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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 6, Year 7 and Year 8.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

What influenced the creation of your main characters?

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite God?

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

Favourite word (Latin or English!)?

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

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

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

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

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on Twitter: @thenickbowling


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

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

Mr E


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

Cover Reveal & Book Giveaway: Anna at War – Helen Peters (Illustrated by Daniela Terrazzini) – Out 4th July 2019!

Today, I’m absolutely thrilled to exclusively reveal the cover of Helen Peters’s brilliant and moving wartime adventure, Anna at War (illustrated by Daniela Terrazzini) which will be published on 4th July 2019 by Nosy Crow.

I’m even more delighted that the team at Nosy Crow have produced a glittering GIF to show off the cover in all its glory!

I’m also super happy because the very lovely people at Nosy Crow have given me three proof copies of Anna at War to give away! Find out more below!


Anna at War

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Carrie’s War meets When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit via John Le Carre

As life for German Jews becomes increasingly perilous, Anna’s parents put her on one of the last trains leaving for England. But the war follows her to Kent, and soon Anna finds herself caught up in web of betrayal and secrecy. How can she prove whose side she’s on when she can’t tell anyone the truth? But actions speak louder than words, and Anna has a dangerous plan…


 Extract: 

I walked back to the barn. We had left the door slightly ajar, and I slipped through the gap. My plimsollsmade no sound on the dirt floor. I heard sounds from the loft, as though the injured man was rummaging in his haversack. He was muttering to himself. My stomach turned over. I stopped dead still.No. It couldn’t be. I must have heard wrong.I stayed completely still, listening, my heart thumping. He was still rummaging, but he had stopped muttering. Something rolled across the loft and dropped over the edge on to the barn floor. The man swore.My blood froze in my veins.He had sworn in German.


• Important message about emigration and war wrapped up in a thrilling adventure story.

• Helen Peters is the natural heir to Philippa Pearce.

• A fantastic new standalone novel by Helen Peters, author of the Jasmine Green series, The Secret Hen House Theatre (shortlisted for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize) and The Farm Beneath the Water.


Editor says:

“This is a brilliant book –a double whammy of entertainment and enlightenment, with a few tears shed on the way. Helen Peters is the new Philippa Pearce.”

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Helen Peters

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Helen Peters grew up on an old-fashioned farm in Sussex, surrounded by family, animals and mud. She spent most of her childhood reading stories and putting on plays in a tumbledown shed that she and her friends turned into a theatre. After university, she became an English and Drama teacher. Helen lives with her husband and children in Brighton.


Daniela Terrazzini

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(Photo credit: https://www.theartworksinc.com/portfolio/daniela-terrazzini/)

Daniela Terrazzini studied Fine Art in Milan. Her contemporary take on a classic style has a beautiful originality and quality, and she has worked with publishers including Crabtree, Puffin, Penguin, Chronicle and Macmillan.


Anna at War is available to pre-order online now from Amazon, Hive, Waterstones, WHSmith or from any good bookshop.


Huge thanks to Helen, Rebecca and all at Nosy Crow for inviting me to host this super cover reveal, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!


Mr E

📚


Giveaway!

The very lovely people at Nosy Crow have kindly given me three copies of Anna at War to give away!

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If you’d like to be in with a chance of being one of the first people to read this stunning story, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

Proof copies will be sent to winners when available from Nosy Crow, as soon as possible.

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

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


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

He’s not easy to miss.

But today there’s no sign of him.

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


Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Mr E


Giveaway!

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

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

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): No Ballet Shoes in Syria – Catherine Bruton (Illustrated by Kathrin Honesta)

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‘This story that needs to be told the world over champions compassion and community in a way that only a few others do so well… This book has changed me, as it will change you. My recommendation for the 2020 Read for Empathy collection.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: No Ballet Shoes in Syria
Author: Catherine Bruton (@catherinebruton)
Cover artwork: Kathrin Honesta
Cover typography: Anneka Sandher
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788004503

Perfect for Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Kindness 💗
2. Flashbacks 💬
3. Community 🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏽


Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria.

When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.

But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves, and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria. 


