Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Last Spell Breather – Julie Pike (Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova)

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‘It’s a magical must-read that takes place in such an original, chapter-turning and cleverly-imagined world I didn’t want to leave behind. With The Last Spell Breather, Julie doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with a special kind of magic; as if her pen is gold-tipped.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Last Spell Breather
Author: Julie Pike (@Juliepike)
Illustrator: Dinara Mirtalipova (Website)
Publisher: Oxford University Press Children’s (@OUPChildrens)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 4th July 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-0192771605

Perfect for Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Magic ✨
2. Fox 🦊
3. Words 👄


Enter the unique world of the Spell Breathers!

Spell Breathing does not come naturally to Rayne – she loathes the hours of practice, the stacks of scrolls, and the snapping mud grotesques that cover her mother’s precious spell book. When she holds the spell book over a fire, it is only meant as an empty threat – until she feels the grotesque’s tiny teeth biting into her finger and lets go. In one clumsy move, her mother’s spells are broken, her village is plunged into danger, and an incredible adventure begins…


Review: I often think if only I had some way of transforming myself to be able to do something else. I often think about magic. I think we all often think about magic. But within the pages of this very special story, magic comes to life in an equally special way. Breathed to life. By the name of spells. Spells with a capital S. Spells that are strong and wrap around you and which possess a magic of their very own. However should those words come out in the wrong order or be directed in the wrong direction, then these Spells can cause a chaos of their very own too. And for the sometimes-creator of that chaos, let’s meet Rayne…

With the title of Spell Breather’s apprentice bestowed upon her ever since her mother decided to take her out of school (and almost away from her friends!), the world of spell breathing is not one Rayne is familiar with. Sometimes bungling and with a lack of self-confidence but often with her head elsewhere like wanting to play with her friends which reminded me of The Worst Witch meeting Luna Lovegood, she feels that she doesn’t have the same way with words that her magical mother, who is at the call of the community to help them, does.

You see, Rayne’s mother has been at this spell-breathing skill for some time. Not only does she service the locals with her powers but she also preserves the barrier that is keeping their town, Penderin, safe. However when an unexpected visitor arrives at the barrier, something is amiss and Rayne’s mother has to leave, meaning that Rayne has to learn quickly to look after herself and her town.

After speaking to Julie and hearing about her being from Wales, I’m sure I spotted more than a few Welsh references which resonated especially well with me. It’s a magical must-read that takes place in such an original, chapter-turning and cleverly-imagined world I didn’t want to leave behind. With The Last Spell Breather, Julie doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with a special kind of magic; as if her pen is gold-tipped.


‘It’s a magical must-read that takes place in such an original, chapter-turning and cleverly-imagined world I didn’t want to leave behind. With The Last Spell Breather, Julie doesn’t just write about magic, she writes with a special kind of magic; as if her pen is gold-tipped.’


I’m so pleased to welcome Julie Pike to The Reader Teacher today with her awe-inspiring and life-affirming blog post about the wondrous adventures she has been on that have influenced the writing of The Last Spell Breather…

When I set out to write The Last Spell Breather, I knew I wanted to create a magical page turning adventure. What I didn’t know was how to go about it. I went to see Garth Nix talk at the Hay Festival. It was my first ever author talk, and it was wonderful. One thing he said stood out like a beacon…  ‘I learned how to write’.

I spent the next decade learning how to write my ‘page turner’, wrapping my head around plot, character arcs, pacing, story beats, magic systems and a whole lot more. I’m not done yet, I still have much learning to do.

Along the way, I realised there was one aspect of story I already knew inside out and back to front. I already knew that the best adventures were filled with high stakes and personal challenges. How did I know? Because the stories I’d devoured as a child had inspired me to have real-life adventures of my own.

Here’s a taste of my adventures, along with some grainy, pre-smart phone pictures, for good measure. 

