Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Black Water – Barbara Henderson (Illustrated by Sandra McGowan)

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‘Exquisite writing… every word is used for effect. This story is not only one of legend and lore, but one of pulsating action and adventure eagerly awaiting its readers.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Black Water
Author: Barbara Henderson (@scattyscribbler)
Publisher: Cranachan (@cranachanbooks)
Page count: 88
Date of publication: 31st October 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911279624

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

1. Smuggling 🛢️
2. Poetry ✍️
3. Father-son 👨‍👦

Down by the coast, black water swirls and hides its secrets…

Dumfries, 1792.
Henry may only be thirteen, but he has already begun his training in the Excise, combatting smuggling like his father does. But when a large, smuggling schooner is stranded nearby, the stakes are high – even with reinforcements, and the newly recruited officer, a poet called Robert Burns.

Musket fire, obstructive locals, quicksand and cannonballs – it is a mission of survival. As it turns out: Henry has a crucial part to play…


Historical fiction and short stories, for me, are rather something of hidden gems in the children’s literature world. There’s such a dearth of both quantity and quality in the two genres that when I see a book that is set especially in a time period which has not been written about in detail before, I am thrilled and this is exactly how I felt when I cast my eyes over Black Water to see it satisfying both these untapped criteria.

As teenager Henry Lewars finds himself out at sea and hiding in the shadows of his father, he finds too that he has a lot to learn in following in his father’s footsteps and getting the hang of working for the Excise. It’s 1792, in the early hours of the morning and Henry, his father and their fellow officers are floating on the Solway Firth, determined to chase and catch the oncoming smugglers and their contraband whom are looming large. As they bring their captives and evidence ashore, it seems that Henry has, according to his father, done ‘tolerably well’ in one of his first missions.

But all is not quiet in the Firth for long… as news of an even larger ship – a schooner by the name of the Rosamund – has been spotted. As Henry and his father depart to take down these tax evaders on the orders of Riding Officer, Mr Walter Crawford, they realise however that they may need more reinforcements. One of them, a very famous one who is more known for his poetry (some of which is featured within Black Water) than his involvement as an Exciseman: Robert Burns.

Will Henry survive? Will he not only learn how to work for the Excise but finally earn the respect of his father? How does the bard help in their quest to board the Rosamund? And who is Old Finlay… a character who from the start holds more than a mystery about him?

With musket fire, cannon fire, bribery, quicksand, a race against the tide and battle-hardened sailors, this story is not only one of legend and lore, but one of pulsating action and adventure eagerly awaiting its readers. Barbara’s level of research is second-to-none and from reading her author’s note, a brief history of smuggling in Scotland and extracts from Crawford’s journal and Burns’ poetry itself, you can see how every word is used exquisitely for full effect and so proves that good things come in small packages.

Burns and me, we have history
by Barbara Henderson


I have a terrible admission to make. Until I was 19 years old, I had never ever heard of Robert Burns.

I’m not kidding. Having grown up in Germany, I could recite Goethe and Schiller and had read a smattering of the German classics. I had covered some Shakespeare in English lesons at school, but Scots? My teachers would have run a mile! It was their job to produce an accent akin to BBC presenters in the 60s, crystal clear and a little old fashioned. Any deviation from this was frowned upon and avoided at all cost.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Edinburgh University to study English Literature and, in a moment of madness, signed up to do Scottish Lit instead (the two were interchangeable and I fancied learning something new). I came to regret it – fluent in English, I was an absolute beginner when it came to Scots words – and Burns used quite a few of those! I bought a trusty second-hand copy of his works and set to work. It didn’t take long before there was a connection – I took to the romanticist element in his work (I had loved the same in Goethe) and there was something phonetically truthful in these words. Here was a poet who was making a point, taking a risk: deliberately including the language of ordinary people in literature. Here was someone deeply flawed, but at the same time drawn to goodness and virtue. Someone who believed in an egalitarian society before we were anywhere approaching that – and we still have some way to go! Someone who wrote poetry about mice and lice, all the way commenting on society as he saw it. One of my favourites is Holy Willie’s Prayer – exposing religious hypocrisy in a humorous way, digging at double standards.

Traditional Burns’ Suppers became a January fixture in our house (and our best friends got together at one of those!).

It’s always an occasion, and a joyous one at that. What’s not to love? Whenever in Edinburgh, I still pop into the Writers’ Museum to have my wee fix of Burns, Stevenson and Scott. One year I even persuaded the family that we really, really wanted to holiday in Dumfries – I was interested in visiting the place where he had lived. It hadn’t occurred to me that the poet would feature in one of my stories until I found out about the incredible events surrounding the seizure of the Rosamund, the real events that underpin Black Water. How on earth has no-one written for kids about this? It is a gift! It features the poet, but in his day job as an Exciseman which he took on as he needed a reliable income – but it is clear that his heart was in his poetry. This posed an interesting idea for me: What would he be like? How would he treat a child? Would he be likeable? I decided that yes, flawed as he was, he would have been likeable! He was passionate about his art, and that is as appealing today as I’m sure it was then.

It seems that, nearly 30 years after I first encountered him, I’m still a little charmed by the bard.

Big thanks to Barbara and all the team at Cranachan for inviting me to be a part of the Black Water blog tour and for sending me an advance copy.

Extra thanks to Barbara for writing such an insightful guest post!

Mr E

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Be sure to check out the rest of the Black Water blog tour for more exclusive content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): Invisible in a Bright Light – Sally Gardner (Illustrated by Helen Crawford-White)

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‘Past meets present in this most fantastical of fairytales… I can categorically say that there is no-one else who writes with the same unique imagination of Sally Gardner.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Invisible in a Bright Light
Author: Sally Gardner (@TheSallyGardner)
Cover illustrator: Helen Crawford-White (@studiohelen)
Publisher: Zephyr (@_ZephyrBooks)
Page count: 320
Date of publication: 17th October 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1786695222

Perfect for Year 6 and Year 7.

1. Chandelier 🕯️
2. Theatre 🎭
3. Game 🎲

It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles.

Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else.

When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste’s past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.


