Review: Ottoline series – Chris Riddell & Giveaway (Ottoline signed paperback series & signed print!)

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‘Quintessentially quirky… no-one both writes and illustrates books quite like Chris Riddell. Described as a ‘small girl who has big adventures’, Ottoline is a series which has big appeal.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Titles: Ottoline and the Yellow Cat; Ottoline Goes to School;
Ottoline at Sea & Ottoline and the Purple Fox
Author: Chris Riddell (@chrisriddell50)
Illustrator: Chris Riddell (@chrisriddell50)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 176; 176; 176; 192
Date of publication (Paperback): 26th February 2015 (Yellow Cat; Goes to School; at Sea); 17th May 2018 (Purple Fox)
Series status: Four in series
ISBN: 978-0330450287; 978-0330472005; 978-0330472012; 978-1509881550

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4 & Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Original 😀
2. Fun 😄
3. Ingenious 😍


The first line: 
(Ottoline and the Purple Fox)

Ottoline Brown lived in an apartment in the P. W. HUFFLEDINK Tower, which looked like a pepper pot so everyone called it the Pepperpot Building.


Review: If you’ve read any series both written and illustrated by Children’s Laureate 2015-2017, Chris Riddell then you’ll understand completely when I say that no-one both writes and illustrates books quite like Chris. His series are quintessentially quirky, all kinds of loveable and ludicrous and no doubt stand out on the shelf. Therefore I’m very pleased to say that is no different with his offering of Ottoline and her adventures.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat introduces us to the slightly madcap and outlandishly wonderful world of Ottoline where we meet Ottoline herself, a young girl left on her own by her parents in her apartment and her equally eccentric house guest, Mr. Munroe. Through the story and Chris’ characteristically exquisite and detailed illustrations that will fascinate readers from the first page, we grow to love Ottoline’s quirks and idiosyncrasies as she becomes a super sleuth to solve her neighbourhood’s dog disappearances, burglaries and problems.

Rich in the most wonderful use of vocabulary and description – who’d have thought that you’d find the words ‘Beidermeyer armchair’ in a children’s book? – it’s Chris’ observational charm, dry wit and self-deprecating sense of humour that endears Ottoline’s adventures to the masses.

Ottoline’s antics and adventures are continued through three more beautifully written and illustrated stories in the series, Ottoline Goes to School; Ottoline at Sea and as published in paperback as recently as today (and the reason for this blog post), Ottoline and the Purple Fox. They are all utterly delightful and so I find it so hard to choose but Ottoline and the Purple Fox is my personal favourite where lamppost poetry, urban safaris and doppelgängers all feature in this fantastic fourth instalment. 

Described as ‘a small girl who has big adventures’, Ottoline is a series which has big appeal.

Ottoline and the Purple Fox is available in paperback from the 17th May 2018, £6.99.

‘Quintessentially quirky… no-one both writes and illustrates books quite like Chris Riddell. Described as a ‘small girl who has big adventures’, Ottoline is a series which has big appeal.’


Big thanks to @FrithaL and @MacmillanKidsUK for sending me a copy of Ottoline and the Purple Fox and for providing such an amazing prize of which even I am very jealous of!

Mr E
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Giveaway!

To celebrate the paperback publication of Ottoline and the Purple Fox, the latest book in Chris Riddell’s Ottoline series, I’ve got a signed set of all the Ottoline books to giveaway, plus a signed Ottoline and Mr Munroe print.

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

The Ottoline series has won numerous awards including the Nestle Smarties Prize and the Red House Children’s Book Award, and has won critical acclaim thanks to its beautiful and heart-warming illustrations, paired with a humorous text.


Blog Tour: (3 in 1: Review: The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle – Victoria Williamson (Illustrated by Floris Books); Guest Post: Mirrors & Doors: Diversity in children’s literature – Victoria Williamson & Giveaway!)

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle Full Cover - Victoria Williamson

‘A truly transformational read. Intensely powerful and immensely poignant at the same time… such a groundbreaking, essential and accomplished debut that not only changes perceptions but also has the power to alter attitudes. With this one, Victoria has most certainly made herself a writer to watch.’ 

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle
Author: Victoria Williamson (@StrangelyMagical)
Illustrator (Cover):  (@FlorisBooks)
Publisher: Kelpies (@DiscoverKelpies)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 19th April 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1782504900

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Friendship 👭
2. Courage 💪
3. Empathy ☺️


She is the Fox Girl.
I am the White Gazelle.
Together we can outrun anything.

Reema feels completely lost. She’ll never call this strange country, with its grey skies and boring food, home. Syria is her home and it’s a million miles away.

Caylin feels completely alone. She’s looking after he useless mum, stealing from other kids so she can eat. She can’t tell anyone, they’ll only let her down.

The refugee and the bully – Reema and Caylu – can’t imagine being friends, until a shared secret brings them together.


The first line(s):

Growls in the dark: the monsters are coming /
The home time bell’s so loud it hurts my head.


Review:

Switching between the chapter-changing perspectives of the two main characters, Caylin (who’s used to the streets of Drumhill) and Reema (who’s more used to the streets of war-torn Aleppo), this is a truly transformational read.

There’s not much that these girls can seem to be smiling about as their home lives are somewhat rocky with a mix of domestic depression, alcoholism and wondering where the next meal is coming from for Caylin and culture shock, a language barrier and a complete fear of the unknown for Reema.

However their lives change forever when they both discover a family of foxes. Though it’s this shared secret that initially brings them together to form an unexpected friendship that sometimes boils over yet blossoms, they end up sharing far more than even they could begin to imagine…

With two main characters that are polar opposites of each other: one seemingly damaged by the aftermath of war, the other damaged by circumstance; we see them mature and develop throughout the course of the book. This stunning story gives a voice to characters who, in the world we live in today, so often don’t have a voice and it is in their own words and Victoria’s own experiences working with young asylum seekers that she captures both characters’ voices so clearly and convincingly that they really come to life on the pages before your very eyes.

