slightest of sights of her hospitalised mother, lying senseless to the world in a coma. So it’s no wonder the colours of her world start to fade. Literally. As she watches the mural on her bedroom wall’s colours mutate and dissipate; reds, yellows, greens, blues: gone. But what could be happening and where could they be going to?

With no mother to turn to, likewise no father to turn to and a best friend who turns her back on Izzy, she’s left in the dark; trapped in a world where’s she continually suffering from the blackest of Blackest Days. However, new hope emerges for Izzy with a new neighbour. Toby. Paralysed after an accident yet full of positivity and perseverance, it is he that starts to bring new life to Izzy in more ways than one.

First with a nest of cygnets that need rescuing. When researching the correct collective noun to describe a group of cygnets, it referred me to swans. More specifically, ‘a lamentation of swans’. Yet towards the end of the story, I think that the first collective noun in the list, ‘a ballet of swans’ becomes the more apt term because it is this small change for Izzy from Toby that brings about a radically different change in Izzy’s thinking. Together can they help the cygnets, who become one of the true centrepieces and cornerstones of the story?

But even greater than that, can they put an end to the disappearing colours, break through the darkness and solve the mystery of the eponymous colour thief?

As Izzy’s father would say himself, this is simply ‘specsational’. Emotive, engaging and full of moving moments, The Mystery of the Colour Thief paints a picture that’s a compassionate and heartfelt look at mental health and ends up being a canvas of hope that permeates through its pages. It’s beautifully and sensitively written; heart-wrenching yet heartwarming at the same time. It takes a very special talent to achieve this, especially with her debut and I’m delighted to say that Ewa does this with flying colours.

 

‘Simply ‘specsational’. Heart-wrenching yet heartwarming at the same time… it takes a very special talent to achieve this and I’m delighted to say that Ewa does with flying colours.’


Big thanks to Ewa and all at Zephyr for sending me an advance copy of The Mystery of the Colour Thief and to Fritha for helping organise this beautifully-written guest post from Eva. So an extra huge thanks Ewa!

Mr E
📚

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The Mystery of the Colour Thief is available to order online or from any good bookshop.


Today I am also delighted to welcome author of The Mystery of the Colour ThiefEwa Jozefkowicz to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher her thoughts on mental health issues and how she hopes her book will help children to reach out…

‘My thoughts on mental health issues among primary school-pupils and how I hope The Mystery of the Colour Thief will help children to reach out’

‘I knew that nobody else would understand about the colour thief.’

This is what Izzy, the heroine of The Mystery of the Colour Thief says to herself when she’s considering telling her dad about the horrible shadowy man of her nightmares. Unfortunately, she comes to the conclusion that she shouldn’t worry him as he’s already very sad, and she continues to struggle on with her problems on her own, as her world turns increasingly dark.

Izzy avoids her teachers, although  ask her how she’s feeling, and she snaps at her aunt, who comes to stay with her and her dad and wants to help out. This is because she truly believes that nobody will understand the emotions that she’s going through.

It is only much later in the story, when her new neighbour Toby opens up to Izzy about the challenges he faces, that she is able to share the story of the colour thief with him, and together, they try to stop him in his tracks and solve the mystery.

This reluctance to tell somebody is a trait that is sadly very common among primary school children, many of whom might not even realise why they’ve suddenly begun to feel so different. In recent national surveys, teachers and senior leaders have expressed worries about the rising levels of anxiety and depression among their pupils. Some of these conditions are linked to school pressures (such as exam stress from SATs), some are linked to a difficult family situation, or a broken friendship; others still are unexplained. All are incredibly upsetting.

Through The Mystery of the Colour Thief, I’ve tried to bring across three important messages:

  1. If you’re feeling scared, nervous or low, you are definitely not alone.
  2. No matter how bad things get, there will always be somebody caring who will help you to repaint your world, but they won’t be able to do so if you don’t trust them.
  3. Sometimes when you’re not feeling yourself, your friends may not be sure how to act around you, and that’s OK too.

