Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post – Why I wrote about the child of an alcoholic in Will You Catch Me?): Will You Catch Me? – Jane Elson

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‘Jane’s writing exudes empathy where history and heart combine to make this story one that you should hold so close to your heart.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Will You Catch Me?
Author: Jane Elson (@JJELSON35)
Publisher: Hachette (@HachetteKids)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 9th August 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1444927788

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Heart 💓
2. Drink 🍷
3. History 👑


Most kids want adventures.
I just want normal.

Nell Hobs lives with a tortoise, two guinea pigs, two goldfish, two gerbils, a hamster and an assortment of beasts and bugs living in jam jars on her windowsill. She is proud to be the only naturalist on the Beckham Estate.

Caring for her family of animals is a good distraction from caring for her mum. But Nell knows her chaotic life can’t continue as it is. Nell needs a dad. So she hatches a plan with her best friend Michael: a way to make her dad step forward and catch her. But will she succeed?


Review: 

I have so much to say about this unforgettable, powerful and poignantly-written book. For many who read this book it will provide an insight in to a hidden problem. A hidden problem that children face today in our classrooms, our schools and our lives. But for some, this will be their lives. The life they’ve had to live, they’ve had to endure and for those, I hope this book is a kind of tribute to the suffering they have had to face as it acts as a stark reminder to everyone to be kind, compassionate and thoughtful to each other because sometimes we do not know the battles that other people are fighting.

As we are introduced to Nell Hobs who lives on the Beckham Estate, we discover that she is ever the natural naturalist who can’t help but adopt more animals to her mini-zoo that gets bigger each and every week with a new and additional animal appearing. But not only does she live with her mini-menagerie of animals but she lives with her mother. A mother who at first appears to be wanting to do all she can to please Nell that is until the ‘demon drink’ takes over. She’s an alcoholic. In a life surrounded by her mother’s empty promises, a home life that is way more erratic than anybody could imagine and the ever-present worry of her mother relapsing mean that Nell’s mental health is a constant source of agony and – rarely ever, ecstasy. For, whenever it is a feeling of happiness it’s nearly always short-lived and dripping with false hope.

This is why Nell starts out on her quest of soul-searching. She needs a dad. She needs some kind of stability. Someone to sort this mess out and someone to be her state of normal. But will she find the person that can catch her when she needs it most?

As she tries hard to balance school – of which with her chaotic life, she can’t help but always arrive late to – with bringing herself up, Nell takes some sort of solace in the community around her. Without her extended family, her neighbours and two teachers who are the shining light of Nell’s life, Nell would not be Nell. These people are her life; her crumbs of comfort, her lifeblood and when living with her mother becomes all too much: her escape route.

Then someone else comes in to her life. Unexpectedly at first, yet the more she appears, the more welcome she is. For that person is Nell Gwyn. Introduced at first by her history teacher, Nell’s namesake soon becomes the honorary ancestor and ally that she has been craving. Guiding her through her life, her imaginary historical friend is her inspiration. Can Nell help Nell on her journey to finding her father…? Readers will be in awe of the real-life accounts and pursuits of Nell Gwyn and will be itching to research her life after reading this.

Will You Catch Me? captured my heart in the same way that Nell Gwyn captured Nell Hobs. With heaps of heart and a story of history that also needs to be told, it gets better and more emotionally investing with every chapter. This is frank, real storytelling with perceptive and innocently acute observations that have the power to make you think differently. I don’t think you’ll realise quite how much this book has such an effect on you, it’s a life lesson. Such a carefully-considered concept for a children’s book that could only be delivered with the writing wisdom of Jane. Her writing exudes empathy and she establishes herself as an author that all readers should be aware of. For this is another of Jane’s beautiful books that you should hold close to your heart because like me, your heart will ache with feeling after reading it.

‘Jane’s writing exudes empathy where history and heart combine to make this story one that you should hold so close to your heart.’


Great Big Hill of Hope:
Why I wrote about the child of an alcoholic in Will You Catch Me?

In this, the first blog of my tour to mark Children of Alcoholics week, I felt it important to say why I wrote my children’s book, Will You Catch Me?

When I first said that I was going to write a middle grade novel about eleven-year-old Nell Hobs whose mother is an alcoholic people were taken aback. But then the headlines started to hit the media. Every Week there were news stories about the statistic that 2.6 million children in this country are affected by a parent’s drinking.

IMG_4388.JPGJournalist, Camilla Tominey’s Sunday Express headline ‘My Mummy Is Drunk Please Read To Me’ broke my heart, brought back buried memories and made me determined to give a voice to these children. My editor at Hodder Children’s Books, Naomi Greenwood, agent Jodie Hodges and her assistant Emily Talbot gave me their blessing and supported me throughout.

Will You Catch Me? is my oldest story, a little itch in my imagination that just wouldn’t go away. I had a recurring image of a young girl, running home from school and seeing her mother, an alcohol addict, carried out from their flat on a stretcher, people standing around watching and as she ran and ran and tried to reach her mum, everything going into slow motion.  In my mind the 4 Non Blondes song, ‘What’s Up’ was playing. The lyrics ‘Trying to get up that great big hill of hope / for a destination / I realized quickly when I knew I should / that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man’ were so relevant to this scene that looped in my mind.

The words – ‘Brotherhood of Man’ – the community which would be so vital to this little girl. Without which she would have nothing.

Fast forward many years, I switched on the television and Calum Best was talking movingly on the Lorraine show about his father George Best and the charity Nacoa – The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics – of which he is patron.  As the statistics rolled out that one in five children have a parent who drinks too much and that a 100 teenagers a day are made homeless due to having a parent who is alcohol dependent, my childhood came flooding back. My dad was a heavy drinker with a terrible temper. I grew up a very anxious, nervous little girl. One strand of the story was set.

I have always had a fascination with, and felt a connection to Nell Gwyn, the 17th century celebrity actress. In my late teens I worked as an usherette in Drury Lane where 320 years before Nell Gwyn had done the same job – they sold oranges then rather than half melted ice creams, so they were known as the Orange Girls. I discovered that Nell Gwyn’s mother was an alcoholic and that she did not know her father. Nell Gwyn was the perfect guardian angel for my modern day Nell, the protagonist of  Will You Catch Me? – whose mum is also an alcoholic.

Writing Will You Catch Me? was the most extraordinarily immersive experience of my life. In fact, I had an operation half way through writing it, and when I came too from the anaesthetic I woke up in the world of my book and was nattering on about Nell Gwyn. It took the nurses ages to get me fully awake.