Bringing the most unlikeliest of friends together, especially this pair, is a difficult thing to do. Yet, Victoria really intertwines these two characters’ lives so pertinently that their storylines fit together in a way that seems that they were always destined to meet each other and bring out the best in each other.

Shortlisted for the Book Awards, this is such a groundbreaking, essential and accomplished debut that not only can change perceptions but also has the power to alter attitudes. It is intensely powerful and immensely poignant at the same time; hitting hard when it needs to whilst tenderly tugging at those heartstrings of yours too.

Overall, it’s a wonderfully well-voiced story from both sides as it’s a touching yet timely reminder of the world in which we live in and how with thought, feeling, compassion and togetherness, we can all live a better life as Jo Cox said, ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us‘.

A book to be proud of writing for Victoria and a book to be proud of reading for all of us. With this one, Victoria has most certainly made herself a writer to watch.

Books can change lives and this just might be one of those books.

One of my favourites of the year so far.

‘A truly transformational read. Intensely powerful and immensely poignant at the same time… such a groundbreaking, essential and accomplished debut that not only changes perceptions but also has the power to alter attitudes. With this one, Victoria has most certainly made herself a writer to watch.’ 

Big thanks to Victoria & Kelpies/Floris Books for sending me an advance copy of this wonderfully written book!

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
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Mirrors and Doors

‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.’  Rudine Sims Bishop, Ohio State University, ‘Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors’.

Most teachers know that books can act as magical doorway to other worlds. But how many of us stop to consider the importance of providing not just doors for children to explore, but mirrors to reflect their own life experiences?

Teaching in Cameroon - Victoria Williamson

The first time I realised that not all stories were universal was when I was working as a VSO teacher in Cameroon. One of my duties was helping develop the small school library, stocked with donated books from the UK and the USA. During a reading lesson with a ten year old who was struggling with literacy, I picked out The Ugly Duckling as a story with fairly easy language. After twenty minutes’ hard slog, we hadn’t got past the first paragraph. We had to keep stopping so I could explain what a duckling was. Then a pond. Then a swan… We gave up and tried other stories, but with no more success. After months of encouraging children to borrow books from the library, only to see their initial enthusiasm give way to apathy, I finally discovered the problem. Those western reading books, despite their bright covers and illustrations, held no relevance for the children. Their stories of ice cream, snowmen, fireworks, and Santa Claus might as well have been written in a foreign language. They were not mirrors reflecting the children’s own experiences of growing up in a small West African village with limited access to electricity and an unreliable water supply, and they couldn’t act as doors to new worlds either, as the children lacked the information keys to unlock those worlds. It wasn’t until I sought out books written by West African writers which featured children growing up in villages like Nkambe, that the library really took off. Children flocked to borrow stories by Chinua Achebe, Mabel Segun and Kola Onadipe featuring characters just like themselves, and their reading abilities began to gradually improve.

Cameroon Library - Victoria Williamson

That was when I first began to understand the power of diverse books. Looking back I realised the stories I’d loved as a child had been dominated by white, middle class, able-bodied characters, which were not representative of the children from the many diverse backgrounds with various special needs that I was teaching as an adult. This had resulted in me recreating the ‘standard’ characters in my own writing, and the stories often fell short of their potential due to the restrictions I placed on them without even realising it.

Travelling, teaching, and reading more widely led me to experiment with a far greater variety of characters in my own novels. The characters in The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle are composed of many voices. Caylin, a troubled twelve-year-old struggling with her mother’s alcohol addiction in a Glasgow council estate, and Reema, a Syrian Muslim refugee whose world has been turned upside down by war, were inspired by some of the children I have taught over the years.

No one is saying we shouldn’t read the classic children’s books in schools – my own imaginative landscape would be infinitely poorer without the wonderful Enid Blyton, Narnia and Harry Potter books. But if the books in a classroom library act only as mirrors for one type of experience – often white, middle class, able-bodied and frequently male – then many children will not only find opaque glass where their mirrors should be, but the doors to new worlds locked and the keys missing.

As teachers we need to be aware that when selecting books to be read in our classrooms, we are choosing which children get to see reflections of themselves in heroic roles. We are also acting as the gatekeepers to exciting new worlds, and we need to ensure that some children are not denied access due to a lack of representation. Have a look right now at the books in your school library and the ones you plan to teach. Are there a wide range of experiences reflected in them? Do they invite all children to share the adventure? If they do then they’re not just books, but mirrors and doors for all of your children to explore literature together.

Victoria Williamson 1

Victoria Williamson is a primary school teacher with a Master’s degree in special needs education. She has worked as a science teacher and teacher trainer in Cameroon and Malawi, an English as a foreign language teacher in China, and as a special needs teacher in the UK.

Victoria has been writing fiction since she was a child, and now writes full time for Middle Grade and YA, with a particular focus on creating diverse characters reflecting the many cultural backgrounds and special needs she has encountered, both as a teacher and as a volunteer. Having worked with children in Africa, Asia and across the UK with additional support needs such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Down’s Syndrome, physical disabilities and behavioural problems, Victoria is passionate about creating inclusive worlds in her novels where all children can see a reflection of themselves in heroic roles.

Victoria’s experiences teaching young children in a school with many families seeking asylum inspired her debut novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, an uplifting tale of redemption and unlikely friendship between Glaswegian bully Caylin and Syrian refugee Reema. Twenty per cent of author royalties for ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’ are donated to the Scottish Refugee Council.

You can find Victoria on Twitter as @strangelymagic or on her website.


Giveaway!

Victoria has very kindly given me two copies of The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle complete with matching model toy (of fox or white gazelle!) to give away to two lucky winners!

If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning one of these copies of this superb book and complementing model toy, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!


Be sure to check out the other blog tour dates for The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle!

