Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Adventures of Harry Stevenson – Ali Pye

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‘Reminiscent of a rodent-style Mr Bean, Harry Stevenson will become a firm favourite for readers. These books could be the ones that start and keep a child reading.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Adventures of Harry Stevenson
Author & illustrator: Ali Pye (@alipyeillo)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@simonkids_UK)
Page count: 192
Date of publication: 13th June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1471170232

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

#3Words3Emojis:
1. GuineaPig 🐹
2. Adventures🎈
3. Hilarious 😄


Meet Harry Stevenson. At first glance, he doesn’t seem any different from your average guinea pig. He can’t do magic, or talk, or secretly fly around the room when nobody is looking.

But don’t be fooled. You see, although Harry Stevenson just wants to sleep and eat (and then eat some more), somehow he always manages to get swept up on the most unexpected of adventures…


Review:

What could be better than being a guinea pig, eh? Eating… sleeping… and then eating some more sounds like quite the lifestyle to have. However Harry Stevenson is not just your average guinea pig. When life events like moving house and having a house party bring more than just a little mischief to Harry’s life, it’s up to long-time companion Billy Smith to save him from his daring and slightly dangerous exploits that he finds himself embarking on.

Flying over the town and ending up in the middle of one of the most important football matches in the local team’s history, Harry becomes swept up in swathes of shenanigans and does not do things by halves.

One of the features that will be enjoyed most throughout both tales is Harry and Billy’s unique bond of friendship, which is heartfelt, empathetic and will completely capture many of its readers’ hearts. It is clear to see that the pair understand each other fully and one would definitely not work without the other.

Coupled with Ali’s stories are her inimitable, expressive illustrations in brilliant shades of fluorescent orange which (you need to see below as they) really ensure that these stupendously good stories stand out on the shelf. Perfect for fans of illustrated fiction and who love Olga da Polga and Piggy Handsome, this guinea pig – who reminds me of a rodent-style Mr Bean – sits alone in being an entirely original creation from its two predecessors and is surely set to become a firm favourite among its readers who will be asking for more adventures. These books could be the ones that start and keep a child reading.

As it says within the pages of this story, there’s only one Harry Stevenson… well except when you’ve got two of his adventures packed into one gloriously hilarious book. I’m hoping for another two or maybe three in the next one!


‘Reminiscent of a rodent-style Mr Bean, Harry Stevenson will become a firm favourite for readers. These books could be the ones that start and keep a child reading.’


Life Lessons from Harry Stevenson

Lots of people think that because guinea pigs don’t do much apart from laze in the hay scoffing carrots, they can’t be very clever. Some* have even gone as far as describing them as ‘mindless balls of fluff.’ How wrong they are. Guinea pigs are thoughtful and sensitive types, and I’m sure that far from sitting mindlessly in their cages, they are actually pondering the meaning of life and other perplexing conundrums. It has been said that ‘leisure is the mother of philosophy’: that’s certainly the case with guinea pigs, as they have plenty of time to observe the world and mull over what they’ve seen.

I suspect that guinea pigs hide their intellect very carefully, happy to be underestimated if it means they are well fed and cared for whilst they get on with the important business of thinking. However, being a very kind and generous creature, Harry Stevenson has agreed to share a few nuggets of wisdom with us – in return for a few edible guinea pig nuggets, of course…

The Meaning of Life

Harry has been part of the Smith family for as long as he can remember: he lives with seven-year-old Billy Smith and Billy’s mum and dad, in a small and cosy flat. From his cage in Billy’s room, Harry has observed the Smiths and drawn several important conclusions. The most significant of these is the Meaning of Life itself! This, Harry has decided, is to love Billy and be loved in return. Mr and Mrs Smith appear to share this view, so it must be true. Harry thinks it could possibly apply to other families, so there you go – love and be loved. Pass it on!

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If you want something in life you need to put some effort into getting it. For example, Harry adores food. But those carrots in the Smith family’s fridge won’t come to Harry by themselves; they have to be worked for. A noisy WHEEK often does the trick and brings Billy running, bearing a tasty snack. If not, Harry needs to try harder, perhaps with some flashy jumps in the hay, or a charming scamper around his cage. Billy will be entranced and fetch the carrots: bingo!

Sometimes you have to be bold

9781471170232.in03.jpgDespite Harry’s best efforts to live a quiet and uneventful life, he has often been led astray by his greedy stomach, resulting in some tricky dilemmas. Faced with the choice of never seeing the Smiths again, or jumping on the back of a big scary dog, Harry has needed to be brave and ride that Alsatian. Similar leaps of faith have involved Harry hurling himself from a wall into the basket of a passing bicycle, and from the back of the dog onto a pizza-delivery driver’s moped. The life lesson here is: take a deep breath and face your fears!

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Having experienced excitement and drama, Harry can confirm that there really is no place like home. Thrilling adventures are all very well, but nothing can compare to spending time with people you love – preferably on a squashy sofa, watching a nature documentary, with a bunch of carrots to work through.

Eat Five a Day

You simply can’t have enough vegetables. Harry wouldn’t elaborate on this unfortunately, as he was too busy tucking into a stalk of celery.

ALI PYE Jan19 300dpi.jpgI do hope these Life Lessons are useful. If Harry Stevenson imparts any more guinea pig wisdom, you will be the first to know.

*Like my husband. He knows better now.