Waking up in a costume basket in the theatre, Celeste thinks she’s just been on the receiving end of a bad dream. However it can only get worse for her when she finds everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else much grander than she actually is – a dancer preparing for her performance. When she can’t find her mother and someone calls her by a different name, it seems that Celeste – an orphan who’s at the bottom of the theatre pecking order as she runs everyone’s errands – soon realises she is in far deeper into a mystical world than she initially thought.

As the strangeness of the events gets stranger still, a crystal chandelier in the shape of galleon crashes down from the Royal Opera House’s ceiling leaving Celeste injured and unable to dance. Owing to this seemingly at first random accident, Celeste begins to see her former life through a ghostly somebody else who seems to know more about Celeste than she does and plays her part in the Reckoning herself with past meeting present head-on.

From the very first chapter, this story holds you in the palm of its hand with its plot that tantalisingly unfolds and its exceedingly imaginative array of characters from a mysterious man in an emerald green suit that haunts Celeste’s mind from the beginning to his game of the Reckoning which is, in itself, like a character of its very own with its truly terrific twists and turns.

I can categorically say that there is no-one else who writes with the same unique imagination of Sally Gardner. Reading her readers’ note in the proof copy of the inspirations behind this story of a women keeping a chandelier shining in the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen really showcases the quality of how she mixes fact with fiction to create the most fantastical of fairytales.

Big thanks to Sally, Jade and all the team at Zephyr Books for inviting me to be a part of the Invisible in a Bright Light blog tour on publication day and for sending me a signed proof copy.

Mr E

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Be sure to check out the rest of the Invisible in a Bright Light blog tour for more exclusive content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The International Yeti Collective – Paul Mason (Illustrated by Katy Riddell)

‘The kind of book you wish your parents had read to you as a child. An emotionally intelligent, absorbing adventure that carries at its heart the most wonderful message of being at one with nature. Are you YETI for this?’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The International Yeti Collective
Author: Paul Mason
Illustrator: Katy Riddell (@RiddellKaty)
Publisher: Stripes (@StripesBooks)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 17th October 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788950848

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

1. Yeti 👹
2. Friendship 🤝
3. Nature 🏔️

We’re stronger together than apart. Particularly at times like this, when danger lands at our feet.

Ella is on a yeti-hunting expedition in the Himalayas with her uncle Jack, a celebrity explorer. She’s expecting an amazing trip, but nothing more. Everyone knows that yeti don’t exist.

Tick is a young yeti who can’t help but ask questions. What is beyond the mountain he calls home? Are humans really as bad as everyone says they are?

When Tick’s curiosity sets off a chain of events that threatens the entire yeti community, Ella is swept up in the adventure. Can the unlikely pair work together to protect the yeti before it’s too late?

They’re going to need help. Help from The International Yeti Collective.


As Ella Stern whiles away her time on an expedition with her uncle Jack in the middle of the Himalayas, she’s in a world of her own dreaming up headlines of encountering the mystical and magical Yeti. Unfortunately for her, the yeti have been proven to not exist and all previous encounters judged as fake… so it becomes a bit of a pipe dream for her in more ways than one.

Nevertheless, unperturbed by this, her Uncle Jack is intent on filming his latest nature show in the middle of the mountain range. Making sure all the camera shots are happening, the crew set up various cameras in particular hotspots and it’s only upon checking the last reel of film (and the scent of a ‘barnyard that hasn’t been cleaned in ages’) does Ella realise that they may have come across exactly what they’ve been searching for.

On the flip side of this story however is Tick, a young yeti. Unfortunately for him, he’s extra curious after learning that his mother wanted to find out more about humans and you know what they say with curiosity killing the cat yeti and as a result of this, his yeti community put him in front of their Elders for further questioning and thanks to their decision, they banish him from their collective and sett, and in turn set Tick and Ella off on the wildest chain of events…

Told through this double narrative, this is an emotionally intelligent, absorbing adventure that carries at its heart the most wonderful message of being at one with nature. Perfect for fans of H. S. Norup, Sinéad O’Hart and Abi Elphinstone… this is the kind of book you wish your parents had read to you as a child. One of my absolute favourite reads of the year. 

Are you YETI for this?

P.S. After reading this, I discovered (or made up!) my own yeti name – Page (he who must read).

Meet the Author – Paul Mason

I’m delighted to welcome Paul Mason, author of the International Yeti Collective to The Reader Teacher to answer questions about his book and some quick-fire questions!


Photo: Emma Hughes

  1. Can you sum up The International Yeti Collective in a paragraph?

When young yeti Tick leads a group of humans to his front door, the yeti are forced to flee. In their panic, the ancient yeti slabs are abandoned—soon finding their way into human hands. If the slabs are deciphered, every Yeti, Sasquatch and Bigfoot will be in danger, not to mention their vital role in helping the Earth. Now Tick and his friends must set off on a quest to rescue the slabs before it’s too late.  Along the way they get help from an unexpected source…

  1. What were your favourite books when you were growing up?

Anything Roald Dahl, but Danny the Champion of the World is my pick. The closeness between Danny and his dad is heart-warming.

  1. What are the three main things a reader will find in your books?

Paper, ink and words—words like kerfuffle.

  1. Did you always want to be a writer? Have you had different jobs before you were an author? Do you think a variety of work experiences has helped you to write?

I started writing for enjoyment and thinking I could be a writer when I was in high school and college, but I lost sight of it over the years.  Then when I became a Dad and a teacher, I rediscovered my joy in telling stories.  In between, I’ve carried antique furniture, covered lots of ground in restaurants and been a primary school teacher. All part of who I am–but my years as a teacher really influenced my writing.

  1. Where do you get your ideas from, and how do you store them?

As Roald Dahl says: “watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets lie in the most unlikely places.” I carry around a little black book and a fountain pen to catch them before they disappear.

  1. The environment and conservation are main themes in The International Yeti Collective. Do you think storytelling is an effective medium for getting people engaged in real-world issues?

I hope so.  My aim in The International Yeti Collective and some of my short stories is to get readers to consider and appreciate the things we have in nature, and what’s at stake if we lose it.