As I worked day and night on Will You Catch Me? I visualised myself finishing Nell’s story and contacting Nacoa to tell them about my book. It was my light at the end of the tunnel.

I did not realize what a bright light in my life Nacoa would be. They are a group of truly amazing, passionate and strong people. Hilary Henriques MBE who is the CEO of Nacoa welcomed me with open arms and made me part of the Nacoa family. She is a tower of strength and an inspiration.  When I visited Nacoa’s headquarters in Bristol I was particularly moved by the telephone booths from which they run their children of alcoholics help line. Real children, in similar situations to Nell, or to younger me, can ring Nacoa at any time, in confidence, to get advice or just talk. After that visit I knew that Will You Catch Me? would be the most important story I have ever told.

The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk

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Jane Elson, author of Will You Catch Me?

 


Big thanks to Jane, Fritha and all at Hachette for inviting me to take part in the Will You Catch Me? blog tour.

Extra thanks to Jane for writing her incredibly insightful guest post!

Mr E


 

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Be sure to check out the rest of the Will You Catch Me? blog tour with more exclusive guest posts, reviews and giveaways discussing this much-needed issue.

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUICKFIRE

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

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

Extra thanks to Sinéad for her brilliant interview!

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

 Mr E 

 

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Amazing – Steve Antony

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‘A shining light in children’s literature… cleverly written, incredibly heartwarming and AMAZING. Pun intended. Amazing is the ultimate celebration of childhood.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Amazing
Author: Steve Antony (@MrSteveAntony)
Publisher: Hachette/Hodder (@HachetteKids)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 24th January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1444944709

Perfect for Reception, Year 1, Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Amazing 😊
2. Dragon 🐉
3. Friendship 🌟


A little boy and his pet dragon are the very best of friends.

They laugh, they sing, they dance, they snooze.

They are both amazing – just like everyone else!


Review:

The unlikeliest friendships are often the ones with the most to share and to value. And this is no truer than in the opening pages of this beautifully heartwarming story as we are introduced to this bond between man and beast boy and pet dragon.

As Zibbo, the pet dragon, is taught how to fly by the boy and together they do most things, the boy finds that the dragon teaches him just as much as he can teach Zibbo. As the bond between them grows stronger, it is easy to see that this friendship will resonate most with its readers.

Laughing and learning, singing and sailing, dancing and drawing, snacking and snoozing are just some of the many things that these two share together. But it is more than just hobbies, interests and having fun that develops for this pair throughout this tender tale.

Inspired by Steve’s time working as a Special Needs Support Worker, Amazing tells the story of a disabled boy who is not defined by his disability. Complemented by Steve’s characterful and glowing illustrations, it evokes feelings of positivity, hope and inclusiveness which shine from its pages within where barriers are broken. This is a shining light in children’s literature that is forward-looking and represents realities in a way that makes it a definite must-read in the classroom, the school, the library and everywhere in between.

To end, I’ll leave you with its lasting message in its latter pages that can be applied to nearly all situations:

When we’re together, I know that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

An absolute delight… the text and refrain together with its illustrations work beautifully in encouraging readers to celebrate and share the joys and everyday discoveries that life brings and promoting the perspective that we are all special, unique and amazing in our own way.

Cleverly written, incredibly heartwarming and AMAZING. Pun intended… Amazing is the ultimate celebration of childhood.


I’m utterly delighted to have Steve Antony, author of Amazing, join us on The Reader Teacher today on publication day with this extra-special and fitting guest post where he shares his experiences and love for school libraries and how significant and vital school librarians are and how teachers continue to inspire him…

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The school library, my experiences and how school librarians and teachers continue to inspire me

I remember my school library well. At least once a week Miss Holcomb would treat us to a story time session. Cross-legged, we sat comfortably on the soft carpeted floor, watched and listened. This was back when I lived in the States, and so authors and Illustrators like Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein and Margaret Wise Brown were regular fixtures at story time. I particularly liked Silverstein’s whimsical, sometimes poignant but always thought-provoking, stories. To this day The Giving Tree remains a firm favourite of mine.

But Miss Holcomb didn’t just read us stories. She also based fun and creative activities on them, too. She taught us that books are so much more than ink on paper.

I liken opening a book to opening a door that can lead to places you’ve never been before and people you’ve never met before. They can take you places where just about anything is possible. A school library houses hundreds of these little doorways, and each and every school pupil harnesses the key to unlock whichever door they choose. If they open a door to somewhere, they don’t really like, then they can simply close it and open a new door.

I enjoyed opening and closing lots of doors in my school library, especially picture book doors, but our library wasn’t just a home of books. It was a space for fun and imaginative play, too. The one thing I remember most about that library is how colourful it was. There were drawings on the walls and cheerful murals and multi-coloured paper chains. It was joyous.

I was a fairly shy child, so my school library was somewhere I could retreat to when I just needed some time on my own. It gave me the freedom and space to just be. More importantly, it gave me the freedom and space to grow.

As a teenager I was sometimes taunted in the school playground. I hated my first few months at high school. It was a tough time for me, and if not for the school library I would’ve probably wanted to drop out of high school altogether. Eventually I grew strong enough to face the cafeteria, but for a good few months I spent lunchtime in the library. The high school librarian will never know how much she helped me.

Now as a published author and illustrator I have the privilege of visiting school libraries up and down the UK and beyond. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many lovely school librarians from Swindon to Turin to New York and Taipei.

In February of last year, I visited the European School in Taipei during my book tour of Taiwan. I held two story building workshops in their spacious library which was freshly decorated with brightly colourful paper ‘Mr Panda’ doughnuts. They had a wonderfully diverse array of books that included titles from every corner of the globe. I had with me George the Swindon Library Bear much to the delight of the school librarians. As Patron of Swindon Libraries Children’s Services, I’m obliged to take George wherever I tour. (Once I accidentally left him in Manchester Central Library. Luckily a librarian spotted him sleeping on a shelf and kindly sent him back to me.) The European School Library was huge, but school libraries don’t have to be big to be effective.

Recently I had the honour of opening a school library at Lethbridge Primary School here in my hometown of Swindon, which already contains more than 2,000 books of all kinds for the children to read in their lunch breaks. Before it opened, the school only had book cases in each classroom, with no dedicated area for children to sit and read in peace. It was the PTA that managed to raise £10,000 to turn what was once a storage cupboard into resource filled with books. The children were all so thrilled to finally have their very own library, and the local newspaper were all too pleased to cover the story and photograph the long-awaited cutting of the ribbon.

