Review & Author Q&A: Running on Empty – S. E. Durrant (Illustrated by Rob Biddulph)

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‘A remarkable, revealing and realistic read that was every bit as brilliant as I hoped it would be in painting a powerfully poignant and at times, painfully honest picture of life where real heroes don’t wear capes. And sometimes, they don’t wear the correct-sized trainers either… This one will run and run.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Running on Empty
Author: S. E. Durrant (@SEDurrant)
Illustrator (Cover): Rob Biddulph (@RobBiddulph)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrow/@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 208
Date of publication: 1st March 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1510102118

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Remarkable ☺️
2. Revealing 😥
3. Real 👟


The thing that makes me different from other eleven-year-old boys, apart from my fantastic running ability, is that my parents have learning difficulties.

It’s no big deal for me. Really it isn’t. I don’t look after them.

We look after each other.

A story of family, friendship and trainers, Running on Empty will grip you till the finishing line…


The first line:

The most amazing thing I ever saw was Usain Bolt winning the 100 metres at the London Olympics.


Review: Living in East London, a quick stretch of the legs away from the hallowed track of the Olympic Stadium, AJ is a boy who was born to run. He lives, sleeps, eats, drinks and breathes running. After watching his idol Usain Bolt – albeit on TV – create history at the 2012 London Olympics by setting the world record, AJ spends his every waking moment trying to emulate his hero. He knows he’s different for two reasons. Different in that he has a terrific talent. But also different in that he leads a life unlike his friends, his peers and the people he sees around him, taking on the role and responsibility of a young carer by looking after his parents who have learning difficulties.

Due to the unconditional love, encouragement and support of his beloved grandfather, AJ’s talent develops in to something more than a talent. However his world starts to unravel as he is forced to adjust to life after the death of his grandfather who was more than his steadying influence, more like his rock. Roles are reversed as AJ soon recognises that his grandfather did more than he realised by keeping it all together for him and his parents, as he took charge of the running of the house and paying the bills. Suddenly AJ now finds himself trying to follow Grandad’s lead but with more responsibility than he could ever imagine bestowed upon his small shoulders.

When you’ve outgrown your trainers, you don’t want to run the risk of alerting social services to the situation and there’s no money left to put in the electricity meter – let alone enough to buy a new pair – it is clear that AJ will have a tough and tumultuous time to come trying to cope with it all. Although it seems that AJ’s grandfather cannot be replaced, his spirit does indeed live on in the security and stability that AJ seeks to provide for his parents. It is also here where his grandfather’s comforting words will live long in the memory: ‘Sometimes people think being different is a problem but actually it can be a very nice thing.’

Written in a series of frank, sincere and heart-to-heart conversational exchanges, we really start to feel for AJ as he breaks down the fourth wall between himself and the reader unveiling elements of what life truly feels like when living on the edge. He talks about what at first seem like unsurmountable hurdles to him; problems of transition between school and home life, the overwhelming sense of responsibility now resting upon his shoulders and trying to keep his family on track. But can he overcome these continual challenges that he is faced with or will it all come crashing down around him…? We begin to notice that although AJ runs as a hobby, it is also acts as a form of escapism for him and a way of channeling his grief, his anxiety, his worries and the instability of the situation he finds himself in.

An emphatically empathetic and deeply moving story that’s both attentively and compassionately written, Running on Empty has all the characteristic hallmarks of Sue’s brilliantly endearing style of writing that showcases the unassuming, unseen and unsung heroes of this world, and she – after the deserved success of Little Bits of Sky – achieves the gold medal standard in this genre once again.

It often brought a lump to the throat and tugged at the heartstrings as its laced with tinges of despair and uncertainty. For instance, the chapter where AJ rummages through the box of lost-property trainers particularly struck me at the time and still stays stuck with me, long after reading this. Though, it so equally often made me smile and feel remotely hopeful for AJ. A real emotional rollercoaster of a read where big-hearted characters run the show and the true power of relationships; of finding help in the unlikeliest of people and of total togetherness is rightfully placed at its core.

This book proves that sometimes that just managing and getting by in life in the long run is more of a marathon than a 100m sprint and that real heroes don’t have to wear capes. In fact, sometimes, they don’t – and can’t – even wear the correct-sized trainers.

‘A remarkable, revealing and realistic read that was every bit as brilliant as I hoped it would be in painting a powerfully poignant and at times, painfully honest picture of life where real heroes don’t wear capes. And sometimes, they don’t wear the correct-sized trainers either… This one will run and run.’

Big thanks to Sue Durrant and Clare Hall-Craggs at Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this wonderfully written book!

Running on Empty is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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Author Q&A: S. E. Durrant (SD) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

I’m very delighted to welcome Sue Durrant to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering my questions about Running on Empty, her reading and writing habits, using her book in the classroom and her favourite footwear!

