Time for my annual Bath (Festival of Children’s Literature)

For the 11th year in a row my September has been highlighted by the BathKidsLitFest.  Every year I get this in the diary and know that I will be stewarding for some fantastic authors and illustrators over the 10 days of the Festival.  this time was no different and I managed to pack my diary with events over both weekends.

Rachel Ward, Fox Benwell and Marie-Louise Jensen

The festival started on the evening of 29th September when I found myself stewarding for a Cressida Cowell event at the Forum in Bath.  There must have been about 6-800 in the audience and as usual Cressida gave an amazing session, talking about both her “How to train your Dragon” series but also about her new book “The Wizards of Once”  The session was highlighted by photos drawings and clips from the latest dragon film.  All in all it was a great event and the audience were delighted.  The signing queue was long and must have lasted nearly 2 hours, which meant that I missed most of the launch party; luckily several of my friends were still there, so we were able to have a catch up chat.

Saturday started with the David Baddiel session, talking about his new book “Birthday Boy” but also about some of his earlier works, like “The Person Controller” and “The Parent Agency”As he is a polished comedian and entertainer I was expecting a funny and well put together performance and I was not disappointed.  He spoke about his inspiration for the stories and really promoted the need for children to read for pleasure.  Once again he had a large and very attentive audience and it was good to see the mix of boys and girls, although especially good to see so many boys.

The next session was one for my grandson, or rather it will be at Christmas!  This event “Star Wars with JAKe” was aimed at a slightly younger age group, but really it was for anyone who loves Star Wars.  Of course with the new film coming out soon this was just the thing to whet people’s appetites.  JAKe is the illustrator of two small books called “How to speak Wookiee” and “How to speak Droid with R2-D2.  They are simple stories explaining about Wookies and Droids and giving insights into their respective languages.  Each page has a number and the book has a keypad, so that you can hear the sounds associated with that page by pressing the correct key.  Very interactive and great fun (but not necessarily for parents or grandparents!).  The children got the chance to draw a variety of characters from the films and some very lucky people got to take one of JAKe’s illustrations home.  It was a lovely family event that the audience really enjoyed.

Chris Riddell

My next day at the festival was Sunday the 1st October and unusually I did the afternoon session rather than the morning.  this was because I wanted to listen to two exciting and fascinating authors in conversation.  They are Emma Carroll, author of “Letters from the Lighthouse” and Eloise Williams who has just published her first book “Gaslight“.  The Session was described as “The History girls” and both authors have placed their books in the past, although in widely different places and times.  Emma has written about World War II although previously she has set her books in the Victorian period and this has enabled her to bring in a range of dangers and differing characters.  Eloise has set her book in Victorian Cardiff and has centred the story around a theatre and the docks, o there is again plenty of opportunity for mystery and villainy.  A really great time for all of those, especially young girls who love a great historical novel.  I was also lucky enough to meet Chris Riddell in the Green Room as he was preparing for his talk later in the day.  I know that the audience would have had a truly amazing time as he is such a brilliant speaker and artist.  We were so lucky to have him as a Children’s laureate and he is now an ambassador for Booktrust.  The day was further improved by seeing the lovely talented Martin Brown in the Green Room as he had just finished his event on illustrating the “Horrible Histories” series; his covers and ink sketches really are the icing on the cake as far as these books are concerned.  He has also just produced a book about unusual animals that I talked about in my post from the Federation of Children’s Book groups this year, absolutely brilliant.

Having had a few days off, Friday 6th saw me back in action stewarding for the Nadiya Hussain event.  She was promoting a book which mixed food and stories all linked in to the theme of Christmas, called “Bake me a Festive Story”.  She got several children to come on stage to help decorate gingerbread Christmas trees with green coconut and this was put on to large screens behind her.  There were also readings of at least one of the stories and it was a shame that they appeared to have been pre-recorded.  However the audience, both adults and children appeared to enjoy the event and were eager to get their hands on copies of her books.

I stayed on at the Guildhall for the following event, which was the brilliant illustrator/artist Jim Kay, whose illustrated ‘HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ has just been released.  It is truly amazing how he has taken the world created by J K Rowling and has added depth and reality to an already beautifully realized world.  The insight that we were given into the whole process was enlightening and the fact that the illustrations for the first book took him over two years to produce had the audience  gasping.  When he went on to say that he had been given a deadline of eight months for the second book, it made most of us cringe at the concentration and focus that was required.  We were then treated to some amazing drafts for pages  from the current book and Jim talked through the process of how the final images evolved.  It really was a must see event for those who love Harry Potter as well as those who just love high quality illustration and imagination.

My Saturday morning was a mix of very different books, but I enjoyed both events because the speakers were so enthusiastic about their subject. The first event was about the book “Kid Normal“, written by Radio 1 DJs Greg James and Chris Smith.  The book is about a young boy who accidentally finds himself at a school for superheroes, despite having no superpowers.  I must admit that I enjoyed reading the book and am looking forward to the follow up which is coming out in March 2018.  The presenters were fun and very positive about children and reading; it was obvious that the audience really enjoyed the whole session  and that included the suspiciously large number of lone adults who attended.

The following session was very different and was aimed at those young people who are fascinated by space and the skies above our heads.  Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the well known and very charismatic astronomer, was talking about the new Doring Kindersley  book “Star Finder for beginners”.  She gave a fully illustrated talk, with some amazing images taken from various telescopes and satellites.  Her knowledge and enthusiasm is boundless and it was obvious that her young audience were just as keen on the subject.  I was surprised by the depth of questioning that they provided.  It was a real treat to see how engaged everyone was.  Those were my only sessions of the day but I was lucky enough to meet up with the lovely Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton in the Green Room after they had finished their event about the new “Shifty McGifty” stories.  These are great reads for those who are just gaining confidence in their reading,

On Sunday morning it was difficult to believe that this was the end of the festival.  We spend months looking forward to it and then it just goes in a flash.  My final day was spent at a different venue, the Widcombe Social Club, which although smaller than the Guildhall had a very friendly feel, as well as very good coffee from the bar. I was scheduled to steward on two events and they were ones that I was really looking forward to.  The first session was a discussion between Gill Lewis, author of “Sky Dancer” and Kieran Larwood who has written two books about the eponymous hero rabbit “Podkin One-Ear”  It was  a fascinating look at the difference in their styles of writing.  Gill very much keeps her books grounded in the real world and the creatures are not humanized in any way, yet we are able to make a connection with the animals and their worlds.  Kieran, on the other hand, has created a world that is inhabited by speaking, clothes wearing and almost human rabbits.  There is a mix of magic and fantasy but still they retain their link to the natural world they live in.  It was fascinating to hear both authors explain how they went about creating their stories and I would recommend that readers give both of them a try; they are well worth reading.