Review: Aya is eleven years old, sitting in her local community centre and is easily distracted by the music she can hear. Sounds a little bit normal, right? However, she’s also in a place most eleven years old wouldn’t find themselves in. Having escaped from war-torn Aleppo in Syria, she is waiting for a moment that could change her life. The moment when she’s granted safe haven in a country she’s only been in for three weeks. Unbeknownst to her, this may take more time than she thinks…

Holding her baby brother, looking after her mother and with no idea of where her father is, she sits opposite her case worker with the weight of the world and full responsibility falling on her small shoulders. As the story progresses, we come to learn that Aya hasn’t arrived in this country straightforwardly. In fact, her journey to get here has been arduous,  tiring, painful and one that’s been physically, mentally and emotionally draining from start to finish… and it’s not quite finished yet.

To some, community centres might not be a source of inspiration but to Aya, this is where she finds a source of unexpected comfort. Hearing the familiar bars and notes of the piano and the French language brings Aya back home to Syria and brings back memories of happier times when she used to dance. Feeling this, she longs to dance and it is only when ballet dance class teacher Miss Helena encounters Aya dancing to a tune of her very own that she asks Aya to join the class, offering at least some small hope to her.

Throughout the dance class, Aya doesn’t only find a group of girls that she begins to call her friends but she also begins to find herself. Led by a teacher who (for me, is my favourite character) sees Aya’s natural talent, embodies kindness and has her very own story to tell, Miss Helena suggests that Aya should go for a prestigious scholarship – one that could have significant and life-changing consequences for Aya and her family if she can achieve it.

Combining flashbacks of Aya’s time in Syria with her story of living in the UK, this powerful, multi-layered story champions compassion and the spirit of community in a way that few others stories do so well – and as such, it is my recommendation for the 2020 Read for Empathy collections collated by EmpathyLabUK. Even though it is raw, very real, personal and heart-wrenching throughout, it’s told with hopefulness, humanity and heart and I absolutely love it when the writing is this good that it makes me directly feel for the characters. This did so, effortlessly. My heart feels heavy with empathy for Aya and her family. This book has changed me, as it will change you.

Please think about buying this for your children in the later years of primary school who love stories, or are still searching for the one to get them hooked. And then read it after them because this is Aya’s story and it is a story that needs to be told the world over.


I’m delighted to welcome Catherine to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about No Ballet Shoes in Syria, her reading and writing influences and using her book in the classroom with a link to teacher resources plus her greatest claim to fame!

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No Ballet Shoes in Syria (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 No Ballet Shoes in Syria?

1. Heartbreaking 💔
2. Hopeful ☺️
3. Balletic Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 16.22.04.png

Hope that is right?
My kids will tell you I’m not good with emojis! Apparently I misuse them!

Which books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write No Ballet Shoes in Syria?

It is inspired by many of the books I loved as a child: on the one hand Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Ballet Shoes’, the ‘Sadler’s Wells’ books by Lorna Hill, the ‘Drina’ stories of Jean Estoril and ‘The Swish of the Curtain’ by Pamela Brown; on the other hand ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr (hearing her talk at the Bath Children’s Lit Fest was a big reason I wrote this book) and ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier. After watching the heart-breaking new footage of the Syrian migrant crisis, I made contact with local charities and resettlement projects working with refugees, and was extremely fortunate to talk to members of the Syrian community in the UK. I think ultimately the idea probably dates back to my very first teaching experiences in Africa working with  child refugees from Rwanda, Angola and East Germany. Their voices – and those of other refugee children I have encountered over the years – are very much at the heart of this book, and the reason I wrote it.

What was the most enjoyable part of writing No Ballet Shoes in Syria?

I loved writing the ending, although it made me cry! I knew it couldn’t be a simple happy ending – that wouldn’t have been true to the complex issues the book explores – but I did want to offer some hope, to celebrate ‘the kindness of strangers’, the importance of community, the goodness that exists in the world alongside the harsher stuff. I hope it does that.

You use flashbacks really well at the end of chapters to recount and contrast Aya’s experiences of living in war-torn Aleppo with that of living in the UK and her journey from Syria whilst seeking asylum including travelling by boat and living in refugee camps in Turkey and Greece. For me, they are incredibly moving pieces of prose. Were these scenes difficult to write? 

Oh golly yes! For a long, long time I could not get this book right. Aya’s voice eluded me – sometimes she was there, clear as a bell, at other times she slipped away from me. And I found it particularly hard tying together the story of her past in Syria with the present in the UK. Until I realised that recalling traumatic past events, reconciling them with the present, looking to the future is incredibly hard for many children like Aya. That’s when I decided that it had to be done in flashbacks – at first the two voices are quite distinct, but as dance becomes a medium for Aya to begin to process what she’s been through, to let go of guilt and look to the future the two voices start to merge. I did a lot of research because it felt so important to ensure the scenes in Syria, in the refugee camps, crossing the Med etc are accurate and as authentic as possible, but some were really heart-breaking to write,  mainly because stories like Aya’s are unfolding in real life every day.