Wondrous Adventures
I’ve adventured overland through India, Nepal, Tibet and China. I left the UK on my own and made friends along the way. We slept on trains and visited friendly elephant reserves. We sailed down the Ganges to beautiful Varanasi. We slept in tents on the high plains and under the stars in the deserts. We journeyed to Everest’s mighty North Face and slept at Rongbuck monastery. We cleared road blocks in Lhasa, even pushing aside a police car with two coppers inside (thankfully they didn’t mind!). We ordered food in restaurants by pointing at other people’s dishes, because the only language we shared was smiling and laughter. We climbed mountains, and on the last night, we climbed to an abandoned part of the Great Wall of China and camped in a dazzling lightning storm.

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Yes, my hair really was that red

Hard Work Adventures

My hardest adventure was climbing Kilimanjaro. The peak is 5,895 metres and a three-day hike from the park entrance. The higher you climb, the colder it gets and the water in your bottle freezes. The altitude makes it tricky to get a good night’s sleep and makes you feel queasy, so you don’t feel like eating. Closer to the top you’ll get a headache and may drop out, because it’s just too darn hard.

The final push begins at 11pm at night, where you climb the steep scree slope under a star filled sky. The idea is to be at the top for sunrise. It sounds wondrous, but by this point all you can think about, for hours and hours, is putting one foot in front of the other.

I didn’t make the top at sunrise, I was about 100 metres below. I sat on a rock and watched the sun crest the horizon, mesmerised by its red, orange and golden glory. By that point I was empty. I couldn’t go on. And I was sure I had no energy to get down either. Did Kilimanjaro have mountain rescue?

But I was wrong. I did have more. My guide, Arbogast said, ‘you can give up if you’re tired, but you’ve come from Europe to climb this mountain.’

Talk about the power of words! I picked myself up and staggered-crawled to the crater’s rim.

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Me and Arbogast, I wouldn’t have made it without his support.

Leap of Faith Adventures

I’ve ridden white water in Chile, tandem-sky dived over the Great Lake of New Zealand and abseiled down a 100-foot freezing waterfall in France. None of these are skills I possess myself, they’re all borrowed from other people. Before each activity I feel sick with nerves and ‘what ifs.’ But I’ve done my research, I know my guides are experts, so I follow their instructions and take a leap of faith into adventure!

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Come on in! The water’s lovely.

And then there are the adventures where you have no guide, you’re on your own, it’s totally down to you and there are no grainy pictures – because when you’re in a REAL adventure, the stakes are too high to stop and pose.

If you want to know about that one, come by an event or signing table and ask.

I try to bring all my adventures into my writing. I hope I’ve succeeded. I hope you enjoy The Last Spell Breather, and it inspires you (just like the stories I read as a child) to have adventures of your own.

Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy adventuring!


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Julie Pike – Biography

Julie grew up on a council estate, nestled between the forests and foothills of the Welsh Valleys. She is passionate about adventure stories, and volunteers in local schools and libraries in Dorset, helping children find stories that excite them. She is passionate about real-life adventures too, and has crawled inside the great pyramid of Giza, travelled to the peak of Kilimanjaro, and camped on the Great Wall of China in a lightning storm.

Twitter: @juliepike


Big thanks to Julie and all the team at Oxford University Press Children’s for inviting me to kick off and share my thoughts as part of the The Last Spell Breather blog tour and for sending me a copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Julie for writing her excellent guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Last Spell Breather blog tour for more exclusive guest posts from Julie, content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): The Longest Night of Charlie Noon (Illustrated by Matt Saunders)

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‘A mind-blowing, heart-stopping, dimension-defying dash through time that thrums with tantalising twists & leaves you completely breathless. With a nod to WW2 in this masterclass in mixing suspense & science; this is Edge at his most edgiest.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: The Longest Night of Charlie Noon
Author: Christopher Edge (@edgechristopher)
Cover illustration: Matt Saunders (@msaunders_ink)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (@NosyCrowBooks)
Page count: 176
Date of publication: 6th June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1788004947

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Woods 🌲
2. Lost 😬
3. Time-bending ⏰


Secrets, spies or maybe even a monster… what lies in the heart of the wood? Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are determined to find out but when night falls without warning they become impossibly lost. Strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurk in the shadows and, as time plays tricks, Charlie starts to fear for the future…

What if this night never ends?