My final session was with one of my favourite authors for the MG (Middle Grade) reader.  Robin Stevens has made a name for herself as the author of the “Murder Most Unladylike” series and all her fans are eagerly awaiting the sixth in the series, which will be published in the early spring.  I understand that she has already started writing number seven, so everyone is happy.  However at this event she was talking about something very different.She has been chosen to write the follow up to the “London Eye Mystery”by the late Siobhan Dowd.  Her book “The Guggenheim Mystery” has just been published and it was fascinating for the young readers to find out about the challenges of taking over the characters and plot conceived by such a loved author.  Whilst the main characters are the same as before, the story is set in the United States and this gives problems to the young hero and his friends as they do not understand the culture.  The fans were eager to ask questions and most stayed to have their book collections signed by the author.

The day was rounded off by saying hello to the lovely and brilliant writers Kevin Crossley- Holland and Francesca Simon who were preparing for their discussion about “Norse Myths”; a topic about which they are both very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about.  It is great to see how myths and legends seem to be coming back in to favour and there are so many great versions and variations that you can look out for.

Well that brings me to the end of my Bath for this year.  As always it was stimulating, educational and above all a very friendly festival.  I love the range of events and look forward to volunteering for my twelfth year in 2018.

A Harry Potter themed Chair!

 

Keeping out of the rain

This summer has been a real mix of weather and there have been many occasions when the best idea is to just curl up with a good book and a hot drink, however as I am finishing this post over the holiday weekend the sun has come out and reading starts to be enjoyable in the garden.  This has meant that I have managed to read more than my usual quota of books over the last month or so.  A few of them are review copies for journals and I have to admit that they have all been ones I enjoyed reading; not something that I take for granted.

 

“The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club” by Alex Bell is a magical tale, set in an unreal world with Unicorns, miniature penguins and man-eating cabbages to name just a few of the weird and wonderful characters.  Stella Starflake Pearl, the heroine, has been brought up by her guardian since he found her as a baby.  He is a member of the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club and Stella dreams of joining him in his travels, but girls are not allowed to be explorers.  How she overcomes this challenge, fights a range of dangers and finds out about the mystery of her own birth makes for a really exciting and  action packed story.  There is magic and adventure as well as messages about what family really means and the importance of friendship.  I was completely hooked by this story and am really looking forward to the next book about Stella and her friends.

“Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space” by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton.  I was lucky enough to hear this author/poet speak at a conference earlier this year, so I was excited to see what this story would be like.  Well, it was just as hysterically funny as you might imagine with a very determined heroine Greta Zargo, who really wants to be an investigative reporter.  There is the case of the missing cakes and the competition to win a reporting prize but in the background and moving ever closer to Earth is a Death Robot; can Greta find the culprit and save the planet at the same time.  You will have to read it to see.

“Chase” by Linwood Barclay is the first story for children by a well known writer of detective novels.  He has given us a mystery with two main central characters.  Their stories start individually but gradually things begin to merge until eventually we understand how they are linked together.  Chipper is a dog that has been kept in a scientific research facility since he was young.  He knows that the ‘white coats’ have done things to him, but his increased abilities allow him to escape and go on the hunt for someone (unknown) that he just has to find.  On the other side of the State lives Jeff, who has gone to live with his aunt after the tragic deaths of his parents.  How these two come together and what their connection is makes for a thrilling and very addictive story.  The next in the series should be a real roller-coaster I suspect.  One for years 6 and 7.

You can’t make me go to Witch School” by Em Lynas.  Daisy Wart just wants to become a great Shakespearean actress but her grandmother insists that she is a witch and sends her off to witch school.  Despite her protests she finds that she can do magic and she and her new friends are called upon to save Toadspit Towers (her school) from an ancient curse.  can she do this and also achieve her acting ambitions?  This is a funny and exciting story about finding yourself and also about friendship.  It is great for the lower end of KS2 and those who just want a light and very enjoyable story.

“Podkin One ear” by Kieran Larwood brings back memories of stories by both Brian Jacques and Robin Jarvis, which means that perhaps I am showing my age to some extent.  It is a fantasy with rabbits as the main characters, so there is also a nod to Richard Adams and ‘Watership Down’.  They are anthropomorphized, so that we are taken to a somewhat medieval landscape with warring  tribes and three young rabbits who are fleeing from a terrifying enemy and who have to save an ancient treasure.  It is a thrilling story for ‘middle grade’ children and could well be a favourite for many years to come.

“The Starman and me” by Sharon Cohen (NG) reminded me somewhat of ‘Stig of the Dump‘by Clive King, ‘Nation‘ by Terry Pratchett and another new book by Adam Stower called ‘King Coo’.   When Kofi sees an unusual small and very scruffy person on a roundabout he is in for the most amazing adventure of his life so far.  The character finally makes contact, but is he from our world and if so, how did he get to England?  this is one of those books that gradually hooks you and then reels you in.  A really great read.

Hospital High” by Mimi Thebo (NG).  this is a book for teens and is very personal to the author as it is based on a true story.  It is the story of Coco, who ends up in hospital after a car accident, where she suffers internal injuries including crushing her voice box.  The ensuing months and years follow her struggles to regain her health, but also to see how her relationships with family and friends pan out.  It is a totally uplifting tale that I will probably read again  and would definitely recommend to other adults as well as to the intended audience.

“School for Skylarks” by Sam Angus (NG)  follows the story of Lyla who is evacuated to live with her Great Aunt at the end of 1939.  She does not want to leave her mother and hates her father for splitting them up.  This is a real roller coaster of a story; the heroine is not one we naturally find sympathetic but over the war years we follow her as she gradually matures, both emotionally and intellectually.  More by accident than design Lyla finds that a small girls’ school is billeted in the big house and she learns how to work with others and gradually make friends.  It is such an heartbreaking story at times, but eventually we get a satisfying end that works well.  This is definitely an author to look out for.

Ban this book” by Alan Gratz (NG) is a thoroughly thought provoking story of what happens when Amy Anne’s favourite book is banned  from the school library.  For those of us who have been around for a long time it will bring back memories of “The day they came to arrest the book” by Nat Hentoff.   The situation in America is very different and they even have an annual ‘Banned Books Week’, so that people can stand up for their right to read what they like. If you look on the American Library Association website you will see the list of hose books which have been challenged over the years, you can find it here http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned .

“The Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein (NG) is an exciting story of a group of children who win the change to have a sleepover at the amazing Mr Lemoncello’s Library.  It is a place of wonder and mixes science with magic so it is not surprising when the challenge becomes harder and the young people have to learn how to work as a team in order to escape from the ‘lockdown scenario’ they find themselves in.  It is a great story and I am looking forward to reading the two other stories featuring the library.

Looking at this group of books I think I have been very lucky with the titles that I have been given access to recently.  The range of subjects is wide ranging and the age groups are also wide.  There is everything from high fantasy to the really heart rending stories based on real life.  Hopefully there is something for everyone, so dip in and give some of them a try.

(NG)  Thanks to Net Galley for providing access to a digital proof in return for a review.

YALC 2017

This definitely seems to be my year for having new book related experiences and yesterday I finally attended the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) which is now in its 5th year. It is part of the London Film and Comic Con, so there were a lot of people walking around wearing the most amazing and often weird costumes.  We had Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who, Steam Punk, as well as others that I cannot guess at.  However, it was brilliant to see so many enthusiastic and committed fans, all of whom seemed keen to let the world share in their passion.  YALC had its own area on the 2nd floor, so that it was a self contained unit.  Lots of out favourite YA publishers were there and there were plenty of freebies (in the guise of bookmarks, postcards and even book chapters), some proofs (all gone by the time I arrived) and books at generously reduced prices.

The whole set up was very well organized with a ‘room’ for workshops, a large ‘room’ for talks/panels and masses of space for author signing sessions.  It is difficult to describe the ‘buzz’ that was going on all day, but it was fantastic to see so many young (and not so young) people who obviously love reading these books.  Having said all of this I did not feel that the hall was crowded; after seeing tweets from the following two days I am convinced that they were the busiest days. On the plus side it meant that the queues were not too long and people were able to talk to their favourite authors as they enjoyed the activities.

I had marked up two panel events that I really wanted to attend and they did not disappoint in any way.  The first was a discussion about Historical Fiction, something that has been seen as “rather boring” by many in the YA world and yet the panel were totally convinced of the opposite.  The chair of the panel was Katherine Woodfine and the members were Juno Dawson, Catherine Johnson and Elizabeth Wein, all of them at the forefront of YA writing today.  Their motivation for writing about the past differed, with Elizabeth being inspired to write about young women pilots after she gained her own Private Pilot’s Licence, Catherine wanted to read about people like herself (people of colour) and Juno wanted to look at the lives of LGBT young people in the past. The panel spoke about how they went about the process of writing and specifically about the type of research they undertook.  I was particularly impressed by Elizabeth Wein who went “Wing Walking” as part of her research!  the panel also discussed what we learn from history and how we need to be skeptical about what we read as history is often ‘whitewashed’.  they all have  their favourite suggestions for getting the ‘feel’ of the book correct; this includes reading period books to get the language right, Pathe newsreels to hear the voices and see the clothes and early films.  Just as with Sci-Fi and Fantasy it is vital that the world building is accurate and feels right to the reader.

I found that I had time before my final session so I treated myself to a panel talking about writing “Thrillers”.  the panel was a large and well respected one including Sophie McKenzie, Teri Terry, Matthew Crow, Karen M McManus and Emily Barr.  there was a long discussion about what people used as their main focus; for some it was about the place and going somewhere very different, whilst others tended to use locations that they were very familiar with and which the readers learn to relate to.  Everyone agreed about the vital importance of characterization with “People in conflict with others and themselves”. The readers  are often in the 12-14 age group and they are also going through great changes in their lives.  Overall this was a very stimulating session which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My final session was one that I thought might teach me something about a TV series that I only seemed to watch the trailers for, it was called “We love Buffy” and was for real aficionados of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I was totally amazed by the knowledge that these people had about the show.  They knew the names of the episodes, the characters, the songs; it was incredible.  The panel consisted of Katherine Woodfine, Laure Eve, Alison Goodman, Non Pratt, Harriet Reuter Hapgood and Stefan Mohammed and their experience of the series was quite wide ranging, in line with the variations in their ages.  Some had watched as children and teens, whilst others had been adults.  This meant that their understanding and fear levels were very variable, but they had all been totally sucked into the series and till had that enthusiasm that denotes a true fan.  Everyone had their favourite characters, although whenever someone else was mentioned you could hear the mental re-assessment ; however they did agree that “Giles is the world’s coolest librarian” and who am I to disagree with that.

This had proved to be a fantastic experience meeting friends, listening to fantastic authors and generally wallowing in the world of YA books.  I definitely feel that I will be back next year and maybe I will include the Saturday as it seemed fabulous on Twitter.

 

Meanwhile I have a lot of reading to catch up on ready for the next set of blog posts on a wide range of books.

 

Make Hay (on Wye) while the sun shines

Well I have finally achieved an ambition that I have had for many years –  my first visit to the Hay festival; however it will not be my last visit I am sure.  For those who have never attended, I hope I can give you just a small flavour of this quite extraordinary and very unique event.

It takes place over two weekends (from 25th May to 1st June in 2017) and is a melting pot of events covering adult and children’s, non-fiction and fiction.  there are politicians, artists, reporters, authors and illustrators all expressing a wide range of views, so that almost everyone will find something to their liking.  Everything that I know about the Festival has been learnt from friends who have appeared or attended in past years.  Hay itself is a small town with the reputation of being the second-hand bookshop capital of the country (if not the world).  During the festival period it becomes overwhelmed by the number of visitors and accommodation is extremely difficult to find.  For those who are young enough and have the energy there is always the option of camping or glamping; however hotels and B&B s need to be booked a long time ahead if you want to be anywhere near the town.

This year I only attended for one day so my main concern was in finding parking.  Luckily this is extremely well organized with a large off site car park several miles away at Clyro Court. the cost was £6.00 for the day but this also covered the bus to and from the venue.  The buses are every 10 minutes and run until after all of the events have finished, so quite late in the evening.  However I also found that there are several large “Charity” car parks just outside the entrance to the site, so this is something that I need to investigate for the future.

The day that  I chose to attend was Monday 29th, mainly because Neil Gaiman was going to be ‘in conversation’ with Stephen Fry.  As my friends know I was lucky enough to be chair of judges in 2010 when Neil won the Carnegie Medal for “The Graveyard Book” (illustrated by Chris Riddell).  I also discovered that Sarah McIntyre was talking about her new picture book “Prince of Pants” (author Alan MacDonald) and Philip Reeve was discussing “Black Light Express” the follow up to “Railhead”.  I booked all of my tickets, including the parking many weeks before the date and was ready for the two hour journey when the big day arrived.