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Blog Tour: Review: You’re Safe with Me – Chitra Soundar (Illustrated by Poonam Mistry) & Guest Post – Chitra Soundar

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‘Words and illustrations that are repetitively rich in prose, palette and pattern make this not only a soothing story but also a spectacle for the senses… it’s like mindfulness for younger readers meets The Jungle Book.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: You’re Safe with Me
Author: Chitra Soundar (@csoundar)
Illustrator: Poonam Mistry (@pmistryartist)
Publisher: Lantana Publishing (@lantanapub)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 3rd May 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911373292

Perfect for Reception, Year 1, Year 2 & Year 3.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Soothing 😊
2. Striking 😍
3. Spectacle 🌄


When the moon rises high and the stars twinkle, it is bedtime for the baby animals of the Indian forest. But tonight, when the skies turn dark and the night grows stormy, the little ones can’t sleep. SWISH-SWISH! CRACK-TRACK! FLASH-SNAP! goes the storm. Only Mama Elephant with her words of wisdom can reassure them. “You’re safe with me.”


The first line(s):

When the moon rose high and the stars twinkled, it was bedtime for baby animals. But that night, when the skies turned dark and the night grew stormy, the little ones couldn’t sleep.


Review:

Youre-Safe-with-Me-promo-spread-1-e1507810611364-2The dark; the crack of a thunderstorm; the flash of lightning, the gust of the wind and the rush of the river will never be seen in the same way again after reading You’re Safe With Me. As the animals settle down for bedtime, the little ones find they cannot get off to sleep due to the strange noises around them and so it is only the words of wisdom whispered from Mama Elephant that can allay their deepest fears and hopefully help them to feel worry-free and drifting off in to the land of dreams.

The jungle landscape is so beautifully imagined through Poonam’s authentic, striking and tribal-traditional inspired illustrations that it makes this a complete spectacle for the senses. Weaved in so wonderfully and distinctively amongst Chitra’s words, they help to ensure it becomes a story that will stay long in the minds of its readers. Repetitively rich in prose, palette and pattern whilst echoing all the natural, earthy sounds and sights of the Indian forest, it’s like mindfulness for younger readers meets The Jungle Book.

Youre-Safe-With-Me-promo-spread-3-e1507810659146-2With inclusions of animals that young children will be both familiar and unfamiliar with (a little monkey, a tiger cub, a loris and even a pangolin to name a few!) it’s the perfect introduction to the marvellously diverse wildlife that inhabits the tops of the trees and the floors of the forest.

Full of splendour, this is really a book that offers more with every turn of the page. Memories will no doubt be made reading this book; making this most definitely a story to share. A book that will captivate, comfort and calm children enough to send them soundly to sleep, in the best possible way and the way in which it was originally desired!

As if written as an ode to mother nature and seemingly alluding to one of life’s greatest morals and messages: knowledge is power. With a more reasoned understanding of the unknown, a different perspective can be thought about things. If children can choose to be passionately curious about the world around them rather than approach it with trepidation, the sense of fear becomes almost fought off and faced with a feeling of familiarity and fascination and ultimately fear becomes fearless.

Lantana should be really proud of this book belonging to their catalogue and as such, they are really making themselves one of the publishers to watch in 2018.

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‘Words and illustrations that are repetitively rich in prose, palette and pattern make this not only a soothing story but also a spectacle for the senses… it’s like mindfulness for younger readers meets The Jungle Book.’


Big thanks to Katrina at Lantana Publishing for sending me a copy of this beautiful book and HUGE thanks to Chitra for inviting me to take part in her You’re Safe with Me blog tour!

You’re Safe with Me is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
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Today I am also delighted to welcome author of You’re Safe With MeChitra Soundar to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher readers about exploring fear, facing the unknown and how this has been used to inspire the creation of You’re Safe With Me!

We all fear things. As teachers, parents and citizens of this world, we fear natural disasters, the neighbour’s annual summer barbecue and maybe the next Ofsted visit.

Often fear comes from the anticipation of facing the unknown. The creaking door is terrifying until you see who’s visiting. We anticipate and worry about things that might harm us because it’s unfamiliar and unknown to us.

A child that’s still discovering the world cannot and should not live in this fear. Because pretty much everything around him or her is new, unfamiliar and the unknown. Their fear comes from what they are often told rather than what they have learnt first-hand. “Don’t touch the fire, it will burn your fingers.”  “Don’t walk backwards on an escalator, it terrifies me.”

As a 6 year old I’ve had first hand experiences of the thunderstorms and floods. Until I understood the fisherman’s forecast on the radio and figured out what a tropical storm was, it terrified me at night. It’s relentless downpour, the water-clogged streets, the power-cuts and the winds that pulled down trees – I feared the storms until I understood them.

As a storyteller, I realised that this fear of the unknown can only be tackled by knowledge. Understanding and interpreting the unfamiliar things makes us accept and respect the things we fear.

You’re Safe With Me is a story that shows you another perspective of a natural force that seems destructive. Are thunderstorms destructive or are they just a natural phenomenon? Can we live without rain and wind? Can we live without the rivers that swell in the floods? Can we avoid the lightning flashes?

So I decided to explain them and reinterpret them. A lightning shattering into stars might not be a scientific fact. But in my imagination that’s what happens. I can hear the groan of the clouds as she carries water and I thank the winds that bring seeds from faraway lands.

My hope is that children enjoy the story and revel in the fabulous illustrations. Then perhaps they would attempt to interpret things they fear using their imagination. How about the dark? What about the volcanoes? Are they afraid of a blizzard? Can they explain how these came to be? Or what they become after they have ravaged the land?Their active imaginations will not only find compassion for the elements they fear, but also find poetry in those moments. And there, your job as a teacher is done. You’ve shown them the way and they’d embrace the journey into life with imagination and empathy.