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S. E. Durrant lives in Brighton with her husband and children. She has wanted to be a writer since she was a child and has always squeezed writing in around the edges of her life. She’s worked on a stall at Covent Garden market, sold paintings in Venice and taught art to children. In order to write AJ’s story, she extensively researched what life is like for child carers, and children growing up in the shadow of social services.


Running on Empty

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
I’ve described Running on Empty as 1. Remarkable 😊 Revealing 😥 3. Trainers 👟, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
SD: 1. Optimistic 😊  2. Realistic  💯  3. Empathetic 🙂

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Running on Empty?
SD: I was inspired to write Running on Empty after reading an article about a parent who had learning difficulties. I began to think about issues learning difficulty parents might face and to wonder how a child of learning difficulty parents might view our often unkind, impatient world. My protagonist, AJ, is eleven years old and has just begun secondary school; his very supportive grandad has died unexpectedly and AJ briefly tries to step into his shoes and manage the family affairs.

I have seen many children make the transition to secondary school, through my own children, and I wanted to explore the likelihood of AJ’s problems going unnoticed in the jump from a small primary to a large secondary. I also think eleven is such an interesting age, as children try to work out who they think they want to be, yet are still very much tied to childhood, veering between self-confidence and embarrassment in moments.

I was also inspired by the 2012 Olympic Games in East London, which is where my book is set. I was lucky enough to spend a day at the 2012 Paralympics Games and found the atmosphere inspirational. AJ and his family watch Usain Bolt win the 100m gold and that moment becomes a source of hope for AJ, who is a very keen runner.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading Running on Empty?
SD: I hope readers will empathise with AJ, his devotion to running and his resilience in the face of difficulties. I also very much hope they find him funny, quirky and relatable.

TRT: If you could build your own pair of trainers, what would they look like? What special features would they have?
SD: Unlike AJ, I am not a runner so my dream trainers would have some special component that would enable me to get up hills.

TRT: What is your favourite footwear that you own?
SD: My favourite footwear, though not beautiful, are my walking boots – when I put them on I know I am going somewhere lovely.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Running on Empty, who would it be and why?
SD: I’m not sure any of the characters are like me though perhaps AJ’s relationship with his mother in some way reflects my relationship with my son when he was eleven/twelve years old.

TRT: What kinds of research did you do regarding young carers and how did this help when writing Running on Empty?
SD: I visited a group of parents with learning difficulties who helped me understand some of the issues they face, for example the huge amount of paperwork their children bring home from school. I also spoke with a boy whose parents have learning difficulties.

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
SD: I have written for as long as I can remember, I think as a way of trying to make sense of the world, and I would continue write regardless of whether my work was published. I love the fact I can create situations and try to figure out what they mean.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
SD: I find the beginning of writing a new book exhausting, particularly trying to work out some sort of plot. The most energising part for me is when I have found the voice of my protagonist and can enjoy trying to imagine the world through his/her eyes.

TRT: What is your favourite book from childhood?
SD: My favourite book from childhood is The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. I love the way that, against the odds, the children find their way to safety and a future they can have some choice in.

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?
SD: We didn’t have visiting authors when I was at school and I thought becoming an author was completely unattainable and involved some kind of magic.  It can only be a good thing for children to meet authors in schools and discover they are very ordinary human beings and no magic is involved.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books. What are some of the interesting things/things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?
SD: I love the fact that a greater variety of books is being published. I think the more child readers can see themselves reflected in stories the better and more interesting for everyone.

TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting Running on Empty but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
SD: I have just written a short story which will be included in the new edition of Little Bits of Sky which will be published in July.  This short story is set in 1947 when Glenda Hyacinth arrives at the orphanage, Skilly House.  Glenda is the girl whose letter Ira finds over forty years later.

I’m also working on my next children’s book. It is early days yet and I’m still struggling with the plot but it will be set in Brighton where I now live and will have an eleven year old female protagonist.


Running on Empty and Teaching

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
SD: Running on Empty could be used as a starting point for discussing grief, poverty, running, resilience, school transition and day to day embarrassment of being eleven years old.

TRT: When reading Running on Empty, I particularly liked the scenes between AJ and his PE teacher, Mr Higgins. When researching young carers, what were your experiences of visiting schools and speaking to teachers? What did you find out? Did you test out your ideas for Running on Empty on them?
SD: I didn’t test my book on teachers but as a parent I have had a lot of recent experience of PE teachers and have always found them remarkably dedicated and energetic. The PE teacher in Running on Empty starts out as a bit of a caricature, which I suppose is how time-pressed teachers often appear, though in time he shows a more human side.  I enjoyed writing the scenes between Mr Higgins and AJ – they are each trying to gauge what each other think without giving too much away.