  1. How much of Paul Mason is reflected in your characters?

Tall, big feet, a good set of teeth. I could be a yeti.

  1. You are in a library with a 12-year-old who claims that they don’t like reading… Which 3 books would you reach for to try to change their mind?

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and Holes by Louis Sachar.

  1. What’s the best and worst things about being an author?

The best thing is that I get to play with words and tell stories. Working with amazing illustrators like Katy Riddell is also a real privilege. Seeing my characters come alive through pictures—wow! The worst thing? The times of self-doubt when I can hardly seem to string a sentence together.

  1. Do you have any advice for budding writers?

Read often. Write often. Watch the world. Tell your stories. You have a voice like no other, it’s important you share it.


  1. 3 words that describe you:

Tall, friendly, humorous (or so my daughter says.)

  1. Favourite time of the day?

Climbing into bed at the end of the day is pretty hard to beat.

  1. 3 random facts about you:

I live on a small island. Spike Milligan once wrote me a letter. A 150 year old leather boot sits on my desk.

  1. Go-to snack?

Prawn cocktail crisps.

  1. The best advice you ever got:

To thine own self be true: Shakespeare via my Dad.

  1. “If I could go anywhere in the world right now, I’d head for…”

In the stands on the halfway line at the Arsenal, just in time for kick-off.

  1. If I could time-travel, I’d set the counter for the year …

Somewhere around AD 170,

Because… To pick the brains of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. I might have to learn some Latin first.

  1. An easy way to be a bit more green:

Cut down on food waste. Help your family plan meals. Buy only what you need.

  1. Your dream place to curl up with a book?

The sofa in front of a crackling fire, with Kipling my cat on my lap.

  1. The 3 books you’d like to get for your next birthday:

The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt by Andrea Wulf and Lillian Melcher; Adventures of a Young Naturalist by Sir David Attenborough; Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell.

Big thanks to Paul, Katy, Leilah and all the team at Stripes Books for inviting me to kick off The International Yeti Collective blog tour and for involving me in this book’s release all the way along from proof to finished copy, including having my quote wonderfully published within it. This means the world!

Extra thanks to Paul for answering these questions!

Mr E


Be sure to check out the rest of The International Yeti Collective blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Sibéal & content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review, Extract & Guest Post): Mother Tongue – Patricia Forde (Illustrated by Elissa Webb)

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‘For Letta is one of the best heroines I have come across in a book. Steadfast, strong and unwaveringly resilient, she is the driving force behind why this series is becoming so revered.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Mother Tongue
Author: Patricia Forde (@PatriciaForde1)
Cover illustrator: Elissa Webb
Publisher: Little Island (@LittleIslandBks)
Page count: 224
Date of publication: 12th September 2019
Series status: Second in The Wordsmith series (Standalone)
ISBN: 978-1912417278

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

1. Words 🔤
2. Missing ❌
3. Heroine 💪

After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.

The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art.

Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life. 


With its themes of climate change and global warming, political power, truth versus lies and oppressive regimes, and set in an apocalyptic, dystopian future, you could say that this story has aspects that ring true to a future that isn’t actually that far from home in today’s political climate.

In this stand-alone sequel to The Wordsmith, the new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But protagonist Letta, the wordsmith, is tasked with keeping words alive. For Letta is one of the best heroines I have come across in a book. Steadfast, strong and unwaveringly resilient, she is the driving force behind why this series is becoming so revered. As the evolution of language becomes less and less with each generation, Letta fights back against the system. But as she does, she uncovers more discoveries than she could have ever imagined… Will one of these discoveries be the death of her?

Freedom of speech, a world so well realised and a main character with more than a sense of gutsy determination all are on offer for the reader here and it is with all of these at play that readers – both children and adults – should make Mother Tongue one not to be missed of their To Be Read piles. If you’re looking for more, The Wordsmith (Book 1) is a must.

For those intrigued by my review, you can read more in this extract below:


Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

This is the question I get asked most often at school events and it is a difficult question to answer.

Writers are hoarders, I find. We hoard images, snippets of conversation, stories from the local newspaper. This stash of inspiration is kept in our heads or hopefully in a notebook or on a computer file until we need it. When I wrote The Wordsmith the process started with a single image. I imagined a girl, called Letta, working in a shop selling words. I had no idea who she was or why she was selling words but I could see the location clearly. A big wooden counter and behind that rows of pigeon holes. Each pigeon hole held a box and each box held cards. Each card had a word written on it. I could hear Letta’s voice talking to her customers – did they want words for everyday colours or something more elaborate? The standard box had words like blue and black and white in it but the special box had cerise and indigo and violet. Slowly, over days and weeks and months I discovered her story. She wasn’t selling words, she was distributing them. She was distributing them because by law people were only allowed to have five hundred words. Show don’t tell, everyone said, so I set about showing this strange law in action.

In the first chapter of The Wordsmith we see Letta’s master learning that from now on citizens of Ark will be given a list of five hundred words and they are the only words they are allowed to use.

Writers, by and large, are divided into those who plan their novels and those who do not. I belong in the latter camp. My challenge with The Wordsmith was to uncover this strange world, why it came to be, why language was rationed and what my protagonist was going to do about it.

Standing back from it now, I can see where some of the ideas came from. My father had a shop in Galway, where I was born and still live. I was used to the world of the counter and of customers coming and going. I speak Irish, a language now under threat with an ever-diminishing list of words in daily usage, and I was concerned about global warming. As I dug for my story all of those things influenced me and shaped the ultimate narrative.

Mother Tongue continues the story and puts us back in the world of Ark. When I tried to imagine Letta, after the first story finished, I saw her in a field teaching children. That brought me straight back to the history I had learnt in school.

After the accession of William and Mary in the 1690’s, the education of Catholics in Ireland was expressly forbidden under the Penal Laws. As a result an underground system of ‘hedge schools’ sprang up across the country. They were so called because the classes were often convened under the shelter of hedges or in stables or barns. The teacher risked life and limb but the children received an education in the Irish language, reading, writing and arithmetic.

And so, in the first chapter of Mother Tongue we find Letta teaching in a hedge school.