Chitra Soundar, author of You’re Safe with Me

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Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer and storyteller. She is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India, its diverse culture and its natural beauty. She has over 30 books in print worldwide and has been published by Otter-Barry Books, Walker Books and Red Robin Books.

You're Safe With Me blog tour announcement

Blog Tour: Sophie Anderson – The House with Chicken Legs (Book Birthday!): Author Q&A & Guest Post: The Snow Maiden – Sophie Anderson

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I am absolutely ecstatic to have Sophie Anderson, author of The House with Chicken Legs,  visit The Reader Teacher today to take part in her blog tour. She will be answering many of my questions and talking more about the messages behind a beautiful Russian tale, The Snow Maiden. For me, this is an incredibly special guest with an incredibly special book as The Reader Teacher started with its first ever review about The House with Chicken Legs and I am also over the moon that a quote from my review has been chosen to be published in finished copies of The House with Chicken Legs.

You can read my review of The House with Chicken Legs by clicking here:
The House with Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson) – The Reader Teacher!

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson publishes in paperback, 3 May, £6.99 from Usborne. Cover art by Melissa Castrillón and inside black and white illustrations by Elisa Paganelli.

The House with Chicken Legs is available to order online or from any good bookshop.


Author Q&A: Sophie Anderson (SA) with The Reader Teacher (TRT):

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Sophie Anderson grew up in Swansea, studied at Liverpool University, and has worked as a geologist, science teacher and text book author. Sophie was inspired to love stories by her Prussian grandmother who fled her homeland during WW2, losing her family in the process. She carried the stories, music and food of her home in her soul and brought them with her to Wales…and to her granddaughter Sophie. Growing up it was the tale of the chicken-legged house that captured Sophie’s imagination the most. She thought it would be incredible to live in a house that could take you to see new places or to visit the homelands of ancestors. Now living in the Lake District with her husband, Sophie enjoys the freedom of home schooling her three children, fell walking, canoeing, and daydreaming.


The House with Chicken Legs

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis. I’ve described The House with Chicken Legs as 1. Beautiful 😍 Magical ✨ 3. Heartfelt 💖, which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe it?
SA: Oh gosh, I like your choices! Maybe fairy-tale🧙‍♀️ (the female witch emoji); destiny💫(the stars emoji); circle-of-life💀(the skull emoji). And I know I’ve totally cheated by adding hyphens to words!

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The House with Chicken Legs?
SA: The House with Chicken Legs was inspired by the Russian fairy tales my grandmother told me when I was young. And while writing Marinka’s story, I dipped into so many books for ideas and information! To name just a few: Myths and Legends of Russia by Aleksandr Afanas’ev, Forests of the Vampire: Slavic Myth by Michael Kerrigan, Russian Folk Belief by Andrei Sinyavsky, and Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

After the first draft, which I worked on alone, got picked up by my agent Gemma Cooper, The House with Chicken Legs became a collaborative project. I have had so much help and input from Gemma; and my editors Rebecca Hill, Becky Walker and Mallory Kass, it feels like their names should be on the cover too!

And of course, I could not have done any of it without the support of my husband and children.

TRT: What do you hope readers will take away from reading The House with Chicken Legs?
SA: That life is full of joy and sorrow, loneliness and companionship, pride and regret. To live means experiencing it all. Some things might feel heart-breaking, but they can never truly break your heart. There is always hope for a brighter future, and you might find it in the most unexpected of places – in an encounter with a young friend or an old Yaga, in a house that you thought was your enemy, in the beak of a bird, or in the ripples on a puddle’s surface. Even death can inspire us to embrace life.

I hope my readers try to appreciate every moment – whether light or dark – and keep striving for happiness. We can shape and mould our futures, and the possibilities are as endless as the stars!

TRT: You asked this question on Twitter recently, so now I’m asking it to you… If you had a house with chicken legs for a day, can you describe what it would like? Where would you go? What would you do? Why?
SA: It would be very old, but still full of life, and well-worn, but in a comfortable way. I have always wanted to see the places that inspired my grandmother’s stories. So, I would sit on the House’s roof as it ran over the fells near my current home and the Welsh hills of my childhood, splashed through the English Channel, and galloped all the way across Europe to the enchanted forests, lakes and seas of my grandmother’s first home.

TRT: What is your favourite house that exists only in literature?
SA: Oh, that’s easy! The Moominhouse! The Moomin books by Tove Jansson were my first love. I think it would need some legs though. Maybe heron legs? I think they would suit it…

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The House with Chicken Legs, who would it be and why?
SA: The House! Like the house, I love music and travel and playing games. The House wants to have fun with Marinka, but wants to protect her too, and sometimes those two desires aren’t compatible. As a parent, I can relate to that feeling.

TRT: As The House with Chicken Legs is based on Russian folklore, which is your favourite Russian folktale and why?
SA: Probably Vasilisa the Beautiful, as it is the first Baba Yaga story I heard in which I glimpsed the wise woman behind the evil old crone archetype. The story marked the beginning of a life-long love and admiration for Baba Yaga. I have learned so much about her, and from her, and no matter how much I read, there is always more learn!

TRT: What kinds of research did you do and how did this help when writing The House with Chicken Legs?
SA: I read flocks of Slavic fairy tales for inspiration, including all the Baba Yaga stories I could find. I also researched ancient Slavic beliefs, and many of the ideas I came across – death as a journey, the glassy mountains, the black ocean, and Baba Yaga’s links to an ancient Goddess of Death – became incorporated into The House with Chicken Legs.

I experimented with Russian recipes, made my first borsch and ate my first horseradish. I listened to traditional Russian music, discovered many curious and wonderful Russian proverbs, and visited beautiful places – Venice, Africa, Russia, and the Arctic – from my armchair through the magic of books and film.

TRT: You have introduced readers to lots of new vocabulary throughout the book both in English (i.e. balustrade, nebulous, tendrils) and Russian with my favourite being ‘pchelka’, which means ‘little bee, a term of endearment’. What is your favourite Russian word that you have used within the book and why?
SA: My favourite is also pchelka, as it is what I call my daughter!

