Title: Frostfire Author: Jamie Smith (@JamieHBSmith) Illustrator (Cover): Karl James Mountford (@karlj_mountford) Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks) Page count: 288 Date of publication: 1st November 2018 Series status: N/A ISBN: 978-1911077879
Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home.
In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths…
I’m delighted to welcome Jamie Smith, author of Frostfire, to The Reader Teacher where he shares his exclusive guest post talking about how he can push the boundaries of the fantasy genre and how this makes him think more innovatively about the way he builds his worlds…
Tolkien’s Legacy by Jamie Smith
For decades, the shadow of fantasy’s biggest name has loomed large. Only recently have others begun to chip away at the legend that Lord of the Rings built – and deservedly so. It’s a great world, with fantastic characters and plenty of original ideas! However, I can’t help but feel that the super success of the books has limited what fantasy can be for all too long. It doesn’t have to be elves and dwarves all the way down!
These concepts, along with the dark lord, orcs and countless others became the foundation for other mega-franchises and have stuck around ever since. You’ll never see an elf in my books. Not because they can’t be interesting, but because I’ve seen them so many times before. I’d rather build something new and personal to me than putting a new spin on someone else’s idea.
Fortunately, in recent years, it seems like a number of other authors are coming to agree with me. Names like Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Tomi Adeyemi and more. Every time I see something fresh, it inspires me to do better too – and the further the fantasy genre is pushed, the better. It’s a place where literally anything can happen, after all!
That’s why my book has a sentient glacier in it, and not a hint of a dark lord in sight.
I’m hoping that by expanding the worlds we tell these kinds of stories in, I and others can help break free of the weight of those writers that came before (while still using them for a leg up from time to time). That way, we don’t have the limits of medieval Europe constraining us, and we can be more inclusive with our characters. Even our world is full of places that are not stone castles and mild-weathered woodland, after all.
So, I do my best to fill my world with strange creatures, fantastic magic, heroes with strength of character and flaws to overcome, just like Tolkien did when he (practically) founded the genre.
I’ll just paint a different picture over the top while I do it.
FROSTFIRE by Jamie Smith,
out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
‘Absolutely whizz-carking… the kind of charming story that has the perfect mix of playfulness and peculiarity and will have you begging for its next!’
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Title: Picklewitch and Jack Author: Claire Barker (@clairebarker) Illustrator: Teemu Juhani Publisher: Faber (@FaberChildrens) Page count: 240 Date of publication: 6th September 2018 Series status: First in the series ISBN: 978-0571335183
Picklewitch lives in a tree at the bottom of the garden. She has a nose for naughtiness, a mind for mischief and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox and all-round-good-two-shoes Jack (who’s just moved in) – she’s about to choose him as her new best friend…
Jack is in for a whole lot of trouble!
I’m delighted to welcome Claire Barker, author of the fantastic Knitbone Pepper series and more recently, the Picklewitch series, to The Reader Teacher!
Claire is busy writing the next book in the Picklewitch and Jack series, due out next year. She has handed this blog over to her main characters, Jack and Picklewitch to talk about how the book might be used in the classroom. Enjoy!
Winner of most sensible boy three years running and massive fan of everything school and rule-related.
Dear teachers, I hear some of you are reading our story in class, which is very exciting. A longer chapter book full of illustrations, I am told it is ideal for year 3. I hope you like my suggestions.*
Our story is about playground life, about celebrating difference, being open-minded and challenging gender stereotypes. Most of all though, it is about friendship. Personally, I believe in looking smart, sticking to the rules and being extraordinarily clever. One day I will probably be a Nobel prize winning scientist or possibly an astronaut. However it turns out that being a good friend is also important, but unlike quadratic equations, tricky. I searched for a non-fiction book on this subject in the library, but had no luck. Hopefully this book will help any other children who are forced to be friends with a rude, grubby little witch.
Language and Literacy. Personally I am a big believer in using only standard English. However, you could also use the book to look at Picklewitch’s ‘interesting’ vocabulary, her dialect and sentence structure. You could also look at character development, the tension between opposites, how dialogue and humour is used and the ups and downs of a story arc. Perhaps write some pretend spells and read them aloud! You could even get in touch with Claire Barker on her website (clairebarkerauthor.com) and she will skype your class about inspiration, drafting and editing. There are even some downloadable worksheets on there too.
* Was in pie chart format but Picklewitch ate it.
Lives in a tree. Never wrong. Best Friend Ever.
My story is the kipper’s knickers and you should use it becuz:
1) READING IS FUN. My book is lovely and long, with lots of pictures of me (and a few of Jack) inside.
2) it teaches children about Nature WHICH IS MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL THE THINGS. Even owls know this and 50% of everything they say is ‘TWIT’.
3) Science: not nearly enough children know that the weather is caused by a bear wot does live on the moon. It is madness.
4) Maths: how many burds fit into a bin lid? Answer in back of book.
5) Literacy: not difficultatious (that’s a word I invented. I am very good with words).
‘Capturing perfectly the character, companionship and camaraderie (and sometimes… the chaos) that a dog naturally brings to a home, this is a heartfelt story that’ll warm the hearts of animal lovers everywhere.’
