Colours in our minds

Several years ago I became aware of a few books where colour was very much the central theme of the story.  It was used as a way of interpreting emotion as well as being the way that people can ‘see’ music.  Unfortunately I did not make a note of these titles (a lesson that I have hopefully learnt from).  Over the last year or so I have found quite a few of this type of book and decided that the only way to remember them is to write a post and let everyone else know that they are out there.  I would also be grateful for any other suggestions about titles that I can add to my list.

 

Simon & Schuster, 9781471169397

“Pencil Dog” by Leigh Hodgkinson  is one of those books that really touches the heart.  On the surface it is about a young girl and her pencil, or do we mean her dog?  They share lots of adventures and we see how drawing helps expand the girl’s imagination, but also about the friendship between the two characters.  We all know that pencils get smaller the more they are used and of course we reach that moment when pencil disappears and the girl is left alone.  However we also see that memory is a wonderful thing and that pencil dog will never truly disappear.  This book really work on several levels; from imagination and storytelling, to dealing with grief but above all it is a story about love and friendship.

Macmillan, 9781509871346

“Mixed” by Arree Chung is a delightfully simple but very effective way of looking at the world we live in today.  It is about equality and friendship; understanding that we all have our place in the world and that no one is better than those around them.  The story starts with the three prime colours red, yellow and blue living in harmony, until one of the reds decides that they are better than the others.  This leads to segregation but eventually a yellow and blue fall in love and get married; they then have a baby called green.  Thankfully this leads the others to realize the possibilities  and eventually a multi-coloured society is created.  The story works at several levels and can be about modern society, but it can also be used to explain the way that colours are created in art and how this reflects the reality of the natural world.

Chronicle, 9781452150147

“Hello, Hello” by Brendan Wenzel looks at the wide variation in visual experience that we see when we look at wildlife around us.  It begins with animals that are black and white and then moves on to a range of colours, patterns, shapes and sizes.  The animals are wonderful and although some of them are commonly found, others are threatened or endangered species.  Because of this the books acts as an introduction to the ecology of our world and hopefully will spark an interest in young people.  This  is a great book to read with the very young and with small groups of pre-school children.

Abrams, 9781419728518

“They say Blue” by Jillian Tamaki  is a magical tale of looking at the world and seeing the beauty that surrounds us.  Colour is used as a way of adding feeling to the way that a young girl reacts to the world around her.  The is a sense of magic and mystery about the world which makes you want to understand the changes that we see throughout the year.

Pavilion, 9781843653950

“Arty, the greatest artist in the world” by William Bee is a whimsical and quirky look at how Arty (a frog) became the greatest artist in the world. However I think that many readers will feel that they can achieve the same results without resorting to the totally mad experiences that Arty has to undertake.  This funny story definitely seems to poke gentle fun at the art world, but I am sure that we can take away the message that with a lot of hard work we can all become artists.  It also shows that art is all a matter of taste.

Laurence King, 9781780677712

“Bob the artist” by Marion Deuchars brings us the story of Bob, a bird who is being teased by others because of his very thin legs.  He tries various solutions like exercise, eating and wearing clothes, but nothing works; but when he visits an art gallery he is inspired by the works of the modern artists that he sees.  Bob decides to ignore his legs and every day he paints his beak in a different style.  The other birds think this is fantastic and Bob gains in confidence, even keeping to his natural red beak on occasions; he becomes happy with his own looks.  The very sparse colour palette really highlights the small areas of modern design  and  allows the colours used there to really sing out.

Laurence King, 9781786270696

“Bob’s blue period” by Marion Deuchars follows Bob after his friend Bat has to go away for a while.  Bob finds it very difficult without his best friend and no longer feels the same about his paintings.  In fact every painting seems to be blue, which all of his other friends are worried by, but they don’t know how to try and make him feel better.  One evening they take him for a walk up a hill and he sees a wonderful technicolor sunset, something that reminds him that the world is full of colour.  the following day he gets a post card to say that Bat is coming home, after hibernating for the winter.  The celebration takes the form of a party for all their friends.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781126943

“Colour my days” by Ross Collins takes us on an energetic journey through the rainbow and how colour can make us feel.  When their world is black and white Emmy and Jeff feel dull and bored, but each colour adds a lively element to the way they feel.  Everything is OK when they just have one colour per day, but at the end of the week all the colours come out to play and it becomes overwhelming, so they are shown the door.  Thankfully Emmy and Jeff can have a quiet and relaxing weekend.  This is a brilliant way of showing how colour an affect our mood and the importance that it plays in our lives, both at home and definitely at school.  I wonder if they have ever considered this when choosing the colours for school uniforms?

QED, 9781784939670

“The colours of history” by Clive Gifford and Marc-Etienne Peintre is a fascinating information book about the differing versions of colours and their importance throughout history.  The author is one of the best known and widely regarded writers of non-fiction and this is a very different look at major periods in history.  He looks at reds, yellows, purples, blues and greens and explains how some of the shades were created and how important items such as saffron, lapiz lazuli, indigo and purple were in society.  The illustrations for this book are sophisticated and beautiful; they compliment the text and add so much to the feel of the book.

Andersen Press, 978-1842707319

“Elmer” by David McKee is probably the epitome of a book about colour.  The story of this beloved patchwork elephant has been with us for a quarter of a century and he still has a profound effect on his young readers.  It is all about being different and being accepted for who you are and that is a message that has lost none of its importance over the years.  I have always loved telling these stories in schools and libraries and the children have great fun in creating their own versions of Elmer and his friends.

HarperCollins, 978-0007513765

“The day the Crayons quit” by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers has become something of a modern classic.  It tells the story of Duncan and how he copes when all of his crayons send him letters complaining about the way that he uses them.   It is a fascinating look at how we see different types of colour, or people and  what impact that has on their self esteem.  This book, together with its follow on “The day the crayons came home” has become something of a must read for young readers.

 

Red Fox, 978-0099266594

“My many coloured days” by Dr Seuss, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher  is not a title by this prolific author that I had come across.  So of course I just had to order it.  It is unusual in that it was not illustrated by Dr Seuss and  was not published immediately it was written; in fact it took 20 years for the right illustrators to come along.  This is a book about feelings, moods and emotions and how colour can reflect these, both in humans and in the natural world around us.

 

Candlewick Press, 978-0763623456

“Sky Color” by Peter H Reynolds is part of a series of picture books that look at art and whether we should be put off by the comments of those around us.  This particular book is the final part of the ‘Creatrilogy’ (consisting of “Dot” and “Ish”)and is about Marisol and how she finds inspiration when asked to paint a mural for the school wall.  The art  is very reminiscent of Quentin Blake, with some beautiful line work, but the fact that the story is told in a series of small images brings it close to feeling like a graphic/comic book.  The colour palette is extremely limited, mainly line drawings with some shading, but it brings a lot of feeling to the story and helps us focus on the activities as they unfold.

Chronicle, 978-1452141213

“Golden Domes and Silver lanterns” by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini was a book that I came across completely by chance.  It is a beautifully illustrated look at various colours and how they relate to various aspects of the moslem faith.  It gives the appearance of being set in the USA, based of scenes in the street and other characters in the pictures, but it the focus is on the important aspects of  dress, the mosque and especially writing text from the Koran.  This makes for a very simple and yet positive introduction to the ways that other people might have questions about and would be good to use in a primary school or nursery.

I hope that I will keep on finding more titles that fit within this category as it works so well with people of all ages and can often act as a spark to ignite their own creativity.  Please let me know if you can think of some other amazing stories.

