Blog Tour (Author Q&A & Giveaway!): Dragon Daughter – Liz Flanagan (Illustrated by Angelo Rinaldi)

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Dragon Daughter
Author: Liz Flanagan (@lizziebooks)
Illustrator: Angelo Rinaldi (Website)
Publisher: David Fickling (@dfb_storyhouse)
Page count: 368
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019 (Paperback)
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788450218

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Dragons 🐉
2. Island 🏝️
3. Secrets 🤐


The DRAGONS were lost and forgotten until NOW…

Milla sees a man murdered and finds herself caring for the last four dragon eggs. Forced to keep them secret amidst the growing tensions on the island of Across, Milla must fight to save the dragons and everything that their return stands for.

Fiery friendships, forgotten family and the struggle for power collide as Milla’s battle for freedom leads her to uncover her own hidden past.


I’m so pleased to welcome Liz Flanagan to The Reader Teacher today where she Liz_Flanagan_cr_Sarah_Mason__Photographyanswers my questions all about Dragon Daughter including its recent award-winning success; her reading and writing influences and sharing teacher resources for her incredible book!

Dragon Daughter (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 Dragon Daughter?

    1. Friendship 👫
    2. Fiery 🔥
    3. Dragons! 🐉
  • What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Dragon Daughter?

Dragon Daughter wasn’t an easy book for me to write. I kept getting stuck and putting it aside, and I must have done about 20 drafts, especially of the second half of the book. In one of my stuck phases, I started writing Eden Summer, which became my debut novel, but I couldn’t give up on Dragon Daughter!

It wasn’t till I was working with my editor Rosie Fickling, that I managed to see clearly enough and get the story finished in a way that would suit middle-grade readers. So it was her vision and love of the story that really inspired me and helped me to write it.

I love books about dragons. I wasn’t consciously thinking about any in particular when I was writing it, but I’m sure that Anne McCaffrey’s and Ursula LeGuin’s dragons must have filtered into my teenage brain and come out in the writing of Dragon Daughter, and I can definitely see the influence of American fantasy writer Tamora Pierce.

I’ve got a much clearer and more specific spark for the sequel, which I’m writing now – a documentary about the tunnels under a particular European city. More of that soon!!

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Dragon Daughter?

I loved writing the hatching scene! It was a joy to write, and for this chapter at least the words came tumbling out. It’s also the part I love reading aloud the most now. Milla – and the reader! – has had to wait quite some time before she finally gets to meet her dragon, but I hope it was worth it.

  • Firstly, I think a big congratulations is in order. Well done on Dragon Daughter winning the Leeds Book Award and the Calderdale Book of the Year recently. What is it about Dragon Daughter do you think that has made it so successful with children?

Thank you so much! I was so delighted about these awards, not only because they’re in my local region, but also because the children voted for Dragon Daughter. That’s what authors dream of!

I love hearing directly from readers and learning what they’ve enjoyed. So far it seems to be:

  • The characters, especially Milla
  • The dragons, and choosing which colour dragon is their favourite
  • The exciting adventure, even if it gets slightly scary at times
  • If you were to choose the character that is most like you from Dragon Daughter, who would it be and why?

Ah, I wish I could say Milla, but she is what I wish I were like, so resilient and resourceful and courageous. I’m probably more like Isak – he knows what the right thing is, but it takes him a while to do it!


Reading and Writing (4)

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

I loved writing at school. We had an amazing teacher in Year 4 who gave us wonderful writing prompts and I first noticed how time could disappear while I was writing. I still remember a long story about a pink flying horse, so maybe things haven’t changed so much after all! I lost my writing confidence in my later teens and twenties, and didn’t start writing again till I had my own children. For a while the stories I was writing were definitely aimed at the age of my eldest daughter, but now they’re teenagers, I think I’ll stay away from writing YA for a while: my girls don’t need me trying to write teens while they’re busy being them.

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

I love the energy and excitement of a first draft, but it is also quite nerve-racking – is this a story? Can I write it? But it’s also a real journey of discovery, getting to know the characters and what they want. I’ve learned to let myself create what I call a ‘dirty first draft’ and trust that I can come back and polish it up later. I have come to enjoy editing, but I always get daunted just before a new round of edits. Then, once I’ve got stuck in, it’s very satisfying.

  • 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?

I don’t remember any authors visiting our school. I didn’t realise that ordinary people could be authors. I met Berlie Doherty on an Arvon course when I was seventeen, and she read from the unfinished manuscript of Dear Nobody and actually asked for our opinions on it. That blew me away!

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

I know, I am loving the feast of amazing books being published for this age group & I’m constantly gobbling up middle-grade novels. Recent ones I’ve loved are: Fire Girl, Forest Boy by Chloe Daykin for its adventure, wonderful setting and the cutest animal with an unlikely name; The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle for great characters and a spellbinding mix of magic and real life; Sky Chasers by Emma Carroll for pace, excitement and a brilliant protagonist; The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf for friendship, hope and characters you’d like to be friends with; The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell for courageous characters, fabulous plot and beautiful writing; and The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson for its brilliant protagonist, another adorable animal character and more gorgeous writing you could read all day.


Dragon Daughter and Teaching (3)

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ Dragon Daughter 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?

In this exciting fantasy adventure, servant girl Milla witnesses a murder and finds herself caring for the last four dragon eggs, but as unrest spreads across the island of Arcosi, who can she trust?

