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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

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


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

Not ever. Not once.

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

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

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


The first line(s):

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


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

Man Boy overboard!

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


But does he sink or does he swim?


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

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

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

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


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

Mr E
📚

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


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

Cymbeline Igloo, the birth of a character by Adam Baron

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

It’s true.

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

AND THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

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

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

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

And it’s not just real people.

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

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

Okay Cymbeline.

Adam Baron, author of Boy Underwater

Adam

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


Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 4 & Year 5.

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


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

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

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


The first line(s):

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

Mr E
📚


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

My Inspiration for Candy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavie Tidhar, author of Candy

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

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


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

 

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

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


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

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


The first line(s):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Mr E
📚

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

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

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


Walls (5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Walls and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Two more before you go (2)!

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

EF: Where would you time-travel to?

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

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

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

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

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


One last one… (1)!

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

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

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

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


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

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

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


The first line:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Mr E
📚

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

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

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


Across the Divide (5)

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

AB:
1. 🐕
2. ⌚
3.  🏰

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Across the Divide and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 2, Year 3 & Year 4.

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


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

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

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


The first line(s):

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mr E
🐲📚🐉

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

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


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

The Boy Who Grew Dragons (5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus I have always wanted a dragon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Boy Who Grew Dragons and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Two more before you go (2)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One last one…(1)!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4 & Year 5.

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


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

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

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


The first line(s):

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


Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mr E
📚

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

READING BOOKS, WRITING STORIES AND BUILDING EMPATHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Giveaway!

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

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

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

Me and Mister P Blog Tour

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 6 & Year 7.

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


First the accident, then
the nightmares.

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

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


The first line:

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


Review: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

Mr E
📚

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ewa Jozefkowicz, author of The Mystery of the Colour Thief

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

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

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

Ottoline-packshots-x4

‘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.


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

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

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


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

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

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

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


The first line(s):

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


Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of my favourites of the year so far.

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

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

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

Mr E
📚

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Mirrors and Doors

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

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

Teaching in Cameroon - Victoria Williamson

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

Cameroon Library - Victoria Williamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Giveaway!

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

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


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

FoxGirlBlogTour1

Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival 2018

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Today I am absolutely delighted to be blogging from Pontypridd Museum for the very first Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival! A children’s book festival in partnership with Cardiff Book Festival and Pontypridd Town Council held today on Saturday 12th May 2018 at Pontypridd Museum from 9am-6pm.

It’s an all day festival for children and families to celebrate books of all kinds, inspire new authors and enjoy reading, writing and storytelling with joy, fun and friendship. It’s taking place at the beautiful surroundings of the Pontypridd Museum, spilling out onto the banks of the River Taff, under the shadow of the famous old Pontypridd bridge. The event has free entry, displays, props, music and activities as well as ticketed events with authors, readings, masterclasses and Q&As.

Throughout the day, you can see updates of the festival, author talks, events and goings on of the day here and through my Twitter feed (@MrEPrimary) and also at Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival Facebook and Twitter pages.

#PontyKidsBooksFest

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Authors and events

Storytime with How High Do Trees Grow? and Can We Walk to the Moon? by Mark Dorey (Language: English; Age Suitability up to 7 – 30 Mins FREE)

Storytime with Polly’s Magic Bubbles and the Quest for Dizzelwood by Mark Dorey (Language: English; Age Suitability 7+ 30mins FREE)

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Mark started off by reading Can We Walk to the Moon? Inspired by a family holiday to Newquay. Looking at the biggest moon they’d ever seen, Mark’s son asked his dad ‘can we walk to the moon?’ and so the idea for this story was born.

Mark’s picture books are beautifully written in rhyme and illustrated by Mark’s wife Liz which makes them perfect for reading aloud! Mark told us that his wife used silver leaf in some of the illustrations to give the pages of his book that extra sparkle!

Joining in with the rhymes (even the adults couldn’t help joining in!), counting in Welsh and doing all of the actions, the audience grew and grew this morning.