Review: 

As children typically do, they love a sense of mystery, adventure and playing in the natural environment and this is no different for Dizzy and Charlie. But after Dizzy tells Charlie about the appearance of something in the woods, they set off to investigate leaving the rest of the world behind. As all good friends go, there’s always one who has the sense to hold back. Cue Johnny, who insists the group need to be careful and warns them that there could be monsters roaming. Nevertheless, this does not stop them on their pursuit as they put it down to sensationalised nonsense but could this come back to bite them…?

The story begins to build and build and build and as they find themselves getting deeper in to the woods, they seem to be getting deeper into trouble with cryptic messages, puzzles and strange dangers surfacing. As night falls, darkness descends and their paths begin to disappear, it appears there is no way out and they are soon left relying on each other to find an escape route.

With the legend of child-eating, wood-dwelling Old Crony ringing in their ears, the friends are left with only the natural world to help them. Can they use what they know about code-breaking to flee the forest? A book that absolutely needs to be read to the very last page, just wait for its ending and epilogue… 

Yet again, Christopher Edge combines so successfully science with chapter-grabbing, pulsating and gripping action but this time in a wholly different way to that of Albie Bright, Jamie Drake and Maisie Day and this shows with every story, he is evolving as an establishing writer. 

A mind-blowing, heart-stopping, dimension-defying dash through time that thrums with tantalising twists & leaves you completely breathless. With a nod to WW2 in this masterclass in mixing suspense & science; this is Edge at his most edgiest.


I’m utterly delighted to have Christopher Edge, author of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, join us on The Reader Teacher today on publication day with this extra-special interview where he shares his experiences of writing, his inspirations behind his book and the first book he remembers reading…portrait.jpg

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon (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 The Longest Night of Charlie Noon?

    1. Thrilling 🎢
    2. Twisty🌳
    3. Timeless ⌚
  • Which books, people, research, ideas and inspirations have helped you to write The Longest Night of Charlie Noon?

I had to carry out quite a lot of research when writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon from reading mind-bending books such as The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, to immersing myself in the work of nature writers such as Robert Macfarlane, Oliver Rackham and Roger Deakin to name but a few.  Whenever I’m working on a book, a serendipitous hand seems to guide me to find the tools that I need to tell the story from stumbling on a collection of essays by Alan Garner to the perfect song by Kate Bush suddenly blaring out of the radio. When I’d completed the first draft of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, I rediscovered the work of Denys  Watkins-Pitchford, who wrote under the pen name  ‘BB’, and realised that in some ways the story I was writing was a strange tribute to his novel Brendon Chase which tells the story of three children who run away from home to spend a summer in the woods. The night that Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny spend in the woods is the very different from the adventures found in Brendon Chase, but I hope the story might spark the same sense of wonder about the natural world that I found in BB’s writing.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon?

The setting of the novel is an area of ancient woodland on the border of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and visiting these woods and mapping the story to their terrain was a really enjoyable part of the writing process, especially revisiting the woods as the seasons changed and being able to bring these elements into the story. However, I think the most enjoyable part of writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon has been the way it has changed my brain. People talk about how reading changes the way you think, but I think writing does this too, and I now find myself much more open and receptive to the natural world in a way that has brought a real balm to my life.

  • In The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, the children in the story become lost in the woods. When you were a child, did you ever get lost in the woods and how did you get out?

I grew up in Manchester, so didn’t have too many woods nearby to get lost in. However the broader sense of being lost that Charlie feels in the story, linked to the feeling of powerlessness that can sometimes haunt you as a child, is a feeling that I do remember and in many ways The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is me sending a message back to say there is a way out of the woods in time.

  • If you were to choose the character that is most like you from The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, who would it be and why?

As a child, I did use to hide under a blanket draped over the washing line to draw the birds in my back garden, so there’s definitely a bit of Dizzy in me, but I think I’d have to choose Charlie for the reason above.

