Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post: Books that encourage care): My Pet Star – Corrinne Averiss (Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw)

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‘…this heartwarming story emits empathy from its pages within. It definitely gives you all the feels.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: My Pet Star
Author: Corrinne Averiss (@CorrinneAveriss)
Illustrator:
Rosalind Beardshaw (@RosBeardshaw)
Publisher: Orchard (@orchardbooks) (@HachetteKids)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 8th August 2019 (Paperback)
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1408353660

Perfect for Nursery, Reception & Year 1.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Star 🌟
2. Heart 💛
3. Friendship 🤗


I found him underneath a tree,
not somewhere a star should be!
He’d fallen from his home in space,
bumped and tumbled, scratched his face.

When a little girl discovers a star who has fallen to Earth, she takes him home and nurses him back to health.


Review: 

I’ve been a big fan of Corrinne’s deeply thoughtful, empathetic and emotive stories ever since I first saw Joy, and I am eagerly awaiting another that is coming soon in Hope.

With My Pet Star, a beautiful rhyming picture book that explores the relationship between a young girl and a star that she’s surreptitiously found one evening and shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards 2019 Picture Book, it is clear to see that Corrinne continues to write in such a way that resonates with all readers.

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Fearing that the star had lost his glow, the little girl takes the star home to nurse and nurtures him back to good health; the little girl acting as the star’s cosmic vet and the star as the little girl’s new-found pet. As the two begin a friendship that’s formed on reading, learning and enjoying being in each other’s company, it appears that they build more than an unbreakable bond between themselves.

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As the little girl learns more about the star with each passing day, she realises that at times they live very different lives from each other. With the star being nocturnal, unable to communicate verbally and shining so bright during the night, the little girl starts to recognise that her house may not be the best place for this well-again star.

Opening the window wide, the star returns to its natural habitat and is able to live once again in the night sky shining down on the little girl and the world below thanks to the love, care and devotion shown by she.

With soft, expressive and characterful illustrations from Rosalind, this heartwarming story emits empathy from its pages within. This sweet-natured story about letting go sometimes to the things you love most dearly would be brilliant for sharing at bedtime, in assembly time in schools for a younger audience or for reading at home between parent and child. It definitely succeeds so well in giving you all the feels.


Books that encourage care… by Corrinne Averiss

My Pet Star is a little story inspired by a child’s instinct to nurture; to prioritise the needs of someone else because they empathise with their suffering or discomfort.

My three year old daughter is always tending to things – throwing blankets over our cat, asking her if she ‘wants another cat biscuit?’ with head sympathetically to one side and recently, sharing her books with her. Even inanimate objects and toys draw her affection and sympathy, we can have cars with plasters on and stones wrapped in blankets.

The little girl in My Pet Star finds a fallen star in her garden and nurses it back to health, but Pet Star is representative of many things… it could be a hedgehog, a small bird fallen from its nest, a sick parent, sibling, friend or even our own mental health or inner child. Whatever it is that needs ‘love and time and care…’ to feel better again.

Ice creams are missed… toys aren’t played with… but a bond is forged through time and tenderness and the Star’s glow is restored.

Feeling small and helpless in the world themselves, it is powerful for a child to be able to reassure someone they perceive to be more vulnerable. I’ve chosen a few books that I feel also represent this theme. Treating others – be they human or animal – with respect and tenderness. Just curiosity and an open heart allowing the needs of another to be observed and understood.


The Smartest GIANT in Town – Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler

I love the instinctive kindness of George the Giant who helps the animals he meets on his journey even when this results in his own comfort. It’s such a powerful littlestory and I adore the pride in his song, that grows with each good deed ‘…my shoe is a house for a little white mouse’. My shoe! Look what it means to someone else!

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Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers

It’s important not to assume we know what someone needs – to be open-minded, helpful, and to see what unfolds.

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The Storm Whale – Benji Davis

Noi reacts quickly to help the storm whale; keeping him wet in the bath, reading to him, playing music, feeding him. He is instantly completely present and ‘there’ for thewhale and its needs.

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How to Hide a Lion – Helen Stephens

Similarly, Iris dedicates herself to caring for the lion – brushing his mane and offering a bandage for his sore paw. She elects herself sole defender of the lion from suspicious grown-ups and this beautifully captures the way children feel themselves to be the equals of animals.