I knew that it was going to be good when I saw three people that I know within five minutes of arrival at the site; there is nothing like the feeling of belonging this can give you and the children’s book community is so open and friendly that it feels like seeing members of your family .  The Festival site is like a miniature city under canvas with a variety of tents connected by wide covered walkways.  This means that even in the rain it is a very usable space.  The first thing that really hit me was just how crowded the venue was.  With other Festivals such as Bath and Cheltenham they are widely spread out, but this is something totally different.  However it gives Hay a really sense of energy and excitement and you gradually get used to the crowds.

The tent city is well signposted and there are plenty of places to chill out, get something to eat and drink and generally enjoy the ambiance.  My first stop was the Festival Bookshop where all the signings were taking place.  there were several queues and it took a while to understand what was going on; however there is a board which tells you that each doorway is allocated to a specific signing queue, but some of them were very long and things became confusing.

My first event was Sarah McIntyre who was sporting another one of her fabulous outfits, both dress and hats; however it was the beautiful handmade bead necklace that had me drooling, the maker is obviously extremely talented.  As always Sarah got her audience to draw some of the characters from the book and also explained the whole process of creating the illustrations.  I think many were in awe of the skill that goes into interpreting the words that are given to an illustrator and it reminds us that the illustrators are of equal importance (Hence Sarah’s work on http://www.jabberworks.co.uk/pictures-mean-business/.   I then wandered over to the tent where Philip Reeve was talking about his new book.  He had some great digital book trailers which had been manipulated to give the feel of being in space.   Philip is an amazing speaker and he had his audience totally enthralled.  Just before the talk started I discovered that the lovely M G Leonard was sitting directly in front of me, so we were able to renew our acquaintance.  You really must read her two books “Beetle Boy” and “Beetle Queen” if you have not done so already.  After the event had finished I was able to spend some time talking to Sarah and M G before going in for the Neil Gaiman event.

Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman were discussing his new work “Norse Mythology” and making links to Greek Mythology, as Stephen Fry is currently working on this theme. This was a highly motivated audience of hard-core fans and they were even more ecstatic when Chris Riddell joined the others on stage and spent the entire session creating wonderful and very humorous sketches based on the conversation.  The event was a masterclass in illustration, interviewing and also the depth of knowledge that both speakers had about their subjects.  Although I had taken several books to get them signed the queue was far too long and I still had a two hour drive.  Still I hope that I will be able to hear Neil Gaiman speak at another event in the future.

Hay Festival turned out to be a real delight and I am hoping that in future years I will be able to go for several days and totally wallow in the experience.  It also shows that reading is still alive and well in this country and the range of material is absolutely huge.  I really do encourage people to go to this if they can, however it does require a fair amount of planning to maximize the benefits and see as many people as you want to.  I am sure that many of the events were sold out, so it is important to book tickets as soon as you can; trying to get tickets on the day will probably not work.  Thank you to everyone involved with the Festival, you are fantastic.

 

Book-lover’s heaven

I have been taking teachers and librarians up to Birmingham for the last 12 years or so.  As far as choosing children’s books is concerned Peters, the library supplier, is possible the centre of the Universe and the magical thing is that you actually get to pick the books off the shelves.  Over the long time that I have been visiting, things have changed a great deal.  There are new sections, a stronger emphasis on schools and an ever growing collection of furniture and soft furnishings.

 Whilst most of my time on a visit is spent helping the schools, I do get time to look at what has been arriving in the last few months and these are some of the picture books that caught my eye when I visited three weeks ago.

 

Nosy Crow

“I’m in Charge” by Jeanne Willis and Jarvis is the story of a young Rhino and how he learns some lessons about sharing and friendship.  As always the brilliant Jeanne Willis brings some very relevant  words of wisdom to the book.

Walker Books

“Frog and Beaver” by Simon James is a funny story with a serious underlying message.  Beaver is so busy creating his own environment that he does not see how he is spoiling it for others; when his dam fails he learns that he needs to work with his friends and neighbours.

Hodder

“Thank you, Mr Panda by Steve Antony is yet another wonderful story of the very original Mr Panda.  He very kindly gives his friends presents, but without considering of they are suitable; something that we, as humans, should keep in mind.

Walker Books

“This is the Kiss” by Claire Harcup and Gabriel Alborozo.  It really is a gorgeous read for the very young and will make bed-time an occasion to be treasured.  Definitely one to read to my grandson.

Egmont

“There’s a Pig up my Nose” by John Dougherty and Laura Hughes gives a very modern twist to the concept of stories such as “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly”.  So when Natalie get a pig stuck in her nostril she still has to go to school, where everyone tries to free the pig. A totally whacky story.

Faber and Faber

“This is a Serious Book” by Jodie Parachini and Daniel Rieley.  This is a wonderful piece of nonsense as the author tries to create a ‘serious book’.  However the characters have other ideas and they create complete mayhem as they thwart the author.  A super story for reading in class.

Templar

“The Lumberjack’s Beard” by Duncan Beedie reminds me of “The Twits”, only this time the beard is full of creatures that the lumberjack comes across in the course of his work.  It is an exuberant and funny story that will be great as a class read, as well as a one to one story.

Oxford University Press

“Mr Bunny’s Chocolate factory” by Elys Dolan.  I loved this tale of big business and the exploitation of chickens laying chocolate eggs, it makes me think of “Chicken Run” with chocolate.  The illustrations are brilliant and you can spend hours noticing some of the really funny details.  What a fantastic story to read for Easter.

Exisle

“The Great Sock Secret” by   Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones.  As adults we always wonder where odd socks disappear to, but in this story Sarah has has her own ideas and has to keep them secret from her mother.  Sarah knows that the socks are being used by fairies and she doesn’t want them discovered, but what can she do to help?  This is a great take on a well known problem and has a hint of magic

Andersen

“Odd Socks” by Michelle Robinson is a charming story of what happens when sock goes in search of his lost wife (who had a hole and was starting to unravel).  It is funny and and at times rather poignant as sock continues his search; luckily there is a happy, if somewhat unexpected ending to the story.  Definitely one to read with a group (and perhaps include a small craft session!)

Red Fox

“Dog loves Books” by Louise Yates is about a bookseller dog who is better at loving books that at selling them.  However the story is about sharing that love and letting people know that there are books to suit everyone, you just need help in finding them.  A lovely way to help young children enjoy the book.