Reading and Writing (4)

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

I think the stories I filled myself with as a reader, especially when growing up, are what have made me a writer. I enjoyed writing at school, but honestly thought that books were just made in factories and didn’t know there was a job you could do called ‘being an author’.

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

I love the feeling you get when an idea starts to take shape in your brain. It’s really kinetic the way in which different sparks of inspiration can connect and start to become story-shaped. I always think of the famous John Peel quote about The Fall – ‘Always different, always the same’ – for the actual process of writing as this is how it is for me. It’s always hard work, but in endlessly different ways. The joys are when everything flows, and the exhaustion is when you’ve got a deadline flying towards you and not enough hours in the day.

  • 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?

I didn’t go to a school where authors came to visit, but I used to love comic books and one day, as a teenager, bunked off school to get my comic books signed by Neil Gaiman at a comic book shop in Manchester. I remember standing in the queue as it slowly edged to the front of the shop and watching Neil Gaiman patiently sign every comic book that was thrust in front of him and realising that he was just an ordinary person who’d written this story that I loved. That was the moment when I realised that becoming an author might not be an impossible dream and was something that I could aspire to.

  • 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 have read and would recommend?

I need to be careful what I say as I don’t want to give any spoilers for The Longest Night of Charlie Noon away! Some early readers have made connections with writers such as Alan Garner and Penelope Lively in the ways in which time as a theme is explored, whilst I’d like to mention contemporary writers such as Piers Torday and Lauren St John for the way they write about the natural world, which is a key element of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon. A book I’ve recently read that I really enjoyed is Scavengers by Darren Simpson, although I don’t think this shares any themes particularly with The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, however he’s another writer who I think captures a real sense of place in his writing. 

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon and Teaching (3)

  • If you were to ‘pitch’ The Longest Night of Charlie Noon 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?

It’s a story about now and the power that we have to change the world.

  • Could you suggest ways in which The Longest Night of Charlie Noon 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 think there are so many subjects that could be linked to The Longest Night of Charlie Noon from building circuits in Science to create your own Morse Code key to studying changing environments in Geography. Links can be made to History, Art and Computing too, whilst the mystery that lies at the heart of the story will help children to develop their reading skills of inference, prediction and problem-solving. I really hope teachers find a wealth of inspiration inside the pages of The Longest Night of Charlie Noon and my publisher, Nosy Crow, are producing a set of Teaching Resources to accompany the book.

  • 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?

I love visiting schools, so the best way is to get in touch with me via my website here: https://www.christopheredge.co.uk/events

Two more before you go (2)!

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

What’s the first book you remember reading? To which the answer is Tim and Tobias by Sheila K. McCullagh, the first book in a reading scheme filled with magic and mystery that set a whole generation of children on a  flightpath to reading.

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

I once won a trolley dash in a record store. For two glorious minutes my life was a cross between Supermarket Sweep and High Fidelity.

One last one… (1)!

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

I think Brendon Chase by B B is a bit of a lost classic, so I’d like to hear readers’ recommendations of any other forgotten children’s books they think should be rediscovered.


Big thanks to Christopher, Clare, Rebecca and all the team at Nosy Crow for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the The Longest Night of Charlie Noon blog tour and for sending me a proof and advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Chris for answering my questions and to Rebecca for giving me the opportunity to do the cover reveal!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the The Longest Night of Charlie Noon blog tour for more exclusive content from Chris & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Blast Off to the Moon – Ralph Timberlake (Illustrated by Euan Cook)

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‘Not only is it packed to the galaxy with rocketfuls of facts but it delivers a stand-out sense of empathy and really gives its readers the feeling that they are walking that very first and small step for man that was one giant leap for mankind.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Blast Off to the Moon!
Author: Ralph Timberlake
Illustrator: Euan Cook
Publisher: UCLan Publishing (@publishinguclan)
Page count: 40
Date of publication: 3rd June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1912979011

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Moon 🌕
2. Fascinating 😙
3. Inspirational 🤩


Have you ever wondered…

What it’s like to sleep in space?
What you eat on a space mission? And how?
What is the far side of the Moon?