I think that this third point is important to emphasise , as it is particularly relevant among primary school children. In The Mystery of the Colour Thief, Izzy’s best friend Lou has no idea how to act around her following  the accident which changed Izzy’s world. As a result, she decides to slowly spend less and less time with her, and to form a new friendship with Jemima. This broken friendship is particularly distressing to Izzy, who is already going through so much, but it serves to help her understand that she is stronger than she thinks, and that she has other people who care about her and are able to help.

As adults, we all know that relationships are tested in difficult times, but we rarely consider that this is also true of early friendships in primary school years.

Towards the very end of the story, Izzy says to her mum, who is still unconscious in hospital, ‘It turns out that you’re stronger than you think. And sometimes you just need a bit of help,’ which I hope is a message  that will resonate with a number of young readers.


Ewa Jozefkowicz, author of The Mystery of the Colour Thief

Ewa_Jozefkowicz_credit Ruta Zukaite
Ewa Jozefkowicz grew up in Ealing, and studied English Literature at UCL. She currently works in marketing, and lives in Highbury, north London with her husband and twin girls. 
The daughter of a bookseller, she has always been a lover of children’s books and has dreamed of publishing her own. She wrote her first book aged 5 (meticulously self-illustrated with felt tip pen) and twenty five years later achieved her dream of being a published children’s author with ‘The Mystery of The Colour Thief’. She is fascinated by stories about friendship and growing up.

Credit:
The Mystery of the Colour Thief by Ewa Jozefkowicz, published in hardback,
£10.99, 3 May 2018 from Zephyr
@EwaJozefkowicz @HoZ_Books #TheMysteryoftheColourThief

Blog Tour: (3 in 1: Review: The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle – Victoria Williamson (Illustrated by Floris Books); Guest Post: Mirrors & Doors: Diversity in children’s literature – Victoria Williamson & Giveaway!)

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle Full Cover - Victoria Williamson

‘A truly transformational read. Intensely powerful and immensely poignant at the same time… such a groundbreaking, essential and accomplished debut that not only changes perceptions but also has the power to alter attitudes. With this one, Victoria has most certainly made herself a writer to watch.’ 

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle
Author: Victoria Williamson (@StrangelyMagical)
Illustrator (Cover):  @FlorisBooks
Publisher: Kelpies (@DiscoverKelpies)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 19th April 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1782504900

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Friendship 👭
2. Courage 💪
3. Empathy ☺️


She is the Fox Girl.
I am the White Gazelle.
Together we can outrun anything.

Reema feels completely lost. She’ll never call this strange country, with its grey skies and boring food, home. Syria is her home and it’s a million miles away.

Caylin feels completely alone. She’s looking after he useless mum, stealing from other kids so she can eat. She can’t tell anyone, they’ll only let her down.

The refugee and the bully – Reema and Caylu – can’t imagine being friends, until a shared secret brings them together.


The first line(s):

Growls in the dark: the monsters are coming /
The home time bell’s so loud it hurts my head.


Review:

Switching between the chapter-changing perspectives of the two main characters, Caylin (who’s used to the streets of Drumhill) and Reema (who’s more used to the streets of war-torn Aleppo), this is a truly transformational read.

There’s not much that these girls can seem to be smiling about as their home lives are somewhat rocky with a mix of domestic depression, alcoholism and wondering where the next meal is coming from for Caylin and culture shock, a language barrier and a complete fear of the unknown for Reema.

However their lives change forever when they both discover a family of foxes. Though it’s this shared secret that initially brings them together to form an unexpected friendship that sometimes boils over yet blossoms, they end up sharing far more than even they could begin to imagine…

With two main characters that are polar opposites of each other: one seemingly damaged by the aftermath of war, the other damaged by circumstance; we see them mature and develop throughout the course of the book. This stunning story gives a voice to characters who, in the world we live in today, so often don’t have a voice and it is in their own words and Victoria’s own experiences working with young asylum seekers that she captures both characters’ voices so clearly and convincingly that they really come to life on the pages before your very eyes.