  • Could you suggest ways in which Dragon Daughter 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?

In my school visits I’ve been doing workshops showing some wild and wonderful mythical creatures from around the world, then inviting children to imagine their own beautifully coloured egg and what might hatch from it.

A teacher friend of mine, Susan Williams, very kindly created some classroom resources and lesson plans, some focusing on life cycles, and also using the idea of dragon eggs as story prompts for descriptive writing. She’s created some free downloadable lesson plans, on the subjects of hatching dragons / descriptive writing / dragon eggs, which are available here: http://lizflanagan.co.uk/dragon-daughter-teacher-resources

The story also has themes of migration and tolerance, which can be used for discussions of those subjects in a fantasy-based way.

  • 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?

That would be wonderful! Please contact me via lizflanagan.co.uk/contact, or you could also book via Authors Aloud: https://authorsalouduk.co.uk/speaker/liz-flanagan/


Two more before you go (2)!

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

An interviewer hasn’t asked me, but children always do: what kind of dragon would I have?

I think the answer is Iggie, Milla’s dragon. He’s lapis blue, loyal, small and fragile to begin with, and huge and fire-breathing by the end.

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

I always talk in my school visits about how long it took me to become an author:

10 years + 2 unpublished novels + 20 drafts of Dragon Daughter = All worth it!


One last one… (1)!

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

What do you wish authors knew before they came into school – if you can narrow it down!! – and what kinds of resources do you find most helpful on authors’ websites?

Thank you so much Liz for taking the time to answer my questions!

Thanks so much Scott, I really appreciate all your support!


Giveaway!

The very lovely people at David Fickling have kindly given me ONE paperback copy of Dragon Daughter to give away!

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

Huge thanks to Liz, Liz and all at David Fickling for inviting me to host this Author Q&A with Liz and a giveaway!

Extra thanks to Liz for answering my questions with her brilliant answers!


Mr E

📚


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Be sure to check out the rest of the Dragon Daughter blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Liz; and content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!


 

Blog Tour (Author Q&A): Check Mates – Stewart Foster (Illustrated by Leo Nickolls)

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Check Mates
Author: Stewart Foster (@stewfoster1)
Cover artwork: Leo Nickolls (@leonickolls)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@simonkids_uk)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 27th June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN:978-1471172236

Perfect for Year5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Chess ♟️
2. Relationships 🤝
3. Grandfather 👴


Felix Schopp isn’t a problem child.
He’s a child with a problem…

Felix’s ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one realises how hard it is!

When Mum suggests Felix spends time with his grandad, Felix can’t think of anything worse. Grandad hasn’t been since Grandma died, and he’s always trying to teach Felix boring chess.

But sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places and Grandad soon shows Felix that there’s everything to play for.


Today, I’m delighted to welcome Stewart to The Reader Teacher where he’ll be answering some of my questions about Check Mates, his reading and writing influences and why he’s a bit like his main character, Felix!

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Photo credit: Tallulah Foster

 


Check Mates (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 Check Mates?
    1. Touching
    2. Triumphant
    3. Historical

Sorry, I prefer words over emojis.

  • What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Check Mates?

For experience of life in East Germany I read Anna Funder’s Staziland. For the experience of chess tournaments I used The Rookie, by John Moss. I researched online for the chess moves and had them checked and rechecked by an experienced club chess player. I also interviewed two children with ADHD along with two class support workers. I thought it very important to find out what it’s like to cope with having ADHD and how schools deal with this. Of course I also used my own experiences of ADHD, as it was very evident during the writing of the book because I wrote it in half-hour burst. I just couldn’t keep still any longer than that.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Check Mates?

Discovering the characters and watching them grow, was my favourite part. I loved Felix, Granddad and Jake, and each morning when I sat at my computer it was like going back and meeting my friends. I found them all very easy to write, or maybe I should say, natural.

  • In Check Mates, the main game of the story is chess. Are you good at the game yourself, maybe a grandmaster? And how does your experiences of the game influence your writing about it?

I’m a total novice at chess, pretty rubbish to be honest. However, I did play at school and in one lunchtime I was winning a game comfortably until my opponent opened his lunchbox and pulled out a peanut butter sandwich. I hate peanut butter and the smell of it made me feel so sick I lost the game. I used the scene in Check Mates, with Felix, only I swapped peanut butter out for Doritos.

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

I’m a hybrid of Felix and Jake. I’m like Felix for the terrible attention span, and like Jake for the randomness of his acts without thinking of the consequences, even though he has good intentions. I also like to think I’m loyal to my mates, like he is to Felix.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I used to write short stories and poems about my classmates in secondary school. At first, they were scared of what I’d write but after laughing at two stories they seemed to clamour to be the next one in line. It was huge fun, and much like the class comedian it made me quite popular, and we all want to be that. I loved writing in general, especially in English and History. In fact, my History teacher was a big fan until one day he said, ‘Stewart, I love your stories, but History is recollection of real events, not things you make up’. I remember us both laughing. I didn’t change the cause and outcomes of wars, but I did create a few bloody battles in between.

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

The first draft is the most fun by far. I don’t plan my novels, so each page is as unknown to me as it is to the reader. It keeps me fresh, but it does lead to a ‘scruffy’ first draft to send to my editor. And that’s when the exhausting bit kicks in, going over and over the whole story again.

  • 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?