Also in my hometown, the librarians of eleven secondary schools annually co-ordinate the Swindon Youth Festival of Literature. The festival is a vibrant celebration of reading, writing and creativity. During the festival, pupils work with authors, poets, illustrators and storytellers who visit schools for performances and workshops. Last year their line-up included the likes of Steve Cole, Dave Cousins, Ali Sparkes and Jonathan Meres. I had the honour of judging an illustration contest in which pupils were asked to visually interpret an extract from Carnegie winning Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean. Isn’t this just an excellent example of how books can be used to spark imagination and encourage self-expression?

Teachers and school librarians continually impress and inspire me with how they imaginatively use books, including my picture books, as tools for creativity. It’s hard to believe that my first picture book was published almost five years ago. In that time, I’ve compiled a growing list of activities on my website, most of which were devised by teachers and school librarians. The activities range from transforming your reading corner into a jungle to taking a virtual tour of London.

One of my favourite activities is to reimagine The Queen’s Hat (or Handbag, Present or Lift-off) by setting the story in your school or hometown. I have to thank Ramsey Junior School in Cambridgeshire for sharing this ingenious idea. The teacher simply created a small booklet of blank pages. The cover of the booklet read The Queens *BLANK*. The back featured my synopsis but with key words cleverly omitted so that pupils could use their imagination to fill in the blanks with things like GOLDEN POTS, NINJA MONKEY, SPITFIRE, HELICOPTER, CHEEKY HORSE and GOLDEN BANANA. The story is so easy to reimagine, because the plot is essentially a chase passed famous landmarks.

Miss Holcomb was absolutely right, books are so much more than ink on paper. They can spark the imagination and allow us to discover a world of knowledge, open our eyes and enrich our minds.

Sadly, many schools don’t have a Miss Holcomb. Only recently I visited a school whose teachers were fighting to keep their library open. Surely all children should receive the benefits a school library can provide?

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This is why the ‘Great School Libraries’ campaign, which was launched last September, is so important. The ‘Great School Libraries’ campaign (sponsored by Peters) is a collaboration between CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) CILIP School Library Group and the School Library Association. The campaign not only aims to bring school libraries and librarians back to every school in the UK, but also to gather data on the quality and quantity of school libraries that already exist. Believe it or not, school libraries are not statutory. The video below illustrates why libraries and library staff are more essential than ever in the 21st century.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ3b2-9dbb4

One of the simplest things you can do to help support this great campaign is share this the video along with the hashtag #GreatSchooLibraries. The campaign are also collating case studies to exemplify the importance and effectiveness of school libraries. For more information, please visit greatschoollibraries.edublogs.org.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank school librarians and teachers for all that you do. You are amazing.


Big thanks to Steve, Alison and all at Hachette/Hodder for inviting me to share my thoughts on this truly heartwarming book and for providing me with an advance copy! Extra thanks to Steve for his superb guest post!

 Mr E 


Amazing is now available to order online or from any good independent bookshop.


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Be sure to check out the rest of the #AmazingBlogTour with exclusive guest posts galore from Steve and reviews!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Truth About Martians – Melissa D. Savage (Illustrated by Daron Parton)

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‘Like a middle-grade ET crossed with a hint of Stranger Things… this is a science-fiction story of strength as much as the grapples of grief.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Truth About Martians
Author: Melissa D. Savage (@melissadsavage)
Illustrator (Cover): Daron Parton (Website)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 3rd January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911490821

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Spaceship 👽
2. Friendship 🤝
3. Loss 😟


Mylo knows there’s no such thing as Martians – at least, until a flying saucer crash-lands next to his family’s New Mexico farm. And then he starts to hear the voice, like someone’s trying to communicate with him, asking for help. Desperate to be as brave as his older brother Obie – who passed away over a year ago – Mylo has to investigate the crash. Along the way, he ends up discovering more about the universe than he ever could have imagined.


Review: 

Set in the rural heartlands of south-western America (some references may need explaining to younger readers) and based on the real-life events and conspiracy theories of 1947 when a ‘UFO’ was initially thought to have crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico, The Truth About Martians is a science-fiction story of strength as much as sorrow and sensitivity and the grapples of grief.

Shining a light on an event not known by everyone – and probably not by most of its readership – and covering just over three months between July 4, 1947 – 11:53 p.m. and October 6, 1947 – 6:15 a.m., the story starts with main character Mylo and his best friend Dibs staying over for the night. Since Dibs’ mother left, Mylo’s mom has become almost a surrogate mother for him (which is not surprising considering the quality and quantity of baked goods and sweet treats she makes for the boys!). Throughout the start of the story, we begin to understand that Milo is coming to terms with the loss of his older brother Obie and in turn, we realise that Dibs is slowly becoming the almost-brother that Mylo lost. Friendships are the glue of this story.

As the night sky flashes green and loud bangs are heard which in turn sends Dibs’ overactive imagination in to overdrive, the boys think they’re in with the chance of an alien encounter. Even Mylo who’s never believed in aliens…

The saying goes that curiosity killed the cat but it doesn’t kill these children’s desire to investigate further and so Mylo and his friends set out on an adventure to discover more about the newly-arrived Martians and their mothership. What they don’t know yet is that their discoveries may be more than they could possibly ever imagine.

Drawing on her background and experiences as a child and family therapist, I’ve been a big fan of Melissa’s honest, frank and touching writing style in her previous books – most notably with Bigfoot, Tobin and Me – and long may this continue.

Like a middle-grade ET crossed with a hint of Stranger Things, this is one that should definitely have been included in this year’s space-themed ‘Space Chase’ Summer Reading Challenge collection.



Inspiration for The Truth About Martians

There are many things that inspired me to write The Truth About Martians. One of them is my love of research and learning stories about our world’s history. One such story that has always intrigued me is the 1947 UFO crash outside of Roswell, New Mexico. Although the U.S. military has assured us it was nothing other than a military balloon, there are others who believe beyond a doubt that the crash was something extraterrestrial. Some even stating they saw the bodies of aliens at the crash site. Come on, who wouldn’t find this story intriguing? It has everything a captivating mystery needs to keep us talking about it. Even seventy-two years after the incident happened.

