Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Lily and the Rockets – Rebecca Stevens (Illustrated by Harriet Taylor Seed)

Lily-and-the-Rockets-website-668x1024.jpg

‘The legacy of this lady deserves to live on. Keep your eye on the ball and this book with its fascinating insight in to the beautiful game during wartime. Rebecca Stevens proves that girls really did move the goalposts for all the right reasons.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Lily and the Rockets
Author: Rebecca Stevens (@rstevenswriter)
Cover illustration: Harriet Taylor Seed
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1912626120

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Football ⚽
2. Feminism 👧
3. Friendship 🤝


It’s 1917. Lily spends her days working in a munitions factory, her nights picking metal out of her hair, and her lunchtimes kicking a ball with her workmates. Together they form a football team, The Rockets, and a league soon follows. But when the war ends, the girls lose both their jobs and their football. Not Lily. If her only chance of being a goalie is to play with the men, then that’s what she’ll do.


Review: At the current moment, women’ football could not be in a stronger place. (In fact as I write this book review, BBC Breakfast are actually discussing this right now.) What with primetime broadcasts of the Women’s FA Cup Final and the Women’s World Cup being centre-stage, the creation of the FA Women’s Super League and with recent news of women managers wanting to being involved with the mens’ leagues, it is fantastic to see that girls really are moving the goalposts.

With Lily and the Rockets, Rebecca Stevens takes us back to First World War England for a fascinating, historical insight in to the beautiful game during wartime. Having always been taller than her peers, Lily Dodd stands out. And with a dream to play professional football as a goalkeeper, she stands out even more to her friends and her neighbours and her whole town who think she’s got absolutely no chance of achieving this. Nevertheless, her dream is kept alive whilst living with her football-mad dad, after the death of her mother, who taught her her shot-stopping skills and to remember to always ‘watch the player, not the ball‘.

Leaving school at fourteen, Lily and best friend Amy May dream of what to do next. For the two girls need employment. Living close to the munitions factory in Woolwich, the Arsenal, there’s only one choice for the two. However upon hearing news of her brother’s death, Amy decides determinedly to go off and help the nurses in France as this is her calling. Leaving Lily alone and needing work, she lies about her age to join the ladies at the munitions factory working hard and smelling of metal.

At the factory, Lily is eating her lunch one day when she hears the women playing outside and as she’s called in to action to stop an errant ball hitting a very important visitor to the factory, the team soon realise that they’ve found their goalkeeper that they’re very much in need of. As the team comes together and begins playing in a local league, the crowds get bigger and the team goes from strength to strength. But with the end of the war, comes the beginning of the returning of the male soldiers and with that the loss of jobs in the munitions factory for the ladies and the loss of their beloved football team. What will Lily do to keep her dream going…?

Resolute, resilient and slightly radical, she ends up trying out for nearby rivals of Tottenham Hotspur (my team!) but under the guise of dressing as a boy. Will this help her in her quest to reach her dream or will her true identity be revealed?

Based on the real-life experiences of Lily Parr, who Rebecca talks more about below in her guest post, this captivating story is a life lesson to be learnt for all of us. Breaking convention and being a pioneer in the game, through being there at the time the FA banned the women’s game but not stopping playing and being there when they finally revoked the ban in 1971, it is clear to see that the life of Lily Parr proves that she is not only the greatest women’s player to have lived so far but she should be recognised for the powerful part she played in standing up for what she believed in, what she aspired to be and the way in which the game has developed. I really hope that as many current and future women footballers find out about the achievements of this women as the legacy of this lady deserves to live on. I was going to end this review by asking the FA to commemorate her achievements with a statue but it is testament that upon further research, this is already scheduled to happen. Hats off to the National Football Museum for honouring her like this.


‘The legacy of this lady deserves to live on. Keep your eye on the ball and this book with its fascinating insight in to the beautiful game during wartime. Rebecca Stevens proves that girls really did move the goalposts for all the right reasons.’


‘Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but it is hardly suitable for delicate boys.’  Oscar Wilde

‘Get me to the hospital as quick as you can, she’s gone and broke me flamin’ arm!’ Professional male goalkeeper after attempting to block a shot from the great Lily Parr (aged fifteen), 1919

Lily and the Rockets: How it began

During World War 1 when the young men and boys were away fighting and dying in the mud and blood of France, their sisters and sweethearts took their places in the factories, making the munitions that were needed for the war.  They also took over the football teams.  At first seen as a novelty, a bit of a laugh, the women’s game grew in popularity until it was drawing huge crowds. The biggest was 53,000 people in the ground with over 14,000 locked out – a record for a women’s match that wasn’t beaten until the 2012 Olympics when England played Brazil.

Lily-Parr.pngLily and the Rockets is a mixture of fact and fiction. Lily Dodd, the central character, didn’t actually exist, but there were lots of other Lilys (and Peggys and Pollys and Jesses) who did. I borrowed my Lily’s name from a Lily who many people think was the greatest female player of all time. Lily Parr started playing when she was only fourteen. She scored forty-three goals in her first season and went on to score nearly a thousand in her playing career. Like my Lily, Lily Parr was a tall girl, nearly six feet, who was said to have a harder shot than most male players. One of her teammates wrote that she’d never seen a woman – ‘nor any man’ – kick a ball like Lily. When a professional male goalkeeper challenged Lily to get a goal past him, she accepted and went on, not just to score, but to break his arm with the power of her shot.

Stories like this make history come alive for me. Just as you can feel the years peel away when you stare into the eyes of a young soldier posing proudly in his uniform before he goes off to the trenches, you can be inspired by stories of girls like Lily Parr, who against all odds became an international football star and continued to play until she was forty five. Inspired to follow your star, to be different, to be yourself.

Or, like me, be inspired to write a story about it.

LILY AND THE ROCKETS by Rebecca Stevens out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Follow Rebecca Stevens on twitter @rstevenswriter

www.chickenhousebooks.com


Big thanks to Rebecca, Laura and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the Lily and the Rockets blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Rebecca for writing such a brilliant and interesting guest post!

Mr E


Lily & the Rockets blog tour banner.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of the Lily and the Rockets blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Rebecca and these brilliant book bloggers!

 

 

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

DuSLKIbW0AAAdR0.jpg-large.jpeg

‘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.