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Title: Danny and the Dream Dog Author: Fiona Barker (@Fi_BGB) Illustrator: Howard Gray (@hwigray) Publisher: Tiny Tree (@TinyTreeBooks) Page count: 32 Date of publication: 25th October 2018 Series status: N/A ISBN: 978-1910265659
Danny really, really wants a dog, but Mum says no.
Find out whether a new neighbour can help Danny achieve his dream and much more besides.
A story about finding friendship in unexpected places.
Review:Danny is like most schoolchildren up and down the country. He dreams of having his very own dog. But unfortunately for him, his dreams come crashing down as his mum puts to a stop to this very thought. So what can he do? Well he’s already asked nicely, pleaded, whined and finally begged… but it all appears that it’s in vain. Doing his best to try to hound(!) his mum to get him a dog, he even does a pretty convincing job at looking after his toy dog.
But mum’s better judgement still wins through as she explains to Danny that this is the sensible option because there’ll be no-one to care for Danny’s dream dog during the day so for now, Danny’s dream dog stays… well… a dream.
That all changes however when a new neighbour moves in downstairs and Danny’s dream becomes a bit closer to home. Mum’s lined him up for the job of walking Mrs Owen’s dog, Maximus and Danny thinks all his Christmases have come at once.
However upon meeting Maximus for the first time, Danny’s best laid plans go awry as Maximus behaves more like a cheeky monkey than a show dog. Rabbit-chasing, squirrel-hunting, puddle-splashing Maximus ends up being the talk of the town, sometimes for all the wrong reasons!
But Maximus is far too loveable to stay mad at and Danny ends up growing increasingly fond of seeing him, but only at the end of the day.
Realising that looking after a dog takes far more effort than he first thought, Danny like the rest of us recognises the power of man’s best friend and falls under his spell… and his wet tongue!
This is a heartfelt story that’ll warm the hearts of animal lovers everywhere. Growing up as someone who’s always had a dog by my side, this book with Howard’s charming illustrations, reminds me why I always have and captures perfectly the character, companionship and camaraderie (and sometimes… the chaos) that a dog naturally brings to a home.
Empathy, education and emotion are at the heart of this touching story that children will want read and re-read again, so much so that it’ll probably end up becoming dog-eared (which is a very good thing!).
I am delighted to welcome Fiona Barker to The Reader Teacher, as part of the Danny and the Dream Dog blog tour, with a brilliant insight in to her working with a charity as part of writing it…
I didn’t write this as an ‘issue’ book or a charity book but when you finish Danny’s story you will see some information about The Cinnamon Trust.
I didn’t write the story with the Trust in mind but once I had written it then it felt very relevant as it covers the theme of how helping someone look after their pet can bring people together. That’s what The Cinnamon Trust does. It’s an amazing charity helping people in their last years and their companion animals, including dogs. The Trust maintains a register of 15,000 volunteers who help owners care for their much-loved pets in their own homes. The Trust helps over 30,000 people and their pets stay together every year. I hoped I could help raise awareness of the charity through telling the story.
While working on the book, I was privileged to meet volunteers Caz and Elaine and dog owners Chris and Tony. You can watch their stories in these short videos:
It really is a win-win-win situation for the owners, volunteers and pets. That’s what we’ve tried to sum up in the penultimate spread.
The Trust is always looking for new volunteers across the UK if you think you might be able to help.
Tips for working with a charity on a book:
Approach them early on in the process
Explain clearly what you are planning
Negotiate what you will provide and what you expect from them – make it clear whether or not this is a financial arrangement or something reciprocal about raising awareness.
Put it in writing – this doesn’t need to be a formal contract but make sure both sides are happy.
Keep them informed throughout the journey to publication.
I’m really looking forward to spreading the word about the Trust at author events and school visits. I’m hoping that along with hearing the story and having some dog-themed fun at an event, children and adults will take home a little bit of knowledge about the Trust and its wonderful volunteers, almost without realising!
Danny and the Dream Dog is available to pre-order online and from any good bookshop.
Big thanks to Fiona for inviting me to be a part of this brilliant blog tour, for writing her fantastic blog post and for sending me an advance copy of Danny and the Dream Dog!
Today, as part of The Train to Impossible Places blog tour, I give a warm welcome to its author, P. G. Bell, to The Reader Teacher. Here, he shares with The Reader Teacher his exclusive guest post about how his previous job as a roller coaster operator helped him to write his debut novel in more ways than one!
How to Write a Roller Coaster of a Story
Once upon a time, I worked as a roller coaster operator. Part of the job was taking test runs several times a day to ensure that everything was functioning as expected. As the months passed, I got to know the rides very well – I could close my eyes and anticipate every twist, turn and barrel roll, and after a while I realised something: a good roller coaster is like a good story.
It has pace, structure and variety. It builds anticipation before pitching you headlong into the action. Then it gives you just enough time to catch your breath before twisting you one way or the other, sending you racing off into a new element.
Let’s look at anticipation first. It can be fun to throw the reader straight into the thick of it, but I like to have a little context first – a quick taste of normality before the inciting incident (that first, dizzying drop after the lift hill) arrives to snatch it away.
This was especially important for The Train To Impossible Places as Suzy, our main character, is a staunch rationalist who thinks she’s got things figured out. I needed to show her calm and in control before I crashed a magic train into her life. Even in those first brief chapters, however, the strangeness is creeping in at the edges, priming us for the chaos we know is coming.