I spent a great deal of time learning about that time frame, the facts of the case, the stories from witnesses and about the atomic age. I visited the town and spoke with the people. I researched eye witness accounts and read sworn affidavits and deathbed confessions by ex-military personnel.  Additionally, I researched the children of that time. What was it like to live in 1947 as a preteen? What were their interests? What did they wear? What did they play? What did they aspire to do and to be? While this may not sound as exciting as the writing component of creating a story, for me, it’s one of my favorite parts of the process. I love doing research because it gives me so many ideas for the story itself – plot, character development, setting, themes, scenes and dialogue. I learned all about 1940’s baseball, the importance of Action Comics, I listened to many episodes of The Adventures of Superman radio program, and I even learned of this strange time called the atomic age which included children’s atomic games and a very special atomic ring kids sent in for with pennies and some Kix Cereal box tops. I have absolutely loved immersing myself in the tiny town of Corona just outside of Roswell, New Mexico at a time when life seemed much slower and maybe a bit more predictable in many ways.

Regarding the crash itself, I still haven’t decided quite yet what I think about it all. I’m a pretty skeptical person in general unless I see something with my own eyes. However, for me, I don’t need a definitive answer to write a story about it. I am a fiction writer. All I need are some amazing facts, and the story of Roswell is ripe with them. Those compelling facts are what inspired me to create a Roswell mystery of my own. Maybe one day we will learn for certain what really happened out in that desert. Until that time, there are plenty of unique and fascinating accounts. Which one is true remains to be seen, but I’m open to hearing each and every one of them.

Even the ones that take me all the way to the stars.

melissa savage colour (photo by jerri parness)
Melissa Savage


THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and melissadsavage.com

Follow Melissa Savage on Twitter: @melissadsavage


 

Big thanks to Laura Smythe, Melissa and all at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts on this out-of-this-world book as part of The Truth About Martians blog tour!

Extra thanks to Melissa for her guest post discussing her inspirations behind her book.

👽  Mr E  👽


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Truth About Martians blog tour with these wonderful book bloggers for more reviews and exclusive posts!

 

 

Review & Guest Post: The Boy Who Flew With Dragons – Andy Shepherd (Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)

To celebrate the publication of The Boy Who Flew With Dragons, I’m delighted to share with you my review, a guest post from author Andy Shepherd and some exclusive inside illustrations from Sara Ogilvie.

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‘Laugh out loud humour with a bond between a boy and a dragon that’s irresistible to read… this incredibly successful trilogy finishes on a huge high and has gone from strength to absolute strength.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Boy Who Flew With Dragons
Author: Andy Shepherd (@andyjshepherd)
Illustrator (Cover & Inside): Sara Ogilvie (Website)
Publisher: Piccadilly Press (@PiccadillyPress)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 10th January 2019
Series status: Third and final book in the The Boy Who Grew Dragons series
ISBN: 978-1848127357

Perfect for Year 2, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Dragons 🐉
2. Grandad 👴
3. Map 🗺️


We grow dragons.
Dragons that flicker, that frost, and some that fill the sky with fire.

We sit cross-legged round our dragon-fruit tree, waiting for our dragons to hatch.

But there’s something I need to tell you.

So keep listening, because you haven’t heard the whole story yet. And once you have, you might not be quite so quick to rush out and grow yourself a dragon…



Review: In the third and final book in The Boy Who Grew Dragons trilogy, it’s time to say goodbye to the dragons as we know them for Tomas yet Tomas can’t imagine life without his little dragon Flicker and neither can we. As Flicker and the other dragons grew in to Tomas and his friends’ lives, lived with them and as more dragons flew in to the pages of this series, they’ve become a part of our reading lives also as they’ve become more than pets and more like friends. However Tomas has a promise to Grandad to keep and he’s already delayed it more than he should…

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Superhero Squad – Sara Ogilvie (The Boy Who Flew With Dragons)

But that isn’t going to stop the dragons appearing at Lolli’s party and creating a scene with thirty-three nursery children. Neither is it going to stop them from making more madness at Halloween. However the dragons’ causing of chaos changes in to the find of the century when searching through Grandad’s things in the shed, Tomas discovers the most mysterious of maps and when Flicker breathes on the map, all is revealed – La Ciudad Oculta de los Dragones: The Hidden City of the Dragons.

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Floorboard – Sara Ogilvie (The Boy Who Flew With Dragons)

With a revelation this big, it means that Tomas is one step closer to working out where the dragons belong but there’s a slight problem before that in that he still has to work out how to get them to leave (oh, and tell his friends that the dragons have to go!). Can Tomas balance keeping his promise to Grandad, letting his friend in Flicker go and will the secrets of the city throw up more questions in answers and help Tomas to unearth the story of the mysterious dragonfruit tree that’s been nestled in Grandad’s garden for all this time…?

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Flicker and Tomas – Sara Ogilvie (The Boy Who Flew With Dragons)

I’m so pleased that Andy finishes the incredibly successful trilogy on a huge high and to see the series go from strength to absolute strength. Not since The Dreamsnatcher trilogy by Abi Elphinstone have I felt so invested in a series as good as this. Closing the end pages of this story, I could feel the tinkles behind the eyes but I could also feel the corners of my mouth transform in to the biggest of smiles because that’s what this series has been truly about. Laugh out loud humour with a bond between a boy and a dragon that’s irresistible to read… a series that will be read and re-read over and over again for years and generations to come.

 

I’m so delighted to see ‘The Boy Who Flew with Dragons’ finally flying into the world. It’s been a long time coming. This story started life as a picture book eight years ago. Since then it’s been through many forms as I rewrote it over and over, coming back to it again and again through the years. I have a 1000 word version, a 5000 word version, a 12000, 20000 and finally the 35000 word version I ended up writing just for my sons that actually got me interest from my publisher.

And now it has become three books! I’m so thankful to Piccadilly Press for giving me the opportunity and space to develop the story. It’s been fun and exciting to see storylines and characters grow. But at its heart the overall arc of the story remains the same. And it was huge fun and quite emotional to write this third book and see that finally paying off.

This is probably my favourite book, not least because it’s the culmination of a very long writing journey. I hope readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it! (Though I hope it doesn’t take them quite as long!)

Andy Shepherd

 

Big thanks to Andy, Sara, Georgia and all at Piccadilly Press for inviting me to share my thoughts on this fantastic series-ender and for providing these illustrations!

Extra thanks to Andy for her guest post sharing her thoughts on the final book and the whole series. It’s been an absolute pleasure to support this series and to see my name in the final’s book’s acknowledgements has made my year.