Ali Pye, author of The Adventures of Harry Stevenson


Big thanks to Ali, Olivia and all the team at Simon & Schuster for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the The Adventures of Harry Stevenson blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Ali for writing such a brilliant guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Adventures of Harry Stevenson blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Ali, content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Review & Resources: Evie and the Animals – Matt Haig (Illustrated by Emily Gravett)

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‘Matt Haig never fails to amaze me. Another complete masterclass in empathy.
One I’ll definitely be keeping on my shelf long enough to one day hopefully read to children and grandchildren of my own.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Evie and the Animals
Author: Matt Haig (@matthaig1)
Illustrator: Emily Gravett
Publisher: Canongate (@canongatebooks)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 6th June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1786894281

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Animals 🐶
2. Mind-chat 🧠
3. Kindness 😊


Evie was a girl who loved animals.

But Evie didn’t just love animals. She didn’t just know facts about them. She also had a very special skill. A very unusual skill.

She could HEAR what animals were thinking. And, sometimes, without moving her lips or making a sound, Evie could TALK to animals.

It was her very own SECRET SUPERPOWER…


Review:

Meet Evie. A not normal child. A special child. As she’s so called by her dad. But then again most dads call their child special. So that’s completely normal. But Evie wished and knew it would be probably easier to be just a normal child rather than have the kind of specialness that she had.

For Evie was anything but normal. For she has a talent. A super talent known as The Talent. A talent so good that most of us probably wish we had it too; talking to animals. But it’s not quite the Doctor Doolittle-esque talent we all have seen before. This is a deeper, more refined talent of communicating through thought and the art of the mind-chat. As we know, animals are skilled in the form of non-verbal communication; a wag of a tail, a tilt of a head, echolocation, and many more modes of language are the ways in which they tell us how they are feeling. But Evie really knows their thoughts; warts and all.

Beginning with the school rabbit who hates being held up in its hutch all day and longs for the moment to escape. Cue Evie who puts thought in to action and releases it to the wild, hoping she doesn’t get in trouble in the process. However this small act of kindness comes back to haunt her as she discovers that the Talent that she holds is way more powerful than she could ever imagine. Promising to her dad that she’ll never use it again, it only takes a year for it to resurface again and this time everything changes…

With the animal world up in arms and every animal in danger, can Evie – who has the almost-telekinetic mind power of Matilda – use the Talent and herself for the greater good and use what she knows best and her inner strength to dare to be different and be herself in order to save everyone she loves?

Guaranteed to strike a chord with animal lovers, this book (with its joyful and fabulously distinctive illustrations from the incredible Emily Gravett) is, as we’ve come to expect from Matt, a complete masterclass in empathy. With one of the most important messages in a children’s books for years, this is a story that’s not just for the next generation but for all generations.

Subtly scattered throughout the story lies the true astuteness, power and genius of Matt Haig’s writing. He never fails to amaze me. In each of his books, there’s always something that will resonate deeper than you first think. Deeper than most of us realise that stays with us way after we’ve read the last page and this is no different.

I’ll leave you with one of these gems: ‘Kindness is a boomerang. You throw it out and you get it back. You had done kind things in the world, and you had been rewarded with kindness in return.’

For me, if I had to choose two attributes or qualities that a child can develop during their primary-aged years, it would be kindness and empathy and this book achieves this so brilliantly and in effect, makes this story a must-read. In fact, this is one I’ll definitely be keeping on my shelf long enough to one day hopefully read to children and grandchildren of my own.


Resources:

There is an Evie and the Animals activity pack, bookmarks and a teachers’ pack available for KS2 which includes extracts, discussion questions and activities that are aimed at developing children’s awareness of the natural world around them and stimulating discussion around important themes in the story.

This can be found at Canongate or downloaded below.

Activity pack

Bookmarks

Teacher’s Pack


Big thanks to Jen at Shapes4Schools and all the team at Canongate for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


 

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post: Grumpycorn: introducing… JELLYFISH!) – Sarah McIntyre

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‘Coupled not only with Sarah’s words but her ever-characterful and rainbow-dazzling illustrations that make readers instantly interested too, this is a quick-witted, frivolous and fun story that turns the art of distraction on its head and on its horn.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Grumpycorn
Author & Illustrator: Sarah McIntyre (@jabberworks)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407180823

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

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Unicorn 🦄
2. Writing ✍️
3. Cookies 🍪


Unicorn wants to write the most fabulous story in the world. He has a fancy notebook. A special fluffy pen. He has everything just perfect. But Unicorn has no idea what to write!

When his friends try to join in, will Unicorn turn into a… Grumpycorn?


Review:

Procrastination; the action of postponing or delaying something. Some of us do it without realising we are. Some of us do it realising we are. Most of us could call ourselves masters of the art of procrastination. But for Unicorn, procrastination could lead to disastrous consequences.

Listening to authors talking about and discussing their writing processes is one of the most fascinating things to hear because they are all different. Wildly different, in fact. For some, it is as close to the word ‘easy’ as you can describe. Ideas come fully-formed and almost write themselves down word by word on the page in front of them, spilling out for all to see. For others, it can be arduous, consuming, complicated, soul-searching and takes every last bit out of the writer; warts and all. But what happens when on that first page… within that first paragraph… within that first line… nothing appears? Yes, we’ve all heard of that all too-familiar term of writer’s block. Therefore I’m sure every published, and aspiring, children’s author can self-identify with the feelings of Unicorn within this book.

Sitting there with his fancy notebook but still feeling like Grumpycorn can’t get his writing mojo going, he turns his attention to reaching for his special fluffy pen. Surely this will be the key to unlocking his words for as they say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and a special fluffy pen has two more adjectives than just ‘the pen’. But no… Maybe a cup of special moonberry tea will be the catalyst for creativity…? Nope. Not that either.

So what about when aquatic friends Narwhal, Mermaid and Jellyfish knock on his door? Can Unicorn put his friends and their ideas to good use… especially when they involve baked goods in order to help him to write the most FABULOUS* story in the world?