The next of Mark’s books that he read was How High Can We Walk?, again inspired by a question from his son, Tom. The audience loved joining in with the voices and sound effects (Whoosh!), particularly the angry ice cream man.

Up… and up … and up! Full of brilliant illustrations and fantastic vocabulary, this is a super tale of a boy and his dad climbing trees and having an absolute adventure!

Mark’s second session was full of storytelling. This time he told the story, of his brand new book written for 6-9 year olds, Midge the Prince of the Giants about a GIANT baby with a small twist as Midge actually started off by being not very tall… at all.

Mark Dorey is a writer and publisher with over 20 years writing experience and is passionate about engaging youngsters to read and write. Mark has performed poetry and spoken word events all over Wales with National Theatre Wales.

Poetry Workshop with clare e potter (Language: English and Welsh; Age Suitability 4+ £3)

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A very lively and energetic workshop that you couldn’t help but want to be involved in! Clare loves to use objects as prompts for creating poetry so much so that she brought all these wonderful objects, including hag stones, antique fans and all kinds of amazing artefacts.

Clare and all involved thought deeply and talked about the objects being ‘holders of memories’ and ’keepers of secrets’. Using an ‘Ode to Common Things’ by Pablo Neruda as inspiration, Clare helped everyone involved to take an everyday object like a whisk and give it a whole new meaning!

Putting an object in the hot seat and asking it questions together such as ‘What do you remind me of?’ and ‘Where did you come from?’ shows how creativity and imagination can spark from anything and everything around us.

clare e. potter is a writer and performer from Cefn Fforest. She spent ten years in the Deep South where she did an MA in Afro-Caribbean literature. She has had various writing residencies, works on collaborative community projects, and won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry.

Create Your Own Comic with Huw Aaron (Language: WELSH; Age Suitability 8+ £3)

IMG_6203 2Plenty of giggles and lots of fun were to be had in Huw Aaron’s comic workshop even before the comic making(!) as children and adults took part in a pre-comic workout.

Armed with his trusty marker pen, Huw created a range of weird, wacky and wonderful cartoon characters with an audience lapping up every character (gymeriad) including a T-Rex wearing a tutu whilst riding a unicycle and a shark/gorilla hybrid which one of the children coined ’Sharkilla’!

Showing how to truly have fun drawing, Huw brings cartoon art to life so effortlessly and so full of energy!

Huw Aaron is a cartoonist and illustrator. His doodlings can be found in a number of children’s books and comic strips and he has also written and illustrated the welsh language comic/jokes/story/puzzle book Llyfr Hwyl y Lolfa.

Gaslight with Eloise Williams (Language: English; Age Suitability 9+ £3)

IMG_6206Reading from Gaslight, I particularly liked the way Eloise encouraged the audience to read along one line at a time by splitting the first chapter in to single lines or phrases for them to read along with her.

Eloise talked about her inspirations and interest in the Victorian era and architecture and how this led to writing about the finer details of the grittier, darker side of Victorian times. Spending her school holidays in Cardiff, she started to stop and stare at the sights around her, noticing things around her in much more detail. Eloise likes to write about experiences; places she’s been to as she can visualise details, large or small.

She wanted to write a book where the reader almost forgets that its set in Victorian times and has a main character that everything Eloise wishes she could be and everything she’s not.

We were also very lucky to be treated to a sharing of an extract of Eloise’s new book out in September, Seaglass: a modern ghost story inspired by a mist rolling in from the sea at Tenby, which the whole room was absolutely captivated by.

Eloise was born in Cardiff and grew up in Llantrisant. She now lives in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, very close to the beach where she walks her dog Watson Jones and collects sea glass with her artist husband, Guy Manning. She worked in the theatre in various odd jobs before going on to study Drama at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Guildford School of Acting. After working for over ten years as an actor, she decided to change path a little and take a Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University.

Writing Masterclass with Catrin Collier (Language: English; Age Suitability 11+ FREE)

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Local author and writing heroine, Catrin started by sharing with us the opening extract to her daughter Sophie Anderson’s recently published novel, and Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for May, The House with Chicken Legs.