I loved reading Bobby Brewster stories and when the author H E Todd came to my school, I was the happiest kid on the planet. He and his books smelt of tobacco and as he signed my copy, I told him I was writing a story about a crocodile that lived under my living room carpet. He said it was a great idea and that I should finish the story. I recall running home to tell my parents I’d met a real author and wrote the story that night by torchlight. It was the most exciting time and makes me realise the importance of talking but also listening to kids when I visit schools.

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

It would have to be Lisa Thompson. She does a wonderful job of addressing some of the issues that affect youngsters today and does it in a way that doesn’t talk down to them. When I was writing All the Things that could go Wrong, I discovered The Goldfish Boy was coming out. Both our books featured a protagonist with OCD and for a while I considered stopping writing mine as she’d done it so well. However, thankfully I continued.  Like I tell keen writers, it’s okay to write on the same subjects or themes, after all, there’s more than one book or film about the Second World War.

Check Mates and Teaching (3)

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ Check Mates 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 boy with ADHD learns that the best lessons come in the most unexpected places and from whom you least expect.

  • Could you suggest ways in which Check Mates 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’d love to children to discuss or take part in activities to extend the reading experience, rather that have to study it piece by piece.

For example, they could talk to their grandparents and share stories about them in class. This could lead to empathy with Grandparents and understanding. What did they learn about their lives? What might child and Grandparent learn from each other.

Learn to play chess…link to maths, problem solving skills, planning, strategy, patience, focus and self-discipline. Promote discussions about sportsmanship and fair play.

Cold War, Berlin Wall are not usually studied in Primary schools, so a refreshing topic to raise and for children to be curious about. Promote discussion on separation and the value of family unit.

  • 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?

Now I’ve finally got a decent website, it’s best to contact me through there. Stewartfosterauthor.co.uk

Two more before you go (2)!

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

How does your deafness affect your writing? A young girl asked me this a couple of weeks ago and I thought it best question in a long while.

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

I’ve run London Marathon five times.

One last one… (1)!

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

Do you think children should be encouraged to read books that help them escape their problems or should they read books that tackle young people’s issues directly?


Thank you Stewart for answering my questions!


Check Mates is available now to order online and from any good independent bookshop.


Big thanks to Stewart and all the team at Simon & Schuster for inviting me to do an Author Q&A as part of the Check Mates blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Stewart for answering my questions!

Mr E


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

Author Q&A & Giveaway!: My Cousin is a Time Traveller – David Solomons (Illustrated by Robin Boyden)

Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome David Solomons, author of the award-winning and incredibly popular and successful My Brother is a Superhero series, to The Reader Teacher to answer my questions to celebrate the publication of the fifth and final book in the series, My Cousin is a Time Traveller, published by Nosy Crow on 27th June 2019.


My Cousin is a Time Traveller (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 My Cousin is a Time Traveller?

    1. Superpowered
    2. Toasted
    3. Concluding

And if anyone can tell me where to find emojis in Word, that’d be super.

  • How does it feel to bring your hugely successful My Brother is a Superhero series to an end with My Cousin is a Time Traveller?

Satisfaction tinged with sadness. I began writing these books when I became a dad for the first time, and in so many ways the series is bound up with my kids. Also, these books have changed my life, giving me an unexpected midlife change of career, so there’s inevitably some sadness in saying goodbye (to the series, not my career). However, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of creating a fitting ending.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing My Cousin is a Time Traveller?

Knowing that I was heading towards a final full stop was refreshing. It helped to focus the various plot strands and gave me a sense of freedom while I was writing.

  • In My Cousin is a Time Traveller, Luke discovers that his cousin can time travel (not really a spoiler alert with that title, haha!). If you could time travel, would you go forwards or backwards in time and why?

Definitely forwards in time! The past was way too dangerous. I’m terribly short-sighted and I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes before the invention of spectacles. I’d have been the straggler at the back, easy prey to every snackish sabre tooth tiger.

  • If you were to choose the character that is most like you from My Cousin is a Time Traveller, who would it be and why?

A particularly apt question for this novel, since Luke and the others receive a school visit from an author who is not unlike me. In a horribly metafictional and rather sentimental tactic, I wrote myself into the narrative so that I could say goodbye personally to my lovely characters.


Reading and Writing (4)

  • How has writing the My Brother is a Superhero series and the Doctor Who books been both similar and/or different for you?

A significant difference is the voice. My Brother is a first-person narrative told from the pov of an eleven-year-old boy. With Dr Who I use a limited third-person pov. There’s a bit of head-hopping, but most chapters are from a single character’s perspective, with one notable exception. I purposefully avoid seeing through the Doctor’s eyes. I wanted to keep her mysterious, alien, a bit unknowable.

  • In terms of upcoming work in progresses and writing your next book for children, can you share with us any of what you have planned next?

I’m working on a new funny book for Nosy Crow, but the details are top secret for now! There’s another Dr Who on the way. It’s entitled the Maze of Doom, and there might be a Minotaur loose on the London underground, among other things.

  • Hearing your book titles never fail to make me laugh. Children in all my classes have loved them. They must be some of the most brilliant in the children’s book world. How do you come up with them? What appears first in your mind: the title or the story?

First off, thank you! Frankly, they’re a nightmare to come up with. And it’s my fault, since I created a rod for my own back. I vividly remember the meeting to discuss the first sequel. I was the twit who insisted that each subsequent novel must follow the My X is a Y format. Have you noticed recently that for this age group propositional titles work very well. You could call it the ‘It Does What It Says on the Tin’ approach. Lots of The Boy WhoThe Train to… The House with… Charlie Changes into… My Brother is… With so many books on offer, the title has to work hard and fast. Tell them what it’s about, at a glance.