Coupled not only with Sarah’s words but her ever-characterful and rainbow-dazzling illustrations that make readers instantly interested too, this is a quick-witted, frivolous and fun story that turns the art of distraction on its head and on its horn.


Today I am delighted to welcome the brilliant Sarah McIntyre to the blog with a special guest post to celebrate the release of her newest picture book, the fabulous, ‘Grumpycorn’, talking about one very special character that makes her smile the most!

Grumpycorn: introducing… JELLYFISH!

Of all the characters in my new Grumpycorn picture book, Jellyfish makes me smile the most. She’s so cheery and enthusiastic and really quite clueless. Even though Unicorn has turned down ideas by Narwhal and Mermaid for his story, she’s SURE that when Unicorn hears her ideas, that he won’t be able to resist writing her into his fabulous story.

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And she is so FULL OF IDEAS! Clearly this interplanetary jellyfish story MUST HAPPEN. 

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But Jellyfish’s effusive outpouring of directions for Unicorn are the final straw that make him blow a fuse. Unicorn doesn’t want Jellyfish’s ideas, he wants HIS OWN ideas. …And he doesn’t have any.

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What makes me laugh about Jellyfish is that, even though Unicorn’s hollered at him, Jellyfish is still so upset that this fabulous story hasn’t been written. Look at her shocked little face! I think she’s rather enjoying all the drama being created by Unicorn’s diva meltdown.

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Endlessly optimistic – ‘Everyone loves jellyfish!’ – Jellyfish will finally get to take part in the creation of this Fabulous Story. …And so can you, by drawing Jellyfish! For all of my books, I create drawing tutorials and other activities, and you can download this and other fun Grumpycorn things to do here on my website!

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Big thanks to Sarah, Louisa and all the team at Scholastic for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the Grumpycorn blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Sarah for writing such a brilliant guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the Grumpycorn blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Sarah and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): BOOT: small robot, BIG adventure – Shane Hegarty (Illustrated by Ben Mantle)

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‘Breaking down the fourth wall between robot and reader, this small robot is sure to be a HUGE hit. Empathy, compassion and adventure combine in this read that’ll leave you feeling nuts and bolts about BOOT.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: BOOT: small robot, BIG adventure
Author: Shane Hegarty (@shanehegarty)
Illustrator: Ben Mantle (@BenMMantle)
Publisher: Hodder/Hachette (@hodderchildrens)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 16th May 2019
Series status: First in the BOOT series
ISBN: 978-1444949360

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

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Robot 🤖
2. Empathy ☺️
3. Human 👫


Hello! I’m BOOT.
(I’m a robot.)

I woke up in a scrapyard with a cracked screen and only two-and-a-half memories. I know I had an owner, Beth, and I’m certain she never meant to lose me. I have to find her. I just don’t know her…

Join BOOT on a dangerous adventure to find where home is, what friends look like, and why humans are so leaky and weird.


Review: Waking up in a scrapyard with only two-and-a-half memories to your name may seem like something is wrong. But for BOOT it is glaringly wrong because he has been built to store millions of memories and even has room in his left butt cheek for emergencies. As you can most probably tell by now, BOOT is not a human. BOOT is a robot.

At the beginning of this book, we find BOOT inches from a smashing, mashing, bashing, grinding machine which is going to make BOOT in to lots of mini-BOOTs any minute… Knowing he has to get away fast, BOOT escapes the scrapyard to go and find Beth but this is not as easy as BOOT initially thought. Trying to make sense of sketchy memories, people like the detestable Flint out to get him and the world becoming bigger and bigger for every step that BOOT takes, it seems like this could be quite the challenge for him. Will he find his rightful owner…?

The biggest element of this book is the empathy that the reader develops for BOOT and what this book does so well is convey empathy for younger readers in the most humanely way possible. For when BOOT realises he is feeling certain emotions, it is almost that BOOT checks with the reader the strange emotion he is experiencing for the first time and breaks down that fourth wall between robot and reader.

Brilliantly illustrated by Ben Mantle whose illustrations go hand-in-hand in bringing Shane’s mechanical world to life, and with a rag-tag group of robot friends to help him on his way, a yearning sense of gutsy resilience that keeps BOOT going and a personality which is up there with the very best of fictional robots such as Wall-E, R2D2 and the toys of Toy Story; this small robot is sure to be a HUGE hit. For me, it’s on the same level as Tin by Padraig Kenny but will definitely appeal to that widely underrated 6-9 year old readership who love illustrated fiction and being a big fan of Shane’s Dartmouth series myself and recommending this lots, it is fantastic to now be able to suggest something written by him to a younger audience also. I know it’s certainly left me feeling nuts and bolts about BOOT and I can’t wait for many more adventures from Shane and Ben.

‘Breaking down the fourth wall between robot and reader, this small robot is sure to be a HUGE hit. Empathy, compassion and adventure combine in this read that’ll leave you feeling nuts and bolts about BOOT.’


As part of the BOOT blog tour, I’ve been asked to revisit a piece of technology that holds special memories for me.

When I mention certain devices and pieces of technology to the class I teach, they give me the most weirdest of looks back as if to say “Mr Evans, we weren’t born then” or “We think what you’re telling us about didn’t really exist” or “We think you should know as ICT co-ordinator that we’re digital natives”. But hang on a minute, for I was only born in the 1990s.

So the piece of technology that I remember growing up with is the Nokia 3310.

Having a mobile phone was huge in this era, and I distinctly remember my mum having a huge brick to start off with and then changing to this thing of absolute beauty and iconic status which has been recently updated.

Most fondly, I remember playing the wonderful game of Snake. For most modern day children, this game would not be enough. Watching a dashed line move round the screen almost one-pixel at a time taking its toll getting round the screen to eat another pixel-shaped bit of food and growing longer and getting quicker each time were many of the satisfying things about the simplicity of the game. Like most modern day children in front of their PS4s and X-Boxes (and other electronically devices that are available), I’m sure this game had many playing for hours.