When it arrives, I make sure it’s big and loud and fast and (hopefully) funny – a satisfying payoff to reward the reader’s patience. Then it’s a question of knowing exactly how long to keep the story at that pace before I ease up and give the reader a little time to reorient themselves. Too much action can be dull, and the sudden appearance of too many plot elements can be confusing, so it’s a question of including only what is strictly necessary and dispensing with the rest.
In practical terms, I’ve found this means I jettison about eighty per cent of my exposition, background and world building. I spend months cooking them up, and only trace elements survive to the final draft, but by then they’ve informed every line of dialogue and description, so the flavour remains. After all, you don’t need to know how Lady Crepuscula came by her army of statues, you just need to know that they’re there.
Anticipation, release; anticipation, release. It’s exactly how roller coasters work, and it’s not a bad model for an exciting story.
Oh, and one very quick word on cliffhangers, as they’re a key element in the anticipation-release equation: write the whole nerve-wracking, perilous scene, then put your chapter break anywhere from the end of the first sentence to the end of the first paragraph.
I could go on, but the trick is to always leave them wanting more.
P. G. Bell, author of The Train to Impossible Places
So to celebrate the blog tour of The Train to Impossible Places, I am delighted to say that Usborne has kindly given me one hardback copy to give away to one of my followers on Twitter. If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!
Big thanks to Peter, Fritha and Usborne for sending me a proof copy and beautifully-illustrated finished copy of The Train to Impossible Places.
Extra thanks to Peter for writing his utterly fantastic guest post!
The Train to Impossible Places is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.
‘Combining Helle’s love for skiing and the slopes, this is a snow-sprinkled story that’s so beautifully told you’ll want to snuggle up with it all night. This deserves to be one of this winter’s wonders.’
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Title: The Missing Barbegazi Author: H. S. Norup (@HSNorup) Publisher: Pushkin Press (@PushkinPress) Page count: 256 Date of publication: 4th October 2018 ISBN: 978-1782691815
Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.
1. Skis 🎿
2. Barbegazi 👹
3. Family 👪
Review: As Tessa’s grandfather, Opa, has told her, there’s Barbegazi about in the Austrian alps deep within the snow-tipped mountains. Everyone else however thinks he might have been a confused old man who maybe was telling lies but can she prove that her beloved grandfather was right to speak of these fabled creatures…?
As Tessa becomes more and more involved on her mission to find the Barbegazi, she doesn’t just find one but a whole family of Barbegazi in need of her help and soon becomes entangled in their lives far more than she could ever have imagined when setting out to find one.
As the book switches between its dual-narrative chapters between Tessa and Gawion, covering the days from Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve, we share a special story with even greater bonds holding it all together. Tight, inter-generational bonds that really do help to bring this story to life, in more ways than one.
Combining Helle’s love for skiing and the slopes, this is a snow-sprinkled story that’s so beautifully told you’ll want to snuggle up with it all night. With Helle, Pushkin Press have more than a promising author on their hands.
Almost like slalom meeting The Sound of Music. this is a different kind of adventure that ultimately deserves to be one of this winter’s wonders.
Today, on its book birthday, I give a warm welcome to author of The Missing Barbegazi, H. S. Norup to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher her exclusive guest post about the perspective behind her debut novel for children…
A Barbegazi Perspective by H.S. Norup
When I first had the idea for THE MISSING BARBEGAZI, I had never heard of a barbegazi. The story I began to write was the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who wanted to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world, dealing with real world problems. No magic. No mythical creatures.
We were living in Switzerland at the time, my two sons were part of a ski racing team, and we spent every winter weekend on skis. I knew how desperately my sons desired the gleaming trophies. And I loved how tightly the kids from the ski club banded together and supported each other on race days, despite their internal competition.
Perhaps the book where a ski race was the climax of the story would have turned out to be a good book, but it wasn’t one I could write. In fact, I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. It was some kind of elf, it was friendly, and it was scared of Tessa. That was all I knew.
After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi. As mythical creatures go an almost completely unknown species, but every bit of the sparse information I found matched the elf in my story.
The details I discovered about the barbegazi sparked my imagination in curious ways. For example, the fact that barbegazi myths are from the high alps in France and Switzerland, meant that I had to make up a reason for my barbegazi’s presence in Austria, where the story takes place. And, as the name barbegazi comes from the French barbe glacée (frozen beard), I knew their beards were important, so I decided female and young barbegazi needed beards too, and I bestowed barbegazi beards with magical properties.
Consolidating folklore and invented barbegazi “facts”, I wrote part of a fictional non-fiction book, called: Habits and Habitats: A Historic Account of Alpine Elves, to use in my story about Tessa. But it still wasn’t enough. The barbegazi, Gawion, wasn’t satisfied with a minor role; he wanted to speak for himself and tell part of the story from his point of view.
Tessa’s voice came intuitively, but for Gawion’s chapters I had to set guidelines to ensure his voice was believable and consistent. Many of these came naturally from the barbegazi’s backstory: in 1752, when Gawion’s parents were young, they were captured near their Mont Blanc glacier home and gifted to the empress Maria Theresa in Vienna. Here, they were incarcerated in the imperial menagerie until they escaped in 1862, shortly before Gawion and his twin sister were born. Their fear of being captured again led the barbegazi to avoid all contact with humans in the next 154 years.