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Big thanks to Corrinne, Alison and all the team at Hachette for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the My Pet Star blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

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

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the My Pet Star blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Corrinne & Rosalind, content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

 

Blog Tour (Review & Giveaway!): I, Cosmo – Carlie Sorosiak (Illustrated by Ben Mantle)

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‘A story that shows the power of pooches, the magnificence of man’s best friend and proves that anything is paws-ible when you have a dog by your side. Every dog will have its day but for Cosmo, this extraordinary dog will absolutely have your heart fur-ever.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: I, Cosmo
Author: Carlie Sorosiak (@carliesorosiak)
Cover illustrator:
Ben Mantle (@BenMMantle)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 1st August 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788003872

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Dog 🐶
2. Companionship 🐾
3. Heart 💝


The story of one dog’s attempt to save his family, become a star, and eat a lot of bacon.

Cosmo’s family is falling apart. And it’s up to Cosmo to keep them together. He knows exactly what to do. There’s only one problem. Cosmo is a Golden Retriever.

Wise, funny, and filled with warmth and heart, this is Charlotte’s Web meets Little Miss Sunshine – a moving, beautiful story, with a wonderfully unique hero, from an incredible new voice in middle grade fiction – perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Kate DiCamillo.


Review:

I grew up having dogs in my life. In fact, I think it’s most probably fairer to say that dogs grew up with me in their lives. Dogs were in my family’s life well before I was. I remember, even now, pictures of a baby me being taken in my car seat with my first dog Tammy, and first of three West Highland White Terriers (Holly and Daisy) we’ve had, sat next to me almost guarding me. So even then – at that very young age – I knew all too well the strength in the bond of a dog and its family.

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Therefore this story, personally, has so much more to it than just its words. With warmth, with feeling and with so much sentiment that I think my heart could burst, it takes its readers on the most endearing and captivating of journeys through the twists, turns and turmoils of family life.

“There is a word I’ve learned in my twelve years: doggedly. It means “with persistence and full effort.” Humans attribute this to a dog’s stubbornness – our refusal to give up chewy sticks, the way we freeze in the doorway when it rains. But really, it’s the way we love, with our whole hearts, no matter the circumstance. I vowed to protect Max – and my family – doggedly, for the rest of my life.

Elderly golden retriever Cosmo lives with Max, his owner, or as he prefers to see it, his brother and his family. As family life starts to become too much what with a parental relationship breaking down, it’s up to Cosmo to take care of Max and his anxieties after Uncle Reggie tells him to “Protect their hearts.”. Their unbreakable bond is and becomes even more inseparably, indescribably beautiful as the story goes on. Written in Cosmo’s perceptive perspective with an authentic, anecdotal style of retelling the daily goings-on within the family home including holidays, Halloween and happier times.

From his love of old movies (with more than a slight mention of his favourite film Grease, I hear ya!) and dancing, lessons are to be learned. These lessons being that Cosmo and Max find themselves entering themselves into a dog-dancing competition in a bid to stop, what Max thinks is, the impending separation of his parents and the separation of him from his dog as the family splits quite literally in half. With Uncle Reggie’s help in masterminding teaching the old dog new tricks, will the partnership of canine and companion go all the way in succeeding to show off what they’re about or will there be a few obstacles standing in their way…?

If you’ve ever wanted to get into the head, the eyes and the heart of man’s best friend, this is most definitely the closest you’ll come. I feel that I could make comparisons of this to other canine-inspired classics but I can’t. It would feel unjust and unfair because, for me, it is unique. Unique in the way that an author has captured an animal’s thoughts, feelings and emotions so directly, so perfectly and so exquisitely that it is so rare to see it done so well. Observations, mannerisms and nuances all full of wit, humour, self-deprecation, shrewdness and love, it’s almost as if I believe that Carlie may have been a dog in a previous life; it’s that stark. This is why it is my major recommendation for next year’s EmpathyLabUK’s Read for Empathy Collection.

“…I do believe that, with the right human by your side, it’s possible to leap fearlessly into the unknown.”