Another strong storyline in Mother Tongue is about the disappearance of babies. Amelia, the new ruler of Ark, is carrying out an experiment. If children never hear language will it follow that they will never speak?

Babies were very much in the news as I was writing. In March 2017, the Irish commission of investigation into Mother and Baby Homes announced that the remains of 796 infants had been found in Tuam buried on the site of a former institution for unmarried mothers. The remains of the children had been placed in an old septic tank.

Tuam is about twenty-five miles from where I live. The country was in shock.

And then, in the United States, we heard of families being separated at the Mexican border. Most of these people were from Central America and the campaign was designed to deter families hoping to immigrate to the United States. Babies were taken from their mother’s arms and placed in foster care.

The youngest child separated from his family, Baby Constantin, was four months old. I hoarded the image of Constantin with his deep brown eyes and long eyelashes.

Where do you get your ideas from? You get them from life, your own life and the lives of others, and you try to make sense of them by putting them into stories.

Mother Tongue is dedicated to the memory of the Tuam babies and to all children without a voice.

Patricia Forde photo

Patricia Forde is from Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. Her first novel THE WORDSMITH was published to great critical acclaim in 2015. It has since been published in the United States, Australia, Denmark, Russia, Turkey and the Netherlands. It has won a White Raven Award from the International Youth Library, is an American Library Association Notable Book for Children in the United States, and was shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year Award in Ireland. In 2018 Patricia wrote BUMPFIZZLE THE BEST ON PLANET EARTH, which was chosen as the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read 2019. MOTHER TONGUE, the sequel to THE WORDSMITH, has just been published in 2019 by Little Island Books. She is married to Padraic and has two grown up children. She still lives in Galway, her favourite city in the world. You can visit her at, find her on twitter @PatriciaForde1 and on Instagram @TrishForde1.

Founded by Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate, Siobhán Parkinson, Little Island Books has been publishing books for children and teenagers since 2010. It is Ireland’s only English-language publisher that publishes exclusively for young people. Little Island specialises in publishing new Irish writers and illustrators, and also has a commitment to publishing books in translation. In 2019 Little Island was the Irish winner of the inaugural Small Press of the Year award from The Bookseller magazine. You can find them online at, and on Twitter and Instagram at @LittleIslandBks.

Big thank to Patricia, Matthew and all the team at Little Island Books for inviting me to be a part of the wonderful Mother Tongue blog tour and for sending me an advance copy of the book.

Extra thanks to Patricia for writing such a fascinating guest post!

Mr E

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Be sure to check out the rest of the Mother Tongue blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Patricia, content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!


Blog Tour (Review): Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System – Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock (Illustrated by Chelen Écija)

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‘An inter-stellar and stand-out addition to the world of non-fiction; Dr Maggie is a revelation in the STEM world. A book that will leave its readers informed, inspired, intrigued and itching to find out as much as they can about the wonders of our Solar System and beyond.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title:Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System
Author: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
Illustrator: Chelen Écija
Publisher: Buster Books (@BusterBooks)
Page count: 128
Date of publication: 5th September 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1780555751

Perfect for Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

1. Space 🚀
2. Epic 🤩
3. Mind-blowing 🤯

Join renowned space scientist, Dr Maggie on an epic journey through the solar system. 

Visit planets, moons, asteroids and satellites, and travel to places where no human has been before.

Along the way, you can discover how we could live on Mars, learn about the hunt for a mysterious super-Earth, have a snowball fight on Mercury, climb the largest volcano in the Solar System and much, much more.

Hold on to your helmet and get set for the cosmic trip of a lifetime.

Review: I’ve been a huge fan of Dr Maggie ever since I saw her astounding Lee Mack, many a celebrity and countless audiences on Sky One’s wildly-unique and amazing factual show, Duck Quacks Don’t Echo putting strange theories to the test. So it is no surprise that when I first cast eyes on this book, I knew it was going to be something special.

Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System is a in-depth, richly knowledgeable and accessible introduction to the ins and outs of the cosmos and the galaxy, the planets and a concise history of space exploration. With July 20, 2019, marking the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar mission, many books are being published on the subject but this is absolutely one of the best I’ve come across for children.

Taking the reader on a ‘grand tour’ is no mean feat but Dr Maggie achieves this with great success. Beginning with a look at getting into space, orbit and preparing for lift-off, Dr Maggie showcases the awe and wonder of space spectacularly in this brilliantly-informative book that is surely one for readers and budding astronomers both young and old.

Told in a way as if Dr Maggie is talking directly to you, the book talks through many topics including the universe, birth of a star, galaxies, the Sun, Solar System and all the different planets, space travel, satellites and the death of stars. Not only that but it’s bang up to date, including information on the latest thinking and developments about things like planet nine and the search for it, the Oort Cloud and where our Solar System ends.

Glorious illustrations adorn every page and it has to be recognised that the design of this book ensures that it is a stand-out on the shelf, feeling as if you’re actually there, standing in the galaxy, immersed in it.

Dr Maggie is a complete revelation in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and with her ‘Grand Tour’, this is an inter-stellar book that will leave all its readers informed, inspired, intrigued and itching to find out as much as they can about the wonders of our Solar System and beyond.

Big thanks to Maggie, Bethany and all the team at Buster Books for inviting me to be a part of the wonderful Grand Tour of the Solar System blog tour and for sending me an advance copy of the book.

Mr E

Dr Maggie Blog Tour

Be sure to check out the rest of the Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System blog tour for more exclusive content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): Beyond Platform 13 – Sibéal Pounder (Illustrated by Beatriz Castro)

‘Like I’ve been transported back to my own childhood, this is magical escapism at its finest, Sibéal is a very worthy and natural successor to Eva Ibbotson in this feat of storytelling.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Beyond Platform 13
Author: Sibéal Pounder (@sibealpounder)
Cover illustrator: Beatriz Castro
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 3rd October
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1529002874

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5.

1. Magic ✨
2. Gump 🚪
3. Mist 🌁

The island of Mist is under siege and Prince Ben and his best friend Odge Gribble – a hag – are in hiding. Desperate to find out why the island’s protective mist is disappearing, Odge travels through an enchanted gump to Vienna, in search of a mistmaker expert.