If you were to choose the character that is most like you from No Ballet Shoes in Syria, who would it be and why?

Hmm – I am probably a mixture between Dotty (talks too much, bit scatty, heart in the right place!) and Grace who – despite her name – is quite bad at ballet but tries ever so hard!

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I have always been a daydreamer, a diary-writer and a kid who loved making up stories.  I was fortunate enough to have wonderful teachers  at both Primary and Secondary school who gave opportunities, inspiration and encouragement! #teachersrock #mrscott #mrcolman #misswaring #mrhornby #mraylin #mrsdaniels #missharrison #mrsbarratt #bestteachersever #thankyou!

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

I love the thrill of a new story – when it pours out as if  I am reading it, rather than writing. That doesn’t always happen though. I hate it when I know it’s wrong but I can’t figure out why – or how to fix it. That’s when the dementors of self doubt descend! Thank goodness for my lovely agent, great editors and amazing writing pals who help drive the dementors away!

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?

Ooh, no! This didn’t seem to happen in the 70s in the North! In fact I recently found out that I lived round the corner from Robert Westall (‘The Machine Gunners’) my whole childhood but he never came to visit our school. I wish he had! When I was young, authors felt very  remote people,  and I think that’s a great thing about Twitter and school visits and wonderful book blogs like this one. Putting readers in touch with authors is amazing – and it inspires in both directions! I love meeting young readers and they inspire me endlessly!

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 fiction or non-fiction books to children (and adults!) who may be interested in the themes explored in your book?

Ooh, so many!  Booktrust have an amazing list of books for all ages about refugees and asylum seekers: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/booklists/b/books-about-refugees-and-asylum-seekers/.

A few top picks from me  – old and new – are ‘The Boy At the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Q Raúf; ‘Jackdaw Summer’ by David Almond; ‘The Morning Gift’ by Eva Ibbotson; ‘Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’ by Victoria Williamson; ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr; ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier and ‘The Bone Sparrow’ by Zana Fraillon.

Oh, and two real life accounts I came across recently: ‘Butterfly’ – by Yusra Mardini (the Syrian refugee who nearly drowned in the Med and then went on to swim at the Olympics) and ‘Hope in  a Ballet Shoe’ – Michaela de Prince (the ballerina born in war-torn Sierra Leone who was adopted by an American family and went on to become an international dance star).

No Ballet Shoes in Syria and Teaching (3)

“A classic story of heartbreak and hope, with wonderful authentic ballet writing and an important message championing the rights of refugees.”

If you were to ‘pitch’ No Ballet Shoes 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?

A classic story of heartbreak and hope, with wonderful authentic ballet writing and an important message championing the rights of refugees.

As a teacher yourself, could you suggest ways in which No Ballet Shoes in Syria 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 know some schools are using it as part of a wider topic on refugees and asylum seekers with a cross-curricular focus, so, I asked my colleagues  at school for some suggestions on how it could be used for different subjects. Here goes!

History/Current affairs: Find out about the history of the war in Syria – when, why did it start? How did it develop? How did the rest of the world respond? Why did so many people flee the country? What can you find out about the siege of Aleppo? What is going on  in Syria now? This could be explored as a newspaper article, timeline of events or cartoon.

Geography: Find out about the journeys undertaken by families like Aya’s who chose to flee Syria. Trace Aya’s journey on a map, find out what you can about the refugee camps she stayed in, the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean and other perils facing asylum seekers. Prepare a presentation/ debate asking ‘Would you risk it?’

RS/Philosophy and Ethics/Media studies: Find official definitions of the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’. Then gather articles from different magazines and newspaper articles about refugees, asylum seekers, the migrant crisis. Compare how the issues are discussed in different sections of the media. Class discussion on whether countries like the UK have a moral obligation to take in more asylum seekers.

Maths: Find out some statistics on refugees and asylum seekers (there are lots to be found via the British Refugee Council or Refugee Week website) then record them in different ways – bar chart, pie chart, ratios, percentages etc. Extension task: calculate the distance Aya and her family travelled from Aleppo to Manchester!