A story that shows the power of pooches, the magnificence of man’s best friend and proves that anything is paws-ible when you have a dog by your side. Every dog will have its day but for Cosmo, this extraordinary dog will absolutely have your heart fur-ever.


‘A story that shows the power of pooches, the magnificence of man’s best friend and proves that anything is paws-ible when you have a dog by your side. Every dog will have its day but for Cosmo, this extraordinary dog will absolutely have your heart fur-ever.’


Giveaway!

To celebrate the publication of I Cosmo, the very lovely people at Nosy Crow have kindly given me THREE copies to give away!

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


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Be sure to check out the rest of the I, Cosmo blog tour for more reviews & exclusive content from Carlie and these brilliant book bloggers!

Review & Guest Post (The Inspiration Behind The Monster): The Switching Hour – Damaris Young (Illustrated by Kelsey Buzzell)

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‘Spooky, suspenseful and Stranger Things. Damaris’ haunting yet hopeful words and worlds so atmospherically realised here suggest she could be the next and natural successor to Hardinge.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Switching Hour
Author: Damaris Young (@damarisyoung)
Cover illustrator:
Kelsey Buzzell (Website)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 1st August 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407195049

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Friendship 👭
2. Monster 👹
3. Drought ☁️


Never stay out after the Switching Hour… never let the outside in…

Every night, at twilight, Amaya locks her door to keep out the Badeko, a creature that vanishes children away to devour their dreams.

When Amaya’s small brother is taken, she must fight her way through the terrifying and twisting forest to the Badeko’s nest.

She must face her fears that come alive after dark…


Review:

Fishing in her local river, we are introduced to Amaya who lives with her grandmother, her small brother Kaleb and her pet goat Tau. Soon realising she’s been out for far too long, she rushes back home just in time before the time of the Switching Hour starts where the day turns to night and the living turn to the lure of a legend…

“The creature licked its lips and sucked the dream through its sharp teeth, but the empty hunger in its belly still roared. It wasn’t enough.
Always hungry. Always thirsty.”

The legend of Badeko. A monster. A demon. A beast. A dream-eating devil who steals away children at night. Awoken greater now by the terrible drought that’s plaguing Amaya’s homeland, of which is stripping it of its little food and water and limited resources that’s left.

To stop Badeko, every night the doors must be locked at twilight. For Amaya, she’s come too close to comfort before to its humming, haunting presence and so now with the insistent calls of her grandmother ringing in her ears, she ensures that all the doors are not only closed but slammed shut, bolted down and checked at least three times. But when her wise old grandmother is needed by a local in a remote, far-off community, she’s left to look after her younger brother all by herself. Will she be able to protect what matters most to her?

“Dragging my feet over to my bed, I curled up under the covers without caring to change out of my clothes. As I drifted off, I had the uneasy feeling of something left undone.”

But whilst the adults are away, and unbeknownst to Amaya who’s sleeping soundly, the Badeko reappears to play one evening during the Switching Hour rearing its head and wilfully prowling outside her home to try its luck at the seemingly-locked front door only to find its way in to Kaleb.

Snatched away in the dead of night in the clutches of this creature, Amaya awakes to find her brother gone; her worst nightmares coming true; her heart and soul ripped out; her world torn apart and thus the start of a creepy, compulsive and compelling adventure in which she must undertake to face her deepest and darkest fears across the Blackened Forest to seek out the Dead Tree – where Badeko calls home – to bring her brother from the back of beyond. Legend has it that once Badeko claims a child, all relatives will forget their existence within three days and be left in a state of eternal grief and mourning. They call it the Sorrow Sickness, so can Amaya rescue her sibling before this lingering longing sets in?

In its central character of Amaya, Damaris has created a heroine of unforgettable power. With her faithful goat-friend Tau for company, she finds herself as much on a physically-arduous journey as a mentally-testing one.

Submerged in a supernatural and almost tribal-tinged world, influenced by Damaris’ own experiences of myths and legends of a childhood growing up in South Africa, it shows the power of friendship, especially with supporting character Mally, and the very real fear of forgetting the ones you love. Therefore, it’s no surprise that this spooky, suspenseful story with all senses of Stranger Things about it will completely snatch hold of its readers and keep them gripped the whole way through. Her haunting yet hopeful words and worlds so atmospherically realised here suggest she could be the next and natural successor to Hardinge.