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

SD: I find it hard to pitch my own books so have chosen two lovely reviews:

Little Bits of Sky
– This story of looked-after siblings of 9 and 11.. is instantly engaging, sustaining emotional involvement throughout… this is an uplifting and convincing evocation of time and place, of two vivid young lives, and of the hope that kindness can offer. Nicolette Jones, The Sunday Times

Running on Empty – AJ is a boy who just loves to run. Swept away on the belief and hope that anyone can achieve their dream after watching the 2012 London Olympics, all he wants to do is run on the hallowed track where he saw his idol Usain Bolt win gold… Incredibly emotional and powerful storytelling makes ‘Running On Empty’ a truly, compelling read. bookloverjo.wordpress.com

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?
SD: Through Twitter @SEDurrant or via my publisher Nosy Crow @NosyCrow/@NosyCrowBooks.

Two more before you go!

TRT: What has an interviewer/blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
SD: I’ve never been asked my favourite book but if I was I would choose Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
SD: I have never given anyone a full box of chocolates.

TRT: Thank you so much for stopping off at The Reader Teacher today, Sue. I wish you every success with Running on Empty!

You can find out more about Sue by visiting her publisher’s website or following her on Twitter.

Author Q&A & Giveaway: Eloise Williams (Elen’s Island/Gaslight/Seaglass)

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I am honoured to welcome Eloise Williams, award-winning author of such wonderful books as GaslightElen’s Island and Seaglass to The Reader Teacher today.

To celebrate the cover reveal of her forthcoming novel Seaglass (which I am so excited about reading and reviewing!) which is out in September 2018 and also on the first birthday of Gaslight, Eloise is here to answer more than a few of my questions about Seaglass, about her reading and writing habits and about using her books in the classroom.

The giveaway follows on after the ‘Author Q&A’ interview!


Author Q&A: Eloise Williams (EW) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

Seaglass

TRT: On The Reader Teacher, I describe books using #3Words3Emojis. Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe Seaglass?
EW: 1. Ghostly 👻 2. Mysterious 🕵️ 3. Thrilling 😲

TRT: When recommending Seaglass to others on social media, I have had lots of replies (including from other authors such as Emma Carroll) commenting on how lovely a title it is. How did you choose and end up settling on such a wonderful title? Were there any other options that came a close second?
EW: How lovely! Emma Carroll is such a gorgeous and supportive author and is quite a bit brilliant with words herself so that means a lot! There were a few titles bandied about and they all contained references to sea glass. Sometimes simplicity is best.

TRT: So far we know that Seaglass will be ‘a salty, windswept, seaside ghost story for age 9+ will be published in 2018 to coincide with Wales’ Year of the Sea!’
Can you tell us any more than that at the moment about Seaglass?
EW: Here’s the information Firefly Press are putting out.
I’m being very careful not to give the plot away!

‘She will come for you.’

Lark struggles to settle when her Roma family moves to a new site by the sea. Her mother is ill, her little sister Snow isn’t talking and she has fallen out with her best friend. She distracts herself looking for sea glass on the foggy beach. But is someone following her? Who is the figure that Snow keeps drawing, the girl in green? Do the locals who tell them to leave the site just hate travellers, or is there something about the history of the beach that Lark needs to find out? A story that perfectly combines the chill of a ghost story with the warmth of a family tale about standing up for each other and being brave.

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Seaglass?EW: Where to begin? All the ghost stories I’ve ever read. From one of my very first books ‘The Worried Ghost’ by Seymour Reit to much later books read as an adult. I have a huge support network of family, friends and other authors. They help me to keep writing. My grandmother, who was a lovely woman and is still very much missed, was a driving force for this story too. Ideas and inspiration mostly came from the young people I work with and the landscape I live in. They mingled, knitted, wove together, fleshed out the story. When I got stuck along the way a young person would say something which would spark my imagination, or a storm would ignite an idea, or a beautiful jay would land in the garden and I’d be writing again. It seems strange to put children, storms and birds together but it’s the truth and truth is a big inspiration for this book too.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading Seaglass?
EW: Ooh… difficult without giving too much away… Firstly, most importantly, a really good read. Secondly, that we are capable of change. Is that vague enough? I think so, yes.

TRT: The cover was revealed yesterday (Thursday 5th April) for Seaglass, can you tell us a little more about its creation or conception?
EW: Both the cover for Seaglass and for Gaslight were designed by Anne Glenn. I’m very lucky that Anne and Firefly Press take my views into consideration when it comes to cover designs. We discussed both of these covers closely and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with them! I think both depict beautifully the essence of the stories in the pages.

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
EW: The creativity of it. I was an actor for a long time and it meant I was consistently waiting to be given a role so that I could be creative. With writing I can be creative anywhere and at any time. It’s very freeing.