#3Words3Emojis:
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)

#Starfell

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


D68IWh_W4AAww97.jpg-large.jpeg

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 & Giveaway!): Runaway Robot – Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Illustrated by Steven Lenton)

original_400_600-2.jpg

‘Storytelling at its snortingly-funny, hugely enjoyable and heartily-emotional best… a little bit warm and wise, a little bit tender and touching; there is a LOT to love about this book.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Runaway Robot
Author: Frank Cottrell-Boyce (@frankcottrell_b)
Illustrator: Steven Lenton (@StevenLenton)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 288
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN:978-1509851775

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Robot 🤖
2. Hand ✋
3. Friendship 🤝


Eric is six foot six.
He likes to sing.
He’s super polite.
He does as he’s told.
He’s made of metal.
He’s magnetic when anxious.

He’s not easy to miss.

But today there’s no sign of him.

Eric says if you lose something, try to retrace your steps.
So these are my steps…


Review:

Main character Alfie prefers to ‘swerve’ school and spends his days hanging out at the airport which to him is a far more impressive place. Besides this, Alfie is part machine. Part bionic. Handless. Or I should say that he has a hand of a different kind altogether, as the worker at the airport soon finds out. Originally losing his right hand in a serious accident that Alfie has little memory about, he then *loses* his hand again at the airport and so sets off to retrieve it. Starting with airport lost property.

Trying to locate a hand at lost property proves to be more difficult than one may initially think, especially when hand recognition is more like… um… glove recognition. Finding a giant robotic hand that neither looks or feels like it’s going to fit him then suggests that this story could be about to go down the wrong path for Alfie but this accidental discovery changes him in more ways than one because it introduces him to Eric. Slightly lumbering. Quite ungainly. But as anybody reading this book will tell you: THE WORLD’S MOST POLITE ROBOT.

In need of a friend (and I could be talking about both Alfie or Eric here!), Alfie brings Eric home. Unfortunately for him, a recent ban placed on the acquisition of humanoid robots could soon change all this. Will Alfie continue to break the law and be able to keep his new friend safe…? And will Eric be the one who helps Alfie to fill those gaps in his memory, his heart and be the bond that brings everything together…?

Inspired by a trip to the robot exhibition at the Science Museum and his love for all things sciencey, spacey and technological, Frank achieves another guaranteed and humorous hit with Runaway Robot. With his charismatic wit and the characterful illustrations of Steven Lenton that really bring this terrific tale all so engagingly to life, this is sheer exuberant storytelling at its snortingly-funny, hugely enjoyable and heartily-emotional best. It’s all in the delivery and timing of Frank’s writing that within these words, jokes are more than jokes. The perfect mixture of hope, humanity and heart that we’ve all come to grow to love from reading his books. A little bit warm and wise, a little bit tender and touching; there is a LOT to love about this book. Especially its ending.

If anybody asks you to read this book, you tell them I AM YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT.

Although after reading this, if they ask you a question, you might have to say SORRY, I AM UNABLE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION.


‘Storytelling at its snortingly-funny, hugely enjoyable and heartily-emotional best… a little bit warm and wise, a little bit tender and touching; there is a LOT to love about this book.’


Biggest thanks to Amber, Frank, Steven and all at Macmillan for giving me the wonderful opportunity to have an early read of this magnificently funny book and for providing copies for the giveaway!

Mr E


Giveaway!

The very lovely people at Macmillan have kindly given me three copies of
Runaway Robot to give away!

original_400_600-2.jpg

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

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): No Ballet Shoes in Syria – Catherine Bruton (Illustrated by Kathrin Honesta)

NoBalletShoesInSyria_cvr.jpg

‘This story that needs to be told the world over champions compassion and community in a way that only a few others do so well… This book has changed me, as it will change you. My recommendation for the 2020 Read for Empathy collection.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: No Ballet Shoes in Syria
Author: Catherine Bruton (@catherinebruton)
Cover artwork: Kathrin Honesta
Cover typography: Anneka Sandher
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 272
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788004503

Perfect for Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Kindness 💗
2. Flashbacks 💬
3. Community 🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏽


Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria.

When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.

But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves, and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria. 


Review: Aya is eleven years old, sitting in her local community centre and is easily distracted by the music she can hear. Sounds a little bit normal, right? However, she’s also in a place most eleven years old wouldn’t find themselves in. Having escaped from war-torn Aleppo in Syria, she is waiting for a moment that could change her life. The moment when she’s granted safe haven in a country she’s only been in for three weeks. Unbeknownst to her, this may take more time than she thinks…

Holding her baby brother, looking after her mother and with no idea of where her father is, she sits opposite her case worker with the weight of the world and full responsibility falling on her small shoulders. As the story progresses, we come to learn that Aya hasn’t arrived in this country straightforwardly. In fact, her journey to get here has been arduous,  tiring, painful and one that’s been physically, mentally and emotionally draining from start to finish… and it’s not quite finished yet.

To some, community centres might not be a source of inspiration but to Aya, this is where she finds a source of unexpected comfort. Hearing the familiar bars and notes of the piano and the French language brings Aya back home to Syria and brings back memories of happier times when she used to dance. Feeling this, she longs to dance and it is only when ballet dance class teacher Miss Helena encounters Aya dancing to a tune of her very own that she asks Aya to join the class, offering at least some small hope to her.

Throughout the dance class, Aya doesn’t only find a group of girls that she begins to call her friends but she also begins to find herself. Led by a teacher who (for me, is my favourite character) sees Aya’s natural talent, embodies kindness and has her very own story to tell, Miss Helena suggests that Aya should go for a prestigious scholarship – one that could have significant and life-changing consequences for Aya and her family if she can achieve it.

Combining flashbacks of Aya’s time in Syria with her story of living in the UK, this powerful, multi-layered story champions compassion and the spirit of community in a way that few others stories do so well – and as such, it is my recommendation for the 2020 Read for Empathy collections collated by EmpathyLabUK. Even though it is raw, very real, personal and heart-wrenching throughout, it’s told with hopefulness, humanity and heart and I absolutely love it when the writing is this good that it makes me directly feel for the characters. This did so, effortlessly. My heart feels heavy with empathy for Aya and her family. This book has changed me, as it will change you.

Please think about buying this for your children in the later years of primary school who love stories, or are still searching for the one to get them hooked. And then read it after them because this is Aya’s story and it is a story that needs to be told the world over.


I’m delighted to welcome Catherine to The Reader Teacher today where she’ll be answering some of my questions about No Ballet Shoes in Syria, her reading and writing influences and using her book in the classroom with a link to teacher resources plus her greatest claim to fame!

