Review & Author Q&A: The Boy Who Grew Dragons (Happy Book Birthday!) – Andy Shepherd (Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)

To celebrate the official publication date and launch (Happy Book Birthday!) of The Boy Who Grew Dragons, I’m absolutely delighted that author Andy Shepherd asked me to visit The Reader Teacher today to take part in her very first Author Q&A, alongside my review.

So I give a big welcome to Andy where she’ll be talking about The Boy Who Grew Dragons, her reading and writing habits, using her book in the classroom (with teaching resources!) and all things dragon-tastic! 🐲

IMG_7384.JPG

‘Sure to fire up the imagination and a love of reading, this is only the very beginning to a series that’s going to be a roaring success!
A debut of dragon delight… guaranteed to make children (and adults!) everywhere wish for their own dragon after reading this.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 The Boy Who Grew Dragons
Author: Andy Shepherd (@andyjshepherd)
Illustrator: Sara Oglivie (Website)
Publisher: Piccadilly Press (@PiccadillyPress)
Page count: 224
Date of publication: 14th June 2018
Series status: First in a series of three!
ISBN: 978-1848126497

Perfect for Year 2, Year 3 & Year 4.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Dragons 🐲
2.  Wonder ✨
3. Relationships 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦


We grow dragons, And I can tell you this – they’re a lot more trouble than cucumbers.

Poo in your dad’s porridge? ✔️
Chase your cat? ✔️
Set light to your toothbrush? ✔️

But I can tell you something else. Their bright diamond eyes twinkle up at you. Their warm breath tickles your ear. And you’d better keep them a secret, because who wouldn’t want their own dragon.


The first line(s):

When people ask me what we grow in Grandad’s garden, I think they expect the answer to be cucumbers, tomatoes and runner beans. I don’t think they expect the answer to be dragons.


Review: Being from Wales, dragons are an important part of our culture – rooted in our myths and legends to appearing on our national flag – and so from the start, I felt some kind of connection to this book. Identifying with this book is not something that only I will be able to do easily as it’s also something that many readers will immediately feel when reading this too, whether that be through the familiar characters, the everyday settings of home, school and the garden or through the sense of awe, amazement and magic in the dragon-discovery to come…

After Tomas discovers a strange-looking tree at the bottom of his Grandad’s garden and decides to  take one of its funny-looking fruits home with him, he doesn’t think much of it… until he keeps it in his bedroom and notices it start to move! Here, Tomas makes more than a discovery. Hatching from the aptly-named fruit, Tomas sees Flicker: his own real-life dragon. Trying his best to keep Flicker under wraps from his family, Tomas soon learns that life looking after Flicker is not only fun, but also quite unpredictable to say the very least!

How will Tomas explain:
1) his burnt toothbrush?
2) the chaos and carnage left behind in his bedroom?
and if you think that’s bad, worst of all…
3) the exploding dragon poo stinking up the place?

Andy brings a natural warmth and wonder to the book with her most imaginative of dragon-descriptions, especially when Tomas is – and we as readers are – introduced to Flicker, that are complemented by not only the very visually-appealing and richly-expressive vocabulary that Andy creatively uses but also within Sara’s distinctive and lively illustrations to match.


Here’s a short sample to exemplify when Tomas sees Flicker for the first time:

Things I noticed close up:
Glittery wings
Scales that rippled through every shade of red
Eyes like diamonds
Hot smoky breath
Sharp claws (three at the front, one at the back of each foot)
Arrowhead tail (which he didn’t seem to be able to control very well…)
Two little horns – one longer than the other.


It is through these features that I know that this book will be a catalyst for reading for young readers, because this tail(!) is sure to fire up the imagination and a love for reading as it will claw its way not only in to the minds of its readers but also in to their hearts. Even though it is thoroughly entertaining, I particularly like that it also shows a softer, warmer, friendlier side to dragons which is slightly different to what sometimes is typified in many other stories that children read or films that they may watch of dragons being beasts and monsters to fear and flee from.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the relationship-building between characters such as Tomas and his grandfather is one to savour and this will resonate among many younger (and older!) readers reminding them of the positive relationships, for some whilst growing up, between themselves and their own grandparents or close relatives.

For me, a sign of a good book is that I read it in a couple of days. A sign of a really good book is that I will read it in a day. So I’ll leave it up to you for you to make your own mind up with how I feel about this one, when I need only say that I read it cover-to-cover in an hour.

