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

You're Safe full cover

‘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: 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.

Review: Twister – Juliette Forrest (lllustrated by Alexis Snell) & Guest Post: The making of Maymay the witch – Juliette Forrest

‘Twister by name, Twister by nature…
Deliciously, dangerously dark and thrumming with plot twists and turns aplenty, this is one-of-a-kind fantasy at its frenzied, fictional and feisty finest.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Twister
Author: Juliette Forrest (@jools_forrest)
Illustrator (Cover): Alexis Snell (Website)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 300
Date of publication: 1st February 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407185118

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Sublime 😍
2. Thrilling 🌪️
3. Spellbinding ✨


She’s curious, she’s courageous, she’s a riddle, she’s a rebel.

She’s Twister.

This is the story of a brave, bright girl; a witch who lives in the woods; a necklace that turns you into a wolf, a rainstorm or a rushing river; and a spine-chilling villain who will stop at nothing to seize it…

There is magic and danger in these pages, adventure and thrills to be found.
Follow Twister inside – if you dare…


The first line:

When I appeared the sky glowed green and lightning made the windows look all cracked.


Review: After the disappearance of her father six months and three days and four hours ago, Twister – named after being born in a storm – sets out to find her Pa using a mix of a mysterious letter, a magical necklace and the help of a ‘medicine guide’ called Maymay.

Mark my words, Twister is no ordinary character. She’s every inch of what a story’s heroine should be on all fronts and as her birth name suggests, she is a full force. A girl with fire in her belly with a gritty tenacity and a gutsy heart and soul albeit with a tinge of emotional vulnerability about her; she is just the breath gust of fresh air we all need.

Twister by name, Twister certainly by nature.

Living on a farm nestled deep in the heartlands of rural, southeastern America(???), she’d be pretty much on her own if it wasn’t for her Aunt Honey and dear dog and companion, Point. It is in her Aunt Honey that Twister finds someone who is there for her as her Pa vanishes in to thin air and her Ma vanishes in to her own thoughts. Downbeat, downcast, and languishing ever deeper in to a spiral of depression, her Ma wiles away the days being more than miles away mentally from Twister.

So sick of hearing such damning accusations swirling round the town of her father being responsible for the death of two people in a fire, she embarks on a whirlwind of an adventure to find out for herself the real reasons for her father’s disappearance.

The voice of Twister is superbly realised. At first, admittedly, it took me more than a little while to get used to and digest Twister’s distinctive dialect and drawl but my word does she have a way with words. Characterised with chatty, catchy and charming colloquialisms, her turn of phrase is just one of the many facets of Twister that you’ll grow lovingly fond of. She describes vividly the sights, sounds and smells of the settings that surround her with both a simultaneous sense of beauty and an irresistible, intelligible charm and wit beyond her years. If you’ve already had the pleasure of reading, you’ll know what I mean when I say that she front-to-back’s and outside-in’s her words but it is within these imperfections and idiosyncrasies that make her her and help to perfectly frame and capture her rough around the edges and ready character in an almost semantic and lyrical way.

Whilst out and about searching for clues to bring her father back home, she comes across a cottage in the middle of the woods. If you go down to the woods today in Twister, you may be in for more than a big surprise. Because these are no ordinary woods. For this is Holler Woods, where danger lurks and darkness descends. Enter Maymay – a caretaker of knowledge? a medicine guide? a witch? – a character, no doubt, who could take on a whole new story of her own. For when they meet, it is Twister who finds out for herself that she is the chosen owner of a magical necklace, Wah, that can totally transform its wearer in to more than she could imagine.

But hang on Twist because where there’s a world of magical rewards, there’s also a world of magical risk. A creepy, chilling character who’s in to a spot of soul stealing, who will send a shiver down your spine and who longs for this necklace and the power it possesses…  So will she be prepared to take this risk? Especially when there’s her father’s whereabouts at stake?

Within Twister, Juliette masterfully weaves the unusual, the unexpected and the undead in to the unequivocally brilliant. There’s a line whereby Aunt Honey refers to a meal as ‘sunshine in a bowl’ (p.60). Well for me, this is sunshine in a book. An enchanting and sublimely spellbinding kind of sunshine I suppose. But one of my kinds of sunshine, nonetheless.

There’s a perfect storm a-brewing and she goes by the name of Twister. Get ready to be prepared to be swept up in her path because – like me! – you just can’t help but be drawn in to compulsively reading this! Unputdownable.

Twister will no doubt be all the rage, I’m definitely right ‘bout that.

‘Twister by name, Twister by nature…
Deliciously, dangerously dark and thrumming with plot twists and turns aplenty, this is one-of-a-kind fantasy at its frenzied, fictional and feisty finest.’


A big thank you to Juliette and Lorraine at Scholastic for sending me a proof and a stunning finished copy of Twister. Extra thanks to Juliette for writing this thoroughly enjoyable guest post!

Twister is available to buy 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 Juliette Forrest to The Reader Teacher. Here, she shares with The Reader Teacher readers one of her favourite things to write about – witches! She explores their history in Scotland (which she herself says is ‘quite dark!’) and what shaped Maymay as a character in Twister.

The making of Maymay the witch

You cannot grow up in Scotland without tales of witches reaching your ears sooner or later. As a girl, I was shown the ‘douking’ pools in the River Gary, where witches were tied to stools and dunked into the water. If the unfortunate souls drowned they were found to be innocent and if they survived they were declared guilty and killed. I remember standing at the edge of the river, peering into the dark, peat-stained water, finding it hard to believe something like that could ever have happened.

It was not the witches from Tam O’Shanter or Macbeth who stuck in my mind from school. It was a classmate writing an essay about one of her relations, who was the last woman to be burned at the stake in Britain. (Although documented she was called Janet Horne, this was a generic name used for witches in the north of Scotland at the time.) It brought it home that the existence of witches had been believed in by all levels of Scottish society and laws had been put in place for dealing with them. Scotland became the largest prosecutor in Europe and it is thought 3,837 people were killed between 1563 and 1736.

Some of the witches I have come across in fiction have either been wholly good or thoroughly evil. When writing the witch for my novel, Twister, I thought it would be interesting to make her much more unpredictable. Was Maymay a lady to be revered and trusted? Or was she someone to be greatly feared? As a nod to the many witches who were condemned for their association with nature and alternative medicine, I made Maymay a healer, who was connected to the plants and animals around her and able to receive messages from spirit guides beyond the grave. (The last woman in Britain to be jailed for witchcraft in 1944 was a Scottish medium called Helen Duncan.) It was important to me Maymay was a far cry from the usual cackling crone – she was wise, straight-talking, ill-tempered, frightening, humorous and mystical, all at the same time.

I will always be fascinated by witches. It is something I think I will keep on coming back to in my writing – I already have one lined up for my next novel. And although they are fantastic characters to create, I am aware there was a time, not so very long ago, where a culture of fear and panic led to many tragic deaths and a long period of endarkenment in Scottish history.

Juliette Forrest, author of Twister

 

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Juliette Forrest has worked as both an Art Director and a Copywriter for some
of the best advertising agencies in the UK, picking up awards for her TV, radio,
press and poster campaigns. In Twister, she wanted to create a firecracker of a
heroine, who saw the world in her own unique way. Juliette lives in Glasgow
where she runs her own freelance copywriting business.

You can find out more about Juliette 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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