Amazing Information: books to inspire and inform

Words & Pictures, 9781786038890

“The Race to Space” by Clive Gifford and Paul Daviz.  The author has been writing information books for young people for a long time and is recognized as an important part of the non-fiction book world.  This book looks at the chronology of the race to put men into space and then on to the Moon.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning, with a somewhat retro-style, reminiscent of 1950s soviet art at times.  The colour palette is very bright, although there is a flatness to the tones that reflect older methods of printing.  This is definitely a book to sit and browse through.  It is very much a book that will appeal to the artists as well as to the historians and scientists and it should be in all primary libraries.

Wide-eyed editions, 9781786030917

“When we walked on the Moon” by David Long and Sam Kalda is yet another book that has been produced to commemorate 50 years since man landed on the Moon.  It looks at the missions, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17, all of which had astronauts land on the surface of the Moon and undertake a series of experiments, as well as playing golf etc!  This is a simple introduction that deals with the main characters  and I particularly like the sketches of the crews, together with facts about missions, that are found at the back of the book.  The illustrations once again hark back to the start of the space race, but they are much brighter than in some other titles and there is a greater use of a white background.

Usborne, 9781474950848

“The Usborne Book of the Moon” by Laura Cowan and Diana Toledano has a much wider look at the moon and is aimed at the bottom end of KS 2.  It covers everything from the space race to mythology, as well as astronomy and  geography.  As you would expect from the publisher there are some brilliant illustrations and a lot of information, given in small bite sized chunks that will work well with the intended audience.  This has a good index which makes it particularly useful for schools, although I think a lot of young enthusiasts will just enjoy dipping in to this lovely book.

Macmillan, 978509824090

“The Darkest Dark” by Chris Hadfield and the Fan Brothers.  This is a picture book based on the childhood o the astronaut Chris Hadfield; it tells of his fear of the dark and how seeing Apollo 11 helped him realize that the darkness of space could be fascinating and inspiring rather that frightening.  As a story, this can be read as a straightforward tale of space and imagination, or it can be used as a starting point when learning about space and the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

Nosy Crow, 9781788003391

“2019 Nature month by month” by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz  has been written for the National Trust and takes a look at the fascinating things that are going on around us throughout the year.  Anna Wilson is well know as a writer of fiction for children, but she is also keen on nature and wild swimming, so this is close to her heart.  This is an absolute treasure trove of information and covers things such as festivals, food, events and crafts relating to many of these activities.  The book is beautifully illustrated but perhaps the most striking part of my copy was the fluorescent orange end papers to the book, which made me want to hunt out my sun glasses.  I look forward to seeing if there is a new book for 2020.

Andersen Press, 9781783447435

“Stubby” by Michael Foreman is another in his retelling of true stories set in the First World War.  This recounts the story of  of how American troops, sent to the front in 1917, made a mascot of a little stray dog they named Stubby.  Miraculously the dog and his human carer survived the war and Stubby lived until 1926.  This is a beautifully illustrated story with very simple text and it will make an excellent introduction to the subject of the war.

Pavilion, 9781843653745

“Adventures in Space” by Simon Tyler is a stunningly illustrated book about space and about man’s attempts to leave the Earth and explore our neighbours.  The first half of the book looks at astronomy, the planets and the wider universe, so that we get a clear and well explained explanation of what is out there.  The second half of the book gives a brilliant timeline of how space exploration was achieved and what each major power produced as its space craft.  The information is truly up to date and even looks at prospective launches in 2020 and beyond.  There is also information about satellites and the International Space Station, making this a perfect start for anyone who loves space.  Unusually the pages are black, with white text, but the images tend to have been brightly coloured, so they stand out against the page.  Definitely recommended.

WhatonEarth Books, 9781999802820

“Absolutely Everything” by Christopher Lloyd, illustrated by Andy Forshaw, Justin Poulter and Will Exley is the sort of book that I would have loved to have received as a child.  It tells the history of the world in a chronological way, but with overlaps as we look at different parts of the world and what was happening in different civilizations.  The illustrations have a feel of the 1950s but with a bit of a modern twist.

“Mary who wrote Frankenstein”, (originally called “Mary and Frankenstein”) by Linda Bailey and Julia Sarda is a beautifully told introduction to the life of Mary Shelley (as she became) and how she came to write one of the most enduring stories in English Literature.  The illustrations are a tour de force by Julia Sarda and the sophisticated and highly stylized images really bring the text to life.  This would make a really good introduction to the young reader who is about to read the story itself; it also works as a good basis for learning about ‘Gothic tales’ and their popularity at the beginning of the 19th Century.

“Wild facts about Nature” by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett is yet another brilliantly funny and informative book by this author.  It is written under the auspices of the RSPB and is full of facts, jokes and stories all about nature.  This is definitely one of those books that young readers will keep dipping in to and will become a favourite for quizzes, long journeys and sharing with friends.  This is highly illustrated and definitely one for those who love books such as “Horrible Histories” etc.

Bloomsbury, 9781408889935

“The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan and Neil Packer is a truly delightful book bringing a fresh look at the developing history of the world; told through the development of trade routes along the silk roads and then wider trade routes.  The original book was written for adults but then this junior version was created.  The cover can only be described as sumptuous, with its blue and gold images and lettering.  The illustrations throughout are complex, colourful and based on the artistic style of the civilization being discussed. This brings the history of the word into one book and helps us to understand the links between different countries and their development over the centuries.  We often forget that history is a blending of all the influences that are in play at any given time and this book helps bring it all together.  I really loved this and I look forward to reading “The New Silk Roads” which looks at these relationships as they are today.

There has been a real resurgence in the publishing of information books, mainly led by the rise in general interest books rather than in those  intended for the curriculum.  The winning of the Kate Greenaway medal by “Shackleton’s Journey” gave a real boost to this sector and there have been several new and innovative publishers who have revitalized the market.  From this small selection you can see that there has been a swell in the number of titles looking at space and the moon, particularly as we reach the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  However there are plenty of books out there if you love, history, nature art and a whole range of fascinating subject, just go out and enjoy the delightful buffet of books.

 

Some Spring Gems

It has been a while since I wrote about some of the latest middle grade fiction that have appeared recently.  There has been a continued interest in all things crime related as well as mythical beasts, alternate worlds and of course witches.  In fact we have all been spoilt for choice, with not just some brilliant new books, but also continuing adventures from some of our favourite authors of the moment

 

Nosy Crow, 9781788000260

“Dragon in the Library” by Louie Stowell, illustrated by David Ortu.  Well anything about a library is going to get me interested and this is no exception.  When Kit and her friend visit the local library to get hold of a book by his favourite author something strange happens.  Kit starts reading an information book and suddenly finds herself transported into the pages of the book; the librarian Faith Braithwaite see all of this and brings Kit back, they then try and find out why this happened.  It turns out that Faith is a wizard and the library and some of the books in it act as portals to travel to other magical libraries, but best of all Kit and her friends find out that there is a dragon called Draca sleeping under the building.  When an unscrupulous developer Hadrian Salt tries to buy the library they will all have to find some way to thwart his plans and save the library and the dragon.  This is a really great story and I hope that there will be more, so that we can follow Kit and her friends as they get more involved with wizards.