TRT: Where’s your favourite place to write and why?
EW: I have a writing shed of sorts. I often have to climb over a lawnmower to actually get to my desk but it’s lovely once I’ve made it. I can hear the sea from there, watch a mouse scurrying across the garden and the birds having a wash in the birdbath.
I also write everywhere else!
On the beach, in bed, at the kitchen table, in cafes, libraries, on trains…

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
EW: Energising things are creating the story and characters. Tossing ideas about and playing with words.  Inventing, wondering, deliberating, the actual writing. Living in an imaginary world.

Exhausting. Elements of the business side of writing can be competitive and I’m just not. Recognition for a tale well told is wonderful, of course, but I want everyone to do well.

 TRT: What is your favourite book from childhood and why?
EW: Without a doubt it’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It opened my mind to possibility. Magical worlds just around the corner. Lands where children were courageous and won battles. All that and it SNOWED almost all the time!

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?
EW: No! None at all. Being an author was something otherworldly. I believed in Narnia more than I believed in my chances of being an author. Children, schools and authors get fabulous opportunities to connect with each other now and that’s such an inspiring thing. Working with young people always makes me determined to keep improving my writing so that my stories can be of the best quality I am capable of creating.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?
EW: I am constantly astonished by the amount of talent in children’s literature. I like seeing everything! There are so many writers creating work with such passion and excellence. We are all in it together. The more writing, art, creativity we all put out there, the more beautiful the world is.

TRT: I know you are heavily invested in writing and focused on promoting Seaglass but can you tell us about anything else you’re working on or what you want to work on after Seaglass? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up inside or outside of the publishing world?
EW: I am always working on something else. At the moment I have four books for young people in very early stages so it’s a question of deciding which one to focus on. I’m excellent at starting writing books but not so good at finishing them. I’d also like to do something crazy with my life! I have no idea what so suggestions on a postcard please…

Teaching

TRT: I know that you often work in schools yourself, are you testing out the ideas for Seaglass on pupils or teachers?
EW: I’ve tested out the first couple of pages of Seaglass with a few schools now. It is the most nerve-wracking experience you can possibly imagine. So far, they’ve given it a huge thumbs-up, which is a relief!

TRT: Lots of teachers are using Gaslight in the classroom to complement their teaching of the Victorians. Could you suggest ways that Seaglass could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
EW: Some key elements are: Inclusion. A sense of belonging. Bullying. Anger. Friendship. Wildlife and nature. Facing fears. There are other themes, but I can’t disclose them without giving away the story!

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your books to teachers for them to use in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read them at home, how would you sum them up?
EW: Elen’s Island –  ‘A delightful, magical tale full of mystery, intrigue and the unknown.’ Book Lover Jo.
Gaslight – ‘A deliciously dark romp through the backstreets of Victorian Cardiff.’ Emma Carroll.
Seaglass – ‘You are trying to get me to give away the plot again aren’t you?’ Eloise Williams.

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?
EW: I love working in schools and have a contact page on my website www.eloisewilliams.com

General

TRT: What has an interviewer/blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
EW: I’d like to be asked if I’ve touched the rocking chair from the stage show of ‘The Woman in Black.’ Answer: Yes, I have. Eek!

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
EW: I share my birthday with Hans Christian Andersen and Adrian Mole.

TRT: Thank you ever so much for taking the time to answer my questions today, Eloise!

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Eloise was born in Cardiff and grew up in Llantrisant. She now lives in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, very close to the beach where she walks her dog Watson Jones and collects sea glass with her artist husband, Guy Manning.

She worked in the theatre in various odd jobs before going on to study Drama at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Guildford School of Acting. After working for over ten years as an actor, she decided to change path a little and take a Masters in Creative Writing at Swansea University.

Her first book was Elen’s Island, published in 2015.

Her second novel, a Victorian Middle Grade thriller, Gaslight, was published in April 2017.


Giveaway!

So to celebrate Gaslight being one and the cover reveal of Seaglass, I am delighted to say that Eloise has kindly given me a signed copy of Gaslight AND an original postcard sized oil-painting of the view from the beach which inspired Seaglass – created by Guy Manning who illustrates inside the books – to giveaway to one of my followers on Twitter. If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

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Guy has also painted 365 consecutive paintings of Pembrokeshire over 365 days which you can see here at https://www.postcardsfrompembrokeshire.com/


 

Blog Tour: Vashti Hardy (3 in 1: Review: Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure (Illustrated by George Ermos), Author Q&A and Giveaway!)