But instead Odge finds Lina, a nine-year-old girl looking for adventure. With the help of friends old and new and some very interesting magic, Odge and Lina must discover the secret of the mist, before they lose their beloved island completely.

Review: With Beyond Platform 13, a new and exciting novel from Sibéal Pounder – author of the very successful Witch Wars and Bad Mermaids series – we gladly return to Eva Ibbotson’s magical and much-loved world of The Secret of Platform 13, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Sibeal starts this story at the Island of Mist, where magical creatures (including hags and harpies) live under the cover of a layer of mist produced by white furry creatures, not too dissimilar to Furbys, called mistmakers.

Often coined as the inspiration behind Harry Potter, it is a delight to enter the portal under Platform 13 at King’s Cross Station – or gump to be more accurate – that opens just once every nine years for nine days.

“That’s the thing about magic – it’s only real if you believe in it.”

However, the island is under threat from evil harpies. And so travelling through the gump to Vienna, a young hag who goes by the name of Odge Gribble chances upon a mistmaker expert or so she thinks… but it’s just a nine-year-old girl who’s been caught up in Odge’s path of fighting the resistance and lucky for Odge, Lina is a believer in every kind of magic going.

Scared they’ll lose their beloved island completely, Odge and Lina must discover the secret of the mist. Can they save it before it’s too late? What danger will the two encounter on this adventure? Will Lina’s mistaken mistmaker identity be revealed…?

Like I’ve been transported back to my own childhood, this is magical escapism at its finest. Sibéal is a very worthy and natural successor to the late, great Eva Ibbotson in this feat of storytelling that is multi-layered, well-paced, fabulously-drawn and well-written; I can not recommend it highly enough to lovers of magic and mystery. This could have the effect on children that the original had and although this can be read as a stand-alone story, I would very much encourage you to seek out Eva’s original classic, The Secret of Platform 13, to appreciate the full wonder of this magical, imaginative world.

Author Q & A: Beyond Platform 13
with Sibéal Pounder

Sibeal Pounder.jpg

Beyond Platform 13 (5)

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 Beyond Platform 13?

1. Ghostly 🐀
2. Magical 🏝️
3. Mysterious ☁️

What was the most enjoyable part of writing Beyond Platform 13?

I think the most enjoyable part was being back in a world that I loved so much as a child. I read The Secret of Platform 13 when I was around 9 years old, so to be back and writing the characters was incredibly surreal and magical.

I read recently an article that described you as Eva Ibbotson’s biggest fan which is wonderful. Can you describe her influence on you as a writer, on writing Beyond Platform 13 and why you think her books should be a part of every school?

I find her work so very inspiring. I love how she played around with stereotypical fantasy characters. Odge Gribble, for example, in The Secret of Platform 13 is a hag but she looks like an ordinary girl. She dreams of having lots of warts and impressive ear hair like her sisters. I love that play on the classic hag and it influenced how I played around with the concept of witches and mermaids in the Witch Wars and Bad Mermaids series.

Beyond Platform 13 is inspired by The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson but which other books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write it?

I started with the research and I hunted down every interview – printed and audio – with Eva that I could find. I wanted to first see if I could find clues as to where she would take the story. The most important thing to me was that the heart of the book felt like an Eva book, and I didn’t want to take the characters or the world in a direction she wouldn’t. I found some useful things that helped guide me. For example, in the book she mentions that every country has a gump (a portal to the secret island), yet we only visit the one on Platform 13 in Kings Cross. That seemed like a solid world building mechanism – a way of establishing a larger framework so if she were to return to the world there would be more to see.

I also went backwards to go forwards and looked at what could’ve inspired various elements and characters – from her life experiences to the people she knew. My favourite find was the similarities between the way she described the character Ben and how she described her husband, Alan Ibbotson – kind, sweet, someone who cared for animals and was fascinated by the natural world. In the book Ben makes a den for the mistmaker (a strange magical creature in the story) and hides it under his bed. In an interview she says, when they first met, her husband made an ant farm and kept it hidden under his bed. I loved that parallel, and things like that were enough for me to believe that she would see Ben as a good-to-his-bones character, and that helped steer how I developed him. Ben was interesting because he is a prince with power on the island so he could be someone to potentially corrupt, but the similarities with Alan Ibbotson gave me enough reason to believe Eva would never do that. So that was how I tried to work, to keep the heart of it hers as much as possible.

I tried to draw as much inspiration from Eva’s world as I could, even the things that seem random have reasoning behind them. For example, there is a new hag character called Netty, which is a nod to Newcastle slang (Eva lived in Newcastle). Apparently it’s slang for toilet, and I thought that was perfect for a hag! Eva said whenever she was stuck when writing she would add an aunt. So there is a moment when a character is physically stuck and a group of ghostly aunts appear to help.

If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Beyond Platform 13, and/or The Secret of Platform 13, who would it be and why?

I think I’m probably most like Hans – very well meaning but prone to mistakes! Also, if my name were Hans, I too would open a cheese shop called Hans-ome Cheeses.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I loved writing at school and making up crazy stories and characters. I’ve always loved writing, but I didn’t ever imagine I could be an author. I didn’t meet an author when I was little and it wasn’t until I was much older that I realised it was something people do! I worked as a journalist for years before becoming a children’s author, so I always gravitated towards writing, but fiction has my heart – I just love the endless possibilities of it.

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

That’s a really great question! It’s not something I’ve ever thought about before… I think every part of the process has energising and exhausting parts. Drafting is so energising, creating everything from scratch and watching all your ideas come alive on the page. But I also find it exhausting around halfway through when I start to doubt it all. And editing is very energising – solving plot problems and fitting all the pieces of the puzzle back together in a more satisfying way, but it’s also exhausting when things aren’t working and it feels like you’ll never find a solution. So in short, I find all parts energising and exhausting in equal measure – I’m not sure you can have one without the other.

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?

This is something I think about a lot. I think at one point I thought all authors were dead – that the books had all been written. I didn’t really have a concept of an author and that people sat around writing the books when I was very young. No authors ever visited our school (although I do remember a bus full of books visiting once and it has stuck with me forever).