Kelpies, 9781782505556

“Guardians of the Wild Unicorns” by Lindsay Littleson is a fantastic story from Scotland and is published by the wonderful Kelpies.  Lewis and Rhona are on a school trip staying in the highlands, far away from their homes in Glasgow, when Lewis sees what appear to be unicorns he thinks he is imagining things, but what if they are real?  The two friends find themselves trying to save these wild unicorns from people who see them as a way to make money, but they find that the task is not as easy as they hope.  The unicorns in this book are not at all like the glittery and colourful ones you find in younger age books; these are wild ones in the same sense that those in Harry Potter are and it brings an added fascination and sense of reality to the theme of the story.  Behind all of this we have the stories of two young people who are each coping with major issues at home and are not telling anyone, but by the end of the story they have realized that sharing problems can have a positive effect.

Piccadilly, 9781848127616

“Potkin and Stubbs” by Sophie Green, illustrated by K.J.Mountford, is a crime thriller but with a decided difference.  Lil has always wanted to be a reporter and because she lives in a city where schools have been closed and her mother is out at work, she has opportunities to follow her ambitions.  One evening she sees a young boy at the bus station cafe and offers to buy him a drink because he looks cold and hungry, however the truth is much stranger than that; Nedly is a ghost and Lil decides to try and discover where he had lived and how he died.  The story gets darker and more dangerous as they get closer to the truth and they find that there are citywide crimes that need to be resolved.  This is a fantastic story for those who love crime stories, with that little added twist of the supernatural.

Stripes, 9781788950220

“The Star-spun Web” by Sinead O’Hart and illustrated by Sara Mulvanney, is a magical tale of parallel worlds that should not connect, but where someone has created a machine to travel between them.  Tessa suddenly arrived on the doorsteps of an orphanage as a baby, but  there were some strange circumstances, such as the snow on her blanket, even though it was not winter.  The story picks up when she is twelve and is claimed by a man purporting to be a relative.  What happens next is strange, as she sees a boy through a mirror in the summerhouse and eventually  she is able to transfer to this alternative world.  It is still a version of the city of Dublin, but  one where there is a war and it seems that someone wants to bring bombers through the gateway in order to conquer her own peaceful version of the city and country.  Sinead O’Hart has a wonderful imagination and has created a group of characters full of caring and friendship on the one hand and some dastardly villains on the other hand.  It is a story that leaves you with a great big smile at the end.

Scholastic, 9781407191553

“Wildspark” by Vashti Hardy (illustrations by George Ermos and Jamie Gregory) is one of those books that you know will leave an impression and you will probably want to read again.  It is set in a world where the spirits of those who have died are able to be transferred into the bodies of animals.  It is also a world where robots are used to do a lot of the work and being mechanically talented is a real skill.  Prue lives on her parent’s farm and is a great engineer, but she has one ambition and that is to try and find the ghost of her brother and have him brought back to this second life.  When she is chosen (or rather her dead brother is) to become an apprentice in the main city of Medlock, she thinks that her opportunity has come.  This is a beautifully written story about what it is to be human, the love of family and the way we use technology and I really recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, steampunk or books of extraordinary imagination.

Quercus, 9781786540782

“A girl called Justice” by Elly Griffiths is definitely one for those who love books by Robin Stevens, Laura Wood, Katherine Woodfine and Fleur Hitchcock among others.  After the death of her mother, Justice  (because her father is a criminal barrister) is sent to boarding school and soon finds an opportunity to use her super sleuthing skills.  One of the school maids has gone missing and Justice suspects foul play.  As she gradually settles into the strange world of a girls’ boarding school and makes friends, she also investigates the mysterious goings on and whether they have any links to a death from the past.  This was a great read for those who love this mix of school and crime and I can’t wait for further adventures from this absolutely ‘spiffing’ heroine.

Nosy Crow, 9781788004503

“No Ballet Shoes in Syria” by Catherine Bruton.  This is an amazing, heart breaking and yet very hopeful story of Aya, a young refugee from Syria and her mother and young brother.  The main part of the story deals with their struggle to be allowed to remain in the UK and the hope that one day they will find Aya’s father, who was feared drowned as the crossed from Turkey to Greece.  The other part of the story is about her love of ballet and the people she meets in a ballet class at the centre where they go to meet the case worker helping them.  We are given parallels between Aya and the ballet teacher Miss Helena, who had come to England on one of the last Kinder transport trains  and there is a lesson to be learnt about honouring those we have lost by achieving the potential that they believed we have.  There is so much hope in this book but it is laced with much sorrow and I really suggest you have a box of tissues at the ready; also don’t read it on the bus or train!

Macmillan, 9781509874217

“Kat Wolfe takes the Case” by Lauren St John, illustrate by Daniel Deamo is the second story about young Kat and her friend Harper as they are caught up in more adventures on the Jurassic coast where they live.  When a dinosaur is found by Harper’s father and his team (they are paleontologists), it leads to theft and possible smuggling by a gang trying to find “Dragons’ teeth” which are supposed to cure those suffering from incurable diseases.  Once again Kat needs the help of her grandfather (the Minister of Defence) and begins to know him better as a person.  This is a great story that mixes geology, animals, mystery and also friendship and family.  It is an ideal story for some adventure and crime fighting.

“Malamander” by Thomas Taylor is a tale of mystery and monsters set in a world similar to ours, but with some major differences.  Young Herbert Lemon works at the Grand Nautilus Hotel as a ‘Lost and Founder’, but he did not expect that he would be asked to find two people who had disappeared 12 years before.  Their daughter, Violet Parma thinks that it is linked to a monster called the Malamander that is said to inhabit the wreck of an old vessel in the bay.  This is a fabulously creepy yet funny book with amazing characters (and that is just their names) and a bookshop that every town should want.  I look forward to further adventures from this intrepid pair of children.

Simon & Schuster, 9781471178733

“Sea-ing is Believing” by Steven Butler and Steve Lenton, is the next episode in the goings on at yet another weird and wonderful seaside hotel; only this time the hotel is for non-human guests and I don’t mean it is a pet hotel.  This hotel caters for yetis, mermaids, and other such unusual clients.  In this adventure Frankie’s great grandfather reappears as a ghost during the celebration of his 175th birthday.  However something is not quite right and it is up to Frankie and a cast of incredible friends to save the hotel and all of those in it.  As always these two Steves have produced a hilarious and very quirky story that will have everyone in stitches and longing for more of the same

OUP, 9780192771605

“The last spell-breather” by Julie Pike takes us to a place where magic still happens and spells are created and then breathed over the recipient.  Rayne is the daughter of a spell breather, who protects their village from an undefined plague that has ravaged the country.  When her mother disappears it is up to Rayne to keep everyone safe, but unfortunately she is not very good at spells and the results leave her running for her life.  Her aim is to go to the city where her mother trained as a spell breather in the hope that she will find her mother and reverse the problems that she has created.  Along the way she meets several new friends, but not all of them are what they seem and there is also a dark and sinister villain who brought the original disaster to the country.  This is a beautifully conceived story with a frustrating young heroine who battles to do the best for everyone, but because she doesn’t always know the full facts, she gets things wrong.  It really is a lesson in communication, listening, trusting people and the importance of family and friends.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781128558

“The Disconnect” by Keren David is a new story from Barrington Stoke and is aimed squarely at the young teen reader, especially those who are attached to their smart phones.  Esther’s year group at school have been asked to do without their phones for six weeks and the winners will each get £1000 and the opportunity to be on a panel looking at the use of social media.  Many of the young people decide not to take part, many fall at some point during the trial but Esther and her friends are determined to win.  This is a fascinating look at how people depend on social media and what it means to be cut off from it.  It is also about fake news and making sure that we understand the consequences of believing anything we read without checking.  This is altogether a very timely book from one of our top authors for young adults.

