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


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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

1. Enchanting ✨
2. Mesmerising 🤩
3. Courage 💪

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing Starfell?

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

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

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

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

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

Reading and Writing (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starfell and Teaching (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more before you go (2)!

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

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

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

I was briefly a florist.

                                                            One last one… (1)!

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

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

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


Follow Dominique on Twitter: @domrosevalente

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

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

Mr E


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



Blog Tour (Review, Guest Post & Giveaway!): Boy Underwater – Adam Baron (Illustrated by Benji Davies)

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‘A book that shows how the littlest of people can cope with the biggest of issues… Named after Shakespeare’s own Cymbeline, this is both a comedy and a tragedy that’ll leave readers feeling like you’re thrown in at the deep end and completely blown out of the water at the same time.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 Boy Underwater
Author: Adam Baron (@AdamBaron5)
Illustrator: Benji Davies (@Benji_Davies)
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s (@HarperCollinsCh)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 1st June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0008267018

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

1. Moving 😢
2. Swimming 🏊‍♂️
3. Understanding 😌

Cymbeline Igloo (yes, really!) has NEVER been swimming.

Not ever. Not once.

But how hard can it be? He’s Googled front crawl and he’s found his dad’s old pair of trunks. He’s totally ready.

What he’s not ready for is the accident at the pool – or how it leads his mum to a sudden breakdown.

Now, with the help of his friends old and new, Cymbeline must solve the mystery of why his mum never took him near water – and it will turn his whole life upside down…

The first line(s):

Here’s something you won’t believe.
I, Cymbeline Igloo, have never been swimming.

Review: Named after Shakespeare’s own Cymbeline, this is both a comedy and a tragedy that’ll leave readers feeling thrown in at the deep end and completely blown out of the water at the same time. The story starts with a boy (Cymbeline, ‘yes really!’) who’s never swam before challenging one of the class’ strongest swimmers to a race on a school visit to the local swimming baths. This can only go one of one ways: not swimmingly. In fact so bad that after Cym has an accident at the pool, his mum ends up in hospital.

Man Boy overboard!

Feeling like he’s out of his depth with absolutely none of the adults telling him what’s happening, he is determined to find out for himself why his mum’s disappeared and like a fish out of water, he’s been forced to live with his ultra-rich relatives who, unbeknownst to him initially, have many recurring problems of their own.

But does he sink or does he swim?

Told through the very eyes of our protagonist, the character of Cymbeline ebbs and flows from the silly, innocent, almost naïve nine-year-old he is to then providing a social commentary on events, observations and life that even the most perceptive adult may not recognise or be able to articulate so well.

Pushing is an action that sets the story off to a shaky start for Cym however throughout it, we slowly start to see characters pulling people and families apart only for them to later on push people and families back together and it is this that makes this story a must-read. One for older Upper Key Stage 2 readers, of which I recommend being mostly mature Year 5 and Year 6 readers or older: mixing mental health, depression, family dynamics, bullying and strong emotions, this is a story that will make a huge splash when staying in the minds of its readers due to the often hearty emotional content it contains. This is also complemented by the illustrations of Benji Davies (best known for Grandad’s Island, The Storm Whale and The Grotlyn) that add further weight to this already deeply moving story.

I can guarantee that once you’ve dipped your toe in to read a chapter, you’ll be jumping in to read one more and one more after that as you’ll be completely absorbed by the character of Cymbeline and his pursuit in finding the truth about why he’s never encountered water in a way that could, and maybe would, have prevented his previously-mentioned ‘accident’. A truth that you need to watch out for as it’s quite the tumble-turn that will change him and his family forever…
Emotionally gripping and truly deserving of being awarded Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for June, this is a book that shows how the littlest of people can and do cope with the biggest of issues.

‘A book that shows how the littlest of people can cope with the biggest of issues… Named after Shakespeare’s own Cymbeline, this is both a comedy and a tragedy that’ll leave readers feeling like you’re thrown in at the deep end and completely blown out of the water at the same time.’