‘Spooky, suspenseful and Stranger Things. Damaris’ haunting yet hopeful words and worlds so atmospherically realised here suggest she could be the next and natural successor to Hardinge.’


The Inspiration Behind The Monster in The Switching Hour

When I started writing The Switching Hour, I had been interested in climate issues for a long time and it was important to me that the story had a connection to this crucial topic, without being too taken over by it.

In The Switching Houra dream eating creature is awoken by a terrible drought. This monstrous creature is my interpretation of our global changing climate, as the drought threatens to devour all life. It preys on young children by eating their dreams, in the same way climate change will affect generation to come. In The Switching Hour, while the adults hide away behind locked doors, it is the children who are brave and take action.

In our real world, it is young people who are also leading the way when it comes to creating awareness about climate change. The young activist Greta Thunberg is inspiring global protests, urging politicians to take action, and proving that no matter how old you are, your voice matters!

With demands from social media to connect and engage, to the bombardment of the news and the pressures to achieve, young people often feel like they have little control over the world around them, which is why The Switching Houris ultimately a story of courage and hope. It may seem like there is too much that is out of our control, but there is still so much that is. Every one of us has a voice and it’s up to all of us to fight our monsters, real or imagined.z7-envEw_400x400.jpg

 

 

Damaris Young, author of The Switching Hour


Big thanks to Damaris, Mary and all the team at Scholastic for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Switching Hour blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Damaris for writing such a brilliant and insightful guest post!

Mr E


Blog Tour (Review & Giveaway!): The Bad Luck Lighthouse – Nicki Thornton (Illustrated by Matt Saunders)

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‘This series is without doubt becoming the recommended read for mystery lovers young and old. Nicki is establishing herself very much as the Christie for children.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Bad Luck Lighthouse
Author: Nicki Thornton (@nicki_thornton)
Cover illustration: Matt Saunders (@msaunders_ink)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 384
Date of publication: 4th July 2019
Series status: Book 2 after The Last Chance Hotel
ISBN: 978-1912626304

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Lighthouse💡
2. Magic ✨
3. Murder ☠️


Welcome to the Bad Luck Lighthouse.

In solving the mystery at the Last Chance Hotel, Seth has discovered a world of magic. Swept up in a new case at Snakesmouth Lighthouse – the murder of eccentric owner Mina Mintencress – he is determined to prove himself. 

With the help of his cat, Nightshade, Seth must put his new-found magic to the test. Can they unmask a sinister sorcerer… before it’s too late?


Review: 

Danger, dishonesty, dark magic and deception all characteristically return in this sequel set a few months on from the accolade-winning The Last Chance Hotel (The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2016/Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for October 2018). As this is almost a direct continuation from Nicki’s first book in the series, I’d most definitely advise you to seek out and devour The Last Chance Hotel before reading this. 

For lowly kitchen boy Seth Seppi, you’d think solving one mystery would be good enough however he is back and this time he is out to test himself with learning how to use the magic that’s been bestowed unto him in a whole new world. Introduced to us in this one as doubting himself as a ‘natural’, he’s left holding a book called the Easy-Peasy book of magic which on the surface provides Seth with the slightest glimmer of hope of achieving the ‘spark of magic‘ that he believes others see in him. But sadly for him, he hasn’t been able to complete a single spell since receiving it. 

Therefore struggling, getting desperate and following a fleeting visit from Inspector Pewter – last seen in the last book – he flings himself through a portal after Pewter and soon becomes embroiled in another magical murder-mystery after discovering Snakesmouth Lighthouse, a hotel that’s supposedly haunted… or is it?

Storms are battering the lighthouse outside; guests are not forthcoming and with staff leaving or who have already left in their droves, this seems like another sinister setting that no-one wants to visit. When suddenly Seth happens upon the death of a very important character who actually owns the lighthouse which stopped me completely (pardon the pun!) dead in my tracks whilst reading. With talking cat-companion Nightshade for company – which just has to be one of the best cases of nominative determinism as one of the very best pet names I’ve come across in children’s literature – he tries his hardest to uncover the mystery and web of lies, agendas and revelations that he’s managed to entangle himself in. Sometimes it’s the things that are often left unsaid in these stories that lead to greater suspense than the things that are said.