Therefore, I’m so pleased to say that Andy Shepherd’s dragon-debut is an absolute delight and is just the very start to a series that I’m sure is going to be a roaring success. It’s a series that – pardon the pun – I just want to drag-on and on and on! Luckily for you, I and everyone else that enjoys it, it does. Perfect to read aloud to a child, a class of children or for them to read themselves, I know I’ll no doubt be recommending this to all (in particular to those that I teach) because it’s easily one of my favourites of the year so far.

Next time that I look at a dragonfruit, I hope that I won’t be left feeling disappointed as I can’t help but expect my very own Flicker to start hatching. After reading this, children (and adults!) everywhere will be wishing for their own dragons.

‘Sure to fire up the imagination and a love of reading, this is only the very beginning to a series that’s going to be a roaring success. A debut of dragon delight… guaranteed to make children (and adults!) everywhere wish for their own dragon after reading this.’


Huge thanks to Andy, Tina, Fliss and all at Piccadilly Press for sending me an advance copy of this delightfully written book! Extra thanks to Andy for taking the time to answer my questions!

Excited for The Boy Who Lived With Dragons and The Boy Who Flew Dragons!

Mr E
🐲📚🐉

IMG_7445
First in the series, The Boy Who Lived with Dragons is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

Second in the series, The Boy Who Lived with Dragons is also available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.


Author Q&A: Andy Shepherd (AS) with The Reader Teacher (TRT)

The Boy Who Grew Dragons (5)

TRT: At The Reader Teacher, for my reviews, I describe books in #3Words3Emojis. Which 3 adjectives and 3 corresponding emojis would you choose to best describe The Boy Who Grew Dragons?

AS: 1. Funny 😄 2. Heartfelt 💖 3. Dragontastic 🐉

TRT: What books, people, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The Boy Who Grew Dragons?

AS: Definitely my sons. I nick so many ideas off them! I started writing this story after a particularly gutting rejection. I knew I needed to get back to writing just for the fun of it and forget about trying to get published. So I decided to write the story of our dragon, just for my sons. Every day I would write a chapter and then read it to them after school, sitting in the garden. The more I wrote the more invested we all became in it. So much so that one day my youngest son came home to find I hadn’t written anything – it had been a thinking day I told him. He gave me a very hard stare and said: ‘Well, OK, but just make sure that tomorrow is a writing day.’ I couldn’t have left this book unfinished even if I’d wanted to!

My husband and sons have been my greatest cheerleaders and the books wouldn’t be here without them.

Beyond my family, a lot of the stories I loved as a child were rooted in the real world but with a magical element, and that has probably influenced what I write myself. Books like Stig of the Dump, Mrs Pepperpot, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Flat Stanley.

Plus I have always wanted a dragon!

TRT: If you could grow a dragon, what would it look like? What would it be like to live with? What special features would it have?

AS: Well, I do have a dragon and his name is Glint.

He has blue scales down his back and then darker blue on his belly. And his head is even more colourful with the blues turning purple and finally red on his snout. He has a little spike on his snout and more down his back and two quite long horns. He has these deep amber eyes. Like Flicker he’s full of ideas.  He lets out electric blue sparks, like little fireworks that light up my imagination. He can also get really small and curl round my ear and his warm breath carries ideas and pictures into my dreams. So he’s very handy when I get stuck on a story! He has a slightly tricky condition, which means as well as getting small he can, unexpectedly, get very big. This can make things a bit awkward sometimes, because I don’t always know when it’s going to happen.  But it’s generally best to expect the unexpected when you grow a dragon.

TRT: What is your favourite dragon that exists only in literature?

AS: I think it would have to be the poetry-loving dragon from Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon.

TRT: If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The Boy Who Grew Dragons, who would it be and why?

AS: Probably Tomas because he has a pretty over-active imagination – but also because he is open to the wonder of the world and notices the little things – like a moldy looking fruit that someone else might have thrown away! I like to try and find a little bit of magic in the ordinary mundane things.


Reading and Writing (4)

TRT: What first attracted you to writing? Did you enjoy writing at school?

AS: I think it was that feeling of having created something that didn’t exist before. That’s a pretty magical and empowering feeling.  Also that what I had created was just mine, a secret – when I was younger I very rarely showed my writing to anyone. So it was a safe place I could invent, experiment, be brave, tell the truth, make stuff up and be wildly unlike myself all at once.