Literacy: My publishers have produced a lovely resource with questions designed to enhance reading comprehension and analysis skills. There are also lots of writing tasks pupils could try: what if Aya wrote a letter to her father, or to one of her old friends from Aleppo? Or pupils could try using five objects to tell ‘the story of who I am, where I come from, who I want to be’ – as Aya does in her dance. Or you could bring in unusual objects for pupils to use as story starters – that always works for me! You’ll find them on the Nosy Crow website here https://nosycrow.com/activity-sheets/no-ballet-shoes-in-syria-discussion-notes/

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?

Send me a tweet via @catherinebruton or email my publisher Nosy Crow at press@nosycrow.com.

Two more before you go (2)!

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

This is a truly excellent question which has set me pondering! People rarely ask about writing friends –  and to me they are so important. I was so stuck on this book until I talked to my dear friend- the amazing author Joanna Nadin – and she sorted me out good and proper! Sharing the wonders and woes  of story-telling with other book-types is one of the greatest joys of being a writer! #lovelybathwriterpeeps #joannanadin #annawilson #fleurhitchcock #maudiesmith #elencaldecott #rachelward #karensaunders #angiemorgan #juliagreen #tracydarnton #writingcommunity

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

I once danced with Nelson Mandela! September 1997 – Steve Biko Cemetery, King William’s town, RSA. He complimented my red dress! It is my greatest claim to fame.

One last one… (1)!

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

If any teachers share ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ with pupils whose stories are parallel to Aya’s, I would love to hear what they think!


Big thanks to Clare, Catherine and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the No Ballet Shoes in Syria blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Catherine for answering my questions!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the No Ballet Shoes blog tour for more reviews & exclusive Q&As and guest posts from Catherine and these brilliant book bloggers!

Guest Post: 10 ways to engage children and young adults with the 75th anniversary of D-Day – Tom Palmer for D-Day Dog (Illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole)

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It is with great pleasure to host Tom Palmer on The Reader Teacher today with his guest post sharing his ten ways to encourage children and young adults to become engaged with the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

D-Day Dog is a beautifully written and compelling novel written for readers aged 9+, and is perfect for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.


Jack can’t wait for the school trip to the D-Day landing beaches. It’s his chance to learn more about the war heroes he has always admired – brave men like his dad, who is a Reserve soldier. But when his dad is called up to action and things at home spiral out of control, everything Jack believes about war is thrown into question. Finding comfort only in the presence of his loyal dog Finn, Jack is drawn to the heart-wrenching true story of one particular D-Day paratrooper. On 6 June 1944, Emile Corteil parachuted into France with his dog, Glen – and Jack is determined to discover their fate…

A gripping and poignant celebration of the incredible bravery of the D-Day soldiers and the unbreakable bond between man and his best friend.


D-Day was one of the most significant days in the history of Europe and the world. The beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. On June 6th this year, Europe will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are international, national and local events that will help teachers work with children and young adults to explain the significance of the day, along with books, resources, films and websites.

  1. Watch the news. On 5th and 6th June there will be extensive news coverage of commemorative events in Portsmouth and Normandy, including the MV Boudicca sailing with 300 D-Day veterans from England to France on the same journey they made exactly 75 years before.
  2. Get hold of a special edition £2 coin to mark the D-Day 75th anniversary, featuring a map of the D-Day landing beaches. Something for children to hold onto and remember and maybe give to their own children on the 100th anniversary of D-Day in June 2044?
  3. Go to your local public library and check out some of the books about D-Day in the history section. Some books have amazing photographs in them and first-hand accounts. Most public libraries will have several books on the shelves about WW2 and D-Day.
  4. Visit The D-Day Story, a fantastic museum in Portsmouth with a permanent exhibition that does a great job focussing the mind on the planning and actioning of D-Day. They’ll be hosting special events from 5th to 9th www.theddaystory.com/
  5. Go online and search for D-Day links to where you liveThe D-Day Story has an interactive map to help you do that: https://theddaystory.com/d-day-on-your-doorstep-interactive-map/The Imperial War Museum’s amazing online collection allows you to search for images and recordings of the men and women who took part in D-Day and made it home to be able to tell their story: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections
  6. Look out for films on TV, including The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan and Storming JunoThe TV series Band of Brothers starts with D-Day and is very powerful. There will be documentaries on TV too. But make sure what you are watching is age-appropriate.
  7. From 1st to 9th June the Imperial War Museum will retell the extraordinary land, air and sea story through their Second World War collection and three historic sites, HMS Belfast, IWM Duxford and the Churchill War Rooms, which experienced first-hand the events of D-Day. https://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/d-day75
  8. There will be events in towns and cities all over the UK.Some places will witness flypasts of significant aircraft. There will be parties. And many airmen, seamen and soldiers will be remembered in their home counties. Check out your local newspaper’s website for information.
  9. Read Tom Palmer’s children’s book, D-Day Dog, about a boy who joins a school trip to Normandy where he finds out hard facts about the events of 6th June 1944.Use D-Day Dog as a class read. There are free videos, activities and other resources for schools at http://tompalmer.co.uk/dday-dog/. You can contact Tom for free posters and bookmarks for all your pupils too.
  10. Some of you might be going to France for your summer holidays.If so, why not travel via Portsmouth and stop for an hour or two to visit some of the key D-Day historic sites and museums in Normandy. Visit the Normandy tourist information site for more details: http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/things-to-do/sites-and-attractions/d-day-and-the-battle-of-normandy-113-2.html