Bringing the most unlikeliest of friends together, especially this pair, is a difficult thing to do. Yet, Victoria really intertwines these two characters’ lives so pertinently that their storylines fit together in a way that seems that they were always destined to meet each other and bring out the best in each other.

Shortlisted for the Book Awards, this is such a groundbreaking, essential and accomplished debut that not only can change perceptions but also has the power to alter attitudes. It is intensely powerful and immensely poignant at the same time; hitting hard when it needs to whilst tenderly tugging at those heartstrings of yours too.

Overall, it’s a wonderfully well-voiced story from both sides as it’s a touching yet timely reminder of the world in which we live in and how with thought, feeling, compassion and togetherness, we can all live a better life as Jo Cox said, ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us‘.

A book to be proud of writing for Victoria and a book to be proud of reading for all of us. With this one, Victoria has most certainly made herself a writer to watch.

Books can change lives and this just might be one of those books.

One of my favourites of the year so far.

‘A truly transformational read. Intensely powerful and immensely poignant at the same time… such a groundbreaking, essential and accomplished debut that not only changes perceptions but also has the power to alter attitudes. With this one, Victoria has most certainly made herself a writer to watch.’ 

Big thanks to Victoria & Kelpies/Floris Books for sending me an advance copy of this wonderfully written book!

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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Mirrors and Doors

‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.’  Rudine Sims Bishop, Ohio State University, ‘Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors’.

Most teachers know that books can act as magical doorway to other worlds. But how many of us stop to consider the importance of providing not just doors for children to explore, but mirrors to reflect their own life experiences?

Teaching in Cameroon - Victoria Williamson

The first time I realised that not all stories were universal was when I was working as a VSO teacher in Cameroon. One of my duties was helping develop the small school library, stocked with donated books from the UK and the USA. During a reading lesson with a ten year old who was struggling with literacy, I picked out The Ugly Duckling as a story with fairly easy language. After twenty minutes’ hard slog, we hadn’t got past the first paragraph. We had to keep stopping so I could explain what a duckling was. Then a pond. Then a swan… We gave up and tried other stories, but with no more success. After months of encouraging children to borrow books from the library, only to see their initial enthusiasm give way to apathy, I finally discovered the problem. Those western reading books, despite their bright covers and illustrations, held no relevance for the children. Their stories of ice cream, snowmen, fireworks, and Santa Claus might as well have been written in a foreign language. They were not mirrors reflecting the children’s own experiences of growing up in a small West African village with limited access to electricity and an unreliable water supply, and they couldn’t act as doors to new worlds either, as the children lacked the information keys to unlock those worlds. It wasn’t until I sought out books written by West African writers which featured children growing up in villages like Nkambe, that the library really took off. Children flocked to borrow stories by Chinua Achebe, Mabel Segun and Kola Onadipe featuring characters just like themselves, and their reading abilities began to gradually improve.

Cameroon Library - Victoria Williamson

That was when I first began to understand the power of diverse books. Looking back I realised the stories I’d loved as a child had been dominated by white, middle class, able-bodied characters, which were not representative of the children from the many diverse backgrounds with various special needs that I was teaching as an adult. This had resulted in me recreating the ‘standard’ characters in my own writing, and the stories often fell short of their potential due to the restrictions I placed on them without even realising it.

Travelling, teaching, and reading more widely led me to experiment with a far greater variety of characters in my own novels. The characters in The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle are composed of many voices. Caylin, a troubled twelve-year-old struggling with her mother’s alcohol addiction in a Glasgow council estate, and Reema, a Syrian Muslim refugee whose world has been turned upside down by war, were inspired by some of the children I have taught over the years.