Catherine Bruton.jpg

No Ballet Shoes in Syria (5)

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 No Ballet Shoes in Syria?

1. Heartbreaking 💔
2. Hopeful ☺️
3. Balletic Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 16.22.04.png

Hope that is right?
My kids will tell you I’m not good with emojis! Apparently I misuse them!

Which books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write No Ballet Shoes in Syria?

It is inspired by many of the books I loved as a child: on the one hand Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Ballet Shoes’, the ‘Sadler’s Wells’ books by Lorna Hill, the ‘Drina’ stories of Jean Estoril and ‘The Swish of the Curtain’ by Pamela Brown; on the other hand ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr (hearing her talk at the Bath Children’s Lit Fest was a big reason I wrote this book) and ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier. After watching the heart-breaking new footage of the Syrian migrant crisis, I made contact with local charities and resettlement projects working with refugees, and was extremely fortunate to talk to members of the Syrian community in the UK. I think ultimately the idea probably dates back to my very first teaching experiences in Africa working with  child refugees from Rwanda, Angola and East Germany. Their voices – and those of other refugee children I have encountered over the years – are very much at the heart of this book, and the reason I wrote it.

What was the most enjoyable part of writing No Ballet Shoes in Syria?

I loved writing the ending, although it made me cry! I knew it couldn’t be a simple happy ending – that wouldn’t have been true to the complex issues the book explores – but I did want to offer some hope, to celebrate ‘the kindness of strangers’, the importance of community, the goodness that exists in the world alongside the harsher stuff. I hope it does that.

You use flashbacks really well at the end of chapters to recount and contrast Aya’s experiences of living in war-torn Aleppo with that of living in the UK and her journey from Syria whilst seeking asylum including travelling by boat and living in refugee camps in Turkey and Greece. For me, they are incredibly moving pieces of prose. Were these scenes difficult to write? 

Oh golly yes! For a long, long time I could not get this book right. Aya’s voice eluded me – sometimes she was there, clear as a bell, at other times she slipped away from me. And I found it particularly hard tying together the story of her past in Syria with the present in the UK. Until I realised that recalling traumatic past events, reconciling them with the present, looking to the future is incredibly hard for many children like Aya. That’s when I decided that it had to be done in flashbacks – at first the two voices are quite distinct, but as dance becomes a medium for Aya to begin to process what she’s been through, to let go of guilt and look to the future the two voices start to merge. I did a lot of research because it felt so important to ensure the scenes in Syria, in the refugee camps, crossing the Med etc are accurate and as authentic as possible, but some were really heart-breaking to write,  mainly because stories like Aya’s are unfolding in real life every day.

If you were to choose the character that is most like you from No Ballet Shoes in Syria, who would it be and why?

Hmm – I am probably a mixture between Dotty (talks too much, bit scatty, heart in the right place!) and Grace who – despite her name – is quite bad at ballet but tries ever so hard!

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I have always been a daydreamer, a diary-writer and a kid who loved making up stories.  I was fortunate enough to have wonderful teachers  at both Primary and Secondary school who gave opportunities, inspiration and encouragement! #teachersrock #mrscott #mrcolman #misswaring #mrhornby #mraylin #mrsdaniels #missharrison #mrsbarratt #bestteachersever #thankyou!

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

I love the thrill of a new story – when it pours out as if  I am reading it, rather than writing. That doesn’t always happen though. I hate it when I know it’s wrong but I can’t figure out why – or how to fix it. That’s when the dementors of self doubt descend! Thank goodness for my lovely agent, great editors and amazing writing pals who help drive the dementors away!

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?

Ooh, no! This didn’t seem to happen in the 70s in the North! In fact I recently found out that I lived round the corner from Robert Westall (‘The Machine Gunners’) my whole childhood but he never came to visit our school. I wish he had! When I was young, authors felt very  remote people,  and I think that’s a great thing about Twitter and school visits and wonderful book blogs like this one. Putting readers in touch with authors is amazing – and it inspires in both directions! I love meeting young readers and they inspire me endlessly!

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 fiction or non-fiction books to children (and adults!) who may be interested in the themes explored in your book?

Ooh, so many!  Booktrust have an amazing list of books for all ages about refugees and asylum seekers: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/booklists/b/books-about-refugees-and-asylum-seekers/.

A few top picks from me  – old and new – are ‘The Boy At the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Q Raúf; ‘Jackdaw Summer’ by David Almond; ‘The Morning Gift’ by Eva Ibbotson; ‘Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’ by Victoria Williamson; ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr; ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier and ‘The Bone Sparrow’ by Zana Fraillon.

Oh, and two real life accounts I came across recently: ‘Butterfly’ – by Yusra Mardini (the Syrian refugee who nearly drowned in the Med and then went on to swim at the Olympics) and ‘Hope in  a Ballet Shoe’ – Michaela de Prince (the ballerina born in war-torn Sierra Leone who was adopted by an American family and went on to become an international dance star).

No Ballet Shoes in Syria and Teaching (3)

“A classic story of heartbreak and hope, with wonderful authentic ballet writing and an important message championing the rights of refugees.”

If you were to ‘pitch’ No Ballet Shoes 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?

A classic story of heartbreak and hope, with wonderful authentic ballet writing and an important message championing the rights of refugees.

As a teacher yourself, could you suggest ways in which No Ballet Shoes in Syria 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?

I know some schools are using it as part of a wider topic on refugees and asylum seekers with a cross-curricular focus, so, I asked my colleagues  at school for some suggestions on how it could be used for different subjects. Here goes!

History/Current affairs: Find out about the history of the war in Syria – when, why did it start? How did it develop? How did the rest of the world respond? Why did so many people flee the country? What can you find out about the siege of Aleppo? What is going on  in Syria now? This could be explored as a newspaper article, timeline of events or cartoon.

Geography: Find out about the journeys undertaken by families like Aya’s who chose to flee Syria. Trace Aya’s journey on a map, find out what you can about the refugee camps she stayed in, the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean and other perils facing asylum seekers. Prepare a presentation/ debate asking ‘Would you risk it?’

RS/Philosophy and Ethics/Media studies: Find official definitions of the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’. Then gather articles from different magazines and newspaper articles about refugees, asylum seekers, the migrant crisis. Compare how the issues are discussed in different sections of the media. Class discussion on whether countries like the UK have a moral obligation to take in more asylum seekers.