When I was in primary school I didn’t really enjoy writing, but that may have had a lot to do with being told I wasn’t very good at it! And the fact that the writing we did always had to rhyme.  It wasn’t until I got to secondary school I discovered it really didn’t. I also had a wonderful English teacher who encouraged me to write ALL the time.

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

AS: When I’m in the flow I feel like I’m electrically charged and can’t get the words out fast enough. I might be trying to have some down time and the story keeps rushing to get out. At this point I write in any snatched moments, although those moments tend to run away with me so I end up burning a lot of dinners – or just forgetting to cook parts of the meal!

When the euphoria passes though I can feel shattered. This is when the fatigue hits as I realise I haven’t been looking after myself properly. 

 About two thirds of the way through a first draft I often flag. By then I tend to know the story and where I want to take it. There are less surprises. To keep writing can feel exhausting. But as I plough on I usually get a second wind. And then it’s a mad race to the finish.

I guess my writing process is a bit boom and bust! Generally writing energises me because even when I’m not in the mood, if I stick with it and ideas come that’s almost more pleasurable than the bolt out of the blue.

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?

AS: The only time we ever had an author visit was when I was about fourteen and my English teacher arranged for Roger McGough to come to our school. For me this was the equivalent of meeting Simon Le Bon or George Michael. He was cool. McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri – those Mersey boys. They broke rules and played with words in a wicked way. To meet him – and have my English teacher introduce me afterwards (and tell him I wrote too) – was pretty amazing.

 The other thing that stood out for me was when I wrote to my absolute hero, Douglas Adams. I had started writing what would probably now be called fan fiction. I loved The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so much, but I felt bad that my book was basically trying to copy it – very very badly. So I wrote to him to ask if he would mind! I had the loveliest letter back from him and he made me feel like a proper writer – he also told me the title to his next book before it had even been finished. I still have that letter.

TRT: Currently, we seem to be living in a golden age of books, especially that of children’s literature. What are some of the interesting things or things you like that you’re seeing in other children’s books today?

AS: I think there is a lot more focus on upturning gender stereotypes. Not simply opting for so-called ‘feisty’ girls – but genuinely creating characters, both male and female, who leap off the page as relatable and above all interesting.  Most recently, I think Vashti Hardy does this brilliantly in Brightstorm.

 There are so many books with characters I wish I had had access to as a child – Moll in The Dreamsnatcher, Lyra in Northern Lights, Mina in Skellig. Having those books would have made a huge difference to me – I generally got frustrated with the girls in the books I read and only felt I recognised myself in the daring adventures of the boys.

It’s been wonderful too for my sons to read books with girls as the main characters. But then we have also loved seeing books like Cogheart, with the quieter and more sensitive Robert.


The Boy Who Grew Dragons and Teaching (3)

TRT: Could you suggest ways that your book could be used in the classroom for the many teachers that will read this?

I have to admit that having trained as a teacher I can see so many ways of using the books in class – dragons do make a fab topic! As well as all the opportunities for creative writing that could come from the books, there are some great things you could do with Art &DT, like making junk model dragons or clay pottery dragon eyes, or designing and making a class dragon fruit tree and decorating it with individual dragons. There could also be links to geography, finding out more about the amazing dragon-fruit tree, which originally comes from Mexico, but is now grown in many places around the world. Plus it could be tied into a topic about how things grow. It is Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 00.55.27rather magical – with its vivid tendrils and huge white flowers that only bloom for one night! And then there are the s’mores that Tomas and his friends make in the later books – I have to admit to doing a bit of research here myself, customising and making up recipes for these. (And testing them out of course!)

I’ve been putting together some teaching resources, which people can download from my site.  But there are lots more things I can see myself adding as time goes on. And if anyone does use the books in class I’d love to hear what they do – or see some pictures : )

TRT: If you were to ‘pitch’ The Boy Who Grew Dragons 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?

Can I cheat and use a few quotes from other people?

‘My favourite sort of book – warm, funny, full of heart.’ Polly Faber

‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons with adorable illustrations by Sara Ogilvie is utterly charming, warm and funny and is sure to enrapture children.’ Lorraine Gregory.