No one is saying we shouldn’t read the classic children’s books in schools – my own imaginative landscape would be infinitely poorer without the wonderful Enid Blyton, Narnia and Harry Potter books. But if the books in a classroom library act only as mirrors for one type of experience – often white, middle class, able-bodied and frequently male – then many children will not only find opaque glass where their mirrors should be, but the doors to new worlds locked and the keys missing.

As teachers we need to be aware that when selecting books to be read in our classrooms, we are choosing which children get to see reflections of themselves in heroic roles. We are also acting as the gatekeepers to exciting new worlds, and we need to ensure that some children are not denied access due to a lack of representation. Have a look right now at the books in your school library and the ones you plan to teach. Are there a wide range of experiences reflected in them? Do they invite all children to share the adventure? If they do then they’re not just books, but mirrors and doors for all of your children to explore literature together.

Victoria Williamson 1

Victoria Williamson is a primary school teacher with a Master’s degree in special needs education. She has worked as a science teacher and teacher trainer in Cameroon and Malawi, an English as a foreign language teacher in China, and as a special needs teacher in the UK.

Victoria has been writing fiction since she was a child, and now writes full time for Middle Grade and YA, with a particular focus on creating diverse characters reflecting the many cultural backgrounds and special needs she has encountered, both as a teacher and as a volunteer. Having worked with children in Africa, Asia and across the UK with additional support needs such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Down’s Syndrome, physical disabilities and behavioural problems, Victoria is passionate about creating inclusive worlds in her novels where all children can see a reflection of themselves in heroic roles.

Victoria’s experiences teaching young children in a school with many families seeking asylum inspired her debut novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, an uplifting tale of redemption and unlikely friendship between Glaswegian bully Caylin and Syrian refugee Reema. Twenty per cent of author royalties for ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’ are donated to the Scottish Refugee Council.

You can find Victoria on Twitter as @strangelymagic or on her website.


Giveaway!

Victoria has very kindly given me two copies of The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle complete with matching model toy (of fox or white gazelle!) to give away to two lucky winners!

If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning one of these copies of this superb book and complementing model toy, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!


Be sure to check out the other blog tour dates for The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle!

FoxGirlBlogTour1

Blog Tour: Review: You’re Safe with Me – Chitra Soundar (Illustrated by Poonam Mistry) & Guest Post – Chitra Soundar

You're Safe full cover

‘Words and illustrations that are repetitively rich in prose, palette and pattern make this not only a soothing story but also a spectacle for the senses… it’s like mindfulness for younger readers meets The Jungle Book.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: You’re Safe with Me
Author: Chitra Soundar (@csoundar)
Illustrator: Poonam Mistry (@pmistryartist)
Publisher: Lantana Publishing (@lantanapub)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 3rd May 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911373292

Perfect for Reception, Year 1, Year 2 & Year 3.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Soothing 😊
2. Striking 😍
3. Spectacle 🌄


When the moon rises high and the stars twinkle, it is bedtime for the baby animals of the Indian forest. But tonight, when the skies turn dark and the night grows stormy, the little ones can’t sleep. SWISH-SWISH! CRACK-TRACK! FLASH-SNAP! goes the storm. Only Mama Elephant with her words of wisdom can reassure them. “You’re safe with me.”


The first line(s):

When the moon rose high and the stars twinkled, it was bedtime for baby animals. But that night, when the skies turned dark and the night grew stormy, the little ones couldn’t sleep.


Review:

Youre-Safe-with-Me-promo-spread-1-e1507810611364-2The dark; the crack of a thunderstorm; the flash of lightning, the gust of the wind and the rush of the river will never be seen in the same way again after reading You’re Safe With Me. As the animals settle down for bedtime, the little ones find they cannot get off to sleep due to the strange noises around them and so it is only the words of wisdom whispered from Mama Elephant that can allay their deepest fears and hopefully help them to feel worry-free and drifting off in to the land of dreams.