Maths: Find out some statistics on refugees and asylum seekers (there are lots to be found via the British Refugee Council or Refugee Week website) then record them in different ways – bar chart, pie chart, ratios, percentages etc. Extension task: calculate the distance Aya and her family travelled from Aleppo to Manchester!

Literacy: My publishers have produced a lovely resource with questions designed to enhance reading comprehension and analysis skills. There are also lots of writing tasks pupils could try: what if Aya wrote a letter to her father, or to one of her old friends from Aleppo? Or pupils could try using five objects to tell ‘the story of who I am, where I come from, who I want to be’ – as Aya does in her dance. Or you could bring in unusual objects for pupils to use as story starters – that always works for me! You’ll find them on the Nosy Crow website here https://nosycrow.com/activity-sheets/no-ballet-shoes-in-syria-discussion-notes/

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?

Send me a tweet via @catherinebruton or email my publisher Nosy Crow at press@nosycrow.com.

Two more before you go (2)!

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

This is a truly excellent question which has set me pondering! People rarely ask about writing friends –  and to me they are so important. I was so stuck on this book until I talked to my dear friend- the amazing author Joanna Nadin – and she sorted me out good and proper! Sharing the wonders and woes  of story-telling with other book-types is one of the greatest joys of being a writer! #lovelybathwriterpeeps #joannanadin #annawilson #fleurhitchcock #maudiesmith #elencaldecott #rachelward #karensaunders #angiemorgan #juliagreen #tracydarnton #writingcommunity

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

I once danced with Nelson Mandela! September 1997 – Steve Biko Cemetery, King William’s town, RSA. He complimented my red dress! It is my greatest claim to fame.

One last one… (1)!

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

If any teachers share ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ with pupils whose stories are parallel to Aya’s, I would love to hear what they think!


Big thanks to Clare, Catherine and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the No Ballet Shoes in Syria blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Catherine for answering my questions!

Mr E


No Ballet Shoes blog tour banner.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of the No Ballet Shoes blog tour for more reviews & exclusive Q&As and guest posts from Catherine and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): The Titanic Detective Agency – Lindsay Littleson

titanicdetectiveagency.jpg

‘With TTDA, we (finally!) have a Titanic text so worthy that it should be used widely in classrooms and schools across the country… a first-class children’s historical novel.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Titanic Detective Agency
Author: Lindsay Littleson (@ljlittleson)
Publisher: Cranachan (@cranachanbooks)
Page count: 204
Date of publication: 9th April 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911279440

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Titanic 🚢
2. Detective 🔍
3. Key 🗝️


Unlock the secrets of the unsinkable ship…

Bertha Watt, tree-climber and would-be polar explorer, is excited to be on RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage, as she leaves Aberdeen behind for the glamour of a new life in America.

But Bertha quickly realises that some passengers are behaving strangely, and she determines to unravel their secrets.

With new friend, Madge, Bertha sets up her own detective agency to try and solve the mysteries onboard, but they have no idea that disaster is looming for Titanic.

Can they help Johan find the hidden treasure and unmask the identity of the enigmatic Mr Hoffman before time runs out on the ‘unsinkable’ ship?


Review: From the first chapter, as the steam whistles blast, the engines roar and the ship of all ships sets sail for New York, we are immediately transported back to a time before modern technology and invited on board to the wonder that is the Titanic and its maiden voyage. We all know the tragic fate of this apparently ‘unsinkable’ vessel but do we know the whole story…?

Looking at the passengers and surroundings around her, Bertha Watt – who fancies herself more as a polar explorer rather than that of the prim and proper young lady she pretends to be to fit in with her 2nd Class co-passengers – soon becomes bored and begins to notice that the people joining her on this epic journey away from hometown Aberdeen and mainland Britain may not be all as they seem to be.

Finding a new friend in an unlikely situation, Bertha and new friend, Madge create their very own detective agency (The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency) to dig deeper in to the mysteries of the masses, firstly beginning with maybe-murderer(?) Mr Hoffman. Like Daisy and Hazel from A Murder Most Unladylike meeting Poirot, this detective agency has sharp thinking, super sleuthing and more than a dash of speaking Français to assist them in their onboard investigations.

However, these soon take on a different course once Bertha meets Johan – a Swedish boy on board who has little money to his name; constantly feels seasick and struggles to converse as he speaks barely any English whilst Bertha speaks barely any Swedish. Nevertheless the two manage to communicate and communicate they must as Johan holds in his hands a treasure map and (quite literally!) the key that could unravel the most mysterious mystery of all. But with the threat of danger looming… will they crack the case before the clock counts down on the biggest nautical disaster of all time?

It is so refreshing to see a book recently written that is based on the real-life people who experienced these events and emanates with well-researched historical facts and information not just from what is widely known of the Titanic such as the class divides but also the more minor details that are often overlooked or missed entirely including the staggering humiliation of the medical examinations for third-class passengers and the recognition of the difficulties in communication for those foreign passengers on board. I am fascinated by the history of this ship having been to the museum in Southampton myself but the quality of this book is guaranteed to spurn children (and adults) to take a vested interest to learn more about it themselves.

With The Titanic Detective Agency, Lindsay has created a text so worthy to complement further learning about The Queen of the Ocean (finally – said with a great big sigh of relief!) that this first-class children’s novel should be used widely by Key Stage 2 teachers in classrooms and schools across the country.


‘With TTDA, we (finally!) have a Titanic text so worthy that it should be used widely in classrooms and schools across the country… a first-class children’s historical novel.’


Big thanks to Kelly, Lindsay and all the team at Cranachan for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Titanic Detective Agency blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


IMG_0332.PNG

Be sure to check out the rest of The Titanic Detective Agency blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Lindsay and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Great Animal Escapade – Jane Kerr (Illustrated by Alexis Snell)

Great-Animal-Escapade-667x1024.jpg

‘Returning to this follow-up is like revisiting an old friend again…  with brilliantly-executed twists, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Great Animal Escapade
Author: Jane Kerr (@janekerrwrites)
Cover illustration: Alexis Snell
Cover design: Steve Wells
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: Second in The Elephant Thief series
ISBN: 978-1911490340

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Maharajah 🐘
2. Escape 🏃
3. Father? 👨


Working at Belle Vue Zoo is life-changing for Danny. Once, he lived on the streets, pick-pocketing to survive. Now he has a new family and a new job – caring for a zoo of exotic creatures, including the famous elephant, Maharajah. But when animals start escaping, Danny is the prime suspect: after all, everyone knows he used to be a thief. And when a man turns up claiming to be his real father, the plot thickens.