Orchard Books

“Be Brave little Penguin” by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees is the tale of a baby Penguin who is frightened of the water.  it is a story about coming to terms with your fears and overcoming them.  The joy that Penguin experiences as he meets the challenge will have you cheering out loud.

As you can see, I had a great time looking out these fantastic picture books.  They cover a wide range of topics, but they will all enthrall the young audiences that they are intended for; as well as those adults that are telling the stories.  ‘Happy Reading’ to you all.

 

The Chickens are hatching

Barry Cunningham

“What on earth is she going on about?  What Chickens?”  Well in the publishing world this can only mean the fantastic Chicken House Books, founded and run by the amazing Barry Cunningham (yes, he did sign up J K Rowling).  Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending one of their ‘Big Breakfast’ events, where they present authors and books for the coming year.  It was held in central London, in the rather elegant surroundings of Home House (pronounced Hume like the prime minister?) and we were fed with a range of pastries and loads of tea and coffee.

The event started with an introduction to all of the authors and their books, luckily we were given packs with details of these to take home.  Although the emphasis was on the first six months of the year, there were several titles that will be coming out in the autumn.  We were delighted that so many of the authors were able to attend (I think I counted 10 or 11), however several of the American writers were understandably not there.  The highlight of the day was when several of the authors read excerpts from their new works.  They were all consummate performers and a far cry from the old days, when writers often found it difficult to communicate in person.

 

“Alice Jones: the Ghost Light” by Sarah Rubin.  This is the second in the series about a young amateur sleuth called Alice Jones and I must admit to being a fan.  It fits into that group of writers who would be perfectly at home in the “Golden Age” of crime fiction, although these books are set in the current period.  A great series for those who love Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine.

“The White Tower” by Cathryn Constable  is a new title by the author of “Wolf Princess”.  It is describes as “Magic realism” by the publicity and is definitely one that is on my TBR list.

“Mafiosa” by Catherine Doyle is aimed at the older teen and is the climax of the “Blood for Blood” trilogy.  Those who enjoyed the preceding  novels “Vendetta” and “Inferno” will no doubt devour this latest offering and also those who like a gritty and powerful take on their thrillers.

“The Secret Keepers” by Trenton Lee Stewart.  this is the start of a new series by the author of “The Mysterious Benedict Society” and it will be loved by those who like their fantasy/mystery to include a little bit of ‘playing with time’.  A watch that can make you invisible for 15 minutes could be very useful, but villains chasing after you are less welcome.  I am really looking forward to reading this in the next few weeks.

Maz Evans and Gemma Fowler

“Who Let the Gods out” by Maz Evans  is a debut novel and features the Gods of Olympus, but not perhaps at their best.  I have been looking forward to this for several months now and have started reading it, so no doubt a fuller comment will be added later.  Since ‘Percy Jackson’ we have seen many authors writing about the various pantheons of gods and I think this may well be up there with the other really good ones.

“The Elephant Thief” by Jane Kerr is due out in March and is a historical novel set in the Victorian period.  When you mix a lonely young urchin with a circus elephant and then send them on a journey it is likely that all kinds of adventures will happen.  This sounds like a book with a warm glow to it.

“Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee” by Mary G Thompson.  This sounds as if it is  not for the faint-hearted but it is sure to find a strong following with those who want a strong story-line and a plot that will take them on a roller-coaster ride.  The age advisory is 14+  for this one

“Moondust” by Gemma Fowler is one of the sci-fi thrillers that seem to be making a splash at the moment.  It is all about mining for a new energy source on the Moon and has strong themes about the environment as well as about the joys and perils of being a teenager.

M G Leonard

“Beetle Queen” by M G Leonard.  this is the second in her “Beetle Boy” series and is due out in April.  I was very  lucky last year and tool the author out to several schools. She was  tremendous  and the original “Beetle Boy” has seen huge success with lots of award nominations.  I can’t wait to read more about the female villain that makes Cruella de Ville look like a cuddly kitten.

“Bigfoot, Tobin and Me” by Melissa Savage.  We are having to wait until May for this story, but from what I have seen, it will be well worth the wait.  Aimed at the 9+ age group it is about dealing with grief, and since the author is a paediatric grief therapist it is safe to assume that she knows her subject. This is one I am really looking forward to.

“The Island at the end of Everything” by Kiran Millwood  Hargrave is a story of a young girl living with her mother on the leper colony of Culion Island.  When all healthy people are evicted from the island, Ami decides to try and return so that she can see her mother before she dies.  I get the feeling that you should not be reading this on public transport due to the “Heartbreaking” parts of the story.

A P Winter and Lisa Drakeford

“The Boy who went Magic” by A P Winter is described in the publicity as “being perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer”.  It is a fantasy, with just a hint of Steam punk (judging by the picture), so I think I am really going to enjoy this one.  It is aimed at what is now called ‘Middle Grade’, so the 10+ age range and will make a great summer read.

Three others that will be coming out later in the year are:

“The Crash” by Lisa Drakeford, which is aimed at the teen market and involves the aftermath of a car smashing in to the sitting room of a house.

“Witch Alone” by James Nicol is the follow up to the very successful “Apprentice Witch”, so this is bound to be another huge hit.

“Secret Cooking Club: Confetti and cake”  by Laurel Remington is the second in this series and I am very hopeful that it will live up to the high standards of the first book.

As you can see, we were spoilt with all the amazing authors and books that were presented at the big breakfast and I am going to have a lot of reading in the coming year.  I hope that you will find some titles that will suit you, or the young people you work with.

It must be Christmas!

Well, for the last couple of months we have been showered by lists of books that we should be reading this Christmas and I thought that as in previous years I will pick a few of the ones that I have really enjoyed.  Yet again it has been quite a bumper year for Christmas stories and this year they cover a large range of genres as well as age ranges.  So let us start with those for what is now termed the ‘independent’ reader.

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Puffin, 978-0141369723

“Mistletoe and Murder” by Robin Stevens is the latest in her series about the two young sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  I have been an avid reader of all her works and this definitely lives up to the superb standard of the others.  Daisy and Hazel find themselves spending Christmas in a Cambridge college and then they become embroiled in a murder enquiry which really tests their skills.  Robin Stevens has used her love of ‘Golden Age’ crime to link this story to the works of Dorothy L Sayers and in particular to ‘Gaudy Night’ which is set in an Oxford College.  As the girls might say, this is a “really spiffing read”.