Reading and Writing

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?
SA: I did enjoy writing at school – I was so proud of some of the stories I produced I saved them, and still have them! But, I always wanted to be a scientist, so I studied biology and geology at university, and became an exploration geologist, then a secondary school science teacher.

It wasn’t until I had children that writing became a big part of my life. I started writing short stories and poems for my children, but I enjoyed the process so much I began writing for myself – simply for the joy of telling a story!

TRT: Which parts of writing do you find energise you and which parts do you find exhaust you?
SA: Each stage of the writing process has its own pleasures; the heady rush of a first draft, the cool clarity at the top of re-write mountain, and the calm, thoughtful polishing towards The End. But each stage can be exhausting too! You have to take care of yourself and know when to step away from your work and replenish your creative well!

TRT: Which is your favourite book from childhood and which is your favourite book now as an adult? Why?
SA: I love the magical world of The Moomins, created by Tove Jansson, and my favourite book of the series is Tales from Moominvalley; because Moominpappa learns so many wonderful things about the mysterious Hattifatteners.

And my absolute favourite book ever is Northern Lights by Philip Pullman; for its beautiful writing, incredible world building, and magical, memorable story.

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?
SA: No! Sadly, I don’t remember contacting any authors, nor do I remember any authors visiting my school! Most of the authors I admired didn’t live in the UK (e.g. Tove Jansson, Tamora Pierce) or were dead (L.M.Montgomery, J.R.R.Tolkein). I would have loved it if an author had visited my school!

TRT: I am SO excited to visit Hay Festival again this year where I will be seeing yourself, Juliette Forrest and James Nicol as part of the HAYDAYS programme. Will you be appearing at other literary events or festivals this year? If so, which ones and what will you be speaking about?
SA: I will be … but it’s all top secret until official announcements are made!

TRT: I know you are heavily invested and focused on promoting The House with Chicken Legs but can you tell us about any stories you’re working on or what you want to work on next? Do you plan to focus on writing more books for children or do you have something entirely different lined up inside or outside of the publishing world?
SA: The next few books I have planned are all middle grade stories inspired by folklore or fairy tales. My ‘book two’ is inspired by a lesser known Slavic fairy tale called The Lime Tree or Why Bears’ Paws are Like Hands. There are several short stories within the main story, inspired by folklore characters such as Zmey Gorynych, Koschei the Deathless and Father Frost.

The House with Chicken Legs and Teaching

TRT: I know that you have resources on your website to help with this. Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?
SA: I think the book could be used to stimulate discussions (about identity and belonging, destiny, the circle of life, the soul, different cultures); or as a starting point for some research into different folklores and fairy tales; or to help inspire children to write their own fairy tale reimaginings.

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ The House with Chicken Legs 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?
SA: The House with Chicken Legs is a fairy tale reimagining, about a young girl, Marinka, who is struggling to escape a lonely destiny as Guardian of The Gate between this world and the next. Death features, but not in a scary or morbid way, and ultimately it is a book about following your dreams and living life to the full.

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?
Through my website: https://sophieandersonauthor.com/contact/

TRT: Finally, can you share with our readers something about yourself that they might be surprised to learn?
SA: I once won a trip to The Pantanal in Brazil, to assist environmental research scientists, and while I was there I swum with piranhas, snuck up on a caiman, drove a jeep – and rode a horse – through the jungle, and cuddled a baby peccary.

Thank you, Sophie, for taking the time to answer my questions and even bigger thanks for including my quote from my review in the finished copy of The House with Chicken Legs!

You can find out more about Sophie by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.


The House with Chicken Legs Blog Tour:
Fifteen Russian Fairy Tales and What They Mean to Me

  1. The Snow Maiden (on love and happiness)

There are several different versions of the Russian fairy tale of Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. Many of the stories begin with a childless peasant couple building a little girl out of snow, who then comes to life.

In Alexander Afanasyev’s version, published in 1869, the peasant couple care for the Snow Maiden like a daughter, until one day a group of girls invites her for a walk in the woods. They build a small bonfire and take turns jumping over it. When the Snow Maiden takes her turn, she evaporates into a cloud above the fire and disappears.

The Snow Maiden was made into a play by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, with music by Tchaikovsky, in 1873; and was adapted into an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1881. In this version the Snow Maiden is the daughter of Spring the Beauty and Father Frost. When she meets a young man, she begs her mother for the ability to love. But, when she does fall in love, her heart warms, and she melts.

In Arthur Ransome’s retelling, The Little Daughter of the Snow, published in Old Peter’s Russian Tales in 1916, the Snow Maiden finds herself alone in the forest when her playmates go home at dusk. A red fox offers to lead her home and she accepts. Her parents are grateful to the fox for bringing their daughter home, but when the fox asks for a plump hen as thanks, they decide to trick him. They put a dog in a sack, and when the fox opens the sack – thinking a hen is inside – the dog chases off the fox. Then the parents hear their daughter singing,

‘“Old ones, old ones, now I know
Less you love me than a hen,
I shall melt away again,
To my motherkin I go –
Little daughter of the Snow.”’

The parents run into their home and find their daughter’s clothes in a pool of meltwater, although Old Peter (the narrator of the tale) explains that the Snow Maiden has been carried away by Father Frost and Mother Snow ‘over stars to the far north’, where she plays all through the summer on frozen seas, and in winter returns to Russia.

The story of The Snow Maiden contains powerful seasonal imagery and has been interpreted as representing the death of winter and the coming of spring.

All the versions I have read or heard, also seem to contain the message that it is better to live fully, to seek out love and happiness, even if there are risks associated with this; as a short, full life is preferable to a long, empty one.