So maybe, children of the 21st century we’re not all that different after all!

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Big thanks to Shane, Lucy and all the team at Hodder & Hachette for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the BOOT blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the BOOT blog tour for more reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day – Dominique Valente (Illustrated by Sarah Warburton)

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‘Beautifully written and full of surprises; I can not recommend this magical misfit highly enough. Once you fall into the world of Starfell, you won’t want to leave.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day
Author: Dominique Valente (@domrosevalente)
Illustrator: Sarah Warburton (@SarahWarbie)
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperCollinsCh)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: First in the Starfell series
ISBN: 978-0008308391

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Enchanting ✨
2. Mesmerising 🤩
3. Courage 💪


Willow Moss is a bit odd. But then the best people often are – and sometimes odd is what it take to save the day…

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, has a magical ability for finding lost things – like keys, or socks, or wooden teeth. Useful, but not exactly exciting . . .

Then the most powerful witch in the world of Starfell turns up at Willow’s door and asks for her help. A whole day – last Tuesday to be precise – has gone missing. Completely. And, without it, the whole universe could unravel.

Now Willow holds the fate of Starfell in her rather unremarkable hands . . . Can she find the day to save the day?


Review: You know how the week goes… Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But where’s Tuesday gone? I’m sure sometimes you feel that the week whizzes by that you lose sense of the days but what happens when an actual day of the week goes missing from memories…?

As magic manifests itself in families, everyone normally gets their fair share however for Willow Moss it seems that she’s drawn the short straw in her family (along with her dad) as the major and ‘proper’ magical powers went to her mother and her sisters, leaving her with a little magical power that in the beginning of the book isn’t proving itself to be what one would call a magical power – finding lost things. Like keys. Or socks. Or recently, old Jeremiah Crotchet’s wooden teeth.

However Willow’s luck soon changes when witch of all witches, Moreg Vaine turns up at her doorstep, invites herself in for a cup of tea and invites Willow – as the chosen one – to join her on the most magical of quests to seek out that missing day. With curiosity getting the better of her, Willow ends up embarking on a journey with a cat-like (although don’t let anybody hear you calling it that!) sidekick called Oswin that’s as grouchy as he is full of gags, across a sprawling and enchanted world full of dragons, trolls, wizards and monsters to try to locate the lost day. There is nothing not to love about this book except maybe when you need to watch out for some brotherly baddies who go by the name of the Brothers of Wol intent on taking over the world!

Dominique doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with magic and this is only furthered by the wondrous, characterful illustrations of Sarah Warburton who propel this story to captivating heights with a cover that will make everyone who sees this book want to snatch it from the shelves. As a result, I want to make sure every child has the opportunity of reading this in my school. Not only because of it’s beautiful and beguiling look but also because of its messages of self-worth, self-belief and overcoming uncertainty that stay with you long after you’ve read this charming story. 

Beautifully written, irresistibly spellbinding and full of surprises; I can not recommend this magical misfit highly enough. Once you fall into the world of Willow Moss and Starfell, you won’t want to leave. Please take me back, Dominique!


‘Beautifully written and full of surprises; I can not recommend this magical misfit highly enough. Once you fall into the world of Starfell, you won’t want to leave.’


I’m delighted to welcome Dominique to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about Starfell, her reading and writing influences and how she re-found her own self-confidence and self-belief, mirroring Willow, when writing the book! dom.jpg

  • 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 Starfell?

    1. Magical ⭐
    2. Witchy 🧹
    3. Quirky 🤪
  • What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Starfell?

Since I can remember I have adored stories about magic. The story that hit me like a thunderbolt as a child that really made me fall in love with fantasy worlds and inspired me later to create my own, was The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. It’s why I have my own enchanted forest and my own rather magical tree, called the Great Wisperia Tree. Before then parents and other grown ups had given me fairy tales with stories about princesses, which wasn’t something I ever felt that I related to. Cinderella and romance, bored me. I always preferred the witches in those tales, they were far more interesting to me. One of the best presents I ever received as a child was a colouring book with witches on funny brooms, I still remember that one had an engine and I loved it. So when the time came to write my own brooms I knew one would have to have an engine too! I read Narnia, Alice in Wonderland and later fell hard for the Discworld, and the novels of Terry Pratchett. I think this love of quirk definitely influenced STARFELL.

I was also inspired by my love of plants and trees and the natural world – the hidden ‘magic’ of the world around us. For instance, scientists believe that plants and trees communicate with one another, they share their nutrients and help one another when they are distressed. They believe that plants can see and hear and smell just without noses or eyes or ears, and I thought it would be fun to bring this into my world, in a more direct way – by giving some of the plants eyes or noses and making the trees feel more alive …

Also, while the story rests on a fun and quirky world. I wanted it to be rooted in a world we recognise, with some of the same prejudices and issues we all face. I wanted to create a story that celebrated differences, that embraced being other and saw the value in being who you are. In many ways, Willow’s story – having the least magical ability – is a parallel with me coming to terms with my own difficulties growing up with a disability and learning to embrace who I was.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Starfell?

So many. I think creating the characters. Each one appeared over the course of seven years. I really took my time in getting to know each one, almost like a friend. Also creating the world – that had been endlessly fun. I’ve just finished the first draft of book two and it has been fun exploring an area I hadn’t until then – the waterways.

  • In Starfell, your protagonist Willow Moss’ magical power bestowed upon her is in finding lost things. What is the most important thing that you have lost and found again?