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Macmillan, 978-1509832583

“The Road to Ever After” by Moira Young is a total change from her earlier work and is for a slightly younger audience.  It is the story of young  Davy David who scrapes out a living in the  small  town of Brownvale and re-creates pictures of angels on the ground.  Life changes when the mysterious Miss Flint hires him to driver her to an unknown house on the coast, despite the fact that he is only 13 years and cannot drive.  What follows is a magical journey, with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of being on a quest as well as there being a nod in the direction of “A Wonderful Life”.  This is a story to re-read and treasure and I know it will be with me for a long time.

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Canongate, 978-1782118572

“The Girl who saved Christmas” by Matt Haig is the follow on to last year’s best seller “A Boy called Christmas”.  Whilst the central character  is still Father Christmas, this book is set at a later period.  People are beginning to not believe in Father Christmas and the magic is starting to disappear.  It needs someone who really believes, to save the day; but even she is beginning to have doubts.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857636386

“Murder in Midwinter” by Fleur Hitchcock.  When Maya thinks she might have seen a murderer, the police send her to stay with her aunt in Wales.  But the danger follows her in this exciting story.

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Puffin, 9780141373324

“The Christmasaurus” by Tom Fletcher is about a dinosaur searching for his identity and a young boy who loves dinosaurs and Christmas; add a nasty villain to the mix and get set for a fantastically magical adventure

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471159800

“Winter Magic” edited by Abi Elphinstone is a collection of seasonal stories curated by Abi.  the authors are a range of the top children’s writers that are in the UK today.  They include Piers Torday, Michelle Magorian, Jamila Gavin and Lauren St John.  There is bound to be something for everyone in this collection

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Hodder, 9781444926491

“Santa Claude” by Alex T. Smith.  When Claude accidentally locks Santa in handcuffs and can’t find the key (don’t ask)  he faces the problem of trying to deliver all of the presents himself.  This is a great story for those who are just beginning to read by themselves or who want to share with others.

 

With picture books we are always inundated by a host of new titles every year, however there are also some favourites that make a welcome re-appearance.  I have included some that have come back this year and which I have not written about on previous years.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781442496736

“Click Clack Ho! Ho! Ho!” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.  This is the Christmas offering about the animals on farmer Brown’s farm and how they ‘cope’ with Christmas Eve and the arrival of Santa. As usual it is extremely funny and will be a great read.

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Scholastic, 9781407109053

“The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach.  This is a truly beautiful rendering of the Christmas story which really touches the heart.  A absolute classic of the future.

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Floris books, 9781782502944

“Mary’s Little Donkey” by Gunhild Sehlin and Helene Muller.  This is a story of the Nativity for younger Children.  It is translated from the Swedish and then it has been abridged.  The illustrations are sympathetic to the tale and evoke the feel of the occasion.  A lovely version to read to young children.

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Puffin, 9781780080116

“Otto the Book Bear in the Snow” by Katie Cleminson is the magical story of two book bears whose book is borrowed from the library and then left whilst the readers go on holiday.  But the bears need to get back to the library for the Christmas party, unfortunately things do not go as planned, so will they get back in time?

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Puffin, 9780141373706

“Dream Snow” by Eric Carle.  A delicious little lift the flap book about preparing for Christmas on a farm.  It is great for recognizing the animals and getting into the festive spirit.

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OUP, 9780192747372

“Winnie and Wilbur meet Santa” by  Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. When Santa gets stuck in Winnie’s chimney he asks her and Wilbur to help him deliver the rest of the presents.  They have a great adventure but also lots of problems, so in the end Winnie uses a bit of magic to make sure that all the presents are delivered.  As always the illustrations are sumptuous and this time there is a pop-up at the back, which is sure to be a great hit with everyone.  I particularly like the use of Greek for names etc in the pictures, I wonder how many children will recognize the language?

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Bloomsbury, 9781408859155

“Robin’s Winter Song” by Suzanne Barton is a beautiful story of the Robin discovering Winter for the first time and seeing what a great time he can have with his friends.  The illustrations are positively jewel-like and add to the sense of joy and excitement about the time of year.

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Walker books, 9781406365955

“The Christmas Eve Tree” by Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton is the story of a small and unloved Christmas tree that was saved from destruction by a young  homeless boy and of the joy at Christmas as people gather around the tree to sing carols and to forget the problems of their everyday life.  The ending shows that there is always hope and we need to believe in the goodness of people around us.  There are beautiful illustrations with a feel of the 1960s to them, which really adds to the atmosphere of the story.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471119989

“The Storm Whale in Winter” by Benji Davies is the second story about a young boy called Noi and the young Whale that he had rescued in the summer.  This is a winter’s tale and a wonderful coming together of man and nature to save one another.  It is a simple but very heart warming story.

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Red Fox, 9781782955504

“Lucy and Tom at Christmas” by Shirley Hughes have, together with “Alfie’s Christmas”, become symbols of what we might call a traditional Christmas.  It was first published in 1981 and the world has changed a great deal since then.  However the story gives a lovely sense of family, friendship and the meaning of the occasion.  Sometimes it is nice to wallow in nostalgia and think of the simple enjoyments of life.

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David Fickling, 9781910200803

“Coming Home” by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman (illust.)  is the story of a Robin as he migrates to his winter home, all the time thinking about his partner who should be waiting for him.  It is full of trials and tribulations but also kindness and hope.  Definitely a story full of the meaning of  Christmas.

 

I can’t believe it is only a week until the big day but I am sure that there is still time to do a bit of reading or to get some stocking fillers for the family.  I know I will be reading some of these stories to my grandson when he comes to visit and i might even treat myself to a re-read of one or two favourite stories.  The Christmas season has definitely started as I was telling Christmas stories in my local primary school last week and I have also been to a performance of Messiah.  There is just “The Muppet Christmas Carol” to go and then all will be ready.  Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and enjoy your reading.

 

Summer Sunshine reads

Well, we are now over half way through the summer break and it is about this time that I start thinking about what to read next.  If you are anything like me then you will already have got through the pile of books that you had kept for the holidays.  So here are some suggestions that you might have missed, or which are just being published.  They are wide ranging in their subject matter and a few are ones that I might have missed if I had not been asked to review them, but all of them turned out to be very pleasant surprises.

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HarperCollins, 9780008124526

“Ned’s Circus of Marvels” by Justin Fisher.  This book has had a very high profile over the last few months and is a great adventure with an ‘ordinary’ hero, an amazing and magical circus and demons who live on the other side of the’veil’.  Definitely a series that I will follow with interest.