The jungle landscape is so beautifully imagined through Poonam’s authentic, striking and tribal-traditional inspired illustrations that it makes this a complete spectacle for the senses. Weaved in so wonderfully and distinctively amongst Chitra’s words, they help to ensure it becomes a story that will stay long in the minds of its readers. Repetitively rich in prose, palette and pattern whilst echoing all the natural, earthy sounds and sights of the Indian forest, it’s like mindfulness for younger readers meets The Jungle Book.

Youre-Safe-With-Me-promo-spread-3-e1507810659146-2With inclusions of animals that young children will be both familiar and unfamiliar with (a little monkey, a tiger cub, a loris and even a pangolin to name a few!) it’s the perfect introduction to the marvellously diverse wildlife that inhabits the tops of the trees and the floors of the forest.

Full of splendour, this is really a book that offers more with every turn of the page. Memories will no doubt be made reading this book; making this most definitely a story to share. A book that will captivate, comfort and calm children enough to send them soundly to sleep, in the best possible way and the way in which it was originally desired!

As if written as an ode to mother nature and seemingly alluding to one of life’s greatest morals and messages: knowledge is power. With a more reasoned understanding of the unknown, a different perspective can be thought about things. If children can choose to be passionately curious about the world around them rather than approach it with trepidation, the sense of fear becomes almost fought off and faced with a feeling of familiarity and fascination and ultimately fear becomes fearless.

Lantana should be really proud of this book belonging to their catalogue and as such, they are really making themselves one of the publishers to watch in 2018.

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‘Words and illustrations that are repetitively rich in prose, palette and pattern make this not only a soothing story but also a spectacle for the senses… it’s like mindfulness for younger readers meets The Jungle Book.’


Big thanks to Katrina at Lantana Publishing for sending me a copy of this beautiful book and HUGE thanks to Chitra for inviting me to take part in her You’re Safe with Me blog tour!

You’re Safe with Me is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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Today I am also delighted to welcome author of You’re Safe With MeChitra Soundar to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher readers about exploring fear, facing the unknown and how this has been used to inspire the creation of You’re Safe With Me!

We all fear things. As teachers, parents and citizens of this world, we fear natural disasters, the neighbour’s annual summer barbecue and maybe the next Ofsted visit.

Often fear comes from the anticipation of facing the unknown. The creaking door is terrifying until you see who’s visiting. We anticipate and worry about things that might harm us because it’s unfamiliar and unknown to us.

A child that’s still discovering the world cannot and should not live in this fear. Because pretty much everything around him or her is new, unfamiliar and the unknown. Their fear comes from what they are often told rather than what they have learnt first-hand. “Don’t touch the fire, it will burn your fingers.”  “Don’t walk backwards on an escalator, it terrifies me.”

As a 6 year old I’ve had first hand experiences of the thunderstorms and floods. Until I understood the fisherman’s forecast on the radio and figured out what a tropical storm was, it terrified me at night. It’s relentless downpour, the water-clogged streets, the power-cuts and the winds that pulled down trees – I feared the storms until I understood them.

As a storyteller, I realised that this fear of the unknown can only be tackled by knowledge. Understanding and interpreting the unfamiliar things makes us accept and respect the things we fear.

You’re Safe With Me is a story that shows you another perspective of a natural force that seems destructive. Are thunderstorms destructive or are they just a natural phenomenon? Can we live without rain and wind? Can we live without the rivers that swell in the floods? Can we avoid the lightning flashes?

So I decided to explain them and reinterpret them. A lightning shattering into stars might not be a scientific fact. But in my imagination that’s what happens. I can hear the groan of the clouds as she carries water and I thank the winds that bring seeds from faraway lands.

