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.

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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.

Summer sun and cakes

For those in the children’s book world this is a very busy time of year.  Not only do we have a swathe of book awards but we have book launches, publishers parties and book festivals and conferences as well as  advance notice of some of the wonderful offerings coming in the autumn.  It can be quite overpowering knowing what to read next, but this can be helped when you get to see some of your favourite authors.

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

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Oxford University Press, 9780192734563

For younger readers one of the most exciting books to look for this autumn will be the fantastic new offering from Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre called ‘Cakes in Space’.   Fantastic costumes

Fantastic costumes

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The pre-launch party was amazing and as always the two stars produced the best entertainment with a new song to go with the book. The book itself is about a young girl, Astra, who wakes from from a frozen sleep to find that robot like cakes are taking over the spaceship she is on.  All of this as a result of her asking the Nom-O-Tron computer for cakes “so delicious, it’s scary”, before she went into hibernation.  Science Fiction has never been such fun and this is going to be a real favourite for this Christmas.




Scavenger Zoid by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Macmillan, 9781447231486





Keeping with the science fiction theme, the new book by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell is also set on a space craft but it is a very different world from that of the ‘Cakes’.  Aimed at the 9-12 years it is about the human survivors aboard a huge space vessel which has been taken over by ‘Zoids’ which have evolved from Robots intended to help and protect humans.  As you would expect, the illustrations are amazing and the story itself is quite dark as groups of people find each other and combine to try and overcome their increasingly sophisticated enemies.


Dragon Shield by Charlie Fletcher

Hodder 9781444917321


This is the first in a new trilogy by the author of Stoneheart.  Once again it is set in London and statues are coming to life.  However this time the source of the danger is  from the Egyptian gallery at the British Museum, a place full of mystery and an atmosphere that makes the plot really feasible.  This really is a great book for reminding you of places you have visited and those you would really like to go to .  I know that there have been walking tours based on the previous books, so perhaps this is another opportunity to add to the literary walks around central London. Aimed at a slightly younger audience than previous books, this will still find fans among those of us well past our 21st birthdays.




Destination earth by Ali Sparkes

I first came across the books of Ali Sparkes when she produced her Shapeshifter series and I really loved them.  However I have to admit that my favourite for several years has been ‘Frozen in Time’ but this latest book is absolutely fascinating.  Lucy is the last survivor from her planet and has spent the last ten years on a journey to Earth, where she hopes to find a safe haven.  Over the years she has been finding out about the world she is hoping to live in.  Unfortunately what she does not realize until it is almost too late is that she has got an unwelcome stowaway on the outside of her space ship – one of the creatures that has killed off the rest of her race.  Lucy, together with two children from earth are in a race to prevent the same catastrophe happening here.

Oxford University Press 9780192733443

Oxford University Press



Purely by accident I seem to have had a bit of a Sci-Fi Fest here.  However,  perhaps we are seeing a rise in the number of books that have been published recently within this genre, a move away from the dystopian and vampire/zombie stories which have been so popular over the last few years.  For those who enjoy Sci- Fi why not try and look out authors from the past such as Andre Norton and John Christopher, both of whom were read widely in the 1970s.