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🐉  Mr E 🐉


THE BOY WHO FLEW WITH DRAGONS by Andy Shepherd out now in paperback
(£6.99, Piccadilly Press)

Find out more at https://www.piccadillypress.co.uk/books/the-boy-who-flew-with-dragons/

and follow Andy Shepherd on Twitter @andyjshepherd



Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Our Castle by the Sea – Lucy Strange (Designed by Helen Crawford-White)

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‘Tinged with twists at each turn of the page… it reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.
With Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something very special.’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Our Castle by the Sea
Author: Lucy Strange (@theLucyStrange)
Designer (Cover & Inside): Helen Crawford-White (@studiohelen)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 3rd January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911077831

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Lighthouse💡
2. War 🛩️
3. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧


England is at war. Growing up in a lighthouse, twelve-year-old Pet’s world has been one of storms, secret tunnels and stories about sea monsters. But now the clifftops are a terrifying battleground, and her family is torn apart. This is the story of a girl who is small, afraid and unnoticed. A girl who freezes with fear at the enemy places ripping through the skies overhead. A girl who is somehow destined to become part of the strange, ancient legend of the Daughters of the Stone…


Review: Mystery, adventure and intrigue combine with characters you can’t help but care deeply about.

The prologue to this gripping narrative opens in 1931 where we are introduced to our protagonist Petra – small and so very young at this time – recounting her own experience of her father retelling her family an ol’ folktale of the Daughters of Stone. An ancient myth of monsters that according to Petra is ‘much, much more‘ than it appears to be told and she may be right in thinking this…

Flashing a little further forward to 1939, we find Petra having to increasingly partake in wartime rituals as the threat of invasion looms closer to the Kent coastline and the lighthouse where she lives. Camouflaging the lighthouse green, the event of evacuation and the wearing of ghastly gas masks are all described in the most emotionally-skilful of manners. From the realisation that the impending threat of war is just around the corner or rather, over the cliff face to the heart-wrenching moment that Petra’s parents realise they may have to lose her for the greater good, Our Castle by the Sea really will ensure that its readers see the impacts and consequences of war in a way that will resonate with them – both young and old. So much so that after reading this, the first thing I did was pass this on to my grandmother and grandfather, of whom he himself was evacuated from North London to Wales during World War Two.

For me, the storyline starts to really come into its own as Mutti, Petra’s mother becomes a source of suspicion due to the fact that she is German: this being a familial side to wartime historical fiction that is rarely covered in children’s literature. As sidewards glances and a sense of hostility is rising along with the emergence of family secrets and the shunning of her mother in public becoming more prevalent, Petra becomes only all too aware that her family could be falling apart at its very seams. This reaches a clattering crescendo when Mutti is taken away and forced to live imprisoned in exile in an internment camp.

The demons of doubt begin to forge deeper in Petra’s mind when newspaper headlines, government acts on treason and mysterious letters appear leaving Petra in a state of emotional turmoil. Seeing her gutsy sister, Mags – who for me, is one of the standout characters – and her father entangle themselves in a swathe of secrets of their very own, Petra has no-one to turn to but herself.

With a turn of phrase and a sense of metaphor that makes the most ordinary of feelings and emotions come wildly alive in the reader’s mind, Lucy achieves what all writers are wishing for: a long-lasting connection to their readers. A book that many – and certainly I – will not forget. If this is your first read of a novel by Lucy, I am sure that you’ll be returning to her for many more.

With its links to Dunkirk, Spitfires, Hurricanes and ration books, you may think this book is a typical tale of wartime experience however think again because with Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something else entirely and something very special indeed. Suspense and drama set against the backdrop of WWII tinged with twists at each turn of the page. It reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.


‘Tinged with twists at each turn of the page… it reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.
With Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something very special.’


Historical Fiction for Young Readers – Five of My Favourites
by Lucy Strange

Lucy Strange author pic 2017 (by Claudine Sinnett).jpgOne of the best things about writing historical fiction is that you are never working on a blank canvas: the chosen period provides a richly detailed background – the context for the powerful tale that will be depicted with brighter brushwork in the foreground. I love the challenge of weaving my own stories through a fabric of historical fact (if you’ll forgive the change of metaphor) – it adds layers of conflict and excitement to the narrative, especially when the historical period is already a tense and dangerous one.

My new novel, Our Castle by the Sea, is set at the beginning of the Second World War. There are, of course, already so many wonderful children’s books about this time (Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mr Tom, Blitzcat, The Book Thief, The Machine Gunners and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas to name just a few), but when a story presents itself as needing to be told, there is often very little a writer can do about it. This is how I felt when I first read about the British internment camps for ‘enemy aliens’, the tribunals and categorisation processes, and Churchill’s ‘Collar the Lot’ policy. My central character is twelve-year-old Petra Zimmerman Smith who lives in a lighthouse on the white cliffs of Kent with her unpredictable big sister, her English father and her German mother. When the war begins, and it becomes clear that there is a traitor in the village, the local community turns against Petra and her family, but can her beloved ‘mutti’ really be to blame?

I love reading historical fiction as well as writing it. I think the genre has so much to offer younger readers: the thrill of the past being suddenly and vividly present; the opportunity to explore lost and faded worlds through the eyes of sympathetic characters; the jolt of emotion when you realise that the story you are reading is based on something completely true. Here are some of my favourite recent additions to the canon of historical fiction for children and teenagers . . .

Beyond the Wall by Tanya Landman, 2017

After maiming her master, slave girl Cassia is forced to run away. Her only hope for freedom – and life itself – lies in the wild lands to the north, beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Landman’s 2015 novel Buffalo Soldier won the Carnegie Medal with a moving story of bravery set during the American Civil War. Her unique brand of original, fast-paced and visceral historical fiction frequently explores the darkest times of cruelty, violence, prejudice and powerlessness in human history. 

The Buried Crown by Ally Sherrick, 2018

Ally Sherrick’s historical fiction for children provides an accessible and entertaining portal into British history, venturing through realms of archaeology, espionage and political intrigue. The Buried Crown is a Second World War story about a young evacuee’s adventures as he attempts to save Anglo-Saxon treasure from the clutches of the Nazis. Sherrick’s 2016 novel Black Powder is a gripping, twisting tale based around the Gunpowder Plot and was the winner of the Historical Association Young Quills Award.

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll, 2018

This beautifully framed mystery takes us from 1920s London back to ancient Egypt – Secrets of a Sun King is a wonderfully thrilling adventure through time. I love Carroll’s books, particularly her gothic novel Strange Star inspired by the life of Mary Shelley, and her Second World War story Letters from the Lighthouse which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Dubbed ‘the Queen of Historical Fiction’, Carroll’s novels are a gift to teachers and a joy for bookworms.

Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, 2018

An established and highly respected children’s author, Gourlay has recently ventured into the genre of historical fiction with her stunning new novel Bone Talk. Shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, this moving coming-of-age tale takes place in the Philippines where Gourlay grew up. Set at the turn of the century, it explores sophisticated themes such as colonialism and identity, and seeks to redress the balance of Western-dominated narratives in historical fiction.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge, 2017

Frances Hardinge is a writer I hugely admire. By blending historical fiction with elements of magical realism and fantasy, she creates a genuinely extraordinary reading experience. A Skinful of Shadows is a strange, dark tale set during the English Civil War, but with the most brilliant supernatural twist. Hardinge’s brilliant 2015 novel The Lie Tree famously won the Costa Book Award. If you haven’t yet read a Frances Hardinge book, you have the most wonderful treat in store.


OUR CASTLE BY THE SEA by Lucy Strange out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com
and follow Lucy Strange on Twitter @theLucyStrange


Big thanks to Laura Smythe, Lucy and all at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts on this beautifully-written book as part of the Our Castle by the Sea blog tour!

Extra thanks to Lucy for her guest post highlighting five of her favourite children’s historical fiction novels that I think should be on everybody’s to-be-read (TBR) piles.

  Mr E 

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Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Vote for Effie – Laura Wood (Illustrated by Emma Trithart & Mirelle Ortega)

2019 looks like it is sure to be a big year for the United Kingdom what with the ever-present talk of Brexit, people’s vote and second referendums but I can also guarantee that 2019 will also be a big year for Laura Wood with her striking, new novel Vote for Effie. So it is with great pleasure that I kick off 2019 at The Reader Teacher with this review and guest post from Laura herself as part of the Vote for Effie blog tour!

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‘A revelation! A barrier-breaking book that’s about optimism as much as activism and one that definitely gets my vote… Vote for Effie deserves to be a HUGE hit!’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Vote for Effie
Author: Laura Wood (@lauraclarewood)
Illustrator (Cover): Emma Trithart (Instagram)
Illustrator (Inside): Mirelle Ortega (@moxvi_)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 3rd January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407187723

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Impassioned 📣
2. Rousing 😊
3. Campaign 🗳️


The last thing new girl Effie Kostas needs right now is to be running a high-stakes campaign for Student Council President against the most popular boy in school. But she’s not about to sit quietly by the face of great injustice – SO THE RACE IS ON.

With the help of a band of misfits, a whole lot of glitter glue and an angry parrot, can Effie defy the odds and win the election? And can one girl really make a difference?


Review: Feeling friendless and all alone at her new secondary school after starting mid-way through the year, Euphemia Kostas (‘actually pronounced “Yoo-fem-ia, by the way’) – known more preferably as Effie – finds little in the way of likemindedness or appreciation from her new peers: none of which seem as articulate, as determined or as welcoming as her.

Fear not however as this act of adversity is only a small bump in the road for Effie and does not stop her in her admirable pursuit of friend-finding but that’s not before she has a run-in with Aaron Davis who just happens to be the most popular boy in school… and unfortunately for Effie, he’s also the incumbent Student Council President. After arguing over the only thing Effie is currently enjoying in the school: the last piece of chocolate cake from the canteen, she recognises that Aaron is only in this enviable leadership position for the perks. Being a flagship example for fairness and with a social commentary with more insight and intuition than many adults could possess, Effie is soon on a one-girl mission to try to change this and put democracy back on the map and in to the heart of the school.


Starting with her four-point plan:

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Get the school to be greener and start a proper recycling campaign.
  2. Clubs for all: Make more funding available for people who want to start their own clubs and societies NOT JUST THE BOYS’ SPORTS TEAMS.
  3. No-one eats alone: Set up a buddy system so that no one feels left out. Introduce mentors for students so that they feel welcome and included.and my own personal favourite of course…
  4. We need libraries: Raise funds for new books and a proper librarian. Libraries aren’t a luxury, we need them.

With the help of an equally resilient and dynamic group of friends, Effie finds herself standing up for what she believes in and takes on Aaron at his own game – which is news to him – and many of the teachers and the school’s systems – as he’s been mostly unchallenged in previous years.

On the surface, this is a story with a premise that promises lots and I’m pleased to say that underneath it differs from that of some modern politicians’ promises in that it delivers a considerable amount too.

Laura has captured the earnest-yet-empowered, confidence-developing character and indomitable spirit of Effie perfectly as she lives with her family – which includes a loveably cheeky sister who could be another (although ever-so-slightly-different) Effie in waiting – and whose relationships with a supporting cast such as a young-at-heart next-door neighbour are a complete complement to its central character. A thoroughly modern Millicent… Effie is your new best friend, your new sister and your new triple threat of inspiration, idol and heroine all rolled in to one.

This is an absolute revelation! A barrier-breaking book that will gain a majority and inspire a generation by making you feel so energised, so enthusiastic and so eager to join Effie’s campaign that you will want to read it all in one sitting – just like I did. Impassioned, rousing & essential reading for rights… Vote for Effie deserves to be a HUGE hit. Vote with your feet – and hands! – and go and buy/borrow this wonderfully-written story: I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.


‘A revelation! A barrier-breaking book that’s about optimism as much as activism and one that definitely gets my vote… Vote for Effie deserves to be a HUGE hit!’


Celebrating young girls who are changing the world

Greta Thunberg

Writing this just before Christmas, I have recently been so inspired by fifteen-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. Between August and September, Greta protested every day outside parliament, demanding that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions.

In December, Greta addressed the COP24 United Nations climate change summit. She didn’t mince her words, saying, “you only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.”

One of the biggest things I wanted to address when writing Vote for Effie was the idea that young people, but especially girls are often told that they should be quiet. Boys might be called brave or assertive, where a girl is more likely to be called bossy or shrill. I think Greta is such a wonderful example of what can happen when girls speak up, and why we should all be listening to them.

You can watch Greta’s speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFkQSGyeCWg

Laura Wood

 


Big thanks to Harriet Dunlea, Laura and all at Scholastic for inviting me to share my thoughts on this powerful and passionately-written book as part of Vote for Effie blog tour!

Extra thanks to Laura for her guest post highlighting a real-life example of Effie’s character.

📣  Mr E  🗳️


Vote for Effie is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.