Can Danny untangle the mystery of the animal escapade – and find out where he really belongs – or will his wonderful new life also disappear?


Review: When it was published back in 2017 The Elephant Thief soon became a stand-out story for me, so going back to it with the sequel in The Great Animal Escapade – with its returning cast of characters and follow-up story – is like revisiting an old friend again.

This time, we rejoin a different Danny. One with a new family and a new job –  and a new life entirely from what he was used to on the streets of the first story. Working in Belle Vue Zoo, under the ownership of the Jamesons, you’d think Danny would have settled in to working life and all remnants of his previous life would have been soon forgotten. But think again! As his old life soon catches up with him when the animals start to mysteriously escape from their enclosures and all hell starts to break loose. Especially when Mr Jameson had plans in place to host the grandest of spectacles, a show featuring his most prized possessions and attractions – including the most famous of all, Maharajah.

Suspicion mounts and the finger ends up slowly being pointing towards Danny due to his background and his past life. But surely this level of sabotage can’t all be down to him… As word gathers pace, the zoo’s critics’ voices get even louder in their campaign in their threats to close it and even more animals escape, is the future of the zoo at stake?

With all this happening, Danny’s life is changing for the worse but with the appearance of a man claiming to be his father: will it start to get better and does Danny find that long-lost sense of belonging he has always craved?

Try as he might – and some may call him fearless; others audacious – Mr Jameson puts up the only fight he can to relent the oncoming fracas the best he can, still scheduling his plans for his show of all shows but will the show go on…?

There are important messages throughout this epic adventure of good-versus-evil: the rights of animals and the place of zoos in historical and modern society being the main one that will make the reader think more deeply. But in Danny, there is a much more pressing message in that care and love goes further than anyone can imagine.

With superbly-executed twists along the way, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.

It is so interesting and insightful to read Jane’s author note (and lucky for you, this is the theme of Jane’s guest post below!) in the back of the book which details the fact behind the fiction and the real-life stories of the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Manchester and Maharajah which inspired the idea for this book and its predecessor. Although this book is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone knowing that Danny has been saved from the streets. However, if you really want to maximise the potential of this story and become immersed in the quality of Jane’s writing, I fully recommend reading The Elephant Thief in all its glory.

‘Returning to this follow-up is like revisiting an old friend again…  with brilliantly-executed twists, this menagerie mystery is one not to be missed.’


You can read more about them, or as Jane calls them: the Disneyland of the North, as I’m delighted to welcome Jane to The Reader Teacher today with her beautifully-written guest post below…


Belle Vue: Disneyland of the North

Known as the Disneyland of the north, Belle Vue Zoological Gardens attracted more than two million visitors a year. And yet today, the only sign that it ever existed is a commemorative plaque at the spot where the entrance once stood.

BelleVue.jpg

A Belle Vue programme cover  (Courtesy of Chetham’s Library)

Belle Vue began life in the 1830s as a small tea garden but the owner John Jennison had big ambitions. As well as an aviary of parrots, he introduced kangaroos, a rhino, a couple of lions, a bear and some gazelles. And then in 1872, he bought an elephant: Maharajah.

Over the next ten years, Maharajah became one of Belle Vue’s best-loved animals, giving rides to thousands of children, and taking part in city parades. He’s also the undisputed star of my books: The Elephant Thief and the latest adventure, The Great Animal Escapade.

 

But just like my fictional Belle Vue, the real park boasted many other attractions. The Jennison family built a maze, a dance hall, an archery field, several tearooms, Italian gardens and even a platform for hot air ballooning.

One of the annual highlights was a summer show staged on the island in the middle of Belle Vue’s boating lake. Local men – paid in pies and beer – were enlisted to play soldiers and act out scenes from historic battles.

Huge painted canvases formed the backdrop to these dramatic performances, while overhead, rockets and firecrackers coloured the sky.

But the displays were not without danger. Almost every night, the wooden stage caught fire and on one occasion in 1883, flames broke out on the island destroying half the painted scenery – a drama that provided inspiration for The Great Animal Escapade.

It didn’t stop people from coming. Such was Belle Vue’s success, that Jenison launched his own omnibus service to transport visitors to and from the park, and a rail service ran to the nearby station every half hour.

But the gardens were not popular with everyone. Local church leaders demanded Jennison stop business during Sunday services. His blunt reply was ‘I’m like you: I make my living on Sundays.’ They didn’t bother him after that.

The Jennison era ended in 1925 when the family finally sold the park. It was taken over by a businessman called John Henry Iles. He expanded Belle Vue, adding a rollercoaster and speedway track, as well as welcoming big-names like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin.

But times were changing for the menagerie. As well as increased competition from other, more modern zoos, there were growing – and justified – concerns about animal welfare and conservation.

With little investment, Belle Vue was simply not able to keep up with the new thinking, and after 140 years in business, the zoo closed in 1977. Within four years, the other attractions had shut down as well.

Now, all that remains are memories “…of the most magical, marvellous and mesmerising zoological gardens on this great earth!”

THE GREAT ANIMAL ESCAPADE by Jane Kerr is out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and connect with Jane on Twitter:  @janekerrwrites


Big thanks to Jane, Laura and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the The Great Animal Escapade blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Jane for writing such a brilliant and interesting guest post!

Mr E


Great Animal Escapade blog tour banner.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of the The Great Animal Escapade blog tour for more reviews & exclusive guest posts from Jane and these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): A Witch Come True – James Nicol (Illustrated by Daniela Terrazini)

A-Witch-Come-True.jpg

‘Fizzing with magic…
this is a trilogy to treasure of which James conjures to an end so exquisitely.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: A Witch Come True
Author: James Nicol (@JamesENicol)
Cover illustration: Daniela Terrazini (@djterrazzini)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: Final book in the trilogy
ISBN: 978-1910655986

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Magic ✨
2. HotChocolate ☕
3. Witch 🧙‍♀️


The war is done and Arianwyn has discovered the secret of the quiet glyphs at last, but her troubles are far from over. Her day-to-day work as Lull’s witch is tricky enough: winter has set in, bringing endless rain, ice imps and some rather befuddling Yule traditions. But when enemies and dark magic converge on Lull, stealing away someone very dear indeed, our witch faces her greatest challenge so far. What really makes a witch come true? Our loveable heroine is about to find out…


Review: Saying goodbye to a series you’ve enjoyed can be hard but saying goodbye to a series of books you’ve thoroughly endeared is harder still. When James released the first book in the trilogy, The Apprentice Witch, back in 2016, it was almost obvious to see that this was going to be such a triumph of a series and with each book that has followed, it has been, for me, better than the last and that only says something about the quality of his purely exquisite and wonderful writing.

