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

Review: Ottoline series – Chris Riddell & Giveaway (Ottoline signed paperback series & signed print!)

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‘Quintessentially quirky… no-one both writes and illustrates books quite like Chris Riddell. Described as a ‘small girl who has big adventures’, Ottoline is a series which has big appeal.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Titles: Ottoline and the Yellow Cat; Ottoline Goes to School;
Ottoline at Sea & Ottoline and the Purple Fox
Author: Chris Riddell (@chrisriddell50)
Illustrator: Chris Riddell (@chrisriddell50)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 176; 176; 176; 192
Date of publication (Paperback): 26th February 2015 (Yellow Cat; Goes to School; at Sea); 17th May 2018 (Purple Fox)
Series status: Four in series
ISBN: 978-0330450287; 978-0330472005; 978-0330472012; 978-1509881550

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4 & Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Original 😀
2. Fun 😄
3. Ingenious 😍


The first line: 
(Ottoline and the Purple Fox)

Ottoline Brown lived in an apartment in the P. W. HUFFLEDINK Tower, which looked like a pepper pot so everyone called it the Pepperpot Building.


Review: If you’ve read any series both written and illustrated by Children’s Laureate 2015-2017, Chris Riddell then you’ll understand completely when I say that no-one both writes and illustrates books quite like Chris. His series are quintessentially quirky, all kinds of loveable and ludicrous and no doubt stand out on the shelf. Therefore I’m very pleased to say that is no different with his offering of Ottoline and her adventures.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat introduces us to the slightly madcap and outlandishly wonderful world of Ottoline where we meet Ottoline herself, a young girl left on her own by her parents in her apartment and her equally eccentric house guest, Mr. Munroe. Through the story and Chris’ characteristically exquisite and detailed illustrations that will fascinate readers from the first page, we grow to love Ottoline’s quirks and idiosyncrasies as she becomes a super sleuth to solve her neighbourhood’s dog disappearances, burglaries and problems.

Rich in the most wonderful use of vocabulary and description – who’d have thought that you’d find the words ‘Beidermeyer armchair’ in a children’s book? – it’s Chris’ observational charm, dry wit and self-deprecating sense of humour that endears Ottoline’s adventures to the masses.

Ottoline’s antics and adventures are continued through three more beautifully written and illustrated stories in the series, Ottoline Goes to School; Ottoline at Sea and as published in paperback as recently as today (and the reason for this blog post), Ottoline and the Purple Fox. They are all utterly delightful and so I find it so hard to choose but Ottoline and the Purple Fox is my personal favourite where lamppost poetry, urban safaris and doppelgängers all feature in this fantastic fourth instalment. 

Described as ‘a small girl who has big adventures’, Ottoline is a series which has big appeal.

Ottoline and the Purple Fox is available in paperback from the 17th May 2018, £6.99.

‘Quintessentially quirky… no-one both writes and illustrates books quite like Chris Riddell. Described as a ‘small girl who has big adventures’, Ottoline is a series which has big appeal.’


Big thanks to @FrithaL and @MacmillanKidsUK for sending me a copy of Ottoline and the Purple Fox and for providing such an amazing prize of which even I am very jealous of!

Mr E
📚

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Giveaway!

To celebrate the paperback publication of Ottoline and the Purple Fox, the latest book in Chris Riddell’s Ottoline series, I’ve got a signed set of all the Ottoline books to giveaway, plus a signed Ottoline and Mr Munroe print.

If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning this wonderful prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

The Ottoline series has won numerous awards including the Nestle Smarties Prize and the Red House Children’s Book Award, and has won critical acclaim thanks to its beautiful and heart-warming illustrations, paired with a humorous text.


Review: The Big Book of the Blue – Yuval Zommer (Illustrated by Yuval Zommer)

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‘Readers of all ages are ‘shore’ to have a whale of time poring over the pages of this perfect combination of information and illustration… a special book to increase awareness, attention, awe & appreciation of our natural world.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Big Book of the Blue
Author: Yuval Zommer (@yuvalzommer)
Illustrator: Yuval Zommer (@yuvalzommer)
Publisher: Thames & Hudson (@thamesandhudson)
Page count: 64
Date of publication: 10th May 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0500651193

Perfect for Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Extraordinary 😍
2. Interesting 😃
3. Fin-tastic! 🐠


Why does a crab run sideways?

Is a jellyfish made of jelly?

Why don’t penguins freeze?

Find out the answers to these and many more fishy questions inside. Play search and find in the pictures, too. Can you spot the special fish?

Meet all kinds of slippery, shimmery, powerful and surprising sea creatures from around the world in this first book of the ocean to share with young children.

It is packed with facts about how different types of underwater animals eat, hunt and survive.


Review:
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In Wales, 2018 is the ‘Year of the Sea’ so I couldn’t think of a more timely occasion to review a book like this.  The Big Book of the Blue is a big celebration of the seas which surround us, bringing to life the vast array of sea creatures from the warm waters of the sunlit zone to the dark depths of the abyss.

Ranging from the well-known dolphins, jellyfish, octopuses, sharks and whales to the not-so well-known dragonets, sea snakes, deep-sea fish and krill, every aspect of the seas and oceans that you could possibly imagine is covered so perfectly within its larger-than-life pages. Yuval’s characterful illustrations burst off the page with personality and ensure that this ‘The Big Book of…‘ series continues to go from strength to strength. No classroom, no school and no home should be without one of Yuval’s books and if I had to choose just one to have, I’d have to choose this one!