My hope is that children enjoy the story and revel in the fabulous illustrations. Then perhaps they would attempt to interpret things they fear using their imagination. How about the dark? What about the volcanoes? Are they afraid of a blizzard? Can they explain how these came to be? Or what they become after they have ravaged the land?Their active imaginations will not only find compassion for the elements they fear, but also find poetry in those moments. And there, your job as a teacher is done. You’ve shown them the way and they’d embrace the journey into life with imagination and empathy.

Chitra Soundar, author of You’re Safe with Me

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Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer and storyteller. She is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India, its diverse culture and its natural beauty. She has over 30 books in print worldwide and has been published by Otter-Barry Books, Walker Books and Red Robin Books.

You're Safe With Me blog tour announcement

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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Blog Tour: Review: Planet Stan – Elaine Wickson (Illustrated by Chris Judge) & Guest Post: Infographic: A visual representation of information or data, as a chart, diagram or image – Elaine Wickson

‘A highly entertaining ad-VENN-ture that’s loveably BAR-my with hilarity, humour and hap-PIE-ness in all the right places… surely making it a serious (or should I say, not-so-serious!!!) contender for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) 2018.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Planet Stan
Poets: Elaine Wickson (@elainewickson)
Illustrator: Chris Judge (chrisjudge)
Publisher: OUP Oxford Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 5th April 2018
Series status: First in a series of 3!
ISBN: 978-0192759047

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Hilarious 😁
2. Out-of-this-world 🌍
3. Chart-tastic! 📊


SOMETIMES the only way to make any sense of my life is to put it all into charts and diagrams . . . BUT even that just makes me realize how far away from normal my family is, especially my little brother Fred!

I hope that you’ll find some useful survival tips in this book, but if not, then at least it’ll cheer you up to know your life is considerably less chaotic than mine!


The first line(s):
Mum! Fred’s been keeping snails under my bed again…
They say we’re all made of stardust.’


Review:
Welcome to Stan’s universe! As the first line suggests, Stan’s life is anything but usual. With a younger brother, Fred – who Mum describes as an ‘effervescent force’ – leaving snails under Stan’s bed and ladybirds in his lunchbox; squeezing toothpaste in his slippers; licking all the crisps; chucking Stan’s pants out the window and cutting holes in his favourite T-shirt AND that’s not all as the list could go on and on and on… you can see why Stan often finds himself in quite a predicament.

To help make some sort of sense of it, Stan uses a mix of charts, diagrams and infographics to explain everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Ranging from a ‘cross-section of [his] younger bruv’s brain’ to a Venn diagram of the ‘common (or should I say not-so-common) multiples’ between him and his out-of-this-world brother, and even his ‘My General State of Mind’ sliding scale on each page.

For as long as he can remember (and as long as he can remember asking Mum for one!), Stan has wanted a telescope because he loves everything space. Just as Stan is obsessed with space, Fred adores dinosaurs. In his case, one particular dinosaur exhibit at the museum named Rory who is not only part of Camford Museum’s history but is also part of the residents’ own history as he’s long been there since they were growing up. However unfortunately for Fred, he hears news that dearly-loved Rory’s skeleton is going to be removed from the museum sending him in to meltdown…

Whilst Stan tries his best to look after Fred and lift his spirits AND keep his group of equally disorderly friends on task with their entry for the science competition with first prize being THAT telescope, both his and Rory’s passions in life force the two of them to work together. But will Stan complete Operation SWAT (Stanley Wins a Telescope) in time? And does he end up feeling ‘Over the moon’ or in a ‘Black Hole of Doom’?

Sprinkled with fantastical space facts aplenty with Stan providing a social commentary far beyond his years and reminiscent of a young Sheldon Cooper, it’s a maths, science and infographic fan’s dream of a read. As it’s more than just a read. Elaine, with the help of illustrator Chris Judge’s larger-than-life infographics, really shows the power of how applying infographics in a inventive and innovative way can convey and tell a story just as well as and at times even more fitting than words could possibly hope to achieve. Further to this, Planet Stan could be used in school as a different and light-hearted way in to introducing data handling involving bar charts, pie charts and Venn diagrams to children.