In Afanasyev’s version, the Snow Maiden revels in playing with her friends, and jumps over the flames joyfully before evaporating. In Ostrovsky’s version, the Snow Maiden chooses to give up everything for the gift of love. And in Ransome’s retelling, the Snow Maiden leaves her parents because she does not feel they love her enough.

One of the things I love about fairy tales is how they can mean different things at different times in your life. And since I have become a parent, I have found new meaning in the tale of The Snow Maiden. I think there is another message perhaps, about how our time with our children is fleeting, and all too soon they grow up and often move away. So, it is important we try to make our time together filled with as much love and happiness as possible.

There is an adult reimagining of this tale, The Snow Child, written by Eowyn Ivey, published by Tinder Press.


Sophie Anderson

@sophieinspace @Usborne #TheHousewithChickenLegs
Melissa Castrillón @mv_castrillon and Elisa Paganelli @elisaupsidedown

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Blog Tour: Review: Nimesh the Adventurer – Ranjit Singh (Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini)

‘Turning the ordinary in to the extraordinary… this book is a true visual delight that is sure to ignite the imaginations of both young and old taking them on a journey of their mind’s eye where there’s no end to the possibilities’.

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Nimesh the Adventurer
Author: Ranjit Singh (@RanjittheAuthor)
Illustrator: Mehrdokht Amini (Website)
Publisher: Lantana Publishing (@lantanapub)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 5th April 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911373247

Perfect for Reception, Year 1, Year 2 & Year 3.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Imaginative 💭
2. Extraordinary 😃
3. Heartening 💖


Nimesh is walking home from school.
Except…there happens to be a shark in the corridor.
And a dragon in the library!
And why would crossing the road lead to the North Pole?
In this fun-filled adventure, Nimesh is just walking from school… isn’t he?


The first line(s):

Hello Nimesh, is school over?
School? My friend, this is not a school! It’s an ancient cave, and shhhh!
Or you’ll wake…


Nimesh-the-Adventurer-spread-1Review: Join Nimesh on his otherwise ordinary walk home from school that soon becomes an astonishing adventure of amazement. Turning pretty ordinary objects, people and places in to the magnificent, the wonderful and the extraordinary, Nimesh becomes the adventurer he so wants to be.

To Nimesh, the world turns into the biggest blank canvas to his limitless imagination where dreaming can take him absolutely anywhere he wants to go.

It is a true visual delight that combines Mehrdokht’s illustrations and collage with Ranjit’s words in a way that is sure to ignite the imaginations of young and old and take them on a journey of their mind’s eye where there’s no end to the possibilities.

Nimesh-the-Adventurer-review-copy-8Recently, I attended an event where I had the pleasure of hearing triple laureates, Lauren Child (Waterstones’ UK Children’s Laureate); Casia William (Bardd Plant Cymru/Welsh-language Children’s Laureate) and Sophie McKeand (Young People’s Laureate of Wales) speak about inspiring a love of literature amongst children with a renewed sense of focus upon creativity and a time to dream.

Lauren referenced inspiration coming – as lots and lots of tiny fragments – from everywhere and everyone and that having that time to dream creatively makes those fragments come together and begin to collide, in her case to form the basis for a story. Otherwise those fragments and ideas lay dormant; untouched and unfulfilled. This is another reason why books like Nimesh the Adventurer that encourage imaginative and creative thinking are very much-needed, and, above all, so important to society.

I can really imagine children in class and at home losing themselves deep within these pages; allowing their imaginations to soar and dreaming big. It is the perfect story to share before home time, as every child will be wanting to recreate their own adventures on their way home after reading this. It will also take adult readers back to a carefree time where dreaming big was a natural, normal and daily occurrence and remind them that it so should still be. This would make a very worthy addition to any classroom or school library really encapsulating the power of awe, excitement and wonder all rolled in to one.

Imagination and curiosity is a fragile thing and should be nurtured, encouraged and inspired at each and every opportunity. So next time you’re out and about, ask your children in class and at home what do they see when they look at a classroom? A corridor? A road? A street? A park? A city? Or a line of trees? and see if they see things a little differently, like Nimesh, too! If they don’t, here’s your chance to use this book to open up a land of new opportunity to them!

With more books like this absolute gem to come, Lantana Publishing are certainly a publisher to watch as their catalogue grows and grows.


‘Turning the ordinary in to the extraordinary… this book is a true visual delight that is sure to ignite the imaginations of both young and old taking them on a journey of their mind’s eye where there’s no end to the possibilities’.

Big thanks to Katrina at Lantana Publishing for sending me a copy of this beautiful book and inviting me to take part in Nimesh the Adventurer’s blog tour!

You can imagine it because Nimesh the Adventurer is out today and available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
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Blog Tour: Review: Planet Stan – Elaine Wickson (Illustrated by Chris Judge) & Guest Post: Infographic: A visual representation of information or data, as a chart, diagram or image – Elaine Wickson

‘A highly entertaining ad-VENN-ture that’s loveably BAR-my with hilarity, humour and hap-PIE-ness in all the right places… surely making it a serious (or should I say, not-so-serious!!!) contender for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) 2018.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Planet Stan
Poets: Elaine Wickson (@elainewickson)
Illustrator: Chris Judge (chrisjudge)
Publisher: OUP Oxford Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 5th April 2018
Series status: First in a series of 3!
ISBN: 978-0192759047

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Hilarious 😁
2. Out-of-this-world 🌍
3. Chart-tastic! 📊


SOMETIMES the only way to make any sense of my life is to put it all into charts and diagrams . . . BUT even that just makes me realize how far away from normal my family is, especially my little brother Fred!

I hope that you’ll find some useful survival tips in this book, but if not, then at least it’ll cheer you up to know your life is considerably less chaotic than mine!


The first line(s):
Mum! Fred’s been keeping snails under my bed again…
They say we’re all made of stardust.’