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Gliding between its illustrations are the succinct and spectacular snippets of fin-tastic facts that’ll make sure that even the most avid and ardent of animal lovers and Blue Planet fans will learn something new every time they open these pages. It really is a book to discover together; to savour; to share and one to keep coming back to time and time again.

the_big_book_of_blue.jpgThere is so much to sea(!) within the double-page spreads of this book. Variety of species; high levels of detail and information; full of subject-specific vocabulary that children will effortlessly absorb and vivacity of illustration: it’s all here in one BIG book! Readers of all ages are shore to have a whale of time poring over this perfect combination of information and illustration.

Towards the end, important issues are highlighted such as that of oceans being in danger through overfishing and global warming and the very topical issue of plastic pollution in our seas. Therefore showing that this is not only an ‘information’ book but a special book to increase awareness, attention, awe and appreciation of our natural world and one that I’m sure Authors4Oceans will be looking at to include on a future booklist for their cause.

A beautifully-illustrated book that will surely inspire future generations of marine biologists, environmentalists and any and all aqua aficionados!


‘Readers of all ages are ‘shore’ to have a whale of time poring over the pages of this perfect combination of information and illustration… a special book to increase awareness, attention, awe & appreciation of our natural world.’


Big thanks to Katrina at Thames & Hudson for sending me a copy of this beautifully-illustrated book!

The Big Book of the Blue is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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

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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.’

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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Review: The House with Chicken Legs – Sophie Anderson (Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón)

‘Like a snowflake floating on the breeze…a glistening gem of a story with an air of elegance, beauty and fragility.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The House with Chicken Legs
Author: Sophie Anderson (@sophieinspace)
Illustrator (Cover): Melissa Castrillón (@mv_castrillon)
Publisher: Usborne (@Usborne)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 3rd May 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1474940665

Perfect for Year 5, 6 & 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Beautiful 😍
2. Magical ✨
3. Heartfelt 💖


“Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. 

For Marinka’s grandmother is Baba Yaga, who guides spirits between this world and the next. Marinka longs to change her destiny and sets out to break free from her grandmother’s footsteps, but her house has other ideas…”

To read the first chapter of the book, Prologue – click here


The first line:

My house has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we’ve been living.


A little while back, I was scrolling through my feed on Twitter looking for books coming out in 2018 and the one that I kept returning to was this one, The House with Chicken Legs. Was it the sight of the cover, the talk of the plot or the glowing reviews from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Peter Bunzl and Claire Fayers that kept making me come back? OK, I’ll admit it. It was all of these things but most of all, it was the title.

1. How could you choose to not read a book called ‘The House with Chicken Legs’?
2. How could you not be both fascinated and the slightest bit intrigued by what was to come?

Therefore, I just knew that I HAD to read it. Big thanks to Sophie Anderson and the lovely people at Usborne (@AnnaHoworth), for sending me a copy to read and so started this website!

The House with Chicken Legs is steeped in Russian folklore in the form of a Baba Yaga mythical retelling. You may think ‘Oh, just another retelling…’ but let me assure you, that this reimagining take on this tale is absolutely something else.

How would you feel if your house got to choose where you live?
How would you feel if your house decided who you met and became friends with?
How would you feel if you had great responsibility bestowed upon you but you wanted – no, needed – to choose your own destiny?

Along the way, Marinka, the House and her trusted jackdaw, Jack meet: life – Benjamin, Benji, Salma, Lamya; death – Nina, Serina, The Old Man and his Wife; and Yaga – Baba Yaga, Old Yaga and plenty of other Yagas; to try to work out the answers to these life-changing questions.

And we haven’t even yet spoken of the House. Well what can I say? The House is larger than life with an even bigger heart; personified perfectly with oodles of charm and charisma but also tinged with a loveable rawness and roughness around the edges that’ll have you yearning and pining deeply for it. Marinka is the right kind of heroine for this story but the House is just as much as a hero for me.

The more you read on, the more Marinka will have you wanting to join her on her journey of self-discovery, fate, companionship, loyalty and affinity where houses walk (and run!); where the dead talk; and where life, death and Yaga come together in a superbly crafted story.

Sophie’s use of language is packed full of rich and vivid imagery which ensures that the words leap and dance off the page effortlessly in to the reader’s mind creating stunning worlds of magic and adventure. This is further complemented by her utterly beautiful style of writing and divine choice of vocabulary (e.g. ‘nebulous‘, ‘tendrils‘ and ‘balustrade‘ to name but a few!), which is perfect for logophiles like many teachers and I who want to introduce a broader range of vocabulary to children.

By the end, like I was, you’ll be trying your best to hold on and not say goodbye to these characters and this stunning story. But you’ll also learn some Russian; some chemistry (I loved the mentions of compounds combining to make fireworks and scientists like Rosalind Franklin); wonder why you haven’t experienced a Yaga party before and you’ll certainly want your own House with Chicken Legs after this… I know that I do.

It’s like a snowflake floating on the breeze… a glistening gem of a story with an air of elegance, beauty and fragility.

One that needs to be in your hands as a teacher and in the hands of your class. Unmissable. I adored and devoured every single word.

A purely magical debut and an absolute must-read for 2018.

Out 3rd May 2018!

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


If you can’t wait to hear from Sophie for that long, she’ll be joining The Reader Teacher for a Q&A very soon!

If you have a question you would like to ask Sophie, please click here!


Mr E
📚

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Have you been lucky enough to read the book already?
Can you describe it using #3Words3Emojis?
Will you pre-order the book to read?

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