Andersen Press, 9781781783448043

“The Bolds go Wild” by Julian Clary and David Roberts.  Once again we join our wonderful family of urban hyenas in Surbiton; however this time they get a surprise visit from Fred’s mother Imamu and she is very definitely a WILD hyena.  Whilst the children, Bobby and Betty are delighted by the visit they nearly give away the family secret when they are seen by their headmistress, with their tails showing below their clothes.  However all is not lost, as Mrs Dobson, the head, has her own secret; she has a son who wants to become a chimpanzee.  So the next thing is for the Bolds to help him achieve his ambition and then get him and Imamu back to Africa.  You can always guarantee that there will be zany goings on with this family, but beneath it all there is a real sense of caring about letting people and creatures find their own place in the world.

I do hope that you will find something here that you will enjoy.  We really are so lucky that there are some splendid books being published for this middle grade range and many of them deal with some quite serious subjects but in a very understated way, so that the reader is carried by the story line, rather than feeling they are being lectured.  This is just the start of a much bigger selection that I hope to bring to you in the next month or so.  Happy reading!

 

A Winter Wonderland of Reading

Every year I indulge in a little Christmas/winter reading to get me in the mood for the festive season. This year has been no exception with the highlights being Matt Haig, Tracey Corderoy and Alex T Smith; although all of these books will get you into the required mood.

Canongate, 9781786894328

“The Truth Pixie” by Matt Haig and Chris Mould.  Over the last three years we have been treated to a series of three books based on the origins of Father Christmas.  One of the central characters in each story is the Truth Pixie who is subject to the mixed blessing of not being able to tell a lie.  In this delightful rhyming tale for younger children she discovers a new friend, makes that person happy and brings a bit of magic into the life of everyone who reads this tale.  It is an absolute classic of the future.

“Hampstead the Hamster” by Michael Rosen is another story for younger children, those from 5+ .  The hero Leo had always wanted a pet Hamster and eventually he gets his wish.  However Hampstead (the hamster) is very sad and just seems to sulk in his cage.  Leo tries everything to cheer him up, but nothing works; then Leo sees his pet running on the spot in the cage and gets a brilliant idea – hamsters love wheels and it would make a great Christmas present.  Some great aaah! moments for everyone.

“How Winston delivered Christmas” by Alex T Smith is an absolutely delightful story told in “twenty four and a half chapters”.  It is about how a young mouse called Winston discovers a letter to Father Christmas, on Christmas Eve, and decides he will try and make sure that the letter is delivered.  This is a glorious story full of Christmas spirit and one which is bound to become something of a festive ritual in many homes.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel” by Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal.  What a fantastically funny story, full of friendship and sharing.  When frog mis-reads his map and ends up on the opposite side of the world from his Christmas hotel he is helped by Bear, who does everything he can to make the holiday memorable.  This proved an absolute winner when I read it to six classes on one day and it leaves you with a warm glow.

The Snowman” by Michael Morpurgo and Robin Shaw, based on the classic story by Raymond Briggs.  This is a really lovely extended version of the Snowman story and will be great for those who want to read something slightly longer.

Grandpa Christmas” by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field.  This is a heartwarming story with a strong message for all of us.  Mia and her family read a very special letter from her grandfather every Christmas, just after they have opened their presents.  In this letter he talks about the need to care for our world and to make sure that we do our best to make it a good place for our descendants and for the creatures that we share the world with.  So thought provoking and magical.

Silent Night” by Lara Hawthorne is a joyous re-telling of the Nativity story, using the words of the famous carol “Silent Night”  The illustrations are bright and simple and can be enjoyed by children of all ages.  The book also explains how the carol came to be written.  It is a really delightful way for children to learn this song on the lead up to Christmas.

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop” by Elys Dolan is a totally hilarious look at what can go wrong when Santa brings in some new helpers to make enough presents for Christmas. The illustrations are full of jokes will keep young readers amused for hours; it will also keep the adults chuckling as they read the story.

Snow in the Garden” by Shirley Hughes is a gorgeous collection of stories, poems, recipes and decorations from one of the country’s most beloved writers and illustrators.  this is one for both home and  school and you will dip into it year after year.

The Night I met Father Christmas” by Ben Miller and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini is a very different take on the legend of Father Christmas.  It gives you hope that no one is beyond redemption and really oozes Christmas spirit.

“Frost” by Holly Webb is a magical tale of London, both now and in the 17th century, so if you like an element of time travel, wonderful animals and family tales you will love this.

Other picture books to look out for this year are:

Pick a Pine Tree” by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

I was made for you” by David Lucas

Once upon a Snowstorm” by Richard Johnson

Christmas Gremlins” by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, with Chris Chatterton

 

Whilst Christmas 2018 has now gone, these are great additions to your collection which will keep you ahead of the game for the coming year.  I am now looking at Easter and some great picture books that have appeared in the past few months.  There is some fantastic reading ahead.

 

 

 

Spring has definitely Sprung!

Faber & Faber, 9780571337804

Hayley, the Hairy Horse” by Gavin Puckett and Tor Freeman is a delightful story for younger readers in which a horse is kidnapped for her tail hair, because it is perfect for violin strings.  It is colourfully illustrated and has plenty of laughs to keep a young reader totally engrossed in the story

ZaZaKids & Troika, 9781909991897

Spot Guevara: Hero Dog” by Zaro Weil and Katy Riddell is set in New York City and is the story of a young puppy, Spot, who has been separated from his mother and siblings.This follows his adventures as he tries to find them, in what is a very big City.  There are ups and downs, heroes and villains  and above all there is the indomitable spirit of the young puppy.  It was a truly uplifting story with a happy ending, but with potential for more adventures.

Nosy Crow, 9781788004695

Clifftoppers: the Arrowhead Moor Adventure” by Fleur Hitchcock  can only be described as a ripping yarn as the young heroes find themselves trying to stop a jewellery robbery.  This definitely harks back to stories that many of us remember from our youth; although I must have been one of a small number of children who did not read Enid Blyton, because she was not stocked by our local library service.

Nosy Crow, 9781788000413

“We Won an Island” by Charlotte Lo is another story that harks back to a more laid back past, although there is plenty of action and adventure in this story.  When the children win a competition to gain an island it is very timely as their parents are about to be thrown out of their flat, due to non payment of their rent.  However life on a Scottish island has its challenges, not least having enough money to live on and the children come up with some exciting and very  interesting plans to try and make a success of their new life.

Faber & Faber, 9780571346301

“The Secret Starling” by Judith Eagle follows the adventures of the young heroine Clara after she is abandoned by her Uncle (and Guardian).  With the help of a young boy, Peter, she heads off to London to try and find out how her mother died and where her unknown father might be.  This is a lovely middle grade story with a fascinating twist at the end.

Little Tiger, 9781788950329

“The Golden Butterfly” by Sharon Gosling has a real sense of theatre about it, Victorian Theatre to be precise.  When her grandfather the Magnificent Marko dies his funeral is interrupted by a stage magician called Thursby who is searching for a magic trick called ‘The Golden Butterfly’. Luciana  and her best friend Charley decide to go to London to try and solve the mystery of this trick.  This is a wonderfully atmospheric story, with a real message about women being equal and the struggle that they have often had to be accepted.