She followed this with talking about literary worlds and being lost in the world that you write in, being aware of your audience and projecting it so it becomes so appealing that others can’t help but be drawn in to it.

She also took questions from the audience talking about obtaining a publishing deal, working in writers’ circles and using her local knowledge of Pontypridd and all her wealth of experience to provide an invaluable insight in to the publishing world.

If Catrin has one word or one tip for aspiring writers, it’s to ‘persevere’ and that there is no right way to write; it just either works or it doesn’t.

Catrin Collier/Katherine John has published 55 novels in English and translation, 25 as Collier. Her novel, Hearts of Gold filmed by BBC Worldwide, attracted 6.8 million viewers on UK TV.  One Last Summer, based on the wartime diaries of her Prussian mother is recommended reading by the Holocaust Day Memorial Trust. The film she scripted from her crime book By Any Name is showing on Amazon Prime. She is currently working on commissioned film scripts and a series of books.

http://www.catrincollier.co.uk

“Land of our Mothers” with Carolyn Hitt (Language: English; Age Suitability 7+ FREE)

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In her workshop, Carolyn Hitt took us on a journey of awesome women of Wales and pioneering heroines of Welsh history. A much-needed workshop as we couldn’t believe that only a marginal amount of women featured in surveys and votes when asked about popular and historical figures from Wales. I particularly liked the way that Carolyn highlighted that even the word ‘history’ doesn’t seem to account for many of the stories of women in our past (his + story = history).

Learning about landmark women who put their own stamp on our history, Carolyn spoke about such women as Jemima Nicholas, Mary Jones, Frances Hoggan – Wales’ first woman doctor – and Sarah Jane Rees (Cranogwen) who became the first woman to win a prize for poetry at the National Eisteddfod.

Finished off with the audience voting for which woman from Welsh history should be immortalised in statue for generations to remember.

An inspiring workshop that I will certainly be using the knowledge of in the classroom to highlight the leading ladies with even bigger ideas that have shaped the course of our history.

Writing for Children Masterclass with Claire Fayers (Language: English; Age Suitability 16+ £5)

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Claire shared with us her expertise of writing for children of all ages; picture books (with a nod to Sarah McIntyre); early readers; chapter books; ‘middle grade’ and young adult.

After a phone call from her mother-in-law where her MIL couldn’t understand where all her ideas came from, Claire described this as her having to ‘make ideas, rather than getting ideas land in her lap’ for the creation of a story. She also discussed her ideas from her trusty notebook which included sword fights, unicorns and orange feet!

The audience created their own mix of stories using setting, character, action where one member gave the setting, another a character and the other the action which left the room laughing! Ending with discussing publication, Claire talked about the importance of writing groups like SCBWI and competitions like NaNoWriMo.

Thinking about characters was central to Claire’s workshop. She reiterated her belief that giving children characters who change their mind, have problems to solve and develop as the story progresses is good for children and this is something to think about when suggesting books for children to read in the classroom. 

Claire Fayers writes comic fantasy featuring swashbuckling pirates, evil magicians, heroic librarians and man-eating pengiuns. She grew up in South Wales, studied English in Canterbury, and is now back in Wales where she spends a lot of her free time tramping around castles in the rain, looking for dragons!

Writing Masterclass with Rachel Trezise (Language: English; Age Suitability 13+ £5)

IMG_6219.jpgRachel started her workshop by getting everyone talking as they had to introduce each other.

Rachel is known for writing short stories for young adults (13+) and shared a formula for planning short stories called the ABDCE formula: A – start with action or a question; B – background; D – drama; C- climax and E – ending. She also read one of her stories ‘Hard as Nails’ to demonstrate these elements of writing in action.

Rachel Trezise was born in the Rhondda valley in South Wales where she still lives. She studied at Glamorgan and Limerick Universities. Her first novel was In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl. Her first short fiction collection Fresh Apples won the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006. Her second short fiction collection Cosmic Latte won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize Readers’ Choice Award in 2014. Her first full length play Tonypandemonium was staged by National Theatre Wales in 2013. She also writes non fiction.