Review:
Welcome to Stan’s universe! As the first line suggests, Stan’s life is anything but usual. With a younger brother, Fred – who Mum describes as an ‘effervescent force’ – leaving snails under Stan’s bed and ladybirds in his lunchbox; squeezing toothpaste in his slippers; licking all the crisps; chucking Stan’s pants out the window and cutting holes in his favourite T-shirt AND that’s not all as the list could go on and on and on… you can see why Stan often finds himself in quite a predicament.

To help make some sort of sense of it, Stan uses a mix of charts, diagrams and infographics to explain everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Ranging from a ‘cross-section of [his] younger bruv’s brain’ to a Venn diagram of the ‘common (or should I say not-so-common) multiples’ between him and his out-of-this-world brother, and even his ‘My General State of Mind’ sliding scale on each page.

For as long as he can remember (and as long as he can remember asking Mum for one!), Stan has wanted a telescope because he loves everything space. Just as Stan is obsessed with space, Fred adores dinosaurs. In his case, one particular dinosaur exhibit at the museum named Rory who is not only part of Camford Museum’s history but is also part of the residents’ own history as he’s long been there since they were growing up. However unfortunately for Fred, he hears news that dearly-loved Rory’s skeleton is going to be removed from the museum sending him in to meltdown…

Whilst Stan tries his best to look after Fred and lift his spirits AND keep his group of equally disorderly friends on task with their entry for the science competition with first prize being THAT telescope, both his and Rory’s passions in life force the two of them to work together. But will Stan complete Operation SWAT (Stanley Wins a Telescope) in time? And does he end up feeling ‘Over the moon’ or in a ‘Black Hole of Doom’?

Sprinkled with fantastical space facts aplenty with Stan providing a social commentary far beyond his years and reminiscent of a young Sheldon Cooper, it’s a maths, science and infographic fan’s dream of a read. As it’s more than just a read. Elaine, with the help of illustrator Chris Judge’s larger-than-life infographics, really shows the power of how applying infographics in a inventive and innovative way can convey and tell a story just as well as and at times even more fitting than words could possibly hope to achieve. Further to this, Planet Stan could be used in school as a different and light-hearted way in to introducing data handling involving bar charts, pie charts and Venn diagrams to children.

This is a highly entertaining ad-VENN-ture that’s loveably BAR-my with hilarity, humour and hap-PIE-ness in all the right places… surely making it a serious (or should I say, not-so-serious!!!) contender for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) 2018.

It also shows how sibling rivalry can turn in to the best kind of brotherly love; the importance, inspiration and sense of awe and wonder that museums can hold for children and adults; and finding out that we have far more in common with each other, even when it can sometimes first seem like we don’t have much at all. And also one of life’s most (ahem!) important lessons. If all else fails, make sure you have cake. Cake-on-a-stick!

‘A highly entertaining ad-VENN-ture that’s loveably BAR-my with hilarity, humour and hap-PIE-ness in all the right places… surely making it a serious (or should I say, not-so-serious!!!) contender for the Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Book Awards) 2018.’

HUGE thanks to Elaine for writing such a super guest post about the power of infographics!

Big thanks also to Hannah Penny at OUP Children’s Books for sending me a copy of this beautiful book and inviting me to take part in Planet Stan’s blog tour!

Planet Stan is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

Mr E
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Today I am also very fortunate in that I am delighted to welcome Elaine Wickson to The Reader TeacherHere, she shares with The Reader Teacher readers all about the infographic and shares some of her very own that’s she made about herself, which are guaranteed to make you chuckle! She explores their history right back to 1801 and also explains what Florence Nightingale had to do with pie charts.

Infographic: A visual representation of information or data, as a chart, diagram or image”.

What with Twitface, 500 telly channels, and phones for hands, it’s not hard to see why eye-catching infographics have become so widespread – they are perfect for short attention spans.

‘Infographic’ sounds like a word from our internet era, but it’s been in use since the 1960s, and an idea much earlier than that. William Playfair invented the pie chart in 1801, but look what Florence Nightingale did with it – she turned it into a rose chart (also known as a coxcomb), to show parliament they needed to sort out army hygiene.

Florence Nightingale Rose Chart

There are infographics all around us, like the London Underground map, and Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness. Take your pick from Quick Facts About Mars, Unravelling Death in Game of Thrones, or Tracking a Book from Idea to Completion. You can even relive the ENTIRE story of Star Wars Episode IV – dazzling, but it may result in “scrolling-wheel finger”.

I’m sure there’s a sciencey explanation as to why we process visual stuff more easily, after all pictures can speak a thousand words (although obviously it depends on the words).

Stanley Fox uses all kinds of infographics in Planet Stan, such as a Periodic Table to remind him what ‘elements’ his brother is made from, or a Lego Death Star Impact Chart which actually explains meteorite craters.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some infographics about me!

 

I love pictures with stories – my eyes can’t wait to reach them as I scan the text. I have such fond memories of laughing at The Bash Street Kids in buzzy-bee summer hols; scrutinising panels of a fairy-tale comic book that belonged to my Mum; and losing hours with a just-right sunbeam and my 1001 Questions and Answers book (non-fiction is not just for Christmas). Also picture books. Sigh. Why do adults give up picture books?

My infographics are cheeky. They look like pictures, but squeeze in extra bits of story. Like the pie chart to describe someone’s character, or the recipes for disaster likely to befall you when out with a younger sibling.

So, if you were looking for a more sciencey explanation about the visuals lowdown – here’s an infographic about infographics: https://neomam.com/interactive/13reasons/

And if you want to fall down an infographic rabbit hole, take your pick from:

Elaine Wickson, author of Planet Stan

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Elaine Wickson writes stories in a Plotting Shed at the bottom of the garden, surrounded by foxes and fairy doors and more woodlice than she’s comfortable with. When not writing, she loves gazing at stars, trees, and books, preferably whilst eating cheese.
Planet Stan is the first in a series, about a boy who charts his life through infographics.

You can find out more about Elaine by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.