Follow the thrilling story of Neil, Michael and Buzz as they make their epic trip to the Moon. Fully illustrated throughout with facts, photos and diagrams from the NASA archive – this book is the perfect way to celebrate 50 years since the first Moon landing.


Review:

As a child, I was captivated by the prospect of being an astronaut. Watching and reading all kinds of space documentaries, space books and being in awe of our planets, this book couldn’t be more perfect.

It was only upon learning more about Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the often lesser-known but so vitally-needed Michael Collins that their feats of an astronomical nature of achieving the first moon landing on July 20th 1969 really became evident. Seeing the publication of this non-fiction space scrapbook therefore made my eyes light up.

Through its detailed and wide-ranging factual content, engaging illustrations courtesy of Euan Cook and superb introduction written by the First Briton to travel to space Helen Sharman, this book really is leading the way in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

From the astronauts’ training to preparing for lift off, from the ascent and docking to returning to Earth, it is all here ready to be devoured and indulged by many young (and older!) space enthusiasts like I was myself when growing up.

Not only is it packed to the galaxy with rocketfuls of facts but it delivers a stand-out sense of empathy and really gives its readers the feeling that they are walking that very first and small step for man that was one giant leap for mankind.


Today I’m delighted to welcome Nathan Trail, who helped to produce the book along with Ralph from the British Interplanetary Society.

Blast off to the Moon! Blog Reflection – Nathan Trail

On 12 September 1962, United States President John F. Kennedy stood before thousands of people at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and declared “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Less than ten years later, on 21 July 1969, Kennedy’s goal was realised as Neil Armstrong became the first person to step on the surface of the Moon, marking humanity great technological and societal achievement to date.

As we come up on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon, I am reminded of the truly astounding technological innovation that was required during the Apollo program to achieve Kennedy’s dream. Even when faced with a seemingly impossible task and devasting failures, there is nothing more powerful than humanity’s will to succeed. I am reminded of a time when humanity’s quest to go to the Moon captivated tens of millions of people not only in the US, but around the world, transcending cultural and political divisions. As Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the lunar surface, humanity stood together—or rather, huddled around their TV sets together—in awe. I am reminded of a time when humanity’s central desire to explore reached the next frontier. Less than 500 years after Christopher Columbus traversed the Atlantic Ocean to explore the Americas, humanity had traversed the darkness and emptiness of space to explore our only natural satellite—the Moon.

And now, 50 years later, humanity, once again spurred on by its innate curiosity, is charting a course to return to the Moon and go further to Mars. This curiosity has, without a doubt, been motivated as we reflect on the Apollo 11 mission through new books and movies that recount the story of the harrowing 100 hours that preceded the touchdown of Eagle on the Moon. Blast Off to the Moon! is one of those books, combining captivating images of the Apollo 11 mission with enthralling details of the mission, from the specifications of the Saturn V launch vehicle to an overview of the astronauts’ daily meals. It will, without a doubt, inspire the next generation of astronauts that will take humanity to Mars.

Just as Apollo 11 has inspired millions around the world, so to has it inspired my desire to reach for the unknown in the face of great uncertainty. As a student of International Relations, it has inspired me to ensure that space can be an area for scientific cooperation, and that its secrets and resources, are accessible to all.


Big thanks to Nathan, Hazel and all the team at UCLan Publishing for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the Blast Off to the Moon! blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Nathan for writing such a brilliant guest post!

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the Blast Off to the Moon! blog tour for more exclusive content & reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

 

Review & Resources: Evie and the Animals – Matt Haig (Illustrated by Emily Gravett)

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‘Matt Haig never fails to amaze me. Another complete masterclass in empathy.
One I’ll definitely be keeping on my shelf long enough to one day hopefully read to children and grandchildren of my own.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Evie and the Animals
Author: Matt Haig (@matthaig1)
Illustrator: Emily Gravett
Publisher: Canongate (@canongatebooks)
Page count: 256
Date of publication: 6th June 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1786894281

Perfect for Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Animals 🐶
2. Mind-chat 🧠
3. Kindness 😊


Evie was a girl who loved animals.