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‘A scintillating, spectacular, spirited and special debut –
the right kind of adventure… one that’s really going to go down a (Bright)storm!’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure
Author: Vashti Hardy (@vashti_hardy)
Illustrator (Cover): George Ermos (@GeorgeErmos/Website)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 1st March 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407181707

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Scintillating 😃
2. Spectacular 💥
3. Spirited 💪


Ready for an adventure?

Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm are devastated by the news that their father, a daring explorer, has died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. But a mysterious clue, leads the twins to question the story they’ve been told. To find the truth, they must undertake the journey of a lifetime.


The first line:

The heavy chug of a sky-ship firing its engines rumbled through Lontown.


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Batten down the hatches, start the propellers, look out through your binoscopes and soar! As we board sky-ships Aurora, Victorious, Fire-Bird and Fontaine in a race to explore The Wide from the First Continent across the Second and Third and onwards to the vast and uncharted territory of South Polaris for an absorbing, atmospheric adventure that will not only take you to the frozen south with magical lands and continents anew; but take your breath away and also take the world by storm.

We first meet twin protagonists, Maudie and Arthur excitedly scaling the rooftops of Lontown to gaze skywards at the airships whilst longingly missing their father, an intrepid – yet not truly accepted – explorer who’s on his own sky-ship adventure to South Polaris, the furthest known point of existence. The siblings’ close relationship is shown here, even as early as the first chapter, where we discover that Maudie, an impassioned and gutsy engineer, has built a mechanical arm for Arty, her shrewd, book-loving, disabled younger brother, whose ingenuity and resourcefulness shrine through a little later on in the story.

Soon after, however, news reaches the twins of their dad’s lack of return and all-abandoned ship, Violetta, and their worlds quickly change. Following an inquest attended by what seems like the whole population of Lontown, we – along with Maudie and Arthur – are led to believe that their father has not only disappeared but has also broken ‘explorer code’ by being accused by a certain someone as… a thief! Something that even for the established families of explorers is deeply reviled within the explorer community, let alone for any new blood to the explorer party. Tarnishing the Brightstorm family name for good and rendering their father’s life insurance invalid, this also leaves Maudie and Arthur home-, guardian- and possession-less.

Having been taken in by the beastly, bedraggled Begginses and so seeking their escape from the drudgery of the lives they find themselves living, Maudie and Arthur answer an advert:

Individuals Wanted
For treacherous journey to South Polaris,
Small wages, certain danger,
Shared reward and recognition if successful. 

Well… what are they waiting for? With themselves knowing that this is their one and only chance, Maudie and Arthur don’t just have an amazing adventure to experience by following in their father’s footsteps but more importantly, they have a truth to reveal; their family name’s pride to rightfully restore and a point to prove to Lontown and the world.

In any good adventure, you’re going to need a good crew and this is no different in Brightstorm with its cast of strong supporting characters. Steering the good ship, Aurora, at the helm is Captain Harriet Culpepper, a bold, innovative, young commander who leads very much from the front and inspires Maudie, who I think reminds Harriet a lot of herself.

But then again, there’s also Eudora Vane (skipper of sky-ship Victorious) who visits Maudie and Arthur at the Begginses to tempt them to join her and her crew not long before take-off. A highly-esteemed explorer known throughout the land of Lontown, who so narrowly missed out on the prize last time around thanks to a particular Mr Ernest Brightstorm…

So who will they join… Culpepper? Or Vane?

Despite this array of human characters, my favourites (and what I think may end up being yours too!) are in fact the animals that we meet throughout their journey; steadfast, stealthy and sapient in nature. Parthena – the Brightstorms’ hawk – deserves a special mention returning from afar to help navigate them across the plains past the Great Ice Lake, Impassable Mountains and Silent Sea in to (and, thankfully, out of) the Everlasting Forest, where they encounter the at first terrifying, but actually terrific thought-wolves and a more menacing silver insect connected in some strange way to villainess Vane.

But do they make it to South Polaris and do they find their father? Dead… or alive?

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The shimmering, gold-panelled cover and detailed inside-cover map really add to the world-building in this adventure bringing it all to life.  Further to this you can see below, in her ‘Author Q&A’, a picture of Vashti’s impressive and meticulously hand-drawn map of the Continents and how it has evolved and been even further beautifully realised, with thanks to George Ermos’ striking illustrations and creative design at Scholastic.

A scintillating, spectacular, spirited and special debut – one that’s really going to go down a (Bright)storm! This book is the right kind of adventure that will leave you no doubt rooting for Maudie and Arthur along the way; is a journey of discovery not least just in the physical sense; and is a gentle reminder that where determination, desire and resilience combine to create a will, then there’s most certainly a way. One that I’ll be recommending every moon-cycle.

I found so much to enjoy in Brightstorm because of Vashti’s effortlessly engaging and all-round exciting writing style which made it so that I couldn’t help myself just wanting to join the crew!
I’m in! Where do I sign up? Because every crew needs a teacher, right?