I hope that beyond the obvious – come on, dragons just are awesome – there are also messages in the books about friendship and family and seeing the good in people and even living mindfully, keeping our eyes open to the magic around us, all of which I hope will offer some talking points.

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?

AS: If people could go to my site and get in touch via the contacts page that would be great.  I would love to visits schools more but, unfortunately, it is difficult for me to travel long distance. I know author visits can also be too costly for many schools. So, I am very happy to offer Skype visits as a more logistically and financially friendly way of connecting with more teachers and classes.


Two more before you go (2)!

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

AS: Do you have a favourite quotation from a children’s book that you wish you had written?

Yes lots, but there is one that I came across recently which is probably of one my favourites now. Because it captures what I was trying to do in the books.

Right at the end of the third book I finally managed to articulate what these books were about for me – it was one of those lovely moments in writing when you realise what the heart of it all is.

A few months later I stumbled across this quotation:
‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ Roald Dahl The Minpins

After the inevitable feeling of annoyance when you realise that someone got there first and did it better – I quickly fell in love with it.

Besides I quite like that I got there in my own way – writing is always a personal journey. And just because the stories you tell have been told a thousand times before, and the ideas live in the world beyond you, it doesn’t mean you can’t hope your story will find its own place and add something.

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

AS: I like swimming in mud and I’m really good at picking things up with my toes.


One last one…(1)!

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

AS: If you could grow a dragon, what would your dragon be like?


andy shepherd headshot
Andy Shepherd is a children’s writer working on middle-grade fiction and picture books. She lives near Cambridge with her husband, two sons and their border collie.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons is her debut novel published by Piccadilly Press. There are two more eagerly-awaited stories to follow in this series, The Boy Who Lived With Dragons (published in September 2018) and The Boy Who Flew With Dragons (published in January 2019).

You can find out more about Andy by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @andyjshepherd.

Cover Reveal AND exclusive inside illustrations! The Boy Who Lived with Dragons (The Boy Who Grew Dragons: Book 2) – Andy Shepherd (Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)

I’m super excited to reveal today the cover AND exclusive inside illustrations of Andy Shepherd’s second in the series, ‘The Boy Who Lived with Dragons’ which will be published on 6th September 2018 by Piccadily Press.

The Boy Who Lived with Dragons – Andy Shepherd

BOY_WHO_LIVED_WITH_DRAGONS_layer final (3)

The second book in a wonderfully funny and sparky series illustrated by award-winning artist Sara Ogilvie.

Dragons are a lot more trouble than cucumbers.

In ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’, Tomas finds a dragon fruit tree in his Grandad’s garden. When a tiny dragon bursts out of one of the fruit, he discovers just how much more trouble they are. But it’s not all about the chaos and exploding poo. The first time Flicker curls his tail around Tomas’ wrist and looks at him with those bright diamond eyes, Tomas finds there’s a whole lot more magic in a dragon.

Tomas has to learn to look after Flicker – and quickly. And then more dragonfruits appear on the tree. And Tomas is officially growing dragons…

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 17.20.37
Tomas tucked up with Flicker! (from Chapter 8)

Now in this second book, ‘The Boy Who Lived With Dragons’, we find out what happens when Tomas’ friends get in on the action with their own dragons. Add to that a grumpy neighbour and a nosy arch nemesis, who may just have a secret of his own, things could be about to get too hot to handle!

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 17.20.50
Kat and Kai in a game of Blast Attack! (from Chapter 9)

Andy Shepherd

andy shepherd headshot

Andy Shepherd is a children’s writer working on middle-grade fiction and picture books. She lives near Cambridge with her husband, two sons and their border collie.

You can find out more about Andy by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @andyjshepherd.


The wonderful cover artwork and illustrations in the books have been done by Sara Ogilvie.

AVT_Sara-Ogilvie_3471

You can find out more about Sara and see her lovely illustrations at her website.

Disclaimer: – Please note, all dragon-growing is undertaken entirely at your own risk and Andy cannot be held responsible for any damage your dragon may cause.


Huge thanks to Andy, Tina and all at Piccadilly Press for inviting me to host the cover reveal, I can’t wait to see this on the shelves along with The Boy Who Grew Dragons and get my hands on a copy!

Andy will also be visiting The Reader Teacher soon on her upcoming blog tour for The Boy Who Grew Dragons where I’ll be reviewing The Boy Who Grew Dragons, she’ll be answering my questions in an Author Q&A and there’ll be a giveaway of The Boy Who Grew Dragons!