With the third terrific instalment of Arianwyn’s adventures in A Witch Come True, we find her after the war and hoping that her life can return to normal where she’s able to learn the truths of the quiet glyphs at last. With family reunions and Christmas on its way, it seems that life in Lull could rebalance itself for Arianwyn in the right way. However, dark magic doesn’t lie low for long before resurfacing in to her life once again and causing her one of the greatest challenges she’ll face so far. Can she save the inhabitants of Lull, her family and herself before its too late…?

If you haven’t yet read The Apprentice Witch or A Witch Alone, I suggest you get right to it because this is a trilogy to treasure. Fizzing with magic and a dash of mayhem, this series sparkles with sheer delight and is not just ‘another series of books about magic’ but is a trilogy that you can’t help but fall under its spell and take them so close to your heart with a cast of characters you really care about and most of all, a hearty and hopeful heroine who is sure to live long with readers well after the last page.

A mug of hot chocolate is the perfect complement and the most fitting of accompaniments to the end of this series which James conjures to a close so perfectly. It’s little wonder that James has recently received offers to bring The Apprentice Witch series to our screens and of that, we are all eagerly awaiting it!


‘Fizzing with magic…
this is a trilogy to treasure of which James conjures to an end so exquisitely.’


Big thanks to James, Jazz and all the team at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts and bring the A Witch Come True blog tour to a close too and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


aezxwjuf.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of the A Witch Come True blog tour for more reviews, exclusive guest posts and Q&As from these collection of brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review): The Boy Who Flew – Fleur Hitchcock (Illustrated by Ben Mantle)

The-Boy-Who-Flew-479572-1.jpg

‘A dangerously, dark, Dickensian romp through the backstreets, and rooftops, of Bath that never lets you go… Fleur’s first foray into fantasy passes with flying colours!’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Boy Who Flew
Author: Fleur Hitchcock (@FleurHitchcock)
Cover illustration: Ben Mantle (@benmmantle)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788004381

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Flying ✈️
2. Invention ⚙️
3. Murder ☠️


When his friend, Mr Chen, is murdered, Athan Wilde must stop the flying machine they were building from falling into the wrong hands. But keeping the machine safe puts his family in terrible danger. Athan faces a dreadful choice – flight or family? Which one will he pick?

A tense, grime-filled thriller from a master storyteller.


Review:

As this tale begins to rapidly unfold, we are first introduced to the backstreets of Bath where the shadows swathe the streets in darkness swallowing all of the light and where we soon enter a murky world of mystery and murder…

a008e2a9-c5c7-45db-a7b4-bd4c3ae1e5a8._CR0,0,2021,625_PT0_SX970__.jpg

Hidden away are Athan Wilde, our young protagonist, and his inventor friend, Mr Chen who are busy at work creating their latest contraptions. Most recently, that being a flying machine. For Athan – who dreams of taking to the skies – Mr Chen is the man who can turn imagination into idea and aspiration into actuality. However, Athan’s dreams are all but diminished upon hearing that his great friend has been brutally murdered in his own home. Fearing the worst and that all of their inventions and well-kept secrets could be revealed, Athan soon finds it falling to him to rescue their plans and plot a way forward for their dream of flying, now his dream, to survive.

But there’s more than many a ruthless and sinister villain who will stop at nothing to thwart Athan’s ambition, especially when there’s a competition prize of 10,000 guineas at stake. Hold on to your hats for a dangerously, dark, Dickensian romp through the backstreets, and rooftops, of Bath to join Athan on his adventures of aviation. Warts and all…

7680d642-9537-4aa1-a87f-26448548654d._CR0,0,2021,625_PT0_SX970__.jpg

Even though Athan is living a life that’s shrouded in poverty, destitution and hardship, this book is filled with the power of family and friendship – complete with a frank, funny and farting Grandma who (for me) absolutely steals the show.

Engrossing, exciting and most of all, riveting are the words that I choose to use to describe this fast-paced, frenetic and unmissable tale that just will not let you go until the very last word of the very last page. I highly recommend The Boy Who Flew to Upper Key Stage 2 readers who enjoy stories told with intensity interwoven within an inventive, immersive world that you can’t help but be drawn into. Fleur’s first foray into fantasy passes with flying colours and The Boy Who Flew should be renamed The Book Who Flew because that’s what it’ll be doing… flying off the shelves!

4e56aead-572d-44b3-ac84-9c2f4f8aaafe._CR0,0,2021,625_PT0_SX970__.jpg


Big thanks to Fleur, Rebecca and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts and kick off The Boy Who Flew blog tour and for sending me early copies of the proof and finished versions in exchange for an honest review.

Mr E 


Blog Tour - The Boy Who Flew v1.1.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of The Boy Who Flew blog tour this week for more reviews of this magnificent adventure that you don’t want to miss!

Blog Tour: FCBG Children’s Book Award: What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo? – John Kelly (Illustrated by Sarah Laberis)

81D1HPXMKLL.jpg

‘Guaranteed to bring the most beaming of smiles and the loudest of laughs… this story showcases the bond between person and pet so perfectly and is sure to become its reader’s best friend.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: What Do You Do If Your House Is a Zoo?
Author: John Kelly
Illustrator: Steph Laberis (@StephLaberis)
Publisher: Little Tiger Press (@LittleTigerUK)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 9th August 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1848699496

Perfect for Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. House 🏠
2. Pets 🐕
3. Friendship 🤝


Oscar is getting a pet!
But which pet should he pick?

And what on earth will he do when they all move in?
His house is like a zoo.

A book for animal lovers, BIG and small.


Review: I am absolutely delighted to be hosting What Do You Do If Your House is a Zoo?, one of the four picture book titles in the 2019 FCBG (The Federation of Children’s Book Groups_ Children’s Book Award blog tour. This is my very first year on this tour and it is such a privilege to support this award, the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish and is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents children’s choice.