Lovely question. I’d have to say my self-belief. I think it has taken so many knocks over the years, and there was a time when it was really quite thin, but I’ve done a lot of work on that and it feels like it is finally entering more solid ground.

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

It would have to be Willow. We’re not completely the same but I think of all the characters I’ve ever written she’s the most like me. I’m the youngest in my family, and often felt the least special, with two rather fabulous older brothers who were popular and sporty. Like Willow I had to learn to embrace who I was, and put some value on it too. She’s kind, in a world that often isn’t, and that can be hard when you’re a bit sensitive. She’s a do-er, and just gets on with things. Which I think I’m like to a degree. Growing up a lot of things were left to me to do – like the washing and some of the cooking as my brothers were far too busy being important and my mother worked full-time so I used to help out a lot.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

Reading. Ever since I realised that books were written by real people I made a pact with myself that I’d write a novel someday. My first attempts at it weren’t the best, but I kept at it. It took quite a few years before a teacher properly praised me, but when one did, it changed everything. Because the teacher made a really big fuss. I was about fifteen, and I think my life can probably be divided into before and after that moment.

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

The first time I sit down to write is electric, it usually starts with just a glimmer of an idea for the first page. Not much else, but I get so fuelled up it’s hard to sit still. Getting to the middle or a few chapters from the end though is like wading against a strong current with weights on my ankles … also the line edits can be a bit taxing and the copyedit too – as there’s always so many changes and it can feel like an assault.

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

If only. I grew up in Johannesburg and school visits were just not something that ever happened. I would have loved it though.

  • Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. Can you recommend any other children’s books to children (and adults!) who may be interested in similar themes explored in your book or any that you would recommend?

I agree, there’s so many wonderful children’s stories. Recent favourites include Pages and Co: Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James, The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell, Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk and Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend.

Starfell and Teaching (3)

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

When last Tuesday goes missing a young witch with the worst ability in the family – the ability to find lost things – must find the day, to save the day.

  • Could you suggest ways in which Starfell could be used in the classroom for the many teachers and primary school staff that will read this and wish to use it in their schools?

The joy of imagination – how would you create your world. If you looked at the things you loved, what would your world look like if you could design it yourself? The hidden magic of plants and trees. Themes – celebrating differences, self-love, self-worth and acceptance, and tolerance – it touches on themes of segregation and how hurtful and pointless it is.

  • 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?

It would be best to chat to my publishers’ HarperCollins to arrange this.

Two more before you go (2)!

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

Which place would you most like to visit in Starfell and why? I think it would have to be Wisperia because I’d love to see all the unusual plants and animals, and to spend the night in Nolin Sometimes’ tree house.

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

I was briefly a florist.

                                                            One last one… (1)!

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

In the world of Starfell not everyone who is lucky enough to have magic get the really good bits. What is your special ability – not the one you’d like but what it would most likely be? For me, it’s probably the ability to spell most words. I just have an uncanny knack for that.

STARFELL: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente out now in hardback (£12.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books)

#Starfell

Follow Dominique on Twitter: @domrosevalente


Big thanks to Dominique, Laura and all the team at HarperCollins for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the Starfell blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Dominique for answering my questions, it was such a pleasure to interview you!

Mr E


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

 

 

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): In the Shadow of Heroes – Nicholas Bowling (Illustrated by Erica Williams)

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‘With all the historical detail and research reminiscent of Rosemary Sutcliff blended with the perfect mix of the mythology of Rick Riordan and the humour of Maz Evans, In the Shadow of Heroes will take older readers on a epic quest of action and adventure, mystery and myth, and laughs and legend.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: In the Shadow of Heroes
Author: Nicholas Bowling (@thenickbowling)
Cover illustration: Erica Williams
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 384
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN:978-1911077688

Perfect for Year 6, Year 7 and Year 8.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Mythology 🔱
2. Roman 🏺
3. Slave 🧑🏽‍


Cadmus has been scholar Tullus’ slave since he was a baby – his master is the only family he knows. But when Tullus disappears and a slave girl called Tog arrives with a secret message, Cadmus’ life is turned upside down.

The pair follow a trail that leads to Emperor Nero himself, and his determination to possess the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology. This thrilling quest will push Cadmus to the edge of the Roman Empire – and reveal fantastical truths about his past…


Review: When you think of slaves, you think of uneducated, … and lesser-than-plebs (the general citizenry of Rome at the time). However main character Cadmus is an altogether different kind of slave. Surprisingly he is well-educated thanks to his master, Tullus, of whom he lives under his stewardship since he was found as a baby by him; acting almost as his surrogate father with no knowledge of his family history other than that of what Tullus has told him yet being educated leaves him as a total outsider to all classes in Roman society.

This soon changes when strangers in the name of the emperor’s servants turn up at his master’s door, with a box that holds a more than mysterious offer. Or should I say order… Not long after, his master disappears and Cadmus is left to fend for himself. But will Cadmus survive on his own and will the arrival of a secret message alter the course of his life forever?

As curiosity gets the better of him, he embarks on a journey to possess the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology. Joined by Tog, an indomitable slave – formerly a British princess who fought with Boudicca, the two of them set off for a journey that leads them to wild discoveries, hidden truths, unexpected secrets of ancient heroes and the crazed Emperor Nero who is possessed with the idea of getting his hands on the Golden Fleece himself.

With all the historical detail and research reminiscent of Rosemary Sutcliff blended with the perfect mix of the mythology of Rick Riordan and the humour of Maz Evans, In the Shadow of Heroes will take older readers on a epic quest of action and adventure, mystery and myth, and laughs and legend.


‘With all the historical detail and research reminiscent of Rosemary Sutcliff blended with the perfect mix of the mythology of Rick Riordan and the humour of Maz Evans, In the Shadow of Heroes will take older readers on a epic quest of action and adventure, mystery and myth, and laughs and legend.’