I’m already hoping that Vashti will be writing plenty more and I’ll be snapping up her sequel to this as quick as she can write it! Chime to write some more!

So I ask this:

‘I know I’m ready for another adventure.’ 

What about you, Vashti? 

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Mr E
📚

This just HAS to be Waterstones’ Children’s ‘Book of the Month’ for March!

Big thanks to Vashti and Olivia at Scholastic for providing me with both a proof and a delightfully finished copy of Brightstorm!

Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

‘A scintillating, spectacular, spirited and special debut –
the right kind of adventure… one that’s really going to go down a (Bright)storm!’


Author Q&A: Vashti Hardy (VH) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

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Vashti Hardy lives near Brighton and was a primary school teacher before moving into digital marketing. She is an alumni member and buddy at the Golden Egg Academy. Brightstorm is her debut novel published by Scholastic.

I’m very happy to welcome Vashti to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about Brightstorm, her reading and writing habits and using her book in the classroom!

Brightstorm

TRT: For my review, I’ve described Brightstorm in #3Words3Emojis above, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
VH: I love your choices! I’m going… Adventurous 🏔 Pacey 🏃‍ Imaginative 💭

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Brightstorm?
VH: I’ve always loved real-life stories of exploration like Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to Antarctica. I’m a big fan of Bear Grylls too – as I couldn’t go out and jump in quicksand or a frozen lake easily in real life, his programmes were a godsend in helping me learn survival techniques to help Arthur out! I also have a great non-fiction book called A Teacup in a Storm: An Explorer’s Guide to Life by Mick Conefrey which is packed full of excellent explorer facts. I found my initial idea for Brightstorm in the book which was Shackleton’s advert to find his crew. I also love Amelia Earhart for how she inspired so many females to pursue their dreams (she’s basically Harriet Culpepper!).

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading Brightstorm?
VH: Aside from sheer enjoyment and an escape into adventure, I hope readers will see themselves in Arthur and Maudie and know that with determination, inner grit and a bit of tenacity, you can achieve amazing things!

TRT: If you could build your own sky-ship, what would it look like? Who would you choose to join the crew? Where would you go? How would it travel?
VH: I don’t think I can beat the Aurora – it’s my perfect sky-ship. It’s elegant and eco-friendly. My crew would probably be made up of my author friends Jennifer Killick, Lorraine Gregory and James Nicol. We would have a lot of fun, but I know they would work hard and have my back too. We would retrace Ernest Brightstorm’s original voyage north to the volcanic isles…

TRT: What is your favourite mode of transport that exists only in literature?
VH: The predator cities of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. A genius idea!

TRT: Can you give us a little more of a behind-the-scenes insight in to what goes in to making such a high-quality book like Brightstorm?  Map1

VH: Writing a book is a cyclic process of imagining, writing, planning, editing, revising, and so on whilst bouncing off the brilliant brains of your agent and/or editor, until you reach a stage where you all feel it’s the best it can be! For Brightstorm, I drew quite detailed maps early on because it helped me work out the stops en-route, the hazards they may come across and the journey times. Scholastic said from the start that they’d like a map in the book, so they took my original (TRT: seen here to the right – thank you so much for sending this!) and then their clever designer created the one on the flap of the book!

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Brightstorm, who would it be and why?
VH: I think Arthur is most like me. He is tenacious, which I tend to be, and when I was younger I would’ve been able to relate to that feeling of trying to find your way in the world and not knowing where you fit. Also he loves books!

TRT: If you could choose to visit any of the destinations from Brightstorm, where would you go and why?
VH: I would happily explore all of them, but I think spending some time with kings Batzorig and Temur in the Second Continent would be amazing. They are both so warm and positive and would make great allies. Their citadel is full of historical invention and I’d love to find out more…

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing?
VH: World-building – I love the fact that our imaginations are as large as we want them to be. It’s pretty empowering.  No matter what goes on in life, we all have or imaginations. It’s a great leveller.

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
VH: It can all be energising and tiring in equal measure at different stages. Your brain certainly gets a great workout because you’re juggling so many aspects at once when you write, from the big picture heart of your story down to the tiny decisions. But when you know you’ve hit the spot with a piece of writing or an idea it’s magic.

TRT: What is your favourite book from childhood?
VH: Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation was the book that sparked everything for me. I can still see the pictures in my head as clearly as I saw them when I was seven. It showed me that one young girl could change the future of a whole world….

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?
VH: We didn’t have author visits, but I would have loved it because I know how inspiring it can be. When I was first taking my writing seriously, I read an interview with Philip Pullman. He spoke of everyone seeing the gliding swan and not seeing the feet kicking furiously beneath the surface. This made me realise I could try!