David Fickling, 9781788450218

“Dragon Daughter” by Liz Flanagan is a real treat for those who love fantasy and dragons in particular.  When Milla witnesses a murder she also saves a small bag that appears to contain four eggs, only these turn out to be very special indeed.  How Milla and her friends bond with the four baby dragons and save them from the plotting of the ruling Duke makes for a truly exciting and magical story.  It is definitely a story to savour and recommend.

Bloomsbury Education, 9781472955999

“Golden Horsemen of Baghdad” by Saviour Pirotta is set in medieval Baghdad;  a complete change from the ancient Greek setting that the author is so well known for.  The young hero Jabir has to help his family survive after the death of his father, but their landlord is determined to throw them out of their home.  Can Jabir use his skill as a carver in order to make money and save his family, or will the evil landlord succeed?  This is a super story that introduces children to a culture that they might not be truly aware of.

“POG” by Padraig Kenny is a magical stand-alone story about two children (and their father)who move to their mother’s childhood home after her death.  They are struggling to come to terms with their grief and find that the appearance of a small very hairy individual might help them.  There is a very subtle underlying theme which has the story coming somewhat ‘full circle’.  It is an extremely thought provoking read.

Chicken House, 9781910655986

“A Witch Come True” by James Nicol is the final ? instalment of this magical series for young people.  Arianwyn has been taken to their hearts, so there will be great rejoicing that things seem to have worked out in the end.  However our heroine has to undergo even more tribulations in this final book before we can say that all is well.  This series is hopefully going to become a classic and I am delighted by the hint from the publisher that more adventures could be possible.

Chicken House, 9781911077008

“Against all Gods” by Maz Evans is the final book in this series featuring the Greek Gods.  Elliot is still trying to get his mother back from Hades and prevent his home being bought by the evil Patricia Porshley-Plum.  Everything seems to be going wrong and even the gods seem lost about what to do.  The book had me veering between laughter and tears, in the same way that a roller-coaster goes up and down, but it was worth all of the emotion.  What a brilliant series in the way it combines the serious and the silly.

Macmillan, 9781509871223

“Kat Wolfe Investigates” by Lauren St John and Beidi Guo is the story of a young girl  who moves to a small seaside village in Dorset when her mother takes up the role of local vet.  She starts animal sitting as a way to earn pocket money, but doesn’t expect to find that there are mysterious goings on in the local area.  Before long Kat finds herself caught up with possible spies, the army and the British secret service.  It is a great adventure for those who love mysteries.

OUP, 9780192771568

“The House of Light” by Julia Green is set in a dystopian culture that feels as if it is on the Scottish coast or Islands.  The people are tightly controlled by officials and armed police and there appears to have been a major ecological disaster in the past.  Bonnie’s mother had left several years before, in an attempt to find a better place, leaving her daughter with her Granda.  When a boy called Ish has his boat beached near her home it brings the idea of leaving closer to being possible.  This is a story to make you think about the world we are creating and what the future could mean for our grandchildren.  Yet another superb story from a wonderful writer.

 

This has been just a look at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new books this spring.  Whilst looking through my collection I found another great selection of books that I have really enjoyed over the winter months.  I hope to be able to bring them to you in the next few weeks, but before then I am off to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference, so there are bound to be even more titles to go on my TBR pile.

Wallowing in my Bath (Kids Lit Festival) again

I am currently having a calm and relaxing day after a 10 day session helping out at Bath.  I can only be in awe of John and Gill McLay and all the amazing work they put into putting the programme together and then being so totally hands on during the festival  I hope they are having a well deserved break, together with all the others who were there every day.  This year I managed to pace myself, although this meant that I occasionally missed out on events and despite my best attempts my ‘time turner’ does not actually function, so I cannot be in two places at the same time.

Lauren Child and Gill McLay

Events started off  on Friday 28th September with an event by the current Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, in which she combined a general discussion about her books with talking about her new work “Hubert Horatio”.  It is based a round a character she created several years ago in a picture book, but now he is appearing in a work for ‘middle grade’ readers.  Hubert Horatio is a very serious and extremely intelligent little boy; unfortunately he has two very frivolous and spendthrift parents, so it is lucky that they are millionaires and they have their son to keep them out of trouble.  This book is published on 18th October, so I look forward to reading it and then talking about it; it sounds as if it is going to be great fun. The evening was finished off with a launch party at Waterstones, where it was lovely to meet up with friends and authors.

Sebastien de Castell

The festival began in earnest on the Saturday morning but because of other commitments, namely  a trip to London to hear Sebastien de Castell and Alexandra Christo and I was not able to start my stewarding until the Monday, but what a fantastic way to start.  The first event was with the so talented and charming Joseph Coelho, who is known for both his poetry and his picture books.  He focused on reading  “Luna Loves Library Day” and had the book on a large screen, so that the children could fully participate in the reading.  This is an absolute must for all parents to read to their children and for nurseries and schools to use as an introduction to visiting the library. It was also very appropriate as we have just had Libraries Week, where we hopefully celebrate the importance of these places in our lives.  The second event was the ever fabulous Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve  wowing the audience with the “Adventures of Kevin”, the story of a custard cream loving flying pony.  The duo are famous for their songs about the characters in their books and this was no exception.  we all came away with the ear-worm chorus going around our brains – “He’s the one, the one and only, roly poly flying pony”

M G Leonard

Tuesday saw me back in Bath for another round of sessions.  The first one was the delightful Chitra Soundar who I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time.  She is a writer and storyteller who captivated her audience with several of her stories.  the first was “Pattan’s Pumpkin“, an Indian version of a Flood story; she used slides of the pages to reinforce the images.  After this she told the story “You’re safe with me” which is about overcoming fear of the unknown, in the garb of a torrential tropical storm.  Although she did not read from the book, we were also able to see and purchase her new book “You’re snug with me”, the story of a polar bear and her two cubs as they survive winter.  I really have to mention her illustrator Poonam Mistry who has produced the most stunning illustrations for the last two titles.  The complexity of the style is really magical and I think that anyone, child or adult, could spend hours just looking at these wonderful pictures.  My morning was completed by the lovely M G Leonard talking about her trilogy “Battle of the Beetles“.  I was lucky enough to be able to take her out to a couple of schools when the first book “Beetle Boy” was issued, so I have always had a special interest in seeing her success.  Her audience of over 200 pupils were absolutely fascinated by her pictures of beetles and understanding the importance of these creatures to our world.  Whilst I am not sure I will ever want to get ‘up close and personal’ with beetles, I do have a greater understanding of their importance.  However the most important thing about these books is that they are really great adventures with a truly evil villain and some fantastic heroes, both human and animal, so I thoroughly recommend them for KS2 pupils and beyond.

Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

I actually managed to take a break on Wednesday and Thursday but on Friday I once again found myself driving over to Bath for an early start.  the first event was one that my grandson would have absolutely loved as it was about some of his favourite books.  The adventures of “Supertato” are loved by millions of small people and the 340+ who were in the Guildhall were certainly very vocal in their appreciation of the creators, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.  It was totally amazing how these youngsters became so involved in the adventures of vegetables in a supermarket but it also shows the power of the imagination and the pleasure that children get from listening to stories.  The final session of the morning was for a slightly older audience and  was about “The Nothing to see here Hotel” and its follow up “You ain’t see nothing Yeti!”  These are written and illustrated by Steven Butler and Steve Lenton and are hysterically funny adventures in a hotel for non-human guests.  So you are likely to meet ogres, trolls, elves, goblins and all sorts of wonderful creatures, but it is never quiet and adventures are always waiting to happen.  The two ‘Steves’ (not the original version, that was Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore) are also great entertainers, so we had a truly funny and fascinating event.  They worked brilliantly with their audience and would be an excellent choice to invite into schools.