The direct implication of this backstory was that their language would be somewhat old-fashioned and that the barbegazi wouldn’t know the terms for anything invented after the middle of the nineteenth century. Imagining how Gawion would describe modern inventions like a snow groomer (a huge metal monster that growls like a thousand angry dogs) was fun. Getting the language sufficiently archaic without sacrificing readability or pace was more challenging.
The easiest measure was, of course, to write Gawion’s chapters without contractions. While writing early drafts, I experimented with words and sentence structure and listened to Austen and Dickens audiobooks to absorb their language and rhythms. I used thesaurus and etymology dictionaries to find words that were old-fashioned (but still recognisable for middle grade readers) and to ensure I didn’t use words that developed after the barbegazi had lost contact with humans. To create distance between barbegazi and humans and emphasise their view that humans are the odd creatures, I decided that barbegazi don’t distinguish between genders for humans and therefore refer to all humans with the pronoun: it. Furthermore, as Gawion had never experienced anywhere but the snow-covered mountains, all the imagery had to be linked to snow and things he might have seen in the wintery setting, e.g. Hope shrunk to something smaller than a blackberry at the bottom of a gorge.
Writing from the perspective of a barbegazi has been exciting, and, at school visits, it’s wonderful to hear the enthusiastic and inventive responses when I ask how Gawion would describe things like helicopters and mobile phones. The children love spotting and explaining archaic words, and they have been especially interested in learning about old expletives. So, let me end by apologising in advance if readers of THE MISSING BARBEGAZI completely stop using contemporary swear words and from now simply yell: POTZBLITZ!
H. S. Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi
Big thanks to Helle, Mollie and Pushkin Press for sending me a copy of The Missing Barbegazi. Extra thanks to Helle for writing her superb guest post!
The Missing Barbegazi is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.
To celebrate the book birthday and official publication launch date of Gangster 2, I’m delighted to review, host a guest post from author, Kate Wiseman and host a giveaway of the superbly-written Gangster School 2: The Brotherhood of Brimstone!
Read on for more details…!
‘Guaranteed to go down a storm with plenty of giggles galore and gangsterly goings-on, this is immediate fun once again from the first page to the very last.’
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Title: Gangster School 2: The Brotherhood of Brimstone Author: Kate Wiseman (@KateWiseman) Publisher: ZunTold (@ZunTold) Page count: 212 Date of publication: 24th September 2018 Series status: N/A ISBN: 978-1999863326
Trouble is brewing at Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants.
Sir Byron’s Brain, a priceless legendary diamond, has gone missing. If it leaves the school grounds, Blaggard’s will be destroyed forever and the head teacher obliterated!
Could the evil Brotherhood of Brimstone – an ancient secret society – have anything to do with it? Best friends Milly and Charlie embark on an adventure to find out. They discover a web of evil plots involving Gruffles, Charlie’s stinky dog, and Wolfie, the robot dog turned invisible superhero.
On top of this, Blaggard’s is expecting a school inspection from the mysterious Dr X – Chief Inspector of Criminal Schools. He could turn up at any time, and no one knows what he looks like.
Time is running out for Milly and Charlie. Will Dr X appear? And can our heroes defeat the evil Brotherhood, rescue their canine companions and save the day?
Review: It’s back to Blaggard’s, an almost Harry Potter-like school for criminals – for those that haven’t yet read the brilliant Gangster School – which is the boarding school to be if you want to be a future criminal until this time, a diamond goes missing which is set to spark a curse on the school. With another mystery to solve, it feels fantastic to be reacquainted with Milly Dillane and Charlie Partridge, the two main characters in this must-read sequel and set off this time to get to know more of this cunning cast of characters.
Since I set eyes on and read Gangster School, I have been eagerly anticipating its sequel and this doesn’t dare disappoint. Back with more characters, more teachers and more lessons, most notably that of (what would probably be my favourite!) Criminal Disguise and Deception.
Striking parallels with real schools, this one is left fearing for the worst as news of an impending inspection reaches Blaggard’s and Dr X, Chief Inspector of Schools, is on his way but no knows what he looks like… or if he’ll even appear…!
With immediate fun once again from the first page until the very last, Gangster School 1 and 2 are a series that is just begging to be read aloud and to classes countrywide because they are guaranteed to go down a storm with plenty of giggles galore and gangsterly goings-on.
The only slight disappointment(!) will be that readers will feel like they’re missing out by not having their very own Gangster School full of capers and adventures to attend.
‘Guaranteed to go down a storm with plenty of giggles and gangsterly goings-on galore, this is again immediate fun from the first page to the very last.’
I am delighted that Kate Wiseman joins me today at The Reader Teacher with a fantastic insight in to her writing of Gangster School…
Walking the Line
Or, Negotiating the Perilous Path between Entertainment and Controversy
When I had the idea for the Gangster School books, I realised that I needed to make the Gangster School world convincing, and the stories entertaining, whilst ensuring that the subject matter was handled in a way that would make it acceptable to the gatekeepers of kids’ lit – agents and publishers, then parents and teachers.