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 books, especially Beyond Platform 13, or any others that you have read and would recommend?

I would recommend ALL of Eva Ibbotson’s books. She wrote across age ranges and covered everything from fantasy humour to adult romance. She was so talented and I think all her books are wonderful (my top recommendations would be The Secret of Platform 13, Dial a Ghost and Journey to the River Sea).

For fantasy, I’d highly recommend Abi Elphinstone, PG Bell, Claire Fayers, Jessica Townsend, Sophie Anderson… I could go on and on – you’re right, it is such a golden age for children’s books right now!

Beyond Platform 13 and Teaching (3)

If you were to ‘pitch’ Beyond Platform 13 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?

Return to Eva Ibbotson’s much-loved classic and find out what happens when the gump opens again…

Could you suggest ways in which Beyond Platform 13 or The Secret to Platform 13 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?

I found it was a really interesting exercise to return to a world that was already set up and waiting – the characters had been defined, the world had been built. It has definitely helped my writing, and I think a really fun exercise would be to have the children pick their favourite character (can be from any book they like) and write a short sequel story. They’ll need to establish things like when they are going to return – is it 1, 10, 50, 100 years later – and how the characters have changed (and therefore what the characters were like before), they will have to decide what other characters to bring back and how they might have changed, what other elements of the story (objects, for example) they can bring back to work with the plot and crucially, what the character wants now. I do this exercise in my school events for Platform 13 and it’s really interesting to see how writing a sequel for a favourite character can really help with their creative writing. Sometimes playing in another author’s world is great practice for building your own.

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?

They can contact me at or

Two more before you go (2)!

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

Q: What do you think are the most bafflingly named food brands? A: Wimpy and Skips.

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

 I have a cat assistant called Galligan and I’m pretty convinced she has the longest whiskers in the world. I measured them and compared them against the current Guinness Book of World Records holder and Galligan’s are longer! I’m debating whether or not to enter her though, as I’m not sure how she’d deal with fame.

One last one… (1)!

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

Yes please. I would love to know how they feel about Skype school visits? Do they think the children get much out of them and does it have as much of an impact as an author being there in person? I’m always interested in digital solutions when being there in person isn’t possible for whatever reason, but very interested in how much children get out of Skype visits.

Big thanks to Sibéal, Clare and all the team at Macmillan for inviting me to be a part of the wonderful Beyond Platform 13 blog tour and for sending me an advance copy and proof copy of the book.

Extra big thanks to Sibéal for being such a brilliant interviewee with her insightful answers to these questions, I really loved learning more about her inspirations and admiration of Eva Ibbotson.

On 15th October 2019, there is a very special ‘Returning to Other Authors’ Worlds’ events organised at Waterstones Piccadilly, starring Sibeal Pounder, Amy Wilson, Hilary McKay and Robin Stevens.

You can see more and book your ticket here:

Platform 13 Blog Tour Banner.png

Be sure to check out the rest of the Beyond Platform 13 blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Sibéal & content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A) – The Comet & the Thief – Ruth Morgan


‘Cleverly-written, historically-accurate, drama-filled and oozes with tension… perfect for fans of Fleur Hitchcock, Eloise Williams and Catherine Fisher.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Comet and the Thief
Author: Ruth Morgan (@alienruth)
Cover designer: Gary Evans (@GwasgGomerPress)
Publisher: Gwasg Gomer (@GwasgGomerPress)
Page count: 231
Date of publication: 26th September 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1785623103

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

1. Book 📖
2. Thief 👌
3. Curse ✨

The Comet and the Thief is a fresh, fantasy time-slip between two periods in British history: Georgian and Medieval.

Kit, a born actor, hates being a thief in eighteenth century London.

When wicked Lord Colwich hires him to steal a missing page from a mysterious medieval book in his library, it results in Kit having to flee the city…

Review: Thrown headlong in to the mid-seventeen hundreds otherwise known as the Georgian era, The Comet and the Thief begins with an opening that oozes all kinds of tension and swells and stirs from the first chapter.  As we encounter protagonist Kit in the middle of performing a demonic fortune-telling ritual in the outlandish character of Ashentoth for a group of wealthy men, this story starts in the same compelling and captivating manner as it means to go on.

The character of Kit develops rapidly and the reader soon finds themselves rooting in more ways than one for the devilish exploits of this wiry, mischievous do-gooder. Caring for his love, Gabe, who is suffering with all of his heart and soul, Kit is quickly dragged back under in to the heady underworld of what he knows best: thieving, when a stranger who goes by the name of Lord Colewich requests his services to find a missing page of a book he has long sought after.

‘The only magic in life is the magic we make for ourselves…’

What Kit doesn’t realise is that this book holds more power than he could have ever imagined, and of which connects him to the inhabitants of a cursed village from the past – two historical time periods associated by the appearance of a well-known comet (Read Ruth’s Q&A for more below!). So how will Kit save them before it’s too late…?

This is such a cleverly-written, historically-accurate, drama-filled and imaginative novel that will thrill and delight readers young and old; perfect for fans of Fleur Hitchcock, Eloise Williams and Catherine Fisher. Thank you Ruth for taking me along on this alluring, immersive and gripping adventure.

Author Q & A: The Comet and the Thief
with Ruth Morgan


The cover of the book is very mysterious and striking: a silhouetted someone running away from a place which seems familiar…

Yes, it’s a brilliant cover, isn’t it?  Designed by Gary Evans at Gomer Press. That’s my main character Kit running away from the city of Bath where something very public and shocking has just happened, and Kit is bound to get the blame. I’ve always loved Bath.  When I was a teenager, my cousin lived nearby, and we used to travel in on the bus and buy our clothes from the antique markets, usually a fashion mash-up of army greatcoats and Victorian petticoats. It was a pleasure to research the history of that splendid place and use it as a setting for the story.

So Kit travels around a lot in the story, but he also travels in time, doesn’t he?

That’s right.  Time travel stories are wonderful, but I wanted a give the time travel in this story a new twist, so instead of travelling between our modern day and an historical period, Kit travels between what is to us, two periods in British History: Georgian and Medieval times, specifically 1759 and 1456 which are two of the years when Halley’s Comet has appeared in our skies.