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Tom Palmer, author of D-Day Dog


Big thanks to Tom for his brilliant guest post highlighting ten different ways to commemorate and be involved in the 75th anniversary of this momentous day.

Thanks too to Kirstin and the team at Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of D-Day Dog.

Mr E


D-Day Dog is available now to pre-order online and from any good independent bookshop.

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

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


Unlock the secrets of the unsinkable ship…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Mr E


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

Blog Tour (Extract): Galloglass – Scarlett Thomas (Illustrated by Dan Mumford)

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Publishing on 4th April 2019, GALLOGLASS is the eagerly-anticipated third book in Scarlett Thomas’s immersive Worldquake series which has now sold over 40,000 copies. With a glow-in-the-dark book jacket and packed with compelling characters, magical worlds, adventure, danger, humour and evil, GALLOGLASS will not disappoint.

Following the events in Dragon’s Green and The Chosen Ones, GALLOGLASS reunites readers with Effie Truelove and her school friends Lexy, Wolf, Maximilian and Raven as they navigate their worlds, which are under threat from Diberi, a corrupt organisation.  Together, Effie and her friends must use their magical skills to defeat the evil tactics of Diberi before total destruction is wreaked upon the worlds at Midwinter.

Well known for her adult books too, which have sold over 380,000 copies worldwide, Scarlett Thomas’s latest book will delight 8-12 year old readers, especially fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Thomas’ bestselling books for adults are fast-paced, intelligent adventure stories packed with magic and mystery; her move into writing for children feels totally natural.


I’m so pleased to be able to host and share with you today an exclusive extract from Chapter 1 of Galloglass. So without further ado…

Praise for the Worldquake series:

 “This tale of magical education is a cracker….. has its own distinctive style.” – Guardian

“Otherworldly… ‘Getting lost in a book’ takes on a new meaning”Mail on Sunday

“A quest to create a magical book is at the centre of this through-provoking fantasy novel… Wonderfully bibliophilic”Financial Times

“A magical adventure that fizzes and crackles with enchantment.”Hilary McKay

Big thanks to Jo, Scarlett and all the team at Canongate for inviting me to share this extract as part of the Galloglass blog tour. Looking forward to seeing it on the shelves!

Dragon’s Green (Book 1) and The Chosen Ones (Book 2) are available now to order online or from any good independent bookshop.

Mr E

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Middler and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more before you go (2)!

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

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

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

KA: I have grade three euphonium.

One last one… (1)!

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

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


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

Extra thanks to Kirsty for answering my questions!

Mr E


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

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Belle Vue: Disneyland of the North

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mr E


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

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): She Wolf – Dan Smith (Illustrated by Jill Calder)

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‘With She Wolf, Dan succeeds in turning his hand to historical fiction once more. Both ravaging and raw… this should be top of the pile for teachers and schools learning more about Viking England.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: She Wolf
Author: Dan Smith (@DanSmithAuthor)
Cover illustration: Jill Calder (@jillcalder)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 320
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910655931

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Bow-and-arrow 🏹
2. Shield-maiden 🛡️
3. Revenge 😠


Northumbria 866.
Washed ashore on a frozen English beach, Ylva’s survived. She will not cry. She’s meant to be strong. She’s a Viking.

But when her mother dies at the hands of a three-fingered man, and the wolves of the forest circle closer, Ylva will need more than the memory of her mother’s stories to stay alive. Can she shape her own legend? Will it end in revenge – or is there another way?


Review:

With an opening where we encounter Ylva (eel-va), our bold and brave protagonist, left reeling and reacting in a state of shock after the murder of the mother to a terrifying figure and a mysterious woman who’s wearing her mother’s necklace, She Wolf starts as it means to go on. With revenge in mind, Ylva sets off on the most bloodthirsty of tasks: to kill the man who killed her mother. The three-fingered murderer.