Although my vision of Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants was more frivolous than felonious, I saw straight away that there would be a perilous path to negotiate and I put a lot of thought into how I could make the books fun and relevant to their titles, without alienating grown-ups who might conclude that the subject matter was unsuitable for children.
I adopted various measures to ensure that the books are not controversial. One way of achieving this was by ensuring that whilst the school curriculum was appropriate for the world’s best school for would-be criminal masterminds, it didn’t promote criminality or impart any information that could be construed as useful to a budding felon. It also was important not to glorify success as a criminal, or being in a gang, in any way. These things are ridiculed; the bad guys are silly and the heroes are good guys pretending to be bad.
I decided to go for subjects promoting the qualities that would be desirable in criminals, rather than those imparting hands-on skills. So, with the exception of Thievery, which I felt was unavoidable, and which could be exaggerated to the point where it became funny, Blaggard’s teachers are experts in Defiance and Discourtesy, Betrayal, Plotting and Criminal Disguise, among a host of other subjects.
The teachers are exaggerated too, to emphasise their criminal qualities and to make them so incredible that they couldn’t possibly be regarded as role models. Their names reflect their subjects and characters and were chosen to ensure that there is no possibility of their being taken too seriously. So, Thievery is taught by Nick Lightfinger, Fabrication by Edgar Borgia and the Head Teacher, feared by all who meet her, is Griselda Martinet. I have to admit, I’d really like to be Ms Martinet.
Another potential problem was in establishing my two protagonists, Milly and Charlie. I just couldn’t see how I could make eager would-be crims acceptable, except by exaggerating them to the point where they were in danger of being caricatures. If this happened, there would be no contrast or conflict between the protagonists and their teachers or their antagonists. The answer I came up with was to make them secret Dependables. In Blaggardian parlance, a Dependable is a non-criminal. Someone honest, just like you and me. Ahem.
But then why would two Dependables be at Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants? I gave them both dedicated felonious families, with centuries-old allegiances to the school. Now Milly and Charlie had a compelling reason for being there.
That led on to another question. Why would they not simply get themselves expelled? After all, they would hate it at Gangster School, wouldn’t they? There needed to be an even worse school where Blaggard’s rejects are invariably sent. Enter Crumley’s School for Career Criminals, terrifying in looks and reputation. It’s only a few miles away from Blaggard’s and Charlie sees it every time he opens his bedroom curtains. It crouches on a craggy hill like a gargoyle and is a constant reminder to both Milly and Charlie of the price they will pay for failure at Blaggard’s.
As for hating it at Blaggard’s, I’ve done everything I can to make the school sound like a mad but fun place, with almost daily food fights, weird initiation ceremonies and a long history peppered by distinctly dodgy personalities and even dodgier school legends. The pupils there might think that they want to be criminals, but they are really just rather naughty.
Now for story lines and subject matter. Hmmm. Tricky. So much was immediately unsuitable – murder, torture, terrorism. I wanted my readers to be transported away from the worries of 21st century living, not to be reminded of them. Fortunately, my personality and interests are nothing if not quirky and it was natural for me to look beyond the nitty gritty of life and to fasten on the weird and the whimsical. So, in Book One, the arch villain Pecunia Badpenny, (based loosely on my best friend, an English language teacher who likes golf), has a plan for world domination (of course) using a robot wolf, but he goes off to play with Charlie’s Scruffy hound, Gruffles, and Badpenny ends up bedraggled and humiliated. Blaggard’s was shaping up.
The danger of eschewing nitty gritty is that a book can become bland, a thought that horrified me. I’ve done my very best to avoid this. In Gangster School 2, for instance, which is being released in the UK today, I had great fun writing a short, one-man play that the pedantic would-be genius William Proctor performs at Founders’ Day. The play deals with the role of Sir Thomas Blaggard, the school’s founder, in the execution of Anne Boleyn. Proctor manages to rhyme ‘shiny pearls’ with ‘decomposing girls.’ I’m especially proud of this couplet: ‘Without her head she’ll be a whole lot shorter/Bet then she’ll wish she’d acted like she oughta.’ That came to me in a dream. Or was it a nightmare?
I hope that I’ve given you a flavour of Blaggard’s, and convinced you that nothing dangerous or damaging will be found in my Gangster School books.
Unless you consider bad verse and dodgy puns to be damaging. I have to hold my hands up to those.
Kate Wiseman, author of Gangster School 2: The Brother of Brimstone and Gangster School 1
Big thanks to Kate for inviting me to join in with the Gangster School 2: The Brotherhood of Brimstone, particularly on its launch date!
Gangster School 2: The Brotherhood of Brimstone and Gangster School are now available to order online or from any good bookshop.
London schoolboy Ben is heading for Kenya to meet his Maasai family. But how is an outsider like him going to fit in?
When he meets his cousin Kip, he discovers they share more than he thought – if only Ben can keep up.
Together, the boys must survive the African savannah: hunt for food, defend elephants from poachers – and even face the king of the beasts. Does Ben have what it takes to be a twenty-first-century warrior?
Review:Set deep in the African savannah, Warrior Boy tells the tale of Ben, a London schoolboy about as far removed from a tribal lifestyle as he can be, visiting the homeland of his father. As he travels to Africa with his conservationist mother, he finds himself in for a few shocks to say the least.