Mr E
🐲📚🐉


The Boy Who Lived with Dragons is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

BOY_WHO_LIVED_WITH_DRAGONS_layer final (3)


First in the series, The Boy Who Lived with Dragons is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

boy_who_dragons_finalrgb.jpg

Review: Giant – Kate Scott (Illustrated by Alexandra Gunn)

‘A totally transformative tale to read, and read aloud, to help readers truly think and feel what it’s like to be others.’

PwZPgUec

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Giant
Author: Kate Scott (@KateScottWriter)
Illustrator: Alexandra Gunn (@LexiGunn)
Publisher: Piccadilly Press (@PiccadillyPress)
Page count: 192
Date of publication: 9th February 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1848125643

Perfect for Year 4 & 5 (& comic book fans).

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Charismatic ☺️
2. Empowering 💪
3. Feel-good 😃


I’m Anzo.

In case you don’t know, in ancient German Anzo means ‘giant’.<br<br<br
iant.

Things need to change. And that means growing taller. Because if I can grow as tall as the rest of my family, I might feel more like one of them.

EXTRAORDINARY. NOT ORDINARY. 


The first line:
Mum and Dad probably didn’t mean to land me in trouble as soon as I was born.


If you search for Giant to purchase or read reviews about it, you’ll find it’s often accompanied by the phrase ‘A feel-good story children’s book about growing up and being yourself.’

But to me, it’s even more than that.

We meet Anzo at the beginning: an overlooked despondent, reticent Year 6 boy harboured by his own experiences of home and school life, in which he’s often ignored or teased or both. Throughout the story, however, we discover Anzo’s inner voice and uncover his true passions, what makes him tick and what makes him him. By the end, fittingly, he’s grown both literally and figuratively in every sense of the word.

And that’s just Anzo.

Wait until you meet his usually erratic and rambunctious family – Mum, Dad, Uncle Talbert and Uncle Miles – who are more invested in restoring their house for their new restaurant (which explains a lot as to why Anzo initially feels the way he does) than recognising Anzo and his achievements. Fortunately for them, they realise what they’ve been missing out on just in time.

As for his best friend Elise (an old-head-on-young-shoulders), she is the friend we all wish to have and what we all need. A future therapist, she’s read every book, manual and how-to-guide cover-to-cover on modern psychology and subsequently instils Anzo in to the now very much current way of The Power of Positive Thinking. This, however, can only help him so far…

Readers, particularly of older primary school ages, may identify and relate to some of Anzo’s experiences of being teased at school and generally just not quite ‘fitting in’.  But they will definitely connect to Anzo (like I did!) and learn that life is not necessarily about fitting in but finding your own way and in fact, sometimes, standing out. Standing out for the right reasons in acknowledging and nurturing what you already have, not what you want or in this case, what you think or wish you want.

Giant packs in big, strong, heartfelt messages in sincere, thought-provoking paragraphs as a result of Kate’s eloquent, touching and poignant style of writing which will be welcomed in classrooms, schools and homes across the country.

Kate’s writing is also complemented and visually characterised by comic-book style illustrations from Alexandra Gunn, that will greatly appeal to readers in which we peer into’s Anzo imagination where he takes inspiration from his real-life everyday battles with bullies, using these experiences as a form of escapism in to the cartoon world through the character of Giant.

If I were to sum Giant up, it’s such a refreshingly charismatic read that promotes empathy, confidence-building and overcoming insecurities so well. It will have you really feeling deeply for Anzo (some of the time); laughing out loud (most of the time); and will really prove that good things do come in small – and tall – packages (all of the time!).

A totally transformative tale to read, and read aloud, to help readers truly think and feel what it’s like to be others.

If you want to help to not only teach but to also nurture the morals, values and emotions of the children in your class, then I highly recommend that you read this book to them.

Thank you to the lovely Kate Scott for sending me a copy of Giant to review.

Giant is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

Look out for ‘Just Jack‘, her next offering, being published on 5th April 2018.


Mr E📚

IMG_5868.jpg

Did you enjoy reading Giant as much as me?
Can you describe it using #3Words3Emojis?
Will you be pre-ordering ‘Just Jack’?

Message me. Tweet me. Email me. Reply to me in the comments below…