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

I’m going to defer to you on this one – you read many more books for this age than I do. And I tend to avoid anything that’s like my own stuff. However, I do wonder if we’re living in a golden bubble. No question that there are lots of fabulous books published every month, and passionate people like you tweet about them, so that when I dip into this world it feels as if those books are everywhere. But sadly that doesn’t reflect the wider world. One of the things I have a gentle pop at in My Cousin is a Time Traveller is the whole celebrity-authored children’s book industry. My five cents: if a child is going to read one book a year, it would be better for that book to be one of the best published that year, and not one bought solely on the celebrity of its author. Not that I know how to make that happen! All brilliant suggestions, on the back of a ten-pound note, to my home address, please.


My Cousin is a Time Traveller and Teaching (3)

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ My Cousin is a Time Traveller 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?

What if the smart appliances in your home got so smart that they decided to take over the world?

Or

What if the Terminator was a four-slice toaster?

  • Could you suggest ways in which My Cousin is a Time Traveller or any of the other books in the My Brother is a Superhero series could be used in the classroom for the many teachers and primary school staff that will read this and wish to use them in their schools?

Is it OK to say I feel a sense of weariness when I read this question? I don’t write issue-driven books, or set my stories in curriculum-friendly historical milieux. When teachers want to engage a certain kind of boy, they might latch onto the superhero theme. But my experience tells me that funny books are a hard sell in the classroom. In the same way that they’re excluded from literary prizes (don’t get me started), they’re often overlooked as a teaching resource. By definition, they lack seriousness. However, I am deadly serious when I write. I wring out every drop of creativity and technique in my effort to make the books effortlessly funny. How about taking a passage that makes you laugh and digging into it? Change a word or word order in a sentence. Is it still funny? Funnier? What about the POV? Often I create humour out of the gap between the character’s perception of the world and the reader’s. Look at language. Some words are like comedy magic – inherently funny. I call it the Guacamole Effect. What I’m saying is: treat humour seriously!

  • 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?

Please get in touch with Nosy Crow (press@nosycrow.com) for anything Superhero related. And Penguin for Dr Who stuff.


Two more before you go (2)!

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

I’m grateful that bloggers are kind, gentle and circumspect in their questioning, because I fear that the wrong (right?) question might unleash a tirade.

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

I have a mole… in my back garden. I’m like some dastardly moustache-twirling villain from a 1970s cartoon in my attempts to off the furry menace. And as in those cartoons, I always fail. Meep-Meep!


One last one… (1)!

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

What would encourage you to use my books in your classroom?


Thank you David for answering my questions!


Giveaway!

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I have kindly been given TEN Nosy Crow POS packs for My Cousin is a Time Traveller featuring a copy of the new book and plenty of resources, bunting, badges and display materials to give away!

If you’d like to be in with a chance of being one of ten lucky winners of this very special giveaway and this utterly brilliant series-ender, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!


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Be sure to check out the rest of the My Cousin is a Time Traveller blog tour for more exclusive guest posts & Q&As from David and content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Longest Night of Charlie Noon (Illustrated by Matt Saunders)

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‘A mind-blowing, heart-stopping, dimension-defying dash through time that thrums with tantalising twists & leaves you completely breathless. With a nod to WW2 in this masterclass in mixing suspense & science; this is Edge at his most edgiest.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Longest Night of Charlie Noon
Author: Christopher Edge (@edgechristopher)
Cover illustration: Matt Saunders (@msaunders_ink)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 176
Date of publication: 6th June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788004947

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Woods 🌲
2. Lost 😬
3. Time-bending ⏰


Secrets, spies or maybe even a monster… what lies in the heart of the wood? Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are determined to find out but when night falls without warning they become impossibly lost. Strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurk in the shadows and, as time plays tricks, Charlie starts to fear for the future…

What if this night never ends?


Review: 

As children typically do, they love a sense of mystery, adventure and playing in the natural environment and this is no different for Dizzy and Charlie. But after Dizzy tells Charlie about the appearance of something in the woods, they set off to investigate leaving the rest of the world behind. As all good friends go, there’s always one who has the sense to hold back. Cue Johnny, who insists the group need to be careful and warns them that there could be monsters roaming. Nevertheless, this does not stop them on their pursuit as they put it down to sensationalised nonsense but could this come back to bite them…?

The story begins to build and build and build and as they find themselves getting deeper in to the woods, they seem to be getting deeper into trouble with cryptic messages, puzzles and strange dangers surfacing. As night falls, darkness descends and their paths begin to disappear, it appears there is no way out and they are soon left relying on each other to find an escape route.

With the legend of child-eating, wood-dwelling Old Crony ringing in their ears, the friends are left with only the natural world to help them. Can they use what they know about code-breaking to flee the forest? A book that absolutely needs to be read to the very last page, just wait for its ending and epilogue… 

Yet again, Christopher Edge combines so successfully science with chapter-grabbing, pulsating and gripping action but this time in a wholly different way to that of Albie Bright, Jamie Drake and Maisie Day and this shows with every story, he is evolving as an establishing writer. 

A mind-blowing, heart-stopping, dimension-defying dash through time that thrums with tantalising twists & leaves you completely breathless. With a nod to WW2 in this masterclass in mixing suspense & science; this is Edge at his most edgiest.