As he confronts his biggest fears within moments of arriving (including taking part in a ritual that ends up showing he has far more in common with his family than he so realises), he soon knows he’s in for more than he bargained when he comes across poachers who seem to have it in for his family and give them more than a serious warning to let them carry on poaching…
Can Ben – who already feared the lack of acceptance from his father’s family – defend the savannah’s animals from these callous poachers, fit in to the tribe and follow in his father’s footsteps to become a warrior? Only time will tell.
Thanks to Virginia’s own experiences, this is written in such an absorbing and captivating way that’s so immersive you’ll really feel the mix of the soaring heat and the pulsating dangers of the grasslands making it feel like you’re experiencing the savannah for yourself.
Boys and Reading
The most surprising but yet thrilling thing I have noticed since Warrior Boy’s release, has been the number of parents who have told me, having read the book, how excited they are that their son might start reading now. Of course, it’s wonderful that anyone should have such high hopes for my story, but also shocking because I hadn’t realized boys were not reading in such vast numbers.
Perhaps I have been slightly fooled by the phenomenal success of David Walliams; he has done so much to encourage boys to read. And whilst I hear lots of parents – and writers – say they are fed up with his monopoly hold on the market, for every one of those, there are two teachers who adore him. When you have a student who will do anything to avoid reading, but encounters DW and reads one of his books in two days, quite frankly you could fall down and worship at his feet.
But it has been ten years now since The Boy in the Dress was first published, which is probably a good time to take stock. And I am wondering whether Walliams hasn’t just turned boys who don’t read, into boys who read David Walliams, when we really want them to be getting a varied literary diet.
So how can we help them be braver about approaching new titles? The children’s author Chris Bradford says it’s all about finding the right subject to fit the boy:
“If all they ever play is an Xbox, perhaps start them on Game Boy by Alan Durrant. If they’re into sports, challenge them with Tom Palmer’s Football Academy series or his award-winning Ghost Stadium. If they’re interested in technology or science, connect them with Dot Robot by Jason Bradbury or Itch by Simon Mayo.
As a child, I read everything from L.M Montgomery to Tolkien but research shows that girls are more likely to try a wider range of subjects than boys and to get the latter sailing away from the warm, familiar waters of Walliams and into uncharted waters, we need to find subject matter they are passionate about.
Bradford continues, “The key element here is to plug into their everyday interests and let them live the book both in their minds and in their lives. Remember, every boy wants to be the hero!”
So where does this leave Warrior Boy? Are there any boys out there who have an obsession with spear throwing and warthog wrestling? It certainly has a hero at its heart, and I think this could be the key. All readers – boys and girls – need to identify with the main character enough to feel they could overcome the potential threat. The hero in my story faces a formidable threat in the form of elephant poaching. Will parents’ hopes be realised for their sons to read Warrior Boy? I certainly hope so!
Virginia Clay, author of Warrior Boy
WARRIOR BOY by Virginia Clay out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Big thanks to Laura Smythe and Chicken House for sending me a copy of this brilliant book and for inviting me to join in with the Warrior Boy blog tour.
Extra thanks to Virginia for writing her guest post!
Warrior Boy is now available to order online or from any good bookshop.
To celebrate the publication today of the next book in the very successful Isadora Moon series, Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic,
I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Harriet Muncaster to The Reader Teacher today!
Without further ado, here’s Harriet’s guest post ‘Sparking Imagination: the Unpredictable Influence of Children’s Books’ where she talks about the benefits of reading for children; how even the smallest idea in a story can inspire a big one and her own mascot…
Sparking Imagination: the Unpredictable Influence of Children’s Books
We all know that reading has lots of benefits for children, not least improved language and literacy abilities. But reading a range of stories helps to expose children to different ideas that can spark their imagination in unpredictable ways. When a child reads a book, they’re stepping inside a whole new world, and coming across ideas they may never have been exposed to before. A tiny detail or action in any book could really resonate with a particular child, even if dozens of others would just skim over it. And there’s no knowing what that could be.
For me, The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson contained just such a small idea that inspired me in a big way. In The Suitcase Kid, a little girl’s parents are getting divorced and she is finding this change hard to deal with. In truth I only vaguely remember the events of the main plot, perhaps because I’m fortunate enough not to have first-hand experience of this situation. I’m sure for many children who have been in a similar situation, reading the story would offer relatability and catharsis.
However, even though the story hasn’t stayed with me over the years since I read it, one of the ways the little girl tried to cope with the divorce has. You see, she got a little Sylvanian Families rabbit called Radish and decided it would become her ‘mascot’. This meant she treated it like a real, living friend who she took everywhere with her. She took Radish on adventures and made things for her, like a little boat she could go down the stream in. Here the girl is playing with Radish in the bathroom:
“She loves the bathroom. It’s her favourite best ever place. Don’t forget she’s only four centimetres tall. The basin and the bath are her very own Leisure Pool. I generally fix up a superslide by knotting Paula’s tights together and hanging them from the door hook to the bath tap. Radish hasn’t got a very slippery bottom so I soap her a lot to make her slide satisfactorily. This means Paul’s tights get a bit soapy too but that can’t be helped.”