Blog Tour: Review: Bear Child – Geoff Mead (Illustrated by Sanne Dufft) & Guest Post: The importance of sharing stories – Geoff Mead

‘A heartfelt bear hug of a book that emulates itself in being the perfect bedtime story.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Bear Child
Author: Geoff Mead (@NarrativeLeader)
Illustrator (Cover): Sanne Dufft (@DufftSanne)
Publisher: Floris Books (@FlorisBooks)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 22nd February 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1510102118

Perfect for Reception, Year 1, Year 2 & Year 3.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Heartfelt 💗
2. Charming ☺️
3. Tender 🙂


‘Now that people live in towns
and bears live in the woods,
have you ever wondered
what happened to the bear folk?’

At bedtime Ursula asks Daddy to tell her the story of the bear folks special beings who can choose to be a bear or a person.

Bear folk are strong and clever, kind and caring.
They love to travel far and wide and eat apple pie.

They live among us, even if we don’t realise it.
Perhaps one day we’ll meet one.
Perhaps we already have…


The first line:

 “Tell me about the bear folk, Daddy,”
said Ursula.


Today I am delighted that Geoff Mead joins The Reader Teacher, as part of his blog tour, to celebrate the publication of his beautiful new début picture book Bear Child, which is illustrated by Sanne Dufft and published by Floris Books.

Review: Bear Child is a lovingly illustrated and delightfully written picture book, showing a true, mutually creative collaboration between author and illustrator. The story is a bedtime tale told by a father to his daughter. The story is so beautiful and the illustrations complement this by capturing the tenderness, timelessness and warmth of the story perfectly. Written as a gift to Geoff’s late wife Chris and paying tribute to her ‘lifelong love of bears’ (especially of the teddy variety) and her ‘fiercely independent spirit’, it’s a heartfelt bear hug of a book that emulates itself in being the perfect bedtime story.

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‘A heartfelt bear hug of a book that emulates itself in being the perfect bedtime story.’

Big thanks to Geoff for writing this fitting guest post and to CJ and Sarah at Floris Books for inviting me to take part in the #BearChild blog tour!

Mr E
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Bear Child is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

So it is with great pleasure that I now welcome Geoff Mead who, in his guest post below, will be talking about storytelling in the classroom and the importance of sharing stories…


The importance of sharing stories

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The practical educational benefits of storytelling are well known: enhanced listening and
concentration; understanding causality and consequences; creativity and use of imagination; sharing and turn-taking; improved speech and writing, to name but a few. But stories and storytelling have other benefits too, like our personal and moral development.

From an early age, stories act on our imaginations. Stories shape who we believe ourselves to be, how we relate to others and how we make sense of the world. They are fundamental to how we think, feel and act. So, choosing the right stories to share with our children is critically important.  We need to distinguish between stories that expand the human spirit and those that distort and constrain our potential.

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Young children rely on us as parents and teachers to provide them with a diet of wholesome stories: ones like Bear Child that encourage self-belief and individuality; a generous and inclusive approach to others; and an ethic of responsibility and care for the human and more-than-human world.

I trained as a storyteller at the International School of Storytelling and now work with many kinds of audiences. I enjoy them all, but every time I tell stories to a room full of young children and see their eyes open wide with wonder, I’m reminded why I fell in love with storytelling in the first place.

Stories can be just for entertainment. But, they can also enable children to begin to consider bigger issues when they are mediated through the experiences of characters in a story, and held in the voice and gaze of a parent or beloved teacher. If the story is good enough, it will convey its ‘message’ perfectly well without the addition of a homily or moral; we don’t have to explain its meaning for our young listeners.

Whether you are reading from a book or telling a story you know, there are three sets of relationships that need attention. One is with your own emotions and sense of wonder so your listeners can connect fully with theirs. Another is the care and attention you pay to the cadences of language and how the unfolding story affects the characters within it. The third is maintaining your connection with your audience by the tone of your voice and by making eye contact.

Reading stories to children can be a wonderful adventure, but I do urge you to try telling stories as well. I don’t mean learning the words of a story by rote and repeating them, but coming to know a story so well that you can tell it in your own words. There’s a wonderful sense of immediacy and freedom when you take the short step from reading to telling a story in this way.

After all, why shouldn’t teachers have fun too?
Geoff Mead, author of Bear Child

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Who are the bear folk and what makes them special?

Bear Child is an inspirational story of parental love, belief and embracing individuality. This beautiful picture book weaves together Geoff Mead’s charming words with Sanne Dufft’s ethereal illustrations to create a truly timeless folktale.

Follow the rest of the #BearChild blog tour with Floris Books on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 & Year 6.

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


Ready for an adventure?

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


The first line:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who will they join… Culpepper? Or Vane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I ask this:

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

What about you, Vashti? 

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Mr E
📚

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Brightstorm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading and Writing

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

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

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

TRT: When you were a child, can you remember contacting any authors or them ever visiting your school and if so, did this inspire you?
VH: We didn’t have author visits, but I would have loved it because I know how inspiring it can be. When I was first taking my writing seriously, I read an interview with Philip Pullman. He spoke of everyone seeing the gliding swan and not seeing the feet kicking furiously beneath the surface. This made me realise I could try!

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

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

Brightstorm and Teaching

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

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

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
VH: That would be lovely – if you visit my website www.vashtihardy.com you can get a flavour of the book and events and then easily contact me via the online form.

Two more before you go!

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

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

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

VH: Thank you for your great questions!


🎉    Giveaway!   🎉

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

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


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

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

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

Enjoy!


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRT: For those teachers reading this Q&A and would like to enquire about arranging the opportunity of a school visit from yourself, how would it be best to contact you regarding this?
LR: The easiest way to contact me would be via the contact form on my webpage https://leonieroberts.com/ – I would love to hear from you!

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

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


🎉 Giveaway! 🎉

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

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


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

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

Mr E
📚

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