I’m utterly delighted to have Christopher Edge, author of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, join us on The Reader Teacher today on publication day with this extra-special interview where he shares his experiences of writing, his inspirations behind his book and the first book he remembers reading…portrait.jpg

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon (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 The Longest Night of Charlie Noon?

    1. Thrilling 🎢
    2. Twisty🌳
    3. Timeless ⌚
  • Which books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The Longest Night of Charlie Noon?

I had to carry out quite a lot of research when writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon from reading mind-bending books such as The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, to immersing myself in the work of nature writers such as Robert Macfarlane, Oliver Rackham and Roger Deakin to name but a few.  Whenever I’m working on a book, a serendipitous hand seems to guide me to find the tools that I need to tell the story from stumbling on a collection of essays by Alan Garner to the perfect song by Kate Bush suddenly blaring out of the radio. When I’d completed the first draft of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, I rediscovered the work of Denys  Watkins-Pitchford, who wrote under the pen name  ‘BB’, and realised that in some ways the story I was writing was a strange tribute to his novel Brendon Chase which tells the story of three children who run away from home to spend a summer in the woods. The night that Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny spend in the woods is the very different from the adventures found in Brendon Chase, but I hope the story might spark the same sense of wonder about the natural world that I found in BB’s writing.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon?

The setting of the novel is an area of ancient woodland on the border of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and visiting these woods and mapping the story to their terrain was a really enjoyable part of the writing process, especially revisiting the woods as the seasons changed and being able to bring these elements into the story. However, I think the most enjoyable part of writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon has been the way it has changed my brain. People talk about how reading changes the way you think, but I think writing does this too, and I now find myself much more open and receptive to the natural world in a way that has brought a real balm to my life.

  • In The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, the children in the story become lost in the woods. When you were a child, did you ever get lost in the woods and how did you get out?

I grew up in Manchester, so didn’t have too many woods nearby to get lost in. However the broader sense of being lost that Charlie feels in the story, linked to the feeling of powerlessness that can sometimes haunt you as a child, is a feeling that I do remember and in many ways The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is me sending a message back to say there is a way out of the woods in time.

  • If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, who would it be and why?

As a child, I did use to hide under a blanket draped over the washing line to draw the birds in my back garden, so there’s definitely a bit of Dizzy in me, but I think I’d have to choose Charlie for the reason above.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I think the stories I filled myself with as a reader, especially when growing up, are what have made me a writer. I enjoyed writing at school, but honestly thought that books were just made in factories and didn’t know there was a job you could do called ‘being an author’.

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

I love the feeling you get when an idea starts to take shape in your brain. It’s really kinetic the way in which different sparks of inspiration can connect and start to become story-shaped. I always think of the famous John Peel quote about The Fall – ‘Always different, always the same’ – for the actual process of writing as this is how it is for me. It’s always hard work, but in endlessly different ways. The joys are when everything flows, and the exhaustion is when you’ve got a deadline flying towards you and not enough hours in the day.

  • 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?

I didn’t go to a school where authors came to visit, but I used to love comic books and one day, as a teenager, bunked off school to get my comic books signed by Neil Gaiman at a comic book shop in Manchester. I remember standing in the queue as it slowly edged to the front of the shop and watching Neil Gaiman patiently sign every comic book that was thrust in front of him and realising that he was just an ordinary person who’d written this story that I loved. That was the moment when I realised that becoming an author might not be an impossible dream and was something that I could aspire to.

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

I need to be careful what I say as I don’t want to give any spoilers for The Longest Night of Charlie Noon away! Some early readers have made connections with writers such as Alan Garner and Penelope Lively in the ways in which time as a theme is explored, whilst I’d like to mention contemporary writers such as Piers Torday and Lauren St John for the way they write about the natural world, which is a key element of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon. A book I’ve recently read that I really enjoyed is Scavengers by Darren Simpson, although I don’t think this shares any themes particularly with The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, however he’s another writer who I think captures a real sense of place in his writing. 

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon and Teaching (3)

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ The Longest Night of Charlie Noon 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?

It’s a story about now and the power that we have to change the world.

  • Could you suggest ways in which The Longest Night of Charlie Noon 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 think there are so many subjects that could be linked to The Longest Night of Charlie Noon from building circuits in Science to create your own Morse Code key to studying changing environments in Geography. Links can be made to History, Art and Computing too, whilst the mystery that lies at the heart of the story will help children to develop their reading skills of inference, prediction and problem-solving. I really hope teachers find a wealth of inspiration inside the pages of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon and my publisher, Nosy Crow, are producing a set of Teaching Resources to accompany the book.

  • 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?

I love visiting schools, so the best way is to get in touch with me via my website here: https://www.christopheredge.co.uk/events

Two more before you go (2)!

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

What’s the first book you remember reading? To which the answer is Tim and Tobias by Sheila K. McCullagh, the first book in a reading scheme filled with magic and mystery that set a whole generation of children on a  flightpath to reading.

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

I once won a trolley dash in a record store. For two glorious minutes my life was a cross between Supermarket Sweep and High Fidelity.

One last one… (1)!

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

I think Brendon Chase by B B is a bit of a lost classic, so I’d like to hear readers’ recommendations of any other forgotten children’s books they think should be rediscovered.