Radish doesn’t even feature on every page, but I just found the idea of having a little character you can make things for and have adventures with so inspiring. As soon as I finished reading The Suitcase Kid I decided I had to have my own ‘mascot’. I got a Sylvanian Families ginger cat and called it Fleur. You can see her here:
From there, the game of mascots grew and developed and I got my friends involved. At the peak of the game there were five of us, each with our own mascots. We would make clothes and accessories for our mascots, take them with us wherever we went, and throw parties for them. The most important rule was that everything they had needed to be real and to work. So, for example, they couldn’t have dolls house food: it had to be actually edible. Every mascot had to have a place to live as well, so we all made special bedrooms for our mascots.
Taking the game further, I started creating mascot magazines for my friends and me to read. These included photographs and stories of the mascots’ adventures, quizzes, and instructions for making things like clothes, patchwork quilts and mascot toothbrushes. I spent ages on these things, and loved every second of it. Even as my friends moved on to new games, I kept on with my mascots, and even now I still have a mascot:
And you can still see my fascination with miniature people in the normal-sized world in some of my published books:
I have always loved anything miniature, especially miniature characters like Tinkerbell and the Borrowers, and I have always loved making things, so I probably would have found some similar creative outlet had I not read The Suitcase Kid. I would have made miniature clothes, or written stories about tiny people, and I certainly would have carried on playing with my Sylvanian Families.
But I might not have found something as big or as captivating as the mascots game. Not something that my friends would get involved in consistently over the course of a couple of years, or that inspired me to create my own magazines. In this, The Suitcase Kid was a catalyst, a springboard for my imagination. For someone who was (and still is!) more interested in stories of fairies and the fantastic, a book about a child dealing with parental divorce wouldn’t necessarily be an obvious choice, but I got something from it much more impactful than anyone might have predicted.
I suppose my message then to parents, teachers, and readers of all ages, is that you never know what new ideas and inspirations you could find between the covers of a given book. So take a gamble; try something new; give your child something they may or may not choose for themselves. I only read The Suitcase Kid because it was a gift, but for all the hours and hours of fun I had playing mascots afterwards, I’m so glad I did!
Harriet Muncaster is the author and illustrator of the international bestselling Isadora Moon young fiction series. Her latest book, Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic, is available in the UK from September 6th.
You can follow her mascots’ latest adventures on Instagram, see what Harriet has been up to on Facebook and Twitter, and find a selection of Isadora Moon activities for home and school on her website.
To celebrate the recent publication of The Great Sea Dragon Discovery,
I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Pippa Goodhart to The Reader Teacher today!
Without further ado, here’s Pippa’s guest post ‘How the Books Get Made’ where she talks about answering one of the questions that children often ask at school visits ‘How is your book made?’ After seeing pictures of Pippa on Twitter seeing her book being made, this is a superb insight in to the often behind-the-scenes process…
Title: The Great Sea Dragon Discovery Author: Pippa Goodhart (@pippagoodhart) Publisher: Catnip Books (@catnipbooks) Page count: 272 Date of publication: 5th July 2018 Series status: N/A ISBN: 978-1910611081
When I do school visits one of the questions that children often ask is, ‘How did you make the book?’ After a quarter of a century of writing, and over a hundred books published, with this book I have at last seen the books being made … and it’s an amazing and exciting sight.
Let’s take The Great Sea Dragon Discovery from start to finish –
It all began with me taking an interest in the history of my home village where, in the year after Darwin published his On the Origin of Species, coprolites were being mined and fossils of ancient creatures found. Bill began to grow as a character in my mind as I researched and wrote notes, then began writing my story. It probably took a couple of years of me working solo before there was a draft to show a publisher.
Then comes the publisher, with an editor to guide the reworking of the text, sales people to choose the title, and a designer to create the cover, so a handful of people many months.
But the actual ‘making of the book’, printing and binding happens astonishingly fast. At CPI Book Makers in Chatham they make more than 130 million books a year! How?
The book files are arranged so that the printing and folding of paper will place the text for each place in the correct place and the right way up for both sides of each page.
Large flexible sheets of steel are etched with the book’s text, making plates from which the book will be printed.
Vast rolls of paper made from Finnish trees are fed into a printing machine, cascading like a waterfall between the rollers that print on both sides of the paper at one. The machine then cuts and folds each ‘section’ of the book.
Meanwhile the colour printed card for the covers is printed elsewhere, printing four covers per sheet.
Book sections (in correct order!) are fed into the binding machine, as is the cover card. What follows produces 3,000 books in about twenty minutes. The compressed book pages are tipped onto their spines, then passed over rollers wet with hot glue. Those spines are stuck to the covers, and the back and front covers folded to encase the pages. At this stage, two books are together, head to head, as a single tall book with uncut pages. The next process saws that in half. Then each book is guillotined to cut the pages and give clean edges. The books are stacked and shrink wrapped and labelled, ready to be sent to the distribution centre.
Then come the lorry and fork lift truck drivers, the pickers and more who send the books into shops and libraries. There, bookshop staff and librarians select and display and recommend the book, bloggers review it, and people buy the book.
Only then does the book get into the hands of readers, and, as they read, into their heads. It’s quite a journey!