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Blog Tour (Guest Post & Giveaway!): Unicorn Girl – Anne-Marie Conway (Illustrated by Shannon Conway)

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Title: Unicorn Girl
Author: Anne-Marie Conway (@amconway_author)
Publisher: Eponine Press
Page count: 216
Date of publication: 31st October 2018
ISBN: 978-1916436305

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1.  Unicorns
2. Necklace
3. Magic


Today, I ‘m delighted to welcome best-selling children’s author and drama teacher Anne-Marie Conway to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher her exclusive guest post about why creativity and childhood experiences are ‘at the heart’ of the school workshops she does for new book Unicorn Girl.

I’m also incredibly pleased that Anne-Marie Conway and her team have given me TWO signed copies of Unicorn Girl and two unicorn charm necklaces to be given away with the books! Read on to find out more!

As a drama teacher, I know the power of the imagination and how important imaginary play is, whatever your age.

I began using creativity to deliver the curriculum very early on in my teaching career. In my first job as a general primary teacher, I quickly felt constrained by traditional teaching methods and began to take a more creative approach to what I did. I had a planning meeting every week with my parallel teacher and while she liked my ideas she didn’t always have the confidence to incorporate them into her lessons. In the end we came to an arrangement; she taught maths to my class and I taught literacy to hers.

Nowadays, of course, it’s harder for teachers to hide in the wings. With ‘Teacher in role’ as well as other drama techniques being part of the National Curriculum, educationists everywhere need to find ways of delivering it themselves.

I can’t imagine working any other way. I am currently doing author visits to support my new book, Unicorn Girl, and inspiring the students to think creatively is at the heart of what are proving to be popular workshops.

In the book, my heroine Ariella has recently moved house and school. She is smaller than everyone else, is being picked on by the school bully and is desperately worried about her baby brother, Boo, who was born with a hole in his heart. Enter Albert, a frightened and scruffy young unicorn foal who looks like he needs her help.

The story is about their journey together and is illustrated with beautiful black and white drawings that I use as the starting point for the workshops I do.

At the beginning of each school visit, I lay out three very large versions of these pictures; one from the start of the book where Ariella and Albert are unsure of themselves and each other; one from the middle of the book where they are gaining in confidence and one at the end where they have overcome the hurdles in their way. I don’t want to spell it out much more than this because I don’t want to spoil the story! But you get the idea. There is a narrative arc to this. The characters develop.

The pictures give the students a way of talking about the themes in the book, even if they haven’t read it yet. But to get them imaginatively involved, I ask them to choose the one image they like most and ‘graffiti’ onto it the words and phrases that come to mind. This process involves some pairing up, a lot of chatting and a great deal of walking round the pictures and deciding what to do. And that’s before they start practicing on different pieces of paper with coloured pencils to get exactly the right image, preparing to draw it one last time onto the final picture – no second chances.

The feedback so far has been fantastic. The walking around and freedom to be creative makes it easier for everyone to talk about what’s in front of them. Sometimes it gets noisy and messy but it’s never dull.

My passionate belief in using imagination to connect with children comes from personal experience.

When I was 13 years old, my father announced to the family, out of the blue, that in six weeks’ time we would be going to live in Israel. It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact the move had on me – leaving behind my friends, my school and everything that was familiar to start a new life somewhere where I didn’t speak the language or know a single person. I wondered if I would ever fit in or be happy again.

It’s perhaps no surprise then, that the main characters in my novels often find themselves living in a new area or starting a new school, just like Ariella. It’s a theme I come back to again and again, almost as if I’m still coming to terms with the trauma of moving all those years ago.

I remember, during those first few weeks in Israel, I developed a strange coping mechanism. I used to pretend I was in a movie. I would stand at the bus stop, waiting for the number 90 bus that would take me to my new school, and I would imagine a camera crew filming me for a ground-breaking documentary. I devised the script in my head: Anne-Marie is waiting for the number 90 bus that will take her to her new school. Steam rises from the boiling tarmac, the air around her filled with clouds of sandy dust.

I used to tell myself that when the filming was finished, I’d be going back to my old life and the nightmare would be over. Not only that, but I’d be a huge star. (And this was years before the concept of reality TV even existed.)

Ariella in Unicorn Girl escapes into her imagination too. I’ll leave you to decide exactly how, but Albert appears in her life shortly after her beloved Granny Rae dies.

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Illustration credit: Shannon Conway

Albert has fallen through an invisible barrier that separates the unicorn world from the human world and he has no idea how to get back. It was important to me, when I was writing the book, that Ariella would be instrumental in helping Albert, rather than Albert appearing solely to help Ariella. I wanted their relationship to sustain her, but ultimately empower her. Albert is trying to get back to his old world, but Ariella can’t go back. She has to find a way to fit in to her new world, however difficult that might be.

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Illustration credit: Shannon Conway

The journey they embark on is funny and touching and full of setbacks but on the way, almost without realising, they grow strong and brave and full of courage, until finally, they are able to scale the emotional, as well as physical hurdles in their way.

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Illustration credit: Shannon Conway

Pretending to star in my own movie helped me through some dark, lonely times, too. It helped me to navigate the new and unfamiliar world that was so alien to me, until, slowly, without even realising, the gap between observing my new life and living it, got smaller and smaller.

I don’t think my response to a distressing situation was unique, nor is Ariella’s. A lot of children retreat into an imaginary world to some degree. It is part of how they negotiate their way towards the adult world. This is where drama in the classroom can be so powerful. If children are already working through thoughts and fears in their imaginative worlds, teachers can connect with them quickly by meeting them on familiar ground. We need to have faith that if we meet children halfway, if we stretch out a hand, they will stretch theirs back to meet us.

In practical terms, for teachers, this can mean dressing up, getting into role, entering into the drama. As soon as you put on a hat, or a cloak, or change your voice, students believe. And there are plenty of techniques to help you guide and control this more creative approach to learning. I use a tambourine to signal what I expect from the group. A shake means; ‘Finish up, sit down, it’s time to share what we’ve been doing.’ A loud bang means; ‘Freeze’. It’s important to keep activities short so that the pace of the lesson moves along, and it’s useful to stop at regular intervals to make sure the children are focused and on task.

Although, in my experience, whilst the lessons might be more chaotic than the average maths lesson, there is nothing sweeter than the noise of children devising a piece of drama to enhance and deepen their learning.

The workshop I now do around Unicorn Girl has brought together so many strands of my life, it’s caught me by surprise. I use the content I’ve created as an author, the skills I use as a teacher and the insights of that young girl, finding herself vulnerable and alone in Israel.