I’m delighted to welcome Nicholas to The Reader Teacher today where he’ll be giving his answers to questions about the ideas and inspirations for In the Shadow of Heroes, his writing influences and his favourite god!

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Where did the idea for IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES come from?

As usually happens, it came from another (much better) book. One of my all-time favourite fantasy novels is “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s about a legendary figure called Kvothe who over the course of three nights tells his life story to a scribe, and in doing so debunks most of the myths that surround him. It’s basically a story about stories – where they come from, how they’re made and altered in the telling. I thought it would be fun to do the same thing with the Greek myths – to try and uncover the truths and untruths behind the stories. There’s a fair bit of Indiana Jones in there, too.

So, anticipating cease and desist letters from the estates of George Lucas and Pat Rothfuss any day now.

What influenced the creation of your main characters?

Well… Being a Latin teacher I’ve met a lot of young people like Cadmus. He’s clever and a bit precocious, but with a good heart and a clear sense of right and wrong. Blusters a lot, but is actually a lot more shy and self-conscious than you might think. In fact there’s a very specific student I taught years ago whose voice I can conjure on the spot when I need to. I won’t name any names but there’s pretty much a 90% overlap between him and the character of Cadmus.

Tullus, Cadmus’ master, is based a tutor I knew at university. Tog arrived fully-formed from nowhere, which hardly ever happens. I have my editor, Kesia, to thank for that. In a very, very old draft she was a middle-aged bald man with an eyepatch. As soon as my editor suggested making her a girl, everything made sense about her. 

When doing your research for the book was there a fact you uncovered that stood out?

I can’t really call them facts exactly, but there are some amazing stories and rumours about the Emperor Nero. There is an account that he once acted a play about himself in the theatre, playing the character of himself, wearing a mask of his own face. It doesn’t get much more “meta” than that. Nero comes across as someone who can’t really tell the difference between reality and fiction, between stories and life – that’s really at the heart of the book.

Another good one: according to the historian Suetonius, Nero had promised “a performance on the water organ, the flute, and the bagpipes” if he survived Galba’s revolt and clung onto power. Can’t help picturing him like Elton John, done up to the nines and smashing out an organ solo in the middle of the amphitheatre.

Favourite God?

Very good question. I mean, in terms of skillset, Apollo’s got a lot of things covered – song, prophecy, archery, the sun, healing. And as god of poetic inspiration I suppose he’s the one I should appeal to most. But he’s a bit mainstream. If you read the book you’ll know I’ve got a soft spot for the Hecate, goddess of the night, of witchcraft, of the crossroads. She’s creepy as heck and has three faces, so it’s probably understandable that she doesn’t hang out with the other Olympians. Also, we’re both dog people – although, unfortunately, she likes dogs so much that she insists on having dogs sacrificed to her, at which I would probably draw the line.

Favourite word (Latin or English!)?

Well, I’ll try and cover both bases at once with a very Latinate English word: crepuscular, which means “to do with dusk or twilight”. It’s a belter. Also, big shout-out to the word “shoe” and the word “pear”. Not only do they do their job perfectly, and feel lovely in the mouth, but I also find them inexplicably funny. Is that just me?

When you aren’t writing what do you do for fun? 

I absolutely love climbing. It’s good for cleansing the brain after a morning’s writing. Same with open water swimming. I have a habit of finding unbearably cold water to throw myself into. You can usually find me either on the banks of Hampstead men’s pond or at the Castle Climbing Centre, complaining to no one in particular about how much my fingers and toes hurt.

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on Twitter: @thenickbowling


Big thanks to Nicholas, Laura and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the In the Shadow of Heroes blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Nicholas for his incredibly insightful Author Q&A!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the In the Shadow of Heroes blog tour for more reviews & exclusive Q&As and guest posts from Nick and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Giveaway!): Runaway Robot – Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Illustrated by Steven Lenton)

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‘Storytelling at its snortingly-funny, hugely enjoyable and heartily-emotional best… a little bit warm and wise, a little bit tender and touching; there is a LOT to love about this book.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Runaway Robot
Author: Frank Cottrell-Boyce (@frankcottrell_b)
Illustrator: Steven Lenton (@StevenLenton)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN:978-1509851775

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Robot 🤖
2. Hand ✋
3. Friendship 🤝


Eric is six foot six.
He likes to sing.
He’s super polite.
He does as he’s told.
He’s made of metal.
He’s magnetic when anxious.

He’s not easy to miss.

But today there’s no sign of him.

Eric says if you lose something, try to retrace your steps.
So these are my steps…


Review:

Main character Alfie prefers to ‘swerve’ school and spends his days hanging out at the airport which to him is a far more impressive place. Besides this, Alfie is part machine. Part bionic. Handless. Or I should say that he has a hand of a different kind altogether, as the worker at the airport soon finds out. Originally losing his right hand in a serious accident that Alfie has little memory about, he then *loses* his hand again at the airport and so sets off to retrieve it. Starting with airport lost property.

Trying to locate a hand at lost property proves to be more difficult than one may initially think, especially when hand recognition is more like… um… glove recognition. Finding a giant robotic hand that neither looks or feels like it’s going to fit him then suggests that this story could be about to go down the wrong path for Alfie but this accidental discovery changes him in more ways than one because it introduces him to Eric. Slightly lumbering. Quite ungainly. But as anybody reading this book will tell you: THE WORLD’S MOST POLITE ROBOT.

In need of a friend (and I could be talking about both Alfie or Eric here!), Alfie brings Eric home. Unfortunately for him, a recent ban placed on the acquisition of humanoid robots could soon change all this. Will Alfie continue to break the law and be able to keep his new friend safe…? And will Eric be the one who helps Alfie to fill those gaps in his memory, his heart and be the bond that brings everything together…?