Bringing back some old faces such as Inspector Pewter and Angelique really helps the reader to find the touch of familiarity from the previous book and adding some new, such as personal-favourite Celeste, completes and complements the cast of characters and suspects in this new thrilling mystery from Nicki. After reading a recent blog by her, it’s so pleasing to see an author write a sequel of a book with characters she so dearly loves and it is with this that I hope that these classically-written but contemporary-styled mysteries may long continue. This series is without doubt becoming the recommended read for mystery lovers young and old. Nicki is establishing herself very much as the Christie for children.


‘This series is without doubt becoming the recommended read for mystery lovers young and old. Nicki is establishing herself very much as the Christie for children.’


Giveaway!

To celebrate the publication of The Bad Luck Lighthouse, the very lovely people at Chicken House have kindly given me THREE sets of both books, The Last Chance Hotel & The Bad Luck Lighthouse, to give away!

If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning these two classically-written but also contemporary mysteries, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Bad Luck Lighthouse blog tour for more reviews & exclusive content from Nicki and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Last Spell Breather – Julie Pike (Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova)

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‘It’s a magical must-read that takes place in such an original, chapter-turning and cleverly-imagined world I didn’t want to leave behind. With The Last Spell Breather, Julie doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with a special kind of magic; as if her pen is gold-tipped.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Last Spell Breather
Author: Julie Pike (@Juliepike)
Illustrator: Dinara Mirtalipova (Website)
Publisher: Oxford University Press Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 4th July 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0192771605

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Magic ✨
2. Fox 🦊
3. Words 👄


Enter the unique world of the Spell Breathers!

Spell Breathing does not come naturally to Rayne – she loathes the hours of practice, the stacks of scrolls, and the snapping mud grotesques that cover her mother’s precious spell book. When she holds the spell book over a fire, it is only meant as an empty threat – until she feels the grotesque’s tiny teeth biting into her finger and lets go. In one clumsy move, her mother’s spells are broken, her village is plunged into danger, and an incredible adventure begins…


Review: I often think if only I had some way of transforming myself to be able to do something else. I often think about magic. I think we all often think about magic. But within the pages of this very special story, magic comes to life in an equally special way. Breathed to life. By the name of spells. Spells with a capital S. Spells that are strong and wrap around you and which possess a magic of their very own. However should those words come out in the wrong order or be directed in the wrong direction, then these Spells can cause a chaos of their very own too. And for the sometimes-creator of that chaos, let’s meet Rayne…

With the title of Spell Breather’s apprentice bestowed upon her ever since her mother decided to take her out of school (and almost away from her friends!), the world of spell breathing is not one Rayne is familiar with. Sometimes bungling and with a lack of self-confidence but often with her head elsewhere like wanting to play with her friends which reminded me of The Worst Witch meeting Luna Lovegood, she feels that she doesn’t have the same way with words that her magical mother, who is at the call of the community to help them, does.

You see, Rayne’s mother has been at this spell-breathing skill for some time. Not only does she service the locals with her powers but she also preserves the barrier that is keeping their town, Penderin, safe. However when an unexpected visitor arrives at the barrier, something is amiss and Rayne’s mother has to leave, meaning that Rayne has to learn quickly to look after herself and her town.

After speaking to Julie and hearing about her being from Wales, I’m sure I spotted more than a few Welsh references which resonated especially well with me. It’s a magical must-read that takes place in such an original, chapter-turning and cleverly-imagined world I didn’t want to leave behind. With The Last Spell Breather, Julie doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with a special kind of magic; as if her pen is gold-tipped.


‘It’s a magical must-read that takes place in such an original, chapter-turning and cleverly-imagined world I didn’t want to leave behind. With The Last Spell Breather, Julie doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with a special kind of magic; as if her pen is gold-tipped.’


I’m so pleased to welcome Julie Pike to The Reader Teacher today with her awe-inspiring and life-affirming blog post about the wondrous adventures she has been on that have influenced the writing of The Last Spell Breather…

When I set out to write The Last Spell Breather, I knew I wanted to create a magical page turning adventure. What I didn’t know was how to go about it. I went to see Garth Nix talk at the Hay Festival. It was my first ever author talk, and it was wonderful. One thing he said stood out like a beacon…  ‘I learned how to write’.