David Roberts and Julian Clary

David Roberts and Jo Nadin

The final day of the festival was the Sunday and I had a double whammy of David Roberts,  but the morning started out with a show dedicated to the hero that is “The Gruffalo”.  This consisted of a partial retelling of the story, using musical instruments to represent the different animals and the forest was created with children, holding  small branches with leaves.  As a finale the Gruffalo made a visit and it was wonderful to see how many wanted their photos taken with this icon of children’s literature.  The first David Robert’s event was about the amazing “Suffragette”, which has really caused quite a stir in this centenary year since the first women in the UK got the vote.  The information is well researched and accurate as David has been fascinated by the subject since he was a child.  The illustrations are superb and use the palette of colours that we often associate with the suffrage movements.  This was an event that attracted a wide audience, many of them adults, which was great to see, but there were also numbers of younger readers who are fascinated by the history that this depicts.  Later that day I went down to another venue called Komedia, where David and Julian Clary were talking about “The Bolds in Trouble“,  the latest of their books featuring the incredible Bold family, a family of hyenas living as humans in suburban Teddington. I am a complete fan of these books because the whole concept is so ridiculous,  The characters are a sublime combination of animal and human traits and the books are full of subversive humour.

Looking back on this wonderful week I can only be thankful for having the opportunity to be involved with some amazing people.  The children who attended with their schools during the week have an incredible experience and their enthusiasm for books and reading will have benefited from seeing the artists at work.  I can’t believe that next year will be the 13th festival, but I am really looking forward to seeing what is in store for all of us.

 

Great Reads for younger Readers

With the new term about to start there are many teachers out there who are looking for good and exciting books that they can read and recommend to their younger pupils this year.  These suggestions are hopefully ones that will help them; they are really for KS1 and KS2L and whether the children read them individually is obviously a matter for the staff.  However they have all got potential to be read to the children if teachers are looking for funny, interesting or exciting stories that do not take the whole term to read.  Give some of them a try and decide whether they will work with your young people.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781127681

“Rose’s Dress of Dreams” by Katherine Woodfine and Kate Pankhurst is one of the first titles in a new series by Barrington Stoke.  The books are a smaller format than usual and have coloured illustrations, all of which makes them very attractive to the younger reader.  This title is about a young girl and her dream of becoming a dressmaker during the pre-revolutionary period in France.  The young Rose eventually became the first of the famous couturiers and an influence on generations of designers. It is really about holding on to your dreams and trying to overcome the challenges that life throws at you.  It is particularly good for those who have an interest in history or fashion

Usborne, 9781848127333

“Marge and the Secret Tunnel” by Isla Fisher and Eglantine Ceulemans is the fourth in a series about one of the most eccentric babysitters you are likely to meet.  Jemima and Jakey often have to spend time with a babysitter and until Marge came on the scene they had always disliked the experience.  However with Marge everything becomes an exciting adventure and in this story they go exploring in a secret tunnel that they find at the bottom of the garden.  there are actually three stories in this book, the other two being about a”great shopping race” and the “lost kitten”.  Having these short stories makes them very accessible, not only to new readers but also for reading in class; they are just long enough to read the whole tale in one session.  Great for KS1 children.

Usborne, 9781474928120

“Meet the Twitches” by Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick.  This is a delightful introduction to a young girl, Stevie and the family of toy rabbits called the Twitches.  When Stevie and her mother move from their tower block flat she is given a wonderful and quaint dolls’ house, in the shape of a teapot.  Included are all the furnishings and fitting and a complete library; most fantastic of all are the family of toy rabbits that inhabit the house.  What Stevie does not know is that the rabbits magically come alive and when the father, Gabriel is lost in the garden during the furniture moving, it is up to the family and especially young Silver to find him and get him back home.  It is a lovely story about the importance of home and family and I am looking forward to reading more of their adventures in the future.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781127551

“Hari and his Electric Feet” by Alexander McCall Smith and Sam Usher.  The author is well known for the crime series that he has written over the years, but he has also become known for the stories that he has written for children.  This book is by Barrington Stoke and is a delightful story of hope and how music and dance can have a beneficial effect on people.  Hari and his sister live with their aunt in a big city in India, as their parents have had to go away to earn money and Hari helps by making sweets and delivering lunches.  he is an avid fan of Bollywood films and loves the dancing; so when his sister suggests he tries it himself, he does and discovers a talent to make others dance along with him.  This leads to all sorts of adventures and a happy ending for the whole family.  This is a real “feel good” story and has lots of lessons for the adults of the world, so why not get dancing.

Hodder, 9781444932065

“Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure” by Alex T. Smith is the fantastically funny story of an intrepid adventurer and detective as he searches for a lost treasure.  The fact that he is a penguin  and his sidekick is a spider just adds to the totally whacky plot.  The illustrations are weird and wonderful and Alex T Smith has created a truly original new hero.  there are lot of twists and turns in the plot and you cannot be sure who are the villains and who are the good guys.  I am sure that we will see a lot more of this exciting hero with a love of fish finger sandwiches.

Hachette, 9781444921724

“Rabbit and Bear: Attack of the Snack” by Julian Gough and Jim Field.  This is the third in a series of short stories about Bear and his friend Rabbit.  One day they are out swimming when a creature crash lands in the lake and they pull it out, but they have no idea what it is. Eventually they discover that it is an Owl and all their friends have a view about what type of animal an owl is.  It is a fascinating look at how we are affected by rumours and scaremongering and I think there are many links to what can happen in the real world.  Children however are going to love the information at the end of the story, as the Owl (he is a burrowing owl) explains that he lines his hole in blueberry Poo, in order to attract beetles to eat.  There are brilliant illustrations and  extremely funny characters; it will be a great read for those gaining confidence, but also a lovely class read.

Usborne, 9781474932011

“Tanglewood Animal Park: Elephant Emergency” by Tamsyn Murray is the third story about the Tanglewood animal park and in particular Zoe, the daughter of the owners and Oliver, the son of the park vet.  Each of the stories has followed the fortunes of new animals as they are introduced to the park and in this story it is a family of six elephants who are being re-homed, from a zoo that is closing down.  This is a wonderful story of the ups and downs of looking after animals and there is a real sense that the author truly knows what it is like to be involved with all of these creatures.  For anyone who loved the TV series about Longleat, or just loves wildlife, these are a fantastic read.

Oxford University Press, 9780192764058

Night Zoo Keeper: Giraffes of whispering wood” by Joshua Davidson and Buzz Burman mixes magic and wild animals in a lovely story.  When Will is transported into the world of the night garden he enters a world of imagination where he has to save the animals from the  robotic spiders, called Voids.  It appears that he is the next “Night Zoo Keeper” and he and his friend Riya have to help the giraffes who inhabit this part of the zoo. This is a great story about letting your imagination fly and not being afraid to be different from everyone else.

Well, there they are.  Hopefully you will have found something that excites you.  I would also suggest that you look on the websites of these publishers, because they are going to have other titles that you may want to consider and they often have additional materials that the children can use both in class and at home.  Anyway, do Enjoy!

The wonder of factual books

I thought it was time for another look at some of the amazing factual titles that have been coming out in the last twelve months.  It is fascinating that we are having such a resurgence in information book publishing and yet at the same time we still have the doom-mongers who say that we only need the internet for our information needs.It is fair to say that the number of non-fiction books found in schools seems to be on the decline but that may be a symptom of lowering budgets rather than a desire to be online all the time.