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Firefly Press, 978-1910080382

“Alien Rain” by Ruth Morgan was a lovely surprise. In essence it is a science fiction story but with Earth being the planet being excavated years after it had fallen to a mysterious invader and the explorers are settlers from the planet Mars and they are excavating the city after which their home settlement is named- Cardiff! . The descriptions of the city and in particular the Museum of Wales really adds to your appreciation of a very good story.When Bree was chosen to be part of the team of explorers it was a complete surprise, as she is not one of the top students in her class, so why was she chosen?  The answer brings a fitting climax to the story.  I will definitely be looking out for this author in the future and have high hopes for more from Firefly Press (who are based in Wales).

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Chicken House, 978-1910655153

“The Apprentice Witch” by James Nicol is a truly super read.  The heroine Arianwyn fails her witch’s assessment and gets sent off to a small remote village as an apprentice.  Then strange things start happening and Arianwyn has to pull out all the magic that she can find.  This is a lovely story about being different and being able to succeed despite this.

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Andersen Press, 9781783444014

“Racing Manhattan” by Terence Blacker (NG)  is the first of two titles set in the world of horse racing.  Whilst I have read “horse” stories as a child I have not read those set in this particular world.  The book is aimed at teens and deals with difficult issues but in a very sympathetic way.  I really cared what happened to the heroine Jay as well as to the real star, Manhattan.

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Puffin, 9780141362908

“The Racehorse who wouldn’t gallop” by Claire Balding and with illustrations by Tony Ross is another story set in the world of horse racing but aimed at a slightly younger audience.  The author is a well known commentator and ex- amateur jockey and has already written several books for adults.  The knowledge that she brings to the book is very evident and she is also a good writer, so that we are totally engrossed in the story of the ten-year old heroine Charlie Bass and her lovable if rather eccentric family.

“A Whisper of Horses” by Zillah Bethell (Piccadilly Press, 978-1848125346) (NG)  is the last of my books to feature horses, although in this case it is the heroine, Serendipity who is trying to find the last surviving horses in Britain.  the plot is set in a post-disaster country where the population in London is divided into the workers and the ruling classes.  There is a barrier around the city, following the lines of the M25 and no one is allowed out.  However Serendipity is determined and manages to escape; with the help of her ‘storyteller’ employer and a young smuggler called Tab.  It really is a magical story about chasing your dream and making the world change for the better.

“Girl out of Water” by Ned Luurtsema (Walker books, 978-1406366525)  deals with the world of competition swimming and a heroine who is totally sidelined when she fails to make the summer training squad with her best friends.  How she copes with this and crashes and splashes her way to success with others make up this story.  It veers from sad to hysterical in turn and makes an excellent summer read.

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Scholastic, 978-1407170589

“Robyn Silver: the Midnight Chimes” by Paula Harrison is the story of an ordinary girl, Robyn Silver, who suddenly starts seeing strange creatures that none of her siblings can.  Then when her school is re-located to a local ‘big house’ after a disaster, she discovers that she is a “Chime”; someone born at Midnight who can see creatures from a parallel world and whose role is to keep our world safe.  This is full of action, thrills and adventure but with some very human characters that you really want to succeed.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857634863

“Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret”by Lyn Gardner is a wonderful Victorian melodrama with orphaned heroines making their way in the theatre, missing heirs and a truly villainous uncle.  This a fantastic read for those who have a love of Sherlock Holmes or the books of Robin Stevens and I am really looking forward to seeing some more stories featuring Rose and her friends.

“Stormwalker” by Mike Revell (Quercus, 978-1784290696) (NG) is yet another amazing story from the author of  “Stonebird” .  The hero Owen lives with his father and it is just over a year since his mother has died.  Owen suggests that his father re-starts writing a novel to help him get over his grief, but what happens next is totally unexpected – Owen finds himself transported into the story as one of the main characters.  Unfortunately the story is a dystopian one and Owen’s alter ego finds that he and those around him are in great danger.  So how can Owen save the characters whilst still helping his dad get better.  this really had me on the edge of my seat and longing to know the outcome.

“The girl from everywhere” by Heidi Heilig (Hot Key books, 978-1471405105)  (NG) Is a fantastic time travel fantasy where the heroine Nix travels through place and time using old maps.  She is part of the crew of an old pirate ship and her father is the captain; his mission in life is to go back and save his wife’s life.  However they can only go to a specific time once and their attempts are also hindered by the wrong maps and some true villains who want their help for ‘nefarious’ purposes.  This was a really original story and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Corgi, 978-0552572507

“The Crooked Sixpence” (The Uncommoners series) by Jennifer Bell.  I really loved this story of an alternate 2016-08-25 14.24.32London called Lundinor, that exists below our own city.  Ivy and her older brother Seb are left alone when their grandmother is admitted to hospital after a fall (both of their parents are away working) and then strange things start happening and they find themselves transported to Lundinor via a  suitcase !  All this is linked to their grandma losing her memory many years before and they face danger and excitement as they try and solve the mysteries.

“Rose in the Blitz” by Rebecca Stevens (Chicken House, 978-1910655542)   is the second in the series about Rose, the first one being “Valentine Joe” when she goes back to the first world war and meets an ancestor.  In this book the link to the past is her grandmother and we are taken back to her life during the London blitz.  It is a really emotional story and the end just about had me in tears.  This really mixes a beautiful story with the reality of life during the war  and I  know I will be recommending it to schools for their libraries.

Every time I write another post I am reminded of how wonderful the world of children’s books is at the moment.  I can only skim the surface of what is being published but I hope that you enjoy the books that I have chosen.  We are about to enter the frenetic period that leads to the big pre-Christmas launches, so there should be some fantastic titles to come; many of them from favourite authors but also some brilliant new talent.I look forward to letting you know about these little gems

 

 

NG With thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for access to the e-proofs.

“Book Island” launch

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Book Island launch

Whilst I am lucky enough to be invited to book launches on a regular basis, it is rare to receive an invite to the launch of an entire publishing enterprise.  However this was the case recently when “Book Island” books held an event to celebrate their arrival in the UK.  Not only that, they are actually based in Bristol.  The company itself is not new, it has been based in New Zealand and this year won an award at the Bologna Book Fair for the ‘Best Children’s Publisher in Oceania’.

The publisher is Greet Pauwelijn who is Belgian by birth but publishes in both English and Dutch.  She specializes in translation of picture books and and give us the opportunity to engage with different styles and attitudes to the genre.  At the moment Greet is showcasing her list and from next year hopes to publish up to eight titles in English and a further group of up to four titles in Dutch.  There has been a lot of interest from the professional press and some really good reviews and I think all of it is very well deserved.