But Evie didn’t just love animals. She didn’t just know facts about them. She also had a very special skill. A very unusual skill.

She could HEAR what animals were thinking. And, sometimes, without moving her lips or making a sound, Evie could TALK to animals.

It was her very own SECRET SUPERPOWER…


Review:

Meet Evie. A not normal child. A special child. As she’s so called by her dad. But then again most dads call their child special. So that’s completely normal. But Evie wished and knew it would be probably easier to be just a normal child rather than have the kind of specialness that she had.

For Evie was anything but normal. For she has a talent. A super talent known as The Talent. A talent so good that most of us probably wish we had it too; talking to animals. But it’s not quite the Doctor Doolittle-esque talent we all have seen before. This is a deeper, more refined talent of communicating through thought and the art of the mind-chat. As we know, animals are skilled in the form of non-verbal communication; a wag of a tail, a tilt of a head, echolocation, and many more modes of language are the ways in which they tell us how they are feeling. But Evie really knows their thoughts; warts and all.

Beginning with the school rabbit who hates being held up in its hutch all day and longs for the moment to escape. Cue Evie who puts thought in to action and releases it to the wild, hoping she doesn’t get in trouble in the process. However this small act of kindness comes back to haunt her as she discovers that the Talent that she holds is way more powerful than she could ever imagine. Promising to her dad that she’ll never use it again, it only takes a year for it to resurface again and this time everything changes…

With the animal world up in arms and every animal in danger, can Evie – who has the almost-telekinetic mind power of Matilda – use the Talent and herself for the greater good and use what she knows best and her inner strength to dare to be different and be herself in order to save everyone she loves?

Guaranteed to strike a chord with animal lovers, this book (with its joyful and fabulously distinctive illustrations from the incredible Emily Gravett) is, as we’ve come to expect from Matt, a complete masterclass in empathy. With one of the most important messages in a children’s books for years, this is a story that’s not just for the next generation but for all generations.

Subtly scattered throughout the story lies the true astuteness, power and genius of Matt Haig’s writing. He never fails to amaze me. In each of his books, there’s always something that will resonate deeper than you first think. Deeper than most of us realise that stays with us way after we’ve read the last page and this is no different.

I’ll leave you with one of these gems: ‘Kindness is a boomerang. You throw it out and you get it back. You had done kind things in the world, and you had been rewarded with kindness in return.’

For me, if I had to choose two attributes or qualities that a child can develop during their primary-aged years, it would be kindness and empathy and this book achieves this so brilliantly and in effect, makes this story a must-read. In fact, this is one I’ll definitely be keeping on my shelf long enough to one day hopefully read to children and grandchildren of my own.


Resources:

There is an Evie and the Animals activity pack, bookmarks and a teachers’ pack available for KS2 which includes extracts, discussion questions and activities that are aimed at developing children’s awareness of the natural world around them and stimulating discussion around important themes in the story.

This can be found at Canongate or downloaded below.

Activity pack

Bookmarks

Teacher’s Pack


Big thanks to Jen at Shapes4Schools and all the team at Canongate for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


 

Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post: Grumpycorn: introducing… JELLYFISH!) – Sarah McIntyre

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‘Coupled not only with Sarah’s words but her ever-characterful and rainbow-dazzling illustrations that make readers instantly interested too, this is a quick-witted, frivolous and fun story that turns the art of distraction on its head and on its horn.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: Grumpycorn
Author & Illustrator: Sarah McIntyre (@jabberworks)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 2nd May 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407180823

Perfect for Reception, Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Unicorn 🦄
2. Writing ✍️
3. Cookies 🍪


Unicorn wants to write the most fabulous story in the world. He has a fancy notebook. A special fluffy pen. He has everything just perfect. But Unicorn has no idea what to write!