I’m out of my comfort zone a lot of the time – learning new things with every visit. But one thing’s for sure…I’m never bored.

Unicorn Girl is available from Peter’s and good bookshops as well as on Amazon and Kindle. Anne-Marie Conway is currently booking school author visits for 2019.
For more information, please visit
www.annemarieconwaybooks.com


Big thanks to Anne-Marie and Michele for all your help in organising this stop on Anne-Marie’s blog tour and for providing the prizes for the giveaway. Extra thanks also to Anne-Marie for writing such an inspiring guest post, especially at this busy time of year!

Mr E


Giveaway!

 

So to celebrate the blog tour of Unicorn Girl, I am delighted to say that Anne-Marie has kindly given me TWO signed copies of her book to give away to one of my followers on Twitter along with two unicorn charm necklaces.
If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!


Blog Tour (Guest Post): Frostfire – Jamie Smith (Illustrated by Karl James Mountford)

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Title: Frostfire
Author: Jamie Smith (@JamieHBSmith)
Illustrator (Cover): Karl James Mountford (@karlj_mountford)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 1st November 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911077879

Perfect for Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1) Mountain 🏔️
2) Avalanche ❄️
3) Secrets 🤐


Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home.

In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths…


I’m delighted to welcome Jamie Smith, author of Frostfire, to The Reader Teacher where he shares his exclusive guest post talking about how he can push the boundaries of the fantasy genre and how this makes him think more innovatively about the way he builds his worlds…

Tolkien’s Legacy by Jamie Smith

For decades, the shadow of fantasy’s biggest name has loomed large. Only recently have others begun to chip away at the legend that Lord of the Rings built – and deservedly so. It’s a great world, with fantastic characters and plenty of original ideas! However, I can’t help but feel that the super success of the books has limited what fantasy can be for all too long. It doesn’t have to be elves and dwarves all the way down!

These concepts, along with the dark lord, orcs and countless others became the foundation for other mega-franchises and have stuck around ever since. You’ll never see an elf in my books. Not because they can’t be interesting, but because I’ve seen them so many times before. I’d rather build something new and personal to me than putting a new spin on someone else’s idea.

Fortunately, in recent years, it seems like a number of other authors are coming to agree with me. Names like Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Tomi Adeyemi and more. Every time I see something fresh, it inspires me to do better too – and the further the fantasy genre is pushed, the better. It’s a place where literally anything can happen, after all!

That’s why my book has a sentient glacier in it, and not a hint of a dark lord in sight.

I’m hoping that by expanding the worlds we tell these kinds of stories in, I and others can help break free of the weight of those writers that came before (while still using them for a leg up from time to time). That way, we don’t have the limits of medieval Europe constraining us, and we can be more inclusive with our characters. Even our world is full of places that are not stone castles and mild-weathered woodland, after all.

So, I do my best to fill my world with strange creatures, fantastic magic, heroes with strength of character and flaws to overcome, just like Tolkien did when he (practically) founded the genre.

I’ll just paint a different picture over the top while I do it.


FROSTFIRE by Jamie Smith,
out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com
and follow Jamie
@JamieHBSmith and jhbsmith.com


Frostfire blog tour banner

Look our for more reviews and guest posts from Jamie on the rest of the Frostfire blog tour from these brilliant book bloggers!

Guest Post: Picklewitch and Jack – Claire Barker (Illustrated by Teemu Juhani)

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‘Absolutely whizz-carking… the kind of charming story that has the perfect mix of playfulness and peculiarity and will have you begging for its next!’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Picklewitch and Jack
Author: Claire Barker (@clairebarker)
Illustrator: Teemu Juhani
Publisher: Faber (@FaberChildrens)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 6th September 2018
Series status: First in the series
ISBN: 978-0571335183

Perfect for Year 3 and Year 4.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Witch 🧙
2. Whizz-cracking 😄
3. Friendship 👫


Picklewitch lives in a tree at the bottom of the garden. She has a nose for naughtiness, a mind for mischief and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox and all-round-good-two-shoes Jack (who’s just moved in) – she’s about to choose him as her new best friend…

Jack is in for a whole lot of trouble!


I’m delighted to welcome Claire Barker, author of the fantastic Knitbone Pepper series and more recently, the Picklewitch series, to The Reader Teacher!

Claire is busy writing the next book in the Picklewitch and Jack series, due out next year. She has handed this blog over to her main characters, Jack and Picklewitch to talk about how the book might be used in the classroom. Enjoy!

Jack Door

Winner of most sensible boy three years running and massive fan of everything school and rule-related.

Dear teachers, I hear some of you are reading our story in class, which is very exciting. A longer chapter book full of illustrations, I am told it is ideal for year 3.  I hope you like my suggestions.*

  1. Our story is about playground life, about celebrating difference, being open-minded and challenging gender stereotypes. Most of all though, it is about friendship. Personally, I believe in looking smart, sticking to the rules and being extraordinarily clever. One day I will probably be a Nobel prize winning scientist or possibly an astronaut. However it turns out that being a good friend is also important, but unlike quadratic equations, tricky. I searched for a non-fiction book on this subject in the library, but had no luck. Hopefully this book will help any other children who are forced to be friends with a rude, grubby little witch.
  2. Language and Literacy. Personally I am a big believer in using only standard English. However, you could also use the book to look at Picklewitch’s ‘interesting’ vocabulary, her dialect and sentence structure. You could also look at character development, the tension between opposites, how dialogue and humour is used and the ups and downs of a story arc. Perhaps write some pretend spells and read them aloud! You could even get in touch with Claire Barker on her website (clairebarkerauthor.com) and she will skype your class about inspiration, drafting and editing. There are even some downloadable worksheets on there too.

*  Was in pie chart format but Picklewitch ate it.

PICKLEWITCH

Lives in a tree. Never wrong. Best Friend Ever.

My story is the kipper’s knickers and you should use it becuz:

1) READING IS FUN. My book is lovely and long, with lots of pictures of me (and a few of Jack) inside.

2) it teaches children about Nature WHICH IS MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL THE THINGS. Even owls know this and 50% of everything they say is ‘TWIT’.

3) Science: not nearly enough children know that the weather is caused by a bear wot does live on the moon. It is madness.

4) Maths: how many burds fit into a bin lid? Answer in back of book.

5) Literacy: not difficultatious (that’s a word I invented. I am very good with words).

6) This book will mean more laughing.

7 ) This book will mean more cake.

8) This book will mean more magic.

9) There is no 9.

10) Some pies taste better than others.