Big thanks to Christopher, Clare, Rebecca and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the The Longest Night of Charlie Noon blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Chris for answering my questions and to Rebecca for giving me the opportunity to do the cover reveal!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Longest Night of Charlie Noon blog tour for more exclusive content from Chris & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

  • At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis.
    Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe Starfell?

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

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

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

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

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Starfell?

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

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

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

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

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

Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starfell and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more before you go (2)!

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

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

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

I was briefly a florist.

                                                            One last one… (1)!

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

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

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

#Starfell

Follow Dominique on Twitter: @domrosevalente


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

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

Mr E


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

 

 

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

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 6, Year 7 and Year 8.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

What influenced the creation of your main characters?

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite God?

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

Favourite word (Latin or English!)?

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

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

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

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

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on Twitter: @thenickbowling


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

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

Mr E


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

Blog Tour (Review & 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!

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 & Author Q&A): The Star-Spun Web – Sinead O’Hart (Illustrated by Sara Mulvanny)

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‘A fantastic fusion of exciting, excellent and effervescent fiction that’s out-of-this-world! This is science-inspired storytelling at its stellar, supercharged best.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Star-Spun Web
Author: Sinéad O’Hart (@SJOHart)
Illustrator (Cover): Sara Mulvanny (@saramulvanny)
Publisher: Stripes (@StripesBooks)
Page count: 384
Date of publication: 7th February 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788950220

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Science 🔬
2. Reality ✨
3. Violet 🕷️


Tess de Sousa is no ordinary orphan. When a wealthy stranger appears at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings claiming to be her relative, she embarks on a new life with him. She take nothing more than her pet tarantula Violet and a strange device that she was left as a baby.

But far from providing answers to Tess’s mysterious past, it becomes clear that her guardian’s interest in her is part of a terrible plan. With the future of more than one world at stake, it’s up to Tess to stop him…


Review: As a wealthy man turns up on the very doorstep that Tess de Sousa turned up on herself as a baby, she has little idea of how much her life is going to change. Going by the name of a certain Mr Cleat and claiming guardianship of her, Tess knows that this could be her last chance to find out how she came to end up living at the orphanage home of Ackerbee’s Lost and Foundlings once and for all. But all is not quite as it seems…

Imaginative and inventive – although a little anarchic and with a pet arachnid for company – Tess sets off with this stranger, spanning across a web of parallel worlds and dimensions for a multi-layered and multi-universe mystery that is the adventure of all adventures.

Every element of this tale is cleverly written: in terms of its pulsating plot; the cast of its characters: their relationships; their interactions and their interconnectedness; and the dual (sometimes tri-) narratives occurring in concurrent chapters. With a stunningly-illustrated cover by Sara Mulvanny to match, this book can do no wrong and I can predict it already garnering praise aplenty and appearing in nearly all end-of-year celebratory lists.

As the gripping suspense of this story sucks you in to the web that Tess soon finds herself tangled up in, every turn of its page makes time truly fly by with the sensation that you can travel through time yourself.

With The Star-Spun Web, Sinéad establishes herself fully on the MG stage spinning gossamer threads of alternate realities that collide with fragments of fantasy and overcoming the precarious and notoriously difficult ‘second novel syndrome’ with apparent ease. It’s as if she has story writing down to a science.

Out-of-this-world. This is science-inspired storytelling at its stellar, supercharged best. A book that is a pleasure to read and a book that can’t help but encourage reading for pleasure. Like the very best of science discoveries, I think this could be a momentous and ground-breaking read for children (and adults!) who crave a fantastic fusion of exciting, excellent and effervescent fiction.

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I’m utterly delighted to have Sinéad O’Hart, author of The Star-Spun Web, join us on The Reader Teacher today on publication week with this extra-special interview where she shares her experiences of writing, her inspirations and the best and worst things about being an author…sinead-ohart.png