What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo? is a beautifully-told picture book of the time when Oscar, our main character, is given permission to get the pet he’s always wanted from his mum and dad. The only thing is that he can’t decide and there’s way too many to choose from.

Dogs, cats, parrots, elephants, snakes, fish, hamsters – all these animals and so little time to pick. So he lets nature take its course and puts an advert in the classifieds section of his local newspaper only to become inundated with replies from the very animals themselves!

As the replies flood through Oscar’s letterbox thick and fast through hand-written letters with handwriting that wittily matches the characteristics of their animal sender (a perfect learning opportunity to look at this wild letter writing), Oscar’s choice becomes even more confusing with ostriches, meerkats, horses, gorillas, wolves, bulls, beavers and whales joining the picking party.

As Oscar deliberates and ponders over his choice, things go bad from worse as the animals arrive at his home to set up camp and Oscar gains his own massive menagerie right outside his front door.

81BIyDJLQDL.jpg

Creating absolute carnage and chaos, this zany zoo of animals soon take over not just his garden, not just his next door’s neighbour’s garden and not just his front road but even the inside of his house! Taking cover in a tent outside, the only option is for all the animals to go. All except for the appearance of a letter from a pet that Oscar had missed reading…

With an ending that will melt even the coldest of hearts, this is a special story told with complete and utter sincerity. There is nothing like the irreplaceable, mutual bond between person and pet and this book showcases this so perfectly. This story is sure to become its reader’s best friend. Brought to life by the bright, bold and brilliant illustrations of Steph Laberis, this tale is one to treasure that’s guaranteed to bring the biggest of beaming smiles, the loudest of laughs and is one with a message to hold close to your heart.


‘Guaranteed to bring the most beaming of smiles and the loudest of laughs… this story showcases the bond between person and pet so perfectly and is sure to become its reader’s best friend.’


Big thanks to Kate for inviting me to be a part of this year’s FCBG (Federation of Children’s Book Groups) blog tour showcasing the ten choices for this year’s Children’s Book Award. I would love to be involved again next year!

Mr E

logo_888x240.png


If you’d like to follow other blogs on this year’s blog tour, you can find them below:

D0y0bgTWoAA050D.jpg-large.jpeg


1st March 2019 (@Fi_BGB): The Wondrous Dinosaurium by John Condon & Steve Brown (Maverick)
4th March 2019 (@toppsta): Mixed by Arree Chung (Macmillan)
8th March 2019 (@Readitdaddy): The Last Chip by Duncan Beedie (Templar)
11th March 2019 (@MrEPrimary): What Do You Do If Your House is a Zoo? by John Kelly & Steph Laberis (Little Tiger)
13th March 2019: Picture Book Round Up (FCBG)


18th March 2019: Mr Penguin and the Fortress of Secrets by Alex T. Smith (Hodder/Hachette)
22nd March 2019: The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by P. J. Lynch (Walker)
25th March 2019: Funny Kid – Stand Up by Matt Stanton (HarperCollins)
29th March 2019: Younger Readers Round Up (FCBG)


1st April 2019: The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson, cover illus. by Mike Lowery (Scholastic)
5th April 2019: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle, cover ills. by Bill Bragg (Bloomsbury)
8th April 2019: Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer, cover illus. by Tom Clohosy Cole (Barrington Stoke)
12th April 2019: Older Readers Round Up (FCBG)

The voting will open shortly here: http://childrensbookaward.org…. and if you’d like to keep up with all the news and updates, you can follow FCBG on Twitter.

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet – Martin Howard (Illustrated by Chris Mould)

9780192767509.jpg

‘A fantastic fusion of the time travelling of Adams, the humour of Pratchett and the eccentricities of Stanton. Outlandishly good… this is imagination at its pure and absolute wildest!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet
Author: Martin Howard (@MJHowardWrites)
Illustrator: Chris Mould (@chrismouldink)
Publisher: Oxford University Press Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 7th March 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0192767509

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Cosmos 🌌
2. Atlas 🗺️
3.  Brains-in-Jars 🧠


Bored of the same old routine?
Longing for a bit of adventure in your life?
Love living life on the edge?
Then join Alfie Fleet and discover a whole universe of wonders (and things that are not so wonderful too, but we won’t go into that now).

From giant sand lobsters on planet Maureen and the Twang Bears of Mumsy, to the eerie (yet oddly quite boring) brains in jars on Brains-in-Jars World – there’s something for everyone. And if danger’s your thing you won’t want to miss Outlandish, with its gold-hoarding dragon, take-your-life-in-your-hands cuisine, and welcoming locals who’ll fire lightning bolts at you.

Thrills and adventure await, just hop on board the slightly old and rusty moped of infinity!


Review: After desperately needing some money and thinking that he’s in luck, Alfie Fleet (a poor, destitute young boy who lives with his mother in a ramshackle, run-down house) responds to an advert in the newspaper where he thinks he can make the extra £49.99 to add to his £100 to make his mother’s dreams come true to buy her the most wonderful of birthday presents: the Sole Sensation 6000 Foot Spa.

However (and it’s a common theme in this book), Alfie’s best-laid plans go slightly awry in meeting the man who he thinks will bestow him with this most needed of money. Meeting a professor might be a transformative experience for many but for Alfie it’s life-changing. Especially one who goes by the rather amusing name of Professor Bowell-Mouvemont and mark my words, there’s plenty more amusing names to come!

Taking Alfie on a tour where he experiences new dimensions, new worlds and new characters and creates a world for this book of its very own as Martin’s mind comes to life on these very pages through the incredible, inter-cosmological and inimitable illustrations of Chris Mould. As the professor reveals (rather hysterically!) that these new lands are often unmapped and undocumented, Alfie begins to articulate his adventures through his own version of the Cosmic Atlas. If you think you’ve seen one travel guide then you’ve seen them all, well think again because this ranges from the surreal to the sublime and will be a source of inspiration for its readers to create peculiar places of their own.

But as the Professor and Alfie are soon left to discover for themselves, the way back home may not be as simple as it first seemed. Can they return to give Alfie’s mum the present he thinks she’s always wanted or will they be trapped in this weird and wonderful world…?

It’s more than science-fiction or science-fantasy with every page taking you in a different direction and this is what makes it truly unique. Wacky, insanely inventive and heaps of fun, I can completely guarantee that this book will be lapped up by children (and adults!) who love laughing out loud due to its fantastic fusion of the time-travelling of Adams, the humour of Pratchett and the eccentricities of Stanton.