Picture credit: https://twitter.com/catnipbooks
Pippa Goodhart, author of The Great Sea Dragon Discovery
Pippa Goodhart is a popular author of over thirty children’s books including the Winnie the Witch series and A Dog Called Flow which was shortlisted for the Smarties Prize. Pippa Goodhart’s Raven Boy was in the 2015 Booktrust Read for My School packs, while Finding Fortune was picked for the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge. Pippa is a history graduate and a former teacher and bookseller. She lives in Cambridgeshire.
Huge thanks to Laura and all at Catnip for sending me an advance copy of The Great Sea Dragon Discovery and inviting me to host Pippa’s guest post! Extra thanks to Pippa for taking the time to write her really insightful and informative guest post!
The Great Sea Dragon Discovery is available to order online or from any good book shop.
To celebrate the recent publication of the second in the very successful Stunt Double series, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Tamsin Cooke to The Reader Teacher today!
Without further ado, here’s Tamsin’s guest post ‘Planning a story is like planning a stunt’ where she talks about being a proud planner when writing; her inspiration for Jungle Curse from a rather eventful dog walk and her brain scrambling with creative ideas…
Title: Stunt Double: Jungle Curse Author: Tamsin Cooke (@TamsinCooke1) Publisher: Oxford University Press Children’s (@OUPChildrens) Page count: 288 Date of publication: 5th July 2018 Series status: Second in the Stunt Double series ISBN: 978-0192749840
Some authors have a great idea and just start to write. Well, I’ve tried this before, and my story goes nowhere. It just meanders along, with no sense of purpose.
So I am a planner and I’m proud. And I think planning a book is like planning a stunt. You need to ensure there’s a set up, everyone’s in the right place at the right time, there’s dramatic tension, and there are no holes in the story – just like you don’t want any holes in your safety equipment!
I know lots of people, especially children, who groan at the thought of planning, but this is part of the story process that I love. This is where you can allow your imagination to go wild. Once you have a seed of a story, you can play with ideas.
The inspiration for Jungle Curse came from a dog walk. Having just narrowly missed being hit on the head by a falling branch, I then had to pull an aggressive attack dog off my lovely pet Labrador, when I thought – what else could go wrong on this simple walk? Then I froze because an idea struck me. What if things kept going wrong on a film set? What if people started believing it was cursed?
My brain started scrambling in all directions. I had so many ideas for what could go wrong and what could make it go wrong. Over the next few days, dramatic scenes played in my head, and I filled notebooks, as my story came alive. However, my ideas were jumbled, with no sense of sequencing. If they were a stunt, people would definitely get hurt. Imagine someone had to jump out of a plane – I would have sent the stunt team to one place, the safety equipment to another. So I needed to put my ideas in order.
I wrote a title of each big scene onto a Post-It note. Then I sequenced them, working out which scene needed to go where; which one worked best at the beginning; which one needed to go towards the end; some I got rid of, filing them away for another book. Soon I had a whole list of events where my characters were challenged and grew. My floor was completely covered in Post-It notes. I transferred the titles to my laptop, using a programme called Scrivener that helps separate the scenes.
Then I started to write. This part of my process is most accurately described as ‘word vomit.’ The words spill out of my brain into my laptop. There are always typos, half written sentences and imageless descriptions. It is awful writing, but I don’t care because at this point I just want to get the story out, and no one gets to see it at this stage.
But it is often at this moment that my pesky characters can derail my plans. As I’m writing, it becomes clear that they might not want to carry out what I’d planned for them. For example, I wanted Finn to have an argument with a certain character. I tried forcing him, as I thought it would make a great scene, but somewhere at the back of my mind he was nagging me – telling me this was wrong. In the end I had to cut it because he was right. Finn would not get into an argument with that certain person.
Once my ‘word vomit’ is complete, otherwise known as the first draft, I am ready to start writing the real thing. I write the first scene again in detail. Then I edit and edit and edit… until I’m pretty happy with this one section. Then I move to the next scene and repeat. These scenes become chapters and soon my writing begins to resemble a book. This is the equivalent to rehearsing a stunt, where you make sure the performers know exactly what they are doing.
When it feels complete, I read from the beginning, going through each chapter slowly and carefully, making sure there are no plot holes. I edit again, ensuring the story flows. Often I’m reading aloud. This is when the cameras would be rolling and my stunt performer is falling through the sky.
With stunts, you need to make sure everything is in its right place and all the equipment works. You don’t want to have a faulty parachute. With a story you want to make sure everything works too, that the plot makes sense, and the characters behave in a believable way. Most importantly with a stunt, you need to make sure no one gets hurt. Well… in real life no one was hurt while I wrote Jungle Curse. Words were deleted, there was some wailing, and a few nails were bitten – but there was no lasting damage!
Tamsin Cooke, author of Stunt Double: Jungle Curse
Tamsin loves to travel, have adventures and see wild animals. She’s fed a tiger, held a seven-foot python and stroked a tarantula, but she’s too scared to touch a worm. She lives in Somerset with her adrenalin-junkie family. When she isn’t writing, she can be found reading books, eating jelly beans or tromping through the woods with her soppy dog.
Tamsin is back with the heart-stopping Jungle Curse, second book in the Stunt Double series with OUP Children’s.