There may be readers who’ve never heard of Halley’s Comet.  Can you tell them a bit about it?

I’ve heard Halley’s Comet described, rather disrespectfully, as a huge, dirty snowball with a tail, which travels through space. It’s named after Sir Edmond Halley who calculated when it would return to the Earth back in the eighteenth century.  It makes a complete orbit around the sun and back every 75 years or so. It last visited us in 1986 and is due its next visit in 2061. For the sake of the story I’m most interested in how it’s been feared throughout history as a bringer of wondrous or calamitous events.  It’s been suggested that the star of Bethlehem which the three wise men followed was actually Halley’s Comet. It is also pictured on the Bayeux Tapestry, heralding the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Very intriguing… but The Comet and the Thief has been published hard on the heels of your MG gaming-themed novel Ant Clancy Games Detective (published by Firefly Press).  Two such different themes! What attracts you to write about a particular subject?

Yes, these two books are very different, but I only enjoy writing about subjects which interest me.  I live in a family of keen gamers and I also love history so the link between these themes is…me!  More than anything, what I want to do is write a compelling story that’s going to keep my readers entertained from start to finish.  As long as I can do that, I’m happy whatever the subject.

You’ve been writing for a long time.  What started you off and what keeps you interested in writing for children?

Yes, I have been writing for ages but it’s mainly my other part-time job as a primary teacher that keeps me interested. Children tend not ‘block’ – or repress – their ideas the way adults do, and they are a ceaseless source of inspiration. My first book was published more than 20 years ago as a direct result of my writing stories for the reception class I was teaching at the time.  An editor from a very big reading scheme company visited our school to trial some new books. When she saw my stories, she offered to publish one in a new series they were putting together. Imagine my excitement; I had always assumed that getting published professionally was way out of my reach! It led on to my writing lots more picture books, short stories, non-fiction, poetry, plays and longer novels for a variety of publishers as well as scripts for animation and radio series.  And all of it snowballed from that one chance meeting at school.  It still amazes me, how it’s all worked out…

So it takes luck as well as hard work to become an author?

It has in my case.  But more than anything you have to want to write, really want to, if you hope to make a career of it. It’s not a smooth road by any means and you face loads of rejection. You have to be motivated and believe in your ability, but also be prepared to accept criticism. You love and believe in your work but can’t be too precious about it – it’s a weird balance.

What do you plan to write next?

There are very few moments when you might catch me at a time when I’m not writing or planning something new but – scarily – you have caught me at one of them. Launching two books so close together has meant a very busy schedule of late but I know I will get twitchy soon if I’m not feeling that buzz from creating something new.  I am sure Ant Clancy has more mysteries to solve.  I am also attracted to the idea of writing some short, ghostly stories for children, similar to my collection ‘Matchstick Man and Other Creepy Tales’ (Gomer Press).  I loved ghost stories as a child and still do.

…And finally, what are you reading at the moment?

Funnily enough, a book of ghost stories!  Three Strikes (Firefly Press), a collection from Lucy Christopher, Kat Ellis and Rhian Ivory.  Creepily enjoyable!

 Big thanks to Ruth for inviting me to kick off The Comet and the Thief blog tour and for being such a brilliant interviewee with her insightful answers to these questions.


Be sure to check out the rest of the The Comet and the Thief blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Ruth & content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Extract): The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic – Chris Riddell


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic
Author: Chris Riddell (@chrisriddell50)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 320
Date of publication: 19th September 2019
Series status: First in the series
ISBN: 978-1447277972

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

To celebrate the upcoming publication, I’m delighted to share with you an exclusive extract from Guardians of Magic, the first title in a brilliant new magical adventure series from the creator of Goth Girl, Chris Riddell.

With gorgeous two-colour illustrations throughout and a special full-colour guide to the giants in the book, this fantastic hardback is a perfect gift.

For as long as anyone can remember, children have made a wish on a cloud horse, never quite believing that their wishes will come true. But times are changing. The future of magic is in danger. Enemies are working together to destroy it – especially the magic of nature and its most powerful source, The Forever Tree. Unless three brave children fight back and believe in the impossible, soon magic and the cloud horses will be gone. Zam, Phoebe and Bathsheba don’t yet know how powerful they are…

In Guardians of Magic the Costa award-winning, 2015-2017 UK Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell weaves together a magical quest. This is the first title in The Cloud Horse Chronicles series.

Click to download extract


Be sure to check out the rest of the Guardians of Magic blog tour for more exclusive content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review, Guest Post & Giveaway!): The Boy With the Butterfly Mind – Victoria Williamson

Butterfly Boy Front Cover 1.jpg
‘Truly sensational. Told through two voices and suffused with real heart; empathy and emotionally-invested storytelling at its best that has so much to teach today’s children. My heart genuinely aches. A must, must, must read.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Boy with the Butterfly Mind
Author: Victoria Williamson (@strangelymagic)
Floris Books (@FlorisBooks)
Publisher: Kelpies (@DiscoverKelpies)
Page count: 264
Date of publication: 12th September 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1782506003

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

1. Heart 💖
2. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦
3. Butterflies 🦋

It doesn’t matter what I try.
There’s no cure for being me.

Jamie Lee wants to be normal. But his ADHD makes him feel like his brain is full of butterflies.

Elin Watts wants to be perfect. If she can be, surely her dad will come home.

When Jamie and Elin’s families join, chaos and order collide. But perhaps they have something in common. Maybe there’s no such thing as normal, or perfect. Maybe being yourself is more than enough.


Told through a two-voice dual perspective that’s soon becoming Victoria’s inimitable style of storytelling, The Boy with the Butterfly Mind tells the stories of Jamie and Elin, who unbeknownst to each other at the start of the book, become part of the same blended family.

The difference between the two protagonists is immediately noticeable. As the character of Jamie is introduced to us through his struggles with his work at school, we see on the flip side that Elin is thriving academically. However they actually have more in common than first appears. Yes, they’re both eleven years old but actually they’re both finding it hard to ‘fit in’ and it soon becomes clear that socially they stand out amongst their classmates.