 

” Usborne Politics for beginners” by Alex Frith, Rosie Hore, Louie Stowell and Kellan Stover.  It is not often that a book about politics, written for children, causes such a stir but this title has done exactly that.  Whilst aimed at KS2 and above this is actually very suitable for adults who have not shown an interest in politics before.  It is divided into six main chapters, covering everything from kinds of governments to some of the major ‘questions’ that people as, such as “what is terrorism?”It is a well laid out book and has been very well researched.  It has also used a range of experts, from BBC reporters to MPs.  I particularly  like the section on how to hold a debate because it makes you think about different aspects of the discussion.  It has a good index and glossary and is really recommended, both for school and for the home.

“The Lost Words” by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris is a totally stunning work of art, both in the poetry and in the illustrations.  The premise it simple;  it is an alphabetical list of terms associated with nature, that seem to be disappearing from everyday knowledge and usage.  However the reality goes far beyond this, because each definition or description is a poem in its own right and the first letter of each line adds up to create the name of the subject matter.  Jackie Morris’s illustrations are almost beyond description; they are sumptuous, lyrical, magical evocations of the world around us.  This is one of those books that totally transcends the way we label books.  It is something that can be read and pored over with a small child, but it also works  as a wonderfully absorbing read for adults.  It is possibly at the top of my non-fiction list for the last year.

“Where’s Jane” by Rebecca Smith and Katy Dockrill is a look at the novels of Jane Austen.  It covers six of her most famous works and gives a very concise description of the stories.  Each book is given a double page spread with details of the plot as well as a small vignette of the characters.  There is also a double page of just illustration which shows scenes from the book and which has an element of “Where’s Wally as the reader has to find the character of Jane, as well as her Pug dog.  there is a great deal of complexity in the illustrations, all of which show everyday activities of the period and give us a real sense of the time.  What is particularly helpful is the slight change in the colour palette for each of the books, this creates a natural division between the sections and brings a different atmosphere to each story.  As we commemorated the bicentenary of her death in 2017 this book seems particularly well times.  It will be extremely useful, not only as an introduction to the books, but also a look at the social and cultural elements of life in the early 19th century.  Definitely one for the KS2 classroom.

 

“The People Awards” by Lily Murray and Ana Albero is a look at 50 people through history who have had an impact on the lives of the world around them and changed the way that we think.  Some of these people are household names but many of them are not; however they have all been chosen to represent specific quality.  the book is aimed at younger readers, from about 7 years upwards and it is heavily illustrated with bright and cheerful pictures. this introduction really whets the appetite and will hopefully lead young people to find out about the award winners in more detail.

“Great Women who made History” by Kate Pankhurst is one of the many books about strong women that have been produced in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Women’s suffrage.  This one is aimed at a relatively young audience, the lower end of KS2 or even good readers who are slightly younger.  The range of women cover the last four thousand years of our history from Ancient Egypt to the Russian Cosmonauts; whilst most of them are well known there are one or two who do not usually appear in such books and it is great to see this variation.  It is a brightly illustrated book with plenty of information, but in bite-sized chunks and I am sure that readers will be encouraged to go ahead and find out more about the amazing women mentioned.

“Animal surprises:how to draw” by Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron.  Nicola Davies is one of the most well known and respected writers of narrative non-fiction for young people, with an emphasis on the natural world.  This book is part of a series that she has written in collaboration with a young illustrator called Abbie Cameron.  The idea is to show young people how to draw some of the creatures that are found in some of Nicola’s books, starting with “Animal Surprises”; this will be followed by other titles such as “The Word Bird” and “Into the Blue”.  Each animal has a short half page description by Nicola but the main emphasis is on the building of the illustrations.  It is aimed at the absolute beginner, using circles, ovals and lines to construct frameworks and then filling in the details.  I feel as if even I could have a go at creating the animals shown.

“10 reasons to love a bear” is part of a series aimed at younger readers and which introduces them to some of their favourite creatures in the wild.  There are double page spreads and just three or four lines of text on each page, so that it makes for a great book to read on a one to one basis.  the facts act as a starting point for more in-depth searching.  It is a very child friendly series and further titles include Whales and Elephants.

This really is just a taster for some of the many titles that are coming out at the moment.  I have already got a small pile of them, ready for the next review  and there are several that have really got me excited.  What a really brilliant time for children’s publishing and especially for non-fiction titles.  This resurgence is something that we can only be grateful for and hope that it continues.

Bristol celebrating Children’s Books

Usually when I attend any book events it means a long journey by car or train, however yesterday I went to a really great little day in Bristol.  It was hosted by Horfield Primary School who have been gaining a reputation for their emphasis on reading;  in fact, last year they were the winners of the UKLA Literacy School of the Year award.  It was lovely to walk around the school and see the examples of ‘good practice’ that they were taking on board, so that pupils are constantly reminded of the joys of reading.

There was a very full programme of events during the day and I managed to fit in five of the authors and illustrators.  Firstly I saw the truly inspirational Andy Seed, who is well known for his series of very funny but informative books about a wide range of topics.  Yesterday he used the event to launch a new wildlife  book  entitled “Wild Facts about nature” which he has written in conjunction with the RSPB.  Andy is a really funny speaker who had the audience of both children and adults in fits of laughter.  The session was very interactive with helpers being  persuaded up on to the stage to help with the explanations and quizzes found in the book.  If anyone is looking for a really superb author to connect with their primary pupils then Andy Seed comes highly recommended.

My next session was with the lovely Amy Wilson who has made quite a stir with her book “A girl called Owl” and her latest “A Far away Magic“.  She also introduced us to her next book “Snow globe”, which will be published in October, ready for the Christmas market.  This was a very interactive workshop, with Amy working with the children to think around the concept of Magic.  It was really lovely to hear from the children about what they had been inspired to write.  Given the emphasis that there is on writing within the curriculum this was a brilliant way to enthuse children, without making it feel like ‘work’.

Ross Montgomery is a very talented young author and has produced books for a wide range of ages; these range from picture books such as “Space Tortoise” to his new book “Max and the Millions“.  This workshop was for what is often called ‘middle grade’ readers and was centred around ‘Max’ and how Ross created the world at the centre of the story.  The children had to imagine they were only the size of a grain of rice and then think about how they would describe objects they see when entering a new space/room within a house.  It was fascinating to hear their thoughts and to try and visualize the process for yourself.  Even though these workshops are intended for a children’s audience, they are so useful for adult who want to write, or who work with children in an educational setting.

The largest event of the afternoon was that with S F Said who is well known in most primary schools for his books about a cat called “Varjak Paw” and many of the children in the packed audience would have read the book in school.  The author spoke about his journey into writing and it was fascinating to hear that he had also suffered book rejections in his time.  He also admitted that his understanding of the writing and publishing process had to develop over time, especially the fact that writing ‘The End’ means it is the End of the beginning process.  Thing such as agents, editors, drafts and re-writes were something that he had to learn about and take on board in order to achieve success.  His latest book “Phoenix”, which has been out for several years now, took seven years to write and is on a much larger scale than his first works.  It is a fantastic space odyssey, which I really loved.  The children had lots of questions at the end of the session and we heard that there will be a third Varjak Paw at some time in the future, but only when S F is older!