Big thanks to Laura and all at HarperCollins for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing me with both an advance proof, finished copy and giveaway!
Extra thanks to Adam for writing his super guest post!

Mr E


Boy Underwater is available to order now in paperback online or from any good bookshop (£6.99, HarperCollins Children’s Books).

Today I am also delighted to welcome, author of Boy Underwater, Adam Baron to The Reader Teacher as part of his Boy Underwater blog tour. Here, he shares with The Reader Teacher his exclusive guest post about the birth of his main character, Cymbeline with thoughts coming direct from Cymbeline himself…

Cymbeline Igloo, the birth of a character by Adam Baron

Hello! Cymbeline here! You’ve asked Adam to write a blog about how he created me but I’m going to do it for him. The reason is that I know him and he would SO FIB! He’d talk about all sorts of writer techniques, and strategies he used, blah blah. All of this would be aimed at him taking all the credit for Boy Underwater (the big show off) and he doesn’t deserve ANY.  Just because his name’s on the cover, please don’t let that fool you. Boy Underwater is MY STORY, something I know because I AM COMPLETELY, ABSOLUTELY, REAL.

It’s true.

Adam was just sitting there one day staring at the wall when I jumped into his head and took over his brain. He’s so lucky I chose him, believe me, because there are loads of writers out there. Soon I started making him think like me, and talk like me, and then I started making him write down the story of my swimming. And my mum.  And how I got to know Veronique Chang (who smells like someone, somewhere, is eating candyfloss). He tried to stop me at some points (he really is quite lazy) but I made him go on until he’d finished.


Adam, you can say a bit now but don’t go on too long and bore people.

Thanks Cymbeline! Well, I won’t go on long but I’ll add a few things. The first is that Cymbeline is right, of course. He did invade me. He did take over my head. I found myself saying only what he’d say, seeing the world through his eyes. It might be a bit more complicated than he thinks, though.

Thing is, it’s not just Cymbeline I’ve been taken over by. I have three children who each have a hat-load of friends. I also coach my children’s football teams and am surrounded by brilliant, funny, honest, passionate minds. I feel like I’ve been plugged into an incredible source of free energy, though it took me a while to realise it. Writers feed on energy and it seems so natural for me to use it to create stories with. I don’t deserve any credit though, it’s all these people around me.

And it’s not just real people.

You see, I’ve read loads of fantastic books with wonderful first-person narrators. My two favourites are Arturo Bandini from Ask The Dust and Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, both of whom sweep you into their worlds in about three words and keep you there until their stories are over. I’ve tried to do the same thing (with Cymbeline’s help) in Boy Underwater – by sitting back and intruding into Cymbeline’s story as little as possible. My wonderful publishers at HarperCollins described Boy Underwater as JD Salinger for ten-year-olds, and though I know they were just being gushy, I was pretty happy with that. I’m even happier that it’s now out in the world where you can judge it for yourself.

THAT’S ENOUGH. Let the people go back to reading something interesting.

Okay Cymbeline.

Adam Baron, author of Boy Underwater


Adam Baron is the author of five successful adult novels and has, in his time, been an actor, comedian, journalist and press officer at Channel 4 Television (as well as things he’s too embarrassed to mention). He now runs the widely respected MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University London. Adam lives in Greenwich, South London, with his wife and three young children. He wrote Boy Underwater (his first novel aimed at younger readers) because they told him to.


So to coincide with my review of Boy Underwater, I am delighted to say that Laura, Adam’s publicist has kindly given me one copy of the stunning Boy Underwater to give away on Twitter. If you’d like a chance of winning this superb prize, simply retweet (RT) this tweet!

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Boy Underwater Blog Tour Banner

Be sure to check out the other dates and other bloggers for more reviews, posts and exclusive content from Adam on the Boy Underwater blog tour this week!