I was lucky enough to get copies of some of her books  and thought that I would share them with you all.

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Book Island, 978994109873

“The Lion and the Bird”  by Marianne Dubuc is a totally enchanting story of two very unlikely friends.  The story itself is one that has been used before, namely a young bird being left behind when the others all begin the long migration in autumn but this interpretation is one of the most sympathetic and moving that I have read.  There are very few words but they are superbly placed to create the necessary impact.  The illustrations themselves are truly magical and the illustrator is not afraid to use the white page in order to create the right atmosphere.  A really amazing book.

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Book Island, 978099412801

“Here comes Mr Postmouse” by Marianne Dubuc is yet another book by this author and stylistically it is very different. In this story we follow the postmouse as he delivers parcels to a large range of animals.  It is very much a case of following the trail, but the illustrations are full of tiny details that we keep discovering and i think children will keep finding new wonders as they re-read the story.  I am looking forward to reading this with my grandson.

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Book Island, 9780994128218

“Fox and Goldfish” by Nils Pieters  is a sombre and yet very lovely story of two friends, one of whom is coming to the end of his life.  When Fox realizes that his friend is coming to the end, he embarks on the trip of a lifetime with Goldfish and they enjoy life and companionship for the final time.  The author has filled the book with bright colour (with some dark pages) and with a tremendous  exuberance for life.  This would be an exceptional read to help young children cope with bereavement.

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Book Island, 9780994109859

“The Umbrella” by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert. In this book the authors have produced a wonderfully visual story with no words.  The pictures are full of action and movement and they blow us along as we follow the adventures of the little dog hero as he clings on to a bright red umbrella.  The story takes us around the world, narrowly escaping disaster on several occasions, until finally we are all brought safely home again.  The expressions found on the dog’s face are a joy to behold.

Good luck to Greet and Book Island and I hope that the United Kingdom does indeed prove to be their own ‘book island’.

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Building Bridges: Forging Connections and Growing Readers.

This was the Federation of Children’s Book groups Conference which was held over the first weekend in April. It was a very appropriate title not only because the conference was held in Telford, but also because it was about ways that we can connect with young readers and help them develop as reading enthusiasts.

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Exhibition heaven

I finally managed to arrive at the campus (part of the University of Wolverhampton) in time to get to my room and then hit the launch of the publishers’ exhibition at 5.00 pm on the Friday.  As always this is somewhat the height of any conference for me.  It was great to meet up with so many friends and to get a look at some fantastic new titles that are coming in the next few months, but of course this was only the first of many visits over the weekend.

Dinner was then followed by a talk by Katherine Rundell and she had us all mesmerized by her speech, but it was the last section that had many of us near to tears as she paid tribute to her sister and remembered  what it had been like to lose her.  I think we were all honoured that she was able to share her thoughts with us.  The evening finished on a much cheerier note as we took part in the Andersen Press Quiz- and Yaay!!  we eventually won after a tie breaker set of questions.  So thank you to my co-quizzers Zoe Toft, Amy McKay, Tricia Adams and Jo Humphreys-Davis.

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Curtis Jobling and Phil Earle

Saturday started early with the first session being at 9.00 am, thankfully it was a double act with the amazing Phil Earle and Curtis Jobling being chaired by Zoe Toft.  Both of the authors gave us a taste of what they do with groups of children and the room was soon filled with lots of laughter.  At coffee break I was able to start catching up with people and it was great to see Andrew Beasley, the author of the “Ben Kingdom” series, who lives in the south west.

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Harriet and Sara with Julia Bell

The rest of the morning was spent listening to three sessions with some new authors, Sara Bernard and Harriet Reuter Hapgood,  speaking about their teen books, Andy Griffiths talking about his hilarious tree-storey series and Horatio Clare and Mike Revell speaking about their new offerings.  Thankfully we then had a very good buffet lunch,  which was a much higher standard than you often get at conferences.

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Shane Hegarty

The afternoon continued the theme of excellence.  There were three seminars running in parallel, so you had to chose to hear either Joseph Coelho, Pamela Butchart or Shane Hegarty.  Having had the pleasure of meeting Shane last year I decided that it was time I listened to him speak in public and I am happy to say that he more than lived up to expectations.  He spoke about how he came to write children’ s books and his childhood in rural Ireland as well as talking about his amazing series ‘Darkmouth‘, the third part of which is just being published.  The series really is a great read.

Ali Sparkes

Ali Sparkes

We were then treated to the delightful and very talented Ali Sparkes, who had us in stitches with some of the cat images that she had found on the web.  If you ever have the opportunity to have her into your school or library then grab it with both hands as she is such a brilliant speaker.  the day was rounded off by cocktails from Walker Books, although Jill Murphy was ill and unable to attend the celebration for 30 years of “Five Minutes Peace”.  We then had Jenny Downham as the guest speaker at dinner.

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Prue Goodwin and S F Said

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S F Said and Jane Ray

Sunday is often a bit of an anti-climax at some conferences, but that was not the case with this one.  We started off with Daniel Hahn(translator extraordinaire), Jane Ray and S F said in conversation with Prue Goodwin.  This was a remarkably easy going session with all the speakers sharing the subjects and the comments, so there was a real sense of enjoyment for those of us listening.

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Piers Torday

The next event showed Daniel Hahn with one of the other hats that he wears, that of interviewer and he was in discussion with John Boyne who spoke about his new book ” The Boy at the Top of the Mountain” as well as “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”.  After coffee and cakes we then had a talk by Piers Torday about his books “The Last Wild” trilogy which takes place in a world where all animals are supposedly killed by a deadly virus.  The final event was a little bit different in that it was given by Anna Conomos who has just won the Jean Russell Storyteller award for 2016.  Not only did Anna enthrall us with her storytelling but she also spoke about the place of story in our history and how it can help people with other parts of their lives.  This was yet another speaker that you know will be great in schools, so I hope we hear a lot more of her in the future.

2016-04-03 10.11.33

John Boyne and Daniel Hahn

I think we all owe a really big thanks to the organizers of this conference which was truly excellent.  The site was more than acceptable, although last year I would have struggled to move between the buildings because of the flights of steps.  However the rooms were fine, the food was good and the company was really lovely.  The publishers were, as always, so friendly and helpful and there were loads of new titles to keep an eye open for.  I am already looking forward to next year.