Reading on, the two’s home dynamics are shared with the reader and it is clear that both of these characters are experiencing very complex and fractured family breakdowns. With Jamie, he soon becomes a spare part as his mother wishes to move to the United States with her new partner who isn’t that tolerant of Jamie’s ADHD, forcing him to move in with his father who’s living with his own family. Whilst Elin is a pure perfectionist who distracts herself from her father walking out of the family home by whiling away her time in fairyland writing fictional stories based on the real-life characters around her, believing that if she is perfect enough her dad will soon step back into her life.

Through this chain of events, Jamie and Elin find themselves all living under the same roof, though Elin assures herself that it won’t be for very long as when Jamie comes to stay, his behaviour and the changes in her life soon sends her up the wall. Will she feel that she can continue to live with him? What will change her attitude towards him? Can they live harmoniously?

Victoria yet again gets in to not only the heads but also the hearts of her characters and this story will surely permeate in to not only the heads but also the hearts of its readers. This is a story of self-discovery, suffused with real heart and bursting with empathy, with so much to teach today’s children.

It takes an author with immense compassion, with perception and with to not just recognise the complexities, intricacies and eccentricities that are weaved into this story but to also write them with a nuance that shows that when it comes to emotionally-invested storytelling, Victoria really is in a class of her very own.


A Summer Adventure on The Book Bus

When you think of a mobile library, what’s the first image that comes to mind? If you’re anything like me, then it won’t be any of these:

Book Bus Animals - The Reader Teacher Blog
But volunteering with The Book Bus in Zambia, elephants by the side of the road, tame zebras, cheeky monkeys and crocodiles in the rivers are part and parcel of the reading assistant’s everyday experience.

This summer I spent four weeks working on Book Bus Charlie in Livingstone, visiting local communities and helping run story and craft activities in the primary schools and libraries which the reading charity has partnered with. It was a unique experience, but the project is something that anyone with a passion for books, children’s literacy and international development can get involved with, either through volunteering, or donating to keep the buses on the road and the bookshelves full.

The Book Bus charity was founded in 2008 by publisher Tom Mascheler, and initially began work with schools in Zambia, before opening further reading schemes in Malawi and Ecuador in 2010. Each Book Bus programme is run by local teams all year round, who work alongside teachers to provide literacy support and literary schemes to improve the children’s overall education standards. The teams also run regular reading sessions at community and public libraries, with the staff in Ecuador running an after-school programme of remedial reading sessions for children struggling in the classroom. Over the summer, international volunteers are invited to join the Zambia project for between two and four weeks, planning and running story sessions, reading activities, and crafts in the primary schools and libraries around Livingstone.

That’s the background, but what’s the actual experience of being a volunteer like?

Well, the day starts early on Monday-Fridays, with breakfast from 7am depending on how far away the school to be visited that week is. Planning for the morning’s activities has already been done in pairs or small groups the afternoon of the day before, so after a quick check to make sure you have all the books, colouring pencils, crayons, scissors and craft materials you need, Charlie sets off from the Lodge.

It’s hot during the dry season, so don’t forget your hat, sandals and sun screen!

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The roads to the schools around Livingstone can be narrow and often lack tarmac, so Book Bus Charlie’s driver, Edward, has to take it easy on the tyres over potholes and slow down as branches brush past the windows, making sure the bus and its occupants all get to the schools in one piece! This gives the volunteers plenty of time for sight-seeing along the way, and elephants and zebras are often spotted along the road through the national park.

Reaching the school, the team sings songs with the children in a big group, often learning local songs and dances in return, before splitting into smaller groups in classrooms and on mats outside. For the next few hours the Book Bus staff and volunteers, often assisted by the school’s teachers, read a story book with the children, followed by songs, activities and crafts based around a chosen theme.

This year’s theme was, very appropriately, ‘Animal Planet’, and all of the books and activities chosen were based around animal stories. At the start of the week, a group working with the older children might look at a book such as Usborne’s Big Book of Animals, helping children read information about the animals, locate where those animals live on a map, and draw pictures of animals they’ve learned about  for hanging on the classroom wall or for taking home.

Later in a week, once the team has had a chance to gauge the children’s reading levels and English vocabulary, they might choose sets of story books that the children will be able to read along with. One that worked very well this year was The Tortoise’s Gift: A Story from Zambia by Lari Don and Melanie Williamson. The children enjoyed making lion masks, monkey finger puppets and a giant tortoise to act out the story at the end of the week.

After packing the books, mats and craft materials back onto Charlie, the team sings some final songs with the children before heading back to the Lodge for lunch and planning for the next day’s activities. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are spent in one of the local community libraries, reading one-to-one with children and helping them develop their literacy skills and English vocabularies. This is particularly important as English is the official language of Zambia, however there are a total of 73 languages spoken in the country, and children are taught in their local language in Grades 1-3 in school, and are taught in English from Grade 4, which can be confusing in terms of learning to read a new set of phonics to go with all of the new English words.

On returning to the Lodge, volunteers have the chance to wash away the dry season dust, have dinner, continue planning, or have some time to relax. This year some of the evening activities involved card games, roasting marshmallows over a brazier (while trying to stop them being eaten by the tame Lodge zebras!) and singing campfire songs with the group of Girl Guides who joined the project for several weeks. One of the highlights of working with The Book Bus is being part of a team of enthusiastic volunteers who have come together to share their time and effort for a common purpose. As one former volunteer on Book Bus George said: ‘Because of the length of time the project has been running, and the impact it has had, everyone recognises George (not to mention the yellow shirts!), and you immediately become part of the community, rather than just another tourist. Children wave as the bus goes past, shouts of “Book Bus!” accompany any journey by George on the road, and the children suddenly appear at school once George is parked.’

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Does it sound like a project you’d like to get involved with? Find out more about The Book Bus, volunteering and donating here:


To celebrate the publication of The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, Victoria has  kindly given me this butterfly BUNDLE to give away!


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

Butterfly Mind Blog Tour - Victoria Williamson.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of the The Boy with the Butterfly Mind blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Victoria & content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

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

‘…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)
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.

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


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!