When his friends try to join in, will Unicorn turn into a… Grumpycorn?


Review:

Procrastination; the action of postponing or delaying something. Some of us do it without realising we are. Some of us do it realising we are. Most of us could call ourselves masters of the art of procrastination. But for Unicorn, procrastination could lead to disastrous consequences.

Listening to authors talking about and discussing their writing processes is one of the most fascinating things to hear because they are all different. Wildly different, in fact. For some, it is as close to the word ‘easy’ as you can describe. Ideas come fully-formed and almost write themselves down word by word on the page in front of them, spilling out for all to see. For others, it can be arduous, consuming, complicated, soul-searching and takes every last bit out of the writer; warts and all. But what happens when on that first page… within that first paragraph… within that first line… nothing appears? Yes, we’ve all heard of that all too-familiar term of writer’s block. Therefore I’m sure every published, and aspiring, children’s author can self-identify with the feelings of Unicorn within this book.

Sitting there with his fancy notebook but still feeling like Grumpycorn can’t get his writing mojo going, he turns his attention to reaching for his special fluffy pen. Surely this will be the key to unlocking his words for as they say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and a special fluffy pen has two more adjectives than just ‘the pen’. But no… Maybe a cup of special moonberry tea will be the catalyst for creativity…? Nope. Not that either.

So what about when aquatic friends Narwhal, Mermaid and Jellyfish knock on his door? Can Unicorn put his friends and their ideas to good use… especially when they involve baked goods in order to help him to write the most FABULOUS* story in the world?

Coupled not only with Sarah’s words but her ever-characterful and rainbow-dazzling illustrations that make readers instantly interested too, this is a quick-witted, frivolous and fun story that turns the art of distraction on its head and on its horn.


Today I am delighted to welcome the brilliant Sarah McIntyre to the blog with a special guest post to celebrate the release of her newest picture book, the fabulous, ‘Grumpycorn’, talking about one very special character that makes her smile the most!

Grumpycorn: introducing… JELLYFISH!

Of all the characters in my new Grumpycorn picture book, Jellyfish makes me smile the most. She’s so cheery and enthusiastic and really quite clueless. Even though Unicorn has turned down ideas by Narwhal and Mermaid for his story, she’s SURE that when Unicorn hears her ideas, that he won’t be able to resist writing her into his fabulous story.

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And she is so FULL OF IDEAS! Clearly this interplanetary jellyfish story MUST HAPPEN. 

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But Jellyfish’s effusive outpouring of directions for Unicorn are the final straw that make him blow a fuse. Unicorn doesn’t want Jellyfish’s ideas, he wants HIS OWN ideas. …And he doesn’t have any.

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What makes me laugh about Jellyfish is that, even though Unicorn’s hollered at him, Jellyfish is still so upset that this fabulous story hasn’t been written. Look at her shocked little face! I think she’s rather enjoying all the drama being created by Unicorn’s diva meltdown.

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Endlessly optimistic – ‘Everyone loves jellyfish!’ – Jellyfish will finally get to take part in the creation of this Fabulous Story. …And so can you, by drawing Jellyfish! For all of my books, I create drawing tutorials and other activities, and you can download this and other fun Grumpycorn things to do here on my website!

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Big thanks to Sarah, Louisa and all the team at Scholastic for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the Grumpycorn blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Extra thanks to Sarah for writing such a brilliant guest post!

Mr E


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

Blog Tour (Review): BOOT: small robot, BIG adventure – Shane Hegarty (Illustrated by Ben Mantle)

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‘Breaking down the fourth wall between robot and reader, this small robot is sure to be a HUGE hit. Empathy, compassion and adventure combine in this read that’ll leave you feeling nuts and bolts about BOOT.’

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Title: BOOT: small robot, BIG adventure
Author: Shane Hegarty (@shanehegarty)
Illustrator: Ben Mantle (@BenMMantle)
Publisher: Hodder/Hachette (@hodderchildrens)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 16th May 2019
Series status: First in the BOOT series
ISBN: 978-1444949360

Perfect for Year 2, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Robot 🤖
2. Empathy ☺️
3. Human 👫


Hello! I’m BOOT.
(I’m a robot.)