  1. What was your favourite book when you were 8?
    Alan Garner’s Elidor – and it’s still my favourite book now.
  2. What are the three main things a reader will find in your books?
    Clever, determined girls; brave, ingenious boys; mortal peril!
  3. When did you start to tell stories?
    I wrote my first ‘book’ at 7, a sequel to The Little Prince complete with my own drawings, but sadly I’ve lost it. My parents said I always had a strong imagination and liked to tell stories to myself, drawing pictures to go with them, from as soon as I could talk and hold a crayon. I’ve been pleased to see my own little girl doing exactly the same!
  4. Did you always want to be a writer? Have you had different jobs before you were an author? Do you think a variety of work experiences has helped you to write?
    I always wanted to have a creative life, but I wasn’t sure for a long time exactly how I’d go about it. From the age of seven or eight, when I began to think about the sort of life I wanted to have, I knew I wanted to do something unusual, something where I could use my interest in creativity (and daydream a lot, because daydreaming is very important), but to me that could have been anything from being a visual artist to a scientist – I wanted to be a marine biologist for a long time. It wasn’t until I was a few years older, perhaps halfway through secondary school, that I realised my love for books, reading, stories and art could be made into something cohesive, and it was then I began to dream of being a writer. I’ve had lots of jobs; I’ve worked in a clothes shop, as a tourism adviser, in many different offices including a printers’ and a health centre, in a supermarket, as a trainee butcher, as a researcher, as a tutor and lecturer of English language and literature at a university, as a records manager for an English department at the same university, as a bookseller, and as a freelance proofreader. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few! And yes, of course every job I’ve done has helped me to be a writer. Everything you do in life – everything you read, see, hear, watch, and observe – can go toward helping you to be a writer. The more jobs you’ve done, the more experiences you’ve had, the more things you’ve felt and seen and heard, all help you to describe things in your stories and make them feel real. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to wait until you’re a certain age, or until you’ve done a particular amount of ‘things’, before you can write – if you want to write you can start anytime, and the earlier the better. You’re never too young to switch on your observation skills, and then you’re already well on the way. Reading books, learning from them, and using your imagination are all vital tools in a writer’s kit, and there’s no age or experience limit on those.
  5. Where do you get your ideas from, and how do you store them?
    Ideas are all around, just waiting to be plucked out of the air. I’m inspired through observation of the world around me, and I have an insatiable curiosity. I’m constantly on the lookout for strange and interesting words; sometimes I find them in newspaper articles or books, or in overheard conversations, or on signs. For me, words – particularly if they’re misspelled, or if they’re used as a pun, or if they’re unfamiliar to me – are wonderful idea-seeds. Mostly my ideas seem like tiny fragments of something bigger; I get a scene, or a character name, or a place-name, or a funny line of dialogue, and I don’t have any idea where they go or what sort of story they’ll grow into. They need careful handling until they’ve had a chance to germinate and sprout, so it’s important to have a notebook on your person all the time to keep your idea-seeds safe. However, I usually store my ideas on scraps of paper and my phone, as I never have my notebook handy when I need it!
  6. Every writer creates a story in their own unique way. Roald Dahl had an armchair in his shed, Lewis Carroll liked a standing desk and to write in purple ink. Do you have any unconventional methods, habits or superstitions when it comes to writing?
    I tend to write standing up, but not because of superstition – it’s mostly out of necessity as I have a busy little girl. I don’t have unconventional methods because I need to write in any second I can! I feel very boring now. Perhaps I should invent some strange habits, like writing with a rubber chicken tied to my head. Bok bok!

  7. How much of Sinéad O’Hart is reflected in your characters?
    Quite a lot, I think – and I reckon the same is true of any writer. I think my girl characters reflect some of my own awkwardness and social anxiety; I was a very introverted and thoughtful child, who liked to work things out in my own way, and I found, as a girl, that there weren’t many girls like me in books. I try to remedy that a bit with my stories. Some of my girl characters are deep thinkers with a strong sense of justice, girls who like to observe, and I see my child-self in those characters. In my boy characters I put my heart and vulnerability, and that’s something which comes naturally but it’s also a conscious choice, in part. I think it’s important to create boy characters with emotion and depth, and who show true bravery – which to me means doing what you need to do, even though it frightens you.
  8. You are in a library with a 10 year-old who claims that they don’t like reading… Which 3 books would you reach for to try to change their mind?
    I think I’d be there all day, offering them a new trio of books every five minutes, but at the moment: Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, which is the grippiest, most engaging, most fun and most absorbing children’s trilogy I’ve read in a long time; Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart books, which feature a wonderful heroine and a complex, layered hero, along with a clankingly good cast of mechanimals and mechanicals alike; and Jennifer Bell’s Uncommoners books, which are fast-paced and twisty, edge-of-your-seat action coupled with a brilliant, detailed world and mythology. (Yes, I know that’s technically nine books!) But ask me again in half an hour and I’ll say Sky Song, the Rose Raventhorpe books and Brightstorm… Don’t make me choose!
  9. What’s the best and worst things about being an author?
    There are loads of good things about being an author but the best is: having a job that, for the most part, fits around my child’s life, and also meeting and hearing from readers. I love getting messages from teachers, librarians and mums and dads telling me about the kids who’ve loved my stories, and I really enjoy meeting readers at school and library events. The worst is pretty bad: writing books for a living is a stressful thing sometimes, and I worry constantly that I’m not good enough, or that I’ll never get another contract. But the good things definitely outweigh the bad.
  10. Do you have any advice for budding writers?
    The first thing you need to be a writer is to remember this ABC – Always Be Curious. Pay thoughtful attention to everything you see and hear in the world around you; listen to snippets of conversation, keep your eyes peeled for the interesting and unique things you see every day, ask yourself questions and make up the answers about the people and places you come across. Then: read, read, read; read anything and everything and immerse yourself in words and stories as often as you possibly can. After that: when you start to write your own stories, write what you love; write what interests you, write the kind of books and stories you’d like to read. But the most important thing is this: never give up. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have parents, siblings, and teachers who’ll support you, but sometimes you won’t. Try not to let anyone put you off writing. Do your best to protect the things you love and the things you’re interested in as much as you can. If there’s something in you which loves to read, or write, or draw, or do anything at all, then guard it and nurture it and never lose that love. You never know when it will suddenly bloom into life and bring joy to you and all around you. If you’d like to write as a career, do know this: it can take a long time, and the most important thing you can bring to it is sticking power. Don’t ever stop writing, improving, and trying your hardest!

QUICKFIRE

  1. 3 words that describe you: Confused. Curious. Reading.
  2. Favourite time of the day? I’m a night owl – evening time!
  3. 3 random facts about you: I once chopped up hearts for a living (don’t panic, they were beef hearts); I have a PhD in medieval English; I really hate balloons.
  4. Go-to snack? Rich Tea biscuits!
  5. The best advice you ever got: Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.
  6. Complete the sentence: “If I was one of the Seven Dwarves, I’d be…” all of them at once! But mostly Dopey.
  7. Superhero power of choice: The ability to hold the entirety of human knowledge in my head, like a walking library.
  8. Go-to outfit? Whatever fits and isn’t covered in last night’s dinner… Usually jeans, DM boots, and a big shirt.
  9. Your dream place to curl up with a book? Anywhere with a view of the mountains or the sea, at sunset, in a cosy well-lit window seat, with a steaming mug of tea close by. Bliss!
  10. The 3 books you’d like to get for your next birthday: The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher; and The Girl, the Cat and The Navigator by Matilda Woods.