My final session of the day was with the delightful Chris D’Lacey who is so well know for his wonderful “Last Dragon” series, of which I am a great fan.  He spoke about how he started writing and the book that first brought him attention as an author “Fly Cherokee, Fly” which was listed for the Carnegie medal.  When his publisher asked for another book on a similar theme, with squirrels , he was also asked what was the occupation of the landlady where the central character was living.  By a very circuitous route he came up with her being a ceramicist who makes models of dragons; the series was born.  Chris also spoke about his two later series “The Unicorne Files” and “Erth Dragons”, both of which are possibly for slightly older audiences.

 

Mini Grey

Leigh Hodgkinson

Kjartan Poskitt

There were six other authors and illustrators that I was unable to sit in on, but I was lucky enough to speak to several of them when they were signing or just enjoying the atmosphere.  Mini Grey (“The Last Wolf”), Leigh Hodgkinson (“Are you sitting comfortably”), Emma Randall (“The twelve days of Christmas”) and David Lucas (“Grendel”) are all superb picture book creators and it was a shame that I did not get time to hear them speak.  However based on their charming way with their audience, I will try and get to listen to them in the future.  I also want to know why Mini was wearing little furry ears!  John Hegley (“I am a Poetato”) is very well known as a poet and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a conference a couple of years ago.  He is full of energy and his use of language is amazing, I would highly recommend him for schools.  This recommendation also applies to the final speaker that I did not see, however I have also seen him in the past.  This is Kjartan Poskitt, a man who can make mathematics really interesting, amusing and even understandable.  His books about “Murderous Maths” are a staple of most libraries and schools and like “Horrible Histories” they are very popular with the intended audience.  To listen to him is a real experience and I would have loved to catch some of his event.

Overall this was a really lovely day and I would like to give a big thanks to the organizers and staff at Horfield Primary School for putting it all together, as I know how much effort must have gone into the day.  I particularly loved the small bouquets of flowers, crafted from old books by the children, that were given to each author.   It was advertised heavily on Twitter and in Bristol so I am sure that it must have been a disappointment that the audience was not as broad as it could have been.  However I did see several friends and had the great pleasure of meeting a Twitter friend, Brindy Wilcox, who is a self published children’s author and lives a few miles from me.  It really was a wonderful celebration of children’s books and the fantastic wealth of authors and illustrators that we have in this country.  Those of you in the area who did not attend missed a real treat.

 

 

Spring into Picture Books

Firstly I am going to look at a selection of stories based around reading and books, which seems somewhat appropriate, given the theme of this blog. It has become quite common to see books and reading become the focus of books, both picture books and those for slightly older readers.  I have noticed that there are several others being published during the summer, so I hope I will be able to write about them later in the year.

Andersen Press, 9781783446025

“Not just a book” by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross is full of the magic and imagination that we have come to expect from Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.  It is very simple  text with Tony Ross’s now classic style of illustration.  We see the multitude of things you can do with a book (even if it is not such a good idea) but the focal point is that reading a book enables us to use our imagination, to feel emotion and empathize with others, to learn from and to enjoy.

Little Red Reading Hood” by Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle.  this is another look at the magic of reading and how a little imagination can change the stories that we know.  It starts out as a version of ‘Little red Riding Hood, but takes an unexpected turn, thanks to the librarian who had been tied up by the wolf.  It encourages children to change things around if they don’t like the way a story is going and is a wonderful encouragement for those wanting to write their own stories.

“Birdy and Bou: the Floating Library” by David Bedford and Mandy Stanley is a charming story aimed at the very young.  Bou, the panda and his friend Birdy live on the edge of a river.  Imagine their excitement when they see the Library Boat on its way to their village, so they and their friends hurry down to the river bank so they can choose some books to read.  they become so involved that they do not notice that the boat is about to leave and they need to get the book back.  Luckily Birdy is able to fly the book to the Library! A great introduction to using a library and a way of reminding us that in other parts of the world having access to books is more difficult than for us.

Read the Book, Lemmings” by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora is a tale about the importance of being able to read.  Foxy is reading his book about Lemmings and finds that they don’t actually jump off cliffs, unfortunately the three on board his ship can’t read and keep jumping into the water, where they need to be rescued. Despite all his efforts, I am not sure that the Lemmings really understand what he was trying to say  A great story for the very young, but with a very important message for even the adults among us.

 

 

The rest of my selection for this time are all new titles and most of them deal with various issues that young children are likely to come across at home, or in school.  While the subjects vary and the illustrations and text  range from the conventional to the extremely quirky, I think that these are all great books that you will enjoy reading to young listeners.

“Picking Pickle” by Polly Faber and Clare Vulliamy.  this is an absolutely gorgeous story about choosing a new dog.It is a simple discussion between the reader and a dog called Pickle and he is trying to help us find the right dog to take home.  Well, you can imagine who the perfect animal turns out to be!  This is a magical  story to read to any child, especially if you are thinking about buying a pet.  It makes you think about the animal and whether it will fit in with your family, so that you become the perfect family for this dog.

“The Itchy-saurus” by Rosie Wellesley is the story of a T-Rex who suddenly finds that his skin has become red, dry and very itchy and he doesn’t know what to do about it.  Luckily Doc Bill (a Platypus) comes along and helps him get better with some soothing creams and treatments.  Whilst this is a great story it also has a very strong role in helping young children who have eczema  understand what is wrong and how the doctors are trying to help them.  Definitely one for schools, nurseries and even doctors’ surgeries.

“What’s at the Top” by Marc Martin.  This is a totally fantastic flight of imagination as we are asked what might be at the top of a ladder.  The questioner comes up with increasingly more complex possibilities; the amount of text increasing as the book continues.  The twist at the end of the story, when we see who is asking the questions will have everyone smiling, but I am not going to give away the identity.  A longer review for this book can be found in Armadillo magazine on-line.

“Erik the lone wolf” by Sarah Finan is the story of a young wolf who wants to be independent and get away from the pack.  However he finds that there are occasions when it is very helpful to have the support of the pack, especially when danger is close by.  It is a lovely tale of  trying to grow up, testing the boundaries and then understanding the meaning of family and friends.  the illustrations are great and you get  real sense of connection with Erik and his attempts to grow up.

“The Station Mouse” by Meg McLaren is one of my favourite picture books so far this year.  It is the story of Maurice, a station mouse, who collects all of the lost items every night but no one ever comes to claim them back.  How Maurice changes the rules of the ‘Station Mouse Handbook’ and makes things better for everyone makes for a fantastic book, which leaves you with a warm  glow when you have finished reading it.  This is going on my list of  ‘forever’ books.

“Between Tick and Tock” by Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay.   What a totally enchanting story about the pressures of living in the modern world and having that breathing space to sort everything out.  This is the story of Liesel, a little girl who lives high in a clock tower.  When she see things going wrong and people being unhappy she stops time and uses that space to help mend, replace, find or save people and things that need help.  It really reminds us about the importance of kindness and helping others and has a really magical quality.  It is yet another book that will be on my ‘forever’ books list because of the thoughtfulness that it evokes.

“Ruby’s Worry” by Tom Percival reminds me a bit of  “The Huge bag of Worries” by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers, but it is an updated look at the issue that many children (as well as adults struggle with).  When Ruby discovers a worry gradually getting bigger she worries so much that it begins to take over her life.  Then one day she discovers someone else with a worry and they find that talking about them makes them grow smaller and eventually disappear.  The simple, clear and supportive message is one that we all need to remember and this is a perfect story to tell to young children who are in the same situation as Ruby.

 

 

Enjoy the books and have a lovely summer!