I woke up in a scrapyard with a cracked screen and only two-and-a-half memories. I know I had an owner, Beth, and I’m certain she never meant to lose me. I have to find her. I just don’t know her…

Join BOOT on a dangerous adventure to find where home is, what friends look like, and why humans are so leaky and weird.


Review: Waking up in a scrapyard with only two-and-a-half memories to your name may seem like something is wrong. But for BOOT it is glaringly wrong because he has been built to store millions of memories and even has room in his left butt cheek for emergencies. As you can most probably tell by now, BOOT is not a human. BOOT is a robot.

At the beginning of this book, we find BOOT inches from a smashing, mashing, bashing, grinding machine which is going to make BOOT in to lots of mini-BOOTs any minute… Knowing he has to get away fast, BOOT escapes the scrapyard to go and find Beth but this is not as easy as BOOT initially thought. Trying to make sense of sketchy memories, people like the detestable Flint out to get him and the world becoming bigger and bigger for every step that BOOT takes, it seems like this could be quite the challenge for him. Will he find his rightful owner…?

The biggest element of this book is the empathy that the reader develops for BOOT and what this book does so well is convey empathy for younger readers in the most humanely way possible. For when BOOT realises he is feeling certain emotions, it is almost that BOOT checks with the reader the strange emotion he is experiencing for the first time and breaks down that fourth wall between robot and reader.

Brilliantly illustrated by Ben Mantle whose illustrations go hand-in-hand in bringing Shane’s mechanical world to life, and with a rag-tag group of robot friends to help him on his way, a yearning sense of gutsy resilience that keeps BOOT going and a personality which is up there with the very best of fictional robots such as Wall-E, R2D2 and the toys of Toy Story; this small robot is sure to be a HUGE hit. For me, it’s on the same level as Tin by Padraig Kenny but will definitely appeal to that widely underrated 6-9 year old readership who love illustrated fiction and being a big fan of Shane’s Dartmouth series myself and recommending this lots, it is fantastic to now be able to suggest something written by him to a younger audience also. I know it’s certainly left me feeling nuts and bolts about BOOT and I can’t wait for many more adventures from Shane and Ben.

‘Breaking down the fourth wall between robot and reader, this small robot is sure to be a HUGE hit. Empathy, compassion and adventure combine in this read that’ll leave you feeling nuts and bolts about BOOT.’


As part of the BOOT blog tour, I’ve been asked to revisit a piece of technology that holds special memories for me.

When I mention certain devices and pieces of technology to the class I teach, they give me the most weirdest of looks back as if to say “Mr Evans, we weren’t born then” or “We think what you’re telling us about didn’t really exist” or “We think you should know as ICT co-ordinator that we’re digital natives”. But hang on a minute, for I was only born in the 1990s.

So the piece of technology that I remember growing up with is the Nokia 3310.

Having a mobile phone was huge in this era, and I distinctly remember my mum having a huge brick to start off with and then changing to this thing of absolute beauty and iconic status which has been recently updated.

Most fondly, I remember playing the wonderful game of Snake. For most modern day children, this game would not be enough. Watching a dashed line move round the screen almost one-pixel at a time taking its toll getting round the screen to eat another pixel-shaped bit of food and growing longer and getting quicker each time were many of the satisfying things about the simplicity of the game. Like most modern day children in front of their PS4s and X-Boxes (and other electronically devices that are available), I’m sure this game had many playing for hours.

So maybe, children of the 21st century we’re not all that different after all!

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Big thanks to Shane, Lucy and all the team at Hodder & Hachette for inviting me to share my thoughts as part of the BOOT blog tour and for sending me an advance copy in exchange for this review.

Mr E


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Be sure to check out the rest of the BOOT blog tour for more reviews from these brilliant book bloggers!

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

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‘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


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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)

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‘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


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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)

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‘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!

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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)

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‘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!

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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


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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!