This is a highly entertaining ad-VENN-ture that’s loveably BAR-my with hilarity, humour and hap-PIE-ness in all the right places… surely making it a serious (or should I say, not-so-serious!!!) contender for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) 2018.

It also shows how sibling rivalry can turn in to the best kind of brotherly love; the importance, inspiration and sense of awe and wonder that museums can hold for children and adults; and finding out that we have far more in common with each other, even when it can sometimes first seem like we don’t have much at all. And also one of life’s most (ahem!) important lessons. If all else fails, make sure you have cake. Cake-on-a-stick!

‘A highly entertaining ad-VENN-ture that’s loveably BAR-my with hilarity, humour and hap-PIE-ness in all the right places… surely making it a serious (or should I say, not-so-serious!!!) contender for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) 2018.’

HUGE thanks to Elaine for writing such a super guest post about the power of infographics!

Big thanks also to Hannah Penny at OUP Children’s Books for sending me a copy of this beautiful book and inviting me to take part in Planet Stan’s blog tour!

Planet Stan is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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Today I am also very fortunate in that I am delighted to welcome Elaine Wickson to The Reader TeacherHere, she shares with The Reader Teacher readers all about the infographic and shares some of her very own that’s she made about herself, which are guaranteed to make you chuckle! She explores their history right back to 1801 and also explains what Florence Nightingale had to do with pie charts.

Infographic: A visual representation of information or data, as a chart, diagram or image”.

What with Twitface, 500 telly channels, and phones for hands, it’s not hard to see why eye-catching infographics have become so widespread – they are perfect for short attention spans.

‘Infographic’ sounds like a word from our internet era, but it’s been in use since the 1960s, and an idea much earlier than that. William Playfair invented the pie chart in 1801, but look what Florence Nightingale did with it – she turned it into a rose chart (also known as a coxcomb), to show parliament they needed to sort out army hygiene.

Florence Nightingale Rose Chart

There are infographics all around us, like the London Underground map, and Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness. Take your pick from Quick Facts About Mars, Unravelling Death in Game of Thrones, or Tracking a Book from Idea to Completion. You can even relive the ENTIRE story of Star Wars Episode IV – dazzling, but it may result in “scrolling-wheel finger”.

I’m sure there’s a sciencey explanation as to why we process visual stuff more easily, after all pictures can speak a thousand words (although obviously it depends on the words).

Stanley Fox uses all kinds of infographics in Planet Stan, such as a Periodic Table to remind him what ‘elements’ his brother is made from, or a Lego Death Star Impact Chart which actually explains meteorite craters.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some infographics about me!

 

I love pictures with stories – my eyes can’t wait to reach them as I scan the text. I have such fond memories of laughing at The Bash Street Kids in buzzy-bee summer hols; scrutinising panels of a fairy-tale comic book that belonged to my Mum; and losing hours with a just-right sunbeam and my 1001 Questions and Answers book (non-fiction is not just for Christmas). Also picture books. Sigh. Why do adults give up picture books?

My infographics are cheeky. They look like pictures, but squeeze in extra bits of story. Like the pie chart to describe someone’s character, or the recipes for disaster likely to befall you when out with a younger sibling.

So, if you were looking for a more sciencey explanation about the visuals lowdown – here’s an infographic about infographics: https://neomam.com/interactive/13reasons/

And if you want to fall down an infographic rabbit hole, take your pick from:

Elaine Wickson, author of Planet Stan

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Elaine Wickson writes stories in a Plotting Shed at the bottom of the garden, surrounded by foxes and fairy doors and more woodlice than she’s comfortable with. When not writing, she loves gazing at stars, trees, and books, preferably whilst eating cheese.
Planet Stan is the first in a series, about a boy who charts his life through infographics.

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