Forget the boundaries of space, forget the boundaries of time and forget the boundaries of imagination because this is outlandishly good. This is imagination at its pure and absolute wildest!


A fantastic fusion of the time travelling of Adams, the humour of Pratchett and the eccentricities of Stanton. Outlandishly good… this is imagination at its pure and absolute wildest!


What’s It All About, Eh?

If you are interested in the universe or anything in it then The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet is the book for you. Not only is it a proper science-fiction, fantasy, travel guide adventure, but it answers questions that have left science scratching its chin. Who could ask for more? As a taste of the surprises that await, The Reader Teachercan reveal just a few of those secrets. Glue your eyeballs to this screen for just a sample of that astonishing knowledge …

How Did Human Life on Earth Begin?

Let’s start with the BIG question. Some books tell you it all began with monkeys. Wrong! The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleetteaches us that stone circles brought humans to Earth. Yes, stone circles. You know, like Stonehenge. This is how it happened …

About a million years ago, a man named Partley Mildew invented stone circles on the planet Wip-Bop-a-Looma, starting a craze for inter-galactic travel. His circles had the power to send people across a bejillion miles of space in the blink of an eye, allowing humans to explore the universe. People loved them. Travelling to distant planets meant they could go swimming with Giggling MegaFish on planet Mip before breakfast then have lunch on the other side of the universe while their brains were spring-cleaned by friendly Limpation Cranium Toads. Soon, holiday companies were building bigger and bigger stone circles to cope with crowds of tourists. Across the universe, happy holiday-makers dipped their toes in the Sweat Sea on planet S’Panq, flapped across planet Win’span on homemade wings, or danced on Ominoss-Merkwerld, lit by swarms of multi-coloured discoflies.

Tourists first arrived on Earth about forty thousand years ago, and immediately described it as “delightful”. As the travel brochures said, “Comefor the fresh air, stayfor the mammoths.” Of course, these early tourists didn’t call the planet “Earth.” They called it “Toby”. Toby became a popular holiday destination, famous for its beaches and great restaurants. Some humans decided to make their home here, and also decided that Toby was a nice enough name for a boy but sounded silly on a planet. As there was a lot of earth on Toby, the planet’s new people took a vote and renamed their world “Earth.” Interestingly, the name “Chickens” came in second place.

Wow. Why Didn’t We Know About This?

As thousands more years went by tourism died off. Tobians, or “Earthlings” as they now called themselves, forgot they had cousins on other planets. They forgot what stone circles had been used for, too. “Hmm,’ historians thought to themselves. “These stone circles must have been important. Something to do with gods, I’ll bet.” It’s worth mentioning that if people don’t understand something, it’s often blamed on gods. Gods get quite cheesed off with this.

How Has this Incredible Secret Been Preserved?

Around the universe most folk had forgotten about the power of stone circles but one group remembered. They called their society the Unusual Cartography Club, and the members continued to travel the universe, mapping planets for their Cosmic Atlas: the finest collection of extra-terrestrial maps this side of Nerwong-Nerwong Plinky-Plonk.

That Sounds Like the Sort of Thing People Would Remember

Well, no. Not really. People forget important stuff all the time. Pyramids for example. If you think space travelling stone circles are weird, pyramids would reallyblow your mind. Plus, though the UCC wasn’t exactly a secretsociety its members got tired of people giving them funny looks. Try this simple experiment: next time you’re invited to a party, open a conversation by saying, “Hullo, I spent last week mapping planet Foopsie-Wigglefinger. They have pink ostriches with three bottoms there, you know.” Funny looks, right? And no more party invitations.  After a while the UCC’s explorers just stopped talking about their adventures.

Interesting. Tell Me More About This Unusual Cartography Club

It’s a club with a long history. At first, its members used Stonehenge to get around. Around two thousand years ago though, bits started falling off the ancient circle. Instead of repairing it, the UCC’s President – Dogstinkle the Crispy, who suffered from a bad leg in damp weather – decided to build a smaller circle, indoors where he would be out of the rain. More years went by and a city grew up around the new UCC headquarters. Empty fields became Wigless Square. Dogstinkle’s mud hut was demolished and replaced many times, most recently with a large mansion, now surrounded by other houses and Mr Hong’s Happy Dragon takeaway. A cavern was dug beneath the house and the circle moved onto a rotating platform. Invented by Medelaine Tusk, it made spinning the heavy stones to new co-ordinates much, mucheasier than shifting them about by hand.

The UCC’s mission of mapping the universe went on but the club lost members. Some got eaten by ghastly tentacled things, or blown up by unexpected volcanoes. Others just wandered off on worlds they liked better. Eventually, only one member of the UCC remained at Number Four, Wigless Square; one man in all the world who knew the power of stone circles: Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont. But the old UCC headquarters on Wigless Square was about to be demolished and the UCC’s maps, treasures and secrets destroyed forever.

No! What a Waste!

Woah there. All is not lost. Luckily, the Professor had a bad back and needed help with some light lifting and carrying. Enter Alfie Fleet – a boy with a destiny. Thanks to Alfie’s amazing brain-power, the old Unusual Cartography Club is about to change forever. Oh, and the entire universe, too. Sounds like fun? Well, read on. The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleetcontains further surprises about the universe, plus travel information about where to eat and stay on the planet of Outlandish, as well as stuff you did not know concerning elves, villainous scum hairdressers, Pulsating Swibs, and much, much more …

Enjoy! Or, as the Professor would say, “Who me? Ahh, what would I say? No, it’s gone. Forget my own … umm … thingy next. Something about prawns, was it?”

COMPETITION TIME: If you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading about strange planets and the weird people who live on them why not enter our competition? Design us a planet and Martin Howard and Chris Mould might help bring it to life so it can be included in book two of Alfie Fleet’s adventures! The winner’s planet will appear in the book and their name in the credits. They’ll also get a signed book, signed Chris Mould print of their planet and any other goodies we can lay our hands on. Probably chocolate. More details will be posted on Martin’s website soon: https://booksbymart.pub/


Big thanks to Martin, Emma and all the team at OUP Children’s for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet blog tour and for sending me early copies of the proof and finished versions in exchange for an honest review.

Extra thanks to Martin for writing his fascinating guest post!

Mr E


CosmicAtlas_BlogTour_1024x512px_TwitterCard_Feb19_2.jpg

Be sure to check out the rest of The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet blog tour with exclusive guest posts and reviews from all of these brilliant book bloggers!