Big thanks to Sinéad, Leilah and all at Stripes for inviting me to kick off The Star-Spun Web blog tour and share my thoughts and for giving me the wonderful opportunity to do its amazing cover reveal and giveaway!

Extra thanks to Sinéad for her brilliant interview!

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Be sure to check out the rest of The Star-Spun Web blog tour this week to see more exclusive guest posts and reviews!

 Mr E 

 

Author Q&A: Armistice Runner – Tom Palmer (Illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole)

9781781128251
‘Powerfully poignant.. not to be missed. If there’s one WWI story you read this year, let it be this one!’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Armistice Runner
Author: Tom Palmer (@tompalmerauthor)
Illustrator: Tom Clohosy Cole (@tomclohosycole)
Publisher: Barrington Stoke (@BarringtonStoke)
Page count: 176
Date of publication: 6th September 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1781128251

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1.  WWI 🎖️
2.  Running 🏃‍♀️
3. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦


Today I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Tom Palmer to The Reader Teacher for an exclusive Author Q&A about his most recent book, Armistice Runner. Read on for a fantastic interview where Tom shares his thoughts about Armistice Runner, his own experiences of reading and writing and how Armistice Runner can be used in the classroom!

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Armistice Runner (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 Armistice Runner?

    1. Fast-paced 🏃‍♀️
    2. Historical 🕓
    3. Emotional 😂
  • What books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write Armistice Runner?

I researched a variety of things. There are some great books about the history of fell running, but also histories of the end of WW1. The Forgotten Voices: Armistice book was the best. Also, local material about Cumbria in WW1. The Imperial War Museum has a vast bank of interviews with old soldiers, many available online. I listened to a lot of those. I found out about a real fell champion called Ernest Dalzell. He went to war and died. I based a lot of it on him. I also ran the races he ran to get the feel. But not at his pace. My daughter fell runs too, so her ‘world’ was vital to me getting it right, I hope. Also, remembering dementia and how it has affected people in my family.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Armistice Runner?

Writing about what the trench runner did in WW1. I researched the role and found out how dangerous it was and how men were very keen to do it. I found one book by a trench runner that gave me an idea of how they felt about the war. Then I went out into the dark moors near where I live and pretended I was a trench runner to get into the character.

  • Do you like to run yourself?

Yes, I fell run. My daughter does too. It was an honour to tell the story of fell running 100 years ago. It made me proud of what is quite a niche sport.

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

Lily’s dad. Because he kind of is me. With some changed names.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I hated reading and writing at school. I was attracted to both by my mum getting me to read about football in newspapers, magazines and books. It gave me confidence and I started to read more broadly. Then my life changed in a thousand ways. I firmly believe the way to engage reluctant readers is through what they are interested in and not always fiction, and not always even books.

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

I am energised by most of it. Writing. Marking up changes. I really love planning and researching and often go too far because it is such fun. The bit I hate is typing the changes I have marked up on the page. But it needs doing. I use coffee to help with that one bit I struggle with.

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

Yes. I wrote to Elizabeth Beresford and she wrote back, twice. I loved the Wombles on TV and my mum read the books to me. I remember the impact that had on me every time I get a letter or email from a child. She taught me a good lesson.

  • 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?

Loads of my reading relates to what I write. I am reading about the advance paratroopers who went in early on D-Day at the moment. But I like to read fast-paced historical fiction most that the moment, like Bernard Cornwell or Manda Scott. I read other children’s books because of the way children recommend them to me in schools. I love their passion and often go away and get the book. I am a big fan of Anthony Horowitz and Rosemary Sutcliff.

Armistice Runner and Teaching (3)

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

I like to hear it is being used as a class read. Because it is about dementia, running, a girl as a main sporting character, WW1, Cumbria and the end-of-war coming together of a British and German soldier – I hope there is a lot in there. My wife and I have developed films, games and texts that teachers can download for free, aimed at KS2 and KS3. I hope they are useful: www.tompalmer.co.uk/armistice-runner.

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ Armistice Runner 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?

It’s about a girl who likes to run. She finds out via her grandma that her great- great-grandad was a champion runner and war hero. That inspires her on and off the fells.

  • 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?

Direct would be great: info@tompalmer.co.uk. I try to reply within 24 hours.

Two more before you go (2)!

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

Would you like your mum and dad (who died before I was published) to know you did okay?

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

When I started at secondary school I was not allowed to do English Lit or a foreign language because my grip on the English language was not strong enough. (Before I found reading.)

One last one… (1)!

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

I’d like to know if I have gone overboard with my Tweeting about Armistice Runner. I have been banging on about the book and the free resources available on my website – at www.tompalmer.co.uk/armistice-runner – for weeks. (There I go again.) What do they find annoying about authors and what they say on social media and in their blogs?


Thank you so much Tom for answering my questions!

Armistice Runner is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Biggest thanks to Tom, Kirstin and all at Barrington Stoke for sending me a copy of this outstanding book and for choosing my quote to feature on it!

Mr E