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books. What are some of the interesting things/things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?
VH: I love seeing new twists on genres – for example with A Witch Alone by James Nicol, I love the use of magical glyph symbols rather than wands. Some of the best children’s literature takes a common favourite and twists it into something new, and with so many wonderful books out there it’s fabulous to see what comes next.

TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting Brightstorm but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
VH: There are potentially more adventures for the Brightstorm twins (a certain female explorer has some more dastardly things up her sleeve…) and there could be further sky-ship adventures with other characters set in that world. There’s another story in the early stages too which I’m really excited about, with a whole new world of invention. It carries on a similar Victoriana adventure feel but with a big twist…

Brightstorm and Teaching

TRT: There are going to be teaching ideas listed on your website about using Brightstorm for teachers, schools and parents to use. Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
VH: There are many links to be made to science with the invention and STEM aspects of Brightstorm, plus it’s especially strong in female STEM characters so great for inspiring that in school, along with eco themes and understanding our relationship with animals and the environment. PSHE could be linked with the diversity and difference, as well as links to raising aspirations. You could work on what you need for an expedition and the hidden qualities such as a positive attitude, courage and determination to achieve your dreams (which relates to all areas of life). The mapping aspect works well for geography along with the eco themes. The invention side would be great for design and technology too – it would be great to see children designing their own sky-ships. Brightstorm would work especially well as a class read if your topics are related to explorers or the Arctic/Antarctic or as a guided reading text.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your book to teachers for them to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
VH: A rip-roaring adventure that takes place on sky-ships, and has explorers you’ll want to be, sapient creatures you’ll love to meet such as thought-wolves, and a villain you’ll love to hate. Readers who love fantastical adventure but aren’t yet ready for Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials will enjoy this story.
(TRT: You can also view Vashti’s #AuthorsAllTogether video, to share in the classroom with your pupils, where she talks about Brightstorm herself by clicking here!)

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?
VH: That would be lovely – if you visit my website www.vashtihardy.com you can get a flavour of the book and events and then easily contact me via the online form.

Two more before you go!

TRT: What has a blogger never asked you before, that you always wished you could answer?
VH: My favourite film – the Labyrinth!

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
VH: Despite having written about the frozen south I really hate being cold! I can also twirl a baton as I was once a majorette…  in case you wondered!

TRT: Thank you so much for stopping off at The Reader Teacher today, Vashti. I wish you every success with Brightstorm!

VH: Thank you for your great questions!


🎉    Giveaway!   🎉

I am also pleased to say that Olivia Horrox, Vashti’s publicist, at Scholastic has kindly given me 3 copies of Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure to give away!

Retweet this tweet and follow @MrEPrimary and @vashti_hardy to win!


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Blog Tour: Leonie Roberts (3 in 1: Review: My Colourful Chameleon (Illustrated by Mike Byrne), Author Q&A and Giveaway!)

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A fabulous, fascinating and fun-filled story that is surely set to become a future favourite with children, their parents and their teachers!

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Leonie Roberts on her blog tour to The Reader Teacher. Leonie is a primary school teacher and also the author of the recently-released picture book My Colourful Chameleon (illustrated by Mike Byrne), which I must say is a real little gem. Leonie has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my questions too.

Enjoy!


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: My Colourful Chameleon
Author: Leonie Roberts (@leonierobertsuk)
Illustrator: Mike Byrne (@TheMikeByrne)
Publisher: QED Publishing (@QEDPublishing)
Page count: 24
Date of publication: 25th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1784939380

Perfect for Nursery, Reception, Year 1 & Year 2.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Eye-catching 👀
2. Funny 😁
3. Engaging 😍


The first line(s):
I have a pet chameleon
I love her – she’s the best!
But Mummy doesn’t like her,
she says that she’s a pest!

Review: My Colourful Chameleon opens with a girl constantly losing her camouflaging, colour-changing chameleon. Almost as if it is playing house hide-and-seek, it blends itself into the rooms of the house; the garden; the car and even at school causing all kinds of chaos and commotion for the girl and her family.

Will she be able to explain the reasons for its disappearance to her parents, teachers and others who doubt its awesome ability and be allowed to keep her dearly-loved, particoloured pet?

There is so much educational potential and opportunity within the pages of this book and this is encouraged by the helpful ‘Next Steps’ section at the back of the book. Discussion, questioning, discovery and observation can be promoted further through the introduction of new and interesting vocabulary (e.g. ‘chameleon’, ‘pest’) whilst helping to develop a scientific sense of awe and wonder in young children.

  • Can your children spot the chameleon hiding in the kitchen?
  • Can they see it in the bathroom?
  • Or what about the bedroom?

Delightfully drawn by Mike Byrne, his illustrations completely complement and embody the personalities of the characters within Leonie’s lovely style of rhyming narrative which will certainly be demanded to be heard again and again!