Inspired by a trip to the robot exhibition at the Science Museum and his love for all things sciencey, spacey and technological, Frank achieves another guaranteed and humorous hit with Runaway Robot. With his charismatic wit and the characterful illustrations of Steven Lenton that really bring this terrific tale all so engagingly to life, this is sheer exuberant storytelling at its snortingly-funny, hugely enjoyable and heartily-emotional best. It’s all in the delivery and timing of Frank’s writing that within these words, jokes are more than jokes. The perfect mixture of hope, humanity and heart that we’ve all come to grow to love from reading his books. A little bit warm and wise, a little bit tender and touching; there is a LOT to love about this book. Especially its ending.

If anybody asks you to read this book, you tell them I AM YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT.

Although after reading this, if they ask you a question, you might have to say SORRY, I AM UNABLE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION.


‘Storytelling at its snortingly-funny, hugely enjoyable and heartily-emotional best… a little bit warm and wise, a little bit tender and touching; there is a LOT to love about this book.’


Biggest thanks to Amber, Frank, Steven and all at Macmillan for giving me the wonderful opportunity to have an early read of this magnificently funny book and for providing copies for the giveaway!

Mr E


Giveaway!

The very lovely people at Macmillan have kindly given me three copies of
Runaway Robot to give away!

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

Blog Tour (Review): The Titanic Detective Agency – Lindsay Littleson

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‘With TTDA, we (finally!) have a Titanic text so worthy that it should be used widely in classrooms and schools across the country… a first-class children’s historical novel.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Titanic Detective Agency
Author: Lindsay Littleson (@ljlittleson)
Publisher: Cranachan (@cranachanbooks)
Page count: 204
Date of publication: 9th April 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911279440

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Titanic 🚢
2. Detective 🔍
3. Key 🗝️


Unlock the secrets of the unsinkable ship…

Bertha Watt, tree-climber and would-be polar explorer, is excited to be on RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage, as she leaves Aberdeen behind for the glamour of a new life in America.

But Bertha quickly realises that some passengers are behaving strangely, and she determines to unravel their secrets.

With new friend, Madge, Bertha sets up her own detective agency to try and solve the mysteries onboard, but they have no idea that disaster is looming for Titanic.

Can they help Johan find the hidden treasure and unmask the identity of the enigmatic Mr Hoffman before time runs out on the ‘unsinkable’ ship?


Review: From the first chapter, as the steam whistles blast, the engines roar and the ship of all ships sets sail for New York, we are immediately transported back to a time before modern technology and invited on board to the wonder that is the Titanic and its maiden voyage. We all know the tragic fate of this apparently ‘unsinkable’ vessel but do we know the whole story…?

Looking at the passengers and surroundings around her, Bertha Watt – who fancies herself more as a polar explorer rather than that of the prim and proper young lady she pretends to be to fit in with her 2nd Class co-passengers – soon becomes bored and begins to notice that the people joining her on this epic journey away from hometown Aberdeen and mainland Britain may not be all as they seem to be.

Finding a new friend in an unlikely situation, Bertha and new friend, Madge create their very own detective agency (The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency) to dig deeper in to the mysteries of the masses, firstly beginning with maybe-murderer(?) Mr Hoffman. Like Daisy and Hazel from A Murder Most Unladylike meeting Poirot, this detective agency has sharp thinking, super sleuthing and more than a dash of speaking Français to assist them in their onboard investigations.

However, these soon take on a different course once Bertha meets Johan – a Swedish boy on board who has little money to his name; constantly feels seasick and struggles to converse as he speaks barely any English whilst Bertha speaks barely any Swedish. Nevertheless the two manage to communicate and communicate they must as Johan holds in his hands a treasure map and (quite literally!) the key that could unravel the most mysterious mystery of all. But with the threat of danger looming… will they crack the case before the clock counts down on the biggest nautical disaster of all time?

It is so refreshing to see a book recently written that is based on the real-life people who experienced these events and emanates with well-researched historical facts and information not just from what is widely known of the Titanic such as the class divides but also the more minor details that are often overlooked or missed entirely including the staggering humiliation of the medical examinations for third-class passengers and the recognition of the difficulties in communication for those foreign passengers on board. I am fascinated by the history of this ship having been to the museum in Southampton myself but the quality of this book is guaranteed to spurn children (and adults) to take a vested interest to learn more about it themselves.

With The Titanic Detective Agency, Lindsay has created a text so worthy to complement further learning about The Queen of the Ocean (finally – said with a great big sigh of relief!) that this first-class children’s novel should be used widely by Key Stage 2 teachers in classrooms and schools across the country.


‘With TTDA, we (finally!) have a Titanic text so worthy that it should be used widely in classrooms and schools across the country… a first-class children’s historical novel.’


Big thanks to Kelly, Lindsay and all the team at Cranachan for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Titanic Detective Agency blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of The Titanic Detective Agency blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Lindsay and these brilliant book bloggers!

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe The Middler?
KA: 1. atmospheric ⛈ 2. voice-driven 👄 3. thought provoking 🤔

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Middler and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more before you go (2)!

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

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

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

KA: I have grade three euphonium.

One last one… (1)!

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

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


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

Extra thanks to Kirsty for answering my questions!