I spent the next decade learning how to write my ‘page turner’, wrapping my head around plot, character arcs, pacing, story beats, magic systems and a whole lot more. I’m not done yet, I still have much learning to do.

Along the way, I realised there was one aspect of story I already knew inside out and back to front. I already knew that the best adventures were filled with high stakes and personal challenges. How did I know? Because the stories I’d devoured as a child had inspired me to have real-life adventures of my own.

Here’s a taste of my adventures, along with some grainy, pre-smart phone pictures, for good measure. 

Wondrous Adventures
I’ve adventured overland through India, Nepal, Tibet and China. I left the UK on my own and made friends along the way. We slept on trains and visited friendly elephant reserves. We sailed down the Ganges to beautiful Varanasi. We slept in tents on the high plains and under the stars in the deserts. We journeyed to Everest’s mighty North Face and slept at Rongbuck monastery. We cleared road blocks in Lhasa, even pushing aside a police car with two coppers inside (thankfully they didn’t mind!). We ordered food in restaurants by pointing at other people’s dishes, because the only language we shared was smiling and laughter. We climbed mountains, and on the last night, we climbed to an abandoned part of the Great Wall of China and camped in a dazzling lightning storm.

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Yes, my hair really was that red

Hard Work Adventures

My hardest adventure was climbing Kilimanjaro. The peak is 5,895 metres and a three-day hike from the park entrance. The higher you climb, the colder it gets and the water in your bottle freezes. The altitude makes it tricky to get a good night’s sleep and makes you feel queasy, so you don’t feel like eating. Closer to the top you’ll get a headache and may drop out, because it’s just too darn hard.

The final push begins at 11pm at night, where you climb the steep scree slope under a star filled sky. The idea is to be at the top for sunrise. It sounds wondrous, but by this point all you can think about, for hours and hours, is putting one foot in front of the other.

I didn’t make the top at sunrise, I was about 100 metres below. I sat on a rock and watched the sun crest the horizon, mesmerised by its red, orange and golden glory. By that point I was empty. I couldn’t go on. And I was sure I had no energy to get down either. Did Kilimanjaro have mountain rescue?

But I was wrong. I did have more. My guide, Arbogast said, ‘you can give up if you’re tired, but you’ve come from Europe to climb this mountain.’

Talk about the power of words! I picked myself up and staggered-crawled to the crater’s rim.

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Me and Arbogast, I wouldn’t have made it without his support.

Leap of Faith Adventures

I’ve ridden white water in Chile, tandem-sky dived over the Great Lake of New Zealand and abseiled down a 100-foot freezing waterfall in France. None of these are skills I possess myself, they’re all borrowed from other people. Before each activity I feel sick with nerves and ‘what ifs.’ But I’ve done my research, I know my guides are experts, so I follow their instructions and take a leap of faith into adventure!

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Come on in! The water’s lovely.

And then there are the adventures where you have no guide, you’re on your own, it’s totally down to you and there are no grainy pictures – because when you’re in a REAL adventure, the stakes are too high to stop and pose.

If you want to know about that one, come by an event or signing table and ask.

I try to bring all my adventures into my writing. I hope I’ve succeeded. I hope you enjoy The Last Spell Breather, and it inspires you (just like the stories I read as a child) to have adventures of your own.

Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy adventuring!


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Julie Pike – Biography

Julie grew up on a council estate, nestled between the forests and foothills of the Welsh Valleys. She is passionate about adventure stories, and volunteers in local schools and libraries in Dorset, helping children find stories that excite them. She is passionate about real-life adventures too, and has crawled inside the great pyramid of Giza, travelled to the peak of Kilimanjaro, and camped on the Great Wall of China in a lightning storm.

Twitter: @juliepike


Big thanks to Julie and all the team at Oxford University Press Children’s for inviting me to kick off and share my thoughts as part of the The Last Spell Breather blog tour and for sending me a copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Julie for writing her excellent guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Last Spell Breather blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Julie, content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

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!