Equally, I’m sure that parents and teachers alike will thoroughly enjoy reading this to their children and their classes as much as they will enjoy listening to it. Due to it just begging to be read aloud, it will help to create a wholly interactive, immersive and enjoyable story time experience to be shared by all.

A fabulous, fascinating and fun-filled story that is surely set to become a future favourite with children, their parents and their teachers!

My Colourful Chameleon is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

 


Author Q&A: Leonie Roberts (LR) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

TRT: For my review, I’ve described My Colourful Chameleon in #3Words3Emojis, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
LR: You stole the best three words!!!
1. Cute 🐶
2. Adorable 🐼
3. Colourtastic 🎨

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write My Colourful Chameleon? As a primary school teacher, did you test out the book or the book’s ideas with young readers at school?
LR: I’ve studied rhyming picture books by many many authors including Julia Donaldson. With this particular book, I didn’t personally test it out with any young readers at school because I was living and working in Italy at the time. However, my good friend who is also a teacher did read an earlier version of this text to her class.

TRT: What do you hope readers will get from reading your book?
LR: In simple terms, I just hope that readers enjoy this book and will want to read it more than once. It would be great if it also inspires them to read more in general.

TRT: Do you know a lot about chameleons to choose them as one of the central characters in your story?
LR: I know more about chameleons now than I did when I wrote the story. In fact, funny tale… it was originally called “My Colourful Iguana” until my Mum pointed out that iguanas are not the colour changing animals!!

TRT: If you could have had any exotic animal as a pet growing up, would it have been a chameleon? Or something else and why?
LR: I always quite fancied owning an exotic parrot so that it could sit on my shoulder and come everywhere with me.

PsammeadTRT: What is your favourite creature that exists only in literature?
LR: Oooo, this is a good question. I would have to say the Psammead from “Five Children and It” that was televised when I was young. Written by E. Nesbit.  

TRT: I can really imagine My Colourful Chameleon being especially fun to read aloud. What would you say are other advantages to writing a picture book in rhyme?
LR: As a teacher myself, I would say that having a picture book written in rhyme often allows the children to anticipate what will happen in the next sentence and to be able to join in more with the storytelling because they can often guess what the rhyming word will be.

TRT: Do you have a favourite two-page spread in My Colourful Chameleon that Mike has illustrated? Did you have any input in to the overall illustrations or the design of the cover?
LR: I didn’t have any input into the illustrations at all but I am very happy with the wonderful pictures that Mike Byrne has created. My favourite spread is possibly the opening spread because I love the image of the little girl being licked by her chameleon – it is so sweet!

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TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting My Colourful Chameleon but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more picture books or do you have something entirely different lined up outside of the publishing world?
LR: At the moment, I am working on a number of other picture book texts about all sorts of weird and wonderful things and over the last year I have also begun writing for older children.

TRT: What first attracted you to writing picture books?
LR: Perhaps from having read so many during my time as a teacher and from spending a few years working with young children I simply had lots of story ideas that I felt an urge to get written down. It all started from there really.

TRT: As a primary school teacher yourself, which books (including picture books) do you most like to read to your classes?
LR: I have three favourites that I love to read time and time again…
Jill Murphy’s Peace At Last; Julia Donaldson’s The Smartest Giant in Town (because I like the singing bits); and Lydia Monk’s No More Eee Orrh!

TRT: There are teaching ideas listed at the back of My Colourful Chameleon for teachers, schools and parents to use. Could you suggest any further ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
LR: I have lots of ideas about this and hopefully I will have time to put some more up on my site at some point. For starters, I would use this book in the classroom as an introduction to rhyme and colours. It would also be good as a starter text that could lead onto a non-fiction topic where children could find out about the features of both non-fiction texts and about real chameleons.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ your book to teachers for them to use it in their classrooms or for parents to choose to read it at home, how would you sum it up?
LR: A funny tale that is useful for the introduction of colour language and in heping children to name the different rooms of the house.

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?
LR: The easiest way to contact me would be via the contact form on my webpage https://leonieroberts.com/ – I would love to hear from you!

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember any authors ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
LR: I can’t remember any authors having visited my school but I can remember one particular teacher who used to read amazing stories to the whole school during assembly times.

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
LR: I learnt how to Salsa dance whilst living abroad.


🎉 Giveaway! 🎉

I am pleased to say that I have been sent an extra copy of My Colourful Chameleon and therefore I will be giving it away!

Retweet this tweet and follow @MrEPrimary and @leonierobertsuk to win!


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Huge thanks to Leonie for choosing to visit The Reader Teacher on her blog tour and for sending me a copy (or two!) of My Colourful Chameleon!

My Colourful Chameleon is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
📚

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