Mr E


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

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Great Animal Escapade – Jane Kerr (Illustrated by Alexis Snell)

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‘Returning to this follow-up is like revisiting an old friend again…  with brilliantly-executed twists, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Great Animal Escapade
Author: Jane Kerr (@janekerrwrites)
Cover illustration: Alexis Snell
Cover design: Steve Wells
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: Second in The Elephant Thief series
ISBN: 978-1911490340

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Maharajah 🐘
2. Escape 🏃
3. Father? 👨


Working at Belle Vue Zoo is life-changing for Danny. Once, he lived on the streets, pick-pocketing to survive. Now he has a new family and a new job – caring for a zoo of exotic creatures, including the famous elephant, Maharajah. But when animals start escaping, Danny is the prime suspect: after all, everyone knows he used to be a thief. And when a man turns up claiming to be his real father, the plot thickens.

Can Danny untangle the mystery of the animal escapade – and find out where he really belongs – or will his wonderful new life also disappear?


Review: When it was published back in 2017 The Elephant Thief soon became a stand-out story for me, so going back to it with the sequel in The Great Animal Escapade – with its returning cast of characters and follow-up story – is like revisiting an old friend again.

This time, we rejoin a different Danny. One with a new family and a new job –  and a new life entirely from what he was used to on the streets of the first story. Working in Belle Vue Zoo, under the ownership of the Jamesons, you’d think Danny would have settled in to working life and all remnants of his previous life would have been soon forgotten. But think again! As his old life soon catches up with him when the animals start to mysteriously escape from their enclosures and all hell starts to break loose. Especially when Mr Jameson had plans in place to host the grandest of spectacles, a show featuring his most prized possessions and attractions – including the most famous of all, Maharajah.

Suspicion mounts and the finger ends up slowly being pointing towards Danny due to his background and his past life. But surely this level of sabotage can’t all be down to him… As word gathers pace, the zoo’s critics’ voices get even louder in their campaign in their threats to close it and even more animals escape, is the future of the zoo at stake?

With all this happening, Danny’s life is changing for the worse but with the appearance of a man claiming to be his father: will it start to get better and does Danny find that long-lost sense of belonging he has always craved?

Try as he might – and some may call him fearless; others audacious – Mr Jameson puts up the only fight he can to relent the oncoming fracas the best he can, still scheduling his plans for his show of all shows but will the show go on…?

There are important messages throughout this epic adventure of good-versus-evil: the rights of animals and the place of zoos in historical and modern society being the main one that will make the reader think more deeply. But in Danny, there is a much more pressing message in that care and love goes further than anyone can imagine.

With superbly-executed twists along the way, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.

It is so interesting and insightful to read Jane’s author note (and lucky for you, this is the theme of Jane’s guest post below!) in the back of the book which details the fact behind the fiction and the real-life stories of the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Manchester and Maharajah which inspired the idea for this book and its predecessor. Although this book is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone knowing that Danny has been saved from the streets. However, if you really want to maximise the potential of this story and become immersed in the quality of Jane’s writing, I fully recommend reading The Elephant Thief in all its glory.

‘Returning to this follow-up is like revisiting an old friend again…  with brilliantly-executed twists, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.’


You can read more about them, or as Jane calls them: the Disneyland of the North, as I’m delighted to welcome Jane to The Reader Teacher today with her beautifully-written guest post below…


Belle Vue: Disneyland of the North

Known as the Disneyland of the north, Belle Vue Zoological Gardens attracted more than two million visitors a year. And yet today, the only sign that it ever existed is a commemorative plaque at the spot where the entrance once stood.

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A Belle Vue programme cover  (Courtesy of Chetham’s Library)

Belle Vue began life in the 1830s as a small tea garden but the owner John Jennison had big ambitions. As well as an aviary of parrots, he introduced kangaroos, a rhino, a couple of lions, a bear and some gazelles. And then in 1872, he bought an elephant: Maharajah.

Over the next ten years, Maharajah became one of Belle Vue’s best-loved animals, giving rides to thousands of children, and taking part in city parades. He’s also the undisputed star of my books: The Elephant Thief and the latest adventure, The Great Animal Escapade.

 

But just like my fictional Belle Vue, the real park boasted many other attractions. The Jennison family built a maze, a dance hall, an archery field, several tearooms, Italian gardens and even a platform for hot air ballooning.

One of the annual highlights was a summer show staged on the island in the middle of Belle Vue’s boating lake. Local men – paid in pies and beer – were enlisted to play soldiers and act out scenes from historic battles.

Huge painted canvases formed the backdrop to these dramatic performances, while overhead, rockets and firecrackers coloured the sky.

But the displays were not without danger. Almost every night, the wooden stage caught fire and on one occasion in 1883, flames broke out on the island destroying half the painted scenery – a drama that provided inspiration for The Great Animal Escapade.

It didn’t stop people from coming. Such was Belle Vue’s success, that Jenison launched his own omnibus service to transport visitors to and from the park, and a rail service ran to the nearby station every half hour.

But the gardens were not popular with everyone. Local church leaders demanded Jennison stop business during Sunday services. His blunt reply was ‘I’m like you: I make my living on Sundays.’ They didn’t bother him after that.

The Jennison era ended in 1925 when the family finally sold the park. It was taken over by a businessman called John Henry Iles. He expanded Belle Vue, adding a rollercoaster and speedway track, as well as welcoming big-names like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

But times were changing for the menagerie. As well as increased competition from other, more modern zoos, there were growing – and justified – concerns about animal welfare and conservation.

With little investment, Belle Vue was simply not able to keep up with the new thinking, and after 140 years in business, the zoo closed in 1977. Within four years, the other attractions had shut down as well.

Now, all that remains are memories “…of the most magical, marvellous and mesmerising zoological gardens on this great earth!”

THE GREAT ANIMAL ESCAPADE by Jane Kerr is out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and connect with Jane on Twitter:  @janekerrwrites


Big thanks to Jane, Laura and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the The Great Animal Escapade blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Jane for writing such a brilliant and interesting guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Great Animal Escapade blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Jane and these brilliant book bloggers!