Together with her dog, Geri – her loyal and trustworthy companion who sticks by her side through thick and thin – Ylva treads through the treacherous, frozen lands of Northern England in her plight to avenge her mother’s death. What we learn throughout Ylva’s very own saga is that she is most definitely her mother’s daughter. Gutsy, headstrong and staunchly independent, she is on a one-girl mission and nothing is going to stop her. But the journey is not easy and the weather is constant; biting and freezing and everybody is not as friendly as they first seem either…

Will Ylva survive or will she fall at the hands of the very same people that murdered her mother?

Fighting off foes and holding her belief in the gods close to her heart, this quest is more than a quest for Ylva. It’s character building and courage-forming. And for the reader, it’s both a ravaging and raw look at Viking life and what it would have been like to live during these harsh and historical of times. With descriptions of the wilderness that surround Ylva that arouse all of the senses, Dan has a canny knack for transporting us deep in to the heart of his settings: this time in amongst the trees to experience her epic, dangerous and sometimes, violent (although not overly graphic) journey first-hand.

Dan is the master of all-action, heart-pounding, breathless books and for me, She Wolf achieves this in spades. With She Wolf, he succeeds again (after the success of My Friend the Enemy and My Brother’s Secret) in turning his hand to historical fiction once more, leaving readers demanding more and more. This should be top of the pile for any teachers and schools learning more about the history of Viking England.

‘With She Wolf, Dan succeeds in turning his hand to historical fiction once more. Both ravaging and raw… this should be top of the pile for teachers and schools learning more about Viking England.’


Read on for Dan’s guest post of how a question from a young girl at a school event inspired the creation of Ylva… I’m delighted to be hosting him at The Reader Teacher.


Shield-Maiden – No Myth!

A couple of years ago, during the Q&A after a presentation at a school, a young girl at the front of the audience put up her hand to ask a question.

‘Have you ever written a story with a girl as the main character?’

Before SHE WOLF, I published five books for younger readers. Those books take readers through the hardships of World War II, they send them hunting in the forests of Finland, racing through the jungles of Costa Rica, and investigating a mystery in the icy wastes of Antarctica. All but one of those books (the one based on a film I didn’t write) have two main characters; a boy and girl. It made sense to me, having both a son and a daughter, that I would want both of my own children to be able to see themselves in one of those characters. But it would be fair to say that, yes, the boy was usually the main main character.

So I decided to change that. My next story would have a girl as the main character. But, when we think about Vikings, we think about large, bearded, menacing men with swords and axes, so how was I going to do that? Well, maybe it’s time to change our thinking; while researching the Viking Age, I discovered that women were an important part of Viking society. They had many rights and freedoms that the Christian women in the countries they invaded didn’t have. And when the Vikings eventually became Christians, those women lost their freedoms.

But what about warriors? Were there any female Viking warriors? I wanted my main character, Ylva, to be fierce like a wolf. I wanted her to feel comfortable with an axe in her hand. She should know how to swing a blade, and not be afraid of a little blood. Ylva needed to be a warrior.

In several of the Viking sagas – epic poems about great Viking heroes – there is mention of female warriors, known as ‘shield maidens’ but until recently, historians thought these were a myth. They believed that Viking raiders were all men; that women were not strong enough, or brave enough, or fierce enough to have joined the raiding parties that ventured over the seas.

In 1889 a Viking grave was excavated in Sweden, containing the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, and two sacrificed horses. Known as the ‘Birka Warrior’, archaeologists believed this to be the grave of a wealthy, famous male warrior. But during the 1970’s, and again in 2016, close analysis led bioarchaeologists to believe that the remains of the Birka Warrior might actually belong to a woman. In 2017, a team of scientists, led by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, carried out genetic tests on the remains and discovered that the Birka Warrior was a woman. A shield maiden.

And that’s what Ylva wants to be. 

So my Viking hero is no bearded giant. Instead, she is a brave and resourceful girl with an axe in her hand and revenge burning in her heart. Dan-Smith.jpg

Who says girls can’t be tough?

SHE WOLF by Dan Smith is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and www.dansmithsbooks.com

Connect with Dan Smith on Twitter: @DanSmithAuthor


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

Extra thanks to Dan for writing such a superb and insightful guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the She Wolf blog tour for more reviews, exclusive guest posts from these brilliant book bloggers!